Why is my roommate so disorganised? She always says I am a kind of dictatorial control freak, with a desperate desire for organisation. No, I’m not like that, I simply like the shoes to be inside the wardrobe instead of lying in wait as death-traps on the living room floor. Every night I trip over at least one; every night I let out an expletive. “F**k you, Julie, why is it so hard put your stuff in your bedroom? Why is cleaning the kitchen after a meal so complicated? I’m tired of all this; maybe it’s time to move to a place where I can be alone.” This idea brightened my day, my next step would be to contact an letting agent; only that was where my decision faltered.
Letting agents are like vultures. They know you are in a trap, then, with cruelty, they build you another one, more attractive, but no less fatal. The last one gave me this little flat in SoHo – and Julie! No, she is not an evil person. Julie is a good girl, and works hard most of the time; however, she is a party girl. I am not. We are a breeze and a hurricane; she is the hurricane. James, a work colleague, told me that he never could figure out how we two could live in the same space. Obviously, neither could I. Julie is blonde, tall, and has small breasts; she is a fashion designer’s dream. I would be his worst nightmare. My black hair with my short stature is the perfect combination to make me invisible. I like that; I never have understood Julie’s desire for drawing attention, in particular, from men. Well, she is she, I am I, and that’s the beauty of life.
The lettings rep. is ‘running late’ (don’t they always?). She called me and let me know, 10 minutes ago, that she would be at least half an hour late. “Damn, what shall I do? Have a latte? Read?” I have a book in my bag, but I am not sure my mood is aligned with Quantum Mechanics today. My library on my iPad has all been read; I need to buy more. “Maybe I should re-read something? Yes, that’s the better option, a book and a latte, as comfort rewards.”
A full, one hour late, Susan, the lettings rep., arrived at the coffee shop where I was waiting. She was all smiles and sorry; I was all stony-face and bad humour – I hate having to wait. The little flat she showed me was in a beautiful house in a very green street. I loved the road, and the neighbourhood looked good too. The house had one those staircases you see in movies, white, broad, with stained glass and a blue carpet. Blue, my favourite colour – it’s a good sign. The flat was spacious, light and with blue curtains in the bedroom. There were actually two bedrooms, one big and the other small. “I can have my studio!” It was my first, thought. The fireplace was an antic gem, and the view of the garden delightful. I wanted this place.
But the price… Why do all the ‘right’ places in London have such abusive prices? Greed. Greed is the biggest problem for us hard workers; people who can’t afford to buy a home and have to beg for someone to rent them one at a reasonable price. “I love the place…Maybe, if I can talk to the landlord?” Or would it be a landlady? Maybe…
The agent called me yesterday to say the landlord had agreed to a discussion. Tomorrow we will meet at a coffee shop near Covent Garden. God! I’ll have to travel half-way across London to meet this guy, but if I can convince him about the price I can afford, maybe…
It’s 4 pm; I am sitting on a sofa with other two people, talking and having their lattes, cappuccinos and teas. The landlord is late. “Why is everybody always late when they are supposed to be meeting me?” I was already depressed – some problems at work, some problems with my boyfriend – my life is just a pack of issues. I can see a guy, in a blue suit – not black! – coming to the coffee shop. He’s good looking, with a gentle smile. He greets the woman cashier, the barista and the other employees. I guess he is a frequent customer. I like him!
He orders a caramel macchiato, my favourite. He is not only gentle and good looking, but he also has good taste. His clothes and shoes show me he has money. They are branded, not like mine, cheap stuff bought in the sales. I smile, yeah, I can’t really complain. Andrew, my boyfriend, is a good man, and Julie always says my job is a young woman’s dream. I have money enough to have a vacation; a week in the Greek islands once a year, and to drink in the pub once a week (office socialisation requirement). What else do I need? Yeah, what else?
The guy is still talking with the coffee shop staff; my prospective landlord is very late. I look through the window, and the sun is setting, it’s winter, the sun always leaves us early. I love winter in London, the black coats, the boots, people hiding their bad body odour under layers and layers of clothes. I don’t need to see other women breasts, nor their toes or armpits. I laugh discretely.
My smile has caught the man’s attention…he smiles back as if I was laughing with him. I get angry. I don’t like people staring at me. I drop my head, returning to my book. JoJo Moyes is an excellent writer, and I really appreciate her style. Her love stories are not too sweet and have a core of reality. The characters are real; people like me, not perfect as in so many other books.
Oops, the man in the smart suit is coming in my direction; he’s probably meeting someone behind me. I turn around, trying to guess who he is meeting. It’s a surprise when he stops right in front of me. His good afternoon was perfect, I love the British accent, and I am ashamed of mine. He asks if I am Selin. He knows my name! Why? I am nobody. He says he is the landlord. Jeezzz!, I am lucky after all!
We begin our conversation; he introduces himself. His name is Edward, and he is a solicitor. Interesting coincidence, the landlord was a solicitor! And I did not trust in solicitors. It will be a very hard negotiation.
I invite him to sit; our conversation feels a bit awkward. I don’t know how to say that I need him to mark down the rent, so I can afford to live in that beautiful place. First, I introduce myself as a Marketing Specialist; then my tongue won’t stop. I tell him about my paintings, my books and how I love classical music. He listens, with precise attention, stopping me from time to time to ask about something that my torrent of words has made confusing. It feels as if I am with an old friend, not my prospective new landlord. Finally, I summon all my courage and ask about the rent. To my surprise, he agrees immediately. We politely say goodbye to each other and head back to our respective lives. He, with a strange smile, I, walking on clouds, I will finally have my own place!
When I returned to the flat, Julie was waiting for me, ever since I had said that my intention was to move out to live alone, she had become very anxious. I did not understand why, until that night. Her girlfriend Mica was there. There had always been something about Mica that set all my alarm bells ringing. The Asian, well dressed and perfectly made-up woman presented a mixture of exoticism and suspicion. They were drinking red wine, listening to the latest compilation of music that Mica had recorded, a ballad reminiscent of the sixties. Julie and Mica’s love had never bothered me. I have always believed in freedom and love is a synonym of that. All the same, every time a saw them together, it seemed a poor match. Well, it’s not my concern, is it?
Julie took my hand and announced that Mica was going to live with her. When I moved out, Mica would move in. I was happy for them, but jealous as well; jealous that I could be replaced so quickly. My heart beat at a different frequency, I had a strange feeling; probably it was my paranoia about changes, or was it my fear of being forgotten by the only friend I had had in my life, I don’t know. But it was weird.
Julie was playing her guitar, Mica was singing, and I was having a pizza with red wine, and observing them both. They seem so relaxed with each other. I was never that relaxed when I was with Andrew. Formal, our relationship is beyond formal, it’s like a pre-written script we both have to follow. Spontaneity is not a word that applies to us. I would like to have a relationship like that; even it meant having to fight all my own rules.
My packed belongings are lined up near the door. It’s 8 am, Mica and Julie are sleeping. I have no intention of waking them, I don’t really like goodbyes; they mean ‘pressure’. Have you noticed that? Your eyes become clear, as tears try to force a passage. You’re trying to stay in control, but your chest is in pain as if being pounded by something very, very heavy; words are missing. You’re just rooted to the spot, standing still, looking for someone you like and are living, it’s something I prefer to avoid.
I never thought my books could be a burden, but today I could see why Julie complained so much about my library. It’s huge, heavy and hard to keep everything in the same space. I’d finally brought in the last box from the van I had hired. Now that all my stuff was in the flat, I aimed to drive the van back to the rental depot and, on the way back, pick up some food – I was hungry!
London traffic is a mess, it’s no better than how people behave on the tube. Everybody wants to be first; it’s like we are always playing a game, fighting for victory. Londoners are a unique breed, they are silent; formal, but with few smiles and little courtesy. While driving, their behaviour is much the same. I dropped off the van, and the smell of kebabs made my stomach sing – a strange and loud song. On the tube, people looked at me as if I were a monster. I don’t like people staring…I guess I don’t like people at all.
My home is a short walk from the tube station; well, not so short , it took me 30 minutes, but the view of it approaching made it all worthwhile. I could already see my new home. The light pink walls, the high gates, the short flight of steps up to the red door. Home, my home… A man was sitting on the steps; he was carrying a big vase containing a beautiful plant. I liked the arrangement; the vase would be a perfect colour for my flat. I made a mental note that next time I went shopping I would buy a vase like that. Only when I was less than 30 feet from him did I recognise my landlord. What the hell was he doing here? Does he live in the same place as me? Bloody hell!
He smiled at me, a natural, fresh smile. I felt constrained, confused, what do I do now? Edward greeted me and asked if I needed any help in my new home. What should I do? Accept? Refuse? While I was in my dilemma, he said, “The vase is a welcome-to-your-new-home gift.” Now, I had to invite him to come in. So I did. So, here we both were, he and I; and all my boxes; and his vase – mine now; and my kebab…and silence. He looked around, I didn’t know what he was looking for, but, at least, I hadn’t had time to damage anything! I’m hungry and angry, how dare he just turn up at my new home? Damn!
He asked me if I needed any help with putting all the books on the bookshelves. I only smiled; he took it as a “Yes”, so, now a strange man was arranging my books on my bookcase. I’m hopeless! He’s not aware I have a system for organising my books. There is a relationship between each book and its place. Well, tomorrow I’ll rearrange them. He opened a bag and took out a bottle of red wine, I don’t have any wine glasses, but he has! What a man! I put my clothes in the closet; I have the habit of organising my clothes by season and colour. He came to my room and commented that he arranges his clothes the same way. Weird…
Finally, all my things were in the right place. I’d made a lot of notes about what I still had to buy. I was tired, but Edward was still there, talking about everything and anything. He is weird… or is he? My eyes were looking at my new black and white bookshelf. It’s amazing, he had put the right books in the right places, how was that possible? How did he know? OMG! Who this man? My mobile rings, he laughs about my ringtone, I laugh too. It’s Andrew. He’s calling me from Berlin.
After Andrew’s call, Edward said goodbye to me. Finally, I was alone at home. My curiosity made me look out of the window. I saw Edward and his Lamborghini leaving. Wow! A Lamborghini!!!! He really is someone. I smiled. A shower relaxed me; my new bed was soft and welcoming. I needed my rest. Tomorrow was Sunday; I would explore my new surroundings.
My dreams were a mixture of my past, my present and some fantasies. Andrew was there; my mother and sister too. My father was just a voice, a memory, but I could not see him. My surprise was in seeing Edward, too. He was dressed in black jeans, a black wool turtleneck sweater and boots. He was smiling, and talking, and drinking champagne. His hair was bouncing in the wind; we were on a high mountain, having a picnic. I was so happy.
My Sunday morning took me to a garden near my home. It was in a walled park, with a cricket pitch, a lake and a coffee shop. I decided to have my breakfast there: Florentine eggs, cappuccino and pain au chocolate. Delicious! Then I walked a lot. The camellias were in bloom; some roses too. Little squirrels crossed my path; it was spring, and there was a lot of new life emerging. Bees were tasting the first nectar. Everybody looked happy. I passed by the playground; many babies and toddlers with their parents, enjoying the sun. Someday, will I want to be a mother? If to be a mother meant feeling like I did now, never! I was not born to be a mum. I have no desire to be attached to someone for the rest of my life. I don’t like dependency; I refuse to be chained to such an important and demanding obligation.
I like kids. Babies are so cute, but only when they are somebody else’s; not mine. I prefer dogs, maybe now I can have one. Julie hated dogs; she would rather have cats, but as I never liked them much we had decided not to have any pets. But now I am by myself, a small dog? Maybe…
Monday was a tough day. No, I don’t have a ‘Blue on Mondays’ feeling, but John, my boss, does! He had returned from his weekend; amused, angry and a bit over-voiced. “Be patient Selin.” I was concentrating on my approach to a new company product. It’s not easy to sell services that people don’t understand. To turn them into something they can identify with is my job – not just easy to comprehend, but attractive as well. I was struggling, and at such times I must disconnect myself from the outside world. I was immersed in my ideas.
John was now standing by my side, saying something I couldn’t understand. His face had an unexpected expression: “Is he in pain? Is he angry with me?” What was happening? I removed my earphones. He was saying that the CEO wanted to talk to me. “The CEO? To speak to me? Why?” I’d never even seen him, not once! I only knew his name; Dr Woodward, a prodigy. Dr Woodward completed his studies in physics when he was just 16. One of those Oxford’s geniuses. Then he moved to the USA and got his PhD at MIT, a doctorate at 22! He’d returned to Britain and had created a start up; now, ten years later, he was the owner of a great mobile company, with a lot of patents to his name, and some exceptional clients, like the British and North-American governments. He was a myth. I don’t like myths.
My meeting with the CEO was scheduled for four pm. “I guess I’ll arrive home late today. Or not? Maybe, he is firing me. But why? I am a nobody here, I do my job the best I can, and as far as my colleagues allow me to. I am quiet, discreet and silent. Why fire me?” I smiled, maybe he would give me a management position. I’d been working here for the last three years, and I deserved a promotion. Marketing Director? I laughed, thank God, I was alone in the lift because I sounded like some mad woman. I looked upwards, “OMG, cameras!!! F**k you, Selin, why can you be normal?”
The door opened. The CEO’s suite was at the top of the building, all glass and wood. His office was a combination of technology and rusticity. I liked it. “Nobody’s here. Hum… Maybe, I have to sit and wait.” The blonde PR entered through a door I hadn’t noticed before. Dr Woodward will be arriving in 5 minutes, his helicopter is just landing. Landing? Where? Suddenly I heard the characteristic sound; the aircraft was landing on top of the building. “Oh! We have a helipad! I‘m so stupid, I never realised.”
Bling, the typical elevator sound, and the door opened. I could see a man. He was wearing a perfectly tailored suit, boots…and a smile I had seen before. “Jeez! My landlord is my CEO!” What an unbelievable coincidence! My first instinct was to run away as fast as I could. Curiosity won, however, and I stayed there, paralysed, looking at him as if I had seen a ghost.
Dr Woodward sat and invited me to do the same. Behind him, I could see London. I preferred to keep my eyes on the cityscape; meeting his eyes were out of the question. I heard his voice saying that he had never guessed that I worked for his company and was surprised when he saw my ID badge at the flat last Saturday. He had done some investigation and talked with some of my colleagues and with John. He was impressed. “Impressed? By me?” I didn’t know what to say; maybe ‘Thank you’ were an option? I was so uncomfortable there. My silence was a burden to him; I could see how his hands were pressed against each other. What did he want from me?
Edward, oops Dr Woodward, decide on a new approach, he said that there was a management position open. Dr Reynard was retiring, and he needed to choose someone to replace him. He preferred a person from the company because an insider would understand, better, all the nuances and the concepts behind the mobile idea. It was also desirable if the new person were able to have appreciated the whole process, from the product line to the Marketing Department, via, of course, the Sales Department. I listened calmly but did not understand why he was telling all thato me. My mind was navigating in another world; I was back at my flat, the fireplace, a glass of wine, music… Edward…
Edward’s voice changed in tone. A bit aggressive or angry, I didn’t know, but it brought me back from my daydream with a jolt. “Would you like to take the position? Was that what he had just said, or was I still daydreaming? Was Edward, Dr Woodward, saying the job was mine?” My mouth tried to say something; it couldn’t! I made eye contact for the first time; centuries passed until I spoke my next word. Of course, I wanted the job. I was the right person. He smiled. I stood up and left the office. Walking on clouds was not a good metaphor, but it was the closest I could find.
One month into my new position. I was, to use a bit of a cliché, on a roller coaster. I was happy as never. New place, new job and a new friend. Edward was always around to help me. He was no longer my boss, more a mentor. I loved our long discussions about strategy and new product markets. Little by little, the company opened all its heart to me. Finally, I understood how all the miracles were built here; now I knew the myth.
It was 9 pm; I was finishing my last report. Alone in the office, I took off my shoes and sat on the sofa to type. I turned on the television; I needed some contact with the outside world, but in a secure way. The night guard passed by my door and smiled. I smiled back, returning to my computer screen immediately. I had finished; tomorrow my boss, the CEO, would read it. It was a pearl produced with care, attention, research and inspiration. If Dr Woodward understood and saw what I saw, we would have a smash success on our hands.
I left the building with a huge moon shining in the skies. The underground entrance was few yards ahead. Nearby we have a very up-market area, with fancy restaurants, pubs and even a night club. They are so expensive, and I’ve never been a customer there. I had my curiosity, of course, but the money I earned was destined to buy a place for me. Maybe, Edward would agree to sell me my rented flat. I was already planning some structural modifications, changing the colours of the walls, the kitchen furniture and the curtains.
Walking alone is one my favourites things; I have time to think and to dream. If you saw me on the street, you’d probably think I’m mad. I dance, use my hands a lot, and I sing, silently to all the music on my iPod. Andrew has said I’m weird, and not just once, but many, many times…and he’s asked me to try to stop myself.
Andrew? We are so far apart now. My job takes most of my day; one year was still not enough to understand and feel comfortable in my new position – even with Edward helping me – there are a lot of responsibilities that are mine alone. I sign the papers, I approve the ideas, and I am the boss now. My previous boss, John, was a bit jealous at first, but now he has accepted that I am good at my job and deserved the promotion. Of course, some tongues had wagged with another version of why I was promoted. But, I don’t really want to know, even though Pamela was anxious to tell me everything.
Near the tube entrance, a man was smiling; I never use my glasses outdoors, so I couldn’t tell if he was smiling at me or to somebody else. I kept up my pace, but he called my name, and I stopped. Dr Woodward was there, all smiling eyes. Maybe I had forgotten something in my report? “Did I?” No, Dr Woodward was talking as Edward now, he is not so formal or cold, he is inviting me for a drink and some light conversation. “A drink?” Not a bad idea. Andrew is in Berlin again, and I am alone, I love my home, but an invitation from the boss is one I can’t refuse.
Sh*t, why we are returning to the office? Maybe I got it all wrong, and Dr Woodward is back, and our conversation is going to be about work. That’s me, I never really understand others’ intentions, it’s so hard to read human body language; I’m better at reading their minds. Here we are, the next lift stop is Dr Woodward’s office. No! Why didn’t the lift stop? Where are we going? Edward is back, and we are heading for the helicopter, why? I’d never flown in a helicopter before. I am not good with heights and even worse with surprises. I am methodical, full of rules, and I feel insecure when I must face something I’ve never done before. “Why, Edward?”
“We are going to a place I want to show you, Selin. Don’t worry. It’s a small farm near London, but if we go by helicopter it’s a lot faster, and we can come back in time for a good night’s sleep, and still be ready for work tomorrow.” His words calmed me. I had been petrified because I hadn’t understood what was happening. I guess he had seen that in my eyes. “Selin”, he had called me Selin, not Ms Altay. Was that good or bad? What could this intimacy mean?
Thirty minutes later we were landing at a helipad. It was at ground-level, and I could see the lights of a big house nearby. “What is this place?” Edward was telling me that it was his home; that he lives here, away from the city, because he hates the noise, the pollution and the lights. In the countryside, he can see the stars, Yes, he can…I can see them too! My eyes are taken by the wonderful sky above my head. I can never remember seeing so many stars, each one brighter than the one before. Edward points to one and says its name is Betelgeuse. I liked the sound… Betelgeuse…. A star… I liked a red point too… Mars. “One day do you think we will live there?” “I don’t think I will see that. I will die young.” Stupid, thought…death is not a subject for this moment…
Edward took my hand and helped me through the darkness as far as the door to his house, but instead of going inside we continued to the garden – if you could call that space a garden. Behind the house there was a mini observatory, we were heading there. Astronomy! Edward’s hobby was astronomy…? Of course, he’s a physicist and a genius; what else would he have as a hobby? I smiled. He is talking as if he has never shared this side of his life with anybody, but Edward had seen the many astronomy and physics book on my bookshelf and wanted to share the beauties he saw in the UK’s skies.
It was a magic night. Now I am snuggling on my bed, relaxed. How many beauties there are that we cannot see with the naked eye; the myriad lights of the stars and planets were resplendent through Edward’s telescopic window into the universe. Even more so, as all the images were captured on a computer and projected onto an enormous screen on the observatory wall. He had been gentle, teaching me about each picture. Some I knew a lot about, others were a discovery. I was amazed. I was happy. I am so contented now…but I still long for more!
Dr Woodward called me to a meeting today at 1 pm. I hate meetings so near to lunch because I am a slow eater, I like to eat calmly. “Sh*t, better miss my lunch today.” All my files were on the ‘cloud’, I didn’t need paper, nor my computer, I would simply use the resources in his office; I was well prepared for my presentation. 12:55 pm I was there, waiting to see him. The blonde PA, (I never could remember her name), said I could enter. Dr Woodward was waiting for me. As usual in such situations, I was nervous. I felt like I wanted a hole in the floor to appear, or an alien to abduct me. “I am here Mr Alien; come, take me and do with me what you will and then I won’t have to face my boss.”
The office was different; a table was prepared with food and music was playing. Dr Woodward came over to me and invited me to sit and have lunch with him. Oh, my… How could this be? This man is full of surprises. Red wine, a steak for him and some vegetarian delicacy for me. “How did he know?” I am not actually a vegetarian, but I prefer vegetables to meat. Fish and chicken are the closest I get to meat in my diet. We talked about the project. He had read my report and was very impressed, but he needed more information; some points were unclear. I began, timidly, to talk, then, minute by minute I gained in confidence. In the end, I was giving a presentation about my idea. Dr Woodward looked at me, surprised.
I left the office late that evening. The tube was packed with teenagers yelling; drunks returning home and tired workers like me. Dr Woodward had asked me why I didn’t have a car. I said that I preferred public transport; that I disliked London traffic; it saps people’s energy, and furthermore, I didn’t want to contribute to the pollution in the city. But this conscientiousness has a price, I have to share my space with strange and scary people. Once I got I opened the shower and put some classical music on to play. When I am exhausted, I need to relax. I have never liked to use the bath; it’s awkward to immerse your body in a place where others have done the same. Ok, it’s clean, but is it? After my shower, I warmed some soup and had a glass of orange juice. I opened my mail, and the new book I had bought was there. I began reading it immediately.
Before I realised, it was midnight. I needed to go to bed. I needed my rest; tomorrow the new campaign would be launched. Dr Woodward had scheduled another meeting for that morning, and I didn’t know what he wanted this time. The book’s story, was vivid in my mind, but my eyes were dull. I don’t really know when I went to sleep, but I woke to the sure sensation that there was someone in the room with me. Scared, I turned on all the lights, and with an antique sword in my hand, persuading the imaginary intruder. It was a dream. It was all a dream. “Bloody hell, Selin; why do you have such a fertile imagination?”
Dr Woodward is showing me a new project in Turkey. He is travelling to Istanbul tomorrow and has just asked me to go with him. “WTF! International travel, tomorrow? Are you crazy, boss? I don’t have time to pack my things? How long will we be staying? Please… Oh sh*it, I am going to have to go.” “Sure” My answer made Dr Woodward smile. He said I didn’t need a visa as we could get one at Atatürk Airport when we arrived, but that I will need to pack clothes and material for a week. “A week?” But, but… I was aiming to visit the dog shelter this weekend. My little dog would must wait. I was disappointed.
We arrived in Istanbul in the afternoon, the day was cloudy and cold, and that surprised me. I knew that it is quite common to get snow in Istanbul, but knowing and seeing are different! The car was waiting for us. Dr Woodward was talking on the phone with someone called Serhat. It was my father’s name. My dad died before I could speak his name, I have few memories of him. My mum married again and Carlo, an Italian restaurateur, is the only father I actually identify with. He is a charming man, but a bit obtuse. My mum idolises him, and if she’s happy, I suppose I’m happy too. We are not much as a family, we are more like acquaintances, some of us share the same blood, but none of us shares the same goals, story or point of view.
Dr Woodward was observing me. I guess he was curious as I can be a bit strange when I’m absorbed in my thoughts. Then he said “We’ll be staying at the Ritz Carlton.” “Wow! Holy sh*t! A five star!!! My first international business travel and I am going to stay in a five-star hotel! Thank you, boss.” Our luggage was transported discretely to our room; Dr Woodward had reserved a Ritz-Carlton suite with connecting rooms. “He wants me close; I guess the business is serious. Good, it will be an amazing experience. You are f**king lucky, Selin!”
We had dinner in the suite, simple Turkish food, and I loved it. During the meal, Dr Woodward, John, Francis and I discussed a new strategy for the Middle Eastern countries. Turkey would be our door to that critical market.
Next morning, Edward showed up at the door of my room and invited me to go sight-seeing. “Why not? Maybe you can find your roots here? This is your biological father’s country, part of your DNA has memories from this land.” Our first stop was the Blue Mosque. I was excited and anxious. How are you supposed to behave in a place where, as a woman, you are not really welcome? But, ‘tourist’ is a synonym for ‘money’, and money is something everybody loves, so, there were a lot of instructions and information on how to enter the mosque respectfully. I wondered. How large a place is the mosque? Why blue? There wasn’t actually anything blue there! Edward told me later that when the mosque was built, the interior was to be ornate and decorated with beautiful blue tiles, but money ran short, and they had to use cheap tiles to finish it. With time those tiles had lost their blue colour, but the name still stuck.
The church of Haya Sophia presented me with even more emotion. I lost myself so much there that Edward had to touch my arm to bring me back to the present. I don’t like people touching me, and my reaction to Edward’s contact was a bit rude. He smiled and apologised profusely. “I’m sorry, Selin, I’ll never touch you again without permission.” It’s hard for neurotypical people to understand me. It took me many years to find out why I am this way. After reading a lot, and talking with doctors and psychologists, I finally I know I am not neurotypical, I am special, different, my brain works differently from other people.
I didn’t want to talk about that with my boss, so I never said a word about my atypical brain. My family never spoke about it and my friends have never asked. Sometimes it is better ignoring who you are and just pretending you are equal to everybody else. Is it? I am getting older, and my experience says hiding your true self behind a veil, while you keep trying to imitate others, so as not to be noticed just makes you look weirder, Finally, at a turning point in my life I decided just to be myself and ‘f**k what everybody else thinks’. But, I still don’t talk about it. Never! Well, not ‘never’ never; I told Andrew about my ‘disability’, he looked at me as if I was saying I was from another planet. From then on, we never talked about it again.
Three days of intensive work. Creating files; sending presentations from one computer to another; comments, evaluations, modifications and harsh criticisms were shared. Finally, our presentation was finished, and my boss was proud of our excellent work. That night, we had a private party, our clients were there, we were there, and Dr Woodward with all his charm was there. It was a pleasant evening, mainly because I hid on the ballroom terrace and enjoyed the sky, the snow and, above all, the privacy. The event was almost over and the last guests were leaving, when the door behind me opened; Dr Woodward was there. He simply came and stood quietly beside me. A perfect moment…
Next day, my colleagues returned to London. Only Dr Woodward and I stayed on. I asked myself, why? Last night I was trying to work out what really made Dr Woodward/ Edward tick. He is strange, and the fact I used this word about him made some bells ring. Is it possible? I knew, most people like me are smart, there are some who are a genius. Was it that in his case? Was my boss like me?
It’s a Thursday, and Edward has invited me to visit some people. When he had first suggested it, curiosity was my biggest ally in helping me to overcome the tendency to say ‘No’. But when I asked where we were going, he simply said that jeans, boots, and a good coat would be enough. I had no clothes like that with me! WTF was he was thinking. I felt sorry, but had to tell him I couldn’t go.
Edward looked at me with disappointment.
“Why?” He wanted to know.
I decided, to tell the truth.
Then he said I was to getup up a bit earlier than usual on Thursday…
I did, and now I was dressing in jeans, a pair of boots, a really soft sweater and a warm coat. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a different woman.
The Land Rover was waiting for us; a driver and a security guard too. Where were we going? We left Istanbul; the destination was the Syrian border. Edward wanted to see what life was like in a refugee camp. I was scared, why was he taking ME with him. If he didn’t care about his life, well, OK, but I cared about mine! “WTF I am doing here?!” Six hours later, we could see the first tents.
Edward walked into the camp; gently he took my hand and kept it on him; I found there was some security in that. Soon, my sense of danger was suppressed by witnessing the unbearable poverty; it was like a punch in the stomach. These people had lost their homes and were now struggling in a very hard winter. Children were wandering around, most of them wearing completely inappropriate clothes. I could see how blue their lips were. Babies were crying; hunger and cold were torturing them. I had never imagined a situation like that. My eyes were in tears. Edward was talking to a soldier; then he called me over. The story was sad. A baby had lost all his family; nobody wanted to adopt him. The Turkish government was trying to find a home, but the child was fragile and ill. Edward was going to take him. How? Adopting? Why?
Our return to Istanbul was silent. Only the baby’s cries filled the car from time to time. The nurse who accompanied us had the baby in her arms. I refused to take him. I don’t like pain, and the pain of others is even harder for me to cope with. Edward was again observing my reaction. His eyes were a combination of understanding and confusion. I have this power; I scramble other people’s feelings.
We arrived late in Istanbul; snow was everywhere, and Edward headed to the hospital. I returned to my room. I didn’t know what to feel. Why had a wealthy bachelor and genius decided to adopt a baby? A baby who would probably not survive? There was some mystery there, but I didn’t have sufficient courage to question him.
I was tired, so tired I hadn’t the energy to have a shower; I simply lay on my bed and went to sleep. I woke, at a knock on my door. “Room service? The housekeeper?” I dressed in my robe and opened the door. There was Edward. His eyes were red, with dark circles, he was tired; he probably hadn’t slept all night. He smiled, and that comforted me. Why was he trying to comfort me? He’s the one who needs it, not me. “Would you like company for breakfast?” How could I say ‘No’? I asked him to give me five minutes to change my clothes; he told me I could have 30, because he needed a shower and change too.
The breakfast was invigorating. I was famished and ate more than usual. Edward was still observing me, with very attentive eyes. I felt a question was surfacing in his mind. “Why did you refuse to take the baby?” Yes, why? “Because I don’t want to compromise my feelings with anybody. I don’t like to feel attached to someone who will leave me soon or later. The responsibility of raising a baby is immense.” “But nobody asked you for that; only to give him some warmth. I am now his father; he is my family.” His family, I thought he had one: his sister, and his mother and father were still alive, so, why was he so sad, and, at the same time, so determined to have this boy in his life. What was his girlfriend going to say? I guess he read my mind. “I don’t have a girlfriend. My family are like strangers to me. They did not accept me when I was young, and now I have money, I don’t accept them. We are strangers. My ‘friends’ are fantasy, I only have the company, astronomy and a lot of people who I know, but who don’t really know me.”
Wow! He was exactly like me! I understood him more than he could possibly imagine.
“I am autistic. It was a burden to my parents; they would have preferred a ‘healthy’ first child. I was everything but normal. My sister was the perfect opposite, so she was the successful child; I am the stranger. Most of my friends could never understand me and it was hard for me to understand them. I have a lot of rules in life, a lot of things that scare me even though they are perfectly natural to others. I don’t like people; crowded places frighten me. You see, I have a lot of behavioural issues.” While telling his story, Edward was laughing; a light, spontaneous and open laugh.
He had opened his life to me. His truths and his fears. I had there, in a restaurant in a distant city, a glimpse of who my boss really was. His courage to say that word: ‘autistic’, made me think about me, about how I had refused all these years to use the same word myself. Why are we like that? Why do we feel so ‘closed’, like homosexuals, transgenders, and atheists? We are always hiding who we are from society, from neurotypical people. Why do they seem better than us? Why do they have more rights than us?
“Selin, sorry to throw my world all over you. I understand you, I saw you were like me at the first meeting we had. But you never said anything; you were probably afraid. I often feel the same. Only now can I can talk about my ‘disability’ without fear. I am rich, and rich people don’t have disabilities, they are ‘eccentric’.” I fully understood him, but because I am not rich, I keep my ‘disability’ to myself. “Selin, I adopted the baby because I want to make a difference in the world. I want to show my disability doesn’t mean anything about who I am. I have a good heart; I am smart, and money is not an issue. That boy could be a person that changes the world one day; he deserves a chance, a chance that I only had because my family was rich.”
I know. My family is not wealthy; they are typical middle class, with standard middle-class values and concepts. I was the black sheep; I did not fit in. Was I a hapless child? I was not. I used every minute of my existence to show that. I was intelligent, capable, reliable. I was then; I am now! I have money now; enough to achieve my goals, a new home, and trips to distant places, but I still feel that all those labels from the past are attached and on display. Sometimes, when I am alone, it is like I have no right to be here. I am broken, I have a defect, I have a disability. I am autistic. I am… yes, I still am all those things.
It was the first time in my life I admired to myself what I was. For a long time, it was a curse, a death sentence. Now, I understand why I don’t want children. I don’t want them to have to face the same journey that I had. The pain, the prejudices, the isolation, the fight to overcome each obstacle; alone. No, a child does not deserve that.
“What are you thinking?” Ah! Edward, if you could read my mind. My thoughts are a kind of spiral, that only makes sense to me. I want to share; I don’t know how. “Tell me! Whatever you are thinking, don’t elaborate, just let the words come out… speak to me…I’m listening.” I did it.
I told him about my isolation, my fears and my rules. About how learning was difficult, about how my teachers pointed at me, already labelling that vulnerable little girl; labelling me; as a failure. I told him about my constant search for love, for respect, for a place where I could be me. How I found it in his company. My past and my present were opened in a torrent of words, tears and laughs. I was, for the first time, letting someone see me as I was; as I am.
“You are an amazing woman, Selin. I never doubted your capacity, your ability to suppress your fears and how you always do the best you possibly can. I was so happy when I met you; when I saw in your eyes that same strange light that I saw in mine every time I looked in a mirror. I had found someone I felt I could share my thoughts with. But you didn’t want to…then. You rolled yourself up in a web, a metal, electrified web that I couldn’t enter.”
I knew, he was telling the truth. I am scared of the world. I was hurt, once, no, twice…so many times that I can’t count. Andrew was a safe choice. He was always a long way away from me, travelling here and there. When we were together it was in restaurants, the cinema, a theatre or with friends. Our sexual life was a very planned outflow to serve our physical necessities. We were not a couple, more an outlet for our fears. I want to feel, to heal, to be whole again. I don’t need a forever, but I need a real today!
“I know you need it. I need it too. Let be friends, Selin. Close and truthful friends. Let our similarities be our guides; who knows where we will end up.” “In a balloon flying to the moon,” I said. Edward smiled. I smiled too. Finally, I could face who I am; more than that, I can now let another person see me. Edward invited me to his room. The baby was there, with the nurse. I leaned over his crib and took him in my arms. Maybe, maybe one day I would also face the idea of being a mother, just maybe…