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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

September Colours

A waiter approaches our table with our order, three fruit drinks in tall glasses and three plates of crêpes filled with spinch and cheese. I pick up my knife and fork, which B snorts at as she picks up her folded thin layer of batter with her fingers and takes a large bite.

The young girl takes a sip from her glass. "So, what do you look for in a woman?"

B and I cough at the same time. "That's a bit direct, honey," B laughs into her plate.

"What?" Mr. X's daughter is indignant. "Can't a girl ask?"

"Oh, we girls can ask anything with a straight face," B replies, "but it's not the what but the how that's important."

"Well, can I help it if I'm curious?"

"Of course not." B turns on me, "Well? Answer the girl's question kiddo."

"Well," I say, silently chewing, "I think they've outdone themselves on the crêpe today. Mine's exceptional, how's yours?"

B gives a mock growl. "About two seconds away from your lap mister, if you don't answer the girl's question."

I swallow slowly. "You know, over these past two years the blog has formed some curious habits in me. Whenever I get asked questions of this nature I feel the need to direct them to a link."

The young girl looks at me, "You mean you wrote about this on your blog?"

"Must have been before your time," B munches out, with a flick of her long, dark hair. "I remember something like that."

"Well, it's a question that's been asked before," I add.

"Shall I just tell what I look for? A firm erection that's what. Oh, don't look at me like that! The erection is a monument to women!" B's oily fingers pinch my arm with a wink. "So, wanna give us your shortened version now?"

"Not really," I say, cutting another piece of crêpe, and ignoring B on many counts. I look up and take the bite with meaning, "I came to eat." I watch the young girl give us both a glance that I can't quite read, but it seems my friend has understood. B laughs out loud, and a few people at the table next to us on the terrace turn to look at us momentarily. "Care to enlighten me," I ask, "and people in the vicinity?"

"She's under the impression that when we get together to eat, all we do is talk about big issues. That's the blog for you. I think we're disappointing her."

I watch as Mr. X's daughter's squirms uncomfortably under the truth of B's scrutiny. I shake my head, and put down my knife and fork. "I feel like a monkey asked to put on a show."

The young girl shakes her head, "Oh no - no I really do want to know. It's just that -"

B smiles, her lips magnified from behind the tall glass she picks up to drink, and quips before Mr. X's daughter can finish, "It's just that you want to be in a Letters to B - is that it?"

The young girl makes an attempt to laugh and fails a little miserably. "Well - no - of course I wouldn't mind -"

I try to cut in helpfully, "I know I'm forever changing it, but I think now is a good time to change the subject. How about we talk about football?" Silence settles at our table for a moment, but is a fleeting guest. Undaunted by B, the young girl is the first to show it the door.

"You know you were right what you said about the Pope that day," she offers a topic of discussion. "I read some type of headline like Pope apologises for the first time in two thousand years."

"Oh no, not that again," B rejoins, her mouth chewing fast. "Anyway, he didn't actually apologise for what he quoted."

I sigh, picking up my utensils again and looking down at my cooling crêpe. "Can't we just eat?"

B stops in mid-chew. "Why? Talking about men in dresses puts you off your lunch?"

Mr. X's daughter laughs. "Seriously, though. It shows a change in the world when the Pope eats humble pie."

"And so he should," B snarls. "Muslims satanize Christians, too, I'm not saying they don't. The only difference is they don't satanize Jesus. It was obvious he made a big boo boo, and the backtrack is just PR.

"The West will always have double standards towards Muslims and Muslims will always be the underdog. Look at the Srebrenica massacre. That was before 9/11 and look how Europe and the UN dealt with it. It took a Muslim diplomat to demand a UN report on the massacre of thousands of Muslim men and boys that could've been avoided had someone cared at the right time."

I forget lunch, as I reply gently, "I know recent world events have started to radicalise you slightly B, but you have to keep it in focus and always allow for self-criticism. Doing that won't make those you believe wrong to be right, it is a safe-guard for you not to go wrong."

The young girl looks at me. "So, we're all as bad as each other?"

"Or as good as each other," I reply. "We have to begin focusing on similarities. And I know we will."

B steamrolls through my tunnel of logic. "Isn't that the romantic in you coming out again?"

"No, the scientific. It is inbred in humans that we fight for survival. We're only going to survive if we work together. We'll work that out one day. And the way to start is to put aside differences for the moment and first focus on what is the same.

"I've met some great people that are religious, but what frustrates me the most is the high probability that there'll always be followers from all three faiths that are inflexible to another point of view. We don't put enough emphasis on humanistic or spiritual elements that actually connects us together and use that to come closer together.

"It reminds me of the story Guilliver's Travels, when the little people start wars about which side an egg should be eaten from. They argue even the smallest differences as great divides that no one should cross. The way some radicals act you wouldn't think they're followers of a faith of Abraham at all."

The young girl lifts her hands up in a clapping movement, but then stops herself suddenly, looking around her in embarrassment. B dismisses the girl's uncertainty with a wave of her unused knife. "Don't worry honey," she reassures her, "we all get like that now and again."

Mr. X's daughter puts her hands underneath the table. "So, how would you start focusing on similarities?"

"Perception," I say. "That's the problem and the key. In a way it is about PR like B said. The minute we see an Islamic headscarve, we get on edge. But the Mona Lisa is wearing a headscarf."

The young girl cuts in, "Really? I didn't know that."

"Letting your hair hang freely in those times meant you had loose morals, and as a married woman with five kids that rules her out," I explain. "It's because the picture is so dark, but look closely and you see she is in fact wearing a bonnet. Nuns wear headscarves, too, but we don't react to them as we do to Iranian religious outfits."

B swallows the last bite of batter and hungrily eyes my cooling dish. "That's because of all the positive imagery that's come out of Hollywood all these years. When you see a nun you think The Sound of Music."

I pass her my plate. "Undoubtedly true, but when you see a woman in Islamic dress and you wonder whether she's got a bomb under there, that isn't thanks to Hollywood. Whatever the reason, killing innocents is inexcusable. Muslims need to fight an image that some of them help to perpetuate and even like."

The young girl asks persistently,"So, what would you do?"

I think for a moment, before I reply. B imitates a drum roll on the edge of the table.

"I'd hand out dictionaries," I say finally.

"Ha! He does it again." B wags a finger at the young girl's surprised expression. "Bet you didn't expect that did ya?"

"When I was a child I used to open up my dictionary and learn a word a day. I used to read it like a book, get to know words as objects that can touch living things - swords or drugs that can cut and cull you. Before reading any holy book, I'd get people to read dictionaries first. Teach them to know words and the different perceptions and meanings they can bring about. I read an article the other day, about how much meaning was lost when Christian teachings were translated from Aramaic to Greek and Latin. Of course you have to take such articles at face value and do your own independent research, but it was interesting to read and it highlights that perception is the key."

I pause for a moment to look at both girls. B has stopped chewing. Mr. X's daughter has almost kept the same position she had when she sat down. "Take the word Lucifer. What does the word mean to someone who knows English?"

The young girl asks, "The Archangel?"

I smile. "In the ranks of angels, he was a seraphim, a top dog - an archangel is the second-to-lowest rank of angels."

"Aha," B says, finishing my food, "another misconception bites the dust."

I continue, before the plot is lost, "It conjures up evil to the majority, but it also has more meanings. For example it means bearer of light and is another name for a morning star. In that guise, the meaning of Lucifer changes. But because of the later actions of that angel, his name was sullied. It is up to us what meanings we attach to ourselves and the world around us. In that sense we are all gods and angels, we can be divine or have a downfall. But we must always look first for the blame in us and question our perceptions and realise that not everything is black or white before we try to change how people see us."

B interjects, "Yes, but there'll be a lot of people that will try to make you look bad, too. Why is it whenever Turkish interests are at stake, things happen to try and damage its international rep?"

"I'm not a conspiracy theorist B, but if that is so then we should take aboard the criticisms because some, if not all, will be valid and respond by taking away ammunition for them to use by making ourselves better than before."

As I come to an end, and look wistfully at my empty plate in front of B, Mr. X's daughter pops a question, "And in your dictionary, what's the most interesting word you found?"

I look at her thoughtfully, and for the first time I begin to wonder what was in the letter she had written to me, but decided to rip up. "Good question. There's many, but I'd say - Quagga."

"What's that?" she asks.

"An extinct species of zebra in South Africa. The content just seemed so unconnected to its subject. Quagga doesn't really conjure up zebras - so it stuck in my mind."

"Yes, I see what you mean."

B coughs. "Shall we have something sweet now, or are you both being sweet enough?"

"Now who wants a subject change," I grin. "No, I don't think I do. I'll grab something to eat at home - that way I know I'll actually eat something. But you go ahead."

Mr. X's daughter declines dessert too, and stands up. "I'll just make another trip to the-"

"We know," B waves at her and a passing waiter at the same time, "the little girl's room."

"B, be nice," I murmur, after the girl has disappeared up a flight of three steps into the back, and the waiter has gone with a large order of apple pie and custard.

"B is being B," she replies firmly, picking up the menu card and looking at it, hard. "Why should she get special treatment?"

"Why indeed? Are you still upset we didn't have a private chat?"

"Not really." She grins, and her dark eyes shine. "You never know, maybe I had my own letter to give you."

"Very funny-" I begin, but B's mobile phone begins to chirp suddenly. Its ring tone is Sounds from the Amazon or something similarly suited to her. She picks it up, and as the young girl approaches the table, she gets up and moves to a more private spot.

When she returns, I can see from her facial expression that they'll be no time for dessert. "It's some problem at the office, I have to go. Come on."

"Oh don't worry, I'll take Ali back," the young girl says.

I nod my head. "Don't worry about my stuff in your car. I'll get them later. It sounds important. You go." I shake my head as she takes out her wallet. "Just go, B. I'll see you soon." As B grabs her stuff and makes for the door, I indicate for the bill, and ask the young girl, "Do you mind if we went, too? I'll sort this out and meet you in the car."

All transactions done, a few minutes later we are in her car, driving towards Nicosia. The car journey is not uncomfortable, the radio croons out pop friendly songs, but I sense that the air is filled with more than just low volume music. I want to steer the conversation to a safe habour, but in the fifteen minutes we have to spend together inevitably the tide will take you, no matter what, to where it wants to go.

The young girl asks suddenly, "What makes you fall in love with someone?"

Here we go, I think. "Boy that's a tough question."

"I don't mean in general - I mean - I mean you."

"Oh. Well that's an even tougher one I guess. Love is different at different times. You can fall in love with one person for their brain, click with another for their appearance."

"So you don't have one type?"

"People are worth far more than just a type. The road to my heart isn't through my eyes, but through difficult roads, roads not every eye can see or touch. It is a thirteenth movement, an unseen one you're always trying to perform. You know that film Love Story? That film and most romantic movies to be honest are not real. Love means never having to say you're sorry? No. Love means being able to say sorry as many times as is necessary. Love is having someone's signature imprinted under your own, the colour of the ink changing depending on whether they are near or far."

"That sounds like a Turkish poem I read once."

"September Colours. It was in the Kıbrıs newspaper years ago."

She nods her head. "Yes that was it. And loads of others. Are you that Ali Yildirim?"

"Yes. They're my work."

"I don't believe this."

"What?"

"Do you know reading those poems kept me sane when I was studying? I always wanted to know who that person was - it was so diferent the stuff you wrote. I still even have one newspaper clipping framed. Why did you stop?"

"I'd said what I had to. It was time."

The car stops abruptly. Mr. X's daughter drives fast, but I was amazed that we had already come to journey's end. We both stared up at my house.

Turning back to me, the young girl asks, "what will you do now?"

"I'll try and get that twelfth movement in, probably."

"I'm sorry I interrupted you today at the beach."

We stare at each other. She moves over to kiss me suddenly, but I place a finger on her lips.

"Kissing lips is easy. I prefer to kiss the soul of a person first."

"You have someone else?"

"I don't have anybody. They don't have me. We don't own people, we love them."

"You love somebody else then?"

"Here's your last Latin from me," I respond quietly. "Omnia mutantur, nihil interit."

"Meaning?"

"All things change, nothing dies." And leaving another movement unperformed, I get out of the car and make my way to the front foor.

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