When we arrived in the little town we needed to find a place to stay. My father started looking near an old railway station and then around a small bus terminal but there were no hotels. The late summer sun was going down fast, leaving behind streaks of purple and pink in the sky. We stopped at a café and had some kebabs and garlicky yogurt. As always, watered-down tea and a little treat of sticky baklava followed. “Why don’t you ask someone?” my mum suggested, getting anxious. We could hear it in her voice. My father was finishing the last of the sweets and didn’t seem worried. “We can always drive all night and make it to the border by sunrise,” was his response. “The kids are tired and I’m tired. I’ll find a place myself!” she said in her definite, end-of-the-discussion voice, and wandered into the kitchen.
By now we were used to seeing our mother making her way into restaurant kitchens throughout our journey across Turkey. None of us could speak Turkish and ordering food was a nightmare. So my mother would follow the waiter into the kitchen and choose what looked good. On several occasions we all had to follow her out of the establishment, since the kitchen was not up to her standards.
“Come on. I’ve found us a place,” she called out, holding a bunch of keys in her hand.
Outside the air was cooler and the sky almost black. The hotel, if you could call it that, was at the end of the alley. We left our dad locking and unlocking the car and checking the oil and followed our mother up the stairs. There were only two rooms in the hotel and the other one was taken by a German woman researching a book on Armenian sites nearby. She told us this as my mother tried to find the right key from the bundle given to her back at the restaurant. Her hair was very short and she was dressed like a man in trousers and a shirt. The lady researcher, as my father referred to her in his later conversations, was sitting on a chair outside her room in the corridor, writing. “It’s quieter here,” she told us as we finally found the right key. “Is that a man or a woman?” my sister asked quietly as she smiled at the lady researcher. My mother just squeezed her wrist and pushed us into the room. It was beautiful. The walls were painted light blue and the ceiling a dark pink. Next to each other against the wall there were two beds covered in mismatched sheets and pillow cases. There was a mirror on the wall and above it a framed prayer. Best of all was a large window painted the same pink of the ceiling looking out onto an empty courtyard and further away to the snow-capped mountains which were our destination.
All that was left of our cinema were a few scattered pieces of newspaper and sunflower seed shells. Even the poles had been taken away. I stood by the pink window and looked out for a long time, until the sun made its way through the sky and into our room.
By the time we were ready for bed, groups of people started streaming into the courtyard. Children and adults, males and females, some carrying little stools and blankets, others just a stack of newspapers. Soon a screen had been erected: a large bed sheet attached to two poles. The previously empty yard was now transformed into an outdoor cinema. My sister and I couldn’t believe our luck. After a little persuasion, my father let us move one of the beds near the window. There, shivering in the cool night breeze, we covered ourselves in a polka-dotted bed sheet and watched an old black and white Italian comedy dubbed into Turkish. As the hopeful actor skied hazardously down the mountain in pursuit of his lover, we all laughed and cheered him on. No one wanted the beautiful lady in the lovely ball gown to marry the mean grey-haired man in the bow tie. He was jeered and booed. During the wedding scene, as our hero walked down the aisle holding the lovely lady’s hand, a Turkish song was played very loudly to the delight of the audience which clapped along. “I hope they stop this racket soon. It’s past midnight,” my father said sleepily from behind a map he was studying in preparation for the next day’s journey.
I can’t remember when I fell asleep, but I woke up very early from the cold. The room was dark but outside the morning light bathed everything in a milky tone. My parents, squashed together in a narrow bed, were fast asleep. My sister had fallen to the floor with all the sheets wrapped around her and was also asleep. This was a magical moment: I was the only one awake. Someone had moved our bed away from the window during the night. I tiptoed to the window and looked out. All that was left of our cinema were a few scattered pieces of newspaper and sunflower seed shells. Even the poles had been taken away. I stood by the pink window and looked out for a long time, until the sun made its way through the sky and into our room.