The day was dawning and Gurel awoke to the sound of scraping blades and the clanking of armour as the guards went through their morning rituals. He could think only of Rana and of how he would arrange their meeting. After prayers He made his excuses claiming that he had an errand to run for the pasha which would take at least a whole day and went out into the streets of Perra. He had organised a change of clothes which he had hidden in a nearby market stall the day before. The stall keeper had been easy to bribe as had the guards who would have been on duty with him that day. It was not long before the players from the opera company began perousing the markets in search of extras for their production.
Gurel had convinced them of his gypsy creed and was one of the few chosen. Rana and I had spent the day preparing a new dance to impress both sultan Hamid and the company. She was the seductress and I the comedy relief. We were given the opportunity to create a dance story which would mirror the plot of the opera to show our appreciation and that of the sultan and his party. We were briefed on the story by the Valid in the great hall. The opera was called ‘ The Barber of Seville’ and was apparently a bit of a farce with lovers in disguise, meddling servants and secret notes being passed to organise forbidden meetings behind closed doors.
The plot couldn’t be more perfect considering our plans. If indeed Gurel had managed to convince the company of his talents then he would be a part of this charade. I would be able to pass him a message from his beloved and in so doing arrange a meeting and perhaps even an escape for the three of us. Together we devised a dance story which involved the secret passing of pieces of information via whispers and notes with others in our little dance ensemble. These little notes were actually handkerchiefs much like those used by his excellency to summon his favourites. Sultan Hamid looked on with great amusement as we manouvered our way around each other and around him also in our attempts to steal handkerchiefs with supposed secret messages embedded in them. At 4.pm the carriages arrived through the Carriage gate and and waited outside the sultans kiosk to the left of the imperial hall.
There was much excitement as we all scurried around looking for our bits and bobs and trinkets. The eunuchs lined up outside to ensure that we entered the carriages in an orderly fashion and also in accordance with our status. Rana and I were seated together this time with two others. The guards and military escort waited on the other side of the gate for they were not to see our faces. The sultan had gone on ahead of us,of course, as he was the host and there were many arrangements still to be made. Not only was Sultan Hamid a patron of many opera companies but was also composer of sorts himself. I remembered that as a child I had helped him with a libretto and had mimicked several characters singing different parts. It was strange how like my own father he was. A kind man with penchant for creativity and a taste for the finer things in life. This was not just to do with his status in life but with his character too.
So even though Rana was a captive and bound to his desires she would also be nurtured and treated with care at all times. The journey to Yildiz Palace was pure pleasure as it was a rare opportunity indeed to be able to see the outside world. People going about their every day business haggling at market stalls and meandering in the streets lost in conversation while their children ran amok in games of chase and hide and seek. We could stare out at the Bosphorous gleaming in the afternoon sunlight blue as a sparkling saphire and wonder at the enormity of the daring task ahead. That of making contact with Gurel. We had devised a plan that involved a written note on a handkerchief. At some point near the end I would hand the handkerchief to Gurel probably as the company took their encore and we prepared to enter the stage behind them. As there had been no rehearsal on the actual stage at Yildiz opera theatre we were not sure yet of which strategy to employ. On we went through the lush green park lands that surrounded the palace and marvelled at the gardens and the little footbridges arched over rippling streams. Then at last we came to the palace. Smaller than Topkapi but very elegant set in manicured lawns and shaded with cedars. More in the style of a Georgian mansion similar to those found in ‘Bath’ England. Behind the main section of the palace was the harem quarters where we would stay for the duration of the performance until it was time for us to dance.
We hoped that we would be staying the night and returning the next morning as this would work in Rana and Gurel’s favour. I hasten to add that it would not be in my favour but I had to remember that this was not my time and therefore Gurel was not yet mine. I was well aware of the irony of my situation yet I knew that if I did not play my part he would never belong to me. Not in this time nor the next. I knew also that I loved them both and would do what ever I had to so that fate could follow course and reach it’s conclusion.
On entry to the harem quarters we were amazed by the opulence of the corridors. Awnings of gold leaf over panels of rosewood and chandeliers hanging from high ceilings. The rooms were spacious and beautifully furnished. My room was a few doors down from Rana’s. We would, however, be left with guards at each end of the corridor. I hoped it would not be too difficult to bring Rana and Gurel together. As we dined with the others in the main hall, our handkerchiefs hung on pegs on the wall ready for the dance, we planned the daring reunion.
© Renee Dallow ( Hybiscus Bloom ) 26/4/2014