A golden sunset enveloped the gently undulating sea of Marmara as I stood at the top of the staircase staring down into the courtyard. The tour was now coming to a close and I could hear the guide leading the tourists toward the main gate. I could not bring myself to go down the stairs and join them. I looked back along the corridor and saw that the door was still open. I longed to go back but could not do that either. I was caught between the two worlds and I had to choose. I heard Gerald’s voice as he spoke to the guide demanding to know what had happened to me. The guide came through the archway with Gerald following close behind.” Where is she I have been searching every room and haven’t been able to find my Emma. We can’t leave her here. Well why won’t you do something”? The guide looked him up and down with a knowing smile. ” Museums are strange places are they not? You tourists who come here with your state of the art cameras always ready to steal what is in the past think that you own the world. Well let me tell you there are some things best left alone.”
Gerald grabbed him by the arm and shook him. ” I haven’t a clue what your gabbling about. Where is my wife?” The tour guide looked up to the top of the staircase and stared right at me. ” Tsk.” He shrugged and continued toward the gate with the others not far behind. As Gerald made his way to the staircase where I still stood with a questioning look on his face Rana appeared behind him. She began to sing that same song which had mesmerised me and which was now having the same effect on my husband. He turned his face away from me and moved toward her. She took his hand and led him toward the gate. Still I could not move. It was then that I remembered the painting.
I ran back to the room and ripped the painting from the wall. I wanted my own world, my own time, my own life. For the first time ever I realised that my world …. the world of Emma from Cumberland, was every bit as incredible as the world inhabited by Rana. She had taught me that everything in life can be bought and sold except for one thing. The human spirit. It was this that no painting could ever restore or reproduce. By entering that room I had freed her from ever being sold again and that is why she was able to leave the painting. I was to be the substitute. Gerald’s love had been too strong, however, and had drawn me back to my own time. Because my mind had kept pace with both worlds during my sojourn back into the harem my spirit could not be broken and no painting could steal my breath of life. As I began to claw at the painting it began to erode in my hands leaving me free of her world. The problem was that she was now in mine and I knew that I must act quickly .
As I moved to leave the room once more I found my feet were tangled in something. I looked down and there was the veil wrapped around my ankles. I stooped to pick it up. The veil was the bridge between our two worlds. It was something we had shared Rana and myself. This was the veil that had covered her face from men and this was the veil that had transported me back. As I looked at the veil it occurred to me that maybe we were not so different after all. Had I not worn a veil similar in length and texture to it on my wedding day? Indeed had there been no wedding there would have been no honeymoon in Turkey and I my knowledge of the strange eastern Paradise ,which is itself between two worlds ,would have remained just words on the pages of books devoured while waiting for the next big adventure.
I took the veil in my hands and left the room. I hoped that they had not yet reached the cliff top above the sea. I ran as if i had fire beneath the souls of my feet. Surely she would not try to take him from me. No she would keep him for me as I had done for her. She had said that she never wanted to belong to any man again hadn’t she? Maybe her only aim was to take him back for all eternity back to the world I had just left. It was this thought that spurred me on. I knew I must coax her back with the very veil that I now so tightly clasped wringing it back and forward through my hands.
Down the stairs, through the courtyard , past the princes kiosks where I had witnessed tearful reunions between mothers and sons, past the sultans kiosk, the schoolrooms,the armoury, the bakeries, the long hall where the fountains now were dry and on through the the gates. There were no guards lying in wait for me, no valide sultan monitoring my every move and no carriages bearing female cargo to the sultan . I was home free but all fell strangely silent in the receeding embers the fading sun. When I reached the gates which were thankfully still open my parents were waiting. I passed them and ran toward the cliff ledge. I looked down and there they were hand in hand wondering along the shore oblivious to anyone other than themselves. ‘ Would she again run into the sea? Would she try to take him with her this time?
“There you are my dear. Feeling better?” My father asked. ” Gerald has been so worried”
” He’s wondering aimlessly down there. Why don’t you join him?”
It was obvious they could not see Rana. Just as I was about to move toward the stairs leading down to the shoreline the tour guide returned. He walked straight passed us through the gates and waited just beyond as though he was expecting someone to join him. Suddenly I felt a breeze as Rana brushed passed me. The tour guide came to meet her and as she joined him inside the gates were closed to us. Gerald was be now climbing the stairs built into the cliff face and was fast approaching us. For him it was as if nothing had happened at all.
” There you are. I’ve been searching for you all over.”
I did not have the heart to tell him where I had been or of what had happened . Only time would tell whether or not he had been as aware of this open portal into a time past as I had been. I hoped that this would be the end of it and we would be free to love only each other but somehow I knew that Rana would return.
Meanwhile my parents were still waiting patiently and it was time to return home to the little apartment in Gostepe on the Asian side. I was now as excited about leaving Topkapi as I had been when I first glimpsed the palace.
© Renee Dallow ( Hybiscus Bloom ) 1/10/2014