I looked out at the blue Bosphorus shimmering in the afternoon light and thought to myself “ I guess I will be buried in Istanbul………..” Rapidly the next thought was the memory of shortness of breath and the exponential panic and anxiety that surfaces with rising hypoxia, something I had experienced two years ago with a severe bronchitis and bronchospasm.
On the heels of that thought came the quick calculation of when she had been here and who else had been exposed: the five women writers, the two doctors and one lawyer: friends who had dropped in for tea………and their roommates and families. I stood rooted to the window as guilt and fear for them washed over me…….
In the morning while going out to the Doviz at the Uskudar Meydan to change money, I had quickly glanced at my phone to see if there were any urgent messages. I saw that she had texted me. I could not make out anything urgent in the little Turkish I could understand. I left for the Doviz.
The day passed as I walked the empty streets to the Meydan, cashed money, bought some nuts and dates, some grains and organic olive oil from the charcouterie. I entered Haki Zade and the usual bustling restaurant was closed, I bought some apple tea and Nar tea and some of their famous baklava and wished I could invite some friends to share with me with tea. On entering Haki Zade the welcoming person had respectfully offered me colognia to disinfect my hands, and also on exit. As I rubbed the cologne with alcohol in it, to disinfect my hands, the fragrance reminded me of 4711 a throwback to the days when the debonair men in my life in Pakistan sometimes wore that German cologne on special occasions.
I walked back to my apartment without stopping, except to pick up some things from the charcouterie near my apartment. He offered to deliver his goods and the ones I was carrying. I thankfully accepted.
I walked into the apartment and the glimmering light of Asr on the Bosphorus greeted me, the plants smiled and swayed with the breeze as I opened the window.
I checked my phone and one by one answered the texts. When I came to hers, I had to go to Google translate. “ I am cancelling my appointment with you because of the disease” she wrote.
She had just been to my apartment to clean three days ago I thought…………..
“because of the corona virus” I wrote in Turkish with the help of google translate.
“evet “ (yes in Turkish) she wrote, “I will call you”
“ do you have the disease” I asked and the texts at her end went silent.
“ are you ok?”
“Have you been tested?”
And finally, “ are you in the hospital?”
I looked at the pristine apartment that she had just cleaned three days ago, washed the windows to the point that the glass had disappeared and the outside scene seemed an extension of the inside. In the past she had organized my whole kitchen and closet and helped me clean the owners closet and pack her things carefully.
She loved plants and she would come in, clean their leaves, water them, move them around so they could get more sun, she would wash the balcony, the plastic chairs and water the plants on the balcony and clean their pots. The bathroom and kitchen would gleam when she would be done, I never had to point out things to her.
I remember when she first came to clean my apartment, she looked in horror at the statue of an angel ( probably cupid) which belonged to my landlady on one of the walls. Living in the west I had been disturbed by the statue but not overly so . After all it was not my home.
I could not understand what she said when she fired of in Turkish pointing to the statue, but I could sense the horror at the presence of the statue in my home, she pointed to it and said “haraam, haraam” then tsk, tsked in the classical Turkish manner and tilted her head upwards to mean NO! She pointed to my Quran and then to the statue, I guess she meant that the two cannot be together under the same roof.
When I came home after class, she had neatly packaged the statue in bubble wrap and it had disappeared into bowels of the owner’s closet.
As time went by a grandchild was born to her daughter for which she had to go to the other side of Turkey to visit. We would share our grandkids photos how they were growing and laugh at their antics. Mine across the Atlantic, hers on the other end of Turkey, too far for both of us to hug except virtually.
Eventually as my comfort level increased with her, she would make a Turkish Kahvalti ( Turkish breakfast ) for me before I would leave for class, and bring it outside on the balcony for me. Such a treat for me for someone to make my favorite breakfast and serve me, more like a friend rather than a maid.
In short, she was a blessing for me, a strange mix of a caretaker, maid and equal, away from home. She spoke no English and I spoke no Turkish but we chatted with my attempts at broken Turkish seeking help from Google translate when we got stuck.
When I would get home from class, the apartment would be pristine, the bathroom and kitchen sparkling. She would then put on her street clothes and fancy scarf and it would transform her into a college student. She would smile at me and tell me that she is leaving. Gule! Gule! she would wave at me going down the stairs.
Now……… ! it seemed, she had corona virus, and was too sick to answer my texts
My mind spiraled to the five women writers who had been to my home two days after she had cleaned my apartment and disinfected the knobs and switches. Dr Z had also been here with my Doctor and her sister.
I must inform them ASAP I thought but then a warning thought came in…………..
“ Confirm it first!”
I called Dr. Z and asked her to call F and ask her if she was ill with corona virus. Dr Z tried calling and leaving messages and there was no response……….
The sun was setting on the Bosphorus and my mind was whirling with what I needed to do and how soon did I needed to let the visitors to my apartment know that they had been exposed to someone with the virus even though indirectly.
What I realized standing by the window looking at the beautiful skyline of the grand mosques and palaces of Istanbul was a surprise. The thought of dying was not unpleasant at this stage for me, especially if one is promised Jannah or tawassul bin Nabi, in the end, but the process of dying is scary…………the shortness of breath, the rising hypoxia ushering in the panic and anxiety, with no way out……. I did not even get past this feeling; I did not even reach the darkness of the grave in my ruminations….
Then her text came…………
“Yooooooo “ she wrote in Turkish “Noooooooooo” “ I am not sick; I won’t come as a precaution”.
This time I confirmed the translation with Dr Z, and she said it was correct.
A close call………….A message lost in translation, an awakening to the other world……….