The Back of the Van

I remember so clearly the last time I saw his face. He had run out of the courtyard to catch a glimpse of me in a shared ride van on the way to a remote Turkish airport. I didn’t expect him to do something like that–something that so clearly expressed sentimentality. But there he was, his sparkling, devilish eyes watching mine as they shed yet more tears for him.

Everything about our relationship was poetic, including the fact that the last time we had sex (though neither of us really knew it was going to be the last time), he didn’t give me an orgasm. It was the most perfect summation of our entire dynamic, me wanting so badly to please him, and him taking what he needed whenever it struck him; not caring, not noticing, blissfully immune to how willing I was to do anything that would result in the slightest expression of a crumb of love.

When he was finished in me, he took a shower, as he always did. It was while he was toweling off, thoroughly rubbing the linen over his hairy body, that I knew I couldn’t continue on his journey with him. Because that was just it–it was his journey. Not mine. Never was. I had simply followed him to the far reaches of the earth in the vain hope it would mean something to him. It didn’t. In fact, I think a part of him was disappointed I hadn’t maintained the long distance between us that would permit him to troll for foreign pussy.

But I chose to disregard the overt signs of disinterest on his part during our period of remote correspondence. Cappadocia, I thought. What could be more romantically esoteric? Or esoterically romantic? Either way, I was convinced the location would effortlessly contribute to the rekindling of the flame.

I disembarked from the bus at a ramshackle gas station, of sorts, praying Ambrose would come on time to retrieve me, as promised. Without his help, I was a sitting duck, a white woman in Eastern territory, looked upon as frivolous, easily taken advantage of. Mercifully, he was only ten minutes late to show up in the hotel shuttle that would turn right back around to make the thirty-minute journey back. He didn’t get out of the vehicle, merely waved to me from the window and motioned for me to join him.

I shoved my suitcase in the trunk and proceeded to enter the car where, to my dismay, Ambrose was seated next to a young Turkish girl named Melek (a moniker I later learned meant “angel”) who I guessed to be twenty-two. Thus far, my fantasies about the spark between Ambrose and me automatically re-materializing on sight had failed spectacularly. Melek blinked at me skeptically, then turned to Ambrose, who, as though on cue, offered, “Lyla, this is Melek. Her father owns the hotel.”

I nodded and got in, Ambrose sandwiched between us like some jank sultanic god among women. He leaned in closer to me as a mild show of solidarity.

“It’s good to see you Lyle.”

His masculine nickname for me didn’t seem half as endearing as it once had in this moment. But I pushed this thought aside to let him give me a quick peck on the lips. For most of the ride, he spoke animatedly with Melek, who had apparently grown quite close to him in the few days he had arrived at the hotel before me. Then, that was the thing about Ambrose: for as rapidly as he forged friendships, he was equally quick to dismantle them by leaving.

Melek was a native of Cappadocia, and often hung around the Mystic Cave Hotel purely because her father owned it and there was little else to do in the town unless you wanted to go ballooning every day. She had taken a shine to Ambrose, his American manner a source of endless entertainment and fascination to her. I, obviously, wanted to break her in half over my leg. And yet, whenever she wasn’t around, there remained a hint of old magic between Ambrose and me. The years of shared history an unbridled shock of electricity. Plus, when he wanted to, he could offer a level of charisma that was capable of convincing me of anything.

Yes, we’ll move back to New York together,” “No, I won’t let my sick need for parental approval come between us.” He knew exactly how to deliver a line to make me believe what he thought I wanted to hear. And, for the four days I was there, I did believe. It wasn’t until the last night that the spell was somewhat lifted. All thanks to Melek.

As I put on the most “dressed up” outfit for our last dinner in Cappadocia, which was a black shift dress, I reflected upon that earlier instance of Ambrose drying himself nonchalantly post-sex. I had asked him, “How much do you want me to keep staying with you on this trip?”

“100,” he had said in an innocently boyish way.

It sent a pang through my stomach to hear such a rare articulation of encouragement from him. Even so, I knew I was leaving.

Somewhere, bubbling to the surface was the revelation that Melek would confirm upon knocking on my door while Ambrose was downstairs making bus ticket arrangements. Melek, all doe-eyed and “unaware” of her sex appeal in a multicolored, paisley-inspired handmade dress, was bearing a tray of Turkish specialities that included one of my favorites, simit. Though it was technically a breakfast food, I still took it from her and ate stoically, suddenly in dire need of filling the hole that was about to be inside of me.

Melek set the tray down on the nearest flat surface and watched me continue about the business of primping. It seemed she was lingering so that we might engage in conversation. I pretended not to notice so that she would get the message. She did not.

“You are not how Ambrose described,” she verbalized in textbook non sequitir fashion.

“Oh? How did he describe me?”

“I don’t know. I thought you would be scarier. Uglier.”

I shrugged. “I see. Well, in this case, I’m glad to disappoint.”

Melek tittered. “He did not say you were funny. He just used a word I had never heard before. ‘Clingy.'”

I stopped brushing my hair. “Clingy.”

Melek drew back. “Did I say something bad?”

“No Melek, you didn’t. You spoke the truth is all. It can be jarring.”

Melek intuited that she had voiced something that upset me, and decided it would be best to leave me alone. At least some social graces didn’t need to be translated.

I finished “fixing my face” and went downstairs to find Ambrose. He was still at the front desk, glad-handing (his ultimate specialty). He side glanced at me, raising his eyebrows as a form of acknowledgement. Seeing as how he wasn’t going to be wrapping up his conversation anytime soon, I tugged at his sleeve, perhaps too much the signal of a clinger.

“What is it Lyle? You hungry?” he asked in a mocking, near baby-like intonation.

“No. I just… I need to talk to you.”

“Okay, I’ll be right out. Can you give me some money for your bus ticket?”

“That’s what I need to talk to you about.” I paused, searching for a way to inform him of my decision without actually saying it.

“Yes?” he probed, as though enjoying the way I was twisting and turning.

“I’m not going. I just booked a plane ticket for back home.”

“Oh,” he emitted, indicating neither displeasure, nor relief. He turned back to the concierge. “Well Bayram, better make that one ticket to Ardahan.”

Ardahan was near the border of Georgia, going in the direction Ambrose wanted to head toward: Tbilisi. Again, this entire journey smacked of something I would despise: slumming it in a hostel, dealing with prejudice against not just women, but American women and, worst of all, always knowing in the back of my mind that Ambrose was never going to return to New York with me. He was a dangler, an opportunist–and had expended all he could of his love for me.

Because my flight was so early the following morning that it would practically still be night, we didn’t bother trying our genitals at intimacy again. Instead, we slept hand in hand, calmly awaiting the end.

When I saw his face for the last time that morning from the back of the van, I thought, “Why did you have to push me so far away?” If he had let me, I would’ve remained his shadow forever. But then, like Peter Pan, men don’t care for it when their shadow is actually attached. It means they’ve grown up.

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