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David Nightingale: Serap

Serap was attractive, about 26, black haired (like most middle easterners) with neither burka nor chador; and she worked in our physics department at the university. I saw her as somewhat reserved, polite to all, and self-contained. In one course I was the instructor and she the assistant. I was a year or two older, and careful to be reserved myself, very careful actually, because -- in the 1960s anyway --  interactions between opposite sex foreigners and Moslems was an extremely sensitive matter. Westerners were unbelievers – there was a specific word for it in the dictionary –  gavur  (infidel)  –  and I had no intention of being attacked or receiving a ritual beating.

Thus she and I rarely had conversations that went beyond work. I understood only that she lived with her parents in the suburbs, and after Ankara University had completed a 1 year assistantship in Uppsala in Sweden. Now she was back as an assistant at Ankara's newer, international and English-speaking Middle East Technical University.

After we had been formal aquaintances for many months she mentioned to me that she and her parents used to spend summers in a vacation house not far outside Ankara. When I asked her to describe it she said “Would you like to see it? Perhaps on Saturday we drive there in your VW?”

I was wary. I liked Serap; she was what one might call a 'neat person'; but it just wouldn't do, to have people stare and talk, even threaten the fair-haired westerner and the slim Moslem girl. “I'm terrified,” I said. “What will your parents say?”

“David, I decide, and my parents trust me. Also, my parents have chosen a husband for me, and I trust them.”

“They have? It's an arranged marriage? Is that what you want?”

“Oh yes, he's an engineer. He's a good man.”

The following Saturday I picked her up after lunch where she was waiting in the street outside her parents' house. She stepped into the car quickly and forty minutes later we were at her childhood summer home – some rather small concrete-constructed but oddly attractive buildings with a nice view. She was obviously delighted to be re-visiting a childhood haunt; very few Turks had cars in the '60s and she hadn't been there since schooldays.

“I will make us some tea,” she said.

It was a pleasant afternoon, and we chatted, looking towards Ankara in the distance. Her English, while halting, thankfully was far better than my Turkish. Later, as the sun began dropping she said we should return.

“David, c(h)ok tesekkur -- thank-you so much. Seeing the little house again has meant so much to me,” she said on the way home.

“It was nice for me too”, I replied.

I dropped her outside her parents' house without lingering. As I crossed the busy city, evening had come, and with it a sudden and violent spring storm.

At the end of the semester, it came up in a casual conversation that I would be driving back across Europe. She asked if she might travel with me – to see her long-time girlfriend who was in London.

“But, your fiancee?” I asked. “Surely he will object?”

“Oh no,” she said. “I decide what I can do, and he has agreed.”

Well, we made the 4 day trip – Greece, Bulgaria, Austria, staying in small pensyons, with a sudden side trip down to Venice --  then up through France to Paris, always mindful of her arranged marriage; and on to my parents whom I hadn't seen in 3 years.

I delivered Serap safely to her girlfriend in London.

Last night, as I ate in a Turkish restaurant during, oddly, a sudden violent storm, I wondered how the ensuing fifty years had worked out for her.

David Nightinglale is an emeritus professor of physics at SUNY New Paltz where he taught for 31 years. His first novel, The Centauri Settlement, is produced by TheBookPatch.com .

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