When she returned to her hotel room that afternoon, all signs of the Turk were gone; the room was as immaculate as when she’d checked in. But when she opened her suitcase to change into a t-shirt, she found a note on top of her carefully-folded clothes.
Francesca, It was a pleasure. Will you join me for dinner tonight? Together we can enjoy Istanbul. I’ll send a car for you at 8pm. Selim
Francesca collapsed onto the giant bed and kicked off her heels. Tonight? She had planned to order room service with Timo and watch Real Housewives on the satellite TV, but with any luck, Timo would be passed out already, after the night he’d had. She looked at her watch. Four o’clock. She had time either to buy a new dress or take a nap. Both seemed equally essential if she was going to survive another evening in Istanbul. She mentally flipped through the outfits she’d brought with her: jeans and tops for working, the L’Wren Scott dress she’d worn last night, a Givenchy blouse and the Prada pleated skirt. Of all options, the Givenchy-Prada combination was the only possibility, but it seemed too prim for this city. She reflected on the women at the dinner last night. These people dressed for the evening.
She lifted the phone next to the bed and pressed zero.
“At your service, Ms Ghiberti,” the concierge answered.
“Ciao, I mean, good afternoon. Is there an Yves Saint Laurent boutique in town?”
“Of course, Ms Ghiberti. May I connect you?”
“Please, will you.” There was a pause on the line.
“YSL Nisantasi,” a sales associate answered.
“Hello, do you speak English?” Francesca asked.
“Yes, of course,” the associate replied.
“Good, thank you. I need a dress. Do you have the black knit that was the runway look? Size 38, please.”
“I have to check. One moment, please.” She heard the sound of footsteps, and the faint pulsing of the music that YSL played in all their boutiques. It struck her as funny that even in someplace as foreign as Istanbul, Yves Saint Laurent was always the same. “I’m sorry,” the associate said, “we don’t have the black.”
“Do you have anything comparable?” Francesca asked, slightly despairingly.
“How do you feel about red?” the associate asked.
Francesca laughed to herself. “The same dress? That will be fine.” She gave her credit card over the phone, along with instructions for the store to deliver the dress to the hotel concierge no later than six-thirty. Satisfied, she burrowed into the pillows and fell asleep.
At six-thirty the phone rang.
“Ms Ghiberti, your package is here. Would you like us to deliver it to your room now?”
Francesca glanced at her watch. She wanted to sleep more but should probably start getting ready. “Please,” she answered.
“Very well,” the concierge replied. “I’ll be up in a moment.”
The dress was exactly as Francesca had expected, but red. She hung it on the back of the bathroom door to steam and drew a bath in the huge tub.
At 8:05 she walked into the hotel lobby, and a doorman rushed to greet her.
“Your car, Ms Ghiberti,” he said, escorting her outside. He opened the door to the same (or was it a different one? how could one ever tell?) black S-500 from the night before. Selim was already sitting in the back. He looked her up and down approvingly.
“You are stunning in red,” he said, kissing her deeply.
At least her dress had had the desired effect. “Thank you,” she answered.
“I have a surprise for you,” he said, clasping her hands in his.
“I can’t imagine,” she murmured.
The driver took them to a yacht club on the Bosporus, and the Turk led her down the dock to a gorgeous vintage Chris-Craft, all lacquered teak and polished brass trim.
“Selim!” she exclaimed.
“The best way to see Istanbul is from the Bosporus,” he said, leading her to the gangway. A captain stood aboard, helping them on. She noticed champagne chilling in a bucket in the cabin. When they were underway, Selim went inside and returned with two flutes and the bottle; he passed her the glasses and popped the cork over the side of the boat, in a display she found both ostentatious and endearing.
“How often do you get to enjoy this?” she asked him.
“The boat?” he replied. “Honestly, almost never. My wife is afraid, with the children, and I hardly have any free time I’m not spending with them. It’s a shame,” he said wistfully.
“It’s perfect for tonight,” she said, raising her glass to him.
“To us,” he said, “and no one else.”
“To us,” she toasted.
As they cruised the Bosporus he pointed out the city’s landmarks–Topkapi, Hagia Sophia, all the mansions and the skyscrapers visible from the water. As she had been the night before, Francesca was transfixed by the lights of the city.
“It’s magical, isn’t it?” Selim remarked.
She turned to him and embraced him. “It’s incredible,” she said.
The captain docked the Chris-Craft at a small, private quay in a different part of the city than where they’d been before. The Turk helped Francesca off the boat and along the quay to an alleyway, only wide enough for two people to walk abreast. They were in the old part of the city, a maze of tiny paths amidst crumbling buildings, the beautiful decrepitude for which Istanbul is known. They walked in silence, Francesca looking around with wide eyes, wishing she had her camera. After a few minutes walking he led her through a heavy carved wood door and they were inside a courtyard. Francesca caught her breath–it was all stained glass and hanging gardens and candlelight, an intimate, kaleidoscopic version of the city. And it smelled divine.
“Dinner,” Selim said with a smile.