He had a car waiting for them to leave the party, a big black Mercedes S-class, and a driver who took them to a bar in Nisantasi. He pulled around the back, purposely avoiding the crowds at the front of the club, the photographers, the step-and-repeats, the men in tight shirts and girls in tiny dresses. A hostess showed them to a table at the back, red and candle-lit. Selim said something to her in Turkish and she walked away.
“Why do you advertise in this kind of magazine?” A waiter came over to their table with a bucket and a bottle of champagne; Francesca recognized the label, and the waiter popped the cork as discreetly as he could, pouring two glasses of Cristal.
“What do you mean?” Selim asked, after they had raised their glasses..
“Look at you,” she said. “You’re drinking, you’re smoking, you’re with strange women. You’re obviously not an observant Muslim.”
He grinned, lightly stroking her forearm with his fingers. “How I was raised, Islam is just something you are. This is how I’ve always lived. Turkey has always been secular.”
“So why do you support this kind of publication?”
“These readers are aspirational. Maybe some middle-class women will choose to wear the headscarf but that’s as far as it will go–my wife wouldn’t, none of her friends would. It’s a movement of the lower classes, as tactless as that sounds to say. But when they want to buy a Tiffany open heart necklace, I want them to come to my stores. It isn’t a political statement, it’s just commercial.”
“And that’s it?” she pressed.
“Why are you here, if you’re so troubled by it?” he countered.
“Same as you, purely commerce.”
“I’ll try to give you more reasons to enjoy Istanbul,” he smiled, and wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her close to kiss her.
Francesca knew she had been flirting with this man all night, she had left the party with him and accepted his expensive, ostentatious champagne and sat beside him in the dark, smoky bar, letting him touch her and hold her and speak to her softly, but she hadn’t thought about what happens next. She had been with Paolo for so long that she had forgotten what it was like. With Paolo, everything just happened. This man, the Turk, was playing it out. The wife, the ex-wife, the two children, everything that comprised his life that he was able to ignore or neglect or disavow tonight. She drank the crisp, dry champagne, fingering the long, elegant stem of her glass and watching him watch her.
“I was walking in Venice one day,” he began, speaking low and deliberately. “I was alone, just wandering, it was January and cold. That damp cold of Venice, the cold from the water and the stone. I went into a palazzo to get warm, someplace along the Grand Canal, and I came face to face with that sculpture, you know–” he posed like Rodin’s Thinker, his elbow on his knee and his chin on his hand.
“The Thinker,” Francesca said, “I know where that is. Ca’Pesaro. I did the same thing, once. We were on a school trip and I thought I was going to be an artist, you know, everyone fancies themselves an artist in Venice, so I would wander off with my camera and take photos of pigeons or doorways or views down a narrow canal. And then I stumbled into Ca’Pesaro and saw the Rodin and I spent the entire afternoon there. I love Venice,” she said wistfully.
“It was the same for me. I love Venice. I go there twice a year, at least.”
“Venice? Why? I live only several hours away but I haven’t been there in five years.”
He fingered the gold pendant hanging from her neck. “Can you guess?”
She closed her eyes and laughed at herself. “Of course. You must go to Vicenza for the jewelry shows.”
“I’m like you, I think. My work brings me to the best places in the world. Several times each year to Italy, several times to New York, to Paris, to Geneva. I love the travel.”
They were having a conversation. Sitting in a bar, flirting, sure, but having a conversation about their lives. Like adults do. She would sleep with the Turk, Selim, Francesca knew that, she could tell by the way her heart raced each time he touched her arm. She would let him make love to her all night long and she wouldn’t care if she ever saw him again, but this moment, to him she was the most fascinating creature on earth.
“I think we are getting divorced,” he said, quietly.
“I’m sorry to hear,” she replied.
“Why do you say that?”
“I’m sorry to hear when anyone gets divorced. It’s sad for a dream to end like that.”
“Have you ever been married?” he asked her.
She shook her head. “I can’t imagine it,” she said.
“Why do you say that? You must have a boyfriend. You don’t ever think of marrying him?”
He had caught her off guard. “I don’t think he’s the marrying type. I don’t think I’m the marrying type.”
The Turk laughed. “My problem is that I am the marrying type.”
“You won’t have to worry about that with me,” Francesca replied, twirling a strand of hair in her fingers.