What follows is the true story of how a motel clerk on the Turkish Coast nearly beheaded me on Halloween night, 1992. I have told this tale around a whiskey burn barrel a few times, but never written it up. Until now.
I was teaching English in Istanbul at a Turkish K-12 school owned by a tire magnate. I had a Turkish girlfriend named Mila, who was a PE teacher at the school and the former point guard of the Turkish Women’s National Basketball Team. We had fallen in love playing rat ball after work. She had the fullest and blackest lips I have ever seen.
When I first started teaching at the school, Mila had been married. Then she got a divorce a few weeks into the academic year.
On Halloween, which the Turks don’t celebrate, Mila and I accompanied several other teachers, American and Turkish, by bus, for an overnight stay in a resort village on the Aegean Sea. I no longer recall the name of the village, which surprises me, considering I nearly lost my head there.
At the last minute before we left, Mila decided to bring along her divorce documents. She said it might prove necessary outside of Istanbul. The hinterlands were drastically more conservative and a hard core Islamist might start an interrogation if he saw her with a foreigner and it appeared the couple was unmarried, loose, fancy free, and flaunting social convention.
That was Mila and me, but on the sly. We lived short stories every time we went out and novels inside her apartment. These were not American short stories and novels.
By afternoon, we had found a motel right on the sea. Mila and her Turkish female friend and fellow teacher, Bilyun, scoped out the lobby before we checked in to determine if the motel catered to foreigners. It did, they reported, but they also reported the clerk, who was dressed in a sport coat and slacks, asked them some personal questions that indicated he didn’t approve of two single Turkish women traveling with foreigners. Mila even had to produce her divorce papers for confirmation of her status.
Mila and Bilyun put on a ruse that they were sharing a room. The clerk bought it and we tipped him well. When we went to our rooms on the second floor, Mila and I pulled the switcheroo and Bilyun bunked with an older gay American man. It was kind of fun sneaking around and posting a lookout on the stairs for a possibly fanatical clerk. It all felt very Halloween and kind of noir.
We had a wonderful view of the Aegean Sea from our second floor room. There was a tiny balcony where two people barely fit but Mila and I squeezed in and we sat down on some chairs and I ran her through some English pronunciations as the sun set, perhaps one the most romantic things I have ever done with a woman.
That night, we all went out together for a grand meal of lamb kebabs and drank Turkey’s version of Ouzo, Raki, or “The Lion’s Milk” as the Turks like to call it. After the meal, we staggered down to the beach for more Raki and then headed back to the motel.