Message in a Bottle

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A family/love story set in Turkey, with reference to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Submitted: April 29, 2016

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Submitted: April 29, 2016

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It was the summer of 2017 when I had found the bottle. During college break, we had gone to one of the quaint little towns on the coast of Greece. It was a perfect day to be on the beach; light breeze, blue water and the sun were perfect ingredients for a wonderful day. It was when we went down to the rocky part of the beach that I found the bottle. Something glinting in the sun had caught my eye, and I had thought it was a broken piece of glass or something of that sort. Then, my friends reasoned that there couldn’t possibly be a broken piece of glass stuck between two rocks where the waves were crashing rapidly. We went to find out. It was near impossible to go and see what it was as there very sharp rocks from the beach to where the object was stuck. It was more towards the water, impossible for us to walk down and inspect it. The only way to reach it was to swim from the other side and retrieve it.

Vikram, an excellent swimmer, took off in the water and fetched the bottle from the other side. The look on his face when he realised that it was a message in a bottle, is something I’ll never forget. His hazel eyes lit up in a boyish gleam, a look of absolute fascination framed his face. From the looks of it, it was an old whiskey bottle, now covered in green sea plants, moss and little pebbles. The cork was absolutely jammed. Not being able to handle the anticipation anymore, Vikram broke the bottle, in order to retrieve the message inside. It was a sealed letter, written on cheap quality paper on which the address of the receiver was fading, and it was a little damp too. It was addressed to Fawad Ali, 54 Turkman Street, Minhoius, Turkey. We couldn’t figure out how old the letter was, but Vikram and I both agreed that we would not open the letter.

Over the course of the next five days, Vikram and I came to the conclusion that we would take the letter to the intended address and hope to give it to Mr. Fawad or his family, or someone who knew him, whatever it took us. We were both adventurous souls, Vikram and I, and we decided to leave for Turkey the next week. The rest of our friends who had accompanied us to Greece, had left, back to their hometowns, after shaking their heads at Vikram’s and mine seemingly hare-brained scheme to deliver the letter to Mr. Fawad.

“You actually think we’ll find this Fawad person?” I asked Vikram one night when all our friends had left and we were packing our things for the trip to Turkey.

“It’s worth the risk,” he said, his hazel eyes turning brown under the yellow light of the room.

“Risk or time-waste?” I mumbled. He just smiled that reassuring smile of his, which always seemed to put me at ease, and continued to pack. We were sharing a room to cut down costs, and just as he finished packing, laid down the maps and brochures of Turkey he had bought during the day, on his bed, and started to inspect the town of Minhoius, on the coast of Turkey.

The town of Minhoius was two days journey from the town we were in Greece, provided we went by sea. As we reached Minhoius, we booked ourselves into a motel near Turkman Street, which was now called Attaturk Road. The following day, the search for Fawad Ali began. Attaturk Road was a purely commercial place, lined all along with shops and restaurants, bustling with local people going about their day and curious tourists. The numbering of the shops had also been changed; there no longer existed a 54 Turkman Street. We found a middle aged man selling trinkets on the road who happened to have an old friend in the municipality who had assisted in the renumbering of the shops on Attaturk Road.

When we felt that we finally had a lead to find Fawad, the municipality shut down due to a fire in the main-house. Minhoius was a quiet town, the man selling trinkets, who introduced himself as Pasha, told us; the municipality here was really a formality and it would not really make a difference if it shut down for a week. That night, exhausted, after going from place to place trying to find anyone who knew about the previous residents of Attaturk Road, I sagged against the chair in the motel room and said, “If Minhoius is really a quiet little town, shouldn’t at least someone know who Fawad is?”

Vikram came to me and knelt in front of me, he could see I was losing hope. He held my hands in his, and said, “Look, I know it’s seeming a little hopeless right now, but isn’t this what it’s all about? If we give up right now, imagine what you’ll feel later. All the what ifs will come to you. What if we had found Fawad?  What if this letter contained information imperative to national security?” I giggled and he smiled. “We can’t give up now,” he kissed my forehead and my determination to find Fawad rose up from the deteriorated state it was in.

Since the municipality was shut temporarily, Vikram and I decided to do some sightseeing. It was a little Letters to Juliet-ish.  Minhoius was a really picturesque town. Cobbled streets, little stone houses, quiet little cafes with seating outside, beautiful flowers planted lovingly in every little balcony or windowsill, the absolutely blue Mediterranean sea stretching far in the distance. It was a post-card picture type town, the one you saw pictures of on the internet or read about in books. There were only some natives and awfully adventurous tourists here, Minhoius hadn’t yet made it to the Most Popular Holiday Destinations list. Vikram and I spent the day exploring cafes, visiting local shops, buying spices and handmade cloth, trying out the local cuisine, and we met Pasha’s family, who invited us over to dinner that night.

“Even if we don’t find Fawad, I’m glad we came here.” Vikram said as we were getting ready for dinner that night. I smiled and nodded in agreement, he hugged me from behind and we made our way to Pasha’s quiet little family home on the outskirts of the town.

Pasha’s home was exactly as I imagined it would be. There was stone archway as the entrance, covered with green ivy plants and a little veranda where the dinner table was laid out, complete with yellow lights overhead. There wasn’t a ceiling in the veranda, you could see the dark blue sky between the lights, and it was beautiful.

“Ah, my guzel kiz,” beautiful girl, Pasha said as he saw me, “Welcome home,” as Vikram and I made our way inside.

Pasha had two sons, the elder one was married with little, absolutely adorable son, Kayhan, and a gorgeous wife, the younger one was more near Vikram’s and my age and very, very handsome. Pasha’s wife, Fatima, was an absolute delight. She was very beautiful, a typical native Turkish beauty, with a wicked sense of humour which was more often than not directed at Pasha. He used just mumble and say something unintelligible when she scolded him affectionately but it was obvious and pure love that shined in his gray eyes.

The dinner that Fatima had prepared was, not surprisingly, delicious. There was Imam Bayildi with barbeque lamb and tzatziki- a native Turkish aubergine dish, homemade humus with chickpea dip, Turkish style smoked chicken skewers and almond and honey pastry with orange cream for dessert. Throughout dinner, there was constant laughter and chatter from four year old Kayhan, who found that Vikram’s lap was the most comfortable seat in the world and refused to get up. Everybody shared their childhood stories and Vikram and I told them about our college and future plans. It was a wonderful evening. Pasha also told us that the municipality would be opening the following day, the repairs had been completed.

We bid goodnight to Pasha’s wonderful family, promising to meet them again before we left. The cutest was Kayhan, who refused to leave Vikram’s leg, he eventually had to be lured back into the house with the promise of an extra helping of dessert.

As we walked back to the motel, Vikram held my hand and said, “What do you think is in that letter?”

“If someone was as desperate as to put it in a bottle and leave it at sea, I really hope it’s something important. Something that is worth it.” I replied.

“I really hope so.” Vikram said. “Mmm hmm,” I put my head on his shoulder as we walked down the quiet, narrow lanes till we reached the winding road down till the motel. From where we stood, we could see the Mediterranean stretch out, dark blue at night, with the moonlight shimmering over it and the sand of the beach glimmering like powdered light.

“It’s so beautiful here,” I said softly, both of us staring out into the Mediterranean distance. Vikram was looking at me when he said, “Yes, it is.”

We woke up quite early the next morning, despite staying awake the better half of the night, eager to get to the municipality. When we reached there, Pasha was already waiting for us.

Getting an appointment with the municipality was another task altogether. They just refused give an appointment just to take out old files. It took some coercion on Vikram’s and my part, some throwing around of weight on Pasha’s part (he actually created a scene in the municipality office about how he was an old citizen of Minhoius and how much he had done for the town and the least the municipality could do was take out an old file for him) and some under-the-table payments to finally get the file out with the old and new numbers of Turkman Street a.k.a. Attaturk Road. Turned out, the street had only been renamed and renumbered in 2015, two years ago, during the Syrian Refugee Crisis. We begged the man in charge to tell us the whereabouts of Fawad. To our utter surprise, Fawad was a refugee who had come from Syria during the crisis there. Due to the inflow of hundreds of refugees, Turkman Street had been converted into a camp of sorts, to house the refugees, who were all now displaced.

However, amidst this confusion, we were sure that Fawad Ali was definitely alive and in Minhoius, because there were no records of him leaving the city. We know this because after the refugee crisis, the town of Minhoius had kept records who went in and out of the cities, had done strict patrolling at the borders, to monitor the movement of the refugees. So, after going through a lot of records and impatient waiting when the municipality closed for lunch break (which went on till teatime), we finally found out Mr. Fawad Ali’s address.

He was living in the outskirts of Minhoius, working as a daily wage labourer. We couldn’t be happier. Vikram and I, both were anxious as we knocked on Fawad’s door the next day, his letter safely kept in my bag. A man in his twenties answered the door, we asked him if he knew who Fawad was. “I am,” he replied, scrutinizing us. I was about to eagerly take out the letter from my bag and give it to him but Vikram stopped me.

“Are you from Syria?” Vikram asked him.

Fawad crossed his arms over his chest, and repeated, “I am,” narrowing his eyes, he clearly didn’t like the look of us.

I finally handed him the letter. His eyes immediately filled with tears as he recognized the handwriting of the address, his stance softened, too.

The letter was from his twin sister Bianca, from whom he had been separated during the crisis. Fleeing from Syria, he had gotten onto a boat to Turkey and had later received the news that Bianca had also managed to escape and was on a boat to Turkey too, and so Fawad had sent her his current address so she could join him with her family in Minhoius. Bianca’s husband had been killed in the war a year before the crisis, and she had escaped to Turkey with her two children. No one had made it to Turkey.

As Fawad read the letter, with tears pouring down his eyes, we came to know that Bianca had written it when she was hiding in the bunker of the boat she was on, when terrorists had attacked it. She was hiding with her children, but she knew they had no hope. Finding a stack of papers and a pen that her little son was carrying, she wrote this letter to Fawad, telling him how much she loved him, in spite of all the stupid little fights they’d had and thanking him for taking care of her when her husband had passed away; hoping it would reach him. She had probably emptied a whiskey bottle she took out from the many alcohol crates that were there in the bunker, broken the  little window of the boat and stuffed the letter in the bottle, and thrown in out into the sea. Fawad had heard the news of the sinking of the last boat from Syria, two days later.

There was a picture of Fawad and Bianca inside the letter, of them as children. I saw it was old and brown, as Fawad gave it to us to see it, still crying and clutching the letter to his chest, but you could still see, very clearly, two little children, holding hands and smiling into the camera, waiting for their dreams to come true, not knowing what lay ahead of them. Fawad said he couldn’t thank us enough, for bringing him the last, sweet thing to remember his sister with.


© Copyright 2017 kdhingra. All rights reserved.

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