The shadows are back. They exist beyond my boyfriend’s South Boston apartment, I think. Not sure this is a good or bad thing. This time, it is a man in western Ottoman-era dress with a pince-nez and a lady in the red dress of household helpers. Even in my dream I can’t bring myself to say “servant.” Their hands are touching gently enough to reveal the love between them. They gaze, mesmerized by eachother’s eyes, with only tree and cloud puppets moving around them on the white screen behind them. The flickering of the candle behind the screen brings a warm, glow, almost as if illuminating a secret, but I can hear pots and pans clanging in the background, thanks to the puppeteers, who are creating thunder to indicate an ominous mood. The camera pans to me, the narrator of the dream, “who knows if a mixed race couple was an unlikely couple in Ottoman times,” I note with reserve, “there was so much cultural mixing, and besides that, they seem really in love, but I wonder why the thunder?”
The hypnotic mood is broken by a clash of thunder, a crack of bright white light – and the appearance of Karagöz and Hacivad. “Eee gads,” Hacivad declares, “you most certainly may not continue this improper behavior! Stop at once, Khadijah, back to the servant’s quarters! And Celebi, I should expect such from a dandy such as yourself, but really, what of the girls of good breeding? We must conference at once. It is one thing to have an affair with a lady of the house and another to propose marriage.” As Hacivad is delivering this dictate, Karagöz is amping him from behind, making faces behind his back and generally striding about in preposterously exaggerated poses. He takes his chance and creates the fray he is simultaneously jumping into “Oh pooh – fahgeddaboutit, let love live, viva love! Look at the love and tender looks like so much rose syrup flowing over the soft curves of the poached quince and kaymak.”
As Karagöz is camping it up, the white stage fills with spectators – the lovers are still touching their hands in that gentle manner, but they have turned away from each other, back to back, looking alternately downward in defeat at being found out and defiant in their love and the very rightness of it. Addressing the growing crowd, which now includes his parents, the owners of the red dress lady who are tugging on her arms – and any manner of other folk, Celebi stands forthright and declares his love for the woman I now realize is named Khadijah. “I intend to make this wonderful woman my life – we may come from alternate ends of the earth, accustomed to different practices and stations in life, but we are willing to learn eachother’s ways, and find a happy medium together, if you will allow us to take this modern route, and make a life together.”
The crowd bursts into an uproar, with cries of “what of her customs? They are not welcome here” and “she is ignorant, as are the race in her country, not sophisticated. Do you want an Egyptian child?” Khadijah tilts her chin up “judge me by my actions and not my words,” a tear slides down her face, “do not stereotype me.” Celebi announces “she is a wise woman, do unto her as you would do unto yourself.” The crowd continues with sure-footed commentary along the lines of “he will tire of her, and seek another wife, who will be none too pleased to be second wife to Khadijah” and “but they follow different religions – she the dark ways of North Africa and he Islam – it is not possible.”
Celebi responds with confidence and disdain “I respect but do not embrace Islam as my religion, I, as the Sultan, believe in science and the power of the earth – not the idols of man – but I accept her religion, it is her doing, not mine.” The lovers stand firm, their right hands holding the left, and the left right on the other side, they are firmly back to back now as the crowd comes closer and closer, their admonitions like flames in the fire of a witch burning, they begin to spin, and fade into the view of what is becoming the pinhole, the angry crowd’s voices become a cricket chorus as their size lessens…I am spinning, Khadijah’s red dress is spinning, Celebi’s hands are spinning, I wake up in the dark, dizzy.
I awaken dizzily to the pilot’s voice in my headphones, a disruption to the Sufi chanting that has lulled me to sleep. I wonder if the lovers made it out alive. “Will this be us,” I wonder, “will we be resisted this way by our communities, or will things settle down? Will we find acceptance and find ways to bridge the differences for our families? Perhaps,” I think, “I am just being too melodramatic. This is, after all, not Romeo and Juliet, and it is just a visit to meet his family, a first visit. Why am I so worried?”
Meanwhile my boyfriend is handing negotiations with the flight attendant for some milk to go in my tea, which does not compute, as this is not done in Turkey, no milk in tea. All I can understand of this are the words he has taught me “çay” (“chai,” for tea), “süt” (sort of like “sooht,” for milk) and “lütfen,” (“lute-phen” for please). Shaking my head to awaken, I am disoriented enough about the crescendo of discussion around the milky tea but more disoriented as I am trying to remember my vivid dream.
Here I am, I think, I am still in the airplane, my face pressed to the side of the oval window to the clouds, I can already feel the sleep-derived dented groove along my forehead and cheek. I am a deep sleeper, and these dents take hours to fill back in. I turn to my boyfriend, who laughs at me and kisses me with the kind of new-in-love enthusiasm that ignores the dent. “We’re about to land, sweetheart, and you have a mark on your face!” As if shot with adrenalin, I bolted over him and made for the bathroom to try to get the sleeping dent out with a bit of home-style microdermabrasion. I was not relishing the inauspicious start to the arrival from the aesthetic, self-centered standpoint, so I broke my usual rule of visits to the airplane bathroom only at last resort.
I knew I looked ok in my outfit. It had already taken me over a week to decide what to wear on the airplane with multiple movements of outfits from closet to body to bed and back to closet before starting again the next day. I had finally settled on black Capri pants, black patent leather sandals that highlighted my freshly-pedicured metallic coral-pink toes and a smart black top that seemed to work well with my hair, styled just an hour before leaving for the flight by my hairdresser. I could not take a chance on frizz potential – I went for full-on straightening. It was my New York style at its best, and I hoped it would suffice as conservative enough, yet also stylish enough. I knew my boyfriend’s family were secular Turks, but I couldn’t be too sure and wear something too revealing, I thought.
Once standing face to face with myself in the cramped but shockingly not really malodorous privy by now filled with the crumpled brown paper hand towels of the entire airplane’s human cargo after over nine hours of flight time, my heart was beating fast and butterflies were way too quaint and dainty of an animal to describe the Neolithic dinosaurs battling it out in my stomach. I hate to admit it, but I am very insecure about my appearance and meeting new people – especially the new people of a boyfriend from a different culture – sends me into anxious orbit.
My vision of my stylish self was nowhere to be found. My hair was flat and stringy from the pressurized air. A white smudge graced the front of my new shirt from where I had spilled my airplane dinner’s odd, chalky pudding. I had discarded any interest in eating if after just one bite. I was sweating in the way that only airplanes force one to sweat – a sort of smell exuding in the controlled air that highlights and ferments normal sweat. And, of course, I thought, to top it all off, I have a dent across my face, and no amount of cold water pressed on with paper towels is going to change that in time. “This can’t be happening,” I complain to nobody in particular in a fit of teenage-like angst, “I can’t meet his family looking like this!”
“Why yes, ma’m, you certainly can, and you will, with your head held high! Nothing to be ‘fraid of – you are a lovely lady, pay that mark no mind, it’ll disappear right quick.” The southern-sweet voice rang out behind me and I questioned my sanity with increasing alarm. Looking up and down the length of the bathroom mirror, I notice her first by the shadow illuminated along the back wall of the bathroom. She is the lady in the red dress, the one who got yelled at by her mistress for doing something wrong in my dream. “I remember you,” I stammered, “you had some kind of goo on you.” “Oh, you remember your dream, we weren’t sure you were aware of us yet, my mistress didn’t like my kine work,” red dress lady sighed. I remember that kine is a green henna paste used to make drawings on women’s hands before weddings but I don’t recall the details. Not crucial knowledge at this stage, I think to myself, but I must look this up. Still sighing, the red dress lady is explaining on – “she never liked mucha anything I do, and there are just some people like that, you just gotta deal and say ‘bless their hearts’ is what my momma told me. And why on earth do you care what somebody thinks?”
“Who are you, I mean…what are you?” I stammered, thinking I must still be asleep, “what the hell is going on – have I had some sort of airplane-induced psychosis? Ignoring this, the red dress lady paid me no mind and continued on. “You know, you are likely going to meet some fancy ladies who may not like your way of dressing – and that hair! They’ll fuss about the grey that you call silver,” she laughed with an easy manner. “It’ll all be just ok. Just be proud, be you and don’t worry so much!”
No sooner could red dress lady offer this kind advice than blue dress lady showed up too. I had a half-second warning as her shadow figure was illuminated on the back wall into my mirror as she made her way up my other arm. “Why now what kind of advice is that, Khadijah! I not in the mood as you are just about on my last nerve after that kine incident. You know damn well that in Turkey, ladies dye their hair – NOBODY has grey hair and look at all of this mess on her head! She’s about to walk into a hair disaster zone!”
“OK,” I muttered to myself, “red dress lady is Khadijah, blue dress lady is apparently histrionic.” Khadijah stood firm, her face didn’t crumple like mine would at that talk – she seemed as strong as the feeling of a finger traced around the inner part of a 24 carat gold ring – smooth, but strong and stalwart, ready to withstand, unbendable. “She pops a gasket, as they would say in your century, at pretty much anyhting” Khadijah winked over to me in sotto vocce, “you just have to let it roll over you and get on with your task.”
Blue dress lady appeared in front of me now, by the soap dispenser. She was jumping with all of her might on the handle, trying to wash her self-described ‘disastrous hand kine’ off of her hands with modern-day soap. “Disgusting, the way people leave their detritus and goo around just anywhere on airplanes,” she opined with disdain, “but you really must fix your face before you get out of here and meet his family! Don’t you have any foundation? Powder or mascara? Don’t you depend on this one, Khadijah messed up my pre-wedding henna hands by using the wrong henna, such an embarrassment, I tell you, I will never get over it.” As she delivered her dictates, she warped and bended her tiny waxy-paper doll self, catching just enough of the bathroom’s bright light for quite a show on the bathroom wall. “Call me Zenne, that’s Zen-neh, there’s a right and a wrong way to pronounce everything in Turkish, and you must learn it post-haste. Pronounce every syllable, but don’t call us A-rahbs, please, because we are not.”
“Now look,” Zenne said, “Khadijah and I may have our differences, she is, after all, from the nether regions of Egypt, far from the glorious capital of Osman’s empire in Bursa where I hail from, but we agree, you have to be both a little bit carefree and yourself and a lot rule bound and observant to their ways when you meet this man’s family – even though they are a non-religious lot like so many there.” My head was spinning already – how was I supposed to do what seemed to be an impossibly imbalanced task?
Someone pounded on the door, speaking, presumably, in Turkish. “Time to go, canım, (dear)” Zenne said, “mind your manners – remember that book I guided you to – you didn’t know it, but it was me who sent your hand to that book, the one on Turkish etiquette. Your man doesn’t like it, but what does he know, that Karagöz-inspired giant is a bull in a china shop indeed! Bye Bye!” With that, Zenne folded herself up, making me realize she was some sort of wax paper illuminated apparition and before I knew it, she had wiggled her way under my clothes and back inside my psyche. I could hear her humming a bit as she walked to her Iznik tiled fountain room – “don’t worry,” she called out, a bit faint now, “I will come to your aid when you need me.”
Khadijah followed suit, folding herself up and into me, but not before saying “you are wonderful just be yourself, and it will all be alright. Just go with the flow when you have no other options, like me.” I wanted to hug her and thank her but she disappeared too quickly as I was extricating myself from the bathroom. A line of raven-haired middle-agers like me waited in the aisle, looking at me impatiently, their Balenciaga, Prada and Berkin designer bags resting on their arms as they awaited their turn to freshen up before landing. I held my breath and slipped back into my boyfriend’s cocoon, hoping for the best at landing. “Well,” I thought to myself, “it’s nice to meet some female puppets at least, I may be losing my mind, but at least it is a gender-balanced world in there.”