Downstairs, I discover a windowless cabin reeking of fish and diesel fuel. A narrow space with empty shelves, an old, stained mattress on the floor, a small lamp dangling from the low ceiling. The putting and chugging noise of the boat’s engine seems to leave no place for anything else.
Holding my nose, I let myself fall down on the mattress and groan. My back is aching, my shoulder muscles are knotted and as strained as tightly wound guitar strings.
Across from me, Hazim settles on the edge of the mattress, leaning back against the inner hull of the ship. He gazes at me, a sad, thoughtful shadow on his face. Or maybe it’s just a trick of the light bulb swinging to and fro with the roll of the waves.
“Where are you taking me?” I want to know when I have gathered the courage to ask again. My voice is trembling. “There’s an airport in Alanya, isn’t it? Or do we go up to Izmir?”
“Neither, nor. You’re not safe in Turkey,” Hazim answers. “You’re booked on a flight from Larnaca to Paris, tomorrow.”
Larnaca, Larnaca… that rings a bell. But it takes a second before I realize… “Cyprus!” I cry out, unable to hide my surprise. “We’re going all the way to Cyprus?”
“Yes.” With that, Hazim closes his eyes and starts to breathe in a steady rhythm.
“You’re not going to fall asleep on me, are you?” I protest. “You owe me an explanation or two, don’t you think?”
Hazim opens his eyes again. He looks weary and even sadder than before. “I owe you an explanation? Are you kidding me?”
“Not at all! Why did you embark me on this extravagant flight? We should’ve stayed at the hotel, we should’ve called the police! Plus, I scheduled a business meeting with Murat—what am I going to tell him now? That I ran away from… some ludicrous fantasies his bodyguard invented? Come on, I want facts!” I pound my fist against the mattress.
“A business meeting with Murat… As if he cared about that right now! Anyway, he has left for Ankara,” Hazim says flatly. “You want facts? You sure you can handle them?”
I don’t understand. Therefore, I simply nod.
“Okay then. We both know why you’ve come to Turkey. Because Murat sent you a mail telling you he wanted to discuss your Tunisian project. But that was only a decoy. He knows all he needs to know about that luxury whorehouse. Why, he even met that Italian chick yesterday, in Antalya. Alessandra something. You know—your so-called friend.”
“Di Forzone,” I correct him. My voice is calm now, almost dreamy. “Her name is Alessandra di Forzone. She’s in Turkey?”
“Yeah, she is. Or rather, was. Whatever. The real reason Murat asked you to come is that he was forced to. Someone wanted to lure you out of the relative safety you seem to benefit from, in France.”
“And you know who…?”
“No. Murat wouldn’t tell me. For my own safety, he said. But it’s someone very powerful. They must be if they have the means to make Murat do their bidding.”
The boat sways and rocks. I follow the smooth movements, feeling my last certainties crumble away one by one. I’m caught up in Shostakovich’s famous Cello Concerto, that’s what I am. The image of someone on the run comes to mind. How fitting! The fatal and hopeless escape run of a man pursued by a hostile crowd, a whole nation, the whole world, all brandishing tools and weapons, eager to get him.
What is this nightmarish booby trap I have walked in, anyway? Could it be nothing more than the product of Hazim’s imagination? How am I to be sure of what to believe?
“How come you know all this?” I ask.
He shrugs. “It’s my job to be informed. Knowledge is the core weapon if you want to survive. Before taking his plane to Ankara, Murat has taken a great risk, too. He must be really fond of you, you know. He sent me a last-minute warning telling me there was trouble ahead. And charging me to get you safely out of the country.”
“Why would anyone want me to be in trouble? I’m so not important!”
Hazim shrugs. “I already told you: I don’t know. My guess is money. There are many reasons to pursue someone, but ultimately it’s always about money.”
“But I don’t have money!” I shout.
“More than most people, surely… But maybe you’re right. Maybe they’re not after your money. I really don’t have a clue.”
Neither do I. “How do I know you’re telling me the truth?” I ask.
He’s right. But do I have a choice? I’m trapped in the womb of this ship, barely in control of anything. “I guess I should trust you…” I state, exhausted.
“No,” Hazim replies. His voice carries an urgency I haven’t heard before. “I know you can trust me. Always. But you don’t. You mustn’t trust anyone! You hear me? Not anyone!”
His words strike me as odd. Why does he say I can always trust him? Why does he warn me at the same time? What’s his agenda? And why is it that everybody and everything in my life seems to result in me mulling over incomprehensible things?
I don’t know what to say. Therefore, I cross my arms and concentrate on the brownish stains on the mattress.
They could be anything. Red wine, rust, or blood.