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The Greeks say that you can never step into the same stream twice; so my homecomings proved.
I could bore, and have bored, people with my lament for Roman roads. Seldom have I felt their lack as I did on that bone-numbing journey back to Chilia. It was the nearest port, nearly a thousand miles to the south, and from thence we could reach Istanbul in two days, given clement early spring weather conditions. But that journey! The Catholics have a concept called purgatory, and as I onie told a Maronite bishop, I imagine it to be akin to it.
The rutted tracks made my bones ache. We stopped where we could, but the inns were squalid and flea-ridden. None of these people knew the uses of water and soap, and even where we stopped at the homes of local nobility, it was an ordeal. But like all such, the mind has consigned it to the deepest part of memories to be lost; I recall only the extreme discomfort.
It was on a chilly spring morning that our little convoy set off on the penultimate leg of the journey. We would reach Chilia by noon and have a day before the ship sailed. At least the inn there, accustomed as it was to civilised travellers, had bathing faculties, and there was even a public bath where I could have my aching bones massaged by local girls trained in the skill of relaxing twisted muscles. I spent two hours there, and emerged feeling human again.
I told Commander Kunt, the leader of my escort, where I wanted the coach to take me. He assigned two guards to go with me, attiring them in their best ceremonial gear; he understood. In turn, I was arrayed in my best silks.
‘You look beautiful, if I might make so bold,’ he said.
I smiled. Our six weeks together had given me an appreciation of his calm taciturnity.
‘No woman, Master Kunt, ever objected to being told that, so thank you.’
His smile was sweet to see. He was a man’s man, and so unsure with a woman that I felt almost maternal with him.
My heart beat faster as we travelled a familiar road.
How would it be, I wondered? It was two full years since I had been taken from my home as part of the tribute to the Sultan. In all that time I had heard nothing of my birth family; nor had I expected to. Now I was returning home.
As the coach reached the village there was a hubbub. Small children seeing it, followed, knowing something special was happening. I had forgotten how tedious village life could be. The arrival of a coach with two mounted soldiers in tow would keep them talking for months.
We went through the village and took the all-too-familiar left turn to our farmstead.
I saw the cows, heard the dogs barking, and then we pulled up in the yard.
My heart was beating like a bass drum, deep and low; I felt a sense almost of panic, then pulled myself together.
A familiar voice came to my ears; it was my Poppa.
‘To what do I owe the honour, sir?’ He was asking one of the soldiers.
The response was that the man dismounted and opened the door, putting the steps there for me. I stepped out, still in my veil. I lifted it:
‘Poppa!’ That was all my full heart could say.
‘Meyn kleyneyner!’ He cried.
‘My little Rahab, God be praised! Rachel, Rachel, it is a miracle!’
My Momma came rushing out of the door.
‘Oh my God, my God, look at you meyn kleyneyner, oh meydi beibi, meydi beibi.’
I was always her little baby. She rushed at me, drawing me to that ample bosom which had nurtured me for so long.
I was crying. They were crying. Not all tears are bad.
I asked the soldiers to wait, and went into the old familiar house, weeping copiously, my Momma touching me to see that I was real and not a phantom.
‘But look at you, meydi beibi, oh you are such a grand lady now, such silks, such perfumes.’ She was still weeping.
‘Meyn kleyneyner, escort beşevler my little one, my Rahab,’ my Poppa kept saying, looking at me as though he could not believe what he was seeing.
Momma rushed off and brought back some baklava and put some coffee on the stove. She kept touching me.
‘So where is my sister, Poppa, Momma?’
‘She married Count Bogdan and is a lady now, as we hoped, but you my dear, you! What have you done that makes you such a grand lady. Have you found the favour of the Sultan?’
Over thick, dark, sweet coffee, I told them what I thought fitting about the last two years, and that I was returning from a mission to England and Russia.
‘England, my dear, there is a legend in the family, you know, that we hail from there, long ago, of course,’ Poppa said.
I looked at him, stunned.
‘You said, but no more than that.’
‘There was no need to meydi beibi, and besides, I know no more than that. I had Momma name you Rahab because there is a story handed down in the family that a girl child should bear that name. But more than that, I do not know so cannot tell you.’
So I told them what I had recently learned.
‘But what is this prophecy?’ Poppa asked.
I told them as much as I knew.
‘Are you, then, meydi beibi, are you the one it speaks of?’
‘Poppa, I truly do not know, but I cannot think the Lord has raised me as he has, like Joseph with Pharaoh, not to do His will.’
Momma closed her eyes and thanked the Lord. And we took a moment to pray together.
‘It is a miracle, little one. You have been raised so high by the hand of the Almighty. Maybe in our generation, we shall see His mighty arm triumph?’
Poppa spoke in awe.
At that point in came my beloved Rabbi Glickstein. I squealed in excitement.
His grin was as wide as the new moon.
‘My little girl, is it really you? Let me look at you. My, what a fine lady you are now. You honour us with your presence.’
‘Don’t be silly, Rabbi,’ I replied. ‘You are my beloved Rabbi, from you I learned so much, and between us, and Momma and Poppa, there is nothing but mutual love.’
And with that, I threw myself into his arms and let him hug me.
Momma got out the best wine.
I could hear a hubbub outside. Clearly, a crowd had gathered.
‘You had best say hello, meydi beibi,’ Poppa said.
So I did.
The contrast almost overwhelmed me.
When I had lived here I was ‘Isaac’s little thing,’ acknowledged for my brains, but mocked for my stature, and pitied for my lack of marriage prospects; and now this.
Well, I acknowledged the salutes, and I said that I had left money with the Rabbi for the local children; which I subsequently did. With their curiosity sated, for now, I was allowed to go back inside.
I told the Rabbi my story, or such parts of it that were suitable.
‘I can see, my child, that there is more here than a simple Rabbi can understand. I am glad the scroll I sent to Rabbi Samuels was helpful.’
‘She is the one,’ Momma said.
‘It would appear so my child,’ the Rabbi said. ‘You were always a clever little thing, and if you had been a boy, what a fine Rabbi you would have made. I used to wonder what the Lord was about making one like you a girl, but as usual, what do I know?’ He shrugged his shoulders in a gesture so familiar that, by itself, it would have made me feel at home. ‘God is good, and who am I to question His wisdom? Rahab, He will bless you. Save His people, my female Joseph. He had brought you out of this land for that reason.’
As they looked at me, it hit me.
Intellectually I had known since Rabbi Samuels had told me, and even though my mind searched hard for reasons why it could not be so, I had still known. But escort balgat between intellectual assent and the emotions there is a gulf; now it was crossed. To see Poppa, Momma and Rabbi Glickstein all look at me that way, and to pray with me and for me, that was another kind of knowing.
The Rabbi put his hands on my head and prayed over me.
The room faded. All was silent. All was dark. Then in the darkness there came a voice, a woman’s voice.
‘My daughter, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. I told your ancestress that you would come, and you have. You will be tried, but you have shown already you have strength; more will be given.’
And there, in that humble farmhouse, my childhood home, The Virgin spoke to me. In the silence a voice said:
‘I am your handmaid; may your will be done, Lady.’
From a distance, I heard it. I knew it for my voice; though I have no memory of my lips moving.
‘What happened, meydi beibi?’ It was Poppa’s voice, but it seemed far away.
I felt hands touch me, but I was not able to move, or speak, or even signal.
The Rabbi, sensing what had happened, blessed me and put his hands on my head.
It felt like coming up from a deep immersion in water.
‘Beibi?’ It was Momma, I could feel her now.
‘Oh Momma, Momma, hold me, hold me please.’
She held me, as she had when I was a child.
‘My daughter, has the Lord spoken to you?’
I stammered, unlike me, I was groping for words.
‘Yes Rabbi, Mary the Virgin spoke to me.’ And I cried.
Momma comforted me, and more coffee and baklava were provided.
As I recovered, I told them what had happened.
The Rabbi blessed us all.
‘My daughter, it is not for me to question what you saw, The Almighty uses His creatures as He will, and if Miriam, Mother of Jesus called the Christ by Christians, spoke, then it was His voice, and you must do as you are told.’
I had recovered enough to laugh when Poppa said:
‘Ach, she is a good girl, she does as she is told, always, Rabbi.’
I asked what they had seen.
‘You went quiet, like a corpse, the room was cold, but those things apart, we saw and felt nothing,’ Rabbi Glickstein said.
My bodyguards knocked at the door to say that as time was passing, we should be getting back.
‘Excuse me a second,’ I said.
I went to the coach, told them I would be a few minutes, and went back inside.
‘Poppa, Momma, I have something for you here, and in this bag, Rabbi, alms for the synagogue to use as you see fit.’
I handed them two bags of gold coins. My trip to England and Russia had cost less than half what I had been given, and while it was expected that I would pocket what was left, I wanted to give it to those I loved; my family and the Rabbi would never see such money in their whole lives.
Poppa hugged me.
‘I always knew you would come good, meydi beibi, always.’
Well, I thought, he had kept that hidden in his Jeremiads about having been blessed by the Lord with one beautiful daughter, and chastised with one dwarf who would never find a husband, but he was my Poppa, and I loved him.
Momma was overcome.
‘My child, this is a fortune. What can we do with so much?’
‘Momma, you can go to town and buy those dresses you have always wanted, and you and Poppa can get the roof repaired and built that new barn you have been after for years. Oh, and you can buy Poppa some new pants!’
They both laughed.
‘And my child,’ Momma added, ‘we will help the poor in the village.’
That was my Momma. It was where I got that side of me from.
The Rabbi blessed me a thousand times, telling me that I was a gift from God to my people, which made me escort batıkent blush. He then handed me a small parcel.
‘Open it, my dear.’
It was the copy of the Iliad which he had let me use to learn Greek. It had been given to him in repayment of a debt. I have it with me now. I thanked him profusely.
My heart ached.
But this was not my home any more. There could be no return, no going back. I loved my parents, but between their world and mine the last two years had created a chasm which could never be bridged. For me there was only one direction. Part of me died that day in that place where I was born and raised.
The farewells were affecting. I knew I would never see them again; nor did I. I heard from the Rabbi that Poppa had died peacefully in his sleep some five years after I had seen him, and that Momma was being looked after by my sister’s younger son, who was running the farmstead. She died a few years after. The last I heard, the old place was still in the family – the new barn had enabled them to expand the dairy business, and they were doing well. That pleased me. But the past is another country.
So it proved at Constantinople too.
It was nearly a year after I left that I once again saw the minarets and the Golden Horn. Communications had been sparse, and I discovered later that some dispatches had gone astray. That was a shame, as I should otherwise have been spared the shock of learning that the Sultan’s mother, my beloved protector, Calliope, had died three months earlier.
That was one of the first shocks I had. Svetlana, my Russian lover and one of the favourites of the Sultan, met me at the entrance to the Seraglio. I was glad it was her who broke the news. No sooner had she done so, than I was summoned to the presence.
I should have preferred to have prettified myself, but my Master did not employ me for my looks.
I bowed low, kneeling, my head on the floor.
‘Rise my little Vizier. I am pleased with your Mission.’
He embraced me.
I could, I thought, as his muscular frame enveloped me, see what my fellow concubines might see in him, but not having that, I could not feel it.
I told him that my dispatches were written and awaited his attention, and gave him a summary of what I had been up to. He nodded and smiled.
‘So, the Catholic alliance is all we have to fear now, and thanks to the Grand Vizier, we have made peace with them.’
So, the designs of Irene, the Circassian, had, in their own way, come to pass. But was the alliance defensive or offensive? Upon that, much would rest, not least given the fact that Irene’s young son was likely to become the designated heir.
It was in a gloomy mood I returned to the Seraglio. There were some new girls to whom I was a curiosity, but without Calliope it was not the same.
I was grateful for Svetlana’s care.
She came to my chamber that night, and at least one thing from my old life was the same.
I gave her news of her old life, which pleased her. She remembered Anna, and said that whatever she had given me, she could do better. And she proved as good as her word.
It was not often that I let another take me as Svetlana did that night, but I was feeling desolate, disorientated, inadequate for the task laid on my shoulders, and I needed comfort. Svetlana was my first lover, and that night she healed my wounds. I know I am not beautiful, or sexually alluring, but to be told I was by such a gorgeous creature was balm to my pride and my wounds.
My small breasts responded eagerly to her kisses, and when she bit my nipples, my legs parted for her. She took me gently but firmly, telling me how much she had missed me and wanted me, I showed her my new trick, of parting her legs with mine between so our cunts could rub. She adored it, and pressed her slick, gooey cunt hard against mine as she bit my nipples.
I pressed into her, rubbing as though I wanted to be in her. She responded in kind.
I climaxed as she did. We fell asleep in each other’s arms. There was, I reflected, much to be said for Russians.
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