By Purva Grover
A cat is meowing in the corner of a sleepy lane. I can see the confusion on the cab driver’s face as he wonders if there is enough space for the vehicle to take a left turn. It’s 11 in the night, the husband and I are exhausted, courtesy the unexpected fog, flight delay, airport change, and beyond. We’ve finally made it to Selçuk , a small town in western Turkey, and have to check into a pension (guesthouse) here. It’s going to be a humble lodging arrangement, we’re aware of that. After all, Selçuk is not your popular touristy spot. We (the cabbie and us) mutually agree that it’s better we walk and pull the luggage on the cobbled lane and wake up the entire neighbourhood than test the driver’s reversing skills. The place is so quiet that it feels like a crime to lug around a suitcase with wheels.
Shivering (it’s 1 degree) and puffing (we’re getting older), we make it to the pension building, which well, looks, let’s say vintage-y. There’s no check-in counter, just a tiny board displaying the name of the place, and the cat, of course. “Is this us?” we ask ourselves, as a squeaky door opens.
A lady, perhaps in her late 50s, with the widest smile, receives us and guides us to our room. In there, she points out to clean towels, soap bars, and blankets; one for each. She speaks little English, just enough for us to communicate. “You got late,” she asks, not as a complaint, but out of concern.
We explain the weather conditions, she nods.
“Good night, thanks,” and we call it a day.
“You must be hungry. You must eat, definitely eat,” she says.
“No,” we insist. “We’d rather sleep. We’ll have a nice breakfast,” we add, politely.
A few minutes later, a knock on the door and there she stands with a tray holding cups of piping hot apple tea and homemade lemon cake. “Eat,” she instructs us in an authoritative manner, much as mothers do, often. There’s no winning arguments with mum, right. We do the needful.
Next morning, wrapped in multiple woollen layers, we walk towards another building facing us, this time, for breakfast. We find out that this is where our host resides. She’s converted one of the rooms into an eating area, adorned it with books from her collection, jewellery that she probably wore in her younger days, and a coffee machine, which satisfies tourists who prefer Cappuccino over Turkish coffee.
This morning, she has no other guests besides us, “It’s off-season (December),” she says. Yet, she’s laid down a full Turkish breakfast for the two of us. Olives, varieties of cheese and jams, bread, eggs, fruits of all kinds, et al.
She gets busy on the phone, leaving us to eat, both to her and our satisfaction. All this while, her mother sleeps on the next couch. She wakes up occasionally to sip water with a straw, coughs and goes back to bed. When done, we ask of her leave, to head to Ephesus, the ancient Turkish port city, whose ruins are preserved.
She tells us that she’ll be gone before we’re back so we either pay for the accommodation and meal (only breakfast) before noon; giving us directions to the ATM in the nearby area, or we leave it in the room. “I’m taking my mother to the hospital. My brother and I take turns,” she tells us pointing out to the curled-up body on the couch.
We find the ATM and handover the money to her.
“Where do we leave the keys, when we check-out?” I ask innocently. “Leave them on the door,” she says, as she walks out.
We didn’t ask each other’s names. She also didn’t seem worried about a bad review from us on TripAdvisor (there was no more breakfast during the rest of the stay).
She trusted us to make the payment and check-out on the promised day. We were amused, but not perturbed by the entire episode. As we left, I drew the curtains, closed the windows, folded the blankets, put the towels for drying, and left the keys hanging on the door.
“She’d not like to come to a dirty room,” I told myself.
What was it about this unusual, no-frills lodging experience that has stayed with me?
The warm smile on a cold night or, the wrinkled hands holding a tray of food. Often, we come across faces that suggest familiarity, but we find it tough to place where we would have seen them earlier, yet we are left with the feeling that we’ve know them and they mean well for us. She had one of those faces.
Purva’s travel journal is full of extremely ordinary stories.