I woke up in my cabin. It was daytime. I could tell from the sunlight that came pouring in through the small window. At first, I was confused, wondering why the room was rocking. And then the realization dawned on me. Per the itinerary, the yacht had set sail early morning. Starting at the coastal town of Fethiye, Sofya was to sail from one island or peninsula to another. After the first few nights in Turkey spent in the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, I was a bit afraid that the quietness of the seascape, especially on a sailboat, might be too much to handle, with a potential of monotony setting in.
Oddly enough, I couldn’t remember anything from the night before, past that strange, incomplete conversation with Mehmet. Try as hard as I could, there was no recollection of what he had said in response to my question. Maybe he said nothing.
Trying not to overthink what might have happened, I focused on the first meal instead – a traditional kahvalti (breakfast) of bread, cheese, olives, cucumbers, watermelon and bottomless chai (tea). The rest of that fine morning was spent either on deck or in the Mediterranean waters, whenever or wherever the ship would dock. Once I got into my swimming trunks and jumped off the deck into the azure waters below, what followed were hours of frolicking in the sea with all kinds of activities in addition to swimming, since I had access to floaties, floating mattresses, snorkeling gear, fishing tackle, and kayak.
The crystal-clear sea changed its colors, chameleon-like, depending on depth. The deeper sea was dark blue whereas the shallower parts, closer to the shore, held a turquoise hue. The sea was resplendent with polychromatic fish, exact species being unrecognizable to a novice like me. That morning I also got into the kayak, and on getting the hang of it, zestfully explored the area around the rocks. Just the backdrop of the Mediterranean was sufficient to invoke the mind, so I let it run amok. While kayaking, I imagined that I was the sole mariner – the captain specifically – of the yacht that had capsized due to a hurricane; marooned at sea, I was looking for solid ground that was not overrun by savages or predatory animals. The time in the sea also gave me an opportunity to practice my swimming; something I wasn’t very good at. I would get breathless with just a few strokes and vowed to improve over the few days I was going to be at sea. Regardless, while swimming or snorkeling, I became one with the fish; sharing the brilliant blue Mediterranean with a diversity of them, albeit they were much better swimmers than I.
Exhausted and famished, I climbed back on board by early afternoon. At that time, a warm traditional Turkish lunch was waiting to be consumed. Erhaan, the yacht’s chef – a young man fresh out of culinary school – had done wonders with the fresh produce. The resultant meal seemed and smelled scrumptious, or perhaps the ample exercising just prior to lunch ensured a hefty appetite?
“What do we have here, Erhaan? It looks divine!”
“Sir what we are serving now is pide, Turkish pizza with a minced meat topping, along with dolma, vine leaves stuffed with veggies.”
As I was about to partake with gusto, I recalled Mehmet’s advice about small frequent meals, from the night before. That stopped me in my tracks, so I opted for a smaller lunch.
Afterward, I lounged on a deckchair, imagining what it would be like if I were the sailboat – how it would feel to rock or sway gently or harshly in submission to the vagaries of the sea. Such anthropomorphic thoughts reminded me of Mehmet again, hence I looked around on the deck expecting him among his ship’s crew. I even asked one crew member if she could point me in the direction of the Captain’s cabin. Either she got frazzled by my request or more likely, I thought, did not understand what I was asking.
I decided to nap then, as Sofya’s gentle swaying coupled with the incessant ensemble of the chirping crickets within the trees at a nearby shore, and the waves gently lapping against the rocks, were conducive to an afternoon siesta.
“Sir, wake up. Dinner is served.” Erhaan brought me out of my brief, though restful, slumber.
While I had dozed on the deck, Sofya had set sail for a few hours prior to finding another breathtaking spot to stop for early supper and overnight stay.
Whatever food was being served below smelled heavenly.
“The nighttime meal cannot be a repeat of the lunch …so, no leftovers!” I quipped.
“Not all sir! For the main appetizer, we have lahmacun, crisp flatbread with eggplant topping, followed by an entree of barbequed tilapia served on a bed of sticky rice and grilled vegetables”.
“As a special treat for our esteemed guests, we are serving the finest of red wines bottled in Konya.” He continued.
The sustained 5-course dinner was to be rounded up with traditional Turkish caramelized rice pudding as dessert.
Erhaan’s pride in his culinary skills notwithstanding, I recalled Mehmet’s advice yet again. That was something I just couldn’t get out of my head. I, reluctantly, only consumed a small amount of food. Following dinner, I strolled up onto the deck, hoping to meet him. At that time, there weren’t many passengers around, since most preferred to be in the lounge below for the extended, elegantly served dinner. I didn’t see him and thus was a bit disappointed. I wanted to pursue what had been initiated the night before; well at least what I thought had been initiated.
I didn’t feel like going down to my cabin right away, so I reclined on a deck chair to watch the setting sun. As my mind was already afire with imagination given free reign that whole day, I wondered what it would be like to be one with the cosmos above; with the stars and moon being reflected onto the waves below. Since neither were out, I focused on the clouds instead. At that time, there were several interesting ones.
“Now that one, way up yonder looks like a T-Rex chasing a velociraptor!” I blurted out aloud. Not expecting any responses, I decided to get some shut-eye. I must have dozed off, though.
“Try vaporizing those clouds using your mind”. Mehmet’s voice woke me out of my gentle slumber. He was on the deck chair next to mine, puffing away on his cigarette, calmly viewing my clouds.
I don’t know how long I had been asleep; likely no more than 15-20 minutes, as it was still not entirely dark outside.
“How do I do that?” I inquired, in a calm and collected manner. He had not been there when I had made myself comfortable in that spot. If he was stalking me, then I couldn’t really let him know that I was on to him.
“Imagine you have the power to do whatever it is that you wish to do”.
Although that didn’t sound exceedingly rational to me, I decided to give it a try, at least where the clouds were concerned. I picked a small one, an indecipherable blob. I then stared at it and imagined all sorts of badness inflicted on it; I beat it, swore at it to break its spirit, and so on. I didn’t see the cloud change shape, nor dissipate, but in approximately 3 minutes it had rolled across the sky and out of sight.
“Success!” I was triumphant.
“That must have been a lot of hard work for you” Mehmet was amused.
Somewhere around that moment, our newfound kinship appeared to be an old timeless bond and I feared him less and less with each interaction.
“You’ve got to agree that as a very first attempt I did really well”. I continued, all camaraderie-like.
“You tried too hard using negativity to destroy something. Consider an alternative approach. At times, all a problem requires is blocking its awareness. And it does go away. It’s about perspective.”
Depending on the context that made sense, I agreed with him. No point in overthinking or counter-arguing that stance, I thought.
“Mehmet, what happened last night when I asked you how you knew so much about me? I couldn’t remember anything more after that.”
“I said nothing and you seemed content with that.”
Since I couldn’t remember much past a certain point, anyway, I let it pass.
It was getting late, or it seemed like that since I was exhausted after the day’s physical activities followed by flexing of my brain muscle under Mehmet’s able guidance. So, I bid him farewell. As I walked back to my cabin my mind was full of queries. Who exactly was Mehmet? Was he my soul mate at sea, or my true teacher, one I had been ardently seeking all my life?
With those questions unanswered, I fell asleep as soon as I hit the bed.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
This short story, written in 3 parts, was inspired by Richard Bach’s “Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah”, as well as an actual sailing trip across the Mediterranean.
Although an ER physician, researcher, and innovator-intrapreneur at the Aga Khan University, Asad’s proclivity for writing is his means of creative exploration and expression. His articles on healthcare, education, innovation, children, humor, and popular culture have appeared in newspapers in the US and in Pakistan. Other than the fictional Biloongra series of bilingual books for children, he has authored 'An Itinerant Observer' a book of brief narratives first published in the US in 2014 which was reprinted by Bookgroup in Pakistan in 2020. His first non-fiction popular science book on low-cost creative innovation and entrepreneurship will hit virtual bookstands this summer.