A damned statue! I’d had ten years of life frightened out of me by a statue! To be sure, he was stunningly gorgeous. Hadrian, a mighty warrior prince in a graceful stance, right arm raised, holding a cup. His features, were delicately handsome and framed by luxurious curls. Each muscle was carved to perfection, bulging with unspent energy. A quick glance assured me that he and I were the only occupants of this astonishingly beautiful room.
My heartbeat slowed a bit, approaching a more normal pace and my breaths became less shallow. I began to wander about the salon, taking in the stunning objets d’art. A large niche behind a long library table captured my attention. It was filled with books. I approached the collection in awe. It was obvious, even at a glance, the books were quite old. I reverently fingered their spines, trying to make out their titles. They were in Arabic, Greek and a couple of Cyrillic languages I couldn’t identify.
I hesitated. Did I dare to open one of the books? Did I dare to do more than touch them? The soft leather binding and gold script gave the ancient volumes the character of books which I had only seen pictures. My nervous fingers hovered, trembling.
“They are beautiful books, aren’t they?”
I felt the blood drain from my head even as my stomach leaped into my throat, threatening to suffocate me. I whirled to face the direction of the voice, still scarcely able to breathe.
My eyes were greeted by the face of the most astonishingly handsome man I had ever seen. Well over six feet tall, the perfectly proportioned body carried a face that could have been chiseled from mahogany. Smooth, evenly brown skin, large almost black eyes and thick red lips that parted to reveal brilliant white, straight teeth. His largish straight nose was nothing short of noble. The shadow of his day-old beard further darkened the lower half of his face.
He was dressed in a satiny white shirt, opened to the waist and tucked into loosely fitting pants of the same fabric, also white. The brilliance of the white clothing accentuated his beautiful complexion and coal-black hair. The well-formed chest was covered with long, thick black hair.
I couldn’t help thinking “He must think I’m the village eejit, stumbled into his house.” as I stood there, speechless, mouth hanging open. I tried to form words, but nothing more than gasps and grunts came from my throat. After several attempts, I managed a feeble response.
“I’ve never seen such beautiful books or such a beautiful house!”
His smile widened as he crossed the room in three great strides and grasped my hand.
“I am Mustafa and you are welcome here! Please, sit yourself and let me serve some refreshment.”
I allowed myself to be guided to one of the low reclining sofas and he moved a small table within my reach and disappeared.
Within moments Mustafa reappeared with a copper tray heavily laden with fresh bananas, apples, peaches, nectarines and grapes along with a large pitcher of water. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was, but seeing that beautiful fruit made me feel ravenous. He fussed over the arrangement of the dishes and glasses and then reclined on the sofa opposite where I sat with just a hint of a smile.
“How is it you come to be in my house, Hajj?” It’s customary in this part of the world to use the respectful title when addressing an older man.
“I am Paul, and I’ve just bought the house above. Thanks to a near accident, I discovered the stair that leads to your place. I couldn’t imagine that someone lives under my house, so I decided to explore.”
His smile brightened as he considered my ‘accidental discovery’. “You are the first visitor in my house in many years and I am anxious that we become good friends!”
I told him all about the house above and how we were redecorating in preparation for moving in and insisted that he join us for a meal very soon. We chatted amiably for about half an hour and with the grace of a great cat, he rose from his position on the couch and announced coffee. I knew that by tradition, that was the signal that the visit was about to come to an end.
After a cup of the finest Turkish coffee I’d ever drunk, he walked me to the door, shook my hand again and kissed me on each cheek.
“Please visit me again very soon to tell me about the progress of your move!”
With a promise to return within a week, I made my way back up the stairs. As I approached the ground floor it struck me that there must be another entrance. I considered the surrounding neighborhood and could think of no place that would allow an underground entry to his place. Why didn’t I ask him how he managed to come and go? I certainly would on my next visit.
*More to come…*