Story #3 in my Out of Place series. Enjoy!
Shae snapped a picture of the Grand Bazaar. She pulled the camera away from her face, analyzing the photo on the view screen. The archway leading into the bazaar framed the crowd perfectly. How old is this place again? she thought. Now I wish I’d brought that guidebook Mom gave me. She looked at the big, white watch her mother had given her. A flashy yet ironic gift, since her mother had warned her time and again about being robbed or mugged in a foreign city such as Istanbul. Robberies happen in Houston too, Mom, Shae remembered telling her mother days before she left. Besides, I look similar to the people here. You don’t have to worry about me.
A breeze brushed her short, brown hair, and she pushed it back with one hand. The air smelled of cinnamon and paprika, and her stomach rumbled. Might as well head back to the house and try cooking something up before everyone else gets back. All the English teachers lived in the same house, and Shae hadn’t inherited her father’s instincts in the kitchen. She hitched her backpack on her shoulders, camera held tight and turned back to the streets.
She brushed past tourists and merchants alike, glancing back every few steps. Someone tapped on her right shoulder, and Shae glanced around. Travis stood there, all skinny and bright eyed. He had long, dark hair and radiant skin. “Is this your place?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” Shae asked.
“Your place. Wherever you go to take some time to yourself.” He looked back at the entrance to the Bazaar. “Some people like public places like this. Other people need a little restaurant tucked away in a back alley. Mine is a rooftop a few blocks from the house. It’s got the most unique view of the city.” He flashed a crooked smile. “I’ll have to show you sometime.”
“I’d like that,” Shae said. Travis was the first person she had met when she got to the house, and he had made her feel at home that first day.
“So is your place somewhere in the Bazaar?” Travis asked as they started walking back to the house.
“Um, I don’t really have a place yet.” She smiled, glancing over her left shoulder. “I’m sure I’ll find it soon enough.”
“Most people do. How do you like the city?” Travis asked.
“It’s… big. Like, so much bigger than Houston.”
“Yeah? I’ve never been to Houston.”
“You’re not missing much.” Shae glanced down at her watch, even though she could feel its weight.
“What is it?” Travis asked as they turned the corner. Shae noticed the different people they walked past. People dashing home from work to their families, briefcases in hand. German-speaking tourists respectfully chatting with locals. Children playing and giggling in the streets. The setting sun cast an orange glow over the tops of buildings, their shadows growing longer by the minute.
“You know I’ve never left the States before, right?” Shae asked.
“You haven’t?” Travis said.
Shae shook her head, holding her camera tighter. “I grew up with my dad’s stories about seeing the world and all the people he met on these crazy adventures as bedtime stories. My mom always wanted to read Winnie the Pooh or The Chronicles of Narnia. They’re good, but they had nothing on Dad’s stories. One time he got lost in Rome and used what little Spanish he remembered from high school to make it back to his hostel.” Shae smiled. “Those stories just bounced around in my head and kept on gnawing at me. Instead of applying to college, I looked into English teaching programs, and these guys accepted me first.” Her smile faded. “I didn’t expect to feel so lonely, you know? All my friends went to school a few hours from each other, and I’m halfway around the world.”
Travis smiled. “I’ve been vagabonding for six years, and the first adventure is always the hardest.”
“But my dad never told me stories about feeling alone or afraid,” Shae said, “he always did crazy, spontaneous things like jump on a riverboat with total strangers for four months or hike from Santiago to Panama over a year. He never had any fear.”
“What time is it in Houston?” Travis asked.
“Uh…” Shae pulled out her phone and pressed the clock app. “Around 11 am.”
“Give him a call. Ask him about his first trip.” Travis took a deep breath. “You want me to make dinner while you talk?”
Shae looked around. She hadn’t even realized they had arrived at the shabby square house. “That walk took less time than I thought.”
“It always does. Dinner?” Travis asked.
“Sure, I’ll be right in,” Shae said. Travis smiled, opening the white and pink door. The rest of the siding bore the same faded shade of Pepto Bismol, peeling everywhere. Shae dialed the phone and sat down on the front steps.
“Hey, honey,” her father said over the phone, “I thought you weren’t going to call again until after orientation week.”
“I was, but…Dad, tell me about your first trip.” Shae glanced at the crowd walking past the house.
“My first trip? Egypt. I was eighteen, just like you, except I didn’t have a plan. I used all the money I had earned bagging groceries to buy a backpack and a plane ticket to Cairo.”
“You went to Egypt?” Shae asked, smiling. “Have you told me this story before?”
“Hmmm, you know, I don’t think I have.” Shae could hear her father’s smile through his low, quiet voice. “Do you know what I did first?”
“Find a hostel?”
“See the pyramids?”
Her father laughed. “I did that a month after I landed.”
“Swim in the Nile?”
“I threw up in a trash can after I stepped outside.”
Shae blinked. “You never get sick.”
“I never told you about getting sick. You were a kid. That doesn’t make for a great bedtime story.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Shae smiled. “Why did you throw up?”
“I was standing in a crowd of people speaking mostly Arabic. I had no idea where to go or what to do. Everything overwhelmed me, and I couldn’t help it. Honey?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m here.” Shae looked around and took a deep breath, brushing a tear from the corner of her eye. “So, you were nervous too?”
“Is that what this is about? Are you nervous?”
“Yes!” Shae said, sniffling. “Everything smells different from Houston, there are way more people here, I don’t speak the language, and I don’t know anyone.”
“You ready?” Shae turned around. Travis stood in the doorway.
“In a minute,” Shae said, “thanks.” Travis smiled, a concerned look in his eye, and closed the door.
“Who was that, honey?” her father asked.
Shae turned back to the street. “A guy in my program. He made dinner.”
“See, look at that. You already know someone.” Her father sighed. “Look, Shae, every adventure starts off a bit scary. All the best ones do. It’s only been three days. Give it time, you’ll have a blast.”
Shae smiled. “Thanks, Dad. I’ll call you and Mom at the end of the week.”
“Sounds good honey, enjoy your dinner. Love you.”
“Love you too.” Shae hung up. She took a deep breath and looked around the crowded street. She caught snippets of English amidst the noise. Paprika wafted from the window of her house. The two houses across the street framed the setting sun, the spires of the Hagia Sophia visible over the rooftops. Shae turned her camera on and snapped a picture of the street, as a relaxed smile settled on her lips.