Inspiration from Kind Strangers


Inspired by an anthology of short storiesAlex Court shares a story of his own…

On an unplanned jaunt, I recently found myself inland from Turkey’s North-Eastern shore in the town of Bergama. It was the first time I had left the coast, and I missed its temperate climate as soon as I stepped off the bus.

We found our pansiyon (hotel) and sweated into the slow air con, peeling our t-shirts off our soaked skin. Before long we grabbed a day pack and, maps in hand, we were off.

Bergama is famous for the ancient Asclepion medical centre, where we were headed. The heat was welling up, and hurrying as we were, we took the first road we saw.

The ancient buildings are atop a hill, and we could see it tempting us. The roads were steep, and I was lured by the idea of giving up. Some silly masculinity spurred me on and I ignored blisters building on my feet.

Trudging on and on, we pulled out the maps when we reached yet another intersection. I was certain we were on the right road; my travel companion totally disagreed.

Neither of us willing to concede, our voices grew louder, cancelling out the sound of on-coming equine traffic. The hoofs held stay and cast a shadow over us and our argument.

I felt the horse and cart presence to my left and looked. My gaze was greeted by the jockey’s smiling face and moustache. He was a heavy, tanned man who bore no resemblance to Ruby Walsh.

Our lack of Turkish and his lack of English led us to pursue some makeshift sign-language. Pointing to the ancient site, the man chuckled almost too himself, and cocked his head inviting us into his cart.

A single, lonely watermelon rattled around in the green, wooden cart and I hopped in, slightly worried. My attractive female companion was welcomed up front to the shotgun seat. The driver spurred life back into our living motor, and we drove… all the way back down the path we had just walked.

The breeze blew into my face even as I shamefully hung my head. The melodic sound of the hooves calmed me, though, and I appreciated the scenery again. Strange cityscapes dominated by cai (tea) shops.

After ten minutes or so, a metallic sign appeared bearing an arrow and the word Asclepion. The driver coaxed the horse to a standstill. My girlfriend jumped down from the front seat and a slithered off the back, less elegantly than an elephant.

Landing on the ground, my feet felt refreshed. The helpful horse shot off before we could offer our thanks. We walked the five minutes more and gazed in awe at the ancient hospital. A fond memory indeed, motivated by no more than kindness.