Call to Prayer (nonfiction)

Call to Prayer (nonfiction) by Melissa Wiley
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Blood fell from his penis onto the rug during the call to prayer, which sounded out from Istanbul’s minarets like a love cry, as erotic and pained as religious dogma can be. At the end of the bed, lolled half a rotting pear on a smooth silver tray. When I flicked it onto the floor with my big toe, it turned face down beside the bed skirt, a smooth-shelled turtle who had given up breathing. Without his glasses, even his kneecaps, I knew, were pale penumbras, but I watched the blood fall like saffron raindrops and disappear inside carpet fibers stiff as wheat. And I cried because, for all our ceaseless squabbling over disarrayed cereal box tops and misplaced electric bills, he was my donkey.

Plodding our way toward a river flanked by basalt fairy chimneys shaped like stone lingams in Cappadocia several days later, our guide asked if we knew how to make a poor man happy. Simple, he answered himself, just take away his donkey and then give it back to him. A few hours later, he told us that most young Muslim men, struggling to preserve their virginity, had sex with donkeys hundreds of times before they entered a real woman. He never said whether these and the poor men who knew the secret of happiness were one and the same. Regardless, I decided I would rather keep my donkey and remain reasonably miserable, whatever amount of sexual pleasure he afforded.

Though late April, on the day of our wedding, the skies were snowing heavily. A Star Wars convention had begun metastasizing across the hotel hosting our reception. Emerging from the limousine, we stopped to let several Storm Troopers pass. And after the reception, I asked him to unzip my dress but stopped him from unhooking my bra, because I was menstruating and it was time for dinner anyway. We would eat spaghetti among Ewoks who slurped their soup while I bled silently.

Cappadocia garners a sizeable percentage of American tourist dollars from rumors that segments of Star Wars were filmed there. A monastery built into a towering cave formation promotes itself as the location for the sandstorm. But this, after paying our entrance fee, we discovered wasn’t true, only that the monks used to train pigeons to carry letters and mix their eggs with milk for paint for their frescoes. Their feces, they employed as fertilizer for their garden. Later, Muslims would scratch out the eyes from any saints or depictions of Jesus they found inside these chapels. But the pigeons would continue to rest in the caves’ cool shadows, dispensing their fertilizer for plants that no one now cultivated, laying eggs that would become paint for no more holy faces.

Reaching the highest point we were allowed to climb, where the rock was judged hard enough to support our weight, we shielded our eyes from the sun and looked out on a cemetery where most of the graves, we were told, housed cremated bodies. I looked at Robert’s face and saw that he was badly sunburnt. I was too, but then my skin would turn to brown; his would only blister.

A few days earlier, I emerged from my Turkish bath to see him propped erect inside a barber’s chair, the indigo-black of his hair obscuring the encroaching grays. Blue-flaming sticks danced around his ears, sticks the barber dipped in a vial of purpure alcohol then spun like miniature batons to burn off stray cilia. I sat a stool at his feet, mouth agape, hungry for more illusions. I would happily have had a lion skim past my ankles, so vested with mythical authority was the man with the scissors, who trimmed his eyebrows then twirled the ends of his mustache into Ottoman arabesques before slapping the nape of his neck twice with a towel and spitting a clear coin of saliva onto his crown. I didn’t know then that something vital was leaking inside him out into his underwear. So I let him play with fire. I laughed and applauded the barber when the flames only grazed his temples without setting him all ablaze.

From our hotel’s rooftop bar, we gazed out on the Sea of Marmara, the domes of the Blue Mosque frozen into indestructible cloud carapaces in the foreground. Catamarans sped out toward Greece while fires smoked from the park where thousands of citizens were protesting the conversion of the city’s largest park into a shopping mall. Our last day in Barcelona, he had read the headlines with fear, wondering if we hadn’t better change our plans. Headlines, I said dryly, were written for headlines’ sake; we would be fine. Our first night at dinner in Istanbul, I said we should share a pottery kebab so the waiter could break a ceramic pot over the top of our table and release the fragrant steam into our faces, when we would laugh and toast to riotous Turkey, to political unrest far from home. But he didn’t want a kebab. He wasn’t even hungry; he didn’t understand how I could eat so much day after day, so I ordered manti instead, savoring the hot red pepper sauce ensconced in cool yogurt, quiet and unexplosive as it was.

The next day, we stopped in a café to use its lavatory and sample some Turkish delight, where the waiter waved the white napkin onto my lap with a bull fighter’s élan. When we left a lone sliver of honeyed pistachio on the plate, the waiter slid it smoothly onto my fork and placed it inside my mouth, holding my chin up then daubing the sides of each cheek with the napkin he’d just lifted from my lap. A magician’s legerdemain was again at work. An invisible movement of someone else’s hands and I was changed; changed forever. He could, I knew, have scratched out my eyes if he had wanted to, so fast were his hands; I would never have been fast enough to stop him.

Tired and full of magic and sweets, we returned to our hotel for an hour’s nap, and, when we awoke, we made love. A parrot flew past our window and we halted our rhythm for a moment to listen. Robert was beneath me and couldn’t see out the window, but he could hear its caw, its restive searching for a mate, for another brightly colored bird body to penetrate in flight. Then the call to prayer silenced the parrot’s probing. Animals don’t pray, but they will listen to us while we sing our orison. They will sit silent and wait for us as we beg favors we may and may not deserve of an entity that may and may not be exist. They will defer instinct a moment for our lamentations.

By the time the parrot’s call displaced the call to prayer, Robert had padded away from the stained carpet and enclosed himself within the shower. All blood now filtered down the drain. As we dressed for dinner, we heard the cries of protesters marching through the plaza nearby. Again, tonight, I would ask that we invite the waiter over to smash a clay pot between us filled with lamb and rice, and, again, he would say no, he wasn’t hungry enough. We would sit once more across from each other, unable to keep the looming quietude from growing nearer amid the masses’ cries. -Melissa Wiley-

[Editor’s Note: Readers, Melissa informed me that Robert saw a specialist on returning to the US and is doing just fine now. In case some of you, like me, were wondering about his well-being.]