A freelance journalist and photographer, Ali had been on the road for six hours. Although he had intended to reach his destination in Izmir that night, he almost dozed off as the head and taillights from the motorway traffic danced before his eyes. Sipping coffee from the thermos no longer kept him awake. He decided to stop for a rest and took the next exit marked, Altınkum 50 Km, a seaside resort on the Aegean, famous for its golden sand beach.
The idea of driving another fifty kilometres sounded challenging. In hope of finding some kind of accommodation on the way, he followed the country lane that snaked between vast olive groves on either side. His thoughts drifted to the past, long before the motorway to Izmir had been built. The old road meandered through quaint villages and lively small towns, then. Coffee houses full of men sipping hot drinks and chain-smoking, children playing football in the narrow cobbled streets.
Ali opened the windows and inhaled the clean air, carrying the aroma of fresh herbs and wild flowers. The soothing sound of cicadas evoked memories. More than thirty years ago he’d been here for the first time with her, on the way to Çeşme for a seaside escape. Soon after, they had parted, never to meet again.
Immersed in thoughts, Ali spotted the flickering lights of a hamlet ahead. He hated motorways, uniform, devoid of character, polluted with engine fumes and noise. Disappointment swept over his face as he cruised through the deserted streets of the village without seeing a single soul or an open coffee house. It was almost midnight, and everyone had gone to sleep. Hopes for a warm drink abandoned, he drove back onto the road and parked in a lay-by beside the fields. Lukewarm coffee in the thermos tasted appalling. He munched on biscuits to relieve the bitter tang in his mouth, and stepped out of the car to stretch his legs. The leaves of the olive trees shimmered under the silver rays of the Hunter’s Moon on a warm October night.
He returned to the car and locked the doors. A window lowered for ventilaltion, he curled up on the back seat for a nap. Fatigue took him into deep sleep. He awoke to the sound of someone knocking on the glass.
Half asleep, his gaze met the stare of a young boy, his expression one of panic. A bob of curly blond hair shone like a halo over his head under the moonlight. Pale blue eyes beckoned him as his cupid’s lips mouthed, Help me.
Ali unlocked the door and stepped out. “What are you doing here at this time of the night, child?”
He looked to be five, maybe six years-old in his outfit of navy-blue shorts, a Batman t-shirt and sports shoes over white socks. “I’m lost,” he said, with tears in his eyes. “Please help me find my Mum.”
“Where is she? Did you have an accident?”
He nodded and said, “I’ll show you.”
Ali grabbed a torch and followed the boy into the olive grove, wondering how a car could have had an accident so far from the road. About 100 metres in the depths of the orchard, they came to a clearing bordered with a copse of tall oak trees. The child stopped next to one and pointed to the ground. “It’s here. Please tell Mummy.”
“Where is she? What’s your name?”
“Emre,” he said, and disappeared.
Ali searched the woods, calling his name in vain. It was still dark when he found his way back to the car as though in a trance. He climbed back on the driver’s seat, switched on the engine and the headlights, before turning the vehicle towards the orchard. He scanned the area. Nothing. The boy had vanished. He waited, staring at the grove. After a while, he turned off the engine and fell asleep, his head resting on the steering wheel.
He opened his eyes to the first rays of dawn. Discomfort from a stiff neck and a parched mouth made him question his freelance occupation. Then, he remembered the boy and wondered what happened to him. He returned to the village to find some food and make enquiries. After devouring a full breakfast with eggs and pastries, he asked the owner if there had been any car accidents in the area recently.
“Not that I know of. The traffic here is slow, mainly families going to the seaside. They drive carefully, not like the lunatics on the motorway.”
“No, but you can ask the village chief. He’d know more.”
The Chief invited Ali to his table and answered his questions. Regarding kidnappings, he said, “They’re all over the country, not only here. They kidnap children for ransom, for the organ mafia or take them to the mountains to turn them into terrorists. Why do you ask?”
“I saw a child last night. He asked for help, then disappeared.”
“Maybe you had a dream.”
Ali wasn’t sure it was a dream. The internet newsfeed search didn’t provide him with any relevant information. He called his lawyer friend, Ahmet, in İzmir and told him the story. After noting down the details, Ahmet said, “I’ll ask my investigator to consult the police records. When will you be here?”
For the next couple of days, Ali worked on an in-depth interview with one of Ahmet’s clients, a rich heiress whose son was murdered by his lover. On the third day, the investigator came to him with information gleaned from police records.
“In 1999, two children of a prominent businessman were kidnapped for ransom. Before making contact, the abductor took them into his car and drove far away from the crime site in Ayvalık. He collected the ransom in İzmir, and dropped the daughter in the area. Later, he was arrested while trying to rent a car. The seven-year-old girl identified the kidnapper. She also said he took her younger brother, Emre, into a forest at night and returned without him. The abductor never confessed to murdering the boy, but insisted he ran away. The man’s still in jail.”
Ali wept, the boy’s innocent face vivid in his memory. “I-I must see his mother. I promised him.”