Soghut, a pretty seaside village on the eastern coast of the Southern Aegean, beguiles newcomers with its stunning views of the islands in the cove, and Symi in the background.
A well-kept secret, with exquisite villas on the hills, it had been recently featured in Exclusive Escapes. The article gushed: the unspoilt beauty of its shoreline boasts of a small restaurant called The Octopus Man, renowned internationally for Ali’s unique recipe.
I met Selma during a walk on the pebble beach after my first scrumptious grilled octopus lunch at Ali’s. An old woman with striking blue eyes, a small, upturned nose and delicate features on her weathered face. In a printed dress that swayed with the warm breeze and a white scarf wrapped around her frizzy, grey locks, she greeted me with a toothy smile.
“Hello, are you visiting?”
“My first time here, but I love your village.” I smiled in return, and gazed at the seascape.
“I came here as a bride. I’m from Bozburun.”
“I’ve been there. It’s very close.”
“It was love at first sight. One look, and we were enamoured for life. That’s until he left.”
“He was lost at sea. Told him not to go out that day. He didn’t listen.”
“I miss him. My house is down there, by the sea. Come visit me next time you’re here.”
The following summer I drove to Soghut again, and walked to her house to see if she was around. She was sitting in a wheel-chair under the canopy of her patio, stroking the fur of a gorgeous golden cat lying next to her.
“Hi, Selma, do you remember me?”
“Come closer, my sight is not very good, lately. It’s too bright out there.”
I stepped inside and sat on a chair, looking into her clouded blue eyes.
She pointed a crooked, arthritic finger at me. “Oh, yes, you’re the lady from Istanbul.”
“That’s right. Lovely cat you have.”
“That’s Tonton. He’s been my sleeping partner since my beloved left.”
“Pets are great company, especially if you’re on your own.”
“Told him there’d be a storm that day, but as they say, if you love someone, set them free.”
“I know. Sad …”
The table next to her was stocked with her immediate needs. A bottle of water, a glass, some food and a roll of paper towel. My gaze returned to the wheelchair.
She pointed at her legs. “Arthritis, very painful these days. I can move a little, but with difficulty.”
“Your children, are they here?”
“All in the big city. They want to take me there, but I don’t want to go.”
“Maybe you should. Isn’t it hard on your own here?”
“I can’t leave. They never found him, you know. Just the boat, washed up on the rocks. He’s out there somewhere. Besides, I have many sons and daughters here. Ali brings me food every day. The women help me and I entertain their children, telling them stories. That’s how village folk are. ”
“What stories do you tell them?”
“About life in the village. Their favourite is Ali’s tale. How he was stranded on the rocks with a sinking boat, a huge octopus he’d just caught, a supply of lemons and some vegetables, and came up with his famous recipe. When the fishermen rescued him and brought him to the village, he kissed the ground, and opened the restaurant to honour the octopus that provided him with food for many desperate days.”
“I read the story on his website. It’s curious how necessity is the mother of invention.”
“My beloved sometimes visits me at night. I say, take me with you, but he keeps saying, Not yet. Then I wake up, and watch the stars and the moon, my other sleep partners in the night. I wish he’d hurry up and steal me away, and take me into that world of his.“
The golden cat with amber eyes purred and jumped on her lap, surrendering to her caress.
The next time I was in Soghut, I asked Ali how she was.
”She’s gone. Back to her beloved, I hope.“
”I’m sorry. I was hoping to see her again.“
“The cat, Tonton, is also gone. I was going to adopt him, but he hasn’t been seen since the day she passed away.“
”Sometimes cats are like that. They just disappear.“
”Her children put the house up for sale. They’ll make a fortune. Prime position on the beach with a big garden at the back.”
A knot in my throat, I walked to her house and peeked at the empty corner on the patio where she had sat last year. I passed the For Sale sign and ambled to the back of the house to see her garden. A spacious patch of land with walnut and almond trees, and to the left a magnificent weeping willow by a small creek that ran to the sea.
Soghut (Söğüt) means weeping willow. Weeping willow, weeping widow. For a moment I pondered the meaning behind this. It’s graceful branches, leaning towards the water and the water reaching the sea. Perhaps, like Selma.