Saturday, 15 December
The next morning I got up at 6:30. Melih was still sleeping. I knocked on his door to wake him up.
“Hey, I’m leaving in a few minutes,” I called through the door. “Do you still want to join me?”
“Yes,” he called through the door, “I still want to join you. I’ll be out in a couple of minutes.”
Melih got up and got dressed, and we walked two kilometers out to the main road and caught the bus I had been on the day before. We rode back to the point where I had stopped walking the day before, a landmark called Kız Kalesi—The Maiden’s Tower, a small fortress/lighthouse rising out of the sea about a hundred meters off the shoreline.
When we stepped off the bus I ran over to a dumpster and touched it with my hand and ran back to Melih, who was now standing in the cloud of dust left behind by the departing bus.
Melih looked at me, a puzzled expression on his face. “Why did you run over and touch that dumpster?”
“Well, that’s where I finished yesterday,” I said, “And I’m walking across the country, which means wherever I stop one day, I have to start the next.”
“If you don’t, who’s going to know?” Melih asked.
Melih and I took a few selfies with the Kız Kalesi in the background, and then we began the day’s walk.
The first ten kilometers went pretty smoothly. Melih walked with pep in his step, and for the first time I could hear lightheartedness in his voice.
The road took us through an area that, in the days of the Roman Empire, had basically been a Roman suburb. We stopped to climb around on an outdoor amphitheater, and later to take a photo of me standing in front of an old Roman aqueduct nestled between lemon trees. I marvelled throughout the day that in most other places sites like these would be hidden behind closed gates and entry fees, but here they were just scattered rocks and pillars farmers drove their tractors around.
We passed a new building complex. Melih pointed out the complex and said that he had designed the electrical systems for these buildings.
Between kilometer 10 and 20 Melih started to tire. I could see on his face, and in his gait, that he was starting to hurt.
“Are you okay?” I asked him.
“Yeah, but my feet are hurting a bit, and my legs are getting stiff. My back hurts, too.”
As we neared kilometer 20 I looked at my watch and noticed that it was 4pm. Man, I thought to myself, if I were by myself I’d be finished for the day by now but we still have ten kilometers to go! It would be dark when we finished. I was starting to get nervous.
At kilometer 22 we stopped for börek and çay. Melih took his shoes off. I could see he was starting to blister. I thought, Man there is no way he is equipped to finish this next ten kilometers.
I asked him, “Melih, are you sure you don’t want to pack it in? We could get a bus right now back to Mersin, we’d get home early. Why don’t we just do that?”
“No! I want to finish,” Melih said.
I pointed to the road behind me. “Are you sure? The busses are right there, we could flag one down.”
“No!” Melih insisted, “I want to do this!”
“It’ll be dark when we finish,” I said, hoping he would give in.
He smiled back at me. “No, Matt, I want to do this.”
“Okay then, let’s finish up our çay and then get back to it. Daylight’s burning.”
We gulped down the rest of our tea and crossed the road to finish the last ten kilometers of the day’s walk. For seven kilometers, Melih did okay, but for the final three kilometers, I was sure that every step was going to be his last. For about 30 seconds I would walk at what I thought was an incredibly slow pace, and then I would turn around and wait while Melih caught up with me. He was not talking at all, and his face was frozen in a grimace of exhaustion. I was afraid he was going to collapse.
“We’re almost there,” I reminded him. “Just a couple kilometers.”
It was late dusk when we entered the small town of Arpaçbahşiş with Melih still hobbling through every painful step and me turning around to wait for him every 30 seconds or so. We finally reached the flagpole at the municipal building which we had agreed on the bus ride would mark the end of the day’s walk. It was well past the time I would normally want to pull off the road and stop working for the day.
At the flagpole, I turned one last time and watched Melih trudge toward me. When he spied the flagpole, and even though he could barely walk, he found it within himself to skip through the final few steps. As he reached the flagpole he raised his hand and we did a high five. I said, “Let’s go home, Melih!” A look of relief crossed his face and he broke out into a huge smile and said, “Yes, let’s do that.”
On the minibus ride back into Mersin, Melih fell into a desperately-tired sleep while I looked out the window at the passing trees. I sensed that the day’s walk had addressed a deep need for Melih. I didn’t know what that need was, but a few days earlier at TAC the universe had made me a rock star. Maybe my job this week was to repay the favor, and help Melih find the rock star within himself.
The bus let us off at our corner in Mersin at 9 p.m. I shook Melih awake and we stumbled the last two kilometers back to Melih’s apartment.