On that breezy winter morning, I was sitting outside a local chai cafe, sniffling away alone, trying to hide the tears running down my sun-kissed cheeks. I was devastated after the most recent spat I had with my partner. Our fights had gone from bad to worse in the past year and this one shook me to the core. He had tried to strangle me in a fit of rage today and his hands had left a blue bruise on my neck. My bloodcurdling scream had brought him back to senses and I knew in my heart that he couldn’t have hurt me badly but that trust was broken. And I walked out.
Somehow when you read news of abuse in the newspaper, it all seems so distant, you never imagine it happening to you. Physical abuse was bad but it was years of emotional abuse which had eroded my self-esteem.
Armed with just a bag, I did not know where to go. Just that going back was not an option. Out of breath, I slowed down after running nearly half a mile. Where was I? I looked around to see that I had subconsciously walked to one of our favourite neighbourhood joints. For now, drowning my sorrows in a huge chocolate cake seemed just right and with the last sip of my chai latte, I was almost ready forgive, forget and head back home. Just then, as I gulped in the last sip of my comforting chai, at the bottom of the cup was the word ‘Awaken’.
The word was speaking to me. It was time to reclaim myself and walk out of the degrading relationship.
With these thoughts, I found myself hailing a cab to the airport. With a just purse, a mobile and a debit card, I decided not to return back home. As the plane took-off that day, it felt as if I was leaving a part of me behind on the land which had been my home for the past so many years. As the view changed from green trees to tiny houses to endless blue skies speckled with cottony clouds, there was a lump in my throat. Was I doing the right things?
As the airplane touched down at the new land, the air hostess gently woke me up. I stared outside slightly disoriented with my surroundings. It took me a moment to realise that I was in the land of mosques and magic – Istanbul.
Stepping into the airport, I was gripped by panic. With no planning, no people I knew, I just flew to a foreign land. What was I thinking? Pretending to be braver than I was feeling, I walked up to the nearest concierge. Asking them about the backpacking inns around, I hailed a cab to the one which sounded the safest. Checking into an unpretentious but comfortable room, I slumped on to the bed. Evening was setting in and I let myself drift off into a tired torpor again.
I woke up early next morning, only to be greeted by expanse of water in front of me. I was so exhausted the day before that I had not noticed that the inn was alongside this beautiful water body - Bosphorus. I tip-toed my way to the eatery downstairs and realised I was famished. A sight of complete Turkish kahvalti (that’s breakfast for you) greeted me. I washed it all down with Turkish tea and it was probably the most satisfying meal I had had in days. I wasn’t counting my calories, I wasn’t thinking whether this was going to make me fat or not today and I enjoyed every morsel of the meal. I wasn’t worried that he would pinch my backside if I was a bit fatter and call me ‘moti’. It was time for self-love.
Fear gave way to freedom as I walked out by the afternoon ready to explore the city. As the sun set creating reddish orange hues across the azure blue skies, I reached the Blue Mosque and spent the day absorbing the sights.
Walking back to the motel in evening, I was in my own world when a car whizzed by. Shaken out of my reverie, I was suddenly aware of my surroundings and noticed a tiny pretty looking shop. Inadvertently, I entered inside. A blank canvas and a set of paint brushes seemed to be calling out to me – painting was an old forgotten love. The owner of the shop seemed be a wise old lady. She observed my face closely and made some incredulous gestures. A man in the shop smiled and told me, ‘She says you have a very bright future! She can read it in your face!’ It sure brought a smile on my face and a spring in my step as I returned back to my room with a canvas, some paints and brushes tucked in tow.
Next morning, I made way to Hagia Sophia. As the sun rays touched the minarets of the mosque, my brush touched the canvas and it was as if by magic the strokes came to life. Time passed in a haze as I lost myself in the portrait of the beautiful monument which stood in front of me. By the evening, I had nearly completed my painting! I was feeling…. Happy? Satisfied with myself, I decided to treat myself to baklava. Smelling of fresh paint and sugar high – the day seemed just perfect.
I slept like a baby that night. There were people to get back to, office tasks to take care of, and savings which were running out. But for now, in this very moment, I was happy. Possibly this is what living in the present felt like?
Over the next few days, I visited Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern and Dolmabahce Palace. With each painting I created, my pain seemed to dissolve little by little. Sitting near the shore on one such day, an old gentleman walked up to me. ‘Are these paintings for sale?’ he asked. ‘You think they are worth buying, Sir?’ I replied chuckling a bit. ‘I most certainly do, young lady’ he replied smiling. He turned out to be a major art connoisseur of Europe and few of my paintings fetched far more than I had imagined. Going back home to the four walls of my cubicle just didn’t seem crucial enough now. I decided to stay on in Turkey.
It was an unusually sunny Sunday morning when I woke up later than usual. Today I had planned to go the Grand Bazaar. I started painting and as usual, lost track of time. ‘That one is worth a feature in our magazine! Would you like to tell us more about your inspiration? We are from The Art Review!’ said two ladies as I turned around startled at the interruption.
Turned out, the ladies were prominent art journalists who featured budding new artists from all over the world. This month’s feature was yours truly! My two cents for the interview piece?
The world would be a better place if the woman decides what she wants for herself!
After years of self-doubt and misery, I had my epiphany!
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