My visit to Ephesus in 2004 was the inspiration for writing The Ephesus Scroll. However, my first draft was a little different to the final version. Below is that original version, included here for those interested in the writing process. (Plus, there is a funny bit with a Turkish coin seller, based on my own experience!)
Ephesus – June, AD 2004
Dima was standing with his back to a stone wall trying to position his wife, Natasha, for a photo when the earthquake struck the ancient, ruined city of Ephesus. He was attempting to get a shot of her with the Temple of Hadrian in the background. In order to do this he had had to jump a low fence into what remained of the house of a wealthy Roman family, one of several standing along Curetes Street. Fortunately, no one had come over to tell him off, so he had motioned for Natasha to back up a little leaving her neatly framed by the stately arch of stone that formed the front of the temple. He had also backed up to the wall in order to get the whole temple in shot and put his backpack on the ground next to him. He was about to press the button when the first tremor struck.
He felt the ground rise beneath his feet and immediately lost his balance and staggered sideways, inadvertently pressing the button on his camera and taking what later turned out to be a somewhat out of focus photo of his right foot. As the ground continued to move in a very disconcerting way he looked up and saw Natasha crouched in the middle of the Street.
“Are you alright?” he called out. Both Dima and his wife were Russians. Dima was in his early thirties, Natasha in her late twenties. They were both good-looking, in a typically Russian sort of way, with dark hair and fair complexions.
“Yes,” Natasha replied.
She should be fairly safe where she was – she was far enough away from the temple to avoid any falling masonry or, God forbid, blocks of stone if the earthquake got any worse and brought down the beautifully carved arch. He, however, was still up against a wall of stone blocks that, as he turned to look at them, appeared to be moving about more than they should. He was fairly sure that the ruins of the house he was in had been built into the side of the hill. With soil on the other side providing extra support the wall should hold. But he wasn’t going to take any chances so he backed away from the wall.
The quake had only been going for less than half a minute. In the distance Dima could hear some shouting from concerned parents calling for their children and crying from some startled babies. But Dima and Natasha had come to Turkey before the start of the tourist season, and the Turkish schools were yet to break for the long, summer holidays. As a result there were not a lot of people exploring the ruins of Ephesus that day. He was about to jump back over the low fence to rejoin Natasha when she called out.
“The backpack! You’ve left it over there.”
It contained their water bottle and a windcheater in case the weather turned cold. It also had their passports and most of their money stashed away in an inner pocket which would not be very useful to them if it were buried beneath a few tons of ancient, Roman rubble.
“OK, I’ll get it.”
It felt as though the quake was easing. Dima ran over to the backpack without much difficulty and picked it up. Suddenly, there was an enormous tremor that left him flat on his back looking up at the wall, helpless, as a large crack opened up between two blocks of stone. The crack widened and dirt and gravel fell on his feet. With a desperate scrabble, he pulled his feet out of the way as three or four large stone blocks were seemingly levered out of the wall by the earthquake and landed with ear-splitting cracks on the stone floor of the Roman house.
And then it was all over. The ground stopped moving, the dust began to settle, and Natasha had herself jumped the low fence and run over to see if he was injured.
“It’s OK, I’m fine,” he said, panting.
He sat up and she started dusting him off. He was still holding the backpack. As it turned out it was a good thing he’d gone back for it for the blocks had fallen right where it had been lying. He looked back at the wall. He’d been partly right: the wall had been built into the side of the hill, so where the blocks had been he could see dirt and rocks. But near the bottom of the wall, behind what would have been the second level of blocks, he noticed an opening, little more than a hole in the side of the hill.
“What’s that?” he said, pointing.
Natasha turned around as he stood up and together they went over to the hole. Dima looked in but his head blocked out most of the sunlight.
“Do you see anything?”
“No, the hole is too small.”
So he worked at the edges of the hole to make it a little wider. He felt a bit guilty at this. After all, Ephesus was a serious archaeological site. But he contented himself by saying that the whole place must have been thoroughly gone over many times so this hole was hardly likely to contain anything valuable. Natasha must have been thinking something similar since she had a quick look around to see if anyone was watching. But the few people she could see were too busy counting children and alternately laughing and crying with relief when they discovered that everyone had got through the earthquake without major injuries.
Dima, however, had been wrong about the hole being empty. With a little more light he could quite easily see that the hole opened into a hollowed out space that had been hidden behind the wall, and sitting towards the back of the space was a stone box about half a metre in length and 20 centimetres wide and high.
“There’s something here.”
Natasha caught the edge of excitement in Dima’s voice. “What is it? Can you reach it?”
“I think so.”
With great care, he took hold of the box and slowly drew it out of the hole. In the clear light of day it looked very old. It was chipped and scratched but was quite intact. It had a lid that was cracked but not broken.
Natasha spoke quietly.
“Is there anything in there?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Should we tell someone first?”
But he was already starting to remove the lid as he spoke.
“Hey, are you guys alright?” Dima stopped what he was doing without having seen inside the box, and he and Natasha looked over their shoulders at a man standing on the Street. He’d spoken in English and Dima replied in the same language.
“Yes, we’re fine, thanks.”
Their bodies would have blocked the man from seeing the stone box, and for some reason Dima did not want the discovery made public just yet. He had replaced the lid of the box whilst speaking and now he proceeded to remove the water bottle and windcheater from his backpack. Then he carefully placed the box in the backpack in such a way that the lid would be facing upwards when the backpack was on his back, and put the windcheater on top of it as a cover. Then he and Natasha stood up. Natasha returned to the Street where the man was still standing there watching them, but Dima retrieved his camera and took some photos of the hole from a few different angles then stepped back and took some ‘context’ shots. Then, he too jumped the low fence and joined Natasha and the man.
“Wow,” said the man, glancing at the collapsed part of the wall. “Looks like you guys were lucky.”
“Yes, those blocks landed very close to me,” Dima replied.
“My name’s Gregory. I’m from Atlanta, Georgia. You know, in the US of A.”
“Pleased to meet you. My name’s Dimitri and this is my wife Natasha.”
“Yes, that’s right. I guess my accent gives me away.”
“Yeah. Well, that was some earthquake, huh?”
“Yes,” replied Natasha. However, as they looked around they saw that there had been hardly any damage. Ephesus was a ruin that had been struck by many earthquakes over the last two millennia and so it was difficult to determine if any extra damage had been caused by the recent quake, but Dima noticed that the arch of the Temple of Hadrian was still intact and that had looked rather delicate.
Together with Gregory they walked slowly down Curetes Street looking for more signs of recent damage. Dima and Natasha wanted nothing more than to open the box and see what was inside. But they could not shake their new acquaintance. There were a few pre-season tour groups present and these had re-commenced after the excitement of the quake. Dima, Natasha, and Gregory tagged along as one group was taken into the ancient public toilets. This was a large room with a section raised to a comfortable sitting-height along one of the sides and the back. Then, at remarkably close intervals – clearly the Roman designers had different ideas about personal space even during such an intimate moment – there were small holes through which could be seen a long drop down to an efficient looking drain. A few members of the tour group immediately sat down and were photographed by the ones left standing. One particular woman elicited quite a laugh when she pulled out a book and pretended to read whilst sitting. Dima and Natasha laughed along with the rest. By the time they exited the toilet there was no sign of Gregory.
There are two main attractions in Ephesus. One is the Library of Celsus dating from AD 135 with its two levels of soaring Corinthian pillars. While Dima took a few photos of the stunning exterior Natasha went inside to explore but she was disappointed to discover that, for a library, it must not have contained many books – it was surprisingly small inside given its majestic height.
The second attraction is the Great Theatre. Even with the stone box burning a hole in the bottom of his backpack Dima just could not tear himself away once he had walked up the approach and come out into the enormous semicircle of stone, 50 metres in diameter, sloping steeply up the hill. Leaving his backpack with Natasha he walked briskly up to the very top of the seating area to take a photo. When he turned to look at the view it almost took his breath away, although he was actually rather breathless after the climb. He sat down on the top step and looked down at Natasha waving from the central arena. Where gladiators had once fought to the death, tourists now milled around chatting and taking photos. Where the Apostle Paul’s three-year missionary term in Ephesus had been ended by an angry mob incited by the silver-smith Demetrius, the mild-mannered graphic designer Dimitri was now admiring the view. From where he was sitting he could see right down the Harbour Street. Back in Paul’s day this street had led to a small harbour which was connected by a narrow channel to the Cayster River which itself flowed into the Aegean Sea more than six kilometres away. However, the river had had a serious silt problem which had caused the harbour to become unusable over the centuries. Now, it was completely invisible. Dima had a hard time trying to imagine what it must have been like.
Eventually, Natasha’s frantic waving caught his attention and he went back down the slippery steps to join her.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing, I was getting bored. You were just sitting there for what seemed like ages!”
“Time to move on then.”
She led the way down the short yet dark passageway that connected the arena to the back stage area. From there they descended to the Harbour Street. The tour groups were heading down the street to the exit gates. It was getting close to closing time. Dima was suddenly a little apprehensive about leaving. What if they had metal detectors in the gates that were set off by coins in the stone box in his backpack? Of course, he had no idea if there were any such coins. But then, as they got close enough to see, he noticed that people were not required to take off their watches, place their wallet in a special receptacle, and take off their boots like it was airport security. Instead, they just walked out through the turnstiles, and Dima and Natasha quite anticlimactically followed.
Suddenly, they were beset by a least four Turkish men all pleading with them in English to examine the wares in their souvenir stands.
“You want to buy coins? I have coins. I find them on Ephesus site. All genuine.”
“Please look at my guide books, all languages.”
“I have T-shirts. Look, here is Artemis”
Dima wasn’t interested in any other souvenirs. They just didn’t compare to the stone box currently weighing down his backpack, and if he cared to admit it, his conscience, too. They pushed through the throng and began looking for the bus that would take them back to their accommodation. But just then Natasha caught sight of some interesting clothing inside one of the shops lining the wide street and she went for a closer look, calling out to Dima over her shoulder, “Just a minute!” Dima was left looking at a printed sign that said ‘Genuine Fake Watches.’ Then a voice in his left ear startled him; a particularly persistent salesman had followed him and had realized he was cornered.
“You want real Ephesus coin, sir?” he said, extracting some dubious looking coins from a trouser pocket. He pointed to the face on one side of the coin. “See, here is Domitianos. Very important emperor, Domitianos. You like? Fifty euros.”
Dima made the mistake of not looking completely disinterested.
“Here, take, look,” said the man, eagerly.
“No, thank-you,” replied Dima.
“Thirty euros. I find it myself. Real silver. Look at it.”
He thrust the coin in Dima’s hand. Dima turned it over and tried to read some of the letters on the back. The Greek alphabet has many similarities with Cyrillic so he was able to read two of the words but he didn’t know what they meant. The face on the front could have been anyone and the greenish hue on one side indicating tarnishing silver could well have been just green paint. He tried to hand it back.
“No, I’m not interested.”
But the man wouldn’t take no for an answer. He pulled his hands away making it impossible for Dima to give him the coin.
“Twenty dollars.” The change in currency was far more significant than the drop in number, but even so this was far more than Dima was prepared to pay for a coin he was not really interested in.
“No,” said Dima, quite loudly. This time he flipped the coin to the man who was forced to catch it, although this involved a couple of fumbles. Using the distraction Dima ran off to catch up with Natasha who had just exited the shop, having purchased a rather fetching Turkish blouse.
“Do you like it, Dima?” she asked, holding it up.
He smiled. “I do. What did it cost?”
“Did you haggle for it?”
“Sure did. He started at thirty five!”
“Well done. Now, let’s get on the bus.”
Their bus was quickly located. But if they thought there would be privacy enough to look inside the stone box they were mistaken. The bus was full. They were crammed in with a group of German tourists who proudly sang rousing German folk songs the whole way back to their holiday village.
Finally, once they got back to their room and had turned on the air conditioner, Dima carefully placed the backpack on their bed and extracted the stone box. He looked up at Natasha and gave her a nervous grin.
This time, he slowly removed the lid of the box. Immediately they could see that the box was not empty; there was something made of paper, or possibly something wrapped in paper, taking up almost the entire box. He put the lid down carefully on the bed beside him. Then he gently prodded the paper. It was quite firm and showed no signs of disintegrating. Nevertheless, he did not want to pick it up yet.
“What is it?” Natasha asked.
“I’m not sure,” he replied.
He bent a little closer. Actually, upon closer inspection it looked like a roll of paper with the leading edge visible on top. He gently lifted up the edge by the right corner and saw that there were letters on the underside. Greek letters.
“Natasha, can you turn on some more lights?”
She got up and opened the door into the bathroom. When she turned on the bathroom lights more light fell onto the inside of the box. Dima looked again at the first line of letters that were visible. They were all hand-written capital letters and there were no spaces:
“Can you read it?” Natasha asked.
“Well, I’m not sure where the word breaks are, if there are any, that is.”
“Try reading it aloud.”
“I’m guessing the first letter is an ‘A’,” he said, uncertainly. “Then the next three are just like Cyrillic, so the message starts, ‘A-PO-KA’…”
He paused again.
“I’m not sure about the next one,” he continued, eventually. “It could be an ‘L’. I mean, it’s fairly similar to a Cyrillic ‘L’. Then comes a ‘U’, again like the Cyrillic.”
Again, Dima paused. The next symbol had him stumped. It was nothing like a letter from either the Cyrillic or the English alphabets.
“What’s wrong?” asked Natasha.
“I’m stuck,” Dima replied. “I don’t know this next one.”
“Well, what have you got so far?”
“ ‘APOKALU’,” he stated, and suddenly he had it. “I know! The next one is a PSI. I remember it coming up in a Physics formula back in high school. So that makes it ‘APOKALUPS’.”
Natasha’s eyes widened.
“Apocalypse?” she asked, wonderingly.
“Maybe,” replied Dima.
“Well, the next letters are ‘ISI’ assuming that they are all like the Cyrillic. Then the next one could be an ‘N’ if it’s like the Cyrillic, or ‘H’ if it’s like the English, but I don’t know which is right.”
“Try them out,” suggested Natasha.
“OK,” replied Dima. “ ‘APOKALUPSISIN’ – maybe; ‘APOKALUPSISIH’ – not very easy to say. So let’s stick with ‘N’. Then comes ‘Z’, ‘O’, ‘U’, ‘CH ’, ‘R’, ‘I’, ‘S’, ‘T’, ‘O’ and ‘U’ – all just like the Cyrillic.”
“Can you see any more?” asked Natasha.
“No, not without opening the roll up further.”
“So what does is say?”
“The last part sounds like ‘Christ’,” said Natasha.
“ ‘APOKALUPSISINZOU – CHRISTOU’,” repeated Dima.
“Are you sure about that ‘N’?”
“Not really,” replied Dima.
“Because,” continued Natasha, “if you said ‘I-EH -ZOU’, then you would have something that sounds very much like ‘Jesus Christ’.”
“And then the whole thing would be ‘APOKALUPSIS – IEHZOU – CHRISTOU…’ ” said Dima, excitedly.
“And that sounds a lot like ‘apocalypse Jesus Christ’,” said Natasha.
“It does,” said Dima, with a slight shake of his head as if he did not quite believe it. “And I think that’s how the book of Revelation in the New Testament starts.”
“Oy!” exclaimed Natasha.
“Yes,” agreed Dima, “oy!”
Gümüldür – June, AD 2004
The alarm on Dima’s travel clock went off at 2.45 am Saturday morning. With a groan, he reached for the off-switch and silenced the piercing and repetitious beep. Blearily, he looked at the display. Who would have believed that such a time actually existed, he thought to himself. Did I set it wrong? But no, the alarm had not been incorrectly programmed. As his brain re-engaged with the world he remembered that they had a plane to catch, and the airport was about an hour’s drive away.
“It’s time,” he murmured to Natasha.
She, too, groaned. The holiday village provided a bus service to the airport, but it was due to leave at 3 am. There was not a lot of time to get dressed, throw the last few items into suitcases, and make their way to the bus with a few other unfortunates who were catching the same plane.
Together, they rolled out of bed and quickly got dressed. Dima then took their sleepwear over to his suitcase. He unlocked the padlock that secured the zips, unzipped the suitcase, and opened the lid. There, surrounded by his clothes, was the stone box and its precious contents. He and Natasha had been debating what to do with the scroll ever since they had brought it back to their room two nights previously. They had deliberately not tried to unroll the scroll themselves. After their initial and tentative identification of the scroll they had wisely decided to leave the unrolling to professionals. Natasha had half a mind to return to Ephesus with it and hand it over to the officials there. But Dima had been against this. After all, if the scroll truly was the book of Revelation from the New Testament then this was a Christian treasure and those in charge of the Ephesus site were most likely followers of Islam. He, therefore, wanted to return to their home city of St. Petersburg, Russia, and hand it over to one of the museums there. They might even be allowed to participate in the unrolling of the scroll, which would be impossible if the scroll remained in Turkey. Natasha had liked the sound of that so they had locked the stone box in Dima’s suitcase and had tried (unsuccessfully) to forget about it while they enjoyed the last day of their holiday, lounging beside the pool, strolling along the pebble beach next to the Aegean Sea, and eating some of the most delicious food they had ever tasted.
But now it was time to leave. Dima carefully removed the stone box from his suitcase and transferred it to his backpack. They had decided not to entrust the box to the airport baggage handlers of Turkey and Russia. It was going to be safer in their hand-luggage. He placed the box at the bottom of the backpack and covered it over with a change of clothes. Then he put in the book he was reading and their travel documents.
He looked over at Natasha. She had completed her packing, and was watching him hide the box.
“Well, this is it,” he said.
They opened the door of their room and then, each pulling a suitcase, they walked along the path between the other rooms. The holiday village was essentially a number of stand-alone buildings, with each building divided into two separate rooms. There were concrete paths linking all the buildings together, with beautiful flowerbeds lining the paths. Dima had spent an hour the previous day trying to photograph the enormous black bees that frequented these flower beds. He had been astounded by their size and colour and had wanted to identify them properly. But, at 3 am in the morning the bees were sensibly elsewhere.
There were a few others slowly making their way to the bus that was parked in the main driveway. Dima and Natasha placed their suitcases in the luggage compartment of the bus and climbed inside. They sat down near the front of the bus and Dima placed his backpack on the floor between his legs. After everyone was on the bus the driver got in and they started off for the airport.
It was rather a different journey compared with the drive from the airport to the holiday village. Then, it had been daytime and as they left the outskirts of Izmir they had enjoyed seeing goat-herders every few minutes. They had admired the beautiful and surprisingly rugged terrain that separated Izmir from the Aegean coast further south. Dima had thought to himself at the time that he would not want to traverse the area on foot. Then they had caught their first glimpse of sunlight sparkling on the Aegean Sea. Going back the other way in the middle of the night proved much less exciting. Dima probably would have slept if it were not for the stone box and the scroll sitting in his backpack between his feet.
How old was this scroll? How had it ended up in Ephesus? As a fairly typical Russian growing up under atheistic communism he had learned barely anything about the Bible. However, he and Natasha had recently got involved with a small church group that met down the road from their apartment building. They were mostly younger people and they played contemporary-sounding worship music that he and Natasha had enjoyed. And they had started hearing about the Bible. Someone usually preached every week, and they had both found it fascinating to discover that the Bible was still very relevant to life in the twenty-first century. He had bought a copy – something that would have been impossible only a decade and a half ago – and had been reading it ever since. He had loved the Gospels, and had struggled through Paul’s letters. But it had been the book of Revelation which had puzzled him the most. It was easy to read but completely impenetrable as far as what it meant. He did not remember hearing any sermons on the book, so he really was in the dark about how one was supposed to approach it. The stone box between his feet was therefore an exciting challenge. He wanted to understand Revelation and what better way than by being involved in the study of an ancient manuscript of the book.
“I think we’re there.” Natasha’s voice startled him from his reverie.
Sure enough, the bus was pulling up to a boom gate which was quickly raised. It then headed straight over and parked in front of the doors leading to the departure area. Soon after everyone was maneuvering their luggage through the doors and lining up at the check-in desk.
It was at this point that Dima recalled all the security checks that were an integral part of flying in the days since the terrorist attacks on the USA. All bags were scanned. Surely, they would see the scroll on their x-ray machines, confiscate it, and throw Dima in prison for attempting to smuggle priceless archaeological relics out of the country! He was frankly terrified.
As he handed their tickets and passports over to the girl behind the check-in desk he felt sure she could see directly through his false smile and his wildly beating heart into his backpack to the incriminating evidence hidden within. However, she merely smiled back and started typing away at the keyboard, presenting him with their boarding passes within a few minutes. Their suitcases disappeared into the bowels of the airport and Dima and Natasha made their way across the foyer to passport control.
This, too, passed without incident. But once he and Natasha were through and were walking along a short passageway he could see the scanners up ahead. He started feeling nauseous and he began wishing he had listened to Natasha’s suggestion to take the scroll back to Ephesus. However, they were committed now. He gave Natasha’s hand a squeeze and she returned it with a somewhat mischievous grin.
“Place your bags on the belt, please.” The man spoke good English.
Carefully, Dima did so. Natasha put her carry-on bag onto the conveyer belt also. As they disappeared inside the x-ray machine Dima stepped through the metal detector. It went off. Of course, he’d forgotten to remove his wallet and keys in all the tension of the moment. He returned, placed the offending objects in the waiting receptacle and walked back through. It went off again. This time the man waved his handheld scanner over him, discovering that Dima’s belt and shoes were responsible. He was then allowed to collect all his belongings on the other side, where Natasha was waiting with her carry-on bag holding out his backpack for him to take. It was through! However the stone box and scroll had appeared on the screen, it had clearly posed no potential threat to the security of the airplane.
With a sigh of relief, Dima sat down in the waiting area near their departure gate holding his backpack rather more firmly than was totally necessary. This is ridiculous, he thought. This is only the first of three planes!
“Are you OK?” Natasha asked.
“Not really,” he replied. “I’m a bit nervous. Aren’t you?”
“Well, a little,” she said with a shrug. “But I’ve been thinking about the earthquake. You remember how little damage was done elsewhere in Ephesus? Well, I think the wall collapsing right where we were standing and us finding the scroll was supposed to happen.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I think God wanted us to find the scroll.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” replied Dima, dubiously.
“And if that is true then we have nothing to worry about.”
Natasha sat back contentedly. Dima allowed himself to relax a little, and started to look around at his fellow passengers. There were those same few people from the holiday village. He had got to know a few of the others staying in the village, but the ones waiting in the airport were those he had merely exchanged greetings with as the passed on the path to the pool or the beach, or had chatted aimlessly about the weather with while waiting in the queue for that amazing Turkish food they had served. Off to one side there was a brief commotion when a young child vomited on herself and her father’s leg. Dima hoped fervently that he was not going to be seated near her!
The minutes passed slowly. Finally, there was an incomprehensible announcement in Turkish and many of the people sitting nearby got up and started to form a queue. Dima assumed that their plane was ready to board so he and Natasha joined the queue as well. They all filed slowly down some stairs and at the bottom a stewardess took their boarding passes. Then it was on to a bus. Once the bus was full it drove off to the plane waiting out on the tarmac.
When the doors of the bus opened Dima and Natasha were greeted with a strange sight. Everyone’s luggage was lined up on either side of the area in front of the stairway leading up to the plane. The frequent-flyer locals knew what was going on. They went over and pointed out their luggage to the baggage handlers and these were loaded into containers. So Dima and Natasha located their suitcases, indicated their ownership of these suitcases to the baggage handlers, and then continued on up the stairway.
Finally, they were in their seats. Dima placed his backpack between his feet again – he was taking no chances – and they waited for the plane to take off, talking quietly with one another.
“What do you know about the book of Revelation?” Dima asked Natasha some time after the plane had taken off and was, according to the on-board information screen, cruising about ten kilometres above Turkey.
“Not a lot,” she replied, hesitantly. “There’s a lot of death and disasters, some grotesque monsters, and a happy ending – at least, for Christians.”
“Yes, that seems to be a good description. But I just remember pages and pages of graphic details. I mean, for a book with no pictures it is very visual.”
“Well, you are a graphic designer. It makes sense that that is how you would approach it.”
“True,” said Dima, with a frown. “But do those details have any meaning?”
“I don’t know.”
“I really want to find out.”
They were silent for a few minutes. Finally, Dima spoke.
“You really think God wanted us to find the scroll?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Why what? Why do I think that, or why did God want us to find the scroll?”
“Why did God want us to find the scroll?”
“I don’t know.” Natasha stopped to consider the question. “Maybe the time has come for the book to be fulfilled,” she continued hesitantly. “It’s all about the end times, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I guess so.”
“Well then, start looking for death and disasters, grotesque monsters and a happy ending.”
They laughed. Then there was an announcement about arriving in Istanbul so they checked their seatbelts and prepared for landing.
While the plane was finding a place to stop and connect itself to that Atatürk Airport building there was another incomprehensible message in Turkish. Dima caught a couple of words, though. It was something to do with ‘transit passengers’. Sure enough, the Turkish was followed by English: all transit passengers were to remain seated until all domestic passengers had left the plane. Immediately, Dima felt the anxiety return. Are they on to us?
But no one seemed to be concerned about waiting. And no police came storming on to the plane, guns drawn, ready to take them into custody. Instead, there was another announcement and the rest of the passengers left the plane. Dima and Natasha followed the group and headed up an escalator into the large, duty free bazaar that is the centrepiece of Atatürk Airport.
Their flight to Moscow was going to depart from Gate 222 in four hours. They wandered around the bazaar for an hour, then sat and had a coffee at a café. Then, utilising the moving walkways, they located Gate 222 right up one end of airport. For some unexplained reason, the plane that would take them to Moscow was late in arriving. They whiled away the time watching some young children playing on the moving walkway near the gate. They would run onto the walkway at the wrong end and try and make their way against the flow for a distance before turning around, standing still, and sliding off the walkway again. At least, that was the plan. In reality, they kept running into each other, tripping over their shoe laces, and falling over when they tried to slide off the walkway. All in all, it was clearly a lot of fun for the kids, and almost as much fun watching them. Dima wondered if the parents were enjoying it as much as he.
Then, just to keep his heart rate up, a squadron of security officers approached on the walkway. Dima was sitting directly opposite the walkway – the better to watch the children – and suddenly he was being watched himself. He must have given a quiet cry of exclamation for Natasha awoke from her doze and sat up.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Dima replied. “At least, I hope nothing. Look!”
Natasha looked at the security officers stepping off the walkway. But instead of coming over to Dima and herself they unlocked the door leading to Gate 222 and started setting up the scanning equipment.
“There, nothing to worry about,” she said to Dima, quietly.
“Yes, I’m just on edge, I guess.”
People were lining up to go through into Gate 222’s waiting lounge. Dima and Natasha joined the queue. Looking ahead Dima realised these security officers were being very thorough. They were not relying on their handheld scanners. They were making everyone take off their belts and shoes to send them through the x-ray machine. Dima asked the business man standing behind them in the queue. The man informed him that there was going to be a NATO summit in Istanbul a week later and the Turkish government was doing everything they could to ensure stability and security in the country in the lead-up to the summit.
When it was Dima’s turn he preempted proceedings by removing his belt and shoes without waiting to be told. Then, he placed his shoes and backpack onto the conveyer belt, put his belt, wallet, watch and keys into the receptacle and stepped through the scanner. He was putting his belt back on when two of the security officers began speaking and pointing to the screen. He was reaching for his shoes when one of the officers came over and pointed to the backpack.
“Could you open this, please.”
Dima’s heart sank. This is it, we’ve been caught.
“Certainly,” he replied.
With trembling fingers, he opened the backpack. He could sense Natasha coming up behind him.
“Could you show me what is at the bottom?”
Dima moved the book and his clothing aside to reveal the stone box.
“What is this?” said the man, pointing to the box.
“Some Turkish pottery,” Dima replied.
“That’s fine,” the man said. “Thank-you, you may go through.”
Dima collected his things, handed the backpack wordlessly to Natasha, and walked over to a seat in the lounge area. He put his shoes back on, returned his wallet and keys to their respective pockets, and affixed the watch around his wrist. Only then did he turn to Natasha.
“That was too close,” he said quietly.
“Indeed,” she replied.
Without saying anything else they sat in the lounge and waited for the boarding to begin. Within an hour they were flying over the many minarets that make up the skyline of Istanbul.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. After arriving in Moscow they breezed through passport control and customs; they went through the ‘nothing-to-declare’ channel and all the customs officials were standing in a corner chatting and hardly even looked in their direction. After changing terminals, they caught their connecting flight to St. Petersburg and upon arriving negotiated a fare with a private taxi to drive them home. It was late in the evening of Saturday, but it was still very light outside since this was the White Nights, that time of the year when the sun barely dips below the horizon resulting in nearly 24 hours of daylight for a few weeks. The taxi driver took an unexpected detour at one point, but explained it was because of the Paul McCartney concert being held in Palace Square next to the Hermitage. When they rolled the windows down they could faintly hear ‘Let It Be’, but both Dima and Natasha were too tired to feel like they were missing out.
Once they walked in the door of their apartment they allowed themselves to relax. They had managed to get the scroll safely to St. Petersburg. The question was what to do with it now.