Barry wanted Gilda from the moment he saw her stacking books in the Indianapolis public library. She was strong-minded, almost forbidding, but he finally managed to propose a holiday in Istanbul at his expense which she grudgingly accepted.
They checked into adjacent singles at the Hilton. Barry was practically convinced that a combination of Bazaar, Bosporus and Byzantium would convert her formidable reserve into a new Seraglio softness.
They traipsed round the Topkapi in 35 degrees. Taxi drivers stole from them. Waiters confused them. Tourists jostled them in the streets. Gilda’s reserve held fast and her knees, encased in beige Rohan, stayed firmly together.
This changed two days later when she came down with a tummy bug that confined her to her bathroom, spraying the air with Nina Ricci and cursing the day she was born. Next door Barry clipped his nose hairs. Today they’d visit the Blue Mosque. The scale, the intricate beauty, the serenity would surely bring Gilda hungrily to her knees.
Gilda pressed her face to the cooling tiles and refused to respond to Barry’s muffled entreaties outside the door. She didn’t want to go to the Blue Mosque. She didn’t even want to go back to Indianapolis. She simply wanted to die.
Barry spent the next days sweating alone round the Sultanhamet and the nights in clubs in Taksim, getting gently drunk and talking loudly to anyone who’d listen. One night he met a Bulgarian prostitute happy to sympathise with him in his hotel.
They tiptoed past Gilda’s ever-closed door and into Barry’s room where he pulled her to him in a desperate substitution for lost romance. But somehow he couldn’t bring himself to imagine that she was in fact Gilda.
And in that moment, Barry knew he was free. And in love with Bulgaria