Charis kindly - so very wonderfully and generously - invited me to stay another night, rather than seeing me holed up in a hostel. I cannot thank her enough for this. Homes are so much sweeter than hostels when you're a pilgrim.
I wake early, as usual, disoriented as I settle into my first post-pilgrimage morning. I check the weather out the window. Dark clouds. I begin to rationalise my decision to not walk into the mountains with Ben. I claw at my centredness.
It's not that cold!
My feet miss the earth. My spirit longs for the mountains. My skin feels already the absence of the sun and the wind and the rain. My heart calls out for Ben's companionship. I begin to cry.
I am not ready for an inside life!
Ben rings. He offers to wait for me.
I love him for this.
We both know that the joy of such a journey is to be found in the sharing . . . 50 days we have shared on the road together, eating bread and cheese and chocolate and mandarins, playing backgammon in high places - 50 days!
Yet . . . and yet.
The mountains that face us now are his calling, Istanbul is mine.
I fly to Istanbul.
At Tirane airport (surprisingly un-Albanian!) I enter the mainstream, either at the front of the queue (because I have been waiting patiently for hours) or at the end (because everyone else is in such a hurry). I am self-conscious about an orange juice stain I've just noticed on my shirt.
Sitting in the airport lounge I am surprised when a voice in my heart, clear as day, says 'I am going home'.
I fly over the mountains and watch for Ben. There is snow, but not too much. The lake will be beautiful when he gets there.
Just out of Istanbul the voice comes again and my eyes fill with tears.
I get a taxi from the airport to my motel, which I have booked online. Look at the pretty gutters! Where is the rubbish? Quite accidentally I am up the road from the Hagia Sofia, which I had never heard of until recently. As the taxi drives past, I look out the window through the night darkness, as a large white bird circles the dome, as if in slow motion, then lands.
The hotel is wonderful. I fall onto the bed and cry and cry. My journey was for this. The very very longest journey.
I experience a deep and abiding contentment, a no-beginning no-end stillness, as all of me tunes in with the vibration of this city.
I am queen and slave, conqueror and king.
I am the great stone pillars connecting earth and sky.
I am the wind and sea and the wide flat plain.
I am in love with Istanbul.