‘Tosh and twaddle, bosh and balderdash, that girlie is talking out of her backside,’ averred Rodney D’Arcy to himself. Then he breathed on his gold cufflinks and buffed them to a shine. He was standing apart from the rest of the group being taken round ancient Ephesus by a young Turkish guide called Daphne. She had just explained a local belief: ‘Nobody agrees on who was the father of Eros, god of love, but here people think he was Bes, a local fertility god with the enlargened phallus, and Eros was born here. After Christianity came, he returned here, to his favourite place. There have been sightings of him, a beautiful boy with golden hair, on that hill, where a beautiful head of Eros was found, a masterpiece by the famous sculptor Lysippus. Married couples, when they cannot have children, they go there and make the love, and the wife gets pregnant. But beware: he is a mischievous god and doesn’t just make people fall in love, he punishes those who show him disrespect.’
As she continued with other tales of his power, Rodney smirked and thought: as if; superstitious stuff and nonsense; a pudgy putto well past his sell-by date. He remembered that he used to pass that vulgar Eros in Piccadilly Circus on his way to nursery school and even as a child had been distinctly underwhelmed. Then again he had been a singularly sophisticated tiny tot, on his way to one of the premier nursery schools in London. As for the guide, clearly she had the brains of a mollusc, a retarded mollusc at that.
The group moved off from the Odeion, and Rodney suddenly paled as he felt a shooting pain in his liver, followed by a burning sensation. He winced, and concluded that it was doubtless due to the plenitude of local plonk.
He looked at the guide leading the way and decided that it was really rather a nice bottom to talk out of. She turned and announced: ‘Now we are seeing the public buildings of Ephesus, but later we will look at Ephesus’ private parts. There are private houses just over there. They are very interesting, fascinating actually.’
Her talk of private parts gave Rodney ideas, especially as he was on his own on this little winter break. His girlfriend had quarreled with him and refused to come. He recalled that he had been poking fun at her accent when she unaccountably blew up and called him a supercilious southern sod, and a precious little prick and all. Charming. Quite the lady. Still what could one expect of someone from Newcastle? No wonder Queen Victoria had had the curtains drawn on her train when she passed through that dreary dump on her way to Scotland. Now, looking down his nose at the filthy rich Japanese couple next to him, he decided he could have quite a yen for the young wife. He examined her designer kilt and was wondering if she wore anything under it, like a designer g-string, when the group came to a halt.
Daphne was proud of her country and its archaeological remains and was trying her hardest to arouse some interest in this inattentive group. She pointed out a place where they had discovered a pipe that she said could stand 20 atmospheres of pleasure. Rodney smirked and concluded that she meant pressure, but then speculated on how much pleasure she could stand. He’d like to give her a lot of pleasure, get her positively panting with pleasure.
He was distracted by a whoop by one of the Americans. He eyed them with contempt – fat husband, even fatter wife, a gruesome twosome, accompanied by an egregiously ugly daughter. From what they had said on the trip there in the minivan they had only come along for the visit to the carpet factory later on, so they could buy a fabulously expensive carpet in front of a captive audience. He heard the little girl mutter: ‘Huh, I don’t think much of this place – it’s a ruin. Couldn’t they get a grant or something to do it up?’ Then she delighted her parents by posing on some steps, saying: ‘Hey, look at me. I’m an ancient Greek gardess.’
For god’s sake, bloody Yanks, thought Rodney. Still what could you expect from a nation which had passed directly from the primitive state to decadence without the usual intervening stage of civilization? Almost as bad as the English family, coarse parents with two yobbish sons, from Bradford or somewhere equally improbable, bloody Cloth Caps, all by eck and ee ba gum, typical Yorkshire peasants. And the eldest yob had a particularly unfortunate moustache to boot.
The group halted by a pillar with a hole in it. The guide explained that it was where people used to tether their horses. They all regarded the hole, and the Japanese couple photographed it. Then with bows and smiles they asked Rodney to take a photograph of them standing next to it. He graciously consented, reflecting on how polite the Japanese are, as they ask you to take their photograph, or build them a railway. He didn’t really have anything against Japs; it was just that he had never met one that he liked. Unlike the guide. For a country that had pictures of Bela Lugosi on its banknotes, and one banknote worth 20 p for god’s sake, Turkey did a good line in tasty tour guides. This one, Daphne, was seriously sexy. Odd that he hadn’t noticed it earlier. As she finished her spiel, he decided to pick her up, charm the panties off her and sample some Turkish delight. He gave her a big smile.
Daphne smiled back, wondering why the Englishman had suddenly stopped being so sour and superior. She didn’t like the man, but she would be pleasant and polite to him. It was part of her job, and he might give her a tip. Besides he couldn’t help being old (at least forty) and paunchy and balding. Not like her Volkan.
As they moved on, Rodney gazed at the stony landscape. It seemed savage, and he could easily imagine its benighted inhabitants going in for alfresco fornication. He thought he caught sight of a sudden flash of gold at the top of the hill, but when he looked more closely he couldn’t see it any more.
Daphne took them off the street into the remains of a building in which they encountered a long row of ancient lavatories. Oh god, bodily functions, how gross, thought Rodney. She said: ‘This was a public latrine, for up to 46 people. You may make photographs. And please come to see me if you have any questions and want to learn more about the buildings.’
While the rest made photographs, chortling away, Rodney brought his charm to bear on the guide. ‘Aahm, hello, Daphne. It is Daphne, isn’t it? Lovely name that. Absolutely winsome. Thought we might have a little chat while all the marginal people over there are otherwise engaged. Barbarians. Probably don’t own a single classical music CD between them, whereas I have 1,857. And I write a regular column for a prestigious Sunday newspaper. Super tour by the way, and this bit is particularly pleasurable. Loos are always amusing. But I must say I wasn’t entirely taken with all that Eros fiddle-faddle, my dear. Nobody believes in that disgustingly chubby little cherub. Except for the proles who go straight from their lobotomies to buy Valentine’s Day cards.’
Daphne looked upset and said: ‘Oh sir, please, this is bad luck. You may be punished. Others have been.’
Rodney was about to come back with a sarcastic quip when the American girl turned up with some questions. That was irritating, but he found the brat’s queries absolutely priceless – why is the Black Sea called that when it’s green; and who was the Alexander the Grape guy mentioned in the guidebook?
After answering her questions without even grinning, Daphne took the group to the high point of the tour – the Celsus Library. She spoke knowledgeably about its delicate beauty and elegant symmetry and pointed out how effectively its slender front contrasted with the massive Mithridates Gate next to it. Rodney and the others were clearly bored, and when she mentioned the Gate’s arches, the American child announced that she would rather be looking at the golden arches, which greatly amused her parents.
Daphne sighed and felt it was time to move on to the brothel. That always got their attention. It was demeaning but the only way of reaching most groups, to stop them playing on their phones for just a minute or two. After they inspected the remains of the brothel, she took them up the street and showed them a stone at its side which had acted as an advertisement for the establishment. The stone had inscribed on it a female head, a foot pointing towards the brothel and a small rectangle, which she said meant Visa and Mastercard accepted, getting a laugh, as always. Rodney was finding all this talk of brothels distinctly stimulating. God, he had to have her, and soon. He was feeling right randified.
The next stop was the Grand Theatre, where Rodney wandered off from Daphne’s talk on it to mooch around on his own. Suddenly he caught sight of a boy seated in the top tier. He had golden hair and his face was beautiful, except for the nose, which was slightly deformed. He was looking in Rodney’s direction, with an angry gaze. Then he laughed. A silvery laugh. Rodney turned to see if there was somebody behind him who the boy was looking at, but there wasn’t. When he faced front again, the boy had slipped away somewhere. Rodney felt a twinge in his stomach and supposed that he must have pulled something while turning.
Finally they were taken to the small museum, where Daphne announced that they had 30 minutes to feast their eyes on the splendid finds, and then they would go for lunch. Rodney decided to devote some more time to pulling Daphne, but the Japanese couple got in first and monopolized her with questions about where the best designer shopping was to be found. He lost patience and told her he was going ahead and would see her later at lunch. She said to him: ‘Please look at the end for the Eros head made by Lysippus. It is beautiful…something special actually.’
More hot air, thought Rodney. Blind to the statues of slender nymphs and a pensive Dionysus, he strode quickly through the museum. But then in the last hall he caught sight of the Eros head that Daphne had mentioned and had to admit that it really was something special. He halted, overcome. Arrestingly naturalistic, it had a distinct personality of its own. The brow, he felt, was proud and a little imperious, and the voluptuous lips were on the cusp of a smile. Overall the head had an extraordinary, ethereal beauty, except for the nose, which was chipped. It reminded him of someone. The boy in the theatre. As the realization hit him, the left eye slowly winked at him.
The next thing he was aware of was a cool breeze on his face. He was at the exit, sitting on the steps, with Daphne in front of him. She was being sweetly solicitous, bending over him and (he suddenly noticed) showing cleavage, enticing cleavage. He wanted to see more of those beautiful breasts. He wanted to get his hot, sweaty hands on those beautiful breasts. He’d obviously just been seeing things with the winking statue silliness. Indigestion played strange tricks. After a few drinky-poos at lunch he’d feel a lot better. He’d continue charming her over lunch too, see if he couldn’t persuade her to give him a personal tour of that hill later on and maybe engage in some rustic rumpy-pumpy there.
Daphne drove the group to the Afacin Vitamin Restaurant for lunch. He sat at a table apart from the rest and took Daphne’s bag and scarf and put them on the chair next to his while she saw to the others. He ordered for her the absurdly entitled house megasalad of vegetables, as she had requested, and the same for himself together with a bottle of wine. That should settle his indigestion’s hash. He smirked as he watched her looking after the barbarians. The Japanese were deeply concerned about hygiene. The American father asked her what white wine was. The Cloth Caps were having real problems with the whole menu. Probably couldn’t read. He had to admit that Daphne was very good with them all – patient, tactful and understanding. He admired her professionalism, especially in one so young, and when she explained Turkish dishes to them, he found her patriotic enthusiasm really rather touching. Not just a pretty face. Rather more to her than that. As he crossed his legs, he noticed that his brogues had become dusty, so quickly wiped them clean with a paper napkin. Got to keep up appearances in front of our friends from the north, show them some southern sophistication.
When Daphne joined him, he remarked: ‘At last a pristine tablecloth. How very svelte. Oh look, now the Japanese are photographing each other taking photographs of each other. Some day their prints will come. Ha, that’s rather good. Must pass that on to my favourite duchess. Ah the food. And the drink. Join me in a glass of vino? You thoroughly deserve one, my dear, after all your hard work.’
She thanked him with a luminous smile that unmanned him. She was so open and girlish, he felt. As they ate, he chatted: ‘Aahm, I must say I’ve had some delightfully bizarre experiences here. Take my first day in dear old Istanbul. In the bazaar I was constantly assailed by pushy merchants loudly singing the praises of their dubious wares, trying desperately to attract my attention, but then amid all the spiel one character just muttered quietly as I went past: “I believe you – do you believe me?” Wasn’t that simply priceless?…I must say, this is a truly remarkable salad. But really you are my dish of the day.’
‘Excuse me?’ said Daphne with a puzzled pout that Rodney found absolutely endearing.
‘Why, what have you done?’ he asked, raising an arch eyebrow. ‘Anyway have some more of this winsome wine. Let me top you up. Pamper your vocal cords after all that talking, all your fascinating information for us. Loved the museum by the way. Thank you so much for that. The Eros head really was something special, as you said. Quite took my breath away. Hence my funny little turn – dizzy and all that.’
‘Yes, it is a most beautiful head. Makes you believe in the god. No?’
‘Oh yes, absolutely,’ said Rodney, wishing that she would drop this silliness. Believe in him, for god’s sake. Talking out of her arse again, a decidedly delectable derrière, but still. He added: ‘Yes, something extraordinary, unearthly.’
When she smiled with pleasure at that, he melted even more and decided this was all going very well. By god, he’d bed her that very night. He asked her if he could get her anything else to eat, glanced at the menu and snickered when he saw that one of the items on it was called affected paste of the aubergine. Daphne said that the salad was more than enough for her, and he thought what a lovely girl she was, really lovely – very pretty, with an athletic figure, and also touchingly ingenuous and gentle, and a very sweet nature. He was actually falling in love with her…No, actually he had fallen in love with her. He was bewitched, bowled over and head over heels. Amazing. He’d never felt like this about anyone before. And he wanted a relationship with her, a serious, loving relationship.
He was about to make some more winning remarks about the Eros head when he experienced a major internal upheaval – a great roller of wind from the right side of his groin all the way up to his left shoulder. Extraordinary sensation. Must have been overdoing it with the filthy Turkish grub. That explained the earlier twinges.
Suddenly he was sure that a major evacuation of the bowels was imminent. He excused himself and got up quickly. He took a dozen short, tight steps to the small lavatory and hurriedly sat down on the toilet seat. A great squeal of a fart forced its way out and echoed under the high ceiling. Rodney grimaced with embarrassment, offended by his own body. Then he realized with horror that the door did not extend all the way down to the floor. There was a six-inch gap at the bottom of it, so he could be heard by all the diners. As soon as he had registered that, a series of roof-rattling farts erupted from him. The final one went on for several seconds, and also burned. His wind was hot. This was the last straw, he thought.
But then from beneath him he heard what sounded like his own voice saying loudly: ‘Pooh, typical Turkish toilet – absolutely filthy.’ He looked down between his legs, frowning. That couldn’t have been his bottom. There must be some sort of weird echo. Anyway he wasn’t staying there any longer. As he pulled up his underpants, his arse spoke again: ‘Must change these shitty underpants – look at those skid-marks.’
Rodney felt he was going mad. He didn’t want to face the people outside, but he just couldn’t stay in the lavatory with its echoes and voices. He braced himself, flushed the toilet and emerged. They were all staring at him. The American girl was wide-eyed with astonishment. The family from Bradford grinned and gave him the thumbs up. As he passed them, he farted again helplessly, and one of them shouted: ‘Another anger gets his wings.’ Rodney was mortified.
When he sat down at his table again, Daphne totally ignored him, until the appalling smell that he brought with him reached her and made her nostrils flare. She muttered ‘disgusting’ and hastily left the table. As she walked away, his arse said loudly in his voice: ‘Phwoah, look at the arse on that. A fantastic arse. And I should know – I’m an expert.’
The Yorkshire family tittered, but his darling Daphne was not amused. She gave him a furious glare, paid her bill and left the restaurant, slamming the door behind her.
‘Oh god,’ said Rodney.
‘Yes?’ said his arse.