Empire of the Ring

Chapter 20
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Chapter 20: Fatima, the girl from Istanbul (1)

While waiting to hear from Mustafa, Youngho focused on learning Turkish in his hotel room. He wanted to speak to her in Turkish when he met her.

Most people would travel around tourist attractions when they go to new places, but Youngho was not the kind of person. He did not like crowded places, so he liked to stay in hotel rooms. The only attraction for him now is exercising in the hotel fitness center.

At the fourth day of waiting, Youngho received a welcome call from Mustafa.

“Youngho, I found the girl. Get ready and come out. I’ll drive my car in front of the hotel.”

Calming his pounding heart, Youngho went ahead to get dressed in a suit and went down to the hotel lobby.

“What is all that? You are dressed up.”

“I don’t want to surprise the girl. I thought a suit would look more trustworthy than casual clothes.”

“Well that’s true. I don’t see many gentlemen out in the street because young people like to get dressed for outdoor look.”

“It’s the same in here too. Outdoor look is so trendy that it became everyday casual in Korea but I like suits better.”

“Is suit a trademark for an agent?”

“Hahaha...”

Mustafa surely had watched too many James Bond films.

“Where does the girl live?”

“Balat. It was easy to find her since Balat is where many ordinary people live together. I searched for a family of children only, which has been a little better off recently.”

“You must have had a lot of trouble. How can I reward you?”

“There’s no need. It was not a big trouble since I searched her through my acquaintance. Just buy me some more drink later.”

The car slid through the narrow alley. Mustafa’s car was a good fit for this kind of narrow alleys. Youngho thought that there was a reason that many Europeans used compact cars even though they had tall frame. Many old cities had narrow, winding alleys that big cars could not fit in. Small, compact cars were great for those cities.

Youngho wondered how they could find a house in such complex alleys but Mustafa skillfully drove around the alleys as if he drove there every day. Finally, Mustafa stopped at a house that looked the shabbiest. The house was shabby but compared to the other houses we went to a few days ago, it was a hotel.

***

Youngho’s heart palpitated. Taking a deep breath, he carefully knocked on the door. The house was so quiet that he could hear someone moving inside.

As Youngho saw a girl peeking out through the chink of the door, he almost stopped breathing.

The girl had changed so much since he saw her last time. She was extremely skinny with a tan face then, but now even though she was still skinny, her face was so much brighter.

She had been eating properly and gaining some weight. She blinked a few times and her eyes widened. She recognized Youngho.

Youngho tried to smile big and greeted her in Turkish.

Her eyes welled up with tears, and she thanked him first.

“Thank you sir, I was not thinking straight last time that I didn’t even get to say thank you. My sister was very sick.”

He only got half of the words she said, but he understood her.

“My heart was uneasy after leaving you like that, so I asked my friend for help to find you. May I come in?”

Mustafa quickly interpreted for Youngho.

“She said the inside is too simple that she feels uncomfortable.”

The girl stopped him, but Youngho insisted on getting in.

It was a one-room house with a light bulb hanging in the ceiling. A little skinny girl lying on the bed peeked at Youngho, and a bigger boy who was writing something at his desk looked at him in fear and stepped back to a corner.

As if they were preparing some food, something mushy was boiling on an old stove. It smelled savory.

As he looked around the room, Youngho couldn’t help the tears welling up in his eyes. Enduring hardships, the children lived in an awful environment.

While Youngho did not know what to do with his emotions, Mustafa reasonably took action. After talking about the girl in bed in Turkish, Mustafa suggested on taking her to a hospital.

“Youngho, the girl in bed has been ill from pneumonia for months. They couldn’t take her to a hospital, so they’ve been treating her only with medicine. The money you gave was only enough to get her medicine and food. Let’s take her to the hospital. I also raise children and I can’t just pass this by.”

“Of course, brother!”

Coming back to his senses at Mustafa’s words, Youngho hurried with Mustafa.

After finding out that Youngho had come to help her, the girl hurried and dressed her little sister. Although her sister’s condition had improved a little, she was in no position to reject Youngho’s offer when she did not know if her sister’s illness could get worse.

As if she did not have many valuables, she only took an old leather bag. She locked the door but the door was so frail that a grown man could handle to break in. Locking the door was pointless except that it let people know that no one was home.

Even in a small compact car, the space of the back was more than enough to fit the skinny children.

***

Mustafa took them to a private hospital near Taksim Square. After seeing how broken Youngho looked, Mustafa hastily took them to the hospital.

When Youngho showed a wad of dollar bills, the receptionists welcomingly took them in quickly and treated them well.

After taking X-ray shots, getting diagnosed, and doing some tests on the child, they could lay her in a bed. The nurses bathed her clean and laid her. She is now receiving intravenous fluid.

The doctors diagnosed her with pneumonia and because her lungs were damaged quite a bit, she needed to stay in the hospital for two months and get treated. He also added that, even after leaving the hospital, she would have to recuperate from somewhere that has clean air for six months in order for her lungs to work normally.

Youngho paid a month’s fee ahead. It was about $5,000 but it did not matter to him. The child was in a terrible condition that the doctor said if she did not come to the hospital, it would have been fatal.

Leaving the child at the hospital, Youngho took the other siblings to the hotel that he was staying, since it was only ten minutes away from the hospital and the two agreed to stay in the hotel.

While checking in for another room for the siblings, Youngho noticed the children’s ragged clothes and shoes, which did not seem to go well with the high quality hotel they would stay at. He did not want others to point fingers at them, so he took them to a clothing store and bought new clothes and shoes for them. Not knowing what’s going on, the children just followed around Youngho.

Her full name was Fatima Aleksandar. She was 18. Youngho realized her age when the siblings wrote their information at the hospital. He was surprised to find out that she was 18 because she was so skinny and small, Youngho had thought she would be 16 at most.

The siblings were reluctant to take the food in front of them.

There were only kebab and soup on the table, which was common Turkish food, but what appalled the siblings were the shiny plates and silverware on a white table cloth.

When Youngho started to take soup with a spoon, the boy did the same.

Fatima, as well, started to eat kebab carefully.

When Youngho spoke to them in his broken Turkish, the boy who was holding it back finally burst out laughing.

He told Youngho that he was 14 and his name was Szechenyi. The one in the hospital was Zeynep, 11 years old.

Fatima was also smiling at Youngho’s strange, hard accent. He thought her smile was beautiful as a rose. Even though she was skinny like a stick since she could not eat well, she was still beautiful as she was.

Fatima and Szechenyi who planned to visit Zeynep in hospital, fell asleep in their room as if they were exhausted by the day. Since Youngho did not hear anything back when knocking on their room, he headed to the hospital by himself. For such a young girl to stay in the hospital alone it seemed to be too dreary. He was going there to let her know that she was not alone.

When Youngho left the hospital, he tipped the nurse and asked her to stay with Zeynep if possible. Thankfully, the nurse was chatting with Zeynep when he stepped in. Zeynep’s laughter was so pure and clear to hear that Youngho felt like it refreshed his soul.

Noticing him, the nurse smiled. Youngho told her to take rest for now in poor Turkish.

Zeynep greeted Youngho with a smile. It had been only a day but her breath sounded smoother from getting treated with medicine.

Youngho held her skinny hand and put the mystical ring that had been on his finger, on her left pinky. The ring was big but it suddenly shrunk to fit her pinky.

A look of surprise crossed on Zeynep’s face with dry patches.

Youngho noticed that his physical conditions restored quickly once he put on the ring on his finger, so he gave it to Zeynep wishing her fast recovery.

When Youngho patted her head few times without saying anything, Zeynep blinked her eyes, smiled and fell into deep sleep.

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