The fire snapped and sparked as gasps and amused chatter tapered off and silence settled once again over the little group huddling around the warm blaze. Never one to be outdone by another’s tale, I assumed Lauren would step up to the challenge. In three, two, one…I counted down mentally. She didn’t disappoint. Within moments she’d spring-boarded verbally in a spring break story from our college days, studying abroad in Istanbul.
“That was pretty good,” Lauren admitted, “but I have: The. Best. Story. Ever.”
Of course she did. Any story she happened to be telling was certain to be self-proclaimed the best ever. Lauren never bothered to harbor even the slightest fear that a listener might suffer from boredom. Her confident brag didn’t bother anyone; she more than made up for the smug front by her fun-loving, entertaining personality and general good nature towards everyone around.
“Remember when we were studying overseas? Well, that spring break, Jenny and I rented a car and drove all around western Turkey. I can’t believe the first time I ever drove stick shift was in a rental car in Istanbul. The traffic is ridiculous and wild! And there really aren’t traffic laws at all, just suggestions! But that’s a whole different story there!” Leaning forward, her hoop earrings danced and she slid a hand through her blond boy-cut hair. She paused and gazed around the gathered group. Within the pause, I happened to know she dodged not only THAT tale, but also stories of a spine-chilling night in a seedy run-down hotel, a sincere wedding proposal from a total stranger, and the adventure of a rental car driven by two young American women broken down in the middle of a Turkish highway.
“Anyway,” she continued casually, “Jenny and I drove through Bursa, and on our way through town we stopped for some food at this nice little restaurant. A couple of Turkish girls were eating there too, and we all started talking as we ate. So, there we were in this restaurant, talking in this odd conglomeration of Turkish and English, when the craziest thing I have ever seen happened.”
Another dramatic pause. She savored the silence, well aware that she already knew what everyone else waited to hear. Her lips pursed slightly, blue eyes sparkling as she turned her head meeting eye after listening eye.
“Before too long, I saw something out of the corner of my eye! I looked again and saw a clown—very out of place—skipping along the road. He was prancing along, being goofy, and acting as clowns often do. It looked like he’d just been transported out of a circus and hadn’t realized the change in location yet. It was right around Children’s Day, so I thought, Oh, how cute, they have a clown here for the kids.”
“But no sooner had I thought that, then a white van came barreling around the corner, spun out, screeched to a stop at the curb, and four Jandharmas—in complete uniform, head to toe, carrying huge machine guns—leapt from the van! They grabbed the skipping clown and dragged him to the back end of the van.“But the strangest thing is—when the military men opened the van’s back doors—,” she glanced around the circle—,“the van was FULL of clowns!” Their personal restaurant-side entertainment joined the group and was skirted away as quickly has he had come.“Turning to our new Turkish friends, we tried to ask them what IN THE WORLD it was that we had just witnessed.” Unable to find the right words in English the only reply was “’the clowns—very bad, very bad’.”
“So that will always be a mystery!” Lauren exclaimed.
I was one of the first to hear the real-life tale, and I have heard it since. These days, the mystery grows and flourishes in Lauren’s energetic imagination. I wonder, occasionally, if I’ll meet Lauren again when we’re old and gray. Perhaps, as she sits on a stool outside a corner store in Bangladesh or at a bar in downtown Chicago, she’ll still indulge herself and others in her favorite pastime, holding listeners captive to her endless flow of terrific tales. Someday, I suspect, strangers will listen as she vividly recounts the time she protested alongside the clowns and was apprehended at gunpoint by the Jandharma along with the festive bunch.
As I listen I’ll know the real story. And yet, as she speaks, I bet I’ll still begin to wonder…