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Arriving at Atatürk airport, Istanbul, I found my way to the Visa desk, to hand over my stipulated new ten pound note in exchange for a visa to remain in Turkey for a week. From there I collected my solitary bag from the carousel, and went off to find an ATM for some local cash. The recommendation is to purchase an Istanbulkart for use on the public bus and tram service, rather like an Oyster card. For this I was directed below ground, a huge cavern of a place, and largely empty, at this early hour. I managed to persuade a machine to sell me a travel card in exchange for TRY10, and then followed my directions to Sultanahmet square. Metro stop, tram stop, I joined locals going to work. The metro trains and trams are basic, clean and run efficiently. Stops are clearly marked, so knowing where you are is not difficult.

After a couple of days I walked to Sirkeci, and planned to take the tram back to Sultanahmet square, partly to save my legs another uphill hike, and partly to check on the balance left on my card. There proved to be insufficient funds for the short journey, so a top-up was needed. Approaching a machine, I peered at it for instructions, selecting the Union flag for the English language version of instructions. The card needed to be scanned, yet to my eyes there was nothing that resembled a scanner, and I fumbled around for a bit pressing this and that button, without success.

A girl nearby had apparently been watching my inept efforts. She would have been about ten years of age, wore a green head-scarf framing a serious, but pretty little face.

No smile. Just a significant hair-lip. A disfigurement that would have been dealt with long before here in the UK. This was Turkey.

The girl in the green head scarf came and stood next to me, to first wordlessly show me where to scan the card, then taking it from me placed it correctly in the scanner, pressed the right buttons, I fed in the bank note, then she finished off the transaction, even handing me the printed receipt dispensed from the bottom of the machine.

Looking down at her, meeting her steady gaze, I smiled and nodded my thanks. But there was no response. Just large brown eyes looking up at me, underscored by the hair-lip. She was with her father and sibling (I guessed) and about to board the same tram I wanted.

It was a brief, silent encounter, but I am left wondering, about the Girl in the Green Headscarf, her helpfulness towards a stranger, her future, with her hair-lip.

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by Sercombe

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