If Ilhami could run a masterclass in hot air balloon maintenance he would. He had worked for Kurt's Kappadocia Balloons for the last ten years, and learnt every thing he knew about ballooning from his mentor and friend. It took nothing less than dedication to fire up the balloon before dawn for the tourists every day from April to October, the best time for ballooning.
The low season months were reserved for maintenance. Ilhami brought his eldest daughter, Handan, with him to keep him company, but mainly to get her out of her mothers' hair. She had been a smiling baby from the get go. He had named her Handan, which means joyful, merry, smiling over Hande which only referred to smile.
Handan did a good job of cleaning and folding the envelope when she was twelve. By fifteen she could mend the envelopes blind folded.
"You have magic hands, Handan. Your stitching is neat and even. Maybe Kurt will employ you one day" Ihami continued to inspire his apprentice. Handan savoured these special days with her father.
"How did Dede know that Baba would be so inspiring and gave him the right name?" Handan marvelled at Grandpa's intuition.
While they worked together Ilhami, shared his deepest thoughts with this child whom he had such a special connection.
"I feel a deep sense of responsibility for the 6 to 10 souls in each basket, and of course Kurts'. Their lives are in my hands" he used to say.
The balloon carrying 6 passengers lifted off smoothly over the ground crew. Kurt had sustained a cut to his palm which made it impossible for him to control the gas tanks, so Ilhami, who had had his flight log certified the month before took the helm, as he had done many times in the past.
It was a glorious day. Many balloons were out that day. Sailing over the unusual lunar landscapes formed by eroding rains and winds over lava covered plains was a surreal experience, one that even Ilhami, could never tire of. He was grateful to the Almighty.
As he prepared for the descent, he noticed another balloon heading precariously close to him, visibly out of control. He tugged at the controls and tried to avoid the collision. It was inevitable. The balloons grazed each other causing his basket to tilt almost horizontally thus dislodging a gas connector.
It was over very quickly. The burner sucked in the gas and the basket went up inflames immediately. A few seconds before ignition, Ilhami had shoved the passengers to the far end of the basket, away from the spray of leaking gas, using his body as a shield.
The basket plummeted to the ground like a stone while the envelope formed a tower of flames.
If Handan could have willed that day in May away, she would have.