Like in a game

March 10, 2014


The vibe was one of nervousness. Rain falling, dark streets, too quiet yet not quiet enough so to let one relax. I keep my eyes down. Do not make eye contact. It simplifies things. It’s not really me, but it makes my life much easier on a Sunday night between Tarlabaşi and Beyoğlu. I tried to take photos but the camera abandoned the fight within seconds, battery dead. I take it as a sign that I better not do this now. Tarlabaşi has grown hostile somehow in the last two weeks. Is it me or is it a fact? From frowns to reprobate “tsks, tsks” as I walk by, head covered and eyes down.

The water runs down Ömer Hayyam in rushing brooks. Cracked pavements, broken stonework, worn steps to ancient rusted metal doors overlooked by caged dead windows, like lost teeth in the face of abandoned buildings. The sound of my steps slight splashes, rubber on the wet asphalt.

I had to go out. I always have to go out. Maybe it is a left over of the motorcycle life; go, go, go… or maybe it’s just that this night calls and I cannot suppress my attraction to it.

Under the overpass, it is dark, the street light not working on this Sunday night… a man is walking, approaching, a dark silhouette in a long overcoat, umbrella held overhead, this back-lit scene makes a stunning image against the rain drenched blackness, barely seen red ocher of the bricks that wall this passage. All these images I have seen, all these images I wish to keep alive in my memory. We pass each other, he raises his umbrella thoughtfully so not to hit me with it.

One more left turn, up the steps, another human, another thought of caution, the wet steps are filthy. All my senses are on, listening, looking, sensing the vibrations, the intimations, body language of those around at this hour. I cross a group of 3 yabanci occupying the whole sidewalk talking about residency permits.

A few steps ahead there is a fire, yes, right there next to the glamour of Istiklal, homeless men make fires on the side of the street to stay warm. Earlier today I had given a lira to one of these men. I don’t know why but I felt compelled to do so. Maybe it is him sitting there now, I cannot see, don’t want to stare. His face was strangely blackened, now I see why, they burn coal to stay warm.

It is just another walk like I’ve done so many times yet, it is still filled with an energy I am addicted to. Lately I have taken to imagine I am a character in a game. Challenges, obstacles, levels of difficulty, points gained through attaining goals unharmed. I walk hooded, black in the black streets, sometimes becoming invisible, progressing, advancing.

A few nights ago, for example I got to play this game fully. We were saying goodbyes, standing in a dismal alley, on one side a old man, looking like a beggar, on his face a large bandage in the shape of an X. He is making helpless gestures looking down the street, he is distressed. He wears a filthy long beige coat that has seen much better days, his face dirty except for that white X of a bandage on his forehead, his eyes panicked. To the left, where he stares the eyes course over piles of black garbage bags and strewn detritus before resting on an ambulance, its doors open and its personnel running back and forth. I looked at my friend and he told me:

“Looks like your part of the game will be harder than mine…”

“It does.”

He said this because I was heading towards the center of the downtrodden and he was walking away from it.

“I’m up to it. See you.” I said.

“See you.” We went our separate ways.

I turned away from him and started my journey back. As I approached the corner, a crew of battered characters appear form a quasi circle at the back of the ambulance. There is a woman sitting on the entrance steps of a building. I could not help but stare at her breasts practically completely exposed, long, huge big, despondent fleshy masses barely held-in by a shabby stretched-out shirt. When my eyes rose to meet her face, I was shocked by the blackness. On her features she carried two hundred years of misery. Her eyes set in blackness, deep holes cut at sharp angles with a dull knife, almost a caricature but too real not to scream its truth and experience out loud. A hard life. Harder than I can ever imagine. Her voice, ragged like a cat’s tongue was shouting back at someone, at the unfairness of the whole world. People stood around, bouncing comments back. Something had obviously happened here but I have no idea what. I continued across this scene, voices going back and forth, my feet, advancing one step, then another between the retorts, on the uneven, filth ridden cobblestones.

I turned the corner, a different scene. Music blares, taxi drivers, bellicose, force their way through the crowd of revelers, tourists, scammers and residents. I am hailed by a man at the entrance of a bar, I continue, turn into the fish market street, it is crowded, I am stuck behind two men with wide backs in black coats. Football on screens, music twirling, lights… more hailing, inviting gestures, I look up to see between the awnings, the sky with a big round street light interposed across the gray blanket of clouds over the infinity, it’s incredibly beautiful. Proceed… Balık Pasaj, then right again, in front of the restaurant that serves işkembe soup. A group of people are celebrating together… I remember sitting there with the Pullitzer prize winner one night at about 4 in the morning having danced all night.. I keep on walking… Istiklal.. broken glass, vomit. I advance in the night.


This stupid guy hangs out near the Russian consulate and yells “Bayan!” (woman!) to the females who walk by. A few night ago I had reacted to that. But tonight I glide by using my spell of dispassionability or “rolling the duck back’s spell”. his voice trails in the air… I don’t understand what he says, and sometimes this inability to understand is truly a blessing.

I make it to Karakedi. I made this first stage of tonight’s chapter of the game successfully.
“Maryam!” We hug. We talk. I love her so. I go inside…

“Ataman!” We greet each other. Talk a little..

“Ben gidiyorum.”


“Eve gidiyorum.” We say our goodbyes and I leave.

This was a stop to gather health points. Done. I resume the walk towards Tarlabaşi. I end up near Nizam. I decide to stop and get soup. I sit down. A few minutes later Christophe appears. Christophe is my roommate. Oh I really scored. I will now have protection to cover the last stretch of the journey home…

But that was last week. Tonight, I am heading to Karakedi because usually the Sunday nights are filled with Turkish folk music. I am not disappointed, I get to hear gorgeous songs; oud, kemence, percussion and a beautiful singer. I am mesmerized. People dance, arms up, the rhythms carrying their feet in lightness and grace. It feels like another time, place… almost medieval. I stand there motionless, just letting all these sounds, pulses permeate me. I had just been playing my bağlama before this little trip tonight and I wish I could internalize all this to my very molecular level.

I think of how far away I come from culturally… how long will it take to absorb these pulses? Can they be absorbed? Can they be translated in such a way that a beautiful, truthful music could be birthed out of this illicit union? Oh these tones…. I travel, revel on them.

Ibo comes to me, he is, as usual, inebriated.
“Seni çok seviyorum!!” He declares with passion. He keeps telling me how much he loves me. Every time he sees me, he never gets discouraged. He hugs me, won’t let go. He starts to dance, arms up, snapping fingers, big grin on his face motioning with his hands for me to join him. But I don’t feel any dance steps in me right now. I just want to absorb the music, it is the last song, so I slowly back off, then turn around, then leave, incognito, and quietly step back into the night.

It is cold, it is wet. It is Sunday night, the sad and unsuccessful stand out in last hopes of excitement. I walk, avoiding groups, eyes, and communication. At Galata Saray a guy tries half heartedly to block my way, I step right, he steps right I step left, he steps left, I frown, I move more to the left, avoid him. He says something, I don’t understand, I ignore him, again blessed by the absence of understanding and continue on my way down to be engulfed into the darkness of the sloping Tarlabaşi streets.



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