While other sullen-faced people started rushing home through the darkening streets, climbing down with a steady rhythm felt good and true. The heartbeat in my chest was somehow synchronizing with my steps against the city. I could sense that it was going to rain. The air against my skin was wallowing in the rush of steam that was pouring up from the pavement. By the time we stopped in front of an old stone house, I felt the urge to say
‘’Are you sure this is the house?’’ and Y looked at me with the same worried face and said,
‘’Let’s ring all the bells and find out…’’
So we rang all the bells. Some numbers on the buttons seemed insignificant, but we were sure that it had to be one of them. Then we heard a long buzz. The gate was open now, but how could we know which flat it was? So we decided to climb the spiral wooden steps with gaps between them, into which I had convinced myself I might fall and disappear forever. Then an old lady greeted us at the third floor. Y immediately asked,
‘’We were looking for Mr Rami…’’
‘’Oh…’’ said the old lady. ‘’Upstairs….’’
The door was open. We could hear loud music. I opened the door slightly. A powerful whiff of smoke hit my nose. I realized there was a long mirror in front of me, a couple of random photos of Mr Rami (one of them with Robert Plant, looking elsewhere), and a black cat. Y looked at me, ‘’I guess we’ve made it!’’ I looked around and said, ‘’Yeah, I guess so…’’
Then we heard Mr Rami’s angry voice, taking large steps on the wood floor, ‘’Who the fuck is that in front of my door!’’ And there he was, with his black-yellow striped bathrobe and flip-flops.
‘’Oh…’’ he said then. ‘’Look look! Isn’t that the smart-asses!’’
‘’Mr Rami…’’ said Y, smilingly. ‘’Long time no see! Is this a good time?’’
‘’No, not actually…’’ he said. ‘’You guys ever see an angry women?’’
‘’Umm….’’ I said. ‘’I recently saw a women trying to park her car. Her husband seemed nervous…’’
Then we all went to the living room and saw the women sitting cross-legged on a leather couch. In front of her, there was a round table and I counted nearly twenty bottles. There was also a massive ashtray and a mountain of stubs.
‘’Now don’t be shy guys…’’ said Mr Rami. ‘’We were just talking about fucking other people during a relationship. Maybe you could help us out, ha guys?’’
I peeked at Mr Rami’s desk, full with papers and random books about spiritualism, hedonism, anti-whatever books and newspapers. The air was tense. It didn’t take long to understand that both of them were drunk. Mr Rami was sprawled out on the couch, looking at us with his weird eyes.
‘’You guys still write?’’ he said and lid a cigarette.
‘’Now and then…’’ I replied. ‘’Actually it was Y’s idea to come by’’
I looked at him without thinking much.
‘’Oh, yeah? What are you writing about?’’
‘’Nothing in particular, actually,’’ said Y. ‘’I have this new method, I cut and copy things and glue them on papers…’’
‘’Going Burroughs…’’ said Mr Rami and sucked in a drag from his cigarette, squinting as the smoke curled up his cheek. Then he turned his head towards the nervous women and said to her,
‘’You hear that, darling? You like what you’re hearing?’’
She didn’t respond. A long silence began and for a while we listened to the song. It was the soundtrack of the Blues Brothers.
‘’What makes him so special?’’ said Mr Rami.
She crossed her other leg, and swung her foot back and forth.
‘’Do you really care for him?’’
She kept swinging her foot, harder now, and Mr Rami said in whispers, ‘’You whore…’’
The ‘conversation’ between Mr Rami and the women had hit a lull, and each of us was drifting in their drunkenness. As the dusk was descending like a ghost in the pale light, we all heard a tremendous clap of thunder and soon after that the rain poured down without mercy. Everybody in the living room gazed outside, looked at the same view, but didn’t speak to each other. We could see the ferries going up and down the Bosporus and the smoke rising from their chimneys, the narrow alleyways rising up into the hills and other people like us who were watching the rain from their own balconies.
The late-August sky brightened around us, turning from aqua blue to the deepest shade of rose pink. A refraction of the atmosphere, reverberating on the boiling grey avenue as the hot sun hid behind the empty-ramshackle wooden houses. You could see the crowd dragging long shadows with them, as if they were pulling something more mysterious and unknown over the entire city. Skinny construction workers, busy-looking businessman, drunken chapmen selling bird whistles, sad-faced second-hand booksellers, and frustrated high school boys. Almost the entire avenue was striding up and down the city’s greatest avenue, even silent pimps in search of one wretched tourist with their silly looking fez.
By the time we arrived to XX, Y made a quick phone call. A sudden thought had taken hold of him while he started to rattle about something that I couldn’t make out everything he said. But I was sure that it was about Mr Rami’s flat, and the person at the other end was surely someone from our high school.
Then he hung up, looked at me, and said,
‘’I found the flat! This way!’’
So off we went towards the fish market, where powerful whiffs of fish and spice would hit your nose and you could find all sorts of vegetables and seasonings. This bazaar was like a witch’s cauldron, where the steam was always rising from every angle possible. I felt like a Gladiator passing the last corridor to enter the coliseum.
Y couldn’t find the place and we were getting tired.
‘’Let’s ask someone,’’ I said and went into a tripery store. I counted eight grinning sheep’s head that had been aligned side to side. The greengrocer welcomed us with an excessively sullen face. Apparently his thick and hairy hands were tired. Then Y saw his red apron, and before he was going to ask he said,
‘’I thought greengrocers wear white aprons?’’
He didn’t answer. I whispered behind his back, ‘’It’s all blood, stupid!’’
It came about that the sullen faced man didn’t know anything about the address and I proposed to ring all the bells where Mr Rami’s flat might be. We entered an off street. Clotheslines were hung between opposed wooden houses, an old women was shaking her carpet out of the window, and a group of young people were smoking cigarettes in front of a betting shop. We passed the houses with small steps, tilted our heads and waited for something to happen.
After a while, we realized that we were being encompassed by a group of people. At first, we ignored them. Then Y said something like, ‘’I think Mr Rami doesn’t live here, let’s get out of here…’’
By the time we started to walk back, four young kids blocked our way.
‘’My name is Hasan,’’ said one of them, the oldest of the ‘gang’.
‘’Are you looking for something specific?’’
A plane passed over us and nobody talked for a short while. Some of the kids seemed excited, looking at the immense blue sky. Much of what followed is lost to me now, but I remember Y saying,‘’We were looking to someone by the name Rami, R-A-M-I.’’
A brief silence followed. The kids looked at each other. One of them spat on the pavement. I stared at the spit and then lifted my head and the kid was already looking at me and said,
‘’Are you an undercover cop?’’
‘’I’m not,’’ I said, ‘’We were just looking to…’’
‘’Well this guy you are searching for is not here!’’ interrupted the gang lord, Hasan. I saw some children, playing with a yellow plastic ball between the cars on the next cobblestoned street.
‘’What’s wrong with your friends look?’’ said Hasan, mentioning Y. ‘’He’s staring as if he wants to suck on something!’’
The boys laughed.
I then tapped Y’s shoulder to move on. But no, instead of ignoring he said something like,
‘’Yeah? Where’d you get that scar on your lip? Your boyfriend keep his razor strapped to his dick?’’
Now I remember a lot of moments in my life that I was scared to death, and I still can’t believe how we made it from that street. The gang lord immediately pulled his Rambo style knife from his back pocket and put it against Y’s throat.
‘’I could kill you right away…’’ he started with a blushed face.
‘’You snobby bastard! I bet you jerk off on Turkey’s flag as well, right? You fucking traitors!’’
Then, one of the other kids lifted his right hand to me and asked if I would die for Turkey or not. I was always bad in maths but this equation seemed easier than ever, so I said ‘’Yes…’’ and realized that my voice was trilling.
I could barely absorb what was happening and none of them seemed quite real anymore. Then, out of the blue, we all heard someone shouting ‘’Hey!’’ from a very close range. The gang lord released Y and threw him on the ground. He then walked up to him and spat on the face. Then we heard the second ‘’Hey!’’ and it was only a matter of seconds to watch them run away.
Then Y got up. We took a couple of steps along the neglected and unpainted mansions. I then saw the old grannies behind the iron grilles on the windows that were watching the street in complete silence.
‘’Got a smoke, buddy?’’ Y asked.
I took out two, gave him one, took one myself. I lit him up, then I lit myself up. Unearthly silence. We watched the reddish-orange glint in the windows, took little drags, and then watched a woman trying to walk down the ramp with her pink high-heeled shoes.
We looked at each other, blankly. He then grinned at me, disgorged a large puff of his smoke and said,
‘’Let’s find this house,’’
The rotary phone was ringing, noisily and constantly. It will ring for ages if I am not going to lift the receiver, I thought, tossed and turned, turned and tossed and it ended right after I opened my eyes. After a bit, the noise of the pile drivers quivered my windows. The day had already begun. It was impossible not to wake up. Erected and half-asleep, I got up from my bed and glanced out the window. I could see construction workers, eating their sandwiches, sitting on the pavement and gazing businesswomen. My flat, where I had lived here for nearly eight years was sandwiched between concrete public buildings that were adhered to a construction site. A cocktail of buildings, you might say, where everybody was aware of one another and yet still disorientated.
The phone rang again as I was splashing water on my face. Thinking better of it at the last moment, I towelled myself and picked up the phone. It was Y.
‘’What took you so long?’’ he said, immediately.
‘’Yes, I was sleeping. Just woke up. What’s up?’’
‘’I’m in X. Care for a coffee?’’
‘’Sure. Say, 20 minutes?’’
I opened the windows to let some fresh air into my bedroom. I then picked a vinyl, Big Brother and The Holding Company. While Janis Joplin’s voice was booming all over my flat, I started to get dressed, throwing underwear, sniffing t-shirts, rearranging books, checking some dues and lighting a cigarette. Some kind of a ritual to start the day. I then went to the living room and tidied up the mess from the night before. The weather was cloudy so I wanted to make sure to take a raincoat with me. I turned off the record player, closed the windows and went out to meet with Y.
I trotted off into the crowd. Stalls of bagel sellers, street urchins, disabled beggars, gypsies selling yellow plastic roses, high school kids who ran away from school and most probably going to cheap sex theatres, old lady primers who mutter to themselves, beautiful and busy-looking college girls with their morose faces, car horns, traffic lights and other construction rumbles.
Y was already in the cafe by the time I arrived. He was sitting cross-legged and sipping his Espresso. I saw the papers and pencils on the table. Apparently he was taking some notes. I settled myself around the round tables, slapped him a five and said,
‘’What are you writing about?’’
‘’You ever wonder what happened to our literature teacher, Mr Rami?’’ asked Y right away, while I was ordering myself a coffee.
I then shook my head. I knew he had quitted his job and started to give private lessons about 19th century Romanticism.
‘’Fuck that…’’ said Y, disgorging a large puff of his smoke.
‘’I always felt he was making a move on high school girls…’’
‘’Well…’’ I said then, while holding the paper tube between my lips and rolling a cigarette, ‘’He was always telling things about Bukowski…’’
A brief silence started. I lid my cigarette and said, ‘’What’s it about anyway?’’
Then he took a loud sip of his Espresso, stared around the passing girls and said,
‘’Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could talk to him after all these years? I know two addresses where he might be…’’
Y and me were close friends from high school. Our friendship had started accidentally when he read his poem in front of the class. Now, almost nobody was into literature, neither were Y and I. But we kept on writing, somehow, meeting in cafes, exchanging our writing, combining sentences, and creating word plays. The process was always fun and we felt good and important. It didn’t take long to realize that we had become the know-it-all types who had very bad grades at school, but good with mouths. Y always managed to give some smart-ass responses to teachers. Mr Rami was one of them.
‘’I will never forget what he said about making a life with writing,’’ said Y.
‘’What he’d say?’’
‘’That writing is like swimming in the ocean. You never know what you’re going to get,’’
I hesitated for a while, sucked in a drag from my cigarette and said,
‘’That line is from Forrest Gump. You really didn’t know that?’’
A silence began. We saw a newspaper hawker passing by and stared him blankly, ‘’The third bridge on its way! The third bridge on its way! Read the unknown future of Istanbul! Read the unknown future of Istanbul!’’
‘’Now look,’’ he said then, ‘’That line was a link between chocolates and destiny. This is about writing and earning money. I think there is a difference,’’
I smiled and said,
‘’I think Mr Rami served a good trick on you. And apparently you didn’t get the whole thing about Forrest Gump, now did you?’’
‘’Well how about, fuck you?’’
So it came about that one topic about Mr Rami kept giving way to another, spiralling into ever larger topics of writing, ego, sex, girls, success, music and so on. With barely a pause, we were launching into another mysterious story of Mr Rami and move on from where we have left.
For about hours, we had been talking about nothing in particular. I was already drinking my fifth black coffee and I could feel how the liquid was splashing into my empty stomach like acid.
A couple of little children came by to our round table and was trying to sell packets of tissues. Ignoring them was one way to get rid of them, but it seemed that their persistency forced us to make a decision. Y kept on talking about the most unfortunate deaths he’d saw on You Tube videos, recorded by CCTV cameras.
‘’My beloved brother… Please… I’m hungry…’’ the boy was saying.
‘’Let’s get the hell out of here,’’ I said to Y. ‘’Let’s find this Mr Rami.’’
‘’Are you sure?’’
‘’Beloved brother… I’m hungry…Please….’’
‘’Yes, Y. Let’s go. Where is the first address?’’
‘’It’s quite near, actually. A twenty minute walk…’’
Y asked the waiter fort the bill. I handed the boy a Lira and told him to split the money with his friends. I guess I heard an half-heartedly ‘’God bless you…’’ before he started to move straight ahead to other tables. I didn’t get any tissues.
Then we stood up and started to walk along the state-controlled brothels on one of those hot blustery days when the wind would come from the south and water your eyes.