I was thinking the possibilities how a plane could fall down: A maniac for instance, could stand up and shout to everybody that his wife don’t listen him anymore and that he is frustrated and unhappy, so he could run towards the emergency door and pull out the device that would cause the final countdown for everybody. Or, much better, the plane could be caught by an extreme turbulence, we would inhale the fake air with our oxygen masks and probably wouldn’t remember anything after the crash.
By the time the pilot announced with his croaky voice that we entered the border of Turkey, I was out of my catastrophe scenarios. The stewardess asked me with a big fake smile that I had to close down my table and open the window. The air was filled with lopsided pressure, up and down, down and up we were heading towards Istanbul. I felt sick of lacking cigarettes and my stomach was making interesting sounds. For a while, the plane struggled to get rid of the black clouds and the next minute, there was Istanbul, with all its irony and vast ego, I was going to face my two brothers after a long time.
Our father passed away a couple of days ago. He was a well-respected veteran and worked for the government. I was catching myself in irrelevant moments that I didn’t sufficiently cleared my throat to talk to him.
The cold wind hit my face and my eyes filled with tears. It took a while to find a taxi. Finally, a black man proposed me to split a taxi; he was going to the same district. It was annoying to listen him all the way, how he adored Istanbul and how he ended up marrying a Turkish women. After he got off, the driver and me had a brief moment of silence, we looked at each other through the window-mirror.
‘’Would you mind if I have a smoke?’’ he asked.
‘’No, not at all… Can you spare me one?’’
We both opened the windows and smoked our cigarettes. He asked me the directions only once, and after that he turned on the radio (a daily football program where six or seven commentators speak at the same time).
Mother was living at the same house for about forty years. My elderly brothers and me grew up in the same room. We used to watch the ships passing through the Bosporus and always fought for them: As the black smoke rose as a carpet and decompose in the air, like most Istanbulites felt, the instant hoot of the ship scared us. Then our father came to our room, shouting ‘’What is this noise! Go back to bed! Now!’’
After years now, nothing much changed, especially the city we grew up together. As I was climbing up the black and white spiral staircases, I could nose the smell of food coming from our flat, always the same menu: Asparagus soup, stuffed aubergines with garden orach, fried liver served with onions and the pudding of Noah, wheat with dried nuts and pomegranate seeds.
And so welcomed my two brothers at the door, hugging and kissing, trying to understand where we left each other and where to start again. Then came my mother, her eyes swelled like a balloon.
‘’My weakness, beautiful YY... ‘’
‘’Is it the onions that bloated your eyes, or anything else?’’ I said, trying to break the melancholic mood. My second brother, ZZ, cackled for an instant. Then came my mothers helper, who came to Istanbul fifty years ago from Armenia, Madame Kirkor, with her humpback and enormous wide eyes, ‘’YY ! Still the same! The dinner is ready…’’
‘’Serve the food, I bring the plates for the boys,’’ said my mother. ‘’Let’s go kids…’’
So we sat around the table, my mother at the front. There was a ritual of serving and making sure that everything is properly done. ‘’What would you like to drink sweetheart?’’
‘’Rakı, please.’’ ZZ opened the bottle, filled the half of the glass with Rakı, the rest with water. ‘’Ice?’’ he asked, ‘’No, thanks,’’ I said. We clinked our glasses and let the Rakı float down from our throats. My mother drank tea. ‘’Did you miss Rakı?’’ she asked. ‘’Yes, mother, I missed everything…’’ I smiled to her the same way as the stewardess smiled to me. Then she began to cry.
‘’If only your father could drink with us too! Oh God! Give us strength and patience…’’ Then she went to the bathroom and we three brothers were on our own. ZZ lit a cigarette, X, the eldest brother bottomed up the Rakı and filled his glass again. ‘’Why in the hell does she cry again?’’
‘’She cries about everything,’’ ZZ said.
∆ ∆ ∆
It took nearly an hour to decide how we should go to the funeral. It was a particularly hot day as the sun was getting through the curtains. Everything in the living room was yellow. Madame Krikor was helping mother with her dress. ZZ was in the balcony by himself. X and I were sitting in the large sofa, gazing the Bosporus. Now and then, we could hear the croaky ship horns. Sometimes a cry of a seagull was following another. You could see how they were floating in the air, barely flying, as the wind was very strong. We both were sipping our teas, as finally X broke the silence.
‘’We couldn’t talk much, yesterday…’’
I took a deep sip, nodding.
‘’How’s with G?’’ I asked.
‘’It’s okay…you know… we know each other too much… that’s the only problem we have… I don’t know... It would be too difficult to meet with someone… It’s just too boring…’’
‘’Is it boring to meet new people?’’
‘’Yes, it is. Especially if you are over twenty-five. I don’t know YY. It’s a bit about what you want.’’
‘’What do you want?’’
The faint cry of a bird, coming from a far corner. We listened it for a while. Then ZZ popped in, all of a sudden.
‘’Hey guys…’’ he said. ‘’You ready?’’
‘’We are ready,’’ I said. ‘’It’s mother we are waiting for.’’
‘’She’ll be in the bathroom for a long time,’’ he said. ‘’I was wondering if you’d be interested for a small joint?’’
‘’You know we’re not going to a Rock gig!’’ said X. ‘’You really want to go to your father’s funeral high?’’
‘’Would that make a difference?’’ said ZZ. And shortly we three found us squeezed in the small balcony, smoking the joint.
‘’I have this new idea for my album…’’ ZZ said. ‘’It’s all experimental and shit… Girls gonna love it! I can see them from the stage, they become all wet!’’
There was brief silence as we were listening the car horns.
‘’What’s the name of the album?’’ I asked, as ZZ was passing the joint to me.
‘’The name of the album… you ready to hear it?’’
‘’I am ready,’’
‘’X, are you ready?’’
‘’Yes ZZ, I am ready,’’
‘’OK, guys…the name of the album is…The Journey of the Journey…’’
‘’The Journey of the Journey?’’ X asked. ‘’Well that’s a horrible name.’’
‘’Oh what do you know?’’ said ZZ, making a face.
‘’I think it’s good,’’ I said.
‘’What does the Journey of the Journey mean anyway? Are there two journeys going on?’’ X asked.
‘’Yeah, there is our journey, and there is this other journey…you know…the journey of the beyond, of the unknown…’’
‘’Well it’s shit…’’ said X, hissing the joint and passing it to ZZ.
A silence began. I was feeling the sun against my skin. Warm and safe. We could hear the noises of our neighbour, Monsieur Julian, who sang in the shower out loud every single morning. He came to Istanbul a long time ago to teach French lessons in a Turkish high school. Like almost everyone, he too found himself a Turkish wife and ended up living in Istanbul. Now you had to listen him, imitating his voice to a really bad version of Jacques Brel. Ne me fucking quitte paz.
‘’Who will be in the funeral?’’ ZZ asked.
‘’Almost everybody you know…’’ said X.
‘’Shit… Father would say the same…’’
‘’Well he wouldn’t smoke before a funeral…’’
‘’He used to smoke…’’ I said. ‘’He was just shy to say it.’’
‘’Bullshit!’’ said ZZ. ‘’He was a veteran. There is no way a veteran gets high…’’
‘’Oh, yeah?’’ I said. ‘’What do you know, genius?’’
‘’I know he liked democracy…’’
‘’What in the hell is that supposed to mean?’’ asked X.
ZZ disgorged a large puff of smoke towards the iron grilles on the windows and murmured to himself. We were high as fuck.
I could see the street cats sitting on wharfs waiting for old fishermen, poor children jumping naked from the shore road into the warm Bosphorus. It was 08:06 A.M. and the sun was still shining.
‘’Y is gay,’’ said X, all of a sudden.
Another session of silence began. The sun stood in the sky like a perfect shiny orange, saluting the city. The dilapidated wooden houses, the crumbling city walls, the propaganda posters of feminists, the reddish glint in the windows, and the identical grey-coloured brothels. The view of the city was beating in my chest, as if the blood of the empty-ramshackle wooden houses was rushing through my brain.
Before I had a chance to say anything, Madame Krikor shouted out loud, ‘’Mother is ready! Dépêchez-vous!’’
‘’Shit…’’ X said, putting off the cigarette.
‘’Why did you do that?’’ shouted ZZ.
‘’Pull yourself together fuckhead!’’
‘’X...’’ I said. ‘’What you just said was…’’
‘’Dépêchez-vous!!! Allez!’’ shouted Madame Krikor.
∆ ∆ ∆
Leaving the house was maybe the hardest thing in this family. Madame Krikor had already prepared the clothes for mother the night before, although she insisted on wearing something else. We were already late for the funeral. She couldn’t decide which scarf to take. Meanwhile, she would insist to get undressed halfway the dressing process and start to burst into tears.
X went to the dressing room and ZZ to the bathroom, ‘’I need to wash my face,’’ he said. I stayed in the corridor near the door and I could see the sun coming in straight through the long-ceiled windows.
Then X shouted from mother’s bedroom, ‘’YY!’’ I went to the dress room and saw mother crying. X was standing behind her. His eyes were sharp red and for a brief moment I couldn’t decide whether I should say something or not. Then, without a conscious reaction I nodded my head, mentioning to wait us outside.
‘’Should I bring the car?’’ whispered X.
‘’Yes, that would be a fantastic idea, ’’ I whispered back at him.
My ears were buzzing as if I had come back from a loud Rock concert. I sat down near my mother.
‘’What is wrong, mother?’’ I said. My voice was trilling.
‘’Oh my weakness, beautiful YY… Lord knows how much I loved your father…’’ I started to pat her hands.
‘’The places we went, the things we did… all this adventure is over now, me, and living in this house without your father is going to be a nightmare…’’
‘’You, ZZ and X… All of you are grown-ups now, living your own lives. What will I do in this house?’’ Now she was raising her voice, ‘’I don’t want to rot all alone and die like a useless old bitch!’’
Before I had the chance to interrupt her ZZ popped in. His eyes were exactly the same. ‘’ZZ,’’ I said. ‘’X is bringing the car, why don’t you go outside and help him out?’’
When was the last time I had a proper conversation with my mother?
‘’Look…’’ I said, without knowing how to continue. ‘’I’m sure Dad would be very sad if he’d saw you like that… everybody is waiting for you downstairs. The sun is shining. Let’s go mother…’’
For a while, she stared at me blankly and stood up to look herself in the mirror. Then she turned her head and stared at me again, and said:
‘’What is wrong with your eyes?’’
I got up and went next to her and glanced to myself in the mirror. I really have to work how to make a poker face, I thought, and said: ‘’I guess I had a bad night…’’
I took mother’s arm and we went down the spiral staircases.
‘’Small steps YY, always small steps…’’ she said, while the lights of the apartment went out. It was pitch dark now and our exhaled breath was floating in the dark. Then, with almost a miraculous effort I found the lights. ZZ, X and Madame Krikor was waiting us in front of the apartment house. Madame Krikor came immediately to take mother’s arm, then I looked at ZZ:
‘’Can you come for a sec?’’
He drew on his cigarette and came next to me while I ordered Madame Krikor to go inside the car.
‘’What is it?’’ he said.
‘’You stupid retard!’’ I whispered. ‘’Are you out of your mind? If I knew this weed was so strong I wouldn’t have smoked it! You fucking pothead!’’
Then X came, ‘’What is it?’’ he said with the same worried face.
‘’Oh, the Great YY of London is a bit panicked because he is high as fuck!’’ said ZZ. ‘’Drive slowly and follow me, we’ll be alright…’’
‘’Here,’’ said X. ‘’Take my sunglasses, it’ll help…’’
‘All right, brother!’’ said ZZ.
‘’Shut the fuck up, will you?’’ I said.
∆ ∆ ∆
Madame Krikor sat next to me, mother in the back praying quietly and playing with her rosary. ‘’My dear, YY,’’ said Madame Krikor after a short while, ‘’Could you spare me a cigarette?’’
Fortunately ZZ was driving very slowly, deliberately I thought, and opened the car window so that the smoke wouldn’t bother mother. ‘’Such a nice weather,’’ I murmured.
‘’Look at you!’’ said Madame Krikor out of the blue, ‘’All grown-up and responsible, I’m proud of you!’’
‘’I wouldn’t be that sure,’’ I said.
‘’I remember the first time I saw you. You were so little YY, so frightened of everything that you had to carry your silly toy soldier with you all the time.’’
‘’I wonder where that toy is now… But yes, I do remember Madame…’’
The traffic lights went red and we had to stop. Three beggars came by our car and started to wipe the glass. I immediately raised my hands, mentioning ‘‘Don’t do it, no change! ‘’Come on,’’ I then murmured, ‘‘Why does this red light take so long?’’ Mother spoke in whispers, ‘’Give him some change, sweetheart…’
Then, Madame Krikor and me launched forth upon how she managed to live in Istanbul. Her husband was a Jewish jeweller who ran this business for ages. She was working with her husband and I remember the times when I was a kid visiting their store and playing with their kids, D and R. Back then, most of our friends and acquaintances were non-Muslim, and we used to arrange little tea parties at our home. No one in the country was bothered to live with a serious number of Greek citizens, or at least that was what we thought. One night, a falsified news in the national broadcast channel (‘’It was the government that planned this propaganda!’’, mother would said) alleged that the house of the Turkish leader Atatürk was burned in Salonica by Greek citizens. Not a single piece of evidence or image was shown, and nevertheless, people seemed to be more than willing to receive such news so that they could begin to devastate all Greek and Armenian shoe, jewellery, silk and tailor shops. I remember watching the streets from our window, people shouting with sticks and signboards ‘’Death for the Greek’’ or ‘’No Istanbul For the Greek Man’’. We were receiving advice from our neighbours to fly a Turkish flag from the balcony so that nationalists would understand which house to vandalize. Years later, a friend of mine told me that he had to show his penis in order to prove that he was a Turkish and circumcised citizen.
They found Madame Krikor’s husband and two kids burned in a jewellery store. According to the police, they were trapped or locked inside the store. Luckily or not, Madame Krikor wasn’t in the store that particular day. When the police came by to our house, I remember that shrill scream of Madame Krikor. Almost the entire Greek population was deported to Athens and other regions of Greece. There was no place for Madame Krikor to go and build a new life. ‘’Istanbul…’’ she would say now and then, ‘’My whole family lived here for centuries. Why and where should I go?’’
The moment we got out of the car, the İmam welcomed mother and Madame Krikor. A short trip in the car made me better, and listening Madame Krikor helped me to let myself go into memories. I was feeling dizzy and slugged. The whole community who worked with my father was already there, all of them with black sunglasses and lounge suits. It didn’t took long for X to come by and say, ‘’I know nobody here,’’
Me, ZZ, X and mother were in front of the line. Now and then, some people were passing by, shaking our hands, ‘’I am so sorry, he was a good man,’’ or ‘’God bless him, I knew him well…’’
The İmam pointed at some kids, soon after a microphone was handed to him. Before he was going to start the prayer, a loud sizzle from the microphone rugged everybody’s ears. Then he looked to the microphone and clapped it. When he started to his pray with the words ‘’My fellow citizens…’’ a worse sizzle came from the loudspeakers. Some people from the back shouted, ‘’Try the other one!’’
Then a couple of other young people came next to him with other microphones and for a while they just tried to fix it. Meanwhile, I glanced over at ZZ and I could see him liking some photos on Instagram. I poked his shoulder and whispered, ‘’I don’t believe it! I don’t fucking believe it!’’
After this short interruption the prayer started. The İmam was telling a weird story about a dying tree and how its nutritional source was harbouring the Earth and Mother Nature. Apparently there was a link between death and life. Almost everybody had a sunglass and it was impossible to understand where exactly they were looking.
The story of the İmam took longer than I expected. It was now about angels, devils, signs and symbols. Once in a while, some people were saying ‘’Amen,’’ during the prayer so that they could proof that they were listening. I started to think about other things, my flat in London, the people I was seeing, the films that I liked and disliked, I was imagining a Disneyland that was designed only for adults, the shooting location for the Teletubbies, red and blue pills and Matrix and I thought about public sex and many other things.
By the time the İmam was finishing his last words, an overwhelming urge to leave wrapped my whole body. And it was approximately then, when I whispered to ZZ that I was going to the bathroom. All I wanted to do was to get out of this place.
A charity desk was set up next to the garden. Two young students were sitting next to the desk with a signboard written ‘’Donate money and live in Heaven.’’
‘’Sir,’’ said one of the young student, ‘’Your contribution will reach the dead…’’ I digged my pocket to spare some change, but then I hesitated because I was going to need it, so instead I said,
‘’I really need my changes more than Mr. Dead,’’
A brief silence.
‘’Honor the dead, sir…’’
Another brief silence.
‘’Why not honor the living?’’
Then the other student murmured, I guess she was saying something like ‘’Leave it…’’
Then I began to walk. Tens of thousands of identical apartment entrances, discoloured by dust and rust, blackened walls covered with frayed propaganda posters, ‘’Women Power!’’ ‘’Secular Turkey!’’, crowds rushing to catch the ferries, powerful whiffs of urine and marijuana, and the barber who complain that men don’t shave as much after the economic crisis.
Now and then, I could hear the ship horns booming through the crowds and tiny ribbons of smoke rising towards the seagulls that were eagerly screaming for fish. I walked through underpasses of the most crowded intersections. At one stage, I threw my change to a blind organist who was playing a pop song with a Yamaha keyboard. Then I bought a broken lighter from an old beggar who has trying to sell the same touristic postcards and junk at the same spot for the past twenty years.
I pulled a cigarette and lit it. A rush of steam was pouring up from the pavement and it was mixing with the smoke of my cigarette. For a while, I tried to clear the fog that was hovering with the steam.
I continued to walk. I then found myself walking along the dilapidated brothels. Prostitutes and kids were watching me from their little balconies. A group of Kurdish and African refugees, standing in a corner with shy and dazed looks, not knowing exactly what to do and where to go. Thinking better of it at the last moment, I quickened my steps towards the side street and I was already sobbing by the time I made it down at the end of the road.