Turkish Girls

Before I left for Istanbul, my mother said taste the rose jam. She said, taste the rose jam, jam-e-jam, I haven’t had it since The Revolution. But she was worried even then, before the protests, because the last time she had been anywhere near the Middle East was Tehran in 1978, and Turkey was different back then, she said.

I want to call her from Istanbul but we get drunk every night. I e-mail. I struggle to type and say I’m okay. No long distance charges. Tear gas in Taksim but I’m not scared.

Ayse let’s me sleep in the guest room with the big window and the birds outside, the room where her mother died, dried roses on the sill. We sleep two days because the wind is coming up from the south. I think I see her mother in the dark. I dream she grabs my ankles, but I’m not scared.

We walk around town getting our feet dirty, cigarettes something for our hands and mouths to do, oral fixation. The call to prayer blaring, oration fixation. She saying her mom died from the same tar in our lungs and then she takes a drag so deep I think she is filled with it, a drag so deep I wonder if it’ll kill her right then. She talks to her Argentinean girlfriend on the Internet every night until five in the morning and then sleeps until noon, and I spend the morning smoking more and drinking tea, rose jam on my plate and eating it with nothing. She comes in the kitchen midday looking sheepish and sleepy saying sorry, it was my girlfriend and her English is horrific. You can call your boyfriend if you want to, she says, write to him, don’t write to him, send him a picture, send him a picture with your shirt up, show yourself.

I say we are not together. I say that we are not together, but I see him everywhere. He spent a summer here, summers and summers ago, and I booked my ticket to get closer to him and I booked my ticket to get away from him. He said they love Iranians in Turkey. They’ll be good to you. You could pass for a Turkish girl, one of them, he said. Avoid Beirut. Forget Cairo.

In the Bazaar we eat dates and figs, sticky sweet, sweet Turkish delights. Vendors think I’m Spanish. Bizarre.

Once, he said, I like that you look like a doll, so white. I knew I should hate him for this, but I couldn’t. I liked that he looked like a religious cleric. I knew that I should hate myself for this but I couldn’t. I never saw him pray.

Our hands side by side looked the same, interlaced. I like long hair, he said. But yours is short, he said. Then he pulled it and it came out like unraveling thread.

I’m so in love with you but I think you really might hate women, I said.

We fall asleep on a ferry, wake up hugging our backpacks like hot water bottles, my hair in my face.

Someone stole my passport.

At the beach we pick roses. We wash the roses. We boil them, boil the roses for three minutes and then drain them and pour in the sugar using the same water and boil again boil the roses boil before adding the lemon juice then boil them then boil the roses for five minutes cover the roses let is sit in the sun for a week let it sit in the sun for a week.

We sit in the sun for a week.

I want to know all the Turkish girls he fucked. I want to see what their bodies look like.

Do their hands look the same?

It’s Ramadan but we’re not fasting. We get drunk in a bar, the riots outside. I snap a photo of police in riot gear, handsome, right before they put their gas masks on, their sirens wailing like the call to prayer.

Was this like my mother’s revolution? Mojitos on a rooftop, an expat bar?

I want to call from Istanbul but this place is giving me nightmares. I dream that I piss myself at my own birthday party and then miss his goodbye party. I dream that I miss his goodbye party. I dream that I miss his goodbye party and that my hair is long.

I make chicken with plums for her and I burn the rice but we don’t care because I’ve put so much saffron in it, and we don’t care that I stained her countertop yellow from it or the turmeric because I’ve bought another bottle of wine and we get drunk and sad and smoke more cigarettes and I say I really loved him. And it’s the saffron I say that’s giving us these dreams; she says it’s the police who are giving us nightmares, with their tear gas, their rubber bullets, water cannons.

We take a trip to Kadikoy, the Asian side in the middle of the night and she says how does it feel to be so close to your country and yet so far? Being in the middle in the middle of the night.

You’re a Turkish girl, now, a Turkish girl.

She says she misses her mom. She says she’s glad I’m here. Her mother, she says, had a pomegranate tattoo. Her mother, she says, prayed sometimes. I hold her head to my shoulder and she cries.

On our way home we are going too fast. She has her head against the window, green lights wash her face. I think I might die in a Turkish cab on the Bosphorus Bridge and how no one will be able to identify my body with no passport. If I die on the bridge there’s a half a chance I’ll die in Asia, in the middle in the middle of the night. There are pairs and pairs of children’s shoes on the back floorboards of the car, and she is crying like the call to prayer, and I think, is this God? Should I call? Should I pray?

We fall asleep when we get home, the riots outside. Awake, I hear her on the Internet with her girlfriend and she telling her of course she loves her, saying shut up shut up shut the fuck up right now. In front of the hot buzzing computer monitor I video call him, the green lights of the camera wash my face and my chest, my shirt up, my body charged, no long distance charges. I say am not scared, walking coquette in Kadikoy, we boiled the roses, the call to prayer, my hair is long.

The Movers

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All The Hard Ways

“It’s always strange to walk down the street with your ex-girlfriend, and her new boyfriend, and also some guy who thinks you stole his bicycle.”