Four weeks before landing in Istanbul I took the language of Turkish into my daily practice. Combinations of ‘please let me remember all the French I’ve prescribed myself’ and ‘I still carry hope my exchanges in Spanish,’ now adding, ‘let Turkish bring some new chance for peace in secrecy.’
So let the lesson begin starting first with ‘merhaba’ – which is ‘hello’ – but it is also somewhat for the unfamiliar, so be it ‘greetings’. Then there is ‘teşekkür ederim’ which is ‘I thank you’ or ‘I give my thanks’ – something like that. Lastly, ‘kedi’ is ‘cat’ or ‘feline’. With these words one can travel the streets of Istanbul and not worry. I do not like to worry.
Starting on the plane over to Istanbul’s SAW airport from Vienna these words began to be heard. I would think ‘merhaba’ – then say it. Same with the other two words in the lesson. I was pleased when hearing Turkish in return. I carry this pleasure with me now.
It is a heavy pleasure.
On the plane I began to feel my hair prick up a bit when saying these three words aloud to myself. I said “kedi” three times. Then “merhaba” – you person you. And, when the steward-folk brought me a sandwich, I said “teşekkür ederim.” To my memory the airplane sandwich was a sad sandwich but there was happiness in the many thank-yous spoken aloud. I carried these words through passport control, to a bus that waited until full to drive away, and finally to a woman with a brown scarf.
To get to this woman with the brown scarf I made way through Taksim Square, along with the many pamphlets and tourists. After, there was a steep alley, marked by a black and white kedi with large yellow eyes atop a pillar. This kedi and I looked at each other at the entrance to the steep alley. It looked on at me with a lit welcoming light glowing around the black and white fur that surrounded its eyes. I glared in return, ‘welcome dear traveler, to our forgetful place of color and light.’
At the base of the alley I stood at the designated GPS marker to ring the bell, but it was the wrong building. The woman with a brown scarf was a stranger to me. As she approached the front door I saw the worry in her eyes. ‘Who is this man with an orange scarf and multiple backpacks wrapped around his body? Who is this sweaty man who frowns in displeasure? Who is looking at me that stands in my doorway?’
When she opened the door, I heard a meow in the distance. For a second I wondered if it was the black and white kedi. ‘Why did the kedi meow,’ I thought. The woman with the brown scarf was looking at me and I was sweating.
“Where am I, where are we not, and where was the building of my host; where was building #24?” I asked this woman with the brown scarf. I continued to sweat. The sweat was dribbling, first forehead than into my light and reddened eyes. Then to my light green jacket. My forehead was itchy too. As we talked, I wanted to itch my forehead. The thought of the kedi in the distance had left, now fully concentrated on all this sweat, itch and itchy sweat dribbling. Soon the sweat grew, as did the hair on my neck and arms and under-body. My body was mushing through contractions. I could feel a stimulated sense to itch that stupid itch that continued and kept on. Then too I felt a proprietary sense to sustain as one who walks the streets with my orange scarf and does not worry.
Just jumbles of motifs in much change and too much preservation to remain.
My sweat was splashing in cupfuls on the woman with the brown scarf. Then the parking lot dwellers and on the dirty stones beneath me. Soon, I was throwing these cupfuls in the eyes of the all the helpful persons nearby. Soon, glasses full of sweat were smashing, sometimes shattering on their skin. As I continued to throw these glasses and cupfuls, once a bucket, I began to feel my belly jiggle, my cheeks rescind. My belly was violently jiggling with each stroke of sweat that spun into the air. Preservation to remain seemed to be a losing battle. My muscles and lipids were being jostled, jiggled in an uncouth manner. After a few minutes the jiggle then jostle, turned to pattern.
Wavelengths of a new beginning.
The last I remember, the woman with the brown scarf was soaking in salt. She was screaming. Her scarf had been whitened by the salt. Nearby parking lot dwellers had been wetted too, their mustaches dashed up and down in a loss of words. There was blood all over the face of the woman with the whitened brown scarf. I had truly hurt this woman. I the stranger in her doorway, who chanced a stranger for help. I the traveler, in search of building #24. From the top of the alleyway silhouettes of angry men with hats were rushing toward me.
My teeth were showing and they were sharp. I was smiling. Finally, that stupid itch on my forehead was gone. In disparate hoicks and spite the little motifs of change were taking me. The silhouettes of the running men in hats, down the alleyway, were not holding my curiosity. So I slipped away to find this building #24.
That night, at building #24, I sat with some men; brushing my hair along their sofa cushions, settling in to hear their exchange. There was a cop, a video producer, and someone who worked in construction. I remember looking at my hands, pitt-patt; they moved like an elastic crank. Forward and backward. Another man entered the room, a Kurdish weed dealer. His hair was long and set back, his eyes wide open, observing my brushings. The five of us sat and puffed what we could. Around and around, we puffed on this weed. Chatter with the men. The hair on my paw moved with the weed. I sat, not understanding all of the words they exchanged. I perceived what truths I could.
The next day, after a long sleep with mosquitoes, I set myself to the streets of Istanbul; walking in the sun and seeing kedi friends, with their many eyes. I remember this first walk. I smelled food in the air, fish by the big boats, and heard splashings of gray water. My first meal tasted of the many döners kebaps, kibbled up in an opaque white plastic container near a woman with a red scarf. I recall the woman with this red scarf to be an old-looking woman, strong, but with soft eyes that looked upon me as I ate all the döner smelling kibbles from the plastic container. She waited, then addressed me properly, “Merhaba, merhaba kedi”.
“The five of us sat and puffed what we could. Around and around, we puffed on this weed.”
I heard her voice, even above the many midday calls to prayers. Hearing these calls in the distance, I motioned to leave. Slowing my turn, I looked to this woman with the red scarf, with interest and intention and said, “teşekkür ederim; for you fed me here on the stone.”
Then I slipped away. I ran toward the loudest call to prayer, two minarets up in the sky were my marker. Along the way I saw many big red flags, enormous red flags that blew in the wind; each with one white star, one white crescent moon. Thoughts of my favored breakfast meal, the croissant. The star was the jam that twinkled in my new hunger. I wanted to eat up each crescent on each enormous red flag that dominated all the glass towers, parking lots, and doorways that lined the narrow streets. Sometimes beside these flags was the face of stern looking man. This new hunger did not subside, as I noticed these tasty things. ‘Who was this man and why does he portray himself beside all the crescents I wanted to eat? Did he like croissants?’ I wondered how this stern man had managed to have his face by all the enormous red flags.
As I ran, I noticed eyes watching my movements. People began to call out toward me. Suspecting sometimes, gleeful moments too. The people here on the streets of Istanbul saw me with eyes and much emotion. With an orange scarf around my neck, I was seen. Maybe as a newcomer, maybe as one who wears an orange scarf.
By the time I made it to the minarets that guarded the loudest nearby mosque, prayer was done. I couldn’t remember if I had stopped to eat. ‘What was this new hunger I had, what did I desire?’ I couldn’t remember. And, so I sat and watched the men, the women, the friendlies and the sickly move up and down the narrow street.
The sidewalk was narrow and set along was a slightly less narrow road with fast yellow cars and white vans. I knew not to walk with those cars. The persons walking stepped from sidewalk to road, back and forth, moving around each other. Blending in pattern like schools of people fish. ‘Could I eat these people fish?’
I wanted to eat these fish, take their foreign words, consume their fears and sways from sidewalk to street. I wondered when I had eaten last, and if a person fish would come within my reach.
I sat for some time. Moving elsewhere. Walking up colorful steps. Then sitting again. I remember thinking of the sun and ‘I am hungry, when did I last eat?’ The sun had moved across the sky; I couldn’t see it anymore. There was a cold in the air. The same air that smelled of döner. I wondered if I’d ever get to eat these many meat wafts.
And, then there was a woman with a red scarf. She was old, she looked at me, and said “merhaba, merhaba kedi.” She reached toward me. Cautiously, I approached. “Who are you?” I asked. But all I heard in response was my imperative; ‘Could she have food hidden in those old hands?’
I approached and she continued her reach. She petted my back, laying softly her hands along my inquisitiveness. I don’t quite remember if she had food or not. Had I eaten? She grasped my underside and lifted me into the air. ‘Who was this woman with a red scarf?’
‘I smell food’.
She looked at me. My thin yellow eyes bounced from the stone to her freckled brown eyes. Around them were dark folds of eye wrinkles that accentuated her red scarf.
I remember running from this woman with the red scarf. I didn’t know this old woman with a red scarf and eye freckles. Leaping up on a brown bench I crept down to assess my new hunger. I looked up and down the streets. In the distance people continued to move. Closer, there were men with water pipes. The air smelled of fish. I couldn’t smell the water, but I knew it was close. I saw big puffs of smoke come from these men, as they gestured back and forth to each other, often pointing down with two fingers. There was much eye contact. I considered these men with their water pipes; ‘Was it the smoke that kept their hunger, or the little glasses of amber that they sipped?’
I write this now in memory. In personhood. I remember that day sitting on the bench. The smells, the new hungers that renewed each thought. The call to prayer that I missed in midday. I remember my white and orange-tan features that covered my body. I remember the elongated thoughts of women in a brown and a red scarf. Today, I feel these memories. It is a feeling without touch. Details of each part of my soul that I have left in the many places I have walked and sat to eat.
Though, I cannot fully recall.
And, I cannot fully grasp them the same way each time I remember. In Istanbul, the last I remember, I was sat on a brown bench and dusk was setting in. My eyes continued to see my little kedi body and the movements of all the people fish nearby.
I walked down the nearest stone path.
A new hunger had come.
kedi photos | Razi Jafri city photos | Julién Godman