For Oh Comely magazine’s 42nd issue, published in spring 2018 on the theme of ‘change’, a short memoir piece on moving to Istanbul.
I walk towards her. The Bosphorus. Her name, writ large across on my mind for weeks. Bosphorus, which comes from boaz, which means throat. Time loosens itself as I stare into her at last. Far out, she is as flat and grey as a tower laid on its side. Closer in, she ripples in a marble of confusion: ak, white, kara, darkest black, and right at the belly of each tiny wave, mavi, blue. Ak kara mavi, my tongue clicks the words, ak kara mavi… she is teaching me new mantras. They will fill in the blank spaces of my mind until I know what should come next. I think about throats in all their wild exposure, of the words mine said which have brought me here. I can’t do this anymore. We don’t work. I have to leave.
I knew the leaving part but now, here, what next?
Bilmiyorum. I don’t know.
Men trail fishing lines into the water and boys squat like frogs, puffed up by winter jackets though my arms are bare. This is not my climate.
My stomach pricks.
A smoky smell, oily but also sweet with flesh. I look for the source. A stall, fillets of fish grilling in the open. Balık ekmek, a sign says. 6 lira. I go to it and find the words, foreign as gobstoppers on my tongue.
“Bir, lütfen.” One, please. I will have my first taste of Turkey like this, standing in thick charcoal smoke, applauded by the prehistoric rasps of gulls overhead.
The man smirks.
The app did not prepare me for the language of looks. If my thick British tongue did not already betray me, my appearance does. Red-haired with a backpack on, I am unavoidably yaban, foreign. It also means wild. Evet, I think. Yes. I am a little wild.
He flings a fillet of mackerel into a thick bun, scatters it with onions and pours first lemon juice, then salt. Teşerkür ederim. It comes out wrong but never mind. I have plenty of time to practice.
I eat standing and god it is good, oils soaking into springy white dough, lemon and onion sparking at the edges. My stomach roars with a savage new appetite. It is a sign. Something new is coming. The maw of possibility.
Why Istanbul? they all kept asking me.
A one-way ticket? Whispers across chats and round pub tables. Is it safe? Are you sure? Why?
Because I heard the crows are grey and black.
Because I heard they eat baklava by a river called throat.
Because I want to stand alone under a sky as bright as a freshly opened eye, eating balık ekmek like a starved dog. And because then, a world which had turned thin will turn herself voluptuous.
I am late. I check the instructions again: at Kabataş turn left up the hill and find the stone fountain. I must draw my eyes from the water. At the base of the hill I turn left, my tongue slick with salted oil. The wail of a call to prayer swells around me as I climb. At the large stone fountain I stop. The tree above it, it is weeping purple petals the size of a child’s fingernails that confetti the pavement as I walk to the door. I buzz. Eventually it opens. A man stands there. Hakan, my host. His eyes are as dark and shining as a rich stew. Ak kara mavi… my mind sings the colours of this new city as I follow him up the stairs. The apartment is cool and light. I heave my backpack onto the bed and feel my body rise.
Istanbul, where the crows are grey and black.
I say the word aloud. Istanbul.
I have arrived.