by Hanna M. Owens
It was already almost midnight on New Years Eve in İstanbul not yet in Chicago.
She said she’s from Chicago when they asked they said oh of course that’s why you’re dressed like that. The party was at her host’s place her ex-host I should say the host she had slept with their first night meeting and after dancing despite not wanting to she did sleep with him. Her host had been upset when she found a hostel the following day and more upset that she didn’t want to fuck again before breakfast but still invited her to the New Years party that he and his roommate a German student were throwing at the apartment. So she was there a few days later again in the rooms where he had pressured her to fuck him and she had let him fuck her. The host was already very drunk when she arrived and many other people were there drinking and making messes of themselves and the apartment. She was overdressed and able to speak English with most people except a few and one in particular so maybe in a way to seek revenge on the ex-host or to prove she could fracture this bond of male friendship built over years with a mere expression of her desire she seduced his friend this Cenghiz Başöz from Zonguldak who spoke no English. He was weak to her and what ensued will ever be remembered as a heartbreak on many accounts.
At the host’s expense and in front of him too she secured Cenghiz’s phone number with the help of another friend interpreting and the host protesting she stood there aloof checking her phone in front of her the two men arguing in Turkish disappointing one another her light eyes heavily-lined and her short short hair more fascinating than any hair Cenghiz had been this attracted to. It turns out he had a fascination with Americans, their world seemingly and probably very close to an actual world away from his. The host whose English was excellent complained in both languages: but he doesn’t even speak English! What will you possibly do together?
She thanked the German student and left the party with Aimée a pretty French girl though straight living in İstanbul a few months with a handle on the language and her two friends a couple recently engaged one French one Lebanese separated by the distance between their respective countries they had decided to meet in Istanbul for New Years and by surprise he had proposed the night before. So this group of four left the party and headed to a nightclub in Cihangir. Taxis were hard to come by at this time of night it was well after midnight and cold the apartment being in Tepebaşi near the big hotels and the club being on the other side of Beyoğlu the drivers were refusing to cross Istiklal Avenue or to even attempt to cross it. The group managed to find a driver to take the route along the water along the bottom of the hill but his driving was erratic on wet streets and she feared for their lives for a moment and then laughed off her anxiety the Lebanese guy taking video on his phone. Aimée quickly became uninteresting to her while en route and with the couple clearly only interested in each other she wondered if leaving the party was the best decision but knew that her seduction of Cenghiz would need a few days to secure and the boys’ inebriated egos a few days to forgive. The group reached their destination: a club with lit walls where she met an intoxicating woman who immediately turned her back walking away once she said türkçe bilmiyorum admitting to not knowing any Turkish.
She awoke in her hostel bed to the hangovered cursing of another American another from Chicago living in Pilsen and upon remembering his belligerent puffing from the night before she regretted telling this person where she lived or anything about herself. He warned her that DiMaggio’s Restaurant at Halsted and 33rd by her house is in fact a mob front and to never eat the food there and this she found useful. On another dorm bed was an Erasmus currently in Spain or somewhere currently on vacation in İstanbul from Spain although originally being from the South maybe from Adana maybe he had studied in the UK or the US and with his perfect English she knew he could help her. She uploaded a new batch of minutes and handed him her burner these two items she bought off blankets outside the Grand Bazaar the minutes and the phone. She relayed a message for him to translate: Dear Cenghiz, it was lovely meeting you last night. I would like to see you again if you would like to see me again. Please meet me at 8 PM tomorrow night at Avantgarde Taksim Guesthouse on Keresteçi Reçep Sk. I hope you are free, kisses.
Cenghiz responded quickly with a yes, I will come tomorrow night which the Erasmus student from Adana or Spain relayed to her passed back the phone and left the room. She had arranged an apartment for five nights at the Avantgarde Taksim Guesthouse on Keresteçi Reçep where she befriended the housekeeper a smiling woman from Romania married to a Turk and with this woman she struggled enthusiastically through conversations over tea both of them in broken Turkish and the owner a stoic older man from the Northeast who upon hearing her plans to visit Diyarbakır the following week had warned her of The Kurds and urged her to reconsider her trip suggesting she visit Trabzon his hometown instead. This man later also expressed his disapproval of her visitor over the course of their affair each time seeing the two together something which Cenghiz noticed and mocked with grumpy faces and which she found hilarious the disapproval and the faces.
The following night Cenghiz arrived as planned at 8 PM. She descended two flights of stairs to reach him to find that the owner had already reached him. The two were able to escape quickly upstairs without much fight just meeting the look of a father who owns his women. She and Cenghiz later developed a system or a game for interacting with each other in front of others seeing as though someone would inevitably catch on that neither of them spoke the other’s language so she mostly spoke for the both of them in these instances as the polite foreigner activating her limited Turkish and with him pretending to also not know Turkish observing only intervening when pushed past necessity, they went with it that way. Upstairs they looked and laughed at each other and smoked cigarettes. He finger-fucked her in the mirror making her watch they showered together him blubbering telling her she was so sweetie saying what he knew to be çok tatlı in English with her hair slicked wet like that and kissing her holding her cheeks and whimpering.
Cenghiz cried many times over the course of their three-and-a-half-day affair their interactions existing within that apartment for long stretches at a time without leaving they shifted from one room to the next it was a long and skinny place. They began to bicker often and he stayed through their frustration although did leave to go to work the first morning a Friday to return to her the same night and they did leave together for two outings: for brunch in Beşiktaş which he told her is his favorite neighborhood the third and last day they were together where he cried for her at the table and to Galata for take-out and then across Tarlabaşı Blv from the apartment to a shoe store where he helped negotiate for a pair of leather wedges like I said she did most of the talking while he stood beside and watched her otherwise they confused words between each other the words station and situation now synonyms other people observed this. She had picked up his linguistic constraints because he did know more of her language than she knew his applying them to herself for the sake of the point he probably wouldn’t get it otherwise.
He had come the first night a written list in hand a list of details folded in his pocket translated by the same friend at the party who had helped her get his phone number. She and Cenghiz reached the room where he unfolded this page to perform for her the details of himself his life: I am from Zonguldak, it is in the North of Turkey on the coast of the Black Sea, I am 28 years old, how old are you, you are very beautiful, I think you are very smart, your hair is beautiful, I want to come to America with you, I want us to get married and have three children, we will name them Walt, Jesse, and Skylar. She believed him. Some affairs are harder than others sometimes harder more than others. Here their vulnerability was not of bodily security but of the bodily heart. She couldn’t piece together a place where one heart wouldn’t be damaged by the other. With no other foreseeable option this place is where they came to love one another. When he left for work the morning after their first night together he came to kiss her goodbye in bed in the dim gray light of the morning early before the sun had even risen but its light already gave slight aid he came to kiss her goodbye and kiss her crusted eyes straining to see his shape at most his movements vague and slow. He sat on the edge of the bed legs off the side torso turned towards her his lips shredding her innards taking with him a small scrap that morning small enough to leave her mostly fine she was going to be ok. She got up and made coffee for herself.
He took enough though to leave a mark a little divot enough to feel a gape that wind will blow over that spit will trickle into that wind will rush through and sting. She erased all the numbers in her phone that morning. She had picked up smoking again under the pressure of her first host he had mocked her for not drinking so she smoked it had been 6 years since she quit and so with Cenghiz gone that morning she sat in the living room of the apartment after pulling herself out of bed drank coffee and smoked in that living room looking out the windows onto the hills of Tarlabaşı resenting her revitalized addiction again steering her life off course she felt it grip into her skin. Something inside of her had broken the night before. She knew this about herself at that moment. She believed him. In the past each time someone had proposed a life together she had always considered the sincerity of their gesture and allowed their desire for a life with her to impact and impair her desire for a life with herself yet this one time on her part she considered a life. She thought could this be the time I surrender. Could I admit to no control.
That afternoon she left the apartment walked and took the tram towards Kumkapı forgetting the words anyone taught her as soon as they left her mouth. She met three footballers on a steep street they were from Côte d’Ivoire and in her boredom and anxiety she spent the day with these men and another woman heading farther west in the city than ever before Patrick the tallest one she let him kiss her in the stairwell. She kissed him back and he expected more sending her demanding texts for one week. Back in the apartment she and Cenghiz fought over Google Translate about this incident the sentence reformulating inverted with each clack until she saw something that made sense probably close to what he meant.
They stayed together in that apartment four nights in a row the last night he barely let her sleep staying awake the whole night pacing around waking her every 30 minutes nervous that she hadn’t set her alarm correctly or at all once waking her by sitting on her chest nude his penis at her face. She had grown frustrated with this man and on the fourth morning still dark outside she left early for a flight to Diyarbakır. It was his poison that gave her these sores in her mouth not the cigarettes or the lips she had kissed in the stairwell. He urged her to reconsider her trip crying the entire night before urging that if she left he would refuse to see her again already having blocked her online and refusing to respond to her future texts he couldn’t bear knowing that upon her return from Diyarbakır she had only one night in İstanbul after that she would return to the US with a US life to return to she would leave because she had destroyed his and she would look back at photos of the two of them together in the apartment and together at brunch and would scribble an X over his face. He could no longer bear to live here or walk these streets, not now that she had ever been here. She was felt here in this city now forever stained by her. She blinked at this. He rode along in the taxi the roads slick again her anxiety flaring to the airport where he cried and walked away then to come back to cry and hug her again. He loved her and she had bought the tickets weeks ago and wasn’t about to forfeit the fare or pay to change her flight.
It wasn’t history that filled the rooms of that apartment; it wasn’t the steam from the rain that fogged her glasses coming back inside after stepping out; it wasn’t the damp sea air that grew the mold in the corner where the ceiling and two walls meet; it wasn’t history that filled the rooms or the corridors. He wanted her more her better his wanting wounded under those sheets. His envy bled from him he felt her disdain from the same pores; it spilled out onto her she hugged him back it stained her palms staining the streets under the taxi dripping down the exterior walls and interior walls of the oldest buildings, flaking off of him and off the walls collecting in piles in the corners where the two walls meet. She had to wipe her hands somewhere.
Cenghiz did respond though to the texts she sent via her new hosts in Diyarbakır two first-year schoolteachers from the West placed in the East. She had these women translate and relay messages to Cenghiz: I will walk with you hand in hand elele our hands able to say everything until we learn to understand one another, unless you no longer want this, is it over? He responded with texts in English: You special unit, and I hope that someone special who understands this, is different, I lament you, it was difficult in every way but none of them was as much as you, it is over. She looked up lament: a noun also a verb, a passionate display of grief. She thought this was difficult but none of them not as much as him. At least he was the one to end it.
The most putrid thing is bleeding from you
It has been two years since the New Years party where she met Cenghiz. Two weeks ago she found a photo of him on Google Image holding up over his head a Zonguldak football scarf in a crowded street a huge smile on his face. She saved this photo to her iPhone then deleted it one week later.