The sun shone golden through my beer as I watched the bubbles spin. It was kind of Anthony to buy me this beer; I usually don’t drink so early in the afternoon. We were in a cafe across the Bosphorus, in Asia, technically, and I felt good and drunk. The tall pretty bartender with curly locks was reading Bukowski. Jessica didn’t like beer so she ordered a Raki, but she didn’t like anise to begin with so she said I could drink a lot of it. And it was when the sun was just beginning to cross my face that I felt really good. So good that I became conscious of my happiness and I sipped deeply to forget that I hated LB, who had been monopolizing the conversation, directing it toward music festivals and her stories about tripping acid at Bonaroo. When I next became conscious of my happiness it was Friday night and we were wandering the hilly alleys of Istanbul, city lights shining on the Bosphorus. My eyes must have had that crazed look as I stopped LB to tell her she was tastier than baklava…
I first started hating her that morning on the boat, when I probed her about her creative writing major. She didn’t seem interested that we were of the same ilk. Gulls flew alongside the boat and Turks on the upper deck threw bits of bread at them to catch. I felt like I was in a Hitchcock movie there were so many. LB was a Tennessean with a septum piercing and the body of a dryad: smallish blue eyes, dirty brown hair and just enough roundness on her arms to suggest youth. She teaches French with Jessica in Bourdeaux. Anthony talked to Jessica. I let our conversation drop to see if she would ask me any more questions and sat watching the green-blue Bosphorus behind the breakers, feeling the sun on my face and the wind sneak under my scarf. She remarked upon the weather.
With a group larger than three it’s always hard. There are usually pairs and a tripod, or sometimes one even gets separated. I dislike groups because to speak against the consensus can bring the whole group down or isolate you entirely. Not that I really care; if I don’t want to do something, I’ll say so. It’s just that in groups you run the risk of the others not listening, and still doing what they want and then feeling lonelier than if you were traveling alone.
So we walked like sheep, feeling our way out, stopping for each other to take pictures. No one wanted to lead outright. We walked past the Asian Turks doing their days. Then I led us into a market because I love markets. The owner stood arms akimbo as we admired the cheese and wondered what the hell was that syrupy sausagey thing.
Asian Istanbul is like Queens–bridal shops, cell stores, long boulevards. We walked up a sunlit street, disrobing from the heat, to a large patio where we sat with the sun to my back. The coffee was exquisite. It came with pistachio Turkish delight. I noted how beautiful it was on this veranda, and then I asked whether veranda was the right word for this sunlit square. LB, then Holly and Anthony, said it wasn’t. So I spent the next ten minutes determining what was. Patio. I had noticed an unctuous haughtiness in LB’s headshake. She had such small nostrils.
Off a side street we walked into a contemporary art gallery where interesting pencil drawings and street artist’s paintings hung. It was nothing mouth-watering. From there we found an upstairs bar where we sat in the afternoon sun and Holly and LB talked about music festivals and Burning Man. I was mostly quiet, drinking and hating LB for taking such pleasure in the conversation she selfishly directed, and for having had such a good time at Bonaroo. But when I took that sip of beer, looking through to the bottom of the mug, noticing the tiny bubbles, and remembering that I was in Turkey. In Western Anatolia. Traveling around the world. With one of my best friends. And attractive female strangers. And the sun on my face. And I was getting drunk in the mid-afternoon. And I began to relax. I hadn’t eaten anything since a sesame seed roll hours ago. Why be upset at this girl? She was just talking about what she liked? And the the sun was covering half my face. And my beer was still cold. Be happy. Okay.
I wanted to get drunker in Asia but we needed to eat dinner in Europe. We decided to watch the sunset on the boat. We walked along the shore and Anthony shot a BB gun at balloons for a couple of lira. We missed the boat. It departed every half hour so I teamed up with Anthony and we bought kebab-veggie sandwiches and yogurt drinks–Aryan–salty delicious yogurt drink that none of the others liked. The meal was less than two dollars.
When we arrived back in Kadikoy we were pitched into sitting high in a restaurant with a view of the dock. We watched the sun set over the minarets. I mostly ignored LB, and spoke well. I didn’t hate her any more. She was being good.
That night we had planned to go out but we wound up sitting in the hostel lounge, where LB sat next to me. We met German girls, Lisa and Linda, who chirped in German-accented, honeyed voices. They chainsmoked and smiled, waxing philosophical. And the whole while I knew LB was noticing.
The next morning at breakfast LB came downstairs wearing a red dress, which now seems too obvious. Her hair was down too, which for me was the sign. And so when we departed for our own days I had a feeling that we were even.
After lunch and Turkish coffee Holly and I went to the Blue Mosque. I took off my sandals, and she velcroed a tablecloth around her waist and we sat on the carpeted floor under the high blue and white dome, circumscribed with Koranic verses, and talked about holy cities. At times I remembered we were a man and a woman and there would grow a rift between us and the childish desire to act upon words unspoken. But my adulthood and foresight kicked in. We went food shopping and walked across the bridge past the fishermen, to the hostel where I made spinach and feta sandwiches for dinner.
We were going out. It was Friday! The hostel workers led a pub crawl, taking us up the hill to Taksim Square. There were thousands of people walking, all dressed in black. The first lounge was expensive–six dollars for a beer but one of the hosteliers bought it for me and I later paid the tip. It was six flights up in a tiny elevator. Out across the Bosphorus was the Hagia Sophia and the New Mosque twinkling golden and black, with purple and blue shadows and shimmers of green. I took photos with the girls and talked about religion and was happy.
The next bar was dancey. A Turkish couple danced with us, and we couldn’t tell if they were looking for a third party or if they hated each other or what. We hostelers danced in a circle. They played “Ai se eu te pego” and “We found love,” which were the only two songs I wanted to hear. I jumped and sang. I perspired and cooled off on the balcony, watching the dark buildings and blue-black sky. Below were neon signs and thousands of people walking, laughing, drinking, smoking, dressed in black, dancing to life’s song.
It was three in the morning. I knew LB was looking at me so when we arrived at the next club, I decided I wanted to leave and took her with me. Jessica and another boy followed. It didn’t take long to lose them. We wandered through the labyrinthine alleys rising up and down the hilly terrain, lost, finding our way. I stopped her and held her face and she was a much better kisser than ol’ bony lips (I’m still incredulous someone could be so bad at kissing). I assuaged her worry about losing Jessica by telling her how great this was. And sharing my joy doubled it, as I stopped her again to tell her she was more delicious than baklava. To think how I had hated her just yesterday while we sat in that cafe in Asia. How she had gone on, and I had resented her the while. And how later we knew that subconsciously we were on the same page. And now, in the Rilkean richness of our wandering, her confident technique, dynamic lip choreography, just the right amount of tongue, and the nymphean softness of her cheeks…