To Buy a Turkish Carpet

Istanbul, Turkey

Z and I walked stepped out of the courtyard of the Suleymaniye Mosque quiet.
“Shoe shine?” a man asked loudly.

Z shrugged and smiled and put his boot up on the man’s stool.

“Madam?” the man said, after he had finished with Z.  His boots glimmered.

I put my foot up on the  stool too. His thick dark fingers wrapped around his brush. He polished and buffed, and then nodded. I took my foot down. He looked up at Z: “Twenty Lira.”

“Twenty lira?” Z asked. My scarf was ten lira, Zilla’s coffee was two. Twenty was too much. We shook out heads.

“Twenty lira,” the man repeated. He pointed to the mosque. He looked up at us from his stool. “Have three hungry children. Twenty lira.”


“Next time,” I told Z, as we walked down the cobblestone street, “keep your foot on the ground.”

He shrugged. “When you travel, you open yourself up to these things.”

“I know,” I said, “But it doesn’t feel good to feel cheated.”

“Maybe I should have kept my scarf over my head,” I said.

Z smiled. “Maybe.”


We walked around the corner, past a row of small shops, welders and smiths working. Inside one of them I saw a pot of beans.

I was still full from breakfast, but I gazed a moment too long. A round man smiled and waved us in, ladled us a plate of beans and set down a basket of bread.

When I was a child, I would spend afternoons with my Grandma. Probably whole days too, but I remember the afternoons. She’d make me Campbell’s Bean and Bacon soup; open the can, add water, and ladle the white beans and orange broth into a heavy white bowl.  Then she would set it in front of me and unroll a sleeve of Saltines.   Her house was quiet, shadowy, and now, years ago, sold.

I took the last bite.

“You were hungry,” Z said, smiling.

“My grandma used to serve me something like this when I was young.”

He nodded and motioned to the man for the check.

He walked over to the table and peered into bowl, smiling.

Twenty lira, I thought, but instead he held up five fingers. “Bech?”

Is that fair? Are you satisfied? He seemed to ask. He patted his belly and smiled.


We walked out feeling warmed.

“He wasn’t trying to scam us,” I said.

“No,” Z agreed, “He wasn’t.”

We turned a corner and followed the wall of the university. Students passed us, holding books, holding hands. Large red Turkish flags hung over the walls, swaying gently in the breeze.

A man scooted by us, and dropped something. Z dropped my hand to pick it up. A shoeshine brush.

“Sir! ir!” Z said, running after him.

The man sighed and bowed in thanks and continued on in his direction.  A moment later he was back with us. He put down his shining stand and took out his recently recovered brush.

“Please,” he said, “Please.”

Z put up his foot. A moment later, another man appeared.

“I him cousin,” he said pointing to the man we had helped, “Please.”

And so I too put up my foot. When they were done, we thanked them.

“Twenty lira,” The first said whose brush Z had retrieved.

“Twenty lira,” the cousin added, frowning.

“No,” Z said. “I thought…”

“Three hungry children,” the first said, with great injury.

“Three hungry children,” the cousin said to me.

We paid them ten each and walked around the corner to the edge of the Grand Bazar. Our shoes had never been shinier.  A man was setting out his wares, on the sidewalk.

I turned to Z.  “Do you want to buy a carpet?”

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