Last Fall, Istanbul, Turkey
I wanted to know if Z had anymore room to try this hot bread that the books compared to Turkish pizza. He nodded. We got out the map an stepped off the main street. Soon, our footsteps echoed. Windows were smashed. Molding and grand old façades crumbled.
I handed Z the map. “Are we going to right way?” He nodded. A large dog’s bark echoed in an empty building. We were only three blocks downhill from Istiklal. “What do you think happened? Where did everyone go?”
Z shrugged. “Why do you think they went anywhere?” He pointed at a shop. Three men worked a long wooden paddle in front of an oven. Hot lavash flew in and out. I stopped. They stopped. One of the men handed me a small piece and smiled. They would not let us pay.
Z put his wallet back into his pocket as a family drove past, groceries and children and grandparents, all on the motorbike. “It is a neighborhood. It’s not fancy, but people live here.”
We turned up the hill, towards Istiklal and our hotel just as people began to spill down on their way home from work.
Butchers cut meat, bakers flaky slabs of borek; greengrocers spooned olives or wrapped quince or dark grapes in tissue paper. Sun set orange over the mosque and I heard the first notes of the call to prayer.
We stopped in front of one of the shops. I compared it to the picture in our book.
The round man inside waved. “Lahmacun, no? I said to him my friend you will come back one more time.” He pointed to a boy in a leather jacket who worked kebabs on a grill. Before we could answer he began to flour the dough and pull its edges into a soft circle. “Where you from?” He looked to Z’s darker skin and then to mine.
“Sri Lanka,” Z said, “But we live in the US.”
The man ladled some sauce onto the dough and winked. “You have American girl.”
The small room smelled of meat and smoke and sweat and sweet pepper.
“Wife,” Z said.
‘Wife,” the man said, solemnly, and pushed the paddle deep into the oven.
He looked into his wood fire and then into Z’s eyes. “You citizen?”
“Yes,” Z said, “But it took twenty years.”
“I have cousin in New York,” he smiled and tasted the lahmacun sauce. “I have American girl too. Sometime she visit. But always we fighting.” He raised his eyebrows, took the crisp bread out of the oven, sprinkled on sumac and parsley and handed us the lahmacun. “You know women.”
The boy in the leather jacket turned a sis kebab and shook his head.
“How much?” Z asked.
I took a bite. Crunch and char and crisp leaves. The man smiled as I ate and held up his hands like a cowboy in a Western. “No, my friend, free.”