By Othman Nahhas
Jason left his interview with the magazine feeling a bit unsure about it. He came from a privileged family who paid for his tuition and for his birthday gave him airplane tickets to travel and see the world though he felt that he was just another man rushing down life’s lane. He stepped into the street and was immediately faced by the hundreds of people going left and right, up and down, and the honking of buses and cars dimmed sometimes by the rain, which changed from heavy to light within minutes. He gave a sigh and then a little smile was drawn on his face “Oh Istanbul!”
He decided to walk a bit in the rain, hugging his umbrella and trying to think things over. He spotted a little bar and even though it was 11 in the morning, ‘ A beer couldn’t hurt right about now ’ he said to himself. He walked to the almost empty bar. A couple of polished and cleaned brown tables were spread around almost disappearing into the brown floor of the bar. The walls stacked with various “bar posters” which held a joke or two about drinking. A picture of pin-up girl hung above the bar with the caption “Free beer tomorrow!” A few men sat around a table discussing something or another in Turkish. A waiter was cleaning and setting up the tables. Then he heard a language familiar to him “One Ballentine’s please, no ice.” He turned to the bar and saw a guy who looked like he was in his early twenties. His white skin, coloured eyes, and perfect accent gave Jason a sense of relief for a second followed by a moment of guilt for that relief. He walked to the bar and said ‘Make that two!’ and sat next to this lonesome drinker.
“Scotch at 11?” Jason said, “Rough day?”
Since the bar was empty their orders came before a third sentence was uttered. Jason held up his glass and said, “I’ll drink to that.”
There was a moment of awkward silence; Jason had missed the experience of drinking with a total stranger at a bar with no other motive than to talk over their problems. So he decided he might as well.
“This city is driving me crazy, man.” Jason started.
“Yeah. That’s what Istanbul does to ya. It makes you fall in love with it so hard and then tortures you for that love.”
“Exactly! I never feel like I have enough time,” continued Jason “I barely travelled last year! I have a few classes in Uni that are just too demanding. I want to visit my parents for the holidays but a flight to the States is just way too expensive! Thank god I was getting paid dollars in my last job.”
“I don’t think God is the one who paid you, but sure.” The guy answered.
“Hahaha yeah I guess you are right. It’s just this city moves so fast sometimes you lose track you know? Between the expensive rents and the ridiculous traffic.”
The guy nodded his head and smiled and then took a sip from his drink. There was another moment of silence. Jason felt that somehow the guy wasn't making any effort to relate to his problems. “I don’t get it,” Jason thought to himself “We’re both foreigners here, I’ve spoken to a lot of foreigners and they always seem to understand what I’m talking about. Maybe he’s the silent type or maybe he wants to know me first before talking, I didn’t even introduce myself.”
“I’m Jason by the way!” he extended his hand and his hand was met.
“Ahmed, nice to meet you.”
“Ahmed? Oh you’re Turkish! Wow your accent is great man.”
“Not Turkish, Syrian.”
The moment Jason heard the word “Syrian” a bang went through his heart. He didn’t know how to respond exactly in that moment.
“Nice to meet you.” He said half cordially half nervously.
Silence befell the bar again.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a Syrian who enjoys a good scotch before!” He said jokingly.
Ahmed looked down at his glass, took a big sip and then looked up at Jason. They looked oddly similar for people who come from opposite sides of the world.
“Tell me Jason, you like Ballentines?
“How many languages do you speak?”
“Just English, and a bit of Turkish.”
“Are you Christian?”
“Not sure anymore, maybe agnostic.”
“You see Jason. You and I are similar. We have the same taste in scotch; we speak the same language with the exception that I also speak Dutch, French and Arabic. You’re an agnostic and I’m an atheist. But you and I, we live in different worlds.”
“Oh I’m sorry. You mean because of the war?”
“Actually, the war had nothing to do with it, the way people reacted to that war was the problem! You told me about your problems. Let me contrast them with mine. You said you couldn’t visit your parents for the holidays. Mine stopped talking to me when I told them I’m an atheist, yet I still pay for half their rent because they’re incapable of doing it on their own. You said rents are expensive? My salary is laughable because there’s literally no one to fight for my rights so I can barely survive. You complain about traffic? Sometimes, I stay at home instead of going to an event to save the five liras that the metro costs. You said you barely travelled last year? I can’t have a passport because I refused to do military service in Syria and now they refuse to issue me one. The “ID card” that the Turkish government gave me doesn’t even allow me to leave Istanbul.”
Jason was silent for a moment he couldn’t think of anything to say at that moment.
Ahmed stood up, put his coat on, drank the last of his scotch, looked at the bartender and said, ‘We’re even after I set up your wireless network’ then he looked at Jason and said ‘You see man, you’re an expat here. I’m a prisoner.’
Then he patted Jason on the back and walked out into the rain with his worn-out leather jacket and without an umbrella. He walked into the city that entrapped, charmed and tortured him to fight the next battle, while Jason continued to sip on his drink he felt guilty about the interaction that had just happened. He came from a privileged family who paid for his tuition and for his birthday gave him airplane tickets to travel and see the world. But he realized how little of the world he had seen. He realized that seeing the world doesn’t mean visiting The Louvre or going to a festival in Ibiza. The world was right there in that little bar where a human with much more prospects than himself faced a world that Jason had only dreamed about in his nightmares. A world where the first reaction is always a “NO” that you have to turn into “YES”. Instead of a “MAYBE” which you just push towards “YES”. ‘I wish there was something I could do.’ He said. Because he believed that “Wishing” that he could do something absolved him from any blame. And then he went on to think about where his next holiday destination would be; thought about how he was going to retell this encounter to his buddies, how he was going to share “his experience.”
Othman is an aspiring author and stand-up comic who can be found at Istanbul's Take Me up The Bosphorus stand up comedy nights, he has a dead blog that he is resolved to start working on again which you can read here or follow his podcast here.