By Janine Rich
He didn’t float; people often use that word in hindsight to describe what they saw of an object in freefall. But he didn’t float. He hovered for a moment, though, framed by a violent blue and backlit by the sun. In that brief moment, I wondered whether he would steady himself. It seemed inconceivable, ridiculous even, that he might not regain his balance and continue on with his work, the steady thwack of metal on metal that had kept everyone in the neighborhood awake for hours. But he didn’t. He fell, and it was not a float but a hard, decisive plummet that ended with a surprisingly soft thud. I looked around, for the first time in my life it seemed I was alone on a street in Istanbul. Then I was running, and all too soon kneeling at the man’s side. There was a small rivulet of blood beginning to spread through the cracks in the cobblestone, bubbling up quietly from behind his head like a quick, murky spring. But other than that, and the unnatural twist of his neck, he looked unharmed. “It was as if he was asleep”, is another thing people like to say about death, and it was true.
I heard muffled shouting from above, but the wind whipped their voices across other rooftops and away. On the sidewalk, it was just him and I. Stupidly, I checked his pulse. He was warm, frighteningly warm, and my fingers slipped in sweat - his or mine. I swiped the cracked screen of my phone, leaving a trail of salt, and called an ambulance. By that time a small crowd had gathered, encircling us like a choir, chattering and stating the obvious in that way people do when they are forced to witness a pain that’s not their own. No one came near. When jostled closer by the crowd, several of them stepped back quickly, fear in their eyes, as if a fall of such a sort might be spreading, as if afraid to catch the microbe that had toppled this boy from such an irredeemable height. I stayed at his side until the ambulance arrived - we watched it creep comically down the street towards us, sirens blaring indignantly, stuck in traffic that would not or could not move. Where had all this traffic come from?
The police arrived. I felt hot and itchy, I smoked to stop my hands shaking, I answered their questions. The ambulance by then was long gone – surely, they weren’t taking him to a hospital? - I explained what I’d seen, I pointed to the rooftop where the workers had been, which now stood eerily empty, as though the building itself were standing solemnly at a grave. The workers had vanished - how? The police asked around, no one had seen them come down, it was inconceivable that they could have jumped to another rooftop.
“Damn Syrians, they scatter like rats”, a woman with a puff of coiffed gray hair snorted. gShe smelled of powder and long-deceased roses. I stuck my hands in my pockets and realized I would be at least an hour late for work. Next to me, a policeman stood smoking and calmly contemplating the empty rooftop. I asked him eif I could leave.
“What? Oh, sure, abi. We’ll call you if we need you.”
His assurance dropped like a stone. I had not given my contact information, not even my name. We’ll find you if we need.
The others milled around behind me as I waited for the bus, one busily taking statements, the others chattering and bored.
“What is this project, anyway?”
“Don’t you know? They’re building a mall.”
“Aynen. It’s going to be a luxury residence, too. There’s some expensive Japanese restaurant going in at the top,” I felt him gesture towards the point where the boy had been standing.
“And what a view from that height! 360 degrees of Istanbul, all the way over the Bosphorus, too.”
“But why a Japanese restaurant? Their food seems weird to me, all that raw flesh. How can that be healthy?”
“Why not? Our food is unhealthy, too, but you don’t say anything. Don’t be racist.”
Their laughter was cut abruptly by the hiss of the bus door behind me, so that as I watched them through the glass they were as if in a silent film, their smiles infused with the roar of exhaust.
Janine is a recovering academic and (very) amateur gardener. She lives on the European side.