On the Bus
By Andrew Bell
5 February 2018
A craggy faced, resolute, weather-worn woman wearing a knit hat over her headscarf. Rebellious or utilitarian antidote to pious conservatism and religiosity. It’s pretty cold today. The symbolism makes me smile to myself as I fix my gaze, facing her, on the combination briefly, before scanning over to the window and the view of the Bosphorus as we pass over the bridge. What other religious garb or imagery can be turned to similar effect? A Buddhist monk walking barefoot down the street carrying a box from Footlocker under his right arm and an empty tithing pot in the other. A Trappist who specialises in making, and markets quite ironically, beer bongs that stick to your mouth if you suck on them the wrong way (i.e Chinese Finger Trap). The Pope wearing sunglasses. A rabbi with a tie-dyed yamaka. I’m reminded of another time a few months ago, when a colleague and I were on the bus and she spotted a man ahead of us wearing a Taqiyah with a little pom-pom on the top, pointing out how cute it was, this combination of religiosity and style. I’d like to see it more often.
7 February 2018
A mother and her maybe two-year-old child sharing earphones, one phone in the child’s ear and one in the mother’s. I wonder what they’re listening to. The child is sitting on the mother’s lap and she’s rocking him softly to a beat. I’d like to think it’s some kind of postmodern Turkish oud solo with psychedelic digressions. He seems to like it but also seems unsure of what to do with the earphone stuck in his ear, adjusting and losing it frequently as the bus bumps and lurches.
8 February 2018
Crossing the bridge again. Rainy day today, but a little oval of clouds parted over the Marmara Sea side to expose some sun rays that beamed down onto Golden Horn. A little angelic visual interlude transposed amidst a more or less sinister-looking horizon. Reminds me of a story I’m reading by David Foster Wallace, where the narrator is dead and explaining how language, once we die, explodes like light, loses its linearity and logical order. Infinite. The rays seem to be the opposite. Channelled and purposeful and temporary.
9 February 2018
Looking at a man with the bushiest eyebrows I’ve ever seen. They’re like two cats draped over his eyes. Wild and rambling, veering off sharply in too many directions. He keeps blinking them away. I wonder if he shampoos them. Really quite majestic and defining. I’m oddly envious. He has an immaculately trimmed beard. Compensation?
Other strange defining, hair-related features:
Nose hair that effectively filters smog
A widows peak that cuts through the forehead down to the third eyed pineal
Toe hair that gets hat hair, but from socks, or sometimes moccasins
12 February 2018
A man with very wide, deer-in-headlights eyes flitting around like he’s seeing everything for the first time.
13 February 2018
Birds swarming, hundreds strong, through the air and into a tree on my way to the bus. Seen from across Taksim Square into Gezi Park. They coalesce, separate, and coalesce again like a thought in the mind of a discerning tourist hounded by peddlers of local merchandise. I mute my earphones as I pass under the tree they’ve decided to rest upon, wary of falling shit. Their chirps are unavoidable and refreshing in the virgin sunlight.
16 February 2018
Already thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner with the chicken I bought yesterday. Too soon? A very trivial thought taking up more space in my mind than I think it should. I’m not even particularly hungry yet.
A blue balloon bouncing airy down the street through the traffic in the opposing lane. I’m inclined to get off the bus and give chase, but the thought is quickly reasoned away, for better or worse.
19 February 2018
Looking out the window at all the people mulling around a busy Besiktas Meydan bus stop this morning, scrutinising bus numbers and walk-running towards their departing rides with sleep still just leaving the doors of their eyes. One woman hustling half-heartedly for one, and then, when realising she won’t make it, stopping and looking around in a kind of blank, wide-eyed acceptance as the mechanisms in her brain begin churning out algorithms for the next move she’s gotta make in order to arrive at work on time.
I start guessing the occupations of these people passing through the television of my window, aware that I will probably be 100 per cent wrong. She’s on her way to an insurance office. He works at a small, second-hand shoe store. Those two are students, one double majoring in Political Science and Art History, the other choosing Women’s Studies to the chagrin of her conservative father. She quite possibly is traditionally unemployed, but spends three days/week walking dogs for her neighbours. It’s almost funny how easy it is to make assumptions about people while both parties are moving in opposite directions.
22 February 2018
Focused on the grass as I sit on a bench in a small park near the bus stop, smoking a cigarette, waiting for the bus that’ll arrive in about 10 minutes. I’m catapulted into my childhood, where things so small— the spaces between and angles of the blades of grass, the sharp greens and slivered shadows, the subtle and arresting faunaic olfactories— were so big. I feel shoved through a funnel. Transfixed. Clear and innocent again for a moment. The three-leafed clovers in the particular patch soaking into my awareness have little dark-brown rorschached splotches on each leaf, and remind me of butterfly wings as they’re nudged gently by the immortal Istanbul breeze. I’m grounded in their tiny lives.
26 February 2018
An intense flood of sonder gushing into the creases of my consciousness. Every fleshy, angled face I look at through the window has a story behind it that I’ll never know. The immediacy and immense scope of my own historical accumulation of such faces makes me unsteady. Drunk. Each one unfolds and then retracts, and I’m left with only rushed realisations, my traffic cop speed gun beeping warnings un-acted upon due to engine troubles.
1 March 2018
A Besiktas JK football game in Vodafone Arena necessitates a change of course, and instead of its usual, windy left turn up the hill and around the stadium to Taksim Square, the bus is forced straight and flat, following the Bosphorus for a while before dumping its cargo off in Kabatas, not too near its advertised destination. A maddening inconvenience for someone in a rush, which thankfully isn’t me today. I’m coming from somewhere, which usually seems to be less urgent than going to anywhere. On my walk back there’s a bus pulled over and half blocking the right lane of the two lane thoroughfare. One of its windows has been shattered almost completely, glass spilled out onto the sidewalk and crunching under my shoes. My inner detective deduces that someone/someones must have exploded the glass from the inside, and that, given the breadth of the hole— at least two human wingspans worth of empty, glassless air— it must have been intentional and not a clumsy-forceful crack against the side by a passenger surprised by a sudden lurch or veer. Could that little hammer encased in class with the metal tip marked ‘Break glass in case of emergency’ have so thoroughly done the job? What grave situation lead to this minefield of glass on the sidewalk? Unfortunately, there’s no one mulling around the scene to answer these questions. It was just this empty bus devoid of any immediate explanation as to why it was sitting there with a window shattered from the inside, passed by and half-glanced at by people going somewhere or coming from anywhere.
7 March 2018
It’s morning, and there’s a man facing me a few rows up towards the front of the bus, a light skinned black guy with dreads and a flannel shirt with a lime green, red, black and blue colour scheme I think looks pretty nice. He’s half-sleeping, head leaning against the window, arms crossed in a practiced routine that I’m very familiar with. Balancing in that thin state between conscious and unconscious, aware enough to know when his stop is next, which is also my stop, lost enough to slip into light hallucination.
15 March 2018
The bus is spitting exhaust like a breaching whale’s blowhole spits salt water and carbon dioxide. The whale I’m on only does it when it needs to accelerate, which is often at first, but as traffic parts it becomes less necessary of an exhalation, and I can wander a bit behind my closed eyes.
5 April 2018
A sleek, contemporary, future-is-now ferry crossing the Bosphorus as the bus crosses the bridge. Its curves are seamless and I think of flying cars. Not long before all boats look like this, I say to the older, boxier, massive, sluggish cargo ship churning its way down the straight nearby. Your days are numbered.
From the Balcony
11 March 2018 6:57pm
Looking down on a group of sometimes three, sometimes four people starting a barbecue in the yard five floors below. The tail end of a beautifully clear and sunny day. An invitation to breathe outdoor air, drank deeply by everyone made thirsty by its absence over the winter. One woman in the group decides to climb the tree that had fallen over during the snow storm last winter and is now leaning at maybe a 50 degree angle against the other tree growing in the middle of the yard and watch from above as a man begins to light the coals for the grill, which is made of grey concrete bricks. I feel an intense form of empathy for her. It’s a kind of camaraderie or shared spirit which doesn’t have me in it at all. No mirror back towards myself, just her. Other driven. No envy or pride or projection, but a fullness of something intangible. Seagulls begin to stir, waving and squawking at each other in a building crescendo of shared purpose. I had wondered a few minutes earlier where they were. Now they weave together, some hovering to look for rooftop perching space, and others flying by the balcony in rushing perspective to somewhere else. The church bells begin to clang their Sunday harmonies. Three tones for the Trinity. The steeple and its iron cross silhouetted against a pale orange line of sunset cut into by the hive of apartments and cafes and mosques blanketing the slopes rolling down into the Golden Horn. As I get up to go inside, I notice the woman gingerly descending from her perch. I wonder what they’ll eat.
12 March 2018 6:26-7:04pm
Having a beer after work. Another nice day, the third in a row, and hope springs careful. A man pops his head out of the door of a balcony of the apartment perpendicularly abutting mine on the left and half a floor down, the apartment building and mine either not sharing a common ceiling height or built at slightly different elevations. He looks around approvingly, then at me and I give him a smile, he reciprocates, and then disappears back behind the curtain that’s obscuring the windows of the balcony door. A woman follows suit: pops her head out, looks around approvingly, I give her a smile, she reciprocates, and then disappears back behind the curtain. They must either be looking to rent the place or very timid guests who don’t want to offend their host/s too much by staying longer than a few short seconds worth of glance on the balcony before continuing some awkward or forced conversation amid offerings of tea. This second contrived scenario seems cynical after some thought, so I gravitate back to the first, and marinate in the mixture of emotions attached to my own apartment hunting experiences. Novelty, excitement, frustration, ambivalence, tension. No one emotion tied to another and none mutually exclusive. All seeped in anticipation. A sudden feeling of unease about my own future, the possibility of endless, fruitless apartment hunts. I know my purpose; it lies in observation. I’m not a materially ambitious person, just ambitious up here [points to head] and in here [points to heart]. The future in which this purpose will inhabit becomes, for a quick moment after the woman’s head disappears, a question mark. I would be perfectly happy moving to California and working on a farm. Camus writes in The Stranger something like, ‘I could lie inside of a hollowed-out tree trunk for the rest of my life looking up at the stars, and I’d be content.” Sometimes I feel the same. I realise that a song by Andy Shauf is playing in the background, with the lyrics ‘Just a shaking hand with no concrete plan’ looping repetitively towards its end and most likely guide-dogging my subconscious. A man and a woman below me in the yard with the barbecue and tree* begin yelling at the cafe which the yard shares a wall with, the yard being on my right, and the cafe’s glass ceiling to my left as I crane my head down over the railing to find the voices’ sources. At first they seem locked out of their apartment, trapped in the yard. But it becomes obvious that they’re pissed off at the cafe, yelling ‘Cafe Lumiere!’ with increasing levels of aggression and volume. ‘Dort yil…something something’ in Turkish. ‘Four years…something something’, in English, like this man has been living here/working here/patronizing here for four years and should be treated with more respect than he’s currently getting. ‘Cafe Lumiere!!’ I’m not sure if this yard is even theirs or if they’re just drunk and have somehow wandered in and trapped themselves. The man is pouring tea from a teapot in a familiar enough way though, and the woman is eating a salad which I hope is hers, alternating between sitting down and swallowing a forkful of it, and standing up and berating the side window of the cafe, both arms raised up and to her sides and shaking with indignation. The man sits down at the table by the grill, opposite he woman’s salad, pours a tea, takes a sip, gets up, walks towards the glass greenhouse-like wall/ceiling of the cafe’s back garden, throws the tea at the glass as he yells something you know is full of expletives even if you don’t know the language, walks back to the table, sits down, pours himself another tea, yells something else at the window, takes a sip of tea, and looks around the walls of the yard like a caged lion. An elderly lady appears on the balcony of the apartment below the one with the two approving heads that had popped out from the curtain to retrieve some hanging laundry, and gives the two in the yard a look and a long, disapproving ‘ooooff yaaaah’ and heads back inside. A black and white cat looks on from the cafe’s roof with head cocked down and to the left, scrutinizing. ‘Cafe Lumiere!!!!’ One of the cafe’s owners comes out and talks the two down, and the lion ends up ushering him to sit at the table, and pours him a tea while they negotiate terms. I’m watching a performance. The rest of those Andy Shauf lyrics are:
‘Do you find it gets a little easier
each time you make it disappear.
Oh fools, the magician bends the rules
as the crowd watches his every move.
Side-steps to a death-defying feat,
wait for him to reappear.
Look close, you’ll see him sweat the most
each time his options disappear.
Doo doo doo doot, doo doo doo.
doo doo doo doot, doo doo doo.’
20 March 2018 6:10pm
A crow cleaning itself on a satellite dish almost directly above me. It scrapes its beak, base to tip and back again, against the back side of the disc, perched atop the apex of its arc. The sound is dull and metallically methodical. It stops its scraping, looks up and around towards Galata Tower, contracts and expands its whole body in a few short spasms of feather that discharge water droplets left over from a bath in a puddle or a flight through a raincloud, shivers a finale, and then whirls its head back around and down into its breast feathers to prune out some nonconformal tufts. It repeats this cleansing ritual three times. The satellite dish beams out, searching for and finding the now-received signals of Turkish soap operas and baby cartoons and dubbed National Geographic Channel Stephen Hawking death tribute marathons, drawing them in and re-projecting them towards awaiting, bleary eyes.
10 April 2018 6:30-7:09pm
The sound of a saxophone begins blowing jazz off to the left. Whoever’s playing is warming up, gaining confidence and volume. A dark sound fit for smoky rooms and detective films. Its source is hard to pinpoint. Too many buildings’ angles for sound to bounce around off of in too many directions. A cat weaves its way through a fence dug into one such angle, where the back wall of the yard below meets at a right angle the bare, balcony-less facade of the building whose roof flattens out just below my feet. The fence is made of iron arrows that point at 45 degree angles westward towards the hazy sunset and the church’s steeple, ready to be loosed amid seagulls’ painted war cries. A large lady in a headscarf tries for too many seconds to open the slider door of the balcony across from mine. AirBnB. A piano and the soft tit ti tii, tit ti tii of percussion join the saxophone. The sax player may be playing over pre-recorded music, It’s hard to tell. I look around again to my right for the source of the sound, peering into windows and scrutinising balconies’ shadowy corners, imagining a reclusive musician and a record player. The lavender blossoms of some vine drape around a tree and flood over brick walls and down into an unseen street, looking like grape clusters or giant hyacinths. Their presence is comforting.
13 April 2018 6:24-6:31pm
Two seagulls fucking on a roof covered in what’s probably their own shit. The male on top halfway spreading his wings, making a splayed M, kneading his body into her like a cat pawing at a blanket before it balls up to sleep. The act takes more time than I thought was necessary. Maybe a minute and a half. The male gives a final, determined spasm, shakes a little, and then sits prone for a while longer, still on top of the female, who’s waiting soundless under him. Eventually he clambers off and walks up to the peak of the roof and looks around, satisfied. She ruffles her feathers and composes herself, waiting for fertilisation and eggs. After a minute he walks back to her and they sit together, feathers fluffed, braced against a light wind. A song called Winter Dies plays in the background.
More of Andrew's work can be found here.