The Naked Street Lamp
Sebnem E. Sanders
I used to see him during my walks along the Bosphorus. Leaning on the lamp post, he would salute me. "Good morning. Good afternoon. Good day. Haven't seen you for a while, are you ok? You look nice today. I think you've lost weight. I like your haircut. I don't like the new hairstyle exposing your neck. The previous one was better."
After spotting him by the street lamp, from a distance, I'd move as far as possible to the other side of the pavement, to keep away from the nauseating smells of alcohol mixed with urine when I greeted him. I'd never stop, but salute him while resuming my walk. "Hello, Good Day. How are you? It's hot. It's cold. It's a nice day." I would ignore any of his personal remarks.
He was a young man who looked like an old man. Handsome, with greasy blond hair, and melancholy blue eyes set in a weathered complexion. The immature age-lines on his face, accentuated by the accumulation of black dirt. His ever-present smile shadowed by nicotine-stained teeth, some broken or missing. Why had he picked me among the many who passed by him? Maybe he hadn't, maybe he greeted everyone else. Perhaps it was because I always walked alone. Who knows? I know he would want me to stop and have a conversation with him. I wouldn't do that. I couldn't stand those smells, nor risk any undue familiarity. I guess he understood this and showed his acceptance by not making more than one comment at a time. He fascinated and frightened me at the same time. It was clear something dreadful had happened to him. Did I want to find out? I did, yet I couldn't bring myself to delve into that. Instead, I imagined. A broken heart, unemployment, a mix up with gangs, a family tragedy.
When he disappeared, I read about him in the papers after one of the regulars on my walking route broke the news. During his visit to his mother's home in Izmir, he had set the house on fire, falling asleep with a cigarette in his hand. He and the mother were taken to the hospital and recovered. The story went, the poor woman's flat was burned to the ground not only because of a cigarette, but he had been drunk.
After he returned to his spot by the street lamp, a few weeks later, I decided to talk to him. I never mentioned I'd read about him in the papers. Just asked him how he was, and he said, “Fine.” I wondered where he slept, where he stayed at night. Did he have a place or did he sleep on the streets, in the cold? Lately, I had noticed a limp in his walk. I asked another regular guy who always saluted me on my walk. “What's the matter with him?”
“It's his liver and kidneys, I think, giving up on him.”
“What a shame,” I said and resumed my walk.
His condition deteriorated over the next few months. He left the lamp post and moved to a safer spot, a small boat-access slip, down a few steps along the quay. He laid newspaper on the concrete and sat there, with his legs stretched out. His cigarettes and bottles next to him. How he found the money for fags and alcohol made me wonder.
Occasionally, I gave him packs of cigarettes or bought him a burger lunch. I refused to give him cash, but brought him a huge bag of warm clothes for the winter that my brother gave away. I never saw him in those clothes. He probably sold them.
The boat-access slip smelled of urine and alcohol, even on the days he wasn't there. The stench had worn into the concrete. Occasionally, he would be sleeping, with a bottle in his hand, and a lit cigarette in the other. When he was awake, his eyes drifted, sometimes not even noticing me pass by. On an alert day, he'd still shout, “Good morning.”
One day, he disappeared. The boat-slip was empty. When I saw one of the regulars, fishing, I asked, “Where's he?”
He looked at me with sad eyes. “He fell into the water one night last week and drowned.”
My eyes welled. I stopped and had a cigarette with him. “What was his name? I forgot. Never asked him and he never knew mine.”
“He was Osman, the broken-hearted. He never told his story. Just drank to forget it.”
The next day, I bought a bunch of flowers and tossed them into the water by the steps. I stood and prayed. If there is reincarnation, if we are meant to live many lifetimes, may he find peace and happiness in the next one.
My eyes drifted from the naked spot by the street lamp to the boat-access slip and remembered his greetings. I still do. A few months later, the sea washed away the stench from his corner, taking away all signs of his existence.
Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have been published on the Harper Collins Authonomy Blog, The Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Three Drops from the Cauldron, The Rye Whiskey Review, and CarpeArte Journal. She has a completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven and two works in progress, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child. Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, was published in December 2017. Her stories have also been published in two Anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. More information can be found at her website where she publishes some of her work:
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