Monday, January 03, 2011


Finally, the bus arrived, its wheels banging against potholes and through ruts, even though the road had only recently been upgraded. Once thing I'd learned in my few months in Turkey was that roads and pavements tended to get repaired and almost immediately ripped up again, as some new pipeline or cable was installed. The weather, which had suddenly switched from 'freezing' to 'bloody hot' one day in April, had been steadily getting hotter and drier, and now it was only possible to stay outdoors if one stood in the shade.
 We got on the Izmir-bound bus. I'd been spending a couple of days away from work in a cheap pansiyon in Cesme, but now it was time to get back to the chalkface.I joined the scrum of people and found a seat at the back, wedged between people politely perspiring. I was in a foul mood, partly because I was going back to work, partly because of the heat, but largely because I had a raki hangover, something I certainly do not recommend. Raki is a wonderful drink, but too much really leaves you feeling grim. The coach was absolutely full and almost immediately became stiflingly hot, even with the windows open. It started off, bumping and trundling along the road, and the ticket guy came round, taking our fares and handing out little paper tickets. Behind him, a kid, about thirteen or fourteen I guessed, was splashing lemon cologne into the travellers' hands, holding a paper napkin underneath to catch splashes. He doused my hands and I rubbed them together, then rubbed my facewith them, allowing the rapid-evaporating alcohol to briefly cool me.
Shortly out of Cesme, the coach suddenly slowed down. From my seat, I could just see that someone was standing in the road, waving it down with both hands. It came to a halt, and the rear door opened. The ticket guy leaned out and I heard a few words of Turkish. At that time, I didn't understand the language that well, especially when it was spoken quickly, but I managed to get the gist. A voice outside was asking to get on, and the ticket guy replied that there were no seats. The other voice said it only wanted go somewhere a few kilometres down the road, and it would pay. The ticket guy hesitated, then looked, then hesitated again, then said, 'come on'.
I wondered to myself where the voice would sit. The voice clambered on board, attached to a person I can only describe as being the closest to a chimpanzee I have ever seen a human be. And not just a chimp: A full-scale PG tips chimp. He was wearing a greasy red baseball cap, advertising Marshall Paints; His thick black hair poked this way and that from underneath, and a pair of dark, small eyes stared brightly out of a scruffily-bearded, corrugated face; his shirt was stained with oil, and his trousers were baggy and far too big for him, held in place with an old leather belt. He clambered in on bow legs, and holding his hand was a young boy of about four, who was looking around with wide, limpid eyes and had an uncertain smile flickering first on, then off. The man looked at me, and smiled with a lot of gum and very little tooth, and what tooth there was was stained and carious.
Ticket Guy produced a small plastic stool from an overhead locker and an I got the answer to my question about the seating arrangements. They would sit at my feet, or rather, just to the side of them, after Ticket Guy asked me to shift over a bit. I found myself cramped up with this bizarre-looking chap on the stool with this boy on his lap. You can probably imagine how much more irritated I felt - my space was being taken up by someone, who, it now transpired, wasn't paying! He offered a tattered note to Ticket Guy, but it was waved down.
The bus set off again, and I tried to take my mind off my annoyance by listening to some music on my Walkman. A Madness song, 'The Prince', started playing, but after about a minute it came to a sudden, strangulated halt. I opened the player to find th beginnings of a manic bird's nest of stretched and broken tape. Now  I had nothing to do except feel grumpy and resentful. I thought I'd take it out by looking sullenly at the man and boy sat on the stool.
They weren't aware of me. The boy was talking rapidly in the high-pitched fluting way many Turkish children do, and I couldn't really catch much of what was being said, apart from 'Baba' (Father). I was a bit surprised: The man easily looked old enough to be the child's grandfather. He was smiling and laughing, and stroking the ragged beard. However, it was the man who held my attention. I saw that there were whole stories of pain and worry etched into that face. His skin had been darkened by dust and dirt and sun, it had been beaten and wrinkled by work and poverty; He was hunched and aged before his time, clearly unhealthy, someone who would sooner rather than later return to the dust. And yet his dark glassy bullets of eyes blazed and his whole face was creased with pleasure - at what? The boy on his lap, his son. He murmured words of love; He said 'my son. my son' almost constantly; every single thing the child said seemed to make him smile or laugh, and he held him with such care, such love, as though the little boy were the most precious and fragile thing of all; He stroked his hair and his face, and the child in his arms was clearly a new and astonishing and wonderful discovery, a piece of pure joy.
I went from irritation to my own wonderment, watching this interaction between father and son. There was so much love between the pair, such a tangible sense of the simple joy each took from the other that it was impossible to stay annoyed. It was an important lesson for me at that time - that one should never be fooled by appearance, nor should you let your mood determine how to judge someone or something.
Then, a couple of kilometres later, the man called to the driver, the coach stopped, and they got off. As they did, a sudden hot gust of wind kicked up the thick, chalky dust at the roadside, and man and boy disappeared into it, the door closed, and both were lost to sight.

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