I've just been cleaning out some old files from my PC, and came across this fragment of writing from early 2004. I'd completely forgotten I'd done it, and it had me snorting into my Lemsip.
I should point out that while the names are real, the action is, in fact, fictional.
The joy of raki (again)Stepping up to the rusty balcony overlooking the back of the Greek Orthodox church in Taksim Square, I looked up to the rusty red sky, at the few weak stars peering down onto Istanbul. I was, as ever on a Tuesday night, pissed. The tequila and beer were still doing the rounds, and the Vivache’s huge psychotic St. Bernard was blocking the way down to the bogs. The guitarist was strumming out his song, a lament for a lost one, a lost time in Bodrum. I lit a Tekel Iki Bin, took a drag, stared down onto the street. I absolutely, desperately needed a piss. There was no way, however, I could get past the bloody dog. For some reason, it had taken a total aversion to me, and every time I came to the Vivache it would go for my legs. Guy staggered out to join me.‘I need a piss.’‘The bog’s in there.’‘So’s Bruno.’‘What are you frightened of him for? He’s a softy.’‘No he’s fucking not. He nearly had my fucking leg off earlier.’I decided to piss off the balcony and give this late summer’s evening an early taste of rain.‘What the fuck are you doing?’ said Guy‘Taking a piss’‘Don’t be a twat! We’ll get kicked out. Besides, I just got us some free beers.’He finished off his bottle.‘Give me that’I slashed in his bottle, but still had to water one of the pot plants.‘ right, what you going to do with that now?’‘Give it to the sodding doctor. C’mon, let’s get those beers’I took the bottle and, being too drunk to dispose of it in a reasonable, adult fashion, left it on our table.Just then, Colin walked in.‘Hi guys, oh, sorry Guy, ha ha, I mean chaps, how are you?’‘Yeah, fine Colin, just got the beers in. Join us’, I saidHe came over, fell over Bruno, who tried to bite him, then slumped into one of the wire chairs. His head weaved and nodded on his thin neck; sweat glistened over his half-bald head and trickled down his bony face. He took his glasses off, wiped them absently on his shirt and put them back on, greasier than before.‘God, I’m drunk!’ he bellowed, then laughed, then frowned at the guitarist.‘Mehmet, what the fuck are you playing? Give me some Nirvana or something’He reached for the piss-filled bottle, then changed his mind, and reached for my pack of fags.‘You know’, he said, ‘I’ve had such a bastard of a day. I met my girlfriend’s mum today, and I’m sure she didn’t like me. Looked at me like I’m some sort of weird bastard or something. Mind you, I was pissed. I don’t think I impressed her by farting loudly. And then, of course, was fucking work…..’He carried on braying, dragging on the cigarette, while Guy and I, in a kind of drunken fascination, watched his hand weave towards the bottle, then seemingly think better of it.‘D’you think we should tell him?’ I asked Guy.‘And ruin the fun?’‘Nah.’‘….so, you guys, ha ha, how’s your day been? God, I’m glad I’ve got a day off tomorrow.’‘Yeah, not bad, Colin, not bad’, I said, trying to finish off my beer as fast as possible.‘Actually, I’m about to get off to the Eski Kemanci. I’m meeting up with a few chaps there – more drinking and all that. Here, let me take that.’I reached for the bottle. Colin suddenly grabbed it.‘Hold on! Why take away a free beer?’He put it to his lips, and took a deep, long drink, like one parched in a desert. Guy and I waited, our faces like those of people watching something inevitably painful.He put it down on the table.‘Jesus Christ!’‘Uh…Colin.. .’, I started.‘The fucking beer tastes worse in here every time I come in! That was like piss! Come on, let’s get drunk!’To cut a sad story short, we went over the road to the Eski Kemanci, possibly the vilest bar in Taksim. We passed a time there, which was, as the Hobbesian maxim, nasty, brutish and short, then on to one of the chicken kebab vendors lining the road. I poured myself into a taxi at gone 2.30, waving goodbye to Guy and a suddenly retching Colin.‘Where to, mate?’‘Atakoy’‘Where?’‘Atakoy. You know, uncle? Just past Bakirkoy. Take the Sea Road.’‘Right you are’I didn’t feel like getting into a conversation with a taxi driver that night. I was too pissed to get into full Turkish Chat Mode, no matter how interesting it might be. The car dived down Taksim Avenue, across Unkapani Bridge, then under the wonderful arches of the Valens Aqueduct, then through the sad roads of Yenikapi where Russian prostitutes sweated and slinked past corners. After that, left by the Gazino and the seabus terminal, and then the remains of the Byzantine walls with their haunted eyes. I lit a fag, and offered one to the driver.‘No thanks. You from round here?‘No.’‘Me neither. I’m from..’‘Trabzon’, I said‘How’d you know?’‘Your accent’, I said, silently adding ‘plus the fact you’ve got an enormous nose and every single driver I’ve met in Istanbul comes from Trabzon’We came to the Theodosian walls just as thunder began to crack in the sky.‘So, where you from?’‘England’‘Really? But your family are Turkish.’‘No, I taught myself’‘Oohh!’Now, this sound should not be mixed up with the English ‘Oohh’, which can have a variety of meanings depending on the tone deployed, from the mildly surprised to the deeply (and pleasurably) shocked. This one conveyed a sense of exaggeration, amazement and pleasant surprise.‘ So, do you like Turkey?’‘Well, I’ve been here for a couple of years now.’Right, here they come, the usual questions…..In order to save the reader undue distress, I will bullet point them with the usual answers.
- Why did you come to Turkey?
- It was my first job offer
- Are you married?
- No, I’m not (that does not mean, by the way Mr. Taxi driver, that I’m gay. Keep your hand on the steering wheel.)
- Where are you from?
- Reading, a small town near London. It’s very nice! (The latter said through gritted teeth.)
- What football team do you support?
- (After a quick glance at the blue and yellow pennants, the blue and yellow seat covers, the huge sign covering half the rear window) Fenerbahce, of course!
- Do you like Turkey?
- Hey, why am I here? Life is good, the weather is good, the food is cheap, the girls are hot………….
- Ahhh yes, the girls? You have a Turkish girlfriend then?
- Not at the moment, no. (And that still doesn’t mean I’m interested in you)
- How much do you earn? You are a foreigner and a teacher.
- Do I look like I earn much? (said with an ironic gesture at the sad state of my clothes. Little does our taxi driving friend know that English people, unlike the usually scrupulous and neat Turks, are born scruffy. I also earn roughly the equivalent of a senior civil servant, which isn’t saying much.)I suggest that you cut out and keep these questions. They may come in useful should you ever find yourself teaching in the Big Stan.We zipped past Zeytinburnu, past the hippodrome, then the apartments of Bakirkoy facing the sea. A few drops of rain spattered on the windscreen, and loud music, courtesy of Mr. Ibrahim Tatlises, He of the good voice, television show, coach company, kebab shop and enormous ego, filled the cab. From Bakirkoy we swooped past the huge shopping mall and turned into Atakoy, past the police station with its single machine-gun wielding policeman on duty, then down the main boulevard. The half-built Olympic stadium rose to view, cranes poking their heads over the top like storks nodding their heads in their nest, then across the roundabout, a turn left, and finally the eleven storey building I called home. I slipped him a 500,000 lira note (worth about five quid), and staggered into the lobby, then poured myself into the lift and up to the seventh floor. When I got into my flat, Martin and Graham were still up, playing backgammon and slopping red wine over the carpet.