'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

In Istanbul, getting to Ikea and back

It’s not exactly a matter of life and death — procuring a high chair for my daughter from Ikea, in Istanbul — but that was the mission I found myself on last night.

I loaded up a leather satchel — keys, wallet, phone, a letter from a dear old friend in Riyadh — and headed down the hill. We live above “music street,” the winding cobble stone parade of shops selling drums, guitars, cymbals, horns, pianos, and the dreaded vuvuzela. A hilarious cacophony during the day, Galip Dede glows faintly and echoes with mewling cats at night.

Stepping around garbage, I found the alley of rough-cut stairs that leads to the water. Traffic was thin, and I dashed across slick streets to the Karakoy stop on one of the city’s main tram lines.

On the platform, affectionate couples nuzzled in the humidity and a ferry drew a long horn as it motored off into the Bosphorus chop. My wife was in Baghdad; encountering Joe Biden yesterday, she said the vice president’s teeth were blindingly white.

The tram trundled down the steel rails and I found a seat by a mute woman poking lazily into her smart phone. I took out the letter from my friend: Six hand-written sheets, sending sympathy for my dad, who died a few months ago.

The lights of the old town came into view as the tram grinded up the hill. The New Mosque, built 500 years ago, was during this holy month of Ramadan the site of a massive iftar feast, during which the faithful break their day-long fast.

As we powered deeper into the western suburbs of Istanbul, a computerized voice announced each successive stop. A gaggle of gaily head-scarved women alighted, taking seats proffered by mustachioed men in sweat-stained work shirts.

The transfer from the Zeytinburnu line to the Havalimani train took me across a mile of dense urbanity. Descending a stair case, I encountered a monstrously fat Turk, perhaps drunk, attempting to kiss the hands of every successive women in his path. He looked into my eyes, and a big purple tongue licked his lips.

Past a subterranean underpass, where men sold socks, shirts, and cheap laptops, I came across a brightly lit park where men and women sat in small groups, eating boiled corn and grilled meats. A stooped man in a cap distributed glasses of tea, each topped with a tiny metal disc holding two squares of sugar.

At the station, I waited next to a group of weathered men carrying fishing poles and buckets. Sweating in the still air, I attempted to finish the letter. His dad had died when we was young. Apologizing for rehashing what I might already know, he wrote that I would be okay, that a time would come when I would think of my dad in life and not in death; enjoy your daughter, he wrote; treasure your time so far away from home; get to know this strange new place; don’t give up.

I had hiked thousands of miles; I had worked on Alaska fishing boats; I had been an editor at magazines and newspapers; I had graduated from colleges. This night, my dad was dead, I was a dad myself, and I was buying a high chair for my daughter.

At Kartaltepe, I exited the station and heard the frenzied workings of traditional music. There was a concert — for Ramadan — set up in a sleek, granite amphitheater in front of a fancy new mall called the Forum. Hundreds of families were set up, sipping yogurt drinks and fresh juices, the children up late and no one caring.

The glow of what I thought was Ikea beckoned, half a mile distant. At a smart cafe beside what seemed like an acre of SUVs and upmarket sedans, I saw a couple eating cakes and sipping tea. Surrounding them were half a dozen Ikea bags, and I confirmed the route. “You can’t go wrong,” she said in English, and I supposed she was right.

Entering the store, I could have been in any Ikea in the world. And following the serpentine pathway from entrance to exit, I was just as flustered as I’ve ever been: light fixtures, bed sets, entire bathrooms, colanders, coat hangers, candles, an ocean of rugs, live plants, then all the food. (A time will come — who can ever know — when none of us will need any of this.)

High chair at last in hand, I managed to choose the register with some kind of computer malfunction. The source of the problem — a well-fed father in a crisp blue polo and boat shoes — patted his slim leather wallet with affection. Perspiration beading on his upper lip, the cashier manually reentered a cart full of purchases, each stroke of his keys another item that would presumably make this stranger feel more at home.

I regarded my own small purchase: A simple high chair. Not much more. It had taken me an hour and a half to get to this spot. At the same time, it had taken me 31 years to arrive here, too.

Back at home — or what passes for it these days — my kid slept and my mom — visiting for the next two months — drank red wine and waited for my return.

Any hour, any day, any minute now, I’ll be back.

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Filed under: Death, Istanbul, Turkey

One Response

  1. kaneo says:

    Incredibly spot on. Particularly the paragraph which begins, “I had hiked a thousand miles…” very succinctly and poignantly put. Kudos.
    K

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