A Bride in the Dusk, a Thief in the Night (from “Istanbul Sketches”)

James Tressler, Contributor

Istanbul is a city best seen from the Bosphorous at dusk, so if you ever get invited for an evening boat cruise, jump at the chance. My chance came in the form of a wedding. Our neighbor, Osman, who sells bottled water in a small shop next to our flat, invited us recently to the wedding of his son, Fatih. The ceremony was in the municipal building in Kadiköy, a relatively short ceremony, since it being mid-summer, the building was booked all day long by different parties. The bride and groom had booked a ferry for the reception. For a while my flatmates and I had debated going; we had dinner and a few beers at a restaurant near the fish markets.

But then Nizam’s phone rang. It was Osman. Where were we? They were waiting for us! We ran down to the waterfront and caught the ferry just minutes before it left the pier. What followed was a rare, magic evening on the Bosphorous. It had been hot all afternoon, but on the boat it was mild and breezy, and as evening came on the waters churned behind us like silver flying fish. Other boat parties passed and we waved to them and they waved back. We went around the Golden Horn , past the Aya Sofia and the two bridges and went all the way to Uskudar, past the bluish, ghostly mosque at Ortiköy, a trip of some three hours. There was dancing, with the bride and groom linking arms with the other guests and dancing in circles around the deck. The more conservative women in their burkas and headscarves sipped juice or water and happily looked upon the festivities.

The children, delighting in the mysteries of the boat and in the fact that the adults were busy, took to playing spy hunt and hide and seek on the lower decks. OK, the absence of alcohol became more apparent (this was a more conservative Muslim family), but we’d tanked up a bit beforehand, and really we didn’t miss it so much. And as it got even later, the music pumping from the speakers, traditional Turkish as well as modern Turkish pop and techno, beat steadily on and the dancing increased; we danced and danced all the way back, as if to savor the evening and its possibilities to their fullest before having to return to port and reconnect with the world, its more mundane journeys, to home and to work, to Monday morning.

The following Friday I returned to my flat. It was Friday, and I was looking forward to the weekend. To Nizam, my flatmate, I suggested we go out for something to eat, then went to my room to retrieve some cash. But when I checked the envelope where I had the money hidden, about 1,000 lira –  the money was gone! And I’d just checked the money that morning.

What followed over the next few hours was a mixture of disbelief, comedy and horror as potent as the fragrant, humid July air. We summoned the police. Two detectives showed up and
dusted for fingerprints and interviewed Nizam and Enes, our other flatmate. Our initial feelings, mine anyway, was that someone had come through the window, since my windows were open. But we live on the third floor, and it’s a good ten, 12 meters down to the garden. The police didn’t believe my story, Nizam said. They thought I was just making the whole story up about the missing 1,000. That made me even angrier – as if I enjoy having detectives in my flat on a Friday evening! The detectives left and three uniformed officers came. One of them was a young woman. “Do you speak English?” she asked me, after taking a look in my room. I got angry with the policewoman too, for she smiled in a way that infuriated me, as if she seemed satisfied with my misfortune. “This is funny for you!” I said. “No, it’s not,” she said. “But James, this is Istanbul! The thieves are everywhere. This is the second call like this for me tonight. It doesn’t matter you live on the third floor, they can climb ninth floor.”

Nizam and I went with the police to the precinct office, near the dolmuş station. By then it was after midnight. The interior of the office was lit with the harsh, antiseptic light of police stations the world over. We were told to wait on a bench while the police officers disappeared into another office. Meanwhile, two tarts, one of whom Nizam insisted was a drag queen, sat on a nearby bench eyeing us and laughing. The sight of these two whores, combined with the late hour, the sickly light of the precinct, was infuriating.

“Why don’t you go and suck a cock?” I shouted, not caring if they understood English or not.

A middle-aged cop suddenly yelled in our direction.

“Gel! Gel!” “Come! Come!” He said, not bothering with the formal tense, speaking as if to dogs. I have never seen such swarthy, piggish hate in a policeman’s eyes. He waved his arms rudely, clearly showing his disgust for our having tread upon his world.

We were ushered into the smaller office, where the young policewoman now sat behind a computer. I was still far from calm, but actually the policewoman, who Nizam later told me was named Berna, was quite professional and not unattractive. In fact, she seemed sympathetic and interested in us – which may have explained the hate in the older cop’s eyes, the bastard was jealous. Over the next hour or so, Berna went over our statements, typed them up, and we signed them. By the time we finally left, it was after two.

“Now you know this is Istanbul,” Berna said. “Put your money in a bank, not at home.”

“This a normal day for you?” I asked, still unable to let it rest. “Well, if so, you take care of yourself.”

She couldn’t resist laughing, a pleasant, girlish laugh.

“You take care of yourself, James!”

We left, and walked back to the flat. On the way, we stopped at the shop to pick up a few beers, consolation for a Friday night lost. Yevus was working, and when he heard about what happened, gave me the beers, and a pack of cigarettes, on credit, and we got kebab sandwiches to take back to the flat.

Back home, we went over everything again. Fortunately (and interestingly), the thief had not taken my passport or visa, which were located in the same place as the cash. That’s one of the reasons the police didn’t believe my story – passports and visas would have been stolen by a “professional thief,” as there is a lucrative black market. And as I learned later from other colleagues, an Istanbul thief goes through everything, overturning desks, mattresses, scattering papers. My room had been essentially untouched: just the cash was missing. So the deduction was: I was either lying, or the thief had been someone who lived in the flat. That would mean Nizam or Enes. It was hard to suspect Nizam: after all it had been him who accompanied me to the police station. Enes I suspected quite a bit, for just a few days before he had told Nizam he was broke and was maybe going to move out. Also, with my windows open he could easily have come through from his balcony. Nizam had been painting one of the rooms and said he didn’t hear anything. Enes claimed he and his girlfried Yulya had been out swimming all day.

The next evening, Nizam hatched a plan: he would call up Enes and Yulya and say that we had interviewed the neighbors and that one of them had seen them in the room taking my money. Ideally, if they were guilty, they would wilt and confess once confronted with the prospect of an eyewitness.

It was a plausible plan, but it made me uneasy. I’m always a bit squeamish about using such manipulative tactics. It seemed to me that its success was predicated on the assumption that they were 100 percent guilty, and I wasn’t sure they were. But as Nizam pointed out, it was more like a test. Afterward, we could apologize and say we were just testing them to be sure. Still, I was nervous. It seemed to easy and obvious; after all, the thing about cash is it’s clean, untraceable. If Enes or his girlfriend had stolen the money, and were sure of themselves, and that the money could not be traced, then all they had to do was just hold their ground and call our bluff. After all, we could not prove anything.

“Come on, man!” Nizam said, after listening. “It was Enes! You know it! I know it!” He chided me for my squeamishness. He said if I didn’t want to do it, then I must be lying about the whole thing to begin with. I argued back, why would I steal from myself?

Finally, thinking that perhaps he was right, I yielded to Nizam’s detective tactics. He made the calls to Enes and Yulya. We figured if they were guilty they would put off coming to the flat, that maybe we would in fact not see them again.

Actually Yulya arrived fairly quickly, an attractive, spirited young girl. I’d overheard her arguments with Enes, and always felt sorry for him, for she had the kind of shrill voice that always prevails over reason, even her own. So you understand I was not looking forward to any kind of confrontation.

Fortunately, they preferred to talk about it in Turkish, so they kept me out of the discussion, even when Enes arrived later. It was better actually, let the Turks work it out between themselves. Actually it was a fairly calm interrogation overall, but Nizam’s great scheme to “trap” them fell flat on its face. For Yulya, innocent or guilty, was clever and kept her poise. She immediately inquired who it was that allegedly saw them in the room. Nizam, who perhaps had anticipated this, went downstairs. While he was gone, Yulya went to her Facebook account and opened up a photograph of another girl, one of her friends.

Fortunately, they preferred to talk about it in Turkish, so they kept me out of the discussion, even when Enes arrived later. It was better actually, let the Turks work it out between themselves. Actually it was a fairly calm interrogation overall, but Nizam’s great scheme to “trap” them fell flat on its face. For Yulya, innocent or guilty, was clever and kept her poise. She immediately inquired who it was that allegedly saw them in the room. Nizam, who perhaps had anticipated this, went downstairs. While he was gone, Yulya went to her Facebook account and opened up a photograph of another girl, one of her friends.

But Yulya was ready. She asked our would-be witness to look at the photograph of her friend on the Facebook page. Did she look like that, Yulya asked? Yes, our witness said, nodding. Yulya turned to us, a look of triumph flashed in her eyes. “You see! My friend has blonde hair, I have dark! We do not even look the same!”

So much for Sherlock. All the evening produced was: they said they would move out at the end of the month.

The following evening, Sunday, Nizam went out with his friends. I’d decided to let the whole thing go and try to salvage some remnants of the weekend. It was a warm, windy evening. Yevus gave me a few beers on credit, and I watched a film, an old  favorite, “Manhattan.” Later, I went to bed but I couldn’t sleep. It was hot, a slight breeze blowing in. But I wasn’t comfortable having the windows open. I got up and shut them and closed the curtain. But that made sleep even harder, so I got up and opened the windows again. Later Enes came out on the balcony and we talked for awhile. I was a bit drunk and so less guarded than the day before. “I know it was you,” I said sententiously. “It was you, Enes.” I said this over and over. Enes took it surprisingly well. “Man, are you drunk? If I need money, my family can help me. Here in my room, I have a computer, camera, if I need money I can sell them. Tomorrow I am going to maybe start new work in Taksim. Have you thought about Nizam? Yes? You know where does he get his money? From us! We pay for this flat. I think it was Nizam who took your money!”

I was tired and didn’t feel like arguing anymore. It was dark and the lights of the other flats across the garden were on; a couple of girls from the student building came out, then went back in. “Look, OK, maybe it wasn’t you,” I said. “I don’t care anymore. Whoever took the money –“ my voice rose, and I found myself addressing the garden, the heat, and the night. “Whoever took the money, someone will take it from you. Karma’s a bitch!”

After that I went to bed. It was still hard to sleep; the heat, the stultified air. Whoever the thief was, it didn’t matter
now, for the money was gone anyway. But it’s true the thief took more than money. Never again would the streets of Kadiköy be the same. Sure, I’d been a bit too carefree, those seductive sunsets along the Bosphorous had arrested my eyes, the beer fogged my brain. But there is still much good here: last week’s wedding, for example, when on that ferry cruising up the Bosphorous it seemed Istanbul itself were a bride being offered, and you and the city itself were joined in matrimony. Perhaps, for me anyway, that is life along the Bosphorous: It is a both luminous bride in the dusk, and an unseen thief in the night.

 

 

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