A Short Story Series
By Amir Bagheri
The world has become a strange place. Other than the colours in the sky, nothing else seems to be consistent or predictable. It has been eight years since I lost custody of my son to his father, my ex-husband. I was ashamed of it then; I couldn’t forgive myself for what had happened. My mental and emotional instability had given him a reason to take me to court so he could punish me even further. The court took his side, and just like that my son was taken away from me. Those were some of the ugliest years of my life. Instead of holding myself responsible for all the self-harm that I was causing, I remained outraged and lashed out on everything and everyone I could; even with my own family and friends. My self-fulfilling prophecies were leading me to such a dark place that I could not even recognise the truth in myself. I wanted to escape this goddamn country again. But this time, I didn’t want to rush into it. I knew I had to leave, but I needed to heal before I did. I consistently went to therapy because I wanted to free myself from the past.
The first few months without my son, Hamza, were difficult. Anxiety suffocated me every evening, and I had promised myself not to touch drugs anymore. There was no escape from my pain. I had picked up painting as a hobby, as per my therapist’s suggestion. To be honest, I have been enjoying painting ever since then, despite having been horrible at anything art related before that point. Not that I am any good now. I just don’t hate my work as much as I used to. I guess this was one of the first signs of progress in my healing. My pieces got more colourful with time, and I think this too was a sign that colours were returning back to my life.
After two years, I was in a much better place in my life. I had some of the biggest musicians signed to my PR agency and my clientele was growing every month. After Hamza and his father had moved back to Cape Town, I could only see him once every three months. I cherished my time with him. I knew that I was not the best mother to him in his early years, and now that I was healthier and sober, I wanted to make up for all those dark years. I knew that soon, Hamza, his father, and his step-mother would be moving to the UK. I was internally broken, but I had to stay strong for both of us. Besides, I knew that he would probably be safer there. I also had my own plans to migrate in a few months. My agency was self-sufficient enough for me to be able to work remotely and let my staff lead the work in Johannesburg.
I had started doing my research on Istanbul. I always wanted to live there, even as a child. It always looked majestic on TV, and for some odd reason, it made me assume that I’d feel closer to God in one of those huge mosques. My plan was to book a room in an Airbnb in a communal home for the first three months. Just so I can have some support and people to talk to in those early stages.
On my flight from Johannesburg to Istanbul, my thoughts were consumed by one main thought: who my new flatmates were, and what were they like? I played with different scenarios in my head about their personalities, looks, and whether I would get along with them or not. Thankfully, most of these scenarios played out well in my mind. For the first time in a really long time, I was not anxious. Quite the contrary actually, I was excited.
After I got through the passport control, I decided to stop by a small coffee shop at the airport. It was a bit rainy outside and I wanted to wait it out because my raincoat was in my luggage. The coffee was average; it was probably a cheap overly roasted Robusta blend. It was still better than nothing though. I sat in a corner and started watching the news on TV playing in the background. I didn’t understand a single thing, but it felt intense. I looked around a bit. It was around 7 am, so the airport wasn’t too busy yet. I was hoping that the rain would stop before the craziness starts.
Just before 8 am, the rain had finally stopped and I got myself a taxi straight from the airport to the apartment I had booked. The nerves were slowly kicking in, but I was too consumed by the new environment around me to pay much attention to it.
After about an hour of being stuck in traffic and driving slowly, it seemed like we were getting closer to the destination. Not that I knew what it would look like, but I just had a feeling that we were. Not long after that though, the driver slowed down and told me in broken English that he can’t go any further from this point and that I had to walk a few blocks into the alleyways, where I’d find my apartment. I got out of the car and took my two suitcases from the boot. I put the address in my phone’s GPS and followed it as it guided me. After about five minutes of walking and carrying the suitcases, I had finally arrived.
The landlord, in his email, had told me that on arrival I should ring the third bell from the bottom of the intercom, and one of the other tenants (my new flatmates) would come and open. I followed the instructions.
“Alo?” said a man through the intercom.
“Hi. It’s Ramana, the new tenant”
“Ah! Right, yeah. I am coming down to open” said the man and hung up. I was relieved to know that someone in the house spoke English. After about thirty seconds, the door opened, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“Hey, Ramana! Welcome! I am Reza. Nice to meet you” he said and then we shook hands. It was quite clear that he didn’t recognise me. Not that I thought he would, but deep inside I had always wished that he would notice me back then. The last time I saw him was when I was moving out of my apartment in Killarney. This was a couple of weeks after I had lost custody of Hamza. I had to leave that apartment because I couldn’t deal with the silence that Hamza’s void had created in that space.
Reza was my neighbour back then. He was that one mysterious neighbour that everyone wondered about but knew anything of. All those years I had a crush on him. But he never spoke to anyone, and he came across too intimidating to be approached by anyone else. And here he was, a lot gentler than I had assumed. He had changed quite a bit. He had cut his long hair and he no longer dressed like a fuckboy.
“Should we go up?” he asked after our long awkward handshake.
“You are that guy… I mean… Did you live in Johannesburg? Killarney to be exact?” I asked as I was trying to gather my thoughts.
“Um… Yeeeah. How do you know that?” He asked confused and worried.
“I was one of your neighbours! In the same apartment block, Killarney Courts,” I said enthusiastically.
“Wow! How amazing is this world!” he said. “I am so sorry I didn’t recognise you.”
“It is okay. You know how Jo’burg is.”
“Right,” he said. “Let me help you with your suitcases. Please go ahead. We are on the third floor. I’ve left the door open”.
I did not know what to think of this moment. Why now? Why here? Why him? After eight years?
Before my arrival in Istanbul, I had anticipated all kinds of scenarios but this was certainly not one of them.
To be continued…
“An Odd Journey” is a monthly series of short stories by Amir Bagheri, written exclusively for Odd Magazine. The context and characters in these stories will remain the same throughout the coming months, however, the storyline of each story will change depending on the monthly theme of Odd Magazine.