An Odd Journey: The Playground

A Short Story Series

By Amir Bagheri

Part II

The Playground


The apartment was an old one; perhaps thirty or forty years old, if not older. It looked a lot better in reality than it appeared in the pictures online. It felt quite rustic and warm. The deep maroon rugs gave life to the wooden floors and ceilings. The colourful abstract artworks on the walls added a unique kind of charm to the place. 

The owner of the apartment must have good taste as far as interior design was concerned, I thought to myself. 

“It is quite a special place”, said Reza, as if he was reading my mind. “None of the old apartments in this area are quite as nice. The owner of this place is quite a renowned carpenter.” He was contemplative now. 

“This is the first apartment he bought with his own money when he was a young man, and to celebrate his success he spent over a month in this apartment, doing all the woodwork himself. He actually lived here for years, until he could move to a better, quieter area.”

I interjected, “just looking at the finishing touches and the quality of the wood used here, you can see that a lot of love went into it.” I knew nothing about wood though or how its finishing touches should look like.

“Let me show you to your room.” Reza suggested. 

My room was close to the communal bathroom. Good, I don’t have to run around the house naked after taking a shower, in case I forget my towel. The room itself wasn’t anything special; quite similar to the rest of the house. It had the same wooden floors and ceilings. There was a small wooden desk and chair that I could use as an office space on the days that I didn’t feel like going out to a café. Reza walked to the window to open the curtains for some light. 

“You have one of the better views. I know it looks dull in comparison to the greenery that Killarney had offered. But based on Istanbul standards, this is pretty good,” Reza said as I was making my way to the window as well. He was right about the view. It was quite dull, all I could see was all the other cemented apartments in the area. There was, however, a small sized park not very far from where we lived; maybe two or three blocks away. 

“Is that a park?” I asked curiously.  “Well, you can call it that if you want. Here in Istanbul, each area has a small sized playground with a bit of greenery that children go to, to meet other kids in the area and play. It gets quite noisy in summertime actually,” Reza responded.

“Is it safe?” I followed up.

“You are no longer in South Africa, so you don’t have to worry about those things. There are some sketchy areas in Istanbul, but our neighbourhood is quite safe. Besides, other than children, you won’t really find anyone else at these neighbourhood parks.” 

I started thinking about Hamza. I was suddenly missing him intensely. I was hoping to video call him later that afternoon, and show him the park. 

“Everything else around the house is quite self-explanatory,” said Reza suddenly. “If you need anything, just shout. No one else lives here for the time being; just you and I. So, feel free to explore. Oh, speaking of which, everything in the fridge is mine. But please feel free to grab anything from it. Perhaps after you are feeling more rested, we can take a walk around the area and I can show you where everything is.”

“Yeah, that would be great. Perhaps after I unpack a little? I also need a shower, so in an hour or two?” I asked. 

“Sure, whenever. I will probably be sitting at the dining table. I like working from the kitchen because I am always an arm’s length away from the coffee,” he said with a smirk on his face. “I am actually about to brew a pot now. Would you care to join me, before you start unpacking?”

“That actually sounds like a plan.” I said, and we made our way to the kitchen. 

“The coffee is not that bad here in Turkey.” Reza said. “They are more into their tea, but yeah… The coffee culture isn’t all that bad. Turkish coffee is a bit dark and strong. They also add a whole lot of sugar to it to make it more palatable” he explained.

“Are you making some Turkish coffee now?” I asked. 

“Oh God, no. That could never be me. I am making a simple pour-over. Nothing beats a good-old-school pour-over”.

I just sat at the table and watched Reza make coffee. The apartment had fully embraced the pleasant scent of coffee. I was once again overwhelmed by everything. What the fuck am I doing in Istanbul? What am I really trying to achieve? I don’t know much about this place, but here I am again, making manic decisions.

“So, what brought you to Istanbul?” asked Reza, while putting a cup of coffee in front of me on the table. 

“I… I was actually just thinking that too. There is an answer to it, but I need to think about it some more. I just knew I had to come. How about you?” 

“It’s actually a long story. Which I hope to tell you another time. But I am not fully based in Istanbul. I am not fully based anywhere really,” he said while looking out the kitchen window.

“You seemed fully based in Killarney. Why did you leave South Africa?” I asked him, trying to get a better understanding of my old, but new, neighbour. 

He laughed softly in response. “As I said, it’s quite a long story. But I have been in Istanbul for about two years now. After South Africa, I spent a few years in Spain, and then Morocco. I try not to stay in a country for more than three years in a row.” he said eventually.  

“Does that mean that you also lived in South Africa only for three years?” I asked him, as I was trying to do the math in my head. He must have lived in the Killarney flat for more than three years, but I was not sure. 

“Well, that was initially the plan. But I ended up living there for five years. Thinking about it now, I should have left after the third year. But you know how life is,” Reza answered. I had so many more questions running through my mind; all the questions that were piled up over the years I had known of this man. 

“Correct me if I am wrong, Ramana, but are you the lady who had a child? I don’t remember if it was a boy or a girl, but I do remember a young woman with a child at Killarney Courts. The block in front of mine, on the second floor, I think,” he asked.

My heart started beating a bit faster after that question. He remembers something of me

“Guilty! That was me,” I said while trying to be playful in order to avoid any follow-up questions regarding that. I didn’t want this conversation to become about me. “And you were the guy who sat on his balcony every evening; reading books and drinking wine”.

“That was certainly me!” said Reza, followed by a burst of shared laughter between us.

“Look, don’t get too caught up thinking about the past. If you’re in Istanbul to stay, then remember the good memories, and let go of all the bad ones. Not in a dismissive way or anything. But be present. I have done this multiple times. Holding onto bad memories of the past, or a place, will always negatively impact your now and future. If you’re here for a new start, then let it be a new start.” Reza continued very empathetically. I didn’t know how to respond to this bit of unexpected advice. 

I thanked him for his kind words and finished my coffee. I walked back to my room and started unpacking my bags. I could hear the sound of playful children from the park. 

I couldn’t stop thinking about what Reza had said. 

If you’re here for a new start, then let it be a new start.

To be continued…

Click here to read Part I.

“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.