By Amir Bagheri
That evening, Hamza and I had our daily video chat. I showed him around the neighbourhood playground through the lens of my camera. Hamza kept repeating that my virtual tour was not great and that everything looked pixelated. The playground wasn’t as exciting as I had imagined. There was a little bit of greenery, with cemented flooring, which I didn’t think was very safe for a playground anyway.
“I can’t wait for you to visit me here. I think you will like it. They have lots of sour snacks as well,” I told Hamza, in an attempt to sell Istanbul to him. Deep inside, I yearn for him to choose me over his father, but I knew I was not yet in a space to do that. I had to get a sense of Istanbul first in order to create a suitable space for him.
“Sounds good, ma. You should bring me some.” He responded eventually, clearly distracted by the cartoon playing on TV. I was losing his attention.
“I will, my love. Let me leave you to your cartoon. Blow me kisses?” I asked, and he followed with a naughty smile and a kiss over the screen.
I sat on the solitary park bench, recollecting my own childhood. There were a few kids still playing on the playground, without any parental supervision. My playground growing up was not as safe to go play in as freely as this. It might sound insignificant or trivial, but I always wonder how something as simple as this could have a fundamental impact on someone’s upbringing. You don’t get to choose where you are born, or the kind of family you are born into. It is a genetic lottery of some sort. It doesn’t always dictate where you end up in life, but it is really difficult to beat the cycle and create a new path for your own children sometimes. I didn’t think that I had done a good job for Hamza, but I certainly am trying to.
I texted Reza to see if he was free. He mentioned earlier that he’d be happy to show me around and help me with some shopping. I told him that I was at the local playground, and about twenty minutes later, he arrived. “Shall we, Ramana?” he asked, without greeting me. “Let’s do it”, I said followed by a smile.
“We don’t live very far from some of the touristy areas of Istanbul,” he said as we walked. “Since the civil war in Syria, many Syrian refugee women and children have come to these areas to either beg for money or sell you everyday stuff like socks and underwear. They might not be the most fashionable items in the market, but supporting them will go a long way.”
“That’s heart-breaking. I never really realised the extent of their circumstances until being here,” I said, hoping that I came across as sympathetic as I felt. I assumed Reza cared deeply enough about these issues to want to share this with me.
“Many of them didn’t have a choice, you know? And they go unseen by the locals all the time. There have been multiple complaints at the municipalities to remove the homeless refugees from the streets. As if their lives aren’t difficult enough. It is one thing to go unnoticed, but it is another when people make an effort to not see you. That shit really hurts, you know?”, he said with a heavy heart. “They are just here, like you and I, trying to build a better life for themselves. The difference is, we don’t come from a war-torn country.”
I felt guilty right away. A part of me ached for the Syrian refugees because they had to come to a new place for a better life, a safer life. I realised that my journey was similar but so far away from theirs. I too needed to move to a new place to rebuild my life. But, I did not have to fight to be here or lose the rights and freedom to the place I was born into. It felt unfair and I was more aware than ever of my privilege to move and travel.
“You know quite a bit about what’s going on in the city. May I ask, what is it that you do? Is it related to these issues?” I asked Reza after a long silence.
“I am an Urban Anthropologist. I study and analyse how urban spaces can shape our human behaviour and culture. But I hate feeling bound to one place though, so I work as a freelancer. It allows me the freedom to experience and research more,” he responded. He clearly enjoyed his job as I could see how his eyes lit up when he spoke.
We spent the rest of the evening going to different supermarkets and shops, not very far from where we lived. On our way back, we stopped at a deli, and enjoyed some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.
“Why did you choose Istanbul, if I may ask?” Reza looked at me, patiently awaiting a response.
“I don’t know. It always looked great on TV and photos. My friends also had great things to say about it. I guess a part of me also wanted to feel closer to Islam. I think they do a good job at staying close to their religious roots here.”
He just nodded his head in agreement but didn’t say much. I assumed he was not that impressed with my answer, or simply just didn’t have anything to say in response. After we finished our juices, Reza told me that he had to link up with some old friends at a bar, and parted ways. I was quite tired from the day, so I walked back home. I was amazed by the number of cats and dogs roaming around the streets freely. They felt very much a part of the pedestrian crowd. However, unlike their human pedestrians, they felt comfortable interacting with the refugees, exchanging love for love.
The apartment felt emptier that night. I really wanted to get some rest, but my mind was all over the place. I was excited about being in a new space and city, and I couldn’t stop thinking about Reza’s question. Why did I come to Istanbul?
To be continued.
To read previous part: https://www.oddmag.co/2021/04/05/a-short-story-series/