The next morning, Ezra with eye-bags meanders into the open plan office of the publishing company she works for in Levent, to find that her stars have un-crossed themselves. Her manager corners her in the kitchenette just as she’s carefully fishing out her teabag, and smack-bam offers her a promotion. The teabag misses the pedal bin –which even on the most mundane occasions, is a challenging appliance for Ezra of poor hand-eye coordination to operate.
On her journey to work, Ezra had been listening to The Doors. In her mind, the band is still delivering its psychedelic refrains, with drone notes from Krieger’s electric guitar. Combined with the canabidiol haze of zero sleep, Ezra’s participation in their chat is akin to that of a man on acid, peering into a fish tank. The new position, her manager tells her, will involve a raise; 20 days of paid annual leave; and health insurance. Ezra blinks. Jim Morrison has just started to cry ‘Bring out your dead.’ Ezra doesn’t take the afternoon to consider his offer. Too fucking little, too fucking late. She goes back to her desk, and in one, spontaneous gut-reaction, types up her letter of resignation, delivers it to his office, and vacates the building.
At home Ezra cleans and prepares a spectacular spread. When Leyla returns in the evening, she finds her sister voluble, brusque and bursting with confidence. Does Leyla want to know what she did today? She does. Ezra declares her resignation, then goes on to do and say things Ra-ta-ta-ta-ta, like she’s firing rounds. But after dinner the psycho-motor retardation sets in, and she turns in early for the night. It is with a sense of dread that Ezra in pyjamas does a thorough check of all the nooks and crannies of her bedroom before going to bed. No supernatural beings materialise, allowing her to enjoy an un-interrupted sleep till morning. But her waking relief is tinged with a hint of disappointment.
Ezra takes her disappointment to the Istanbul Book Fair. There, she’s meant to meet Defne, whose company takes effort to navigate at the best of times. But instead, she gets swept up by a human tide of geeks and finds herself in the next exhibition hall where they have Comic-Con. It’s nostalgic. And just as she’s getting in the mood to start partaking in the free hugs, a 30-something punk in a t-shirt that reads ‘hearting baby-metal doesn’t make me a pedo,’ picks her up. His name is Xeph, and he’s there with his girlfriend, Misaki, who Ezra is relieved to find out, is actually older than him.
The three catch the metro back together, leaving just before it gets crowded on the trains. They share four parallel seats with a guy dressed as a Storm Trooper and talk about manga, mysticism and arcane literature, while the Storm Trooper pretends not to eavesdrop. Xeph turns out to be a geek of all things graphic novel; video game; cult film; Asian cinema; and indie horror flick. Misaki turns out to be pretty normal, full of sing-songy, enthusiastic sounds. In Istanbul, Xeph is teaching English at Bilgi University, while Misaki works at the JAL office up in Elmadağ. Thrilled to be meeting such stimulating people for a change, Ezra wants to hear more about their stories. But she’s too overwhelmed by Misaki’s questions to ask her own. Why had she moved to Istanbul? Was she happy here? Did she not miss London at all? Would she like to come to an art exhibition with them on Friday?
That night, it is with a mixture of dread and anticipation that Ezra in pyjamas does another thorough check of all the nooks and crannies of her bedroom before going to bed. Again, no supernatural beings materialise, allowing her to enjoy an un-interrupted sleep till morning. But there is no waking relief. Only disappointment and self-doubt. Had she dreamed the whole thing? Had she told her boss where to put his job over some dream?
Ezra takes her self-doubt and disappointment outdoors, because Defne wants an apology. But she couldn’t have chosen a worse day. The sky over Gezi Park is blanketed over with clouds readying themselves for a downpour. A strong wind blows with furious hunger, upsetting hair and clothes and threatening to turn umbrellas inside out. The leaves of the trees tremble restlessly overhead like a Greek tragedy chorus.
“What’s gotten into you?” Defne has a Queen’s-English accent honed over years of religiously consuming English period dramas. First she scolds Ezra for standing her up the day before, then she scolds her for quitting her job at the cusp of a promotion. Her enraged passion hinting at an impending period. But Ezra is distracted. Stood by a distant linden tree is a suspicious person leering in their general direction. Initially, Ezra had put it down to her paranoia. But the longer he stands there, the more improbable he seems. “Oi!”
Ezra blinks idiotly at Defne’s exasperation. “But these are my problems,” she offers, “In which ocean have your ships sunk?”
“It’s this weather,” Defne throws up her hands, like isn’t it obvious? “I’m sick of it! And my moon-term is late! And the only Istanbul based men on Guardian Soulmates are Anatolian villagers who’ve probably never read a newspaper in their lives, so God knows how they go onto the site. And I was watching the Great British Bake Off reruns yesterday and I bloody started bawling my eyes out!” Defne is an anglophile, and probably the only Turk in the world who watches the Great British Bake Offs. She and Ezra have very little in common, except that they can communicate in English. Ezra sometimes suspects Defne is friends with her just because she’s from London.
“Lesh, Dafne. Whyyyy?” Sat on the other side of Ezra, ensuring she’s is good and sandwiched in between their bodies, is Reem. The soft-hearted Aleppan has a penchant for close proximity.
“Because of the breadstick!” Defne despairs, “It didn’t break, it bent. And it was so bloody sad!” Reem’s soft heart breaks. She throws her arms around Defne’s neck and gets Ezra tangled up in the embrace. When she eventually pulls back from the hug, she goes on to bemoan her own lot in life. And Ezra wonders if their cycles are syncing.
Part of Reem’s lot in life is that her entire external family immigrated to Istanbul together when things started shaking up back home. Her Aleppan cousins in particular live up to the Turkish aphorism that goes: A man who doesn’t know the stake up his own ass, meddles with the stick in the next guy’s eye. Around each other, the ill characters of these Aleppan cousins amplify with the instinct for competition which breeds among extended relations. Reem, being a sensitive person, is upset by them. But because she isn’t partial to bitching, she vents her familial woes with grieved apology and the softest of voices. So boring is her rant that Ezra and Defne become distracted. Ezra’s gaze wanders again to the linden tree.
The man is still there, still as a sentinel. Hooded, and in a long black trench coat that flapps dramatically in the wind. He stands lithely with legs apart like a misplaced warrior. In his face is a shifty purpose. Bound at his thigh in a leather scabbard, is a small scythe, its sharp end sheathed. Suddenly, Ezra is elated by the possibility that she might not have been dreaming. That she has in fact lost her Turkish proverbial goats and is now seeing things in broad daylight. Phantoms. Apparitions. Spectres that have crept out of her sleep…
Ezra finds herself on the receiving end of two side-ways-scrutinising stares, and realizes she’s grinning like a maniac. The grin disappears. Clearing her throat, she burrows her hands deep into the pockets of her army parka and asks, “That tomb up in Fındıklı, do you guys know who’s buried there?” Reem throws her arms around Ezra’s neck with sorry consolation. Her poor, poor friend, she bemoans, they can do nothing for her.
Defne looks disgusted, “Leave the dead to their afterlife, Ezra. You’re alive and you’re fucking it up!”
“I’m just curious.”
“You couldn’t find something else to be curious about? Aha. Like this guy. Anam, bacaklara bak,” Defne whoops lasciviously –Mother, look at those legs! The guy in question jogs past them like something out of a Monty Python sketch, on very long, very pale legs, and in too short shorts. Reem and Ezra chuckle with embarrassment while Defne rubs it in with a string of crude comments till her comments are drowned by thunder overhead. The evening sky has become ink-stained with a storm that brews in the belly of its clouds.
As the three shoulder bags and button themselves up, Reem says, “Wallahi, that man is looking at us. There near the tree.” Ezra’s heart misses a beat. Her pallor bleeding into something grey, she gapes at Reem as though the Aleppan had just slapped her round the head without cause. She turns to Defne. Inwardly pleading for her not to see. He’s her bogeyman. Her proof of madness.
“I think you’re right.” Defne observes. Et tu, Brute? “He’s creepy. How long has he been there?”
“Ezra, shuf habibi, are you alright?”
That night, Ezra is possessed by a frenzied desperation as she does a thorough check of all the nooks and crannies of her bedroom before going to bed. She stays up till morning, waiting. But nothing supernatural comes to pass.