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. But in the morning, Ezra’s waking relief is tinged with a hint of disappointment.
“Did you-” She stands in a stupor at the kitchen door while Leyla scoffs down a quick breakfast before heading out to work.
“Morning Kanka. Did I what?”
“Did you …hear anything last night?” Leyla peers at her sister over the top of her mug. She hadn’t. Come to think of it, it was the first night in two weeks her sleep hadn’t been interrupted by the sound of sleep-talking from Ezra’s bedroom.
“You look refreshed,” she offers to Ezra’s further dismay and bewilderment.
Ezra takes her dismay and bewilderment to the Istanbul Book Fair. There, she’s meant to meet her friend Defne and seek out a man who deals in old Ottoman manuscripts. Instead, she gets swept up by a human tide of geeks and finds herself in the next exhibition hall where a Comic Convention is taking place. Just as Ezra is 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 out of the crowd. With a forthright friendliness that is unnatural for British ex-pats in Istanbul, the punk introduces himself as Xeph. Then he introduces his girlfriend, Misaki, who Ezra observes with relief, is an adult.
Xeph and Misaki insist on buying Ezra a bubble tea. Then they insist she leave with them before it starts getting crowded on the trains. The three catch the metro back together. 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; Asian cinema; and indie horror. 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. Overwhelmed by the experience of meeting such stimulating people, Ezra forgets all about Defne. She wants to hear more about their stories, but is too inundated 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 before bed, Ezra does a thorough check of all the nooks and crannies of her bedroom, with a mixture of dread and anticipation. She hesitates a moment at the window before leaving it open and the curtains drawn. Her sleep is less restful than the night before. And once again, nothing supernatural materialises.
In the morning, Leyla is startled to find Ezra sat in her pyjamas at the breakfast table, smoking a cigarette with her tea. Before her is an ashtray full of three crushed butts. Glaring at her from another chair is Küldane-Hatun.
“How do you know if you had a dream, or if it was real or if maybe you’re going mad?”
“Well if you were going mad you probably wouldn’t know it,” Leyla pulls out the squat, wooden stool and sits across her. “Because if you did, that would defeat the purpose.”
“Oh.” Ezra stubs out the cigarette and scratches her head.
“Did you have a dream?”
“No,” she says dismayingly.
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I!”
Ezra takes her self-doubt outdoors, because Defne wants an apology. But she couldn’t have chosen a worse day. The sky over Gezi Park is blanketed 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. And the leaves on 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 on the cusp of a promotion. Her enraged passion hints 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.
Ezra blinks 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 Off.
“Lesh, Dafne. Whyyyy?” Sat on the other side of Ezra, ensuring she’s as is good as sandwiched in between their bodies, is Reem. The soft-hearted Aleppan who 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 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 about 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 flaps 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 is what like a n a leather scabbard. 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 realises she’s grinning like a maniac. The grin disappears. She burrows her hands deep into the pockets of her military 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. While Defne rubs it in with a string of crude comments, Reem and Ezra’s embarrassed giggles turn into hysterics.
“I had a weird dream four days ago,” Ezra says then, on a devil-may-care whim that’s rapidly losing pluck.
“Was it a sexy dream?” Defne grins.
“Go away, ya! I’m not telling you anything.”
“Tamam tamam, I won’t tease. Tell us.”
In the dream, it was night and Ezra was sat on a rooftop, and there wasn’t a speck of starlight in the sky. Ezra had fixed her gaze skywards, as though the firmament and her were engaged in a morbid rendition of endurance; competing to see who could stare longest into an abyss without blinking or going mad. Ezra lost the stare-out. She shut her eyes and shuddered. Then there was a person standing above her. He was tall, lean and lithe. He had the nostalgia of that Peter-Pan age: beautiful on the cusp of cruel adulthood, and precious like a thing seeing its last summer. Ezra asked him, Are you here for me or my firstborn? He sank and sat down beside her, dangling his legs off the edge of the roof. His movements, at odds with his frame, were weighty, as if he were sorry or tired. For you, he said, and grabbing her face, planted a long and lingering kiss on Ezra’s lips. His lips were dry. Rough. There was nothing childish about that kiss.
“That is sexy dream!” Defne whoops. “Did you wake up with a glow?”
“I woke up with this tooth ache,” Ezra checks to see that her phantom is still there. A flash of lightning illuminates him in that instant. It’s followed swiftly by thunder overhead. Fat raindrops begin to pelt the girls with growing rapidity. As the three shoulder bags and button themselves up to leave, 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 sick?”
Ezra storms in like a tempest when she gets home, nearly tripping in the entré as she tares out of her parka and kicks off her boots. “Kanka,” Leyla calls out to her from the living room, where a smooth-voiced Turkish actor is flirting from their TV, in a car advert. “Who do you think would win in a hipster beard-off, Engin Altan-Düzyatan, or Tom Hardy?”
“I have to re-evaluate my conception of reality,” Ezra stomps off to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. She stays up till morning, waiting. She even writes a note. But nothing supernatural comes to pass.