Down to the Iskele

June 23, 2019

Recep Remzi put on his hat, his jacket, and picked up the water pails before heading out the door. His morning walk down to the iskele started in the garden with a stroll past the cherry trees and cucumber vines. This morning he saw some pink flowers drift down. “Engin, get down out of that tree,” he yelled. “Don’t you want to meet your Bulgarian cousins?”

Engin clambered down quickly. Climbing had become a bit too easy for his twelve-year-old legs. “Yes, grandfather. I’m ready.”

Together they headed down the hill; the walk unfolded a mile downward through rows of plane and judas trees, along fieldstone walls with orchards and vegetable gardens beyond. They could already see, next to the Bosphorus, the Paşabahçe glass factory pouring smoke into the spring sky, a straight column. Engin always worried that the column of smoke would be a beacon to Soviet ships or bombers, that he would see the guns that lined the Bosphorus hills start turning and firing one by one. It was all rather thrilling, actually.

They reached the bottom of the hill and made their way to the tea garden next to the iskele. The older men from the area sat here all day, playing backgammon, chain smoking, and talking politics. Recep’s visits had gotten less frequent as he got older, now eighty-six, and the others at the tea garden came over one by one to kiss his hand and press it to their foreheads. “Ah, Recep Remzi Bey,” they would smile. “I hope you are well. I have some questions about how to set up a new business.” Or “Recep Remzi Bey, my neighbor built a new addition to their house that overlooks my garden. How can I make them cover the windows?” Or “I want to challenge my father’s will.” Or “How can I bail my son out of jail?”

Today Recep Remzi didn’t have time for that sort of thing. He went over to Yorgi, the owner. “Kalimera Yorgi, would you tell me the time?” “It’s 11:03.” Recep turned to Engin: “We have a few minutes; go get us a table.” Back to Yorgi, his mustache flickering: “A tea for me and an ayran for Engin, please.”

The 11:08 ferry pulled up to the iskele and a few people jumped off, including one struggling with a couple of sacks. Recep Remzi went over to meet him. “Mustafa, welcome. I hope your journey from Kardzhali went well. Here’s my grandson, Engin.” Mustafa kissed Recep’s hand and put it to his forehead. “Recep Bey, thank you for your help with everything. The border was no trouble; Bulgaria is letting all the Turks go and Turkey is letting us all come in without making extra problems.” “Come, sit with us for a while.” To himself, Recep thought: “So this is the fate of the Evlad-ı Fatihan...”

Mustafa began pulling out gifts, piling them on the table. “Recep Bey, I brought you some of our cotton and tobacco from our farm, as well as letters from our relatives.” “So what’s your plan?” Recep asked. “I’ll go back after we find a spot and bring the family over. They’ve already began collectivizing the farm so we will only bring our personal possessions; I’ve got a couple of akçes left over and Emine has some gold bracelets from our wedding day. Other than that we won’t have any income.”

Recep thought for a while, pulling on the ends of his mustache. “I’ve found something for you in Izmir. They’re opening a new tobacco plantation and they will have space for you.” Mustafa nodded his head once, took a sip of tea with a sugar cube clenched between his teeth, and sighed. They may speak the same language here, but this was a foreign country.

After Mustafa caught the ferry back to Istanbul, Recep and Engin gathered water in one bucket and put the cotton and tobacco in the other and climbed slowly back up the hill.


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