FG: First Person
l0 October l992
Leaving Istanbul #1
The last ferry boat from Karakoy to Kadikoy departs at twenty-four hours.
I am utterly exhausted from three non-stop days of visitors and school
and pondering paintings I can't paint because there aren't enough hours
in the day. If I sleep any less I'll evaporate.
How many of Istanbul's twelve million have pushed and shoved their ways
through this waiting station, I wonder. At twenty-four hours it smells of
rancid coal, stale cigarettes and old dirt. I am the only woman in this
vast space and give up hope of finding another abla to sit next to.
(Around here women sit next to one another.) Thankfully, I spy a seat
next to an old Muslim man, and there I shift to a silhouette, covering
myself with the Cumhuriyet newspaper I'd purchased. Conspicuous
enough, I am terrified of being caught reading an English
language-anything. (The Saratoga incident has incensed everyone and I
have again taken to identifying myself as Canadian.)
Where I collapse I doze, occasionally startling awake to squint through
heavy eyelids: cliques of men-- swarthy, smoking, surreptitiously eying
me. When the boat finally arrives I negotiate the rickety plank, my eyes
fixed to the ground so I won't have to confront the shadow stares from
shadow faces . (Sit down, you fool, I scold myself, then spy a window
There I glue my knees together (like a good Muslim woman) and defend my
body with the Cumhuriyet. This is crazy, I feel myself shaking my head
in disbelief; what am I doing here! I know, I know: building character.
(At fifty, I don't need any more character.)
When I awake--fifteen minutes later--sweat has sucked my left temple to
the window. Outside, on deck, yellow light exaggerates the grotesque
profile of a tall man whose visage is identical to those on the ancient
Standard of Ur : his tiny, flat occipital Sumerian bone distorted by
huge ears and a large beak nose. His entire being rages against two men
who have pinned him against my window. I am terrified. I caution my
eyeballs, managing a periphery: and when I stretch my optic muscles along
this, the port side of the ship, I discern another man struggling against
the weight of three who have shoved him against the guard railing.
The Sumerian at my window struggles with his captors, sliding easily along
my face. The buttons on his sport jacket tinkle and dot the surface of
the double-pane glass. His back stops on my forehead and I cringe. My
neck and shoulders go stiff.
Surely, this is an hallucination, and I stretch my eyes wide, noting my
fellow passengers placidly blinking in my direction, colored tabloid
newspapers suspended in their grips. Approaching Haydarpasa, the hollow
churning of the ferry's engines holds the frightful stillness. Two
swarms of men move in-mass in the murky light, their deranged faces
convulsing--like the distorted, mute images in a Bacon painting.
The tall Sumerian breaks from his captors and lunges for the man at the
railing. Inside, all eyes oscillate in sync with the erratic jerks of
the jaundiced figures on the other side of my window.
This is an unspeakable nightmare. My eyes burn, riveted to the swarms as
they dart up and down the narrow port side lane. Gestures fly. Violence
muffles. At my window the wild Sumerian rears up, stepping back up on to
the bench. The crooks of his knees press my nose and I gag. Carefully,
slowly, he reaches back into a hip picket and lifts out a long
Sumerian crouches, and a synthetic gray elbow strikes at my temple with a
sickening thud, then thrusts itself forward. He bolts. A commotion of
shiny gray and brown suits tumble. At last I pull my wet forehead from the
window; in time to observe the flash of a man's body fly backward.
Overboard. Overboard in the dumb yellow light and the waxing moon.
I jump to my feet, leaning into the window, the Cumhuriyet sweat-stuck
to my skirt. I swallow hard; the murky men outside are staring at me.
I drop to my seat and focus on the linoleum. In my peripheral periscope,
though, arms and shoulders drag the Sumerian along the bench towards the
boat's midsection. And within seconds we jerk to a stop at Haydarpasa,
where I remain in the cabin with a hand-full of men who have resumed
reading their four-color tabloids, covered with photos of naked women.
And in this way we complete the remaining ten minutes of our voyage to Kadikoy