FG: First Person
That August in Antakya
The week before my birthday I travel to ancient Antioch. Normally a
thirty-hour bus ride, the return trip takes two days.
In the village of Kurtkoy, alone, save two ugly mongrels who are digging
through the cop (trash), I am stunned by the dusty silence: a surreal
vision; a set design from an old wild t film, somewhere deep and dormant
in my subconscious.
I begin the ten mile walk to campus, encounter a pack of wild dogs,
about-face quickly toward the village, where I wait in the dirt, between
the green-grocer and the baker. The baker sells me stale bread, which I
return, and the green grocer offers to drive me to school--for 50,000
Turkish Lira. A taxi cost 35,000 TL, I inform him. Ah, but they are all
asleep, he sneers down at me. I'll wait, you ganiff, I think to myself,
and turn my back on him.
At seven o'clock I order tea from a tiny caye boy and make myself a
comfortable pillow from my travel bag. But before I can cradle the wee hot
glass of thick Black Sea tea in my palm, a red sedan screeches to a halt at
my feet. Dust and stones spurt into my gaping mouth.
"Hoja, what are you doing!" yells the driver, leaning through the open
It's Muharrem, the Headmaster's driver. I'm tickled to see him, "Ah,
Muharrem! Good morning!"
"Hoja! What are you doing!" He jumps from behind his steering wheel
and opens both front and rear passenger doors. "Hoja! Get in!"
I unfold my body and he throws the bag into the back seat, then shoves me
into the front. Within seconds we are speeding atop the rutted village
"Ah, what good luck for you to see me, Muharrem," (I have not yet learned
the present perfect tense.) Why are you going to school so early? It's
vacation and the Headmaster is in America." I grin at him as he lights a
Marlboro and inhales up to his brains. "What's up? Why are you going to
school at this early time? Now?"
"I'm not," he exhales up at the roof. And I cock my head, waiting for his
explanation. "My friend. He lives in Kurtkoy. He saw you early. This
morning he saw you waiting and called to me to come and bring you. How do
you know it's a Koc Hoja, I asked him. It's the pretty Hoja. The one who
hitchhikes. I picked her up on the road three times in winter. I know
her. I know who she is, he said. Come and bring her. She should not be
squatting on the road like a village woman. She's a Hoja! A ubanci
(foreigner)! Come. Bring her to school. So I come for you. Or else I am
I am too exhausted to express my gratitude, or my humility. I emplore
Muharrem to drop me at the guard sentry, rather than to drive to my campus
lojman. Please go back to sleep, I insist. But Muharrem is a man of honor
and he drives me to within one meter of my apartment , jumping to open the
passenger door before I can unlatch the seatbelt.
I implore him to wait, bir saniye, and run to fetch him a carton of
Marlboro cigarettes from inside my lojman. He lifts his chin and tisks a
refusal. I lift my chin (planting my hands at my hips) and tisk back at
him. "Lutfen, Muharrem--for you and for your friend in Kurtkoy." He
grins his great, beautiful smile and we kiss one anothers' cheek.
"For you , Hoja, I always wake up," he touches his chest with one hand and
grabs the carton of cigarettes with the other.