Dawn in Istanbul. The skyline, save for a few domes and minarets, could have been that of any old European city. Going through Immigration, I felt a bit overdressed but was grateful for the warmth of the jacket. During my last trip abroad, I wore a scruffy top and faded pair of jeans. I felt my identity was constantly being questioned. This time I chose to wear a smart grey suit and a white shirt. I also did not have any physical distractions, like the boil on my chin during my trip to Florida. I felt totally good, and free.
I could still hear, somewhere just beneath consciousness, the strains of music from the evening before. I had had a great time with my girlfriend. We were at the Bamboo – an open air bar set in the grove on the grounds of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library. In the morning she saw me off to the airport. She thought it was crazy that I was travelling through Turkey. I said it was cheaper than KLM or Air France.
So now here I was. A bit lagged. First I had to orientate myself with time zones and my connecting flight. My flight booking gave me a bit of time to kill, but that was really not a problem. Better than a schedule so tight that you risk missing your connecting flight, and paying a penalty to reschedule. Like in Johannesburg.
I had an hour and a half before boarding time. I drifted into the food court and gravitated – naturally – to the Cigar Place, where I bought a pack of little cigars. I also wanted a pack of Camels cigarettes but I was told these were only available in rolls. That was not going to help my attempt to quit smoking. And then the bookstore. It appeared normal that in Turkey one should buy Orhan Pamuk. My Name is Red, Snow, Silent House and Istanbul were all on my shopping list. Perhaps, since I loved reading authors chronologically, starting with Silent House, the one about the years leading up to the 1980 coup. Perhaps I should get one for the Awoonor Library back home. I should buy Museum of Innocence as well. Total cost of five books, 84 Euros. I approached the cashier at the desk and presented the stack. She asked for my passport, which I hand over together with my MasterCard. She could not access my account. Regretfully, I returned all the Pamuks to the shelf.
Then I settled in a café called Nero and ordered cappuccino and a plate of sandwiches. I couldn’t access the airport Wi-Fi on my pad, so I watched again Simi’s Jamb Question, featuring Falz. The music video, shot in Abeokuta, was my personal favourite at the time. It was incredibly good, the feeling of familiarity and rootedness, so many miles away from home. Hip hop was beginning to irritate the crap out of me but there were still some gems.
My thoughts turned to the south of the country, to the border with Syria, and to the three British girls who went this way to join ISIS, just a few weeks back. Were they here? Did they stroll through these shops, admiring the Chanel and Givenchy? Did they buy espresso at this Caffé Nero while waiting for the bus that would take them down south? (Did they go to Homs? Aleppo? Where were they now?) Everything seemed so calm, so peaceful. All those thoughts about Turkey being so close to Syria and ISIS seemed so far away now; foolish even. It would all come back to me, twelve months later, when there was a terrorist attack on Atatürk airport, in which many died. Add a few weeks and there had been an attempted coup. Erdogan’s supporters were seen on CNN, in front of the airport, defending their democracy with all the weapons at their disposal. The fragile peace of a year before was just the calm before the storm.
For now, though, there was just the lingering question of whether I was at all fascinated by Turkish culture and history. Hard to tell. Perhaps when I finally got round to reading Orhan Pamuk. I liked that Pamuk, from the pictures and YouTube videos, seemed a writer with a sense of style. Simple but nice, a shirt, jacket, no tie. A couple of years from forty, I was still trying to reconcile my Dr Jekyll with Mr Hyde.
While heading to the boarding gate I stopped at a toilet to take a piss. The slightly painful tug followed by a give brought back memories of the morning after my accident. I looked down and was not surprised to see the little clot of blood, just like that time, almost exactly three years before, on that Saturday a fortnight after my Maputo trip. That accident, which could easily have been fatal, while driving from Osogbo to Ibadan via Ife. After the car had rolled over thrice into the forest of Ikire, I killed the engine and walked out without a scratch. No bruise until the bloody piss the following morning. A bladder contusion, the urologist said. The fresh bloody piss made me conscious once again of mortality. Do something before you die, I sighed to myself as I dragged myself off to the plane bound for Venice.