A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
(For Part VI click here)
It seemed like forever, but it only took a couple of seconds for Sylvia to realize her mistake and straighten up to apologise. But before she could speak, Madison stepped protectively between them.
“We don’t have to stay here, grandma. We can go.”
“No, no, it’s fine. It’s just the excitement, the music, I …” Sylvia touched her little finger to her eyes, “Do I look like a raccoon?”
“No, it’s good. But seriously, we don’t have to do this.” Madison studied her grandmother’s face.
“No. I’m fine.” Sylvia turned Madison’s shoulders forward to face Karga.
“This is my granddaughter, Madison. Madison, this is my dear, dear friend, Ertan Bey.”
Karga dipped his right shoulder gallantly, paused and reached out to stiffly hug the young woman. Then he turned to the room, threw his arms in the air and said, “Sahinim eve geldi.”
There were cheers and clapping and then utter chaos.
Names and faces, and everyone talking at once. And the music started again. And more faces and some names Sylvia remembered and some she didn’t know. Some people came forward and some sat waiting. Smiles and gestures from the older men and shy deference from the younger men and women. And Madison trailed behind, watching everybody closely until they finally sat down.
“Do you know all these people, Grandma?”
“Most of them. The older ones. I can’t place a few of the faces, but …”
“Why do they all call you Sahin Hamin?”
“There is no Sylvia in Turkish, but they have a name Selva which is kind of a bird, and over the years it just got changed to Sahin. Hamin is – uh — like Mrs.”
“It means something, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, dear. It means falcon. Okay, now, listen: this is important, this is raki,” Sylvia said, changing the subject, “Be very careful with it. It sneaks up on you and it’s got a big bite.”
“Alcohol? Muslims don’t drink!”
“These ones do. You have to pour the first toast, Madison. It’s the custom. I’ll help you. Water first, there. Not too much, three fingers … good. Now the raki, slowly. Wait for the smoke. Yeah, a little more, a little more, okay. Now water, again. Not too much, or they’ll laugh”
Madison was careful and nobody laughed.
“Okay, now give it to Ertan Bey.”
Karga took the drink and held it while everyone across the two tables found and filled their glasses. Then he stood up. Karga was not a big man, but he occupied space. And he spoke with the even tones of someone who was accustomed to being listened to. Madison didn’t understand the words, but she could see the authority they carried. She picked out “sahinim” several times, her own name once and a long laugh from the crowd after an obscene hand gesture. Whatever Karga was talking about it clearly involved her grandmother and Madison couldn’t wait to find out what it was all about. Then Karga turned to Sylvia and said, in English, “Welcome home, my little falcon. May all of our sons marry women as brave and as beautiful as you.” And he touched his glass to the very bottom of Sylvia’s, drank and banged the glass on the table. And everyone else drank and did the same.
Suddenly, the room was full of waiters and food on long trays and pitchers of water and bottles and bottles of raki. And it seemed as if everyone was talking at once, and the music flowed across the noise like a gossamer blanket.
“What did he say?”
“I’m not sure, Maddy. My Turkish was never really that good. But I bet there was …”
“I told them how your grandmother used to fly to the Crimea and swoop down and bite the Russian bear on his bottom.”
“Or something like that,” Sylvia added, laughing.
“Yes, quite so. Now, I must talk to Sahin. So, Mad-e-son, I give you the table. No empty glasses.”
Sylvia stood up, and she and Karga walked through the big glass doors out onto the balcony.
“So, Sahinim has come home. But not to stay, I think.”
“No, I have my life, a world away from here.”
Karga nodded his head.
“Too many years,” he said. “Is he good to you? Do you have sons?’
“Yes, we’re good together. And I have one son, two daughters and …” Sylvia opened her hand, “five grandchildren.”
Karga turned his head back towards the restaurant.
“The eldest,” Sylvia said.
“I have four sons.”
“Yes, I met them. Mustafa and Taavi” Sylvia put her hand out, palm down, “were little boys the last time I saw them.”
“Now they have sons of their own — and soon, grandsons.”
“Too many years, Kargam.”
They leaned on the balcony, looking out at the city lights reflected in the water – old friends with too much to say, both wondering where to begin. Finally …
“I went to Kiev,” Karga spoke out into the night. “And when they wouldn’t give you back, I went to war. We stopped their blue jeans and cigarettes and flooded the dachas with drugs. No Russian was safe east of the Bosporus. There were many widows.”
“Oh, Kargam, no. I’m so sorry.”
“We were young. It was foolish, but … Turks have always fought the Russians. Since the time of the Cossacks. It was no different.”
“I wasn’t in Kiev very long. They put me on a train right after the trial.”
“And you jumped.” It was a statement.
“Yes, I jumped,” Sylvia unconsciously rubbed her wrist. “And ran … and ran and ran and ran.”
“But you didn’t come back?”
“No, I didn’t come back.”
They watched the reflected lights, rippling in the water behind a boat that chugged its way towards them.
“At first, I thought I was going to, but then I just couldn’t. It took me months to get out of Russia. I was so scared for so long. I lost my courage. And when I got across the border to Finland, I wasn’t brave anymore. And I knew I never wanted to be frightened again. So, I just walked away.”
“Are you frightened now, Sahinim? Is that why you came back?”
“No, I’m trying to help someone else who’s probably just as scared as I was. I’m looking for an American girl, abducted in Rome two weeks ago. I think she’s here. I think she’s going to be sold locally or passed on down to the Gulf. I need to find her and buy her back — before she disappears.”
Karga thought for a couple of seconds.
“No,” he said finally. “No one wants American girls here. The brothels are full of Europeans, Poles, Estonians, even Russians. American girls cause too much trouble. They have too many friends, too many noisy men from Washington. They’re not worth the investment — even in the Gulf where they bathe in gold. There’s only one place for stolen American girls: they go to China.”
Karga turned to face Sylvia.
“And they don’t come back, Sahinim.”
It took a moment for Sylvia to realize what Karga was saying. But when she did, it did frighten her.
“I need to find her quickly, then.”
“No, you don’t understand. I know these men: Albanian dogs who bark for their Russian masters. They won’t give her up.”
“I have money.”
“They won’t give her up. Not even to me.”
“I have to try.”