A Yalı on the Bosphorus

The opening notes to “Flipside” burst forth from a yalı that Zehra had never noticed to be occupied before. In fact, had only ever noticed it because it looked so abandoned in its splendor. Decay was visible all the way from her perch on the passing ferry, the one she took each day to get to the job she loathed, serving coffee at a place grossly called Mosquito. She chose it because it was right next to the Rexx Cinema, where she worked afternoons after her shift at the coffee shop in the morning, taking the ferry back from the Kadıköy pier at a time when no one else seemed to be bothering with returning to the “normal side” of the city. It was thus that she began to notice this particular yalı, catching a glimpse of a masculine figure’s silhouette blocking the only pool of light in the doorway. She tried to put the figure out of her mind, didn’t like that it was catching her attention at all, for she was engaged to be married and the wedding was impending. It was going to save her from these thankless jobs on the Asian side, for her fiancé, Miraç, assured her that once they were wed, he would be able to move them to London for his job at a startup company involving “bridging the language divide between the UK and Turkey.” It was a glorified English-teaching service with the bells, whistles and financing to take Miraç away from the city he had grown to despise, and with him, his love, though he could sense some sort of arcane change in Zehra of late.

He couldn’t pinpoint exactly when she started to grow distant toward him, but he had no idea that the image of this man she kept seeing alone in the yalı on her commute each day was a contributing factor to her growing sense of restlessness. And it was not a restlessness that was going to be remedied by a change of city, least of all to London. In fact, she was developing a sense of anxiety about the entire affair. About being ripped from the only thing that continued to link her to her deceased family, who had died in the Atatürk Airport attack back in 2016. They had never traveled anywhere before and were returning from a two-week vacation in Naxos. It was very much to the same effect as that part of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” lyric, “He waited his whole damn life to take that flight/And as the plane crashed down, he thought, ‘Well, isn’t this nice?'” In truth, Zehra could never stomach hearing that song again because of how much salt it added to her wound over the fate of her family. One day when it showed up in the playlist at Mosquito, she practically ripped the aux cord in half to get it off the speakers. She didn’t explain herself to her co-workers or the customers, just went outside to have a cigarette and shake off the sadness as best as she could.

The tragedy that had befallen her family was also something she rarely spoke of with Miraç, who tried numerous times after the attack to speak with her candidly about her emotions. But she would not. Had sealed them all up tightly in a jar that could never be opened again unless it was shattered into a thousand tiny pieces in order to unveil what was inside. Miraç, though he was handsome and caring, could never comprehend the torment Zehra shouldered at all moments from the loss.

This was likely what drew her to that mysterious and hypnotic silhouette, which she would later learn belonged to Ömer, a 44-year-old tycoon of the oil world who was only a tycoon because his father was, and his father before him. As most people are aware, oil is antiquated, soon to be valueless. But Ömer would be dead by the time that phenomenon truly caught on, he explained to her over the course of what would become one of their many conversations.

She first met him at Maiden’s Tower. Simply knew that he would be there. It was out of character for her to do anything spontaneous or costly, yet she felt that she had to go. To follow her intuition that he, too, would be there, sipping on wine like rich men do. She, instead, ordered water and a cheese plate. Instinctively, she recognized him. For one, the silhouette. For another, the feeling in her gut that told her this was someone she needed to know.

He seemed to feel the same way, rising from his table to join her at her own.  “Are you gonna hurt me now, or are you gonna hurt me later?,” he asked. It’s a valid question. One he had stolen from “Flipside,” and a line that she immediately recognized not only from having heard it play from the inside of his yalı, but from having played it on repeat so many times herself circa 2014 when its existence was first made known. It was, in truth, what got her through the summer that year, when she was working another menial job on the Asian side, this time at an Irish pub called The Harp, where she lived in dread of drunks making advances on her after enough pints poured out. She was also going through a brief breakup with Miraç, who, before proposing to her at the end of the summer, decided they needed some “space” to see “where they were at.” Zehra should have probably just let it end then and there, instead of permitting Miraç the luxury of letting him come crawling back to her. She was weak though, her faculties and judgment rubbed raw by the day to day to grind of taking that ride on the Bosphorus and squirreling away every lira for she didn’t even know what. Just to have enough. For some unforeseen event that she couldn’t yet apprehend.

That is, until she met Ömer, and realized that she would need to free herself from Miraç. Though Ömer had the means to take her away and keep her safe, she wanted to know that she could do it herself, that she wouldn’t need to rely on another human being, least of all a man, for anything. Because, invariably, if he wasn’t going to hurt her now, he was going to hurt her later. Even for as kind as he came across now, Zehra knew better than to fully let her guard down.

Roughly two months after their first encounter, she had taken to rendezvousing with Ömer at least three times a week under the pretense of working more in order to save up for their imminent move, which she still didn’t have the courage to tell Miraç wasn’t happening.

One day, as she was leaving the yalı that was beginning to feel like her true home as opposed to the one she shared with Miraç in Balat, in what seemed like the increasingly close quarters they were forced to share with Miraç’s parents, who would never die, (which is probably why Miraç preferred to move as opposed to waiting out any potential inheritance of the apartment), it struck Zehra exactly how little she felt for her fiancé. The only benefit to his parents being around all the time was that it prevented Miraç from asking her any questions that might embarrass him, chiefly if something was bothering her or why she had so often been late coming home these past few weeks. It was a wondrous thing to have that parental buffer, which had so often before been nothing but an annoyance to Zehra.

Several days later, when she had solidified her intent to stay with Ömer in the yalı she had come to find as her only source of comfort in a city otherwise packed with mentally assaulting stimuli and memories, she insisted to Ömer that she must still go back one more time to tell Miraç of her new plans, that she owed him at least some small sign of caring via an explanation for her permanent disappearance from his life. This, for some reason, enraged Ömer to no end. He couldn’t fathom why she would even want to bother putting a bookend on it if she loved him as she said she did. And all at once, in the flash of his fuming eyes, she could see who he was. And she could hear in her head, “You caught me once/Maybe on the flipside I could catch you again.” After going to all that trouble to allure her into falling in love with him, maybe she could make him feel that same helpless paralysis in the next life, she thinks to herself as he drowns her in his “backyard.”

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