People

A call from Irfan

Perched on the edge of a rooftop cafe, distracted from my work by the shopping street three floors below still busy from weekend afternoon traffic, I received a call. This was the brick phone I used for safety while traveling in Turkey. Rarely did anyone ever call me on it.

I answered, and naturally I heard some Turkish on the other side. I thought maybe a wrong number, but from the stumbling in Turkish, I heard “Irfan from last night.”

I stiffened in my chair. I had forgotten I gave my number to him, with whom I spent 1.5 hours speaking with late the night before.

On the same street over which I sat, I spent a fun night exploring new places and meeting new people. I had stayed behind when my friends went ahead to continue speaking with some newfound friends.

But the conversation fizzled out, it was getting late, and I moved on, carrying a drink glass with me.

I sat on a concrete step of a closed shop to enjoy the cool night air and see the stories of other night-crawlers happen in real time. Most were going home.

A man, or more likely a boy, sat down next to me. I hadn’t realized I sat close to one of two men selling mussels to drunk people. These mussels were some of the best snacks to have anytime, although most sellers don’t have permits. You can frequently see them hiding or running away from suspected police with their pail of shells. Each mussel sells for the equivalent of about $0.25.

But this boy was just a friend of theirs, and a curious one at that.

We shared only one language that neither of us spoke well. He came from Jordan, he was 17, and he came alone.

I’ve learned I can’t trust much that someone says about their personal life in that type of situation, but I believed him. He left Jordan to find work. He had been in Turkey for a few months, but did not get much further than mussel-sellers.

A few times I offered him some of what was left of my drink, and he refused every time.

When I received the call from Irfan the next day I was hesitant to see him, but excited to try to speak with him again, to ask new questions.

Yet when I returned the next night – perhaps not late enough – I only saw the same mussel seller. Irfan had wandered off and may not be back.

But I did get a slap on the back of the head from the mussel-seller for forgetting where he came from, Syria.

This was 2015, before I realized the wave of migration from the Middle East through Turkey, and before Syrians were permitted to work in Turkey.

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