Coffee and Cigarettes on Bayloz Street

cafe

The romantic city of Istanbul.

Cobblestones and warm street cafes, colorful fruit stands, people taking their time to sip coffee and smoke cigarettes. Men with guitars sing the sad songs of lost loves and wasted lives. The penetrating gazes of dark, bearded, and well-dressed men.

Last night a Turkish man asked me,
“Are you alone in my country?”
Alone. In his country.

A country filled with the sounds of syllables and words I cannot understand. A country I know almost nothing about. So, yes, I am alone but do not ask me why I am here. Something drew me to this middle part of the world. Maybe it was these nicotine streets. Or the Mediterranean blue colored glasses that my romantic eyes would like to see the world through. Or maybe it was just the men.

Of course, I could always be more noble and less self centered,
“I am here to help the refugees!”

But in this moment, I am here to drink coffee and watch the man across the street park his motorbike and stop for a coffee next door. I am here to observe the owner of the bakery to my right as he lights his cigarette and gently leans his shoulder blades against the cool stone of the building behind him. I am here to feel the peak heat of the day as it embraces my my neck and slowly begins to creep down my spine. And like the perfect answer to my question, a cool breeze comes from the west, turning the street corner to my left and now arriving on my chest and beneath the layers of my hair, still messy from the last nine hours of sleep. The cafe owner here is a hard woman, hardened by life, by men, by too many cigarettes. But she has given me a place in her cafe to write and observe. As I walked down the busy street this morning, there were so many eyes on me as I moved my feet along the uneven stones and felt the morning sun on my skin. How is it that the weight of loneliness, of aloneness, can have so much presence in the midst of so much attention?

As I float through these streets, a perfect combination of beauty and ugliness, I remember that no one here knows my name, my age, my stories, or my reasons for leaving the apartment this morning. And then I realize that in my aloneness, as I experience it here on the summer streets of Istanbul, I have been stripped of all my superficialities. My ego is raw and naked and uncomfortable. When I have no one to share this moment with, does that mean it did not happen? Couples hold hands, friends laugh together, they are witnessing each others moments. What if I do not have a witness? Can I love this moment without obtaining any proof that it happened? No photos, no Facebook posts, no souvenirs. Only a coffee which will soon be gone, like this moment, like my name, my age, and my stories. Can I be settled in this raw aloneness without finding every attempt to escape myself?

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