I stood up to pay for my internet time and as I walked to the counter, I noticed the man behind it was kneeling and praying. I ran my fingers over the books and cassettes on the shelf idly, trying not to stare at him. His salt and pepper hair hung down in front of his face, as he muttered his prayers with his palms on the carpet. I paid another employee and had my back turned ready to leave, when he called to me, “I’m so sorry for that!”
“Oh, no, no,no. Don’t be!”
I was flustered because I’d never seen a Muslim praying before and wasn’t sure what I should say. He smiled at me and asked, “Where are you from?”
“Ooh, that’s good,” he said with a little smirk. “How are you enjoying Turkey?”
“I’m loving it!,” I said growing more comfortable. “I’m going on a balloon ride tomorrow.”
“How much did you pay?”
“With who?? No, you can get it for 90 euros. For sure.”
“Well, I already paid…”
I felt embarrassed that I may have been taken advantage of and it was now obvious to this local. I toyed with my ring and glanced around, as if I had things to do.
“I would like you to have some tea with me,” he said seriously, “would you sit down with me?”
I sat down and the other, silent employee brought us two caramel colored teas on a silver tray.
“In our culture, tea is about sharing and meeting new people,” said my friend, as he moved his hair out of his face and behind his ear. “But Turkish coffee is very serious for serious talks. You must always respect a person after a cup of coffee.”
“Well, I better be careful who I have coffee with!”
He didn’t laugh, but took another sip of his tea while looking at me. His eyes were a sharp blue and I immediately felt silly. I tried again.
“So…I’ve never had Turkish coffee.”
“I would like to have some with you, you must try it. Come back anytime and we will have some.” He leaned back on the couch and smiled at me. “People from California are very friendly.”
“I suppose so, but we don’t, like, go up to someone on the street and say hello and definitely never invite someone in for tea! This would never happen in California!,” I said with a laugh.
He crinkled his brow.
“Well then, how do you meet people and get to know them?’
He seemed so innocent in that moment and I was caught off-gaurd.
“Um, that is a good question. I don’t know! Through our jobs, school, daily activities….when we are chilling somewhere, I guess?”
“What is “chill”? Like cold, right?”
“Ha, no. More like being relaxed. I’ll give you an example. “Hey wanna go out tonight?” “No thanks, I’m staying at home and just chilling.”
With a hearty laugh, he slapped his knee.
“Just call your boyfriend, he will go out with you!”
We received another cup of tea and my friend shared with me his life story. He had grown up in Cappadocia and now supported his mother and father so he had no opportunities to travel.
“Is life easier in the USA?,”he asked.
“In some ways, yes. For example, I don’t have to support my parents and most of my friends don’t either.”
“You are lucky, I want to travel someday but the visas can be so expensive and difficult to get!”
“If you ever get the chance, come to California! San Francisco, not LA.”
“Oh, of course, I want to see California and I want to go to Canada.”
“WHY! It’s boring up there. You want something exciting, you come to America.”
“You don’t like Canada?”
“They are really nice people, extremely nice people, but I mean c’mon. Who cares about Canada? Happy people walking around chugging maple syrup and like, wearing sweaters with beavers on them or something. Let’s be real.”
He chuckled and pointed a finger at me.
“You are being cheeky aren’t you!”
I was delighted that he knew the word “cheeky” and I went on rudely tearing apart Canadians with glee, mostly to entertain my host.
“I mean, people all over the world confuse Canadians for us. That is why they wear the Canadian flag on their backpacks when they travel. Pathetic. It’s like a poor man’s America up there.”
“I am very glad to not be from Canada right now,” he said solemnly.
I immediately felt horrible.
“No,no, god, no. I have many Canadian friends, they are great people! I’ve been there and it’s a beautiful place. Amazing lakes and mountains! It’s just this American thing to make fun of them and be total assholes about it. It’s horrible, but it’s friendly teasing.”
“Why would you tease your friends? Doesn’t seem nice..”
“Well….I do that with all my friends. It means love.”
“You are being cheeky again,” he said smiling.
“Ha, aren’t I always,” I said returning the smile.
“You know, I’ve been looking at your ring.”
He pointed to the imitation turquoise ring on my finger. It was my friend Margo’s and I had been wearing it around Cappadocia, almost as good luck.
“I used to work in a jewelry shop. I was surrounded by jewels and precious stones all the time. I know a lot about jewelry, may I look at the ring?”
I handed it to him sheepishly, for I knew how cheap it was.
“Ah, yes. Very cheap, not real. It looks beautiful on you though.”
“Thanks,” I smiled at the ground with a red face, “I always wear cheap jewelry. I just like it.”
“Well, you do know that certain stones can heal you and do different things? I started to get headaches and felt sick all the time when I worked in that shop. Sometimes I think when people handled the stones, the stones picked up their bad energy and it was transferred to me.”
“That is crazy, so you stopped working there and now you are here at the internet cafe?”
“Yes. I meet lots of wonderful people and I can practice my English with people like you. I would like you to come by again.”
I came by the next day and my new friend was sat, having tea with two blonde girls. I felt betrayed. I used the internet to message Margo about when I would be coming back to Istanbul and then went to the counter to pay. The girls had gone.
“You are wearing a new ring today. You really like turquoise, don’t you? It suits you.”
He was looking at my favorite ring that I had swapped for Margo’s. I knew he wanted me to stay and have tea, but I felt like a tourist on a conveyor belt and I thought if we talked much longer, his gaze on me would become too inappropriate.
“Yeah, this one is cheap too, but I love it.” I spoke quickly, “I am leaving tomorrow morning so I can’t have tea, but it was wonderful to meet you.”
“You too, have a wonderful trip.”
He gave a soft smile and started cleaning up the empty tea glasses.