Uzak, dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan (2002)
It snowed today and I thought of you. On my way home I saw a minaret poking through the flurry of white whirling splinters, like an obscene thought, and was reminded of that winter we spent together, in a way. And feeling the flakes settle on my face, the realest desire I had, was to go and eat köfte and stuffed aubergine with you, to watch the sauce dribble down your chin, your green eyes glazing with satisfaction, to feel your damp boot press against my ankle under the table.
The small empty restaurant off Istiklal, the ever flowing tea urn, the proprietor casually appraising us during the ad breaks in the soccer coverage, the whole scene is still so fresh with me that I almost think I must have made it up.
“Don’t,” I said, blushing.
You smirked and rubbed your foot a little harder, a little higher up, you said, “Why? Does it turn you on?”
You knew it did, of course it did, everything about you turned me on; your face, your body of course, your dirty, dry sense of humour too, and your sweet, shy nature, your English which sometimes came out back to front, and the way you always insisted on paying, though it was unnecessary, and I would always found some subtle way to pass the cash back to you. Above all I loved your honest cheer - you had all the joy of a boy who had just come to the big city, flush with glee, unspoilt by urban cynicism. Even after years away from home you kept that lightness, that relaxed cat attitude, though you still were still fobbing your parents off with those desperately unconvincing folk tales, of the girls, nice girls you had taken to the cinema, or for picnics in the park. I didn’t understand how it was possible for you to lie so effectively, seemingly effortlessly. Didn’t you ever feel guilty, wasn’t it at the very least a bore?
“It’s necessary,” you said with a wink, “Not all of Turkey is in Europe, only half.”
I was in Istanbul with someone else, I didn’t travel there with you, I didn’t even travel there to meet you, this was all a wonderful coincidence, a stroke of good luck brought to us by Grindr or Tinder or maybe even Planet Romeo. (Remember Planet Romeo?) We could have quite easily passed through each other’s lives, like a breeze through an open window. Like a hundred other now-forgotten fucks, you could well have disappeared once the night was done, back into anonymity, barely even troubling my hash-smeared memories afterwards, and I in return could have left you with nothing more than the puzzle of Haven’t I seen you somewhere before? That we met in a threesome makes it all the more charmed.
I was there with another lover, my boyfriend, a man I had somehow allowed myself to be chained to, almost accidentally. He was controlling, manipulative, often unkind, but I was too full of self-hatred back then to see that, and besides, he acted as though his domineering, covetous behaviour was the surest sign of his love. (Surely I wasn’t stupid enough to accept that?) He didn’t believe in monogamy (and neither did I), he would never ask permission or even ask how I felt, if he wanted to ditch the party with somebody else, and leave me to find my own way home, or if he wanted to bring someone back after work. It was uncomfortable yes, but he was paying the rent and that was his privilege. He picked up balding closet cases, and men who put the squeeze on him for some cash after sex, but, to his eternal fury the type of boy he most desired, wide-eyed, sensitive brats, were more drawn to me than to him. If he couldn’t woo them under his own steam, he would happily use me as a bargaining chip, whether I was interested or not. Often we’d have a stranger come over, and I’d hostess until the vibe became clear, and we’d either ask our guest to strip or to leave.
You were something else though, nobody had to ask you to take anything off, you did it naturally, immediately, before I’d poured a drink, practically before I’d even finished saying, “Thanks for coming over.” You tossed off your jeans and your sweatshirt in the doorway, and smiled, kicked off your sneakers as we walked down the hall, your white socks padding over the hardwood floor, entered the living room with your underwear straining like a bag overfull with groceries, and said, “Where do you want me?” Thrilling under the obvious, undisguised gazes we lavished upon you, you presented yourself like a bisexual martyr before the lions, bound for Heaven.
Standing, with an alacrity I would never previously have thought to credit him with, my boyfriend jumped up, in an over-eager scramble, and pointed to the floor in front of him. “Here,” he said, and you dropped to your knees. What followed was a fascinating thing to watch, brutal maybe but coloured also with that suggestion of comedy, only half-hidden, common to all sadistic scenes.
When he had finished with you, he dropped back on the sofa and lit a joint, and you crawled over to me, snot trickling from your nose, your eyes streaming tears of degraded pleasure. I gave you my hand, helped you up and lead you to the bedroom where I gave you a tissue, and you gave yourself to me with such tender conviction I could hardy believe we weren’t already in love.
We invited you over several times. because you were around and handsome and amenable. My boyfriend uncharacteristically indulged me, by letting it go on longer than the usual one or two hook-ups, because he could see I was enjoying myself, and perhaps because he could see that you (as something I cared for) gave him greater power over me. Though he didn’t have very much interest in you after the first few afternoons, and I’m really not sure how much he cared for me, he grew to be quite horribly jealous of you.
He moved quickly from feeling himself very magnanimous, in letting me have a little something for myself, to shaking me awake, to cross-examine me, yelling, “Tell me the truth - are you in love with him?” I always answered, that no I was not, that we had only met a handful of times, how could anyone fall in love as quickly as that? Later, I said that you had kindly offered to show me around the city whilst he was working, because I didn’t speak any Turkish and I didn’t want to be alone all day. He was more incensed by that, than by the sexual connection; he threatened to stop me from seeing you, did you know that? He always tried to act cool around you, like he didn’t give a fuck, sometimes he even called you by the wrong name deliberately, though you always calmly shrugged it off. Ultimately you see, he was very lazy, and since he liked having access to your not imperceptible sex appeal, and because you hooked him up with a dealer, we compromised, with an accord that you and I could meet up, hang out, see the sights, whatever, but couldn’t have sex unless he was there, though present more in the role of pimp than of chaperone.
“Is this an open relationship?” you asked, and I said it was. I only understood much later, that rather than asking me to qualify the status of my relationship, you were in fact questioning how open any relationship could really be, when one partner set all the rules. You yourself were happy enough with the set-up though. I think you would have liked to have me for yourself, as much as I would have liked to claim you as my own, but you were wise enough to cut a deal. “It makes me feel like a slut,” you said, “I like it,” and I honestly thought I was getting a good hand to play too, I had you to enjoy, and I didn’t have to deal with his tantrums, at least not often.
So we had our chaste afternoon dates you and I, eating köfte, always glancing over our shoulder just in case, sitting for coffee on the street, for as long as the autumn weather held out, moving inside to poke about the enormous old junk shops when it started to get really cold. We couldn’t ever go back to my apartment, we knew that instinctively - it wasn’t even really mine though was it? There’s no way we could have made it past the ten minute mark without me throwing you on to the bed, without you pulling me out of my jeans. So we wandered about all day, thank God there was so much to see! You showed me your favourite book shops and cinemas, we drank apple tea in the grand salon of the Pera Palace, and looked over the city from the top of the Galata Tower, and like an incubus in my waking life you took every opportunity to brush against me, press against me, rub against me. You offered to wipe a smear of ice cream from my lip with a serviette, and scurrilously slipped your finger into my mouth, you groped my crotch in any elevator we took and moaned, “I love to make you excite”, you dropped your voice to talk dirty in the street, tortured me constantly with desire. Once in a vintage store, which seemed to run on for a city block, you picked out a pair of denim flares to try on, and I stood outside the cubicle whilst you wriggled into them laughing. “I don’t know, “ you said, “What do you think?” You pulled the curtain back just enough for me to to see that you were naked from the waist down; slouching in your socks and your sweatshirt, your cock standing straight up against your belly, you said, “Think it looks good? Like it?”
When we left the store it had begun to snow. You said that usually by this time of year, you would be back at home with your family, you said it was the first time you had ever seen the snow. You said you knew snow from films of course, and from books, but hadn’t ever honestly believed it was real, or rather had never believed you would find yourself out in it. I myself was very much used to the snow, it snowed all through my childhood, and it snowed each of the five winters I lived in Berlin, but I had not at all expected it in Istanbul. So when it it fell, the snow felt brand new to me, to us both (and for you it was). It fell on us like powdered wonder, settling on our hair, on our eyelashes, turning our faces pinker even than lust, dazzling us with diamonds of frost, and I felt sick with undischargeable ardor. You asked, “Maybe we could go upstairs to your place and drink some tea to get warm?” but I shook my head, coward. “Not even tea?” you said, and again I shook my head. “Is it because you love him?” you asked and I nodded, but with a lack of commitment which only made it all the more pathetic.
Exasperated you said, “I think I should go home now. I don’t know if the ferry will run all day in the snow,” and I agreed that of course you should, in spite of myself, but then what shelter could I offer you against the cold now? “You should go home too,” you said, but not unkindly, “You don’t want to get into trouble with daddy.” You kissed me on the cheek softly, and your chivalry made me want you all the more. I reached out and took your hand, you turned, looking shocked, a bold display of affection like that in the street wasn’t ever wise, and I grinned, that for once you were the one caught off-guard by my impropriety. You said, “This is not a good situation you know?” and I was’t sure if you meant the hand holding, this loitering in the snow, or our menage a trois. Stern-faced, you disappeared into the worsening weather, and I spent the rest of the afternoon at my window trying to discern the boats crossing the Bosporus through the snow and imaging you on one of them.
That night I went to midnight mass in the French Cathedral, I never knew a service to be so long. Perhaps it dragged because I can’t speak French, or perhaps simply because I was so terribly distracted by you, and the indecorous members of the congregation who were taking pictures of it all, with their iPads aloft. I saw that the confessionals were open for business, and made my way over, asking the priests in turn, “Parlez-vous Anglais, pere?” until one said “Yes.” I told him it had been years uncountable since my last confession, at least seven, maybe ten. He spoke with an ancient, frictionless patience which I remembered from my childhood, he said, “And what is it you want to say, my child? What is it you have come to confess?”
I thought about the three of us in bed hard at it, drunk, aggressive, stoned, relentless. I thought about you lying underneath him, and how even as he used your body you sought out my eyes and bore straight into me with an igneous stare that said, “Think it looks good? Like it?”, offering me the whole pornographic spectacle for myself. I thought about him shaking me awake and demanding, “Tell me! Are you in love with him?” and how I denied it. But of course I couldn’t bring any of that into the church, so I said, “I lie father, I lie all the time.”
Sometime has passed, that old boyfriend of mine is of course long gone. I’ve fallen in love again though, with somebody kind and tender, and I hardly ever think of you now, except for when it snows.