Mahzen was somewhere I went just after I moved to Cihangir with one of my favourite people in Istanbul. A newspaper journalist for Hurriyet who had been a student. She was still a student sort of but she was cancelling more lessons than she was taking and then soon after we went for this dinner, she took extreme offence that I said she would need to pay for cancellations.
I made the business side intrude into the friendship side when in truth I’d been telling her for ages that she’d learn just as much from hanging out with me as a friend than taking lessons. I think she brought the friendship into the business. Anyway, the result was that this dinner was one of the last times we really spent together and I missed her a lot afterwards.
I loved her. I hero worshipped her slightly in that way I sometimes do with dazzling females. She was clever, funny, strikingly different, well read – much more so than me. She was terribly insecure about her English and had a huge complex about it. She was in a very destructive on off relationship with a man that couldn’t be in love with her but he loved that she was in love with him.
So, I was the sunnier one of the two of us and lessons often turned into sharing and personal conversations. She took me to her family holiday home at the end of the summer. Her family were Black Sea and she lived in the flat above her parents so her mother cooked incredible food – she lived for that and was a simple Turkish woman from a small village. They were so welcoming, everything my boyfriends family were not. I said this once to my friend and she relayed it to her mum who said that it might be different if she had a son and I was going to marry him. But I still don’t think she’d have been capable of the coldness of my potential in-laws.
They didn’t like me even just as an idea and although towards the end of our first year, before he went away to the army, his warty, witch faced illiterate mother (I didn’t exactly warm to her because of the way she felt about me) sometimes expressed a wish to meet me, it was only so that she could confirm her dislike and attach some more concrete reason onto her prejudice.
The next summer I did meet her. My boyfriend’s sister, brother-in-law and their children were in Istanbul at the same time as he was back from the army to visit. It was before I had strayed but when my mind was beginning to push me that way. In hindsight I am sure his mother would claim that she had always sensed my wickedness or unsuitability and look how I proved her right. Maybe she did foresee it, after all, she was a witch! He’d come back actually to repair the rift and it worked, for as long as he was there. Anyway, that’s another story. There were some other relatives there too, my boyfriend’s older brother and his Japanese wife who I was grateful for as another outsider, and a couple of other aunts or extended family.
He introduced us and I went to shake her hand and lean in for the customary kiss on the cheek. I suppose I should have kissed her hand which is the ultimate respect to elders in Turkey but I’m not good with touching people I don’t know and that gesture would have been even harder for me than the already unnatural leap of the kiss on the cheek.
Maybe that’s why she snubbed me in front of everyone and didn’t lean in too.
I was so shocked, unfortunately, out of sheer embarrassment I turned to him and half laughed. The aunt behind her saw my reaction I think and did kiss me. It was a very complete public put down and I didn’t do much more than resume my usual grinning idiot at the table role – an oft rehearsed act in group company and almost a welcome alternative to being expected to join in or contribute much.
I have to say his sister and her husband, deeply religious, she headscarf wearing and him an imam, were much warmer and nicer even though I know that his sister was the most vocal on the “She’s too old for my brother” front. She felt that it was more normal for a 30 year old man to be with someone in their early twenties. In Turkey it is, in the UK it would be an aberration which would take some effort to compensate for and a lot of people would wonder at the sacrificed youth of the girl and the immaturity of the man until they’d proved themselves as a couple.
Had his family been more welcoming, perhaps I wouldn’t have had yet another thing to fear about my future. And had my journalist not “dumped” me, I’d have had another solid friend in Istanbul and not been quite so adrift to less steadying influences. Not that someone as educated and intellectual as her would probably have been that supportive of my relationship with my boyfriend had they ever met. This is partly borne out by the fact that in this review, I end with an indirect criticism of my boyfriend’s conservatism, the only mention he’d had in reviews for a while and not one that was so under the spell.
She would happily have seen me with someone else but I think she’d have helped me do that in the right way. These are peripheral things of course, I’m not trying to lay the blame at anyone else’s door.
I do miss her now I think of it. I think I am going to see if the wonders of Facebook can find her for me…it did…now I’m waiting to see if she’ll accept. There’s always Twitter if she doesn’t!