Esnaf Stick

This is a super short excerpt from my new book. You can read it and have a giggle. Or, if you were there, you can relive all the gory details in full technicolor.

***

The first few weeks I hit Taksim regularly trying to make friends again. As much as I hated it, Taksim was the heart of all social life in the city, and I had to visit there regularly to reconnect with the people of Bar-ish. Bari-ish is both the name of the pub and the guy who owns it, Bariş, and this Irish place was the gathering place of our little community. It was a dungy ground-floor pub off Kurabiye Sokak which runs parallel to Istiklal Caddesi. Everyone drank there. Adair, naturally, had a tab which he kept running all month, and it regularly hit more than a thousand lira. This was when beers were 12 lira apiece.

Samir, a British/Turkish louse with an auburn beard and a rugby player’s build, invited a bunch of people to the British Consulate one February night for drinks. This was exciting because it was the cheapest place to drink in the city – they didn’t have to pay import tax, you see. Back in the good ol days when an Islamic strongman wasn’t in power, not a vice tax was to be found. Now! Agony! Six lira for a beer on the street when it used to be four.

But it was some quasi legal entity where we had to buy a drink card for fifty lira’s worth of swill and turn it into two-lira beverages, including a stock of genuine English beers and gin. We talked about video of a Kuwaiti-Irish kid who’d been making the rounds on turkfacebook – this poor kid in the old city had knocked over a doner guy’s water display, a pyramid of bottles which came tumbling to the ground. Had this kid been white as the driven snow, there would have been no problem, but of course since he was brown, the esnaf grabbed his esnaf stick. And suddenly, the street was full of esnafs grabbing their sticks. It was as if they were just waiting for something to go beat up. But apparently this Kuwaiti-Irish kid was a Jiujitsu practitioner, or a boxer, or some sort of fighter, and managed to fight off a crowd of esnafs wielding esnaf sticks in the middle of a market.

After we’d gotten our fill, Adair moved that we attend karaoke. We went to a place near Galatasary Lisesi, right on Istiklal, and petitioned the bouncers to let us in. They said it was closed. Of course, it wasn’t – we just didn’t have enough women to justify our presence. So we stood off to the side and started talking about what to do.

“Maybe we should audition,” someone suggested. “Maybe we’re just not pretty enough.”

So we started singing off-key and stupidly. The bouncers came over and grabbed Samir by the collarbone and shoved him out into the street. As it usually goes, things accelerated much too quickly.

“Don’t you ever touch me abi,” Samir shouted in Turkish. They pushed me too, and I started shouting at them in English. Everyone was shouting. Don’t touch me, no YOU don’t touch me, etc. We backed off. Those guys were assholes, we all agreed. We formed a conga line and decided to dance past the place in the middle of the street, singing “this little light of mine.” And that’s when I made the crucial mistake.

I flipped them off.

I only half-saw the man throw his çay glass but it ricocheted off my head, Adair’s leg, and then shattered on the street. They appeared in front of us with huge esnaf sticks and started hitting us in the legs. In the middle of the largest pedestrian boulevard in the city. On a Friday night. We got away pretty quickly – a circle of people formed and people were shouting and yelling and shaming the bouncers back to their haunt. Chris took a pretty good clip to the knee and limped all the way to Bar-ish. Orkun later explained to us they only attacked below the waist because, in a court of Turklaw, it’s not considered deadly assault if you hit below the waist, and is therefore a way less serious crime. Huh. We told Bariş about what happened and he said “Oh yeah. We all have an esnaf stick.” And he pulled out a club from behind the bar.

In Turkish, “Bariş” means “peace.”

us, mere moments after the esnaf attack

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