Autumn arrived over the past week, a gorgeous sunny autumn. You can sit outside for lunch at the cafes without a jacket and look at the leaves falling in the streets.
It was like that yesterday too when I met my friend Mehmet for drinks in Kadikoy. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, ever since he purchased a new flat in Kartal, which is on the outskirts of Istanbul. Mehmet is an engineer in his mid-thirties.
We decided to go to Bahane Kultur, an outdoor café, since the weather was so fine. It was a long weekend, with most people having Monday and Tuesday off since Tuesday is the Turk Independence Day, so lots of people were out at the cafes and bars.
Bahane Kultur wasn’t too crowded though. We found a good table near the barman. He brought two pints of Bomante.
“So – my divorce is final,” Mehmet said, as we clinked glasses.
“Well,” I said. “How was it?”
“It took ten minutes,” Mehmet said, with a kind of wistful, lop-sided grin. Over the summer, we had talked about it while he and his wife were waiting for the court date. I only met her once, a petite, attractive woman who worked as a teacher. When Mehmet moved out, he’d left her their flat in Bostanci.
They remained fairly amicable, and Mehmet had held out hopes of a reconciliation, but those hopes had ended in the court, when the divorce was quickly granted.
“Ten minutes? Wow, that was easy.”
“Yes,” Mehmet said. “Can you believe it? Seven years we’ve known each other. Five years of marriage. And it only took ten minutes.”
“How did Ayse take it?” I asked.
“She didn’t even look at me when the judge granted the divorce.”
“Well, that’s that, I guess. Sorry, man.”
“That’s life,” Mehmet said. I could tell he was depressed about it, and tried to help. I’ve never been married, but I knew how he must have been feeling. I told him it was natural, and to just hang in there.
“After all, you’re free now,” I said.
“That’s right,” he said. “I’m single.” We looked around the bar. There were several women sitting at tables, having drinks and talking.
“So what about you and Ozge?” Mehmet asked. Ozge was a woman I’d met online.
“It’s good,” I said. “We had dinner last night at her place. And we’re meeting tomorrow evening. I told her I would cook some fish.”
“Really? So it’s going well then.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Ozge is still a little bit like, ‘Oooh, but we met online.’ But I told her, ‘It’s the way the world is now. People live online, they do everything online.’ I mean, people walk around with their iPhones like it’s a part of their body.”
“Exactly,” Mehmet said. “The world is changing. You have the same chance now online as you would have if you met someone in a bar. By the way, I met another girl online, through the mail.ru website. She’s from Turkmenistan.”
Mehmet showed me her photo on his iPhone. She was a tall, reasonably attractive brunette, and I told him I thought so.
“She’s not bad,” Mehmet concurred. “She’s working as a housekeeper for a famous Turkish TV presenter. She’s not really very educated. That’s the only thing, we don’t have much in common. It’s hard to talk with her about the same things.”
“I guess I got lucky with Ozge,” I said, more to myself than Mehmet. I thought about Ozge. She worked at a national museum, and was pursuing a masters’ degree.
“You did get lucky,” Mehmet said. “She’s educated, you’re educated. You both have traveled a lot. She is someone who is more or less on your level. You can talk about the same things.”
“Well, it wasn’t without trial and error,” I said. “Remember Ozcan?”
“Who was she?” Mehmet asked. “Oh, yes. The lawyer.”
“That one wasn’t so great. She wanted to know if I was into cocaine and ecstasy. And then there were the dominant couples who wanted me for a threesome.”
Mehmet laughed. We ordered a couple of fresh Bomantes , and Mehmet put some Doors music on his iPhone. We talked while listening to “Spanish Caravan” and “Soul Kitchen.”
“By the way,” I said. “Did you see in Istanbul this week the first online halal sex shop opened? It was in the news.”
“What do you mean?” Mehmet asked.
“Well,” I said, “the idea is that it’s an online sex shop, but it is halal.” Halal is an Arabic word that means “permissible.” What is not halal, or not in accordance with Islam, is haram.
“I was curious,” I said. “How does one know, when it comes to sex, what is proper? What is halal sex?”
“Normally,” Mehmet said. “It just means a married couple goes to the mosque and has a special ceremony. It just shows you are seeking the approval and blessing of the church. My wife and I went to the mosque for a halal ceremony when we were married.”
“Well, that makes sense,” I said. “But where does the online sex shop fit in? I mean, how does one recognize a sex product as being halal? I mean, is a dildo halal or haram?”
“I don’t know,” Mehmet said.
“Well, anyway,” I said. “I guess it’s been really successful its first week, especially with women.”
“Of course,” Mehmet said. “If you ever go to the shopping malls, at the lingerie shops you notice that a lot of the customers are covered women.”
It was difficult to imagine a woman wearing a burka buying a g-string. But then, I suppose, why not? If you’re married, then I suppose everything is halal.
We were back on the subject of marriage, which I was sure Mehmet wanted to avoid. We ordered a couple more pints of Bomonte. A couple of women at the next table had changed their seats.
“I think they overheard us ,” I said.
“Yes,” Mehmet said. “They probably think we are maganda.” In Turkish, maganda means a guy who is really crude in his behavior, or who doesn’t know how to behave properly.
At the next table, a young Turkish man and woman sat morosely over their drinks. They weren’t looking at each other.
“They probably met online,” Mehmet said. “This is their first date, and it isn’t working.”
“Oh well,” I said. “Better luck next time.”
Later, we paid and got up to go. Mehmet had slowed down the last hour or so because he had to drive back to Kartal. It was a good walk back to my neighborhood. The streets were full of people out enjoying the fine autumn weather.
“Have a good dinner tomorrow night with Ozge,” he said, as we reached his car. “Maybe if this thing works with the girl from Turkmenistan, you and Ozge can come to my place and we can all have dinner.”
“Sounds good to me. Take care man.”
“You too. Take care.”
James Tressler was a reporter for The Times-Standard. He is the author of the recently published novel, “Lost Coast D.A.,” which is available at Booklegger in Eureka. He lives in Istanbul.