Hakan’s wife Banu had asked him to pick up some tere from the market.

“I’ll pick some up at the bazar,” he said, reassuringly.

“You don’t have to,” Banu said. She was on her way to work. He was planning to spend Sunday with a friend in Kadıköy, catching up over a few beers.

“You can get them in Kadıköy or at the süpermarket.”

“No, I’ll get them at the bazar down the Street,” Hakan insisted magnanimously. “For your health, baby. Besides, it’s not like I have to work in the morning!”

That’s right, he thought, after she left for work.

Being unemployed had its advantages. He’d had a lot of time on his hands ever since the company had announced layoffs (management blamed it on the country’s economic crisis. Allah, Allah! Associates at other companies said they were doing fine.) That was in mid-December. In the weeks since then, he had put out his CV to a number of companies, updated his LinkedIn profile, and even signed up for a cheap online course to brush up his English.

In the meantime, he felt that guilt men experience when they are out of work and their wives are supporting them. To avoid sinking into depression or drink, he tried to keep himself busy. He did a bit of housework – running the Hoover, watering the plants, cleaning the cat’s litterbox, the dishes, the laundry, so that when his wife came home from work in the evenings the flat was fairly tidy.

“We’re not destitute,” she proudly reassurred him, when she saw him worrying. “We can get by for a few months. Take your time and find something really good.”

Ah, what a wife, he thought. Actually, translated from old Persian, Banu means “lady.” Fair enough. What a lady then!


Outside it was Sunday, wet, grey and cold. The bazar was busy as usual. Every Sunday in neighborhoods all across the city, the people from the countryside brought their goods and wares to the city. They came and were there until nightfall. People liked to stock up for the week, so the markets were busy all day.

The rain had let up, leaving the streets slick and with the scent of wet leaves. Hakan liked the smell, it was healthy, clean.

He was 35, balding, with fairskin and freckles. A shade on the heavy side. When he was working, his wife had been on him to start going to the gym. But gym memberships in the city were far too expensive, especially now on their limited budget.

“A walk then,” his thoughts added.

Sure, walking was healthy. He allowed himself to drift through the crowd, feeling the outdoors chase the tobacco smell from his clothing. The stalls were full, the offerings fresh: avocados, potatoes, tomatoes, artichoke hearts in soaking water, Brown-shelled eggs, walnuts, figs, shiny black and green olives, goat cheese, feta cheese, lemons, red and green apples, freshly caught levrek and hamsi, the latter still alive and flopping in huge tub of water.

Hakan browsed these, and the many, many other items. He was hungry so everything looked good. They say you shouldn’t go shopping on an empty stomach for precisely that reason. All his wife had asked for was the tere, the watercress. The avocados looked good. He selected one and pressed it: firm, a little too firm. It would need a few days to really soften. The price listed was 5 lira each.

The chance to practice his haggling skills was irresistable.

Catching the attention of the nearest vendor, Hakan raised three fingers. Three avocados for 10 lira, or three for the price of two.

The vendor, a Kurdish man of indeterminate age, hesitated. He looked Hakan up and down, seeming to not understand.

Something caught his attention. Turning, Hakan saw an old woman, a gypsy, waving him over. She was sitting on the ground, her head covered in scarves and her body shapeless beneath several layers of old robes.

Approaching the gypsy woman, Hakan noticed her pointing at a crate of avocados.

“Three for 5 TL?” he asked, showing more authority this time. He had leverage, after all.

Tamam,” the woman said, agreeing instantly. Result! Hakan beamed with pleasure, feeling he had a true instinct for the streets.

 “Tere var mı?” he asked.

Var, var,” the woman replied.

She turned to a crate and with her talon-like fingers, rifled through some greens. Seeming to find what she was looking for, the woman put something into a plastic container and offered it to Hakan, who squinted at it dubiously. It kind of looked like cress, the kind they usually bought at the süpermarket. But not exactly the same. There was something a trifle foreign, exotic about them.

Bu tere?” Hakan asked, uncertainly.

Evet, yabani tere,” cackled the old woman. Her voice was scratchy, earthy.

Wild water cress. Well, close enough, Hakan reflected. He explained that his wife was feeling under the weather. The gypsy woman nodded, indicating that the yabani tere would do the trick.

Nearby, another seller, a mustachioed man, corroborated this. “Çok vitaman var, çok antibiotik!”

On her own initiative, the woman added a sprite of some kind, a sort of herbal garnish.

Feeling grateful, Hakan opted not to negotiate, giving her 5 lira without bothering to ask the price. The woman accepted the money without a word, putting the note in a small pürse that lay next to the crates.

Geçmiş olsun,” she said finally, passing on get-well wishes to his wife.

Hakan thanked her and, weaving back through the Sunday crowd, walked back to the apartment. Near the entrance, a Syrian man, missing both legs, sat on the pavement with a cup, which he clutched in a deformed hand.

Another sad byproduct of the war, Hakan thought. Or just another refugee. Sympathetically, Hakan dropped a gold 1-lira coin into the cup. With spastic, seemingly blind eyes, the man nodded and turned his attention to the next passerby.


Back at the apartment, Hakan washed the yabani tere in the sink. While it was soaking, he Googled “yabani tere.” Seemed ordinary enough from the description, though the photos didn’t in his view quite match what he had purchased. The stuff he had seemed a brighter green, and the leaves had these strange, cursive lines. But what the hell was he, a botanist? At least it wasn’t toxic, according to Google. If he died, maybe Banu could sue Google. They couldn’t sue the gypsy woman – who ever heard of suing a gypsy?

He took one of the leaves and bit into it. It was slightly bitter, green-tasting, not unlike the regular cress they usually bought. His wife would be home in about an hour.

Hakan retired to the living room and put on an episode of “Narcos” (he was re-watching the first season). As the episode unfolded, Hakan drifted off.

When he awoke, he didn’t recognize his surroundings at first. Then he realized he was down in the street at the bazar. He was standing behind one of the stalls, and as the picture came into focus, Hakan realized that he wasn’t Hakan anymore. Instead, he was one of the street sellers!  At the moment, his hands were busy handing over a bushel of bananas to a customer, an anxiety-ridden woman wearing a bright yellow raincoat. She was shouting about the prices.

In a voice that was not his, Hakan found himself arguing back. What language was it? It wasn’t his native Turkish. Kurdish! My God, he was speaking Kurdish – fluently!

In the hyper-vividness of the moment, Hakan had that clarity that one has when one realizes that one must be in the middle of a dream. He had read about people who realized they were dreaming, so they would make themselves fly, do magic. Conscious dreaming, was that the term? Lucid dreaming.

Fly, he commanded himself. He even flapped his arms expectantly. But nothing happened.

Nearby, the old Gypsy woman with whom he had spoken to earlier was still there. He approached her. The woman appeared to recognize him.

“Ah, so you ate some of the tere! That was supposed to be for your wife,” the woman remonstrated. She was quite real, he decided.

“Am I dreaming?” Hakan asked.

“No, canim.” Mirth appeared in her dark eyes. “It’s the yabani tere. But you weren’t supposed to take it. It has a different effect on healthy people. Go home and sleep it off.”

Hakan walked back down the street in the direction of the apartment building. Passing a car, he caught his reflection in the mirror. He didn’t recognize himself! He appeared to be a middle-aged Kurdish man!

Dismissing this apparition as some kind of hallucination, induced by the yabani tere (or gypsy curse, he muttered fearfully), Hakan nearly ran home. His keys were still in his pocket. He entered the building (thankfully, no one passed him in the corridor). Once inside the flat, he collapsed on the sofa, and resumed his nap.


When Banu arrived home, he could see she was very tired as usual. There were lines around her eyes. Nowadays she looked chronically deflated, cheerless. As for Hakan, visibly he was back to his normal self. He had learned not to ask about her day.

He also decided not to mention anything about the wild trip to the bazar – she would only worry.

She had done a bit of shopping on the way home as well. She had bought regular tere, along with some bread and milk. Together, they put away the groceries, and he washed and peeled some potatoes while Banu took some köfte out of the fridge. They had boiled potatoes and the meatballs for dinner, along with some of the regular cress.

“You should have some of the yabani tere,” Hakan gently insisted. “The gypsy woman said it would be good for you.”

“I don’t want yabani tere,” his wife said. “Just the normal tere.”

She always liked the natural things, and could be obstinate about the things she liked. If she had a headache, she would prefer tea to aspirin, for example. It was one of the things he loved about her.

During their courtship, and in the early days of marriage, they were fond of taking long walks together in the evenings. They would feed the street dogs and cats with bread from the local bakery, have coffee or a few glasses of wine or beer. Afterward, they would stroll together in the twilight, looking at the bright houses and gardens of the neighborhood.

These days, she was tired often, and so they spent the evenings curled up on the sofa, watching episodes TV series they both liked.


The next morning, Hakan woke up early. He made coffee for his wife and himself, and at a quarter to eight, woke his wife for work.

“Did you sleep?” he asked.

“Not really.” She still looked tired.

“Why don’t you stay home?”

His wife ignored him, and he helped her get up. She went to the bathroom to wash her face.

Later, after she left, Hakan thought about the previous day’s strange events. How had he ended up a Kurdish seller? It occurred to him that perhaps the effect of the yabani tere was hallucinogenic. What if it wasn’t? What if he really had been transformed – temporarily – into a Kurdish street seller? Was it based on the fact that he had been at the bazar last before ingesting the wild cress?

He decided to experiment. After all, he had nothing else to do that day.

Showering and dressing, Hakan went out. He got a bus down the hill to Üsküdar. Then he walked up the hill to where the fine old Ottoman houses overlooked the Bosphorus. During their summer walks, they had often gone there. They liked to vicariously dream of living in one of those houses, with their sleepy elegance and rich gardens. “It’s not fair,” his wife would say, her eyes filled with longing. “Why can’t we live in one of those houses?”

Maybe they could, Hakan thought. Taking one of the yabani tere from a small pouch, he bit into the leaves. Then he walked to a nearby bench, sat down and closed his eyes. When he awoke, he found himself inside a house. It was cozy, well-furnished, spotless. A big window looked out at the ships passing in the Bosphorus far below.

Passing a mirror, Hakan regarded his latest incarnation. Now he was a fine, distinguished fellow in his late fifties, with a salt-and-pepper beard. Nearby, some photographs were displayed on top of an oak desk. Registering his transmogrified self, wearing a military uniform, Hakan deduced he was a high-ranking official, most likely retired. Or dead, he mused? Was it possible he was inhabiting the body of a dead man? That would seem far-fetched. Did the powers of the wild cress extend to the afterworld?

“That would have to be some really good fuckin’ watercress!” he said aloud, mis-appropriating a quote from “Pulp Fiction,” one of his favorite films.  His voice, however, startled him, a rich deep voice very different from his own.

Was anyone else home? He walked over to a staircase, and proceeded up to the second floor. Upstairs, the rooms were silent, the polished wood floors immaculate, and silk white curtains blew gently on the end of sea breezes. The air was fragrant with the light summer air.

Stepping out onto a balcony, Hakan-as-the-General surveyed the hilltop horizons of the city. On the other bank, Dolmabahçe Palace was visible, as well as the Ortaköy mosque, up near the Bosphorus Bridge. Beyond that were the elegant yalıs in Bebek and Yeniköy.

Satisfied that no one else was home, General Hakan leaned over the balcony and burst into a song, shouting out the famous lines of the patriotic song, “Hoş Gelişler Ola  Mustafa Kemal Pasha! The sound of this deep, booming, alien voice echoed down the hillside.

Maybe I should dream a little bigger, he reflected. Why settle for a house in Üsküdar, as nice as they were, if he – with help from the yabani tere – could be in one of those truly grand places! Why not Erbilgin, or Hasap Pasha, or Zeki Pasha? These places were valued upwards of 200 million dollars, he’d read recently. Or maybe the wild tere was capable of reaching beyond even these places. Rome, South Beach Florida, the Riviera … Just think: l’ami d’maison for life, or at least as long as the yabani tere lasted. Of course, when it ran out he could always get more. He had his gypsy connection.

He marveled at the simplicity of the charm, or witchery, whatever the wild tere represented. To be able to be transformed and transported, to virtually live another life.

Of course, there was a catch. From his conversations with the old gypsy woman, he deduced that such journeys could only be made alone, and insofar as he could tell, the transformations were not permanent, but rather, lasted as long as the effects of the tere – a few hours, a day at most. 

He rationalized: Well, what else was he up to? As soon as he got a call for an interview from one of the many places to which he’d sent CVs, he would give all this up, and get back to business. But for now, he was free to wander about.


The phone rang. Not his mobile, but the house landline.

Hakan awoke. Earlier, he’d had a quite pleasant afternoon in Taksim working as a masseuse in a Thai massage parlor.

It was his sister-in-law. Banu was at the hospital. The sister-in-law, obviously distraught, had not communicated much except to say that Banu had collapsed at work, and had been rushed to a hospital. Taking some cash from their emergency fund in the bedroom, Hakan dressed hurriedly. On instinct, he grabbed the pouch and his mobile, then ran downstairs and hailed a taxi.

Forty-five minutes later, he was at the hospital. After an interminable period in the waiting room with the sister-in-law and a few of his wife’s friends from work, the doctor came out.

“We don’t know exactly what’s wrong with her at this point,” the doctor said. They had run all the usual tests, but the cause of the collapse remained a mystery.

“She’s been tired lately,” Hakan offered, desperate to be of help. “Can I see her?”

In the room, his wife lay on the bed, her face wan and pale. For several minutes, the sister-in-law and work friends looked on worriedly, commiserating and exchanging medical theories. It was work, traffic, stress. It was Istanbul. Others blamed the “political situation,” or the economy.

“She needs a holiday,” was the mystified general consensus.

Looking at his wife lying helplessly in the hospital bed, Hakan felt something in his chest. She hated hospitals. A deep remorse, a sympathy. For some time, he had been clutching the pouch with the yabani tere. For your wife, the old gypsy woman had admonished.

The others all went downstairs to the cafeteria to get some coffee. While they were out, Hakan took some of the wild cress out of the pouch and approached the bed. Carefully, gently, he placed them in his wife’s sleeping mouth.

After some minutes, the wife awoke.

“I was having the most wonderful dream,” she murmured. Her dark eyes had regained some lustre, and by the sound of her voice, Hakan could tell she was feeling better. A rush of emotion came over him, mostly of relief. He told his wife the strange tale of the trips he had been on in recent days (except for the Thai massage parlor, which was after all, just a “frolick.”).

“Yes, I had a dream like that too,” his wife said. “Except I was by the seaside in Anamur “ she whispered the name of her hometown on the south Turkish coast.

“I thought you might prefer the mansions by the Bosphorus –“ her husband broke in.

“No, aşkım,” she said. “They are too posh for me. Too posh for us. We are not like that. I prefer my small house by the seaside in Anamur. Why don’t we go there sometime?”

“Of course, my love,” Hakan said. “Of course we can go there. We will go there as soon as you get well.”

“But what about our work? What will happen to us?”

Hakan brushed his wife’s hair back over her forehead.

“I don’t know. We’ll figüre out something. Get some rest.”

His wife fell asleep. After awhile the others returned. They anxiously asked about Banu’s progress. The doctors came and took her pulse. They said her condition appeared to have improved. They would keep her for a day or two to monitör her progress.

Hakan also kept a close eye. That night he stayed. The staff brought him some sheets and spread them out on the sofa. Watching his wife as she slept, he wondered if he should give her more of the yabani tere now, or if one was enough. He would see how she felt in the morning.

“Get some sleep, my love,” he whispered.

She slept.


James Tressler, a former Lost Coast resident, is a writer and teacher living in Istanbul.