Burning coals glow red atop the golden plate. The friendly café owner props the Hookah next to us by the planters of mauve and red lilies. My mom nods her thank you. I whisper mine. You say, “Merci,” and with it, watch my parents beam in your sweet attempt to speak Farsi. Our Turkish host chimes in, “Teşekkür.”
We flew across the ocean and over the seas, you and I, to meet my parents somewhere in between. I wanted you to experience a place akin to where I grew up—a city cloaked in honking horns and exhaust smoke, where drivers color outside the lines, and dark brown eyes are framed with deep wrinkles of smiles.
Winding the cobblestone paths to the Galata Tower, we wander in and out of shops tucked into ancient walls. We practice our negotiation tactics with the amiable shopkeepers; we resist buying a large rug with hues that mimic the mood of the Blue Mosque watching over the Old City and its red-tiled rooftops. In the bazaar, you linger near the fragrant heaps of herbs and spice. I am drawn to the kaleidoscope of shawls and scarves. My fingertips run along the gleaming threads of silk. On a shelf next to the amber bracelets and opal rings, an orange tabby is soundly asleep. Ceiling fans lift the heat from our cheeks, the delicate fabrics dance. Blue and gold, sage and silver shimmer with the slightest breeze.
We find our way to the water. Near the bridges across the Bosporus, we settle in at a café hidden in a narrow alley, where old Maple trees shelter the travelers and the local passersby. Between the Black and Marmara Seas, Europe, and Asia, the four of us gather. We smoke Hookah, drink from thin-waisted teacups, and savor little Turkish Delights. My mom cuts into the flaky layers of Baklava, and I long for that hint of bitterness that almond paste leaves behind. “Iranian Baklava is different…it’s concentrated and intense, better , I think,” I say. You disagree, but I can trace a faint smile in the depth of your blue eyes. My dad laughs, and you roll the dice. The rug-covered cushions feel intimate, rough, just right against my bare legs.
Bubbles form in the base, loud at first, but soon they fade into the clinking of teacups. The sound of the checkers hitting the edges of the wood brings back memories long forgotten: the times my grandfather used to challenge my dad to a game of backgammon with a bit of bantering on the side.
Hagia Sophia, with all its charm, awaits us somewhere beyond this street. I sip on the hot tea with a perfect note of cardamom and think, perhaps tomorrow. Today, I want to be in-between.
Naz Knudsen is an Iranian American writer and filmmaker. Her nonfiction work has appeared in Mayday Magazine, and she has a flash piece forthcoming in an anthology by Alternating Current Press. Previously, her translations have been published in Farsi. She lives in Durham, North Carolina, and teaches storytelling and film editing. You can find her on Twitter, @nazbk.