When you travel alone and you didn’t sleep at all on the sardine can overnight flight, you ask the man at your hotel for a fish restaurant close by. You may need to close out the new city and sleep after lunch.
It’s up three sets of stairs, a perfect terrace in the shadow of the Blue Mosque, blue water you vaguely (incorrectly) think of as the Bosphorus to the right. You are the only one there. You watch a woman tending to her pots of red flowers on the rooftop across.
You talk to the waiter, a sad eyed Syrian man. “Our home is gone, my family is gone.” He explains the history but you can’t quite follow. He looks for any wisp of connection. “Why are you traveling alone?” He knows a woman from Uganda, she visited Istanbul and came to the restaurant every day. He talks to her on the WhatsApp. Surely you must work for the same organization.
“I cannot learn another language… I have four now. I need to go to an English country.” He had a shop at home. Perhaps you can hire him. He hovers wistfully when you gently say it’s not that kind of organization. He brings you eggplant, a special dorado with arugula and tomato. Perfect. Shockingly expensive when the bill arrives, double any other meal you have in Istanbul.
You thank him, promise to come back, knowing you won’t. His need more than you can bear right now, full after being Auntie for ten days in Uganda.
You shake the owner’s hand, give Mohammed’s a tighter moment. He clasps your shoulder close as you descend the stairs.