I remember it more like a surreal, misty dream than a real memory.
Seven years ago, I was living in the most beautiful city in the world – Istanbul.
I taught English there after graduating from university in Canada. For a 23 year-old Winnipegger who had never travelled before, the city was impossibly beautiful, like something out of my childhood imagination. I felt like I had stepped into the pages of a forgotten fairy tale.
The contents of some wonderful old museum had seemingly spilled out all over the ancient city’s crowded streets. Everywhere I looked were feasts for my dazed senses.
Ancient mosques towered over me, bellowing the Arabic call to prayer in unison five times a day. Boisterous merchants hawked fresh fish, caged animals, and brightly coloured pungent spices in open markets. A hodgepodge of vehicles weaved through narrow cobblestone roads. The shimmering waters of the mighty Bosphorus hypnotised all who gazed upon them.
It was my first time living abroad, surviving on my own and working anything but a summer or part-time job. Every day was a new adventure exploring Turkey and myself. I was finally the person I wanted to be – independent, confident, and happy.
And then, right in the middle of it all, I met Evrim.
She came late to her first English class, breathlessly apologizing. I was the one caught off guard though, because she was the closest thing to perfection I’d ever laid eyes on. Short with long, curly black hair, a smile that stirred something inside of me, and sad, dark eyes, full of secrets and fire.
Everything about her captivated me. An architecture student, she was creative and fiercely ambitious. She was the only one in my intermediate English class who always dared to raise her hand, even for the hardest questions, whether she knew the answer or not. During the breaks when everyone else would go for tea, she would stay behind and study her notes.
One day I caught her after class and we chatted for hours in the school’s cafeteria, huddling over her electronic dictionary for occasional assistance. We ignored the other students giggling and gossiping. There was a simple purity to our conversations. We made every sentence count, and there was no room for idle chatter. We both loved art, and I asked her to come with me to Istanbul’s modern art museum.
After the museum, we went for tea in Tophane, a neighbourhood alongside the Bosphorus full of cafes with colourful bean bags to lounge on. A Roma flower seller walked by, and I bought Evrim a small bouquet of red roses.
Finally we exhausted our conversation and I feared it was time to say goodbye. But as we started walking, she hesitantly asked, “Do you want to drink beer?” and I realized our day wasn’t over yet.
We walked to Nevizade, which looks like a North American’s fantasy of Europe – crowded, narrow cobblestone streets teeming with patios, rooftop terraces boasting majestic views, and roving musicians.
That night, as the alcohol slowly granted us courage, there was a long pause before Evrim spoke. “Now I must ask a question to you,” she said. My heart raced. “Do you…want me?” She was still learning English, and it came out sounding more forward than she intended. What she meant was, did I like her. With the help of my budding new confidence I answered without skipping a beat – “absolutely.” She just smiled.
Later, I walked her to a taxi in Taksim Square, a bustling transportation hub in the heart of Istanbul. As we walked, I tried to hold her hand, but she playfully pulled away. I was confused, but I had to try one more time.
As we were waiting for a cab, with thousands of people swirling around us, she gently rested her head on my shoulder. I knew it was like jumping into a cold lake and the longer I thought about it the harder it would be, so I dove in. I took her silk cheeks in my hands and kissed her. It was one of a late bloomer’s first real kisses.
I don’t know if any planes crashed or scientists noticed strange activity that night, but I’m quite certain that time stopped for a few seconds when our lips met. I apologize to the crowds of people in Taksim Square at the time for the small explosion we surely caused.
Our romance blossomed over the coming weeks and I was happier than I had ever imagined I could be. I fell helplessly in love with her, ready to rip my return ticket to shreds, and she told me she loved me too. Life was perfect. But of course, such bliss never lasts. I lived in constant fear that one day I would wake up from this dream and find myself once again the one who never gets the girl.
I was inexperienced with romance, but I knew something wasn’t quite right early on. Evrim blew hot and cold and always seemed like she was hiding something. She avoided me sometimes, hesitated to meet my friends, and would leave Istanbul for days without telling me. There was just something slippery about her.
I thought the problem was that she knew I would eventually leave. Every time she asked me when I was leaving I changed the subject. One day I told her that my return flight was soon. I had to go to my sister’s upcoming wedding in Canada, but I promised her I’d come right back, and defer my upcoming masters for a year, and I meant it. She cryptically said, “It’s your life,” and once again I was confused.
One day I needed to clear my mind, so I took a walk down Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul’s bustling pedestrian thoroughfare, plodded on by millions of people every day. She had been sending me peculiar texts, telling me she’s a bad person, and things came to a point where I had to ask her if she was cheating on me. Her reply took years to recover from. “No,” she wrote. “I’m cheating on my boyfriend with you.”
I pathetically begged her to leave him to be with me, a foreign English teacher who didn’t speak Turkish. I noticed a few days later that I was starting to lose my hair. I was utterly defeated.
In retrospect, it was unsurprising. She’d been lying to me, a naïve hopeless romantic, the entire time we were together. Even her confession turned out to be a lie, as I later found out the boyfriend was actually a fiancé. She ended up marrying him and having a child.
I never saw her again, not even to say goodbye.
I left Turkey in a crumple. For months afterwards I could be seen walking the cold, empty streets of suburban Winnipeg, pondering my experience, shaking my head in disbelief, but with a small smile on my lips.