Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My Turkish Boyfriend

"I am just happy you walked in the store." He slowly grabs my hand and places it in his surprisingly soft palms. Then, silent as a hybrid, he rolls in for a kiss on my cheek. Sure. Wait. Huh? My sister is standing there giggling at what's happening. "Hehehe." Oh. I'm giggling too. He sheepishly winks. Who would have thought? A Turkish shopkeeper working in the middle of an Istanbulian marketplace is the king. The king of flirting. He should be sitting on a throne somewhere, all puppy eyed, as pretty servants who've fallen for his enchantment feed him Turkish Delights. Instead he's here in this small tile shop, kissing my germy hand and whispering 'Beautiful' under his breath. 

Danielle is narrowing down her favorite tiles. We didn't walk in with intentions of buying, yet twenty minutes later, here we are. Gökhan (sounds like Go-kahn), that's the king's name, has brought out more options from the back room for her to choose from. A man walks in and asks the price of a tile. "Thirty five lira." Danielle and I glance at each other. We were quoted 25 lira. The man walks out, followed by Gökhan. He's going to the shop next door to grab even more tiles. His goal is to keep us here as long as possible. That's not some crafty marketing scheme. He's just told us multiple times. 

"I mean, we have to buy something. Right?" How could we not? The king has already invested so much of his time. He walks back in and starts explaining the difference between the acrylic and glass tiles. As I look over the merchandise, there's an fiery stare burning a hole in my face. Ah. Ah! Too hot. I look up. The second our eyes meet, he looks away. "Ohmygod." We are at a junior high dance and a slow song just started. 

Danielle and I continue to hover over the tiles, debating. So many beautiful ones, it's hard to decide. Oh, that one is my favorite. Hmmm, but the red flowers are nice. Nah, I still like the other...what? My new boyfriend swooped in for another kiss. How did he do that? HOW IS HE GETTING AWAY WITH THAT?! How is Danielle just standing there laughingHow am I just standing here laughing? After he makes his move, he modestly shies away. This guy. His bold, yet bashful charm lets him get away with anything! It's not even coming off cheesy. It's adorable. We're eating it up. 

Gökhan turns to Danielle. "Ok. You are definitely going to buy something?" 
Now, to me. "And you are definitely not going to buy something?" 
We look at each other like indecisive fairies. He points out the tile pile to my sister. 
"You. Choose from these." Then he picks up my favorite tile and moves it to the other end of the table. 
"Forget about this one.........and we will talk about it later." 
Ga ga giggity giggly giggles from the ladies.

Danielle has made her final selection. Gökhan tells us that for an additional fee, he can mount the tile so it's ready to hang on the wall. Perfect. But he's dropping the additional fee. And the tile is now only 10 lira. 

After Danielle's souvenir is thoroughly pimped out and mounted, it's "later." Gökhan grabs my favorite tile and starts sweating, literally. "I hope that when you look at it, you think of me." I enthusiastically tell him how much I appreciate the kind gesture and how I'm so looking forward to showing off his beautiful gift in my apartment. And I mean it, I'm stoked. I love it! And I really will remember this chance meeting whenever I look at it.

"Do you mind...if we take picture together? To prove you were here." Of course! To show our grandkids. For the third, fourth, maybe fifth time, he holds my hands. But this time he's not playing and looks me directly in the eyes. In his best English, "Always remember. You deserve happiness, whatever you do. Don't ever accept less than the best. You deserve best. Please...be happy." 
As if I'm not already smitten. 
How can he say these things with such conviction after only knowing me for half an hour? But he really does seem genuine. Am I a fool? I believe him. What's just happened here? I walked into this store looking for nothing, just looking. Thirty minutes later, I'm walking out with an overwhelming sense of appreciation - for Gökhan's generosity, his kindness, and his respect for me - a tourist who's wandering into his workday. It's almost too much to process in the moment.

Not that we've overstayed our welcome, but it's definitely time to go. There are warm good-byes all around. 
Smiles. Thanks. Hugs. Rainbows.

We stumble out into the marketplace, drunk on laughter. Two sisters - walking arm in arm - absolutely giddy over what just happened. Did that just happen? It did! We find my brother-in-law sitting at an outdoor cafe drinking apple tea and eating a grilled cheese, understandably tired of waiting for these girls and their shopping. 
"Ohmagah, Juan...and he kept trying to hold her hand."
"And the winking!" 
"Oh, the winking..." 
We volley the story, back and forth, when it hits Danielle...we forgot to pay! We got lost somewhere in the cloud of compliments and kisses, and absentmindedly just slipped out the store with our perfectly wrapped tiles. 

Running. Giggling. Gasping. Laughing. We're trying to retrace our steps through the hectic marketplace back to the shop, but they all look the same. "That way!" Shopkeepers chime in, adding to the ridiculousness of it all. 
"Keep going!" "That one. You were in that one!"
Like there's a fire, I throw open the door and grab my boo's arm. "We forgot to pay you!" 
His face melts from horror to laughter.  
"Ohhhh, you didn't have to come back to paaaay me. But I'm glad you did. I get to see you longer." 

Inevitably, there are more kisses and hand holding. It doesn't even phase me. Surely, this counts as our second date. Gökhan writes down his email on the back of a card. "Even just to let me know you got home safe." 
Bigger smiles. Many thanks. Bear hugs. Double rainbows.
But not before we pay. He charges us $5 for $50 worth of merchandise. 

Gökhan. Oh, Gökhan. Loving boyfriend. Terrible salesman. 

Now back in L.A., the tile hangs in my bathroom. Every time I look at it, I think about Istanbul.
That marketplace. That man. The kisses. All the giggles. The tile is so much more than a decoration. It's a memory.