Istanbul, Turkey. A city of a thousand smells, sights, and sounds, most of them dizzyingly foul. A land where the bath houses are gay, and the Bosphorus Strait. Her treacherous streets are my home. Amid the cobblestone I eke out a tenuous existence, sharing my story with affluent tourists and merchants in exchange for a few liras to finance my only two vices: smoking opium and not starving to death in a crumpled heap on the side of the road.
Life wasn’t always this perilous though. A common belief among Westerners is that, for the people of the Middle East who aren’t oil magnates or royalty, life is always a day to day struggle, and true security is merely a dream that we stubbornly cling to. While that is certainly true without exception, I can remember a time not long ago when I was noticeably less malnourished.
My beats per minute never been the same.
The year was 1985. Wham!’s “Careless Whisper” topped the Billboard charts in America, enchanting listeners with its smoky saxophones and delicate melodies, and I toiled for 16 hours a day in a tin mine under inhumane conditions, making just enough money to cover the various salves, ointments and tinctures I needed to prevent the bullwhip lacerations (or as we called them, “verbal warnings”) I had incurred on the job from becoming gangrenous. I was married to a frigid, revolting Sasquatch named Afet, who refused to cook and assaulted me regularly. It was a halcyon era for me. Unfortunately, like all good things, it was not to last.
The information age already had a firm foothold in the West, and it was spreading like the Spanish flu. Over the course of a single summer, Turkey had been transformed, and at the center of it all was Istanbul. Almost overnight, third generation tin miners like myself became obsolete. The tech sector was teeming with jobs. The tin mine was converted to an LED mine, and I was laid off. I plodded home with glassy eyes to break the news to my wife.
“You lost your job, didn’t you?” She spat, before I could say a word.
I broke down. There was no hope. Everything I had worked my entire life for would have to be sold just to stave off the vultures for another agonizing day. My entire upper-lower class existence had been swept away in a single afternoon. Curried in my own grief, I collapsed on our cot. In a surprisingly accurate approximation of tenderness, she took a seat next to me, and grabbed my hand and squeezed it lightly. It felt like a tick-bitten sponge soaked in vegetable oil. Too devastated to gag, I absently squeezed back and actually did wind up gagging slightly.
“I knew this day would come. For the last six months, I have been seducing American businessmen, strangling them with box twine and hoarding their possessions.”
She slid a box out from beneath the frame of our rickety cot and opened it to reveal a small fortune in watches, rings, and US currency. The clouds had lifted, and for the first time in what seemed like an hour and a half, there was hope.
To answer your question, she majored in Nelson. Har.
I got up at 7am the next day to attend the stoning of my adulterous wife, and treated myself to a handful of dates as I listened to her gurgling pleas for mercy. After completing the paperwork which finalized the terms of our divorce, I took a cab to Istanbul’s prestigious trade school, whose alumni include Barbara Eden and Robin Williams. I spent that afternoon undergoing a battery of vocational interest tests and a humiliating physical examination which determined that I should work towards my Associate Degree in either Sorcery or TV/VCR Repair. Fearing the strenuous math requirements of the latter, I chose Sorcery.
The classes themselves were a breeze, and I was a prodigious study. After 18 months of memorizing incantations, spells, curses, and potions, I was shuffled out the door and set loose upon the world. Unfortunately, the job market for sorcerers was rockier than I had anticipated. Low on cash and desperate for employment, I applied for a summer internship at trendy sorcerer-staffed nightclub called “Djinn and Tonic’s”, and was accepted after a quick glance at my impressive credentials.
A diligent employee, I was offered a permanent position with them after only two weeks. The work was easy, the pay was great, and I promptly accepted their offer. Before the ink on the contract had dried, I was imprisoned in an empty bottle of Wild Turkey, and placed on a shelf in the supply room, where I remained until being knocked on the ground by a careless stocker 9 years later. While adjusting to the shock of corporeality, I was greeted with a kick to the stomach by my manager.
“Didn’t we fire you like seven years ago?” He bellowed.
Before I had time to react, I was being carried out into the street by two men with legs and arms like the granite columns of old Byzantium. All things considered, it was better than mining tin, I thought, as I brushed myself off and began walking home. When I arrived, my landlord drunkenly informed me that I had been evicted.
“Your belongings were placed in a storage unit downtown.” He slurred. “You may collect them at your leisure, but I would not recommend it as I had them burned out of spite.”
Homeless and friendless, I set out into the slums, and found a quiet alleyway near an open air market to cry myself to sleep in. It seemed my livelihood would now consist of performing parlor tricks and small miracles in exchange for table scraps.
The next morning I awoke with the crows and began soliciting my services. I was ignored by some and spat upon by most. The hope was draining from my face by the hour. By late afternoon, I was still penniless, desperate, and once again on the verge of curling up and surrendering myself to hunger. As I trudged dejectedly back into my filthy corner of the alley, the chattering throngs of shoppers fell silent, and a few gasped audibly. I turned to see what could have such an effect upon them, and the crowds parted to reveal him.
Wrapped in the finest linens and sporting an unimpeachable goatee, he was followed by an entourage of fragrant whores, stone-chested bodyguards, and unnecessary camels. He sauntered down the lumpy cobblestone road, pointedly avoiding eye contact with any of the peasants nervously milling about and speaking in hushed tones. A prince of some kind, I figured. Rare to see someone of his status in this district.
Delirious with hunger, I approached him. He halted the entourage with a flick of his hand, and stared me down.
“Nobility coming through. Clear the way you insolent parasite!” He commanded.
“Just give me one second, boss. I’m not like the rest of them. I have powers.” He clenched his fist and raised his arm, as if to strike me for addressing him so familiarly. I flinched in anticipation, but the blow never came.
This is what my knee might have looked like if you were Superman or if you had one of those Sony ThongShot cameras.
“What can you do for me, urchin? I need an amulet for my ailing mother, and fresh radishes for a tasty stew I will be preparing tonight. Have you either of these things?”
“Not hardly, but how about three wishes for five dollars?”
He paused and reached into his pocket, pulling out a crisp, US five dollar bill and handing it to me.
“My first wish is to have my five dollars back.” A wry smile crept over his face. His expression soon turned to disbelief however, as he reached into his pocket and pulled out ten shiny half dollars.
“One down, two to go, chief!” I gloated.
“My second wish…” He stroked his expertly groomed goatee and deliberated. “… is for you to be stripped of your powers. Goodbye.” He said, as he smashed my brittle kneecap with the jeweled knob of his garish walking stick.
I gasped reflexively and collapsed like a hobbled veal calf. With a swish of his velvet cloak, he hopped effortlessly over my thin, writhing frame and continued on to the market.
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