ISTANBUL, TURKEY. As part of International Women’s Day, ROOSTERGNN is publishing a series of articles relating to the life of women all over the world. This tale from Turkey is one of them.
“Sadece su, lütfen.” Nadya turned towards me. “I ordered us some water.”
Nadya and I had attended university together in the United States. Several years later, I was visiting her in Istanbul. I didn’t understand; my former best friend wasn’t going to have a cocktail? When the waiter had gone his way, and I couldn’t help but ask.
“I don’t drink,” Nadya affirmed, tightly clasping her hands, her nails digging into her own skin. She kept glancing over to the other end of the restaurant, her silky hair tied back in a tight bun. A jet-black turtleneck was visible underneath her beige Burberry trench coat, elegantly tied at her waist.
This isn’t the girl I used to know.
“Life is different here,” Nadya continued, speaking quieter every time. “I have to be very careful about what I do.
“What do you mean?” I replied, wondering whether she referred to the pickpockets that I, too, had tried to avoid all weekend.
She leaned in towards me. “My family has hired a bodyguard to shield me,” she hushed.
The waiter re-appeared. I thankfully gulped down half a liter.
“Shield you?…From whom?” I inquired.
“Men,” she said.
The pause wasn’t awkward, it was just long.
“We have to be cautious about who we are seen with.” I slowly realized that by ‘we’ she was referring to young girls in Turkey.
“Going out with the ‘wrong’ man can stain your reputation,” she added.
Back at college, Nadya had been through ups and downs like many other students. Her ‘relationships’ with guys had always been liberal.
“In fact, he’s right outside.” She tilted her head, her eyes remained on me. Through the window, I could make out the silhouette of a middle-aged man, pacing up and down, a local newspaper in his hand. Her bodyguard?
“So what about the guy you were dating when we talked on Skype a month ago?”
“We were working together on the film production. He is in love with me. But he’s not the one.”
Nadya? A soulmate?
“The one??” I asked.
“Here, if you’re not a virgin, men won’t marry you. You’ve already been used.”
I was putting the pieces together.
“I am a virgin,” Nadya added confidently.
I could sense that it would be impossible to have a sincere conversation. I knew Nadya wasn’t a virgin. But I also knew that this was not the place to make her admit she wasn’t.
We ordered and ate in silence. I remembered that when Nadya’s U.S. visa had expired, she hadn’t found an employer that would sponsor her to stay. Employment in Istanbul, on the other hand, was booming.
But returning to Turkey was also a trip back in time, marred by leading a double life. Old customs preserved by means of hyprocrisy. How could she renounce the liberal life she had lived abroad? Or was coming back to Istanbul a relief, a fresh start? When she finally found the one, would she have her virginity repaired by means of secret surgery?
We were waiting for the check. Looking over at a girl I thought I knew and understood, I asked, “Are you happy here?”
“This is where I’m from,” she replied, looking out towards the Bosphorus.