by John Blackwood.

You know those stories where people tell you of decisions that changed
their lives. Well, this is one of those - almost. On Friday afternoons I
travel into the city on the company courtesy shuttle, I spend the
afternoon doing what I want to do in my own company and at my own pace;
in the evening I meet up with Gwen. I catch the bus back on Monday
mornings and spend the rest of the week out on the company’s research
facilities on the West Anatolia campus. So, you see, Friday  afternoon
has become a sort of island between the high pressure work week with my
Pacific Rim masters expecting solutions before we’ve even clearly
identified the problem and the weekend with Gwen rushing me through her
own set of social hoops.

I am not ungrateful. I am well paid and I enjoy the work I do. To the
contrary of many of my colleagues, I enjoy Campus life, the not having
to worry about catering, cleaning and other tedious chores. I am not
ungrateful to Gwen either. She is a very beautiful girl, a gratifying
companion on the social tour and, when she chooses, anything and
everything a virile male could ask for. But I am extremely jealous of
those few hour of personal space that I have dug out for myself on
Friday afternoons. That’s why meeting my father on that particular
Friday really pissed me off and got things off to a bad start.

Living and working in the Cumhurriet is a mirror image of my own work -
a mixture of science fiction and Arabian Night fantasy. The City is
certainly that. The city is built in the shape of a sword. The blade is
the Eighteen highway in from the western ports, passing through all
the technological and university campuses and passing under the
state-of-the-art integrated rail and bus station complex in
Bahcelievler. Where the highway meets what would be the coquille or
cup-guard on an epée it dives under the Hisar district of the City  and
re-emerges to climb the hill that leads to the National Assembly. There
the road stops as if to say this is as far east as you are ever likely
to want to come.

The Hisar, the old fortress section, is actually the center of all
traditional commerce, set within the pentagonal walls of red granite
that remind one of Carcasonne or Freiburg in Breisgau. The center of
this stronghold is dominated by the Camhamam Mosque and Supermarket. No,
I joke not. In the Cumhurriet, the Faith Party keeps its coffers strong
by selling the necessities of  life just two stories down from where
they dispense the truths. If you come in on a courtesy bus as I do and
alight at the Aksam or Evening Gate, you have the choice of using the
short metro line that links Aksamkapisi to Piazza Buenos Aires, halfway
up Government Hill; you can get off at the Camhamam complex, the Eastern
Gate - Gunlerkapisi  - or bang in the middle of the Pavement at Kizilay.
Most of my colleagues, in a rush for the beer and raki bars of the
Pavement go this route; I prefer either to walk through the Hisar if  I
have purchases to make or round the outside. Walking round the walls,
there are a number of kiosks and beer gardens where you can stop for a
refreshing draught in the shade. You won’t find beer or wine or alcohol
of any sort within the walls, just tea rooms for men and family tea
rooms where women and westerners can go.

What I normally do is set off round the walls until I come to the gate
that leads to the street of the Barbershops. Yes, in the Hisar, every
street has its trade. Should you wish a wristwatch or a mobile phone,
you direct your steps to Antioch or Adana Caddesi where you will find
courtyard after courtyard, passage after passage, multistory market
after multistory market of shops selling approximately the same range of
goods. The only guide to price - for no tags are visible - is the crowd
in the doorway. So, my first stop is the barber’s.

I am not affected by the modern passion for cropped hair. I wear mine
long and flowing, à la Highlander, but I have a fetish for cleanliness. I
love the long and careful washing process that the Barbers of the Hisar
indulge their clients in. and I like the cleanly shaven feel, the sting
of the lotion and the punishment of the scalp friction. It’s almost as
good as a workout at the gym. Yes. That’s my other fetish. I am
homicidally fit and can still turn out in the back row of any first
division club despite my more than thirty years.

So, looking better and feeling better, I come back out into the sunlight,
buy my papers, magazines and crossword books and look for
somewhere to enjoy them. A favorite spot of mine is the Guzel Koku, a
pergola garden which lives up to its perfumed name. Here I can pass an
hour with a plate of Hill Shepherd Stew, and a few glasses of Efes
before passing on to more demanding pursuits.

I was doing just that. I had  a liter in front of me, newly arrived, a
plate of pistachios and was halfway through Araucaria in the Guardian
when Father turned up. I don’t like my father and I don’t like meeting
him at the best of times. I certainly do not want to see him on a Friday
afternoon. We are both nomads and work takes us to a variety of places,
often many thousands of miles from one another. This suits me fine but
Fate has a nasty way of dealing spiteful hands and his drilling
consortium had decided there was gas under those Anatolian Hills so he
too would find himself in the Hisar on a Friday afternoon.

“Are you too busy to say Good Afternoon to your father ?”, he inquired
as he arranged himself at my table, moving my papers aside to make room
for himself and calling the garçon over for his order.

“Not too busy, but totally disinclined. And don’t ask me to buy you a
drink, because I won’t.”

“You’re an ungrateful, ungracious little bastard, Johnny.”

“Until you release my funds, pay me what you owe me and clear out of my
hair, I see little to be grateful for. Ungracious, I accept. You’re not
the only one to say so. As for bastard, only you and your lady wife know
the answer to that one, but I suspect you’re right. And should you wish
to prolong this exchange, kindly refrain from that infantile form of
address. No one I like calls me Johnny.” Little did I know, I would be
saying that again later on in the evening.

“ I heard from your mother, today.”

“What did the Praying Ma want this time. More of my money or have you
found some of your own to hand over?”

This of course is the crux of it. My total lack of respect for him stems
from his abject attitude towards his grasping and socially ambitious
wife. To stem the ever flowing demand for more, he has blocked part of
my inheritance on its way from Grandpa via Uncle Fred. He can’t do it
legally and I only let him get away with it because I know the poor sod
hasn’t got a chance without it. But, come the day when John D. Markland
- Mark to those who enjoy his confidence - steps into the business arena
on his own account, that money is leaving the nest, regardless of
gnashing of teeth and accusations of filial ingratitude.  And that day,
be advised, is not a hundred years away.

“So when are you going to cough up in the right direction?” I ask. “This
year, next year or are you hoping a Millennium Bug will carry me off ?”

“Is that all you can talk of? Don’t you want to know how Erica is?

“Who ?”

“Erica. Your mother, you insufferable git.”

“Who ?”

I have refused to refer to his wife in these terms since I was refused a
bed in the parental home when I truly had need in early adulthood. I
think he would have had a go. He’s still a big man but, as I say, I am
homicidally fit and have a tendency to hit back, hard, very hard.  He
thought better of it, grabbed my Telegraph and immersed himself in it
until his whiskey arrived. He also paid the garçon which was in itself

Instead of enjoying my Friday afternoon, I was now stuck with unwelcome
company and frustrated by the thought that any move to another place on
the Hisar sward would mean losing my front rank table and having to
jostle to find a chair at all.

“When are you on duty?” He asked after he’d ordered another shot for

“On duty? I thought I was off. Don’t catch you, I’m afraid. Not that I’m
that anxious, either.”

“Don’t play the Lillwhite with me, Johnnyboy. When does that Telegraph
Pole you go around with call you to heel ?” He may owe me money, a lot
of money, but that doesn’t prevent him from being thoroughly unpleasant,
as well. That "Telegraph Pole" was, of course, Gwen. And yes, she is
outstandingly tall, over six foot two in her stockings and when she is
in high (pun) gala dress her crown is a few (four to five) inches above
mine and I’m no titch. So that’s one in the goolies for me. And gall of
gall, in moments of incomprehension she is wont to refer to me as her
Little John or will laughingly announce in public that she likes me best
lying down. We never, never dance in public.

“Fuck off.”

“Erudite for a Guardian reader.”

“I also read the Sun so get fucking stuffed.”

“Oh Johnny, how truly touching. Signs of singed pride. Quite made my
day. Well I must be off. I’ve really enjoyed this little exchange for a
change. Toodle-pip. I’ll let you pay for the last one.” And off he
walked, Telegraph under one arm; the other looping in a vaguely derisory

Well that was my therapeutic Friday afternoon well and truly buggered up
and duty time - God I’m using his words - not far away. He’d managed to
turn the prospect of Gwen’s majestic frame into a threat rather than a
promise. And then that moment of decision I talked of at the beginning
presented itself and I made the wrong one.

To be fair it was dementia driven. Black seething rage at my father, his
presumption on my affection in return for ...., left me with one half of
the formidable Markland brain blacked out. Oh yes; No false modesty. I
am one very bright bugger and pleased to be so but in that moment
outside the Hisar walls, the simple housekeeping task of making my way
to my appointment with Gwen was beyond me. I turned in the wrong

From Friday midday with the muezzin’s call, the whole of Kizilay, that
is  the two eastern sides of the Hisar become completely pedestrianized.
This area is known ritually to the Westerners as the Pavement because
that is what it becomes; This pavement area of granite slabs in the
shape of a red crescent -  as the name suggests - is at least a
kilometer long from north to south as the crow flies, considerably
longer following the arc of the building line. At the Northernmost tip
stands the Java complex. A tower block with garden discotheque, cinemas,
cafes, bars and some of the best jazz clubs in town. This is the “ethnic”
end of the pavement and behind the Java stretch mile after mile of low
cost and no-cost housing. At the other end of the crescent there is a
twin complex - L’Italia - with a similar range of facilities but tending
more to the fine dining and western tastes. Round the corner from the
L’Italia Tower is Duvar Caddesi, a local politician’s joke because it
means Wall Street and houses all the local, national and overseas banks,
including Gwen’s Offshore International. Because the L’Italia is so
close to her work place, our rendezvous is often there but not that
Friday. We were due to meet at seven at the Java Front Bar. At half past
six I stepped out of  Gunlerkapisi and turned right - south. I should
have turned left - north. By the time I reached the L’Italia by five to
seven my mind had cleared and I had realized my mistake. On a Friday at
seven o’clock, no one, not even a homicidally fit kamikaze pilot whose
girlfriend refers to as Little John  can make his way to the other end
of the pavement in anything less than an hour. Alternatively you take a
taxi which, like every other taxi in the city, goes round the back
streets  up to Piazza Buenos Aires and back down again to the Java
Tower. This only takes forty-five minutes and costs something in the
region of two million. The price of a very good night out for two once
you get to the Java. John D. Markland - Mark to those who enjoy his
confidence - was in deep shit. The fury of a socially offended telegraph
pole is not a sight even for the homicidally fit. I was stuffed and with
but a few minutes to do what my Korean masters pay me so well for, find
a solution.

Meltem was a voice on the phone. Meltem was Gwen’s Girl Friday. Meltem
was always there, at the office. She was there at 7:05 on that Friday
evening too.

“You must be Gwen’s Little John. She’s always telling us what an athlete
you are. Actually, she’s always telling us what athletes you both are.
But you’re not really Little, are you John ?”

“It’s an Old English Joke,” I said, stressing the capitals, “Covered in
the mystery of time. I hate it. Please call me Mark. Should I call you

“Not for some time yet John Mark. Not for some time.” For some
inappropriate reason, the thought of this Meltem disappearing down the
maws of a Moslem marriage afforded me no pleasure. The voice, over the
phone, was nice, accommodating, and rhythmic - much money had been
invested on excellent language tuition. The touch-me-I-am-real version
was also nice; we would now explore the accommodating and rhythmic

“If you are looking for Gwen, you’ve come to the wrong place, you know.”

Why? Have they sacked her for talking about athletics too much on bank
time, I thought irreverently.

“I know. That’s why I am here.”

“Now, John, there’s very little logic in that explanation,” said the
voice. Definitely rhythmic. “Perhaps a little more information might not
go amiss. That is always supposing you require something in the way of
assistance. Do you require assistance, Mr. John Mark ?”

Bucket loads, if you did but know it, I thought but how do you in all
decency ask this  voice on the phone who you have just met, whose
swan-like neck is captivating you, whose pianist’s hand are enthralling
you, whose porcelain complexion is blinding you and whose general
packaging is, on the top of five pints of Efes, doing a whole lot of
damage to the loyalty buds... to put you in touch with your girlfriend
who you have effectively stood up at the most socially crucial time of
the week because of your own stupidity ? Good question, and a solution
will soon be required.

“Your appointment with Gwen was at the Java for seven o’clock. It is now
gone seven and you are at the wrong end of the pavement. Would that have
something to do with it?”

The highly paid finder of solutions for demanding Pacific Rim masters
made a noise which an intuitive voice on the telephone was able to
interpret as an affirmative.

“Why then, I ask myself, knowing that you have Gwen’s cellular number,
have you not called her?”

Another very good point there but, the finder of solutions is not only
fanatically clean and fanatically fit, he is also fanatically against
the possession and use of cellular ‘phones, especially in public places.
He does not have a cellular ‘phone and the only way for him to call his
girl friend on hers is from a public box. On Friday evening, on the
pavement, you can wait for a public box longer than it would take to
walk or taxi to the other end.

“I .... ah......don’t .....”

“...... fancy calling Gwen when you are already ten minutes late and
have no hope of rectifying matters. Yes, John Mark, I understand.”

Now I hadn’t actually said that, and I think I had come to the bank in
the hope that Meltem would in some way put the two of us in touch. I had
supposed that I would be doing the talking. The glittering prospect of a
Nice, Accommodating Rhythmic Voice doing it for me seemed nothing other
than a Solution. Distrusting the linguistic delivery systems I had at my
disposal I gave the sort of shrug and lift of the eyebrows that
everybody east of Bari knows to mean “You may well be right but I
couldn’t possibly say so.”

“Now, knowing the lady in question as we do, and knowing the importance
she places on the social niceties, we have to decorate the truth a
little. I happen to be quite good at that. It’s the Levant in me I
suppose. Anyway, it’s what the bank employs me for half the time. Now
what shall we say? No point in talking about traffic or late buses -
you’ve been in town too long for that. An accident or a fight? No. I’m
sure she’d look for the bruises. I know. You’ve just had a nasty
argument with that terrible father of yours - he was in the bank earlier
by the way and mentioned he’d bumped into that ingrate son of his. If we
tamper with the timing, it should stand up.”

Meltem means soft Western breeze in English, something close to Zephyr.
I have driven a few Zephyrs in my time but never have I come across one
with such a command of what is supposed to be my native language. I’m
going to stop doing crosswords.

In the meantime, this Friday evening zephyr is purring down the phone
making the most conciliatory of noises. I can’t actually hear any
machine gun fire from the other end but then I’m not actually straining
to catch both ends of the conversation.

“Well, that’s all very amicably settled then. Apparently, your absence
is not as disastrous as we might have feared ..... Gwen is not sitting
alone and slighted in full view of an unsympathetic crowd. She  ......
has company. She is being entertained. Although I’m sure her expense
account will show that it was she who was doing the entertaining. The
firemen are in town. The visiting auditors. Six of them. All very
presentable young men from various points in the Mid West. I gather she
will be able to stand their company until we can join them for dinner.
The table has been booked at the Buenos Aires Grill.


“Oh yes. I found it necessary to give my superior officer my own
personal assurance that I would accompany a certain Mr. Markland to the
right place at the right time. It seems there is some skepticism as to
his autonomy on some occasions.”

“But, Meltemhanim, Ms. Aydin, Meltem. I mean. Don’t you? I mean, it’s
Friday evening ....” Father would have delighted. The Guardian Reader
and Finder of Solutions reduced to driveling garbage.

“Mark. I shall call you Mark as you ask just as long as you drop the
Hanim and Ms business. My name is Meltem and I like people to call me
that. I am engaged to be married. I have been engaged ever since I was
fourteen. I am now thirty-two. My fiancé is in Iraq. He does not plan to
return this side of Ramadan. I do not belong to the Faith Party. I do
not wear pastel colored raincoats or colored scarves. As you see, I
enjoy dressing in what is termed the Western Way. When I become my
future husband's wife, I must be “intact”. This places certain
restrictions. It does not curb appetites. I enjoy male company. I enjoy
kissing men and being kissed by men; that is all I can allow myself. But
I ...., discreetly, very discreetly, do allow myself that. I shall enjoy
making sure that you reach the Buenos Aires Grill at nine o’clock. And,
perhaps ... No, that can wait. I have no interest in making your
relationship with Gwen more trying than it must be already. It is time
for us to move up the hill, if we are to enjoy a raki or two on the way.
My female intuition tells me that Mr. John Markland who prefers to be
called Mark is very much in the market for a raki or two. I suggest the
Gölge Bar, the place you westerners call Shadows. It’s a very good place
to sit and reveal one’s soul in the half dark. I know. Shall we go, or
would you like the bathroom first?”

The Buenos Aires Grill is on the square of the same name, half way up
Government Hill as I have explained. The Grill straddles the arch that
effectively marks the end of the line to ordinary mortals. Private car
traffic cannot climb any higher; only embassy, government and military
vehicles pass through the check points and even they undergo strict
scrutiny. Everything that happens above the Grill - the parties, the
receptions, the cocktails - carries more social cachet than a Leicester
Square premiere. And Gwen is addicted. Meltem has informed me that our
visiting firemen have the introductions that count to a “do” at the
Belgian Residency. An after-dinner “do”. The best kind apparently . We
will be going, I am told.

Ever since I took that wrong right turn, I have felt control slipping
away and with this piece of information I can feel the Markland autonomy
take a further knock. Am I heading for some cataclysmic event? Am I to
discover that for Gwen I am a ticket to be handed in for one of higher
value when the opportunity occurs? Am I to lose myself in a desperate
affair with the chaste fiancée of one of her country’s ambassadors? Or
am I heading for bigger Saturday morning headache than usual?

Meltem and I walk into the Grill as nine is striking and immediately
spot Gwen's copper blonde crew cut peeking discreetly above the six
blonde ones belonging to the auditor firemen. God, I think she’s  bought
a basketball team. There’s not one below six foot.

“Well now, Johnny. You’ve managed to make it after all. Now this is Dan.
No sorry that’s Dan with the big blue eyes and next to him, also with
big blue eyes is Willie. Willie’s a Swede, aren’t you Willie? And the
next set of big blue eyes belong to Frank, don’t they Frank. And here on
the either side , we’ve got Bill, Bob and Bruin. And would you believe
it they all come from Des Moines, or is it Boise, and they all speak with
the most delicious accents, don’t you all? And, Frank, Dan, Bill, Will,
this delightful lady in the charming green suit is Miss Aydin. Miss
Aydin is engaged to the Ambassador in Iraq but until His Excellency
comes home, she helps me at the bank. Sterling worker and very good at
shepherding lost people. She has even managed to shepherd Little John
here right on time. Isn’t that admirable ......”

Smashed out of her tiny mind and on a social high.

“And do you know, Johnny, what we’re going to do after dinner? We’re
going to dance and dance and dance. No, not you and me Johnny. We don’t
do that in public do we? No. I’ve got six members of the Household
Cavalry here to dance me off my feet  ....”

And straight into the bushes, by the look of it.

“Don’t worry, Johnny we’ll do our dirty dancing afterwards. We always
do, don’t we?”

Well, no. Not what you would call always but don’t let me interrupt.

“And while I’m dancing with people of my own age and height and
education, you can sit down and talk over some nice little solutions
with Ms Aydin, can’t you Johnny?”

I did as I was told. I sat next to Meltem at dinner. I went with her in
the car the Belgians sent for us. I sat with her at the reception, and
danced with her while with regimental precision the six firemen danced
Gwen off her feet and into some dark corner. I probably would have let
it all go unremarked. Meltem’s company was not a burden and I was
beginning to think of insurance policies but Bill or Bobby or Bruin or
Brassnose - one of them - just had to come over and rub my nose in it.

“Well Johnny. Looks like your little lady’s got you well and truly
tethered to the gate, don’t it?”

“I just wonder if you’ve got the memory to repeat that to me on the
balcony and perhaps you might like to bring the other walk-ons with you
to the party,” I said loudly, clearly, rhythmically but not at all
accommodatingly in my very best public school accent which I am entitled
to because, if nothing else, my inheritance paid for it.  “And while you
are digesting that, you might also take on board that I was christened
John but my friends call me Mark. You, not being one of those, can call
me sir, or at the very outside, Mr. Markland.”

There are red rags to all sorts of bulls and a particularly effective
one with mentally impaired auditor firemen from somewhere in God’s Great
Mid-West is to speak to them in a mixture of Eton and Harrow vernacular.
They don’t understand it but they recognize it. It has something to do
with being colonized.

From there on it all went down hill and got very black very quickly. I
had stoked up enough steam to be roaring homicidal drunk under the best
of situations. I fought them three at a time and took an awful pasting -
so Gwen tells me - but none of them were able to walk back down the hill
to the taxi rank in Piazza Buenos Aires. Meltem and I did. And I spent
the rest of the weekend in her flat not far from the Bahcelievler bus
station, so catching the courtesy bus back on Monday was no real
problem. We explored the limits of her chastity but we did nothing that
she would have to explain to her country’s ambassador in Iraq and for a
while I rescheduled my weekends to get off the bus at Bahcelievler
instead of at Aksamkapisi.

But now that the promotion has come through and the Junior Directorship
has been approved and salary, expenses and perks have all taken a step
in the right direction, Gwen and I are back together again.  Married
actually. What would have happened if I had turned left and turned up on
time? The only beneficiary is the cause of it all, my father. I still
haven’t sued him for my money because I don’t need it for the moment.
The way Gwen is settling into Hollywood spending patterns though, I may
have to revise that position in a month or two. One step at a time.
Hopefully, not in the wrong direction.


To bio of John Blackwood.

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