There is a mobile phone shop tucked just behind the Gate of Conquest, the “Fetih Kapısı” in the old Ottoman town of Bursa. Orhan Bey himself, called The Wide and The Wobbly by his wives, though he could never remember which wife called him which, stormed these gates toward his fate as Sultan of an empire that wasn’t yet an empire, stormed ferociously but unnecessarily because the Byzantine commander gave right in, just plop, dropped the proverbial keys right in Orhan’s hand.
That’s neither here nor there except to say that Orhan, so drunk with power that he undoubtedly should have relinquished his horse to a more responsible driver, didn’t even bother to stop and buy a mobile phone in the shop tucked just behind the Fetih Kapısı. Not that he could have, centuries before anybody was in such a damned hurry to talk to anybody else. But behind that would-be shop was another hidden shop that Orhan never saw, there since back when Constantinople still waved its bulbous and fetid arms at Bursa from across the Sea of Marmara, already gangrenous with the weight of its own history.
I tell you what, Adventurer, nothing ages a lovely lady like squatting between two great seas.
Long before Istanbul the wrinkly prostitute wrenched the capital from Bursa, an adventure store—called “The Adventure Store” in the parlance of whatever mouths occupied it at various points in history—waited. Sultan Bayezid chose an Adventure in fourteen so-and-so, and it said he built the Great Mosque. So he did. But Ibrahim in sixteen something got greedy and took more than one, so his older brother died (which he wanted), but he went loony-bin crazy (which he didn’t). Adventure is never without risk.
“What are you waiting for?” the man asks from behind your shoulder, and you jump because you didn’t know he was there.
“What? I don’t know. An idea, I guess.”
“Haven’t picked out your adventure yet?” he asks, stepping closer and looking at the cupboard full of small tiny drawers in front of you. “Why not this, lovely? Have this adventure, here. Is not that expensive, only a few Lira.”
You take the card. It says, If you decide to go with the man, turn to page 11. “You sneaky devil! What if I don’t want to go with you?”
“What then, Lady-type?” he asks, wiggling his eyebrows.
“I was thinking about this one. It says if I decide to pack up my bag and take the night bus to Çanakkale, meet a nice tall Balkan boy, but chance a broken heart, turn to page 8.” You show him the card.
He ticks at you, like disapproving Turkish men do. “Is no good. Here with me you smell the figs. Go on sniff, you smell the figs? I feed you some. No, not like that, lady! I am a gentleman! I cut some on a plate for you, is all. You stay, I tell the story of my annen and babam who raised me in those mountains.” He points toward the outer wall, lined by another cupboard catalog full of adventures biding their time, beyond which were, presumably, those mountains. Your eyes linger on his outstretched arm, a Sultan demarcating his dominion.
“But this one,” you say, quickly holding up another card, “this one says if I decide to catch a ferry back to Atatürk’s Istanbul and hitch a ride on the next plane outta Anatolia, go home, go back to school, and make a proper midwestern first-born daughter out of myself, turn to page 9.”
He cocks his head. “Is pretty good, I admit.” The shop smells of jasmine and yoğurt and the colored light filtering through the ceiling full of stained-glass lamps plays a winning game with your judgment.
(Do you feel the weight of it? Call it history, call it what-have-you. Do you feel it bearing down on you, young lady in Old Place? Well you should, because it is heavy and you are not strong. Adventure pulls on us while we slog, blearily, behind.)
“Okay, I’ve made up my mind,” you say, putting two of the cards back in their proper spots and clutching one tightly in one hand while fishing through your shoulder bag for some money.
“No no no, I buy for you. Is no problem.”
“But what if I didn’t choose yours?”
“I said is no problem! I buy anyway. My treat. You have adventure, blonde lady. But please, for me, wear sunscreen. You are pink as a chicken’s butt.” So you hand him the card.
(I hope you chose wisely, Adventurer. We have a strict no-return policy here; just ask Ibrahim.)
If you decide to pack up your bag again and take the night bus to Çanakkale, meet a nice tall Balkan boy, but chance a broken heart, turn to page 8.
If you decide to catch a ferry back to Atatürk’s Istanbul and hitch a ride on the next plane outta Anatolia, go back to school, and make a proper midwestern first-born daughter out of yourself, turn to page 9.
If you decide to go with the man, turn to page 11.
Front page image by OTTOMANPICTURE.