In the rush of bodies to board the ferry leaving Istanbul for Gölcük, Sinan lost his son.
Five minutes earlier ÿIsmail had been tugging Sinan in the opposite
direction, back toward the city, deep into the labyrinth of arcades
and electronics stores of the Sirkeci neighborhood. Sinan suspected it
was for the exact purpose of missing the ferry home and delaying the
pain of the circumcision ceremony that evening. The boy stomped
across the bricks in his white circumcision costume, one hand squeezing
Sinan’s fingers and the other hoisting his tasseled staff in the air
like a pasha leading a parade. Sinan let himself be pulled for a while,
but the horn had already sounded, and, even though he, too, wanted
to delay the ceremony, they couldn’t miss that ferry.
When they had reached Re¸sadiye Avenue, Sinan pulled ÿIsmail
into the street just as the traffic broke, Sinan’s shoulders rocking back
and forth in an awkward dance on his bad foot. He finally pushed
Ismail through the metal gate to the ferry dock just in time for them
to join the throng of men and women leaving work for the day. They
ran from the shade of the dock back out into the searing summer sun,
Sinan leading Ismail this time through a sea of elbows, shoulders, and
damp backs. They climbed the thin plank of wood used as a bridge
from dock to boat, the green water beneath them churning with
translucent jellyfish, and they entered the smoky cabin, where Ismail
dropped his staff. He let go of Sinan’s hand, and before Sinan could
grab his son’s arm, the boy disappeared, swallowed by the wave of
Now Sinan shoved through the crowd to get to the boy, but his
foot made it difficult. He pushed against the stomachs of men smoking
cigarettes, turning sideways to make himself thinner. “Affedersiniz,”
he said to each person he touched, in a voice barely concealing
his rising panic. “Excuse me.” But the more he struggled forward, the
more he was shoved backward by the jostling mob, and soon he was
forced all the way to the other side of the ferry, his back leaning
against a rusty chain that kept him from tumbling into the Bosporus.
“Allah, Allah,” he said out loud. A man standing next to him
glanced in his direction.
“Too many men,” the man said. He lit a cigarette, the smoke flying
away from his face. “Too many men, not enough city.”
“My boy’s lost,” Sinan said.
The man turned around. He was taller than Sinan and he was able
to see over the heads of the crowd.
“Where?” the man said.
“At the entrance.”
The man stood on his toes and yelled across the cabin in a voice so
powerful it silenced the crowd.
“Erkek çocuk nerede?”
That started a chorus of echoes. “Where’s the boy?” strangers
called, their voices rising above the sound of the engine straining to
pull away from the dock. “Where’s the boy? Where’s the boy?” they
yelled into the wind, as the ferry nosed its white hull out into the blue
water. “ÿIsmail!” Sinan called, joining his voice to the chorus. The
men yelled “ÿIsmail” too, and a pandemonium of concern radiated out
through the cabin.
Then thirty feet away, rising above the heads of hundreds of people,
came his son. At first ÿIsmail seemed to be floating under his own
power, a princely ghost taken flight in the sea-whipped wind, but as
he drew nearer, Sinan saw the shoulders on which ÿIsmail rested. The
man elbowed through the parting crowd, a cigarette burning in his
mouth, his large, hairy hands wrapped around the boy’s stomach.
Ismail’s white teeth gleamed against his skin and his black eyes shone
in the afternoon light. The staff was clasped in his fist, and for a moment
he seemed to be a king raised high above the people of ÿIstanbul.
“Te¸sekkür ederim,” Sinan said when the stranger handed him his
“Bir ¸sey de¢gil.”
When the ferry docked in their suburb of Gölcük three hours
later, Ismail wouldn’t let go of the railing. Sinan touched the top of
Ismail’s head, and reminded him of the gifts he would receive after
the ceremony. He tickled ÿIsmail’s armpits and tugged on his earlobe,
which didn’t earn him the usual dimpled smile, much less a loosening
of the boy’s white-knuckled grip. A few women, shuffling toward
the exit, smiled in sympathy. The man who had carried ÿIsmail on his
shoulders slid a one-million-lira note into the pocket of the boy’s
white satin vest.
“What’s your name?” the man said.
“ÿIsmail what?” the man said.
“That’s a fine name. A strong man’s name.” The man winked at
Sinan. “Can’t stay a boy forever,” he said.
Sinan thought the man was scolding him for ÿIsmail’s age–nine, at
least a year too old for the sünnet–but the man’s smile betrayed nothing
When the deck was cleared of people, Sinan touched his son’s
hand and felt the boy’s fingers stiffen. “We have to go,” he said.
Behind ÿIsmail, the sun collapsed in red bands along the horizon.
Sinan knelt beside ÿIsmail and put his hands on the boy’s shoulders.
“It will hurt, but that pain will pass and God will know you’re
willing to endure pain for him. A man has to endure pain, ÿIsmail. But
it will pass.”
Ismail looked at the ground, his long eyelashes pressed against his
“Baklava soaked in honey afterward? Two, maybe?”
Finally, the boy smiled.
They had left home that morning, just as sunlight broke above
the bay, and took the three ferries the length of the Gulf of ÿIzmit into
Istanbul. Sinan hadn’t been to ÿIstanbul since they had first arrived in
the city from Ye¸silli, their village in the Southeast, seven years ago,
but it had been ÿIsmail’s special request to be paraded around the city
on the day of his circumcision. Sinan hated ÿIstanbul–too many people,
too much cement, too little sky–but ÿIsmail was fascinated by it.
Even after a full day of stomping around the city that caused Sinan’s
foot to ache, his son’s fascination rubbed off on Sinan.
People had been kinder than he had expected. A woman in a pastry
shop had offered the boy a slice of chocolate cake laced with pistachio
nuts, a bite of which ÿIsmail promptly dropped on the white satin
of his pasha’s costume, soiling the garment that had cost Sinan a
week’s earnings. A taxi driver gave them a free ride up to Topkapý
Palace, where, like sultans of another age, they gazed out over the
shimmering waters of the Bosporus. They marveled at Bo¢gaziçi Bridge,
standing like a huge metal suture between the hills of Asia and
Europe. They counted the boats crisscrossing the Sea of Marmara–
massive tankers that shoved the water aside, lumbering car ferries
leaning into the current, driftwood-sized fishing spits–and settled on
the number forty-six. As they passed the fish houses in Kumkapý
neighborhood, the musicians at one of the tourist restaurants left their
table and followed ÿIsmail down the street, blowing their reed flutes to
announce his passing.
Nilüfer and ÿIrem had stayed home to cook the food for the party
tonight. If they had still lived in Ye¸silli, Sinan’s aunts and uncles and
cousins would have helped, and the whole family would have paraded
Ismail through the unpaved streets. Sinan kept the memories of
his own sünnet celebration to himself; he didn’t want his son to know
what he was missing. But the images had flashed in his mind throughout
the day–his father hoisting him onto their best horse, his mother
walking beside him, one hand resting on his knee, and the horse’s
belly swaying against her own pregnant bulge. It was one of his last
memories of her, and even though her face had been white and she
wouldn’t smile, he hadn’t thought to tell his father to get her home.
Three days later, his father would leave Sinan with his aunt while he
drove his mother to the good hospital in Diyarbakýr. She was bleeding,
his aunt told Sinan. The doctors would make her better and he
would have a little sister or brother when they came home. Only his
father came back.
Now the call to sunset prayer echoed from dozens of speakers, the
amplified voices ricocheting off the cement walls of apartment buildings.
Sinan was nervous, too, and a knot the size of an apricot had
hardened inside his stomach. The walk home took them past the fishmonger’s,
and Sinan gave ÿIsmail money to buy the fish heads and severed
tails for the street cats. Eren Bey, the fish seller, wrapped the
remains in paper and handed them to ÿIsmail.
“Wait,” Eren Bey said, holding up one bloody finger. From a fernlined
basket filled with his best palamut, he grabbed the largest fish,
wrapped it up with a sprig of oregano, and dropped it into ÿIsmail’s
hands. “Fish will make you a strong man.” He flexed his bicep and
slapped the bump of muscle. “All the women in the world will kiss
Eren winked and ÿIsmail smiled.
“Please,” Sinan said, “he’s just a boy.”
“Efendim,” the fish seller said, his hands held out as if he were
mildly insulted, “just a joke.”
They stopped at the rotting wooden konak where the street cats
lived, but the cats were not there. ÿIsmail threw the fish parts through
the broken window anyway, a gift for their return. They took maghrib
prayer at mosque, and Sinan listened as ÿIsmail stumbled through the
Arabic. Afterward, they climbed the hill that led to their apartment,
and the bright lights of the amusement park below spun against the
darkening sky. Sinan promised, as always, to take ÿIsmail there someday
for a ride on the Ferris wheel.
By the time they reached their apartment, the knot in Sinan’s
stomach had grown to the size of a small apple. He massaged the spot
with his fingertips and it rolled around inside his stomach. He wondered,
briefly, if he could delay the ceremony one more year. But
people were already coming, the sünnetci was already scheduled, and
he would have to make his son suffer the pain tonight.
“Go on and see Ahmet,” Sinan said to ÿIsmail. He knew his
brother-in-law would spoil the boy, treat him like a child one last time
before ÿIsmail had to bear the burden of trying to be a man. “I’ll come
and get you at the grocery later.”
Sinan climbed the curving staircase of his apartment building.
American music blasted down the stairwell and rattled the metal railing.
He hated their apartment. From the outside it looked nice: the
cement walls were painted yellow and the stairway to the front door
was made of mediocre marble that shined when the apartment manager
bothered to polish it. But inside you could hear a man whisper
through the plywood doors, the plaster walls were chipped, and on
stormy afternoons, when the rain rolled across the bay as though the
sea had stood up and formed a wall, the wind slipped through the
cracks in the mortar and deposited saltwater and cement dust in
the corners of the living room.
In the kitchen, Nilüfer was covered in sweat and a dusting of flour.
Little balls of dough stuck to her fingertips.
“Sinan.” She smiled. “Caným,” she said, and purposely pressed her
doughy hands to his face.
“Stop that, Nilüfer,” he said, but he let her smear the dough across
She kissed him once on each doughy cheek. Sinan tucked a stray
strand of hair beneath her head scarf.
“How long has this been going on?” he asked, motioning with his
head toward the music blasting through the ceiling.
She shrugged. “Forty-five minutes?” She looked behind Sinan.
“Well, go get him. I need to get him ready.” She squeezed loaves
of bread he had brought from the grocery that morning. “This bread
is too hard. You need a new bread man,” she said. She walked into the
kitchen. “The yogurt is runny. This heat is ruining it all. The börek
won’t rise, the peppers are like rubber.”
“Nilüfer, it will be fine,” he said. “I’ll go to the store and get more
bread. Stop worrying.”
She leaned a fist on a hip and blew air through her teeth. “As
though you don’t worry.”
He touched his stomach and made a face.
She waved her hand at him. “See.”
He laughed. “All right, all right.”
He looked around the corner to where his daughter sat watching
television and made sure ÿIrem could not see them before touching
Nilüfer’s hips and kissing her on the lips–a long kiss, the kind he
usually gave her only in their bedroom.
“Quit with that,” she said, but her hands rested on his chest. She
slapped him on the shoulder and whispered, “We don’t need any
“What’s this?” Sinan said. Some sort of pastry sat in a circular tray
on the kitchen table. It wasn’t a Turkish dish.
“Pecan pie,” Nilüfer said with an astonished lifting of her eyebrows.
“Sarah Haným brought it down for the party.” She glanced
toward the ceiling.
“The American’s wife?” he said. “Pecans?”
An American family occupied the sixth floor, the one directly
above them. They spent only the summers here, just sitting around,
drinking wine on the terrace, and listening to jazz music, as far as
Sinan could tell.
“Her name’s Sarah,” Nilüfer said, glaring at him. “Sarah Roberts,
and she’s nice.”
“Maybe, then, she could teach her son some manners.” He
pointed to the throbbing ceiling.
“We should have invited them. I feel bad.”
“You should be helping your mother,” Sinan said to his daughter,
sticking his head around the corner into the living room.
“Baba, I’ve been working all day.” She didn’t look at him when she
spoke. He didn’t know what it was about fifteen-year-old girls, but he
had never known a child so rude to her parents.
He glanced at the television. It was an American show dubbed in
Turkish, and the actors’ mouths stopped moving before the lines were
finished being said. A scantily dressed blond girl killed monsters with
He watched the show for a minute, enough to determine that it
dealt with the devil and sex.
“I don’t want you watching this. It’s not moral.”
“Baba, Buffy kills the vampires, the evil ones. What’s more moral
He snapped off the television.
“Get yourself ready for tonight,” he said. “It’s your brother’s special
Irem ran down the hallway. “ÿIsmail, ÿIsmail, ÿIsmail,” she said, “always
Ismail.” She slammed the door to the room she shared with her
brother and the music upstairs stopped.
Sinan let out a frustrated breath of air. “How are we raising our
children?” he called toward the kitchen.
“You could say hello to her first,” Nilüfer said, popping her head
around the corner of the kitchen.
“So she could ignore me and stare at this stupid box?”
“Sinan, it’s only a television show.” He heard the oven door squeak
open. “She’s been working hard since this morning. Be nice.”
He switched on the television again and watched for a minute,
turning his head to the side to consider it. There was killing and there
was kissing, enough for him. He shut it off.
“I’m going to invite them,” Nilüfer said, standing in the hallway
“No.” It was bad enough they lived above him, but he didn’t want
the Americans inside his house, especially on this day.
“Sinan,” Nilüfer said. “It’s wrong. They’re our neighbors.”
He shook his head, but she was already coming toward him with a
smile on her face.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Gardens of Water by Alan Drew Copyright © 2008 by Alan Drew. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.