We raced down the highway like a stock car in the Daytona-500. The fiend behind the wheel pressed the accelerator, forcing me back against the seat. Seconds later another drive cut us off, causing the beast to stamp the brakes. We both leaned forward, determined to exit via the windscreen.
Sweet Jesus, I thought, the evil bastard has my death note. How had forgotten I the sheer terror that comes with taking a taxi in Turkey? Arriving under the spell of love and departing under the influence of raki must have dulled the trauma on my previous visits.
'Where you from?' asked the driver.
I'd gotten into the habit of naming the last place I lived. It avoided unnecessary confusion and questions.
'Smoke?' he offered, looking back at me holding an open pack of cigarettes.
'My name is Syed,' he said pulling a cigarette from the pack with his teeth.
'Jean,' I said. 'Looks like we have traffic problems tonight.'
'I have lots of problems,' said the driver. 'Woman problems, traffic problems, smoking problem...'
I thought about asking him to pull over for a bottle of raki to treat my nerve problems, but changed my mind. The last thing I needed was a raki fueled maniac piloting us through Istanbul.
He opened the window and lit the cigarette. The traffic eased, and the Bosphorus Bridge appeared on the horizon. Its uprights, painted in a glow of red light, were like a red flag to a bull. Sayed pressed the peddle to the floor, and we shot forward, and the meter began turning faster than the odometer. The traffic ahead braked. We switched lanes. Squeezing between two cars moving at over sixty miles hour. Then the traffic in that lane braked, and we switched back. My nerves turned to jelly, and I was in desperate need of a drink.
'Where in Kadıköy?' asked Syed.
'Duatepe street, number 6,' I said.
I sat back and watched the buildings rush past. If we were going to have an accident, I didn't want to see it coming.
We catapulted off the slipway into Kadıköy, and Syed slowed to a speed that would maim, not kill.
'What number?' he asked, staring at the map on his phone.
'Number 6. But watch the road. Give me that thing. I'll navigate.'
'Does this look familiar?'
'I don't know. I haven't been here four a couple of years.'
'This is Duatepe street.'
'That one is number 46; there's 48. We're going in the wrong direction, you need to turn around.'
A car had stopped in front of us and another behind us. There was no way out.
'You're walking,' said Syed, and climbed out the taxi to take my bags from the trunk.
'Welcome to Istanbul.'
'Teşekkürler,' I said, and dragged my bag in the opposite direction.
In the middle of the intersection, a guy sat on the back of a bike holding a lit flare. Signalling a convoy of cars, with bodies hanging from every orifice to follow.
I crossed the street and hurried toward number six where Ecem was waiting for me.
'Hoşgeldiniz,' she said.
She unlocked the door to a large apartment; an old shop that had converted into an artists studio. Paintings in various stages of completion hung on the walls and books filled the shelves. Just the kind of creative environment I needed to do some serious writing.
'Here's the key. Burak left some notes on the chalkboard for you. Call us if you need anything.'
And with that, she left. I collapsed on the couch and stared at the ceiling. Above me, angels dribbled basketballs.