All hail, great master! grave sir, hail! I come To answer thy best pleasure; be't to fly, To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride On the curl'd clouds, to thy strong bidding task Ariel and all his quality.
Spoken byAriel, a spirit bound to serve the magician Prospero. William Shakespeare, The Tempest
IN İSTANBUL A DOORMAN DIES
They are as reliable as the dawn. Three times a day we have the honor of greeting them at our doors, no invitation necessary. They are the doormen. It’s automatic, these regular calls, for they are bound to serve us. They come with their worn notebooks and stubby pencils. They take our grocery orders and our dry cleaning, our bills to be paid, our eyeglasses for tightening, our letters for posting, and our mostly trivial complaints. At least three times a day they come to do their duty. At 9 am for shopping and errands. Again at 3 pm for more shopping and more errands. And at 9 pm they come to take our trash and, of course, say goodnight. In fact, they are available the full 24 hours. And early in the morning, every morning, they quietly deliver our very important fresh newspapers and our very important fresh daily bread. We will probably not awaken. Why should we? It might be raining, snowing, a cold Balkan wind coming in hard from the north, a day to stay in bed. But every day we witness their usual grand work, regardless of the weather or how they feel. The newspapers and the bread must arrive on time. It’s a Turkish expectation. And every early morning this small fulfillment arrives. And the doormen’s endless day begins.
From the soul of Turkey, from the villages of Anatolia, they come to the cities, these men of burden and responsibility. To Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Bursa, Adana…wherever they hear of opportunity, there they will arrive. With wives, with children, with their hopeful expectations, they come seeking that ever-receding better life. We are all the same, the same except we, the more fortunate ones, live above them. Their children see our shoes passing by their shoulder-high basement windows while we see the sky.
Each day, these noble, purposeful men bring us comfort and convenience and safety. These doormen, these men in charge of buildings, know mechanics and physics. They know how elevators rise and fall, how furnaces generate heat. And if anything dares to worry us, we just buzz them at the call-box by our doors. Someone is always at home in the basement. And there is never an errand too small. They collect our money to pay our bills. They stand in line at banks to keep our credit in good standing. Unfailingly honest, the doormen have understood early what still escapes most Turkish politicians…that you do not steal from the people that support you. They are our accountants, our engineers, our occasional plumbers and electricians and carpenters. They are the keepers of the keys, our trusted concierges. They are our shoppers, our bargain hunters, our gardeners. They collect our trash. They clean our hallways and stairways and elevators. They rake and sweep and hose. And some even have the power to heal. And I can swear to that. Like sergeants in an army, doormen get things done while the officers sit and dream of promotions.
Most of all, they carry heavy things, things measured in kilos and liters and cases. Beer, rakı, soda water, drinking water, fresh vegetables, meat and fish, fruit, canned goods and detergent and… the cumulative weight crushes them. Do we ever think of that? Every day their backs bend, shoulders strain, muscles ache, closer and closer to the earth, the slow crushing ache drawing them down, stealing their breath until…
How much are such people worth? Can we count the ways and measures? Really? Then how much for one life?
Ilyas, our doorman, died yesterday. He fell to the street in the line of duty carrying water. Ilyas possessed enormous strength but not even he was strong enough for this life. A young man of 48 years made old by years of responsibility, diligence and hard work. A wife, four children, he carried them and the people in the building on his back for over two decades. And at the end he fell among his friends, the shopkeepers, in the street he had walked tens of thousands of times. They called the ambulance. It happened so quickly. At the hospital he had surgery, brain surgery. There were one maybe two cerebral aneurysms. Details don't matter. He died that night. It happened so terribly fast.
He arrived home at noon. A crowd had gathered outside the apartment, his family, his doormen friends, people from the apartment, the hair stylists from the beauty salon, and the others. The men pressed close to the green hearse bearing İlyas, responding to the prayers. The women grouped farther back, weeping, their shining desperate eyes. Then it was over. The hearse pulled away followed by a few cars. İlyas returned to rest in the village of his youth, Yozgat, in central Anatolia. His daughter İlknur told me years ago of how she loved to spend time with her grandparents in Yozgat. “It’s the only place I can ride my bicycle,” she said. İlknur, now a young mother, lives in Yozgat with her growing family. She did not expect to see her father so close so soon. Everything happened so quickly.
Every time the doorbell rings, my mind shouts “İlyas!” But it is never İlyas. I am crushed by the horror of it all. This morning, like İlyas, I walked up the street to buy my newspapers and a loaf of bread. It was not raining—that was the best part of the day.
James (Cem) Ryan Istanbul (Suadiye) 31 January 2013