The Mansion on a Hill

Living in Istanbul

This heavy rain reminds me of the night I got off the bus at Fener Balat with another young woman. It had been raining and I remember feeling surprised to see someone like me getting off the bus, crossing the road in the same direction. Surely we wouldn’t be going the same way. Not through the side street up past the house with the hidden fig garden. Not up those dark steps, which my mother would have forbidden me to take if she had known. That short cut of mine turned out to be hers. At one point we were so close that I felt I should say something to be polite but nothing.

I followed her through the darkness, lost in my thoughts, wondering where she was going. At the top of the first set of steps is where I always stopped to admire the view. In the dark, there wasn’t much to see but the sudden expanse of darkness crowned with the distant twinkle of lights gave breath to the imagination and for a moment invited it to wander. Lite up by the sun, the view was of rooftops with chimneys smoking, cobblestone roads leading down to the main street, the snake-like curve of the golden horn.

At the top of the second set of steps stood a single mansion looking out over the same view. Its black iron gate, decorated at the top with two hounds facing each other, looked like one that you would find in a storybook. It was made in such a way that you couldn’t see inside and I never dared to open it. It was clear from the high walls that this was a private place. A place in which you could only enter with a key, and it is the key that I heard as my thoughts wandered in the darkness and the girl disappeared inside.

Photograph: A map of Fener Balat taped to an abandoned shop, Istanbul.

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