A new off license opens, and on finding a two bottles of wine for a fiver deal- and not total vinegar, but not one you want to keep in your mouth for long lest teeth dissolve-I become a regular patron. The shopkeepers are a rotating bunch of well-groomed middle-eastern men in their early twenties, with a seemingly deep love of loud banging garage and cheerily cheesy house music.
We exchange hellos, even in the street, but I have no idea of their names, their lives..anything. I lazily assume they are Turkish, and toy with the idea of striking up conversation regarding my travels round Turkey. I say travels, yet its only two ‘expeditions’, one a package holiday to Bodrum and a Ryanair-budgeted few days round Istanbul. I never get round to it, however.
One day, conversation does arise, unexpected, and as you’ll see, not the usual chit chat.
‘Can I pay by card?’ I ask one evening.
‘Sure’ says the youngest of the staff, ‘But its an extra 50p’.
‘Thats ok’ reply I ‘Can’t be arsed to walk to the cashpoint’
A look flickers across his features. ‘I too am tired of walking. I understand. I spend years walking’
This is a bit gnomic for a reply other than ‘Eh?’ Thus, I turn to him as I punch in my PIN, and say just that.
‘I walk from Iraq to Turkey, then across Turkey to Europe. It took me many years. But not to, and that fascist bastard Saddam (he splutters with rage here as he spits out the syllables of the decapitated dictators name) would have got me, as he got my family. He kills the Kurds, he hated the Kurds, he hated me and he would have killed me’.
My PIN is accepted and I’m invited to remove my card.
‘So after my father died, I walk. I am a child but I walk. I walk through Iraq, and see the dead, and I walk on. I get to the border, and have to run when they are not aware, and once clear, I walk again. Through Turkey, and they spit on me, the Turks, for I am a Kurd, and they do not want the Kurds. So I walk. And I walk and I walk’.
I slip my card into my wallet, and the wine into my bag. I feel a little awkward, and ask ‘Where then?’
‘My friend, then I am here. The walking is over.’
He must be a few years younger than me, possibly 28, 29. His features are handsome and angular, yet then I see in his eyes the tiredness, and realise its not the result of the 12 hour shifts he seems to work; its more ingrained than that, deep. I was 16 at the time of the first Gulf War, and the ensuing Kurdish persecution. While I marked out the weeks and months of those times in bottles of cider, Rock City gigs, and french kisses and copped feels with that once alien species, girls; his chronological markers corpses, pursuit, homelessness.
I accept my receipt with a ‘Thanks’ and as I turn to go, feel I must say something, anything. This man has known unbearable suffering, terrifying adversity, and heres me only able to match his story with ‘yeah, around the same time I spent my bus fare after a Mudhoney gig on last orders at the Bell and had to walk home. Without a coat. ‘ I don’t say that, instead I say ‘Well, heres to you not walking again’, and give him a hearty nod, and leave the shop thinking what a profoundly stupid thing I’ve just said.
I’ve since only ever paid with cash. Must be guilt.