bubbles | illustrations by seth williams

She was walking barefoot, back and forth in the way too long corridor of her house and thinking: Sabuncakis must be closed by now, coffee shops must be packed with people, sea buses must be slicing through the dark blue waters and taking revenge of their usedness, and those who will be drunk later must now be enjoying the hell out of their tipsiness, wine is cheap, beer is cheaper, air free, cigarettes must be lit, cigarettes must be put off. The song that they sing to matches!

    She put on black, heavy earmuffs and set her foot carefully on the first oily step. The second she climbed another flight her feet slid, and she had to grab the rusty railing not to fall back. She reached to open the door at the end of the stairs. PULL. At the same time, she pushed one muff to the back of head, and she heard the wuthering inside.

“Welcome ma’am!”

She shook every sweaty, bony and fat hand reached out to her, yet she couldn’t make her way up to the giant hands standing behind the crowd. She saluted the owner of the hands with a nod. This was her first encounter with those giant hands of the foreman Mehmet. Had she known that they were the most beautiful hands she could have ever seen in her life; she’d have skipped the others and held them the first.

“Welcome to our city ma’am, we’ll make you feel at home in Istanbul here, ma’am,” the production planning supervisor was saying, and she followed him as he walked. Another door opened and warm air current hit her face and tingled her eyelashes. The sweat dripping down her armpits made her uncomfortable.

She tasted bitterness. She had left her attention at the giant hands of the foreman Mehmet.

If you were to ask Zeynep why she volunteered to be transferred to this factory, located right in the middle of the heat, dirt, tender smiles, ayran and bulghur of Anatolia, she won’t answer right away. First, she would glance away for a while, then look down slowly and ask the rhetorical question with a voice deep from within: “What’s in Istanbul really?”If you manage to cross your legs, smile and continue, you’d ask: “What’s a woman like you doing in a place like this?” Which is a dangerous question, and it can easily lead to misunderstandings.

    Zeynep may think that you’re questioning her femininity, and she may count the soft bellies of the male-dominant society for you. She’d get mad, blood would pump to her cheeks—and they usually are see—through. She wouldn’t know what to do with her hands, and you can see – with a little effort – the way steam coming out of her nose dances with the air. With all things considered, it’s best if you didn’t ask Zeynep anything. And if you must, stick with the cliché, love the superficial: Which school did you graduate from Zeynep? Where have you been working before here? So, how long has it been since you started in this firm? Had you been to Yenişehir before? Oh, but why not? Turks never own up to their values, don’t they? But you liked our town, right?

Days went by all the same. The “management” that greeted Zeynep and accompanied her around for a few days, had apparently decided to leave the “independent” and stubborn woman on her own and she had let herself in the imperfect but calm flow, with the foremen and the workers. She was taking estranged and timid steps in the factory that she still couldn’t figure out; she was still feeling the wuthering tremble inside her nerves as she run around and put little checks on control reports.

After every day passed, she was feeling more and more buried in a misty but warm loneliness, and drawing another line in the invisible notebook with her name on it.

    She was walking barefoot, back and forth in the way too long corridor of her house and thinking: Sabuncakis must be closed by now, coffee shops must be packed with people, sea buses must be slicing through the dark blue waters and taking revenge of their usedness, and those who will be drunk later must now be enjoying the hell out of their tipsiness, wine is cheap, beer is cheaper, air free, cigarettes must be lit, cigarettes must be put off. The song that they sing to matches!

On the sixth day when she turned her back on shaded house and began her ten minute commute to the factory, foreman Mehmet, the master of walking on oily grounds approached her:

“How are you, madam the engineer?”

Her heart skipped a beat while she thought of an answer:

“I’m ok-kay, thank you,” stuttered Zeynep.

That’s when she locked eyes with the foreman, despite all the holes inside her.

“Are you used to the place yet?”

“I’m trying to.”

    She was staring at the man’s hands as if she is longing for a first cigarette of the day. She wanted to grab them, rub her face on them and then throw herself on the endless chest of the foreman, inhale the grease from his neck the same way she smelled her father when she was little. She wanted to coil up in his hardworking arms, to hold her breath and call all the spirits to meet there, and to search for her father’s fingerprints that couldn’t make it past bars, there, on the fingertips of the foreman.

But obviously she couldn’t do those things. Because Zeynep was the single slice of lemon in a glass of cold, pure water, she was the mint leaf clung on the inner surface.

“Let me show you the real factory, the one that others tell is nothing.”

She went after him.

“As you may have been told, there are three ovens in the factory. Through that hole, the glass pours to the machine. There are twelve machines. Some, those right there, are triple-gobbed, some are double-gobbed. There are hundreds of mold models, I’ll show you the mold compartment later. See lady, this line only produces bottles, that line jars, and that one over there pharma bottles. After that part there, bottles move on to be chilled, then to be polished. Then to be controlled. Foreman Cabber comes after me, everybody’s afraid of him, and that one over there is cripple Necmi, he got in here through handicap cadre. He’s a good lad but thinks a little slow. Here’s how you should treat the other workers…”

She shook every sweaty, bony and fat hand reached out to her, yet she couldn’t make her way up to the giant hands standing behind the crowd. She saluted the owner of the hands with a nod. | bubbles, illustrations by seth williams

 Foreman Mehmet stopped, despite the loud wuthering he took off his muffs. She took hers off too. Zeynep felt dizzy, and as a reflex she held on the foreman’s arm.

“Are you alright, girl?

“Yes, the ground slipped under me for a second there.”

“You see those ovens with big windows?”

“Yes?”

“Sometimes the blend turns out to be bad, the oven feels nauseous. It wants to gag.”

“And what?”

“Bubbles.”

“Bubbles?”

“It means air bubble. There are rocks in the glass oven. And air in the rocks. It keeps inflating inside the glass. Becomes bubbly… So, we have to take the air bubble out from the oven?

“Then what?”

“Then, the glass takes the form of a fist, or a teardrop, air bubbles inside. Managers ask to have those. We chill them. They become decors for their offices.”

“Can I get one if a “bubble” comes out of an oven?”

“You’ll get the best.”

Something sizzled inside Zeynep. She returned to her curly haired childhood, and the times when her dad bought her three balls of ice-cream. She couldn’t bring herself to eat the ice-cream, because her dad had bought it for her. So, three balls had melted and dripped on her hands. Strawberry, chocolate, lemon…

     Mehmet knew the factory like the back of his hand. Workers listened to him. He worked extra shifts on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, and didn’t complain at all. During lunch breaks he rested on the thin sheets that he used to roll tobacco. Every single day he wore his stiffed overalls, put on his earmuffs, and made sure every line worked flawless. Warmth of the scorching fire rising from molten glass wouldn’t tire him, he would rub the neck of his back, and bury his face close to the fire that he’d befriended at thirteen.

Zeynep found out later on that all the extra shifts Mehmet worked, all that conscientiousness when he scanned his card to the machine, was for the sake of a daughter he had in Istanbul. There was no one listening to the thirty-five-centigrade-voice of the foreman at home. No one to wash his greasy shirts, to prepare something to eat after eighteen hours of shifts, to tidy up his adobe house, to shave the hair on his neck, or to scrape the dirt under his nails… No one.

 

RELATED STORIES:

  • “UNLOVABLE” THING | I could only watch in horror as he grabbed anything to stop her from moving. I wonder if someone else saw me struggling like I was seeing her but wasn’t sure whether to stop it. This thought alone made me hesitate next to the glass, stomach in a knot. Was he hurting her…read more
  • HEREŚ HOW I WAS BROUGHT UP IN AN EGG CARTON. AND HEREŚ HOW I BROKE OUT | I live in the capital of the confederacy in an area thatś divided into groups. There are gated habitations for the rich, middle-class and poor. There are also “faith-based groups” for Baptist, Mormon, Jehovah Witness and so forth. Most of these groups are segregated into black, white or hybrid-color…read more

 

In this hot climate, foreman Mehmet was as free as possible, and as enslaved as his father.

He was on his own, while Istanbul claps to the rhythm of lively tunes, while women fling their hair and men their shirts.

On the day they became father and daughter, Zeynep was weaving between ovens and Mehmet had just said to her: “Look how mirrored the glass is!” and she hadn’t been able to resist the urge to grab his hands. His sweaty arms took her in and told her the entire story of him.

She found such joy in finding his father’s self that kept fading away behind bars, at this giant figure. It was as if she found her father in the last melody of her bride doll whose battery died off.

At the house in the only dead end of the town where everything goes dead quite after 8 pm, Zeynep cooked all the dishes she knew of for foreman Mehmet. The foreman sought after his dreams in his collection of wavy glass that dripped from the machines, she laid the lace back on the television, which was never turned on. She laid rugs on the granite floor so that the man’s feet wouldn’t get cold. An unusual heat wave took over Yenişehir, Istanbul’s tarms ringed their bells. A light without a source lit the geranium gardens. Life, after all this, would harm Zeynep without the foreman, and foreman without Zeynep, like an eyelash stuck in the eye.

Visit

Zeynep found Istanbul the way she left every time she went back for her father, who had been crushing under the layers of his own ideas. The city was alone again, pavement stones were ripped off and the crying of manifests filled in her ears, again. Istanbul was in the gloomy light of streetlamps, as dark as over-brewed coffee. The day before she was to return to Yenişehir – two days were more than enough for Istanbul – the city that she let herself flow in its bars and streets showed some tough love to her. As she walked back to her hotel in Talimhane, she climbed Tarlabaşı with shaky legs. After a whistle sound that gave her goosebumps, the pepper gas that tingled her nose baffled Zeynep. Bruised lemons swished near her head, and a black, shiny baton landed on a girl’s neck a few steps away. She realized two things at that moment:

1 – She still had a long way to walk to her hotel, and that she had to keep on walking keeping her head down, but only down.

2 – The baton that landed on the girl had the exact same face with the picture of the girl that foreman Mehmet took out of his wallet a dozen of times.

She took a big step, she managed to grab the baton diving for its second hit, and the girl with red strains coming down her face before she fell to the ground. Then, her body sank into the sourness of a bed made out of lemons. She squeezed the pieces that fell from the girl’s head. Her teeth sizzled.

The glass factory in Yenişehir has three ovens.

The first oven produces white glass. Unless the mold changes, bottles for rakı and vodka come out of it.

The second makes honey colored glass. Bottles for beer and pharmaceuticals come from this one. The third, under normal circumstances, brings out green glass. Mineral water bottles. Yet, the third oven was shut down. Because one day, a mass of 195 centimeters of height and 120 kilograms of weight came out of it.

An unnatural, unordinary bubbles that wouldn’t fit any table, was standing before her. Zeynep looked at the mass. She tried to count the bubbles on it, but she failed. She entered under the weight of the glass torso. Hands began coming out of it. They were growing.