an excerpt of:
ALMOST A TURKISH SOAP
by Anne-Rae Vasquez
AR Internet Site & Publishing Inc.
This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described here are purely fictional and in no way represent or resemble real life events, places or people.
Almost a Turkish Soap Opera. Copyright © 2010 by AR Internet Site & Publishing Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.
Purchase ebook or paperback at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Almost-Turkish-Soap-Opera-ebook/dp/B009BZFZZK/
Printed in the U.S.A.
For Joseph whose stories inspired me to write this book. And for Adel and his wife, the corner stone of their family.
I blame my interest in Turkish soap operas (also known as Turkish TV series) on a sweet Arabic couple from the Middle East. They were my guests for two months and during their stay, the wife said that she missed watching her favourite Arabic-dubbed Turkish soap operas and it made her very homesick. I searched online and found streaming videos of the soap operas. This started a nightly ritual of watching back to back episodes of different series of Turkish soaps. Our marathon watching weekends were full of fun, laughter and drama. We had so many great conversations as we analyzed the characters and the scenes together. I recall the husband telling me that he had no interest in soap operas. However, when it came time to watch the shows, he was always the one who could repeat word for word scenes from past episodes as he critiqued the current storyline.
So welcome and hope you enjoy the story.
Away From Home
The story unfolds on an ordinary day in Adel's life. It was his twenty-fifth birthday and his mother and sisters had given him a simple celebration-making plates of baklava which they spent all morning preparing. His brothers and his friend Kamil bought him a T-shirt that said in English "Looking for wife". It had become a question his mother would repeat over and over-Why hasn't Adel found a bride yet?
His father, a dark skinned, stern looking man, arrives home from a hard day's work in the construction field, still dressed in his muddy work clothes. He sits on the couch, picks up the remote to change the channel to watch what is left of the football game. He lights up a cigarette and sits back enjoying the first few moments of relaxation. Adel's mother, a light skinned, plump, petite woman, is in the kitchen ironing clothes. Her hair is wrapped in a golden coloured hijab, a head scarf worn by religious Muslim women. The hijab frames her face, emphasizing her piercing blue eyes. She is dressed in a traditional long sleeved tunic, the shade of fresh cocoa, which flows down to her feet. Seeing that the ashtray on the coffee table is overflowing with cigarette butts, she bustles in from the kitchen and swiftly replaces the ashtray with a clean one. Without missing a beat, she hurries back into the kitchen, empties the ashtray into the rubbish bin and then tosses it into the sink. She quickly washes her hands with soap and water and dries them on her apron. She returns to her ironing board where she continues ironing the wrinkles out of her sons' jeans and underwear. All the while, her eyes are glued onto the twenty inch television set on the kitchen counter which is playing "Fatmagülün Suçu Ne (What is Fatmagul's Fault?)", one of her many favourite Turkish soap operas.
Adel and his two younger sisters, Juliana and Keananna, sixteen and thirteen years of age, look like carbon copies of each other. All three have the same golden wavy honey blonde hair and emerald green eyes which are uncommon traits to see in people from their local area. Other Turkish people who meet them for the first time are fascinated by their features. Some are intrigued by their unique appearance but most are simply envious of their looks, gossiping about them behind their backs. His baby sister Zeinab has his father's colouring. Her soft skin is the colour of creamy mocha and her baby curls are oil slick black.
Juliana and Keananna are at the kitchen table feeding their baby sister a bowl of warm rice cereal. Like their mother, their attention is also focused on the television set. They noisily explain to their mother the details of what happened in the scene that she just missed. Their mother shushes them quiet. Her look of concentration sends the older girls into a bout of giggles. Zeinab laughs as well, smacking her chubby hands into her cereal.
Meanwhile, Sammy and Jowdat, his two younger brothers, are doing their homework in the enclosed verandah which also serves as the bedroom which all the boys share. Physically they resemble their father but their personalities are their own. Sammy, twenty-two, is laid back and easy going. He idolizes Adel and wants to be just like him. He is very popular at school and has many young girl admirers. Jowdat, seventeen years old, is shy and naïve, always seeing things in a positive light. Like many boys his age, Jowdat has already resigned himself to follow in his father's footsteps and work in construction or in a factory after he finishes high school.
Seeing the opportunity to speak to his father in private, Adel approaches him. He does this cautiously, knowing that he is usually in a sour mood after coming home from work.
"Father, have you spoken to Grand Uncle about what I asked? Will
he sign over one of the parcels of your land so that I can build
my house on it?" Adel asks.
Adel's father, grumbling under his breath, gets up and walks outside onto the balcony. Adel follows him.
"I am twenty-five years old now. All my cousins were twenty years old when they built their houses and have married and have children since then."
His father shakes his head. "Enough! My head hurts from all this talk!" he yells. He waves him away, refusing to discuss the matter any further.
Infuriated, Adel turns around and marches into his bedroom. His brothers are hunched over the books on their beds. Sammy turns to watch Adel reach for something under his bed. He brings out a small wooden box. He opens the box and pulls out an envelope which contains an airline ticket to Los Angeles, California. Adel has been dreaming about buying an airplane ticket to the USA since he was a child.
Adel sits on his bed, gently placing the box beside him. Sammy tries to see what is in his hand. Adel shifts his shoulder to block his view.
It is time to get his plan into action. Adel pulls out his cell phone and calls his best friend Kamil. Kamil, also twenty-five years old, is dark haired and olive skinned. His thick eyebrows stretch over his large ebony eyes. Unlike Adel's family who is considered upper middle class, Kamil comes from a lower class family. His father works as a private chauffeur for Adel's Grand Uncle. Adel has known Kamil practically since birth.
Kamil asks, "So we really are going to do this?"
"Yes we are leaving like we planned. There is nothing here for me. My father won't do anything to get my Grand Uncle to give him his share of my grandfather's inheritance which means that I will never see my share of the inheritance," Adel says.
"Well, you knew this since we were children. So let's talk about the plan," Kamil says. "Finally, after three years of hard construction work, we have our dream tickets to the land of opportunity and beautiful ladies!" He laughs.
Adel smiles broadly. "Hollywood here we come!"
* * *
Later that night at the dinner table, Adel waits for his family to sit. His brothers and sisters are chattering happily about their day's events. His father sits down last. He frowns as he eats his meal. The thoughts in his head cloud his mind. His mother is busy serving everyone her delicious köfte, a popular Middle Eastern dish made of minced lamb or beef meatballs, onto their plates. Adel, unsure when would be the best time to announce the news, decides it is now or never.
"Pa, Ma, I have something to tell you," Adel begins. He coughs into his hand. Adel's father looks up and puts down his fork. He is annoyed that yet again his meal is being interrupted. Is having peace and quiet in his house too much to ask for? Adel's mother smiles. She is eager to hear what her favourite son has to say. His brothers and sisters look at him curiously.
Adel stammers, "I, I, uh... Kamil and I...we are…"
"What Adel? What?" Juliana asks.
"Kamil and I are flying to the United States tomorrow," Adel finally blurts out.
"For holiday? For how long?" Jowdat asks.
Adel takes a deep breath and continues. "We are going to live
there for a few months. If it goes well, maybe stay there."
His mother breaks down in tears. She is horrified at the news that her oldest son is leaving home before marriage. His brother and sisters chatter amongst themselves excited for his upcoming adventure.
His father, however, stands up and angrily shouts obscenities, cursing the day this ungrateful son was born. "Who gave you the permission to do this? You chose your path now. Get out of my face!" He slams his fist on the table and leaves.
His mother, still crying, follows her husband while the rest of
the family sits awkwardly in silence. Adel excuses himself from
the table and goes to his room.
Hollywood, here we come
Los Angeles, California
One week later, Adel and Kamil arrive at the LAX airport in Los Angeles, California, ready for exciting opportunities. With only their passports, very basic knowledge of English and five thousand US dollars in their wallets split between both of them, they are ready to fulfill their destinies. After passing through US customs, they find their way to the luggage terminal to collect their bags. They ask an airport worker how to get to Hollywood. He points towards a shuttle van parked outside the airport. Not sure of what to do next, Adel decides that they should find a place to stay. They board the shuttle van and start their journey to Hollywood.
The shuttle van drops them off at Hollywood Boulevard and Las Palmas Avenue. Adel and Kamil stand on the corner and are surprised at what they see. It is not exactly how they pictured it would be. Where were all the movie stars, the expensive cars and warm friendly Americans to welcome them into this wonderful city?
Later on in the day, Adel and Kamil wander from hotel to hotel and then to motel. They enquire about what the cost is to spend the night. They soon realize that even the lowest standard motel (where cockroaches and rats infest the walls) costs a minimum of sixty dollars a night. Sixty dollars a night can rent a decent three star hotel room in Istanbul. While walking down Hollywood Boulevard, scantily dressed women approach Adel asking if he and his friend want to have some fun. Adel and Kamil are familiar with what these type of women want. They have seen many of them in certain red area districts in Istanbul.
Finally Adel decides to book a room at a motel on Highland Avenue. It is small and dingy but they are too tired to complain.
After settling in, Adel tells Kamil that he is confident that Hollywood had more in store for them. Kamil, however, is not so sure.
Determined to look his best, Adel attempts to iron his jeans. This would be a first for him since his mother took care of this chore back home. Kamil can't resist giving him advice on how to hold the jean hem just as his own mother would do it. Adel does a terrible job of things. The two bicker back and forth. Kamil teases him saying that he should have packed his mother in his luggage because it looks like he is incapable of taking care of himself. Exasperated by the whole ordeal, Adel throws his jeans on the bed.
Kamil walks over and picks up the jeans. He places them back on
the ironing board. In four strokes, he irons out the wrinkles
perfectly. He hands them back to Adel whose mouth drops open in
amazement. A few seconds later, he and Kamil break out into
laughter. It has been a long day. They both decide to postpone
their sightseeing for the next morning.
* * *
The next day, Adel and Kamil's first destination is the Beverly Hills shopping mall. They are awed by the splendor of the stores and all the pretty people rushing through. Kamil eyes a pair of four hundred dollar Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses imagining himself wearing them. Adel has his eyes on a Gucci watch, a fancy suit and a pair of genuine cowboy boots. Back home, the cost of all these items put together could feed a family of eight for 6 months.
Kamil tells Adel that all this window shopping is making him very hungry. Your wish is my command, Adel replies.
They savor their first quarter pounder with cheese and a side of large fries at a nearby McDonald's restaurant. A man dressed up in a Ronald McDonald suit invites himself to their table. Out of politeness, Adel motions for him to sit but soon regrets it. The man tells them in a loud voice how lucky they are to be in America, the land of the free. People sitting near their table roll their eyes and mutter comments to themselves. On top of this, his breath smells like sour vinegar and he belches in Adel's face after every sentence as if to stress his point. Finally, Adel politely tells him in broken English that they must hurry to meet their father and it was nice to meet him. The sentence comes out as "We must hurry for the Father of Might will smite you."
Stunned by his words, the man wanders over to another
* * *
After a few days, reality begins to sink in. Adel counts the money left in his wallet. His stomach turns into a knot. He calculates that it will only be days before their money runs out.
"Kamil, we are running out of money," Adel says. "Motel rent is seventy-five dollars a night and food is costing us sixty dollars a day."
"The five thousand US dollars we brought isn't going to last very long." Kamil shakes his head.
"We need to find jobs and somewhere we can stay for much less than what we are paying for here at this motel," Adel says.
"I will call Mirwan, my cousin, as we planned. He is the one who lives in Los Angeles and owns his own business." Kamil opens his address book to look for Mirwan's number.
"Yes, the one who runs a shuttle van business that my Grand-Uncle owns. He knows we are here, right?" Adel's mood suddenly picks up.
"Yes, of course. I called him last month and he said to contact him when we arrive in Los Angeles."
"Okay, let's go see him tomorrow." Adel pats Kamil on the back
and smiles. He is certain that God will take good care of
Vacation is over
Mirwan shows Adel and Kamil around the shuttle van parking lot. He lets them look at two white older style shuttle vans. Although he is in his early thirties, Mirwan's worn face makes him look much older. Mirwan is dark skinned, short and has a stocky build. Over his large dark eyes sits a bushy untamed "uni-brow" and over his lip is a matching moustache. Although he owns the business, Adel notices that Mirwan's drivers dress better than he does. Mirwan looks like he has not washed his worn out golf shirt and faded black pants in weeks. He whispers to Kamil that if he were the boss, he'd be wearing a jacket and a tie. Kamil rolls his eyes and motions for him to lower his voice.
Later in his office, Mirwan gives them a key to his one bedroom apartment. He offers them free room and board as long as they work for him. Mirwan will pay them cash under the table. He makes a few phone calls. In a few days he provides them with fake social security numbers and drivers' licenses.
* * *
After a few weeks, Adel has successfully memorized all the shuttle routes and has learned how to navigate around Los Angeles and the surrounding towns. He is proud of all the cash his tips bring in and wishes he could work twenty four hours straight so he could make more money. On top of this, he actually enjoys driving his customers. He chats with them all the way to their destinations. Although, he speaks in broken English, he picks up the local slang words very quickly. His customers find him charming and like the funny way he pronounces words.
Kamil, on the other hand, finds it difficult to adjust to the
job. Although his English speaking is better than Adel's, he is
shy and does not talk to his customers unless it is absolutely
necessary. He does not bring home half the tips that Adel does.
By the end of his shift he feels so drained. He wishes that he
doesn't have to go to work the next day.
Mirwan pays their salaries once a week. Adel saves every penny he can. He had asked Mirwan what it would take for him to become an owner-operator. At the time, Mirwan laughed in his face. He told Adel that if he gave him two thousand dollars, he would give him the shuttle van he was driving. He would also agree for Adel to get his own customers provided that he gives Mirwan a twenty percent cut.
Six weeks later, Adel walks into Mirwan's office and hands him
two thousand dollars-all in small bills collected from the tips
he was saving. Mirwan is dumbfounded. He could not go back on his
word and so he reluctantly signs the papers to give Adel
ownership of the vehicle.
* * *
Now that Adel is his own boss, he pushes himself to work beyond the normal eight hour shifts. He picks up a skill analyzing people and their personalities based on how they dress and what they are carrying. With this new found expertise, he raises and lowers his rates depending on who the customer is. For instance, for a trip from the airport to Long Beach for a group of five well-dressed Japanese tourists carrying fancy electronic gadgets, such as cell phones and cameras, he may charge them a group rate of one hundred and fifty dollars. The regular rate for this trip is twelve dollars per person.
He has observed that the Japanese are too polite to argue with
him even if the rate seems unreasonable. Plus, he knows how to
slather them with his good looks and charm.
The shuttle van business
It is a Sunday afternoon and Adel has just finished his shift. Kamil is getting ready to go to work. Adel lies down on his bed-a dirty twin sized mattress on the floor of Mirwan's cluttered one bedroom apartment.
"If it weren't for Mirwan letting us stay at his place and giving us jobs and paying us in cash, I don't know where we'd be right now," Kamil says.
Adel makes a face. "Yeah, don't forget that he's also working us for less than the minimum wage."
"But he managed to get us drivers' licenses and social security cards. The only thing is I still can't figure how to get around LA yet."
"I know all the towns, highways, cities." Adel smiles broadly.
"Hmph. That's because you're working double shifts. You're working so hard," Kamil replies.
"I'm working hard for the tips. Without the tips, I wouldn't have saved enough to buy my own shuttle van. That's how I got Mirwan to get me to be an owner-operator."
"And why would Mirwan agree to that?"
"I have to pay him twenty percent of the profits."
Kamil gasps. "Wow, that's a pretty big cut!"
"Well, if I didn't work eighteen hours a day and also change the shuttle rates, I wouldn't have saved the money so quickly."
"What do you mean change the shuttle rates? We are not allowed to do that. I thought the rates are fixed." Kamil knew this was against the rules. How could Adel do such a thing?
"Well, that's why I only change rates with foreign customers," Adel says.
Kamil feigns interest. "How do you know what rate to give to what customer?"
Adel lowers his voice. "This is how I do it... For the past few weeks, I try this. I look for a group of five Japanese tourists, let's say. They will be playing with their electronic toys like the Nokia cell phones, Sony cameras, and JVC camcorders. You know the ones like we see at Circuit City. So when I get a group like this, I charge them one hundred fifty dollars to go from the airport to Long Beach."
Kamil is surprised. "But that should only be a sixty dollar fare!"
"You are a very good student, Kamil." Adel pats him on the shoulder.
After a few minutes, Kamil brings up the fact that their visitor
visas have expired. "Should we ask Mirwan if he can help us get
work status visas?"
Adel has never trusted Mirwan but out of politeness he has never said anything aloud since Kamil and Mirwan were cousins. Lately though, he noticed that Mirwan was rude to him, often speaking in a bossy condescending tone. What he didn't know was that Kamil had to beg Mirwan to give Adel a job. Mirwan told him that he didn't like Adel because he was full of himself. Kamil knew that the only reason why Mirwan finally let Adel work for him was because he feared Adel's Grand Uncle.
"No, no... I do not want any more favours from him. I know he's your cousin but to tell you the truth, dude (a new word he learned), I don't trust him," Adel says.
Kamil looks at his watch. "Hey, I have to go do my shift now. I
will see you later." He grabs his lunch bag from the kitchen
counter and leaves.
Adel finally has the place to himself. He begins counting his cash and putting them in bundles. He places each bundle into small dark plastic grocery bags wrapping them tight. When he is done, he hides the money throughout the apartment in obscure locations-in the ceiling, under a floor board, behind the drywall and on top of the highest cabinets. As a child, he always hid his money all over his home. But it seemed no matter where he hid his money, his father would find it and spend it on cigarettes or gamble it away playing cards with his friends. When he grew older, he learned how to be more creative at hiding his money and soon his father gave up trying to locate his hiding spots.
He always took care of his mother knowing that his father often spent the money for food on his own expenses such as cigarettes or other unnecessary items such as the latest model of cell phones. Even though his mother could hardly manage to put food on the table, his father always had the money to spend to buy the latest cell phone. His father is always the first person in the neighbourhood to put an order for one, once the newest model comes out in the market. The funny thing is he rarely receives any phone calls. He simply enjoys the fact that he is the first person in town to own that particular gadget.
When he was a teenager, what drove his mother crazy was the fact that his father never threw anything away even after the device stopped working. In the attic, his father hid a big box of archaic cell phones, chargers and other devices. About once a year, he would bring down the big box (much to Adel's mother's dismay) and let Adel and his brothers go through his collection. Jowdat, the clown that he was, would impersonate his father. He would pick up the very first cell phone his father ever owned (which looked like a black brick and was just as heavy) and wag his finger into the phone. He would pretend he was talking to the local baker, cursing him for giving stale bread for the price of fresh bread, just as his father had done many times in the past. Adel, Sammy and his sisters would burst out laughing. His father used to laugh along with them-denying that he sounded or looked that ridiculous.
Thoughts of his family make Adel homesick. He decides to phone his family. He searches Kamil's binder for a long distance calling card. Kamil was always good at keeping such things on hand. He finds four calling cards in the front pocket of the cover and takes two for himself. He dials his home phone number in Istanbul.
Adel's mother answers the phone. She is excited to hear her son's voice. As always, she fires him off the usual questions. Adel tries to steer the conversation.
"Yes, Ma. I am eating well. Did you get the money I sent to you?"
"Yes my son, I did. Thank you very much. Are you sure you and Kamil don't need this for yourselves?" Adel's mother sounds worried.
"Ma, we are fine. Just promise me to not let Father know that you have this money. Use it to pay the bills and buy groceries and if there is any left, save it for when you need it."
"Oh, Adel. You are such a good son. I miss you so much" She starts to cry. "When are you coming home?"
Adel always hates when his mother is upset. "Ma, I have to go now. Please say hello and send my love to the boys Jowdat and Sammy. Kisses and hugs to the girls, Juliana, Keananna, and Zeinab. Let Father know I am okay and I wish him well. I love you Ma."
Adel's mother is still crying. "Yes, yes, I will do that. Please
call us again soon. God be with you my son."
An unexpected surprise
It is early in the morning and Adel is sitting in his van at the international arrivals area at the LAX airport, waiting for customers to arrive. His goal is to find seven passengers to maximize his profits for one trip. He sees a group of people coming out of the airport looking for a ride. Other shuttle van drivers start walking towards the group calling them to ride with them. Adel is not concerned because he knows who he wants. He spots a group of five Japanese tourists who seem a bit lost. He comes up to them and says in a sweet voice, "Welcome, welcome to Los Angeles. Let me help you with your baggage."
They are somewhat startled. The youngest man in the group quickly types in his electronic translator. He pushes his glasses up with his finger and speaks in broken English, "We go to Disnee rand hotel."
Adel smiles. "No problem, Disney Land hotel. I take you." The group of men appear relieved and they proceed to follow Adel to the van.
The older man of the group shyly asks Adel, "How much?"
"Good price. Fifty percent off for group rate," Adel says. "For all of you, two hundred dollars."
The man smiles and nods his head. He translates to the others happy that Adel is giving them fifty percent off.
Adel is having a good morning and helps them all inside. He looks around to find two more passengers. He spots an older European couple dressed in matching sport clothes, and he says to himself, "This is my day." He starts to approach them when an attractive woman in her early thirties pulling a large duffel bag and a backpack comes towards him blocking his view of his potential clients.
"Excuse me! Shuttle driver! Excuse me… can you please help me with my stuff?"
Adel frowns-can't this girl see that he is busy? He continues walking by her towards the older couple. The woman is now walking behind him calling out, "Please, can you help me with my stuff? I need to get to Anaheim."
He shakes his head. "Sorry miss, I'm not going that way."
She grabs his arm and stops him. "Oh yeah, then why is that guy in your van keep saying, 'Yay, I's going to Deesnee Rand', and the sign on your van says Anaheim."
Adel looks back at the van and sure enough, his Japanese passenger is gleefully dancing beside the van, waving at other tourists while singing "I going to Deesnee Rand."
Adel looks down at the woman. "I don't know what you are talking about. Now please let me go."
The woman grabs his elbow again. "You know you can lose your license for this. I can report you for discriminating me because I'm a woman!"
Adel snaps. "I'm not discriminating you because you're a woman." He lowers his voice and looks around and says, "I'm discriminating you because you're a local!" and he pulls his arm from her grip.
Unfortunately, the couple he had his eyes on earlier are now being escorted away by another shuttle driver from a rival company.
"Hey!" the woman cries out, "Come on, help me out here. You're going to Anaheim anyway, what's one more person?"
Adel rolls his eyes and turns back to her. "Okay, let's go but it's going to cost you twenty-five dollars."
The woman puts her hand on her hips. "The going rate to Anaheim is seventeen dollars and that's all you're getting. Get it? Got it? Good!" and she turns around and gets inside the passenger side of the van slamming the door shut.
Adel gives a big sigh and shakes his head, picks up her bags and
puts them in the back of the van.
After the luggage is loaded and his passengers are ready to go, Adel begins driving to Anaheim. The woman who drove him crazy earlier is seated beside him on the passenger side.
She asks him, "So where are you from?"
Adel replies quickly, "Los Angeles."
She shakes her head. "No really…where are you from originally?"
"Originally? From Hollywood but now Los Angeles," he replies quickly. "Can we stop this interrogation? I need to focus on driving." Although he often asks this same question to his customers, he is uncomfortable when strangers ask him about his own background. Who knows? What if this lady was an undercover immigration officer underneath that charming smile and pretty dress? He shakes his head and tries to focus on the road.
She laughs softly and looks out the window. "Let me guess… East European? Hmm…no...your accent doesn't sound like that…Greek? No…I'd know a Greek accent if I heard it. Definitely Mediterranean…Am I close?"
Adel turns to look at her. "I am surprised with your knowledge of accents. Most American girls I have met thought that Turkey was the capital of Australia." He smiles in spite of himself and says gruffly, "You live in Anaheim?"
The woman smiles. "No, I'm just visiting with my father for the summer. I actually live in British Columbia, Canada."
Adel asks, "Are you Canadian then?"
She nods. "Well, I have dual citizenship. Canadian and American. I've been living in BC and LA back and forth since I was thirteen when my parents got divorced. I prefer Canada though. Cleaner, nicer, safer… that's why I only come down here for a couple of weeks to visit with my dad."
He gives her a glance and notices that she looks mixed, possibly
Chinese and American. He notices that her eyes are a deep blue
green colour much like his own. The shape of her eyes is
almond-like, giving her face an exotic look. He shakes his head
and turns back to the road. They continue their conversation as
he drives. Slowly, he allows himself to joke with her. He has
decided that she seems too nice to be an immigration
The van now arrives at the first stop-the Disneyland Hotel. His Japanese passengers start climbing out. They are chattering in Japanese and snapping photos while waiting for their luggage. Adel unloads their bags and places them on the sidewalk. With his Polaroid camera in hand, the younger Japanese tourist motions to Adel to stand near the other members of his group. He calls out to the woman passenger, "Come heer, Missy, Missy. We want to take picture of you preety lady."
Amused, the woman gets out of the van. The Japanese tourists wave for her to stand beside Adel. He smiles, trying to contain his laughter. She gives him a wink as she walks towards him. He casually places his arm around her. She looks up at him, a little surprised but not annoyed. He smiles at her and points toward the camera, reminding her that they had to get ready for the shot.
The young Japanese tourist points his camera to the group and counts to three in Japanese, "Iche, ne, san… Cheeeeesssee!!!" The camera, an instamatic, flashes and in seconds a photo slides out the front. "Again! Again, pleeze minna. Everybuddy." He points the camera again and everyone freezes their poses for another shot. The young man, pleased with himself, pushes his glasses up with one finger and grabs the photo with his other hand. His friends come around him eager to see the photo. Adel, being much taller than all of them simply bends his head over one of them to see the photo in the young man's hands. The picture's image starts to appear. The group of men chatters excitedly in Japanese, pleased with how the photo has turned out. The woman stands to the side watching the interesting spectacle in front of her. Adel turns around and nods his head at her to come take a look. As she comes towards them, the Japanese tourists politely move aside to let her in. The young man offers the photo to her with both his hands outstretched as if surrendering a peace offering.
The photo displays the group, very happily smiling. But in
particular, she notices that Adel and her look very much like a
couple - a very happy couple. She smiles and nods her head.
"Beautiful, Utsukushii," she says. She hands the photo to Adel.
He looks at it and then discretely slips it into his shirt
The young Japanese tourist now hands Adel the payment for the shuttle service. He turns to speak with the other men in the group. Then he smiles and bows as he hands
Adel an additional twenty dollar tip.
"Tip. Tip. Zenk you veddy muchy!"
Adel accepts the tip. "Dōmo arigatō and Sayōnara," he says in
Japanese. He learned how to say thank you and good-bye in
Japanese because he knows it pleases his customers from the land
of the sun. The whole group burst out into laughter impressed
with his knowledge of Japanese phrases. They bow and repeat the
same phrases back to him. He in turn bows to them again and then
turns and waves good-bye.
Adel and the woman are the only passengers left in the van. He starts driving. "So what is address to drop you?" he asks.
She smiles. "You mean, what address do you want to be dropped off at?"
He frowns. "I said that, no?"
She shakes her head and gives him a piece of paper with the address.
"Sorry, I teach English as a second language at the university so I have a bad habit of correcting everyone's grammar. It drives all my friends crazy." She laughs to herself.
He makes a turn down a side street and drives slowly till he finds the address. He stops and parks the car and they both turn to each other - an awkward moment.
"Well…thanks. Here's twenty-five dollars." She hands him the bills.
He shakes his head. "No, seventeen dollars is the charge."
She smiles and pushes the money back to him, "Well, consider the rest a tip." She turns to get out of the van.
He is caught off guard. He takes her bags out from the back and brings them to her. He takes the money from his pocket and hands it to her."Here, please take this back."
She is surprised. "No, no… why are you..?"
He pauses and then says, "This trip was the most interesting conversation I have with someone since I come to US. I cannot accept money for it." He gives her a smile-this time it is genuine.
She nods her head slowly. "Well, okay… thank you. But if you won't take my money, then I will take you for coffee. And I won't take no for an answer. Help bring my bags in, please."
He stifles a chuckle as he picks up her bags. "Yes, mademoiselle. As you wish…"
She turns back and smiles. "Nora, Nora Lee Morgan. It is a pleasure to meet you." She stretches out her hand.
"Adel Emre. Pleasure to meet you too." They shake hands.
Where dreams come from
Adel parks outside the LAX airport. They enjoy watching the planes land and take off on the runways. Earlier they had stopped at Starbucks coffee shop. Nora kept her promise and bought Adel a coffee, even though Adel insisted on paying. Nora offered to buy him an iced cappuccino or mocha, but he politely refused. He was not fond of the fancy flavors or different types of coffee. Black coffee was the closest to Turkish coffee you could get at American coffee shops.
"So you are here in America because you think you can fulfill all your hopes and dreams?" she asks.
He nods his head. "Back in my country, I feel like every day is being in jail. No future, nothing for myself. I wake up every day and go to do the only work available for all men my age… construction. I finish college as an engineer and work hard to graduate. In the end, I work like a dog, like my father who did not finish high school. And if I stay, in a couple years, my mother and father will arrange for me to marry a cousin from the village. "
"Is that such a bad thing?" she asks. "It seems your family works hard to live a good clean decent life. Take my family for instance, both my parents are remarried and have kids with their new spouses. I don't feel close to either of them. I've always had to take care of myself."
He sighs. "You do not understand. All my life, I feel helpless. My father is a good man but he is weak. His father who was head of the family died when my father was a child. His Uncle, my Grand Uncle, became head and from that day on, he treat my dad like he is nobody. To this day, my father's inheritance has not been given to him. Grand Uncle always saying he has to wait because of one reason or another. But then my family live like very poor people while my Grand Uncle and his children and children's children are living like kings and queens."
She nods her head. "I see."
He continues. "At my age being the oldest, I should have already
my own land to build my house so that I can prepare for marriage.
But no, my cousins all have their land and houses while my father
does nothing to fight for what is rightfully ours. I see my
mother working so hard to feed all eight of us while my father
brings home his pay cheque is not enough for a family of three.
We live in a two bedroom suite in the first floor of my Grand
He shakes his head. Just thinking about it makes him angry. "His married daughters live on their own floors above us with my Grand Uncle and his wife on the top floor. And then there are three new houses beside us where his sons and sons of his sons live. We live with my father's side of the family but they treat us as strangers. We do not play with them and they do not see us."
Nora frowns. "That sounds very strange. You live all together on the same property. You would think that your family would be much closer."
Adel shrugs. "They do not talk to my mother. My mother who is the kindest nicest woman in the world but they treat her like she is not existing." Adel struggles to find the English words to explain. "And my father… what does he do? Absolutely nothing. Just smokes and smokes in front of the TV set watching his football and news while the world passes us by."
She nods her head. "So are you the one who keeps the family together? You help your mom with your brothers and sisters, I am guessing…"
He nods. "Yes, and I always have part time job when I was school age and I always give my mother money to help out. Even now, I send money home to her because it is my family and I need to help them."
Nora is amazed. "Gosh, guys here only care about themselves. I doubt if any of them would send money home to their parents. Half of them are still living at home, unemployed, lazy moochers."
He frowns. "Moochers?"
She laughs. "Like a leech. They just keep taking and taking without giving anything in return."
He nods. "Ahhh… I see." He wonders why he has told this perfect
stranger so much about his life. He has never lowered his guard
to anyone much less someone he had just known for a few hours. He
trusted her and she seemed honestly interested in learning more
about him. They continue talking as the planes take off and land
in the distance. Overall, it has been an interesting day.
Later in the evening, Adel drives Nora to her father's home. He helps her out of the van and brings her bags to the door.
"Well, good night and thank you." She smiles. She stretches out her hand to him.
He grasps her hand with both of his. "Can we do this again sometime? I really enjoyed this evening."
She nods her head, smiling. "Yes, I would love that." She pulls out a pen and a scrap piece of paper from her purse and writes down her phone and puts it in his pocket. Moved by the moment, he touches her cheek and they kiss… a sweet long kiss. Her heart is beating hard and she wonders if he can hear it. All he is thinking is how velvety her lips feel against his.
After what seems an eternity, they finally pull away, smiling dreamily at each other. She puts her keys in the door. Before opening the door, she turns back to him. Adel stares, her silhouette under the porch light is surreal. She waves and blows him a kiss. He smiles and waves back at her.
Then he turns and gets back into the van. He puts the keys into the ignition. Before he starts the engine, he pulls out the photo from his pocket and looks at it. Smiling back at him is the group of Japanese tourists. He focuses his attention on the image of himself with his arm wrapped around Nora. He folds the picture so that only he and Nora are visible. He slips the photo into his wallet.
The radio crackles with the dispatcher's voice filling the van.
He needs to get back to work. He quickly puts the photo back into
his pocket, turns the engine on and drives away.
Mirwan and Adel are getting ready to leave for work. Adel is whistling and humming. Mirwan glares at him. How can this FOB, this fresh off the boat, bum come here with absolutely nothing and then be able to make his business a success in only a few months?
As for himself, just immigrating to Canada from Istanbul was a feat. He, like most of his family, was employed by Adel's Grand Uncle. Although technically, Adel's Grand Uncle wasn't related to Mirwan, he and everyone he knew also addressed him as Grand Uncle out of respect. He was a rich and powerful man and was known in their hometown as the Izmir Grand Uncle (which is almost like the Sicilian Godfather).
During his teens, Mirwan had the honour of being the Grand
Uncle's errand boy. Unknown to his family though, he was really
employed to do the Grand Uncle's dirty work.
In his early twenties, when he decided to move to Los Angeles, the Grand Uncle helped finance the trip and his accommodations. But like most things, nothing comes for free. The Grand Uncle made sure that he knew that he still was the boss. He struggled to establish his shuttle business for many years. The Grand Uncle helped him financially by assigning him to do special "jobs" in America for him.
His latest assignment is to take care of Adel and make sure to
report everything about him back to Istanbul. So now one of his
top priorities is babysitting Adel, the Grand Uncle's golden boy.
If it were up to him, he would have left Adel on the
Adel stands in front of the mirror in the living room to comb his hair. He straightens his tie and his shirt. The sight of him makes Mirwan's eyes burn. Who does he think he is? Adel pulls out some money from his wallet and counts it in front of him, still humming to himself. Kamil patiently waits for Adel on the couch.
Mirwan says in a sarcastic tone, "Better not spend it all in one place, Adel. You never know when your luck might run out."
Although Adel can't stand Mirwan, he is in too good of a mood to let him get under his skin. "I think you deserve a new shirt. You have been wearing the same three shirts since we come here to LA." He hands Mirwan a twenty dollar bill.
Mirwan makes a face. "You came here with nothing and now you
think you are somebody."
Adel flashes him a disarming smile. "That's where you're wrong, my friend. I was somebody before I came here." He turns to the mirror again and runs his fingers through his hair one last time.
Mirwan gives him a look of disgust, turns around and walks out of
the apartment, slamming the door behind him.
Adel shakes his head and gives Kamil a look. He really needs to discuss with him about finding a new place to move into. But for now, he had another goal. He counts out one thousand US dollars.
Adel brags, "Don't worry Kamil. I can make this thousand dollars easy in one day of work."
Kamil is not convinced. "Are you sure, Adel? Shouldn't we save this in case we need it in the future?"
Adel is not concerned. "Let's enjoy what our hard work has brought us. Come on, I know you were looking at the D&G sunglasses when we were at Beverly Hills Shopping mall."
Kamil shakes his head but pleased that Adel remembered. "No, no... that is much too expensive. They cost four hundred dollars. You can't possibly spend that kind of money for sunglasses."
Adel laughs. "Come on, Kamil... You worry too much. But I
understand. I know you won't sleep at night if you owned
sunglasses that cost more than your car back home. We'll get you
ones that are really good knock-offs." Adel's excitement has now
rubbed off on Kamil. He grabs his jacket. "Come on, let's
At the Beverly Hills shopping mall, Adel and Kamil are here not to window shop but with a mission to spend some big bucks. The first stop is the Gucci store. Ten minutes later, Adel is sporting a new Gucci watch on his wrist. Other shoppers are smiling at him, his happiness so infectious.
Adel proudly shows off his new watch to Kamil.
"Come on, Kamil. Ask me what time is it."
Kamil cannot stop himself from saying, "Three hundred dollars for a watch? That could feed a whole village for a month in Istanbul. Really, it could."
Adel laughs and punches him on the arm. He runs ahead towards another store.
When Kamil catches up to him, he sees Adel trying on a suit that
reminds him of what he sees pimps in Hollywood wear. Adel looks
pleased at what he sees as he admires himself in the mirror.
Kamil peeks at the price tag. Three hundred dollars. Now why
would that shock him?
Dressed in his new pimp suit, Adel walks through the mall. He hears 50 Cent's P.I.M.P rap song in his head as he struts past each store. His eyes light up when he sees something in the display window of a men's shoe store. He walks inside and beelines straight to the counter. A short soft spoken shoe salesman comes out to greet him. He eyes Adel up and down and compliments him on his attire.
Adel smiles broadly. "Bring me the cowboy boots that I see in your display window in size European 43, young man." The salesman nods. He hurries to the back of the store to find the boots.
Meanwhile, Kamil wanders around looking at the different styles of shoes. He hears the salesman return. He sees him holding shiny brown snakeskin cowboy boots. Oh my goodness!
"Just like Clint Eastwood." Adel says to Kamil.
Kamil looks at the price on the box. "But they cost two hundred fifty dollars!"
"Well, it is a good deal. This gentleman here says it is made of
real African snake skin." The salesman smiles shyly. Kamil shakes
his head watching Adel as he struts around him in his new cowboy
All going so well
Adel sits in his shuttle van admiring his new dark tan brief case. He spins the gold combination lock and caresses the leather. Adel remembers when he was six years old. He would sit by the stairs outside his home watching as his Grand Uncle came home from work carrying a briefcase just like the one he now owned. Adel used to look longingly at the briefcase wondering what important papers were inside. A man with a briefcase was a man who was worth something.
He suddenly remembered standing in the same spot by the stairs
and seeing his father returning home from work. A truck would
pull up outside with all the workers piled in the back. His
father would wave good-bye to his coworkers and then come up to
the house. He would be filthy from working on a construction job
site all day. In his hand he would carry a worn cloth bag used to
carry his lunch. Adel remembers feeling embarrassed as he watched
his father remove his shoes and dust his feet in the doorway of
their home. How can he ever be proud of his father? What has he
accomplished? He vowed to himself that he will never be like his
father. He will achieve more than what his status in life has to
In the apartment, Adel and Kamil are getting ready for work. Adel reaches for his brief case and he notices that it is unlocked. Mirwan's face comes into his mind and he pictures him sifting through his papers. His face hardens. "Mirwan, that dog!"
Kamil looks up. "What?"
Adel turns around. "Kamil, we have to find our own place." His face is red with anger.
Kamil takes a deep breath. He has been dreading having to tell his good friend of his own news. "No, I want to tell you before but..." He pauses.
Adel interrupts. "But what?"
Kamil continues. "I am going to Canada at the end of the month."
Adel is stunned. "What? Why Kamil? We are doing so well here."
Kamil can't believe Adel's ignorance. He shakes his head. "No, you are doing well. I am not. I hate driving the van. This life is not for me." He gathers his keys and wallet from his drawer. "I have family in Vancouver, Canada. They have a friend who has a daughter who they want to arrange for us to be married." He stops to look at Adel who is speechless. "I do not see a future here."
Adel slowly nods his head as the information sinks in. "It's okay, Kamil. I understand. You're my best friend. I just can't believe you are leaving." He comes over to Kamil. "You are like a brother to me. If you are happy, then that is all that matters." He gives him a hug.
Kamil's eyes lighten up. "You can come with me. We can take the English program at the university together. I really think there is no future here in LA for me and for you."
Adel shakes his head. "No, I will stay. I have my business now and I cannot just leave it to go to Canada."
Kamil's smile leaves his face. "I know you will say this. If you
change your mind later, my home is your home." They have always
done things together since they were children. Adel could not
imagine not having him around. Although he is disappointed, he
smiles and hugs his good friend again.
Shut up, Ahab
It has been a few days since Kamil has left for Canada. It felt so strange to not have him nearby. Since he was a child, he couldn't remember when he was not a phone call away.
Adel is parked in his usual spot outside the airport. He thought
about Nora many times. He almost called her number but he wasn't
in the mood to go on a date.
Suddenly there is a knock on his window. Startled, he looks up to see two uniformed men standing outside his door.
The larger of the two is massive, probably an ex-marine, with blond hair cropped in a military style crew cut and the build of a sumo wrestler.
"Get out of the car now with your hands up!"
"What did I do wrong, Officer?" Adel asks calmly.
The shorter officer reminds him of Eric Estrada, his favourite American actor from the TV series called "C.H.i.P.s". Older American TV series such as C.H.i.P.s, Knight Rider, were very popular to watch when he was a child growing up in Istanbul.
Officer Estrada yells at him. "Shut up. You are coming with us." He opens his door and both officers flash their badges at him.
"Was I parked illegally?" Adel asks, trying to make sense of it all.
The larger officer smirks. "I.C.E. We're from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. You are under arrest for working and residing in the United States illegally."
They shove him into the side of the van and handcuff him. Passersby stop and stare at the commotion the officers are causing. Other shuttle van drivers who he considered friends whisper to each other when they recognize Adel. The two I.C.E. officers drag Adel to their car and push him inside and lock the door. More I.C.E. officers surround his van and start searching through it. The officer resembling Eric Estrada climbs inside the vehicle.
"Where are you taking me? What's going to happen to my van?" Adel asks.
The officer looks back at him disgustedly. "Shut up, Ahab. We ask the questions around here." He starts the car and begins to drive.
Adel watches helplessly as they drive past his shuttle van. One
I.C.E. officer is carrying out his briefcase from the van.
Another is going through the back of the van.
He had imagined this scene in his head a hundred times when he first started his shuttle business but over the months, he had grown complacent convinced that he and Kamil would never be caught.
What is going to happen to me now?