Kadak Garden
Rowan Johnson

Istanbul. Fumes burning. On the airport bus, babies cry, tortured by this crush of 14 million humans. Crushing in, crumbling in. Filling this small, small world.

But the Kadak Garden Hotel at the end of the bus ride only charges 30 euros a night for rooms that are like small apartments. In the garden and the lobby are shining fountains and they put up red sheer curtains and they put in stunning lights and they stock the bar with four bottles of every kind of liquor, all lit up from behind and shimmering with ripples of temptation. Once I order a whisky and soda, the barman gives me six pieces of ice in a tall glass because he lived in LA for a year and he knows how much foreigners like ice. The ice is free in Turkey, he says. In LA they want your life and your future too, he says. Turkish boys get nowhere in LA, he says.

The waiters dress in fancy suits and they carefully place blue evil-eye Turkish ashtrays on every table. Still, night after night here in this bar, nobody comes.

In London, the traders at Sotheby’s bicker for an hour about the value of an antique ceramic ashtray. Here, taxi drivers lose ten years of their lives in the hour it takes to drive along Ataturk Boulevard to downtown, where yet another suicide bomber just blew up a synagogue two hours ago. Life carries on. People throw down white carnations. The call to prayer echoes through the shisha bars and alleyways of the city from the speakers of a thousand mosques.

It is well after 9pm when the music gets turned up at the Kadak Garden Hotel. But three hours later it’s still only me and the barman, blowing out our own speakers in the bar with the ice and all the full bottles, because nobody else will come.

Rowan Johnson holds a doctorate from the University of Tennessee as well as an MA from the University of Nottingham, England. His work has been published in Two Thirds North, Passing Through Journal, Wordriver Literary Review, and the Writers’ Abroad Foreign Encounters Anthology. He has also written numerous travel articles for SEOUL Magazine.