Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011 - No comments

Love and Loss on Public Transit

I lost a very dear friend today. He was torn from me suddenly, unceremoniously, without the chance to properly say goodbye.

I went to fill my Akbil (Istanbul transit pass thingy) on the way to the ferry this morning, wanting to be sure it had plenty of money on it for a day of exploring and a trip to the airport. But the man at the booth informed me that they’re fazing the Akbils out and that in order to add money on, I was obliged to switch over to an Istanbulkart.

“Take your Akbil off your keychain and I’ll transfer your balance onto your new card.”

I struggled to pull it off my keychain. “Can I keep it as a souvenir?” He shook his head.

There was a long line of impatient commuters behind me. No time for sentimentality. Reluctantly, I handed over my little blue sidekick, and just like that, he ceased to be a part of my life.

It occurred to me hours later that I could have just eaten the money left on my Akbil, kept it, and paid for a new card, but as often happens when I’m operating in Turkish and under pressure, my mind doesn’t catch things until it's too late and the deed is done.

And now I am Akbil-less.

That little blue hunk of plastic has been my most faithful companion these past five years. Other friends have come and gone, gotten married or moved away, but my Akbil was always by my side.

He loved to take me out on the town. And the best part was, he always paid. Together we hopped hundreds of buses to places like Rumeli Hisarı to climb the fortress or Çengelköy for breakfast by the Bosphorus. We ran for countless ferries and dissolved into relieved laughter when we made it through the turnstile and onto the boat just as they pulled the ropes away from the docks. He took me to the Princes Islands to ride bikes by the sea and accompanied me on the metro to my photo exhibition when no one else was able to make it. He used to see me to school every morning on the train and always escorted me to and from the airport on the seabus. We especially loved riding the cable car up for coffee at Pierre Loti, the underground Tünel up to the end of Istiklal Street and the nostalgic tramway in Moda. There were few places in Istanbul we left unexplored.

When I moved away, in spite of it being clunky, I kept my Akbil on my keychain as a reminder to myself and proof to the world that I was truly an Istanbullu. It travelled back and forth with me to Canada, and came along every other time I left the country as well, so it would always be handy as soon as I landed back in my favourite city and needed to hop a train or a ferry.

And now this cruel world has ripped us apart.

I am now the begrudging owner of an Istanbulkart - a flimsy plastic card that will sit in my wallet, unseen and forgotten, until I have to pull it out and use it again on some future visit. We’ll get used to each other, I suppose, and eventually we, too, will have our own shared history of running for ferries and squeezing onto buses bound for interesting places. But today, every time I boarded a bus and pressed my card to the machine to pay my fare, I felt a pang of loss at the thought of my barren keychain.

It’s a lot like the time I left my beloved stuffed koala, Theodore, in a hotel room in Gatlinburg. George, my monkey-that’s-really-a-bear, was immediately there to take Theo’s place. I love him and all, but it has never been the same. You just can’t replace a Theo.

Rahmetli Akbil - my dearly departed friend - may you rest in peace knowing you will always have first place in my heart.