“Cowgirls of Istanbul” (excerpt)


Atatürk airport, Istanbul, Turkey

Sarah finds Thérèse snoring on a bench, her briefcase between her calves, her purse clutched to her chest, and her carryon bag under her head. Sarah, holding a small tray with coffee and orange juice, is jostling her awake.

“Thérèse! Thérèse!”

“Oh, no, no, go away!”

“Thérèse, you can’t sleep here— it’s too dangerous!”

Thérèse groans and turns over. “No, Sarah, I’ve had enough! I’m not wandering the desert anymore! I’m camped out here for the night.”

“You don’t have to camp out here— I got a hotel room. You can come and stay with me. Come on. We just show our visas here and catch a cab outside that door. No more wandering in the desert!”

Thérèse, now wide awake, gapes up at her.

“Thérèse, look, I can’t leave you here. Someone will pick your pocket or steal your purse and you’ll be too fast asleep to even know it. Thérèse , think how good it will feel to have a shower and get into a nice clean bed!”

Thérèse sighs wearily.

Ten minutes later they’re side by side in the back seat of a taxicab.

“It was really nice of you to share your room with me,” Thérèse observes, sounding puzzled.

“It’s nothing. They gave me a choice, so I chose two double beds.”

“Now if it had been me—”

“I know,” says Sarah. Therese looks at her, surprised.

The street outside the cab is becoming raucous.

“What’s this?” Thérèse asks.

“It looks like a protest.”

“Oh, God, no!” She leans forward and waves her hand. “Driver, don’t slow down, just plough through or we’ll be here all—” As the taxi pulls to a full stop she groans and throws herself back against the seat.

Sarah reads the signs the protesters hold up. “‘Murderer state will pay.’ Excuse me—” she addresses their driver— “what are they protesting?”

“Seven years ago they kill Armenian journalist. They say it was government kill him. They do this every year.”

Sarah looks somber while Thérèse slaps her head in exasperation.

“Honestly—” Thérèse whines, “seven years ago? One journalist? Can’t they just get over it?”

Sarah slowly closes her eyes.

“Not just for journalist!” the driver replies testily. “The Turkish government commit genocide against us the Armenian. Scientists, teachers, poets . . . We can’t say nothing! When you silence a man you take piece of his soul!”

Thérèse sheepishly places her hand over her mouth as Sarah glares at her.

“I’m so sorry,” Thérèse awkwardly apologises. “I didn’t know that you . . . Just . . . I’m sorry.

“You have to excuse her,” says Sarah, looking dully. “She works for Canada Border Services.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Thérèse snaps.

“Exactly what it sounds like.”

“If you’re suggesting that Canada Border Services is racially insensitive—”

“On the contrary. Not suggesting at all.”

Thérèse shifts in her seat. “Listen, you have no idea what we have to deal with. Oh well, I don’t expect you to understand. Garbage dumps of other people’s minds, and all.”

“I liberate people,” says Sarah calmly. You imprison them. Or simply leave them in prison. Or sentence them to death at the hands of their own countries.”

“Believe it or not there are laws that protect Canadians and it’s our job to enforce them. If all you bleeding hearts took over we’d be overrun in minutes with criminals or sick, unemployable refugees and then we’d be just like the countries they left behind. It’s fine for you to criticize us from your comfortable ivory tower. We’re the ones on the ground doing the dirty work to ensure you can still drive your SUV’s and eat lobster sandwiches and wear your Ralph Lauren.”

“I don’t know which bleeding hearts in particular you’re referring to but I don’t own a car. I eat peanut butter sandwiches, and I buy my Ralph Lauren at the frip.

“Oh! Well! So you’re not a successful psychologist, then, in spite of having been a ‘Rhodes Scholar.’ Tell me, what’s holding you back? Been sued, perhaps?”

Sarah stares silently out the window.

“Or maybe you just don’t ‘get’ your bourgeois WASP clients. Maybe you haven’t developed your therapeutic rapport.”

Sarah continues to stare out her window silently until Thérèse throws up her hands and turns to stare silently out her window. Thérèse starts rooting around in the bottom of her carryon bag and pulls out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. She lights a cigarette and starts smoking furiously.

“You smoke?” Sarah asks, incredulously.

“It’s just for emergencies.”

(Excerpted from the short story Cowgirls of Istanbul by Wanda Waterman)

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