A film crew wanted to use our workshop for a changing room. Having been told they would need the space for just an hour, I agreed. Five hours later, I was still there.
Mithat Bey had come by late that afternoon after we closed up and most everyone had left. He looked around, eyed our goods and asked if the bags were for sale. I sized him up and said that no, they were not as we were selling them to a large department store in Istanbul. So many people think we are teaching a hobby and therefore find our prices more than they are willing to pay. Mithat Bey thanked me just the same. I wallowed in the pleasure and the surprise of an elderly local man coming into the Garbage Ladies workshop to look and linger, even if he did not purchase anything.
By 8 pm, I had had chats with most everyone from the crew who was involved in the costumes for the television series, either by wearing them or putting them; of course everyone had to have their hair styled and make-up seemed rather optional. Others just wanted to use our narrow loo as we had a real toilet and was not just a pissoir like in the café where the filming was taking place. There was one fellow who came and went, came and went, each time with a lit cigarette, never acknowledging that this was someone else’s space that he was entering. He ended up buying a small bag and spoke briefly enough to make me understand that he was either a very famous actor and I should know who he was – I did not - or thought that he was above the rest of humankind. But he bought a small bag for his wife and did not bat an eye when I told him the price.
I was sitting alone at my desk, taking care of mundane tasks, trying to use the unexpected time I had on my hands well. Mithat Bey came back in.
‘Good evening young lady, can you tell me why you don’t sell these bags here? I mean, if someone walks into this place and wants to buy a bag, you really won’t sell the person a bag if they want to purchase one?’
I sure was glad I had extra time and not a whole lot to do.
I asked him in, invited him to sit down, and told him that in fact we did sell the bags to people who wanted to buy them, but on a small scale, and that they cost more money than most local people realized and hence would be willing to spend. And then I asked him if he was from here, which was the same as opening an invitation to tell me about his life.
And he did.
His mother was born on Turkish soil the day after his parents left their village on Mytilini, often known as Lesvos, in a small fishing skiff, as part of the Greek-Turkish ‘exchange’ back in the early 1920’s. His father was, in Mithat Bey’s words, ‘an early agricultural engineer,’ grafting fruit trees, spraying against insects, and other tasks performed 80 years ago for the well-being or perceived well-being of gardening. Mithat Bey himself was born in a house up the street from the workshop and used to come to the teahouse we now rented for our workshop, daily, as a young lad. He himself worked with metal and became a tinsmith. There was such a demand for his work that he moved to Izmir and there he stayed for 50 years. He had just moved back to a small town about 8 kilometers from Ayvalik but came to the teahouse across from our workshop now and again. When you are 75 years old, you may have a lot of time on your hands.
Mustafa from the same teahouse, had come over to keep me company and make sure that I was not being unduly bothered. He had elf-appointed himself my body guard and kept an eye on not just me but all the ladies who came to the workshop. He joined Mithat Bey and me at my desk and I felt as though I were at an informal cocktail party without the drinks. Mithat Bey told me about his children, his grandchildren, showed me his watch with Ataturk’s signature, informed me that he was a member of each and every club and association here in Ayvalik including the one that supported readers of a Kemalist newspaper. And then he asked me again if he couldn’t purchase one of the bags.
I said indeed he could, and told him the prices. He chose one of the bags that were on my desk; Mustafa, with a warm smile and a bit of a chuckle, asked if it was for the sweet lady, his wife.
Mithat Bey responded, ‘I bought her a house, I bought her an apartment, I don’t care which one she lives in but I won’t share the living space with her anymore. I’ve done a lot for that woman over the years and I’ve had enough. Last week I met another lovely lady, and, pardon me, I’m being very direct here, we are pretty close to understanding that we want to be together.’
Mustafa looked at me, we both looked at Mithat Bey, and simultaneously said:
‘Mithat Bey may your lovely lady use her new bag in good health.’
And the elderly man stood up, thanked us, and left pleased and with a smile that said as much.