The man who runs the studio where we’re filming has everything he needs to be happy today. A smoothie, the sun and a freshly cleaned lounger. His is an oasis of rare and extraordinary freedom, and encroaching on it, from all sides, is the capital, the investment, the development, the oppressive tentacles of material wealth.
‘Do you live here?’ I ask him.
‘Yes,’ he says. And then, after a moment’s reflection: ‘you know, if you’re an artist, you have to live differently, otherwise I’d be working for some client now in some graphic design studio.’
He reminds me of me when I was young, just as young as I was when I was sitting across from me at the Beyoğlu. Except he’s nowhere near as young. He’s maybe late thirties? The space where he has made his room at the back looks and feels like the kind of place that is about to fall victim to the machine that is parked outside the ramshackle rust-eaten gate. He keeps the gate locked with a chain and a padlock, ‘because it’s market today.’ But as we’re having a break, he unlocks it so those who want to can leave; and some do, while I’m having my lunch in a moment of quiet in the little courtyard, in the shade.
A young man with an oddly styled haircut confidently opens the gate and confidently crosses the yard. He has the knack: he has done this before. Confidently, a little, perhaps, cocky, he strides to the staircase that’s next to the door that we use and that leads up to the first floor.
Earlier on, our host had shown us a picture of the series he was taking this afternoon. It showed a man completely, fully encased in latex. Not some latex suit or fetish costume, but encased in a frame which was covered in latex, from beneath which all the air had been drawn. The man was at the complete mercy of our host and photographer. ‘I could kill him,’ he says, betraying no intention of doing so. ‘It’s incredible, the amount of trust.’ And it’s incredible, the amount of trust. Earlier still, he had been chatting to us about the gate and the need for keeping it locked, certainly on a day like today, when ‘it’s the market.’ Then he’d said, ‘I better get back, I’ve left somebody in there, he’s waiting now.’
That was earlier on. Right now, nobody was waiting, but the noticeably confident young man had stridden past me and our host looks troubled. ‘That’s not a good sign,’ he says, this time only to me, because there is nobody else around at the moment. We’d already been made aware that we needed to treat the ‘issue’ of ‘upstairs’ with diligence. ‘If there’s any issue,’ we’d been instructed, ‘tell me, and I will go and talk to him.’ The he in question was a gentle looking creature whom I’d briefly met, the day before. I had just arrived and was not quite yet in the process of setting up, when the door at the top of a short flight of steps inside the building opened and down came a young man who looked not unlike you’d imagine Harry Potter aged 23, sans scar.
‘Do you have a safety pin?’ he asked me, which I counted as one of the less usual opening gambits, but not without charm. He then proceeded to explain to me in terms almost apologetic that the top button of his shorts had come off, though I didn’t quite catch the actual circumstance of this miniature calamity. I could not, regrettably, help him with his request, but suggested that our host might have a safety pin for him, with which the young man concurred, wholeheartedly.
The next thing I heard was that there was always the potentiality of something of an ‘issue’ with ‘upstairs’, and I naturally assumed that this must entail some ogre, some burly old man, some exceptionally unreasonable and possibly violent landlord, and so I was not unsurprised to learn that the ‘issue upstairs’ concerned none other than this young and tall and a little lanky young man. By now I had met him a second time and enquired after his shorts, which he was pleased to inform me had since been mended. Again, I somehow did not quite catch everything that he said, so just how or by whom or when precisely the button had been decalamitised I still didn’t know, but I fancied it was a matter of not such great import as to warrant my further enquiry.
Now, through the arrival of confident lad who had crossed my metaphorical path in a striding fashion and who had responded to my ‘hello’ with a curiously curtailed, not necessarily curt, ‘hello,’ in which I detected not curiosity, not friendliness, but a perfunctory, it seemed to me, utilitarian tone that signalled the greeting was there purely because by convention it needed to be, while he, in his stride, cared neither for me nor for the convention. I’d thought not much more of it at that particular moment, because there is only so much significance you assign to a greeting, the greeter’s stride not so withstanding, but it had registered as slightly odd, slightly off, to be more precise, and so now it did not altogether surprise but nevertheless a little perturb me that our host had so quickly assumed an expression of quite so much worry. ‘That is not a good sign,’ he said and I could tell from the way that his eyes glanced t’ward the windows upstairs that he meant it. Still I envisioned the ogre; a hideous mountain troll.
‘Why,’ I asked, doing my best to sound light of heart, ‘is this not a good sign.’
‘He’s a pusher,’ our host explained unequivocally. That meant nothing to me. This must have shown on my expression, involuntarily blank:
‘Do you know what a pusher is?’
‘He sells drugs.’
I wondered – though only a little later, not right at this moment, because right at this moment my brain was still trying to process the to me as yet causally unrelated facts that a) there is an ogre, a cataclysmic beast of doom, living upstairs, and b) there is a ‘pusher’, somebody who sells drugs, with a strident gait, now up there with that Thing of Terror – why he was calling him a ‘pusher’ and not simply a ‘dealer.’ To me somebody who came to your house or your place of work or leisure delivering drugs would either be a delivery person, such as a courier, or a dealer, or a dealer’s courier, or maybe assistant. I had no experience of anyone ever coming around to my house or place of work or leisure delivering drugs and so I could not be entirely certain, but ‘pusher’ was a term I would have reserved for somebody who hangs around school yards and ‘pushes’ drugs on kids who would not otherwise want them.
This was as much an explanation for the perception, on the part of our host, of the circumstantiality of our shoot having acquired an additional layer of anticipated complication, as was for the time-being forthcoming; and he said: ‘I’ll give them half an hour until quarter past three, and if they’re still here then, I’ll go and have a word.’
What there might be to be said to the ogre, who surely by then would have devoured stride-boy, high on the drug same boy had delivered, I could not imagine but I let that be as constructive a prospect as was to be entertained for the while, and in any case I remembered clearly the serious counsel that we were not to – under any circumstances, as was implied – approach the upstairs den and who or whatever dwelt in it ourselves. And I had no intention of doing so, ever, under any circumstances.
At one point a little later, newly-buttoned-shorts man and the unlikely though strideous ‘pusher’, together with somebody I hadn’t yet seen or met, left the building, the delivery boy, to my mind incongruously, holding two cardboard boxes of a smallish-to-medium size, one under each arm. He looked every bit now the delivery boy, and whatever was in those boxes, I thought, if that’s drugs, then you three are going to have one hell of a Sunday afternoon.
The ‘issue’ had thus left ‘upstairs,’ at least temporarily, but when I told our host this, the next time I caught his attention, he was neither convinced nor impressed. To my ‘I’ve seen three of them leave, I think they’ve locked up’ (an impression I got from the fact that they took pains to put the chain and the lock on the gate upon leaving), he, our host, with that ominous glance t’ward upstairs, said, portent weighing on his voice: ‘they haven’t. They’ll have to come back.’
By now, I had me a regular mystery. Since mysteries, regular or not, can only be entertained for so long before curiosity gets the better of their recipient, I now asked him outright what the ‘issue’ was, with ‘upstairs’. Young Shorts Man, to me, I volunteered, seemed like a thoroughly harmless guy.
‘Oh he, is; he’s all right. The problem is just that he likes to get high,’ and then he revealed a personal predilection of the young man’s and what he enjoyed having done to him when high, over his desk, that didn’t shock me for being unusual, because that unusual it was not, but startled me a little for coming – after all the mystery – as a delightfully insouciant indiscretion, of the kind that plants an image in your mind that is maybe just a smidgeon too personal, too, maybe even, graphic, to entirely belong there.
It still took me another moment to compute why any of this happening ‘upstairs’ should, if it were to be occurring even this afternoon, be such an ‘issue’ for us: clearly no monster had there his habitat, just a friendly young man who liked to have sex at his place of work while on drugs. Until the penny dropped and it occurred to me that the ‘issue’ in question was entirely one of sound intrusion. And maybe a little bit of dust too, because the floor boards of the ‘upstairs’, which were old and creaky, were also our ceiling and we were shooting a dialogue scene of quiet intensity.
They didn’t come back, after all. Or maybe they came back later when we’d already wrapped. There was no ‘issue’, that afternoon, happening ‘upstairs.’ Yet still, the images linger…