If Istanbul were a storyteller she would want to tell the story of Beyoğlu and it’s back-alleys…. The story of the long and ancient street that stars as the lead actress in so many people’s lives and their little adventures.
She plays a big part in the life of a humble man called Yasin Gencer, a street vendor with big ambitions for the good life.
Yasin is the only child of a family from Tokat, a small province deep in the middle of Anatolia who had immigrated to Istanbul when he was just a kid. Now he is in his early 30’s, still trying to make it in the big city.
I said his ‘family’, but as the matter of fact, when Yasin migrated to İstanbul, he had no one beside him other than his grandfather. And after a little while, he disappeared too.
Yasin always thought of himself as a dead man. He had grown up in the streets since he was 10, slept in the workshops where he worked, and scavenged for leftovers at the feet of passersby, or at restaurants, pulling all-nighters for the crumbs they left on their doorsteps…
It was a sad and dangerous upbringing for a child of his age… There wasn’t one shop that he hadn’t worked for around Taksim, Ömer Hayyam and Dolapdere. Not one restaurant floor was left unswept, not one barber shop towel stained or diner dish unwashed…
He did it all. And he learned from his environment and his employers. He learned how to survive. He learned the good and the bad and which neighborhoods were okay to wander around in and which parts of the town were to be avoided, forbidden, not only to a child but also to adults considering the horrid possibilities that awaited in the dark, ready to attack when you least expected it….
Some streets could make a man out of him, and some streets were made of the stuff of nightmares. He knew he was better off without them.
He was smart and he had a lot of luck. If we asked him, he’d tell us that the best luck he had was the secret recipe of his famous rice and beans, as taught to him by his grandfather, but of course one needs a lot of other things to survive in the streets of Beyoğlu other than a rice recipe.
He had all of the ingredients that he needed to make it out alive deep inside his soul, hidden, and he didn't know what made him out to be a survivor yet, but he’d learn soon enough...
So let’s not ask him now.
When Yasin was serving in the military, his superiors had decided that he belonged in the kitchen and even let him cook his grandfather's recipe from time to time. When he returned home from the army, he bought himself a small vendor cart and started selling his product on the streets.
People loved Yasin’s food and in no time, he built himself a decent number of loyal customers.
Every day at 9 pm he would roll his rickety little wheels on the wet, worn out streets of Beyoğlu and tell people about his food, make them taste it, make them realize how delicious it is. He tirelessly created a network of satisfied customers.
He hustled in the grind and bled for his job and he felt like he was a real human being only when he was working. He felt alive. He felt the blood pumping deep inside his veins and the air he breathed somehow felt magical, filled with the essences of a decaying, crumbling, dying, city, but also one that was still dancing, still kicking and screaming.
He noticed the small things and really makes an effort to know these people, and the streets they walk by. He didn't know how much of a rarity this trait was and that ignorance was probably Çiğdem’s favourite thing about him. As his girlfriend, she loves how hard-working and unassuming he always is.
Çiğdem, on the other hand is in her late 20s. She moved to Dolapdere after leaving her father and perverted stepbrother and decided to live her life on her own terms. For an attractive woman in Beyoğlu, suffering unwanted admirers of all ages, growing up was a very challenging thing. But one thing Çiğdem was not was a coward. She lived all her life fighting, and even though nowadays it’s become harder and harder, she is not one to shy away from a confrontation. This is where she differs from Yasin…
They both share the same desires and aspirations for a better life but whereas Çiğdem is totally aware of the obstacles ahead and all the rotten encumbrances life presents, Yasin is blissfully ignorant of the fact that they are indeed surrounded by the monsters of this ancient city.
Both struggle to keep dreaming, to achieve their shared goals and they are all they’ve got, but to keep the dream pure and manageable, they will have to demonstrate their grit and vigor like never before. A dream, after all, demands your constant diligence and unwavering persistence.
So, if this was the end of our story, then maybe it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that our lovely couple struggled to keep their dreams alive and maybe ultimately they’ve failed but as you are well aware, our story takes place in Istanbul, Beyoğlu and she is a wild, unpredictable and very promiscuous lady who’s full of adventures and surprises.
And of course, once upon a night, faith came to knock on the door of Yasin’s unsuspected little life while he was working in his usual place, serving his food with his usual warm smile and bright enthusiasm.
At the most crowded time of night, a young man named Tufan appeared out of nowhere and made his way around customers to get to a car that was waiting on the other side of the street. But before he could reach his destination, a regular police control occurred right in the middle of the sidewalk. There were two police cars and a lot of cops who were out on the lookout for any potential troublemakers.
Tufan is a timid, shy, even fearful guy, but he is angry, indecisive and also very young. Add dope addiction to this mix and you’ve got the ingredients of a very troublesome young man on our hands. And that’s what we’ve got.
He looks around with panicky stares, tries to find an opening to pry himself out of this blockage but the street is too crowded and it’s too late to go back. The police officers had already started to check people for ID’s. If the officer closer to him gets a hold of him to check his papers, he’s in for a world of trouble. Why? Why is he afraid that much? What’s with the helpless look in his eyes that resembles a hunted deer?
If he did nothing wrong, then why would he be afraid of the police officers? Well, as the matter of fact he did something wrong and he has all the right in the world to be afraid of the cops and what they might find if they’d frisked him. So he misjudges the situation and makes the mistake of a lifetime. He reaches deep into his pockets and pulls out a tightly wrapped package full of heroin, and stashes it inside Yasin’s vendor cart while nobody’s looking. Then he leaves the scene without looking back.
He gets in the car waiting for him there and exhales. The problem is the driver in the car is a dirty cop named Suat and he needs that package right then. But of course, given the fact that the street is filled with policemen, Suat needs to find another solution to retrieve his package.
When you work for the biggest crime boss within the radius of ten blocks of labyrinth-like neighborhoods and you also steal from him in order to pay for a blood debt you’ve owed cause you’ve killed some Syrian mob guy who harassed your stripper girlfriend…. Then you’ve got to be quiet about your plans or next time, you can end up in a bodybag yourself.
So Suat, neck deep in debt, constantly threatened by Syrian mafia, feeling the suspecting eye of his official boss at the narcotic department, carefully constructs a plan to get his package back. Only he forgets that his partner is a young drug addict who cannot be trusted.
When the next day arrives and Yasin finds the heroin bag with Çiğdem, the first thing they do is go to the police. But afterwards, when Çiğdem comes home alone while Yasin goes to oversee the paint job in their brand new shop that will become their dream restaurant, all the happiness and hopes for the future suddenly trembles and shatters. Tufan is home and he wants her to come with him. In exchange, Yasin will bring them the drugs to get Çiğdem…
She of course resists being taken hostage, and Tufan becomes aggressive. Things immediately get out of hand as they usually do when drugs and addiction are involved, and in the heated battle for her life, Çiğdem stabs Tufan with a curling iron, in the face, killing him instantly.
The shit hits the fan. Suat finds the bag in the evidence room and returns it to Yasin. Since he is compromised and his partner is killed by the hand of Çiğdem. They both owe him his original plan and he needs to use Yasin as a dealer to deliver five cuts to five different addresses or Suat will take something from Yasin that he will never get back: Çiğdem.
Yasin, an honest, humble street vendor, a rice and beans guy who is on the verge of opening his own shop, now has to act as a drug dealer with small packages hidden inside his food in order to save his girlfriend, save his one and only dream and ultimately, save his own life from Suat’s insane, hungry, bloody hands….
But soon he’ll find out that on the edges of the dark streets, hidden beneath the wet nooks and dusty crannies of their godforsaken city, a much more threatening danger awaits him, searching for him, lusting after him like a hungry and forgotten god who requires a blood sacrifice for his unquenchable thirst…
Thus, a dark and bloody adventure begins...
Cem Ozuduru was born in 1987 in Istanbul. After entering the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, he published two graphic novels, Zombistan (2008) and Dawn Frost (2010) leading up to his graduation in 2010. His professional career continued with short stories, movie scripts, and directing, on top of creating comic books. His work in the movies and television includes the scripts for the horror movie Baskın (2015), Housewife (2017), the TV series Wolf (2017), and the feature film Wolf (2018), with him directing the latter two. His other credits in comics include Once Upon a Time on the Soccer Field (2015) and Perihan (2017; Europe Comics 2020). Perihan was adapted to a movie in 2019 under the title "The Girl with No Mouth," winning several awards. His latest book is Solo, Night Hunger and Other Stories.