Men who sell simits–a bagel-pretzel coated in toasted sesame seeds–are almost as ubiquitous in Istanbul as ankle-breakable holes in the sidewalk. Since I often took the same streets, I often passed the same simit salesman. We bonded by blinking at each other. Some days he was decked out in a houndstooth coat and beige fedora. One this day, he went sporty with a grey jacket and a navy Adidas cap.
As I approached he gave me our blink of recognition. I asked to take his photo. My Istanbul days are dwindling, so I needed to pack my souvenirs. Actually, the question, though I knew it well, came out: “Can I take my picture?” But he forgave me. “Of me?” Yes, yes, I reached apologetically for my camera and offered up my mother’s smile.
A crowd of men on a bench nearby began to chatter among themselves like pigeons. I turned to see if there was anyone there worth capturing–they went quiet–as my simit man got himself into a pose. “Should I wear my hat?
I grinned, “If you want.”
He took it off. “Oh, but I’m not beautiful,” he said smoothing his grey hair.
“You are, you are!” I insisted with a click.
I showed him the photo, which he gave a furtive look before patting me on the shoulder, sending me on my way. He stepped back to his friends, trying to blend back into the crowd of men. Like schoolboys, they teased him and he chuckled to himself. I walked away beaming, causing a few strangers down the street to wonder why that woman over there should seem so pleased.