Ali’s Stand

The letter from Turkey was addressed to him and he brought it to his desk and opened it.

July 11, 2013

Dear Mr. David,

I hope this does not come as a problem. Forgive my asking for this time. The translator has helped me with what it is I want to say. I have many hours been over it.

My name is Derin Koçek. I am 23. I live with my family in Edargin. We are 8. We are not of wealth. My work is at the bus station as a waiter for Ali at his stand. You will not recall me when you were here with your wife. When the bus stopped for snacks and use of the toilets.

When you were here Mr. David you with your wife was at the table. Ali made you coffee and that is what I brought. Then it was not you but her that say teşekkür ederim and iyi günler. She had a smile as I did to her. Then I must go to other tables.

Mr. David, while you were at the table you look at your papers that come from your bag. But there is not much time. The people get back on the bus. You in your kindness leave me a 2 lira tip. I did not forget. Then on the way you tear the papers and send them to the barrel. You get on the bus. To Denizli it goes I did see on the sign.

That is all I saw of you. When I do not have service for Ali I go to the barrel for your papers. I do not know what they are but I want to know you. I take them up and see your name. That night I look online. I find you have sites there. I think you can be of help. It is why I send this.

Mr. David, I want you to know I would enjoy to study. It is what I hope so I will not be a waiter for Ali forever. To do that I would wish a 1000 Euros from you. It is what I need to study 1 year. If that is a great amount I would wish you to send 750. I hope for 500. It is what will help me to start. All Euros to go for education. Not any other but that.

Mr. David, I will wait for you. You can do that at my email I have included. My address of my family is with it if you wish to send Euros without questions for me.

I thank you for giving me this what I need for the asking of Euros. Mr. David, I will hope you feel good and enjoy. I will hope you will be here to Edargin again to stay at the hotels on our lake. That you come to Alis stand for coffee once more so I will see you.

Kind regards,
Derin Koçek

If Lucy were home she would have heard the laugh that erupted when he came to Derin Koçek’s closing paragraph. It wasn’t a response to the letter’s awkward expression or the audacity it took to ask for money from a stranger living five thousand miles away. It wasn’t even about the three-month gap between a trip fading fast in their minds and conversation. It was about Derin Koçek’s request for Euros at a time of a weakened dollar, when, with a simple Google search, he saw the exchange rate that day was 1 to 1.56.

The letter was still in his hands as a roll of Euros came to mind, a crisp, colorful wad of them thick enough to satisfy Derin Koçek’s tuition needs for a year. He was sure it was something he’d tried before, sent a plea to a traveler whose name he came across at Edargin’s bus station. Or just maybe, there was no ignoring the possibility, he was part of a larger enterprise of MS Word typists and formatters who sat in a gray, dingy office with old computers and cheap printers. There was no way to know what was true? His tearing up his papers and tossing them away? Derin Koçek picking the pieces out of the barrel? The argument he should have been more careful with his personal information was a strong one.

When Lucy was back from the gym he was on the computer clicking around for a picture of the station.

“Not a one of the building or the famous Ali’s stand,” he said.

She was next to him in tight black leggings and Nike running shoes. With her usual precision she recalled the stop and the waiter and the coffee he served them.

“It was a little place with those gimpy plastic chairs that made me think mine was going to collapse. I even said that to you.” She gave him a gentle tap on the head in hopes of unloosening the recollection. “I don’t remember you throwing any papers away. You probably did. How else would he know you were there and get your name?”

It wasn’t a vivid memory that drew him back, he told her. Though it was easy enough to make up a picture of himself tearing those pages in half and in half again and detouring a few steps to a barrel. Back on the bus, on the way to Pamukkale, the young woman across the aisle from Lucy excused herself to ask if they might have a conversation?

“I do not get many chances to practice my English,” she said.

Her name was Cemile, Lucy reminded him, and she had an eager way of telling them about herself. She was a student in Konya and had the distinguishing characteristics of college students everywhere: stylish jeans, pullover jersey, thick shoulder-length hair, the full arsenal of electronic gear, smartphone, notebook computer, over-ear headphones. She was on her way to visit her family. She had four younger siblings. Her father was in construction, though he’d gathered from her sophistication and circumstance it was more likely he was the owner of a business than a laborer in one.

When it came time for the questions for them the student Cemile asked where they were from? Why were they in Turkey? What were their names? She didn’t fully comprehend their pronunciations and she tore a page from a notebook for Lucy to write them on.

“Why do you not have last names the same?” she asked.

“Being married is close enough for me,” Lucy told her with a laugh.

But even if that polite young woman wanted to laugh with her, she managed to keep a straight face.

Next, she asked what they did? It was evident she was more impressed with Lucy’s Professor status than the occupier of a cubicle in a Manhattan office tower. The whole conversation unfolded like the “Making a New Friend” page in a Berlitz guide for travelers.

On another sheet Lucy drew a map of the United States, noting the location of her home state, Michigan, then his, Massachusetts, then Washington D.C., and for whatever reason the student was curious about it, Las Vegas.

“Maybe she kept them, you think of that?” he said. “Maybe she faked the letter?”

Had that been the source of his name that led to his website and home address and the letter from Derin Koçek? Lucy doubted the girl had that in her. It was Derin Koçek’s doing.

“She didn’t send that to you,” Lucy said. “That’s not her. Those are two separate things. No way she knew that waiter. No way she’s pretending to be that waiter.”

It was impossible to recall everything that had happened back there. It was easy enough to bring up the last stages of their flight into Istanbul on the British Airways connector out of Heathrow as it banked over the Sea of Marmara and came in low over the tankers and pleasure boats. Lucy was by the window and he’d leaned close to her to collect a Google Earth impression of the Golden Horn and the Sultanahmet’s domes and spires. Then they were on the ground and through the long line at customs and in the backseat of the town car their hotel sent to meet them. From that moment he jumped ahead to the geological wonderland of Cappadocia, then on to Konya, where in the Mevlana Cultural Center they looked on awestruck as the whirling dervishes performed their ecstatic devotion. Then, the next morning, they boarded the bus to Denizli. In the middle of those six hours there was the stop in Edargin where they drank coffee from Ali’s stand and where the presumptive twenty-three-year-old Derin Koçek had served them. In those wiggly plastic chairs Lucy was sure would collapse, they sipped the demitasse cups with the layer of russet foam and he looked over the printouts he’d brought along to make sure their passage through Turkey went smooth as possible.

Those moments came easy enough. Or were they Lucy’s memories he’d co-opted as his own? She had a clear, convincing narrative of the moment. She recalled the stop and the waiter and the coffee he served. She had a few words for Derin Koçek: “Teşekkür ederim. Iyi günler.” Even a simple exchange like that in the native tongue made a connection that sitting detached and distracted from the here and now by his papers didn’t. Which was why no indelible remembrance of Ali’s stand burned in his brain even if certain others came clear as photos he’d framed and hung in a white-walled gallery in his mind: the view across the Bosphorus on the cable car ride up to Pierre Loti Café; the panorama of Goreme from the hiking trail back from Usichar; a deep, vertical staircase in the underground city of Derinkuyu. But Derin Koçek’s face and those notes he tore up and threw away going back to the bus in Edargin? That picture wasn’t taken, and if it was it had been too blurry to make the cut of his inner curator.

The next afternoon he listened to the description of three proposals Rick had put together for a client in Chicago.

“I’m hoping we can agree on one before we leave here,” Rick said. “We have to get something over to them, and I mean ASAP. They want it in place by end of summer.”

Rick was up at the white board, appearing crisp in a pressed blue shirt and gray pin-striped pants, and at the long meeting table he followed the logic of each of the plans. Then came the comments of the others, his own was last. After that, his mind wandered back to the waiter at Ali’s stand. Like all good business people, Derin Koçek was a schemer of proposals: “It is what I need to study one year. It is all it will go to.” That letter, patchy and strained as its prose was, seemed more urgent than the million-dollar project his company wanted to convince an Illinois multinational to take on. The desire to hit the books and acquire knowledge that might improve his circumstance must be a powerful one.

Around the table, some final words went back and forth and then came the call for a raise of hands. Consensus on one of the plans closed out the meeting.

Back in his cubicle he kept going over that scene in Edargin like a man crazed by the loss of a wallet. Going over it even though he knew he’d never get it back. Just what happened there? All he could muster was the repeated image of Lucy and himself at the table next to Ali’s stand and then, when they were back on the bus, the student wondering if she could ask questions as a way to sharpen her English skills. What had happened to that page with his name on it? There was no way to know. No way to know anything about the source of the letter he kept in his desk at home. Kept it like a secret communication from a lover he was having a long-distance relationship with.

No, he wasn’t going to send Derin Koçek money. No worry there. Though a month later, on a night Lucy was out with friends, he couldn’t hold off the urge any longer and he went to his desk and composed a response. Strange as it felt to have a clandestine correspondence without her knowing it, the conversation between them about Derin Koçek was finished, and she thought it was time for him to get over it too.

“You planning to ask him to come to New York to live with us?”

“I have no plans for him at all.”


I received the letter you sent. I must say it came to us as a surprise. It reminded us of how much we enjoyed visiting your country and how we hope to go back to it. If we do we will of course visit Ali’s stand. That would be enjoyable. Yes, my wife and I remember the stand and we remember you too, when you told us to sit at the table, that you would bring the coffees to us. Ali makes an excellent cup. We both thought that then and we still do. Please tell him he has two big fans in America.

We are most glad to hear you will take the step to go to college to study. That is the right approach. Education is important if you want to do more than be a waiter for Ali, fine a job as it is. We are curious what your field will be? Will it be technical or in business? Those were the two areas we thought you would take up, though you may have another plan. We are sure whatever it is you will do well.

If you wish to reply to this please do so. And be sure to attach a photo of yourself. We would like to see your face again, as our memory of our time in Turkey is dimming and it would be a nice addition to go with the letter you sent.

I hope this will be understandable to you. And again, whatever you choose to do we wish you the best of luck.

Kind regards,
David & Lucy
New York City, New York

That was it. A few paragraphs to acknowledge the letter’s receipt and wish Derin Koçek well in return. He didn’t mention Euros, since they wouldn’t be forthcoming. He was, however, sincere in wanting to hear back from him and seeing a photo. Would he show it to Lucy? He wasn’t sure how she would react, this bringing a complete stranger into their sphere.

Two mornings later he saw the reply in his In Box, a few brief sentences with a file attachment. Derin Koçek was a handsome man, with a slender build and dark features. And maybe he did recognize his face. Maybe he remembered being there, in Edargin, and at Ali’s stand, and then tearing those pages up and veering away from Lucy to drop them in the barrel Derin Koçek would dig them out of. “If you would send Euros, it will please me,” was how his email closed.

For what reason was he so fascinated with Derin Koçek’s life? A few minutes of interaction, no more than one or two, and then the letter. A letter that might be worthy to base a novel on, but in real life was more like a trick to sucker a sucker out of his cash. A letter that, his friends and neighbors Doug and Ron agreed, was worthy of recycling after he read the first paragraph to them in Bar G.

They were two tall men in their forties in blue jeans and short-sleeved shirts. They sat across from him in a corner booth with probing questions in their eyes and shit-eating grins on their faces.

“I get that, I read the first sentence, maybe another one, and that’s it, I slam dunk it in the trash,” Doug said.

“If you don’t have anything else to do with your money how about at least paying for these rounds?” Ron said.

“How about it is right, charity begins right here at home,” Doug said.

“I’ve always been a huge proponent of that adage myself,” Ron said.

Not even with a couple of pints, spicy wings and fried calamari in their bellies, and then a Bushmills nightcap to cut through the fat and lighten their heads for some final chatter on the walk home, was he able to get them to see how it might, just might be authentic.

“Think of it, being twenty-three and living in an apartment with seven other people, all family members,” he said. “That would send you out to cyberspace begging for some bucks to get out of there.”

“Who the hell knows if he’s one of eight or one of two?” Ron said. “You don’t. I don’t. So why even speculate?”

“He’ll only take Euros, one thousand of them,” he said. “That gives it some validity. Business college. I hope that’s what he’s planning on. A successful career in Finance. I already see it, a crack currency trader on the Istanbul Exchange.”

Doug said, “Before you tear that up be sure to mail a copy down to Treasury and tell them, here, this is what the world thinks of your dollar now. Not even desperate people want them.”

There was nothing more from Derin Koçek. The curiosity faded. Derin Koçek needed Euros and none had gone his way and that was that. The yellowing envelope in his hand was five years old. It had been forgotten, remembered, forgotten, and rediscovered at the bottom of a drawer beneath the computer booklets, CDs and restaurant menus he’d stuffed in there with it. Five years later it was time to go back to Turkey to see what they missed as they would go back to any country: to France to see Chartres and Arles; to Mexico to see Palenque and San Cristóbal de las Casas. And maybe this time they would see the waiter at Ali’s stand too?

The envelope included Derin Koçek’s photo and a printout of their email correspondence he read over to refresh his memory. Then, a week before it was time to go, he decided to give it a shot, to contact Derin Koçek to see what he was up to, or just find out if he remembered Mr. David from New York City? As before, he didn’t mention it to Lucy. Only if there was a response would he tell her, even if he wasn’t sure what her reaction would be. Not a positive one.

“Have you been having an online affair with this guy? Are you going to leave me for him? Is that what I’m walking into?” he heard her wondering.


I hope you are well and that by now you have found a way to study. If you have, congratulations, we know you are doing fine and will be a success. If you are still at Ali’s stand that is also good for you. Maybe you are doing both?

We are returning to Turkey soon. We want to see more of your amazing country. This time we will be going to Ephesus, Bodrum and the beaches. We will be renting a car and we see Edargin is not far from those places. Perhaps we will spend a night on the lake there. If we do that, we will stop at Ali’s stand for a coffee. If you are still there, let us know. We will be sure to try to see you.

Kind regards,
New York City, New York

Derin Koçek’s swift response came as a surprise, and with some satisfaction too, as if a connection to a past life had been made that validated whatever had gone on back then.

Mr. David,

I continue work at Ali’s stand. It will be my joy if you do come. I will serve you and wife.

Kind regards,
Derin Koçek

It was a warm, clear day and the flight out of Ataturk left on time. The Sea of Marmara behind them, he gazed out at the dense forest and then the flat, yellow-green carpet of farmland that lasted twenty minutes until, on the descent, the plane dipped and floated over the hills and greenery and where, beyond that, the buildings and curving highways of the giant coastal city of Izmir spread out. He continued to take it in as the pilot made a sharp turn, raised the wing flaps and touched the tires down on the tarmac.

Their hotel was part of a European chain near Konak Square, with a balcony and view of the bay. They left their bags unpacked and went out into the burning sun and high humidity and strolled along the promenade, a busy pedestrian thoroughfare with palm trees on one side and the Aegean on the other. From there they went to the Kemeralti bazaar and spent an hour checking out the bargains without buying anything but coffee and water at a café they stopped at to rest. Back along the bay that night, a middle-aged waiter noticed their indecision and waved them over to the last open table.

“You start first with our meze,” the waiter answered Lucy’s question. “You can choose, or you let me bring them. I will not disappoint.”

The dishes came one at a time, each presented with a bit of flair, small, delicious plates pleasing to look at. In the middle of that they stopped chewing long enough to order entrees, garlicky fried calamari with wedges of lemon and tartar sauce for him, a shrimp skewer for Lucy, and, of course, more wine. A dessert of figs and cheese finished it off and the next morning, a little hung-over, they dressed in shorts and jerseys, rubbed sunscreen on themselves, and were in a rental car on the way to Bergama to see Pergamon.

The road was in better shape than expected. The signage not difficult to understand. The map he printed out in New York was needed just once. They made it in two hours and spent another two walking around the ancient Greek and Roman city famous for being cited in the Book of Revelation. After that, they intended to have lunch in Bergama and drive to Selçuk. But over chicken kebabs and spicy fava beans in a popular spot off the main square he brought it up again. Once the conversation started it went on for ten minutes.

“We have reservations in Selçuk tonight and tomorrow,” Lucy said. “Then three nights near Bodrum. What are we going to do, pay for the ones we miss? That’s wasted money.”

“I’ll see if they’ll let us change the dates. Why wouldn’t they?”

“Why would they? We already committed.”

“It’s a resort town on a lake. It has good restaurants. I’ll get us a great room. I promise.”

“Why do you want to go back that way? To see that guy, just say it.”

“I’m curious, is all. It’s nothing more than that. Think of it as a road trip. We never take road trips in foreign countries.”

“It seems a lot of hassle. Who knows if he’s even there.”

“He said he was.”

“You emailed him?”

“I did. So what?”

“And you’re just telling me now. What else have you been doing I don’t know about? And what is it you plan on saying to him? Hello, how are you? Still a waiter I see.”

“This is personal, between him and me. That’s all.”

“You’re not giving him money.”

“No fooling.”

“I don’t get it.”

“You don’t have to. It’s a little intrigue. Nothing more than that. Instead of three nights in Bodrum we’ll stay two. See if we can move up the days in Selçuk. We’ll do it only if we don’t have to eat any cancellation fees.”

“I don’t see how that’s possible, but okay. You’re calling.”

He bought a domestic phone card in a shop that sold many types of them and went to a public booth. Soon he found out there would be no canceling without penalties, but they weren’t prohibitive and he agreed to them. Back in the car he told Lucy, “All done, no problem.”

“You changed the nights?”

“They were reasonable about it.”

“I guess it’s on to Edargin.”

“You relax. I’ll do all the driving.”

The ride was long but the rolling, low brown hills and rural town settings appealed enough to keep their eyes interested and the conversation active. It was late afternoon when he drove past the bus station with Ali’s stand and into Edargin.

“Let’s wait until morning,” he said. “We’ll need coffee on the way out. Several cups, as usual. I’m dying to talk to this guy.”

Edargin’s red-roofed buildings were set between the lake and hills. There was still plenty of light left and they walked through the small central area, then out to the castle on the peninsula whose construction was attributed to Croesus. After that, they splurged on a Turkish bath at the hammam on the bottom floor of a pension.

“This is good for you. This is good for you,” his broad-shouldered masseuse repeated with each pound and twist of his body.

“I know. I know,” he agreed.

Their room, a “superior room” as described in their guide and over the phone, was nothing special, with the smell of tobacco though it was supposed to be non-smoking and a menacing stain on the bed covering. But two drinks at a rooftop restaurant and the bottle of Anatolian wine they bought along the way and drank on their balcony helped them endure the tiny rattle from the air conditioner with the knowledge they would be leaving first thing in the morning.

They were showered, out the door and back in the rental by nine. One last glance at the buildings and castle and he drove the mile to the bus station. Out front, he saw nothing had changed. The same copper-lined counter with a half-dozen tables and white plastic chairs set around them. The same bearded, middle-aged man boiling the small pots over a gas burner. His waiter, the emailer Derin Koçek, had a fuller face than he remembered from the photo. He wiped off a table and set the chairs in place.

He and Lucy went to the stand and watched the man Ali pour hot tea into three small glasses. He set them on a decorated tin tray, then looked from him to Lucy, “Good morning, may I be of help to you?”

“Mr. Ali?” he said, and was surprised by the questioning, eyebrow-raised look he got back.

“Ali? No, I am not Ali.”

“You’re not Ali?” he asked again.

“I am Tamer, thank you.”

“Has Ali left this stand?”

“It is my stand. It only has been my stand.”

“There’s never been an Ali?”

“No, it is my stand. There is no Ali.”

“The waiter? His name is Derin Koçek?” He pronounced it Ko-chuck.

The man shook his head and aimed a finger at the tables. “That is my son, Orhan. So if you will, sit and he will bring you whatever you like.”

“Un-freaking-believable,” he said.

They stood dumbfounded for a moment. Then they gave the man their order and retreated to those plastic chairs, a slight vibration under him as he adjusted position. Across the table, Lucy smiled and he wasn’t able to suppress one of his own.

“Tuition money, huh?” she said.

“He needs to educate himself,” he said, and couldn’t keep from laughing.

“Boy, you better believe I’m telling this to everyone.”

“Go ahead, see what I care.”

The waiter set down the saucers with the demitasse cups and small, pastel green squares of Turkish delight. No sign of recognition on his face. No sign of any connection whatsoever from him or the men sitting at the other tables. What else to do but drink up and motion for the bill?

He paid it off and left two one lira coins as a tip. On the way to the car he tore up a sheet of paper, a copy of Derin Koçek’s original letter. He went over to a barrel and dropped it in.

“Honestly, I don’t know what’s going on with you,” Lucy said when she was settled in the driver’s seat.

Back in New York, Derin Koçek never answered the email he sent wondering who he was and why he lied?

“That you come to Ali’s stand once more so I will see you” would be the last words he received from him.

Paul Perilli lives lives in Brooklyn, NY. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in The Transnational, THEMA, Numéro Cinq, Adelaide and others. His speculative fiction ‘Summary Report to the Committee’ appears in Overland’s False Documents issue. His story ‘Orwell’s Year’ appears as a chapbook from Blue Cubicle Press. His nonfiction travel piece ‘Prices of Translation’ appears in WANDERLUST: A Travel Journal’s 2019 print anthology from Wild Dog Press.

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