turkish delight

chapter 1

When I moved into my London flat in the area five years ago, the nearest place to get fresh fruit and veg – although fresh in this case isn’t quite the word - was a dingy little store several streets away that specialised in selling items that looked as if they had fallen off the back of a lorry or were scrounged from supermarket dustbins. Bruised carrots. Yellowing lettuces. Oranges about to turn into penicillin. The English couple that ran it didn’t inspire confidence either, being about as dishevelled as their stock. I can’t remember what the store’s official name was; I just thought of it as ‘The Place of Last Resort’.

After about a year of trying to avoid their services, I was encouraged to find the premises one day under new management. It was now run by a Turkish guy, and he seemed to know what he was doing, actually getting vegetables and fruit that people might want to eat. Week after week, the stock of items seemed to grow larger, fresher, and better. The new owner worked really hard turning the place around, and it obviously paid off financially. When the premises next door became vacant, he rented that space as well, using it as his store room for what had become quite an exotic and imaginative array of food suitable for all kinds of cuisines. As the business grew, so did his number of employees, all of them Turkish, all male, bantering with each other in the usual masculine way. Eventually a young female Turkish face joined them at the till, to be replaced after a while by another one, then another one. None of them stayed very long. I figured that it couldn’t have been very easy working there, outnumbered by Turkish men busily behaving like, well, men.

With the store’s regular supplies of potatoes of all shapes, interesting lettuce, and curious objects like passion fruit, I quickly became a regular customer. Around two years ago, I found another reason to frequent the place. She was the latest female employee, Turkish of course, significantly prettier than her predecessors, medium height, dark hair dangling down either side of a friendly face, further blessed with a pleasant smile, a cute freckle just under her right eye, and a delicate, melodious voice that immediately charmed me, even though the words I heard, at least at first, barely stretched beyond “Hi”, “Cash or card?” and “Would you like a receipt?”. I admired her general physique as well, which was fairly trim, though she had slighter bigger breasts than the rest of her might lead you to expect, and a very modest curve on her tummy, rather like one of those sweet little air pillows sometimes used in packaging to fill out a box.

I thought of both features as engaging quirks that gave her an extra twist of femininity, interestingly emphasised one day when I caught her stretching her torso in a big yawn ¬¬– a movement that pushed both breasts and air pillow further out. For some reason, I found myself thinking it was a strange prefiguring of how she might look if she ever grew heavier.

Each time I did my little food shop I hoped she would be on duty. Like me at the second-hand bookshop I worked at, she was employed in shifts. I tried to remember which days she was there, mornings, afternoons, early evenings. Sunday was generally reliable, also mid-week afternoons. With no particular goal in mind, other than being pleasant, I gradually began to engage her in light conversation. Awful weather isn’t it? Have a good night. See you again! Over the weeks, a light customer flow permitting, the exchanges slowly grew longer. She seemed to enjoy talking to me, even if it was often about fruit or veg. I got into the habit of deliberately picking out some exotic item, something I didn’t know how to cook, just to have a conversation point and to enjoy the warmth of her voice and smile.

“You are adventurous, aren’t you?” she’d remark, pricing up some furry ball of fruit that looked just like that alien species in the creaky old original TV “Star Trek”. Tribbles, they were called. I was going to eat tribbles. Then, on my next visit, she’d ask me what I thought of them - the tribbles, kiwanos, or jujubes, or whatever they were.

In time I felt confident enough to tell her my name - it was Michael, nothing fancy – hoping that would be the gateway to me learning hers. She wasn’t offering it at first, so I asked a bit nervously, “And yours?” She grinned and said, “It’s on your receipt!”

I peered at the little strip of paper she’d just given me, full of details I’d never absorbed. “What? Where?”

“Where it says ‘Operator’.”

“Filiz? Filiz? That’s your name? It’s lovely!”

Her grin broadened. “It means blossom, to flower, to sprout.”

“You mean you’re named after a vegetable?”

She tinkled with laughter, sweet as the sound of silver bells. “No, silly, to sprout, to blossom.” She waved her hands in the air, as if describing petals opening, or anyway something growing. Looking back on it, this was the magic moment when I felt we’d finally made some personal connection, something deeper than routine chatter between customer and employee.

But having achieved that, what next? I could hardly hold up other customers for half an hour talking about how I disliked iceberg lettuce. Any advanced contact with the bewitching Filiz would have to be outside her work hours. A few weeks later I plucked up enough courage to suggest we could have a coffee or something at the end of one of her shifts. “Sure,” she said, almost without blinking, “that would be nice.”

Would it? I began to wonder. It would be nice, certainly, if we discovered we had things, experiences, feelings in common beyond fruit and veg. After all, I knew nothing about her, nothing substantial anyway, beyond what I saw with my eyes. What if there were awkward silences, when we’d exhausted our repertoire of chat? What if she’d, say, never opened a book in her life, and spent all her spare time gaming or painting her nails in funny colours? How could we get on then?

I finally decided that this was a risk I’d have to take. And I guess she did too. At the appointed time, she met me outside the store, by the crates of citrus fruit and larger vegetables usually displayed to lure passers-by. She wore a puffer jacket, suitable for autumn, which gave her a slightly chunky look, and a cute little hat. I suggested a place up the road, which looked good for the usual drinks and snacks. That was run by Turks as well, she told me. And once settled in at our table, to my great pleasure we were off and away, each telling the other our backgrounds, hers obviously more exotic than mine. She’d come to the UK when she was three, she said, when her parents had emigrated, following the path of other relatives, living and working with them too, before they branched out with a little foodstore of their own. Finally getting fed up with British weather, and finding the foodstore hard, they eventually moved back to Istanbul about five years ago.

All this was certainly interesting, though as we drank our Turkish coffee and consumed one of those sweet Turkish pastries, of which she seemed rather fond, I was secretly more curious about what her living situation was, whether she had a boyfriend, or girlfriend for that matter. She lived with an older sister, she told me. She also revealed she was 23. I said I was somewhat older, but not enough to be frightening. She didn’t seem to mind. The whole experience, I thought, was successful enough for me to suggest at the end that we met up again “sometime”. “Let’s do that,” she said, the freckle under her right eye moving a little as she smiled. She really was lovely.

When we met for our next coffee a couple of weeks later, she greeted me with a modest kiss, something I hadn’t so far dared to attempt. Much of the talk in these early meetings seemed to be about Turkish cuisine - she was proud of her Turkish heritage - and our abilities, or lack of them, in cooking. I’d tell her about some disaster I’d recently had, like absent-mindedly heating up a saucepan without putting any water or vegetables inside. Or I went back to the memory of some student flatshare when I accidentally prepared a depressing meal where everything on the plate was more or less white: the potatoes, the piece of fish, even the plate. She had her own tales of burnt saucepans, of dropping fancy desserts onto the floor. We found we shared another interest: watching the Swedish detective dramas, “Scandi noirs”, they called them, currently being shown on TV. One way and other, there was plenty to talk about.
8 chapters, created 2 years , updated 2 years
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GrowingLoveH... 2 years
This did not disappoint. It’s as sweet as it’s title and Feliz. I have gone back to Dims to reread some of your stories. Please keep writing. You are one of the best.
Swordfish 2 years
Many thanks for the comments! If you want to read other stories by me, there's a back catalogue of about 20 of them on the Dimensions website, where they were first posted.
BulletSpire 2 years
Really well written, nice sweet story, good work.
Dicklovesbabs 2 years
Reading this story makes me want to write again, a truly well crafted piece!
GrowingLoveH... 2 years
Oh, wow! I am so glad to read your newest story. You have written some of the best wg stories ever. Glad you are here.