IZMIR, Turkey—We buy a bag of stuffed mussels and sit on the grass by the water to eat them, but I can’t open the shells. My nails are too short, the mussels’ hard black mouths pursed in resistance against me, so a boy I have just met sits next to me prying the maws apart, handing me shell after shucked, rice-laden shell. He does not look at me as he passes them, enthralled by the work of his hands. His English is courteous and hesitant; my Turkish does not exist. He has a puff of black hair and a disinterested, laconic face, a macabre sense of humor and an occasional quiet grin. I feel like a child.
The grass is sticky against my thighs and grimed with cigarette butts. The men on the path throw light-up plastic toys into the air. They are the same slight missiles I have seen hawked in far-flung elsewheres along the Mediterranean this summer, from Venice, where they gleamed dully off the dirty water of the canals, to Istanbul, where they seemed held aloft by the call for prayer. I picture a Silk Road of plastic light-up toys stretching from Rome to the Pacific, miles and miles of dusty traders handing them off one by one. I want to ask my friends in India, in China, all over the world if they have seem the same thing, if we can see them from airplanes, if they have made their way to Chile, to France.
I discover that by making the right twisting motion with my hand I can actually open the mussels myself. I feel as though I should shrug off the serious boy’s ministrations, but don’t really want to. It is good to sit here accepting food from a near-stranger, languageless, watching the plastic gleams fall toward land.