The shoe shine man haunts Galata like a thousand others, each anonymous as an individual drop in a June rain storm. The box was metal and wood, gold-colored and shining bright against his herringbone jacket and dull brown hat, the swerves of polish under his fingernails.
He begins by asking for a cigarette, then your name, climbing his way up to a handshake.
“Please.” He gestures to his shine box. “For the cigarette.”
His smile is bright, lent a certain honesty by the crinkling around his eyes and his crooked teeth as he shakes the hand of a stranger and holds on too long pulling them to the front of the box and placing their shoe upon the stand. They expect a scam, a sob story, an angle, a robbery. Some pull loose and leave, either polite about it or curt, but it doesn’t matter.
Only the handshake that lasted a few seconds does.
What are a few seconds measured against a life, against courtesy, against one cigarette or a dirty pair of shoes, against the weight of ages in each stone in Istanbul?
A few seconds is the last time one lover kissed another before leaving town, a glance across a crowded room, the bridge between innocence and guilt. A few seconds is a dropped ice cream cone or the steam rising from a cup of coffee, a life snuffed out or moment of boredom, a mother’s embrace, the sharp stubble of a father’s kiss or a sip of water.
A few seconds is a priceless artifact or nothing at all.
A few stolen seconds drifting from one hand to another, their life to his.
They only see one shoe shine man of a hundred, he only sees one cigarette in a thousand, one pair of sparkling blue eyes or dusty walking shoes, one polite or rude refusal. A few seconds is a few grains of sand that drift up his hourglass instead of down. Would they miss those few seconds even if they knew they had lost them?
He doubts it as he shuffles off, always just between one tick of the clock and the next.
“Please. For the cigarette.”