Shortly after it grows dark in Carringbush, every night but Monday, the walls of my office begin to pulse yellow and oily brown. The light source is a line of flashing bulbs overhanging the place across the street, whose Algerian typeface on the window improbably announces 'Cafe Dreams'. It's a squat building with Turkish proprietors who make the best doner kebabs this side of the upside-down river—if you don't mind pudgy naked fingers squishing chunks of lamb flesh onto skewers and laying them to flame. Be sure to order double-meat. Otherwise you'll just be back for seconds.
The interior of Cafe Dreams is lit up fluorescent, with white laminate tiles only former inhabitants of the Mediterranean coast could love. The power meter buzzes incessantly, emitting an occasional tick-whirr. Sweet Uludağ sits beside the Coke in the fridge, and foreign newsletters wait on the tables. Down past the hot foods bain-marie there's another counter with aspirations to grocery, where among other things you can purchase a slab of Cadbury's Turkish Delight for five bucks. You'd think that might be insulting, but nobody seems to mind.
Beyond the makeshift grocery is a pool table. Around mid-week this is where the Carringbush bruvvers come to split balls and make noise with sharp laughter and baleful looks. If one of them calls out to you while you're waiting for your kebab, wave him over and lock thumbs. Wish him luck in the game. For fucks sake hold his gaze and nod and disengage when it's time. But don't be intimidated; it's all performed with precarious innocence and good humour.
A stucco wall separates the pool game from the inner sanctum. At any time of night there's seven or eight moustachioed taxi drivers taking time out from criss-crossing the city to watch the Süper Lig, and chew cigarettes and the fat in roughly equal quantities. This is a sanctuary beyond the preserve of us—were it not for this lounge, from which the proprietors reluctantly detach themselves to answer your custom, the place would surely have shut down long ago. No-one puts up with that much shit unless there's a silver lining.
The shit, arguably, has an obvious origin. Cafe Dreams is the only establishment in Carringbush—the only I know of, at least—that'll sell you an individual cigarette. 60 cents a durry. One can but speculate why they made this business decision, although a Chamberlainian appeasement strategy seems most plausible. There's no question that it's an appalling one. In an average week, every smackie in the 'bush goes through the place, shucking a score of echidna coins for a nicotine hit, or lyrebirds for two. The old woman who distributes the smokes will look at you and cluck her tongue, shake her head and conduct business with what feels like a secret handshake. She sighs because she knows the cat is out of the bag, Pandora's worms have come to roost. Just last night a balding man in his thirties, scabs pocking his face, was crawling around on the laminate, looking for the dollar coin he swears someone dropped a couple of months ago, while his mate ('bush junkies invariably travel in pairs) swapped a handful of silver for two of Peter Jackson's finest.
And last week a bloke pulled a knife out front—in the ensuing scuffle the door was used to bloody his nose. Cafe Dreams is finally anything but, and I sometimes wonder how far it is from what its namer hoped. The appellation promises something that reality seems unlikely to deliver. Maybe that's the point. Still, seriously, you have to try one of those doner kebabs.
Joseph | 21 Jun 2007