Sami is a Turkish waiter who persuades my friend Jane and I to go night-fishing on his restaurant's boat.
‘Is beautiful trip,’ he says. ‘Unforgettable.’
He introduces the fisherman, Ihsan and Isa, who are brothers. As we board the small boat with the hippyish German couple who are coming too, we meet ‘The Captain,’ obviously drunk.
The boat's engine is ear-splitting, and as we labour out of the harbour into a darkness so complete you can’t tell sea from sky, everyone falls silent except Sami, who shouts, ‘How are you, my friends? You happy? Then I happy.’
He passes out plastic cups of Raki. Everyone sips dutifully except the fishermen and the Captain, who swigs straight from the bottle.
We concentrate on keeping our centre of gravity near the deck. The boat drops anchor under a gigantic sky, the mainland a black hump in the distance. We feel the presence of the ocean. Revolving slowly and disorientatingly around the anchor adds to our sense of vulnerability.
Watching Ihsan dive is extraordinary. He disappears quietly over the side of the boat into the inky sea, carrying torch, harpoon and net. The watchful Isa, responsible for keeping the boat going now the Captain has passed out, pays out the thin black rubber tube that carries oxygen down to the depths. One imagines a black silence down there. The rest of the tube lies on the deck, easily trodden on or burnt by a Turkish cigarette. Isa is spreadeagled across the deck, one hand steadying the boat, one paying out and reeling in the tube, according to something he sees but we can't in the darkness below. His foot controls the rudder via a rusty bar poking up between floorboards.
I’m afraid for Ihsan, but try not to be. This is his work; he does it every day. I’m tiring of Sami’s sing-song voice. Ihsan is underwater for over an hour. The German couple grow anxious. Then a brilliant blue bar of light rises towards us from the deep.
It seems ages before Ihsan surfaces. We’re told, through gestures, of fishermen who rose too fast; who died or emerged disabled.
The net is full of large fish and two small octopi. We’ve brought him luck, he says, only half-joking. The predominant fish is ‘sinarit’ - sea bream. There are stingrays, which die slowly and sting Isa when he tries to stun them with a breadboard. The octopi are even more stubborn. Isa stabs them with his knife, but they squeeze their tentacles out through the latticed sides of their blue plastic basket.
The German woman starts crying. She crouches by the basket, rocking on her heels, reaching in to stroke the dying fish. Then she disappears to the front of the boat to throw up.
It’s Isa’s turn to dive. The German couple wonder: does this mean another hour? Yes, we suppose. They sigh and lie down on the deck to sleep. Ihsan leaves the oxygen supply to fetch foam rubber and blankets from the cabin, which he tucks around the Germans with the utmost tenderness.
An hour later, Isa comes up with another catch, which he tips out to a chorus of ‘Masallah! Masallah!’ (wonderful). Still in his wetsuit, face scarlet with cold, he goes into the galley and makes tea, which he serves us in an assortment of glasses, heavily sugared.
We set off home. We haven’t been going long when the boat's engine splutters and dies. We’d become acclimatised to its load roar; the silence is like cotton wool in our ears. We stare apprehensively at the cold inky waters, while Isa and Ihsan tinker with the motor. Finally they manage to get it ticking over. They empty water out of the hold. They put the engine on full throttle, and the boat moves slowly forwards. We cheer. Our joy is short-lived: the engine dies. The cycle begins again; tinkering; baling out; moving slowly in a strong smell of petrol; stopping. Ihsan clambers in and out of the engine hold, a cigarette in his mouth.
But it goes on for so long that we get used to it. The hours pass as in a meditation. The boat progresses slowly homewards. The German couple sleep. The Captain is comatose. Sami croons to himself, a fluid meandering tune. I smile at him. Yes, this trip is unforgettable.
I lie down next to Jane and look at the stars. It’s 4.30am, but we’ll get home eventually.