فصل 12

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فصل 12

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If God Does Not Exist, How Do You

Explain All the Suffering of the Poor?

the sad story of necip and hicran

On leaving His Excellency’s lodge, Ka headed back to the hotel and as he trudged through the snow his mind turned to n leaving His Excellency’s lodge, Ka headed back to the hotel, Ipek.

It wouldn’t be long, he realized, before he’d see her again. On his way down Halitpa ¸sa Avenue, he passed first a group of People’s Party campaigners and then a crowd of students on their way out of a universityentrance-exam course. The students were talking about what they were going to watch on television that night and about how easy it was to fool their chemistry teacher; they were needling each other just as mercilessly as Ka and I used to do when we were their age.

Ka saw a mother and father leading their tearful child by the hand from an apartment building where they’d just visited the dentist upstairs.

It was clear from their clothes that this couple were barely making ends meet, but they had decided to take their beloved child not to the state dispensary but rather to a private dentist, whose treatment they hoped would be less painful. Through the open door of a shop that sold women’s stockings, bolts of cotton cloth, colored pencils, batteries, and cassettes, he heard once again the strains of Peppino di Capri’s “Roberta” and remembered hearing it on the radio when he was a child and his uncle had taken him out for a drive on the Bosphorus.

As his heart began to soar, it occurred to Ka that there might be a new poem coming to him, so he stepped into the first teahouse he could find and, sitting down at the first empty table, took out his pencil and his notebook.

After gazing through moist eyes at the empty page for some time, he revised his forecast: Actually, there was no poem coming to him, but this didn’t dampen his spirits in the slightest. The teahouse was packed with unemployed men and students, and all around him the walls were plastered not just with scenes of Switzerland but also with theatrical posters, newspaper cartoons, assorted clippings, an announcement of the terms and conditions of the civil service exam, and a schedule of the soccer matches to be played by Karsspor that year. The results of past matches— most of them losses—were penciled in by various hands; next to the 6–1 loss to Erzurumspor, someone had written the lines that Ka would incorporate into “All Humanity and the Stars,” the poem he would write tomorrow while sitting in the Lucky Brothers Teahouse:

Even if your mother came down from heaven to take you into her arms, Even if your wicked father let her go without a beating for just one night, You’d still be penniless, your shit would still freeze, your soul would still wither, there is no hope!

If you’re unlucky enough to live in Kars, you might as well flush yourself down the toilet.

Smiling happily as he copied these lines into his notebook, he was soon joined by Necip, who was sitting at a table in the back; it was clear from his expression that he was stunned to see Ka in this place and also very pleased.

“I’m so happy you’re here,” said Necip. “Are you writing a poem? I would like to apologize for my friends, especially the one who called you an atheist. It’s the first time in their lives they’ve come face-to-face with a nonbeliever. But it seems to me that you couldn’t really be an atheist, because you’re such a good person.” He went on to say a few other things that he’d felt unable to say earlier: He and his friends had sneaked out of school to attend the show at the theater that evening, but they were going to sit way in the back, because of course they didn’t want the school directors to spot them on live TV. Necip was elated to have escaped from school and to be meeting his friends at the National Theater. They all knew that Ka was going to read a poem there. Everyone in Kars wrote poems, but Ka was the first person Necip had ever met to have his poems published. Could he offer Ka a glass of tea?

Ka explained that he was short of time.

“In that case, I’ll just ask you one question, one last question,” said Necip. “I’m not like my friends, I’m not trying to show you disrespect.

I’m just very curious.”


Necip lit a cigarette with shaky hands. “If God does not exist, that means heaven does not exist either. And that means the world’s poor, those millions who live in poverty and oppression, will never go to heaven. And if that is so, then how do you explain all the suffering of the poor? What are we here for, and why do we put up with so much unhappiness, if it’s all for nothing?” “God exists. So does heaven.”

“No, you’re just saying that to console me, because you feel sorry for us. As soon as you’re back in Germany, you’ll start thinking God doesn’t exist, just like you did before.”

“For the first time in years, I’m very happy,” said Ka. “Why shouldn’t I believe the same things as you?”

“Because you belong to the intelligentsia,” said Necip. “People in the intelligentsia never believe in God. They believe in what Europeans do, and they think they’re better than ordinary people.”

“I may belong to the intelligentsia in Turkey,” said Ka. “But in Germany I’m a worthless nobody. I was falling apart there.” Necip’s beautiful eyes turned inward, and Ka could see that the teenager was considering his case, trying to put himself in Ka’s shoes.

“Then why did you get angry at your country and flee to Germany?” he asked. Seeing Ka’s face fall, he said, “Never mind! Anyway, if I were rich, I’d be so ashamed of my situation that I’d believe in God even more.” “One day, God willing, we’ll all be rich,” said Ka.

“Nothing is as simple as you say—that’s what I think. I’m not that simple either, and I don’t want to be rich. What I want is to be a writer.

I’m writing a science-fiction novel. It might get published—in one of the Kars papers, the one called the Lance—but I don’t want to be published in a paper that sells seventy-five copies; I want to be published in an Istanbul paper that sells thousands. I have a synopsis of the novel with me. If I read it to you, could you tell me whether you think an Istanbul paper might publish it?”

Ka looked at his watch.

“It’s very short!” said Necip.

The electricity went out and all of Kars was plunged into darkness.

The only light in the teahouse was coming from the stove. Necip ran over to the counter and grabbed a candle; he lit it and dripped a few drops of wax onto a plate, a seal by which to affix the burning candle to the plate, which he set on the table. Retrieving a few sheets of crumpled paper from his pocket, he began to read in a hesitant voice, stopping from time to time to gulp with excitement.

“In the year 3579, there was a red planet we haven’t even discovered yet. Its name was Gazzali and its people were rich, and their lives were much easier than our lives are today, but contrary to what materialists would have predicted, their rich and easy lives did not bring the inhabitants of this planet any spiritual satisfaction. To the contrary, everyone was deeply anxious about being and nothingness, man and the universe, God and his people.

“And so it came to pass that a number of Gazzalians traveled to the most remote corner of their planet to set up the Islamic Lycée for the Study of Science and Oration. It took only the cleverest and most hardworking students.

“Two close friends attended this lycée. Inspired by books written 1600 years earlier, books that illuminated this East–West problem so beautifully they could have been written yesterday, they called each other Necip and Fazıl. Together they read The Great East, their revered master’s finest book, over and over, and in the evenings they would meet secretly in Fazıl’s bed, the higher bunk, where under the covers they would lie side by side watching the blue snowflakes fall onto the glass roof above them and disappear just like planets. Here they would whisper into each other’s ears about the meaning of life and the things they hoped to do when they were older.

“The evil-hearted tried in vain to tarnish this pure friendship with snide and jealous jokes. But then one day the two came under a cloud. It so happened that they had simultaneously fallen in love with the same girl, a virgin named Hicran. Even when they discovered that Hicran’s father was an atheist, they couldn’t cure themselves of their hopeless longing; on the contrary, their love grew all the more intense.

“In this way they came to realize that there was no longer

enough room on Gazzali for both of them; they knew in their hearts that one of them would have to die. But they made the following promise. After spending some time in the next world, no matter how many light-years away it was, the one who died would come back to this world to visit his surviving friend and answer his most urgent questions—about life after death.

“As for the question of who would kill whom and how it would be done, they just couldn’t make up their minds—mainly because they both knew that true happiness could only come for the one who sacrificed his own life for the other. So, for example, if one of them—let’s say it was Fazıl—said, ‘Let’s both stick our naked hands into the sockets at the same time and electrocute ourselves together,’ Necip would see it at once for what it was: a clever trick Fazıl had invented to sacrifice himself for his friend (clearly, Fazıl would have arranged for Necip’s socket to be harmless). After many months of hemming and hawing, months that caused both boys great pain, the question was decided in a matter of seconds: Necip returned from his evening lessons one night to discover his dear friend lying dead in his bed, riddled with bullets.

“The following year, Necip married Hicran, and on their wedding night he told her what had passed between him and his friend and how one day Fazıl would return from the spirit world. Hicran told him she had really loved Fazıl; after his death she had cried for days, cried so much that blood had run from her eyes, and she had married Necip only because he was Fazıl’s friend and bore him some resemblance. They decided not to consummate their marriage and agreed that the ban on love should continue until Fazıl returned from the other world.

“But as the years passed, they began to long for each other. First their longing was spiritual, and then it became physical. One night, during an interplanetary inspection, while shining their beams on a city on Earth that went by the name of Kars, they were no longer able to control themselves; they fell upon each other like crazy people and made passionate love. You might think this meant they had forgotten Fazıl, whose memory had for so long plagued them like a toothache. But they had not forgotten him, and the shame in their hearts scared them as it grew with every day.

“A night arrived when they awoke suddenly, having both decided at the same time that this strange cocktail of fear and other emotions was going to destroy them. At the same moment, the television

across the room turned on by itself, and there, shining brightly, the ghostly form of Fazıl took shape. The deadly shots to the forehead were still fresh, and his lower lip and other wounds were still dripping with blood.

“ ‘I am racked with pain,’ said Fazıl. ‘There is not a single corner of the other world I have not seen.’ [I will write about these travels in full detail using Gazzali’s Victories of Mecca and Ibn Arabi as my inspirations, said Necip.] ‘I have earned the highest compliments of God’s angels, and I have traveled to what is thought to be the summit of the highest plain of heaven; I have seen the terrible punishments meted out in hell to tie-wearing atheists and arrogant colonialist positivists who make fun of the common people and their faith—but everywhere happiness eluded me, because my mind was here with


“Husband and wife were overwhelmed with fearful admiration

as they listened to the sad ghost.

“ ‘The thing that made me so unhappy all those years was not the thought that I might one day see you two sitting so happily together, as I am seeing you tonight. On the contrary, I longed for Necip’s happiness more than I longed for my own. Because of the profound feeling between us, we had been unable to find any way to kill either ourselves or each other. Because each valued the other’s life more than his own, it was as if we were both wearing protective armor that made us immortal. How happy that made me feel!

But my death proved to me that I had been wrong to believe in this feeling.’

“ ‘No!’ Necip cried. ‘Not once did I give my own life more value than I gave to yours!’

“ ‘If this had been true, I never would have died,’ said Fazıl’s ghost, ‘and you would never have married the beautiful Hicran. I died because you harbored a secret wish—a wish so secret you even hid it from yourself—to see me dead.’

“Necip objected violently to this accusation, but the ghost

refused to listen.

“ ‘It was not just the suspicion that you wished me dead that deprived me of peace in the other world,’ said the ghost. ‘It was also that you had a hand in my murder, for it was you who so treacherously shot me in the head, and here, and here, as I lay in my bed sleeping. And there was another fear, too—the fear that you acted as an agent for the enemies of the Holy Koran.’ By now Necip had given up objecting and fallen silent.

“ ‘There is only one way for you to deliver me from my suffering and restore me to heaven, and only by following this same path can you deliver yourself from suspicion in this heinous crime,’ said the ghost. ‘Find my killer, whoever he might be. In seven years and seven months, they haven’t found a single suspect. And when you’ve found whoever killed me or wanted me dead, I want to see the crime avenged. An eye for an eye. So long as that villain remains unpunished, there is no peace for me in this life, nor will there be any peace for you in the transitory realm that you still insist on calling the “real world.” ’

“Neither Necip nor Hicran could think what to say; they watched in tearful amazement as the ghost vanished from the screen.” “And then what? What happened next?” Ka asked.

“I haven’t decided yet,” said Necip, “but if I wrote the whole story, do you think I could sell it?” When he saw Ka hesitating, he added, “Listen, every line I write comes from the bottom of my heart. They all express my deepest convictions. What does this story mean to you? What did you feel when I was reading it to you?”

“It shook me to the core, because it showed me that you believe with all your heart that this world is nothing more than a preparation for the next.”

“Yes, I do believe that,” said Necip with excitement. “It’s not enough, though. God wants us to be happy in this world too. But that’s the hardest thing.”

They fell silent as they pondered the hardest thing.

After a moment the lights came back on, but the people in the teahouse remained as silent as they had been in the darkness. And the television screen was still dark; the owner began to hit it with his fist.

“We’ve been sitting here together for twenty minutes now,” said Necip.

“My friends must be dying of curiosity.”

“Who are your friends?” asked Ka. “Is one of them Fazıl? And are those your real names?”

“No, of course not. I’m using an assumed name, just like the Necip in the story. You’re not a policeman; stop interrogating me! As for Fazıl, he refuses to come to places like this,” Necip told him, turning quite mysterious. “Fazıl is the most religious person in our group, and he’s the person I trust more than anyone else in the world. But he’s worried that if he gets involved in politics, he’ll get a police file and be kicked out of school. He has an uncle in Germany who’s going to send for him, and we love each other just as much as the two boys in the story, so if someone killed me, I am certain that he would take revenge. In fact, it’s just as in the story— we’re so close that no matter how far apart we are, we can always tell what the other is doing.”

“So what’s Fazıl doing right now?”

“Hmmm,” said Necip, assuming a strange pose. “He’s in the dormitory, reading.” “Who is Hicran?”

“That’s not a real name either. But it’s not a name she took herself, it’s a name we’ve given her. Some of us write her love letters and poems nonstop, but we’re too afraid to send them. If I had a daughter, I’d want her to be as beautiful, as intelligent, and as courageous as she is. She’s the leader of the head-scarf girls, and she’s afraid of nothing. Her mind is her own.

“To tell you the truth, in the beginning she was an infidel—this was because she was under the influence of her atheist father. She was a model in Istanbul; she’d go on television and bare her bottom and flaunt her legs. She came here to do a shampoo commercial for television. In it she was going to be walking along Ahmet Muhtar the Conqueror Avenue—the meanest, dirtiest street in Kars but also the most beautiful.

Then when she stopped in front of the camera, she was to swing her magnificent waist-length brown hair like a flag and say, ‘Even in the filth of the beautiful city of Kars, my hair is still sparkling clean—thanks to Blendax.’ The commercial was going to be shown everywhere; the whole world would laugh at us.

“At that time, the head-scarf business at the Institute of Education was just getting started, and two of the girls had seen Hicran on television and also recognized her from photographs in gossip magazines that had reported on her behavior with rich kids in Istanbul. Secretly, the girls admired her, so they invited her for tea. Hicran accepted, though for her it was a big joke. She got bored with the girls almost immediately, and do you know what she said? ‘If our religion’—no, she didn’t say our religion, she said your religion—‘if your religion requires you to hide your hair, and the state forbids you to wear a head scarf, why don’t you be like so-andso’—here she gave the name of a foreign rock star—‘and just shave your hair off and wear a nose ring? Then the whole world would stand up and take notice!’

“Our poor girls were so taken aback to hear these affronts that they couldn’t even keep from laughing with her! This made Hicran even bolder, so she said, ‘These scarves are sending you back to the Middle Ages. Why don’t you take them off and flaunt your beautiful hair?’ “And as Hicran was about to remove the scarf from the silliest girl among them, her hand froze. Suddenly, Hicran threw herself at the silly girl’s feet—this girl’s brother is one of our classmates, and he’s so stupid even the morons call him a moron—and begged the girl’s pardon. Hicran returned the next day, and the day after that, and in the end she joined them instead of going back to Istanbul. She’s one of the saints who’ll help turn the head scarf into the flag of Anatolia’s oppressed Muslim women— mark my words!”

“Then why did you say nothing about her in your story except that she was a virgin?” asked Ka. “Why didn’t Necip and Fazıl ask for her opinion before deciding to kill themselves for her sake?”

There was a tense silence, during which Necip raised his beautiful eyes, one of which, in two hours and three minutes, would be shattered by a bullet; he looked up at the dark street to watch the snow fall slowly, like a poem. Then he whispered, “There she is. It’s her!” “Who?”

“Hicran! She’s out there in the street!”

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