فصل 13

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فصل 13

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

I’m Not Going to Discuss

My Faith with an Atheist

a walk through the snow with kadife

She was wearing a purple raincoat, her eyes were hidden behind futuristic dark glasses, and on her head was one of those nondescript head scarves Ka had seen thousands of women wearing since childhood and which were now the symbol of political Islam. When he saw that this young woman entering the teahouse was walking directly toward him, Ka jumped to his feet as though the teacher had just entered the classroom.

“I’m Ipek’s sister, Kadife,” said the woman, smiling faintly. “Everyone’s ˙ expecting you for dinner. My father sent me to tell you.”

“How did you know I was here?” Ka asked.

“In Kars everyone always knows about everything that’s going on,” said Kadife. She wasn’t smiling at all now. “If it’s happening in Kars, of course.”

Ka could detect some pain in her expression, but he had no idea where it came from. Necip made the introductions: “Meet my poetnovelist friend!” he said. They looked each other over but did not shake hands. Ka took it for a sign of tension. Much later, looking back on these events, he would work out that the omission was out of deference to Islamic convention. Necip turned ghostly white, looking at Kadife as if looking at a Hicran just arrived from outer space, but Kadife’s manner was so matter-of-fact that not a single man in the crowded teahouse even turned around to look at her. She wasn’t as beautiful as her sister, either.

But as he walked with her through the snow and down Atatürk Avenue, Ka felt very happy. She was wrapped up in a scarf, and though plainer than her sister’s her face was pleasant and clean. When he looked right into her eyes, hazel like Ipek’s, he found he was able to talk to her ˙ with great ease; this made her attractive to him, so much so that he felt as if he were betraying her older sister.

First, to Ka’s surprise, they discussed meteorology. Kadife knew everything there was to know about the subject; she rattled off the details like one of those old people who do nothing all day but listen to the radio.

She told him that the low-pressure front coming down from Siberia was going to last two more days, that if this snow continued the roads would also be closed for another two days, that 160 centimeters had fallen in Sarıkamı¸ s, and that the inhabitants of Kars no longer believed the weather reports. In fact, she said, everyone was talking about how the state, not wishing to upset the populace, routinely announced air temperatures five or six degrees higher than they actually were (no one had mentioned this to Ka). She talked about how, as children in Istanbul, she and Ipek always ˙ wanted the snow to continue. The sight of snow made her think how beautiful and short life is and how, in spite of all their enmities, people have so very much in common; measured against eternity and the greatness of creation, the world in which they lived was narrow. That’s why snow drew people together. It was as if snow cast a veil over hatreds, greed, and wrath and made everyone feel close to one another.

They fell silent for a while. All the shops along ¸ Sehit Cengiz Topel Street were closed, and they didn’t see a soul. This walk with Kadife through the snow brought Ka as much anxiety as happiness. He locked his eyes on the lights in the window of a shop at the very end of the street, as if he was afraid that if he kept turning to look into Kadife’s face he would fall in love with her. Was he really in love with her older sister? His desire to fall madly in love had a logic to it, that much he knew. When they reached the end of the street, he stopped to look at the sign in the window of the Joyous Beer Hall, written on a piece of notepaper: Due to tonight’s theatrical event, the honorable Zihni Sevük, candidate for the Free People’s Party, has postponed this evening’s meeting.

Through the window of the small and narrow Joyous Beer Hall, he could see Sunay Zaim, sitting at the head of a table with his entire troupe; with only twenty minutes to go before the show began, they were all drinking thirstily.

As he perused the campaign posters in the window of the beer hall, his eye fell on the yellow one announcing “HUMAN BEINGS ARE GOD’S MASTERPIECES AND SUICIDE IS BLASPHEMY,” and this prompted Ka to ask Kadife what she thought about Teslime’s suicide.

“I’m sure you know enough already to turn Teslime into a very interesting story for your friends in Germany—not to mention the Istanbul press,” she said, sounding faintly annoyed.

“I’m new to Kars,” said Ka. “Even as I come to understand how things work here, I’m beginning to think I’ll never be able to make it clear to anyone on the outside. My heart breaks to see these people’s fragile livelihoods and their needless suffering.”

“The only people who worry about needless suffering are atheists who’ve never suffered a thing,” said Kadife. “Because, after all, it takes only the tiniest discomfort for atheists to decide that they can’t bear life without faith anymore, and the next thing you know they’ve returned to the fold.”

“But Teslime’s suffering was so great that she left the fold and committed suicide,” Ka said. The drink had made him stubborn.

“Well, if Teslime did indeed kill herself, it’s possible to say she committed a terrible sin. If you turn to the twenty-ninth line of the Nisa verse of the glorious Koran, you’ll see that suicide is clearly prohibited. But the thought that she might have sinned and killed herself is nothing next to the love we feel for her; there is still a corner of our hearts where we remember her with deep love and affection.”

“So you mean to say that even if this luckless girl has committed an insult against our faith, we still love her,” Ka said, trying to lead Kadife.

“We don’t believe in God with our whole hearts anymore; we no longer need to, because now, as in the West, we confirm our beliefs by reason and logic. Is this what you’re saying?”

“The Holy Koran is the word of God, and when God makes a clear and definite command, it’s not a matter for ordinary mortals to question,” Kadife said. She sounded very sure of herself. “But do not assume from this that our religion leaves no room for discussion. I will say only that I’m not going to discuss my faith with an atheist, or even a secularist.

I beg your pardon.”

“You’re right.”

“And I’m not one of those Islamist toadies who go around trying to convince secularists that Islam can be a secular religion,” Kadife added.

“Right again,” said Ka.

“That’s the second time you’ve said I’m right,” Kadife said, with a smile, “but I don’t think you really mean it.”

“No, you are right again,” said Ka, but he wasn’t smiling.

For a time they walked in silence. Could it be that he would fall in love with Kadife and not her sister? Ka knew only too well that he would never feel sexually attracted to a woman in a head scarf, but still he couldn’t stop flirting with this secret thought.

As they joined the crowds on Karada˘g Avenue, he brought the conversation around to his poetry, and then, in an awkward aside, he mentioned that Necip was also a poet and asked whether she was aware of having quite a few admirers in the religious high school who worshiped her by the name of Hicran.

“By what name?”

Ka told her a few of the other stories he’d heard about Hicran.

“None of those stories are true,” said Kadife. “I haven’t heard any of the religious high school boys of my acquaintance telling them.” She walked a few more steps and then she said, “But I’ve heard that shampoo story before.” She smiled. In fact it wasn’t she but rather a rich and muchhated Istanbul journalist who had first suggested to the head-scarf girls that they shave their heads—and this had been said only to attract media attention in the West and make the girls look important. “There’s only one thing that’s true in these stories. The first time I went to see the headscarf girls, I did go to make fun of them, but I was also curious. Put it like this: I went out of devilish curiosity.”

“And then what happened?”

“I came to Kars because the Institute of Education would take me, and also because my sister was here already. So in the end these girls were my classmates, and if you still don’t believe me, go visit them in their homes when they invite you. Their mothers and fathers brought them up to be as they are. So did the religious instruction they received during their state education. Then suddenly, after having been told all their lives to keep their heads covered, these girls were told, ‘The state wants you to take your scarves off.’

“As for me, I put on a head scarf one day to make a political statement.

I just did it for a laugh, but it also felt frightening. Maybe it was because I remembered I was the daughter of a man who had been an enemy of the state since the beginning of time. I’m very sure I intended to wear it for only one day; it was one of those revolutionary gestures that you laugh about years later, when you’re remembering the good old days when you were political. But the state, the police, and the local press came down on me so hard I could scarcely think of it as a joke anymore—I had painted myself into a corner and couldn’t get out. They arrested us on the charge of staging a demonstration without a permit. But when they released us the next day, if I had said, ‘Forget the scarf; I never really meant it anyway,’ the whole of Kars would have spat in my face. Now I’ve come to see that God put me through all this suffering to help me find the path of truth. Once I was an atheist like you. Don’t look at me like that; you look as if you pity me.”

“I’m not looking at you like that.”

“Yes, you are. I don’t think my situation is any funnier than yours. I don’t feel superior to you, either—I want you to know that, too.” “What does your father say to all this?”

“So far we’re managing. But the way things are going, I’m not sure how much longer we can—and this scares us, because we love each other very much. In the beginning, my father was proud of me; the day I went to school with my head covered, he acted as if I had found a special new form of rebellion. He stood with me in front of my mother’s old mirror with the brass frame as I tried the scarf on, and while we were still in front of the mirror, he gave me a kiss. Although we never talked about it much, this much was clear: What I was doing was worthwhile not as a defense of Islam but as a defiance of the state. He made as if to say, My daughter looks just fine like this, but deep down inside he was as scared as I was.

“I knew he was scared when they threw us in jail, and I knew he felt guilty. He insisted that the political police didn’t care about me but were still interested in him. In the old days, MIT kept files on leftists and ˙ democrats, but now they’re most interested in the Islamists; still, you can imagine why he saw it as the same old gun being turned now on his daughter.

“It was even more difficult when I began to take my stance seriously.

My father went out of his way to support me at every step, but it was still difficult for him. You know how it is sometimes with old people—no matter how much noise there is in the house, no matter how much the stove clatters, no matter how loudly the wife complains about who knows what, no matter how much the door hinges creak, whatever reaches their ears it’s as if they’ve heard nothing—well, that’s my father when it comes to the head-scarf issue. If one of those girls comes to the house, he’ll sometimes play the atheist bastard, but before long he’s encouraging them to stand up to the state. And because I’ve seen to it that these girls are mature enough to stand up to him, I have meetings at home. One of them is joining us tonight; her name is Hande.

“After Teslime committed suicide, Hande’s parents pressured her to take off her head scarf and she did, but she’s not comfortable with the decision. My father says it all reminds him of his old days as a Communist. There are two kinds of Communists: the arrogant ones, who enter the fray hoping to make men out of the people and bring progress to the nation; and the innocent ones, who get involved because they believe in equality and justice. The arrogant ones are obsessed with power; they presume to think for everyone; only bad can come of them. But the innocents? The only harm they do is to themselves. But that’s all they ever wanted in the first place. They feel so guilty about the suffering of the poor, and are so keen to share it, that they make their lives miserable on purpose.

“My father was a teacher, but then they took his job away. During one torture session they pulled out one of his fingernails; following another session they threw him into prison. Still, he did what he could. For years he and my mother ran a stationery store; they did photocopying; they even translated a few novels from French into Turkish. At times they would go door-to-door selling encyclopedias on the installment plan.

When the poverty was just too much to bear, he’d put his arms around us and cry. He was always so afraid something bad would happen to us. And so when the police came to see us after the director of the Institute of Education was shot, he got very frightened—even though he grumbled at them too. I’ve heard that you went to see Blue. Please don’t tell my father.”

“I won’t tell him,” Ka said. He stopped to brush the snow off his coat. “Aren’t we going this way—straight to the hotel?” “You can go this way too. The snow doesn’t end, and neither will the list of things we have to discuss. Besides, I’d like to show you Butcher Street. . . . What did Blue want from you?”

“Nothing.”

“Did he say anything about us—my father or my sister?”

Ka saw an anxious expression on Kadife’s face. “I can’t remember,” he said.

“Everyone’s afraid of him. We are too. . . . These are the most famous butcher shops in the city.”

“How does your father spend his days?” Ka asked. “Does he ever leave the house—the hotel?”

“He’s the one who manages the hotel. He gives the orders to the housekeeper, the cleaner, the laundrywoman, and the busboys. My sister and I help out. But my father almost never goes out. What’s your sign?” “Gemini,” said Ka. “Geminis are supposed to tell lots of lies, but I’m not so sure.”

“Are you saying that you’re not sure whether Geminis tell lies, or you’re not sure whether you do?”

“If you believe in astrology, you must be able to figure out why today is such a special day for me.”

“Yes, my sister told me; today you wrote a poem.”

“Does your sister tell you everything?”

“We have two diversions here. We talk about everything that happens to us, and we watch television. We even talk while watching television.

And while we’re talking, we watch television too. My sister is very beautiful, don’t you think?” “Yes, she’s very beautiful,” said Ka, with reverence. “But you’re also beautiful,” he added politely. “And now are you going to tell her that too?”

“No, I’m not going to tell her. Let’s have one secret we can share. It’s the best way to begin a friendship.” And she brushed off the snow that had piled up on her long purple raincoat.

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