فصل 21

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فصل 21

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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

But I Don’t Recognize Any of Them

ka in the cold rooms of terror

The men sent to pick up Ka came in one of those old army trucks—rarely seen these days, even in Turkey. A young hooknosed, fair-skinned, plainclothes policeman met him in the lobby and sat him down in the middle of the front seat, taking the space by the door for himself as if to block Ka’s possible escape. But his manner was polite enough; he addressed Ka as sir and this, Ka decided, meant he was not a policeman after all but an MIT agent, perhaps under instructions not to ˙ harm him.

They moved slowly through the city’s empty white streets. The dashboard of the army truck was covered with indicator dials, but none of them was working; because the cab was high off the ground Ka could see into the handful of houses whose curtains were open. Television sets were on everywhere, and for the most part the city of Kars had drawn its curtains and turned in on itself. It was as if they were driving through another city altogether; as the windshield wipers went about their monotonous work, it seemed to Ka that the dreamlike streets, the old Baltic-style houses, and the beautiful snow-covered oleander trees had cast a spell bewitching even the driver and his hook-nosed companion.

They stopped in front of police headquarters. By now they were very cold, so they lost no time getting inside. It was much more crowded and frenetic than it had been the day before, and even though he’d been expecting this, Ka still felt uneasy. The animated disorder was typical of so many Turkish offices. It made Ka think of courthouse corridors, gates to football stadiums, bus stations. But there was also a whiff of iodine and hospitals, terror and death. Somewhere very close to where he was standing, someone was being tortured; the very thought made him feel guilty.

Fear gripped his soul.

As he climbed the same stairs he had climbed with Muhtar the day

before, instinct told him to follow the example of the men in charge, so he did his best to adopt an air of authority. Passing open doors, he heard the rapid tap-tap-tap of old typewriters. Everywhere men were barking into police radios or calling for the tea boy. On benches outside closed doors he saw lines of young men awaiting interrogation; they were handcuffed to one another, and it was obvious they had been badly roughed up; their faces were covered with bruises. Ka tried not to look them in the eye.

They took him into a room rather like the room he’d sat in with

Muhtar, and here they informed him that despite his statement to the effect that he had not seen the face of the man who murdered the director of the Institute of Education and so was unable to identify the assailant from the photographs they’d shown him the day before, they now hoped he would be able to recognize the culprit among the religious high school boys in the cells downstairs. From this Ka deduced that MIT ˙ had taken charge of the police following the “revolution” and that relations between the two groups were tense.

A round-faced intelligence agent asked Ka where he’d been around four o’clock the previous afternoon.

For a moment Ka’s face turned gray. “They told me it would also be a good idea to pay a visit to His Excellency Sheikh Saadettin—” he began, but his interrogator cut him short.

“No, before that!” he said.

When Ka remained silent, the round-faced agent reminded him of

his meeting with Blue. He did it in such a way as to suggest that he already knew all about it and even regretted having to cause Ka such embarrassment. Ka struggled to see this as a sign of good intentions. An ordinary police officer would have accused him of trying to conceal the meeting and then would have relished humiliating him, bragging that the police know everything.

In an almost apologetic voice, this agent explained that Blue was a dangerous terrorist as well as a formidable conspirator; he was a certified enemy of the Republic and in the pay of Iran. It was certain that he had murdered a television emcee, so a warrant had been issued for his arrest.

He’d been sighted all over Turkey. He was organizing the fundamentalists. “Who arranged your meeting?” “A boy from the religious high school—I don’t know his name,” said Ka.

“Please see if you can identify him now,” said the agent. “Look at them very carefully. You’re going to be using the observation windows in the doors to their cells. Don’t be afraid; they won’t recognize you.” They took Ka down a wide staircase to the basement. A hundred-odd

years ago, when this fine long building housed an Armenian hospital, the basement was used for wood storage and as a dormitory for the janitors.

Much later, during the 1940s, when the building was turned into a state lycée, they had knocked down the interior walls and turned the space into a cafeteria. Quite a few Kars youths who would go on to become Marxists and sworn enemies of the West during the 1960s had swallowed their first fish oil tablets in this place; they’d washed them down with powdered yogurt milk sent by UNICEF, a vile-smelling drink that turned their stomachs. Now this spacious basement amounted to a corridor and four cells.

With a careful confidence bespeaking practiced routine, a policeman placed an army cap on Ka’s head. The hook-nosed MIT agent who’d ˙ picked him up at the hotel gave him a knowing look and said, “These people are terrified of army caps.”

When they reached the two cells on the right, the policeman shoved open the little observation windows and bellowed, “Attention! Officer!” Ka peered in through the window, no bigger than his hand.

The cell itself was about the size of a large bed; Ka could see five people inside. Perhaps there were more; it was hard to tell because they were sitting on top of one another. They were all propped up against the filthy wall on the far side, and although they’d done no military service they knew now to stand, however awkwardly, at attention, their eyes shut. (It seemed to Ka that a few had their eyes half open and were looking at him.) It was less than a day since the “revolution” had begun, but already their heads were shaven and their faces and eyes swollen from beatings. There was more light in the cells than in the hallway, but to Ka’s eyes all the boys looked alike. His head began to spin as pain and fear and shame engulfed him. He was glad not to see Necip among them.

After Ka had failed to identify any of the boys in the second and third cells, the hook-nosed MIT agent said, “There’s nothing to be afraid of. ˙ After all, when the roads open again you’re going to pick up and leave.” “But I don’t recognize any of them,” Ka said, with faint stubbornness.

After that he did recognize a few; he had a very clear memory of one boy he’d seen heckling Funda Eser and another who’d been chanting slogans. If he denounced these boys now, it would be proof of his willingness to work with the police, and so, if he later saw Necip, it would be easier to pretend he hadn’t. (It wasn’t as if these boys were charged with anything serious.)

But he didn’t denounce anyone. One youth whose face and eyes were streaked with blood looked up at Ka and pleaded, “Sir, please don’t tell our mothers.”

It looked as if these boys had been beaten in the heat of the coup’s early hours: the police had not used any instruments, just their boots and fists. Ka looked into the fourth cell and once again failed to see anyone resembling the man who had assassinated the director of the Institute of Education. Once he was sure that Necip was not sitting among these terrified boys, he began to relax.

By the time they went upstairs, it was clear how eager the round-faced agent and his superiors were to find the director’s assassin so they could parade him as the first achievement of the “revolution”; Ka suspected that they planned to hang the culprit then and there. Now a retired major entered the room. Despite the curfew he had somehow managed to find his way to police headquarters to ask that his grandson be released from detention. The major begged them not to torture the boy, who had no grievances against the state and had been sent to that religious high school only because his impoverished mother had fallen for those lies they told about how all the students were given free woolen coats and suits; in fact, the family were staunch supporters of Atatürk—

The round-faced man cut off the retired major in midsentence. “My dear sir, no one here gets treated badly,” he said. He took Ka to one side.

There was, he said, a chance that the murderer and Blue’s men (Ka had the feeling that the culprit was thought to be one of them) might be with those they’d detained from the veterinary school.

So Ka ended up back in the army truck with the hook-nosed agent

who’d first picked him up at the hotel. En route, as he admired the beauty of the empty streets and smoked a cigarette, he was thankful to have made it out of police headquarters. A small part of him was secretly relieved that the military had taken charge and the country wasn’t bending to the will of the Islamists. But with most of his heart he vowed to himself that he would refuse to cooperate with both the police and the army. Just then a new poem came rushing into his mind; it was so powerful, so strangely exhilarating, that Ka now found himself turning to the hook-nosed intelligence agent and asking, “Might it be possible to stop off at a teahouse along the way?”

You couldn’t walk two feet in this city without passing a teahouse full of unemployed men; although most establishments were closed this

morning, one teahouse on Kanal Street was managing to do business

without attracting the attention of the army jeep standing by the curb.

Inside, a young apprentice was awaiting the end of the curfew, and three other young men were sitting at another table. They all stirred to see a man in an army cap and a plainclothes officer coming through the door.

Without missing a beat, the hook-nosed man drew a gun from his

coat and, with a professionalism Ka could not help but admire, lined the young men up with their faces to the huge Swiss landscape hanging on the wall; just as effectively, he searched them and checked their identity cards. Ka was sure he was just going through the motions, so he sat down at the table next to the cold stove and with no difficulty set down the poem in his head.

He would later give this poem the title “Dream Streets”; although it opens on the snowy streets of Kars, the thirty-six-line poem also contains numerous references to the streets of old Istanbul, the Armenian ghost town of Ani, and the wondrous, fearsome, empty cities Ka had seen in his dreams.

When Ka finished his poem, he looked up at the black-and-white

television to see that the morning folksinger had gone; in his place they were rebroadcasting the first moments of the drama at the National Theater. Vural the goalkeeper had just begun to recount his past loves and lost goals; by Ka’s calculations it would be twenty minutes before he could watch himself reading his poem. This was the poem that had been erased from his mind before he’d had a chance to write it down: he was determined to record it.

Four more people entered the teahouse through the back door; the

hook-nosed MIT agent drew his gun and lined them up against the wall ˙ also. The teahouse owner, a Kurd, tried to explain to the agent, whom he addressed as “my commander,” that these men had not in fact broken the curfew, having really come in from the courtyard via the garden, but the agent decided to check their stories anyway. After all, one of them didn’t have his identity card on him, and he was quaking with fear. The agent announced that he would take the man home by the same route

he had come and called in his chauffeur to watch the youths still lined up against the wall.Ka, putting his poetry notebook back into his pocket, followed the two men through the back door into the icy snow-covered courtyard; they went over a low wall, down three icy steps, and were lunged at by a barking dog on a chain before entering a ramshackle concrete building similar to most other buildings in Kars. In the basement was a foul smell: mud and dirty bedclothes. The man at the front slipped past a humming furnace into an area furnished with boxes and vegetable crates; there in a shabby bed slept an exceptionally beautiful fair-skinned woman; Ka could not keep from turning to look. Now the man without the identity card produced a passport for the MIT agent; the furnace was making ˙ such a clatter that Ka couldn’t hear their words, but as he peered through the semidarkness he could see that the man had now produced a second passport.

It turned out they were a Georgian couple who had come to Turkey

hoping to find work and make some money. The unemployed youths

whose identity cards the MIT agent had checked back at the teahouse had ˙ been full of complaints about these Georgians. The woman was tubercular but still working as a prostitute; her customers were the dairy owners and leather merchants who came down to the city to do business. As for the husband, like so many other Georgians he was willing to work for half pay in the markets and so was taking work away from Turkish citizens whose job opportunities were already scarce. This couple was so poor and so stingy they wouldn’t even pay for a hotel; instead, they paid the janitor from the water department five dollars a month to let them live in this furnace room. They were said to be saving up to buy a house when they returned to their own country, after which they planned never to work again for the rest of their lives. The boxes were filled with leather goods they had bought cheaply with an eye to selling them back in Tiflis.

They had already been deported twice but both times found their way back to the furnace room. Having taken over, it was now up to the army to do what the corrupt municipal police had failed to accomplish: tackle these parasites and clean the city up.

Back at the teahouse, the owner was only too happy to be serving

guests and listening to this table of feeble unemployed youths, who, with a little prompting from the MIT agent, began to speak, if somewhat halt- ˙ ingly, about what they hoped for from the military coup. Mixed in with their complaints about rotten politicians was quite a bit of hearsay good enough to count as denunciation: the unlicensed slaughter of animals, the scams run in the warehouses where state-owned commodities were stored, the crooked contractors who were smuggling Armenian illegals in on meat trucks and housing them in barracks, working the men all day long, only to pay them nothing. These unemployed youths gave no hint of understanding that the military had stepped in to take a position against Kurdish nationalism and keep “religious fanatics” from winning the municipal elections. Instead, they seemed to think that last night’s events marked the beginning of a new age, in which immorality and

unemployment would no longer be tolerated; it was as if they thought the army had stepped in expressly to find them jobs.

In the army truck once again, Ka observed the hook-nosed MIT ˙

agent taking out the Georgian woman’s passport; sensing the agent’s purpose was to look at her photograph, Ka felt strangely embarrassed.

The moment they stepped into the veterinary school, Ka could see

how relatively benign things had been at police headquarters. As he walked down the corridors of this ice-cold building, he realized that he was in a place where no one gave a moment’s thought to other people’s pain. This was where they’d brought the Kurdish nationalists they’d rounded up, along with left-wing terrorists who proudly took responsibility for bombings, not to mention all those listed in the MIT files as ˙ supporters of these people. The police, the soldiers, and the public prosecutors all took a very dim view of any participant at events these groups had organized; the same went for anyone who aided or abetted the Kurdish guerillas who came down from the mountains to infiltrate the city. For people like these there was no mercy, and the interrogation methods were far harsher than those used against those suspected of links to political Islam.

A tall, powerfully built policeman took him by the arm and walked

him down the corridor lovingly, as if Ka were an old man unsteady on his feet; together they visited three classrooms where terrible things were going on. I will follow Ka’s lead here; just as he chose not to record them in his notebook, I will try not to dwell on them either.

After looking for three or four seconds at the suspects in the first classroom, Ka’s first thought was of the shortness of mankind’s journey from birth to death. One look at these freshly interrogated suspects was enough to conjure up fond wishful dreams of distant civilizations and countries he’d never visited. And so it was Ka knew with absolute certainty that he and all the others in the room were fast approaching the end of their allotted time; their candles would soon burn themselves out.

In his notebook, Ka would call this place the yellow room. In the second classroom he had a shorter vision. He remembered

these men from a teahouse he’d passed the day before during his strolls around the city; their eyes were now blank with guilt. They had drifted off into some faraway dreamworld, or so it now seemed to Ka.

They moved on to the third classroom, where in the mournful darkness that overtook his soul Ka felt the presence of an omniscient power whose refusal to disclose all he knew made a torment of life on earth.

Ka’s eyes were open, but he could not see what was in front of him; all he could see was the color inside his head. Because the color was something close to red, he would call this the red room. Here the thoughts he’d had in the first two rooms—that life was short, that mankind was awash in feelings of guilt—came back to haunt him, but even with this fearsome landscape before him, he managed to stay calm.

As they left the veterinary faculty, Ka was aware that his companions were losing faith in him and beginning to wonder about his motives when he failed, yet again, to make an identification. But he was so relieved not to have seen Necip that when the MIT agent suggested that they examine ˙ the corpses, Ka agreed at once.

In the morgue, located in the basement of the Social Insurance Hospital, they showed him their most suspicious corpse first. This was the slogan-chanting Islamist militant who’d taken three bullets of the soldiers’ second volley, but Ka had never seen him before. He approached this corpse with caution, and it seemed to him the dead youth was giving him a sad and respectful greeting. The corpse laid out on the second slab of marble seemed to be shivering from the cold: This was the body of the little grandfather. They showed it to Ka because they hadn’t yet established that this man had come from Trabzon to see a grandson who was doing his military service in Kars, and because his small frame suggested he might be the assassin they were seeking. As he approached the third corpse, Ka was already thinking happy thoughts about seeing Ipek again. ˙ This corpse had a shattered eye. For a moment it seemed this was a feature of all the corpses in this room. Then as he drew closer to the dead boy’s white face, something inside him shattered too.

It was Necip, his lips still pushed forward as if to ask one more question. Ka felt the cold and the silence of the hospital. That same childish face, the same little pimples he’d seen earlier, the same aquiline nose, the same grimy school jacket. For a moment Ka thought he was going to cry, and this made him panic. The panic distracted him long enough for him to restrain the tears. There, in the middle of the forehead on which he’d pressed the palm of his hand only yesterday, was a bullet hole. But the most deathly thing about Necip was not the bullet hole, not his pale, bluish complexion, but the frozen stiffness with which he lay on the slab.

A wave of gratitude swept over Ka; he was so glad to be alive. This distanced him from Necip. He leaned forward, separated the hands he’d been clasping behind his back, placed them on Necip’s shoulders, and kissed him on both cheeks. The cheeks were cold but had not yet hardened. His remaining green eye was still half open, and it was looking right at Ka. Ka straightened himself up and told the agent that this was a friend who had stopped him in the road the day before to describe his efforts as a science-fiction writer and had later taken Ka to see Blue. He kissed him, he explained, because this teenager had had a pure heart.

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