فصل 23

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فصل 23

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CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

God Is Fair Enough to Know

It’s How You Live Your Life

with sunay at military headquarters

When Sunay saw that Ka had completed his poem, he rose from his cluttered worktable and limped across the floor to offer his congratulations. “The poem you read at the theater yesterday was very modern too,” he said. “What a shame that audiences in our country are not sophisticated enough to understand modern art. This is why my shows always include belly dancing and the confessions of Vural the goalkeeper. I give the people what they want, and then I give them an unadulterated dose of real-life drama. I would far rather mix high and low art for people than be in Istanbul doing bank-sponsored boulevard comedies. Now tell me as a friend, why didn’t you identify any of the suspicious Islamists they showed you at police headquarters or the veterinary school?” “Because I didn’t recognize any of them.”

“When they saw how fond you were of that youth who took you

to see Blue, the soldiers wanted to arrest you too. They were already suspicious—you’d come all the way from Germany in this time of revolution, and you’d witnessed the assassination of the school director. They wanted to put you through an interrogation—torture you a little—just to see what they could turn up. I’m the one who stopped them. I’m your guarantor.”

“Thank you.”

“The thing no one can understand is why you kissed that boy who took you to Blue.”

“I don’t know why,” said Ka. “He was very honest, and he spoke from the heart. I thought he was going to live for a hundred years.”

“This Necip you’re so sorry about. Would you like to know what kind of boy he really was? Let me read you something.”

He produced a piece of paper with the following information: One day last March, the boy had run away from school; he was associated with a group that had smashed the windows of the Joyous Beer Hall for selling alcohol during Ramadan; he’d been doing odd jobs at the branch headquarters of the Prosperity Party for a while but he’d stopped, either because his extreme views caused alarm or because he’d suffered a breakdown that frightened everyone (there was more than one informer at party headquarters); he was an admirer of Blue and had been making overtures to him during the eighteen months Blue was visiting the city; he had written a story judged to be incomprehensible by the staff of MIT ˙ and got it printed by a religious newspaper with a circulation of seventyfive; on a few occasions a retired pharmacist who wrote columns for the same paper kissed him in a rather odd way, so Necip and his friend Fazıl had conspired to murder the man (this was according to their dossier— the original of the letter explaining their act they’d planned to leave at the scene of the murder had been stolen from the archives); on various occasions this Necip been seen walking down Atatürk Avenue, laughing with his friends, and on one of these occasions, in the month of October, he’d made a rude gesture at a unmarked police car that had just driven past them.

“MIT is doing important work here,” said Ka. ˙

“His Excellency Sheikh Saadettin’s house is bugged, so they also know that the first thing you did when you met him was to kiss his hand.

They know you confessed in tears to him that you believed in God— what they can’t understand is why. There are quite a few left-wing poets who’ve panicked and changed sides, deciding they might as well find religion before these people come into power.” Ka felt himself flush. When he saw that Sunay had read it as a sign of weakness, his shame only increased.

“I know the things you saw this morning upset you deeply. The police treat our young very badly; we have in our midst a number of animals who beat up young boys just for the fun of it. But let’s leave that matter to one side for now.”

He offered Ka a cigarette.

“Like you, I spent the years of my youth roaming the streets of Ni¸santa¸ s and Beyo˘glu. I was mad about films from the West and couldn’t see enough of them, I read everything Sartre and Zola had ever written, and I believed that our future lay with Europe. To see that whole world destroyed, to see our sisters forced to wear head scarves, to see poems banned for being antireligious, as has happened already in Iran—this is one spectacle I don’t think you would be prepared to take lying down.

Because you’re from my world. There’s no one else in Kars who’s read the poetry of T. S. Eliot.”

“Muhtar, the candidate for the Prosperity Party, has read Eliot,” said Ka. “He has a great interest in poetry.”

“We don’t even have to keep him locked up anymore,” said Sunay with a smile. “He’s signed a statement declaring his withdrawal from the race. He gave it to the first soldier who knocked on his door.” They heard an explosion. The windowpanes rattled and the frames

shook. Turning in the direction of the noise, the two looked through the windows giving onto the Kars River, but all they could see were snowcovered poplars and the icy eaves of the undistinguished abandoned building opposite. Apart from the guard outside their door, there was no one on the street. Even at midmorning, Kars was heavy with gloom.

“A good actor,” said Sunay in a light theatrical tone, “is a man who represents the sediment, the unexplored and unexplained powers that have drifted down through the centuries; he takes the lessons he has gleaned and hides them deep inside him; his self-mastery is awesome; never does he bare his heart; no one may know how powerful he is until he strides onto the stage. All his life, he travels down unfamiliar roads to perform at the most out-of-the-way theaters in the most godforsaken towns, and everywhere he goes he searches for a voice that will grant him genuine freedom. If he is so fortunate as to find that voice, he must embrace it fearlessly and follow the path to the end.”

“In a day or two, when the snow melts and the roads reopen, Ankara is going to come down hard on the people responsible for this carnage,” said Ka. “Not because they can’t bear bloodshed; they’ll be angry because this time they weren’t the perpetrators. The people of Kars will hate you, and they’ll feel the same about this strange production of yours. What will you do then?”

“You saw the doctor. I have a weak and diseased heart, and I’ve come to the end of my allotted time. They can do what they want with me; I don’t care,” said Sunay. “Listen to this: They’re saying that if we caught someone important—say, the man who shot the director of the Institute of Education—hanged him right away, and broadcast the hanging on live TV, we’d have everyone in the city sitting still as a candle.”

“They’re already quiet as candles,” said Ka.

“We’ve heard they’re about to use suicide bombers.”

“If you hang someone, all you’ll do is increase the terror.” “Are you afraid of the shame you’ll feel when the Europeans see what we’ve done here? Do you know how many men they hanged to establish that modern world you admire so much? Atatürk had no time for birdbrained fantasists; he had people like you swinging from ropes from the very first day.

“Get this into your head too,” said Sunay. “Those religious high school boys you saw in the cells today have your face permanently etched in their memories. They’ll throw bombs at anyone and anything; they don’t care as long as they are heard. And furthermore, since you read a poem during the performance, they’ll assume you were in on the plot. No one who’s even slightly westernized can breathe free in this country unless they have a secular army protecting them, and no one needs this protection more than intellectuals who think they’re better than everyone else and look down on other people. If it weren’t for the army, the fanatics would be turning their rusty knives on the lot of them and their painted women and chopping them all into little pieces. But what do these upstarts do in return? They cling to their little European ways and turn up their affected little noses at the very soldiers who guarantee their freedom. When we go the way of Iran, do you really think anyone is going to remember how a porridge-hearted liberal like you shed a few tears for the boys from the religious high school? When that day comes, they’ll kill you just for being a little westernized, for being frightened and forgetting the Arabic words of a simple prayer, even for wearing a tie or that coat of yours. Where did you buy that beautiful coat by the way? May I wear it for the play?” “Of course.”

“Just to keep you from getting any holes in your nice coat, I’ll give you a bodyguard. In a little while I’m going to make an announcement on television. The curfew ends at midday, so stay off the streets.” “I can’t believe there’s an Islamist here in Kars who’s so dangerous I can’t go outside.”

“What’s done is done,” said Sunay. “Above all, they know that the only way they’d ever get to run this country is by terrorizing us. Over time, our fears turn out to have been well founded. If we don’t let the army and the state deal with these dangerous fanatics, we’ll end up back in the Middle Ages, sliding into anarchy, traveling the doomed path already traveled by so many tribal nations in Asia and the Middle East.” His perfect posture, his commanding voice, his long and frequent gazes at an imaginary point high above the heads of his audience—Ka remembered seeing Sunay striking these same poses onstage twenty years earlier. But it didn’t make him laugh. He felt as if he too were an actor in the same outmoded play.

“What do you want from me?” Ka asked. “Spell it out.”

“If it weren’t for me, you’d have a hard time keeping your head above water in this city. No matter how much you toady to the Islamists, you’d still get holes in your coat. I’m the only friend you have here; I’m the only one in Kars who can protect you—without my friendship you’d soon be trembling in one of those cells beneath police headquarters, waiting to be tortured. As for your friends at the Republican, it’s not you they put their faith in, it’s the army. Know where you stand.”

“I do know.”

“Then confess to me what you hid from the police this morning. Tell me of the guilt you hide deep in your heart.”

“I think I may be starting to believe in God here,” Ka said, with a smile. “It’s something I may be hiding even from myself.”

“You’re deceiving yourself ! Even if you did believe in God, it would make no sense to believe alone. You’d have to believe in him the same way the poor do; you’d have to become one of them. It’s only by eating what they eat, living where they live, laughing at the same jokes, and getting angry whenever they do that you can believe in their God. If you’re leading an utterly different life, you can’t be worshiping the same God they are. God is fair enough to know it’s not a question of reason or logic but how you live your life. But that’s not what I was asking you about just now. In half an hour I’m going on television to address the people of Kars. I want to bring them good tidings. I’m going to say that we’ve caught the assassin who shot the director of the Institute of Education.

There’s a high probability that the same man shot the mayor. May I say that you identified this person for us this morning? Then you can go on television and tell the whole story.”

“But I didn’t identify anyone.”

With an anger that owed nothing to theatricality, Sunay grabbed Ka’s arm and marched him out of the room and down a wide corridor; he then put him in a bright white room that looked onto the inner courtyard. One look at this room was enough to repel him; it wasn’t the filth but the sordid atmosphere. There were stockings hanging on a line strung between the window latch and a nail on the wall. Ka saw in the corner an open suitcase containing a hair dryer, a pair of gloves, shirts, and a huge bra that might have fit Funda Eser. Funda Eser herself was sitting in a chair beside the suitcase; the table before her was piled high with paper and cosmetics she’d pushed aside to make room for a bowl—was it stewed fruit, Ka wondered, or soup? She was reading as she ate.

“We’re here in the name of modern art. . . . We’re as attached to each other as a fingernail is to flesh,” said Sunay, as he squeezed Ka’s arm even harder. Ka wasn’t sure what he was trying to say, and Sunay seemed unsure whether this was life or a play.

“Vural the goalkeeper has gone missing,” said Funda Eser. “He went out this morning and hasn’t come back.”

“He’s passed out somewhere,” said Sunay.

“But where?” said his wife. “Everything’s closed. No one’s allowed out in the street. The soldiers have started a search. I’m afraid he’s been kidnapped.”

“I hope to God he has been kidnapped,” said Sunay. “If they would skin him alive and cut out his tongue, we’d all be better off.” For all their coarse manners and rough language, there was something so pleasant about their convivial banter, about the depth of their mutual understanding, that Ka could not help feeling a certain respect, even a little envy. The moment he came eye to eye with Funda Eser he instinctively bowed so low that he almost touched the floor.

“Madam, you were a veritable sensation last night,” he said, in an affected voice that did, nevertheless, contain traces of heartfelt admiration.

“Shame on you,” she said, with faint embarrassment. “In our company it’s not the players who make the masterpiece, it’s the audience.” She turned to her husband. The two began to converse, flitting from one subject to the next as a king and his queen might do, pressed by many important matters of state. Ka listened with a mixture of appreciation and amazement as husband and wife fretted over which costume was right for his impending television appearance (civilian clothes? military uniform? black tie?); they went on to discuss the script for his speech (Funda Eser had written part of it) and the statement taken from the owner of the hotel where they’d stayed during previous visits (nervous about the soldiers continually coming by for another search and anxious to curry favor, he’d formally denounced two young guests who looked suspicious); finally, they pulled out a cigarette pack on which someone had scribbled the afternoon schedule for Border City Television (four or five reruns of the gala at the National Theater, three of Sunay’s speech, folk songs about heroism and the borderlands, a travelog about the beauties of Kars, and a Turkish film called Gulizar). They read it through, and it met with their approval.

“And now,” said Sunay, “what are we to do with this poet of ours, whose intellect belongs to Europe, whose heart belongs to the religious high school militants, and whose head is all mixed up?”

“It’s clear from his face,” said Funda Eser, smiling sweetly. “He’s a good boy. He’s going to help us.”

“But he’s been shedding tears for the Islamists.”

“He’s in love, that’s why,” said Funda Eser. “Our poet has been awash in emotions these last two days.”

“Ah, is our poet in love?” said Sunay Zaim, with exaggerated gestures.

“Only the purest poets allow love into their hearts in times of revolution.” “He’s not pure poet, he’s pure lover,” said Funda Eser.

As husband and wife carried the scene forward with their usual flawless technique, Ka felt both furious and stupefied. Afterward they returned to the atelier and drank tea together at the big table.

“I’m telling you this so you’ll see why helping us is the wisest thing to do,” said Sunay. “Kadife is Blue’s mistress. It’s not politics that draws Blue to Kars, it’s love. They didn’t arrest him because they wanted to know which young Islamists he was working with. Now they’re sorry, because last night, just before the raid on the religious high school dormitory, he vanished like smoke. All the young Islamists in Kars are in his thrall. He’s somewhere in the city, and he will definitely want to see you again. It could be difficult for you to tip us off: I suggest that we plant one or two microphones on you and perhaps a transmitter in your coat— you’d have the same protection then as the late director of the Institute of Education, so you’d have little worry for your safety. After you leave the meeting, we can go in and capture him.” By the look on Ka’s face, Sunay could tell he had not warmed to this proposal. “I’m not going to insist,” he said. “You don’t look it, but your behavior today has shown you to be a cautious person. Of course, you are a man who can look after himself, but I’m still telling you that you need to be very careful around Kadife.

We suspect she tells Blue everything she hears, and this must include her father’s conversations every evening with his dinner guests. It’s partly the thrill of betraying her father, but it’s also because she’s bound by love to Blue. How do you explain the strength of this passion?”

“Do you mean for Kadife?” Ka asked.

“No,” said Sunay impatiently. “I mean this passion for Blue. What does this murderer have that makes everyone fall for him? Why is his name legend throughout Anatolia? You’ve spoken to him. Can you solve this mystery for me?”

Funda Eser had picked up a plastic comb and was passing it through her husband’s pale hair with such tender care that Ka, distracted, fell silent.

“I’d like you to hear the speech I’m going to make on television,” said Sunay. “Come with me in the army truck, and we can drop you off at the hotel along the way.”

The curfew was due to end in forty-five minutes. Ka politely declined the offer and asked whether he might have permission to go back to the hotel on foot. It was granted.

It was a relief to walk down the wide empty pavements of Atatürk Avenue—to feel the silence of the snow-packed side streets, to gaze once again at the beautiful snow-covered Russian houses and the oleanders— but he soon realized he was being followed. He crossed over to Halitpa¸ sa Avenue and then turned left on Little Kâzımbey. The detective behind him was huffing and puffing as he hurried through the snow to catch up.

Running after him was the same friendly black dog with the white spotted forehead that Ka had seen around the train station the night before. Ka hid in the doorway of one of the workshops in the Yusufpa ¸sa district, hoping to give him the slip, but all at once he found himself face-to-face with his pursuer.

“Are you following me for intelligence purposes or for my protection?” “God only knows, sir. Whichever sounds better to you is fine by me.” But the man looked so tired and worn out that Ka doubted he could even protect himself. He looked at least sixty-five years old, his face was lined and wrinkled, his voice was thin, and the light had gone from his eyes; he gazed at Ka timidly, as fearfully as most people gaze at the police.

Like all the plainclothes agents in Turkey, he was wearing Sümerbank shoes, and when Ka saw the soles were beginning to come apart, he took pity on him.

“You’re a policeman, aren’t you? If you have your identity card, let’s get them to open up the Green Pastures Café and sit down for a while.” They did not have to knock on the restaurant door for long before it opened. Ka and the detective, whose name was Saffet, sat drinking raki and sharing cheese pastries with the black dog as they listened to Sunay’s speech. It wasn’t any different from the speeches of the leaders of military coups during Ka’s childhood. In fact, by the time Sunay had explained how Kurdish and Islamist militants in the pay of “our enemies abroad” and degenerate politicians who would stop at nothing to win votes had pushed Kars to the brink of destruction, Ka was a little bored.

While Ka was drinking his second raki, the detective, pointing respectfully at Sunay, directed his attention back to the television. His face had changed somehow. No longer a third-rate detective, he had assumed the air of a long-suffering citizen submitting his petition. “You know this man, and what’s more he respects you,” the detective said plaintively. “I hope you will be able to help me with my humble request. If you would present it to him, you could rescue me from this hellish life. Please, ask him to remove me from this poison investigation and reassign me.” At Ka’s questioning look, he rose to his feet and went over to bolt the café door. Then he sat back down at the table to tell the tale of the “poison investigation.” The wretched detective had difficulty expressing himself, and the raki had gone straight to Ka’s already addled head, so he had a hard time following the confusing story.

It began at Modern Buffet, a snack bar in the city center not far from the military and intelligence headquarters. Many soldiers went there for sandwiches and cigarettes; lately, however, there were suspicions that the cinnamon sharbat sold there had been laced with poison. The first victim was an infantry officer trainee from Istanbul. Two years earlier, on the morning of a much dreaded, exceptionally arduous maneuver, this officer came down with a fever that made his whole body shiver so wildly he couldn’t even stay on his feet. He was carted off to the infirmary, where they soon established that he had been poisoned, whereupon the officer, thinking he was about to die, blamed the spicy sharbat he had drunk at the snack bar on the corner of Little Kâzımbey and Kâzım Karabekir avenues—just for the sake, he added angrily, of trying something new.

At first this seemed like a simple case of accidental food poisoning, so it was soon forgotten, but there was reason to think again when, not long afterward, two other officers with similar symptoms turned up at the same infirmary. Like the first, they were shaking so much they could barely talk and couldn’t stand up for long before falling to the ground; both blamed the same hot cinnamon sharbat that they’d drunk out of simple curiosity. It then emerged that a Kurdish granny was producing this refreshment in her home in the Atatürk district; everyone loved it, so her grandsons had decided to sell it at their snack bar. This information came to light during the secret interrogation conducted at Kars military headquarters immediately following the denunciations. But when secret samples of the old granny’s sharbat were tested at the veterinary school, no trace of poison could be found.

The investigation was closed when the general happened to mention it to his wife; to his alarm and dismay, he discovered that she’d been drinking several cups of the sharbat every day, hoping it might be good for her rheumatism. Quite a few officers’ wives, in fact, and quite a few officers had been knocking back huge quantities of this beverage—all claiming it was for health reasons, though really it was out of simple boredom. Further investigation revealed the officers and their wives were not alone in succumbing to this fad; soldiers on leave were going there as well, as were their visiting families, partly because this snack bar was so central one inevitably passed it about ten times a day but mostly because the sharbat was the only new thing in Kars.

When the general added his new findings to the investigation, he was so concerned about the possible implications that he handed the matter over to MIT and the army inspectorate. The more ground the army ˙ gained in its savage conflict with the Kurdish PKK guerillas, the lower became the morale of the weak, despairing, and unemployed Kurdish youths who’d fallen in with them; this situation had led some of these youths to nurture strange and frightful dreams of revenge, as was reported by quite a few of the detectives who spent their days dozing in the city’s coffeehouses. They’d overheard youths discussing bomb and kidnap plots, possible attacks on the statue of Atatürk, a scheme to poison the city’s water supplies, and another to blow up its bridges. This was why the officials had taken the cinnamon sharbat scare so seriously, but owing to the acute sensitivity of the issue, they’d been unable to interrogate or torture the snack bar’s owners. Instead, they assigned a number of detectives attached to the governor’s office to infiltrate not just the Modern Buffet but the kitchen of the old granny, by now over the moon with delight at all the business she was doing.

The detective assigned to the snack bar subjected the granny’s cinnamon drink to yet another examination, and he also inspected the glasses, the heat-resistant holder on the crooked handles of the tin ladles, the change box, a number of rusty holes, and the employees’ hands for any sign of a strange powder. A week later, he too had all the symptoms of poisoning; he was shaking and coughing so much he had to leave work.

The detective who’d been planted in the granny’s kitchen was far more industrious, however. Every night he would sit down and write a full report, listing not just the people who’d passed through the kitchen that day but also every item of food the old lady purchased (carrots, apples, plums, dried mulberries, pomegranate flowers, dog roses, and marshmallows). His reports soon revealed the recipe for this muchpraised and appetizing beverage. The detective who was drinking five or six carafes a day suffered no ill effects whatsoever: Indeed, it was, according to him, a bona fide tonic, a genuine mountain sharbat such as appears in the famous Kurdish epic Mem u Zin. The experts sent in from Ankara lost faith in this detective because he was a Kurd. They were able to deduce from his reports that the sharbat was poisonous to Turks but not to Kurds; however, because of the official state position that Kurds and Turks are indistinguishable, they kept this conclusion to themselves.

At this point, a group of doctors sent in from Istanbul set up a special clinic at the Social Insurance Hospital. Soon, however, it was overrun by perfectly healthy Kars inhabitants just looking for free treatment, not to mention some so-called invalids complaining of such common afflictions as hair loss, psoriasis, hernias, and stammers; this stampede cast a long shadow over the seriousness of the investigation.

So it fell once again to the Kars intelligence services to unravel the sharbat plot that was slowly incapacitating the city and had already endangered the health of thousands of soldiers; it was for MIT to capture ˙ the perpetrators before the city’s spirit was broken. Saffet was just one of several diligent agents assigned to this case. Most had been told simply to follow the people who drank the sharbat the granny boiled with such joy.

It was no longer an investigation of the path by which the poison had spread through Kars, but a vain attempt to find a way to distinguish those poisoned by the sharbat from those who were not. To accomplish this task, the detectives were following all the soldier and plainclothes police consumers of the granny’s cinnamon drink—sometimes all the way home.

When Ka heard that this exhausting, painstaking mission had worn out not just the detective’s shoes but also his spirit, he promised to raise the subject with Sunay, who had yet to reach the end of his televised speech.

The detective was so elated by this promise, he threw his grateful arms around Ka, kissed him on both cheeks, and unbolted the door with his own hands.

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