فصل 26

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CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

It Is Not Poverty That Brings

Us So Close to God

blue’s statement to the west

As the wheels of the horse-drawn carriage rolled over the snow rocking Ka like a baby, the first lines of a new poem came to him; but when the carriage mounted a pavement he was jolted back to the present. They creaked to a stop and a silence followed, long enough for Ka to receive a few more lines of the poem. Then the driver lifted the tarpaulin and Ka saw they were in an empty snow-covered courtyard lined with auto repair and welding shops and also harboring a broken tractor.

In the corner was a dog on a chain; when they emerged from under the tarpaulin, he greeted them with a few barks.

They went through a walnut door. As they continued through a second door, Ka could see Blue gazing down at the snow-covered courtyard; once again, Ka was struck by the red highlights in his brown hair, the freckles on his face, and his midnight-blue eyes. When he walked into yet another threadbare room filled with a number of familiar items (the same hair dryer as yesterday, the same half-open suitcase, and the same plastic ashtray with the Ottoman figures running along the edges and the logo ERSIN ELECTRIC) it didn’t take Ka long to guess that Blue had moved the night before. But from his cold-blooded smile Ka could tell that he’d already adjusted to the new situation and was pleased with himself for having eluded the authorities.

“One thing’s for sure,” said Blue. “You can’t write anything about the suicide girls now.”

“Why not?”

“Because the military doesn’t want anything written about them either.”

“I’m not a spokesman for the military,” Ka said carefully.

“I know that.”

For a long tense moment, the two stared at each other.

“Yesterday you told me that you had every intention of writing about the suicide girls in the Western press,” said Blue.

Remembering his little lie, Ka felt embarrassed.

“Which Western newspaper did you have in mind?” Blue now asked.

“At which of the German papers do you have contacts?”

“The Frankfurter Rundschau,” said Ka.

“Who?”

“It’s a liberal German newspaper.”

“What’s his name?”

“Hans Hansen,” Ka said, and hugged his coat.

“I have a statement for Hans Hansen. I intend to speak up against the coup,” said Blue. “We don’t have much time. I want you to start writing it down this instant.”

Ka opened to the back page of his poetry notebook and began

to take notes. Blue began by saying that at least eighty people had been killed so far (the actual death toll, including those shot at the theater, was seventeen); numerous schools and houses had been raided, and tanks had destroyed nine shanties (the real figure was four); after claiming that some students had died under torture, he alluded to some street skirmishes that Ka had not heard anyone else mention; passing rather quickly over the sufferings of the Kurds, he slightly exaggerated those visited on the Islamists; it was, he now said, to provide a pretext for this coup that the state had arranged for the mayor and the director of the Institute of Education to be assassinated. The reason for all this, he said, was to prevent the Islamists from winning the elections. The banning of all political parties and associations proved his point, he said.

As he went into more detail, Ka looked straight into Kadife’s eyes; she hung on Blue’s every word. In the margins of these pages he would later tear out of his poetry notebook, he made a number of drawings and doodles that proved he was thinking about Ipek: a slender neck, a head of ˙ hair, a child’s house with childish smoke rising out of a child’s chimney. . . . Many years before, Ka had explained to me that when a good poet is confronted with difficult facts that he knows to be true but also inimical to poetry, he has no choice but to flee to the margins; it was, he said, this very retreat that allowed him to hear the hidden music that is the source of all art.

Ka appreciated some of Blue’s pronouncements enough to record them in his notebook word for word.

Contrary to what the West seems to think, it is not poverty that brings us so close to God; it’s the fact that no one is more curious than we are to find out why we are here on earth and what will happen to us in the next world.

Instead of explaining the source of this curiosity and revealing mankind’s purpose on earth, Blue’s final words posed a challenge to the West: Will the West, which takes democracy, its great invention, more seriously than the word of God, come out against this coup that has brought an end to democracy in Kars? [He stopped here to make

a grand gesture.] Or are we to conclude that democracy, freedom, and human rights don’t matter, that all the West wants is for the rest of the world to imitate them like monkeys? Can the West endure any democracy achieved by enemies who in no way resemble them? I

have something to say to all the other nations that the West has left behind: Brothers, you’re not alone.

He paused for a moment. “Can you be sure that your friend at the Frankfurter Rundschau is going to print all this?”

“He takes offense when people discuss the West as if it’s a single person with a single point of view,” Ka said carefully.

“But that’s how it is,” Blue said, after another pause. “There is, after all, only one West and only one Western point of view. And we take the opposite point of view.”

“The fact remains that they don’t live that way in the West,” said Ka.

“It’s not as it is here; they don’t want everyone thinking alike. Everyone, even the most ordinary grocer, feels compelled to boast of having his own personal views. If we used the term Western democrats instead of the West, you’d have a better chance of pricking people’s consciences.” “Fine, do what you think best. Must we make more corrections to get this published?”

“Although this began as a news item, it’s become more interesting, more like a proclamation,” said Ka. “They might want to put your name to it . . . and maybe even include a few biographical details—” “I’ve prepared those already,” said Blue. “All they need say is that I’m one of the most prominent Islamists in Turkey and perhaps the entire Middle East.”

“Hans Hansen is not going to print this as it stands.”

“What?”

“If the social-democratic Frankfurter Rundschau were to print a statement from a single Turkish Islamist, it would seem as if they were taking sides,” Ka said.

“I see. When something doesn’t serve Mr. Hans Hansen’s interests, he has a way of slithering away,” said Blue. “What do we need to do to convince him?”

“Even if the German democrats come out against a military coup in Turkey—and it has to be a real coup, not a theatrical one—they’ll still be very uneasy if the people they’re defending are Islamists.” “Yes, these people are all terrified of us,” said Blue.

Ka could not tell if he was boasting or merely feeling misunderstood.

“Well,” he said, “if you included the signatures of a liberal ex-Communist and a Kurdish nationalist, you’d have no trouble getting this announcement into the Frankfurter Rundschau.” “Come again?”

“If we could find two other people in this city to come in on this, we could get started on a joint announcement immediately,” Ka said.

“I’m not going to drink wine just to make Westerners like me,” said Blue. “I’m not going to flutter around imitating them just so they can stop fearing me long enough to understand what I’m doing. And I’m not going to abase myself at the door of this Westerner, this Mr. Hans Hansen, just to make the godless atheists of the world feel pity for us.

Who is this Mr. Hans Hansen anyway? Why is he laying down so many conditions? Is he a Jew?”

There was a silence. Sensing Ka’s rebuke, Blue glared at him with hatred. “The Jews are the most oppressed people of our century,” he said, by way of recovery. “Before I change a word of my statement, I want to know more about this Hans Hansen. How did you meet him?”

“Through a Turkish friend who told me that the Frankfurter Rundschau was going to publish a news analysis on Turkey and that the commentator wanted to speak to someone familiar with the background.” “So why didn’t Hans Hansen take his questions to this friend of yours? Why did he need to speak to you as well?”

“That particular Turkish friend didn’t have as much background knowledge of these things as I did.”

“Let me guess what these things might be,” said Blue. “Torture, brutality, foul prison conditions, and various other things that make us look even worse.”

“Perhaps around that time some religious high school students in Malatya had killed an atheist,” said Ka.

“I don’t remember hearing about any such event,” said Blue. He was watching Ka carefully. “It is deplorable when Islamists go on television to boast about killing just one poor atheist, but it is just as appalling when Orientalists seek to vilify the Islamists by running news reports that augment the death toll to ten or fifteen. If Mr. Hans Hansen is one of these people, let’s forget him.”

“All Hans Hansen did was ask me a few questions about the EU and Turkey. I answered his questions. A week later he called me up and invited me to his house for dinner.”

“Just like that—without giving any reason?”

“Yes.”

“That’s very suspicious. What did you see while you were in his house? Did he introduce you to his wife?”

Ka looked at Kadife, seated beside the fully drawn curtains and staring at him intensely.

“Hans Hansen has a lovely happy family,” said Ka. “One evening, after the paper was put to bed, Mr. Hansen picked me up from the Bahnhof. A half hour later, we arrived at a beautiful bright house set inside a garden. They were very kind to me. We ate roast chicken and potatoes.

His wife boiled the potatoes first and then roasted them in the oven.” “What was his wife like?”

Ka conjured up the image of Hans Hansen, the Kaufhof salesman who had sold him his precious coat. “Hans Hansen is blond and handsome and broad-shouldered; his wife, Ingeborg, and his children have the same blond beauty.”

“Did you see a cross on the wall?”

“I don’t remember. I don’t think so.”

“There was a cross, but you probably didn’t notice,” said Blue. “Contrary to what our own Europe-admiring atheists assume, all European intellectuals take their religion and their crosses very seriously. But when our guys return to Turkey, they never mention this, because all they want to do is use the technological supremacy of the West to prove the superiority of atheism. . . . Tell me what you saw, what you spoke about.” “Although he works on the foreign news desk of the Frankfurter Rund schau, Hans Hansen is a lover of literature. The conversation soon turned to poetry. We talked about poems, countries, stories. I lost all sense of time.”

“Did they pity you? Did their hearts go out to you because you were a miserable Turk, a lonely destitute political exile, the sort of Turkish nobody that drunken German youths beat up just for the fun of it?” “I don’t know. No one was putting pressure on me.”

“Even if they did put pressure on you and tell you how they pitied you, it is human nature to seek pity. There are thousands of Turkish-Kurdish intellectuals in Germany who’ve turned that pity into a livelihood.” “Hans Hansen’s family—his children—they’re good people. They were refined, kindhearted. It’s possible that they were too refined to let me know how much they pitied me. I liked them a lot. Even if they did pity me, I wouldn’t hold it against them.”

“In other words, this situation didn’t crush your pride.” “It’s possible that it did hurt my pride, but I still had a lovely evening.

The lamps on the side tables cast an orange glow that I found very comforting. The knives and forks were a make I’d never seen before, but they weren’t so unusual that you felt uneasy using them. The television was on all evening, and from time to time they’d glance in its direction, and this too made me feel at home. Sometimes, when they saw I was having a hard time understanding their German, they’d switch to English. After we finished eating, the children asked their father for help with their homework; when they sent their children to bed, they kissed them. By the time the meal was over, they had made me feel so welcome that I helped myself to a second slice of cake and no one noticed—or if they did notice, they acted as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I thought about all this a great deal afterward.”

“What sort of cake was it?” asked Kadife.

“It was a Viennese torte with figs and chocolate.”

There was a silence.

“What color were the curtains?” Kadife asked. “What sort of design did they have?”

“They were off-white or cream-colored,” said Ka. He tried to look as if he were struggling to conjure up a distant memory. “I seem to remember their having little fishes on them, and flowers, and moons, and fruits of every color.”

“In other words, the sort of material you buy for children?” “Not really. The atmosphere in this house was very serious. Let me say this: They were a happy family, but that didn’t mean they were flashing smiles every other minute, as we do here even when there’s nothing to smile about. Maybe this is why they were happy. For them life was a serious business to be dealt with responsibly. It wasn’t a dead-end struggle or a painful ordeal the way it is here. But their gravity of purpose permeated every aspect of their lives. Just as the moons and fishes and suchlike on their curtains helped lift their spirits.”

“What color was the tablecloth?” asked Kadife.

“I can’t remember,” said Ka, pretending to dredge his memory for more details.

“And how many times did you go there?” asked Blue with faint annoyance.

“I had such a lovely time that night that I was very much hoping for a second visit. But Hans Hansen never invited me again.”

The dog on the chain in the courtyard was barking louder now. Ka saw melancholy in Kadife’s face as Blue glared at him with angry contempt.

“There were many times when I thought I should call them,” he continued obstinately. “Sometimes I wondered whether Hans Hansen might have called at a time I wasn’t home to invite me to supper again, and whenever I had this thought it was hard to keep myself from leaving the library and running home. I so longed for another look at that beautiful dresser with the mirror behind the shelves, and those chairs—I’ve forgotten what color they were; they may have been lemon yellow. I dreamed of sitting at their table again as they cut bread on the wooden board and they would turn to ask me, ‘Is this how you like it?’—as you know, the Europeans don’t eat as much bread as we do. There were no crosses on their walls, just beautiful scenes from the Alps. I would have given anything to see all this again.”

Ka now saw that Blue was eyeing him with open revulsion.

“Three months later, a friend brought me news from Turkey,” said Ka. “It concerned a horrifying new wave of torture, brutality, and destruction, and I used this as an excuse to call Hans Hansen. He listened to me carefully and again he was very refined and courteous. A small item appeared in the paper. I didn’t care about the torture and death that was reported. All I wanted was for Hans Hansen to call me. But he never called me again. From time to time I played with the idea of writing him a letter, to find out what I had done wrong, to ask him why he’d never invited me back to his house.”

Ka allowed himself a smile, even as Blue grew more visibly tense. “Well, now you have a new excuse to call him,” he said contemptuously.

“But if you want your statement to appear in his newspaper, you’re going to have to meet German standards and prepare a joint document,” Ka said.

“Who is this Kurdish nationalist who’s going to help me with this joint document, and where am I going to find a liberal ex-Communist?” “If you’re worried that they might turn out to be working for the police, you can suggest the names yourself,” said Ka.

“Without a doubt, an atheist Kurdish nationalist is worth more to the Western journalist than an Islamic Kurdish nationalist. There are many Kurdish youths up in arms over what’s happened to the religious high school boys. A young student might just as well represent the Kurds in our statement.”

“Fine. If you can arrange for a young student,” said Ka, “I can guarantee that the Frankfurter Rundschau will accept him.” “Yes, of course,” said Blue sarcastically. “You’re our ambassador to the West.”

Ka did not rise to the bait. “As for the Communist-turned-newdemocrat, your best man is Turgut Bey.” “My father?” said Kadife, with alarm.

When Ka said yes, Kadife warned him that her father never went outside the hotel. They all began to talk at once. Blue insisted that, like all old Communists, Turgut Bey was not really a democrat; he was most probably quite pleased about the coup because it was hammering the Islamists, but he didn’t want to give the left a bad name, so he was pretending the coup was wrong.

“My father’s not the only pretender!” said Kadife.

From the trembling in her voice and the way Blue’s eyes flashed with anger, Ka could tell that they had arrived at the threshold of an argument these two had had many times before, like so many couples worn down by constant quarreling, with hardly the strength to hide their differences from outsiders. Kadife had that determined look of a mistreated woman who’s decided she’s going to answer back, no matter what the cost, while Blue’s expression was a mixture of pride and extraordinary tenderness.

But then, in the space of a moment, everything changed. What he now saw in Blue’s eyes was resolve.

“Like all atheist poseurs and Europe-loving leftist intellectuals, your father is a pretender with a contempt for the people.”

Kadife picked up the ERSIN ELECTRIC ashtray and shot it at Blue. She may have missed on purpose: The ashtray hit the picture of Venice hanging on the wall behind him before falling noiselessly to the floor.

“And furthermore,” said Blue, “your father likes to pretend that his daughter is not the secret mistress of a radical Islamist.”

Kadife beat her two hands lightly against Blue’s chest and then burst into tears; Blue sat her down on the chair in the corner. They were carrying on in such a contrived way that Ka could not help feeling it was all so much theater staged expressly for his benefit.

“Take back what you said,” Kadife said.

“I take back what I said,” said Blue. It was the voice you’d use to comfort a crying child. “And to prove this to you, I’m prepared to ignore the impious jokes your father makes morning and night and sign a joint bulletin with him. But since it’s just possible that this representative of Hans Hansen we have here”—he paused to smile at Ka—“since it’s just possible he might be trying to lure us into a trap, I’m not going to come to your hotel. Do you understand, darling?”

“But my father never leaves the hotel,” said Kadife. To Ka’s dismay, she was talking like a spoiled little girl. “The poverty of Kars ruins his mood.”

“Then you must convince your father for once to go out, Kadife,” said Ka, in a commanding tone he had never used with her before. “The city won’t depress him now—it’s all covered with snow.” He looked straight into her eyes.

This time Kadife read his meaning. “All right,” she said. “But before he leaves the hotel, someone has to convince him to put his name to the same document with an Islamist and a Kurdish nationalist. Who’s going to do this?”

“I will,” said Ka, “and you can help me.”

“Where are they going to meet?” Kadife asked. “What if this nonsense ends with my poor father getting arrested? What if he has to spend the rest of his life in prison?”

“This isn’t nonsense,” said Blue. “If there are one or two news items in the European press, Ankara will whisper into a few ears and stop them.”

“This is not about planting a news item in the European press, it’s about getting your name in print, isn’t it?” Kadife asked.

When Blue met this question with a sweetly tolerant smile, Ka felt a certain respect for him. It was only now he realized that the little Islamist papers in Istanbul would seize upon any mention in the Frankfurter Rund schau and proudly exaggerate it. This would make Blue famous throughout Turkey. There was a long silence. Kadife took out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes. Ka imagined that as soon as he was gone, these lovers would quarrel and make love. Did they want him to leave? High in the sky, a plane was passing. They all raised their eyes to the upper panes of the window, staring at the sky and listening.

“Actually, planes never fly over here,” said Kadife.

“Something very strange is going on, something extraordinary,” said Blue, chuckling at his own paranoia. He took offense when Ka chuckled too. “They say that even when the temperature is way below minus twenty, the government will never admit it’s ever any colder.” He glared at Ka defiantly.

“All I ever wanted was a normal life,” said Kadife.

“You’ve thrown away your chance for a normal life,” said Blue. “This is what makes you such an exceptional person.”

“But I don’t want to be exceptional. I want to be like everyone else. If it weren’t for the coup, who knows? I might even decide to be like everyone else and pull off my scarf.” “All the women here wear scarves,” said Blue.

“That’s not true. Most educated women of my background and education don’t cover their heads. If it’s a question of being ordinary and fitting in, I’ve certainly distanced myself from my peers by wearing a head scarf.

There’s a prideful element in this that I’m not at all happy about.” “Then go ahead and uncover your head tomorrow,” said Blue. “People will see it as a triumph for the junta.” “Everyone knows that, unlike you, I don’t live my life wondering what people think of it,” said Kadife. Her face was pink with excitement.

Blue responded with another sweet smile, but this time Ka could tell that it took every bit of strength he had. And Blue knew that Ka had seen this: It created an awkward intimacy between them and made Ka feel as if he had invaded the couple’s privacy. As he listened to Kadife harangue her lover, and as he caught the undertones of desire, it seemed to him that she was dragging out their dirty linen deliberately—not just to tax Blue but also to embarrass Ka for having witnessed it. And, one might well ask, why did he choose this moment to remember the love letters from Necip to Kadife that he had been carrying around in his pocket since last night?

“As for girls who’ve been roughed up and thrown out of school for wearing head scarves, we can be sure there’ll be no mention of them in these articles.” Her tone matched the blind fury in her eyes. “They’ll pass right over the women whose lives have been ruined and instead we’ll get pictures of the cautious provincial Islamist simpletons who presume to speak in their name. Whenever you do see a picture of a Muslim woman, it’s because her husband is a politician and she happens to be standing next to him during a religious festival. For this reason I’d be more upset to appear in those papers than not to appear. I pity these men wasting so much effort to gain exposure themselves while we endure so much to protect our privacy. That’s why I think it’s important to mention the girls who’ve committed suicide. Come to think of it, I have the right to tell Hans Hansen a thing or two myself.”

“That would be excellent,” said Ka, without thinking. “You could sign as the representative of the Muslim feminists.”

“I have no wish to represent anyone,” said Kadife. “If I’m going to stand up to the Europeans, it will be on my own, to tell my own story— my whole story, with all my sins and my foibles. You know how sometimes you’ll meet someone you’ve never met before, someone you’re sure you’ll never see again, and you’re tempted to tell him everything, your whole life history? The way it seemed the heroes told their stories to the authors of the European novels I read when I was a girl. I wouldn’t mind telling my story like that to four or five Europeans.”

There was an explosion that sounded very close by; the whole house shook and the windows clattered. A second or two later, both Blue and Ka rose to their feet.

“Let me take a look,” said Kadife finally, seeming the most coldblooded of the three.

Ka peeked timidly through the curtains. “The carriage isn’t there,” he said.

“It’s dangerous for him to stand too long in this courtyard,” said Blue. “When you leave, you’ll be going through the side entrance.” Ka took this to mean Why don’t you leave now? yet he remained still in his seat and waited, as he and Blue exchanged hateful looks. Ka remembered the fear he’d felt at university whenever he’d cross paths in dark empty hallways with armed students of the extreme nationalist variety, but at least in those days there’d been no sexual undercurrent to the exchange.

“I can be a little paranoid sometimes,” said Blue. “But this doesn’t mean you’re not a spy for the West. You may know you’re not a spy, and you may have no desire to be one, but it doesn’t change the situation. You’re the stranger in our midst. You’ve sown doubt in this lovely and devout girl, and the strange things going on around her are the proof.

And now you’ve aired all your smug Western views, probably even having a few laughs deep down inside at our expense. I don’t mind, and neither does Kadife, but by inflicting your own naïve ideas on us, by rhapsodizing about the Western pursuit of happiness and justice, you’ve clouded our thinking. I’m not angry at you, because, like all good people, you are not aware of the evil inside you. But having heard it from me, you can’t claim to be an innocent from now on.”

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