فصل 03

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فصل 03

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CHAPTER THREE

Give Your Vote to God’s Party

poverty and history

Raised in Istanbul amid the middle-class comforts of Ni¸ santa¸s—a lawyer for a father, a housewife for a mother, a beloved sister, a devoted maid, rooms full of furniture, a radio, curtains—Ka knew nothing of poverty; it was something beyond the house, in another world.

Shrouded in a dangerous and impenetrable darkness, this other world took on a metaphysical charge in Ka’s childhood imagination. And so it may be hard to understand that Ka’s sudden decision to travel to Kars was at least partly motivated by a desire to return to his childhood.

Returning to Istanbul after twelve years in Frankfurt, looking up old friends and revisiting the streets and shops and cinemas they’d shared as children, he found almost nothing he recognized; if they hadn’t been torn down, they’d lost their souls. As for Kars, though he’d been living abroad for some time, Ka was still aware of it as the poorest, most overlooked corner of Turkey. For this reason, he may have been taken by a desire to look farther afield for childhood and purity: If the world he knew in Istanbul was no longer to be found, his journey to Kars can be seen as an attempt to step outside the boundaries of his middle-class childhood, to venture at long last into the other world beyond. In fact, when he found the shop windows in Kars displaying things that he remembered from his childhood, things you never saw in Istanbul anymore—Gislaved gym shoes, Vesuv stoves, and (the first thing any child learned about Kars) those round boxes of the city’s famous processed cheese divided into six wedges, he felt happy enough even to forget the suicide girls: Kars brought him that peace of mind he once knew.

1819

Around noon, after Serdar Bey and he had parted, he met with spokesmen for the People’s Equality Party and for the Azeris, and after these interviews were over he stepped out again into the flurry of snowflakes— how large they were!—to take a solitary stroll through the city. Passing the barking dogs of Atatürk Avenue, he moved with sad determination toward the city’s poorest neighborhoods, through a silence broken only by more barking dogs. As the snow covered the steep mountains no longer visible in the distance, covered the Seljuk castle and the shanties that sprawled among the ruins, it seemed to have swept everything off to another world, a world beyond time; when it occurred to him that he might be the only person to have noticed, his eyes filled with tears. He passed a park in Yusuf Pa¸sa that was full of dismantled swings and broken slides; next to it was an open lot where a group of teenage boys were playing football. The high lampposts of the coal depot gave them just enough light, and Ka stopped for a while to watch them. As he listened to them, shouting and cursing and skidding in the snow, and gazed at the white sky and the pale yellow glow of the streetlights, the desolation and remoteness of the place hit him with such force that he felt God inside him.

It was less a certainty than a faint image at this point, like struggling to remember a particular picture after taking a swift tour through the galleries of a museum. You try to conjure up the painting only to lose it again. It wasn’t the first time Ka had had this sensation.

Ka had grown up in a secular republican family and had had no religious teaching outside school. Although he’d had similar visions on occasion over the past few years, they had caused him no anxiety, nor had they inspired any poetic impulse. At most he would feel happy that the world was such a beautiful thing to behold.

When he returned to his hotel room for a bit of warmth and rest, he spent some time leafing happily through the histories of Kars he had brought with him from Istanbul, confusing what he read with the stories he had been hearing all day and with the tales from childhood that these books brought to mind.

Once upon a time in Kars, there had been a large and prosperous middle class, and although it had been far removed from Ka’s own world it had engaged in all the rituals Ka remembered from childhood; there had been great balls in those mansions, festivities that went on for days.

Kars was an important station on the trade route to Georgia, Tabriz, and the Caucasus; being on the border between two empires now defunct, the Ottoman and the Russian, the mountain city also benefited from the protection of the standing armies each power had in turn placed in Kars for that purpose. During the Ottoman period, many different peoples had made Kars their home. There had been a large Armenian community; it no longer existed, but its thousand-year-old churches still stood in all their splendor. Many Persians fleeing first the Moghul and later the Iranian armies had settled in Kars over the years; there were Greeks with roots going back to the Byzantine and Pontus periods; there were also Georgians and Kurds and Circassians from various tribes. Some of the Muslims were driven out when the Russian army took possession of the city’s five-hundred-year-old castle in 1878, and thereafter the pasha’s mansions and hamams and the Ottoman buildings on the slopes below the castle fell into decay. Kars was still prosperous and diverse when the czar’s architects went to work along the southern bank of the Kars River, and soon they had built a thriving new city defined by five perfectly straight parallel avenues and by streets that intersected these avenues at right angles, something never before seen in the East. Czar Alexander came here for the hunting—and to meet secretly with his mistress. To the Russians, Kars was a gateway to the south and to the Mediterranean, and with an eye to controlling the trade routes running through it they invested a great deal in civic projects. These were the things that had so impressed Ka during his stay twenty years earlier. The streets and the large cobblestone pavements, the plane trees and the oleanders that had been planted after the founding of the Turkish Republic—these gave the city a melancholy air unknown in Ottoman cities, whose wooden houses burned down during the years of nationalist struggle and tribal warfare.

After endless wars, rebellions, massacres, and atrocity, the city was occupied by Armenian and Russian armies at different times and even, briefly, by the British. For a short time, when the Russian and Ottoman forces had left the city following the First World War, Kars was an independent state; in October 1920, the Turkish army entered under the command of Kâzım Karabekir, the general whose statue now stood in Station Square. This new generation of Turks made the most of the grand plan initiated by the czar’s architects forty-three years earlier: The culture that the Russians brought to Kars now fit perfectly with the Republic’s westernizing project. But when it came to renaming the five great Russian avenues, they couldn’t think of enough great men from the city’s history who weren’t soldiers, so they ended up memorializing five great pashas.

These were the city’s westernizing years, as Muzaffer Bey, the ex mayor from the People’s Party, related with both pride and anger. He talked about the great balls in the civic centers, and the skating competitions held under the now rusty and ruined wrought-iron bridges Ka had crossed during his morning walk. When a theater company from Ankara came to perform Oedipus Rex, the Kars bourgeoisie received them with great enthusiasm, even though less than twenty years had passed since the war with Greece. The elderly rich in coats with fur collars would go out for rides on sleighs pulled by hearty Hungarian horses adorned with roses and silver tassels. At the National Gardens, balls were held under the acacia trees to support the football team, and the people of Kars would dance the latest dances as pianos, accordions, and clarinets were played in the open air. In summertime, girls could wear short-sleeved dresses and ride bicycles through the city without being bothered. Many lycée students who glided to school on ice skates expressed their patriotic fervor by sporting bow ties. In his youth, Muzaffer Bey had been one of them, and when as a lawyer he eagerly returned to the city to run for office, he took to wearing them again; his party associates warned him that this fashion was a vote-loser, likely to inspire people to dismiss him as the worst sort of poseur, but Muzaffer Bey paid no mind

Now they were lost, those endless cold winters, and to listen to Muzaffer Bey it was as if this explained the city’s plunge into destitution, depression, and decay. Having described the beauty of those winters— dwelling in particular on the powdered faces of the half-naked actors who had come all the way from Ankara to perform Greek plays—the old mayor went on to tell how in the late forties he himself had invited a youth group to perform a revolutionary play in the civic center. “This work tells of the awakening of a young girl who has spent her life enveloped in a black scarf,” he said. “In the end she pulls it off and burns it.” In the late forties they’d had to search the entire city for a black scarf to use in the play; in the end they had had to phone Erzurum to ask for one to be sent. “Now the streets of Kars are filled with young women in head scarves of every kind,” Muzaffer Bey added. “And because they’ve been barred from their classes for flaunting this symbol of political Islam, they’ve begun committing suicide.”

Ka refrained from asking questions, as he would for the rest of his stay in Kars whenever anyone mentioned the rise of political Islam or the head-scarf question. He also refrained from asking why it was, if indeed not a single head scarf could be had in Kars in the late forties, that a group of fiery youths had felt compelled to stage a revolutionary play urging women not to cover their heads. During his long walks through the city that day, Ka had paid little attention to the head scarves he saw and didn’t attempt to distinguish the political kind from any other; having been back in the country for only a week, he had not yet acquired the secular intellectual’s knack of detecting political motive when seeing a covered woman in the street. But it is also true that, since childhood, he had scarcely been in the habit of noticing covered women. In the westernized upper-middle-class circles of the young Ka’s Istanbul, a covered woman would have been someone who had come in from the suburbs— from the Kartal vineyards, say—to sell grapes. Or she might be the milkman’s wife or someone else from the lower classes.

In time, I was also to hear many stories about former owners of the Snow Palace Hotel, where Ka was staying. One was a West-leaning professor whom the czar had exiled to Kars (a gentler option than Siberia); another was an Armenian in the cattle trade; subsequently the building housed a Greek orphanage. The first owner had equipped the 110-year-old structure with the sort of heating system typical of so many houses built in Kars at that time: a stove set behind the walls to radiate heat to four surrounding rooms. It was not until Kars had become part of the Turkish Republic and the building had its first Turkish owner that it was converted to a hotel, but, being unable to figure out how to operate the Russian heating system, that owner installed a big brass stove beside the door opening onto the courtyard. Only much later was he converted to the merits of central heating.

Ka was lying on his bed with his coat on, lost in daydreams, when there was a knock on the door; he jumped up to answer it. It was Cavit, the desk clerk who spent his days beside the stove watching television; he had come to tell Ka something he had forgotten when Ka came in.

“I forgot to tell you. Serdar Bey, owner of the Border City Gazette, wants to see you immediately.”

Downstairs, Ka was about to walk out of the lobby when he was

stopped dead in his tracks; just at that moment, coming through the door behind the reception desk, was Ipek. He’d forgotten how beautiful she was ˙ during their university days, and now, suddenly reminded, he felt slightly nervous in her presence. Yes, exactly—that’s how beautiful she was. First they shook hands in the manner of the westernized Istanbul bourgeoisie, but after a moment’s hesitation they moved their heads forward, embracing without quite letting their bodies touch, and kissed on the cheeks.

“I knew you were coming,” Ipek said, as she stepped back. Ka was ˙ surprised to hear her speaking so openly. “Taner called to tell me.” She looked straight into Ka’s eyes when she said this.

“I came to report on the municipal elections and the suicide girls.” “How long are you staying?” asked Ipek. “I’m busy with my father ˙ right now, but there’s a place called the New Life Pastry Shop, right next door to the Hotel Asia. Let’s meet there at half past one. We can catch up then.”

If they’d run into each other in Istanbul—somewhere in Beyo˘ glu, say—this would have been a normal conversation: it was because it was happening in Kars that Ka felt so strange. He was unsure how much of his agitation had to do with Ipek’s beauty. After walking through the ˙ snow for some time, Ka found himself thinking, I’m so glad I bought this coat!

On the way to the newspaper office, his heart revealed a thing or two that his mind refused to accept: First, in returning to Istanbul from Frankfurt for the first time in twelve years, Ka’s purpose was not simply to attend his mother’s funeral but also to find a Turkish girl to make his wife; second, it was because he secretly hoped that this girl might be Ipek ˙ that he had traveled all the way from Istanbul to Kars.

If a close friend had suggested this second possibility, Ka would never have forgiven him; its truth would cause Ka guilt and shame for the rest of his life. Ka, you see, was one of those moralists who believe that the greatest happiness comes from never doing anything for the sake of personal happiness. On top of that, he did not think it appropriate for an educated, westernized, literary man like himself to go in search of marriage to someone he hardly knew. In spite of this, he felt quite content when he arrived at the Border City Gazette. This was because his first meeting with Ipek—the thing he had been dreaming of from the moment he ˙ stepped on the bus in Istanbul—had gone much better than he could have predicted.

The Border City Gazette was on Faikbey Avenue, one street down from Ka’s hotel, and its offices and printing facilities took up only slightly more space than Ka’s small hotel room. It was a two-room affair with a wooden partition on which were displayed portraits of Atatürk, calendars, sample business cards and wedding invitations (a printing sideline), and photographs of the owner with important government officials and other famous Turks who had paid visits to Kars. There was also a framed copy of the newspaper’s first issue, published forty years before. In the background was the reassuring sound of the press’s swinging treadle; 110 years old, it was manufactured in Leipzig by the Baumann Company for its first owners in Hamburg. After working it for a quarter century, they sold it to a newspaper in Istanbul (this was in 1910, during the free press period following the establishment of the second constitutional monarchy). In 1955—just as it was about to be sold off as scrap—Serdar Bey’s dear departed father bought the press and shipped it to Kars.

Ka found Serdar Bey’s twenty-two-year-old son moistening his finger with spit, about to feed a clean sheet into the machine with his right hand while skillfully removing the printed paper with his left; the collection basket had been broken during an argument with his younger brother eleven years earlier. But even performing the complex maneuver, he was able to wave hello to Ka. Serdar Bey’s second son was seated before a jet-black table, its top divided into countless small compartments and surrounded by rows of lead letters, molds, and plates. The elder son resembled his father, but when Ka looked at the younger he saw the slant-eyed, moon-faced, short, fat mother. Hand-setting advertisements for the issue due out in three days, this boy showed the painstaking patience of a calligrapher who has renounced the world for his art.

“So now you see what difficult conditions we in the Eastern Anatolian press have to work under,” said Serdar Bey.

At that very moment, the electricity went off. As the printing press whirred to a halt and the shop fell into an enchanted darkness, Ka was struck by the beautiful whiteness of the snow falling outside.

“How many copies did you print?” Serdar Bey asked. Lighting a candle, he sat Ka down on a chair in the front office.

“I’ve done a hundred and sixty, baba.”

“When the electricity comes back on, bring it up to three hundred and forty. Our sales are bound to increase, what with the visiting theater company.”

The Border City Gazette was sold at only one outlet, just across from the National Theater, and this outlet sold on average twenty copies of each edition; including subscriptions, the paper’s circulation was 320, a fact that inspired not a little pride in Serdar Bey. Of these, 240 went to government offices and places of business; Serdar Bey was often obliged to report on their achievements. The other 80 went to “honest and important people of influence” who had moved to Istanbul but still maintained their links with the city.

When the electricity came back on, Ka noticed an angry vein popping out of Serdar Bey’s forehead.

“After you left us, you had meetings with the wrong people, and these people told you the wrong things about our border city,” said Serdar Bey.

“How could you know where I’ve been?” asked Ka.

“Naturally, the police were following you,” said the newspaperman.

“And for professional reasons, we listen in on police communication with this transistor radio. Ninety percent of the news we print comes from the office of the governor and the Kars police headquarters. The entire police force knows you have been asking everyone why Kars is so backward and poor and why so many of its young women are committing suicide.” Ka had heard quite a few explanations as to why Kars had fallen into such destitution. Business with the Soviet Union had fallen off during the Cold War, some said. The customs stations on the border had shut down.

Communist guerillas who had plagued the city during the 1970s had chased the money away. The rich had pulled out what capital they could and moved to Istanbul and Ankara. The nation had turned its back on Kars, and so had God. And one must not forget Turkey’s never-ending disputes with bordering Armenia. . . .

“I’ve decided to tell you the real story,” said Serdar Bey.

With a clarity of mind and an optimism he hadn’t felt in years, Ka saw at once that the heart of the matter was shame. It had been for him too, during his years in Germany, but he’d hidden the shame from himself. It was only now, having found hope for happiness, that he felt strong enough to admit the truth.

“In the old days we were all brothers,” said Serdar Bey. He spoke as if betraying a secret. “But in the last few years, everyone started saying, I’m an Azeri, I’m a Kurd, I’m a Terekemian. Of course we have people here from all nations. The Terekemians, whom we also call the Karakalpaks, are the Azeris’ brothers. As for the Kurds, whom we prefer to think of as a tribe: In the old days, they didn’t even know they were Kurds. And it was that way through the Ottoman period: None of the people who chose to stay went around beating their chests and crying, ‘We are the Ottomans!’ The Turkmens, the Posof Laz, the Germans who had been exiled here by the czar—we had them all, but none took any pride in proclaiming them selves different. It was the Communists and their Tiflis Radio who spread tribal pride, and they did it because they wanted to divide and destroy Turkey. Now everyone is prouder—and poorer.”

When he was confident that his point was not lost on Ka, Serdar Bey moved on to another subject.

“As for these Islamists, they go from door to door in groups, paying house visits; they give women pots and pans, and those machines that squeeze oranges, and boxes of soap, cracked wheat, and detergent. They concentrate on the poor neighborhoods; they ingratiate themselves with the women; they bring out hooked needles and sew gold thread onto the children’s shoulders to protect them against evil. They say, ‘Give your vote to the Prosperity Party, the party of God; we’ve fallen into this destitution because we’ve wandered off the path of God.’ The men talk to the men, the women talk to the women. They win the trust of the angry and humiliated unemployed; they sit with their wives, who don’t know where the next meal is coming from, and they give them hope; promising more gifts, they get them to promise their votes in return. We’re not just talking about the lowest of the low. Even people with jobs—even tradesmen— respect them, because these Islamists are more hardworking, more honest, more modest than anyone else.” The owner of the Border City Gazette went on to say that the recently assassinated mayor had been universally despised. It was not because this man, having decided the city’s horses and carriages were too oldfashioned, had tried to ban them. (To no avail, as it turned out; once he was dead, the plan was abandoned.) No, Serdar Bey insisted, the people of Kars had hated this mayor because he took bribes and lacked direction. But the republican parties on both the right and the left had failed to capitalize on this hatred; divided as they were by blood feuds, ethnic issues, and other destructive rivalries, they had failed to come up with a single viable candidate of their own. “The only candidate the people trust is the one who is running for God’s party,” said Serdar Bey. “And that candidate is Muhtar Bey, the ex-husband of Ipek Hanım, whose father ˙ Turgut Bey owns your hotel. Muhtar’s not very bright, but he’s a Kurd, and the Kurds make up forty percent of our population. The new mayor will belong to God’s party.”

Outside, the snow was falling thicker and faster than ever; just the sight of it made Ka feel lonely. He was also worried that the westernized world he had known as a child might be coming to an end. When he was in Istanbul, he had returned to the streets of his childhood, looking for the elegant old buildings where his friends had lived, buildings dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century, but he found that many of them had been destroyed. The trees of his childhood had withered or been chopped down; the cinemas, shuttered for ten years, still stood there, surrounded by rows of dark, narrow clothing stores. It was not just the world of his childhood that was dying; it was his dream of returning to Turkey one day to live. If Turkey were taken over by a fundamentalist Islamist government, he now thought, his own sister would be unable to go outside without covering her head The neon sign of the Border City Gazette had created a small pocket of light in the darkness outside; the giant snowflakes wafting slowly through the glow were the stuff of fairy tales, and as Ka watched them continue to fall, he had a vision of himself with Ipek in Frankfurt: They were in the ˙ same Kaufhof where he had bought the charcoal-gray coat he now wrapped so tightly around him; they were shopping together on the second floor, in the women’s shoe section. . . .

“This is the work of the international Islamist movement that wants to turn Turkey into another Iran,” Serdar Bey said.

“Is it the same with the suicide girls?” Ka asked, turning from the window.

“We’re now gathering denunciations from people who say what a shame it was that these girls were so badly deceived, but because we don’t want to put more pressure on other young women, thus perhaps driving more of them to suicide, we haven’t yet printed any of the statements.

They say that Blue, the infamous Islamist terrorist, is in our city, to advise the covered girls—and the suicidal ones, too.”

“Aren’t Islamists against suicide?”

Serdar Bey did not answer this question. The printing press stopped and a silence fell over the room. Ka returned his gaze to the miraculous snow. The knowledge that he was soon to see Ipek was making him ˙ nervous. The problems of Kars were a welcome distraction, but all he wanted now was to think about Ipek and prepare for their meeting at the ˙ pastry shop; it was twenty past one.

With a pomp and ceremony befitting some precious handmade gift,

Serdar Bey presented Ka with a copy of the front page that his huge older son had just printed. Ka’s eyes, accustomed to scanning for his name in literary journals, were quick to spot the item in the corner: KA, OUR CELEBRATED POET, COMES TO KARS

KA, the celebrated poet whose fame now spreads throughout

Turkey, has come to pay a visit to our border city. He first won the appreciation of the entire country with two collections entitled Ashes and Tangerines and The Evening Papers. Our young poet, who is also the winner of the Behcet Necatigil Prize, has come to Kars to cover the municipal elections for the Republican. For many years, KA has been studying Western poetry in Frankfurt.

“My name is printed wrong,” said Ka. “The A should be lowercase.” He regretted saying this. “But it looks good,” he added, as if to make up for his bad manners.

“My dear sir, it was because we weren’t sure of your name that we tried to get in touch with you,” said Serdar Bey. “Son, look here, you printed our poet’s name wrong.” But as he scolded the boy there was no surprise in his voice. Ka guessed that he was not the first to have noticed that his name had been misprinted. “Fix it right now.”

“There’s no need,” said Ka. At the same moment, he saw his name printed correctly in the last paragraph of the new lead item.

NIGHT OF TRIUMPH FOR THE SUNAY ZAIM

PLAYERS AT THE NATIONAL THEATER

The Sunay Zaim Theatrical Company, which is known throughout

Turkey for its theatrical tributes to Atatürk, the Republic, and the Enlightenment, performed to a rapt and enthusiastic audience at the National Theater yesterday evening. The performance, which went on until the middle of the night and was attended by the deputy governor, the mayoral candidate, and the leading citizens of Kars, was punctuated by thunderous clapping and applause. The people of

Kars, who have long been thirsting for an artistic feast of this caliber, were able to watch not just from the packed auditorium but also from the surrounding houses. Kars Border Television worked tirelessly to organize this first live broadcast in its two-year history so that all of Kars would be able to watch the splendid performance.

Although it still does not own a live-transmission vehicle, Kars Border Television was able to stretch a cable from its headquarters in Halitpa¸sa Avenue the length of two streets to the camera at the National Theater. Such was the feeling of goodwill among the citizens of Kars that some residents were kind enough to take the cable into their houses to avoid snow damage. (For example, our very own dentist, Fadıl Bey, and his family let them take the cable in through the window overlooking his front balcony and pass it into the gardens in the back.) The people of Kars now wish to have other opportunities to enjoy highly successful broadcasts of this order.

The management of Kars Border Television also announced that in the course of the city’s first live broadcast, all Kars workplaces had been so kind as to broadcast advertisements.

The show, which was watched by the entire population of our city, included republican vignettes, the most beautiful scenes from the most important artistic works of the Western Enlightenment,

theatrical sketches criticizing advertisements that aim to corrode our culture, the adventures of Vural, the celebrated goalkeeper, and poems in praise of Atatürk and the nation. Ka, the celebrated poet, who is now visiting our city, recited his latest poem, entitled “Snow.” The crowning event of the evening was a performance of My Fatherland or My Scarf, the enlightenment masterwork from the early years of the republic, in a new interpretation entitled My Fatherland or My Head Scarf.

“I don’t have a poem called ‘Snow,’ and I’m not going to the theater this evening. Your newspaper will look like it’s made a mistake.” “Don’t be so sure. There are those who despise us for writing the news before it happens. They fear us not because we are journalists but because we can predict the future; you should see how amazed they are when things turn out exactly as we’ve written them. And quite a few things do happen only because we’ve written them up first. This is what modern journalism is all about. I know you won’t want to stand in the way of our being modern—you don’t want to break our hearts—so that is why I am sure you will write a poem called ‘Snow’ and then come to the theater to read it.”

Scanning the rest of the paper—announcements of various campaign rallies, news of a vaccine from Erzurum that was now being administered in the city’s lycées, an upbeat article describing how all city residents were to be granted an additional two months to pay their water bills—Ka now noticed a news item he had missed earlier.

ALL ROADS TO KARS CLOSED

The snow that has been falling for two days has now cut all our city’s links to the outside world. The Ardahan Road closed yesterday morning, and the road to Sarıkamı¸ s was impassable by afternoon.

Due to excess snow and ice in the affected area, road closures forced a bus owned by the Yılmaz Company to return to Kars.

The weather office has announced that cold air coming straight from Siberia and the accompanying heavy snowfall will continue for three more days. And so for three days, the city of Kars will have to do as it used to do during the winters of old—stew in its own juices.

This will offer us an opportunity to put our house in order.

Just as Ka was standing up to leave, Serdar Bey jumped from his seat and held the door so as to be sure his last words were heard.

“As for Turgut Bey and his daughters, who knows what they’ll tell you?” he said. “They are educated people who entertain many friends like me in the evening, but don’t forget: Ipek Hanım’s ex-husband, Muhtar ˙ Bey, is the mayoral candidate for Party of God. Her father, Turgut Bey, is an old Communist. Her sister, who came here to complete her studies, is rumored to be the leader of the head-scarf girls. Imagine that! There is not a single person in Kars who has the slightest idea why they chose to come here during the worst days of the city four years ago.”

Ka’s heart sank as he took in this disturbing news, but he showed no emotion.

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