فصل 33

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فصل 33

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CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

A Godless Man in Kars

the fear of being shot

No sooner had Ka left the teahouse for the snow-covered pave ment than he came face-to-face with Muhtar. Muhtar wore the absentminded look of a man on a mission; when he first saw Ka through the swarm of giant snowflakes he didn’t seem to recognize him, and for a moment Ka was tempted to run away. Then they both rushed forward at once to embrace like long-lost friends.

“Did you pass my message on to Ipek?” ˙

“Yes.”

“What did she say? Come, let’s sit down in that teahouse over there, and you can tell me.”

In spite of the military coup, the beating at the police station, and the canceled election, Muhtar did not seem at all downcast.

Once they were seated, he said, “So why do you suppose they didn’t arrest me? Because when the snow melts, the roads open, and the soldiers are sent back to their barracks, they’ll set a new date for the elections, that’s why! Make sure you tell Ipek!” ˙

Ka assured him that he would pass on the message. Then he asked if there was any news of Blue.

“I’m the one who first summoned him to Kars. In the beginning he always stayed with me,” Muhtar told him proudly. “But after the Istanbul press branded him a terrorist, he didn’t want to put the party in a difficult position, so now when he comes to Kars he never gets in touch. I’m always the last to know what he’s up to. What did Ipek say when you ˙ passed on my message?”

Ka told Muhtar that Ipek had not seemed particularly interested in ˙ his proposal that they remarry. Muhtar impressed upon Ka what a sensitive, refined, and understanding woman his ex-wife was; he made the point as though disclosing very precious information. He went on to reiterate his regret for having treated her so badly during a difficult crisis in his life.

“When you get back to Istanbul, you’ll take the poems I gave you and deliver them by hand to Fahir, won’t you?” he asked next.

When Ka had given his word, Muhtar rearranged his face to take on the air of a sad and tenderhearted uncle. Ka’s embarrassment was already giving way to something halfway between pity and revulsion when Muhtar produced a newspaper from his pocket.

“If I were you, I wouldn’t be wandering the streets so casually,” Muhtar said pleasantly.

Ka grabbed the next day’s edition of the Border City Gazette, on which the ink wasn’t yet dry. He scanned the headlines—THEATRICAL REVOLUTIONARIES TAKE CITY BY STORM, HAPPY DAYS RETURN TO KARS, ELECTIONS POSTPONED, CITIZENS APPLAUD THE REVOLUTION—and turned his attention to the front-page article that Muhtar indicated: A GODLESS MAN IN KARS

QUESTIONS ASKED ABOUT KA,

THE SO-CALLED POET

WHY DID HE CHOOSE TO VISIT OUR

CITY IN SUCH TROUBLED TIMES?

YESTERDAY WE INTRODUCED THE SO-CALLED

POET TO THE PEOPLE OF KARS

TODAY WE REPORT THE SUSPICIONS HE HAS

AROUSED IN OUR READERS

We have been hearing many rumors about the so-called poet who

came close to ruining yesterday’s joyous performance by the Sunay Zaim Players when he strode onto the stage halfway through the celebrations of Atatürk and the Republic and robbed the audience of their happiness and their peace of mind by bombarding their ears with a joyless, meaningless poem.

Although the people of Kars once lived side by side in happy harmony, in recent years outside forces have turned brother against brother. Disputes between Islamists, secularists, Kurds, Turks, and Azeris drive us asunder for specious reasons and reawaken old accusations about the Armenian massacre that should have been buried long ago.

It is only natural that the people of Kars wonder whether this

suspicious character who fled Turkey many years ago and now lives in Germany has chosen to grace us with his company because he is some sort of spy. Can it be true that his efforts to provoke an incident at our religious high school resulted in his making the following statement to youths who engaged him in a conversation two days

ago? “I am an atheist. I don’t believe in God, but that doesn’t mean I’d commit suicide, because after all God—God forbid—doesn’t exist.” Can these be his exact words? And when he said, “An intellectual’s job is to speak against holiness,” was he denying God’s existence and—if so—was he expressing European views on freedom of thought?

Just because Germany is bankrolling you, that doesn’t mean you have the right to trample on our beliefs! Is it because you are ashamed of being a Turk that you hide your true name behind the fake foreign counterfeit name of Ka?

Many readers have telephoned our offices to express their regret about this godless imitation-European’s decision to stir up dissent in our city in these troubled times. They have voiced particular concern about the way in which he has wandered the shantytowns, knocking on the doors of the most wretched dwellings to incite rebellion against our state and indeed, even in our own presence, vainly

attempting to stick his tongue out at our country and even at the great Atatürk, Father of our Republic. The youth of Kars know how to deal with blasphemers who deny God and the Prophet Muhammad (SAS)!

“When I passed by their office twenty minutes ago, Serdar’s two sons had only just started printing this edition,” said Muhtar. Far from commiserating with his friend’s fears, he seemed cheerful, as if he had just introduced a pleasant new topic.

Reading the article more carefully a second time, Ka felt very much alone. Long ago, when he’d first dreamed of a glittering literary future, he had foreseen that the modernist innovations he would bring to Turkish poetry (the very concept now seemed excessively nationalist) would provoke harsh criticism and personal attack; still, he’d assumed that notoriety would at least confer a certain aura. Although he’d enjoyed a modest fame in the years since and had never been subject to harsh criticism, it hurt him to be referred to as a “so-called” poet.

After warning him not to wander the streets like a moving target, Muhtar left him alone at the teahouse. Ka was overtaken by the fear that he could be shot at any moment. He left the teahouse and wandered through the snow, lost in thought; the giant snowflakes that sailed down from the heavens so fast were moving with a speed to suggest bewitchment.

Early in his youth, Ka had firmly believed that there could be no higher honor than to die for an intellectual political cause or for what he had written. By his thirties, he’d seen too many of his friends and classmates tortured for the sake of foolish, even malign principles; then there were those who were shot dead in the attempt to rob banks and those who made bombs that wound up exploding in their hands. Seeing the havoc of his lofty ideas put into action, Ka deliberately distanced himself from them. Finally, the fact of having spent years and years of exile in Germany for political beliefs he no longer held had finally severed the connection between politics and self-sacrifice. Whenever he picked up a Turkish paper in Germany and read that this or that columnist had been shot for political reasons, “most probably by political Islamists,” he felt some respect for the victim as a dead man but no particular admiration for him as a murdered writer.

On the corner of Halitpa¸ sa and Kâzım Karabekir avenues, Ka saw a pipe protruding from an icy hole in a windowless wall, imagined it was the barrel of a gun aimed straight at him, and in his mind’s eye saw himself dying on the snow-covered pavement. What would they say about him in the Istanbul papers? Most likely the governor’s office or the local branch of the secret police would want to downplay the political dimension, and if the Istanbul press didn’t pick up on his having been a poet, they might not cover the incident at all. Even if his friends in the poetry world and at the Republican did everything in their power to publicize the political angle (and who would write that article? Fahir? Orhan?), it would only serve to diminish his literary significance. Similarly, if someone succeeded in placing a piece that established him as an important poet, his death would be reported on the arts pages, where no one would read about it. Had there really been a German journalist called Hans Hansen, and had Ka really been his friend, the Frankfurter Rundschau might have run a story about his murder, but it would be the only Western newspaper to do so. Ka took some consolation in imagining that his poems might be translated into German and published in Akzent magazine, but it was still perfectly clear to him that should this article in the Border City Gazette prove to be the death of him, the published translations would mean nothing. Finally, what frightened him most was the thought of dying just at the dawn of his hope of living happily ever after in Frankfurt with Ipek. ˙ The many writers killed in recent years by Islamist bullets paraded before his eyes: first the old preacher-turned-atheist who had tried to point out “inconsistencies” in the Koran (they’d shot him from behind, in the head); behind him came the righteous columnist whose love of positivism had led him to refer in a number of columns to girls wearing head scarves as “cockroaches” (they strafed him and his chauffeur one morning as he drove to work); then there was the investigative journalist who had tenaciously sought to uncover the links between the Turkish Islamist movement and Iran (when he turned on the ignition, he and his car went sailing into the sky). Even as he recalled these victims with tender sorrow, he knew they’d been naïve. As a rule the Istanbul press, like the Western press, had little interest in these fervent columnists and even less in journalists apt to get shot in the head for similar reasons on a backstreet of some remote Anatolian city. But Ka reserved his bile for a society that so easily forgot its writers and poets: For this reason he thought the smartest thing to do was retreat into a corner and try to find some happiness.

Arriving at the offices of the Border City Gazette on Faikbey Avenue, Ka looked up to see the next day’s edition taped to the back of the recently deiced window. He read the article about himself again, and then he went inside. The elder of Serdar Bey’s two busy sons was securing a pile of freshly printed papers with nylon twine. Ka took off his hat so they could see who he was and brushed off the snow sticking to the shoulders of his coat.

“My father’s not here.” This was the younger son, coming in from the other room with the cloth he’d been using to polish the press. “Would you like some tea?”

“Who wrote the article about me in tomorrow’s edition?”

“Is there an article about you in there?” said the younger son, raising his eyebrows.

“Yes, there is,” said the older son, giving him a warm and happy smile. He had the same thick lips as his brother. “My father wrote the whole edition today.”

“If you distribute this paper tomorrow morning . . .” said Ka. He paused to think. “It will be bad for me.”

“Why?” asked the older son. He had a soft kind face and pure, innocent eyes.

Ka saw that if he talked to them in a nice friendly voice and kept his questions short, the way you do with children, he could find out quite a bit from them. The brothers soon informed him that only three people had purchased the paper so far: Muhtar Bey, a child who’d been sent from the branch headquarters of the Motherland Party, and the retired literature teacher Nuriye Hanım, who made a habit of stopping by every evening. Normally they would have dispatched copies to Istanbul and Ankara, but because the roads were closed these papers would have to wait with today’s edition until the snow began to melt. The sons would be distributing the rest of the papers tomorrow morning, and if their father wished it, of course they could print a new edition for tomorrow; their father, they told Ka, had only just left the offices, telling them not to expect him back in time for dinner. Ka told them he wouldn’t stay for tea; he bought a copy of the paper and went out into the murderous Kars night.

The boys’ untroubled innocence had calmed him somewhat. As Ka walked among the slowly falling snowflakes, he began to feel guilty—had he been wrong to take such fright? But in another corner of his mind he knew he would share the fate of the other luckless writers who had died of multiple gunshot wounds after facing similar dilemmas and choosing, either out of pride or courage, to do nothing, or the many others who, assuming that any package from a stranger had to be an ardent fan’s gift of lokum, had died eagerly tearing open what would turn out to be a mail bomb.

There was, for example, the poet Nurettin, who admired all things European but took little interest in politics until the day a radical Islamist newspaper unearthed something he’d written years earlier—an essay on art and religion—and distorted it to charge that he’d “insulted our faith”; afraid of looking frightened, Nurettin dusted off his old ideas and passionately reasserted them; the army-backed secular press warmed to his fine Kemalist words and inflated their importance to make him seem the lifelong hero. Then one morning a device in a plastic bag hanging from the front tire of his car blew him into so many bits that his ostentatious throng of mourners had to march behind an empty coffin.

There was the small-town version too, the materialist doctors and the old leftist journalists of the regional papers who, when faced with similar indictments, responded with fiery antireligious rhetoric, just so no one could say they were cowards. Some perhaps even entertained vain hopes of attracting world attention “like Salman Rushdie,” but the only ones listening were the angry young fanatics in their own neighborhoods, and they had no time for the fancy bomb plots of their colleagues in the cities, or even for guns. As Ka knew only too well from the small lifeless news items he’d seen poring over the back pages of Turkish newspapers in the Frankfurt city library, they preferred to knife the godless in dark alleyways or strangle them with their bare hands.

Ka was still trying to figure out how to save both his skin and his pride if the Border City Gazette gave him a chance to reply—I’m an atheist but I’ve never insulted the Prophet? I’m not a believer but I’d never dream of disrespecting the faith?—when suddenly he heard someone tramping through the snow behind him; a chill went down his spine as he turned around to see it was the bus company manager he’d met yesterday at the same hour at His Excellency Sheikh Saadettin’s lodge. It occurred to him that this man could testify that he wasn’t an atheist; immediately the thought embarrassed him.

He continued dragging his feet down Atatürk Avenue, slowing down to negotiate the icy street corners and pausing from time to time to admire the huge snowflakes, the endless repetition of an ordinary miracle. Afterward, he would often think back to the beautiful scenes he had witnessed while wandering the city’s snow-covered streets (as three children pulled a sled up a narrow street, the windows of the Palace of Light Photo Studio reflected the green light of the one traffic signal in Kars), and he’d wonder why he carried these sad postcard memories with him wherever he went.

He saw an army patrol truck and two soldiers guarding the door to the old tailor shop that Sunay Zaim was using as his base of operations.

Ka told the soldiers huddled on the threshold trying to duck the snow that he wanted to contact Sunay, but they treated him like a lowly peasant who’d come in from an outlying village to petition the chief of staff. Ka had been hoping that Sunay might be able to keep the paper from being circulated.

If we are to make sense of the fury that was soon to overtake him, it’s important to understand the sting of this rebuff. His first thought was to run off into the snow and seek refuge in the hotel, but before even reaching the corner, he turned left into the Unity Café. Here he took a table between the wall and the stove and wrote the poem he would later call “To Be Shot and Killed.”

As he would explain, in his notes, this poem was an expression of pure fear, so he placed it between the axes of memory and imagination on the six-pronged snowflake and humbly turned his back on the content of its prophecy.

As soon as the poem was finished, Ka left the Unity Café; it was twenty past seven when he reached the Snow Palace Hotel. Stretched out upstairs on his bed, he watched the snowflakes floating through the halos of the streetlamp and the pink letter K pulsating in the window across the way and tried to quell his growing panic by conjuring up happy visions of life with Ipek in Frankfurt. Ten minutes later, he was overcome by a ˙ desire to see her. He went downstairs to find the entire family seated around the dinner table with that evening’s guest, and his heart leaped to see Ipek’s hair shimmering behind the bowl of soup that Zahide had just ˙ set before her. When Ipek beckoned him to take the place next to her, Ka ˙ was proud that everyone at the table knew they were in love, very proud; then, across the table, he saw Serdar Bey, the owner of the Border City Gazette.

As Serdar Bey extended his hand, his smile was so friendly that Ka began to doubt what his own eyes had read in the newspaper folded in his pocket. After serving himself soup, he reached under the table and put his hand on Ipek’s lap; he brought his head closer to hers, smelling her ˙ smell and savoring her presence, and then whispered that he was sorry to have no news of Blue for her. He had hardly finished when he came eye to eye with Kadife, sitting next to Serdar Bey; it amazed and infuriated him to realize that Ipek had already communicated his news to her. ˙ Although his mind was full of Serdar Bey, he managed to contain his feelings and give his attention to Turgut Bey, who was complaining about the meeting at the Hotel Asia. It had succeeded only in stirring things up, he said; he then added that the police knew all about it. “But I’m not at all sorry to have taken part in this historic occasion,” he added. “I’m glad I got to see with my own eyes how low the level of political understanding has sunk. Young and old alike, they’re hopeless. I went to this meeting to protest the coup, but now I think the army is right to want to keep them out of politics—they’re the dregs of society, the most wretched, muddled, brainless people in the city. I’m glad the army couldn’t stand by and let us abandon our future to these shameless looters. I’ll say this again, Kadife: Before meddling with national politics, consider this carefully. And think also of that painted aging singer you saw turning the wheel of Fortune,” he added mysteriously. “Everyone in Ankara has known for thirty-five301 years that she was the mistress of Fatin Rustu Zorlu, the old foreign secretary, the one they executed.” When Ka took out his copy of the Border City Gazette, they’d been sitting at the table for twenty minutes, and even with the television blaring in the background, the room seemed quiet.

“I was going to mention it myself,” said Serdar Bey. “But I couldn’t make up my mind; I thought you might take it the wrong way.”

“Serdar, Serdar, who gave you the order this time?” said Turgut Bey, when he saw the headline. “Ka, you’re not being fair to our guest. Give it to him so he can read it and see what a bad thing he has done.” “First, let me make clear that I don’t believe a single word I wrote,” said Serdar Bey, as he took the newspaper from Ka. “If you really believed I believe it, you’d break my heart. Please realize that it’s nothing personal, and please, Turgut Bey, help me explain why it is that a journalist in Kars might be forced to write such things under orders.” “Serdar’s always under orders to sling mud at someone,” Turgut Bey explained. “So let’s hear this article.”

“I don’t believe a single word,” Serdar Bey repeated proudly. “Our readers won’t believe it either. That’s why you have nothing to fear.” Serdar Bey read out his article in a sarcastic voice, pausing here and there for dramatic effect. “As you see, there’s nothing to fear!” he said, with a smile.

“Are you an atheist?” Turgut Bey asked Ka.

“That’s not the point, Father,” said Ipek with annoyance. “If this ˙ paper gets distributed, they’ll shoot him in the street tomorrow.” “Nonsense,” said Serdar Bey. “Madam, I assure you, you have nothing to fear. The soldiers have rounded up all the radical Islamists and reactionaries in town.” He turned to Ka. “I can tell just by your eyes that you haven’t taken offense. You know how much I respect your work and how I esteem you as a human being. Please don’t do me the injustice of holding me to European standards that were never designed for us! Let me tell you what happens to fools who wander around Kars pretending to be Europeans—and Turgut Bey knows this as well as I do—three days, that’s all it takes, three days and they’re dead: gone, shot, forgotten.

“The Eastern Anatolian press is in desperate trouble. Our average Kars citizen doesn’t bother to read the paper. Almost all our subscribers are government offices. So of course we’re going to run the sort of news our subscribers want to read. All over the world—even in America— newspapers tailor the news to their readers’ desires. If your readers want nothing but lies from you, who in the world is going to sell papers that tell the truth? If the truth could raise my paper’s circulation, why wouldn’t I write the truth? Anyway, the police don’t let me print the truth either. In Istanbul and Ankara we have a hundred and fifty readers with Kars connections. And to please them we’re always bragging about how rich and successful they’ve become there; we exaggerate everything, because if we don’t they won’t renew their subscriptions. And you know what? They even come to believe the lies we print about them. But that’s another matter.” He let out a laugh.

“And who ordered you to print this article? Go on, tell him,” said Turgut Bey.

“My dear sir! As you know only too well, the first principle of Western journalism is to protect your sources.” “My girls have grown very fond of our guest here,” said Turgut Bey.

“If you distribute this paper tomorrow, they’ll never forgive you. If some crazed fundamentalist shoots him, won’t you feel responsible?” “Are you that afraid?” Serdar smiled as he turned to Ka. “If you’re that afraid, stay off the streets tomorrow.”

“It would be better that the paper rather than Ka remain unseen,” Turgut Bey said. “Don’t circulate this edition.”

“That would offend my subscribers.”

“All right, then,” said Turgut Bey. He had an inspiration. “Whoever’s ordered a copy, let him have it. As for the others, I suggest you remove the offending article and print a new edition.”

Ipek and Kadife agreed this was the best solution. “I’m thrilled to see ˙ my paper taken so seriously,” said Serdar Bey. “But who’s going to pay for this new print run? That’s the next thing you need to tell me.” “My father will take you and your sons out for an evening meal at the Green Pastures Café,” said Ipek. ˙

“I accept if you come too,” said Serdar Bey. “But let’s wait until the roads open and we can be rid of this bunch of actors! Kadife must come too. Kadife Hanım, I am wondering if you could help me with the new article to replace the one we’re taking out. If you could give me a quote about this coup, this coup de théâtre, I’m sure our readers would be very pleased.”

“No, she can’t. That’s out of the question,” said Turgut Bey. “Don’t you know my daughter at all?”

“Kadife Hanım, could you tell me if you think the Kars suicide rate is likely to go down in the wake of our theater coup? I’m sure our readers303 would like your views on this, especially since they know you were opposed to these Muslim girl suicides.”

“I’m not against these suicides anymore.”

“But doesn’t that make you an atheist?” Serdar Bey asked. Though he may have hoped this would set them off on a fresh discussion, he was sober enough to see that everyone at the table was glaring at him, so he relented.

“All right, then, I promise. I won’t circulate this edition.” “Are you going to print a new edition?”

“As soon as I leave this table, before I go home.”

“We’d like to thank you, then,” said Ipek. ˙

A long strange silence followed. Ka found it very soothing. For the first time in years, he felt part of a family; in spite of the trials and responsibilities of what was called family, he saw now that it was grounded in the joys of an unyielding togetherness, a feeling he was sorry to have known so little of in his life. Could he find lasting happiness with Ipek? It wasn’t ˙ happiness he was after—this was very clear to him following his third glass of raki; he would even go so far as to say that he preferred to be unhappy. The important thing was to share the hopelessness, to create a little nest in which two people could live together, keeping the rest of the world at bay. He now thought that he and Ipek could create such a space, ˙ just by making love for months and months on end. To sit at a table with these two girls, knowing that he’d made love to one of them only that afternoon, to feel the softness of their complexions, to know that when he went to bed tonight, he would not be lonely—as sexual bliss beckoned, he allowed himself to believe the paper would not be circulated, and his spirits soared.

His outsize happiness took the edge off the stories and rumors he then heard; they lacked the thud of bad news. It was more like listening to the chilling lines of an ancient epic. One of the children working in the kitchen had told Zahide that a large number of detainees had been taken to the football stadium. With the goalposts now only half visible, half buried in snow, most had been kept outside all day in the hope that they would fall ill or perhaps even die; it was said a few of them had been taken into the locker rooms and pumped full of bullets as an example to the others.

There were also eyewitness reports, perhaps exaggerated, about the terror Z Demirkol and friends had been visiting on the city throughout the day: they’d raided the Mesopotamia Association, founded by a num ber of Kurdish nationalist youths to promote “folklore and literature,” but none of them happened to be there at the time, so instead they’d taken the old man who made the tea in the office—someone who was utterly indifferent to politics—and beaten him severely.

Then there were the three men—two of them were barbers and the third was unemployed—who’d been implicated in an incident six months earlier in which parties unknown had poured colored sewer water over the statue of Atatürk that stood outside the Atatürk Work Plant; although they’d opened an investigation on these men, they’d never put them behind bars; but after beatings that had gone on all night, they’d taken responsibility for a number of other anti-Atatürk incidents in the city (taking a hammer to the nose of the Atatürk statue that stood in the garden of the Trade and Industry Lycée, writing ugly remarks on the Atatürk poster hanging on the wall at the Gang of Fifteen Café, and entering into a conspiracy to use a hatchet to destroy the Atatürk statue standing outside the government offices).

Just after the coup, they’d shot and killed one of two Kurdish boys they caught writing slogans on the walls of Halitpa¸sa Avenue; after arresting another boy, they’d beaten him until he fainted. There was also the young unemployed boy they’d taken to the religious high school so he could remove the graffiti from its walls—when he’d tried to escape, they’d shot him in the legs. Thanks to various informers, all those who’d been saying ugly things about the soldiers and the actors and spreading groundless rumors about them in the city’s teahouses had been rounded up, but—as was always the case in murderous times like these—there were still plenty of rumors and exaggerations making the rounds, from the Kurdish youths who’d died when bombs exploded in their hands to the head-scarf girls who’d killed themselves to protest the coup, to the truck laden with dynamite that they’d stopped as it approached Inönü ˙ police station.

Although Ka pricked up his ears when they mentioned the truck carrying explosives—he’d heard someone else discussing this suicide bomb attack earlier—he did nothing else that night but enjoy every moment that he sat sitting peacefully at Ipek’s side. ˙

Much later, when Serdar Bey rose to leave and Turgut Bey and his daughters stood up to go bid him farewell before going to their rooms, it crossed Ka’s mind to ask Ipek to his room. But he was afraid of the ˙ shadow that might fall over his happiness if she refused, so he left the room without even hinting at what he wanted.

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