فصل 35

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فصل 35

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CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

I’m Not an Agent for Anyone

ka with blue in his cell

The image of Kadife and Ipek embracing in the corridor lingered in Ka’s mind. Sitting beside the driver in the army truck, at the Atatürk and Halitpa¸sa Avenue intersection, waiting for the only set of traffic lights in the city to change, he was high enough off the road to see into the unpainted second-floor window of an old Armenian house.

Someone had opened it to let in some fresh air, and as a light wind swayed the shutters and ruffled the curtains, Ka looked inside and could tell at once that he was witnessing a secret political meeting—in fact, so penetrating was his awareness of what was going on inside, he was like a doctor looking at an X-ray. And so, though a pale and frightened woman soon dashed forward to draw the curtains, he was able to guess with extraordinary accuracy what had transpired in that bright room: Two of Kars’s most seasoned Kurdish militants were talking to an apprentice teaman whose older brother had been killed in the raid the night before; the apprentice was now hunched in a cloud of sweat by the stove, wrapping the body in Gazo-brand bandages, while the militants assured him how easy it would be to enter the police headquarters on Faikbey Avenue and set off a bomb.

Ka had not, however, guessed his own destination. Instead of taking him to police headquarters or turning into the grand old square dating from the early years of the Republic where MIT had its headquarters, the ˙ army truck went straight through the Faikbey Avenue intersection and continued along Atatürk Avenue, before it turned finally into the military compound in the center of the city. In the 1960s there’d been a plan to convert this space into a park, but after the military coup in the early seventies, they built a wall around it, and before long it had become a garrison comprising barracks, new command headquarters, training grounds, and bored children riding bicycles among the stunted poplar trees. According to Free Nation, the pro-army newspaper, it was thanks to the new occupants that the house in which Pushkin had stayed during his visit to Kars, as well as the Cossack horsemen’s stables built by the czar forty years after the poet’s visit, had been saved from demolition.

The cell in which they were holding Blue was right next door to these stables. The army truck dropped Ka outside a pleasant old stone building that stood under an oleander tree; its branches, he noticed, were bowing under the weight of the snow. Inside were two gracious men whom Ka correctly took to be MIT operatives; they picked up a roll of Gazo ban- ˙ dages and a tape recorder, awfully primitive-looking considering it was the 1990s, and after they had used the former to secure the latter to his chest, they showed him how to operate the ON/OFF button. When they spoke about the prisoner downstairs, it was as if they were sorry he’d been caught and wanted to help him. At the same time, they made it clear that they expected Ka to get the prisoner’s confession, in particular concerning the murders he had committed or had ordered others to commit: It didn’t occur to Ka that they might not know his real reason for being here.

In the days of the czar, when the Russian cavalry used this little stone building as its headquarters, you would go down a cold stone staircase to reach a large windowless room in which soldiers were punished for lacking discipline. After the founding of the Turkish Republic, the cell had served as a depot for a time, and then, during the nuclear panics of the Cold War, it was turned into a model fallout shelter; it was still far cleaner and more comfortable than Ka had expected.

The room was well heated by the Arçelik furnace (donated several years earlier by Muhtar, the area’s main distributor, in an effort to ingratiate himself ), but Blue, who was in bed reading a book, had still found it necessary to cover himself with a clean army blanket. He rose the moment he saw Ka and stepped into his shoes, from which the laces had been removed; assuming an official air but still managing a smile, he shook Ka’s hand and, with the decisiveness of one ready to talk business, he pointed to a Formica table pushed up against the wall. When they had claimed their seats at opposite ends of the table, Ka looked across to see an ashtray filled with cigarette butts, so he took the pack of Marlboros out of his pocket and passed them to Blue, commenting as he did so on the comforts of the surroundings. Blue told him that he’d not been tortured; then he struck a match and lit Ka’s cigarette before lighting his own.

“So tell me, sir, for whom are you spying today?”

“I’ve given up spying,” said Ka. “These days I’m a mediator.” “That’s even worse. Spies traffic in snippets of information that aren’t much use to anyone, and mostly they do it for the money. Mediators, on the other hand—well, they’re just smart alecks who think they can stick their noses into your private business on the pretense of being ‘impartial.’ What’s your game here? What are you trying to get out of all this?” “To get out of this dreadful city in one piece.”

“As things stand today, only one person in this city is in any position to protect an atheist flown in from the West to spy on us, and that’s Sunay.”

So Blue had seen the front page of the Border City Gazette. How Ka hated that smile forming underneath Blue’s mustache! How could this militant Islamist who’d spent half his life railing against the merciless Turkish state, and who was now sitting in a prison cell implicated in two separate murder inquiries, be so calm and cheerful? Now more than ever, Ka could see why Kadife was so madly in love with him. Blue never looked more handsome than today.

“What are you here to mediate?”

“I’ve come to try to arrange your release,” said Ka, and in a very calm voice he relayed Sunay’s proposal. He didn’t mention the possibility of Kadife’s wearing a wig, nor did he discuss the various tricks they might resort to in the event of the live transmission; he reserved these just in case he needed a bargaining chip later. While he was explaining the gravity of the present circumstances and the pressure certain merciless parties were putting on Sunay to hang Blue at the first opportunity, he felt a certain joy, but as this joy was soon followed by a certain guilt, he went on to denounce Sunay as the crackpot to end all crackpots and to assure Blue that as soon as the snow melted everything would go back to normal. Later on, he would ask himself whether he’d said this to please the MIT operatives upstairs. ˙

“What all this means is that my only chance for freedom is to take part in another crack at Sunay’s pot, so to speak,” said Blue.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Well, tell him this: I reject his proposal. And I thank you for taking the trouble to come all this way.”

Ka expected Blue would now rise, shake his hand, and see him to the door. But instead there was a silence.

Tipped back on the hind legs of his chair, Blue was now rocking happily back and forth. “But if your mediation efforts come to nothing, and you don’t escape this dreadful city in one piece, it won’t be because of me, it will be because of your loose-lipped atheist boastfulness. The only time people in this country brag about atheism is when they know the army is behind them.”

“I’m not the sort of person who takes pride in being an atheist.” “I’m glad to hear it.”

Both men fell silent, smoking their cigarettes. Ka felt he had no choice but to get up and leave. But instead he asked, “Aren’t you afraid of dying?”

“If that’s a threat, the answer is no, I’m not afraid of dying. If you’re asking me as a concerned friend, the answer is yes, I’m very afraid. But whatever I do now, these tyrants will still want to hang me. There’s nothing I can do to change that.” Blue gave Ka a damningly sweet smile. The message Ka took was,

Look, I’m in a far worse fix than you are, but I’m still taking it better than you!

Shame forced Ka to admit to himself that his panic stemmed from the sweet, aching hope for happiness that he’d been carrying around since falling in love with Ipek. Was Blue immune to that sort of hope? I’ll ˙ count to nine and then I’ll get up and leave, he told himself. One, two. . . . By the time he reached five, he’d decided that if he failed to dupe Blue, he’d never be able to take Ipek back with him to Germany. ˙

Suddenly inspired, he began to talk, saying whatever came into his head. He began by describing a luckless mediator he remembered from a black-and-white American film he’d seen as a child; he went on to remind Blue that—once things were straightened out—he was sure he’d be able to get their Hotel Asia statement printed in Germany; then he remarked that those who go through life making bad decisions out of some stubborn intellectual passion sometimes live to regret it. He recounted as example the time in a fit of pique he’d quit a basketball team, never to return; the time he would have spent on the court, he elected to idle away at the Bosphorus, watching the sea for hours on end; and once he’d said this he could not stop himself from telling Blue how very much he loved Istanbul, and how beautiful the little Bosphorus town of Bebek could be on a fine spring evening. All the while he struggled to keep Blue’s cold blooded stare from crushing him into silence. It was like the final visit before an execution.

“Even if we broke all precedents and did everything they asked, they’d never keep their word,” said Blue. He pointed to the paper and pens sitting on the table. “They want me to write down my whole life story, every crime I’ve ever committed. If I do, and they decide I’m sincere, they could pardon me under the remorse law. I’ve always pitied the fools who fell for such lies, only to spend their last days on trial having betrayed themselves. But since I’m going to die anyway, I want to make sure those who follow get to hear a few things about me that are true.” On the table there were several sheets already covered with writing, and now he picked up one of them. With the same grave and rather ludicrous expression he’d assumed for giving a quote for Hans Hansen and the German press, he began to read:

“MY EXECUTION

“On the subject of my execution, I would like to make it clear that I have no regrets about anything I have done for political reasons at any time in the past, not excluding today, Thursday, the twentieth of February. My father is a retired clerk, formerly of the Istanbul Regional Treasury Office, and I am his second child. During my childhood and early youth, my father maintained secret links with a Cerrahi lodge and I grew up inside his humble, silent world. In my youth I rebelled against him by becoming a godless leftist, and when I was at university I tagged along with other young militants and stoned the sailors coming off the American aircraft carriers. Around the same time I got married; then we split up and I managed to survive the crisis.

“For years no one noticed me. I was an electronics engineer.

Because of the hatred I felt for the West, I admired the revolution in Iran. I returned to Islam. When the Ayatollah Khomeini said, ‘The most important thing today is not to pray or fast but to protect the Islamic faith,’ I believed him. I took inspiration from Frantz Fanon’s work on violence, from the pilgrimages Seyyid Kutub made in protest against oppression, from the same man’s ideas on changing places, and from Ali Sheriyat.

“I escaped to Germany after the military coup. Then I returned to Turkey. I was wounded while fighting in Grozny with the Chechens against the Russians, and as a result of that wound, I have a limp in my right leg. When I was in Bosnia during the Serbian siege, I married a Bosnian girl named Merzuka and took her back to Istanbul with me. Because my political obligations and my ideas on pilgrimage meant that I was hardly ever in any given city longer than two weeks, my second wife and I eventually separated.

“After cutting off relations with the Islamist groups that sent me to Chechnya and Bosnia, I set out to explore all four corners of Turkey. In spite of the fact that I believe it is sometimes necessary to kill the enemies of Islam, I have never killed anyone, nor have I ever ordered anyone’s death. The man who assassinated the former

mayor of Kars was a deranged Kurdish driver who was angry

because the mayor was threatening to take all the horse-drawn carriages off the streets. I came to Kars for the girls who were committing suicide. Suicide is the greatest sin of all. I leave behind my poems as my testament, and I would like them to be published.

Merzuka has them. And that’s all I have to say.”

There followed a silence.

“You don’t have to die,” said Ka. “That’s why I’m here.” “Then let me tell you something else,” said Blue. Once he was sure he had Ka’s full attention, he lit another cigarette. Did he know about the tape recorder whirring silently on his chest, working as unobtrusively as a dutiful housewife?

“When I was living in Munich, there was this cinema I went to a lot.

They had discount double features after midnight,” Blue said. “And you know that Italian who did The Battle of Algiers, about the French oppression of Algeria—one day they showed his latest film, Burn! It’s set on an island in the Caribbean where they produce sugarcane, and it’s about the tricks the colonialists played and the revolutions they staged. First they find a black leader and get him to rise up against the Portuguese, and then they sail in and take over. After failing the first time, the blacks rise up again, this time against the English, but the English defeat them by setting the entire island on fire. The leader of both rebellions is arrested, and soon it is the morning of his execution. Then who should arrive but the man who first discovered him, the man who talked him into the first rebellion and went on to crush the second one for the English. Before you know it, Marlon Brando has gone into the tent in which they’re keeping the black captive; he cuts his ropes and sets him free.” “Why?”

Blue bridled at the question. “Why do you think? So he wouldn’t hang, of course! Marlon knew very well that if they hanged this man, they’d turn him into a legend, and then the local people would use his name as a battle cry for years to come. But the black leader, knowing exactly why Marlon has cut his ropes, rejects his chance for freedom and refuses to run away.”

“Did they hang him?” asked Ka.

“Yes, but they don’t show the hanging in the film,” said Blue. “Instead they show what happened to Marlon Brando, the agent who, like you, tried to tempt the condemned man with his freedom. Just as he was about to leave the island, one of the locals stabbed him to death.”

“I’m not an agent!” Ka said, unable to hide his annoyance.

“Don’t be so sensitive about the word agent: after all, I see myself as an agent of Islam.”

“I’m not an agent for anyone,” Ka insisted, still perturbed.

“Do you mean to tell me that no one even bothered to put some amazing drug into this cigarette to make me dizzy and sap my willpower?

Ah, the best thing America ever gave the world were these red Marlboros.

I could smoke these Marlboros for the rest of my life.”

“If you use your head, you can smoke your Marlboros for another forty years.”

“This is just what I meant by the word agent,” said Blue. “An agent’s main job is to talk people into changing their minds.”

“All I mean is that it’s stupid to let yourself be killed by these crazed, bloodthirsty fascists. Don’t count on becoming a revolutionary icon either; it’s not going to happen. These meek lambs here—they may have strong religious beliefs but at the end of the day it’s the state’s decrees they obey. And all those rebel sheikhs who rise up because they fear our religion is slipping away, all those militants trained in Iran, even the ones like Saidi Nursi who enjoyed long-lasting fame—they can’t even hold on to their graves. As for all those religious leaders in this country who dream of the day their names turn to emblems of faith, the soldiers load their bodies onto military planes and dump them in the sea. But you know all this. Those Hezbollah cemeteries in Batman to which so many came on pilgrimage—one night was all it took to raze them. Where are they now, those cemeteries?”

“In the people’s hearts.”

“Empty words. Only twenty percent of the people give their votes to the Islamists. And to a moderate Islamist party at that.” “If it’s so moderate, why do they panic and send in the military?

Please explain that! So much for your impartial mediating.”

“I am an impartial mediator,” said Ka, raising his voice.

“No, you’re not. You’re a Western agent. You’re the slave of the ruthless Europeans, and like all true slaves you don’t even know you are one.

You’re just a typical little European from Ni¸ santa¸ s. Not only were you brought up to look down on your own traditions, you also think you live on a higher plane than ordinary people. According to your kind, the road to a good moral life is not through God or religion, or through taking part in the life of the common people—no, it’s just a matter of imitating the West. Perhaps from time to time you say a word or two reproaching the tyrannies visited on the Islamists and the Kurds, but in your heart of hearts you don’t mind at all when the military takes charge.” “What if I did this for you: Kadife could wear a wig under her head scarf, and that way, when she bared her head, no one would see her real hair.”

“You can’t make me drink wine!” said Blue. He’d raised his voice, too.

“I refuse to be a European, and I won’t ape their ways. I’m going to live out my own history and be no one but myself. I for one believe it’s possible to be happy without becoming a mock European, without becoming their slave. There’s a word Europhiles very commonly use when they denigrate our people: To be a true Westerner, a person must first become an individual, and then they go on to say that in Turkey, there are no individuals! Well, that’s how I see my execution. I’m standing up against the Westerners as an individual; it’s because I am an individual that I refuse to imitate them.”

“Sunay believes so deeply in this play that I can even do this for you.

The National Theater will be empty. The live TV camera will show Kadife’s hand pulling off the scarf first. Then we can do some tricky editing, and the hair we show will really belong to someone else.”

“I find it rather suspicious that you are prepared to go through such contortions just to save me.”

“I’m very happy right now,” said Ka, and just saying this made him feel as guilty as if he’d been telling a lie. “I’ve never been so happy in my entire life. I want to preserve that happiness.”

“What is it that’s made you so happy?”

Ka did not give the answer that later occurred to him as wise: Because I’m writing poems again. But neither did he say, Because I believe in God.

Instead he blurted out, “Because I’m in love!” He added, “And I’m taking my love back to Frankfurt with me.” For a moment, he was glad just to be speaking so openly about his love to a virtual stranger.

“And who is this love of yours?”

“Kadife’s sister, Ipek.” ˙

Ka could see confusion in Blue’s face. He regretted his joyous outburst, and was silent.

Blue lit another Marlboro. “When a man is so happy that he is willing to share his happiness with someone about to be executed, it is a gift from God. Let’s imagine I agreed to your proposals and fled the city to save your happiness, and Kadife found a way to take part in the play using some trickery that saved her honor and also secured her sister’s hope for happiness. What guarantee do I have that these people will keep their word and let me go?”

“I knew you would ask this!” cried Ka. He paused for a moment. He brought his finger to his lips and signaled to Blue to stay quiet and watch.

He undid the buttons of his jacket and made a great show of turning off the tape recorder taped to his chest. “I’ll be your guarantor, and they can release you first,” he said. “Kadife can wait before going onstage until she hears of your release and that you have gone back into hiding. But to get Kadife to agree, you will need to write her a letter saying you’ve approved the plan—I need to deliver it to her personally.” He was making all this up as he went along. “And if you would tell me how this release should happen and where they should leave you,” he whispered, “I’ll make sure they do as you ask. And then you can stay underground until the roads have opened again. You can trust me on this; you have my guarantee.”

Blue handed Ka a piece of paper. “Put it in writing: In securing my consent for Kadife to go onstage and bare her head without staining her honor, and to ensure that I am able to leave Kars in one piece, you, Ka, have undertaken to act as mediator and guarantor. If you don’t keep your word, if this turns out to be a trap, what sort of punishment should the guarantor expect?”

“Whatever they do to you, they must also do to me!” Ka said.

“OK, write that down.”

Now Ka gave Blue a sheet of paper. “I’d like you to write that you have agreed to my plan, that I have your permission to relay the plan to Kadife, and that the final decision is up to her. If Kadife agrees, she must make a written statement to this effect and sign it with the understanding that she must not bare her head until you have been freed in a suitable way. Write all that down. But when it comes to the time and place of your release, I’d rather not be involved. It would be better if you chose someone you trusted. I’d recommend Fazıl, blood brother of the dead boy, Necip.”

“Is that the boy who was sending love letters to Kadife?”

“That was Necip, the one who died. He was a very special person, a gift from God,” said Ka. “But Fazıl’s just as good-hearted.” “If you say so, I believe you,” said Blue, and turning to the sheet before him, he began to write.

Blue was done first. When Ka finished writing out his own guarantee, he detected a contemptuous half smile flashing across Blue’s face, but he wasn’t bothered. He’d set things in motion, he’d removed all the obstacles, he and Ipek were now free to leave the city, and he could hardly con- ˙ tain his joy. They exchanged papers in silence. When Blue folded Ka’s statement and put it in his pocket without bothering to read it, Ka followed suit; and then, making sure Blue could see what he was doing, he switched the tape recorder back on.

There was a silence. Ka repeated the last thing he had said before turning off the tape recorder. “I knew you would ask this,” he said. “But unless the two sides can establish some sort of trust, no agreement is possible. You’ll just have to trust the state to keep its word.” They looked into each other’s eyes and smiled. Afterward, he would return to this moment many times, and each time he would feel great remorse; happiness had blinded him to the fury in Blue’s eyes; looking back, he often thought that if he’d sensed this fury, he might never have asked the question:

“Will Kadife agree to this plan?”

“She’ll agree to it,” whispered Blue, his eyes still bright with rage.

There was another short silence.

“Seeing that you aim to make a contract with me that binds me to life, you might as well tell me more about this great happiness of yours.” “I’ve never loved anyone like this in my entire life,” said Ka. His words sounded credulous and clumsy, but still he said them. “For me, there’s only one chance for happiness, and that’s Ipek.” ˙ “And how do you define happiness?”

“Happiness is finding another world to live in, a world where you can forget all this poverty and tyranny. Happiness is holding someone in your arms and knowing you hold the whole world.” He was going to say more, but Blue jumped to his feet.

At this moment the poem Ka would later call “Chess” came rushing into his head. He took a quick look at Blue and then, having left him standing there, took out the notebook in his pocket and began to write.

As he jotted down the lines of the poem, which was about happiness and power, wisdom and greed, Blue peered over his shoulder, curious to know what was going on. Ka could sense Blue’s eyes on him, and that image too found its way into his poem. It was as if the hand that was writing belonged to someone else. Ka knew Blue wouldn’t be able to see it, but that did not stop his wishing Blue could know that Ka’s hand was in thrall to a higher power. It was not to be: Blue sat on the edge of the bed, gloomily smoking in the manner of condemned men the world over.

On an impulse he would spend much time trying (and failing) to

understand afterward, Ka found himself opening his heart to Blue yet again.

“Before I got here, I hadn’t written a poem in years,” he said. “But since coming to Kars, all the roads on which poetry travels have reopened. I attribute this to the love of God I’ve felt here.” “I don’t want to destroy your illusions, but your love for God comes out of Western romantic novels,” said Blue. “In a place like this, if you worship God as a European, you’re bound to be a laughingstock. Then you cannot even believe you believe. You don’t belong to this country; you’re not even a Turk anymore. First try to be like everyone else. Then try to believe in God.”

Ka could feel Blue’s hatred. He gathered up a few of the sheets on the table and, announcing that he had to go see Sunay and Kadife without any further delay, pounded on the cell door. When it opened, he turned back to Blue and asked him if he had a special message for Kadife.

Blue smiled. “Be careful,” he said. “Don’t let anyone kill you.”

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