فصل 04

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فصل 04

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CHAPTER FOUR

Did You Really Come Here to Report on the Election and the Suicides?

ka meets ˙ipek in the new life pastry shop

Why, despite the bad news he’d just received, was there a faint smile on Ka’s face as he walked through the snow from Faikbey Avenue to the New Life Pastry Shop? Someone was playing Peppino di Capri’s “Roberta,” a melodramatic pop song from the sixties, and it made him feel like the sad romantic hero of a Turgenev novel, setting off to meet the woman who has been haunting his dreams for years. Let’s tell the truth: Ka loved Turgenev and his elegant novels, and like the Russian writer Ka too had tired of his own country’s never-ending troubles and come to despise its backwardness, only to find himself gazing back with love and longing after a move to Europe. Ka was not haunted by the image of Ipek, but in his mind was the vision of a woman very much like her. ˙ Perhaps Ipek had entered his thoughts from time to time, but it was only ˙ when he’d heard of her divorce that he began to think about her; indeed, it was precisely because he had not dreamed of her enough that he was now so keen to stoke his feelings with music and Turgenevist romanticism.

But as soon as he had entered the pastry shop and joined her at her table, all thoughts of such romanticism vanished, for Ipek seemed even ˙ more beautiful now than at the hotel, lovelier even than she had been at university. The true extent of her beauty—her lightly colored lips, her pale complexion, her shining eyes, her open, intimate gaze—unsettled Ka. There was a moment when she seemed so sincere that he feared his studied composure would fail him. (This was his worst fear, after that of writing bad poems.)

“On the way here, I saw workmen drawing a live-transmission cable all the way from Border City Television to the National Theater. They were stretching it like a clothesline,” he said, hoping to break the awkward silence. But not wanting to seem critical of the shortcomings of provincial life, he was careful not to smile.

It took some effort to keep up the conversation, but they both applied themselves to the task with admirable determination. The snow was one thing they could discuss with ease. When they had exhausted this subject, they moved on to the poverty of Kars. After that it was Ka’s coat. Then a mutual confession that each found the other quite unchanged, and that neither had been able to give up smoking. The next subject was distant friends: Ka had just seen many of them in Istanbul. But it was the discovery that both their mothers were now dead and buried in Istanbul’s Feriköy Cemetery that induced the greater intimacy both were seeking.

And so by the time they had discovered a common astrological sign, the revelation—illusory or not—produced a frisson that brought them even closer.

Relaxed now, they were able to chat (briefly) about their mothers and (at greater length) about the demolition of the old Kars train station.

They soon turned to the pastry shop in which they were sitting; it had been an Orthodox church until 1967, when the door had been removed and taken away to the museum. A section of the same museum commemorated the Armenian Massacre (naturally, she said, some tourists came expecting to see remnants of the Turks’ massacre of the Armenians, and it was always a jolt to discover that in this museum the story was the other way around). The next topic was the pastry shop’s sole waiter, half deaf, half a ghost. Then the price of coffee, which, apparently, was no longer sold in the city’s teahouses because it was too expensive for the unemployed clientele. They went on to discuss the political views of the newspaperman who had given Ka his tour of the city, those of the various local papers (all supporters of the military and the present government), and tomorrow’s issue of the Border City Gazette, which Ka now fished out of his pocket.

As he watched Ipek scan the front page, Ka was overcome by the fear ˙ that, like his old friends in Istanbul, she was so much consumed by Turkey’s internal problems and miserable political intrigues that she would never even consider living in Germany. He looked for a long time at Ipek’s small hands and her elegant face; her beauty still shocked him. ˙ “For which article did they sentence you, and how long was your sentence?”

Ka told her. In the small political newspapers of the late seventies, considerable freedom of expression had been exercised, much more than the penal code allowed. Anyone tried and found guilty of insulting the state tended to feel rather proud of it. But no one ended up in prison, as the police made no serious effort to pursue the editors, the writers, or the translators in their ever-shifting whereabouts. But after the military coup of 1980, the authorities slowly got around to tracking down everyone who’d earlier evaded prison simply by changing address, and it was at this moment that Ka, having been tried for a hastily printed political article he had not even written, fled to Germany.

“Was it hard for you in Germany?” asked Ipek. ˙

“The thing that saved me was not learning German,” said Ka. “My body rejected the language, so I was able to preserve my purity and my soul.”

He was suddenly afraid he was making a fool of himself, but in his delight to have Ipek as his audience, he went on to tell a story he’d never ˙ told anyone—about the silence buried inside him, the silence that had kept him from writing a single poem for the past four years.

“I rented a small place next to the train station; it had a window looking out over the rooftops of Frankfurt. In the evening, when I thought back on the day, I found that my memories were shrouded in a sort of silence. At first, out of this silence would come a poem. Over time, I had gained some recognition in Turkey as a poet, and now I began to get invitations to give readings. The approaches came from Turkish immigrants, city councils, libraries, and third-class schools hoping to draw in Turkish audiences, and also from Turks hoping to acquaint their children with a poet writing in Turkish.”

So, when invited, Ka would board one of those orderly, punctual

German trains he so admired; through the smoky mirror of the window, he’d watch the delicate church towers rising above remote villages. He’d peer into the beech forests, searching for the darkness at their heart. He’d see the sturdy children returning home with their rucksacks, and that same silence would descend on him; because he could not understand the language, he felt as safe, as comfortable, as if he were sitting in his own house, and this was when he wrote his poems.

On days when he wasn’t traveling, he’d leave home at eight in the morning, walk the length of Kaiserstrasse, and go to the city library on the Zeil and read books. “There were enough English books there to last me twenty lifetimes.” Here he read magnificent nineteenth-century novels, English romantic poetry, histories of engineering and related topics, museum catalogs—he read whatever he wanted, and he read it all with the pleasure of a child who knows death is too far off to imagine. As he sat in the library turning pages, stopping now and again to study the illustrations in old encyclopedias, rereading Turgenev’s novels from cover to cover, he was able to block out the buzz of the city; he was surrounded by silence, just as he was on trains. Even after dark, when he would go by another route, walking in front of the Jewish Museum and the length of the River Main; even on weekends, when he walked from one end of the city to the other, this silence still enveloped him.

“Four years ago these silences took over my entire life. I needed noise—it was only by shutting out noise that I was able to write poetry,” said Ka. “But now I lived in utter silence. I wasn’t speaking with any Germans, and my relations with the Turks weren’t good either—they dismissed me as a half-crazed, effete intellectual. I wasn’t seeing anyone, I wasn’t talking to anyone, and I wasn’t writing poems.”

“But it says in the paper that you’re going to be reading your latest poem tonight.”

“I don’t have a latest poem, so how can I read it?”

There were only two other customers in the pastry shop. They were seated at a table on the other side of the room, in a corner next to the window. One was a tiny young man; his companion, old, thin, and tired, was patiently trying to explain something to him. Behind them, on the other side of the plate-glass window, great snowflakes were falling into the darkness; the pastry shop’s neon sign tinged the flakes with pink. Set against this backdrop, the two men locked in intense conversation in the far corner of the pastry shop looked like characters in a grainy black-andwhite film.

“My sister Kadife was at university in Istanbul, but she failed her finals in the first year,” Ipek said. “She managed to transfer to the Insti- ˙ tute of Education here in Kars. The thin man sitting just behind me, way in the back, is Dr. Yılmaz, the director of the Institute. When my mother died in a car accident, my father, who adores my sister and didn’t want to be alone, decided to move here and bring her along to live with my husband and me. But no sooner had my father moved here—this was three years ago—than Muhtar and I split up. So now the three of us live together. We own the hotel with some relatives; it’s full of ghosts and tormented dead souls. We take up three rooms.” During their years in the student left, Ka and Ipek had had nothing ˙ to do with each other. When, at seventeen, he first entered the high ceilinged corridors of the literature department, Ka did not immediately single out Ipek—there were plenty of other beautiful girls—and when ˙ they met the following year, she was already Muhtar’s wife. Muhtar was a poet friend of Ka’s who belonged to the same political group; like Ipek, ˙ he came from Kars.

“Muhtar took over his father’s Arçelik and Aygaz appliance distributorship,” said Ipek, “and once we were settled here, I tried to get preg- ˙ nant. When nothing happened, he starting taking me to doctors in

Erzurum and Istanbul; when I still couldn’t conceive, we separated. But instead of remarrying, Muhtar gave himself to religion.”

“Why are so many people giving themselves to religion all of a sudden?” Ka asked.

Ipek didn’t answer, and for a while they just watched the black-and- ˙ white television bracketed to the wall.

“Why is everyone in this city committing suicide?” asked Ka.

“It’s not everyone who’s committing suicide, it’s just girls and women,” said Ipek. “The men give themselves to religion, and the women ˙ kill themselves.”

“Why?”

Ipek gave him a look that told him he would get nowhere by pressing ˙ her for quick answers; he was left feeling that he had overstepped. For a time, they were both silent.

“I have to speak to Muhtar as part of my election coverage,” Ka said.

Ipek rose at once, walked over to the cash register, and made a phone ˙ call. “He’s at the branch headquarters of the party until five,” she said, when she returned. “He’ll expect you then.”

Another silence fell between them, and Ka began to panic. If the

roads had not been closed, he would have jumped on the next bus leaving Kars. He felt a pang of despair for this failing city and its forgotten people. Without intending it, he turned his head to look out the window. For a long time, he and Ipek watched the snow listlessly, as if they had all the ˙ time in the universe and not a care in the world. Ka felt helpless.

“Did you really come here for the election and the suicide girls?” Ipek ˙ asked finally.

“No,” said Ka. “I found out in Istanbul that you and Muhtar had separated. I came here to marry you.”

Ipek laughed as if Ka had just told a very good joke, but before ˙ long her face turned deep red. During the long silence that followed, he looked into Ipek’s eyes and realized that she saw right through him. So ˙ you couldn’t even take the time to get to know me, her eyes told him. You couldn’t even spend a few minutes flirting with me. You’re so impatient that you couldn’t hide your intentions at all. Don’t try to pretend you came here because you always loved me and couldn’t get me out of your mind. You came here because you found out I was divorced and remembered how beautiful I was and thought I might be easier to approach now that I was stranded in Kars.

By now Ka was so ashamed of his wish for happiness, and so determined to punish himself for his insolence, that he imagined Ipek uttering ˙ the cruelest truth of all: The thing that binds us together is that we have both lowered our expectations of life. But when she spoke, Ipek said ˙ something very different from what he had imagined.

“I always knew you had it in you to be a good poet,” she said. “I’d like to congratulate you on your work.”

The walls of the pastry shop were, like the walls of every teahouse, restaurant, and hotel lobby in the city, decorated with photographs of mountain vistas—not the beautiful mountains of Kars but the mountains of Switzerland. Stacked on the display counters were trays of chocolates and braided cakes; their oiled surfaces and wrappings glittered in the pale light. The old waiter who had just served them tea was now sitting next to the till, facing Ka and Ipek’s table but with his back to the other cus- ˙ tomers and happily watching a film on the wall TV, having turned up the sound so he could hear. Ka, who was eager to avoid Ipek’s eyes, gave the ˙ television his full attention. A blond bikini-clad Turkish actress was running across the sand, while a man with a thick mustache chased her. At that moment, the tiny man who had been sitting at the dark table at the far end of the pastry shop rose to his feet and, pointing a gun at the director of the Institute of Education, muttered a few things Ka could not hear. When the director spoke back, the gun fired—but Ka worked this out only later. The gun made hardly any noise at all; it was only when he saw the director shudder violently and fall from his chair that Ka realized the man had been shot in the chest.

Seeing Ka’s horror, Ipek turned around to find out what had hap- ˙ pened.

Ka looked over to where the old waiter had been only a moment ago, but he was gone. The tiny man, still standing in the same spot, continued to point the gun straight at the director, who lay still on the ground. The director was trying to tell him something, but with the TV now turned up so high, it was impossible to make out what he was saying. The tiny man pumped three more bullets into his victim, made for the door behind him, and disappeared. Ka had not seen his face.

“Let’s go,” said Ipek. “We shouldn’t stay here.” ˙

“Help!” said Ka, in a thin voice. Then he added, “Let’s call the police.” But he couldn’t move a muscle. Moments later, he was running behind Ipek. As they rushed through the double doors of the pastry shop and ˙ down the stairs into the street, they did not see a soul.

Once they’d reached the snowy pavement, they began to walk very fast. No one saw us leave, Ka said to himself, and this brought him some comfort, because now he felt as if it were he who had committed the murder. This was what he got—what he deserved—for proposing so abruptly to Ipek. The mere memory made him cringe with shame. He ˙ couldn’t bear to look anyone in the eye.

Ka’s fears had not abated by the time they reached the corner of Kâzım Karabekir Avenue, although the shooting had given them a secret to share and he was glad to have even this silent intimacy with her. But in the light shining on the crates of oranges and apples outside the Halıl Pa¸ sa Arcade and from the naked bulb reflected in the mirror in the neighboring barbershop, Ka was alarmed to see tears in Ipek’s eyes. ˙ “The director of the Institute of Education wasn’t letting covered girls into the classroom,” Ipek explained. “That’s why that poor dear man ˙ was killed.”

“Let’s tell the police,” said Ka, even as he remembered that once upon a time, when he was a left-wing student, such an idea would have been unthinkable.

“There’s no need; they’ll find out anyway. They probably know about it already. The branch headquarters of the Prosperity Party is on the second floor there.” Ipek pointed at the entrance to the market. “Tell ˙ Muhtar what you’ve seen, so he won’t be surprised when MIT pulls him ˙ in. And there’s something else I have to tell you: Muhtar wants to marry me again, so watch what you say.”

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