فصل 44

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فصل 44

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No One Here Likes Ka These Days

four years later, in kars

As soon as the curtain was closed, Z Demirkol and his friends arrested Kadife “for her own safety”; removing her through the stage door into Little Kâzımbey Avenue, they pushed her into an army jeep and headed straight for the central garrison, where they deposited her in the old fallout shelter where Blue had been kept his last day on earth. A few hours later, all the roads to Kars had reopened; several military units rolled in to suppress the city’s “little coup” and met with no resistance. The governor, the military chief of staff, and a number of other officials were dismissed for dereliction of duty; the small band of conspirators who had staged the coup were arrested, along with a number of soldiers and MIT agents, who protested that they’d done it all for ˙ the people and the state. It would be three days before Turgut Bey and Ipek were able to visit Kadife. ˙

Turgut Bey had no doubt that Sunay had died onstage, and he was

hopeful that nothing would happen to Kadife; all he wanted was to find a way to take his daughter home, but when midnight had come and gone

he gave in and walked home through the empty streets, arm in arm with his older daughter. Ipek went straight to her room; as she unpacked her ˙ suitcase, putting everything back in the drawers, her father sat on the edge of the bed and cried.

Most Kars residents who’d watched the events unfold onstage would

discover that Sunay had in fact died after his theatrical death throes only when they read the Border City Gazette the next morning. After the curtain closed, the audience at the National Theater quietly filed out, and the television station never again mentioned the events of the past three days.

But as Kars was well accustomed to military rule and to the sight of police and special operations teams chasing “terrorists” through the streets, it wasn’t long anyway before those three days ceased to seem exceptional. And when the general staff office launched a full inquiry the following morning, prompting the office of the prime minister’s inspectorate to spring into action as well, everyone in Kars could see the wisdom of regarding the stage coup more as a strange theatrical event than a political one. Their fascination lingered over questions such as this: If Sunay had just shown the clip to be empty in full view of a live audience, how could Kadife have shot and killed him with the same gun?

As I have referred several times to the inspecting colonel sent by

Ankara after things had returned to normal, my readers will have already deduced my indebtedness to this man and his detailed report on the stage coup; his own analysis of the gun scene confirms it was less a case of sleight of hand than actual magic. Since Kadife refused to speak to her father or her sister or even her lawyer, much less the prosecutor, about what happened that night, the inspecting colonel was obliged to undertake the same sort of detective work I would do four years later; interviewing as many people as he could (although it would be more accurate to say that he took their depositions), he finally satisfied himself there was not a rumor or theory that had escaped his attention.

There were, of course, many stories suggesting that Kadife did knowingly and willfully kill Sunay Zaim, and without his real permission; to refute these allegations, the inspecting colonel showed it would have been impossible for the young woman to have switched guns or to have replaced the empty clip with a loaded one so quickly. And so, despite the amazement Sunay’s face registered with every shot, the fact remains that searches carried out by the armed forces, the inventory of Kadife’s personal effects at the time of her arrest, and even the video recording of the performance all confirm that she was in possession of only one gun and one clip. Another popular local theory had it that Sunay Zaim was shot by a different gunman firing from a different angle, but that one was put to rest when the ballistics report and autopsy results came back from Ankara to confirm that all the bullets in the actor’s body had come from the Kır ıkkale gun in Kadife’s hand.

Kadife’s last words (“I guess I killed him!”) turned her into something of an urban legend; the inspecting colonel saw them as proof that this was not a case of premeditated murder. Perhaps out of consideration for the prosecutor who would open the trial, the colonel’s report digressed to give a full discussion of premeditation, wrongdoing with intent, and other related legal and philosophical concepts; still, he wound up alleging that the true mastermind—the one who had helped Kadife memorize her lines and taught her the various maneuvers she would deftly perform—was none other than the deceased himself. In twice showing the audience that the clip was empty, Sunay Zaim had duped

Kadife and indeed the entire city of Kars. Here, perhaps, I should quote the colonel himself, who took early retirement not long after the publication of his report. When I met him at his home in Ankara and pointed to the rows of Agatha Christie books on his shelves, he told me that what he liked most about them were their titles. When we moved to the case of the actor’s gun, he said simply, “The clip was full!” A man of the theater would have hardly needed to know magic to trick an audience into taking a full clip for an empty one: Indeed, after three days of merciless violence visited upon them by Sunay and his cohorts in the name of republicanism and westernization (the final death toll, including Sunay, was twentynine), the people of Kars were so terrorized they would have been prepared to look at an empty glass and see a full one.

If we follow this line of reasoning, it becomes clear that Kadife was not Sunay’s only accomplice; Sunay, after all, had gone so far as to advertise his death in advance, and if the people of Kars were so eager to see him kill himself onstage, if they were still prepared to enjoy the drama, telling themselves it was just a play, they too were complicit. Another rumor, that Kadife had killed Sunay to avenge Blue’s death, was refuted on the grounds that anyone handed a loaded gun with the express notification that it was empty could not be accused of using it with intent to kill. There were those among Kadife’s Islamist admirers and her secularist accusers who still maintained that this was precisely what was so crafty about the way Kadife killed Sunay but then refused to kill herself, but the inspecting colonel, whose own patience with the fanciful was limited, held that this was to confuse art with reality.

The military prosecutor stationed in Kars gave the inspecting

colonel’s meticulous report great weight, as did the judges, who ruled that Kadife had not killed for political reasons; instead, they found her guilty of negligent homicide and lack of forethought and sentenced her to three years and one month. She would be released after serving twenty months in jail. Under Articles 313 and of the Turkish Penal Code, Colonel Osman Nuri Çolak was charged with establishing a vigilante group implicated in murders by unknown assailants; for this he received a very long sentence, but six months later the government declared a general amnesty and set him free. Although he had been amply admonished under the

conditions of his release that he was not to discuss the coup with anyone, it was not unheard of for him to go to the officer’s club of an evening to see his old army friends, and after enough to drink he’d allow that whatever else had happened he had at least found it in himself to live the dream of every Atatürk-loving soldier; without undue rudeness, he would accuse his friends of bowing to the religious fanatics for want of courage.

A number of other soldiers and officials involved in the coup tried to portray themselves as well-meaning patriots and helpless links in the chain of command, but the military court was unmoved; they too were

convicted of conspiratorial collusion, murder, and use of state property without permission and held for a time before the same general amnesty.

One of them, a young but high-minded low-ranking officer who turned

to Islam after his release, published his story (I Was a Jacobin Too) in the Islamist newspaper Covenant, but the memoirs were censored for insulting the army. By then it was common knowledge that Goalkeeper Vural had started working for the local branch of MIT the moment the revolu- ˙ tion began. The court found that the other actors in Sunay’s troupe were but simple artists.

Funda Eser had gone on a rampage the night her husband died, leveling wild accusations against every person who crossed her path, threatening to denounce them all; when it was established that she had suffered a mental breakdown, she was sent to the psychiatric wing of the military hospital in Ankara, where she spent four months under observation.

Years after her discharge, she was to become famous throughout the

country as the voice of the witch in a popular children’s television cartoon; she told me she remained grief-stricken over the slanders that had prevented her husband (whose death she now termed “a work-related

incident”) from taking on the role of Atatürk; her sole consolation was to see how many of the newest statues of the great man showed him striking poses created by her husband. Because the inspecting colonel’s report had also implicated Ka in the coup, the military court summoned him as a witness; after his failure to appear at two hearings, they charged him with obstruction and issued a warrant for his arrest.

Every Saturday, Turgut Bey and Ipek visited Kadife, who served her ˙ sentence in Kars. During spring and summer, when the weather was fine, the kindly warden gave them permission to spread a white tablecloth

beneath the mulberry tree in the prison’s spacious courtyard, and they would while away the afternoon eating Zahide’s stuffed peppers with olive oil, offering her rice meatballs to the other inmates, cracking and peeling hard-boiled eggs, and listening to Chopin preludes on the Philips cassette player that Turgut Bey had managed to repair. To keep his daughter from seeing her sentence as a cause for shame, Turgut Bey insisted on treating the prison like a boarding school, a place through which all proper folk had to pass sometime; occasionally he would invite friends along, like the journalist Serdar Bey.

One day Fazıl joined them on a visit, and Kadife said she’d like to see him again; two months after her release, this young man four years her junior became her husband. For the first six months, they lived in a room in the Snow Palace Hotel, where Fazıl now worked as a receptionist, but by the time I visited Kars they had moved to a separate apartment. At six o’clock every morning, Kadife would take their six-month-old, Ömercan, to the Snow Palace Hotel; Zahide and Ipek would feed the baby and then ˙ Turgut Bey would play with his grandson while Kadife busied herself

with hotel business; by now Fazıl had decided it was better not to be too dependent on his father-in-law so he was working two other jobs. The first was at the Palace of Light Photo Studio and the other was at Kars Border Television: he told me with a smile that his job title was production assistant but really he was nothing more than a glorified errand boy.

As I’ve reported, on the day of my arrival the mayor gave a dinner in my honor; I met with Fazıl at noon the next day at their new home on Hulusi Aytekin Avenue. As I was gazing out at the enormous snowflakes bouncing softly against the walls of the castle before sinking into the dark waters of the river, Fazıl innocently asked why I’d come to Kars. Thinking he might say something about the way Ipek had turned my head at the ˙ mayor’s dinner, I panicked and launched into a long, somewhat exaggerated account of my interest in the poems Ka had written while in Kars and my tentative plans to write a book about them.

“If the poems are missing, how can you write a book about them?” he asked, in a friendly well-meaning voice.

“That’s as much a mystery to me as it is to you,” I said. “But there must be one poem in the television archives.”

“We can find it this evening. But you spent the whole morning walking around every street in Kars. So maybe you’re thinking of writing a novel about us too.”

“All I was doing was visiting the places Ka mentioned in his poems,” I said uneasily.

“But I can tell from your face that you want to tell the people who read your novels how poor we are and how different we are from them. I don’t want you to put me into a novel like that.”

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t even know me, that’s why! Even if you got to know me and described me as I am, your Western readers would be so

caught up in pitying me for being poor that they wouldn’t have a chance to see my life. For example, if you said I was writing an Islamist sciencefiction novel, they’d just laugh. I don’t want to be described as someone people smile at out of pity and compassion.”


“I know I’ve upset you,” said Fazıl. “Please don’t take offense, I can tell you’re a good person. But your friend was a good person too; maybe he even wanted to love us, but in the end he committed the greatest evil of all.”

I found it difficult to hear Fazıl imputing evil to Ka’s alleged betrayal of Blue, and I could not help thinking that it was only on account of Blue’s death that Fazıl had been able to marry Kadife. But I held my tongue.

“How can you be so sure this allegation is true?” I asked finally.

“Everyone in Kars knows this,” he said. He spoke with warmth, even compassion, and took care not to blame Ka or me.

In his eyes, I saw Necip. I told him I was happy to look at the sciencefiction novel he had wanted to show me, but he explained that he wanted to be with me when I read it. So we sat down at the table where he and Kadife ate their evening meal in front of the television set and read the first fifty pages of the science-fiction novel Necip had first imagined four years earlier, and which Fazıl was now writing in his name.

“So what do you think, is it good?” Fazıl asked, but only once, and apologetically. “If you’re bored, just leave it.”

“No, it’s good,” I said, and I read on with curiosity.

Later, when we were walking down Kâzım Karabekir Avenue, I told

him truthfully how much I liked the novel.

“Maybe you’re just saying that to cheer me up,” Fazıl said brightly, “but you’ve still done me a big favor. I’d like to reciprocate. So if you decide to write about Ka, it’s fine to mention me. But only if you let me speak directly to your readers.”

“What do you want to say to them?”

“I don’t know. If I can think of what to say while you’re still in Kars, I’ll tell you.”

We parted company, having agreed to meet at Kars Border Television

in the early evening. I watched Fazıl race down the street to the Palace of Light Photo Studio. How much of Necip do I see in him? Could he still feel Necip inside him in the way he had described to Ka? How much can a man hear another’s voice inside him?

That morning, as I walked the streets of Kars, talking to the same

people Ka had talked to, sitting in the same teahouses, there had been many moments when I almost felt I was Ka. Early in my wanderings,

while I was sitting in the Lucky Brothers Teahouse, where Ka had written “All Humanity and the Stars,” I too dreamed about my place in the universe, just as my beloved friend had done. Back at the Snow Palace Hotel, as I went to pick up my key, Cavit the receptionist told me I was rushing “just like Ka.” As I was walking down a side street, a grocer came outside to ask, “Are you the writer from Istanbul?” He invited me inside to ask whether I could write that all the newspaper reports four years earlier about the death of his daughter Teslime were false; he talked to me in just the way he must have talked to Ka and offered me a Coke, just as he had offered one to him. How much of this was coincidence; how much was

just my imagining? At one point, realizing I was on Baytarhane Street, I stopped to look up at the windows of Sheikh Saadettin’s lodge, and then, to understand how Ka felt when he visited the lodge, I went up the steep stairs that Muhtar had described in his poem.

I’d found Muhtar’s poems in Ka’s Frankfurt papers and took this to mean that he’d never sent them to Fahir. But it must have been five minutes after we were introduced that Muhtar, proclaiming Ka to have been “a true gentleman,” described how Ka had been so taken with Muhtar’s poems that he had volunteered to send them to a conceited Istanbul publisher with a cover letter praising them to the skies. Muhtar was happy with the way his life was going. Although the Prosperity Party had been shut down, he was sure to be the candidate of the new Islamist party the next time there was an election and was confident of a time to come

when he would be mayor. Thanks to Muhtar’s warm, ingratiating manner we were able to visit police headquarters (though they didn’t let us see the basement) and the Social Services Hospital where Ka had kissed Necip’s lifeless head. When Muhtar took me to see what was left of the National Theater and the rooms he had converted into an appliance depot, he con ceded that he was partly to blame for the destruction of this hundredyear-old building, and then by way of consolation he added, “At least it was an Armenian building and not a Turkish one.” He showed me all the places Ka had remembered whenever he found himself longing to return.

My thoughts remained with Ka as we walked through the snow and

through the fruit market; as we walked down Kâzım Karabekir Avenue, Muhtar pointed out the hardware stores one by one. Then he led me into the Halıl Pa¸ sa Arcade, where he took his leave, after introducing me to his political rival, the lawyer Muzaffer Bey. The former mayor reminisced at length about the city’s glory days during the early years of the Republic, just as he had done with Ka, and as we proceeded through the gloomy

corridors of the arcade a rich dairy owner standing in front of the Association of Animal Enthusiasts cried, “Orhan Bey!” He invited me in and flaunted his remarkable memory by describing how Ka had visited the

association around the time of the assassination of the director of the Institute of Education, and how he had gone off in a corner and lost himself in thought.

It was difficult to listen to his description of the moment Ka had realized he was in love with Ipek, just as I was about to meet ˙ Ipek at the New ˙ Life Pastry Shop. It was, I think, to calm my nerves, to ease my fear of being swamped by love, that I stepped into the Green Pastures Café to down a raki. But the moment I sat down across from Ipek at the New ˙ Life Pastry Shop, I realized that my precaution had left me only more vulnerable. I’d drunk the raki on an empty stomach, so instead of calming me it had set my head swimming. She had enormous eyes, and just the

kind of long face I like. As I struggled to make sense of her beauty— although I had been thinking about it incessantly since first seeing her the night before, I had yet to fathom its depths—I inflamed my own confusion and despair by reflecting that I knew every detail of her time with Ka and the love they’d known. It was as if I’d discovered yet another weakness in myself; it was a painful reminder that while Ka had lived his life in the way that came naturally to him, as a true poet, I was a lesser being, a simple-hearted novelist who like a clerk sat down to work at the same time every day. Perhaps this is why I now gave Ipek such a colorful and ˙ sympathetic account of Ka’s daily routines in Frankfurt, how he’d got up every morning at the same hour and walked the same streets to the same library, to sit and work at the same desk.

“I really had decided to go to Frankfurt with him,” said Ipek, mentioning several facts to prove it, including the suitcase she’d packed. “But now it’s hard to remember why I found Ka so charming. That said, out of respect for your friendship I would like to help you with your book.” “You’ve already helped enormously. Ka wrote brilliantly about his time here, and this was all thanks to you,” I said, hoping to provoke her.

“He filled several notebooks with a minute-by-minute account of his three-day visit. The only gap is the last few hours before he left the city.” She proceeded to fill that gap with astonishing frankness, concealing nothing, it seemed, though it must have been hard to be so open in public. I could not help but admire her honesty as she offered her own minute-by-minute account of Ka’s last hours in town: what she had seen with her own eyes, and what she had guessed about the rest.

“You had no solid proof, but you still decided not to go to Frankfurt?” I said, again by way of provocation.

“Sometimes, you sense something in your heart and simply know it’s true.”

“You’re the first one to mention hearts,” I said, and as if to make up for this I told her what I had gathered from the letters Ka had written to her from Frankfurt but never sent. I told her Ka had never been able to forget her. He’d been utterly distraught, needing two sleeping pills every night for a year after his return to Germany; he would regularly drink himself into a stupor; walking the streets of Frankfurt, he couldn’t go fifteen minutes without seeing some woman in the distance whom he mistook for her. Until the end of his life Ka had spent hours every day musing on the happy moments they’d spent together—the same film

playing in slow motion over and over in his head—he’d been overjoyed every time he managed to go even fifteen minutes without thinking of her; he’d never again had relations with any other woman, and after losing her he saw himself as not a real person at all, but a ghost. When I saw her face succumbing to her compassion even as it cried wordlessly,

Please, that’s enough!, when her eyebrows rose up as if taking in a puzzling question, I realized with horror that I wasn’t pleading my friend’s case but my own.

“Your friend may have loved me a great deal,” she said, “but not enough to come back to Kars to see me.”

“There was a warrant out for his arrest.”

“That needn’t have stopped him. He could have appeared in court as ordered, and that would have been the end of the matter. Please don’t take this the wrong way—he was right not to come—but the fact remains that Blue managed to make many secret visits to Kars to see me even

though there’d been orders to kill him on sight for years and years.” It pierced me to the core to see that when she mentioned Blue, her

hazel eyes lit up and her face filled with a melancholy I could tell was entirely genuine.

“But it wasn’t the courts your friend was most afraid of,” she said, as if to console me. “He knew very well what his real crime was, and this crime is the reason I didn’t come to the station.”

“You’ve never offered a shred of proof he was actually guilty,” I said.

“All I have to do is look at your face; you’re carrying his guilt for him.” Satisfied with her clever response, she put her lighter and her cigarettes back into her bag to let me know our interview was over. Clever, indeed: I held up a mirror forcing me to see what she could see, that I was jealous not of Ka but of Blue. Once I had also admitted this to myself, I knew I was defeated. Later on I would decide that I’d overread her—all she’d intended was a simple warning not to let guilt get the better of me.

She rose to put on her coat. How tall she was, with everything else!

I was confused. “We’ll see each other again tonight, won’t we?” I said.

There was no call for me to say this.

“Of course. My father is expecting you,” she said, and moved away with that sweet walk of hers.

I tried to feel sorry that in her heart she believed Ka was guilty, but I knew I was fooling myself. As I sat there invoking “my dear departed friend,” I had really intended only to speak of him wistfully and then, little by little, to expose his weaknesses, his obsessions, and then his “crime,” finally to blot out his noble memory as I boarded the same ship with her to embark on our first journey together. The dreams I’d entertained during my first night in Kars—of taking Ipek back with me to ˙ Istanbul—now seemed very far away: Faced with the shameful truth, all I wanted now was to prove my friend’s innocence. Can we assume then

that, as for dead men, it was Blue who had provoked my jealousy and

not Ka?

Walking through the snowy streets of Kars after nightfall only darkened my mood. Kars Border Television had moved to a new building on Karada˘ g Avenue, just across from the gas station. It was a three-story concrete affair heralded on its opening as a sign that Kars was moving up in the world, but two years later, its corridors were as muddy, dark, and dingy as any others in the city.

Fazıl was waiting for me in the second-floor studio; after introducing me to the eight others who worked at the station, he smiled affably and said, “My colleagues want to know if you’d mind saying a word or two for the evening broadcast.” My first thought was that this might help the cause of my research. During my five-minute interview, their youth programs presenter, Hakan Özge, said unexpectedly (though perhaps at Fazıl’s direction), “I hear you’re writing a novel set in Kars!” The question threw me but I managed to mutter noncommittally. There was no mention of Ka.

We then went into the director’s office to examine the shelves lined with videocassettes; the law required that they be dated, so it wasn’t long before we were able to locate the tapes of the first two live broadcasts from the National Theater. We took them into a small airless room and sat in front of the old TV set with our glasses of tea. The first thing I watched was Kadife’s performance in The Tragedy in Kars. I must say I was impressed by Sunay Zaim and Funda Eser’s “critical vignettes,” not to mention their parodies of various commercials popular at the time. At the scene in which Kadife bared her head to reveal her beautiful hair before killing Sunay, I paused, rewound, and repeated, trying to see exactly what had happened. Sunay’s death really did look like so much theater. I guessed that only the front row would have had any chance of detecting whether the clip was full or empty.

When I put in the tape of My Fatherland or My Head Scarf, I quickly realized that many elements in the play—the impersonations, the confessions of Goalkeeper Vural, Funda Eser’s belly dances—were no more than little sideshows that the troupe inserted into every play they did. The roaring and shouting and sloganeering in the hall, to say nothing of the age of the tape, made it almost impossible to work out what anyone said.

But I rewound several times in my attempt to hear Ka recite the poem that had come to him on the spot and would later become “The Place Where God Does Not Exist.” Miraculously, I was able to transcribe most of it. When Fazıl asked me what could have possibly made Necip jump to his feet while Ka was reciting the poem, and what could Necip have been trying to say, I handed him the sheet on which I had jotted down as much of the poem as I’d been able to hear.

When we got to the part where the soldiers fired into the audience,

we watched it twice.

“You’ve been all over Kars now,” said Fazıl. “But there’s another place I’d like to show you.” With slight embarrassment, but a certain air of mystery too, he told me that the place he had in mind was the religious high school. The school itself was closed, but since I was probably going to put Necip in my book too, it was important that I see the dormitory where he had spent his last years.

As we were walking through the snow down Ahmet Muhtar the Conqueror Avenue, I happened to see a charcoal-colored dog with a round white spot in the middle of his forehead, and when I realized he must be the dog Ka had written the poem about, I went into a grocery store to buy a boiled egg and some bread: the animal wagged its curly tail happily as I quickly peeled the egg for him.

When Fazıl saw that the dog was following us, he said, “This is the station dog. I didn’t tell you everything back there, maybe because I thought you might not come. The old dormitory is empty now. After the coup, they closed it; they called it a nest of terrorists and reactionary militancy. Since then no one’s lived there, which is why I’ve borrowed this flashlight from the station,” and he shined the light into the anxious eyes of the black dog, still wagging its tail. The dormitory, an old Armenian mansion, had been the Russian consulate, where the consul had lived

alone with his dog. The door to its garden was locked. Fazıl took me by the hand and helped me over the low wall. “This is how we used to get out in the evenings,” he said. He pointed to a large high window; slipping through the paneless frame with accustomed ease, he turned around to light my way with the flashlight. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “There’s nothing in here but birds.” Inside it was pitch-dark. Many of the windows were boarded up, and the glazing in others was so caked with ice and dirt that no light came through them, but Fazıl made his way to the stairs without difficulty. He climbed fearlessly but kept turning around like an usher in a cinema to show me the way. Everything stank of dust and

mold. We went through doors that had been kicked in on the night of the raid, and past walls riddled with bullet holes; overhead, pigeons flew in a panic from the nests they had built in the elbows of the hot-water pipes and in the corners of the high ceilings.

On the top floor, we walked among empty, rusting bunk beds. “This

one was mine, and that was Necip’s,” said Fazıl. “On some nights, to make sure we didn’t wake anyone with our whispering, we’d sleep in the same bed and watch the stars and talk.”

Through a gap in one of the top windows, we could see snowflakes

sailing slowly through the halo of the streetlamp. I stood there paying them my full attention, my deepest respects.

“Necip used to watch them from his bed,” said Fazıl. He pointed down to a narrow gap between two buildings: On the left—just beyond the garden—was the blind wall of the Agricultural Bank; to the right another blind wall, the back of a tall apartment building; the two-meter gap between them was too narrow for a street and so is best described as a passageway. A fluorescent tube on the first floor cast a purple light on the muddy ground below. To keep people from mistaking the passageway for a street, a NO ENTRY sign had been posted somewhere in the middle of the wall. At the end of this passage, which Fazıl said had inspired Necip’s vision of the “end of the world,” there was a dark and leafless tree, and just as we were looking at it, it suddenly turned red as if it were on fire.

“The red light in the sign of the Palace of Light Photo Studio has been broken for seven years now,” whispered Fazıl. “It keeps going on and off, and every time we saw it blink from Necip’s bed, the oleander over there looked like it was on fire. Necip would frequently dream of this vision all night long. He called the vision ‘that world,’ and on mornings after sleepless nights, he’d sometimes say, ‘I watched that world all night!’ He had told the poet Ka about it, and your friend put it into his poem. I figured this out while we were watching the tape, and that’s why I brought you here. But your friend dishonored Necip by calling the poem ‘The Place Where God Does Not Exist.’ ”

“It was your friend who described this landscape to Ka as ‘the place where God does not exist,’ ” I said. “I am sure of it.”

“I do not believe that Necip died an atheist,” said Fazıl carefully.

“Except, it’s true, he had doubts about himself.”

“Don’t you hear Necip’s voice inside you anymore?” I asked.

“Doesn’t all this make you afraid of turning into an atheist so gradually you don’t even notice, like the man in the story?”

Fazıl was not pleased to learn that I knew of the doubts he’d expressed to Ka four years earlier. “I’m a married man now; I have a child,” he said.

“I’m no longer interested in such matters.” It must have occurred to him that he’d been treating me like someone who’d flown in from the West to lure him toward atheism, because he immediately relented. “Let’s talk about that later,” he said, in a gentle voice. “We’re expected at my fatherin-law’s for dinner, and it wouldn’t be right to keep them waiting, would it?” But before we went downstairs he took me to a grand room that had

been the main office of the Russian consulate. Pointing at the table, the chairs, and the broken raki bottles in a corner, he said, “After the roads opened, Z Demirkol and his special operations team stayed here for a few days so they could kill a few more Islamists and Kurdish nationalists.” Up until that moment, I’d managed to keep this part of the story out of my mind, but now it came back to me with a vengeance. I had not

wanted to think about Ka’s last hours in Kars at all.

The charcoal-colored dog had been waiting for us at the garden gate

and followed us back to the hotel.

“You look very upset,” said Fazıl. “What’s wrong?”

“Before we go in to eat, would you come up to my room for a

moment? There’s something I’d like to give you.”

As I took my key from Cavit, I looked through the open door of

Turgut Bey’s office and saw the bright room beyond, I saw the food spread on the table, I heard the dinner guests talking and felt Ipek’s pres- ˙ ence. In my suitcase I had the photocopies Ka had made of the love letters Necip had written to Kadife four years earlier, and when we got to my room, I gave them to Fazıl. Only much later would it occur to me that I wanted him to be as much haunted by the ghost of his friend as I was by Ka’s.

Fazıl sat on the edge of the bed to read the letters, while I went back to my suitcase to take out one of Ka’s notebooks. Opening it up to the snowflake I had first seen in Frankfurt, I saw something that a part of me must have recognized a long time ago. Ka had located “The Place Where God Does Not Exist” at the very top of the Memory axis. This suggested to me that he had been to the deserted dormitory Z Demirkol and his

friends had used as their base at the tail end of the coup, had looked through Necip’s window, and so discovered, just before leaving Kars, the true origins of Necip’s landscape. All the other poems on the Memory axis referred to his childhood or his own memories of Kars. So now I too was sure of the story all of Kars had always believed to be true: After Ka had failed to persuade Kadife to give up the play, and while Ipek was sit- ˙ ting locked up in his room, he’d gone to pay a visit to Z Demirkol, who was waiting in his new headquarters for Ka to tell him where to find Blue.

I am sure I looked just as dazed as Fazıl at that moment. The voices of the dinner guests floated faintly up the stairs; the sighs of the sad city of Kars rose from the street. Each lost in memory, Fazıl and I bowed to the unassailable presence of our more complex, passionate, and authentic originals.

Looking out the window at the falling snow, I told Fazıl that time was passing; we really should be getting downstairs. Fazıl left first, loping off with a hangdog look as if he’d just committed a crime. I lay down on the bed and imagined Ka’s thoughts as he walked from the National Theater to the dormitory; how he must have struggled to look Z Demirkol in the eye; how, unable to furnish the exact street address, he must have ended up getting in the car with those who’d been sent for Blue, to show them the way. What sorrow I felt to imagine my friend pointing out the building in the distance. Or was it something worse? Could it be that the writer clerk was secretly delighted at the fall of the sublime poet? The thought induced such self-loathing I forced myself to think about something else.

When I went downstairs to join Turgut Bey and his other guests, I

was undone anew by Ipek’s beauty. Recai Bey, the cultivated book-loving ˙ director of the electricity board, did his best to lift my spirits, as did Serdar Bey and Turgut Bey. But let me pass quickly over this long evening, during which everyone treated me with the most beautiful solicitude and I had far too much to drink. Every time I looked at Ipek sitting across the ˙ table, I felt something come loose inside me. I watched myself being interviewed on television; to see my nervous hand gestures was excruciating. I took out the little tape recorder I’d been carrying around Kars to record my hosts and their guests giving me their views on the city’s history, the fate of journalism here, and the night of the revolution, but I did all this in the dutiful languor of one who no longer believes in his work.

As I sipped Zahide’s lentil soup, I began to imagine myself as a character in a provincial novel from the 1940s. I decided that prison had been good for Kadife; she was more mature now, more assured. No one mentioned

Ka—not even his death—and this broke my heart. At one point Ipek and ˙ Kadife went into the room next door where little Ömercan was sleeping.

I wanted to follow them, but by then your author had “drunk a great deal, as artists always will.” I was, in fact, too drunk to stand.

But I still have one very clear memory of that evening. At a very late hour, I told Ipek that I wanted to see Ka’s room, Room 203. Everyone at ˙ the table fell silent and turned to look at us.

“Fine,” said Ipek. “Let’s go.” ˙

She took the key from reception, and I followed her upstairs. The

room. The window, the curtains, the snow. The smell of sleep, the perfume of soap, the faint whiff of dust. The cold. As Ipek watched, still ˙ keen to give me the benefit of the doubt but not entirely trustful, I sat on the edge of the bed where my friend had passed the happiest hours of his life making love to this same woman. What if I died here, what if I

declared my love to Ipek, what if I just stayed here to look out the win- ˙ dow? They were all waiting for us, yes, they were all waiting for us at the table. I babbled a bit of nonsense that amused Ipek enough to make her ˙ smile. I remember her giving me an especially sweet smile when I uttered the mortifying words that I told her I had prepared in advance.

“Nothing makes you happy in love except love . . . neither the books you writen or the cities you see . . . I am very lonely . . . if I say that I want to be here in this city close to you till the end of my life would you believe me?” “Orhan Bey,” said Ipek, “I tried hard to love Muhtar, but it didn’t ˙ work out. I loved Blue with all my heart, but it didn’t work out. I believed I would learn to love Ka, but that didn’t work out either. I longed for a child but the child never came. I don’t think I’ll ever love anyone again, I just don’t have the heart for it. All I want to do now is look after my little nephew, Ömercan. But I’d like to thank you anyway, even though I can’t take you seriously.”

For the first time in my presence, she hadn’t said “your friend”; she used Ka’s name, and for this I thanked her effusively. Could we meet again, at noon the next day, at the New Life Pastry Shop, just to talk about Ka a little longer?

She was sorry to say she’d be busy. But, still determined to be a good host, she promised that she and the rest of the family would come to see me off at the station the following evening.

I thanked her and then confessed I hadn’t the strength to return to the dinner table (I was also afraid I might start crying), whereupon I threw myself on the bed and passed out.

The next morning I managed to leave the hotel unnoticed and spent the day walking around the city, first with Muhtar and later on with Serdar Bey and Fazıl. As I’d hoped, my appearance on the evening news had put the people of Kars at ease about talking to me, so I was able to gather up many essential details that clarified the end of my story. Muhtar introduced me to the owner of the Lance, the first political Islamist newspaper in Kars (circulation seventy-five); I also met the retired pharmacist who was the paper’s managing editor, though he arrived for our meeting quite late. The two men went on to tell me that the antidemocratic measures launched against it had sent the Kars Islamic movement into retreat, and even the popular demand for a religious high school was waning. Only after they had finished speaking did I remember how Fazıl and Necip had once plotted to kill this aging pharmacist after he had twice kissed Necip in an odd manner.

The owner of the Hotel Asia was now writing for the Lance, and when

we turned to the discussion of recent events, he remembered how thankful he was that the man who had assassinated the Institute of Education director four years earlier had not been from Kars, a detail I’d somehow managed to forget. The assassin, he said, had turned out to be a teahouse operator from Tokat; it was later proved that he had committed another murder around the same time using the same weapon; when the ballistic reports came back from Ankara, the man from Tokat was charged with

the murder, and he confessed that it was Blue who’d invited him to Kars.

A brief submitted at trial claimed he had suffered a nervous breakdown, so the judge sent him to the Bakirköy Mental Hospital, and when they released him three years later, he decided to make his home in Istanbul, where he now ran the Merry Tokat Teahouse and wrote columns on the

civil rights of head-scarf girls for the newspaper Covenant.

The cause of the head-scarf girls in Kars had been greatly weakened

four years earlier, when Kadife bared her head, and although it now

showed signs of resurgence, so many girls involved in the court cases had been expelled, and so many others had transferred to universities in other cities, that the Kars movement had yet to show the dynamism of those in Istanbul; Hande’s family refused to see me.

The fireman with the strong baritone who’d been yanked into the television station the morning after the revolution to sing Turkish folk songs had gained such a following that he was now the star of his own weekly program on Kars Border Television, Songs of the Turkish Borderlands. They taped it on Tuesday and aired it on Friday evening; the music-loving janitor from Kars General Hospital (a close personal friend and one of His Excellency Sheikh Saadettin’s most devoted followers) accompanied him on a rhythmic saz.

Serdar Bey also introduced me to “Glasses,” the young boy who’d appeared onstage on the night of the revolution. Forbidden by his father ever to appear onstage again, even for a school play, Glasses was now a grown man, and he still worked as a newspaper distributor. He brought me up-to-date on the Kars socialists who depended on the Istanbul

papers for their news. Still stouthearted admirers of the Islamists and the Kurdish nationalists who were prepared to lay down their lives to oppose the state, they occasionally issued indecisive statements that no one both ered to read. These days their activities amounted to little more than sitting around bragging about the heroes they’d been and the sacrifices they’d made as younger men.

It seemed that almost everyone I met on my walks around Kars was

waiting for just such a hero, some great man ready to make the large sacrifices that would deliver them all from poverty, unemployment, confusion, and murder; perhaps because I was a novelist of some repute, the whole city, it seems, had been hoping that I might be that great man they’d been waiting for. Alas, I was to disappoint them with my bad Istanbul habits, my absentmindedness and lack of organization, my selfregard, my obsession with my project, and my haste; what’s more, they let me know it.

There was Maruf the tailor, who, having told me his life story in the Unity Teahouse, said I should have agreed to come home with him to

meet his nephews and drink with them; I should also have planned to stay two more days to attend the Conference of Atatürk Youth on Thursday evening; I should have smoked every cigarette and drunk every glass of tea offered me in a spirit of friendship (I almost did).

Fazıl’s father had an army friend from Varto who told me that in the past four years most Kurdish militants had either been killed or thrown into prison; no one was joining the guerillas anymore. As for the young Kurds who’d attended the meeting at the Hotel Asia, they’d all abandoned the city, though at the Sunday-evening cockfight I saw Zahide’s grandson the gambler, who greeted me warmly and shared some of his

raki, which we sipped surreptitiously out of tea glasses.

By now it was getting late, so I made my way back to the hotel, plodding slowly through the snow like a traveler without a friend in the world although laden with all its sorrows. I still had plenty of time before my departure, but I was hoping to leave without being seen and went straight up to my room to pack.

As I was leaving through the kitchen door, I met Saffet the detective.

He was retired now, but he still came every night for Zahide’s soup. He recognized me straightaway from my television interview and said he had things he wanted to tell me. At the Unity Teahouse, he told me that while he was officially retired he still worked for the state on a casual basis; there was, after all, no such thing as retirement for a detective in Kars.

He’d been dispatched because the city’s intelligence services were keen to know what I was trying to dig up here (was it to do with the “Armenian thing,” the Kurdish rebels, the religious associations, the political parties?). Smiling graciously, he added that if I could tell him my true business, I’d be helping him make a little money.

Choosing my words carefully, I told him about Ka; I reminded him

that he had followed my friend step by step around the city during his visit four years earlier. What did he remember about him? I asked.

“He was a man who cared about people, and he loved dogs too—a

good man,” he said. “But his mind was still in Germany, and he was very introverted. No one here likes Ka these days.”

For a long time we remained silent. Hoping he might know something, but still apprehensive, I finally asked about Blue, and I discovered that a year ago, just as I was now here asking about Ka, several young Islamists had come from Istanbul to ask about Blue, this enemy of the state. They left without finding his grave, probably because the corpse had been dumped into the sea from an airplane, to keep his burial site from becoming a place of pilgrimage.

When Fazıl came to join us at the table, he said he’d heard similar stories; he’d also heard that those same young Islamists were following the same path Blue had taken on his own pilgrimage. They’d escaped to Germany, where they founded a fast-growing radical Islamist group in Berlin; according to Fazıl’s old classmates from the religious high school, they’d written a statement—published on the first page of a German-based

journal called Pilgrimage—in which they’d vowed revenge against those responsible for Blue’s death. It was this group, we guessed, that had killed Ka. Perhaps the only existing manuscript of his book was now in Berlin, in the hands of Blue’s Pilgrims—or so I imagined for a moment as I gazed out at the snow.

At that point another policeman joined us at the table to tell me that all the gossip about him was untrue. “I don’t have gray eyes!” he said. He had no idea what it meant to have gray eyes. He’d loved the late Teslime with all his heart, and if she hadn’t committed suicide they would certainly have married. It was then I remembered from Ka’s notebooks how, four years ago, Saffet had confiscated Fazıl’s student identity card at the public library. It occurred to me that both Saffet and Fazıl had long forgotten the transaction.

When Fazıl and I returned to the snowy streets, the two policemen

came out with us—whether in a spirit of friendship or professional curiosity, I couldn’t tell—and as we walked, they spoke unbidden about their lives, the emptiness of life in general, the pain of love and growing old.

Neither had a hat, and when the snowflakes landed on each man’s thin ning white hair, they didn’t melt. When I asked whether the city was now even poorer and emptier than four years earlier, Fazıl said everyone had been watching a lot more television in recent years, and that, rather than spend their days sitting in a teahouse, the unemployed now preferred to sit at home watching free films beamed from all over the world by satellite. Everyone in the city had scrimped and saved up to buy these white dishes about the size of stewpot lids now hitched to the edge of every window; this, he said, was the only new development in the city.

We stopped off at the New Life Pastry Shop, where we each bought

one of the delicious nut-filled crescent rolls that had cost the director of the Institute of Education his life: It would be our evening meal. When the police had ascertained that we were heading for the station, they said their farewells, and as Fazıl and I walked on past shuttered shops, empty teahouses, abandoned Armenian mansions, and brightly glistening shop windows, I looked up from time to time at the snow-laden branches of the chestnut and poplar trees above streets unevenly illuminated by the odd neon light. We took the side streets since the police weren’t following us. The snow, which had given signs of abating, now began to fall more thickly. It may have been the emptiness of the streets, or it may have been my pain at the prospect of leaving Kars, but I began to feel guilty, as if I were somehow abandoning Fazıl to solitary life in this empty city. I could see that the icicles hanging from the bare branches of two oleander trees had intertwined to form a tulle curtain; in a nest of ice I saw a sparrow fluttering; it took off into swirls of giant snowflakes and flew away over our heads. The blanket of fresh white snow had buried the empty streets in a silence so deep that, apart from our footsteps, all we could hear was our own breathing. The longer we walked, the more labored and thunderous our breathing became, the shops and houses remaining silent as a dream.

I stopped for a moment in the middle of a street to watch a single

snowflake fall through the night to its ultimate resting place. At that same moment, Fazıl pointed above the entrance of the Divine Light Teahouse: There, high up on the wall, was a faintly lettered poster, now four years old:


“This teahouse is popular with the police, so no one dared touch that poster,” said Fazıl.

“Do you feel as if you’re God’s masterpiece?” I asked.

“No. Only Necip was God’s masterpiece. Ever since God took his

life, I’ve let go my anxieties about atheism and my desire to love God more. May God forgive me.”

The snowflakes falling so slowly now seemed suspended in the sky,

and we did not speak again until we’d reached the train station. The beautiful stone station house, the early republican structure I’d mentioned in The Black Book, was gone now; they’d replaced it with the typical concrete monstrosity. We found Muhtar and the charcoal-colored dog waiting for us.

Ten minutes before the train’s scheduled departure, Serdar Bey

arrived with some back issues of the Border City Gazette that mentioned Ka. Giving them to me, he asked me if I could take care not to say anything bad about Kars or its troubles, the city or its people, when I wrote my book. When he saw Serdar Bey bringing out a present, a nervous,

almost guilty-looking Muhtar handed me a plastic shopping bag; inside was a bottle of cologne, a little wheel of the famous Kars cheese, and a signed copy of his first poetry collection, printed in Erzurum at his own expense.

I bought my ticket and a sandwich for the little dog my friend had

mentioned in his poem. The dog wagged his curly tail happily as he

approached me, and I was still feeding him the sandwich when I saw

Turgut Bey and Kadife rushing into the station. They’d only just heard from Zahide that I’d gone. We exchanged a few pleasantries about the ticket agent, the journey, the snow. Turgut Bey reached shamefacedly into his pocket and pulled out a new edition of First Love, the Turgenev novel he’d translated from the French while he was in prison. Ömercan was sitting on Kadife’s lap, and I stroked his head. His mother’s head was wrapped in one of her elegant Istanbul scarves, and the snow it had collected was falling from the edges. Afraid to look too long into his wife’s beautiful eyes, I turned back to Fazıl and asked him whether he knew now what he might want to say to my readers if ever I was to write a book set in Kars.

“Nothing.” His voice was determined.

When he saw my face fall, he relented. “I did think of something, but you may not like it,” he said. “If you write a book set in Kars and put me in it, I’d like to tell your readers not to believe anything you say about me, anything you say about any of us. No one could understand us from so far away.”

“But no one believes in that way what he reads in a novel,” I said.

“Oh, yes, they do,” he cried. “If only to see themselves as wise and superior and humanistic, they need to think of us as sweet and funny, and convince themselves that they sympathize with the way we are and even love us. But if you would put in what I’ve just said, at least your readers will keep a little room for doubt in their minds.”

I promised I would put what he’d said into my novel.

When Kadife saw me eyeing the station entrance, she came toward

me. “I hear you have a beautiful little daughter called Rüya,” she said.

“My sister isn’t coming, but she asked me to send warm wishes to you and your daughter. And I brought you this memento of my short theatrical career.” She gave me a photograph of herself with Sunay Zaim on the stage of the National Theater.

The stationmaster blew the whistle. I think I was the only one boarding the train. One by one, I embraced them. At the last moment, Fazıl passed me a plastic bag; inside were the copies he’d made of the videos and a ballpoint pen that had once belonged to Necip.

By now the train was moving, and it took some effort to jump into

the car with my hands so full of presents. They were all standing on the platform waving, and I leaned out the window to wave back. It was only at the last moment that I saw the charcoal-colored dog, its pink tongue hanging from its mouth. It ran happily alongside me, right to the end of the platform. They all disappeared into the thick-falling snow.

I sat down and as I looked out the window through the snow at the orange lights of the outermost houses of the outlying neighborhoods, the shabby rooms full of people watching television, and the last snowcovered rooftops, the thin and elegantly quivering ribbons of smoke rising from the broken chimneys at last seemed a smudge through my tears.

April 1999–December 2001

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