فصل 09

کتاب: برف / درس 9

فصل 09

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Are You an Atheist?

a nonbeliever who does not want to kill himself

When Blue left the room, Ka was not sure what to do. At first he thought Blue was coming back to quiz him on his “thoughts.” But it soon dawned on him that he had misread this man. In his posturing, insinuating way, Blue was giving him a message. Or was it a threat?

In either case, it wasn’t danger Ka sensed but rather the fact of not belonging here. The room in which he had seen the mother and the baby was now empty; so, too, was the entryway. As he closed the front door behind him, it was all he could do not to run down the stairs.

When he looked up at the sky, Ka’s first thought was that the snowflakes had stopped moving; as he watched them hover in midair, it seemed as if time itself had stopped. It also seemed that a great deal had changed and a great deal of time had passed while he’d been inside. But Ka’s meeting with Blue had lasted only twenty minutes.

He made his way along the train track, past the snow-covered silo that loomed overhead like a great white cloud, and was soon back inside the station. As he passed through the empty, dirty building, he saw a dog approaching, wagging its curly tail in a friendly way. It was a black dog with a round white patch on its forehead. As he looked across the filthy waiting hall, Ka saw three teenage boys, who were beckoning the dog with sesame rolls. One of them was Necip; he broke away from his friends and ran toward Ka.

“On no account are you to let my classmates know how I knew you’d be coming through here,” he said. “My best friend, Fazıl, has a very important question to ask you. If you can give him a moment of your time, he’ll be very happy.”

“All right,” said Ka, and he walked over to the bench where the other teenagers were sitting.

One poster on the wall behind them urgently reminded travelers how important the railroads were to Atatürk; another sought to strike fear in the heart of any girl contemplating suicide. The boys rose to their feet to shake Ka’s hand, but then shyness overtook them.

“Before Fazıl asks his question, Mesut would like to tell you a story he’s heard,” said Necip.

“No, I can’t tell it myself,” said Mesut, hardly containing his excitement. “Please—could you tell the story for me?” While Necip told the story, Ka watched the black dog frolicking about the dirty half-lit station.

“The story takes place in a religious high school in Istanbul, or that’s what I heard,” Necip began. “A typical slapdash place in a suburb on the edge of the city. The director of this school had an appointment with a city official in one of those new Istanbul skyscrapers we’ve seen on television. He got into this enormous elevator and began to go up. There was another man in the elevator, a tall man younger than he; this man showed the director the book in his hand, and as some of its pages were still uncut he took out a knife with a mother-of-pearl handle while he recited a few lines. When the elevator stopped on the nineteenth floor, the director got out.

“During the days that followed, he began to feel very strange. He became obsessed with death, he couldn’t find the will to do anything, and he couldn’t stop thinking about the man in the elevator. The school director was a devout man, so he went to see some Cerrahi dervishes, hoping to find solace and guidance. He sat there until morning, pouring out all his woes, and after he had done this, the celebrated sheikh made the following diagnosis: “ ‘It seems you’ve lost your faith in God,’ he said. ‘What’s worse, you don’t even know it, and as if that weren’t bad enough, you’re even proud of not knowing it! You contracted this disease from the man in the elevator. He’s turned you into an atheist.’ The director rose to his feet in tears to deny what the illustrious sheikh had said, but there was still one part of his heart that was pure and honest, and this part assured him that the sheikh was telling the truth.

“Infected by the disease of atheism, the director began to put unreasonable pressure on his lovely little pupils; he tried to spend time alone with their mothers; he stole money from another teacher whom he envied. And the worst of it was, he felt proud for having committed these sins. He would assemble the whole school to accuse them of blind faith; he told them their traditions made no sense and asked why they couldn’t be free as he was; he couldn’t utter a sentence without stuffing it with French words; he spent the money he had stolen on the latest European fashions. And wherever he went, he made sure to let people know how much he despised them for being ‘backward.’

“Before long, the school had descended into anarchy. One group of pupils raped a beautiful classmate, another group beat up an elderly Koran teacher, and the whole place was on the brink of revolt. The director would go home in tears, contemplating suicide, but because he lacked the courage to follow through, he kept hoping that someone else would kill him. To make this happen, he—God forbid—cursed His Excellency the Prophet Muhammad in front of one of his most God-fearing pupils.

But knowing by now that he had lost his mind, his pupils didn’t lay a finger on him. He took to the streets, to proclaim—God forbid—that God did not exist, that mosques should be turned into discotheques, and that we’d only become as rich as people in the West if we all converted to Christianity. But now that the young Islamists wanted to kill him, he lost his resolve and hid from them.

“Hopeless and unable to find any way to satisfy his death wish, the director returned to the same fateful skyscraper in Istanbul and, stepping into the same elevator car, found himself face-to-face once again with the tall man who had first exposed him to atheism. The man smiled in a way to indicate that he knew the director’s whole story, and then he presented the book as he had the time before—the cure for atheism was to be found in it too. As the director stretched out a trembling hand, the man took out the knife with the mother-of-pearl handle, as if preparing to cut the pages of the book, but with the elevator still moving, he plunged it into the director’s heart.”

When Necip finished the story, Ka realized that he’d heard it before, from Islamist Turks in Germany. In Necip’s version, the mysterious book at the end of the story remained unnamed, but Mesut now named one or two Jewish writers known to be agents of atheism, as well as a number of columnists who had led the media campaign against political Islam—one of these would be assassinated three years later.

“The director is not alone in his anguish—there are many atheists in our midst. They’ve been seduced by the devil and now roam among us, desperate for peace and happiness,” said Mesut. “Do you share this view?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?” Mesut asked, with some annoyance. “Aren’t you an atheist too?”

“I don’t know,” said Ka.

“Then tell me this: Do you or don’t you believe that God Almighty created the universe and everything in it, even the snow that is swirling down from the sky?”

“The snow reminds me of God,” said Ka.

“Yes, but do you believe that God created snow?” Mesut insisted.

There was a silence. Ka watched the black dog run through the door to the platform to frolic in the snow under the dim halo of neon light.

“You’re not giving me an answer,” said Mesut. “If a person knows and loves God, he never doubts God’s existence. It seems to me that you’re not giving me an answer because you’re too timid to admit that you’re an atheist. But we knew this already. That’s why I wanted to ask you a question on my friend Fazıl’s behalf. Do you suffer the same terrible pangs as the poor atheist in the story? Do you want to kill yourself ?” “No matter how unhappy I was, I’d still find suicide terrifying,” said Ka.

“But why?” asked Fazıl. “Is it because it’s against the law? But when the state talks about the sanctity of human life, they get it all wrong. Why are you afraid of committing suicide? Explain this.”

“Please don’t take offense at my friend’s insistence,” said Necip.

“Fazıl’s asking you this question for a reason—a very special reason.” “What I wanted to ask,” said Fazıl, “is this: Aren’t you so troubled and unhappy that you want to commit suicide?”

“No,” said Ka. He was beginning to get annoyed.

“Please, don’t try to hide anything from us,” said Mesut. “We won’t do anything bad to you just because you’re an atheist.”

There was a tense silence. Ka rose to his feet. He had no desire to let them see how he felt. He started walking.

“Where are you going? Please don’t go,” said Fazıl. Ka stopped in his tracks but said nothing.

“Maybe I should speak instead,” said Necip. “The three of us are in love with girls who have put everything at risk for the sake of their faith. The secular press calls them covered girls. For us they are simply Muslim girls, and what they do to defend their faith is what all Muslim girls must do.”

“And men too,” said Fazıl.

“Of course,” said Necip. “I’m in love with Hicran. Mesut is in love with Hande. Fazıl was in love with Teslime, but now she’s dead. Or she committed suicide. But we can’t bring ourselves to believe that a Muslim girl ready to sacrifice everything for her faith would be capable of suicide.”

“Perhaps she could no longer bear her suffering,” Ka suggested.

“After all, she’d been thrown out of school, and her family was putting pressure on her to take off her head scarf.”

“No amount of suffering can justify a believer’s committing this sin,” Necip said excitedly. “If we even forget or miss our morning prayers, we’re so worried about our sinful state that we can hardly sleep at night.

The more it happens, the earlier we run back to the mosque. When someone’s faith is this strong, he’ll do anything to keep from committing such a sin—even submit to a life of torture.”

“We know that you went to see Teslime’s family,” Fazıl said. “Do they think she committed suicide?”

“They do. She watched Marianna on TV with her parents, washed herself, and said her prayers.”

“Teslime never watched soap operas,” Fazıl said, in a soft voice.

“How well did you know her?” Ka asked.

“I didn’t know her personally; we never actually spoke,” said Fazıl, with some embarrassment. “I saw her once from far away, and she was pretty well covered. But as a soulmate, of course I knew her very well; when you love someone above all others, you know everything there is to know about her. The Teslime I knew would never have committed suicide.”

“Maybe you didn’t know her well enough.”

“And maybe the Westerners sent you here to cover up Teslime’s murder,” said Mesut, with a swagger.

“No, no, we trust you,” said Necip. “Our leaders say you’re a recluse, a poet. It’s because we trust you that we wanted to talk to you about something that’s making us very unhappy. Fazıl would like to apologize for what Mesut has just said.”

“I apologize,” said Fazıl. His face was beet red. Tears were forming in his eyes.

Mesut remained silent as peace was restored.

“Fazıl and I are blood brothers,” said Necip. “Most of the time, we think the same things; we can read each other’s thoughts. Unlike me, Fazıl has no interest in politics. Now we’d like to know if you could do us both a favor. The thing is, we can both accept that Teslime might have been driven to the sin of suicide by the pressures from her parents and the state. It’s very painful; Fazıl can’t stop thinking that the girl he loved committed the sin of suicide. But if Teslime was a secret atheist like the one in the story, if she was one of those unlucky souls who don’t even know they are atheists, or if she committed suicide because she was an atheist, for Fazıl this is a catastrophe: It means he was in love with an atheist.

“You’re the only one who can answer this terrible suspicion that’s plaguing us. You’re the only one who can offer Fazıl comfort. Do you understand what we’re thinking?”

“Are you an atheist?” asked Fazıl, with imploring eyes. “And if you are an atheist, do you want to kill yourself ?”

“Even on days when I am most certain that I’m an atheist, I feel no urge to commit suicide,” said Ka.

“Thank you for giving us a straight answer to our question,” said Fazıl. He looked calmer now. “Your heart is full of goodness, but you’re afraid of believing in God.”

Seeing that Mesut was still glaring at him, Ka was eager to put some distance between them. His mind was already far, far away. He felt a desire stirring inside him, and a dream connected to that desire, but at the same time he was unable to give himself over to this dream on account of the activity around him. Later, when he could think carefully, he would understand that this dream rose from his yearning for Ipek as well as ˙ from his fear of dying and his failure to believe in God. And at the last moment, Mesut added something else.

“Please don’t misunderstand us,” said Necip. “We have no objection to someone’s becoming an atheist. There’s always room for atheists in Muslim societies.”

“Except that the cemeteries have to be kept separate,” said Mesut. “It would bring disquiet to the souls of believers to lie in the same cemeteries as the godless. When people go through life concealing their lack of faith, they bring turbulence not only to the land of the living but also to cemeteries. It’s not just the torment of having to lie beside the godless till Judgment Day; the worst horror would be to rise up on Judgment Day only to find oneself face-to-face with a luckless atheist. . . . Mr. Poet, Ka Bey, you’ve made no secret of the fact that you were once an atheist. Maybe you still are one. So tell us, Who makes the snow fall from the sky? What is the snow’s secret?”

For a moment they all looked outside to watch the snow falling onto the empty tracks.

What am I doing in this world? Ka asked himself. How miserable these snowflakes look from this perspective, how miserable my life is. A man lives his life, and then he falls apart and soon there is nothing left.

Ka felt as if half his soul had just abandoned him but still the other half remained; he still had love in him. Like a snowflake, he would fall as he was meant to fall; he would devote himself heart and soul to the melancholy course on which his life was set. His father had a certain smell after shaving, and now this smell came back to him. He thought of his mother making breakfast, her feet aching inside her slippers on the cold kitchen floor; he had a vision of a hairbrush; he remembered his mother giving him sugary pink syrup when he woke up coughing in the night, he felt the spoon in his mouth, and as he gave his mind over to all the other little things that make up a life and realized how they all added up to a unified whole, he saw a snowflake. . . .

So it was that Ka heard the call from deep inside him: the call he heard only at moments of inspiration, the only sound that could ever make him happy, the sound of his muse. For the first time in four years, a poem was coming to him; although he had yet to hear the words, he knew it was already written; even as it waited in its hiding place, it radiated the power and beauty of destiny. Ka’s heart rejoiced. He told the three youths he had to leave them and hurried away through the snow, thinking all the while of the poem he would write when he was back at the hotel.

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