Behçet Çelik

Excerpt from the novel: The Drone of the World
Galata Bridge - © Nurdan Hatipoğlu
Translated by Amy Spangler

While passing through the marketplace, he had no thoughts of going down to the park on the shore. He intended to pick up something to eat and head straight home after taking a short walk. He enjoyed walking, the cool winter sun, and the deserted avenues. It was something he hadn’t done in years, wandering idly about at this time of day – on a weekday. So there were times when this place was quiet, deserted like this. Perhaps he hadn’t even wandered around here at this time of day back in his schooldays. Leaving the shops, the stores, and the office towers behind, he walked through narrow streets, between low-rise apartment buildings, until he emerged onto a wide, open space that looked down onto the sea, and he suddenly felt happy. Clusters of clouds veiled the sun, but they were unable to stop a silvery stirring on the sea out beyond from swaying merrily, flickering and fluttering, almost as if winking. So this was how the sun struck the sea at this time of day – yesterday around this hour it was lunchtime at the office. For a while he gazed in awe at the twinkling light. It wasn’t just the angle of the sun, the view, and the light that struck him, but the stirring within him – was it silvery too? – also seemed strange and unfamiliar. Having grown almost entirely accustomed to the stillness, the lack of stirring, as he was.

When it had started, he did not know. He hadn’t just woken up one morning to find himself completely still – he didn’t care for insects anyway. It started off slowly, but when was it that he had actually become aware of this stillness? When he asked himself, “What’s happening to me?”, or did he not realize it at all, but just imagine it? He wasn’t sure. Something had been wrenched out of him, out of the inside of him. Had it happened slowly – the gradual unraveling of a sweater, a sweater he wasn’t sure whether he liked or not, the bundle of yarn growing in his hand the more he tried to pull it back together; the yarn growing longer and longer, the sweater smaller and smaller the more he thought it couldn’t possibly come unraveled anymore, – or did it happen suddenly – the abrupt contact of a tomato which has fallen through the tear in a shopping bag, with the sidewalk, wet, sticky, squish, squash? He tries to remember, but he can’t. There it was, what was left, in his hand; there it was, splattered, on the ground.
It didn’t exist anymore. Or it did, but it was lacking, wounded. In any case, it was useless.

Had it happened before? Yes, it had, but not like this, not without reason, he thought. When he and his classmates had moved on to senior year; the first day of school; when he found out that the girl he secretly had a crush on had moved out of town; or the early days of his military service… He had felt as if he were in a large void (he remembered the line, but he couldn’t remember who it was by, or when or where he’d read it: “at the shoulder like a missing limb”) where some person or another he had thought would always be there, was always going missing. But this was different: Before, what he had felt he missed was a person, a place, or a group for which even if he had at times felt a close affinity, was outside of him. This time though it was as if something deep within had become disconnected, had fallen out—but he didn’t know what it was or when or where he’d dropped it. All he knew was that he was becoming less and less. Perhaps that is why this time, he neither grew numb and motionless as he had in the absence of the girl he’d had a crush on, nor did he spend his days in constant anger as he had back in the military. He went on doing whatever it was he had always done. Whatever had gone missing –whatever it was in his life—had taken other things away with it too. But it really wasn’t all that bad: He’d just calmly gone about doing what he had always done. He’d started drawing up reports, adding up accounts without thinking things like, “I’d better get this finished by six.” So what if he went home two hours late? He’d listened to his colleagues and his boss go on and on, without wishing they’d get the damn meeting over with already. So what if he got back to his desk? The dreadful feeling that used to set in each Sunday morning, growing with each passing hour, no longer afflicted him – he hardly felt a thing, even on Sunday evenings. Sunday, Monday, what was the difference!

At first, since he hadn’t told anybody about it, he didn’t need to give it a name. He didn’t tell anyone about it, but some people sensed it – how others sense these things! Özlem, for example, she had sensed it. Even though he’d done his best to keep it from her. As he watched the silvery sway of the ice blue sea, his hands in his pockets, his face red from the dry, frosty cold, he recalled the night when he tried his best to keep Özlem from sensing what he was feeling – or perhaps what he no longer felt. That night he could have done nothing but stare at the television, at the walls, even into the darkness outside the window, for hours on end. If only! It had never been as hard as it was that night, trying not to let on. The truth is, it was odd: He made love with less passion than ever; their lovemaking had continued for much longer than he had expected. It was one of those nights when he became aware that he had a body – yet the more still his body had become, the more convinced he was that he would never become aware of the presence of that body again.

Before falling asleep, he had embraced Özlem’s body, which was damp with sweat. You can’t get that close and not embrace; the questions would start: “Why don’t you hold me?”, and could even lead to “What’s wrong with you?” As for him, he just wanted to fall asleep. Tracking the gradual steadying of Özlem’s breath, his hand (whether or not he was actually touching her, neither could possibly tell) on her chest (which seemed to rise and fall a little less each time), he thought to himself, “Maybe this is the way to live, what we call the soul isn’t a good thing after all, the soul summons the mind, it’s best to be like this, soulless.” Yes, that’s the name he had come up with for it on that night: “Soulless.” The words came one after another: Lifeless, dull, boring, unpleasant… As he listed these words, each of which signified a lack, he fell into a deep, dark sleep, the morning after which he would recall not a shred of a dream.

His hands grew numb when he recalled that night. As if he missed Özlem’s skin, her nakedness. Should he consider it a good omen, or a bad one? No matter how much one lost inside, the rules of the game remained the same. He couldn’t just turn up at Özlem’s door out of the blue. He couldn’t hold her, their bodies entangled, without talking about something, explaining, trying to explain. And as for talking about things, that was impossible – not today, especially today.

A few weeks after that day – or maybe more, he wasn’t sure – he and Özlem had split up. Another of the things that had begun to diminish, it seems, was time – not just the crossing off of days, but the way the weeks, the months had begun to pass without bearing, without a trace. Before, he could pretty much remember what had happened in the last few days; even if he wasn’t exactly sure, he would find a clue, think hard, and eventually remember – “it was sometime after Tuesday, we went to the cinema on Tuesday, we were at Ali’s place on Friday, I think it was Thursday.” Now though, time is a complete mess. In his mind there is no longer a tally of how many weeks, how many months have passed since they separated, nor of how long it was after that night that they separated. That night was not the last time they made love – that was the only bearing – but remembering this wasn’t enough for him to remember other things, too. Besides, he recalled nothing of the last time they made love. It seemed as if everything was going just fine, as if everything had gotten back on track. At first, things they used to disagree about ceased to be a problem between them. He had thought that this was just another by-product of soullessness. In the evenings, on the weekends, they had done whatever Özlem wanted to do (it was obvious what had to be done during the daytime); with whomever, whenever, wherever she decided. Let’s go to the movies. Sure. Let’s have pasta. Good idea. Let’s stop by Bülent’s. Okay. I’m not in the mood to watch a movie, I’m sick of pasta, they’re house is probably packed right now… were words he never said. Who cared if they went to the movies or if they stayed at home, what was the difference. But still, Özlem had sensed something, clearly.

Maybe that’s what she sensed, that he was doing things he didn’t used to do. Of course, it was crystal clear. But he was so prepossessed with the lack inside of him that he was oblivious to it all – to Özlem, to what was going on around him, to everything. You’re bound to screw it all up, Ahmet, if you get so obsessed; you start poking around in some tiny hole, barely enough to fit your finger in, and next thing you know, you’ve ripped it wide open.

“Let’s take a break,” Özlem had said, politely, towards the end of a Sunday afternoon, as they drank coffee following a late breakfast. She had waited for him to say something, it seems, to object, to say, “No way”… But no. What was it he had said? “If you say so, okay…” Was that the best he could come up with? It was a few days later while he was picking up around the house that he had noticed Özlem had taken her toothbrush and hairbrush before she left. The “break” grew longer and longer. If Özlem had called and said, “I want to see you,” he would’ve gone running; she didn’t. They didn’t talk again after that Sunday. After a while, whenever he thought of calling, or even wanted to call, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. What would he say? First he’d have to explain why he hadn’t called before, in all the days that had passed, to ask her how she was doing. He would sense from her voice, from the way she fell silent, that she had expected it. He didn’t have an explanation. The more he thought about it, the more impossible it became. And in the time that passed, the days, the months had become thoroughly mixed up, it seems.

Originally published in Turkish as Dünyanın Uğultusu
by Behçet Çelik, pp. 1-4
Istanbul: Kanat Kitap, 2008.

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