Murat Gülsoy

An excerpt from: A Week of Kindness in Istanbul - a Novel
© Collage: Max Ernst
Translated at the 3rd Cunda International Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature, June 2008, by İdil Aydoğan [Deniz], Nilgün Dungan [Ayşe], Arzu Eker [Akın], Deniz Perin [Yağmur], Jonathan Ross [Halil], Amy Spangler [Ali], Şehnaz Tahir [Erol].


Do teardrops cover three-quarters of this earth?


Dreams everywhere sunk in water how she lies how she sleeps the man wonders and looks looks and thinks man thinks woman asleep arms folded under her head comfy a woman saying come caress me come hold me a city woman a woman of fancy rooms of tulle beds of lacework of engravings of embroidery all glittery a woman should sleep peacefully a stupefying life this is going from bed to bed from man to no man being a woman in a city you can’t check-in stag playing checkers trusting in the wisdom of elderly men is how grand a grand delusion a destruction the woman now in her own time is nothing but ashes and as she strives to rise from her ashes by writing by writing this and as she strives on the one hand she breastfeeds the child on the other she breastfeeds the husband striving to write striving to rise striving forever but whenever the man looks at her a sleeping woman is all he sees puzzled the project writer would wonder what kind of life she is leading quote is this the woman or in other words is this that girl I once knew I once sat next to at open-air cinemas that I built fires with on starry nights is this that young girl as a woman now is this really her unquote would he think reading her writing as a woman I mean now before going to sleep before midnight before twelve o’clock the writing must stop or else her pen will morph into a dagger the writing must stop as soon as possible or the dagger will slash the flesh open will split it in two will stab one from behind parted legs arms and now that she is a woman she must diverge dissolve fall apart each fragment flying away like thirty thousand birds in every possible direction in the eyes of the project writer a woman falls apart falls from grace to the floor the floor is the sea the floor is deep how a woman has to fall apart open up give herself always unlike a girl on those summer nights seasides seastars illuminated by nightstars a girl must always be a sealed box not fondled not touched a sealed box with tightly closed legs shoulders drooped hunchbacked a spot at the tip of her nose an embryo star a starlet why does the project writer give this girl he knows from summer places this chance to write perhaps he remembers her carrying around books by adalet ağaoğlu sevgi soysal nazlı eray selim ileri pınar kür into the outdoor café on the seashore on the beach on the porch atilla ilhan turgut uyar can yücel she reads wherever she goes that is how he knows that she secretly writes secretly lives in poems in lines in words deep down inside she has a heart craving for love gone crazy for love no doubt mistaking the most unlikely things for the least likely people no matter the big spouse sleeping next to her she dreams of sailors men natives caressing her had her hands turned manly clutching it as if clutching a pen pulling it apart tearing it into pieces obscenely she writes whatever comes to mind automatically freely ashamed nighttimes are times to be freely ashamed would the project writer scrape his nails in a flash non-stop all in one breath the woman senses something weird about this picture just like the one yesterday and still she writes and still she looks she is now a looker-writer who can’t go on without seizing receipts and when making complaints she is most profound she grabs hold of her pen sharpened by years spent secretly writing poems sluggish on the paper like a slut the paper quivers the tip of her piercing pen quakes perspiring ink at its tip the woman sighs and begins writing to consumer rights columnists to columnists whoever she comes across like a bulldozer she writes and writes and writes and is almost nearly relieved when it is handed in to the post her poisonous pain is drained and only quote sediments unquote remain yet the project writer had now reminded her of the past by asking her to join in to write automatically whatever comes to mind look at the picture depict and write scribble in a flash he had said but he hadn’t even asked who this woman was what she was like was she happy unhappy without even asking her how she had been for all these years everyone is in a flurry everyone wants to dream someone else’s dream but just can’t after all a dream is a dream fluid it streams the man holding his chin head heavy with anxiety a photo of a writer of the intelligentsia looks but just can’t see through the woman in bedrooms of lacework huddled in covers a hidden heart a clot is all he sees and when she snaps out of her daydream going in out in out in out in a sea of clichés in sweat blood and tears why do you think the sea is salty do teardrops cover three-quarters of this earth is the remaining quarter laughter echoing in rigid mountains but I can cry when I’m laughing well you can’t really call it crying but tears still stream down my cheeks salty like the mighty sea salty cool wet.


So you liked what I wrote. Or maybe you were surprised. Otherwise why would you send the second picture, right? Back towards the end of college, I did a fair share of dabbling in the pseudo scene myself (you know, when I was ditching class all the time). You got no idea what all I was up to back then, my friend. Jazz, wine, politics, literature ’til the wee hours. Yeah, of course. Thinking back on it now, it seems I really went through a lot of different circles back then. But anyway… Since you want me to continue, I’ll give it a shot…

But now, you see, this is becoming a pretty tough assignment. First we were supposed to write on a Sunday. Okay, fine. Our Sundays belong to us. But what about Mondays? They don’t belong to us, no way. Mondays, Tuesdays, etc., they all belong to others, not to us. Why am I writing this? Because I scribbled those first few sentences in a hurry this morning. Then I got all wrapped up in my work and only now, during my lunch break, have I been able to open up the document and write a few more lines.
It’s so weird. This may be the first time in my life that I’m writing like this. But there’s so much I want to say. I mean, if I had the time… Right now, I feel like there’s a lot I could write. For one, it’s a nice picture. I really like it. The way the man’s standing, for example. Like a doctor… There are other people in the room, too. Maybe the woman’s having a nightmare. But the doctor doesn’t realize it. He’s thinking. I have no idea what he could be thinking. Back then though… Back then, oh man…

This writing thing keeps taking me back.

Sunday night I dreamed of Pervin. You may not believe me, but I swear to you I hadn’t thought about Pervin in years. She wasn’t on my mind at all, not at all, until I started doing this automatic writing thing for you. But then I started writing and that’s when it all came back to me. Like I’d opened the door to this room that had been sealed shut for years… A dark room… Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, next thing I knew, there was Pervin: With one hand she was holding up her hair, with the other she held the two ends of her necklace, the hairs on the back of her neck, and that natural aroma that seeps into your skin after a long walk along the sea shore… It was all right there, right in place. It was so weird. Because when I woke up, I realized that I’d forgotten her face. I can’t remember it, not exactly. The only thing I remember is that big mole burrowed like an insect in her lush pubic hair. No, none of that was in my dream. Just the opposite, it seemed so real: Pervin and I are going to the movies. When we walk into the theater, the film has already started. We’re trying to find our way through the dark. I’m thinking it would be easier if we just held hands. But I can’t make a move because I feel like she’ll just make fun of me if I take her hand. Just as I’m thinking this, I see Pervin walking hand in hand with another guy. She thinks he’s me! I open my mouth to scream, to tell Pervin, “I’m over here, that’s not me…” but of course the words won’t come out. I woke up in a sweat. I was lucky I hadn’t yelled out her name: “Pervin!” Now how would I explain that to Selcan? Just imagine…

Well, it’s obvious what kind of a day this is going to be. I’m going to get interrupted all the time to do this and do that, and so I’m not going to be able to do any real writing at all. I don’t understand why you’re so… If you just would’ve sent all the pictures at once and then I could’ve done this automatic writing on the weekends when I had time and a clear head! But you insist that each one has to be written on a separate day. Okay, fine, in that case, you’ll have to deal with this mess. I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do with these things anyway. If it had been back in my pseudo days… I was flying high back in the day, my friend - can you believe that?

I’m writing you these like they’re letters, but you don’t respond. From what I understand, you’re not going to say a word until this project is over. Okay, that’s fine with me.
I came home and read over everything I’ve written so far. It’s kind of crappy. But, well, that’s just the way it is, with work and all… Which reminds me—what do you do? I mean, besides writing… You can’t be making a living off your writing. As far as I know, you haven’t written any bestsellers or anything… Actually, I’ve got a couple of great ideas for stories; I’d like to tell you about them sometime. But anyway, I’d better get back to the point before I get any further off-track.

The man in the middle of the picture is watching a woman who’s sleeping. The woman is in a deep sleep, completely unaware of what’s going on. I think there must have been some kind of accident at sea in the dream she’s having. The people trying to escape from the wreck are drawn there at the bottom of the picture. It must be a nightmare, I think, but the woman doesn’t see it as a disturbing dream. She’s relaxed, like she’s enjoying it… Therefore, it’s impossible for the man to look at the woman and guess what it is she’s dreaming. I like that. The man’s looking at her intently, like if he looks hard enough, he’ll be able to pull back the curtain on her dream and see what’s happening there. Actually, it’s like he’s not really concerned with the woman, but with the matter of sleep itself. That’s what I like about this, you see. Maybe it’s because I thought I had the power to read people’s minds when I was young, that I see something of myself in the way this man’s standing here. Maybe. But still, there’s something about this picture that disturbs me. And something that excites me, too. Or could it be that you’ve met İlhan?

Can I trust you?

I finally got caught. I just got so wrapped up in this a few minutes ago, that I didn’t even notice that Selcan had come into the room and was reading over my shoulder. All of a sudden, I heard her ask me if I was a writing a novel. I jumped in my seat. I got red in the face. I slammed my laptop shut. Stand by, I said to myself. I looked at Selcan. She had this expression on her face, like she was getting a kick out of seeing me all panicky like that. I thought of saying, ‘Yes, I am. What? Or am I not allowed?’ But then I thought it would be silly for me to lie like that. I went to this built-in cupboard crammed full of random stuff and rummaged around until I found your book in the bottom; I took it out and threw it on the coffee table.

Selcan just stood there across from me, like she was waiting for an explanation. Looking at the book lying there on the coffee table like it was some kind of murder weapon, I started to speak in a rather mysterious tone. The look on Selcan’s face changed. She must’ve been thinking that this wasn’t fun anymore. At that moment, I felt like I’d gotten back my old power to read minds all of a sudden. It must’ve been waiting for me in that dark room that I had kept so tightly sealed. Like Pervin… We had a conversation that went something like this:
Selcan – So what’s this book?
Me – Have you read it?
Selcan – Don’t be ridiculous. This is the first time I’ve ever seen it.
Me – The author’s an old friend of mine.
Selcan – And?
Me – And now my friend has asked me to do him a favor.
Selcan – What kind of favor?
Me – I’m helping him write his new book.
Selcan – Helping him? How can you possibly help him…
Me – It’s not that hard. He told me to write down my thoughts, whatever came to mind. Automatically…
Selcan – Really? Well then who is Pervin?
Me – Did you… Did you read what I wrote?
Selcan – You were saying her name in your sleep the other night. I didn’t get it at the time, but now seeing it in writing...
Me – It was a long time ago…
Selcan – Stop being all mysterious, Ali. Who is this Pervin? Are you writing to her or something?
Me – Don’t be ridiculous. What are you talking about? I told you, it happened a long time ago.
Selcan – But you wrote, “Can I trust you?” C’mon Ali… This is some kind mid-life crisis, right? Have you made a friend in chat or something?
Me –Why the hell can’t you just believe me?
Selcan – Because you’re talking bullshit, that’s why. I already know you visit those porn sites. Look, I’m warning you. If you’re chatting with people you don’t know…
Me – Oh, get lost, Selcan.
Selcan – Don’t you read the papers? They trick people on chat and then arrange to meet with them and do god-awful things. They could be satanists, thieves, murderers. Come to your senses already. Most of the ones who say that they’re women are really men anyway…
Me – Would you shut up already? You’re out of your mind.

So it went, until Selcan finally walked out, slamming the door shut behind her. And so I was just left here, not knowing what to do next. First I went and checked on Sarp. He was sound asleep. Over the years, we’d really come to perfect the technique of arguing in whispers. I got myself a double shot of whiskey, to relax. Then I turned the computer back on and wrote these lines, automatically, without a thought.

So you see, my friend, I’m in a pretty shitty predicament. But that’s enough for today. What good is all this crap going to do you anyway? I’ll call Selcan in a little bit and apologize, if she hasn’t turned off her cell phone, that is. Anyway, I’d better sign off now before it gets any later.


P.S. I almost forgot to put a title: Stand by! Do you think it fits? I did it automatically, too. Come to think of it, how do you decide on your titles anyway? Maybe you’ll tell me one of these days…

Factor of Solitude and Ego Fusion

The professor who contributed to her former student’s project had a good night’s sleep, the most peaceful one she had had in a long while. She went to bed with the sweet fatigue of someone who has worked, toiled and, in return, deserved to sleep, and she woke up feeling content in the morning. This was worth analyzing on its own.

Probable reasons:
1. To think and to put her thoughts in writing
a. To think without feeling academic responsibility
b. To write without the anxiety of making a mistake
2. The side effects of letting herself go into the free flow of thought
a. To witness the emergence of new thoughts
b. The pleasure felt during the proliferation of thought

This is an experience she has long forgotten for she has not felt this way in a while. Remembering brings along pain as well, since it characterizes what loss is. Losing makes reality even more real. Losing reinforces the thought that what is lost was once real. What is not yet lost, what is still at hand, always remains in some sort of suspicious existence.

CASE STUDY: Ayşe is a young woman of thirty-two. She has been married for six years and has a four-year-old daughter. At the night of the case in question, her daughter is asleep; her husband, who is a professor like herself, is in the study. It is one of those nights, very similar to the others in recent years. Right then, Ayşe is overcome with an odd feeling. In the beginning, the feeling is like a game, almost fun. What if she were to just get out of the door secretly...when would her husband notice her absence? For a grown woman — especially for a professor — this question that stuck in her mind is certainly not an agreeable one, which is why she tries to put it in scientific research format, trying to make light of it.

Noticing/being noticed was the basic parameter of measurement, one minute being the unit of measurement. She even found a fancy name for this elapse of time to notice/be noticed: factor of solitude. The purpose of the study was to measure the solitude of couples living under the same roof. This study had to be conducted on couples with different socio-economic status. The length of marriage had to be one of the variables, too. Hypotheses began to emerge in her mind:

- There had to be a positive relationship between the length of marriage and the time it takes to notice (factor of solitude). The longer the marriage, the longer it would take to notice.
- As the socio-economic status increased, the time to notice (factor of solitude) could increase proportionately. Since low-income groups live in relatively smaller houses, this could be said to be an inevitable consequence. Still, it could be assumed that the couple’s sensitivity to the presence of one another may have increased. Perhaps, in order for this variable not to affect the measurement, the time to take notice could be normalized (e.g., in order to eliminate the deviation caused by the socio-economic status, the duration could be divided into the square footage of the house in which the subjects lived).

She had an intense desire to set this imaginary research into action. However, she could not be both the subject and the object of this study at the same time. Who would measure the time if she were to leave the house? Then she had a bright idea: to hide in the closet! And that night, the thirty-two-year-old sociologist Ayşe with a promising future hid in the closet. As they were going through their divorce five years later, she would not remember this night, which is why she would feel more exasperated than expected while trying to justify this separation to friends and family.

As much as failure to notice what is nearby, oversensitivity to it could be another potential cause for concern. The definition of closeness in interpersonal relationships could be contingent upon many different variables. One of these is the presence of an effect labeled ego fusion. Ego fusion means that an ego absorbs another one, makes it its own, letting it dissolve in itself. This condition, observed among couples who have been together for a long time, is the reversal of the mirror phase in childhood. The child realizes, at an early stage of development, that he is an entity apart from his mother. The boundaries of the world begin to clarify with this realization. Ego fusion is the reversal of this phase at one level when an adult integrates other egos into his/her own. Ego fusion becoming collective in nature is the mechanism that underlies the process of becoming a community. In a couple’s relationship, the most striking examples of ego fusion are seen in marriage. In long marriages, the ego fusion effect will emerge as the loss of the ability to see the spouse as another entity, and the fallacy of seeing the spouse as an indispensible part of one’s self. Accordingly, the spouse who disappears in the house will not be noticed, for as long as the individual perceives her/himself, s/he assumes that the spouse is there as well. The phantom-spouse feeling which follows the death of a spouse is an extension of this feeling, although it does not last long. The middle-aged professor put forth this thought model while she was suffering from post-divorce blues: during one night when she realized that the variable she described as the factor of solitude was based on an entirely inaccurate model...

Now, looking at the second Ernst drawing sent to her for the project to which she is contributing, she thinks that in the drawing, the look in the man’s eyes corresponds to the pre-ego fusion period. The look is depicted as representing curiosity. Curiosity is the innocent first name of doubt; hence, the person who is here doing the looking has doubts. The person who is looked upon seems to be aware that she is being watched even though she appears to be asleep. The position of her arms signifies a feminine presentation of herself. Furthermore, the design of the fabric which surrounds the bed makes it appear like a stage. The woman who is being watched seems to be aware that she is the center of a show. However, the fact that she’s asleep—i.e., unconscious—suggests that her awareness is not conscious. A situation that is on the threshold of sexist discourse. It could be discussed separately...

The male figures in relation to the woman’s provocative position are depicted on two levels. One is extremely self-confident, curiously watching the woman’s desirous invitation. As for the two other male figures, they are sinking in the water covering the room’s floor. The masts sticking out of the water indicate the presence of a boat, or a craft, underneath, which means that—before the desire of the woman took shape—she was swimming with the others in the craft. But a storm capsized everything and sank the craft. The ‘craft’ (etymologically speaking, craft is a word derived from the Greek tekhnologia) is capsized here to symbolize the male culture’s instrumentalization of the world through reason. The desire of the woman threatens the culture of reason; the male culture (here it should be noted that the figures in the sinking craft are naked), seduced by the desire of the woman, is collapsing. It is being pushed under the water. Water, which is a feminine symbol in many cultures, symbolizes life and the soul at the same time. The idea of ‘underwater’ points to the subconscious or the dark and irrational chaos of the unconscious. The male figures who are about to drown have fallen outside the circle of the rational. However, above and beyond all this chaos stands another male figure who manages to stay put in the drawing. The male standing in this depiction with the posture of an expert (the phallic grace of his posture is another noteworthy detail) owes his strength to this expert posture which transforms his desire into an object to be examined. The male figures who are drowning in the storm of desire are holding onto their own phalluses, which are symbolized by the masts of the craft; however, the standing figure appears to have successfully resisted desire by metamorphosing into the phallic symbol itself, rather than holding onto his own phallus.

The middle-aged woman now reads her thoughts, which she has freed, through a different lens.

First, she wrote that she experienced a temporary period of happiness after having materialized the first step of the project. As she was listing the probable reasons, her anxiety at the loss of happiness triggered the memory of the long forgotten case study. Perhaps, it is a confrontational attempt undertaken with the strength powered by happiness. She tried to probe into her psychological state of mind as she put forth the factor of solitude and ego fusion models. However, the desire-of-the-woman motif that she noticed as she was ‘reading’ the second drawing now stresses once again the inadequacy of these models. What is lacking, forgotten — of course, suppressed — in her approach to the case study — in two different periods — is the problematic of desire. The thoughts she posits as she is ‘reading’ the drawing are focused on the destructiveness in male culture of the desire of the woman. Desire and destructiveness. She doubts whether she is ready to question how she brought together these two notions in the above-mentioned case study, for the only thing that was destroyed by the desire to be noticed felt by the woman who disappeared (erased herself) in the house (in life) was her own ego. Burning with the desire to become a whole again after a long time, the crumbled ego developed the ego fusion model. Now she realizes that all this is nothing but the struggle of a woman who is suffering because of her desire to clear her name by using her mental facilities. Nonetheless, the impossibility of satisfying desire, filling the void, comprehending the unconsious: these are all concepts that she has known for a long time. To know?

We were team-mates: reality and us

We heard that she had been taken away.
Frayed, broken, battered.
We heard and we were scared.
We hid under the desks.
We threw away our badges, our little flags and what we had written on torn pieces of paper.
We became garbage.
They put us in big bins and dumped us somewhere distant.
Garbage birds pecked at our nightmares.

Then there were the uninformed.
With empty looks in their eyes, getting tanned.
They feared no one.
You could tell immediately they were the secret owners of our world.
I went near them.
I imitated.
I danced.
At nights, they were hot under cool blankets.
A taste would make one go crazy.
I was sure.
I bit the first who came along without blinking an eye.
I did not know it was a dream I had my teeth on.
I was young.
Like I said, everything was metaphorical.
An analogy.
Its essence is one thing, itself another and its words another.
I searched for a new me in the gallery of mirrors.
One that looks like them.
I began night flights to reach the bottom of a lake.
The lake was sure of itself.
Its limits definite.
We would boil and drink the juice of some weed, we would not let near us those who came to breathe their last.
I kept saying we don’t have bottles like that and giggling.
No one understood.
But you see, wounded gazelles, antelopes and deer all brought us down.
Although I knew they were metaphors I was upset all the same, I drank more, the buffet was always open.
I sometimes cried out I am blind.
Those around the fire were applauding.
Were cheering, tell us more.
I spoke in inverted sentences, Süsen was no longer on my mind.
They had taken her away.
And a side of me died.

I thought I felt lighter.
But: Death is the most intense form of gravity, one cannot learn some things by living.
We dove into the lake to protect ourselves from the apples falling from the sky.
A depth with a certain bottom.
How beautiful, we were saying.
How beautiful is the world, this is the right place to live, if only we could hold our breath a little longer or grow gills and never go out of the water.
We were singing, only bubbles were coming out of our mouths.
Were who?
They have been following Süsen.
Even in her sleep.
Apparently she was dangerous.
Supposedly she was poisonous.
Rumours spread unspoken.
From underneath the floorings, the exhaust of cars, lightless windows.
Yes, Süsen is a symbol, someone would say once in a while.
She is not what matters, what she symbolizes is the real danger.
No more Süsens, let this be our social responsibility project, yes, let’s try to find funds, provide education, scholarships, money, clothes, books, ink, paper, barrettes.
At moments like this, I would lower my eyes.
Keeping my silence.
I would get a drink from the buffet so they wouldn’t know who I was.
The buffet was always open.
A castle in the chasing game.
Entrance free.
There no one could touch me.

I have a problem.
I would say.
I would change the course of my words in the middle of every sentence.
Constructing a labyrinth of sentences like someone trying to erase his traces.
I would run passing through thoughts, dreams, jokes, games, trickeries, only to find myself where I started, out of breath.
If somebody had thought of combining the dots, he would have discovered the truth easily.
But there was no one.
Outside a drunkard was passing by for the hundredth time.
Yelling and making us laugh.
We would console those who heard him for the first time.
We were scientific.
We were rooting for reality

Reality was scoring non-stop against everyone.
We were shouting.
Let’s kick some ass!
The whole world is proud of you!
We were vulgar.

Once in a while, someone from the past would show up
We didn’t want to let in.
He would put his foot on the threshold.
Pushing us.
Showing us a sharp instrument.
We were laughing at him.
You, look here, we’d say.
Look how many we are and how few you are.
You almost don’t exist.
He’d give his last breath and leave.
One more bottle...

Time flew whether we liked it or not.
We were among the winners.
We were celebrating our victory but...
There was a shadow.
It was me.
A shadow that forgot himself.
A shadow no one perceived, no one cared about although he was there all the time.
I was crying out loud, here I am, I am coming out.
Where have you been, they were looking for me anxiously.
My voice faded out with the stage lights that fell on me.
It’s weird, he was here a minute ago, he was about to make important announcements, they’d say.
The next moment they’d forget.

At times when I had enough confidence in myself, I would leave them.
Being alone takes courage.
It is cold.
Where is Süsen?
The question is a poisonous rose growing in the middle of the room.
Leaving me no space.
I curl up in a corner and sleep.
I want to reach the morning.
I wish, I say, things were different.
Everything could have been different.

What a waste.
I could be a different person if I didn’t know her.
Maybe then I would not be so scared.
I would not drown in darkness.
The floor of my room would not swallow me up.
Then I would be a red fish in the lake in my home.

Then all of it was over.
It’s all in the past.
If it weren’t for dreams.

If I were you

Writing, when properly managed (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation. As no one, who knows what he is about in good company, would venture to talk all;--so no author, who understands the just boundaries of decorum and good-breeding, would presume to think all: The truest respect which you can pay to the reader's understanding, is to halve this matter amicably, and leave him something to imagine, in his turn, as well as yourself.

For my own part, I am eternally paying him compliments of this kind, and do all that lies in my power to keep his imagination as busy as my own.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, 1759

I would have done the same. I would have sent the second picture without a reply or a single comment. Since the subject wrote and sent you something after the first picture, it means that the experiment continues no matter the response. The patient is responding to the treatment. He does respond, but with what? Is that of no importance? A scene from The Shining: the man is writing, constantly writing… Didn’t it also terrify you that he was writing the same sentence over and over again?

I think I am the best person to understand the roots of your interest in experimental work. I remember the kinds of narrative plots we concocted when we were getting started… All kinds of ideas, all kinds of inventions including writing a Hüseyin Rahmi pastiche infiltrated by various Shakespeare characters, rewriting a Sait Faik story replacing what happens there with stories we would collect from people we knew by recording their conversations secretly, or fooling magazine editors into publishing translations we would do from obscure foreign writers under fake names… Of course, we had not yet read Tristram Shandy. Maybe we would never have dared to think about all these things had we known how far Sterne had gone in the 18th Century. Literature and play. We sincerely believed that fiction was play, or even experiment. What a delusion. I only realized this fact after I encountered all those great works. The moment I saw the all-black page in Tristram Shandy I stopped bragging about the inventions I conjured. This was the kind of effect reading had on me. All that literary accumulation became the wall of my cell. Books were the bricks of that wall. In vain, I looked for a book, a writer to help me devise an escape plan from this prison. Maybe I shouldn’t have. I should have acted right away. It didn’t happen . You must have read Paul Auster’s Oracle Night. Do you remember the man locked inside the undergound vault? What a terrific story! There is no way out…

I recall those days with a smile: fresh out of adolescence, we made our plans with the childish parts of our brains. Two youngsters keen on bad jokes. But now I see that a slight change has taken place in our roles in this plot. I play the part of the victim. Is it because I cannot write? This is life’s irony: I become the victim of the writing game because I cannot write. You now exercise the right to perform experiments on people because you have never given up.

No, no; what I am doing is wrong. I get angry for having failed and I try to take it out on you. I indirectly sabotage the project you want to do by writing negative things constantly. Yet I joined the game on the first day. I joined the experiment by pretending not to take part. I meant to have you hear my voice. Otherwise, I would have given a clearer answer to your first message and put an end to it all. Then I would not have become one of the seven people. Being one of the seven… I must have thought this would be enough for me.

I am not going to write anything about the picture. I am sorry. I hope you forgive this small whim of your old comrade. To be frank, the pictures don’t mean anything to me. Of course I can come up with something if I force myself. But I think they are way too foreign for an experiment like this. If I were you, I would have chosen something more local or more abstract.

How sad, right?

I know you understand.

I realized this only after I wrote the sentence: “If I were you..” It’s even sad that I wrote a sentence like that. I told you before, this process of writing only gives me pain. I am sorry. If I write any longer, I will start doubting my own sincerity. This is a strange sentence, I realize; but this is just the way I feel.

The Waters Are Rising

The waters are rising. They’ll swallow us all up in the end. Why can’t I wake up? Why does nothing disturb my sweet slumber? Sleep is the thwarted rehearsal of death. I still have a little more time. The lethal water has barely reached my feet. I used to love swimming. Would I have loved it so much if I’d known I would drown one day? In the good old days, my mother read fortunes. She saw, in the coffee grounds, all kinds of animals, letters, opportunities, and suitors. Even in this scene, she would’ve seen good omens. She’d say, the water represents relief. Your enemies are drowning one by one, your troubles are ending. You’re going to have a conversation with an important man, a man of prestige, you don’t know anything about it yet, you’ve never met him. He’s waiting for the right time. One morning, you’ll wake up and receive the news. That’s what she would have said if she were alive. One morning, she didn’t wake up. I miss Mom. I can’t get rid of my fears. Swathed in sleep, I pretend to be happy.


Actually, I’m fine, cousin. It’s just that strange things cross my mind. And, at night, insomnia.

It helps, writing you like this. Before, you were just a picture left over from the past. There are new pictures too, of course. Every once in a while, when I come across them, I cut them out of literary supplements and save them. OK, I confess, I saw you at the book fair once, too. I almost came up to you, but I thought you might not recognize me, or who knows, maybe you wouldn’t be happy to see me. So I didn’t. You would have said, oh Yağmur, it’s you, you’ve changed a lot. Women change quickly, cousin. So quickly. As soon as childhood ends, she has aged, that thing we call woman.

I’m in love with you, please flatter me do[Halil]

The lad turned up at the crack of dawn, bringing the second picture with him. He was just dropping by on his way to his morning workout. I handed him what I’d written and took the picture. After breakfast, though, I suddenly felt awfully drowsy. ‘Go for a walk, it’ll do you good,’ said the wife; ‘I’ve got things to do,’ I snap back at her. Sometimes I can be unbearable. Especially in the morning. I’m no good to anyone until my opium pops. You know what the opium-smokers did in the old days during Ramadan? Well, they were meant to be fasting, so no opium, no hashish. They’d wrap up opium in thin pieces of paper and swallow the lot at their meal before dawn. After a while, one of the layers of opium would pop in their stomachs and they’d come to their senses. A few hours after that, a couple more layers would kick in, and this would keep them going until it was time to break the fast. That’s how it is with me. My opium doesn’t pop until midday, you see; there’s nothing I can do about it. Like me or lump me. When there are no cigarettes around, I’m all at sea. Anyway, when the wife went out shopping, I opened the kitchen window, turned on the ventilator, and had a little smoke. That’s when I came to. Had a look at the picture. It was similar to the first, but I just couldn’t concentrate on it, as a feeling of regret started gnawing at me. I began to fret: what if this lad does the dirty on me, reads to his friends what I’ve written and they all have a good laugh at my expense; and what if this makes Ferhan wish he’d never been born. Of course, Ferhan isn’t to blame. If he’d had the chance, he would have stopped me from getting involved in the project, but me, I threw myself into it, saying I’d give it a try. But what the hell has some youngster’s homework or essay got to do with me? I did once write something for the newspaper, which they didn’t publish. But that was on a subject I knew a bit about. It was an article having a go at upholsterers, carpenters, decorators and all those other cowboys. Mind you, that must have been twenty years ago. How time flies! Even then, Memduh and his lot were winding me up, saying, ‘Go on, Halil, write something for the paper, tell the government to give us a pay-rise, but don’t forget to add that everyone should be entitled to free rakı…’ What a bunch of rogues! I remember shouting at them, ‘If everyone was like you, we’d all miss the boat,’ but did they give a damn?

I wonder if this lad is also taking the mickey and that’s why he’s… But why would he be going to the trouble of visiting me at the crack of dawn? Whatever the reason, the fact is that he brought me another picture. So what’s he going to do with all the stuff I write? What have I written? That’s what’s bothering me now; I didn’t get a copy, so I’m going spare with worry about it. I can remember bits and bobs, but still, what’ll happen if I’ve written things that I shouldn’t have, if someone publishes my piece and I get into hot water? You see how carried away I can get? But in a situation like this, all manner of things cross your mind. In this country, they’ll snuff a man out just like that, crush him, without anyone saying a word. Take that fellow. He made it to being a world-famous writer and now they’re dragging him in front of the court like some common criminal. When it comes down to it, they’re saying this: who the hell are you to behave differently from us, to go and think you’re something special? We don’t need a Gestapo—we can torture one another perfectly well. This is a tribal society we’re dealing with here. That’s what my father used to say, but I didn’t understand then. My father was one of the old school, an inspector. ‘Son,’ he would say, ‘The important thing is to be a community, a nation, not a herd.’ Poor Atatürk didn’t live long enough to put an end to all that tribalism. If he’d been able to, do you think we’d still have nonsense like that going on. The country had next to nothing back then, but look at it now. How did they achieve so much in just fifteen years? People learned the Roman alphabet in three months and then taught one another. In just one year, one million new writers and readers. And this was back in the time there was no television, no radio, no cinema. An operation carried out with a determination, the like of which our country had never seen. The United Nations even awarded us first prize for education, hoping that Turkey would be an inspiration to other countries. But nowadays people forget this. They want to go back to the Ottoman days. Let’s say we went back. Do you really think everyone lived in a palace then? ‘Will you be having Topkapı, sir, or would you like to try the Dolmabahçe Palace?’ You know what the problem is? We’re completely ignorant about our past. What was so special about this Ottoman Empire? What good did it do for Anatolia in all those six hundred years? The sultan would come to an arrangement with the bandits, aghas and sheikhs of an area, collect tributes from them, call it tax, and live the good life away in his palace. Meanwhile, the poor ignorant folk would go on living in their flea-ridden hovels, feasting on the oats that they managed to pick out of buffalo shit. That’s what my father said, and I guess he was right. He travelled all over Anatolia, like my late mother. A life devoted to serving the motherland. It wasn’t easy for them to bring me up. Do you know why I don’t have any brothers or sisters? So we wouldn’t all suffer while we were moving from here to there for the good of the nation. She left us far too early. If she could see how things were today, though, she’d turn in her grave. ‘Sultan Vahdettin’, they’re trying to tell us, ‘was a good sport, an enlightened chap.’ Well, have you been to Ankara, to the Atatürk Mausoleum, and seen that letter he wrote to the English, begging them to rescue him? What about the warrant for the execution of Mustafa Kemal, with a whopping great imperial stamp and the signature of grand vizier Damat Ferit? And now you have all these bigwigs popping up on television and twisting history like nobody’s business. You feel like getting on the phone and giving them an earful. But what’s the point? I’m really fed up today and can’t remember what I wrote yesterday. I don’t want to do anything that would upset or embarrass Ferhan, my one and only little boy. I admit, he’s a real bore. And sour-faced to boot. How nice it would be if just one day he rang and said, ‘Let’s do something fun, dad, let’s go down to the Bosphorus and eat fish.’ Or even if he just suggested that we go and have some tea. The only time this one rings is when he wants something. His wife’s just the same. If you saw the mug on her, you’d think all the ships in the Black Sea had sunk! Don’t visit me then, don’t ring—I don’t expect anything from you lot any more. The number of times I’ve said to him, ‘I gave you a vineyard; is it too much to ask for a bunch of grapes in return?’ But did he listen? This much is certain—from now on we’re just guests in this world. How long do we have left? How can we hope for anything from the future? We’ve already got one foot in the grave. Not even one—we’re standing with both legs knee-deep in the grave. Ach, I’m depressed! Still, I’ve managed to write down what’s on my mind, and that’s without even looking at the picture! Let me have a look now… Okay, there’s a peeping Tom gaping at a woman who’s asleep. Mind you, peeping Toms don’t normally stand there like that, slap bang in the middle. They do it on the sly. Makes it even more exciting. There’s a bit of the peeping Tom in everyone. Who wouldn’t turn around and glance at a skirt lifted up in the wind? It’s a reflex, just a matter of curiosity. I’m sure there’s a psychological explanation for it: you can’t help wondering what hers is like. The more things are hidden and veiled, the more curiosity there is about what lurks behind. Of course, there are people who take it to extremes, those who lie in wait, buy binoculars or even telescopes. And when you ask, they tell you that they’re just looking at the stars. Who are they trying to kid? They’re sick. Mind you, these days television does more than enough to cater to such tastes. You can see what everyone’s up to. They even put up cameras in people’s homes and do live broadcasts from there. A couple of years ago, they had one of these programs—I called it ‘Peephole Palace’—, which the wife really liked. She insisted on us voting. One night I must have fallen asleep in front of the telly. I woke up in the middle of the night, and what do I see? A screen full of people sleeping! Sleeping, in bed. While we’re sleeping, at home. A kind of synchronised sleep. And I said to myself: see what it’s bloody come to? We’re sleeping as a nation, in synchrony, and oh so bloody proud of it. We’re caught in a dream. Anyway, this woman in the picture is sleeping too, while the man looking at her is standing there like a rock, in the middle of the room, obviously thinking wicked thoughts. But he remembers that there were others before him who tried their luck but came to regret it. The artist has drawn these men drowning, so that’s why the fellow is standing there with his hand on his chin, musing ‘What do I need to do in order to get into that woman’s bed?’ I said ‘thinking wicked thoughts’, but of course it’s a question of the man wanting the woman, and the woman the man. If you put gunpowder near fire, something’s bound to happen. Is it possible for a man and a woman to lie there next to one another like logs? We all know what human nature is like. Still, there’s always the one who says that the devil got the better of him. Rubbish! The devil is within you, you are the devil, accept the fact! I once knew a fellow called Salim the Pervert, a friend of my mate Ibrahim. He was strange. He used to like his drink, but then he grew one of those Islamic beards, begged Allah for forgiveness, and became a real fanatic. You know what they say: the sweetest wine makes the sharpest vinegar. He couldn’t have been more than fifty but went all meek and reclusive like some eighty-year-old. Salim the Pervert turned into Salim the Haji. Pointing to his midriff, he proclaimed that from there downwards man was an animal, while above it he was a human. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘What do we have above the midriff? Lungs, heart and brain. And below it? Shit, nothing but shit.’ Sexual intercourse, according to Salim, was something for animals alone. If you ask me, sex was the only thing on his mind, and that’s why he said this. Later, though, he cut his links with the modern world. Wouldn’t even allow a television into the house. ‘I don’t want any electricity,’ he insisted, ‘...and I don’t need a fridge.’ His two wives only just managed to talk him round, pleading and begging until he bought a washing machine and some other gadgets. In fact, in America they have fanatics like that too. They’re called Mormons, and they live in the countryside, like primitive tribesmen. Sometimes they show documentaries about them on TV. You do get some funny people, don’t you! If they’re so intent on getting back to basics, why do they get all dressed up in suits? If they really want to rediscover our roots, they should go and live like people in Africa, stark naked. Then there’d be no need for peeping-Tommery, would there! Oh well, different strokes for different folks. Now, I wonder… what is this man in the picture going to do? Is he going to try his luck with the woman? She looks like she wants it. In fact, if you ask me, she’s not even sleeping. She’s looking at the man out of the corner of her eye, watching what he’s up to. But the man’s just standing there like a post. This has got the woman even more aroused and now her juices really are flowing. She’s tossing this way and that, showing off her neck, her breasts and her calves, yet acting as if she doesn’t know she’s doing this. The man wants to make his move but fears the consequences. A fine mess I’ve got myself into here, he’s saying to himself. This isn’t the woman for me. Maybe she’s married, maybe a widow. Everything’s possible. The things that go on behind closed doors, and we don’t have the slightest clue. You just don’t know who is doing what with whom, and how! There used to be a woman living in our block, called Şermin. She was pretty glamorous, but women with big hands and feet aren’t my type. Still, everyone was after her. Either she was a widow or she was on a mission to make everyone happy. She had an endless stream of suitors queuing up for her. And the rumours she brought upon herself! She was extremely respectful towards me, though. ‘Halil, dear,’ she once said to me, ‘Everyone thinks I’m a bad woman, and I don’t have a friend in the world. The men just want one thing, and the women suspect that I’m going to steal their husbands, so they don’t want to be friends with me either. I’m so lonely.’ I could see that she was really upset, so I took her out for a meal. We went to a restaurant by the Bosphorus, Ali Baba’s in Kireçburnu. In those days it was a bit of a dive, but they served fantastic fish and mezes, which we washed down with a couple of glasses of rakı. Back then I looked like a cross between Ayhan Işık and Errol Flynn, with a pencil moustache and slicked-back jet-black hair. Şermin had wrapped her hair in a loose scarf; at the time this was what they called a turban, but for Şermin it was a fashion statement, not anything religious. And then suddenly, she started to murmur this song: ‘My wondrous gazelle, I’m trapped in your spell / I’m in love with you, please flatter me do / From my very first glance, I was locked in a trance / I am in your power, my nymph, please flatter me do / Every waking hour, I’ve been in your power / Come my rosebud-mouthed one, please flatter me do’. She looked into my eyes and I could feel a fire welling up inside me; Halil, I said to myself, you’re a goner. Let’s see how you get out of this one. For months and months you’ve been playing the protective brother, and now you get her drunk and… Meanwhile, I’m looking around to see if anyone has noticed us. After all, the walls have ears. At that time, my little Ferhan was a wee babe-in-arms, so how the hell could I go and… Still, when Şermin closed her eyes, leaned towards me and whispered ‘I’m in love with you,’ I went weak at the knees: on the one hand, I felt like running away from that table, from that situation, on the other I wanted to take her in my arms and flatter her. This, after all, is a young man we’re talking about. But I just blushed and didn’t move an inch. After quite a while, with a tear in her eye, Şermin said, ‘It’s getting cold, shall we go?’ and the evening was over. Although I mumbled something about dropping her home, she turned down my offer, got on a bus, and was gone. That night I couldn’t stop thinking about her, wondering what she got up to all on her own. Zeynep, thank God, didn’t notice a thing. I spent the whole night sitting next to Ferhan’s bed, not because he had woken up but because I couldn’t sleep. A hundred times I must have picked him up and cuddled him, holding him tighter each time. My head was in a mess. So that’s how someone can break up a happy home, I thought to myself. Yet my little lad, without knowing it, had been my lifebelt in that stormy sea. This tiny mite rescued not just me but also Zeynep, who was fast asleep and aware of nothing. Will you look at where we’ve ended up! After all those years, this picture took me back to Şermin.

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