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Authors: Orhan Pamuk

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BOOK: Silent House
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“So,” I said. “How are you?”

He didn’t say anything.

I looked at the television a little bit; it was the end of the news. I looked at the cards being passed around and at Nevzat looking at them. I wanted them all to finish their hand, and they did, but still they didn’t talk to me; they just talked and laughed among themselves. Then they resumed their game and got wrapped up in it before stopping again. Finally, as they were dealing out the cards for another hand, I figured I’d better say something.

“Nevzat, that milk you gave us this morning was very good.”

He nodded without turning his head from the cards.

“Plenty of fat in it; it’s good.”

He nodded again. I looked at my watch. It was five to nine. I looked at the television and lost track of things; much later I realized that the young men were snickering. When I saw the newspaper in their hands, I thought in fear, Oh God, not another picture. Because they kept looking at me and then the newspaper, laughing in a nasty way. Pay no attention, Recep! But I thought about it anyway: sometimes they put a picture in the papers, they have no feelings. They write something terrible underneath, just as when they print a picture of a naked lady or a bear giving birth in the zoo. In a panic, I turned to Nevzat and said, without thinking:

“How are you?”

He turned to me for a second, muttering something, but I couldn’t think of anything more to say because my mind was on the picture. So I gave up and began to watch the two young guys on the sly. When we came eye to eye, they began to smirk even more. I turned away. A king fell on the table. The players all cursed, some of them happy and some of them disappointed. Then a new game began; the cards and the good mood changed hands. Was there a face card? I had a sudden thought.

“Cemil,” I called out. “A tea over here!”

So I had found something to keep me busy for a little while, but it didn’t last very long. I kept thinking about what the young men were
laughing about in the newspaper. When I looked again, they had given it to Cemil and were pointing out the picture. When Cemil saw my discomfort, he let them have it: “Hoodlums!”

Well, everything was out in the open. I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t noticed anymore. I should have left a long time ago. The young guys were laughing openly.

“What is going on, Cemil?” I said. “What is in that paper?”

“Nothing!” he said.

I tried to hold myself back, but I didn’t have the strength because I was overwhelmed with curiosity. I got up from the chair like someone in a trance, took a few slow steps over to Cemil, passing the young men who had fallen silent.

“Give me that paper!”

He made as if to withhold the paper as he spoke softly. “Who knows if it’s even real? I’ve never heard of such a thing.” Then staring fiercely at the young men, he said, “Shameless!” before finally surrendering the newspaper.

Like a hungry wolf I grabbed it from his hand and opened it, my heart was pounding as I looked at the page he had pointed to, but there was no picture.

“Down there!” said Cemil growing nervous.

My eyes moved quickly over the “History Corner.”

“ ‘Üsküdar’s historical treasures,’ ” I began to read aloud, “ ‘Yahya Kemal, the poet, and Üsküdar …” Then below headlines “General Mehmet” … “the Greek Mosque” … “Şemsi Pasha Mosque and Library” … Finally I followed Cemil’s fingertip down to the bottom and I saw:

“The Dwarves’ House in Üsküdar!”

I felt the blood rush to my face as I read the item in one breath.

“ ‘Along with these, there was at one time a dwarves’ house in Üsküdar. This house, which was built for dwarves, not for ordinary people, was perfectly complete. Except its rooms, doors, windows, and stairs were made for dwarves, and a regular person had to bend himself in half to get in. According to research done by the art historian
Dr. Süheyl Enver, this house was built by Handan Sultan, spouse of Sultan Mehmet III, and mother of Sultan Ahmet I. This lady loved her dwarves so much, this excessive affection occupies a special place in the history of the Harem. Handan Sultan wanted her dear friends to live together undisturbed in peace after she died, so she put the palace carpenter Ramazan Usta to work. It is said that the perfection of the ironwork and woodwork made this little house a work of art. However, we must admit that we do not know for certain whether such a strange and interesting building actually existed, as it is not mentioned by the historian Evliya Çelebi, who wandered through Üsküdar in the same years. Even if there had really been such a place, this curious house must have disappeared in the famous fire that terrorized Üsküdar in 1642.’ ”

“Just forget it, Recep,” Cemil said as I stood there trembling. “Why do you pay attention to these punks?”

I had a terrible compulsion to read the newspaper again, but I didn’t have the strength. Drenched in sweat, I felt as if I couldn’t breathe. The paper slipped out of my hand and fell to the floor.

“Have a seat,” said Cemil. “Take it easy. You’re upset, don’t overreact.” Then he said again, “Punks!” talking to the young men who were watching with malicious interest as I swayed on my feet.

“Yes,” I said, “I am upset.” I was quiet for a minute and collected myself and then, mustering all my strength, I spoke again. “Not because I’m a dwarf, am I upset,” I said. “What’s really upsetting is that people can be nasty enough to make fun of a fifty-five-year-old dwarf.”

There was a silence. The card players must have heard, too. Nevzat and I came eye to eye. The young men were looking down; they were at least a bit ashamed. My head was now spinning; the television was droning away.

“Punks,” repeated Cemil, now with less feeling.

And then, as I was weaving my way to the door, “Hey, Recep, where are you going?”

I didn’t answer. I managed in a couple of faltering steps to leave
the bright lights of the coffeehouse behind me. I was outside again, in the cool dark night.

I was in no condition to continue, but I forced myself to take a few more steps before sitting down on one of the posts near the jetty. I breathed deeply in the clean air; my heart was still beating fast. What should I do? The lights of the casinos and restaurants were gleaming in the distance. They had strung colored lights in the trees, and underneath those lights people were eating, talking with one another: my God!

The door of the coffeehouse opened, and I heard Cemil call out:

“Recep, Recep, where are you?”

I didn’t make a sound. He didn’t see me and went inside.

A long time afterward, I heard the rumbling of the train to Ankara. It must have been about ten past nine, and I was thinking like this: They were all just words, weren’t they? A cloud of sound that disappeared the moment it came out? I felt a little better, but I didn’t want to go home. There was nothing else to do: I’d still go to the movies. I’d stopped sweating; my heart had slowed down; I was better. I took a deep breath and walked on.

In the coffeehouse, I thought, they’ve forgotten me and those words now, and the television is still droning. If Cemil hasn’t thrown them out, the young men are looking for somebody else to make fun of. So, here I am on the street again, the crowd’s out, they’ve finished their food, and now they’re taking a little stroll to digest before they sit down in front of the TV again or go to the nightclubs. They eat ice cream, talk, and greet one another. The women and their husbands who come back from Istanbul in the evenings and their children always chewing on something; they recognize one another and say hello. I passed by the restaurants again. Ismail wasn’t there. Maybe he sold out the tickets he had in his hand and was climbing the hill up to his house again. If I had planned to go see him instead of a movie, we might have talked. But we always say the same things.

The avenue was pretty crowded. Cars waiting in front of the ice-cream shop and groups of three or four walking together tied
up the traffic. I looked presentable in my tie and jacket but I can’t stand crowds like that; I turned off into a side street. The kids were playing hide-and-seek between the cars on the narrow streets in the blue light coming from the televisions. When I was little I used to think that I would be good at this game, but I never had the courage to join in with them like Ismail. But if I had played I would have hidden myself best of all, maybe here, in the ruins of the caravanserai that my mother said had had plague or, for example, in the village, in the haystack, and if I never came out, then who would they have made fun of, I wondered, but my mother would have looked for me, she would have said, Ismail, where’s your brother? And Ismail would have pulled on his nose and said, How would I know, as I stayed hidden listening to them, whispering, I live in secret, all by myself, Mother, where no one can see me, only my mother would then start to cry so much that I’d come out, saying, Look, here I am, I’m not hiding anymore, see, I’m not hiding anymore, Mother, and my mother would have said, Why were you hiding, my son, and I would have thought, Maybe she’s right, what use is hiding, what’s to be gained living in secret? I would have forgotten for a moment.

I saw them as they moved quickly down the avenue. Sitki Bey, grown up and married, with his wife, and he even had a kid as tall as I was. He recognized me, smiled, and paused.

“Hello, Recep Efendi,” he said. “How are you?”

I always waited for them to talk first.

“Hello, Sitki Bey,” I said. “I’m fine, thank you.”

I shook hands with him. Not with his wife. The children were staring in fear and curiosity.

“Sweetie, Recep Bey’s been living here in Cennethisar longer than just about anybody else.”

His wife nodded with a smile. I was happy, proud of being one of the old-timers here.

“How’s Grandma?”

“Oh,” I said, “Madam always complains, but she’s fine.”

“How many years has it been?” he said. “Where is Faruk?”

“They’re coming tomorrow,” I said.

He started explaining to his wife that Faruk Bey was his childhood friend. Then without shaking hands, just nodding, we said good-bye and parted. Now he was talking to his wife about his childhood and about me, how I took them to the well when they were little and showed them how to fish for mullet, and then the kid would finally ask his question: “Daddy, why is that man so small?” I used to say: Because my mother gave birth before she got married. But Sitki Bey got married, Faruk Bey got married, and they had no kids at all. But because my mother had done just the opposite, Madam sent her, along with us, to the village. Before she sent us, there were words and she threatened us all with her cane, and my mother pleaded, Don’t do that, Madam, what fault of the children’s is it? Sometimes, I think I heard those words, on that terrible day …

In the well-lit street of the movie theater, I heard the music they play before the film starts. I looked at still shots from the film that was showing:
Let’s Meet in Paradise
. It’s an old film: in one scene, Hülya Koçyiğit and Ediz Hun are in each other’s arms, then Ediz is in prison, then Hülya is singing a song, but you’d never be able to tell what order these things happened in until you’d seen the film. This probably occurred to them when they put the pictures up; it gets people interested. I went to the ticket window, One please. The woman pulled off a ticket and rose a little from her seat so as to hold it out to me

“Is the film any good?” I asked.

She hadn’t seen it. Sometimes, out of the blue, I just want to talk to someone like this. I took my seat and waited.

When first they meet, the girl is a singer and doesn’t like him, but the next day, when the guy saves her from those villains, she likes him and then realizes she loves him, but her father is against their getting married. Then the guy goes to prison. I didn’t go out with the crowd at the intermission. When it started again, the girl marries the son of the nightclub owner, but they don’t have any kids and they don’t do anything about it either. Eventually, the husband runs off
after a bad woman and Ediz escapes from prison. In a house near the Istanbul Bridge, he meets Hülya Koçyiğit, who sings a song. The song left me in a strange mood. At the end, she wants to free herself from the lousy husband, and since he’s met his own punishment anyway, we figure out that they are going to get married. Her father is looking at them warmly from behind as they are walking arm in arm on the road, walking, getting smaller and smaller and

After the lights came up, and everybody was filing out, buzzing about the film, I wanted to talk about it with someone, too. It was ten after eleven. Madam would be waiting, but I didn’t want to return home.

I walked toward the beach over to the hill. Maybe Kemal Bey, the pharmacist, would be on duty and not feeling sleepy. I’ll barge in, we’ll talk, I’ll tell him things, he’ll listen to me, lost in thought, staring into the lights of the food stand across the way at the kids shouting at one another and racing their cars. When I saw that the pharmacy lights were on, I was happy. He hadn’t gone to bed. I opened the door and the bell rang. Oh God, it wasn’t Kemal Bey but his wife.

“Hello,” I said and paused. “I need an aspirin.”

“A box or one tablet,” said the wife.

“Two tablets. I have a headache. I’m a little bored … Kemal Bey …,” I said, but she wasn’t listening. She had her scissors out and was cutting the individual aspirin packets.

“Did Kemal Bey already go out for the morning fish?” I said.

“Kemal’s asleep upstairs.”

I looked at the ceiling for a minute and considered that, just two inches above it, my friend lay sleeping. If he happened to stir, I would tell him about my evening. He might have something to say about those kids at the coffeehouse, but then again he might not, he might simply stare out in that bewildered way, so thoughtful, as I talked, as we talked. I took the change his wife set out with her little white hands. Then I looked around and saw lying there right on the couch one of those photo novels for all to see. Nice lady! I said good night and left without troubling her further; the bell jingled again. The
streets were emptier, and the children playing hide-and-seek had gone home.

BOOK: Silent House
8.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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