Authors: Orhan Pamuk
Tags: #General Fiction
Good for you, at least you’re not Communists, but I didn’t want to tangle with nationalists either, so we fled quickly, and I said, Were you afraid, and Ceylan said No, and I wanted to talk over what we’d just been through, but she was giving only one-word answers, so we were quiet on the road back, and when I finally parked the car in front of Turan’s, Ceylan immediately jumped out and ran off, so I went to have a look, nothing much had happened to the car, if my brother had spent some of his monthly salary on changing the bald tires instead of blowing it all on bottles of
, we wouldn’t have been in this fix in the first place. I went inside to find them all spread out, lounging in the armchairs, on the couches, on the floor, half passed out, wrecked, as if they were all waiting for something, like death. Meticulously taking the cherry pits from his mouth, Mehmet, as though it were the last meaningful action to be taken in the world, was concentrating on throwing them at Turgay’s head, and Turgay, sprawled on the wet floor, was doggedly cursing each pit that hit him and sighing hopelessly,
while Zeynep was asleep, Fafa was buried deep in a fashion magazine, her eyes looking frozen, and Hülya was planting kisses on Turan’s head as he lay there snoring; the others were listening to Ceylan with a cigarette in her hand tell about our adventure, when, lifting her head from the magazine, Fafa said, Come on, the sun is coming up, come on, let’s do something.
Hasan Does His Duty
id you get the license plate?” said Mustafa.
“It was a white Anadol,” said Serdar. “I’d know it if I saw it again.”
“Did you get a look at the people inside?”
“A girl and a guy,” said Yasar.
“Could you see their faces?” said Mustafa.
Nobody said anything, so I didn’t either; I had recognized Metin, but I couldn’t tell: Were you the other one or not, Nilgün? You could have killed us, and at this hour of the morning!… But I refuse to think about it anymore. I’m continuing to do my job, writing slogans on the walls in huge letters, while Serdar, Mustafa, and the new guys just sit there smoking cigarettes and cursing. But look at me, I’m still at it, bravely writing what we nationalists will do if the Communists ever dare come around here: we’ll make this place their grave!
“Okay, enough for now, gentlemen,” Mustafa said after a little while. “We’ll pick up again tomorrow night.” He was quiet for a second and then said to me, “Good! You did a good job! But you’d better
be there tomorrow morning! I want to see what you do to that girl …”
After everyone split up, I walked home reading the things we had written on the walls, and still wondering: Were you next to Metin in the car, Nilgün? Where could she have been coming from? Maybe her grandmother is sick. She was out trying to find medicine with Metin … Was that it? Anyway I’ll ask you tomorrow morning.
It was light out now, but when I got home the lamp was still burning. Thanks, Dad. He’d locked the window and the door and was fast asleep, not in his bed, but all by himself on the couch again, and actually I felt sorry for him, my poor crippled dad. I tapped on the window.
He’d barely gotten up to let me in before he started to yell and scream, so much that I thought he was going to hit me again, but no, he only went on about life’s hardships and the importance of a high school diploma; he never hits me when he’s on these topics. As I listened I lowered my head, hoping he would quiet down, but it didn’t do any good. I can’t believe that after working all night, on top of everything else that has happened to me, I have to listen to you now: so I went inside, got a handful of cherries from the fridge, and I was eating them when suddenly, God, he tried to take a swipe at me, and though I pulled away quickly, he managed to nail my hand, sending pits and cherries all over the floor. He was still talking as I bent down to pick them up and when he realized I wasn’t listening he started to plead: Son, son, why don’t you study, etc. At that point I felt sorry for him again and a bit ashamed, but what was I supposed to do? Then he smacked me on my shoulder, and I got mad again.
“If you hit me once more I’m going to leave home,” I said.
“Go on, get out!” he said. “Next time I’m not opening the window!”
“Fine,” I said. “I earn my own money anyway.”
“Don’t lie!” he said. “What are you doing in the street at this hour?” When my mother came from inside, he said, “This one’s running away from home! He’s never coming back.”
His voice trembled, the way it would when someone’s about to cry, like the howl of a lonely old dog with no master. My mother signaled me to go inside, and I went in without saying anything. My father went on for a while, screaming and shouting, and when he stopped they talked. Finally, they turned out the lights and it was quiet.
As for me, with the sun already peeking at the edge of my window, I went to my bed without bothering to get undressed. I just lay down like that, looking at the ceiling, a crack in the ceiling that would drip when there was heavy rain, leaving a stain there. I used to think that stain on the ceiling looked like an eagle, like this old eagle with its wings spread that would come and carry me away while I slept, and then I would no longer be a boy but turned into a girl!
I’ll go find her on the beach at nine thirty, I’ll say, Hi, Nilgün, do you recognize me, but she still doesn’t answer, Look you’re sulking, I’ll say. But we don’t have a lot of time, because unfortunately we’re in danger, I’ll say, you misunderstood me, I can explain, and I’ll tell her everything, how they want me to tell her off, to rip the newspaper from her hands and shred it to pieces, Please, Nilgün, let them see that they don’t have to do any of this, I say all that, and then Nilgün can go over to Mustafa, who’s watching us from nearby, she can tell him herself what kind of person she is, and Mustafa will get embarrassed and maybe then Nilgün will understand that I love her and maybe she won’t get mad and maybe even be happy, because in life anything’s possible, you never know …
I was still looking at the wings of the stain on the ceiling. Yes, I’d say an eagle, or sometimes a kite. Water would drip out of it. But not in the old days, because my father still hadn’t built this room yet.
But back then I wasn’t so ashamed that our house was small, that my father sold lottery tickets, and my uncle was a dwarf house servant. I can’t say I wasn’t ashamed at all, because we still didn’t have a well, and when I used to go with my mother to the fountain I was afraid that you would see us, Nilgün, because you had started to go hunting with Metin, and at that time we were such good friends
that, remember, it was in the fall, when the people in those Besevler, the Five Houses that had just been built, each exactly like the others, before the vines had grown all over them, when the owners and everyone else had gone back to Istanbul, one day at the beginning of September, you were still here and you came to my house with Metin, Faruk’s old air rifle on your shoulder, and you said, Let’s go hunt crows, you were all sweaty because you had climbed up the hill, and my mother gave you water, clean water, in the new Pasabahçe shatterproof glasses, and you drank it with pleasure, Nilgün, but Metin didn’t, maybe because he thought our glasses were dirty, or because he thought our water was, then my mother said, If you like, go pick some grapes, children, the vineyard wasn’t ours, she said, to answer Metin’s question, but never mind, it’s our neighbor’s, what’s the problem, go and have some, she said, but the two of you wouldn’t go, and when I offered to go and pick some and bring them to you, you said, No, because they’re not ours, but at least you drank from our new glass, Nilgün, Metin wouldn’t even do that, because we were poor and my mother wore a head scarf.
The sun climbed higher and I could hear the birds start chirping in the trees. I was thinking, What’s Mustafa up to, is he in bed, did he go to sleep, or is he waiting, too?
Someday not too far in the future, maybe another fifteen years, not more, I’ll be working in my office, at my factory, when my secretary—no, not some slave as in the West, more of an assistant, a good Muslim girl—comes in and says, There are some nationalist volunteers outside who’d like to see you, their names are Mustafa and Serdar, and I say, Let me finish my work, and then after that, I make them wait awhile, and when my work is done, I push the new automatic intercom button, and I say, I can see them now, show them in, then Mustafa and Serdar speak to me all embarrassed and uncomfortable, Of course, I understand, I say, you’re asking for help, fine, I’ll take 10 million invitations from you, but I’m not taking them because I’m against communism and atheism, it’s that I feel sorry for you, because I have no fear of Communists, I’m honest, I’ve never
cheated people in business, and every year I give my tithe and my poor tax without fail, I’ve made my workers junior partners, they like me because I’m a good man, why should they get involved with Communists and unions, they know as well as I do that this factory provides an income for all of us, they know that there’s no difference between them and me, why don’t you join us in breaking the fast at the
I’m giving for them tonight, I’m very close to them, there are seven thousand workers under me, and when I say that, Mustafa and Serdar would be so amazed, they’d realize then what kind of person I am!
I heard the familiar sound of Halil’s garbage truck chugging up the hill. The birds became quiet. I saw an ant walking across the floor. Poor little ant! I stuck out my finger and touched it lightly on the back, and it was confused. There are creatures so much more powerful than you, you have no idea, you poor ant. You’re running and running, and then I put my finger in front of you and you turn and run back the way you came. I played with it a little more, and finally, I felt sorry for it; I wanted to think of happy things and so I thought about that glorious day I always think about.
That day, as I switch from one telephone to another calling out orders, I take the last telephone receiver that’s held out to me and I say, Hello, is that Tunceli, I say, that glorious day, hello, how is it there, Fine, Commander, says the gruff voice on the other end, we’ve cleaned the place out of all the bad elements, I thank him, and for the very last call I phone Kars, What’s the situation there? Just about normal, sir, they say, we’re about to finish off the atheists here, and I say, You’ve done a good job, thank you, and after hanging up, I enter the hall with a large entourage behind me, where thousands of delegates give me a standing ovation and I say, as the Nationalist’s Operation Lightning comes to a conclusion, I have just learned that we have crushed the last nests of Kurdish Red resistance in Tunceli and in our border city of Kars. And just as I am saying that paradise is no longer just a dream, my friends, there is not a single Communist atheist left alive in Turkey, my aide whispers into my ear, and I
say, Oh really? Okay, I’m coming, and after passing through endless marble corridors, each door with armed guards opening onto the next, I enter the last of the forty rooms, and in a brightly lit corner, I see you, tied to a chair, and when my aide says, She’s just been caught, sir, they say she’s the leader of all the Communists, I say, Untie her immediately, it’s beneath us to tie a lady’s hands up, so they untie you, and I say, Leave us alone, please, and my aide and the men click their heels together, salute, and when they close the doors behind them, I look at you, at age forty you’re even more beautiful, a mature woman, and as I offer you a cigarette I say, Do you recognize me, Comrade Nilgün Hanim, and you say, Yes, a little embarrassed, I recognize you, and there’s silence for a bit, and we stare at each other, and suddenly I say, We won, we won, and we didn’t leave Turkey to you atheists, so now are you sorry? Yes, you say, I’m sorry, and when I see your fingers trembling as they reach out for the pack of cigarettes I’m offering you, I say, Relax, no harm will ever come to women or girls from me and my friends, please be calm, we are completely devoted to the Turkish traditions that have come down over thousands of years, so you don’t have to be afraid, I say, I won’t be the one deciding your punishment, it will be the court of history and the judgment of the nation, and you say, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Hasan, and I reply, It’s no use repenting when it’s too late, and unfortunately I can’t be swayed by my emotions to forgive you, because I have a responsibility to my nation before anything else, and suddenly I look and you’ve started to take off your clothes, Nilgün, you’re undressing and coming on to me, just like those shameless, immoral women I saw in the sex films I secretly went to see in Pendik, oh my God, she’s telling me she loves me, you’re trying to turn me on, but I’m disgusted by you, and I become ice cold, and while you plead, I call the guards and say, Take this sad excuse for Catherine the Great out of my sight, I have no intention of falling victim the way Baltaci Mehmet Pasha did, my nation suffered plenty because of Baltaci’s weakness for the czarina’s charms, but those days are over, and as the guards are taking you away, I go into another room and maybe I cry, and just because they
reduced a girl like you to such an awful state, maybe for that alone, I decide I’ll be even harder on those Communists, but then I wipe away my tears and I comfort myself thinking, so, I’ve been suffering all these years for nothing, and as I go take part in the victory celebrations, maybe I completely forget about you from that day on.