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Authors: Orhan Pamuk

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Silent House (6 page)

BOOK: Silent House
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If only it were winter, I’d want to walk all by myself on the beach right now, go in the open door without worrying about anybody else. The waves would come and crash on the beach, and every once in a while I would scramble and run back to keep my shoes from getting wet as I walked along and thought about my life, how I would absolutely be an important person one day, how not only all those guys but the girls too would look at me differently then. I wouldn’t need anybody else if it were winter. But there’s school in the winter, goddamn it, and those crappy teachers …

Then I saw the white Anadol coupe going up the hill. As it slowly got closer I realized that they were in it, but instead of waving to them I turned and hid my face. They went right by without realizing it was me. As they passed I thought for a moment maybe I was mistaken, because Nilgün wasn’t that pretty when we were little! But who else could the driver be except that fatso Faruk. Then I figured out where I’d go instead of home: I’d go down the hill, linger around their door, maybe I’d see my uncle the dwarf, and he’d ask me in,
and if I wasn’t too embarrassed I’d go inside, I’d say hello, maybe I’d even kiss their grandmother’s hand, then I’d say, did you recognize me, I’m all grown up. Sure, they’d say, we recognized you, we were really good friends when we were little, weren’t we, we’d talk and talk, we were friends when we were little, we’d talk and maybe I’d forget about this foul mood I’m in.


Faruk at the Wheel

s the Anadol slowly made its way up the hill I asked:

“Did you all recognize him?”

“Who?” said Nilgün.

“The one in blue walking on the side of the road. He knew us right off.”

“The tall one?” said Nilgün. She turned around and looked back, but we were far away by now. “Who was it?”


“Hasan who?” said Nilgün, at a loss.

“Recep’s nephew.”

“He’s gotten so big!” said Nilgün, surprised. “I didn’t recognize him.”

“Shame on you!” said Metin. “Your childhood friend.”

“Well, why didn’t you recognize him then?” said Nilgün.

“I didn’t even see him. But as soon as Faruk said something I knew who it was.”

“Good for you!” said Nilgün. “You’re so smart!”

“You mean that I’ve completely changed this past year, that’s
what you mean,” said Metin. “But you’re the one who’s forgotten her own past.”

“You’re talking nonsense.”

“All those books you read make you forget everything!” said Metin.

“Don’t be a smart aleck!” said Nilgün.

They stopped talking. Then there was a long silence. We went up the hill where ugly new concrete buildings were being built every year, passing between the gradually disappearing vineyards, cherry orchards, and fig trees.

The portable radio was playing some random “light Western pop.” When we saw the sea and Cennethisar in the distance, I sensed from the silence something of the excitement we’d felt as kids, but it didn’t last. We went downhill without saying a word, and made our way through the noisy sunburned crowds in their shorts and bathing suits. As Metin was opening the garden gate, Nilgün said, “Honk the horn, Faruk.”

I put the car in the garden and looked glumly over the house, which seemed older and emptier each time I came. The paint on the woodwork was all peeling, the vines had crept from the side wall to the front, the shadow of the fig tree fell on Grandmother’s closed shutters, and the wrought iron on the downstairs windows was completely rusted. I had a strange feeling: it was as if there were terrible things in this house that I had never apprehended before owing to familiarity but that I was now recognizing with surprise and anxiety. I peered into Grandmother and Recep’s damp, deadly interior darkness, which was visible between the decrepit wings of the big front door they’d left open for us.

“Come on, get out, Faruk, what are you sitting there for?” said Nilgün.

Walking straight toward the house, she saw Recep’s little figure pop out of the small kitchen door and waddle eagerly toward us. They exchanged hugs and kisses. I turned off the radio that nobody
was listening to and got out into the silent garden. Recep was in that jacket he always wore to hide his age and that same weird tie of his. We embraced and kissed as well.

“I was worried,” said Recep. “You’re late!”

“How are you?”

“Oh,” he said, bashful about being asked, “I’m good. I made your beds and prepared your rooms. Madam is waiting. Have you put on some weight, Faruk Bey?”

“How’s Grandmother?”

“Fine … as long as she can complain … Let me take your bags.”

“We’ll get them later.”

We followed Recep upstairs. As I was reminded of the dusty light inside the house that seeped through the shutters and the smell of mildew, I felt somehow happy. When we came to Grandmother’s door, Recep stopped for a minute, caught his breath, then, with his eyes gleaming calculated cheerfulness, he called out:

“They’re here, Madam, they’ve arrived!”

“Where are they?” said the irritated old grandmother voice. “Why didn’t you tell me, where are they?”

She was lying under a blue flowered quilt, leaning back on three pillows propped one behind the other, in the bed whose brass knobs I used to tap to make them ring when I was a child. One by one, we kissed her hand, which was white and soft, the familiar moles and spots on its wrinkled skin like old friends. The room, Grandmother, and the hand all had the same smell.

“God give you long life!”

“How are you, Grandma?”

“Terrible,” said Grandmother, but we didn’t say anything. Her lips twitched a little, as if she were a shy young girl or pretending to be. Then she said, “Okay, now, what have you got to say for yourselves?”

As we three siblings looked at one another there was a long silence. The room smelled of mildew, furniture wax, old soap, maybe mint candy, a little lavender, cologne, and dust.

“Well, don’t you have anything to say to me?”

“We came here by car, Grandmother,” said Metin. “It’s exactly fifty minutes from Istanbul.”

He says this every time, and every time Grandmother’s stubborn face seems distracted for a moment before resuming its expectant expression.

“How long did it used to take you, Grandmother?” said Nilgün, as if she didn’t know.

“I just came once!” said Grandmother with triumphant pride. She took a breath and added: “And today I’ll ask the questions, not you!” She seemed to like this phrase she used habitually but then struggled for a moment, unable to think of anything as clever as she wanted.

“So how are you?”

“We’re fine, Grandmother!”

As if she’d suffered some defeat, her face turned furious. And I remembered being afraid of that face when I was little.

“Recep, put a pillow behind my back!”

“You have all the pillows behind you, Madam.”

“Should I get you another one, Grandmother?” said Nilgün.

“So, tell me, what are you up to?”

“Grandma, Nilgün’s started at university,” I said.

“I know how to talk, too, Faruk, don’t worry,” said Nilgün. “I’m studying sociology, Grandmother, I’ve just finished the first year.”

“And you?”

“I’ll finish high school next year,” said Metin.

“After that?”

“After that, I’ll go to America!” said Metin.

“What’s over there?” said Grandmother.

“Rich people and smart people!” said Nilgün.

“University!” said Metin.

“Don’t all talk at once!” said Grandmother. “How about you?”

I didn’t tell her that I went back and forth between home and my
department carrying a huge heavy bag of books, that I sat around bored in an empty house at night before eating and then fell asleep in front of the television. I didn’t tell her that only yesterday morning on my way to the university I was already longing to have a drink, that I was afraid of losing my faith in what they call history, that I missed my wife.

“He’s been made an associate professor, Grandmother,” said Nilgün.

“Grandmother, you look really well,” I said out of desperation.

“What’s your wife doing?” said Grandmother.

“I told you the last time, Grandmother,” I said. “We got divorced.”

“I know, I know!” she said. “What’s she doing now?”

“She remarried.”

“You got their rooms ready, right?” said Grandmother.

“I did,” said Recep.

“Don’t you have anything else to say?”

“Grandmother, Istanbul has become very crowded,” said Nilgün.

“It’s crowded here, too,” said Recep.

“Go sit over there, Recep,” I said.

“Grandmother, this house has gotten really old and rickety,” said Metin.

“I’m not well,” said Grandmother.

“It’s really falling apart, Grandmother. Let’s get it knocked down, have an apartment built, you’ll be so much more comfortable—”

“Quiet!” said Nilgün. “She’s not listening to you. This isn’t the time for it.”

There was a silence. I felt as if I could hear the furniture expanding and creaking in the hot airless room. There was a dim, almost distilled light coming in the windows.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” said Grandmother.

“Grandmother, we saw Hasan on the road!” said Nilgün. “He’s grown up, he’s become enormous.”

Grandmother’s lips quivered strangely.

“What are they doing, Recep?” asked Nilgün.

“Nothing!” said Recep. “They live in the house on the hill. Hasan’s in high school …”

“What are you telling them?” shouted Grandmother. “Who are you talking about?”

“What’s Ismail doing?” asked Nilgün.

“Nothing,” said Recep. “He sells lottery tickets.”

“What’s he telling you?” Grandmother shouted again. “Talk to me, not him! You get out of here, Recep, go down to your kitchen!”

“He’s not a problem, Grandmother,” said Nilgün. “Let him stay.”

“He’s fooled you right off, hasn’t he?” said Grandmother. “What did you tell them? Have you made them feel sorry for you already?”

“I haven’t said anything, Madam,” said Recep as he left.

“Everything’s become very expensive, Grandmother,” Nilgün said.

There was another silence.

“Okay, Grandmother,” I said. “We’d better go settle into our rooms.”

“You just came,” said Grandmother. “Where are you off to?”

“Nowhere,” I said. “We’re here for a whole week.”

“So you have nothing nice to tell me,” said Grandmother, almost smiling with some strange air of triumph.

“Tomorrow we’ll go to the cemetery,” I said.

Recep installed us one by one into our rooms and opened the shutters. For me he’d made up the one overlooking the well again. It smelled of mildew, linens, and childhood.

“I hung your towel here,” he said, showing me.

I lit up a cigarette, and we looked out the open window together.

“Recep, how is Cennethisar this summer?”

“Bad,” he said. “It’s not like it used to be. People have become bad, really nasty!” he said.

He turned and looked me in the face, expecting understanding. Between the trees the sea was visible in the distance, and we could hear the buzz coming from the beach. Metin joined us:

“Faruk, could you give me the car keys?”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m getting my bag out and then I’m leaving.”

“If you bring our bags upstairs, I’ll let you have the car until tomorrow morning,” I said.

“Don’t worry, Faruk Bey, I’ll take care of the bags,” said Recep.

“Aren’t you going to the archives now in search of the plague?” said Metin.

“What are you going to look for?” said Recep.

“The plague I’ll look for tomorrow,” I said.

“Are you going to start drinking right away?” said Metin.

“What’s my drinking to you?” I said, but I wasn’t mad.

“Right,” said Metin, as he took the car keys and left.

Without thinking about anything I walked out behind Metin and went down the steps to the opening of the narrow passage. Recep was behind me.

“Is the key for the laundry still here?” I said. I slid my hand along the top of the door frame and found the dusty key.

“Madam doesn’t know,” said Recep. “Don’t tell her.”

BOOK: Silent House
3.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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