[Story]"Cry a Little Descartes"* | Vüs’at O. Bener
"I THINK, THEREFORE
I’M NOT, OKAY!"
I'm walking in Istanbul of forty years ago. It may be the Istiklal Street, this is the yatir(1), which is decorated with red rags, infertile offerers who have an elif(2) drawn in their eyes out of flickering candle lights, but it is still bright outside. One must walk past the street without looking, even if its name has been changed, don't look at the street; that street doesn't exist, it's not like it never existed, it's buried under stacks of concrete, maybe dead, but it exists, don't look back, be afraid, you're already afraid. Look, the trams have come up. Ding-dongs are lowly stressed, wrapped in sorrow, at intervals, soft. Do you hear the broken clinking of iron wheels over the glittering rails? Whoa the old man! It's the warning of my times, don't be furious, forget quickly, drag your lame foot, get away, you're going to be crashed. It's May. A lazy cloud thrown in the air is motionless, white by nature, a flightless gull with its wings spread, around its frame. Inhale the lilac scented wind into your weazend lungs then. The hat of the tram driver is round, the strip yellow, with a large brim, how beautiful! What's beautiful with the beautiful? If you'll look for an answer some day, ask without losing your nerves. Behind the Danielle Darrieux-Charles Boyer couple, a Jean Gabin, with his flabby lower lip. He will be executed by a firing squad in the morning. They're staring at their borrowed futures, from their giant posters strangled with pink. Maginot can't be crossed, or is it Nichevo? I don't know, it doesn't matter, now the entire Istanbul is Emanuelle the sixth week. You were behind the tram driver, remind him of yourself, even if you're not alive, don't change your clothes, square your hunch, straighten the thin neck of the seventeens, wrap yourself in boniness, you saw me come on wave your hand, I will wave to your foreheadlessness if you wish, scratch your flattop, pushing back your drum hat, shapeless head cleaned with the prina soap, say Cogito Ergo Sum once more if you haven't forgotten it, wipe your odorless light sweat, it's the poker-play which strolls over our soft-haired faces, it is obvious we cannot go to the Moon.
Why are you laughing, kid? Sure someday you'll be laughed at, too. You ask which one is Descartes ? This one behind, scowling, can you spot his extremely tight mouth? This is me, round-faced, with an inclination towards my chiselled fingers. Klik! Stop it in the air while jumping, klik! are you going to jump, let him jump, make him jump, he jumped, look we're walking side by side slow motion in the space, treading the emptiness of the conscious, the essence of the paces doesn't change, you don't understand. Klik! let's stop, we stopped.
“Look here, no bandolier, on the street, how awkward. It's as if I'm naked. I keep on checking my waist. I wish they delivered those right away.”
“The police has stopped me two times.”
“No one asked me.”
“Nonsense. Will we wander, making explanations at every step? They released me reluctantly.”
“Skip it. Let's go to the cinema. Do you like Darrieux” -Hear this, raise your thin brows, using your loveliest coquetry. Or are you dead now, why were you killed, if you didn't die?
“Never mind. I don't collect cards. Child's play. I used to see it during the study hour. You used to watch with open mouths. Your namesake will be a pilot, ha? For one thing, his height wouldn't fit.”
“Did you measure it?”
“The waist of that women is also a circle, her diameter is different, so what?”
I've never passed through the street that detours from the corner of the yatir. -Rectangular, iron barred small bay windows on each blackened wooden door of the houses. Latched inside. Cursing on the doorsteps. Tin basin. Douche, pitcher, cracked mirror, charcoal odored barbecue, nausea, sweat, remorse. I ran away from such rooms every so often. - Yet the noble black mane of a mare, the shiny handle of a corrugated butcher's knife on the post. Read, looks exchanged, curious. His navy blue clothes are bottoned from end to end. Understood, it's none of your business, empty this silent crowd from its sack. Let them bend, straighten themselves until their fiction is over, but I know, you'll take this sensitive jellyfish to the dock, dust salt over it, kill it.
“So, it's here. You don't think I came on purpose, yes? What about you?”
“None of my business. Coincidence.”
“Hey, I guess you're... very naive.”
“Come on, ask, ask, I won't get mad.” -Let's see whether his tan would change colour.-
“I'm sure you've screwed no one. Did you?”
He didn't move, looked ahead:
“I haven't screwed anyone yet. In my whereabouts, this is not said such politely. Sweared a blue streak. Mine is another whim. I think. I have thought about this, of course.”
“No, I thought. I multiplied. It's a geometrical matter. Easy. There are few possibilities. Then a little mechanics was required.”
“What a weird man, you are! You used to make us laugh. Your trying to solve Chaldiran War with hypothetical calculation is somewhat okay but... look at the nuts, shall we take one for each of us?”
“I solved, but I couldn't understand.”
“See? What does your father do? We went to the same school for three years but never asked each other.”
“Mine is a doctor. Not a physician. He was a doctor of Natural Sciences, from the Ottoman University. But he doesn't like science or else. He used to have some fun in chemical experiments. He blew a small piece of dynamite one day, the students were frightened to death.”
“He said, don't be afraid, children, it's a practical joke of your grandfather Alfred Nobel.”
“I didn't quite like it. Then?”
“Then he used to be bored, so bored, pitch-black bored, he used to soak up alcohol, he used to shoot at his brain frequently! He must have been a sweet lunatic. Perhaps I'll end up becoming a lunatic, too.”
“It's hard. It would be better to lose your mind, if you could. My grandfather used to line apples up. I used to look at them. They would soar, become a tower, if you let them, go up to the sky. With manual dexterity, not groping. He knew the laws of equilibrium. He used to multiply, divide the biggest numbers in his mind, tell you the result. Such a mind, you see.”
“Is he dead?”
“He'll die. Look, this is certain for me. Plus, you wouldn't be able to solve it. Is that why you said perhaps?”
“I guess so. But I'm solving everything.”
“You solve, yet you don't understand.”
“You should give it a try. It never happens without a try. Let's try. Shall we give it a try?”
“I don't know. Would I understand if I gave it a try?”
“What will you understand? Hey, you'll feel it! Haven't you ever been turned on in your sleep? Or dreamed about it and did it by yourself? In the end, we had a fight with Ahmet on my top bunk. He would swing every night. Sleep if you can. Nasty, nasty. He's simply nasty. Embarrassing. I'm wondering about the twosome. Don't mind me laughing, it is out of nervousness.”
“Can I think while trying? Or can I try while I'm thinking?”
A tranquil morning doesn't start, the city that is compelled to move its calcified gristles under its dull grey, thick cover. In the holes of the heights of apartments, there are weak lights here and there. My shaky hands, veined, blotchy. They'll come to their obsessions, turning up to the street. I'm the present, doomed -the one who waits for the desperateness on chimneys where smoke will be dispersed in the sky over dry land. What dreams nibble the last, are the remains of the skeleton antenna. Always the same speckled, white fanged dog that gets out behind foul trashbins, stretching itself. Behind the children who go to school in their death-black uniforms. Dinamites inside their bags.
If you like, for your sake, instead of the times of creased cloud, unblowing wind, flightless gull, let's draw tales of hundred thousands of blue swallows in our notebook, if they are to make the rain pour, on our thirstiness. Come on, console me, rest your breath upon my mouth, revive me, make me smile.
“Come, let's go onto that street! I'm so thrilled, what do you think?”
Descartes hesitates. I think he is anxious. His regular heart beat seems to go wrong by itself. He clenched his fist a couple of times, his palm sweaty.
“What, did you break into a sweat? How you exaggerated the matter, ha! At least we shall take two steps, so what? Just two small steps. Hey, they wouldn't eat you alive! Also, we'll see whether it is like they said, do they just pull you inside? Do you have money?”
“I have. But we're in uniform, no.”
“There's no one around. So what, we'll look as if we're just passing by. Maybe... Our turncoat Suleiman used to lay it on with a trowel. Didn't he say it's better not to go as a civilian? Prestige abundant.”
“That is Bursa, this is Istanbul. What happens if we bugger around?”
“One can only laugh at your being a soldier, coward!”
“My mind finds it unacceptable, understand, that's all.”
“I'm not saying I'm not afraid! I am.”
“That's because you don't know it.”
“Neither do you. Or do you know it? Come on, come on, don't hide it.”
“This matter is different. My mind is at ease, not used to be defeated. I've never been defeated. I don't like being defeated.”
“Who cares if you like it or not?”
Silence. They paused on the corner.
“I didn't think you were so stubborn. Let's walk another length then. Night bagels have already been out.”
Fragments of tango on the edge of my mouth, having buried my Manon Lescaut into South American deserts again, the bagel I couldn't buy that day like a fist in my throat, I cannot help following them. They stopped at Baylan(3) -was it Baylan?- they looked at me suspiciously, I suppose my topcoat with a ripped pocket, my greasy hat pulled over my eyes symbolize a pederast or a pimp, I turned my back, saw my reflection in the jeweller's window.
“Do you remember what the psychology teacher had said?”
“Me, neither. On top of it, he used to give me ten all the time.”
“He was right, I think.”
“Leave it aside, I don't know if I should tell. Were you in class, when our Ata(4) passed away?”
“Did you cry?”
“What did you do, then?”
“I didn't cry.”
“I could hardly hold myself back from bursting out laughing. I had bit my thumb, caused blood blisters on it. Look, I am telling you first. I warmed to you immediately. We became friends. If they discovered it, they would smash my head, the kids. Why do you think one laughs?”
“I don't quite know how to laugh.”
“That's why you couldn't cry then.”
“You've found the easy way, you think in order to think, my friend. You aren't mad at me, are you? I guess there is a law for this, too. You go on thinking. The psycho teacher had collapsed upon the platform, saying ‘Our Ata has passed away. He will live in our hearts from now on.' Then the entire class had started crying as if being ordered to do so... This means only you, plus me... But I'm still so ashamed, so sorry.”
“Don't be sorry. Think. Prove your existence to yourself.”
“Ugh! I think, therefore I'm not, okay! I feel so bored. Only if we could enter this street.”
Suddenly I got mad, I was tired of them, they took me to forty years later, leaving me alone. I erected a swarthy police sergeant in front of them. That street wasn't stepped on, my explanations my pleadings -Descartes keeps silent- weren't taken heed of. We have to appear before the commander of the well known Beyoglu(5) Military Police Station. Walk upon my soul spread over the pavement, go on shaking your hips in Blue-Jeans .
Lieutenant Hasan Gürler cracked his whip again. He twisted his thick moustache. In a sidelong look he caressed his epaulette, on which three bright stars were aligned. He speeded up the twitch on his cheek, his feet in patent leather boots with rattle-like spurs he started the fury exercise by pounding his foot on the white marble. “Bring those rascals in.”
Their right hand sticked to the side stitch of their trousers, hats in their left hands as taught. Only my knees are shaking.
“Tell me once more, sergeant, what is it they are guilty of?”
“Sir, I caught them on that street. Plus, they aren't wearing bandoliers.”
“What was the name of the street?”
“So, what do you think they were doing in the street?”
“I think... They came out of Dürdane's house. So it is for certain. They claim they were strange to Istanbul.”
“Whoa, who doesn't know Abanoz in this country! Surely. Right? Speak, you speak, bastard! Your legs are trembling, why? That's because you're guilty. Look at your friend, does he ever tremble? A soldier doesn't feel frightened, doesn't tremble, doesn't lie, he says manly, ‘yes my captain we made a mistake, impose a penalty on whatever my offense is.'” He sensed the hint of the softening of the twitch on his cheeks. He raised his voice to a pitch that cannot be understood. “Look at the youth our Ata, the greatest Harbiye(7) soldier, trusted his heritage with! How quickly you strived for your penis! You tell me pumpkin face, it was you who tempted this Kemah(8) boy, wasn't you? Are you from Kemah, boy? My coal-black browed, brave one, why on earth did you go after him, ha! Look, I liked your straight posture, your gaze. You'll look right into the eyes of your chief, won't you? In any case. Sergeant, look carefully, this Kemah boy knows how to die, this sissy would be shot on the heel while running. Hey, the war is at our door. Hitler , the guy with the nasty moustache is about to get us into trouble. Haven't you thought why you graduated early, why you were made Harbiye soldiers? Tomorrow we may have to fight again in Edirne, Canakkale, Kars, Kafkas. Fighting savagely, heading Mehmetciks(9) like our grandfathers, our fathers did. With those? Enough! Take these degenerates into custody. I'm going to notify your schools, too. One cannot hit Harbiye soldiers any more, or I'd smash your faces. Kemah boy, you stop!”
On the last tram to Laleli, a silhouette holding his sob is humming “Gecenin matemi”(10) lispily. I feel chilly, I left all my enthusiasm, warmness behind the iron bars six hours ago.
“Kemah boy. My friend. Don't be silent, talk. I thought he would let you go. Why did he have both of us put in jail?”
“I said the sergeant was lying, I said I'm not from Kemah. He understood I was telling the truth.”
He saw the salty water filling my eyes. He wiped it with his dry hand.
“Never mind. The captain is still right...”
“On what matter?”
“About the nasty mustache.”
Always remain in my mind like this please Descartes, good bye, but if you like cry a little.
* Düşler Öyküler magazine, Issue: 2, July 1996
Translator's note: The conjunction “and” is used as seldom as possible, because the writer would use a few “and”s or no “and”s at all. He preferred commas instead. Also, I've sticked mostly to the original punctuation.
(1) Yatir: the place where a holy man is burried.
(2) Elif: refers to the shape of the first letter of the Arabic alphabet.
(3) Baylan: a renowed patisserie.
(4) Ata (Mustafa Kemal) : Atatürk.
(5) Beyoglu: a district in Istanbul.
(6) Abanoz: the street that was once famous for its brothels.
(7) Harbiye: a district and a military academy in Istanbul. Here the academy is referred.
(8) Kemah: a district of Erzincan, an Eastern Anatolian city.
(9) Mehmetciks: Turkish soldiers.
(10) “Mourning of the night”: A Turkish song dating back to the year 1934.