Sobbing… Slobbering… Some kid... Crying… From outside... Sobbing... Choking…
I opened my eyes. My pillow was wet. My mouth was bitter like poison. I was in a hotel room. Lying in bed. Someone was hollering to the kid:
“Ahmet, you better listen son!”
My eyes were at the water-stained ceiling. The first thing that swam to my mind: I was about the same age when I first stabbed someone.
I sat up, put my head between my knees, then in my hands. I thought of stepping outside for a moment, checking out what the fuss was about. Then, I thought better of it, didn’t want to be figured out this early in the game.
Shit. Who’d think I was the Grim Reaper himself once?
Yep, I wasn’t any older than that kid when I first stabbed someone. My mother was working in a High School in Eyüp then. In Nişanca High School. She’d take a minivan from Demirkapı to go to work every day. That day I was with her for some reason. It was hot, shot through with dust. The air was vibrating around us, like hot grease. The asphalt was melting. For some reason I still remember; there was something by Orhan Gencebay playing on the eight track tape player of the van:
Even if there is poison in your chalice
Bring it to me; I’d love to have it
Even if your lips are tightly sealed
Bring them to me; I’d love to brave it
I was in awe looking at the ornaments, embellishments, this and that of the driver’s quarters; then it dawned on me: that liverless wonder of a driver had been putting the moves on my mother. Suddenly I saw the guy running after her in broad daylight on the street. He was literally chasing the woman. There were perhaps two and a half passengers in the van, perhaps not even that, their mouths agape, their eyes popping, but no one was going to do anything. I darted after them. I think my mother did not want to tackle the guy in front of me; I knew that she hit hard when she did, could beat up anyone when it was called for. I heard she once took away a knife from someone. The guy went, my mother went, with me at their heels like a puppy. Next frame: I caught up with him, grabbed him, and stuck him in the ass with my pocketknife. I didn’t touch a nerve, or a blood vessel, exactly how my uncle showed me in our neighborhood, one day during the Holiday of Sacrifice. The guy collapsed, bloodied. I was on him right away, but didn’t cut any further. He was crushed by what happened, I suppose; he was in a sobbing, choking heap. That gave me pause. I just said “What… What the…” I didn’t know what to do. Then, I pulled out a handkerchief and gave it to him.
The chief of the police station started yelling at the guy: “Pal,” he said, “you start chasing a divorced woman down the street, in broad daylight, her seven year old son comes up and scratches you with his okra-sized blade and you turn up all sobbing and slobbering and press charges? Just like that? Punk? What nerve! Fuck you punk! Just- fuck you!”
I got off easy my very first time at the police station. Still, back at home, even my grandmother could not get my mother off me.
Life’s funny: It has been almost twenty years since my grandmother passed away. Not long ago Bahattin let me know that my mother had cancer. I left my auto repair shop on 9th Street, Brooklyn, to my Pakistani partner, Tahir. I returned to Istanbul, for the first time in sixteen years. I buried my mother. I spent some time in a hospital myself. Now I’m in a hotel room. In Hotel Onsekiz Sekbanlar. On Onsekiz Sekbanlar Street. If anything, the world must be bell-jar-bottomed, as they say. That must be it.
Years ago, when I was living on this street I befriended a girl who was staying at this hotel. She was from somewhere around the Persian Gulf. Some kind of a hawk lived on top of an old tree in the backyard of the hotel then. Its scream was like the scream of a woman.
After so many years the entrance of the hotel reminded me of the entrances of Saraçhane movie theaters, particularly Turan’s. Turan reeked of urine. You’d buy your ticket through piled up fruit cases. It would be a ticket for one of the private booths. Only the booth beneath the projectionist’s would be empty; it was too bright for anybody. In other booths the occupants would twist, turn and squirm under a cloud of smoke.
I took my pills and stepped out of the hotel. It was almost September; the weather wasn’t too bad. Still, I had my gloves in my pocket. You never know. I looked to my right, where the street ended. I wouldn’t be wrong in saying: This was the place where they pulled a knife on me first time. I was in the second grade. A boy came up to me and got in my face. I didn’t say anything. He took a folding knife out of his pocket, opened it with some effort, put its business end against my chest, and held it there. Like that.
“You talk too much!’ he said, “punk!”
I still didn’t say anything. We just stood there. I think he got bored eventually, closed his knife, put it in his pocket again, turned around, and walked away.
I started in the opposite direction, towards the Gençtürk Avenue. Close to the end of the street, there was the sacred tomb of Üryani Dede. I walked up to it and looked through the strong iron bars of the window. Once the windowsill used to be covered with thick layers of candle wax. There wasn’t any candle burning there now. There wasn’t anybody promising anything for a fulfilled wish to this Dede, I thought, not even a candle; who knows, people were finding their hopes elsewhere nowadays.
Back in the time, there was the barbershop of Sado close to the mouth of Gençtürk. Sado was an immigrant from Yugoslavia and an old partisan. He’d put a board on the arms of a chair, make me sit on it, then would rip a page from the calendar and secure it with shaving foam on my forehead, so that hair would not get in my eyes. One day, when I wanted my head shaven, he sent one of his apprentices to my mother to ask for her permission. I returned home with my head looking like a polished knob that evening.
Just around the corner was Mahmut’s tiny tobacco shop. The shop was still there, with someone looking familiar in it. Perhaps I wanted the guy to look familiar. Still, I couldn’t get any closer; I didn’t ask; I couldn’t ask.
I made a left onto Atatürk Boulevard. I saw my grade school: Oruçgazi Elementary School. This Oruçgazi was supposed to be one of Fatih Sultan The Conqueror’s men. I was in front of what used the be a branch of Boza Vendor of Vefa, took the overpass and came down on the other side of the boulevard by the snack kiosk. We used to buy hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, and soda there. In colder months of the year, down by the Pertevniyal High School, there used to be vendors selling roasted chestnuts and corn. Now there was none. There was a stand; I couldn’t make out what was on it. I walked up to it; there were rows of switchblades and balisong knives for sale on display.
“Cool stuff,” I said to the guy behind the stand for good measure. He nodded. “Forgive me and my ignorance about these things, but aren’t they illegal?” The guy looked at me.
“They are supposed to be,” he said, with some devil-may-care expression, “but so far no one bothered to come up and say anything…”
Good, nothing had changed in the country. We were about to join the European Union, if only they let us, but the laws were still playing one tune, the streets another. I pointed at the balisong knives; “Well, is there anybody buying those fancy knives?”
“They do, bro,” he said, “swear to God! But I wouldn’t know if they only talk or bloody walk with them…”
Then it dawned on me: The crowds around me were immense. But it was like I didn’t know the tongue of the land anymore.
Was there any orderly who still knew me in my school? Dream on. My teacher was Necmiye Hanım, may she rest in peace. I went down the stairs along the wall of the school. Every morning we’d take the oath in this yard, screaming:
“I’m a Turk! I’m straight! I’m industrious!” Just outside the iron gates vendors would sell pudding in syrup, pupil’s feed, macun; screaming they’d look for marks to fleece in their rigged games. The walls of that yard grew taller over the years with added walls, bars, and barbed wire. They were meant not to keep anybody from coming in, but to keep all those straight and industrious folk inside from running away. One time the iron gate had come off its hinges and crushed somebody. There was a heavy brawl when the kid’s body was being taken to the neighborhood mosque.
I walked along the very short Oruçgazi Street, right along the wall of the school. I ended up in front of the Oruçgazi Building. There still were marks of posters, pamphlets, of long gone parties and organizations that were on the prowl and whose members were hunted down like animals in the 70’s. One time a minivan hit the building. Its dazed driver kept saying “won’t happen ever again brothers…” Another time before 1980 they opened fire from this building on the street. It was riddled with automatic gunfire at least twice. The windows of the first floor were at eye level.
I stopped there. My mother had died in that building. In Aksaray. In "White Palace."