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"And this 'i,' Fraulein Anbari?"
Asiadeh looked up, her gray eyes thoughtful and earnest. "This 'i'?" she repeated in her soft, gentle voice. She thought for a little while and then said decidedly and desperately: "This 'i' is the Yakut gerund, similar to the Khirgiz 'barisi.'"
Professor Bang rubbed his long, hooked nose. Behind the steel-rimmed glasses his eyes looked like those of a wise owl. He wheezed softly and disapprovingly.
"Yes," he said. "But I still cannot really understand why the 'a' should be missing in the Yakut form." And he sadly leafed through the dictionary.
Goetz, another of his students, whose speciality was the Chinese language, proposed to explain the mysterious "a" form as being a petrified Mongol instrumental. "When I was young," said Professor Bang severely, "I too tried to explain everything as being a petrified Mongol instrumental. Courage is a young man's privilege."
Bang was sixty years old and the Chinese expert forty-five. Asiadeh suddenly felt a sharp scratching pain in her throat. The sweetish air of the yellowing old books, the tortuous flourishes of the Manchu and Mongol letters, the barbaric forms of the petrified languagesall these were unreal, hostile, numbing her senses. She sighed deeply when the bell rang. Bang lit his pipe, a sign that the seminar for Comparative Turkish Languages had finished. His long, bony finger tenderly caressed the yellowed pages of the Uigur Grammar as he said dryly: "Next time we will discuss the structure of the negative verb, using the machinaean hymns." His words seemed both promise and threat. Since the great Thomsen in Copenhagen had died, philology had lost its meaning for him. The young people of today did not understand anything and explained everything as being a petrified instrumental.
His four students bowed silently. Asiadeh went out to the wide staircase of the seminar for Oriental Languages. Other doors opened, bearded Egyptologists appeared, and idealistic youths who had dedicated their lives to the endeavor of deciphering Assyrian cuneiforms. Behind the closed door of the Arabic lecture room, the sobbing sounds of a ghazel by Lebid died away, and the lecturer's voice said, ending his discourse: "A classic example of the modus apokopatus."
Asiadeh went down the staircase. Her hand gripped her leather briefcase, and she pressed her bent elbow against the heavy outer door to open it. Outside, sad red and orange autumn leaves lay on the gray asphalt of the narrow Dorotheenstrasse. She crossed the street with short hasty steps and entered the forecourt of the university itself. Was it the wind that made the scrawny trees bow, or was it the weight of accumulated wisdom? Asiadeh looked up to the overcast sky of Berlin to the dark windows of the lecture rooms, the golden letters on the front of the university ... People from another strange and unimaginable world rushed past her: students of medicine, law, economicswearing thin gray overcoats, holding large briefcases under their arms.
The big clock in the dark crowded hall of the university showed eight minutes past ten. Asiadeh stopped in front of the notice board and read thoughtfully, if slightly bored, through the matter-of-fact announcements from the administration to the students, which had been there since the beginning of term, unaltered and already slightly fading, like the old prints from Cairo and Labore. "Prof. Dr. Hasting's lecture about English Gothic History has been canceled." "Chemistry textbook found, apply to Beadle." "Prof. Dr. Sachs has offered to treat fellow students free of charge. Daily 3-5 clinic for internal diseases." Asiadeh took a little notebook from her briefcase, put it flat on her arm, and wrote in tiny, downward sloping lines: "Laryngological clinic, Luisenstrasse 2, 9-1."
She put the notebook away and passed through the forecourt out into the avenue Unter den Linden. She looked at Frederick the Great's majestic monument, and the classical lines of the Kronprinzen Palais. Far away the Brandenburger Tor rose through the murky twilight of an autumn morning.
She turned right, went across the Louis-Ferdinand-Strasse, and ran up the marble staircase of the Staats Bibliothek. Before her was the entrance to the big reading room, to the left long corridors containing the catalogs, and on the right a small door led to the long, narrow Oriental Reading Room, the hiding place of Berlin's strangest scholars and eccentrics. Asiadeh walked in, went to a bookshelf, took out Radloff's Comparative Dictionary, sat down at one of the long tables, and wrote: "Etymology of the word 'Utsh(end).' Utsh, according to phonetic law, becomes 'us' in the Abakan dialect. In Karagaian we find two forms: 'utu' and 'udu.' In Soyanic also 'udu'" ... she stopped. "Soyanic"she had not come across that word before, she did not know when and where this faraway language had been spoken, these letters that she was now deciphering. It seemed to her that in the sound of this word she could hear the rushing of a big river, and in her mind's eye she saw the picture of a wild, slit-eyed people who, armed with harpoons, dragged long, fat sturgeons onto moss-grown riverbanks. The men were clad in furs and had wide cheekbones and dark skins. And they killed the sturgeons, shouting "Utsh"end, the Soyanic form of the basic Turkish word "Utsh"end.
Asiadeh opened her briefcase and took out a small mirror. She put it between the backs of the dictionary's two volumes and looked timidly and furtively into the little glass. She saw a pale oval face, gray eyes with long, thick lashes, and narrow pink lips. Her first finger touched her brows and brushed over her clear skin, now a bit flushed. Nothing in this face reminded her of the slit-eyed, wide-cheeked nomads on the banks of the nameless river. Asiadeh sighed. She was living in Berlin, in the year 1928, and a thousand years separated her from her robust ancestors who had once come from the deserts of Turan to overrun the gray plains of Anatolia. During the thousand years the slit eyes, the dark skins, and the hard, wide cheekbones had disappeared. During these thousand years empires, towns, and vowel dislocations had arisen. One of her ancestors had conquered, founded, and lost cities and empires. What remained was a small oval face, light gray wistful eyes, and an aching memory of the lost empire, the sweet waters of Istanbul, and the house on the Bosphorus with its marble courtyards, slender columns, and white inscriptions over the entrances.
Asiadeh blushed like a little girl, put the mirror away, and looked around fearfully. At the next table sat a female philologist, dry and dusty-looking with sunken cheeks, laboriously translating the Tarik by Hak-Hamid. She saw the mirror lying between the two volumes, blinked disapprovingly, and wrote on a slip of paper: "Horrible dictu! Cosmetica speculumque in colloquium!" She pushed the slip toward Asiadeh, who wrote conciliatorily on the back: "Non cosmetica sed influenca. Am ill. Come outside, I'll translate the Tarik for you."
She rose, put the dictionaries away, and went into the big entrance hall. The phililogue with the sunken cheeks followed her. Then they sat on one of the cold marble benches, the Tarik on Asiadeh's knees. From the rolling verses the gray Spanish rock arose, and General Tarik crossed the Straits of Gibraltar by the fluttering light of torches in the night, to put his foot on Spanish ground, vowing to conquer the whole country for the khaliph.
The philologue sighed, entranced. It seemed terribly unfair to her that any Turkish child could speak the Turkish language while she, a diligent scholar, had to learn it so laboriously.
Asiadeh put the Tarik aside. "I am ill," she said, and looked thoughtfully at the black eagle inlaid on the marble floor. "I'm sorry, but I must go." She said goodbye and ran to the entrance, suddenly and without any reason in good spirits. She walked along the noisy Friedrichstrasse, the briefcase safely under her arm. Near Friedrichstrasse Station, the news vendors stood like soldiers on guard. A light autumn rain fell on Berlin. Asiadeh put up the collar of her thin raincoat. A car passed her and slushed wet dirt on her stockings. Her small foot stumbled in the mist near the Admirals Palast Theater. Asiadeh stopped on the bridge and looked down on the dull greenish-brown waters of the river Spree, and then up to the iron scaffolding of the station, into which a train was thundering. In front of her lay the broad Friedrichstrasse, glossy in the autumn rain. This town was beautiful in the classical straightness of its wet and naked streets. Asiadeh breathed in deeply the foreign air and looked at the pale faces of the passersby. Her romantic imagination sensed in the clean-shaven long faces ex-U-boat captains who made daring forays to Africa's coast, and in the hard blue eyes she saw melancholy memories of Flanders' battlefields, Russia's snow deserts, and Araby's glowing sands. She came to the long Luisenstrasse. The houses took on a reddish hue. A man at the corner wearing thick mittens was selling chestnuts. His eyes were deep blue, and Asiadeh thought that these eyes, full of otherworldly severity, had been fashioned by two people: King Frederick and the poet Kleist. Then the chestnut vendor spat noisily, and Asiadeh shrank away. She swallowed, and her throat hurt terribly. Men were incalculable, and the poet Kleist had been dead a long time.
Quickly she walked on, her head bowed and her thin shoulders drawn up. On her left the redbrick wall of the Charité Hospital rose up. She did not feel cold anymore. The wet mac smelled of rubber.
"Der Zug hält nicht an der Jannowitzbrucke," she thought sadly, for this was the first German sentence she had learned, and she always thought of it when she felt sad and lonely in Berlin's majestic stony splendor. For some reason it made her feel better to know that the train did not stop at Jannowitzbrücke Station.
She lifted her head and went up the three steps leading to the clinic's entrance. A robust nurse asked her name and handed her a card. Asiadeh stopped in front of a mirror, took off the little round hat, and her soft blond hair, wet at the ends, fell over her shoulders. She put a comb through it, looked at her fingernails, put the card into her pocket, and went into the dimly lit surgery.
"Concha bullosa," said Dr. Hassa and threw the instrument into a bowl. The patient looked timidly at his card and disappeared into the X-ray room. "Or it could be emphysema," murmured Hassa, and entered this idea into the case history. Then he went to wash his hands. On the way he thought about life, and while the bright drops ran down his fingers and disappeared into the basin, he shook his head and felt very sorry for himself. "I'm carrying a pack of troubles," he thought, and two deep furrows appeared on his forehead. Three adenoidectomies in one morning were definitely too much. And two paracentesesthe second one was quite unnecessary. The tympanic membrane would have opened anyway. But the patient had become nervous.
Dr. Hassa dried his hands and thought of the rhinoscleroma. That was his problem child. The Old Man wanted to demonstrate it to his students. But the rhinoscleroma did not want to be demonstrated. It belonged to a stupid old woman who insisted that she was no guinea pig. It really was a shame that each illness had to have a patient attached to it. But the main cause of his anger was his assistant, who'd better go to Vienna and become a psychoanalyst. There he would be welcome to put the polypotome with the loop ends on the glass table. Bang in the middle of the Old Man's round head. The Old Man hadn't said anything, but his face had flushed crimson with fury. And Hassa was responsible for his assistant, including the silly ass's ideas of modern hygiene.
"Simply puts the loop ends on the table just before it's going to be used," grumbled Hassa. "And to think that it is strictly forbidden to inflict grievous bodily harm on an assistant." He took a handkerchief and, blinking angrily, wound it around the ebonite of the reflector. But he knew that neither the rhinoscleroma nor the assistant were the real causes of his bad humor. It was the weather, which made it impossible to drive out to the Stöpchensee. And that blonde who had been here yesterday, most probably would be today too ... enough. It was the fault of the weather and the Stölpchensee, but certainly not the news that Marion had spent all summer with Fritz in the Tyrolean Mountains. What did it matter to him what Marion did? "And the rhinoscleroma will be demonstrated, whether it wants to or notwhat are we a university clinic for?" he thought.
Dr. Hassa put on a serious face and went into the big general surgery. Along the wall in a seemingly endless row stood the examination chairs. Next to each of them an electric bulb, an instrument table, and a few bowls. The patients were sitting on the chairs, vacant yet strained looks on their faces. On the left corner Dr. Mossitzki rattled a set of mirrors for the throat, and from the third chair on the right Dr. Mann shouted: "Nurse, an ear funnel, please!"
On Dr. Hassa's examination chair sat a blond girl with strange gray eyes. Their outer corners were slightly slanted, and their gaze seemed to be turned toward some fantastic dream. Dr. Hassa sat down on the low stool in front of the girl and looked at her attentively. The girl smiled, and suddenly a fountain of gaiety sprang from the sad, strangely formed eyes. She pointed her finger at Hassa's reflector, which was turned upward, and said in a foreign-sounding voice: "It looks like a halo."
Hassa laughed. Life was quite interesting after all, and what Marion was doing definitely had nothing to do with him whatsoever. He looked into the unfathomable eyes, and a quick thought hit him: "Hope it's vasomotor rhinitis, needs long treatment." He trapped this thought, rejected it as being unworthy of his professional ethics, and said, feeling a bit guilty: "What's your name?" "Asiadeh Anbari." "Occupation?" "Student." "Oh, a colleague," said Dr. Hassa, friendly. "Medicine too?" "No, philology," said the girl. Hassa fixed the reflector.
"And what brings you here? Oh, the throat hurts." His left hand searched automatically for the scalpel. "Germanistic?"
"No," said the girl severely, "Turkology."
"Comparative Turkish philology."
"Good God, what'd you expect to get out of that?"
"Nothing," said the girl angrily, and opened her mouth.
While Hassa did his duty, slowly, softly, and minutely, his thoughts were running on two tracks, professional and private. Professionally he noted: "Rhinoscopic findingsanterior and posteriornothing remarkable. Left eardrum slightly inflamed but not sensitive to pressure. No beginning otitis media. Purely local infection. Consider analgesia during treatment." Privately he thought: "Comparative Turkish languages. There really is such a thing, in spite of the gray eyes! Anbarithat's her name. I've heard that name before somewhere. She can't be more than twenty, and such soft hair."
Then he took the reflector off, pushed the stool back, and said very matter-of-factly: "Tonsilitis. Beginning of angina folicularis."
"Let's say quinsy." The girl laughed, and Dr. Hassa decided to drop Latin nomenclatures.
"Yes," he said. "Bed, of course. Here's a receipe for gargling. No poultices, but take a taxi home. Light mealsbut really, why on earth Turkology?"
"It interests me," said the girl modestly, and the happiness in her eyes lit up her face. "You know, there are so many strange and wonderful words, and each of them sounds like the beat of a drum."
"You are feverish," said Hassa, "that's the drum beating. I've heard your name before. There was an Anbari who was the governor of Bosnia."
"Yes," said the girl, "that was my grandfather." She got up from the chair, and her fingers were for a moment lost in Dr. Hassa's broad hand.
"Come again when you're all right ... I mean for after-treatment."
Asiadeh looked up. The doctor had brown skin, black hair combed back, and very broad shoulders. He was quite different from the enigmatic U-boat captains or the wild fishermen from the banks of nameless rivers. She nodded quickly and went to the exit.
Near Friedrichstrasse Station she stopped and thought. To take the train with its hard wooden benches would be the cheapest and quickest wayexcept walking, of coursebut the doctor had said to take a taxi. She pursed her lips and decided to be extravagant. Head up, she passed the station and walked to Unter den Linden. There she got on a bus, and as she leaned back contentedly into the soft leather cushions, she mused that the German word "auto" meant both a private car and a taxi and was only a modest diminutive of the slickly rolling autobus.
"Uhlandstrasse," she told the conductor, and gave him a coin.
Excerpted from THE GIRL FROM THE GOLDEN HORN by Kurban Said. Copyright © 2001 by Ehrenfels Ges.m.b.H.
Translation copyright © 2001 Jenia Graman. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.