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The First Time Galip Saw Ruya
Never use epigraphs—they kill the mystery in the work!
If that's how it has to die, go ahead and kill it; then kill the false prophets who sold you on the mystery in the first place!
Rüya was lying facedown on the bed, lost to the sweet warm darkness beneath the billowing folds of the blue-checked quilt. The first sounds of a winter morning seeped in from outside: the rumble of a passing car, the clatter of an old bus, the rattle of the copper kettles that the salep maker shared with the pastry cook, the whistle of the parking attendant at the dolmus stop. A cold leaden light filtered through the dark blue curtains. Languid with sleep, Galip gazed at his wife's head: Ruya's chin was nestling in the down pillow. The wondrous sights playing in her mind gave her an unearthly glow that pulled him toward her even as it suffused him with fear. Memory, Celâl had once written in a column, is a garden. Rüya's gardens, Rüya's gardens . . . Galip thought. Don't think, don't think, it will make you jealous! But as he gazed at his wife's forehead, he still let himself think.
He longed to stroll among the willows, acacias, and sun-drenched climbing roses of the walled garden where Ruya had taken refuge, shutting the doors behind her. But he was indecently afraid of the faces he might find there: Well, hello! So you're a regular here too, are you? It was not the already identified apparitions he most dreaded but the insinuating male shadows he could never have anticipated: Excuse me, brother, when exactly did you run into my wife, or were you introduced? Three years ago at your house, inside a foreign fashion magazine from Alâaddin's shop, at middle school, outside the movie theater where you once sat hand in hand. . . . No, perhaps Rüya's memories were not so cruelly crowded; perhaps she was at this very moment basking in the one sunny corner in the dark garden of her memories, setting out with Galip in a rowboat. . . . Six months after Rüya's family moved to Istanbul, Galip and Ruya had both come down with mumps. To speed their recovery, Galip's mother and Ruya's mother, the beautiful Aunt Suzan, would take the children out to the Bosphorus; some days it would be just one mother taking them by the hand and other days it would be both; whatever bus they took, it shuddered as it rolled over the cobblestones, and wherever it took them—Bebek or Tarabya—the high point of the excursion was a tour of the bay in a rowboat. In those days it was microbes people feared and respected, not medicines, and everyone agreed that the pure air of the Bosphorus could cure children of the mumps. The sea was always calm on those mornings, and the rowboat white; it was always the same friendly boatman waiting to greet them. The mothers and aunts would sit at the back of the rowboat, Rüya and Galip side by side at the front, shielded from their mothers' gaze by the rising and falling back of the boatman. As they trailed their feet in the water, they would gaze at their matching legs and the sea swirling around their delicate ankles; the seaweed and seven-colored oil spills, the tiny, almost translucent pebbles, and the scraps of newspaper they strained to read, hoping to spot one of Celâl's columns.
The first time Galip saw Rüya, six months before coming down with the mumps, he was sitting on a stool on the dining room table while a barber cut his hair. In those days, there was a tall barber with a Douglas Fairbanks mustache who'd come to the house five days a week to give Grandfather a shave. These were the days when the coffee lines outside Alâaddin's and the Arab's grew longer every day, when the only nylon stockings you could find were the ones on the black market, when the number of '56 Chevrolets in Istanbul grew steadily larger, and Galip pored over the columns that Celâl published every weekday on page two of Milliyet under the name Selim Kacmaz, but it was not when he first learned how to read, because it was Grandmother who'd taught him two years before starting school. They'd sit at the far end of the dining table. After Grandmother had hoarsely divulged the greatest mystery of all—how the letters joined up to make words—she would puff on the Bafra she'd seen no reason to remove from the side of her mouth, and as her grandson's eyes watered from the cigarette smoke, the enormous horse in his alphabet book would turn blue and come to life. A was for at, the Turkish word for horse; it was larger even than the bony horses that pulled the carts belonging to the lame water seller and the junk dealer they said was a thief. In those days, Galip would long for a magic potion to pour over the picture of this sprightly alphabet horse, to give it the strength to jump off the page; later on, when they held him back in the first year of primary school and he had to learn how to read and write all over again under the supervision of the very same alphabet horse, he would dismiss this wish as nonsense.
Earlier on, if Grandfather had kept his promise, if he'd brought home that magic potion he said they sold on the streets in vials the color of pomegranates, Galip would have wanted to pour the liquid over the World War One zeppelins, cannons, and muddy corpses littering the dusty pages of his old issues of L'Illustration, not to mention the postcards that Uncle Melih sent from Paris and Fez; he would also have poured it over the picture of the orangutan suckling her baby that Vasif had cut out of Dünya and the strange human faces he'd clipped out of Celâl's newspaper. But by now Grandfather never went outside, not even to go to the barber's; he spent the whole day indoors. Even so, he still dressed every morning, just as he'd done in the days when he went out to the store: wrinkled trousers, cuff links, an old English jacket with wide lapels that was as gray as the stubble that grew on his cheeks on Sundays, and what Father called a silk necktie. Mother refused to call it a necktie—she called it a cravate; coming as she did from a family that had once prided itself on being wealthier than Father's family, she liked to put on Western airs. Later on, she and Father would discuss Grandfather as if he were one of those old unpainted wooden houses that collapsed around them almost daily; as they talked on, forgetting about Grandfather, their voices would grow gradually louder until they turned to Galip: "Go upstairs, why don't you; go find a game to play. Now." "May I take the lift?" "Don't let him take the lift by himself!" "Don't take the lift by yourself!" "Should I go and play with Vasif, then?" "No, he gets too angry!"
Actually, he didn't get too angry. Vasif was deaf and dumb, but when I played Secret Passage, he knew I wasn't making fun of him; when I got on all fours and headed for the far end of the cave I knew to be lurking in the shadowy outer reaches of the apartment, taking cover under beds as I ventured forward—as stealthy as a cat, as furtive as a soldier creeping though the tunnel that will lead him into enemy trenches—he understood me perfectly, but apart from Ruya, who wasn't there yet, no one else in the house knew this. Sometimes Vasif and I would stand together at the window for ages and ages, watching the streetcar line. The world we could see from the bay window of our concrete apartment reached as far as a mosque in one direction and, in the other, as far as a girl's lycee; between them stood a police station, an enormous chestnut tree, a street corner, and Alaaddin's bustling shop. Sometimes, when we were watching the people going in and out of the shop and idly drawing each other's attention to passing cars, Vasif would suddenly let out a hoarse and terrifying cry, the cry of a boy who is battling with the devil in his dreams; if he caught me unawares, I'd be truly frightened. This would provoke a response from the two chimneys puffing behind us. Leaning forward in his low armchair, Grandfather would try in vain to distract Grandmother from the radio. "Vasif has scared Galip out of his wits again," he'd murmur, and then, more out of habit than curiosity, he'd turn to us and ask, "So let's see now, how many cars have you spotted so far?" But no matter what I told them about the Dodges, Packards, DeSotos, and new Chevrolets I had counted, they didn't hear a thing I said.
Although the radio was on from the first thing in the morning till the last thing at night, the thick-coated and not-at-all-Turkish-looking china dog curled up on top of it never woke from his peaceful slumber. As alaturka music gave way to alafranga—Western—music and the news faded into commercials for banks, colognes, and the national lottery, Grandmother and Grandfather kept up a steady patter. Mostly they complained about the cigarettes in their hands, but as wearily as if they'd been suffering from a toothache so long they'd accustomed themselves to the pain. They would blame each other for failing to kick the habit, and if one went into a serious coughing fit, the other would proclaim, first triumphantly and then fretfully, peevishly, that the accusations were true! But not long afterward, the needling would resume. "So I'm smoking a cigarette—stop nagging!" Then there'd be a mention of something one of them had read in the paper. "Apparently, cigarettes help calm your nerves." A silence might follow but, with the clock ticking away on the wall in the corridor, it never lasted long. Even as they took up their papers again and began leafing through them, even as they played bezique in the afternoons, they kept on talking, and when the family came together for the evening meal, they'd utter the same words they did when it came time for everyone to gather around the radio, or when they'd both finished reading Celâl's column. "If only they'd let him sign his real name," Grandfather would say, "maybe he'd come to his senses." Grandmother would sigh—"And a grown man too"—and then, her face screwed up with worry as if she were asking this question for the very first time, she'd say, "Is it because they won't let him sign his columns that he writes so badly, or is it because he writes so badly that they won't give him permission to write under his own name?" "If nothing else," Grandfather would say, grasping for the consolation that had soothed both of them from time to time, "it's because they haven't let him sign his columns that so few people know how much he's disgraced us." "No, no one knows," Grandmother would say then, but in such a way that Galip knew she didn't mean it. "Who would know that we were the ones he's been writing about in the newspaper?"
Later on, when Celal was receiving hundreds of letters from his readers every week and began to republish his old columns under his own illustrious name—some claimed this was because his imagination had dried up and some thought it was because women or politics took up all his time, while others were sure it was out of simple laziness—Grandfather would repeat a line he'd recited hundreds of times already, in a bored and slightly affected voice that made him sound like a second-rate actor, "For the love of God, can there be anyone in this city who does not know that the apartment he mentions in that column is the one in which we sit?" At that, Grandmother would fall silent.
Then Grandfather would begin to speak of the dreams that would visit him so often as time wore on. His eyes would light up, just as they did when he told one of those stories they repeated to each other all day long. He'd been dreaming in blue, he'd say: the rain in his dream was the deepest blue, midnight blue, and it was this never-ending blue rain that made his hair and his beard grow ever longer. After listening patiently, Grandmother would say, "The barber's coming very soon," but Grandfather frowned whenever the barber was mentioned. "He talks too much, he asks too many questions!" After they were done with the blue dream and the barber, there were one or two occasions when Galip heard Grandfather whisper under his breath, "We should have built another building, far away from here. This apartment has brought us bad luck."
Years later, after they'd sold off the City-of-Hearts Apartments one by one, and the building, like so many others in the area, was colonized by small clothing manufacturers, insurance offices, and gynecologists who did abortions on the sly, Galip would pause on his way to Alaaddin's shop to look up at the mean and grimy facade of the building that had once been his home and wonder what could have prompted Grandfather to make such a dark pronouncement. It had something to do with his Uncle Melih, who had gone off to Europe only to settle in Africa and who, after returning to Turkey, had lingered in Izmir for many years before returning to the apartment in Istanbul. Whenever the barber asked after him—So, when's that eldest son of yours returning from Africa?—Grandfather would bridle; seeing his reluctance to discuss the matter, Galip was aware even then that Grandfather's "bad luck" had begun when his oldest and strangest son had gone abroad, leaving his wife and their son Vasif behind, only to return years later with a new wife and a new daughter (Rüya, which was also the Turkish word for dream).
As Celâl told Galip many years later, Uncle Melih was still in Istanbul—and not yet thirty—when they'd started building the apartments. Every afternoon, he would leave the law offices (where he did little other than quarrel or sketch ships and desert islands on the backs of old legal dossiers) to join his father and his brothers at the construction site in Nisantas. The workmen would be slacking off as the end of the workday approached; much to their annoyance, Uncle Melih would take off his jacket, roll up his sleeves, and set to work. The family owned two concerns at the time: the White Pharmacy in Karakoy and a candy shop in Sirkeci that later became a patisserie and then a restaurant.