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In Women's Short Stories
By Hande Ogut
Milet PublishingCopyright © 2012 Milet Publishing
All rights reserved.
The Music of the Ox Horn
Translated by Mark Wyers
I alighted in a large square. It was crowded, chaotic. Because of all of the pushing, nobody could get anywhere. Everyone was being spun around, as if they were in a whirlpool. The faces in the crowd were sullen. The others of my sex were either so few as to be lost in the crowd, or the square was reserved solely for men. Wait, I told myself, you will surely find a place for yourself in this city. Before long the whirlpool pulled me in as well.
It was so packed I couldn't even turn to see who was beside me. Like the others, I had to get used to being pressed up against the person in front of me and taking a step when the person behind me heaved forward. The heat was oppressive. The sun hammered down, as if its full fury had been unleashed on the square to ensure that nothing remained in shadow. Nobody spoke with anyone else, but there was a murmur arising from the depths of the crowd that was utterly undecipherable. And that smell ... I couldn't place it, like a battery that had leaked acid, or burnt wires.
As I struggled forward, an arched gateway came into view; what lay beyond was shrouded in darkness. The structure resembled an old bazaar: domed, monumental. The coolness within refreshed my spirits. Inside, at least I would be able to catch my breath.
The First Gate
As I drew nearer, I saw a relief carved into the stone archway: the tensed body of a lion, with a head that was human. The lion had reared up and leaned back against the trunk of a grape vine, plump grapes dangling from its tangled branches. It held a drawn bow, the arrow poised. But that face ... it was ghastly! It stared straight into the eyes of the beholder. The thin creased brows, the eyes flashing anger, the pursed lips ... Of course, it was only a carving, but that stare, that burning stare. It was petrifying. I quickly gathered my wits. It could have been a hundred, maybe even a thousand years old. But isn't it indeed the case that only stone could bear such anger down through the ages?
If it weren't for that stare, that face framed with curled locks of hair and those full cheeks could have belonged to a cute child, or woman, or man. Yes, it could have been any of those. That face carved into stone expressed emotion; but it bore no traces of age or gender. The admiration I felt for the fine workmanship brought tears to my eyes. In my mind, I ventured through time and kissed the hand of the master who carved that stone and pressed it to my forehead out of respect.
Who ordered such anger to be carved into stone? Why had they wanted it? My eyes locked on the carving, I had become lost in thought. I suddenly noticed that it was not as crowded as it had been before. A chill ran down my spine. Out of instinct I turned. That human-headed lion stood behind me, in flesh and blood. It glowered at me with the same fury as in the carving, as it stood among the branches of the grape vine climbing the mosque wall. It had drawn its bow, and aimed the arrow straight at me. My blood froze in fear, and then was set aflame, pounding through my heart, ears and head. Such moments of anxiety, as we discover later, become inscribed on our bodies. Was the stone relief carving still there? I desperately wanted to look. But if I had dared to do so, I would not be here now, nor would you be hearing this story. Sometimes, we can be swifter than an arrow. My instincts howled at me to bolt. The adrenaline pumping in my veins exploded through my legs, and at the last moment I dashed through the gate.
The Second Gate
I don't know how long I cowered there. When I regained my senses, the first thing I noticed was that inside was just as stifling as outside. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, I began to make out people dashing here and there, and row upon row of shops. Nobody took heed of me. They were in such a bustle that even had I fainted nobody would have stopped to lend a helping hand. They went in and out of the shops, as if they were carrying things. But their hands, arms and backs bore nothing. When I stood up and looked around, I noticed that the shops were empty, from the display cases to the shelves. In spite of this, money exchanged hands at a frantic rate; the rustle of banknotes and the jingle of change echoed in the vaults of the bazaar, rising in a crescendo. It was stuffy. The air was clammy. The stench of rotting meat hung in the air. There wasn't a single window. My stomach churned with nausea. I had to get out of there, as quickly as possible. Perhaps that poised arrow awaited me, but I had to do something, anything, to get out of the bazaar. The moment I leaped to my feet, I saw stars and collapsed. My knees were gashed open. Blood trickled down my calves. As I vomited on the base of the column I clung to, I glanced in the direction from where I had come. There was no gate, no passageway.
There had to be an exit. Even though my knees were throbbing, I limped into the darkness of the bazaar. In the corridors that led off from the right and left of the passageway, I looked for any kind of opening letting in the light of the sun. As I wandered, I began to understand that the bazaar was far from what it appeared to be. From the square, it appeared to be a single-story bazaar, but inside there were stairs. Leading off from the corridors, behind the passageway gates, these absurd stairways conjoined, and then led nowhere. The steps were worn to an angle by the tread of feet continually plying up and down. They were good for nothing except making you traipse around the bazaar like a workhorse. No doors, no openings.
The bazaar was holding me captive.
— Come here!
My mother, standing at the base of a large column, looked smaller than her usual self. She was leaning on a crutch, and shifted her weight away from the leg that was bound in a plaster cast. I limped towards her. Wearily, she held something towards me. A glass of water and a bundle of gauze.
— Take these, pull yourself together.
— Mother, what kind of place is this, I can't find the exit ...
— We'll go down to the parking garage, through the fire escape. I couldn't find your father, but his car is parked below.
I followed her. She led me through a door which I hadn't noticed before.
The Third Gate
The parking garage was a jumble. From somewhere above, sunlight trickled down. Beneath the ceiling beams, everything was caked in dust. The cars were parked right up against each other, in such a way that they couldn't even be moved. Concrete blocks from the ceiling to the floor left little room for maneuvering. All of the cars were old. Old models, old paint jobs, old tires ... It was as if we were in a car cemetery. But we couldn't find my father's car. My mother, dragging her cast-bound leg, carefully examined each car with patience, and hope. Lamenting that she hadn't found it, she would start back at the beginning, and start looking again. My patience running out, I clambered atop the nearest car, and leaping from car to car, headed towards the light. A steep flight of stairs led to a narrow door up near the ceiling.
— Mother, stop! Look, they built a flight of stairs here. How will we get the car out? How will it fit through the door? Mother! Mother?
The Fourth Gate
I returned to the bazaar to find my mother. Frantic preparations were underway in the passageways. The shops were being swept out, the windows polished, the floors mopped. Nonetheless, the stench had grown worse. When I entered the main passage, I saw television crews, and red, white and blue flags, and cloth banners hung from wall to wall:
WELCOME, ESTEEMED PRESIDENT!
– Bazaar Administration
PRESIDENT THOMAS WHITMORE, PAY US A VISIT TOO!
– Bazaar Junior League
THOMAS, OUR PRESIDENT! WE WILL NOT GIVE IN!
– Bazaar Sports League
ESTEEMED THOMAS, DO NOT LEAVE, STAY FOR THE NIGHT!
– Bazaar Industrialist Union
The crowd pressing around the television crew resembled lepers trying to touch a messianic healer. As soon as the officials pushing and shoving them turned their backs, the throng jostled forward again, leering into the cameras and lights. They aped famous people, made grotesque faces, craned their necks towards microphones to blurt out freakish songs. They paid heed to neither warnings nor reproach. With their pathetic fervor and harrowing hope, they were deaf as stone. I was filled with such a sense of shame that I bit my lip, my hands pressed to my ears. Ignoring the pain in my knees, I fled. I had to find my mother as soon as possible.
As I rushed down the other passageway, I saw her. No, it wasn't her. I never found her again. What I had seen was a child. A young boy, by himself. He was crouched down at the base of the wall, watching the tumult.
— Young boy, are you alone?
His arms twitched uncontrollably. Forcing open his twisted mouth, he spoke:
— My father is at the movies.
— And you?
I wiped the spittle from his lips, and held him to my chest. His heart was pounding like a drum. There was no way I could leave him.
— Where do you live?
— Around the center ...
— Don't be afraid, we will find your father.
To find his father, we had to find the movie theater.
— Where is the movie theater?
With jerky movements, he pointed behind him. Where the autowalk began, I saw the posters. The theater had eight screens, and the same film was playing on all eight: Independence Day.
Suddenly sirens sounded, and an immediate commotion ensued. The sound of the pounding of feet and a mechanical banging thundered through the vaults of the bazaar. People scampered away, and the din quieted down. Armed guards swarmed in and took up their assigned posts. A woman's languorous voice announced:
— Attention, please. Thomas Whitmore, esteemed president of our exalted ally the United States of Shadows, will presently enter our bazaar to make his planned visit. Please turn off your cell phones and extinguish your cigarettes.
At that moment, an old man beside us suddenly sneezed. The guards cocked their guns with simultaneous clacks, and aimed at the poor man. Clutching the young boy, I bolted for the autowalk. He was screaming uncontrollably. Which theater was his father in? What kind of a father was he! At the same time, I was keeping an eye out for my mother. The passage continued on and on. The theater doors were nowhere to be seen. The young boy continued wailing, a single piercing howl. My bandages came loose, and my wounds began bleeding again. I looked over the side: a black void. The floor under the autowalk had disappeared. The autowalk began making turns, dips, lurching up, gathering speed. We were about to smash into a wall that appeared straight in front of us. I was trembling from head to toe. Suddenly a door opened in the wall, and the autowalk, like a garbage chute, hurled us into the light of day.
The Fifth Gate
I opened my eyes and found myself on a grassy knoll. I looked at the calm, blue sky, and wept. From below arose the sound of the sea, splashing. Seagulls fluttered around the ferryboats. The scent of seagrass mingled with redbud blossoms. Bleating red goats leaped from one edge of the sky to the other. They were still so many of them. On the grassy knoll, I closed my eyes.
"There is no town square ... No arrow ... No bazaar."
I slept, and woke, and slept. For who knows how many years.
The grassy knoll began where the road ended. The grass on the knoll was always green. When we were not sleeping, we watered the grass. We, the wounded from the bazaar in the square. The bandaged, the crippled, the counters of goats. There were enough of us to keep the grass green with our weeping.
I first saw the weeping three-breasted dwarf there, at a time when we had fallen silent. She played music for us on an ox horn. When it was time for us to be treated, we would gather around the oxcart on the lower slope of the knoll. The three-breasted dwarf would place the yoke over her head, and blow into the horn of the ox skeleton. Music like that has never been heard anywhere in the world. The doors of the east and the west opened for that melody, and took us in. We were lulled in its embrace, gathered up. Suddenly we were transformed into dolphins soaring upwards from the depths. We became the hovering of the crane, the ascent of the eagle. A crisp, fresh melon would crack open inside of us, and we would be refreshed. When she played the horn, the three-breasted dwarf would be transformed into a tall, slender woman. She would clothe her nakedness in her tears. Her tears were like immense pearls; she cleansed the pain we carried within. Afterwards, she would tell us the tale of a fairy tale city. Her tale was an elixir. It whetted our desire. It flowed, like a long river. It was such a city that the tales about it went on for thousands and thousands of years.
The Open Gate
If, in the middle of this square, I can relate my story to you today, it is thanks to what I learned from the three-breasted dwarf. I cannot express to you the music of the ox horn, but I can convey the essence of the tale:
On the shores of that azure passage, a city was founded on the edges of two continents, shrouded in mystery. Master of miracles, virtuoso of contradictions, shah of beauties. In the past they called it the Gate of Felicity, and today, it is known as the Gate of Bereavement. This fairy tale is the tale of that city.
This is a venerable city, its fair visage vaster than its dark. But its dark is so dark that its shadow falls across its fairness. It is a broken balance scale. On its pans, forever out of balance, time is weighed against money. The divine and delirium, and carnage and clemency, sleep bosom to bosom in its ancient bed. No matter what the city is, its mirror shines back a true reflection of whoever looks upon its surface. Entering the city's innumerable gates, the innumerable new denizens thought that what they saw in the mirror was the city itself. The shadows of the city are so weighty, so barbarous, that the newcomers were stricken with fear. At that moment they began to curse the city. All who heard, came to the city, and all who came, settled down. As more people came, the shadows flourished, the maledictions gushed forth. The mirror grew darker and darker, and in the end shattered in darkness.
— Ah, vulgarity! I shall be even crueler to your worshippers. Though their countenances fill my spirit and their natures become my nature, I shall possess ninety-nine souls. I shall saunter appareled as I please, and torment their pointless lives. May they all behold my dark side! Let this curse be perpetuated, until the reign of the grateful.
From past to present, this city has always been a grinder of human souls. It devours those who stumble, disgorges those lodged in its throat. And waits, for the day when those who will break the curse have risen.CHAPTER 2
Bayan Naciye House
Translated by Ruth Whitehouse
The first thing I remember about that house is the coffin rest that was visible through the window. I'd sometimes wake up early to the voice of the müezzin when it was only half light. While dull, dissonant calls to prayer emanated from other minarets in the city, our müezzin recited the ezan with a passion as though he were whispering a love poem into the ear of his dearly beloved wife, as though he wanted to soothe the fire in his heart. That's how our müezzin was: a young man, passionately in love with his wife.
My ex-husband came to the house that evening. With a torn photo of me. In bits. He was clutching the pieces tightly. I was nineteen in that picture, and I remember where it was taken. We were in the garden café of a museum but had no money to pay for coffee. Abroad, in Tallinn. We were back-packing tourists then, and very much in love.
The first thing he said was, my wife wanted to tear up your photo. She not only wanted to do it, she had done it. I was looking at it. That's what new wives are like — they're jealous of the old ones. What they miss out on is youth, their husband's youth; there's nothing they can do about it and for that reason they're jealous.
I touched his cheek to comfort him, unthinkingly, as a reflex from the past. His beard had grown a little. He'd obviously shaved that morning but, as always, it had grown again by evening. I knew. From experience. My chin used to hurt from rubbing against his beard when we kissed. My chin would bear the marks of long kissing sessions like the stains on the foreheads of Egyptians after their prostrations. In those days ...
My hand was on his cheek, my ex-husband's large hand on mine. When I say ex, I really mean ex. It had been eight and a half years since we divorced. Almost nine. But I couldn't be bothered to count the months, years and days just then. I realized I'd missed his skin. My heart skipped a beat when he kissed the palm of the hand that had been touching his cheek. We had never made love since we divorced. Our love life during the last stages of our marriage was not worth talking about. The final days of our relationship had left a bad taste in my mouth.
Excerpted from Istanbul by Hande Ogut. Copyright © 2012 Milet Publishing. Excerpted by permission of Milet Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Editorial Notes iii
Guide to Turkish Pronunciation iii
Glossary of Turkish Terms iv
The Music of the Ox Horn Berat Alanyali Mark Wyers 1
Bayan Naciye House Esmahan Aykol Ruth Whitehouse 11
A Brief Sadness Erendiz Atasü Idil Aydogan 47
Break of Dawn in Tarlabasi Sevinç Çokum Mark Wyers 53
Mi Hatice Gaye Boralioglu Jonathan Ross 63
An-bul-ist Karin Karakasli Ruth Whitehouse 71
Making Marilyn Laugh sebnem Isigüzel Amy Spangler 91
The Silence of Sevinç Duman Semra Topal Abigail Bowman 107
A Question Müge Iplikçi Idil Aydogn 119
Tubbynanna's Istanbul Gönül Kivilcim Kerim Biçer 127
The Button to Activate Forgetting Nazli Eray Idil Aydogan 137
In the Melancholy of Wisteria Suzan Samanci Amy Spangler 149
Solmaz's End Nilüfer Açikalin Idil Aydogan 157
Compassion, Love, Innocence, Etcetera
City of Borders Cihan Aktas Daniel Rosinsky-Larsson 201
Stripped of My Bikini by Poseidon Handan Öztürk Kerim Biçer Idil Aydogan 223
The Bostanci Garden Tree Gül Irepoglu Nilgün Dungan 231
Transaction Menekse Toprak Idil Aydogan 241
Dilan Jale Sancak Kerim Biçer 255
Fig Seed Feryal Tilmaç Ruth Whitehouse 263
The Uninvited Sezer Ates Ayvaz Nilgün Dungan 273
Anemone Flower Yildiz Ramazanoglu Ruth Whitehouse 285
Why I Killed Myself in Istanbul Mine Sögüt Idil Aydogan 301
Mihr, Mahr, Mihrimah Berrin Karakas Kerim Biçer Idil Aydogan 305
An Ode to My Istanbul Stella Aciman Ruth Whitehouse 311
A Leylâ without a Mecnun Nalan Barbarosoglu Mark Wyers 323
Remembering a City Oya Baydar Idil Aydogan 337
Biographies of Authors 344
Biographies of Translators 353