when yıldız was a little girl, big letters were always a problem for her. also the big ideas written in big letters. from the very beginning some people said that it was a disorder. for example, when she was only in elementary school—she must have been about five and a half years old at that time, her teacher asked her mother one monday morning—a gray, rainy morning, after the flag-raising ceremony it was—and a nasty, grumpy anger could be felt in the voice of the old teacher waiting to retire: “does this child have family problems? what’s this reaction against big letters? besides, why in the world did you send her to school at such an early age?” her mother was a widow; she blushed to the ears at these remarks and couldn’t even get a word out sideways. then they were supposed to go to the oculist suggested by the teacher who said: “actually the problem is certainly psychological but still had better be looked into.” yıldız would grow up a bit. for the big T that the oculist randomly selected, yıldız would say it was an acrobat walking on a rope between the poles of a circus tent, and the letters would go on like this. the oculist would realize that there wasn’t anything wrong with her eyes. after a thorough examination the oculist was going to say that there was no physical problem except for a slight dryness in the pupils and continue: “i think the problem is psychological”; then with a crackling in his voice he was going to ask, “does this child have family problems?” To be on the safe side, the oculist would then prescribe a salve to prevent dryness in the pupils.
yıldız would grow up a bit more.
then mother, daughter, and older brother studying at the naval academy moved on to a well-known pedagogue suggested by the oculist. there were years between the girl and her brother. they looked like niece and uncle, dreamer and observer, light and shadow—not like little sister and big brother. they also looked like this in the pedagogue’s office: two child-spirits of opposite genders who looked around with “the same” eyes: one mature from birth, the other having sworn from birth not to grow up. they were an odd couple during their pilgrimages to the pedagogue’s shrine. these journeys, though, didn’t last long because mother couldn’t shoulder the expenses any longer; she was living on the pension of her deceased husband and money she earned from tailoring, and toward the end of the month she would come under an opium-like fatigue that made it impossible for her to define what’s big and what’s small. she could have been called a coat specialist, a specialist in coats scattering light. each month she could finish only one coat, only one winking, glittering coat. this made their budget very difficult. she worked slowly. that’s why she couldn’t give her beloved yıldız the eight years of pedagogical instruction foreseen as treatment. yıldız was just about to solve the equation of the big a: that giving up small things meant great sacrifices and that the small savings created by these always ran out, meaning that the money was gone.
“why not?” the famous pedagogue was going to ask, “don’t you see the progress; yıldız, for example, has learned the meaning of the left line of the big a, she doesn’t call it a tilted bridge pier any more, and now you won’t support her treatment; the responsibility of this is completely yours . . . ”
this was a very difficult moment of decision for the widow. but she didn’t have that much of a choice. she could sew only one coat a month and just a one-week session with the famous pedagogue cost five times as much as her earnings. Even if the skillful seamstress had wanted to gain speed, she couldn’t have because the mirrors that she sewed onto the coats one by one took too much time. she couldn’t forsake those mirrors.
“i can’t do it, i can’t go on,” she was going to say, trying to escape the gaze of the man in front of her. “responsibility,” the pedagogue was going to say, at that moment pressing the buzzer on the desk with his manicured hand, “you’re choking yıldız with the despair of a mother who doesn’t recognize her responsibility and perhaps . . . ” tilting his head toward the big brother in white beside the girl, with his eyebrows and his upper eyelids jutting out, jutting a bit forward at that moment. “and perhaps your son will also . . . i want to call your attitude the syndrome of a mother’s inability to face her own fears; freud would at best call what you’re doing . . . ” at that moment there would be a knock at the door and the voice of a secretary filling the turquoise room, saying “what can i do for you, Professor.”
“we can move the following patient’s next appointment up,” the famous pedagogue was going to say with the wry facial expression of a man forced to swallow some bitter pomegranate extract. yıldız would grow up a bit—a bit more.
she remembers that day very well. how they came home. how her mother cried, mumbling “i’m a horrible mother” all along the ring route the bus was following. then the arrival of the ticket seller and his words “don’t cry, my dear sister, it’s not the end of the world, “a‘,” but breaking off her pedagogical instruction in the middle would be to the benefit of yıldız. she wouldn’t learn the connotation of all the big letters but the world isn’t just big letters . . . in the world there are countless small letters and feelings covered by these small letters. in later years she would discover this.
as for mother, only three months later she was going start living with the municipal ticket seller who had extended his hand to her saying “don’t cry my dear sister, it’s not the end of the world, ‘a‘ ” and was going to sew him a very fancy coat with mirrors. ticket seller uncle-father turned out to be a very nice man. a grape without a stem, problem-free, he was a man who got on well with the children. everyone has an obsession, yeah, his was pistachios. her brother was at boarding school, grown up—old. but yıldız, at home alone. on saturdays when her mother was busy at home, the ticket seller would take her with him, sit her down on the cherry-colored seat next to his and give her a handful of those damascus pistachios newly popular in the city; accompanied by the crickety-crack of the shells they would make the glorious round trip from taksim to laleli, from laleli to taksim. on sundays mother would also participate in this adventure and sometimes—rarely—her brother, too. then all four were travelers and the world was unbelievably small and round. yıldız and her older brother liked this uncle-father very much. they were entranced by his ripping off the route tickets with the round eraser on his pencil—like the hissing tongue of a snake ripping through the grass—and his being almost a hero in their travels, assuring everyone eternity.
on the journey everything really was small; both on the journey through life and on that around the ring. traffic rules, “stepfathers-are-not-appreciated” rules, widows’ rules and the big letters these rules impose as well as the constriction of these rules entangling life were all left out. or yıldız felt that way. a new life had begun for yıldız, her mother, her brother and her uncle-father. in his glittering jacket, he’d tear off the tickets; mother would postpone her marriage with him so as not to lose her deceased husband’s retirement until one day she exhausted the ticket seller uncle-father’s patience. being a phosphoric [? not sure what this means here; another word??] ticket seller, a reflective yet restrictive, rattling, prattling watchman over strangers . . . in this way he would escape.
as long as her breath held out, yıldız was going to chase the ticket seller uncle-father that she’d put in place of her father. that day was also yıldız’s birthday. at a very early hour in the morning, when there was no one on the street and all were afraid even of their own shadows, she was going to run through the deserted streets after a glittering man departing from their home. she was stunned—like a bullet fired from a gun. with the departure of the ticket seller it was as if all the big letters in the world were ready to snare her in the traps they set. She ran and ran.
stop don’t go, please, she would cry after the old man.
uncle-father, don’t go, stop, at least don’t go today . . . then she was going to find it.
the winking, glittering coat.
when she bent down to look at it, she was going to see in that glitter all the dreams a child could never escape from. it was not as if this were a wretched ticket seller’s gray coat with mirrors sewn onto it during the weary city nights dark in soul by his wretched and lost beloved, but the forget-me-not of a tremendous snake that had silently shed its matchless skin and slithered off.
rain began to mix with the morning dew
with the stories told in the full deep voice of her uncle-father during the Sunday ring-route echoing in her ears, yıldız was going to grow up:
“look yıldız here we have gülhane park, and ahead is the splendid topkapı palace.
“do you know the story of nimet who lived in the palace harem once upon a time? it seems to me that all heartbroken people in this city know it. let me tell it to you before your mother does. as far as i have heard, nimet was a concubine. there was a girl who once jumped onto the bus while i was passing by just here who told me the story. every reason has a reason as they say . . . instead of choosing someone of her own fortune, what should poor nimet—christened ‘blessing’—do but fall in love with none other than the sultan’s son. the other concubines, jealous of her, cast her into disgrace. at that time the prince’s mirrored pendant in which one could see the future had gone astray, a mirrored pendant inlaid with mother-of-pearl that his father the sultan, who promises eternity and the impossible to those deserving it, had brought from Damascus. they agreed it was the perfect time for disgrace, they said look here, our prince, she’s stolen the mirror of your future. she’s nimet . . . nimet ‘the blessed,’ a disaster with trouble in tow.
“but throughout time nimet had been the name for all blessings in the world, not one of thieves, but of those refreshing life and soul. perhaps the sultan’s son returned her love as well. unfortunately the prince knew that he had no control over a pendant with a mirror showing the future. especially if it were a stolen pendant. on that morning when he felt inundated by wave after wave of responsibilities for the future sultanate, when the lachrimal in his hand was filled with the nocturnal tears of nimet’s great distress, the sultan’s son issued the decree that the unfortunate concubine would ‘answer for her guilt.’ that day when he issued the decree . . . you see, that very day she threw herself into the pool of the harem. she’d never faced such shame, such misfortune; she couldn’t say, looking into the moon-face of her prince, ‘my prince, this is but calumniation.’ she jumped into the water. no one ever saw her again reflected in the water. only a long, long time afterward did they come across her handwriting on one of the dusty walls of the harem. i swear it’s true yıldız, i swear, have you ever heard any lies from me? the writing went like this: ‘in this three-day world they accused me of stealing a mirror worth nothing; it’s not this that hurts me, what hurts is that you have been taken in by them, my prince…’ ‘–for a mirror worth nothing,’ the girl repeated; i still remember that girl. her pupils were as big as this pistachio in my hand, and her mind was completely inundated. . . ”
in a huge glittering coat much too large for her, in the early hours of the morning yıldız was helplessly growing up under the ever-increasing pounding of the rain.
From Cemre. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2008 by Esen Köybaşı. All rights reserved.