In one of Ankara’s forgotten streets, there is a narrow, dark bookstore. I stop by there every now and then to look at the dusty old books. The moldy old books interest me; the smell of dust gets into the back of my throat there, I chat a little with the old bespectacled bookseller, who sits in a corner at a worm-eaten desk , then I go out into the sunny streets again and walk away.
Late one afternoon I went into the bookstore, where the sun rarely penetrates and which has a kind of rich scent all of its own, and was absently looking through the shelves.
The old bookseller, coughing lightly from where he sat, pointed out a bunch of rolled-up papers lying in a corner.
“These just came in,” he said.
I went over.
“What are they?”
“Old maps . . .”
I leaned down, picked up one of them and unrolled it. It was a very old map. It showed the long-erased borders of the Ottoman Empire. There was Old Turkish written on it.
“Interesting,” I said.
I unrolled another map and looked at it with interest. Some very unusual islands . . . I couldn’t quite make out where it was.
The bookseller said:
“These are some old colonies . . .”
“God, what ocean are these colonies in? I’ve never heard their names before!”
The bookseller said:
“These maps are special, they’re interpretative.”
Now I was looking at another map; it was like something from another planet . . . There was Latin America, and Africa, and so forth, but there were several pieces of land I didn’t know. And the writing was very unusual.
“This,” said the bookseller, “it’s the world we live in, of course. But interpreted . . . You understand.”
“That they’re interpreted?”
“Yes, they’re specially annotated maps.”
“Really very interesting,” I said. “I’ve never heard of interpretative maps like these before. I wasn’t a great student of geography in school, but I’ve traveled around the world. And I’ve really never seen anything that looked like these pieces of land. I mean look, isn’t that America? But what is that over there, for God’s sake?”
The bookseller said:
“Well, that’s the way the mapmaker interpreted it.”
“So, Canada isn’t on top of the United States . . . is something else there?”
“There’s a different interpretation. What can I tell you . . . Look at that map of the Middle East. It’s very unusual,” he said.
I looked at the map that he held out to me. The Middle Eastern countries were all there, but all in a completely different way . . .
“Believe me, this ‘interpretation’ business really interests me,” I said. “I’d really like to meet the person who interpreted the maps and drew them like this . . . I wonder, is this a political interpretation?”
“I think it’s a personal interpretation,” said the bookseller.
“Well then this person must have an extraordinarily strong imagination.”
“I don’t know,” said the bookseller, “but they’re not fantasies, they’re interpretative and realistic. That’s what he says himself.”
I was paying close attention.
“So you know the person who drew these maps?” I asked with curiosity.
The bookseller nodded.
“I know him,” he said. “He stops by now and then.”
I had another map in my hand now and I was looking at it.
“Well, this, for example, I can’t understand at all,” I said. “What is this? Where? I wonder, what kind of interpretation is this? All these places I don’t recognize . . . it’s astonishing.”
“Oh, that,” said the bookseller. “That’s the Map of Man. I mean it has nothing to do with the world, with pieces of land . . . You’re holding it upside down. Do you see, it’s a Map of Man?”
I was amazed.
“A Map of Man?”
“Yes, a Map of Man.”
“And is this a particular man’s map, or a general one?” I asked.
“The one in your hand is a general map,” the bookseller said. “Let me put it this way: It’s a General Map of Man with a special interpretation.”
“A General Map of Man with a special interpretation . . .”
“Yes. General . . . the map of the man in the street. But the author’s interpretation, of course.”
I was turning the map around in my hands. Unusual, a very unusual thing . . .
“Where is this?”
“Let me see . . . oh, that’s the way leading to the man’s heart.”
“And those . . .”
The bookseller leaned over and looked closely.
“Fears, anxieties . . . here are the paths of marriage, look; he gave a lot of room to that section. There’s the entrance, you know, the beginning . . . that part clearly shows the choices that will be made in a relationship and yes, yes, this extended bit is the past. Psychological states and things. You know men . . .”
“I do,” I said. “How much is this map?”
“I’ll give you a good price,” said the bookseller,
“I wonder if it can be used for anything.”
“Like what?” said the bookseller.
“Well, to tell you the truth, there’s somebody who’s upsetting me at the moment. I mean, a very difficult person. Hard to figure out. I wonder if this map could help me.”
“Please, what you are trying to say? said the old bookseller. “This is a guide . . . So you started out on this road without a map?”
“Yes,” I said. “I started out without a map. “And really, you know, I wasn’t aware that people used a map in these things. I’ve been trying to develop a relationship in the normal way.”
“Please,” said the bookseller. “How can you set off without a map? First you study it, then you set out. You’ll get lost the way you’re doing it. You’ve got yourself involved in something very dangerous.”
“I guess so,” I said. “Actually I was thinking of giving up on the whole thing. I’m fed up.”
“Take this map,” said the bookseller. “Find the roads. Mark them in red pen. You’ll be sure to find your way.”
“Fine,” I said. “But am I going to be able to read this map? I look and look, yet I don’t understand a thing.”
“There’s a manual,” said the bookseller. He opened up a drawer and took out a little thing like a brochure.
“Here you are. The two together are ten thousand liras.”
He wrapped the map and the brochure in thin yellow paper and gave them to me.
I paid him and left the shop.
I came home, spread the map out on the table with the manual in my hand; I put on my glasses and tried to find my way with a red pen.
. . . The sections for childhood, adolescence . . . Why does he call, why doesn’t he? What does he want, what doesn’t he want? Which of what he says is true, and how much is actually the opposite of what he wants . . . What does he think, what does he say? What does he show, what does he conceal?
Now I found all of these from their numbered places in the manual and marked them on the map.
Why does he run away, why does he come? What are his ideas? The women in his life . . . What does he say, what does he want? And so forth . . .
A shape gradually began to reveal itself.
I made myself a coffee and lit a cigarette; I was looking through the brochure again.
. . . The section for a divorced man. Different ways according to the financial situation . . . What his goal in life is, I don’t know what else . . .
The roads I drew intersected, I read the guidebook over again.
. . . Here’s how if he’s timid . . . Here’s how if he’s bold . . . I can’t figure it out. I’m stuck. I guess I wasted my money . . . Ten thousand down the drain . . . whatever. If he has a neurotic personality, draw straight upward from the dotted line . . . Sections on sadism . . . My God!
There was a knock at the door. I went and opened it. A close girlfriend had stopped by . . .
“Come in,” I said. “Come look, I found this map. A Map of Man; that’s the guide . . . I’m marking out roads in red. So, this one’s for my guy . . .”
She was astonished. “Wait, let me see,” she said. “Where did you find this? Do you think it would work for Uzeyir?”
“Yes, it’s a General Map of Man. It might work. But it has a special interpretation . . .”
“What do you mean, ‘special interpretation’?”
“The bookseller told me. That’s what it is . . . A General Map of Man with a special Interpretation . . .”
We both went over to the table with colored pens in our hands and tried to find a road on the map . . .
“You draw with the green pen,” I said. “Take it, look, there . . . Because these two men are different.”
“Yes, they really are very different from one another.”
We stood there talking.
“Now, see, Uzeyir is still a bit under his wife’s influence, isn’t he? He went through a lot when he was getting divorced; mark it there, then go straight up . . .Why doesn’t he want to get married? Go down from that corner. Now I’m taking the outside roads; my guy has taken the initiative upon himself but isn’t doing a single thing. So there you go, another dead end . . . If you call him he acts strange, and if you don’t call, he acts strange in another way. Oh, there’s the road for his sensitivity. So, see how I’m marking it, follow me . . .”
“OK, OK,” she said. “I’m going down from the section on ‘Relationship with Mother’; you go past the ‘Wants to Stay Alone’ section and let’s see . . . There’s a telephone at the end of that road; let’s look at the manual for a minute. . .There’s a ‘Deviating from His Goals’ section. . . Wow, this is a little confusing here. . .”
“Stop,” I said. “Give that to me a minute . . . Let that go for now . . . ‘Fears’ . . . Look, this section is incredible!”
“Wait, wait, there’s an interesting section there . . . ‘Illnesses Described’ . . . I’m marking that. I’m in the ‘Old Relationships’ part. . .”
“Don’t go too fast,” I said.
“What time is it?”
“Should I call?”
“What if something goes wrong?”
“But we’re following the map . . .”
“Well, you know best . . .”
“Look, there’s a ‘Show Interest’ section . . . but then over there is a ‘Man Who Shies Away from Interest’ section.”
“What a confused map . . .”
“Wait, I’m putting a check on that ‘Call Him’ section.”
“Look where I am; there’s an area called ‘You Can Visit Him at Home at Night.’”
“But there are other things before you get there—look at the section ‘Giving a Dinner’ closely . . . Oh, wait, I found a different way! ‘Action According to How He Acts on the Phone’ . . . there’s a section called ‘Balancing the Control Mechanism,’ I’m going over there. There’s a section called ‘What Will You Say to Him?’; that would be useful on the phone . . .”
I lit another cigarette.
“I think I’ll give him a call.”
“It’s up to you.”
I gathered my courage and dialed the number.
“Hello . . .”
“How are you, what’s new?”
“How are things?”
“Well, nothing new.”
“I just thought I’d ask.”
“Well. Good night.”
I sat down at the table, crushed.
“How did he sound?”
“Tense. He was afraid.”
“Why would he be afraid?”
“How do I know? Goddamn it!”
“He wasn’t pleased?”
“He didn’t seem pleased. He was being reserved . . . Now, let’s put the ‘Action According to How He Behaves on the Phone’ section into play. . .”
“You moved too fast. I wish we hadn’t called him . . .”
“God, I’m getting fed up . . . Start and stop.”
“Really, the sections on Uzeyir are getting to me. There’s one part called ‘Is He Testing You?’”
“Boy, this stuff is really hard,” I said.
“Listen,” she said. “Look at this part! ‘What Does This Woman See in Me? Who Am I? This Woman’s Interest Can’t Be Real, She Must Be Teasing Me . . .’ It’s a completely different path.”
“Oh, being insecure about himself?”
“Look, there, that section, ‘Get Out of the Woman’s Sphere of Influence, Save Yourself; You Won’t Experience Any Harm.’”
“Oh God! You know what kind of guy I want? Someone who loves me. Somebody who’s not afraid to love, who wants to be happy together. I’m sick of just sitting at home like I’m some kind of turkey.”
“Let’s move down the line that says ‘He Runs Away When You Think of Him,’ then.”
“Wow, the map is really mixed up now. I bet we won’t even be able to find a road.”
“Yes . . . We’re lost.”
“This is terrible!”
“Well, we’re lost.”
“I wish he weren’t so good-looking. I’d punch him!”
“You wouldn’t . . . We’re lost. What are we going to do?”
The two of us there on the Map of Man, hopeless and horrified.
“I’m afraid. There’s no way we’re going to find the road.”
“Yes. We went the wrong way. Now there’s no way out.”
“We’re stuck. Now what do we do?”
“We can’t do anything. We’re lost.”
I thought for a moment.
“Let’s just rip up this map. Forget about both of these guys!”
“Wait, wait. Let’s think a little.”
“You know, if these guys were normal people, we could just telephone them and ask them. We’d say: ‘We’ve got this map in our hands, but we got lost before we got to you. We’re afraid, we’re in a bad way . . . We don’t know what to do. Help us.’”
“But this is how they are. . .”
“I know. Goddamn it.”
“He used to be completely devoted, didn’t he?”
“Of course, I never even had to give him a second thought.”
“Mine was exactly the same . . .”
“I appreciated him only after he left.”
“I’ve been going crazy ever since he turned to stone on me. I don’t know what I’m going to do!”
“Wait a minute . . . We have to find the way back.”
“It’s impossible . . . I can’t find it!”
“I can’t find it either.”
“If he were an American, he’d get over it, you know!”
“Sweetie, these guys are different!”
“I’m going crazy. I wish we’d each just found an American!”
“Well, we didn’t . . .”
“Listen, this map is going to kill us. Let’s try to escape. I’m glad you’re here with me, I’d lose my mind if I were by myself.”
“Wait, calm down. We’ll just slowly go back exactly the way we came.”
“Is it that easy?”
“No . . . no, it’s not but we can’t stay like this in the middle of the map.”
“Fine, I’m going down from the ‘Call Him’ area. I’ve come to ‘Leave the Initiative to Him.’ From there a little to the left . . .”
“I’m slipping down under the ‘Withdrawal Syndrome’; I’ve come to the dotted line in the ‘Sexual Fears’ section . . . Yes, now there’s the ‘Purpose of My Life’ section.”
“Down, go down from there . . . Stop, there should be something called ‘Skip a Date,’ we just must have missed it.”
“But we still haven’t gotten anywhere.”
“I’m exhausted! But what can we do?”
“Nothing at all.”
“I’m getting hungry.”
“And I’m bored.”
“There’s no way out.”
“It looks like it.”
“You know, we could die in the middle of all this confusion.”
“Yes. Like we were lost in the desert.”
“If only there were some water . . .”
“A bite to eat . . .”
“There are no more cigarettes . . .”
“The phone’s out, I think . . .”
“Oh God! The lights went out.”
“Wait, I have a lighter. We’re sliding quickly down from the ‘Ego’ section.”
“I can’t see very well.”
“There’s a terrible wind now. The lighter keeps going out.”
“If we had a signal flare we could send it up. They’d find us. They’d get us out of here.”
“Hold on to me. Let’s slowly follow that road.”
“Do you have anything for a headache?”
“I think so. Here.”
“There’s no water. Well, I’ll just swallow it.”
“It’ll be a blessing if we can get out of this map without completely losing our minds.”
“Oh, my foot’s stuck in a hole. I can’t walk anymore. Leave me here. You stay on the road.”
“I won’t leave you here, you’ll die.”
“Go, go. Otherwise we’ll both die.”
“What is this wind . . . My mouth and nose are full of sand.”
“Leave me. I can’t walk anymore.”
“Come . . . lean on me. We’ll get out . . . just keep trying!”
“No, no, you save yourself. Leave me here. My ankle is swelling up. I can’t walk because of the pain.”
“We won’t leave one another. I’m moving forward, little by little. Lean on my shoulder.”
“What’s that sound?”
“It’s an owl hooting. Don’t pay it any attention.”
“The lighter went out.”
“It won’t light in this wind.”
“We’re in the pitch dark.”
“Can we find our way by looking at the stars?”
“But there aren’t any stars!”
“I’ve given up hope. We won’t be saved. We’re going to just die here in the middle of this terrible map.”
“Take this, I had a chocolate in my pocket. Eat it. It’ll give you strength.”
“My feet are wet.”
“We’re crossing a creek bed. Slow. Don’t put any weight on the foot that hurts.”
“It’s started to rain.”
“So what, we’ll just keep on walking down.”
“Are you sure?”
“Oh, look, there’s a light. They’re looking for us. Uzeyir! Uzeyir! We’re here!”
“There’s no such thing. You’re seeing things. We’re all by ourselves!”
“Uzeyir! Uzeyir! He doesn’t hear, he doesn’t hear us!”
At that point I shouted with all my strength. My guy’s name burst out of my chest!
“Hidayet! We’re dying! Hidayet! Help us!”
My voice echoed back from the invisible mountains in front of us.
“There’s nobody at all . . . nobody can hear us.”
“I never thought I would die like this.”
“We’ll be rescued.”
“I have no hope. We’ll never get out of here. They don’t believe in our love.”
“Listen, were you ever happy with him?”
“I was. I could never forget . . .”
“Hey, the road is closed. There’s something like a tree stump in front of us!”
“It must be a tree uprooted by the storm.”
“What should we do?”
“Wait, let’s slide by it. Slowly, now.”
“I’ve used up all my strength. Leave me here. You keep going on the road.”
“Come, come over here. We’re past the stump now.”
“I can’t breathe with this rain. I can’t stand it anymore.”
“Try a little harder.”
After struggling for two hours we managed to get out of the Map of Man in a state of exhaustion. When we got to the edge of the table we couldn’t believe that we had escaped. Our hair was a mess, our faces and legs were covered with cuts and bruises.
We washed up, we drank all the water in the fridge. Then we collapsed, exhausted, on the carpet.
We fell asleep there.
The sunlight falling on us in the morning woke us, and the sound of a vacuum cleaner noisily at work in a corner of the room. We almost got swept up by it.
We held on to the leg of the table.
“What a night . . .”
“A complete nightmare . . .”
“My foot feels terrible. I can’t believe we made it out.”
“Let’s get rid of that map.”
“Or we’ll try to get into it again . . .”
“True. When we get better, we’ll try it all over again.”
“Let’s rip it up.”
“I haven’t the strength. It feels like my arms were cut off.”
“I’m ripping it up. Hold on to that end.”
We started to tear the map.
The room was suddenly filled with shouts of pain.
“That’s Hidayet’s voice!”
“And that’s Uzeyir! Oh my God!”
“I can’t. Listen to them . . . It’s unbearable!”
“Close your ears.”
“They must be in pain.”
“Strange, they never let on.”
“I can’t tear anymore.”
“Come on. Let’s get out of the house. Give me your hand. Let’s get away from here.”
We barely managed to make it out.
The streets were just waking up. Moving like a sleepwalker I found the bookseller’s shop.
We went inside.
When he saw our shredded clothes, our shoes with their torn laces, and our arms and legs covered with cuts and bruises, the bookseller got up from his chair and stared at us.
“The map,” I said. “It was terrible. We nearly died.”
I hit the bookseller’s desk with my muddy hand with its broken nails.
“I want to find the person who drew this map. It’s a matter of personal safety! We almost died! He’s going to pay for this!”
The bookseller said:
“Calm down. Please calm down.”
“How can we be calm? We nearly died.”
The bookseller said:
“The person who drew the map didn’t do anything wrong! He just drew what was there. You got yourselves lost in it . . . Please. Calm down.”
“That map is alive. It’s living . . . it’s a terrible thing!” I said.
“Forget about that,” said the bookseller. “Let me show you some other maps.”
“The Map of Man can be a dangerous thing. Don’t think about what you went through. I have other maps here. Look, this is a completely different India.”
I took a look at the map he was showing me.
“But this doesn’t look anything like India!”
“It’s a special interpretation. As I told you . . . what do you say? Forget everything. That’s Calcutta, here’s the Taj Mahal.”
“We don’t want a map of India.”
“It’s up to you. I just said it to distract you.”
I seemed to be getting a bit of a grip on myself. My stomach was grumbling from hunger, my left kidney hurt like somebody had punched me. And I’d caught a cold during the night, of course.
“Look here,” I said to the bookseller. “Do you have a map for comfortable middle-aged men? Forget about cities, we’re going after men again. But we want something different . . . somebody who’s worked everything out, who knows about women, a certain age, mature, with money—you know, classy, maybe a widower, kind of a sugar daddy? I know it’s hard, but do you have anything like that?”
The bookseller was listening closely to me.
“Why not?” he said. “I have everything. But they won’t put you through the mill like that one. I mean, they won’t wear you out so quickly. I’m sure the darkness and the storm were quite an adventure, weren’t they?”
“Forget that!” I said. “We were about ready to give up the ghost. Look at us!”
“Well then, here you are; just what you wanted. Calm, settled-down, storm over, not quite so hot, but still burning; maps of comfortable middle-aged men. Special interpretation.”
“These ones too.”
“But, please, I don’t want any problems like last night.”
“No, there won’t be. We give these maps of well-off men to the university. For the economics and statistics classes.”
“Well, fine then. Wrap up two. And two manuals. Be well. OK, good-bye!”
© Nazli Eray. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2011 by Robert P. Finn. All rights reserved.