Ayfer Tunç was born in Adapazari in 1964. She graduated from the Istanbul University Faculty of Political Sciences. During her university years, she wrote many articles for various literature, culture and art magazines. In 1989, she participated in the Yunus Nadi Short Story Competition organized by the daily Cumhuriyet newspaper. Her short story titled Saklı (Hidden) received the first prize.
Between 1999-2004, she worked as the chief editor of Yapı Kredi Publishing House. Her book titled Maniniz Yoksa Annemler Size Gelecek-70’li Yıllarda Hayatımız (My Parents Will Visit You If You Aren’t Occupied – Our Life in the ’70s) was published in 2001 was met with great enthusiasm. In 2003, the same book won the International Balkanika Award, co-organized by seven Balkan countries, and qualified for being translated into six Balkan languages. In addition, the book was published in Arabic in Syria and Lebanon.
Ayfer Tunç also wrote a script titled Havada Bulut (Cloud in the Sky), based on short stories by Sait Faik, and it was filmed and broadcast on TRT in 2003.
Ayfer Tunç’s published works:
- Hidden (story) 1989
- Cover Girl (novel) 1992
- Two-Faced Sexuality (research) 1994
- Friends From The Cave (story) 1996
- The Aziz Bey Phenomenon (story) 2000
- My Parents Will Visit You If You Aren’t Occupied (life) 2001
- Rock- Paper- Scissors (story) 2003
- Evvelhotel (story) 2006
- This They Call Life (life) 2007
- The VERY ERRONEOUSLY Narrated Short History of a Madhouse (novel) 2009
- Sagan om herr Aziz (published in Sweden by Storge Förlag 2010)
I know very well the moment his heart stopped. For, at the exact moment when Mikail’s heart had stopped according to the hour of death whose news had immediately spread the next day through the weary neighbourhood of the town that lived like a diseased lung taking groaning, deep breaths, I awoke in fright from a sweaty and virtually unconscious sleep because his resentful eyes, not his resentful knife that had become dull from constantly being in the palm of his hand, had stabbed me in the heart. I looked at Semiramis sleeping beside me exhaling hot breaths smelling of drink unaware of this deep wound that I had received.
“Mikail’s heart has stopped”, I said in a whisper. Then, without wanting to believe it myself either, I repeated this fateful sentence: “Mikail’s heart has stopped!” Semiramis did not hear. She drew up her naked legs to her flabby stomach. I huddled up in her wide, comfortable bed and became insignificant. I could not go to sleep again.
From that day on I lost sleep. You could say I lost peace of mind. I wanted to sleep, to roll in sleep’s deep, delicious nothingness and at least forget for a bedtime that mental anguish. However it did not happen. The moments I slept were so short that they were only enough for me to forget Mikail’s old-fashioned moustache extending like a spindly lament dividing his lifeless face and that had grown rapidly old in pursuit of a deadly obsession. I could not banish from my mind his doleful eyes that had taken on the helplessness of a sacrificial animal and that had long ago ceased being angry with me.
Even though I had succeeded in forgetting Mikail for short moments I just could not escape from his spirit that I believed was virtually living with me. In every mirror I looked I always saw Mikail’s touching face. I said to this pale ghost that my only fault was to be caught up in a strange eddy and happen to be in the most seething part of a life to which I was in fact a stranger. But still I tossed and turned in my bed in anguish. I asked myself, “why can’t I have a pleasant, uninterrupted, tranquil sleep?”
I answered immediately: “because I’m guilty. I stole something. For me it was something worthless or even vulgar. But I stole it.”
First I left Semiramis to be rid of this pain that no one knew about but that made my heart bleed in a tiny streak. While filling my case that had roamed around with me for years looking for a peaceful, quiet place under a bed, with my belongings, the unkempt heads of women stretching out from the wretched apartments of the dreary street a few streets away from Mikail’s house where his sallow faced, poor relatives were going in and out, talked with the most heart rending words about the thin woman who held her two children by the hand during the lonely and exceedingly simple funeral crying continually, “what am I going to do now?” They said that this wretched death was Mikail’s destiny and searched for Semiramis at the window with their eyes. While I was slowly filling my case with a deep ache in my heart Semiramis was silent knowing that her saying, “stay” would be no use. Even though we had not spoken about it she was aware of the strange battle between us.
Semiramis was very much to blame for this silent hostility. You could say that with the devilish smile that appeared on her face the first night I saw Mikail, she had provoked me to take sides in this pathetic quarrel. This could also be an excuse I found for myself. It is also possible that Semiramis could have done what was right in her own opinion. It might only have been I who was wrong. If I had known the night I first saw Mikail in his ridiculous outfit and with his old-fashioned moustache, looking down at him in an arrogant manner, that one day he would hurt me in such a way I would not have stayed in this world of dark people whose exaggerated cheerfulness was woven with genuine sorrows, to which I knew full well I did not belong but that I just could not leave because I so relished a pretentious foreignness; I would have left at one of the times when, though it was just the right time to go, being carried away in the pleasure of laziness, I was not able to.
I saw Mikail the first time on an amazingly hot summer’s night when not a leaf moved and all the windows of the city were wide open.
This bizarre district to which Semiramis was loyally bound because it had welcomed her to its festering bosom in her times of poverty when she had lived through thousands of heartaches and humiliation, was groaning with heat; the smell of blood that flowed from the broken noses of women beaten every night, and the echo of the violence of strong against weak shown without demur as something very normal, could not be perceived. It was as though a break had been taken from the brutal and sinful nightlife of the district. The street dogs were silent and the street urchins had lain out full length on the stones that had warmed up during the day. Even the flies were not flying.
We had stretched out on the sofa in the sitting room whose high ceilings gave at least a little feeling of airiness and were drinking beer with vodka. I had put my head on Semiramis’s ample bosom that had now become really soft. She was messing my hair with her fingers adorned with tasteless but expensive rings and telling me why she had made her name Semra into Semiramis. As I listened to her I was thinking that we were by no means and would never be of the same stuff. Thinking this really pleased me. I felt like a daring criminal wandering around boldly in places that did not belong to me.
Semiramis who – as it appeared from her old photographs and from the self-confidence that she possessed even now that she was past her prime – was at one time very beautiful, had become as drunk as was necessary for a music hall partner. She was telling me, whom she was planning to hold in her hand by offering lust, femininity and an endless wallowing in irresponsible nothingness, about her life, with a self-confidence caused by her having proved by having her voice heard in her own part of the world, that she was cleverer than the women who could only exist in this world of nights as long as their bodies were fresh; a place that those who pay their bills on time and live in good, strong houses, thinking themselves very proper, would never understand.
Many men had entered her life. She had loved none of them but had managed to get something that would be useful to her from each one of them. Good advice from some, from some as much money as she could comfortably spend, from some a few pieces of jewellery that they were willing to sacrifice to prolong a sickly obsession a little longer, and from some a few sweet memories. And from what she lived with some she had learnt lessons. An elderly, well educated man smelling very good together with being a little ugly and bad tempered, whose mistress she was when she was freshly following the splendour that she now lives in and with which she is very happy, said precisely this to her: “The Semiramis’s scatter the tedious, happy looking homes that the Semras’ have worked hard to establish.”
Whether he was a lunatic who had made her learn this sentence by heart wishing to engrave witty sentences like these in the heads of his mistresses, or whether it was Semiramis feeling a slight revulsion to Semra’s provincial docile behaviour wanting to learn it by heart, I don’t know. But as this sentence issued from the mouth of Semiramis who knowingly and willingly chose “scarlet womanliness,” the bell rang at length with pathetic insistence. That devilish smile rarely to be found on the face of Semras suited to caring feelings appeared for an instant on Semiramis’s face and then vanished. I looked at her wondering why she did not open the door. “That’s Mikail”, she said. “He’ll keep on ringing and then go.”
A man who imploringly kept ringing the bell of a door that did not open, and then went. Mikail. Semiramis got up lazily and despite the heat walked to the bathroom with fluid movements of her still attractive body dressed in the black underwear that drove the men she knew and, because I lived with her, me too, to a vulgar pleasure. I sensed that she took great delight in not opening the door to Mikail. I heard her step into the shower. The sound of the water comforted my spirit. Remembering Semiramis’s momentary devilish smile, I wanted to see Mikail, the man who had to go because the door that at one time probably opened wide, opened no longer.
This door had been opened to me although I had not promised anything and I could keep it open for as long as I wanted. However for me this held no importance. Semiramis. A clever but common woman. An old coquette, whom I could leave whenever I wanted and even if she did cry after me, had been through the mill enough to forget me quickly. My reason for not going was not Semiramis surrendering to me with all her being but my being too lazy to look for a new place, an abode, a different world. I was one of the lost children. I had surrendered my being to the sickly feelings of defeat and of being lost in futurelessness.
Pride is perhaps the last feeling to be experienced in this deep nothingness in which a person thinks he has completely lost his soul. Nevertheless I just could not stop myself from being arrogant. I went to the window to see Mikail or rather to flaunt myself at him. Mikail had come down the steps -that he had shortly before ascended with hopeful and confident steps- probably upset, head down, and had already gone into the narrow street that was hardened with the pains it harboured in its breast. Had he lifted his head and looked at the window just as he was going, because he thought that another man lived in this house that he could no longer enter, and to see the face that had taken his place? I do not know. Our eyes met in the light of the street lamp.
I saw his black eyes. Despite the tense, harsh expression on his face, to me they looked very sad. He wore a lightweight black jacket. He had pulled the collar of his white shirt over the top. He looked at me for a few seconds, touched his moustache and hastily taking a few paces got into his Anadol estate that he had parked in front of the door, and that I did not know at the time was full to the brim with kitchen ware. It was quite obvious that he preferred to pretend not to see me. I was just looking, having in a funny drunkenness abandoned myself to life’s course without a single feeling of rivalry and passion. My previous arrogant state had also passed. I was no different than an old woman who, having got bored, went to the window, and was spying on the shadows of the neighbours’ windows that filtered light. Yet I was to understand at our second meeting that Mikail saw me as a rival.
There was a pathetic urgency in his manner, a resentment that he tried ineptly to conceal. He was ashamed as though the whole street knew that the door on which he had knocked hadn’t opened. It was though by pretending not to see me he was acting nobly in his own way and giving Semiramis and me another chance. For this reason he wanted to leave the street as quickly as possible. He got into his car wishing immediately to forget and to make forgotten that short eye contact between us. He turned the key but the tired Anadol that had roamed the streets all day long did not start. I felt the palms of his hands sweating and that he was deeply humiliated because of the car that in spite of his turning the key time and again tweeted like a wounded bird but refused to start.
When he could not get the car started he was forced to get out. Dripping with sweat and with one hand on the steering wheel he began to push the Anadol that, because it was laden, could hardly move. The dispirited Anadol happy with the front of the door where it was parked and looking as though it had wanted to rest in eternal peace eventually began to slither down the slope. Mikail, running with ridiculous steps, got into the car. The Anadol growled a little with the intention of starting as it was about to disappear, and eventually started. The thundering noise of the old engine reverberated in the street and gradually became unheard. The street returned to the overpowering silence of a little while before. I went inside. Remembering Mikail’s state and laughing I lay flat on Semiramis’s enormous bed. I had gone to sleep…
Now when I think about it, after starting his wreck of an Anadol and going on to the main road Mikail might have stopped the car and put his head on the vinyl-covered steering wheel and cried with anger.
In this world where a strict code of conduct ruled, where life was lived with definable primitive feelings and through weird ceremonies, where even a little slip of the foot would flatten one’s honour in a trice, this situation into which Mikail had fallen was a heavy blow. If the Anadol worn out from the bustle of life started at the first turn of the key and Mikail had been able to leave the street with a swanky start, perhaps this silent struggle between us would never have begun.
It was not the rivalry of love that destroyed him, but the little mishaps that befell him.
I forgot all about him by sleeping. I cast him completely out of my mind. Hence when I met him again a few days later in the street where Semiramis lived I had difficulty in recognising him. Semiramis had got work in a coastal town and had gone on tour with a few girls who worked in the music hall. I imagine she was expecting she would not find me on her return. She had regarded this tour as a test of love and because she did not want me to leave her she had filled the fridge with a great variety of food. That night we had not slept at all but drank continuously. Towards morning she cried at length because one day I would leave her for sure. I did not attempt to comfort her. She was exhausted from the drink and from lack of sleep. As soon as she got on the coach she passed out. I, overflowing with an uncalled-for feeling of freedom, went to the parts of the city I had not visited for a long time and in tea gardens I dozed leaning my head on the tables. I looked at myself in still waters. I looked for some small joy concerning myself. A new path. The weather was so hot I could not find one.
In spite of it being just the right time to go, as I entered the street the idea of going to bed yawning lazily in a room that was cool when the windows were wide open, or sheer laziness, this delicious laziness that I profoundly felt towards life, dragged my feet again towards Semiramis’s house. In any case it was impossible to make even the simplest plan let alone take a crucial decision while groaning under the sticky July heat.
As I walked with pensive steps I got distracted by the heads of women leant out of their windows cracking black sunflower seeds and spitting the husks onto the street. From the opposite direction came the tired old Anadol running with a groan and filling the street with its loud noise. After Mikail had parked his car in front of the apartment door, got out and struck a smart pose, I recognised him by his moustache that had attracted my attention that first night I saw him. It was obvious that for this meeting he had had the Anadol that did not work mended, had dressed with care and had even had the rehearsal for the show that was to be exhibited to the neighbourhood. He must have coloured his hair and left a few strands of grey hair on the temples especially.
All of a sudden he saw me. He got very excited and was at his wits’ end. Then he pulled himself together. We were eye to eye. He put his hand to his pocket to take out his flick knife. However he could not find his pocket. When I saw his white socks that the turn-ups of his trousers shrunk from being washed so many times could not conceal and how these circumstances ruined his flashy stance, I could not help but laugh. I walked towards the apartment without changing my step. At last he found his pocket, took out his flick knife and began to open and close it. There was a very short distance between us.
I was not at all impressed by the knife that Mikail wanted to see in my heart. It was as though my soul had become empty. The gleam of this sharp steel had as little meaning for me as the tail of a cat passing rapidly through the street. In fact I myself walked with a wish to add meaning to that knife and to feel it in my heart. I did not care about being one of the lost children. To such an extent that even if that knife stuck in my heart I felt unreal enough to be able to wander around with it. Hence I walked towards the knife. Not as an act against Mikail nor to have my name remembered in the world of heroism. The courage that he got from the knife was not enough for him and I saw that his hands shook.
While there were only a few steps between me and the knife, a woman whose large, heavy earrings had slit her ear lobes, coming out of the opposite apartment dragging a runny-nosed girl clutched to her skirt approached Mikail coming right between us and asked, “Have you got a coffee pot set?”
A little mishap that Mikail had just not reckoned on ruined the whole scene. A crowd of women surrounded the Anadol estate full of kitchenware for sale, and dozens of calloused, reddened, swollen women’s hands opened the boot of the car that was slightly ajar and began to rummage through it.
All of a sudden he had been removed from the film in which he played the main part and was besieged by women asking the prices of the frying pans, pressure cookers and ladles that they took in their hands ready to bargain hard. It was impossible for him to disrupt this crowd of women driven wild by the obsession called shopping and continue the film. While he was trying to save his goods from the hands of the women I entered the apartment enjoying this ludicrous situation. I went upstairs and looked from the window.
He knew I was looking at him. For this reason he could not get himself to look like a simple salesman sweet talking to sell his goods in order to earn a few pennies. He was so angry and so hurt that he roughly gathered all his goods and chucked them into his car. He got into it shaking with rage. Not understanding the reason for this behaviour of Mikail from whom they had been buying goods for a long time, the women dispersed to their homes shouting abuse and even swearing at him.
The Anadol that on our previous encounter had spited him by not starting, started this time emitting appalling noises. He did not take any notice of the clanking of the boot door that was up in the air because it had not closed. As he shot through the street the children scattered in all directions; he scraped an electricity pole and hit a dustbin. When he came out on to the main road the dustbin that he had hit was rolling, clanging down the street, looking like a spectator rolling about laughing at the state into which he had fallen.
After this incident I did not see Mikail for a long time. We never met. However some time later I felt that he was following me. He was as silent as a professional killer wanting to perform a clean job. He did not show himself. However I always knew he was after me and felt his breath on the back of my neck. I enjoyed this so much that some nights I began to suddenly turn back along the streets I walked. Sometimes I met with the sound of feet running rapidly away so as not to be caught. Sometimes a deep silence. The nights that he did not follow me became boring. I was as though lost in a delightful game woven with illusions, about whose conclusion I was curious.
At the beginning he wanted to frighten me away. Then later he wanted to kill me. All that he desired was to regain Semiramis who had now closed her doors to him even if I had not been there. He thought I was the sole reason that the door did not open despite his ringing the bell time and again. Actually, this was really funny. And besides, both in Mikail’s state, and in the strange bond between us, there was a sad, weird thing that resembled being seized by a fit of crying after laughing too much. To me Semiramis was nothing; to him she was everything. To Semiramis Mikail was nothing; I was everything.
Merely so that he should follow me I began to go to the music hall every evening. This made Semiramis very happy. She thought it was some kind of being committed. It was in fact being committed. But not to Semiramis. To my executioner.
Now at this stage of my life when I am through with the song of darkness and am in a distant peaceful humdrum town where I am showing an unwilling effort to join the ranks of proper people, I miss not Semiramis but the music hall living with sorrowful breaths, even though it is common, even though it is crude, faithless and wretched. That place was a badly sung song of darkness. Just like the flaws in the voices of girl singers, the plaintive place where the heavy blows of life have left deep scars on faces and which has taken refuge in the pretence of bright lights…
I understood that Mikail had given up scaring me and decided to kill me, one night in the music hall. With one eye on me Semiramis had sat down at the table of a customer whose mistress she had probably once been. I was quietly drinking with my back to the stage in the bar that had been refurbished to make the music hall ‘with it’ for which reason it was as much of a stranger to the interior as I.
I was looking in the cheap mirror of the bar at my expressionless face of indeterminate age. I felt as though I had lived a thousand years. I felt a deep sadness about this. I asked myself why I was such a stranger to my life. I was going to ask myself much more but I snapped out of thinking about myself when Mikail’s name was mentioned, and overheard the conversation between the barman and the waiter who was talking about Mikail. I did not know whether they knew he had at one time been Semiramis’s lover. It never interested me in the slightest how much those in the music hall knew about this skein of strange entanglements that linked the three of us together. In any case, no one but Mikail had interested me.
The barman and the waiter spoke without realising I was listening to them. Mikail had sold his Anadol estate to buy a weapon. But the man who had taken the money and said he would get him a Parabellum had disappeared. At that moment I remembered that I had not heard the sound of the tired Anadol that started with mournful screams, for a long time. The barman laughed at this sad deception. “Who was he going to shoot with that weapon?” he asked. The waiter said, “who knows? Perhaps he was going to shoot himself…”
I did not meet Mikail at all until the end of the summer. He was not following me as frequently as he used to. Perhaps he had gone after the man who went off with his money saying that he was going to bring him a weapon. Even so I felt he might be following me, and some nights while walking in the streets that stretched out pitch dark, when I occasionally turned and looked behind me, I used to see a shadow that had gradually become weaker and thinner sheltering in the entrances to apartments.
Then summer ended. I thought he had got tired of following me.
It was one October evening. There was a sign of an early winter in the air. A fine filthy rain was falling and smothering this city that was fed up with existing in an even worse gloom. Semiramis had again gone on one of those shitty tours. I wandered about the streets watching the death of this unfortunate city. I looked at the clouds that sank on it like a dirge. I climbed high hills to see if I could see a vein through which perhaps clean blood still flowed, if I would get excited and if I could go to a new place. Nothing gave me excitement. Not even the rain that wet my face, my hair and made me cold. The notion of going away for a new beginning seemed difficult or even impossible. I returned to Semiramis’s house where I was fast becoming old.
It had not yet got dark as I entered the street. The rain that had fallen off and on forming puddles unnecessarily in the street had ceased. Still, the air was heavy. The street’s futureless and hopeless children were playing ball.
I found Mikail in the entrance to Semiramis’s apartment. He had pulled up the collar of his completely worn out jacket and sat crouched on the stony place in front of the door. He had leaned his head against the wall. Tired of waiting for me for hours he had fallen asleep. I approached him and stood there. His beard had grown. There was not a trace of his old self. He was snoring lightly. I wanted him to wake up and see me and plunge his resentful knife right into my heart. However it did not look as though he would wake up. I leant over and touched his shoulder lightly. I wanted to say, “wake up. Wake up and save me from this never-ending nothingness with the knife you are going to stab into my chest!” He did not wake up.
At that moment a ball hit by one of the children got him in the face. He woke up suddenly, leapt up without seeing me and swearing walked menacingly towards the children. He slashed the ball that he had caught, with the knife that he wanted to see in my heart. At that moment we came eye to eye. Ball and knife fell from his hands.
The truth of the matter is that he was unlucky enough to drive a person to suicide.
From that day onward he definitely stopped following me. We still met from time to time. Whenever he saw me he would quickly turn his back and walk away with hasty steps. He had got very thin. It was as though this defeat had finished him off. He did not pass along the streets I passed and never visited the places where I might be. One day we met in a neighbourhood market. He had arranged a few dozen Pa?abahçe glasses on a small stand. To attract the attention of the passers-by he was juggling three glasses in the air and calling to the women who looked at him as they passed. When he saw me he could not catch the glasses he was juggling in the air.
I heard that his situation had become even worse and that he had aged a lot after this encounter. Presumably he had thought at length about it and deciding that luck was with me he had given up. Now, because he did not follow me I left off going to the music hall. I killed time thinking about life, about people and about Mikail and things that were not at all funny, and drank. The absence of the man whom I had destroyed by stealing his greatest love and frittering away the love that I stole had shaken me badly. Formerly when I thought about him I used to laugh. I could no longer laugh. I realised that this was something like cutting my wrists in hot water. While I was cutting my wrists I felt no pain but now my spirit was smarting.
I was drinking so much that one night I realised that I had finished all the drink in the house. It was very late at night. Everywhere was closed. I was forced to set out for the music hall. It was a snowy night. The streets were covered with ice. I wandered along the very back streets through which the dirtiest blood of the city flowed. While I walked between the street urchins warming their dirty hands over fires they lit in tin barrels, the homeless preparing to lie down on the cardboard that they spread out in sheltered corners, the glue sniffing children cuddling thin but warm street cats, fighting or beaten up transvestites, the street dogs howling from cold and hunger, having even forgotten to be afraid of humans, I noticed that I was following a black, sagging overcoat.
He had sat down in the most deserted corner of the bar and with his head bent forward was drinking beer. Silently I came and sat beside him. He did not move at all and he did not lift his head and look. Just as I thought he had not recognised me, he said in a shaky voice fixing his eyes on his beer glass, “I used to have a glass and china shop. I used to sell glassware. She wanted lots of things; I used to buy them. Then you came along. Now I have nothing…”
He drained the glass and wiped his mouth with the back of his shaking hand. With a voice that was not indignant, not hostile, not angry but harrowing, he said, “if only you had loved her. You did not love her and you destroyed me.”
He got up and left. I could not get up. Much later when I noticed that I was crying and went outside, in the feeble light of some pieces of wood burning in a tin barrel at the end of the street I saw him walking trailing his black overcoat and merging into the deep darkness of the night.
It was that night that Mikail’s heart stopped.
© Translation by Stephanie Ateş
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Published with the permission of Ayfer Tunç