Ayfer Tunç

Ayfer Tunç

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)

Red Torment

We were three story characters in our author’s mind waiting for our destiny to be written without delay. The Notary, the Young Man and I. In spite of not having been written yet, we sort of felt that we would be characters of the same story and we were trying to guess the type of bond our author would establish between us. However there was not even a single sentence written that would bring the three of us together. For this reason we were not able to become close at all and made do with watching each other from afar.

Our story that as yet had no definite plot kept churning round in our author’s head. It was not certain what we would be, what we would do and furthermore whether or not we would even exist. We were not developed enough to form a tie between our existence and what was going through his mind. We knew very little about ourselves. We just wandered aimlessly around as as yet unwritten heroes in the imaginary world of story characters. We were nervous and felt very much alone.

From time to time our author took notes that we thought were related to our story and which made us very excited, scribbling down the first sentences of the story on note paper with his black ink fountain pen; then he would crumple them all up and throw them away, thus dragging us into deep obscurity. One could not say that he worked hard on us at length and that he set aside most of his time to create us. It is true from time to time he was busy with the Notary, but he usually forgot the Young Man and me and in particular he wrote not even one single word concerning me. As he kept delaying committing me to paper, my hopes about existing were rapidly dissolving.

Because I wasn’t yet on familiar terms with the characters of other stories I had focused all my attention on our author. To know that my existence was in his hands gave me an agreeable feeling, difficult to describe. It was as though there was a divine balance between us. I and the other story characters were the ones giving a meaning to our author’s life. If he were to create me I would contribute to his existence. This relationship between the author and the character he wrote about was vehemently increasing my desire to exist and was making me tremendously excited.

I learnt that our author spent a very long time on his stories, that before beginning to write he carried the characters of his stories for a long time in his head and that there were story characters that he had not finished and was still working on, from the Rag and Bone Man. The Rag and Bone Man was the main character of a story that our author had been working on for years. In spite of being written continuously he had not at all been able to take his final form, or did not take it deliberately. During the writing period of our story, at my most hopeless times, I felt the Rag and Bone Man’s trustworthy presence always beside me.

The Notary, the Young Man and I had been created separately in our writer’s mind. I do not know when and how this started. Once when we were sitting together I looked at them both out of the corner of my eye and I had a slight feeling that we would be in the same story. Our beginning was thus silent, thus cold and distant, moreover thought provoking.

What were we going to be? What was going to happen to us? In what kind of existence were we going to blossom? With what kind of personality were we going to enter the minds of those who were going to read us?

Which feelings of theirs were we going to touch, to the birth of which thoughts were we going to pave the way? We did not know anything and the longer our story did not begin the more worried we got. The fear that we might never exist enveloped us. Fresh hope filled us every morning when our author went to his table. As our story turned over in his mind we became more excited. Sometimes, just as we were about to appear and just as we were preparing to smile at our existence, our author put down his pen. Then we carried on with our long, boring and silent wait as before.

However this situation did not last long. A short time after the moment we felt that we were characters in the same story, the Notary became decidedly manifest. The Young Man and I had been neglected. We were not really written and there was not even a note of a couple of words jotted down about us. Our author’s indifference brought us closer to each other and distanced us completely from the Notary.

The Notary was now someone else. The timid man worried about the game that his destiny, as yet uncertain, would play on him had gone; in his place had come someone with a cold and arrogant manner seeming as insensitive as a dead branch. Our worries, feelings and expectations were no longer shared. He was strutting like an actor to whom a glitzy main role had fallen and was smiling self-complacently. A disturbing look had settled in his eyes. He had also caught insomnia. His huge eyes never closed and even in the deepest dark of the night they shone like the phosphorus on a cursed watch that would take us to a tragic annihilation. Even in the moments we slept we felt his presence penetrating our marrow as a dark shadow.

Our author was always working on him. He had planned his passions, his foibles, his habits, his strange desires and even the place where he lived. According to the notes that our author had taken and the chapters he had written he lived alone in an eerie, large, neglected house quite a way from the city with a railway line passing in front of it. Every morning he left his house and walked to the station and boarded a train; and in the evenings he returned the same way. Although not yet entirely written, it was obvious that he was going to be an interesting story character. Night and day changed the chemistry of his body. During the day he lived as a normal person like everyone else, approved the observance to the law of a mass of life’s details, was overly meticulous in his work in his dark suit, and was becoming a devotedly working part of the established order to remain like that for life. However when the sun disappeared behind the mountains and the darkness of the night descended on the earth, a sick, disturbed side claimed his soul and so the Notary sat in front of the window not blinking an eye until morning and was carried away in a deep, sickly loneliness, burning with longing for the feelings he considered forbidden during the day.

Only that, even, had been enough for the other story characters to talk about the Notary. They were whispering to each other, pointing at him, and half admiringly, half shyly, fussing around him. The Notary too was aware of the situation. For this reason he gradually became more arrogant, utterly scorned both the Young Man and me and gazed at us with eyes full of contempt. Because he was sure that he would be the main character of the story he only found the main characters of the stories that our author had previously written worth speaking with. He had altered rapidly and as the details relating to his character became clearer his arrogance had increased.

He did not stop there. He spread around the conviction in his superiority to such an extent that even his speaking to a story character virtually became a favour. He began to discriminate between characters and to insult some. The more he did this, minor characters attempted to follow him around with inflated words full of compliments, to show him more interest than was necessary, and to idolise a story character whose existence was limited to what the author had written.

In the face of all this theatrical interest the Notary became grim to such an extent as to appear ridiculous in our imaginary world. Yet ours was an aimless world without rules. In the free zone in our author’s mind we lived far from all natural and social laws. The Notary influenced the story characters with his manner and bearing and made it obvious that he wanted us to surrender to him unconditionally. It was plain that he had brought a weird hierarchy to our unautocratic motley world. The Young Man however was deeply occupied with the uncertainty of his own destiny. He had almost lost all interest in his surroundings. Even his sleep was anxious and full of fear. The fear of being nonexistent had made him highly irritable. The Rag and Bone Man and I were aware of the dreadfulness of all this but there was nothing we could do about it.

I got to know the Rag and Bone Man at the time when the Notary was rapidly becoming clearer and our hopelessness was gradually increasing. It was as though he was a permanent fixture of our author’s mind. He could not remember how many years he had lived in his mind and how many stories had been started in which he was the main character. He was such a non-written character that he had virtually become the author’s conscience, his critic, and the inspector of the heights he had attained in his authorship. In his mind he had become old and almost a person.

During his process of not being able to be written the Rag and Bone Man had seen so many story characters that to be written or not to be written had lost its importance. He was the only one amongst us who had no concern about existing. I never told him but I sensed that when our author wrote him the adventure would end and he would close his writer’s book.

All the story characters were aware of the Rag and Bone Man’s importance. However much they followed the Notary around, they were timid of the Rag and Bone Man and made it obvious that they felt a deep respect for him.

At the time when the Notary believed with all his heart that he was the greatest story character that our author had ever created he wanted to draw the Rag and Bone Man too into his sphere of influence. However he was utterly bewildered that his forceful manner that easily manipulated the other story characters had no effect on the Rag and Bone Man. Then I felt that the Notary had also begun to have doubts about his own fate.

One morning when I was about to give up hope of existing, our author sat down at his desk and after putting down on paper the plot that he had formed in his head of the story that he kept revolving round the Notary, he began to write us. I had worn a red dress. The Young Man had a very flashy bright red car. The Notary was sitting at the window of his tumbledown house like an eagle owl.

The Young Man took this existence too seriously and suddenly came to life. Just as I could not recognise the Notary once upon a time neither did I recognise the Young Man. The Young Man who instead of a few lines of existence had preferred not to be at all had gone and in his place a wretched someone had arrived who, in order to exist in the story agreed to any type of personality. “At last we are being written!” he whooped with joy and showed an exaggerated delight.

Yet I was unhappy because I was going to exist in the same story with the Notary. The feeling that I would be captive in the same story with the character who created a weird hierarchy and turned our imaginary world upside down had sunk in me as a deep pain. The Rag and Bone Man was aware of my unhappiness. Founded on the experience he had obtained as a result of the long years of not being written at all he told me that I should be hopeful until the final period was put to the story, trying thus to calm me down, but what he told me in his pleasant voice did not help to eradicate the sorrow that had settled inside me.

I was sitting in the front seat of the Young Man’s expensive red car. I had put on an immodest red dress and had painted my lips bright red. Fine black stockings enveloped my long legs. I had high stiletto heeled shoes on my feet and a fake black fur around my shoulders. I was cheaply smart. I was smoking a cigarette. The Young Man bore the lust he felt for me on his skin.

It was very late at night. The lights of the houses that were gradually becoming sparse had gone out and the people of the city had abandoned themselves to the embrace of a tired sleep. The car was swiftly swallowing up the tarmac road a few metres below which a railway line passed. We had not yet arrived at the Notary’s house that resembled a big black eye in a big, derelict garden. It was evident in every way that the Young Man was really elated. He had become drunk just as our author wanted. He opened the window and screamed with pleasure as he put his foot on the accelerator.

Now I knew for certain that we were serving the Notary’s story. We were existing each as an ordinary story character. We would be forgotten in just one reading, and thus we would have difficulty in finding a place in one of the most worthless corners of our imaginary world and would always remain unexceptional.

I was drunk too. I had opened the window. From time to time I put out my bare arm and tried to cool my skin that burnt like fire by holding it under the snow that was falling softly. While the Young Man was driving the car with one hand, with the other hand he had pulled up the skirt of my dress and started to stroke my leg. I pushed his hand away; he did not take any notice. It was obvious from his hands that gradually became more boorish that he was really pleased with the role assigned to him. This time I pushed his hands away firmly and told him not to touch me. He slapped me shouting “slut!”. I hit him too. We suddenly started fighting. While I was trying to hit him he was saying that he had paid me in advance and he would do what he liked, and holding my hair he was hitting my head against the car window, letting go, squeezing my throat or slapping me repeatedly.

It was hurting. Tensed with anger in order to escape the slaps raining on my face, I was trying to hold his powerful hand but could not manage it. The car slowed down for a moment when he took his foot of the accelerator and I opened the door of the car and threw myself out and rolled a few metres down to the railway line. I collapsed on the rails.

As the warmth of the blood flowing from my nose spread over my face I heard the sharp whistle of a train. I wanted to get up but I could not manage to. The huge headlights of the train suddenly coming round the bend toward me at speed instantly lit up the immediate surroundings. I shut my eyes tightly cursing my author. The train speeded towards me and I was existing as an unlucky short-lived story character who would taste this death at every reading.

The sound of the horn died away and then was no longer heard. I opened my eyes in confusion. The harsh clarity of the lights had vanished and everywhere was wrapped in pitch darkness. The train had not left my body behind it; it had passed by on the other side of the two-way track. I got up with difficulty sensing that my story had actually begun now. As a huge silhouette in the dark of the night the Notary’s unlit house was calling me. I began to walk towards my destiny with tired and distraught steps.

My nose was still bleeding. My hair was a mess, my fur had got caught on brambles, and my patent leather shoes had flown off my feet. I was so cold. Covering my naked bosom with my naked arms that were covered in cuts and bruises I entered the Notary’s derelict garden and hammered on the iron door of the house. My author had written that he had seen everything and was waiting for me. The Notary with his phosphorous eyes opened the door. I fainted in his skinny bony arms. When I came to in a huge bed in the middle of a large room at that very short moment between day and night I saw the Notary who had stroked my ankles all night long taking his dark suit from the wardrobe in preparation for the day.

I had not died but had become the Notary’s prisoner. This was worse than death. I was not happy with my existence. However it was the Young Man’s excessive satisfaction that undid me, not this. The sensitive, innocent youth the childish lines of whose face gave one an irresistible urge to stroke was no longer. He was trying to ingratiate himself on the Notary and was overjoyed. I was utterly confused. We were not actually in this story. We were not instrumental in telling anything. I was a common whore and he was a piteous youth. We were the means for the Notary’s existence. The Young Man did not care about any of this. He was telling the story characters how he slapped me, how he felt when he was stroking my legs and was laughing coarsely. He had become so contemptible that he did not refrain from paying compliments to the Notary whom he had hated before he came into being, and telling him that he was the greatest story character of all times. And the Notary was turning a blind eye to the behaviour of the Young Man and smiling, he was virtually rewarding him.

However one night something totally unexpected happened. The Rag and Bone Man came to me and said that our author was not able to sleep at all. Sure enough our author was tossing and turning in his bed. I looked at the Young Man. He was tired out with joy and was sleeping soundly with an idiotic expression. However our author’s restlessness had attracted the Notary’s attention. Our eyes met. A shadow of fear that was impossible to hide roamed his never closing eyes. Finally our author got up and sat down at his desk and settled down to work.

At the end of an intense effort lasting a few weeks the Notary and the Young Man disappeared. The Notary was bewildered; he was devastated. He could not believe that he had been sacrificed. The Young Man however was left dumbstruck with a frozen smile on his lips not able to understand what had happened. They gradually became indistinct and when the last piece of paper was thrown away they vanished.

This event very much surprised the other story characters too. They were shaken. Then later they began to talk about how the Notary could have influenced them so much and they admitted that they felt ashamed of the state into which they had fallen trying to please him.

The colourful, jubilant world of the story characters slowly began to regain its former richness.

I was the one left from that unfinished story. I lived for a long period in our author’s mind as a cheap-looking woman in a red dress with red lipstick. Then one morning our author began my story. I came out of a tavern with a story character that I had never seen before. Again it was late at night. We got into the car that was falling to pieces of a youth of languishing looks and timid manner and began to proceed along the same coast road. We were both drunk. It was I who had seduced the young man.

We were going to a summerhouse. There I was going to take off my fake black fur, my black silk stockings, my patent leather shoes and red dress and I was going to introduce this shy sensitive youth to the feeling known as lust. As the car travelled towards the place where I had rolled down to the railway track the timid youth touched my legs with nervous and inexperienced fingers. Everything was as our author had written. As a capricious prostitute past her prime I had changed my mind about sleeping with this youth. All of a sudden I pushed his hand away and began to insult him. I said just because he had given money he could not do what he wanted to me. He was astonished and at his wits’ end. He was sorry and he had long since given up touching me but this time I was the one written as a different character. I was loathsome and drunk. I was swearing at him and crying vociferously.

I opened the car window and began to scream. The lights of some of the houses lining the length of the road came on. The embarrassed youth was trying to calm me down. He began to beg me to be quiet; I was not quiet. My screams were rending the night. As he tried to close my mouth with his hand the door of the old car suddenly opened and from the same place I rolled down to the same railway track. Again the same train appeared. Its lights lit up the surroundings like day.

The train passed by on the track next to me. Again blood was seeping from my nose. I got up and walked towards the sea. I leant against a tree. I was drunk and despondent. Suddenly I heard the youth’s screams. He thought I had been run over by the train and was struggling down the slope.

It was as if he had gone crazy. He sank onto the railway track. “Where are you”? he shouted several times. He was frightened and distraught. The train coming in the opposite direction suddenly appeared. The sharp sound of the whistle diffused towards the sea. The headlights lit up the surroundings. I heard the youth’s scream echoing and his body torn apart. At that moment a pain embedded itself in my heart. I became acquainted with a bright red torment.

Thus we came into being in the world of story characters. The romantic, youth with languishing looks and a timid air always said I was a good story friend. I said, “if only our author had also written your fiancée.” If our author had written his story in a different way he was to be married the following day. He had wanted to spend his last bachelor night with me.

Ayfer Tunç
© Translation by Stephanie Ateş

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Published with the permission of Ayfer Tunç