Sarmaşik / Ivy

In this novel, Şebnem İşigüzel creates a terrible, enormous universe. She takes you to this universe and abandons you there, leaving you all alone with the feelings to which you fall prey as you make your way through the novel. Thus do you come to renounce your own life and to live in the world promised by Sarmaşık.
Istanbul. “That winter our liveswould become entangled like creeping ivy, and every imaginable disaster and iniquity would befall us.” Thus begins the novel, just before its two strange heroes, one a painter, the other a famous writer, meet for the first time in a doctor’s office. Following this acquaintance, due to a mind-boggling series of coincidences, their lives become entwined like creeping ivy. All that they thought had been left behind, that belonged to their pasts, comes back to haunt them.
A reader wrote Şebnem İşigüzel a letter that began, “I started to read Sarmaşık and could not go back to work until I finished the novel.” The letter continued: “After I finished the novel, I began to tell all my colleagues in the small office where I work about it. I could not free myself from the effect of what I had read. I had aroused the curiosity of others, and so they too bought the book and began to read it. Because of all this, I lost my job. I have no regrets though. It will be hard, but I can find a new job. I cannot, however, forget your novel Sarmaşık.”

         That winter our liveswould become entangled with disasters and iniquities like creeping ivy. While we were unaware of each other’s existence, chance events would bind us together. Our loves, sorrows, losses and desires would intertwine like thin, persistent ivy stems.
         It is not because I keep thinking about such nonsense as coincidences being the atoms of life, that my head is itching now, but because I shaved my head three days ago and the bristly grey hair is trying to pierce through the almost transparent scalp. My beard itches like that too when it begins to grow. It itches so much that I want to rub my face against walls, window frames and banisters. When it is like that – not itching, but when I shave off the rest of my hair like my bald patch on the top of my head – I think I resemble Picasso. To look like Picasso, means having his expression in one’s eyes. But I haven’t got those looks. In fact I got to know Picasso; There, I am looking at my reflection in the window now: Might I look like Picasso? Never mind, let’s talk about something else.
         Today, not knowing that it would be the last peaceful day of my life, I learned the name of the heavily pregnant woman who has appeared at the window of the house opposite for the past week. She was lumbering along the street carrying ugly plastic bags, when someone called out from behind her.
         “Sedef, what are you doing?”
         It must have been a friend who knew all about her pregnancy. Just that morning, I had been watching the window across the street when I saw Sedef and the man I think must be her husband. They were both standing at the window just as I was. But they were neither watching me, nor any of the windows. They were not interested in the ugly garden in front of their building, either. The husband was pointing at something on the windowpane. As he was doing that, he seemed to be shouting at her, opening and closing his mouth angrily. He appeared fatter and balder than ever before. Looking like that, it definitely was her husband. Sedef was like the shy woman holding hands with a pale-faced man in Jan van Eyck’s famous painting; you know, that marvel of perspective and skill, in which we see the painter reflected in the circular mirror behind them.
         The name of the painting is Giovanni Arnolfini and his Bride. Arnolfini was an Italian merchant who had settled in Bruges and this picture is thought by art historians to be the first depicting private life.   Sedef’s pregnancy and her dress that I think is green, reminded me of that painting. If our Arnolfini had not shouted at Sedef, but had held her hand and smiled in my direction, at the portrait painter who was watching them from the window of his house across the street, they would have appeared as happy as the couple in that famous painting.
         As a portrait painter who has been unemployed for a long time – and so nowadays paints only for his own pleasure – I was perturbed. When I saw Sedef, the poor pregnant housewife with her huge, swollen belly, in a dress that I took to be green facing her husband who was obviously shouting at her, I wanted to paint her portrait and reverse her fate. In my picture the fire blazing out of the young woman’s mouth, would make her husband tremble with trepidation.
         Cars and people were passing along the narrow street between us. A man I had never seen before was wandering inside the empty ornamental pond in the garden in front of Sedef’s house. Dozens of sparrows were perched along the garden gate. Only she looked helpless and miserable.
         While all this was happening my sister Hayal was with me in my studio, sitting silently drinking tea. Every day at the same time, she climbs up to the top floor, which I use as a studio, of this century old three-storey house where we live together, and silently drinks her tea, whispering what the birds, insects, my cat and the figures on my canvas are saying. She was catatonic schizophrenic, and a sudden attack freezes her to the spot all day with her teacup in her hand.
         She has been ill for approximately ten years. Ever since she came out of the mental hospital where we sent her in panic during the first years of her illness, I have painted her portrait every time she has an attack in my studio. I patiently counted these a few days ago. There are exactly 386 such portraits of Hayal. When we consider that she spent three years out of the ten in the mental hospital, it makes fifty-five pictures for each of the remaining the seven years. Four per month, one per week. This means that while drinking tea with me in my studio, Hayal’s catatonic schizophrenia has manifested itself every week for the past seven years. I assure you that in these pictures I play the same game with Hayal, by changing her fate as I paint her portrait. In every one of her 386 portraits my sister is a happy, contented and healthy woman drinking her tea.
         Hayal who can hear all the whispers in the world, said, “They are having a row because of a scratch on the window pane.”
         The cat stretched and rubbing itself against Hayal’s ankles it passed between us and walked away.
         “Actually”, Hayal went on, “you can’t call it a row. The woman isn’t saying anything. The man is shouting at her. The cleaning lady did it when she used a razor blade to scrape away specks of paint from the windowpane. Her husband had warned her several times that the cleaner might scratch the windows. But she didn’t notice it. She can’t say anything. The baby is trying to turn in her belly.”
         I can see it. The dress that I suppose to be green is moving as if filling with air. It only lasts for a moment.
         “The woman is crying”, says Hayal. Then she repeats herself loudly as though describing a disaster, “The woman is crying”. Jumping up in agitation she comes to the window and stands beside me. Some of the tea in the porcelain cup I know is gold and navy blue sloshes about violently and gets spilt. The hem of Hayal’s long velvet skirt trails in the spilt tea on the floor. She rests her face, now unmistakably that of a mad woman, against the window frame. Her corn-tassel hair pinned up on her head touches the window frame. How can her pupils become so large and her eyes roll so wildly? Is it because they are the eyes of a mad woman? Thank God, her eyes have a bright, intelligent look in the pictures I paint.
         “Her tears are falling on the table. Pita pat. I can hear them.”
Hayal’s drooping index finger, bent in sorrow, hangs in the empty space between us, pointing at Sedef.
         “I am trying to listen to her heart, “ says Hayal. Then she shakes her head as in anguish.
         “Her childhood and adolescence were filled with sorrows like this. Poor, poor woman.”
         After saying this, Hayal froze in front of the window, stricken by grief. For a little while I watched Sedef sitting weeping at the table with her huge belly. The man who had been walking in the ornamental pond got out and went away; a car parking in front of our house smashed the headlights of the car behind. I drank another cup of tea from one of those ugly dark blue cups in which the colour of the tea is indiscernible, and which I couldn’t see even if I wanted to. Then I settled down to work.
         As I have told you before, I am a portrait painter. I paint the portraits of dead parents, bosses people are trying to ingratiate themselves with, narcissists, rich women who are bored to death, and esteemed piano teachers. Nobody has the patience to sit for their portrait. Since the economic crisis, people do not have the money, either. In fact they do, but it has become too precious to spend on things like portraits. People wanting their portrait painted usually bring me a photograph that they like, and I paint their portraits looking at those soulless photographs. Most people want to look younger, more beautiful or in some way different, never as they really are. Not one among them looks candidly at their reflection in the mirror, a pool of water or a shop window from one day to the next. Lack of awareness is a disease that ravages all of them. Even the poor catatonic schizophrenic frozen in front of this window has a deeper consciousness than they do.
         At the moment I am painting the portrait of my doctor. I don’t suffer from a disorder of the prostate or the stomach, mine is a neurological condition. One that becomes a painter very well: achromatopsy, inability to identify colours, a kind of colour-blindness. It has come about quite recently. It got worse as I was finishing the portrait of a woman living in Bebek who was confined to her bed because of obesity, and who inadvertently breaks wind all the time. I nicknamed her “Queen of Farts”. That was when I first started to confuse colours. I can see the colours in a way that is impossible for me to explain, but I cannot distinguish them. It is like knowing what you are eating but not tasting it. An embarrassing situation I found myself in made me realize that I couldn’t resist my illness any longer: when I had painted our family lawyer’s face purple. According to Hayal, the eyes were red. The really prominent ears, that I took care to paint small in the portrait, were lavender.
         When the lawyer found out he insisted that it was not important. “Not important at all,” he repeated over and over.     
Then he had a fit of that instability – perhaps insidious madness – which had led him to look after the affairs of a family like ours for years, and was all of a sudden convinced that I had done it deliberately, and made the remark that caused my mother to dismiss him from our house:
         “After all, everyone in this house is mad.”
         “Madness is honourable,” my mother shouted.
         True, madness was the honour of our family. My father died honourably in this respect forty years ago. He died of lung cancer, but believed that my mother was poisoning him. That was why he refused to take his medicine. Perhaps what really killed him, made him vomit blood, was this suspicion that he could not rid himself of. In that dark room where he waited for death while vomiting blood, my mother would stand by his bed murmuring, “You are vomiting my blood.”
         As my father coughed up his lungs in pulpy fragments she would say: “My blood, it is my blood. The blood that spurted from between my legs the day you took my virginity by force is pouring out of your mouth now.”
         Nurses could not bear all this for more than a week or two, especially when my mother took the damp towels that they were wiping my fathers mouth with, and instead held a child’s dress, so darkened with dried blood that the original colour was indiscernible, to that blood spewing mouth:
         “Cough up your blood on to this. The blood of my maidenhood which you tore to shreds poured onto the skirt of this dress too. I was only twelve. I was playing in the garden. Do you remember?”
         My father did not want to remember and we did not want to listen. My mother’s childhood screams spilled out of the dark cellar and trailed from room to room in the house.
         “Save me!”
         “They heard me, but they didn’t come.” My mother always ended the story of that dreadful day with this sentence. She said that her mother, who was the maid, was upstairs in this room with my paternal grandmother when she heard my mother screaming as she was being raped in the cellar. Her mother wanted to run downstairs and save her but my grandmother stood at the door:
         “Leave them alone, the children are having fun. They’ll keep on enjoying themselves and suddenly they will grow up and marry one day.”
         “It happened several times that day,” my mother said. I didn’t want to listen to this horrifying story, every word of which struck a punch in my stomach; I wanted to run out of the room, to escape. But my mother blocked my way, just as my grandmother had done:
         “Share my agony, listen to me!”
         In the end I learned to listen to this story without feeling anything at all. No, learned is the wrong word: I managed to do it. When I was studying art in London I closeted myself in the school studio for three weeks and painted this story. I remember – what a coincidence – that a headmistress of a children’s home bought the painting at the school’s annual exhibition.
         Whenever my mother starts to tell her story, the image of the picture I painted when I was twenty-six comes into my mind and I still wonder at how I was able to paint every detail without missing out a single detail. A dim cellar, a little girl screaming; on top of her a man’s enormous buttocks appear above trousers peeled down to his knees, rice sacks tipped over, their contents scattered all over the floor, bloody fingerprint on the girl’s – my mother’s – not yet budding breasts. What our Russian art teacher insisted on seeing in our pictures – motion.
I remember this too; the teacher’s name was Vladimir Starov. “Where is the motion in this horrific picture?” he asked. There was inert motion in that picture. The kind of motion that is the hardest to paint. The little girl who was being raped – my mother – was struggling to push away the man – my father – from on top of her, by taking strength from the ground using her foot as a lever to lift her skinny body. She was trying to push away the body leaning over her own blood-smeared body, and seemed to succeed for the moment. Yes, if the little girl hadn’t drawn strength from the ground, causing a momentary separation of the child from under the great body in the act of rape it would have been impossible for us to see the bloodiness between her thighs and the bloody fingerprints on her breasts. This is the inert motion of the picture.
         While I was trying to explain my inert motion in the picture to Mr. Starov, I must have told him – in my agitation I suppose – that the rapist was my father and the victim my mother who was twelve at the time. I think that was why he kept mopping the beads of sweat that formed on his brow, and without commenting on my picture said, “Let’s get on.”
         It was in those years that the desire to change the fate of the things I painted arose in me, in my fingers that were holding the brush. In that picture, there was a chubby angel holding a sledgehammer standing on the flour sacks in the spot my twelve-year-old mother was staring at. As you can imagine, my mother was hoping that the chubby angel with one flap of the wings would come over and hand her the sledgehammer so she could smash in my father’s head with it. But the chubby angel was watching the rape in amazement and maybe even with interest. If you ask me, he had no intention of giving the sledgehammer to my mother. Because he was me and my sister’s destiny. He was only a hope for that moment. It took me a week to paint over the chubby angel with the sledgehammer that I had placed on the flour sacks. To paint an explicit surrealistic symbol in a painting that was supposed to be realistic might have meant failing and facing another dreary year at school in London. My classmate, my beloved Celine, had made a lot of fun of my painting called Chubby Angel with a Sledgehammer. According to her the chubby angel was the man – my father – whose arse could be seen in the picture, the sledgehammer is his swollen cock and balls.
         Maybe I am boring you by dragging out the subject but my mother always started telling her dreadful story with these words: “God had spared me until that day; I had had neither cut, nor bruise, I hadn’t even scraped my knees. Not a drop of pus had oozed from my body. At the age of twelve I was immaculate, just like an angel.” Then she would say something like this: “ What your father, that devil, did to me that day was worse than killing me. All the food in that cellar was dyed by the blood which spurted out from between my legs. First we fought; fought for a long time. I was astonished at my child’s strength. My futile kicks and punches only split open the rice and flour bags. A sharp searing dagger gouged my inside out over the rice grains that were scattered on the floor. I kept screaming even after I had given up hope of help. “Shut up, nobody is going to rescue you anyway,” he told me. But I didn’t stop screaming. Because if I had, I would have heard his gasps, his groans, the sound of that brutish breathing. My screams proved that I still had strength left, that I could endure the pain. This is how my screams burst one of that devil’s eardrums. He always used to say: “That day you ruined my right ear.”
         The purple-faced, red-eyed, strange portrait of our dismissed lawyer was hung in a corner of the living-room, and when a new candidate for the job of managing our financial affairs, collecting rents and handling the tenants in our office buildings, and occasionally helping us to sell some property, arrived, the first question the raw graduate, fresh out of his traineeship, would ask was, “Have you lived in this house long?” This question alone was enough to start my mother telling her dreadful story:
         “Yes, I have been living in this house since the day my husband raped me when I was twelve. My mother was the maid. I used to come with her. Then, after that fateful event...”
         “Would you like a cup of tea?” Of course this question was not sufficient to stop my mother.
         “Be quiet, don’t interrupt my story!”
         “It is not the only story of your life, Mother!”
         “Yes, my life is nothing but this horrifying story. Every life is made up of one terrible story. A single moment. My whole life is made up of being soaked in blood in that cellar at the age of twelve. Don’t interfere.”
         “What is the point of telling a man, whose only job will be to give you the rents he collects every month, how you were raped by the man who was later to become your husband?”
         “This is my life. There is no escape from any memories. Forgetting is not like closing your eyes to something you don’t want to see.”
         Of course I was aware of what other people thought about us who lived in this chaotic three-storied house in Cinhangir, in the centre of Istanbul, where the furniture hadn’t been moved for a hundred years, and the carpets, curtains, floors and paintings stood with the dust of years. A half-mad mother and a sister who is a catatonic schizophrenic. I can guess what is said about me: the crazy painter, sick painter, crackpot. Oh, I know very well that madness is contagious. And what is more, everyone is potentially mad. Our vulnerability to madness depends on our memories, facts we cannot erase from our minds, and of course our genes and deficient proteins. I am as much in control of my mind as I am in control of my canvas and the portraits I paint. But I no longer have power over colours. I can distinguish one colour from another only by giving them numbers.
         Well now, what about Sedef at the window across the street? Is she aware of her life? How did I become aware of this unhappy, pregnant woman? Sedef, who sways in a strange rhythm from side to side as if to music.
         Watching windows is a habit I picked up in London. I watch not only windows, but people. I used to do this in London because I was a shy foreigner there. Out of loneliness. But the reason I still travel to Paris to watch Celine, the love of my college days who lives there, and watch her secretly from a distance has nothing to do with loneliness or habit, that is another story. Believe me, nothing very amusing can be seen from my window in Istanbul. You cannot call it voyeurism because I do it amateurishly, with the naked eye.
         Somehow, ever since the first day, I saw Sedef as a pregnant animal trapped in that flat. An unhappy, restless pregnant animal, walking around in a strange rhythm in that large, impersonal sitting room. From here, from my window in my studio, I can feel her vulnerability, her misery. The day they moved in, she sat in the yellow flowered armchair for hours. She never stirred while the removal men were heaping their possessions in the living room. She was almost as motionless as Hayal is during her attacks. It was obvious that the living room will not have curtains and those horrible reproductions resting against the walls will not be hung for a long time.  
         Today when I learned her name, I saw her outside for the first time. A few hours after that row with her husband she appeared at the top of the street, lumbering slowly along with that heavy weight in her belly, holding those ugly plastic bags. If her friend hadn’t called out after her I would have carried her bags and shown her my own window when we reached her apartment building. But at least I had learned her name, I thought as I walked. She stopped on the top of the street and started chatting with her friend. And I went into the Savoy Patisserie a little further on. I wanted to get some sugared almonds for my cat. I knew what the albino cashier was thinking:” Their cat is as crazy as they are. That is why it eats sugared almonds.”
         If I didn’t say they were for my cat every time I bought them they wouldn’t have paid attention of course. But I used to buy three packets of sugared almonds whose colours I could not distinguish for my cat. It didn’t like the green ones, which probably are peppermint flavoured. After I started confusing colours I also started asking which were the green ones.
         Just as I came out of the patisserie with three packets of plain sugared almonds, Sedef passed me. In a couple of quick steps I caught up with her.
         “Let me help you.”
         “It is not far, thank you.”
         “I know where you live. My house is opposite yours. Please let me help you anyway. In your condition and with those bags...”
         “I must look very pitiful,” she said and held out her bags.
         Yes, Sedef was a frank woman. Right there on the spot she had made a realistic comment about herself. We walked on in silence. The baby was the only thing I could ask her about:
“When is the birth?”
“Very soon, at the end of this month.”
“So these are the last days.”
“Yes, it is nearly over.”
“Are you afraid?”
“No. Who is afraid of childbirth?”
“I would be for instance.”
Sedef didn’t laugh at this at all. It wasn’t amusing anyway. But what Sedef was going to say next was very illuminating. A statement powerful enough to be written in a novel.
“People are probably afraid only of dying. But not in the middle of giving birth.”
We had no idea then of what would befall us that winter. We stopped in front of her building, with a soft evening light falling upon us. The last bright rays of the sun spilled onto Sedef’s shoulders, arms and fingertips. She seemed to be adorned with a divine light. Her coat that I supposed to be grey did not cover her broad abdomen, revealing beneath it her long dress that I thought must be green. But that unearthly light masked everything. I couldn’t help exclaiming:
         “What a beautiful and bright light for a winter’s day.”
         “It must be reflecting off something, probably the glass panes of that ugly hotel”.
         She was right. It was impossible for sunlight to fall on that spot at that late hour of the day.
         “This is fake light,” she said smiling. As she smiled I could see her gums. “That is why it is so beautiful.”
         She took the bags from me gently.
         “I knew, you lived here,” I said.
         “And you live over there,” she replied pointing to the window of my studio. I have seen you a few times. Looking out of your window.”
         “I was watching you. You cried this morning. My sister, Hayal, was upset about it.”
         “I see,” she said softly. As she said it she bent her head. “The one who is still standing at the window....”
         “That is my sister Hayal. She has been a catatonic schizophrenic for ten years. She can stay there like that all day long.”
         “I see,” she said again. This must be her way of expressing surprise. I see, I see, but in fact I have no idea, I understand nothing at all. I don’t know how happy or how unhappy I am. Only, like all odd people, my perceptions are keen. I perceive everything. The people who see me from my window, those who see me crying.
         Poor Sedef. Were such thoughts passing through her mind?
         I asked her to have tea with us one morning.
         “Around ten or eleven, that is the time I drink tea with Hayal.”
         “Maybe one day...” she said. That divine fake light was still encircling her. Without dispersing anything, without even touching the garden gate where the sparrows perched, it only wrapped itself around her thin body and big belly. She went through the garden gate and the sparrows took wing and flew away.
         Hayal wasn’t at the studio window. She must have collapsed on the floor when the attack ended. An attack can happen anywhere, and she sometimes collapses on the stairs or on the terrace in the garden. Because she faints afterwards she has several times had badly broken bones. There are always bruises on her body that don’t seem ever to disappear. I cannot tell their colour any more but I know they are purple.
         I rushed into the house to lay Hayal down somewhere soft. As I soon as I got through the door the cat wound itself around my ankles. As I was running up the stairs my mother called after me,
“Where are the cat’s sugared almonds?”
         I laid Hayal down on the bed; she was moaning in pain. I gently massaged her back and shoulders. Standing motionless for hours left her with excruciating cramps throughout her body. I covered her up and returned to my studio. First I looked across at Sedef’s window. She was holding up a packet of sugared almonds to show me. When she saw me, she took out a sugared almond that I knew to be white, holding it up in the air between two fingers, tossed it in her mouth and smiled. I smiled back at her.
Then I sat down to work. I finished the portrait of my neurologist. I had painted his portrait without a photograph. I have always had a good memory for people’s faces. But my illness might deprive me of this ability, too. Painting the doctor I had last seen a fortnight ago and whom I would see that evening from memory would be a good way of checking whether my condition was getting worse or not. For the moment colours were my problem. I was trying to distinguish the colours with my feelings. The doctor would not be annoyed if I painted his hair green. Oddly enough, red has always attracted me. I could no longer discern it, but whenever I though I was dipping my brush into red paint my hand would burn with feverish heat. Then I would feel sure it was red. Yes, this is red. I still recognized red. That was a fact sufficient to upset me. A fact more painful than remaining an unknown and mediocre portrait painter in a corner of Istanbul, and more painful than being unable to look like Picasso, whom I had had the honour of meeting and befriending. 
         It was a fact formidable enough to make me weep – that red was the only colour I could recognise.

         “I know all the colours. I haven’t got any problems with colours. It’s the letters that I can’t recognise, doctor.”
         “This is a chain of successive neurologic diseases: Faces, colours, letters. So far I have not come across anybody who has lost all three once.”
         “What luck, doctor”.
         “ Yes, I certainly am lucky, you know.”
         “So I am your first patient who has lost his ability to recognise letters. Is it the fool waiting outside with your portrait who has lost his sense of colour ?”
         Arrogance must have been his inner nature. That is why I did not get angry even though I heard him call me a fool. So the famous writer, the first Turkish writer to win a Nobel prize, Salim Abidin, who was with the neurologist right now, was illiterate! Ha! I couldn’t restrain myself, I burst into a loud laugh. So loud that the secretary who was dutifully spraying water on the leaves of the plants in a secluded corner, started in alarm, spun around three times, and then fell to the floor with the plastic spray bottle in her hand. Those inside probably thought I was laughing at the insult aimed at me. That must be it, because there was a short silence. This silence wasn’t filled by the secretary saying that my laugh had scared her either. The doctor appeared at the door and invited me inside:
         “Ali Ferah, won’t you come in?”
         The doctor must have planned to introduce us. If that was not the case, why else would he examine the famous writer Salim Abidin with the door open? Good, that must mean that there wasn’t anything to hide about Salim Abidin’s illness either. Or he really thought that I was a fool, and that was why he didn’t bother.
         I went inside carrying the doctor’s portrait. That is how I saw the famous writer Salim Abidin who had just called me a fool close up. In 1987 he had revealed himself even more to his admirers when he invited the paparazzis who would not leave him alone to his door, where he carried out a curious protest. I did an oil painting from the photograph of the event which did not leave the newspapers’ front page for days. Now it is at the studio, standing among hundreds of paintings.
         We must be the same age, because when his first novel Priceless Margret  came out, I had decided to go to art school in London. Yes, that is it, Salim Abidin was launched as ‘the voice of youth’. He was my age, and while I was sitting there thinking what to study, what to do, he wrote a first rate novel. The novel was on my dying father’s bedside table and what reminded me that Salim Abidin was twenty one, the same age as myself, was my father’s insistence that I become a writer not a painter.
         My father, who by the time we reach these lines has been imprinted on themind of the reader as a rapist, was in fact a refined reader of literature. The nurses who cleaned his shit, gave him his medicine and injections would sit and read to him on his request. But really it was Hayal and I who read to my father on his deathbed and the last book we read to him was Salim Abidin’s Priceless Margret. It wasabout the love between an English girl and a Turkish youth. Fine, but how could my father who had been lying ill in his bed for months, have asked for this book? He usually wanted us to read the classics repeatedly. Hayal almost knew Robert Musil’s The Man withoutQualities, and I Dostoyevski’s The Brothers Karamasov by heart. How could he have come across Priceless Margret ? We read the daily newspapers to him, especially the literary news. There was some sort of sensation connected to Salim Abidin, the young writer of those days. Something to do with the Margret of his novel being his wife, and her dying in a strange way.
         While I looked at Salim Abidin’s strong and broad projecting chin which, as Hegel pointed out, sets the human face apart from the monkey’s, his gaze made conspicuous by the converging eyebrows, his discontented face, I thought of those things and of my father listening attentively while we read to him on his deathbed and of his dream that I resemble the young writer, and when I remembered that that same writer could now neither read nor write, it made me burst into another great laugh. In order not to be thought crazy I felt obliged to explain the reason for my laugh:
         “A portrait painter who can’t see colours, a famous writer who can’t recognise letters. The illnesses certainly have chosen their hosts well”. 
         My explanation for the unwarranted laugh brought an expression to Salim Abidin’s face that I had never seen before. How can I describe it to you: I suppose that the lips slid slightly towards the right, pulling the top lip a bit more. As if he had once again said “fool”. He did not put distance between us, he put a whole world. That world looked like one which an unassuming portrait painter could never be part of. But as a poor wretch who had expended his magnificent talent, learning and culture portraying thousands of faces I could spin that world on my fingertip.
         It would be appropriate if just then the doctor spoke up to intervene, and that is what he did:
         “Allow me to introduce two rare cases that very few neurologists in the world come across.”
         This was very unneccesary. Salim Abidin with his infinite self assurance was sitting straight as a rod in front of me. You had to be suffering from agraphi, the inability to read and write, in order not to read ‘the whole world knows me’ in his eyes. And that was the disease the famous writer, who was sitting with all his arrogance right in front of my nose, was suffering from. Yes, I let out another laugh.
         ”Enough!” Salim Abidin shouted this time. “Enough, there you are sitting right in front of me laughing for no reason!”.
         “But you are very funny!”
         It probably took me a few minutes to say this because I was writhing with laughter. I really was cracking up. That it should happen in my neurologist’s surgery was perfect. I suppose thinking about that made me laugh too. My laughter left me stalled. Luckily my bladder was not full or I might have wet myself.
         Salim Abidin got up with an anger which at that point seemed very funny and inept to me. He slammed the door and left. By the time I recovered I was in no state to go through with my routine consultation with the doctor. So I got up and held out my hand. And the portrait I had done. He seemed to like himself. He kept repeating: ”Good, very good,” he said ”Red hair really suits me.”
         We both laughed like madmen. The secretary who was still spraying water on the plants said behind me: “You soon showed him who the fool is.”
         “I am great at teaching arrogant people a lesson,” I said. I actually winked as I said it. Tonight I was different from how I had been all my life. Different from my true self, just like the portraits I did. I cannot begin to explain how good that made me feel. At one point I thought that I was going dance like they do in those old fashioned American musicals or something. In my youth I painted pictures of dancers in musicals. They really looked as though they were dancing in my paintings. It was one of the assignments that my teacher at the studio in London, Vladimir Starov, gave. A boy dressed like Gene Kelly was made to keep on dancing one whole day. During that period my paintings were the best.
         “Remembering a person twice in one day is unlucky not a good idea,” my mother always says. All right, but what harm could Mr Starov possibly do me?
         After having thanked me once more for the portrait, the doctor told me that it was very important for him to get Salim Abidin and me together for a little chat.
         “It is for a neurology congress. You do understand don’t you. If you don’t mind...” -- while saying this he brushed the collar of my coat as though shaking away invisible dust particles. It was a very effeminate gesture -- “...I will call you and him again tomorrow to try and get you together again. I am sure that you will be more cooperative and tactful.
         “Certainly, have no fear about that,” I answered the doctor. “My father always said that writers are the most arrogant and egoistic people in the world. They think they are the gods of this world, he used to say. As far as I am concerned, what they do is like a painting: it is nothing but an attempt to understand life.”
         My speech was very impressive. If only I had not laughed like a drunk at the end of it. But never mind, when I escaped out of the doctors’ apartment on to the street I felt much better. I put on my felt hat like a gentleman and took a deep breath.
Our famous writer was standing in the middle of the street with his mobile phone in his hand watching the passing cars. Since the doctor insisted that we were brought together, it would be a good thing to apologise now. After all he was our first Turkish Nobel Prize winner whose every book sold at least one million copies all over the world and whose book Priceless Margret we had read to my father on his deathbed.
         “Desperately Seeking Margret was yours too, wasn’t it?” I said as I came up to him. Again it was inappropriate, but suddenly right there I could win him over with what I remembered.
         “Desparately Seeking Margret was on the top of the bestseller list in England and in the shopwindows for weeks on end in London’s book shops. I was a student at the time. I ought to have remembered that right away. We had a very important teacher. He was a Russian: Vladimir Starov. He had read your novel. ‘The second Nabokov is a Turk,’ he said to me. And I said ‘Nabokov isn’t fit to clean his shoes. Because I could not read Nabokov. What’s more every writer who does not write in his own language is always compared with Nabokov, but you are above him. Yes, that is why I opposed my teacher Starov’s thesis that ‘the second Nabokov is a Turk.’ I should have remembered the minute I saw you. Even though I recalled Mr. Starov three times the same day, I only remembered you because I read your first novel to my father. How strange! Please forgive me.”
         “To remember is harder than to forget,” said Salim Abidin. After all he was a seasoned novelist. Standing there he had both the right and the power to make up such a pompous sentence. Was that all? He even had a driver and being happy to be above Nabokov he offered me a lift to wherever I was going. I had no intention of refusing his offer by behaving coyly saying that I was not going far. I got into his leather upholstered Jaguar like a gentleman and leaned back.
         Our short journey started with his berating the driver (“Damn you, where have you been”). Then we talked about what I had been doing in London when Desperately Seeking Margret was a bestseller. In the car he looked even larger and he did not take off his leather gloves. He suddenly became a more sincere and amiable man. Could it be because a humble painter considered him superior to Nabokov? Yes, that could be it. That must be the reason why all through our journey he was preoccupied with certain literary circles having or not having mentioned it. If only there had been an article published about him called ‘Before Nabokov, a Turk: Salim Abidin.’ He had difficulty preventing himself from saying it. But he was a clever man. He realised the trap he had fallen into and said:
         “As you see, those who create a world for others are never satisfied with the world which is presented to them. Writers are such greedy and egoistic creatures, they always want more fame.”
         “That is what my father always said: Writers are egoistic he used to say. They see themselves as the gods of this world.”
         “That was what Margret used to think.”
         This Margret must be the priceless and later desparately sought one. When I get home I had better look up once more what Salim Abidin had written. With this thought I got out of the car and once again I stuck my felt hat on my head like a gentleman.
         My mother says that my sister and I are aristocrats, it shows from the way we conduct ourselves. During that fateful rape my father’s aristocratic blood, not a drop of which was wasted, must all have been passed on to us. The Ferah family were genuine aristocrats. I saw Salim Abidin off from the pavement. In doing that I slightly lifted the hat I had stuck on my head.  
         Sedef’s lights were off. I was met at the door by my mother. She was excitedly reading a piece of notepaper she was holding. Somebody named Oleg Starov had called. He had looked like a lion escaped from its cage and had said that he was the son of my teacher in London, Vladimir Starov. Oleg Starov’s Turkish was impeccable, he had been in Istanbul for three years, and although not as terrifying as my mother’s he had had an unfortunate experience. No, he had not said what the unfortunate experience had been. According to my mother he had listened to her ‘like a good, quiet man.’ There was nothing that I would characterise as bad luck about Mr Starov’s son calling, even though I had remembered Mr Starov three times on the same day.
         A spider’s web had covered the porch lamp like a veil. This was quite mystifying:
         “Mother, please explain: that spider’s web on the lamp looks as if it has not been undisturbed for years. So how does that bulb get changed from time to time?”
         My mother narrowed her eyes which always look like jewels and stared at the lamp. I watched her regular profile, her clear features. As she got older she was becoming like a loveable child.
         “I don’t know,” she said, “It is always Hayal who changes that bulb”.       
         “If it is Hayal who is doing it, she can certainly do it without spoiling the spiderwebs, just like the prophet.
         “As a matter of fact it all started with her thinking that she was a prophet. When she first went into hospital she was constantly saying that in her delirium. What’s more she said to me, ‘Mother they give me electric shocks, but I don’t feel them at all. Finally the nurses decided it was because I was a prophet that I didn’t feel them.’”
         “That’s right, Hayal had such stories.”
         “Her skin and the room we stayed in smelled of roses like all sacret things do. We should have realised then that your sister is a prophet...”
         “Yes mother, if she is a prophet, I am Gene Kelly,” I said and did a couple of steps and turns in front of her as I remembered them. With my footwork I couldhave been classed with. I took off my hat and went down on my knees in front of my mother. During my school years everybody had succeeded in painting this last position. But I could convey the dancer onto my canvas the way he was twirling in front of me. Where did that talent and accomplishment go? I stood in front of my mother dancing like a clown. A pathetic person who had spent his life painting portraits from photographs. And furthermore, now unable to distinguish colours.
         “Everybody thought I was going to be a Picasso, now look what has become of me, mother.”
         It must be my hormones and secretions that were playing a trick on my brain and suddenly caused happiness to turn into sadness.
         “It was that devil, your father, who wanted you to become Picasso.”
         “Come on mother, he wanted me to write. I became friends with Picasso, but could become nothing else.”
         “I haven’t got the strength to comfort you like a child now, Ali. You are a fifty-nine year old man. You have got almost another twenty years before you reach my age.”
         “Can I get a new painter out of me in twenty years?”
         “Can’t you console yourself with what you have achieved so far? You finished school with a First. Picasso came home with you to Istanbul with that Russian teacher of yours. We dined with him.”
         Even if my mother was being absurd, she was doing all she could to comfort me. Feeling unhappy I collapsed into the armchair with the bald upholstry. One of the chair’s springs gave my hip a light jab.
         “You know at thirty if you are half good for anything or not. You don’t do all that soul searching at sixty.” All of a sudden my mother had given up trying to comfort me. That was more like it.
         “Maybe it’s better to always remain mediocre than always be unsuccessful. I would not want to be famous like Salim Abidin either.”
         “What made you remember Salim Abidin?” It was Hayal who asked. She was coming down the stairs and her eyes seemed lost in mid-distance.
         “Do you remember we read Priceless Margret to father?”
         “You even read a book to that devil,” my mother intervened
 “We met today at the doctor’s surgery”. I couldn’t help myself and began to laugh again. “He can’t recognise letters, so he can’t read or write any longer. What a coincidence, isn’t it? He gave me a lift home. He has got a Jaguar that I think is midnight blue, and a driver. What I remember about him is not a whole for some reason. In my mind it is all fragmented.”
“I have read all his books. Proof of Love, The Rock Madonna, Embrace, Venus’s Place, To Cry... If you meet him will you ask if he killed Margret?
         “Right, that is what the sensation was about.”
         “His wife Margret was found drowned in the bath. Desparately Seeking Margret was a story about a writer who got his wife drunk and then drowned her in the bath. He hates women.”
         “The one who loves too much, kills. It was him who wrote that, wasn’t it? Do you remember a sentence of his like that?”
         “Love suffocates us. That is what he said.”
         “Nadya Tatyankova.”
         This announcement was received with shouts at the interior swimmingpool in Paris, where the 12th Watersports Competitions were taking place. It was not only Nadya Tatyankova’s name, but the names of each of the eight athletes of the Russian syncronized swimming team that caused the whole stadium to resound with applause as they were announced.
While Nadya stood at the edge of the pool in her blue swimsuit, abdomen drawn in, one hand outstretched as though expecting to be kissed; left foot, toe touching half a pace in front of her body, her eyes focused at one point, waiting for the music to start, for that magic note; to stretch out like a bow in unison with her team mates, drawing an arc like a dolphin, she thought how unconscious the cheering in the stadium was. As though each one in the team were Madonna. This was a thought that might disturb Nadya’s concentration. She banished everything from her mind. Anyway the music had started.
         The Russian Water Ballet team leapt into the pool simultaneously to perform the Blue Dolphins display. With their blue swimsuits and immaculate skins, hair tightly gathered in tiny buns and, more importantly even their faces seeming to belong to those of dolphins; eight dolphins dived into the pool. There was nothing human about the girls who leapt about in the water with their arms close to their bodies. They were athletes who had evolved into dolphins by working on the Blue Dolphins act twelve hours a day, in a pool which was impossible keep at a constant 29 degrees Centigrade and to change and disinfect every other day. They all smiled like dolphins and their noses had become elongated and flattened by all their diving.
         The money they were given by the organization committee allowed them one meal in Paris. They were half-starved. If only the sweet buns that Nadya had had in her suitcase hadn’t been confiscated in the customs, the whole company would have been provided for. Everybody had made fun of the sweet buns in Nadya’s suitcase. Poor Nadya’s ears went red when the customs officer found the sweet buns. In any case it wasn’t recommended that they overeat before a show. But long before the show, at least for their supper, there ought to be a serious feast for them. But the reality was not like that. Her mother had foreseen it, felt that they would go hungry, and had put the sweet buns in her suitcase. Her daughter hadn’t objected.
         The glamour of Paris, the crowds, the beautifully dressed women, the fragrant perfumes excited them all. Eight girls in their tracksuits strolled around Paris closely together. The lights; it was mainly the lights that impressed Nadya. Cheerful human voices, happy human faces. Life in Paris was moving slowly around her. Nadya could weep for happiness and delight in this floodlight.
         They stood on the Pont Neuf and watched the Seine flow slowly by. If you had seen them from a distance, you would have been amazed. The special thing about synchronized swimming, popularily known as water ballet, is this synchrony which had become intrinsic. They all did everything simultaneously, and I am sure that they weren’t aware of it. As far as I am concerned, their biggest show was the synchronisation they displayed on land. They turned at the same time, moved their heads at the same time, and they all looked in the same direction at the same time. They were oblivious of this occupational disorder. “Most of us are unaware of ourselves. We observe others, but we don’t turn around and look at ourselves. Mirrors don’t reveal what we look like. Our shapes sketched by our anxiety, our insecure eyes, our fearful walk and our voices that don’t get louder however much we shout. A well drawn mouth, profound eyes and shapely breasts don’t make a beautiful woman“. Who talks this rubbish! The company’s trainer Tremendous Petro. Just the sort of thing he would say.
         Tremendous Petro forgot that the eight water nymphs were too young and scatterbrained to think about those things. All they could dream about as they were looking at the Seine was to perform their Blue Dolphins show in those waters on a summer’s day. The teams who became the finalists in this competition earned the right to take part in this show the following summer. They would win a lot of money and they were going to swim their strokes in waterproof swimsuits designed by Yves Saint Laurent. The swimsuits were waterproof because it was forbidden to swim in the Seine due to the pollution. This show was going to be like a dream. On top of that, they would then stay at a pension with full board for the whole two weeks in Paris. Because that organization had first-rate sponsers. All they had to do was to finish first at this year’s Watersports Competition.Then they would all get a gold medal and twenty thousand dollars to be shared among fourteen. Now all they had was a return ticket to Rusia and pocket money that wouldn’t last them even one day. Eight water nymphs just managed to stop herself from plunging plop! into the water with this dream, and left the bridge’s railings simultaneously and walked away. Because it was a case of perfect timing I can see nothing wrong in talking about the eight in the singular case.
         Nadya Tatyankova was the sweetest of the water nymphs, the one with the softest eyes, but at the same time the most troubled. Because her beloved fiancé was in the sunken submarine Kursk. Under the sea, in the dark. This had happened one week before they went to Paris. It still wasn’t known how things were at the bottom of the sea. That is what everyone told Nadya. She came to Paris with this preying on her mind. Her fiancé was at the bottom of the ocean. “Most likely they are alive,” Nadya’s father told her. “The nuclear submarine only sank to the bottom. They are in a sealed box waiting to be saved. Those who fill their lungs with plenty of air in order to live will be saved.”
         During the summers in the Lake Takrisa near Moscow Alex could stay under water for as long as he liked. As you might conclude from this, his lungs were suitable for storing as much air as he needed to keep him alive. The summer days spent on the lake stayed in Nadya’s memory like a jewel. They were the best days of their love.
         “The memory of these days can make a whole life wonderful.” The one who said this was Alex who loved books and poetry. Nadya didn’t think that Alex spoke so beautifully because he was in love but because he was so fond of books and poetry. “You are wrong,” said her elder sister Ludmilla, who was working in Istanbul:
         “You are very lucky, Nadya, he is a very sensitive young man. He is living your love with all of his heart.”
         They used to row on the lake and Alex would do something reserved for the purest of romantics and lovers: he would recite poetry to her:   
The ship sailed into the harbour and anchored to leave no more,
As there was no longer any hope from the wind or daylight,
After the light carried by the dawn had left Captain Eudemos,
There buried the ship with a life as short as a day, like a broken wave.
         Now one summer’s day they are on the side of the lake, shielding from the sun under the shadow of trees during an outing in a rowing boat. Alex has left the oars and lies in one end of the boat as he recites this poem to Nadya not taking his eyes off her. Silence, the coolness of the shade after the sun, the chirping birds and the soft sound of their feet, movements. This feeling Alex calls, “peace,” finishing the poem and having looked around he says, “Peace and Love.”
         Nadya is holding on to this memory with all her might. She doesn’t think of him inside the cold bulk of Kursk at the very bottom of the ocean but on that lake, diving in the shimmiring waters of the lake, kissing again and again as they float down to the silty bottom. In her mind this is the most beautiful picture of the lake. They have wound around each other like benign ivy; there is no other branch, no other root to encroach and entangle them. Just the two of them; their legs, their arms, their fingertips. Alex’s blond hair waving like a wreath in the water, encircling his handsome head. Every kiss is shining silver air bubbles pouring their love into the lake. When their feet touch the silty bottom of the lake, Alex embraces Nadya. She surfaces in his arms.
         “What a sublime moment.” When they lifted their heads out of the silvery water and he said that, Nadya didn’t seem to consider it important. Like all foolish girls she was unaware of the valuable and unique moments of life. Youth is our blindness but age is our wakening. Our spirit has woken up but what good is it to us? How can it help our frail hands, aching joints, unbending legs and weak eyes... Even a frail hand can sift through unique and valuable moments in our memories. I could have equipped all my youth with these unique moments, says the shaky hand as it is performing this sad exercise. Never mind! The worst thing in life is romanticism. Romanticism weakens people’s endurance.
         In spite of Nadya’s foolishness and flightiness she had a sense of the realities of life. She was aware that the memories of the shimmering lake would get old and ugly
after marriage and a trying relationship, like the wallpaper of her room. That wallpaper always seemed the same to her: It was not possible for the lines and whirls and mustard colour to renew itself not having witnessed creativity for years. Because works of art are made with an energy that regenerates them they have the right to exist and to stay on earth for hundreds of years. For instance Mona Lisa has such an energy. All of Van Gogh’s, Max Ernst’s, Vermeer’s, Jan van Eyck’s, Valazquez’s, Rembrandt’s and Picasso’s paintings. Some of those mentioned here are connected to Nadya. On the ugly wall paper which depresses Nadya so much, hang reproductions of Mona Lisa, one of the most common Van Gogh’s and Picasso’s Dreams and Lies of Franco.  
When the mustard coulored wallpaper in one of the two rooms impossible to heat in winter, number seventy-nine on the fourteenth floor of the hundred-flat block of this housing estate of the thousand flats sickened Nadya, one of these three reproductions would soothe her.
         Twenty-three year old Nadya Tatyankova knew that she was going to start a new life with Alex who she was sure was thinking of her inside the Kursk submarine on the bottom of the ocean. Their new life would start in a flat with new wallpaper that it would take her ten years to get bored of. Alex would return from one of his long expeditions wearing his gleaming uniform. What might he, as a husband, talk to Nadya about? What does a husband who works in a nuclear submarine, in the depth of the seas, travelling in darkness tell his wife when he came home?
         “What will he tell you?” said her elder sister Ludmilla, “What can he tell you about his job? You will screw a lot.” Although Nadya hadn’t heard it from herself, there was a rumour going around that her sister was a prostitute in Istanbul. When Ludmilla was asked about the Turks she answered, “ They are in a more pitiful situation than we are, but they are not aware of it.” About Istanbul,” The city is as dark as the seas your Alex is travelling in,” she said.
         The only thing Nadya bought from her Paris trip was a postcard. She intended to have it framed and hang it on the wall as a wedding present for herself. As chance would have it, it was that famous and most well known painting that Ali Ferah was reminded of when he looked at the window opposite at the pregnant Sedef and her husband: Giovanni Adolphini and his Bride. Nadya thought the husband in the painting looked just like Alex. The only function of that masterpiece in its cheap frame on the wall of an ordinary flat in Moscow would be to remind Nadya of the good days with Alex.
         There was a side to Nadya she called the voice of her heart. The god-given power of foolish and oblivious young girls: feeling. She knew that after marriage the loving togetherness spent at the shimmering Lake Takrisa would quickly retreat; with two children and noise, Alex would sit in his vest, swearing at everything, and knock over the kitchen table like her father, an unemployed engineer. Could such a change be expected in the sensitive Alex who had read poetry to Nadya while rowing slowly on Lake Takrisa? That was what Nadya’s heart was saying, but it never advised her to give up marrying. Nadya felt something more, like the fine trembling of butterfly wings: years on when Alex would sit every night at the kitchen table, fed up, annoyed and despondent, hurling oaths at their never ending mashed potatoes and cabbage soup, he would still love her. Like when they embraced and rose from in the silty depth of Lake Takrisa they would comfort and entwine each other whenever their marriage reached rock bottom. Those happy moments would no doubt be very short. On his return from a voyage they would find themselves sitting at the kitchen table, unhappy, dejected and dispirited. Alex would have removed his uniform some time ago, have a three day stubble and be too drunk to wipe off the saliva from his mouth with the back of his hand.
         “That Nadya is a strange girl,” her mother would say. “She keeps saying that her marriage will be no different from mine. If you can believe that the clean cut Alex will turn into a drunkard, I then will believe that you might drown. That is to say, this idea of yours is just as ridiculous.”
         Really! Impossible as it was for a proficient swimmer like Nadya to drown, just as far from reality was it for Alex to be an irritable, discontented and drunk husband. But life has the power to show us anything. That was the sort of thing her father was said. Because of the situation they found themselves in, he used to say: “It is surprising how life turns out”. He said that when he was listening to her sister Ludmilla talking about her life in Istanbul. “Who would have thought that the great Soviet Union would collapse and that one of Yuri’s golden droplet girls was going to serve smelly good-for-nothings in Istanbul. Tell those Turks that if this could happen today to Yuri, maker of all the roads in Moscow, it could happen to them tomorrow.”
         “They are lucky,” said Ludmilla laughing.
         Eight sweet graceful swimming-girls continue their show successfully. If they go on like that, they will earn the right to take part in the show that is going to be arranged the following year on the Seine, and the fifteen-day stay in Paris will be theirs. Nadya’s share in the money that they would win as first prize could help get all the wallpaper ripped off in the flat where she was going to live with Alex. Instead of the wallpaper it could help get all the walls painted in lots of colours. It could buy silver candlesticks. These things might be enough to make the beginning of a happy home. Nadya lifts a perfectly straight leg out of the water. Eight long, smooth legs extend simultaneously, turn in the opposite direction and disappear in the water.
         “You have to hurl yourselves out like dolphins, girls! The audience must think that you are dolphins.” Their trainer Tremendous Petro had said this a thousand times.
         The last part of the display. They have to dive in the middle of the pool, turn and surface. When Nadya dives into the pool full speed, she sees Alex. He stands just like he did in the summers on the silty bottom of Lake Takrisa. He is wearing uniform as though he is inside Kursk. His hair undulates slowly. He waves as if to say goodbye to Nadya. Nadya leaves the show right there, and goes down to the deepest, furthest corner. She and Alex hold hands, they embrace and kiss. Hundreds of air bubbles surround them. They twine around each other like they did on the bottom of the lake. Nadya rises slowly in Alex’s arms. This is Alex, it really is him. Nadya believes with all her heart that this is not a dream. The happiest moment of her life. You do remember what Ali Ferah’s mother, the rape victim, said, don’t you? “All our lives consist of just one moment.” Nadya’s life consists of the moment when she rises in Alex’s arms. When she surfaces she might lose her mind, anything can happen to Nadya.
         Nadya feels the water rippling on her head, can almost see the grandstand and she can hear the Blue Dolphins’ music. Alex leaves her there, kisses her and presses her to his chest and dives quickly down to the bottom. The bottom of the pool gets dark, becomes murky. Hoping to see Alex once more Nadya peers at the depth of the pool. What she sees is a frightening silhouette. The silhouette slowly becomes distinct. Kursk’s terrible bulk, Alex’s tomb, is standing on the bottom of the pool.
         Nadya takes her head out of the water. The Blue Dolphins’ performance is over. The other seven water nymphs have formed a circle in the middle of the pool, looking in bewilderment at Nadya who has ruined the synchronisation in that strange way, and emerging from the water at the other end of the pool.     
         They can’t bear to listen to their disastrous points and the spectators’ disappointed voices. They run to their dressing room without even putting on their old bathrobes with the flag embroidered on the back. Everybody is looking at Nadya, silently and without deviating from the principle of synchrony. Poor Nadya, wet and with water drops even on the tip of her nose is sitting on a stool. Behind her there are metal lockers with open and half open doors. She can’t take her eyes off the floor to look at her teammates. Their trainer, Tremendous Petro comes right up to Nadya. He takes a gentle hold of her chin and lifts up her delicate face.
         “Why did you do that, little Nadya?”
         Nadya finds herself on the floor after Tremendous Petro’s blow. The path drawn on the floor by the blood oozing from her nose and burst lip is so perfect that it amazes Nadya.
         Nobody talks to Nadya. Nobody even looks at her. They are at Orly Airport in their tracksuits and with their hand baggage. It is probably due to nerves that a paranoya that their hair doesn’t dry for hours, for days, has taken over the team. They keep squeezing the tiny buns at the end of their tightly drawn back hair. It is as if a drop of water comes out of it every time. In the cafes at the airport there are televisions, news, Kursk. “It is impossible to save them now.” That is what an official says. People are standing on the shore, women, men, children and seamen are weeping and Putin is throwing flowers into the sea. Everybody is waving at the vast Barents Sea. The text in French on the screen says “Impossible”. Nadya is right there, she says good bye to Alex for the second time, turns around and walks away without looking behind her. She changes her Moscow ticket for one to Istanbul. She is going to go to her sister Ludmilla.
         In the aeroplane she opens her diary and writes that Alex is dead. I am flying to Istanbul, she writes. Then she makes up her own poem. “A person is like ivy, you never know who it will wind itself around/Life is like ivy, you never know where it will climb and where it is bound.”
         She takes the postcard with Giovanni Arnolfini and his Bride out of her bag and looks at it and she notices the painter in the mirror at the back and the writing “Jan van Eyck was here”. Alex was there, she says.     

              “Nadya Tatyankova. As it is pronounced.”
         Salim Abidin was talking on the telephone in the other room. It was a beautiful Saturday morning and the doctor and I were in the home of our famous writer, the Nobel prize winner on the hillside behind Bebek. Excuse me but I can’t restrain myself, again I have to say that it was a beautiful Saturday morning despite the winter, because it really was. Believe me, in all my life I have never seen such a bright sitting room, where it seemed as if the sky took up more space than the earth. The scene had something of the Barbizon School, whose artists tirelessly depicted nature. It was as though we were in one of the pastoral paintings by either Corot or Millet with the horizon drawn low down. The house was on the top of a hill with a view stretching to the sea, neat roofs and wooded gardens. I was amazed that this, which was not a house at all, but a magnificent mansion with a remote-controlled garden gate and a tree-lined drive leading up to its entrance, could be owned by a writer, an artist.
         “So this is where you live.” Saying this, I could not help revealing my surprise.
         “I live in this house that befits me,” Salim Abidin said with emphasis.
         There is no point in arguing about the riches of the celebrated worldwide bestselling Turkish writer, and on top of that the recipient of the one million dollar Nobel Prize. But still, I didn’t quite feel that his creativity merited his wealth. Picasso is the only artist who deserved and could carry off being rich. But he was more than an artist. Like a demi-god, a legend, his name was better known than his pictures, a strange man. Just then it occurred to me to do a portrait of Salim Abidin in front of this house which Onassis would more naturally have owned. He should be standing with his arrogant smile, straight as a rod in front of his house. The house would be a piece of scenery behind him, in a picturesque setting, deep and soft. Margret would be seen washing in a bathtub somewhere in the garden. This fairytale like scene would be set back, seeming as though it were a coincidental occurrence in the picture. The writer’s other women – whoever they may be – might be seen behind their man’s serious pose like little teasing cherubs.
         Salim Abidin was talking on the telephone in the other room, and I was examining the paintings on the walls and the 18th century furniture chosen by others, which stood like furniture does in the homes of cultured and distinguished people with impeccable taste.
         While the doctor was looking at the mantelpiece which, like the photos of Salim Abidin with mainly famous people spoiled the distinction of the house, I heard only the words, “Nadya Tatyankova. As it is pronounced,” as our famous writer finished his telephone conversation and returned to us.
 Salim Abidin did things that surprised me. Like explaining his telephone conversation. Like having those photographs on the mantelpiece which revealed that he definitely did not come from an educated family. But there was nobody like him when it came to acting like an aristocrat in this imitation 18th century house.
         “The Russian girl who was my assistant has disappeared.” Having said that, he pulled out a tiny drawer in the étagère with claw feet, and removed a silver cigarette case. He took a cigarette and lit it. He must smoke from time to time. He did not hold the cigarette between the middle of his fingers, but squeezed it right down between them and inhaled all the smoke. It was just as fun watching Salim Abidin as it was watching Sedef across the road from my window.
“She suddenly disappeared,” he said. Yes, when I paint his portrait he definitely must be wearing a beautifully tailored suit, a tie the colour of which I shall not be able to make out due to my illness, and shoes which are clearly handmade.
         “All her belongings are here. Where could she go without taking anything?”
         “She wouldn’t be in the bathtub, would she?”
         Salim Abidin let out a roar of laughter. He did this because he didn’t know what to do.
         “Like me, nobody can outdo you in arrogance, my friend,” he said.
         To be dignified with a “my friend” by somebody that one hasn’t seen more than fifteen or twenty minutes, and besides, don’t forget, one who last night in the neurologist’s surgery had seen nothing wrong in calling your humble servant a fool, must be one of the highest honours that Salim Abidin could bestow. Our doctor pulled his spectacles down to the tip of his nose for some reason and looked at both of us. He could be thinking that we were close friends from the past.
         “I wish I had drowned her too. Then at least we would know where she was.”
         “My sister urged me to ask you about that. She wondered if you had drowned your wife Margret.”
         “Do you really want to know?”
“It is not me, it’s my sister who wants to know.”
         “My dear friend, now I believe that what is said about you is true.”
         Salim Abidin wasn’t a man to be taken lightly. In saying “What is said about you,” he checkmated me. It meant that we had friends in common. Or that he had wondered about me and gathered information. Apparently things said concerning me were quite sinister. Seemingly what was said about me was neither innocent nor easily dismissed with a “he is so tactless”. Our poor neurologist was trying to understand our conversation as if he were senile and had inflamed nerve endings. He was probably afraid that we would argue like last night, and our meeting which was so important to him because of his Neurology Congress come to nothing.
         “I read that book of yours which got the Nobel prize,” he said, trying to be part of our conversation, meaning to calm us down in his own way.
“The Nobel Prize isn’t given for one book alone.” The winner is the writer and all his works, and even the community and country he is representing. The idea he presents, doctor.”
         A question that would infuriate the writer presented itself, complete with punctuation, in a bright corner of my brain which could not distinguish colours:
         “So you got the prize on account of the perfect murders you have committed.”
         “The carcasses of my country’s history and those in my books have brought me fame and money, my friend.”
         Salim Abidin said “my friend” for the second time. It was unbelieveable. I have never addressed anybody that way in all my life. True, I did feel some affinity to Salim Abidin, maybe for being a writer my father admired on his deathbed, but still not enough to make me use such a personal form of address.
         When the maid - this was a proper maid, wearing a black uniform with a white apron and a white frilled cap - brought our whiskys, Salim Abidin was standing in front of the window looking out at the garden.
         “I walk in this garden in order to think, ” he said. “That is why I bought this house. The garden, or rather my private wood, is very quiet and secluded, and very big. Behind the house is a large garden and forest filled with the achievements of the previous owner, who was a botanist. One hour’s walk is sufficient to get my imagination going to write one page. Whenever you like we could walk together.”
         “But there is not enough material in me to inspire novels...”
         “You know, I heard a very interesting story that you could write if you would like to listen to it,” the muddleheaded doctor interrupted. Let’s only pray that it was the way he had drunk the whiskys in rapid succession which made him like that.
         Salim Abidin waved his hand as if to say “never mind.” Naturally he got annoyed. It was time to get rid of the doctor as soon as possible. And that is what he did:
         “Doctor, don’t let us keep you. At the congress you are welcome to give whatever information about me that you see fit. Probably Ali Ferah agrees with me.”
         I nodded in agreement. Not that the neurologist cared about what I had to say. He wanted to boast about being the famous writer’s doctor.
         “Very well, may I inform the press that I am treating you?”
         “You may do whatever you like.”
         “It is just that I have no knowledge of your working methods after you became ill.”
         “Since I got ill I haven’t done anything. It is a period in which I am thinking about what I have written. Heros come, they sit in front of me one by one, they get into my bed, they talk and talk. For a long time I have been waiting, I have been thinking, but it is as if I had never been a writer, as if it wasn’t me who wrote those novels. Nothing comes to my mind.
         “That part of your brain must get more realistic,” the doctor said. He was floundering. He had got drunk and he couldn’t get his tongue around the words. Still he surprised me by saying what I had been thinking. Or maybe like Hayal I heard what went through his mind and surprised myself. I am not sure. The doctor said something like:
         “Something resembling my drunkenness has happened to the nerve cells that control our creativity. They are all muzzy, they can’t remember the letters, they can’t write.”
         But look what he said afterwards, I would never have thought of it:
         “In that condition it is quite normal that you can’t write.”
         “I am not talking about something physical, doctor. If my mind could create, I would employ a secretary to line up the miserable letters that I can’t recognize. At one point I got so obstinate that I decided to write something, however bad it might turn out. Nadya was a help to me. Her written Turkish wasn’t adequate. In any case I have been writing in English since my first book.”
         “You have mastered that language better than Nabokov.” Ah! With that interjection I won Salim Abidin’s heart once more. He smiled happily like a child, but spoiled this innocence by lifting the whisky glass towards me and then continued:
         “After all, my books come out in English before they do in Turkish. While Nadya was trying to write it comforted me. And now, as you know, she has disappeared.”
         “Where could she have gone?” It definitely was me who asked this. Our neurologist, who showed every sign of having become tipsy on the whisky, kept fiddling with the tape recorder in his hand. He was in no position to wonder about Nadya.
         Once more I became convinced that Salim Abidin was a clever man when he said, “As you see, all women abandon me.” Again he was making fun of himself and once more lifted up his whisky glass in that improper way:
         “I am drinking to Nadya. To foolish and beautiful Nadya.”
When has anyone ever been so easily accepted as a friend by the famous writer and lifted his whisky glass to drink a toast to something? Naturally I didn’t join him.
“Am I going to learn again, or will I remember?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I have been corresponding with some of my colleagues. Only a Swiss neurologist has came across such a case recently. I asked him.”
Salim Abidin got exited. I honestly was quite surprised that he showed it openly. It was as if he was impatient to hear the answer as soon as possible. Due to the poor doctor’s drunkenness the words in his mouth were moving around out of control like the ice in the glass he was holding in his hand. I could feel that in his drunkenness he was struggling not to laugh:
“And he wrote in answer that his patient could live without recognizing letters because he was a Swiss farmer. He refused treatment, saying he saw more of his cows than any signboards.”
Salim Abidin was shocked. He buried himself further into the chair he was sitting in.
Our neurologist forced himself to speak. This time he started by saying, “Neither of you...”. Although I had no hope of recognizing colours again, I listened carefully to him:
“Neither of you responded to medication. Maybe I’ll try another method of treatment. Or maybe it is a good idea to leave the hormones and nerve cells alone in that innocent corner of your brains. In northern Greenland there is a patient we might describe as a native who just like you, Ali Ferah, couldn’t recognize the colours. He responded to treatment and got well. Even though he didn’t take his medication regularly.”
“The examples you have given are as absurd as we are. A farmer who loves his cows and spends his life in the Swiss Alps and an eskimo where everything is one colour anyway.”
“If you made this the subject of a novel, nobody would believe you.”
Finally the writer exploded:
“Such idiotic things could never be subjects for my novels.”
“But in life such things happen.”
         “Life is none of my business doctor. I live to write.”
         “And you can’t write.” This last remark that twisted a knife in Salim Abidin’s wound was mine.
         The doctor’s face was turning redder and redder. The tiny fine veins on the nose and under the cheeks where the skin was even thinner were filling with blood and becoming visible. A complex map was drawn on his face in no time at all. This looked like a conversation that could have continued even without me. I didn’t think I wasn’t being taken seriously. Man creates himself from what he feels and what he thinks about himself. This is a side to me that my father much admired. What I think of myself – though you may not have witnessed it so far – is always positive and good. Maybe that is why I couldn’t become such a brilliant artist. Up until now I hadn’t worried about it, but I think that my illness had moved certain things around in my mind. As I was observing Salim Abidin I asked myself why I hadn’t become famous. Even in this modest little conversation there wasn’t a place for me, as you can see. This also made me feel as if I were not ill.
         In any case I never worried about confusing colours. Maybe thanks to this illness I could finally become famous thanks to my red and purple haired portraits. As you might have guessed I was consoled in this fashion when my psychiatrist – who was the neurologist’s wife - stepped in at the beginning of my treatment. As it became apparent from the way she palmed me off to her husband, she wasn’t exactly dedicated. I don’t want to be rude, but one couldn’t really call the woman a psychiatrist. That’s why she comforted me as though I were a close friend. What I am trying to say is that because of the woman’s amazing incompetence there wasn’t the professional doctor-patient distance between us. That was her talent. It was as if I confided my problems to some woman I didn’t know and received gentle words of advice from her. On top of that, with the filter coffee she gave me ginger biscuits which she said she had brought back from her visit to Scotland, which was nice too. The biscuits from Scotland reminded me of my own visit to Scotland and the misty scenery. Thanks to the ginger biscuits that the psychiatrist offered me, I could visualize that scenery with all its colour. Had I been there I should have been able to distinguish between all the green tones of the branches. I could have explained how the red lichen on the tree trunks slowly merged together, creating a redness below this landscape, the red that in painting we know as Oedipus red, and I could explain the world of difference between that and Matisse red. With the flavour of ginger in my mouth, the only reason I could see this scenery so vividly was that it was with Celine that I saw all those colours dissolve in the mist. In my mind’s eye I saw Celine against the background of that Scottish scenery for years. Oh Celine, English girl of French descent. She was my studio friend from the London School of Art, my first love. After that journey we made when school was over, we fell out. At Victoria Station on our way to spend a week-end with Picasso at his house near London, we quarrelled and separated. That accursed week-end I went to Picasso’s and Celine went to her student’s hostel in Marble Arch.
         In my imagination she is still there in front of that view, in the mist. Years later, I received cunningly chosen and written postcards from her. Three altogether. She never mentioned what she was doing or how she was. I, on the other hand, have followed her since 1969. I know that she married and had two children, concentrated on Orientalists and became the head of a studio where they restore Monets. I went all the way to Paris and secretly watched her from afar, following her like a dog. She didn’t see me, but need I say that she felt the ghost that was right behind her? Maybe it is true, Celine became the grave of my creativity and painting. I do not regret this. But now, carried off into a dream of my Scottish holiday by the ginger taste in my mouth, I missed the conversation in the middle of which the neurologist said something that I too had once wanted to do. Because of the pain of desertion I wanted to kill Celine and myself:
         “I want to kill my wife! You’ve both met her. Don’t you think that she deserves it?”
         The dictation machine that the neurologist had placed on the coffee table and looked like a fat spider with outstretched legs swollen by alcohol recorded the confessions of its wretched owner. I was in no doubt about Salim Abidin keeping everything under his control. If that wasn’t the case would he have turned the recorder off and said, “Everybody deserves to be killed. Now go home and take a warm shower and sleep. When you wake up you don’t need to apologize to us. Read Priceless Margret. It will help you to kill your wife” ?
         I heard the writer’s laugh yet again. He was one of those people who really knows how to roar with laughter. That is a talent too. Most people can’t laugh outright. They have quiet and ordinary chuckles.
         Our drunk doctor set out for home, with the help of the writer’s driver. We watched from the window how he was sat down and how he collapsed in a heap on the back seat of the Jaguar. Maybe we were a little surprised. We never thought that our neurologist, who is undeniably an expert in his field and who ought to be asking us serious questions that would give us the answers that we needed, would knock back whisky that afternoon when he was having a meeting with his two exceptional patients. I suppose I should only be speaking for myself. I never thought. Salim seemed to be ready for anything in life. In his novels he just created worlds and then destroyed them in a instant, so maybe to him everything was part of his novels. In my opinion the writer had one more illness: Inability to separate fiction from real life. Did he live as if everything was part of his novel, and as though he was going to write about it? Or was that my supposition?
         “We are facing an incurable disease, my friend.”
         Strangely, I felt that he suddenly didn’t find the illness important or that he had got used to it. Probably it wasn’t hard for him to work with assistants who wrote down his words. Besides it was as if this necessity forced him to have someone with him at all times. The writer was one of those peple who don’t like to be alone and this situation was a betrayal to writing. Creativity is peculiar to loners.
         “Did you kill Margret, my friend?” Yes, I called him “my friend” on purpose. Maybe it sounded a bit artificial coming from me, but I wanted him to think that I too tried to regard him as a friend:
         “Asking a question for a second time doesn’t suit a genius like you.”
         What a wonderful answer. Being a novelist, it is his right to give such an answer.
         Salim Abidin lives like a hero of a novel. He embellishes his life with small disappointments. After allowing me a small lapse of time in which to weigh his answer he added:
         “That is what Nadya used to say to me.”
         “The lost Nadya?”
         “We could say ‘the Nadya we don’t know what happened to’ if you like.”
         At that moment, something that could have happened in a play took place, when a woman with hair I thought was Oedipus red came in through the wide, fully opened double door. The maid in her wake made it quite clear from the way she stood two paces from the door with bent head looking at the floor and hardly moving, that she hadn’t been able to hinder the woman. The hair definitely must be a colour near to Oedipus red. Although I confuse colours I still recognize red, as I have said. The woman came in just as Salim Abidin finished his last sentence. When she shouted in Turkish with a foreign accent, ”What’s happened to Nadya?” I realized who she must be: Ludmilla. You know, that Ludmilla who thinks that Turks are lucky, and who finds Istanbul dark. I never imagined her like that. That is probably why it was passed off as gossip that she was a prostitute in Istanbul. The water nymph Nadya’s one and only sister, Ludmilla, one of engineer and maker of all of Moscow’s roads Yuri’s golden droplet girls, who for the sake of a good home volunteered for this job – prostitution - and had endorsed it long ago by the colour of her hair. As you see, there is no escaping my cheap portrait painter’s opinions.
         Ludmilla slumped down in the same chair that the drunk neurologist had vacated with an abandon that ran counter to the energy with which she had come through the door, dropping her handbag down next to it. Now she became one of Yuri’s golden droplet girls, Yuri the maker of all Moscow’s roads. It was as if life hadn’t dragged her to Istanbul to throw her beneath lucky Turks, but instead as if she had come to this house which due to its big doors reminded me of Russian houses for an ordinary meeting with us. What was Ludmilla’s real profession? Something like a physical education teacher? Did she have a masseuse diploma too? She might easily have been a well-educated girl who had come to give massages to a rich gentleman in his own country. Just as we can’t know what life will do to us, where, like ivy, it will reach and which branch twist itself around... Ludmilla’s Oedipus red hair’s thin tendrils had twisted itself to dark Istanbul and from there around our nation’s Nobel winning author. She sat there like a child with her knees together, feet apart. Could she scold Salim Abidin in this position?
         “Why didn’t I hear this from you? The police told me!”
         “Now look Ludmilla, I cannot have you come barging in when I am talking with my friend. I can imagine your distress. I want you to know that I have done everything in my power.”
         “You can do it! You can find Nadya. You have presidents for friends. Call them!” 
         It was clear as she said “you have presidents for friends” that she had been to Salim Abidin’s house many times and knew of the photographs with Salim Abidin arm in arm with past prime ministers and presidents when she gestured to that small out-of-the-way corner where they stood.
         “I don’t want her to be found in a bad way. I don’t want that!”
         “Nobody wants that, Ludmilla. In some corner, raped, butchered, made unrecognizable.”
         “Be quiet! I don’t want to think of it.”
         “Bad things keep happening to Russians, don’t they?”
         “Are you talking about serial murders, Ali Ferah?”
         The writer had no idea of what was going on in the world. Or maybe he knew too much.
         “No, one can’t call it serial killing, but even some disreputablepolicemen rape Russian women and think it excusable.
         “Yes, yes,” said Ludmilla nodding her head. She had started to cry and her hand, made conspicuous by the nails I again thought had been painted red, couldn’t keep up with the wiping of tears. Salim Abidin came over to her like a compassionate elder, with paper tissues that I didn’t know where he had found. As he touched her shoulder and proffered the tissue in his hand, he smiled like a saint. Saint Salim Abidin. I could make a portrait like that too. Comforting the crying prostitute, the 21st century saint. Mixing the colours, I wouldn’t hesitate to put a halo around his head even if I painted the hair a weird colour. This could be a good painting.
         “My mother collects cuttings about every rape. That’s how I know the dreadful stories of what is happening to you Russian women.”
         I am naively trying to break to the beautiful woman crying in front of me that her sister will have come to a bad end.
         Our egoistic writer who thinks he can twist the world around his finger asked, “Does your mother have a special interest in rape then?”
         “Yes, she has done it for fifty or fifty-five years if I am not mistaken.”
         “Is she a researcher or something?”
         “No. She has got a private reason for doing it.”
         “Has she been raped or something?” Ludmilla is quite an inquisitive girl, and in spite of my ominous predictions, she thinks that she can pop out of a corner of life which we might liken to a pool and continue the dance where she left off like Nadya did in the days when she did water ballet. This is what must have made her a prostitute; her coolheadedness.
         “Yes, she was raped.”
Salim Abidin suddenly tried to comfort me. He did it so vehemently that he immediately made me feel what I had never felt before, that I was the son of a screwed mother. I was in no doubt any more. The famous writer lived as he wrote.