Inside the yard encircling the mosque, Sara sat on a bench, her toes pointed to its entrance. This vaulted structure by the water with its minarets tips etching the clouds like sharpened pencils exuded a feeling of authority and solace. Sara looked around. A group of men clustered to wash up around the marble fountains before the ritual of namaz were mumbling prayers through their lips. Their shapes as they splashed water on their faces, hands and feet reminded Sara of flattened grocery bags with only a few wares inside them. A peasant woman in her ink-black chador trailed her steps behind a short pot-bellied man. He had a long loop of prayer beads inside his left hand which he held to the back of him with his palm on top and his knuckles resting on where his sacroiliac would be. The beads kept swinging like a tail behind him as he walked.
Sara had not been inside a mosque for prayers before. 'God's home is inside the human heart. It isn’t required of women to go to the mosque; they can pray at home,' her grandmother used to say.
She hesitated at the entrance. Should she go in too? She recalled the adage, 'One should take comfort from wherever one can find it.' As she took her shoes off, someone tapped her on the shoulder.
“Cover you hair, please!”
The papers in her bag crackled as she reached for her scarf. With a side glance she traced the turquoise, deep-blue, bright-red and lilac flower forms dancing on the glazed tiles. She stumbled, dazzled by the bright colors, but she hadn’t intended to come here for the artwork. She bent her head and proceeded.
“You have to stay in the ladies section.”
She blushed. She felt she was the only one without piety, sticking out among the devout. She sat on her knees at the back row, not quite recalling the sequence of the prayer rites. All facing the mihrab, an imam in his wide jubbah led the group. The woman in black who walked behind her man was next to her as the only other female inside. She uttered prayers through her pale thin lips, kneeling, standing up, and bending face down, very sure of her each move. Sara had learned the motions long time ago but their order baffled her, so she remained sitting, taking it all in. At the end, the woman turned to stare at her, her brown eyes quizzical.
Under the woman’s stare, Sara rocked gently snapping herself to attention. She gazed down at her hands loose on her thighs, her olive drab skirt covering her legs and the proximity where Enver had invaded. The dark muddy thought of never being whole again grasped her. She closed her eyes and whispered, “God, please help me.”
Sara turned away from the mosque and walked into chaos.
“This way Miss,” she was conducted away from the police cordon by an officer.
”What happened?” Sara asked to another pedestrian.
“I am not sure but someone said they held up the bank across the boulevard over there.”
To avoid that commotion, Sara boarded the first bus that stopped, although it was not going her way. The police these days had a strange way of conducting investigation. They stopped traffic and took testimony from everyone around. That was all. Crime was on the rise; this way no one was caught and no one could be caught. She got mad at herself for thinking that. What was the use of being so hopeless, playing the victim? All this was happening because people didn’t talk, didn’t pour out their minds early enough. Maybe it was time for her to decide also.
Sometime during the week, Sara made her decision. Now she had to carry it through. First she had to be certain that Lamia would be at home. She paused, with her hand on the phone; then she lifted it up and dialed.
“Sure, come home. It is the weekend, isn’t it?”
Lamia sounded tired and irritated.
“I have to talk to you.”
“Not on the phone, Mother. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Is this like the time you asked me to admire your handiwork?”
“No, Mother. Please, just for this once.”
“All right. Hurry up.”
Sara almost lost courage. She hadn’t been to the apartment since the attack, and the time away had hammered in that horrid incident more clearly and painfully. She walked up the stairs without haste. She turned her key slowly in the door and shoved it open.
Jasmine Nights... Lamia’s perfume sank into her nostrils. Shifting unsteadily on her feet, Sara gazed at the apartment as if for the first time. The walls were papered in a peach-tinted paisley design, and the high sculptured whitewashed ceilings held cut-glass chandeliers. Heavy drapes hung at the sides of wide windows giving the rooms an elegant and expensive look like birds that could not sing.
Sara’s face tightened when Lamia entered with a jar of nail polish in her hand. In a tailored suit, her childlike face of pearl-white and blemish free skin surrounded by cinnamon curls gave her the appearance of a china doll.
“All right, what’s the hot number this time?”
“I was attacked...Right here...”
“You were in Ankara. Two weeks ago.”
“Why didn’t you call the police? Was anything stolen? Enver said he checked on you.”
“He was the one. It was he.”
“He raped me, Mother.”
“What? Why? Why do you do this? You just make these things up to provoke me. You never liked him.”
“You are questioning my words!”
“No, I’m ignoring them. Enver is a kind man. Don’t throw dirt at him.”
“Mother, please believe me.”
“It was your boyfriend, wasn’t it? After everything I do for you, you try this number. Shame on you!”
Lamia did not look beautiful anymore with her face of multiple expressions, none of them of human origin. In fact, she looked more like a stranger than any other person Sara had ever met.
“Mother, wake up. Later, you’ll regret this,” she attempted once more.
“If you were hurt by whoever or whatever, why didn’t you call me or Enver?”
“I spent my whole life calling you, Mother!”
“Indeed! That’s why you paid attention to everything anyone else was saying against me.”
It was of no use. Lamia had chosen her stance.
“I won’t bother you again, Mother! Someday you’ll find out what Enver is really like.”
The door slammed hard. Sara rushed out in a sudden burst of speed and pain, weaving her way through the crowded streets, and on to the Shore Road’s traffic. She bumped into an old man who stared angrily at her face. She stopped alongside the water. She had nowhere to go. She could not return to Lamia; she would rather die. Is this what had happened to her father?
She blinked at the water. Except for a dinghy, the strait looked undisturbed and peaceful. A few clouds were gliding above. Her eyes followed them for a while, then focused on the billboard over the candy store. She knew what to do.
Sara looked around inside the candy store, not knowing what to say to Madam Arakian.
“I always liked your store, Madam Arakian.”
“Tell me, Child, is your mama all right?”
“It has been ages since she stopped by,” Madam Arakian continued. “It seems like hours ago, but she was even younger than you when she married your father. He was so handsome, and she was such a chatterbox! Madam Arakian this, Madam Arakian that... Are you sure she is okay?”
“She is fine. I just saw her.”
“Come, sit. Keep me company.”
A customer entered the store and asked for a half kilo of cinnamon drops. Madam weighed the candy in her antique scale, making sure not a gram slipped either way. Then she collected the fee, counting the change with her eyeglasses drooping to the end of her nose. After the man left she turned to Sara.
“Time to close shop. I work too hard as it is. Help me close up, will you?”
“Sure, Madam Arakian.”
Sara had calmed down considerably.
Madam Arakian locked the inside door. Then she let Sara pull the metal wings down with the hook-tipped pole. Uttering a medley of complaints about the changing times, she attached the large padlock through the rings and turned the key.
“There... Now come upstairs with me.”
They entered the apartment through the side door and climbed up the steps.
“I remember coming here with my grandmother,“ Sara said.
“Ah, your grandmother! Now she was a saint if I ever saw one. She loved you a lot, too. Consider yourself lucky, even if one person loves you truly like that. You are lucky, you know.”
“Grandmother loved everyone,”
“True, how true! Ah, life... It takes away all our loved ones and leaves you with the garbage.”
She yanked off her black scarf and hung it on a hook behind the door. After wiping her eyeglasses clean, she lit the small gas burner and placed an aluminum kettle on top of it.
“Come, I’ll make us some tea.”
The tea drained with a clear crimson color into the tiny hourglass shaped cups. After the sugar cube melted, Sara sipped hers, the warmth trickling down her throat.
“Something’s bothering you. I saw it right away,” Madam Arakian said. “Do you want to talk? What you say stays here.”
“It isn’t easy.”
Sara took another sip of the tea, raised her eyes, gulped, and fell into silence.
“Come on... Remember, we know each other from way back. Your grandmother was one of my best friends.”
“Enver,” Sara muttered. “It has to do with him.”
“He did something to your mother?”
Sara shook her head.
“Me,” she said in a faint voice.
A serious quiet crept in the old woman’s gaze. Madam Arakian lit a cigarette without taking her eyes off Sara. The smoke rose in between them in curlicues like a charmed snake.
Sara started talking in short sentences, trying to get the facts in their right order. Finally she stopped after she had narrated the whole incident, including Lamia’s reaction earlier in the day. She was surprised at herself that to Madam Arakian she could tell easily what she could not bear to think about.
“That man is going to get his from God. Take my word for it,” Madam Arakian rolled her eyes upward.
“It hurts that Mother doesn’t believe me.”
“It isn’t you. She doesn’t want to believe it about him. One day she will.”
“No, she won’t. I don’t even want to go back there with her.”
“Maybe you better not. If you’d like, I’ll ask Lamia to let you stay with me. I’m alone and there’s an empty room.”
“Oh, thank you so much. I am not going back even if she says no. Not after I’m ruined for life.”
“Ah! Not for life. You mustn’t accept that. You’re so young! You think it is the end of the world. So someone hurt you bad... Are you going to stay where he has thrown you? You have to get up and go.”
“Thank you Madam Arakian,”
Sara was very grateful.
Over her shoulder through the window she could see the boat-landing and the corner edge of the seafood restaurant. To the right the marina, the back lots of the grocery store, and the pastry shop were visible. With a short distance to Madam Arakian’s house, Bosphorus in its majesty stretched alongside the pier and beyond anything man made.
“You are used to better, I know, but with that man around your mother’s, you’ll be safer here.”
“Safer and better. This is just perfect, ” Sara said, looking out the window. “ There’s so much to draw...”
“Cold in the winter though. I use a wood stove here.”
“Great... At my grandmother’s all we had were wood and coal stoves.”
“Yes, I remember. But that’s past. When was the last time you lighted a stove?”
A few minutes later Madam Arakian called Lamia on the phone. As Sara heard her talk, she swore to herself that she would not go back to her mother for there was no going back left in her anymore.
That night Sara lay stretched on the cot watching the lights go off one by one on the opposite shore. The crescent moon winked through the window, its rays shadow dancing on the walls. This compassionate little old house by the water with its candy store downstairs had so much more to offer than any antiseptic, show-room perfect apartment without a soul.
Sara opened her eyes to the sound of a mumbling. The moon had risen higher in the sky, darkening the small room. She looked out of the window down at the street. Among the figures of the homeless sleeping on the benches at night, she viewed the standing silhouette of a man with drooping shoulders, who was either a wino or a lunatic, waving his hat to the strait.
The mumbling continued. Sara realized the sound came from inside, not from outside. She quietly opened her door. A dim unsteady light was seeping out from under the door of Madam Arakian’s room. She tiptoed to that door and gently pushed it ajar. Through the slit she saw Madam Arakian from the back, wrapped in her black shawl, knelt down praying, muttering words she did not recognize. In front of her on the dresser stood some propped up hazy photographs, a statuette of the Madonna and other icons congregated to the wavering glow of the tall tapered wax candles. Sara stepped back pulling the door to its original position. She had unknowingly infringed upon something intimate and sacred.
Next day after lunch, Lamia walked into Madam Arakian’s store with an instant smile.
“You should be coming home,” she said. “This is an imposition on Madam Arakian.”
“Never,” answered Sara.
“Lamia, why not leave her with me, at least for a while, until you settle things?” Madam Arakian implored.
“Ah, Madam Arakian, thank you. She is doing everything to ruin my life,” Lamia complained.
“What a pity,” Sara sneered, “You really don’t need me to ruin your life. Enver took care of the ruining business for both of us.”
“Oh Madam I’m so ashamed,” Lamia put her hand to her cheek. “It looks like she told you the same fib. Please don’t believe it. She has a boyfriend. He must have something to do with it.”
“It isn’t important whether I believe it or not. Sara is important and so are you.”
Lamia flattened her skirt and tightened her purse to her chest. She seemed undecided. Sara took a step toward her mother.
“Don’t ever talk about being ashamed. Coming from you, it’s ridiculous. As for me, I don’t need your approval. Actually, I don’t need your anything!”
“Sara!” Madam Arakian interfered. “Don’t talk to your mother like that.”
“If this is what you want...” Lamia sighed. “Then come to the apartment and get your things tomorrow afternoon. I won’t be there. You may also take your cat if it is all right with Madam Arakian.”
Madam Arakian nodded acceptingly.
“Your tuition is all paid. You can attend school if you want to. That is up to you.”
Lamia looked upset.
Sara’s clothes were packed in three small trunks. A larger trunk had her books and pictures. The maid kept weeping and wiping her eyes.
“Such a nice lady, your mother. And you are leaving her? Just like that! Have you no heart?”
While her belongings were being loaded into the taxi downstairs, Sara clutched the whimpering Shah tightly to her, and after staring at Lamia’s room for one last time, she walked out of the apartment.
The following Friday evening, Sara dialed Orhan’s number. No matter how difficult, she had planned to tell him about Enver. First, she wanted to request that they should meet at a quiet place where they could talk, but Orhan had a different idea.
“I am having a party tomorrow for my birthday,” he said, “I called your mother’s and I sent a card. Didn’t you get it?”
“No, I didn’t. I didn’t go there. Isn’t your birthday in July?”
“We might go to Europe in July. So I decided to have the party now, before the exams when everyone is around. For sure, you have to be coming. Shall I pick you up?”
“I’ll be there. Don’t pick me up.”
Disco music... Dancing inside a brown paneled downstairs den...Copper-coated fireplace with matching side tables...Maid in uniform. The telltale signs of the upper class.
Sara dropped her gift among the other packages on the table. Orhan held her hand and introduced her to others. At one point when her back was turned to the door and she was talking to a girl in an orange dress, Orhan pulled her by the arm. She hadn’t seen his parents come in.
“Mother, Father, this is Sara.”
Sara held out her hand. His father shook her hand, his fingers barely touching her hand. His mother ignored Sara’s hand. She seemed uncomfortable and constantly kept trying to adjust her skirt clinging to her legs due to static. They passed quickly to others and continued greeting the other guests. Sara noticed that they had stopped to chat with everyone else, but not with her. It probably had been her own fault. Hadn’t she stood there like a zombie, tongue-tied?
After a few minutes, Orhan’s parents excused themselves and started down the hallway. Sara went after them hoping to initiate a friendly conversation. Orhan’s mother suddenly stopped short and faced her.
Icicles hung in her tone.
“No,” Sara replied. Not knowing what to say, she asked, “I was wondering if I could use the bathroom?”
“You could have asked the maid. That’s what she’s here for.”
From the corner of her eye, Sara noticed Orhan watching them. The maid stepped in and showed her to the bathroom. When Sara came out, she was waiting for her at the door.
“Never mind them, Honey,” she whispered. “No one is good enough for their son.”
The girl in the orange dress was still sitting alone when she returned to the room. She waved to Sara motioning her over.
“They told me you are going with Orhan. He’s handsome. You must feel bad that his parents are making him go to London.”
“Why, it is only a trip.”
“A very long one, I should say! He’s going to college for four years.”
Why hadn’t Orhan told her that? Why had he watched from afar, mute and motionless, while his mother was giving Sara the cold shoulder?
Maybe Sara had been misreading the signs between them in the first place. Maybe he was just passing time with her. How stupid had she been to think that she could ever tell him what Enver did! Probably he wouldn’t believe her anyway. Surrounded by all the gloss she had just witnessed, Orhan now seemed inaccessible to her.
“Why weren’t you at the prom?” Melek drilled Sara. “Are you out of your mind? You’ll regret this the rest of your life.”
“No big deal!” Sara said. “I’m not into it. Besides, some schools don’t have proms.”
“You are not into it? We had a prom here. You had the opportunity and a boyfriend, and you’re not into it?”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“What about Orhan? Did you two fight?”
“No, there was no fight.” Sara marveled at her own calm. “It was a mistake. It is over. We discussed the situation during the weekend.”
“Instead of taking him to the prom, you discussed the situation? Why?”
“His parents do not approve, probably because of my mother’s reputation. Also he’s going away to school, but the real reason is yours truly. I don’t know why I went with him in the first place.”
“Why? You still don’t know why? I’ll tell you why. He’s gorgeous, he’s rich, he’s blue-blooded. Never mind the parents. Are you out of your mind?”
“Melek, those reasons are not good reasons. The situation here is; the phone rang but the caller hung up on me.”
“You confuse me. Who looks for better reasons? These are the only reasons.”
“I have to make room in my life for really important reasons, not the only available ones.”
“Just don’t worry, okay? I’m sure you can meet someone just as handsome.”
Melek had not understood a word Sara had said. Why did people understand what they chose to understand?
On commencement day, Sara shifted her balance from one foot to another while waiting in the backstage.
“This is dumb,” someone remarked. “Whoever heard of silver caps and gowns? We should have them in black like normal schools.”
“The idea is to get out of here in any color.”
“Yeah, I can hardly wait...”
Walking steadily in tempo to the organ music, Sara walked with the other graduates to fill the stage. The headmistress, her hair neatly pulled back, took the podium. After the speeches and the granting of the diplomas, everyone walked out into the garden where refreshments were served. Sara’s eyes uselessly searched the crowd for Lamia. Madam Arakian’s low blood pressure and her store had kept her away from the ceremony. Sara felt as if she was being nailed to the wall in public. She was the only one graduating without a family or friend.
“Here you are, Young Lady! Why don’t you get your family together and we finish this off!” The photographer caught up with her.
“Shoot me alone,” Sara said.
“Independent, aren’t we?”
As the photographer's mouth hid behind the lens, Sara glimpsed Melek dragging her mother toward Sara.
“Mom and I want a picture with you,” Melek gasped.
The art teacher appeared unexpectedly.
“Me too,” she said, “inside, in front of the art room’s showcase where I have Sara’s work on exhibit.”
Next: " 5. BOSPHORUS"