She had been waiting for him for an hour. He had called and said he’d pick her up promptly at five. He had been delayed several times before; there was no need to worry. He had said he would be careful, hadn’t he?
Two more hours passed. This definitely was not like him. She heard Hamdi on the phone. It had to be Ali calling for her. Ever since the results of Ali’s investigation became public knowledge around the force, Hamdi too had been on edge. She knew he worried for the three of them. It had been a few minutes now. Why wasn't Hamdi telling her to come to the phone?
Then she saw Hamdi come out of his office with red eyes. He passed by her in rigid silence, avoiding her glance. Before she could make any judgment, she saw Ahmet enter. Instantly noting the frozen expression and agony in his eyes, an inevitable terror grabbed her rendering her wordless. Ahmet held his hand out to her.
“You come with me, Sara.”
She swallowed her questions. She didn’t want to think, ask, or comprehend, for all those things seemed so ominous at that moment. Her heart was beating as if it was going to take off without her.
When she got in his car she forced herself to speak, “Where are we going?”
Ahmet had just put the key in the ignition. He took it off again and turned to her.
“They threw a hand grenade at Ali’s car.”
She didn’t know what to do. She had no instructions for such contingency. She detested the way her mind exploded inside her.
“Is he...” Her voice was breaking to pieces.
“No, not yet anyway.”
“His left side is gone: no shoulder, no arm, a piece of the leg too. Because he ducked to his right, his head is intact.”
“He’s alive! That’s okay.” She would take him in any condition or shape. “Oh, please God!”
“Sara, I better tell you now. There’s no hope. He had extensive internal damage. He had the window open. If it were closed, the damage might have been less.”
An inconsolable pain cleared the fog in her mind. She was surprised at her own voice asking questions with relative normalcy.
“When? Who did it?”
“He was coming for me.” She couldn’t believe she was enduring this.
“Possibly. He was alert before they took him in to operate. He told me you were waiting. He said he saw Lame Rifki throw something. I came to get you. I don’t know what happened afterwards.”
Ahmet broke down. He was crying like a child. Then Sara felt the wetness on her cheeks. ‘Someday, I’ll make you cry, if it’s the last thing I do,’ Ali’s voice rang in her ears. ‘You’ll feel so much better.’ But this time he was wrong, very wrong.
Sara knew she’d never feel good again.
Ali was still in the operating room when they arrived at the hospital. She waited quietly, her hands folded in her lap. This whole evening was illogical, like one of those nightmares. Soon Ali would wake her up and they would both laugh. They would both laugh at this pointless lie. She was sitting; she was here but not really. She was out of herself, watching herself. No, this was not happening. Let it pass; let it go away.
Someone brought her something in a paper cup. She saw Ayten hold it to her lips. She didn’t want it. She shook her head. When had Ayten come in? Then she started noticing other people she knew, Hamdi, a policeman and a woman she worked with.
A man in a white coat walked in, checking his notes on a pad. He looked up around the room.
“Ali Soner’s family?”
People crowded around him. Someone pointed to Sara.
“What is your relationship to him?”
‘Everything,’ the word paraded inside her. “I am his wife,” she said.
“He’s being wheeled to his room. You can stay with him throughout if you so wish. But he’s still under and may not come out. If he does, we’ll have to sedate him.”
“Very.” The doctor was making a tremendous effort to utter his words. “Although he’s alive, it would be wise to keep hope to minimum.” He motioned to the nurse who had just walked in. “Not more than two or three people in the room, make sure of that.”
“You come with me, Dear.” The nurse held Sara’s hand.
They walked through a narrow, iodine-smelling hallway with people waiting by the doors on either side. They looked like sickly strays. She was astonished at herself that she could notice such things, that she had eyes for it. Did she have a void in her mind?
At first she did not see him. All kinds of tubes and machinery were going in and out of the form in the bed. White sheets concealed him. Then she saw his face: clean, unharmed without a scratch. One of the things he had taught her. ‘Duck down on your face to the side.’
The scene came alive in her mind, as Ahmet had described. ‘The hand grenade...If the window were closed...’ That broken air conditioner...
She shut her eyes tight and opened them again. Nothing changed. It was a nightmare all right. But it was not in her mind. This one was made to haunt her till eternity, and there would be no awakening.
“Come Dear, take this chair.”
The nurse had made room between the I.V. stand and another pole to which a bag was attached with a tube leading into his nose. He lay so still! She wondered if..., but the nurse would have known it. Surely she would have known it.
“He is under deep. The thing over there is helping him to breathe,” the nurse explained.
Sara nodded, afraid of any sound out of her mouth.
“It will be a while until he comes to. You can go stay with your friends if you want. I’ll call you when he’s awake.”
“I’ll sit here.”
Why would she need anyone now? People meant hope, and hope was the sickest thing in the universe with what she had to face. This time was hers alone. She was adept at grief.
“Would you like anything? I could ring for it.”
“No, thank you.”
No nurse would ever be able to ring for what she would like.
She noticed how straight the nurse’s back was, how calm and methodical her motions, as she hovered around the machinery. Her job had toughened her up. Life was trying the same trick on Sara, toughening her up, whether she accepted it or not. Life was wrong.
“I’ll ask for a cot for you. It is getting late. You’ll need your strength when he wakes up.”
Sara looked at her, puzzled.
“He may wake up in great pain. You better rest,” the nurse explained.
Pieces of information like this, as if they mattered! These things in her memory, for the rest of her days, would scald her, she knew it. She didn’t want to learn beforehand; she wanted to endure things as they happened. Fate had swallowed her alive, and her cries and her suffering would be silent. She felt like telling the nurse to shut up.
It was almost morning when he stirred. She saw him.
“He’s moving,” she informed the nurse.
“Go, sit on the chair. It would help if he saw you first,” the nurse said.
She had started readying the syringe. ‘Pain-killer’ Sara thought.
He moaned. His eyelids moved and closed tight, causing wrinkles on his face. ‘He’s hurting.’ He opened his eyes, bewildered. She touched his cheek. He looked at her, then down, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath in. ‘He is centering’ she recalled. He had told her about it, how to focus attention to relax, to think, or to block pain when medicine would not do.
His eyes were open again, his lips curled upward. She tried to return the smile.
“It was some kiss,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “I thought of it the whole day.”
“Good,” Sara said, feeling heavier with his attempt to cheer her up.
She bent and kissed him on his forehead. His cheeks started to get wet with more drops forming at his eyelashes. Sara felt the tears rolling down effortlessly on her own face.
“Time to go back to sleep,” the nurse held the syringe upward, as she neared him. “The two of you are crying like babies.” But she moved away as soon as she was finished.
“I was careful. I tried,” Ali murmured.
“I know,” Sara answered. “Try to rest now.”
“I tried,” he repeated. “But it wasn’t enough. Don’t be mad at me.”
“I’m not. I know you tried,” Sara touched his cheek. “I haven’t been mad at you, ever.”
“Good,” he whispered, closing his eyes.
He drifted in and out of sleep throughout the next day. He was still trying and she knew it. His semi-consciousness lasted for two more days. During that time many came to peek in, his friends, her friends, their friends. Sometimes she talked to them, sometimes she sat quietly watching him. The dread of what was to follow kept coming and going in her head like nausea.
When Emel came to the hospital, Sara asked her not to clean their flat, and not to put it up for rent as had been discussed before.
“Isn’t there anything I can do?” Emel asked.
“You could send me a fresh change of clothes.”
It was a logical thing to ask, but she found that very hard to understand later. How could she dare to make sense? Maybe, an official part of her went on doing the things she was conditioned to do, like a robot, while her authentic self felt pain and rebelled.
The third day, Ali was wide-awake and was breathing on his own without the help of any gadgets.
“What’s the date?”
“September twenty-six, Friday,” Sara answered.
“Fourth day, right?”
He looked pale but alert, and she was astonished that he could count.
“It is a miracle that he is holding on,” the doctor whispered taking her aside. “Then, you never know...” He shrugged as if all his training had been for nothing.
Should she hope? Yes, for a few more days. She was ready to settle for whatever she could get. Anything was worth hoping for when her life was turned upside down, inside a mudslide.
Luther came to see Ali toward noon. This was his third visit, and Sara noted what a friend he had become to both of them. He was not allowed to stay longer than a few minutes, but Ali insisted that he had something important to tell him, so the nurse gave the go-ahead.
“I want to ask something of you,” Ali said to him.
“Anything you say.”
“Make sure Sara accepts the scholarship and finishes school. She’s liable not to.”
“If that is your wish, I will,” Sara said reaching for his right hand.
Ali squeezed her fingers. She felt stunned at the weakness of his grip. ‘Even this must be a great effort on his part,” she thought. He was securing a sedative for her for the aftermath.
“I promise,” Sara said strongly.
At midday Ayten came and asked if it was okay for Kenan and his mother to see him.
“Sure, I was going to ask for him,” Ali said. “Sara, you stay right here, please.”
Sara liked Kenan’s mother. Despite a hollow sadness on her face, she was soft, pretty and kindly. While Ali whispered something in Kenan’s ear, she stood standing at the foot of the bed. When they were leaving, she turned to Sara, “I wish you’d come visit us later,” she said. “Kenan is attached to you.”
“She’s got to,” Kenan tugged at her hand. “Daddy said I have to take care of her when he goes away.”
“Sure, I’ll come,” Sara walked them to the door. She couldn’t look at Ali at that moment.
Early in the afternoon, Ahmet entered the room with a drawn face. He had lost his seen-it-all expression. ‘This has been as hard on him as on me,’ Sara thought.
“What’s up?” Ali asked immediately. “Didn’t they get all of them, yet?”
“Just about,” Ahmet hesitated.
“Come on, out with it,” Ali said.
It meant so much to him, still. That damn investigation. Sara regretted deeply that she ever had anything to do with it. It should not matter to him anymore; nothing mattered to Sara. Nothing ever would again.
“Enver escaped. It has been three days, but I just learned it. They can’t find him.”
“Could he have escaped to Europe?” Sara asked.
“No way. Security at the gates is very tight. He’s here somewhere.” Ahmet paused for a few seconds. “A door-to door search is on. He must be hiding in a place where no one knows about.”
Ali’s forehead creased. He had to be thinking, figuring out. Why didn’t he ever give up? Why hadn’t she herself, when there was enough time? Sara rebelled inwardly.
Ahmet left the room, saying that he had a phone call to make, if he could find a phone in the hospital.
“We didn’t change the keys to your mother’s place, did we?” Ali asked.
“No, I didn’t get around to it.”
“Does Enver have a key?”
“Yes, he used to have one.”
“Do you have your gun with you?”
“Yes.” She stuck her hand in her bag. “The keys also,” she said.
The unity between them... The common cause... Her reaction of an instant ago was a lie borne out of her grief. She could not swerve back. Truth mattered.
“He’s all yours then. Go get him.”
He was staring straight ahead, as his look hardened. Sara rubbed her eyes with her hands. Her thoughts were exploring the alarming possibility, in case it would take place after she left. She wanted to be with him when it happened. It was the only wish left.
“Go, don’t waste time!” he spoke calmly. “I’ll be here when you come back.”
The key shook in her hand, but she managed to place it back in her bag. She readied the automatic before she closed the door behind her.
“It is your imagination, I heard nothing.”
Enver’s voice came from the kitchen. He wasn’t alone. Sara lifted her arm holding the gun steady. An orange mop head over a raised shoulder hopped out of the kitchen door. Sara’s eyes met the poisonous green flicker in Lame Rifki’s eyes. His revolver was pointing directly at her. ‘Good,’ Sara thought. ‘I’ll go with Ali.’
In sudden panic Lame Rifki fired at her haphazardly, missing. But Sara’s first shot went into his forehead probably through the skull. Instantly his blood began trickling right out. He swayed and fell sideways to the wall. He was dead. The second and the third shots she fired just to be certain.
All fear had left her. Standing in the middle of the doorway, she kicked the kitchen door open. Enver had no gun, and he was cowering with his back to the refrigerator.
“You do anything stupid, I have three more bullets for you,” Sara said. “Raise your hands.”
Enver obeyed. He seemed to be trembling. Sara backed carefully and lifted the phone off the hook to dial the police. The phone was dead. Of course! She recalled Ali calling the phone company to stop the service after Lamia.
She had to get back to Ali. She tried to think of something. If she shot him, it would be out of grudge. If she could tie him, she had to come up with a rope first. Besides, she’d have to go near him.
She heard people inside the apartment. ‘The rest of the mob,’ she thought. ‘He was hiding them all here.’ She backed more until she had the door and Enver within the range of her gun.
“Sara...” She lowered her arm as soon as she heard Ahmet.
“In the kitchen... I have a present for you,” she yelled.
“Did you run out of ammo?” Ahmet asked, reaching for his belt when he saw Enver. “Here, take mine and use it.”
“No, I have three bullets left,” Sara said. “I got the one that mattered. This jerk doesn’t mean a thing.”
“Ali sent me after you,” Ahmet said in the car. “I called for help; then, drove over.”
“You could be in danger like Ali. You should be careful.”
“The same goes for you, but I don’t think so. Not after you got Rifki. The rest of them are mostly picked up. The military rule is strict.”
Ali seemed calmer, slower, nearly emptied out. Sara sensed that his time was racing. Ahmet told Ali what happened.
“We made it; it is over,” Ali said.
‘Is it?’ Sara wondered. Maybe for now, for the time being, for one country, but as long as there were camps for terrorism, would it be really over?
Late in the evening after the visiting hours, “We have to talk,” Ali said to Sara. “Not much time left. You must hate this, but it wouldn’t be much of a living if I could stay, you know.” He took a deep breath in. “I have always felt it; nothing dies. I will be more with you than ever.”
“Could we have done things differently...” Sara started.
“Then it wouldn’t be us. Never regret a second. Our life was perfect.”
“I’ll miss you.”
Sara raised her hand to her mouth. She felt her eyes clouding and tried to stop her tears but could not.
“Remember how, each time we were together, I couldn’t let you go, I couldn’t stop. Remember all the good things.”
“There were no bad things.”
“There aren’t. We achieved something together. I’ll continue in you. When you are down, I’ll still be holding you, though not physically. You’ll feel it.”
A calm came over her. “I’ll work very hard, you’ll see. You have been inside my head so many times... I was amazed. Why should it be any different now?”
“Your resilience, I have always admired that,” Ali said.
The nurse was outside the door preparing something on a cart.
“Hard to tell how I feel,” Ali went on. “But whatever I feel has to do with you.”
“Time to sleep,” the nurse chanted, walking to him with the syringe. He was already closing his eyes when she withdrew the needle. “All this chatter!” she said, “You know, he didn’t say a word while you were gone today.”
Sara awakened toward the morning, as if shaken by a hand. Ali was stirring. She tiptoed near him.
“Let me hold you,” he said.
“She stood on her knees on the floor and wrapped his arm around herself, then kissed him gently.
“Good,” he sighed. “Last year was the best time of my life. Remember our days.”
“And the nights.”
“Yeah, the nights. Especially the nights...”
She felt him quiver. For a split second she saw dazzling bright light rising like a flame over him. She felt it touch her as she kissed him. And she felt his joy, as if they were dancing inside a sunbeam. Something marvelous had happened to him. He was so happy. He wanted her to know it, so she felt it.
Then she saw his face. He was smiling and his eyes were open, looking at her. He didn’t move at all. She kissed him for the last time, then brought his arm over his chest and closed his eyes with her fingertips.