The beginning of the fictionalized story of a woman I met while in Istanbul.
Sara tossed the blanket off. Half awake she forced herself up and shivering, got into her robe and slippers. Electricity was out. Her cat was whining in terror through the hoarse blare of the foghorns. She called him from the bedroom door, but Shah’s meows only grew louder. That silly cat! What had gotten into him?
Sara sidled down the stairs grasping onto the banister. The stairs creaked under her as she fumbled for the animal. A smell of cedar filled her nostrils. The stairs were scrubbed clean and old wooden houses always smelled of pungent cedar after getting scrubbed.
There was an alien glow flaring to the left of the house. As she opened the side door to inspect, a hollow rumble shook the building from its foundation. “An earthquake?” she wondered. Istanbul was in the earthquake zone but it was two years ago last when they had a slight one and only some windows were broken then.
Abruptly, several threatening tremors went through her body as the wooden house creaked and writhed in agony. What was happening? She tried to keep her balance but couldn’t. She yelled for her cat, for her family, and for her own life, her screams blending into an awful monstrous sound. What was this gruesome thing? A nightmare?
A thunderous blast! Flashing of a bright headlight, a monstrous steel blade drove into the wood planks of the house. As a deafening series of clangs and rattles mixed with her shrieks, Sara was thrust into a sudden vacuum and out through the open door.
A streak of daylight, then a glimmer... Her forehead throbbing... She heard the shuffle of feet and some fragments of a conversation. Blurred images of sunken faces and swollen eyes as she was going in and out of consciousness...
“She’s awake!” The head of a woman with a white cap in front of her eyes...
“I’m your nurse.”
“What happened?” Sara’s voice was feeble.
“Russian Tanker! She ran into your house in the fog.”
“How many times is it now, idiots! Damned Russians!” an unknown voice said angrily.
“Shah’s all right! I have him.” This was her mother.
Sara felt a needle pierce through her. “Don’t try to talk,“ the nurse instructed her. “You were a very lucky girl. You sleep now, okay?”
Sara woke up to the rustle of curtains in the breeze. Wide-awake, she touched the thick bandage on her head. It didn’t hurt.
“You slept almost thirty-six hours.”
The nurse poured something liquid into a paper cup and held it to Sara’s lips. The bitter impact of the medicine jolted her memory.
The nurse hesitated. Then, her voice wavering, she answered her.
“It is said that their bedroom was in front of the house. The impact must have been sudden. I don’t think they suffered at all. Your mother is at the funeral now. May you live forever instead!”
Sara lifted her head. A sharp rage had started to burn in her increasingly, working its way up through the layers of her skin to the corners of her mouth.
“That’s a lie!” she flared.
The nurse sat near the bed, now wordless, and held Sara’s young trembling hand in hers. Sara shivered as a wild twisting ache surged up in the middle of her chest. She would not cry. She could not cry. She was too angry to cry. She lay in that hospital bed for days, rigid, her memory sloping backwards. She recalled her grandparents, her childhood, those things people hushed others about, and even the memories hidden in some darkest corner of her mind. She longed for her grandmother’s hands braiding her dark brown tresses before she had them cut when she had turned fifteen. Yes, her grandparents. She moaned. She always considered them to be her only family and now they were gone.
Her grandparents’ house had been her only home even before her father’s “accident”. With its green shutters flapping about with the wind, the double-hung windows, the red brick shingles over the ridge of the roof and the ripples of the sea lapping at its cement porch, the house, that house had resettled something inside her. Something that was disconcerted, broken, hurt, ripped apart.
Then she remembered her other grandmother, her father’s mother, and the last time she had seen her, swaddled in a black coat and scarf, weeping. A roomful of people...
“He’s in the morgue,” she had come to inform them. “They spotted the clothes he left by the shore. His ID was in his shirt pocket. Divers found him later. His head was caught between the rocks.”
“He might have been swimming.” Flitting his thick scraggly eyebrows Grandfather had tried to cover up. Sara’s maternal grandparents had a knack for not facing that reality. Doing away with oneself was a forbidden thing.
“The current is impossible there. He knew the risk.”
“Sarayburnu and suicides...The current takes most out into the open sea.”
Wiping her tears with the edge of her scarf, “Someone take the child away, please,” her father’s mother had said. “She’s only eight.”
“She shouldn’t be hearing this!” Someone else had said.
“I say she stays,” had hissed Lamia, Sara’s mother. “She should know what a sinner her father was!”
“Allah have mercy on his soul!” Everyone had muttered.
Days later, Sara had begged her grandmother, “Tell me the truth about it. Father, I mean.”
“He died Sara. It is destiny.”
“But why? I heard everything. You are not telling me why.”
“It was meant to be.”
“No, it wasn’t. He killed himself and I know why,” Sara had drawn herself in between her grandmother’s knees, sobbing. “It is my fault. All my fault. I wasn’t nice. I ran away when he came to see me. I didn’t play with him enough.” That had been the last time Sara ever wept for anything.
The nurse was gone when she opened her eyes. Enver and his wife were in the room with Lamia. Small wonder! All through her teenage years she had been protected by her grandparents from people like these. And now... ‘Now what?’ she asked herself.
“I’m so sorry, Lamia,” Enver’s wife was saying to Sara’s mother. “Your daughter was so close to your parents... She is such a pretty young thing. To think that she had to go through this...”
“Well, at last she will live with her mother now. A long time ago, Lamia had a bedroom decorated for her, all in pink. Sara didn’t want to live with her,” Enver said.
Sara hated pink. She hated that bedroom. She hated all the girlie things her mother had pushed on her but more than anything, she hated her mother and that scared Sara the most. Her revulsion toward her mother had taken root the day Lamia introduced her daughter to Enver and his wife.
One day by the waterfront, Lamia and Sara ran into them when they had stopped for ice cream. Those were the good days when her mother still lived at home with Sara and her grandparents. Those days Sara and Lamia would do things together like going for walks, shopping, and hanging around by the beach. That day she assumed her mother knew these people through her work. The wife was lamenting over the difficulty of finding efficient domestic help. Her first sight of this woman shocked Sara. She kept staring at her huge flaccid arms and her mammoth breasts flowing out of a low-cut dress. She averted her eyes only after Lamia pinched her. As soon as the couple walked away, Sara turned to take another look at her, but instead she caught Enver ogling Lamia. She also caught Lamia’s suddenly developed conspicuous swing as they walked on. She knew something was amiss right then.
On account of his wife, Sara hadn’t noticed Enver very well that day. On later occasions when she could observe him, she likened him to a kangaroo probably only because of his stance and that he kept bobbing his head. He had a belly like a built-in table which pulled him forward. His eyes though were animated and searching and he was always nice to Sara. Yet there was something about him that made her blood chill when he pinched her cheek or patted her hair commenting how tall she was growing.
Lamia had opened a boutique after her husband’s death, where she sold some odd pieces of clothing, turquoise studded jewelry and colorful bead necklaces. One day Lamia left Sara in the store to run an errand.
“I won’t be able to see you tonight, Lamia.” Recognizing the deep coarse voice, Sara twisted around from the ladder on which she was tidying up the top shelves. “You look so much like your mother from the back,” Enver drawled awkwardly.
“I was going to see her about a supplier of course,” he attempted to explain but his eyebrows had been raised along a straight line across his shiny forehead, as if signaling something contradictory.
Sara pointed to the wooden stools and told him to wait. Hesitantly Enver lowered himself aligning his middle with the center of the chair. Sara smiled at the thought that, with his buttocks pouring over the seat, Enver resembled a bosc pear. Then she remembered something. Hadn’t her mother told her that she would be sleeping over at her aunt’s that night?
Few minutes later, with the sunlight flickering off her cinnamon curls, Lamia strolled in with a brown grocery bag. She was always a dazzling woman but she appeared more so at that moment as her knit magenta dress floated with the ebb and flow of her figure.
“It is so nice to have a breeze,” she cooed. “Let’s have something cool. I have some Fruko here.” She set the soda bottles on the counter.
“Sara dear, run up to Madam Arakian and borrow us some glasses, will you?”
Madam Arakian was the old Armenian widow who ran a candy store. Her black outfit contrasted the bright glittering colors of the hard candy in large glass jars. She kept a makeshift kitchen at the back of her store since she was trying to avoid so many trips up the stairs to her flat.
When Sara returned with a piece of taffy tucked in between her gums, Enver was gone, and Lamia was trying to justify the price of a peach colored jersey shirt to a customer. The customer walked out empty-handed.
Sara had asked abruptly, “Are you going out tonight?”
“I’ll stay home with you. I changed my mind.”
Sara had caught the big one, the mother’s lie. Lamia was pressing her lips together. She studied her mother with the bluntness of a prosecutor.
“Enver said he couldn’t meet you either.”
“He probably wanted to buy a gift for his wife,” Lamia had answered unruffled.
“That was not what he said.”
“What did he say?”
Lamia wiggled on her seat, unsettled.
Several months later Lamia dropped the bomb. She announced that she made arrangements to move out of her parents’ house.
“I found an apartment. The store is doing well. I would like to have a place of my own.”
By the end of that winter Lamia had started to openly welcome Enver almost every night. Sara had chosen to stay with her grandparents. She loathed that apartment.
Gossip never bothered her mother. She needed nobody’s help, approval or sympathy; she devised her own style. Strangely enough, Enver’s wife gave the impression to be very comfortable with the arrangement. At least, Sara heard her rationalize; she would know where Enver would be. Wasn’t it allowed to have four wives in the good book anyway?
Now here they were, in her hospital room, three partners in an enterprise. Sara closed her eyes. There was no point in pretending. She could never be their ally; she could not even turn into a former adversary. She detested them all.
“Visiting hours are over. Say goodbye to your mother.” The nurse touched her shoulder gently as if she was breakable.
Lamia, Enver and the wife walked out of the room in a cluster.
“Don’t you like your mother’s friends?”
“I fell asleep.”
“We both know better, don’t we?”
“Nurses have devilish grins, “ Sara muttered.
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