boarding school, terrorism, and something horrible
The taxi pulled to the right of the cobblestone path and proceeded slowly up the hill. A delivery truck had barred the entrance to the school. Around the driver of the truck a group of giggling teenage girls had gathered. The tall blonde girl with gray-tinted glasses hung in through the open window of the taxi.
“Are you Sara?” she asked. “Hi, I’m Melek. You are to come with me to the dorm. Then I’ll take you to the administration. Welcome to dullsville, alias the convent on the hill.”
Sara looked inside the schoolyard. Several buildings stood next to each other like boxes, their roofs touching in seesaw edges. The yard was rich with birch trees with circular benches around them. A flock of pigeons darted into a sudden flight from a rooftop.
“It looks so peaceful now, but wait till the classes start. Teachers kill you, take my word.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Since my parents’ divorce two years ago. Most of us are sent here either out of guilt or for the peace and quiet of the parents. Some like to wash their hands off of us. To which category do you belong?”
“Neither," Sara laughed. “I wanted to come myself.”
“What? Are you crazy?”
“I don’t like to live with my mother.”
It was easy for Sara to adjust to school. Though the curriculum was accelerated, she didn’t mind the work. The students, all girls, minded their own business and did not go too deep into Sara’s background. Most of their time was occupied with school concerns anyhow.
It turned out to be a frigid winter. One morning in early December, Sara woke up to see the branches of the trees bending under a thick sheet of snow. Since half of the students were commuters, snow recess was announced.
Later that morning, Sara was sitting by the dorm window her chin cupped in her hands. Melek had stretched on the bed. “The whole thing is a joke! We only get a breather when the weather is this cold and there’s nothing to do.” She had become Sara’s friend though in many ways the two were a universe apart.
“Once I fell in the snow and got beaten up by the boys,” Sara said. “It was a long time before my grandparents died. They started making fun of me. One of them said I fell just like my mother. I lashed at them. They tore me apart.”
“Some kids are so cruel. What did your grandmother say?”
“She told me to stick to the Shore Road and avoid the side streets. Shore Road was my grandmother’s destiny. She lived on it, died on it.”
Melek got up and paced to the window. “When I go home nobody lets me do anything. I’m not even allowed to own a pet. You have a cat, don’t you?”
“Where did you get him from?”
“From Shile. During a trip with my grandparents.”
“Tell me about it.”
“We were staying in a tiny beach house with lots of stray cats around. The third day a storm broke out. We had to move inland. Just before we left, I heard this faint meow. There he was. My grandmother let me keep him. Shah was so cute as a kitten!”
“I bet you go home just to see him.”
“Well, I go home because of the boy next door. You know what I mean.”
“Are you serious about him?”
“Sara, I’m serious about all boys. I can hardly wait for the New Year’s Dance.”
The dance was on January five. The senior class of a private school for boys was invited to escort the girls. Everything went pleasantly. Sara danced a few dances. Then a boy glued himself to her. While he was holding her arm and making small talk, Sara studied him. Orhan was tall, with windblown blond wavy hair, glassy green eyes and clean-shaven skin. He stirred awkwardly in a pinstriped navy blue suit. She pictured him in faded blue jeans and worn out sneakers. He would be rather eye-catching if not so formal.
“I hear you’re the artist here,” he said.
“Who has been talking behind my back?”
“Show me around your school. I want to see your work in the art room.”
Sara accepted Orhan’s invitation to the movies for the following weekend. They met every Saturday in the park, later strolling by the store windows of Istiklal Caddesi, the main street of uptown, and catching the two o’clock matinee like clockwork. As distant as their relationship was at first, it had granted Sara a new respectability at school. No one thought her ignorant in the matters relating to boys anymore.
For the first time in her life, she was feeling lucky now. She had survived the worst. She thought she was finally grown up and could handle life better. She was thankful for the good things, like Orhan who had implied about getting engaged. She had let him kiss her many times and she kissed him back. Someone decent had entered her world and she felt grateful for it.
Saturdays after her date, Sara took the bus back to her mother’s. The bus stop at Shore Road was a few meters away from the space where her grandparents’ house used to stand. It was now bulldozed and turned into a clay parking lot. Next door to it, with its front porch drooping on wobbly stilts, a seafood restaurant had replaced Osman Aga’s house. All along the street the decaying walls were smudged with slogans in red paint and the stairways were littered with printed leaflets. The Russian factor had advanced beyond robbing her of her family and demolishing the house she had grown up in. It was trying to destroy her country as well.
After the bus left, Sara started to walk toward her mother’s place. She froze at once with the sound of an unexpected deafening blast. A sawed-off shotgun had sent people screaming and running in all directions. A blue Mercedes veered with a screech and boomeranged into a light post. The face of the driver was blown off, and the thick dark red blood gushed from his ears. An odorous gray smoke and the revving engine noise had filled the street. Suddenly Sara found herself staring into the thin face of the assassin: the hook-end nose, gold-rimmed glasses, protruding cheekbones, dark hair sticking onto his forehead from under a peasant’s cap. Brushing her aside the assassin darted into a waiting taxi.
A woman grabbed Sara and dragged her into a store. Once she gained her composure, Sara recognized Madame Arakian’s candy jars.
“ You saw nothing, you heard nothing, you know nothing, you hear?” Madame Arakian kept repeating over and over. “The second you talk, they get you as well.” She slid her hand across her throat. “We live in bad times, Child.”
Sara understood that. Anarchy with crimes of different shades had hit the streets. Where they really had come from, she had no idea. In her mind the worst was started by the Russians: their tankers hitting her home and the other homes, throwing mottoes about, ruining families. She knew Madam Arakian was right.
A woman passer-by led a police officer to Sara as she was leaving the candy store.
“This is the girl he almost tripped. She must have seen him. Wasn’t it horrible?”
“I only saw the victim’s face, I don’t remember anything else.”
Sara was trembling. She had lied without wanting to. The policeman told her to call the headquarters if she could recall anything later and left in search of other witnesses.
Sara felt relieved only after she reached the apartment. She leaned her back on the inside of the apartment door and tried to steady herself. Shah, with his human eyes, ran to her meowing. The feel of his soft fur against her cheek transported her thoughts away from the dreadful images of the street. The cat purred in waves warming her with his playful nudges.
She stepped out of the shower just in time to hear someone shoving about in the hallway. Through the slit of the bathroom door, she recognized Enver’s marsupial form girdling the table where she had laid her shoulder bag.
“Sara!” he called.
“Coming.” She buttoned her bathrobe and walked to the living room.
“Your mother went to Ankara.”
“So?” When was the last time Lamia was around anyway!
“I wanted to let you know.”
“You could have used the phone.”
Enver rubbed his left eye with his finger. “You don’t like me very much, do you?”
No answer. She just stared at him. Enver took a step toward her.
“You are a very pretty girl. You could be an important woman, more so than your mother if you wished.”
“I saw you with that boyfriend of yours. How far has he gone with you?”
“None of your business.”
“It is my business. I made your mother who she is. Everything of hers is mine.”
He clawed her chin, jerking her head up to face his eyes. He looked like a mad dog with his tongue hanging out. Sara flinched. A sense of unreality swept over her.
“I could make you feel real good. Give it a try.”
“Go away,” Sara sneered stepping back.
Enver coiled abruptly. “You will gain nothing with disrespect.”
His sudden slap whipped her down to the floor, the buttons tearing off her robe as she fell. He descended upon her with his wolfish grin, his rough hand covering her mouth. She was choking; Enver was much stronger than she would anticipate. She tried to kick him off but she couldn’t. Then she felt his flesh in between her legs. No, this couldn’t be happening. It must have been another nightmare. Her mind drew back in shock. He couldn’t have been taking her like this, in her mother’s home, behind her mother’s back. No, he couldn’t. He shouldn’t. He mustn’t. A sharp stab of pain whisked through her body. His movements accelerated. She felt him quiver and loosen his grip on her. She kicked him with all her might.
As she sobbed, he fell back repeating hoarsely, “I knew it. You’ve been a good girl. You’ve been a good girl all along.”
She saw him get off her like a buzzard finished with the prey. She felt sick and torn apart. She wrapped her tattered robe about her.
Sara never recalled later when and how Enver left. She stayed in the same corner of the living room throughout the night, in shock, calling for her grandmother.
When daylight seeped through the curtains, she stood up, still befuddled. She tried to clear her memory; to understand if what had happened really had happened. As she thought, her eyes grew darker with fear and pain; her hands felt cold and clammy; her forehead throbbed; perspiration and shivers attacked her body at the same time.
She slowly walked to the bathroom, filled the tub with robotic motions, and stepped in. Several hours later she emerged. Avoiding the mirror, she dressed and combed her hair. Then she cut the bathrobe in shreds and carried the pieces, every single one of them, to the garbage bin.
The lights of the dorm were turned off. There were a few whispers among the girls about their activities during the weekend. One girl was bragging about her new find, a navy cadet. Sara found it difficult to fall asleep. She had tried to be careful but Melek looked hurt, finding Sara rather odd and awfully quiet. Sara did not want anyone to find out, ever. Something she would say or do could give her away. Finally the hush of darkness conquered the excitement in the dorm. She felt herself drifting into the empty night.
The sound of a meek buzz saw... Could someone be breaking in? Absurd! She shook chilled with fear. A hand touched her. Unable to wake up, she went on dreaming about some troubling shapes charging at her. She heard the strange gasps in her own breathing and felt the middle of her body rising and falling like a tidal wave. She felt no fever, just someone shaking her. Cold and wet.
The nightmare ended. She heard voices. She heard the teacher on the night duty talking to Melek. She progressed into a deep calm. The dorm remained tranquil except for the sounds of sleep and the song of a night bird outside.
Melek was mad. She had called the teacher to check on Sara thinking that she was sick, but when the teacher had arrived, Sara had quieted down.
“Thanks a million Sara!” She grumbled in the morning. “Thanks to you she now thinks there is something wrong with me, up here.” She pointed to her head with her hand in whirling motion.
“I’m sorry,” Sara said.
“The least you can do is tell me what is bothering you.”
“Something bad happened to you over the weekend, didn’t it?”
“Something bad happened to me when I was born,” Sara said in a monotone.
“Did you fight with Orhan?”
Sara was silent for a second. “No, but maybe I should.”
“You aren’t making sense.”
“Nothing is making sense.”
There was a flurry of motion with the bell. The students were rushing around to get ready for classes. Sara could not tell Melek. She could not tell anyone. That shame would live inside her forever.
It was past two o’clock in the afternoon. Sara imagined that Orhan was probably getting bored sitting on the bench near the park gates. He must have searched the bus stop many times. Sara had always been punctual. She never indulged in self-flattery by making him wait. This time she was arriving late on purpose.
“Where have you been?” He pulled her to his chest. She felt his surprise when she stiffened.
“I almost couldn’t make it, I am sorry,” she answered.
Each time he tried to hold her close, she backed up and changed the conversation to an impersonal subject.
“Is something bothering you? Did I do anything wrong?” he asked.
“No, not you. I am uptight about the exams. “
What else could she tell him? She knew he would wonder about the truth in her words but would not test her further. He was too well brought-up for that.