Sara tapped the pen against the edge of the ledger. No way could she balance Madam Arakian’s books... The last month’s budget was especially a disaster; her expenses outweighed her income.
“Your mother brought an envelope. It was sent for you. I put it on the table in your room,” Madam Arakian said, stirring the jar under her left arm with the long spoon in her right hand, so the candy would not stick to the sides.
“Thanks,” Sara answered. “I’ll see what it is when we go up.”
Half an hour later, she was studying the address on the upper left side of the large tan envelope. She ripped its edge and pulled out a short printed letter and application forms to the Academy of Fine Arts. She gasped; her heart was pounding. A dream had come through. Still she had another step to take; she needed a paying job.
Istiklal Caddesi, the main thoroughfare in Beyoglu quarter, was bustling. Office buildings and stores scanned the crowd with their pretentious windows. This was mid-city, quite unlike the smaller towns on the Bosphorus. Sara walked along the right shoulder of the street looking for the location of the bookstore. Right across from Saray Cafeteria it was there, Bayram Kitap, with its large banner.
The showroom on the first floor had a glass facade all the way up to the ceiling, displaying the shelves with stacks of books on the inside walls. Two sets of cash registers faced each other at each side of the entrance. The cubicle which served as an office, and the reserved book stacks were situated on the inside balcony at the back. A stairway spiraled through the shelves to that area.
“Do you have a special order we could help you with?”
A pair of gentle blue eyes from a rosy face stared at Sara.
“I am looking for a job,” she said. “I saw your ad in the paper.”
“I am not the one in charge of that. You should see the boss. Come up here.”
The slightly chubby young girl carved her way through the shelves. Sara followed her, feeling light-headed from her non-stop job-hunting for more than a week.
“Taner... Another applicant.”
“Am I sorry I posted that ad! Show her in.”
The boss was a lanky man with dark hair and tense face. Holding a large cardboard panel at an awkward angle, he addressed the blue-eyed girl as if Sara was not there.
“He is expecting me to pay him for this. He made tiny designs on a sales poster. Who’s going to notice this?”
"You need wide bold letters in black on a phosphorous yellow background there,” Sara said.
“Naturally... But what about this? Should I throw this after he’s cleared my purse?”
“It should work well inside on one of the tables.”
“That’s an idea.” The boss now turned to Sara, “Now what can we do for you?”
He was looking at her for the first time. Did he think she just walked in? Who did he think he was talking to before?
“I’m here to apply for the opening.”
“The opening... The opening... Do you know how many people want it?”
“Jobs are tough to come by.”
“Have you any experience? Where did you work before?”
“This will be my first job.” Then she remembered, “I have worked before, up to three years ago. I helped my mother run a boutique shop. Now, I help a candy store owner balance her books.”
“So why did you say this was your first job?”
“I was never on a payroll.”
“What happened to your mother’s business? Did it fold?”
“She expanded it.”
“So? Then why don’t you ask her for a job?” he asked, examining Sara’s face.
“I am on my own now.”
His wobbly head settled back in his shoulders; he was quiet. Sara took it as the end of the interview and set off to leave.
“Good bye,” she said with a trace of anger.
“Wait. Don’t go. How do you know about posters?”
“It has been my area of interest for a long time. In fall I’ll be attending the Academy of Fine Arts.”
“That means you can only work part-time.”
“I can work evenings, weekends, and on vacations.”
“How old are you?”
He pulled a printed sheet out of his desk drawer. “Fill this out,” he said. “Can you start tomorrow? We had three girls here. One left because she got married. One is on vacation. There’s only one left in the store. I am short-handed.”
Next day, Sara reported to work early. The blue-eyed girl showed her to a desk with a small nameplate upstairs.
“ Welcome to Bayram Kitap. I hope I typed your last name right, Sara. Taner comes in a little late in the mornings, depending on who he’s been with.” She said, rolling her eyes upward sarcastically.
“I am afraid I didn’t get your name,” Sara said.
“Sophie, actually Sophia Mikalopoulos,” She giggled as if to make up for the length of her name. “I can come earlier than anyone because I live nearby, down the street before the entrance to the metro.”
Sara unrolled the large poster she had made the night before. “What do you think? Do you think he’ll have a use for this?”
“Put it on his desk over there and see. Beware though, one can never tell with him. Short-tempered guy, to be honest with you. But nice.”
She skipped down the stairs and settled behind the cash register on the left.
The bookstore did good business despite the demonstrations, the Marshall Law, and the shootings on the street. Sara answered the phones, took care of the special orders and occasionally made up sales signs. She tried not to look when she glimpsed a pickpocket outside. She tried not to hear the loud sounds of sudden explosions. She tried not to be bothered by the crime raging through the city.
About two weeks later, in mid July, the third girl –as Taner had put it- came back from her vacation. She was in her forties, tall and flashy. She addressed Sara immediately with a loud bronchial voice.
“Who are you? When did you pop in?”
“She’s Sara, Nimet,” Sophie introduced them.
“What a surprise... “
Nimet tossed her ash blonde curls highlighted by a rhinestone comb as she stared at Sara over the diagonals of her eyeglasses.
“A miracle he trusted you. Oh dear, I don’t mean you, I mean anybody. He’s so picky.”
It took about ten minutes after Taner walked in for pandemonium to break out.
“Who messed up my files?”
“You did. I put them in order my way.”
Sara heard Nimet’s voice rise in crescendo.
“Did you come back to give me another ulcer?”
“Lower your voice, you big brute. You’ll scare the child.”
“She isn’t scared and she is no child.”
Sara grinned realizing they were referring to her. She ducked behind the order sheets.
“Yes she will. You’re a Godzilla.”
“You’re the one hallucinating. Godzilla... Ummph!”
“Don’t worry. You’ll get used to those two. They’re at each other’s throat all day,” Sophie whispered.
“But why?” Sara asked.
“She’s his sister.”
A customer walked in and asked for a rare book.
“Nimet is an expert on rare books,” Taner boasted to the customer. “She’ll find it even if it is out of print.”
With Nimet’s arrival, the atmosphere in the store had become more animated. Still, the mock fights, the joking and all those walls of books couldn’t shut off the outside.
“It’s the Russians. They provide the firearms,” Sophie reasoned. “They did the same to Greece. I have an aunt in Athens and she says so.”
On the street Sara saw people hurt, shout, cry, and kill. At each incident her pulse thundered in her eardrums and her limbs tightened up. At each incident she felt the terror of a distorted figure, the one she kept quiet about, tear into her.
When Sara returned from work one day, the woman who worked in Madam Arakian’s store informed her that Shah had disappeared.
“I’ll go look for him,” Sara said.
“Remember the Marshall Law. If they find you on the streets late, they won’t put the cat in jail. They’ll take you in.”
"I have to look for him. What if he got run over?"
“Don’t worry Sara,” Madam Arakian said. “He’ll show up by midnight.”
“I’ll be back before dark.”
The evening rush into the buildings had already begun. Sara searched for the cat but had to return without him. She stretched on the bed to read but soon the electricity went off and she fell asleep. When she woke up it was past midnight but Shah was nowhere around. It suddenly came to her where the cat could be. First she hesitated but then she tiptoed down the stairs and walked out of the house.
She turned around the corner and stepped inside the gate. The button lit up as soon as she pressed it. She heard the elevator box land with a thump and Enver walked out. A sudden harsh anger grasped her when her eyes met his gleaming watchful, rat-like eyes.
“How nice... So you returned... Let me look at you.”
The door was about to close as Sara raced into the elevator with a triumphant glint in her eye. Through the narrowing slit she watched Enver wipe off her sudden spit. Maybe it had been impulse of sudden mischief, but it made her feel better.
“Yes, your cat is here. Must have climbed up. He was crying on the balcony,” Lamia’s smiled, “I am glad to see you Sara.”
Sara glanced outside from the window. She would not budge until she’d see Enver leave.
“I’m glad to see you too.”
“It is nice you made it into the Academy. Hard to get in they say.”
“I wanted to talk to you for a long time.”
“I’m here, Mother.”
“You must be upset that I didn’t make it to the graduation.”
“No, not at all...” Sara said testily, as she stared at Lamia with icy narrowed eyes.
Lamia made a careless gesture with her hand and shook her head.
“About your staying with Madam Arakian...”
“I’m perfectly comfortable where I am,” Sara cut her off.
“That’s not it. Madam is old and she doesn’t have much. She turned down my offer to pay for you. It isn’t fair to her.”
“Don’t do that. I don’t want you paying for me. I can pay for myself. That is one reason why she refuses your money.”
“How can you pay her?” Lamia asked lifting her eyebrows.
“I have a job.”
“How? Jobs aren’t that available.”
“I got lucky, I guess.”
In the thickening night, Sara caught sight of Enver’s form heading up the slope of the street for his car. She pictured him waiting downstairs for her and giving up. She rejoiced inwardly.
Sara propped the cat in her arms. It was taboo to be out late but the street was empty. She ran on her toes until the screech of wheels penetrated into the night from behind her. She ducked through a gateway and hid. A police car went by looking for people defying the curfew. After it was gone Sara rose again and stood still for a second or two memorizing the cold feeling inside her.
“Not after the dark, Child...” Madam Arakian was still awake and worn out with worry. “You don’t go looking for trouble. Don’t you know the law?”
“I’m back. It is okay.”
“Look now, I’m going to give it to you good. You stay in after the curfew, you understand?”
Her lips parted in between words for oxygen but she kept her eyes steady on Sara. At the end her mouth pulled to a wide smile. It was the most beautiful reprimand Sara had ever received.
Sometime later during the night, Sara heard a thud followed by the sound of other falling objects. She rushed out of her room and pushed Madam Arakian’s bedroom door open. The old woman was sitting on the floor in front of the dresser, with the statuette and the photos scattered around her. One of the candles lay on its side on top of the dresser, still lit. She straightened the candle up to find the edge of the doily smoldering. She pressed out the spark with her hand. Then she bent down to help the woman up.
“Let me call a doctor.”
“This hour of the night? Forget it. It’s my blood pressure. Down again, up again. It’ll go away on its own.”
Sara sat near her on the bed, “The photos, are they your relatives?”
“All my family.”
“What happened to them?”
Madam Arakian averted her eyes hastily. Then she bent forward to pull the bed sheets.
“I have a sister in New York. An American couple adopted her a long time ago. She writes to me sometimes.”
“You pray for them each night, don’t you?”
“I think so. Maybe I do it for myself. We need the prayers more down here. We’re the ones they left behind.”
Sara felt a deep sadness, the old woman’s sadness, hidden inside photos, and contracted by telepathy through the air. This didn’t come as a surprise to her. The drama of her life made her fully qualified to sense things around her.
Sara didn’t leave for work the next day until the woman who helped in the store had arrived. By that time, Madam Arakian had returned to her usual happy-go-lucky self, hobbling around the candy jars.
"BOSPHORUS - Chapter 6-"