Sara finds a questionable document which could put her mother in danger.
Sara felt the cooling breeze when she opened the window. Across, under the piercingly blue sky, the lush green of the Asian coast frolicked under the glare of the summer sun. Near the marina a small boy with bare feet was fishing off the dock. One of the pastry shop workers threw a white colored liquid into the sea from a bowl. When the liquid hit the water, it splashed up in an opaque slab but in a few seconds the sea returned to its brilliancy and the boy pulled a fish out of the water.
It was the sweeping, rushing, rolling undercurrent, which had kept the strait dirt-free for centuries, no matter what the inhabitants did. A person had to be like Bosphorus to survive. Beautiful, serene, quiet; yet, with hidden power, not accepting abuse. There had to be a better way to respond than just hating the ones who wronged her. What? Sara was not sure of it but she knew she had to find it.
“Aren’t you having breakfast with me?”
Madam Arakian in her best Sunday blacks was at the door, smiling at her. Sara turned around returning the smile.
“It is a beautiful day. I love the view from this window but I am coming right over.”
“Enjoy the summer while you can. Like youth, it doesn’t stay around for long,” she blew into her palm, “Phew, it disappears like the wind.”
Madam Arakian left for church half an hour later. Sara watched her from the doorway as she walked slowly step by step, stopping to chat with acquaintances along the way. When she crossed the street and took the curve, Sara closed the door and went up to her room.
She took the walnut veneer box she had kept the treasures of her life. She remembered those times as a child when she would create a momentary occupation for herself out of the contents of this very box. She laughed out loud at her collection. An old photo album; postcards; ribbons; a pressed wild flower likely a violet with its purple turned transparent-gray; the fake ruby ring, which her father had given her when she was four; a letter from Orhan written from a skiing trip; a diary with only two written pages but filled with drawings; two candy wrappers of sparkling paper; a heart-shaped locket owned by Lamia when she was a child and given to Sara later; keys of all kinds, probably from her grandmother’s house most of which she couldn’t account for. Sara, however, recognized three of those keys: one for the old boutique, one for Lamia’s office in Sisli, the third for her apartment. She took the last two and tied them together with a ribbon. Then she put them in her handbag. Maybe her mother could use these as extras.
Sara knew the candy store was closed on Sundays but Madam Arakian left the access door leading to the stairs at the back open. One reason was that the only telephone was in the store. The second was, she caught up with some of the paperwork in the afternoon. So she pushed the back door and entered. She groped for the key underneath the counter and upon finding it, opened the drawer. The money was stacked scantily in rows. She took out a roll of bills from her pocket and placed them in the drawer. For rent, Madam accepted very little from her but she was having a difficult time having ends meet.
Just then Madam Arakian returned from church. When she saw Sara inside the shop from the back door that Sara had left ajar, she called for her from the stairway.
“Don’t bother with the store, Dear. I’ll take care of it later.”
“I just looked up the phone number of friend.”
Sara hated to lie but this was a white lie.
“Good, good... You stay in too much. A girl your age should be out more. Why not appreciate this nice weather out?”
“I was thinking about it.”
She walked up and kissed Madam Arakian’s cheek.
“You are feeling good, aren’t you? I prayed for you. I do that every Sunday.”
“I think it is working.”
“Never fails. Take my word.”
She stopped halfway up the stairs.
“Why don’t you go to a matinee or something? Enjoy yourself a little. But be careful. You can’t trust the outside these days.”
“Would you come with me?” Sara asked.
“Ah! No, Dear. It’s work for me to go out, not fun.”
A few minutes later, Sara stood at the curb with a group of people waiting for the light to cross the street. She felt a tug at her skirt and looked down. It was a small boy holding his mother’s hand. He pointed at her with his index finger. “I’m holding you up...”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” His mother slapped him. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
“Please, don’t hit him.” Sara nodded at the boy, “We were playing, weren’t we?”
“All this violence...” the woman shook her head. “It is affecting him. I fear for him.”
She thought of the woman’s words as she turned into the street. Yes, what was to happen to the children?
Sara rang Lamia’s doorbell. There was no answer. She pushed her key into the lock and clicked it open. The apartment was spotless as usual. Her old room looked eerie without her personal items. She thought maybe she would wait a little, then leave the keys on the table. She checked herself over for dust or lint so the maid wouldn’t be blamed.
When she entered Lamia’s room, she noticed a new piece of furniture resembling a dresser. Very odd! Why would her mother need a new dresser? She was never overstocked. Updated, yes. Overstocked? Impossible. She pulled a drawer open.
It was not really a dresser but a file cabinet encased in the same bone colored wood in lacquered finish, matching the rest of the bedroom set.
She glanced through the file headings. She wasn’t looking for anything specifically, yet under Enver’s name, she found an agreement signed by Enver and Lamia and notarized with witnesses. It was full of legal jargon concerning the ownership of the business. It stipulated that Lamia and Enver were partners in general, equally sharing the profits and the risks. Except...How could her mother be so stupid! The agreement clearly stated that in case of her death, Lamia’s total business holdings would revert to Enver. She remembered a conversation that she had overheard when she lived with her. Enver was trying to get Lamia sign something saying that it would be a tax break for the business. What else had Enver made Lamia do? Could her mother be in any danger?
She couldn’t figure herself out. Why did she care so much about her mother? She took out her note pad and copied the highlights of the document as well as she could. Then she put it back inside the file and left the room as she found it. This was the one place she had access to where Enver visited and left his beastly tracks. She decided to keep the keys after all.
Outside, Sara walked smelling the salty sea as the early August sun shone at an angle over the rooftops. Further down at the tiny inlet, where the waters of Bosphorus had allowed a small piece of stony red clay beach where a group of children were bathing, their voices piercing the air. A few of the booths in the market were closed. Most people didn’t work on Sundays but fishermen were the exception. If the fish were biting, she knew she could find them there at any time within the limits of the curfew.
Sara walked by a large tray of blue-striped, bright gray mackerel with tails still curling. Inside the crowded market she almost bumped into a youngster with an aluminum pail of water sprinkling his father’s red mullet tray. The singing of the fish vendors praising their catch kept adding to this carnival atmosphere.
“Well, I’ll be... Why Sara, what brings you here? I knew you wouldn’t forget old Osman.”
Sara smiled at Osman aga as if she smiled at her childhood. Osman Aga still wore his trademark of existence, his knitted cap.
“How could I! I grew up living next to you.”
“Yeah, yeah. Are you still unmarried, Girl?”
“I can’t even think of it.”
“I heard you moved in with what’s-her-name Madam.”
“News travels fast.”
“You fought with Mama, didn’t you? A good fight clears the air, but don’t take it so far.”
Osman Aga scratched his head through his cap.
“You know what our prophet said?” He continued, “He said that heaven lies under mothers’ feet. Don’t forget that. Don’t ever forget that.”
“It is better for both of us to stay apart.”
“Well, none of my business, right? I tell you because your grandpa was my buddy. Come, I’ll give you fish. Take it to your Madam. No hard feelings, okay?”
’Oh, the complexity of humans!’ Sara thought. The town, which had shunned Lamia for her improper behavior, was now looking down at Sara for not living with her. Tradition reigned no matter what.
“So you got that from Osman Aga,” Madam Arakian remarked. “I went to see his wife after she had the stroke, but that was it. I can’t go out too much anymore.”
“I’ll fry the fish outside,” Sara said.
The smell of fish gathered a small horde of stray cats.
“They’re all hungry, that’s why,” said Madam Arakian, dumping the leftovers on a piece of newspaper for the animals. “The whole world’s hungry, and there’s no cure.”
After dinner, Sara read the notes she had taken from the document again. No, she had not made a mistake. The naiveté belonged to her mother.
Late Wednesday evening, while Sara was trying to read a book, she heard a loud knock at the door.
“Madam, don’t open. Let me check,” she yelled.
The nearing elections had fired up the right-left struggle even more. Nothing and no one was safe. She leaned out the window. Was that trim figure at the door her imagination?
“Sara, don’t stand there. Open the door,” Lamia chimed in from the shadows.
Sara ran down the steps wondering what her mother was up to.
“I came to ask you to come back home with me.”
Lamia seemed disturbed like the times when Sara had left her room undone.
“I know how you feel about living with me but...”
“But what? Mother?”
“Horrible rumors are circulating around town. They are saying I’m not taking proper care of you.”
“I thought you didn’t mind rumors.”
“It is different now. I have a standing in the business community.”
“How irrelevant! I’ve had enough of your fame and standing.”
“Sara, talk softly to your mother, “Madam intervened.
Sara made a pitch to change the subject.
“Do you remember Osman Aga? I know you have a short memory about how the town talks, but you should remember him.”
“Sure, I do,” Lamia’s face turned somber.
“He gave me fish while he was reminiscing of you.”
“Yes, he would do that. Coming back to the subject, Enver thinks you should return also.”
“It figures. You are a pushover, Mother.”
“Move back with me. Make things easier on everyone.”
“Now, don’t tell me you’ve missed me. You don’t like the mess I make, remember?”
“This has nothing to do with that.”
“I know what it is with you, Mother. You can’t be alone because you can’t stand yourself.”
“I can take your insults to me but I don’t see why you hate Enver so much. He taught me a lot. He is the brain behind the company.”
Sara expected Madam Arakian to scold her for being disrespectful to her mother but she didn’t. Instead she said, “He put your mother up to this, because he wants you where he can get at you. He is an evil man. He will not stop. So watch out, Child.”
“What can he do?”
“He must have a few tricks up his sleeve. He’s trying the easier ones first.”
“My mother jumps at his command like a dog. Why doesn’t he let me alone?”
“The tastiest fish is the one that escapes.”
“I am sure Mother tells him what I tell her about him. He must hate me. The best is to erase him off our minds.”
“Well, you take care anyway.”
Later Sara remembered Lamia’s tear-filled eyes when she had mentioned Osman Aga. She felt pity for something about her she couldn’t put her fingers on. ‘Unusual,’ she thought, ‘The heat is getting to me.’
That Thursday, both Sara and Madam Arakian received letters. Sara watched Madam Arakian touching the envelope to her lips as if kissing it.
“From my sister in New York,” she said. “She’s asking me to go live with her. See, blood is thicker than water.”
“Why don’t you? You’ll be safer there.”
“ Me safe in New York? With all those crimes there?”
“It is better compared to what’s happening here.”
“This’ll pass. My heart’s here, in Bosphorus. And you are forgetting something.”
“What?” Sara asked.
“If I go, who’ll sell the candy?”
Sara’s letter was from Melek. She had finally met her dream who was six feet tall with brown eyes and danced like a prince.
Sara took Melek’s letter to work with her. She was sure Nimet, an avid follower of budding romances, would get a kick out of it but Sara forgot all about the letter once she started working. Morning had been busy. They had fallen behind their orders as the result of a bomb damaging the post office. Some orders had to be rescheduled. Plus, they were gaining new customers every day. People had taken to reading books since they were afraid to go out as much as they used to.
“Would you help me with the children’s books?”
Sara turned around to the light touch on her shoulder and immediately recognized him.
“Today I came as a customer, I promise,” he said hesitantly.
“The children’s books are over there,” Sara pointed with her index finger.
“What would be suitable for a three-year old boy?”
He was looking into her eyes.
“Picture books, primary-word books, and if someone is willing to read to him, we have a good collection of story books.”
“Well, Detective Ali Soner... What brings you here this time?”
Taner greeted him cordially but Sara could see that he was worried.
“Hello, Sir. This morning I am a customer.”
“Well, then... Sara, take good care of the Detective.”
Taner walked away waving his hand with a friendly gesture.
After Ali Soner left, Sara turned the pages of a storybook. Why would he buy a children’s book? He had told her that he lived alone. So he wasn’t married. She shook her head to drop the thought, but the puzzle kept coming back to her throughout the day.
As they were closing, Nimet winked at her.
“Well, My Dear, you had a very successful day. It seems like you’ve conquered a heart hidden in a blue uniform.”
“Shut up,” Taner said. “Don’t you see? He’s hanging around to see if we are hiding something.”
“He doesn’t need us. He just wants to get the guilty people,” Sara answered him.
“I don’t think he’s after us either.” Sophie agreed with Sara.
Taner had his doubts. “You should hear him interrogate me. He is tough.”
“Wake up, Mr. Wise Guy. He’s after Sara. I know these things better than your married ladies,” Nimet said, gloating in her discovery.
“No, Nimet,” Sara said. “That isn’t the case, but if you want romance, I have a letter in my purse to show you.”
The six-foot dream in Melek’s letter had come to her rescue.
That evening Sara thought of apologizing to her mother for her words of the night before. Lamia now seemed to her like a lost, unruly child who had trusted the first ogre available. The document was ample proof of that.
Madam Arakian thought the idea was a sound one.
“God wants you to respect your parents,” she said. “It is better to build bridges than curse the river. Just stay away from that man.”
Lamia was alone in the apartment when Sara arrived.
“I am sorry I said those things last night,” Sara started.
“I am too. I shouldn’t push you into what you don’t want to do.”
“It wasn’t you. He put you up to it.”
“Please don’t attack him. He means well.”
“Mother, when will you learn?”
“There’s nothing to learn. The whole thing is in your imagination.”
“Let’s not mention him, Mother.”
“I know how you must feel. People resent the ones who replace the persons they love.”
“Who replaced whom?”
“Enver replaced your father.”
“Don’t act so shocked, Sara. I know from experience.”
“I resented your father, because, deep down inside, I felt that he replaced someone else dear to me.”
“I guess I can tell you. You are old enough now. Do you remember your grandparents talking about Osman Aga’s son?”
“The one who was carried away by the undercurrent? They used to tell me to be careful in the water or I’d go like him.”
“We were both seventeen then,” Lamia wiped a tear. “We grew up together. I loved him like no one else.”
“Mother, I had no idea.”
“Your grandmother made me marry your father. She was worried I’d die of grief or end up as a spinster.”
“What about Enver?”
“He is different. He has seen me through everything.”
Sara sat near her mother and circled her arms around her shoulders.