To think that Lamia had a part, any part, in the murders, the robberies, the hunger, and the despair sweeping the country... Sara could not bring herself to visit her mother for days.
Madam Arakian was elated. She liked the pleasant young man who had brought Sara home late Monday night. Sara did not know what to do with her enthusiasm.
“Your grandmother would be so pleased. Such a warm nice man. Looks straight at a person. Not a speck of ill will in him. I knew you’d come up with someone like him.”
“It is not what you think, Madam Arakian.”
“Then, what is it? What else is there?”
“He is my friend. That’s all.”
“Ah... These matters of the heart! Why is it that you people today rename things?”
Late Friday evening, Ali came to the bookstore. All but Nimet had left. Sara was working at her desk when he knocked under the ‘closed’ sign. Nimet called her with her singsong voice.
“Here’s your young man, Sara.”
Nimet had a way of making things so complicated. How embarrassing!
“Am I glad to see you,” Nimet told Ali. “This poor girl here has been brooding for days.”
“It is good to be wanted,” Ali answered her, smiling. Then he sat on a chair to wait for Sara.
“Leave that to me and go with him,” Nimet pushed Sara out of her desk.
“He said he would wait. Besides, it’s my work. I have to finish it.”
“I’ll trade with you some of mine another day, okay?”
Sara agreed. An argument would have taken up more time and Nimet wanted to help.
Sara drew into her coat tightly. Cool fall weather had slapped the city. One never knew what to expect from the weather or anything else these days. Ali was talking about a wounded American caught between the police fire and the terrorists some days ago. As an unspoken rule, they did not discuss the mutual project on the street.
Ali seemed to be on the alert as he held the door of the car while she sat. She watched him pause slightly when he rounded around the car with his hand inside his jacket. Then she spotted a man on the sidewalk across. He was walking with his right shoulder raised and turning at the hips to glance toward them. She slid over the front seat and opened the car door for Ali from the inside. A frown had lodged between Ali’s eyebrows as he turned on the ignition.
“Something wrong?” she asked.
“I’m not sure.”
“Are you worried about that man?”
“Maybe. You’d make a keen detective, you know.”
He drove without haste. The man had melted into the darkness of a side alley but Ali kept checking the rearview mirror.
“Are we being followed?” Sara asked again.
“Is someone after you?”
Why was she so concerned about him? She wondered.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
He took the fast Maslak road instead of going by the shore. When he started talking again his face had relaxed.
“Have you seen your mother since last week?”
“No, I didn’t get around to it.”
“It isn’t a good idea for you to be caught red-handed at this point. Isn’t there any way you can check on the files legitimately?”
“I could go just before the maid leaves and wait for Mother. I don’t know when though, the way I am working in the evenings.”
“Let’s try, okay? Maybe you could even get her to trust you.”
“That was starting to happen on its own, but after what I learned from you, I couldn’t bring myself to see her.”
“She might not be as involved."
“Mother is not stupid. I am sure she knows something.”
She felt him looking at her sideways. She could not see his eyes in the dark but imagined the soft look she was getting accustomed to and rejoiced inside.
“We could go in separately and search together,” she said.
“Not at this point. Us being caught together is risky. I don’t want them to suspect we know anything about their connection.”
“If they hide their trails, we‘ll have very little to go on.”
Ali did not come inside at Madam Arakian’s. On the side of the street he idled the motor for a few minutes so they could talk more.
“I might go either tonight or tomorrow, if she’s around,” Sara said.
“Don’t go tonight,” Ali’s tone was worried.
“It is dark. The muggers are out. Give me a call after you’ve seen her, okay?”
“Sure,” Sara nodded as she stepped out of the car.
But she went anyway. Lamia was alone watching television and scribbling notes inside black leather-bound notebook at the same time. Sara welcomed her smile but noticed her confused far-away expression.
"It helps me to make personal notes inside the business logs I keep," Lamia said, "Helps me to relieve some of the stress."
“You? Under stress? Is something the matter, Mother?”
“No, Dear. I am having a hard time at work recently, that’s all.” She closed the notebook and stood up.
“I don’t want anything,” Sara held her from going into the kitchen. “I’ll stay only for a few minutes.”
“Not even tea?”
“Is there something special you want to talk about, Sara?”
“No. What gave you that idea?”
“Nothing. Maybe there’s a young man.”
“Were you talking to Madam Arakian?”
“No, it wasn’t her. Enver called me up a while ago and said that he saw you leaving the store with a young man.”
“I didn’t notice Enver.”
“Probably it was dark. He has seen both of you.”
“He’s an acquaintance, just giving me a lift home,” Sara said, lowering her eyes.
Who was questioning whom? She found it odd for her mother to be asking about the men in her life. Also, it was strange about Enver. She was sure she would have seen him if he was out there. The street was not crowded when they had left the bookstore.
“Now that I am working in the bookstore, I am starting to find the business world interesting,” she said, looking into Lamia’s eyes again.
“It used to be,” Lamia sighed. “Now everyone stabs everyone else in the back.”
“If I had a successful business, I’d make a lot of donations.”
“Enver was that way. He even helped build the mosque in Beyazcik. We made donations all the way to southeast. Look where it got us.”
“The business isn’t good.”
“We have been getting threats because we made people think that we were loaded.”
“Who’s threatening you, Mother?”
“Not me. They called Enver, said some things, and demanded lots of money. You sure you don’t want any tea?”
“No, thank you. What did they say to Enver?”
“Why are you so interested in their threats?”
Sara shrugged “Not really Mother, I don't care. Just asked. I have to go anyway. Madam Arakian will be worried if I stayed any later.”
On her way back, Sara mulled over their conversation and the mosque Enver had helped built. Religion and the wretched... How they used each other! The important question in her mind, however, was how much her mother had to do with this whole affair. Lamia’s behavior in Sara’s life had been like a perpetual wound that never healed, and the latest information had pierced through the scab like a dagger.
Madam Arakian was already in bed. Sara locked up and went to her room. She had planned on doing her homework but she felt hopeless and robbed of her passion for shapes, lines, and brush strokes, the only joy she had ever wanted of life.
She turned off the light and pulled the curtains open. There was a thin crescent moon, hazy behind a film of fleeting clouds. The water looked dark, devoid of its usual glimmer, and ominous as if hiding a monster. The lights along the coastline kept flickering, dying, and flickering again. In a few days a full moon would rise and light up the strait, for there was fairness in nature.
While entranced by the view, Ali Soner’s image slipped in front of her eyes. She thought of him, the danger he was in, and the danger he had chosen to put himself in by trusting her without fully knowing if she would squeal on him. Should that happen, ‘It comes with my territory’ he’d say and make nothing of it. He knew that the lines of fair play had been cut a long time ago. He knew that he had to act on his own. He knew that any emotion was out of place now and precise action was the only means. While she thought of this, she also thought of the pity she felt for her mother, the pity for her mother’s dead love, which had drowned with him all that was noble and of value in Lamia. Ali Soner, on the contrary, was made of superior clay. No matter what his loss, no matter what the circumstance, he kept working diligently, and he didn’t lose his essence, his humanness.
It was getting late. Sara closed the curtains and poured herself into her homework.
Saturday morning, she was the first to arrive at the bookstore, after the boy. With what little rest she had gotten the night before, she was wide-awake and refreshed. For the first time in months, she had slept without nightmares. She tried to call Ali before others came but he wasn’t in. As soon as she put the phone down Nimet and Taner showed up.
“Look, we have an early bird, “said Taner as he hung the open sign on the door.
“Let me guess,” Nimet whispered in Sara’s ear. “Your date last night was so exciting that you couldn’t sleep.”
“Actually, all he did was drop me off at home.”
“How could you let him? Are you nuts?” Nimet’s voice rose suddenly.
“I wanted to see my mother and I had homework.”
“You Little Devil. I know what you’re doing. You’re acting cool on purpose. That is clever. I have to give that to you. No wonder, I’m such a loser. I’d never think of it.”
“What’s going on up there? Nimet, fold up your mouth and get to work.” Taner yelled.
“You fold up your chin. And don’t tell me what to do.”
Taner picked up the phone without answering her and dialed. Sara was surprised. She was expecting a storm.
“Your mother’s partner was here yesterday morning,” Nimet told Sara. “That is why the good mood.”
“What was he here for?” Sara asked.
“I came in from the post office when he was leaving. Taner said he offered him a good deal. I think he wants to buy into the store.” Nimet crossed her arms, tucked her hands under, and shrugged. “Not a very bright idea, if you ask me,” she said.
“I agree,” said Sara. “Can you stop it?”
“I am an employee just like you are. It is Taner’s store. He built up the business.”
“Why do you think Enver wants it?” Sara asked.
“Your guess would be better than mine. I don’t know the man at all.”
‘He is up to something’ Sara thought. Enver was sniffing around her again.
“You know Sara,” Nimet’s voice entered into her thoughts. “You should call that poor detective up soon.”
Sara answered patiently. “I promised to call him today.” The whole thing was becoming irritating. ‘She never lets up,’ Sara thought.
“Call now, what’re you waiting for?”
Nimet was so excited that she dropped a full load of books on the floor.
“Did you turn to jelly, up there?” Taner yelled from among the downstairs shelves.
“I’ll call during lunch,” Sara said, picking up the books and handing them to her.
She called Ali around noontime but it was nearly a half-conversation, because curiosity sent Nimet scurrying within earshot.
“I went to see mother,” Sara told him.
“There are things...”
“You can’t talk freely, right?”
“Yes. Maybe I’ll call later. Is that okay?”
“Are you staying in the bookstore late again?”
“Until seven today.”
“That is late enough. Tell you what. Call up Madam Arakian and tell her I’ll bring you home much later. There is someone I’d like you to meet.”
Through the window someone was staring at her. Sara sensed that instinctively. She pushed the drawer back inside. Since Sophie called in sick again, Sara had to take care of the register. Nimet had already left and they were closing up. It was stupid to take the money out now because the boy had not pulled the blinds down yet. Sara called out to Taner. He came running.
“What’s the matter?”
“I can’t take the money out. Someone was watching.”
Within the last three months, most of the stores on the block had been robbed during the closing hours. Sophie was held up once last year with Nimet in the store, when she was counting the cash at the end of the day.
“Never mind, I’ll do it,” Taner said as he opened the door to check the street.
Sara stepped out with him. It was the end of a Saturday with people rushing home after shopping. No way could they find who was peeking in; however, before she turned back inside, she caught sight of a medium-built man with the right shoulder raised, hobbling away.
A few minutes later, Ali showed up. The peasant cap he was wearing did not totally cover the bandage on his temple. A sensation of panic rose in Sara’s chest. She masked her mouth with her hand to hide a gasp.
“What happened?” she asked trying to steady her voice.
“Don’t worry about it. Just a scratch. Comes with my territory,” he grinned.
“How did you get it?”
“At a riot. A scrape really.”
“Not this time. It was the religious sector.” His color seemed a shade paler.
“Why don’t you sit down till I lock up?” Sara dragged the chair from behind the register.
“Tell him about the guy you thought was watching you,” Taner mumbled in between his teeth. “As long as he keeps coming, he might as well be useful.”
“Later,” said Sara. ‘Not today, not when he’s injured already’ she felt like saying, but she didn’t.
In the car, she asked him, “Who is it you wanted me to meet today?”
“Ahmet. My friend who’s in this with us.”
Us? Sara felt a certain pride.
“Please, don’t be mad. I told him what happened to you. Please understand that I had to. It became necessary.”
“Oh that...” Sara moaned. “I understand.”
Yet, she did not. At least not very clearly at that moment. She guessed that because of her kinship to Lamia, Ali had to give his friend some reason to explain Sara’s intentions. She watched his face, alert and serious, with the lights and shadows of the night fleeting across his features as he drove. How could one eliminate his periodic sadness that erased his soft smile? What was it about him that made him so special, so distinct?
She tried to concentrate on her words. Before they reached his home she had finished telling him about her visit with Lamia, the so-called donation, and the mosque.
She set her purse on the table inside his living room and went to the kitchen to help him.
“I cooked beans, rice, and chicken. I hope you like it.” He said.
“Sure I like it. You can cook?”
“When I have time. Chicken is store-bought.”
Ahmet walked in skipping awkwardly, half an hour late. He was a young man, thin and wiry, wearing faded denims and pair of well-used sneakers.
“You’re Sara,” he said without waiting for an introduction. “You know how I know? I am psychic, that’s how.”
“Stop clowning, Ahmet,” Ali grinned. “We have enough clowns in the force as it is.”
Sara liked Ahmet. All through the supper, he told jokes about the police-work, his wife, his unruly children, and even the terrorists. He had a sense of humor that seemed to refresh itself as he talked. Sara told him again what she had reported to Ali before.
“Mosque huh?” Ahmet laughed. “The S.O.B’s built a mosque?”
“I have to look into it,” Ali said.
“You’re resting tomorrow. This one’s on me, Pal,” Ahmet protested.
“I have an idea,” Sara said. “Mother is happy that we are getting along so well lately. She’d do this if I asked. Why don’t I work for her company? I can get a lot of information.”
Ali’s face turned crimson. “You can also get into a lot of trouble. Enver is around that place too. Have you forgotten?”
“Calm down. The girl has a point,” Ahmet argued. “Why, she’d be of real value to us.”
“No, I can’t let her,” Ali said emphatically. “That man is dangerous.”
“I am not scared,” Sara said. “Besides, it looks like he’ll be one of my bosses at the bookstore, anyhow.”
“How come?” Ahmet asked. Ali was still shaking his head in negation.
“He is buying into the store. He’s been coming in and talking to my boss lately.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” Ali grabbed her shoulder.
His face had stretched taut and his skin had paled considerably.
“I was going to. I just found out today. I didn’t think it was as important,” Sara answered defensively.
“Watch it, Man. The Girl is trying to help,” Ahmet stared at Ali. puzzled
“Is there anything else? Tell me no matter how insignificant,” Ali asked. Sara felt the slight tremor in his hand which still held her shoulder.
“Nothing,” she said. “There’s something else, but it has nothing to do with Enver.”
“Do you remember the man we saw last night? The one with one shoulder higher?”
“What about him?”
“I thought I was being watched from the street while emptying the register today. Taner and I checked outside. I thought I saw him rushing away, but I am not certain.”
“Did you see his face?” Ahmet asked.
“No, I am not even sure it is the same man.”
Ali retreated to the opposite corner of the room. He stayed quiet for a few seconds.
Then, “I am truly sorry, Sara,” he said. “I shouldn’t have jumped at you like that.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Sara smiled.
“You should be resting. You took a serious tumble in the morning,” Ahmet said. “And I should be heading home.”
“I’ll see you home, Sara” Ali said.
“I’ll take her. You get in bed,” Ahmet told him.
“Don’t mind him, Sara,” Ahmet said when they were alone in his car. “He doesn’t lose his temper easily. It may be that he was hit on the head in the morning.”
“I don’t mind at all. I wouldn’t mind if he lost his temper all the time. He’s the most straight person I’ve ever met.”
“You know, I should be getting jealous. He said the same exact thing about you.”
“Really? That is nice.” Then she asked him, “Was he hurt badly in the morning? Is it a bullet wound or something?”
“No, he was hit with a stone. I think he has a concussion, although he denies it.”
As the car turned the corner, Ahmet spoke again.
“There is no other like him. Ali is a great guy but unlucky.”
“Yeah, his brother got killed. Two years later his mother died. Then his wife left him.”
“I didn’t know he was married.”
“Well, he isn’t now. He has a three-year old son. His wife couldn’t stand the police work, all the weird hours... the danger... He feels better about one thing though. The boy is safer away from him.”
“Why, you have children, don’t you?”
“Yeah, but all my family lives together in the same place, some on the same road. They watch out for my kids.”
“She was stupid to leave him,” Sara said.
The crescent moon had grown fuller and Sara loved the clarity of the night sky. She could decipher the shapes of the buildings and the moving lights of the cars on the shore across while she watched from her window. If she reached high enough, she could touch the stars one by one, but she wouldn’t want that. Solid ground was better. On solid ground there were people like Ali and Ahmet. She wondered about Ali, what he was doing at that instant. He had to be in his pajamas, maybe in bed. She imagined the color, the cloth, probably cotton flannel, had to be white and blue. How would it feel to the touch, soft, warmed from his body, wrinkled under the quilt? The sillier her thoughts got, the more she liked thinking about him.
She wondered if he slept on his side. Not possible, that could irritate the wound on his head. She imagined the gory shape of the cut, the blood gushing out of it, the sting he had to have felt. She wanted some of that pain. She wanted to feel the pang of his wife’s words when she left him. Then she recalled the easy relieved expression on Orhan’s face when she had told him that they shouldn’t see each other again.
No, Ali wasn’t like that. He had to have fallen apart inside; he had to have been hurt badly. She sighed, overwhelmed by the severity of his pain, imagined or otherwise. What if he got sicker during the night? The thought hit her like a bucket of ice water. She felt queasy inside.
At night she dreamt again. She dreamt she was climbing a sharp spike-edged hill, flattening herself again the biting rock, hearing screams, strange sounds, her feet slipping. She woke up suddenly to her empty room. The air had gotten considerably colder. It would have been warm in Lamia’s place because of the central heating. She scolded herself for dreaming of comfort. Later in morning she should set the stove up as Madam Arakian had been reminding her to do, but first she should check on him. How? Suppose he was sleeping? She, like a fool, would be the one to wake him.
After Madam Arakian left for church, Sara cleaned the pipes and set the stove up as she had seen Grandfather do it, hoping this was the right way. She would have to go to the bookstore in the afternoon and finish up the paperwork.
As if it were the better days again, she wanted to take a walk. Last few weeks nobody in town dared out unnecessarily, but Sara, feeling magnified inside out, was becoming aware of her recently found fearlessness. She grabbed her shoulder bag and left.
Sara skipped on the cobblestones as the road took a serpentine twist along the water. A fine drizzle had broken through and the progressively worsening wind gusts swirled the fallen leaves around. Sara remembered how as a child she didn’t like the wind, the rain or a disturbance of any sort, and how she had enjoyed the neatness of being cared for. Not anymore. Nothing could ever touch her again. She didn’t want the easy way out. She was free now. She had already seen the worst.
Should she stop by and see how Ali was? It was still morning. She would only bother him. He certainly didn’t need her.
“Stop... Get back!”
Spaced throughout the road four gunmen were ordering a driver out of his car while two others tried to wave Sara and another old man into the entrance of a building.
The old man pulled Sara by the arm, “Do as they ask, or they’ll shoot us.”
She tried to observe as carefully as she could. They were only after the car. Two men pushed driver against the wall, robbed him, and took his car. The other men followed in a taxicab. Sara wrote down the cab’s license number.
“Are you out of your mind?” The old man scolded her. “They’ll blow you to bits. Get out of here, Kid.”
Sara rushed to the driver as soon as the men pulled away. He seemed to be in shock, his jacket torn, and his hand hanging loose, possibly broken. Someone from the nearby apartments had called the police. It took an hour for the man to be taken to the local hospital. Sara went to the local station with an officer to tell what she had seen. They didn’t make much of the taxicab’s license number which Sara had taken.
“That could be stolen and forged,” an officer said, “Of course, we’ll look into it.”
When she arrived at the bookstore, she found Nimet working.
“I had sick days to make up for. Besides I thought I’d keep you company,” she said.
“As long as you let me write up some of your order forms. Remember? I owe you.”
Sara called Ali on the phone at mid afternoon after Nimet had left.
“What have you got to tell me?” He asked.
“Nothing. I wanted to ask how you were feeling. Does your head still hurt?”
“Couldn’t feel any better than this. I stayed in today. Must we talk about my health?”
“Not if you don’t want to. As long as you’re all right.”
“What would you do if I wasn’t?”
“I’m no doctor, but I’d try to help.”
“Next time I’ll try harder, so you do.“
A jovial laughter rang clear through the earpiece. Sara was glad about his good mood.
“Don’t you dare,” she said.
“How did you spend your morning?” He asked.
“I put up the stove in my room. I am hoping it’ll work.”
She didn’t mention the hold-up.