With her busy schedule, the fear of being seen as she went in and out of Ali's house terrified Sara. But without Ali, her nights were unsettling. She also knew Ali wanted her with him for good. Sara thought as long as she stayed with Madam Arakian and kept Enver at arms length, she wouldn’t harm Ali. If she were to live with Ali, it would be too risky.
One night as she lay in bed awake, listening to the rain, she heard a thump and then the sound of rolling of a heavy object. It could have been a homeless derelict but those people stayed out of sight after the curfew. From her window she could see nothing; so she looked out from the side window at the hallway. There was a pickup truck with a lone figure at the driver’s seat and three men were loading things from the pastry shop and the grocer’s. She ran downstairs and called the police.
It was a burglary all right. The grocer and his wife who lived over the store were bound and gagged. Sara and Madam Arakian would have been next, but help had arrived on time. After this incident, Sara started worrying about the jewelry. For her mother’s sake, the jewelry had to be guarded. Enver would probably leave Lamia with nothing. Sara did not want to put the box in a safe since banks were being robbed more often than any other place.
The next day she asked Ali, “I have some things in Madam Arakian’s. Do you mind if I bring them over? They’d be safer here.”
“Bring everything, yourself included. That’s what I’m after,” he said willingly.
When Sara showed the jewelry to him, he said that needed a special treatment. He lifted the rug and loosened a couple of planks on the floor.
“You are changing the architecture of the house.”
“Wait and see, I have a few tricks of my own.” He pulled out a metal box. “This safe is fireproof. I have the papers on the organization and on Enver here.”
“Anything I haven’t seen?”
“What I have here are the real documents. The ones in the cabinet are the photocopies. The only things you haven’t seen are these papers.”
Sara examined the papers. Several of them were depositions of the women gathered by the vice squad. They had one thing in common. Enver had tricked and raped them at one time or another with job offer promises.
“Considering the profession they are in, they were not heeded by the police,” Ali said. “I bet he has done more of this stuff than we know of. Rapists are repeat offenders.”
“Right away you believed me because of these. Right?”
“Honey, I’d believe you with or without proof,” he embraced her.
It was a busy Saturday morning at the bookstore. Sara yawned as she filed the orders. She had stayed the night at Nimet’s. The day before, November twenty-three, Friday, was Nimet’s birthday and the bookstore gang had been at her place celebrating. Sara started writing up a large order for a professor when Sophie touched her shoulder.
“Someone wants to see you.”
“She doesn’t want to see him,” Taner grumbled under his breath.
Sara turned around in time to face Enver. The customers in the store, sensing the tension among the employees, were staring with curiosity. Sara managed to keep a cool head.
"In there,” she pointed to the stockroom in the back. “For a few minutes only. We are busy.”
Enver nodded and followed her. “I waited enough. What’s your answer? I want you live with me. I’ll marry you if you wish.” he said once they were out of earshot.
“I can’t marry you or anyone else,” Sara answered. “I can’t stand men.”
“You like women?”
“No one,” she said, startled.
“You don’t have to like anything. You’ll grow used to it,” he scratched his temple. “It sure beats working like a dog.”
“I like working.”
“Suppose you lost your job or your home?”
“I’ll look for another. Besides, I don’t have a home.”
“You’re renting a room. Suppose that lady threw you out?” Enver quizzed her.
“Come with me while you’re ahead. You are wasting time, mine especially.” His face was souring.
“No, not yet. Give me time.” Sara tried to control her trembling voice.
“I am warning you for the last time. Are you coming or not?”
“No, please. Not now,” she pleaded sensing trouble in the eyes that stared her down. Had Enver finally closed in on her?
“You’ll come crawling to me.” He held her by the shoulders and shook her. “Then it will be all my terms. You’ll lose so much. You hear?”
“Let go of her!” Taner's voice echoed from behind Sara. She turned her head to see him and the boy. “Scram!” Taner shoved Enver toward the door, with all the force of his temper. “Sophie is calling the police if you aren’t out of here in one minute. Sara will press charges and we’ll say we heard your threats.”
“Some good this will do to you. You’ll be sorry, all of you...” Enver bellowed as he left. Several customers, nervous from hearing the altercation, followed him without a purchase.
“You shouldn’t do that,” Sara told Taner. “He’s a very dangerous man.”
“Don’t be so afraid of him. He’s a nothing.” Taner’s shrugged.
Later during the day, Sara told Taner that she was quitting.
“Cut it out, Sara,” he said with narrowed eyes. “You’re the fastest worker I’ve ever had. I’m not losing you.”
“I don’t really want to work after hours.”
“Then work part-time. You’ll be paid on an hourly basis.” He looked at her with a friendly smile. “I am not doing you a favor. You’re helping me out. Especially now.” Sara nodded. She couldn’t just slide out and leave her friends in the middle of a sales campaign.
Sara returned to Madam Arakian’s right after closing time and stayed there all night. Sunday afternoon when Emel came for her, Sara said she didn’t feel up to it. She was scared now more than ever and didn’t want to take chances with Ali.
“I’m not leaving without you,” Emel said. “If you don’t go to him, you’ll break his heart in pieces.”
She was right. Ali’s patience had already been running out. Sara asked Emel to wait, while she called Ali to let him in on Enver’s visit to the bookstore.
“As careful as we are, I don’t want to give Enver any opportunity to connect the two of us in his mind,” she said.
“He probably trusts you that you don’t have a man. Don’t be afraid,” Ali replied. “He might make other things impossible for you.”
“What other things?”
“He might try to get you fired. Things like that. Don’t worry. Please, come. I’m waiting...”
“I told you,” Emel said, as she led Sara behind a neighbor’s gate, “Ali needs you real bad.”
“I can’t stand it when you’re not here, “ Ali said when they were alone. “Let’s take the chance and get married.”
“It wouldn’t work. He’ll do something to you. I know it. Ahmet agrees, too.”
He was gravely silent for a moment. She thought she heard a sigh from inside him. “Ahmet doesn’t feel the hell I’m in when you’re away,” he said.
Sara threw her arms around him, “Let's give it a bit more time. I’m practically living here anyhow.”
Monday she wanted to dodge Lame Rifki just to see if she could. She entered the bus to Beyoglu in front of the Academy and got off the other door just before it moved. She moved amid a group of students and watched the yellow Opel with the license number MHU459 follow the bus to Bosphorus all the way. Then she boarded the next bus and got off one stop later. She walked through the side streets and went into Ali’s place from the back door.
“You’re becoming an expert," Ali laughed. "But watch it, he won’t be taken next time.”
“I’ll skip school and stay with you a couple of days,” Sara announced cradling him in her arms.
Tuesday, Ali stayed home with her until after lunch. She thought he would go and not come back that evening, but then she found him cuddled up to her when she awoke in the middle of the night. Early next morning she watched him with awe as he exercised on the floor. How supple his body was; how agile, graceful and proportionate! Each muscle in tone and shape, it glistened with perspiration. He caught her watching him and laughed.
“Am I putting on a good show?”
“Terrific, first-class...” She meant it.
He looked at her with everything inside him. He stood up slowly, lifted the quilt and slid inside next to her.
Sometime in the middle of the night, the phone rang. Ali picked up the receiver forcing his arm to move, his eyes still closed. She watched him to turn his head around in circular motion several times in order to awaken himself as he talked.
“I have to go out of town for two days. Could take longer. If you stay here, don’t answer the phone,” he said.
“Where are you going?” She asked, watching him wear a holster for two automatics under his vest and stick another pistol in through his belt.
“This is dangerous, isn’t it?” she asked again as he filled his pants pockets with bullets as if they were change.
“Don’t worry,” he kissed her. “I probably won’t need any of these.”
“You didn’t tell me where you were going.”
“It is better you didn’t know.”
“You are working too hard. You didn’t get a decent night’s sleep in days.”
“Comes with my territory, “ he winked at her.
She couldn’t sleep after he left. She rolled over to his side of the bed and buried her face into his pillow to inhale the smell of spearmint. She pulled the covers over her head and remained that way until daybreak.
When she finally rose, she got his photo album. Using it as reference, she sketched his image from several angles; then she drew a baby picture of his son.
Everyone was talking about the Pope’s visit at school and in the bookstore. ‘It has to be where Ali must have gone,’ Sara thought, aligning the books on the tables. She would go to Madam Arakian’s afterwards. She would work on her sketches. Ink wasn’t as difficult as she had been warned. She just had to be extra clean and careful with it. Art was exciting. Even when she was doing something else, she couldn’t help draw and paint inside her head.
She didn’t recognize the first shots, but felt only a hissing through the air. Then she heard the rude crash of the glass over the bookshelves and tables.
“Duck!” Someone yelled.
She hid under a side table and peeked out. Six gunmen, three with mausers, were shooting inside indiscriminately. She saw a child cry for his mother in the middle of the store. She crawled and yanked him down under the table. She ducked back again when one man threw a firebomb in her direction. The books caught the blaze immediately.
“Everyone out the back door...” she heard Taner yell.
Sara grabbed the little boy’s arm and ran.
The gunmen left as suddenly as they appeared. The incident had taken less than six minutes.
Later at Nimet’s place, Taner assessed the loss roughly. The store front was badly damaged. Their insurance would cover most of the materials, but it would take them at least six months to rebuild.
At Madam Arakian’s Sara went to bed feeling all achy and upset. She had caused damage to people who had befriended her. Now there was no bookstore and no job. Plus, she longed for Ali more than anything in the world.
A loud knock rang through her sleep. When she succeeded to get up, she saw Madam Arakian talking to someone downstairs from the window.
“Do you know someone called Ahmet?” she asked her. “He’s downstairs, wanting to see you.”
She got into her robe and let him in.
“Are you all right?” Ahmet asked. “Ali is frantic, but he couldn’t leave. I got away saying I had a sick kid.”
“You heard about the bookstore, then.”
“Yeah, but we were assigned to the other thing.”
“You mean the Pope?”
“How did you know? Ali said he didn’t tell you.”
“He didn’t. I guessed.”
“Not that we did anything so far. The guy is surrounded by the armed forces. We are staying inside the crowd just in case.”
“Is Ali all right?”
“Yeah, he’s okay. A little cold maybe.”
“He’s on the outside beat. It’s okay. Don’t worry. The weather is not so bad.”
“Tell him I’m fine. The store is ruined though. I’m sure this is Enver’s doing.”
“I think so too, Sara. Don’t worry though. You go get your rest. You look more beat than I am.”
Next day before the afternoon classes started, Sara was called into Luther’s office. “Look who’s here?” Luther said pointing to Ali. “You guys stay and talk. I have to see someone at the administration.”
“Please, don’t get mad,” Ali said, as soon as they were alone. “I had to see you. I feel bad I wasn’t around. I was worried sick.”
Sara leaned over and kissed him. “I had a bad time last night,” she said. “But it wasn’t because of the shooting or the fire. I had a bad time because I missed you.”
“Come home to me tonight.” He squeezed her hand gently. “I feel tired and upset about everything.”
Sara first went to Madam Arakian’s. Shah was terribly nervous and cranky.
“He’s getting old,” Sara said. “Still he’s holding up well for his age.”
The cat jumped up on her lap and wouldn’t come down. He kept crying with a mournful meow, rubbing his head against her.
“I wonder if we’re going to have a storm or an earthquake,” Madam Arakian wondered. “Animals feel these things.”
Sara was worried. “Should I take him to a vet?”
“No, he isn’t sick. You just go ahead and enjoy your friends. I’ll take care of him. He and I are old pals now.”
Sara left Madam Arakian's an hour after the yellow Opel drove away.
“Guess what?” Ali said, putting his arm around her. “We’re going to have a party tomorrow night.”
“Staying out in the cold did this to you?” Sara mockingly checked his forehead.
“I’m serious,” Ali said. “I invited Luther.”
“You’re trying to cheer me up, aren’t you?”
“I know other ways of cheering you up, too,” he joked. “I want to feel married. Married people have friends over.”
“Who else is coming?”
“Half the city.”
“Did I drive you to drinking so soon?”
“Seriously, I only asked Ahmet and his wife, our landlord and landlady. What do you think?”
“Fine with me,” Sara said pecking him on the cheek.
“I told Luther about most everything. He’s in a position to help you. That’s why.”
“Hasn’t he been shocked enough by everything he’s seen since he’s arrived from Germany?”
“He was worried about you being in trouble with those characters. He says you should stay away from view for the rest of the semester.”
Sara twisted around to look at him. No joke, he really had told Luther.
“How can you go around trusting everyone!” she remarked.
“But I don’t. I possess certain instincts. Trust me.”
Sara smiled. Ali knew how good he was. And that always changed the consequences.
“Maybe we should phone Nimet and Taner... Just to see how they are after the incident.”
“I talked to them yesterday but I had a difficult time doing that,” Sara said softly. "I feel guilty."
Ali pulled her to himself. “Then you call them whenever you feel up to it. I’ll phone them today sometime.”
Sara was working alongside Ali in the kitchen. She had never imagined cooking could be so pleasant. To her, it had been a chore like taking medicine, necessary yet troublesome. Also, she had watched a man cook before only once, the chef in Aysu restaurant, which was understandable because it was his profession. But Ali? Ali seemed to know exactly what he was doing, way better than she did.
“Who taught you how to cook?” she asked.
“I first wanted to be a restaurant owner. I worked for a kebab maker in Eyup when I was a kid.”
“Eyup? I went to the mosque in Eyup with Grandmother once to feed the pigeons. I was little.”
“If you had come into the kebab restaurant, you’d have met me then,” he winked mischievously.
“I wanted to give you time, to let you age like good wine.”
“Wine... Of course, we need wine. Honey, you’re a genius.” He wiped his hands quickly and rushed to the door. “Don’t answer the phone,” he yelled on his way out.
At first she felt a little stiff, a little out of place when the guests arrived, but in a few minutes she started enjoying the company. She had grown to know these people well during the last several weeks. Only Ahmet’s wife, Ayten, she had not met before, and she liked her right away. Ayten was gentle and friendly; she wore a natural smile on her face.
After dinner Emel and Ayten came into the kitchen with her.
“Ali is so different since he’s met you,” Ayten said.
“He sure is,” Emel nodded.
“What was he like before?” Sara asked, since she couldn’t picture him any other way.
“Gloomy,” Emel said.
“Ahmet and him, they were an odd couple. Yet, they worked well together. Ahmet is always the clown and Ali had spells of sadness.”
“Imagine that,” Sara remarked, rinsing a salad palate.
“I used to think that it was because of the child, but maybe it was more than that,” Ayten said.
“You were right, though,” Sara said. “He does feel sad about him and the things that happened before. Except I don’t know how to help.”
“You’re helping him. You don’t know how much,” Emel said. “And you’re doing it in spite of that monster after you.”
“Now Emel, we promised Ali not to bring up that unpleasant thing,” Ayten said.
Sara turned to her, “He asked you guys that?”
“Yes,” Ayten nodded. “Wasn’t that thoughtful?”
” I wish I could do something more for him, “ Sara sighed.
“I wish I could too,” Ayten stacked the dried plates into a shelf. “You know what has been bothering me for a long time? He hasn’t seen his kid in ages. The last time was a few months ago in my place. The boy’s mother won’t bring him here, and he doesn’t want to go there without arranging it first. Then mostly he can’t make it because usually he’s called up suddenly.”
“Do you know Ali’s ex?” Sara asked Ayten.
“Well enough. Kenan is as old as my youngest. I take him sometimes because she works now. She appreciates it.”
“Maybe you could bring him?” Sara suggested hesitantly.
“Wouldn’t you mind?”
“Mind? I’d love to meet him. Would his mother let that?”
“She need not know. It may not be wise to tell anyone you stay here. I’ll do it, sure.”
“Thank you so much,” Sara took Ayten’s hand.
Ayten's mouth widened into a greater smile, “No wonder, Ali is happier. You’re a jewel, Sara.”
“Didn’t I tell you?” Emel winked at Ayten.
“I am getting jealous,” Ali grinned at her after all the guests had left. “You look happier since you’ve met Ahmet’s wife.”
“I guess I needed to see positive people. Thanks!” Sara kissed him.
In the middle of the night, Sara woke up wet with perspiration and suffering the aftereffects of a nightmare whose plot was quickly evaporating. She wiped her wet and clammy forehead with the back of her hand. Ali was sleeping pressed to her, his head on her chest. She pulled the quilt over his bare back, wondering how she had come to win him. A strange joy stirred in her when the thought occurred to her that she had clipped the strings controlling her fate; for now, with this rush of delight, annoyances seemed minimal. She smelled Ali’s breath as he shifted his head. A pulsating hot air circulated around her neck and inside her hair. She was embarrassed of the sudden passion she felt for him; it possessed power and urgency. She forced herself not to move.
“Are you awake?” Had she stirred to interrupt his dreams?
“Hush...” she whispered. “Go back to sleep.”
“Not now. Could we again...?”
She felt the tension in his body and his immediate alertness, and she rejoiced within her. She wasn’t the only one possessed.
Sara woke up Sunday morning when she heard the explosion. Terrorism was at its peak and bombs went off every now and then. Those sounds had become a part of their existence, like dripping faucets, annoying, but one got used to them. But this sound was different. It baffled and frightened her.
“What was that?” Ali raised his head, his eyelids half-closed.
“Some place getting blown up again...” She steadied his head with her hands. “Don’t get up suddenly, you’ll get dizzy,” she kissed him.
“What time is it?”
“Eleven. We overslept.”
“I’ll go look,” Ali said. “Stay in bed. Last night Luther said he was giving you time off from instruction today.”
Ali did not come for a long time. Something serious had to have happened, but then, serious things happened all the time. Sara was worried. ‘Please God, take care of him,’ she prayed inside of her.
Emel came in to fix the apartment. ‘Unusual,’ Sara thought, ‘She never comes to clean when I am here.’ Since her origin was Anatolia, Emel had a special kind of respect for women; a woman was capable of taking care of herself and her surroundings. It was only the men she picked up after. To pick up after a woman would be insulting her. Today, however, her beliefs on this issue seemed to be of no consequence.
Emel kept fluttering about acting as if working, but not really. The articles she touched she put them back exactly where she had found them. ‘She doesn’t want to insult me, but if so, what’s she doing here?’ Sara wondered. As the hours progressed, it became evident that Emel was watching over her. Had Ali asked her that? What was going on outside? Why hadn’t he returned?
“Do you know why Ali isn’t back?” Sara asked suddenly to catch her off guard.
“He was back. He dropped something at the door and went back. He is okay, don’t worry,” Emel reassured her.
Sara believed Emel but she was puzzled. Ali had come back but had not come up? She wasn’t being possessive; it just wasn’t like him at all.
Dusk was setting in when Ali showed up. His clothes were sooty and messed up; his hair was disheveled and he seemed disgruntled and worn out. Emel left as soon as Ali entered. Sara noticed Emel’s flicker of a gesture to Ali, in the way she moved her head from side to side when she said goodbye.
Sara approached Ali, “What happened?”
“Just a minute, Honey. Let me get cleaned up a bit.” He blew her a kiss.
The design in the pattern of things was asymmetrical today. She felt curious and a bit slighted.
He came out of the bathroom all washed up. He pulled her tightly to himself and kissed her. Was he toying with her as if to gain time? She could tell he was upset. What was it?
“Come sit with me,” he said. “There’s something.”
“You are not hurt?”
“No, not at all. Come.” He cupped her face in his hands. His glance was solemn. “The explosion this morning, remember?”
“A bomb went off in Madam Arakian’s store.”
She swallowed hard. She was choking. She couldn’t breathe.
“Calm down. She wasn’t hurt. She was in church at the time. It’s okay.”
Sara dashed up to her feet in panic. “I have to go there. I have to go. I have to go now.”
He wrestled her down on the divan and clamped her in between his legs. “Calm down. Listen to me. There’s nothing you can do. I drove her to Sariyer to her friend’s house. I swear that is the truth.”
She felt him sitting behind her and pressing her back to himself; she felt the strength of his arms folded around her, capturing her hands in his.
“Take a deep breath...Release it slowly. Good. Again.”
“I am sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he kissed her cheek reaching from behind her.
“I seem to carry disaster like a contagious disease,” Sara said, her eyes closed. “I want to leave here before...”
“You are not going anywhere. I’ll tie you up, if I have to.”
“Enver will find out. You’ll see..."
“He won’t. You calm yourself; we’ll get around him.”
The certainty in his voice quieted her. She leaned more against him. “What do I do?” she asked. “What is there to do?”
“You’ll call your mother tonight and tell her you are leaving town because someone is after you. Tell her you are going somewhere crowded like Izmir or Adana.” His grip on her hands tightened. “Then you stay in here with me. This will give us time until we figure out what to do next.”
“But, I can’t help you or go to school or find another job.”
“Those things are secondary now, and you’ll help. I promise.”
“How bad is the damage?”
“The store is in shambles. So are the grocery and the pastry shop. The facade of the building is gone.” He put his lips on her hair. “Your room stayed okay except its front wall is gone. In fact, I went in there.”
A sudden cognizance hit Sara with a pang. She attempted to jump up to her feet but he overpowered her.
“Easy, easy...” he said.
“Shah!” Her voice rose. “Shah. Where was he? I have to find him.”
“Shhh...” He rocked her. “There is nothing you can do about him.”
“Is he dead? Tell me... He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“Yes, I found him”
“Could be smoke inhalation or heart attack. He was an old cat.”
“Where did you find him?”
“Under your bed. Don’t think about it anymore.”
“He saved my life when the tanker hit the house. I couldn’t save his.”
“Don’t think about it, Honey. Please don’t. No more...”
“I want to see him. What did you do with him?”
“I buried him here in the backyard.”
She sensed his hands on her hair, smoothing it which was probably messed up from tousling with him. She did not feel strong like she had thought she was. For a split second she wished to die, to end it all. But he kissed her and she felt guilty for the thought. She didn’t want to be knocked out, not yet. Not before she got back at Enver. “I want to kill him,” she said between her clenched teeth.
“I may beat you to it,” Ali murmured, slipping his hands around her waist..
“But who’d want to do that to you?” Lamia insisted on the phone.
“Mother, I don’t know who they are. I may even leave the country from Izmir.”
“Dear, listen. Enver knows people who can take care of those horrible characters. You come live with me here.”
“I don’t have time, Mother. My bus is taking off in five minutes.”
“Promise to see me first when you can come back.”
“I promise.” Sara put the receiver down. “Guess what she says. She says she’ll have Enver protect me if I went to live with her.”
“She’s a victim, too.” Ali spoke absent-mindedly. “She’s not to blame, not for this.”
She realized how much the day had exhausted him when he fell asleep on the divan. She covered him with a blanket and fixed dinner in case he awoke later. She knelt down on the floor near the divan; closing her eyes, she listened to the rhythm of his breathing. She had acted in panic like a bewildered child. She should do away with the antics; she should not make it difficult for him. Even a great grief didn’t justify impulsive actions. His work did not sanction frustration or fatigue on his part.
”All because of me, all because I’m not strong enough. But I shall make this up to you. I swear I will. I’ll get Enver and all the rest,’ she resolved inside her. She felt his stare on her face and opened her eyes.
“Stop feeling guilty,” he said softly.
Why couldn’t she hide anything from him? Whenever he looked at her, he saw through her. He reached for her and pulled her inside the blanket. He was so warm! She clasped him closer. His lips scanned her face, found her mouth, and held to it for a long time. Then they took their clothes off in a hurry.
His pleasure soothed her heart. Soon came a deep, long sleep bringing peace with it.