The files in the file cabinet and entry for the art contest
By the third week of December, Sara was still living hidden. When Ali was away, the stillness in the apartment grew as heavy and dark as the season. She didn’t want to say it or even think it, but in time the lure of the life outside turned to be overwhelming. Yet, there was too much at stake. So she waited.
Not that her hours were empty... Ali had been training her intensively and Luther made sure she would have enough work in her hands. Ayten had brought Kenan over twice and on both occasions the child had cried to stay longer with her.
“Honey, it became really unpleasant out there,” Ali kept saying. “Most stores are closed now because of the extortion threats. No one goes out as much.”
“We are held up as a nation by terrorism,” Ahmet had said once. And how right he was! Democracy was useless, in the face of ineptitude of the current government.
Her evenings, however, were very special. Everyday, almost holding her breath she waited for Ali, until the sound of his footsteps neared the door as she heard her own heartbeat together with the click of his key in the lock. Then the darkness stepped out of its own rhythm, and ecstasy flowed in, stretching the seconds into chunks of eternity.
On one of those days Sara started working on the entries for the contest. After seeing what she had done already, Luther advised her to work on a series of drawings depicting the same theme. That one drawing of Bosphorus highly impressed him.
“This isn’t the work of a novice,” he had shaken his head in disbelief. “You have achieved the freshness and depth of expression beyond your experience.”
One late Thursday afternoon, she suddenly stood frozen in the middle of the room when she heard someone friskily skipping up the steps. Emel was out doing the grocery shopping and there was no one in the house to guard the door; she worried because house robberies had grown rampant in the neighborhood. Since no one knew she lived here, they might have thought the empty house a favorite target.
She let a deep breath out when she heard Ahmet call her name. “I thought you were a thief,” she said as she opened the door.
“Oh, but I was and twice,” he giggled carrying a large valise inside. “Tell Ali to do something about the front door here. It opens easily.” He was wearing a three-piece suit and a Tyrolean hat. His complexion was unusually ruddy. “My compliments,” He emptied the contents of the valise in the middle of the floor in the living room.
“Did you have much difficulty?” Sara asked piling the papers on top of each other.
“This is the second time I went in your mother’s. You see, she had the lock changed on the file cabinet.”
“Sorry,” said Sara. “Stupid of me. She probably had only one key and I took it.”
“I am going to change in your bathroom,” Ahmet said.
He came out a couple of minutes later in his regular jeans and flannel shirt. His face had changed into its normal color.
“Why the theatrics?” Sara asked.
“If anyone saw me go in, they are more liable to remember the absurd than what is under. Of course one can’t use the same trick twice.” Then he walked to the window and announced, “Your man’s home.”
The huge pile on the floor amused Ali momentarily.
“Abstract art?” He looked at Sara.
“Let’s hope they aren’t that abstract,” Sara said.
“Her highness’s orders...” Ahmet bowed, one hand pointing to Sara. “Mama’s files.”
With an uncertain frown, Ali sat down on a chair.
“Are you mad at me?” Sara went near him.
“No, Honey,” he said gently. “It is brutal what you are going through, and there may be things here to upset you more.”
“I am not upset,” Sara said.
“But, you are. You miss being out. Do you think I don’t see it?” He held her hand.
“You have to admit they are a step toward the solution. And I am never upset near you.”
“Ayten wanted to visit often,” Ahmet said. “But the kids have been sick one after the other.”
“You have to stop treating me like a baby,” Sara squeezed Ali’s hand. “I’ll sort this stuff out. I’d be glad to do anything that would bring results.”
“One tough lady, you have there,” Ahmet said to Ali.
“She’s turning into a sharp shooter, too. Just watch out.”
“Without bullets,” Sara laughed.
In the kitchen, after Ahmet had left, Sara asked Ali, “Why is the second floor unoccupied?”
“It used to be where Emel’s brother lived with his wife until a year and a half ago.”
“Why doesn’t she live there now?”
“She went home to live with her parents after he died and Emel doesn’t want to touch it.”
Sara wanted to ask more but noticing the sadness in his voice, she gave up.
“I should learn how to cook better, before anything,” she said. “Look at all the lumps in the pudding...”
“I love lumps in my pudding when you put them there,” He kissed her. “They also change the conversation well.”
“Why can’t I ever fool you?”
“Don’t even try,” He clasped his hands around her waist and pulled her to him. “About Emel’s brother, he was a cop. New on the job. He was wounded during the May Day rally in 1977. Lived like three weeks or so afterwards, but couldn’t make it.”
“It upsets you a lot, doesn’t it?” Sara asked.
“Yeah, it does. With each cop a part of me goes. It is so unnecessary.” He was quiet for a moment. Then, he said, “I want to talk of happiness with you, nothing else.”
1980 rolled in between a Monday and a Tuesday. It felt strange to Sara to have spent more than a month, locked in, not daring to go near a window. Yet, she felt stronger. Kissing Ali on the New Year’s Eve, she reflected on the transparent power of love, the one counterplot against death and destruction. If only it were contagious to the whole world...
“What are you thinking about?” Ali asked.
“The total merging of humanity,” she said. “Never mind me. I sometimes get carried away by the impossible.”
One good thing came out of the files. The structure of the organization. At first it was not visible, the papers were all copies of signed statements, giving the impression that the people involved were either customers or other merchants. When Sara filed and re-filed them according to their monetary values, chronology and purpose, it became evident that the same kind of vague deals, where the issues were not spelled out, were made with the same people. Lamia’s follow-up notes, which Sara found under closed files, included a diagram with initials on each branch. Some fit the signatures.
“The whole thing could be a coincidence,” Ali said. “But it looks like we’ve broken through.”
Ahmet was sure Sara had come up with what they were after. “We’ll get the initials checked with the criminal records,” he said.
Ali had his doubts. “That would take us a full century.”
“Not if we use the computer...”
“How will you get to the computer without half the force finding out what we’re up to?”
“That’s a problem, isn’t it?”
The other thing they discovered was the sorry state of the company’s finances. From what used to be a wealthy business, it had deteriorated to near-bankruptcy. The hotel was the only income-producing asset that paid for the so-called deals.
“No wonder Enver wanted to buy into the bookstore,” Sara said. “Taner showed profit.”
“Two birds with one stone,” Ali muttered.
With January came more violence. Ali was called several times during the course of a day, and Sara worried. His personal safety was at stake. That was one thing, but also he practically got no rest in between those calls.
One night in early February, he did not return. He did not show up the next day and the two nights following it. Sara was distraught. If it weren’t for Emel, she would have ventured out to look for him.
“We’d know if it were bad news,” Emel kept telling Sara. “And don’t you dare answer the phone either.”
Ali walked in early the fourth day. He looked a mess.
“We had to leave suddenly,” he said. “They needed extra help in Izmir. I couldn’t get to a phone. Neither could Ahmet.”
He had not slept in three days. He washed up; then went to bed right away. ‘Why doesn’t he give up?’ Sara thought. Was this living? She secretly pulled the telephone cord off its plug.
He woke up late during the evening. Sara was sitting alone in the dark when he entered the living room. He sat next to her.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “for what you’re going through.”
“You would help it, if you could,” Sara said, embracing him. “I’ll get something to eat. You must be hungry.”
“I don’t want to eat,” he pulled her, not letting her go.
“Don’t worry, you’re safe. Emel did the cooking.”
“What I want is not in the kitchen,” he said, undoing her buttons.
Sara plugged the phone later while he shaved. It rang as soon as she walked out of the bedroom. ‘At least, I stole him for a little while,’ she smiled to herself.
“What? When was this? Call again when you find out more.” Ali sat on the bed shaking his head. “That was Ahmet. Hotel Laslo burned to the ground last night,” he announced. “His wife watched it on television while we were away. He called after he checked it out.”
“We’ll wait and see.” He kissed her. “Let’s not waste time. I might get another call from the station.”