Sara, listened as her guests ate and discussed the recent events at the dinner table. Pushing her fork into the rice, she thought no country deserved to suffer like that. Once upon a time, before the anarchy, before the so-called political reformers, and their macho Russian-made murder machines, the word justice had a meaning. That meaning was muddled and bloodied now. They had to wait for a new era of justice. Yet she was afraid that the era they were waiting for would never arrive. What if justice stayed in its present context, in which the courts were forced to let the criminals go and the jails had to let the convicts do the ruling? What about people like Ali and Ahmet who daily lived endangered lives?
“Sara, you are very quiet, tonight,” Luther said.
“I think being cooped up is getting to her,” Ali answered him.
Glancing at the people around the table, “I’m fine, really,” Sara said with a brilliant smile. She was enjoying having friends near her, especially since she couldn’t go to them.
“There may be a job opening that you’d be perfect for, “Ahmet said suddenly.
“She doesn’t need a job.” Ali darted a grave look at Ahmet, then turned his concerned gaze toward Sara.
“What is it?” Ayten asked Ahmet.
“They need a filing assistant in the department in Sisli, and they don’t want just anyone,” Ahmet said. “She is qualified. Look at the job she did here with Laslo files.”
‘I wish I could take it. I wish I could go outside first,’ Sara thought.
February stretched like eternity, Even with Ayten bringing Kenan every once in a while and Emel coming up as soon as she’d see Ali leave, Sara felt like a hunting dog tied to a tree. Worst of all, she hated missing school. Luther had seen to it that her papers and registration were kept in order and up to date. Still she knew that if she didn’t go back soon, she’d be in poor shape to be promoted to the next level.
“I went to see Madam Arakian, today,” Ali told her one evening.
“Tell me how she is. Is she all right?”
“She is fine. She has decided to go live with her sister, wherever she is.”
“She seemed a bit upset. She thought you’d at least write her.”
“How could I?”
“I told her you couldn’t. I told her you sent me to see her for you. I think she got the picture. She understands, don’t worry.”
“Poor Madam Arakian... I caused so much trouble to so many people.”
“Look Honey, chances are she’d come to this conclusion. Do you know how much life deteriorated during the last three months?”
“Maybe you’re right,” Sara sighed. “She already was having a tough time making ends meet.”
“She’s selling the place. She says she doesn’t care who buys it. She wants to get it over with as soon as possible.”
“Did she say how much she wants for it?”
“Why did you ask that?” Ali was puzzled.
“Darling, it is perfect for us. The money Mother gave is losing to inflation. It is quite a bit. I could sell the jewelry, too.”
“No need for that. Jewelry is from your family. I have some savings.” He gazed at her dreamily. “We could build it up. The store down, apartment upstairs... I’d quit this monkey business.”
“Could you learn how much she wants for it? Don’t tell her we want it. She’d give it away.”
“Sure. We should do other things right, too. Like getting married soon.”
“I so wish that...”
“You do, don’t you?” He moved near her on the divan. His face was level with hers.
“I’m dreaming again,” Sara said. “Being inside must have made my brain turn to mush. I can’t even go near a window and I want to get married.”
“Don’t lose hope. Remember the informant we have, the black marketer Ahmet talks a lot about?”
“He says that the organization is giving Enver a terrible time. They have been pressing him for payment. They’ve cut off all help to him, and that includes chasing you.”
“Do you mean I can go out now?”
“I don’t know, Honey. One thing worries me. They know you are important to him. They might do something to you to get to him.”
“Isn’t that a little far-fetched?”
“I can’t be careful enough where you are concerned.”
“Ali, I’ll take a chance. Is this living? Look, we’ll make them believe I’m living in the apartment downstairs.” She put her arms around his neck. “Then I can go to school and take that job with the police, which would mean additional safety.”
“We will try it, maybe.” He said and stroked her hair. She closed her eyes and drew him to her. He lowered his face to the slit in front of her blouse.
One of the first things Sara did was to call Lamia. For some indefinable reason, she wanted to hear her voice and what she had to say. As much as she wanted to deny it, she cared about Lamia, because she was her mother and an invisible cord still remained uncut.
“Hello Mother, how are you?”
“Sara,” Lamia shrieked at the other end. “I was worried sick over you. Where did you go?”
“Izmir, then Greece,” she said. “Sorry I couldn’t call you. I didn’t call anyone.”
“Are you in any danger?”
“Not now, I don’t think so.”
“Thank God,” Lamia sighed. “Did this have anything to do with me?”
“Not directly,” Sara answered.
“Some horrible people gave us such a difficult time here that I thought maybe it was connected.”
“What difficult time?”
“First, I thought I lost the key to the file cabinet at home. After the locksmith came, we found out that many files especially an important one was missing.”
“What important file are you talking about?”
“File to a hotel which used to be part of the company. I figured that the maid had something to do with it. So I got rid of her.”
“She worshipped you. How could you blame her?”
“It was a mistake. Someone, a character in a funny hat, broke in and stole the files.”
“How do you know about this?” Sara almost laughed.
“A neighbor saw him. Some weird-looking red-faced man she said he was.”
“Then a few weeks ago, a rightist mob burned the hotel. Now we have nothing, and Enver is being threatened by the leftists.”
“It seems to me you are surrounded.”
“Enver wanted to sell the whole thing and just hand it to them. I put my foot down. I told him, ‘I’m selling nothing. We close shop and wait for it to blow over,’ I said.”
“For this one time, Mother, Enver might be right. I think what you’re doing is risky.”
“Everyone is afraid of everything. I won’t buckle.”
“Mother, these are dangerous men.”
“You tell me who scared you that you ran away.”
“I think that is ended. I don’t want to go into it over the phone.”
“When will I see you? Where are you now?”
“In Istanbul, staying with a friend. I’m about to rent an apartment.”
“Do you need money?” Lamia asked.
“No. But maybe I should ask you that,” Sara said.
“You are sweet. No, Dear. I have kept some money Enver doesn’t know about."
“Mother... You are hiding things from him... A rarity...”
“For his own good and mine. He hasn’t been very clever with our finances, you know.”
The next day Ahmet took Sara to the police department to apply for the job. ‘How strange’ Sara thought. The only people she had come to regard as policemen had been in plain clothes. Here all personnel were in uniform and the place had the look of dismantled machinery. The squad cars were parked carelessly at the entrance, blocking each other’s way. An officer was biting into a hamburger as he interviewed a man in handcuffs. Three policemen swinging their clubs were guarding a long line for people to be fingerprinted.
“Welcome to the circus,” Ahmet whispered as he guided her by the arm through a long dim corridor into a small bare room with wooden floor and only a desk with two chairs in front. A bald-headed man in gray civilian suit sat on a swivel chair with his back turned to them. He was watching the outside from the window.
“I brought you the girl I was talking to you about,” Ahmet said.
The man swirled his chair around to face them. On his large Roman nose nestled a pair of small gold-rimmed circular glasses. He sucked in his lips into a narrow line and held the right handle of his glasses to scan her.
“Won’t do,” he said. “She’s too delicate.”
“Test her,” Ahmet said.
“They’ll get her. We need tough ones, not young cute things.”
“She’s tough. Test her.” Ahmet insisted.
The man opened the desk drawer and pulled out a pistol. “Do you know what this is?”
“Automatic,” Sara answered.
“There’s no such thing, Ma'm! Semi-automatic.”
He winked with exaggeration. Sara smiled. What did all this have to do with filing records?
“Gotta give her one thing. Pretty smile...”
“She can shoot,” Ahmet said. “Test her.”
“Hold it,” he held the gun by the barrel. Sara took it. “Let’s step out in the back.”
They walked alongside the corridor to the backyard.
“Clear out,” he yelled to some officers standing in front of a large disk with concentric circles. “Shoot, bull’s eye,” he ordered Sara.
“It’s not loaded,” said Sara,
“Then load it for Heaven’s Sakes,” He handed six bullets to her, grinning. Sara pressed on the side button of the handle.
“Tell me what caliber,” he said.
“Looks like a forty-four.”
“Right. What did you train on?”
“Crap!” He sneered. “Is this heavy for you?”
“I can manage.” Sara was starting to like him.
Sara pulled her left hand to her back, held her breath, raised the pistol, then slightly lowered it and clicked. It was close. But second time she made it. Bull’s eye! She looked at him with a smile.
“Okay, okay. You don’t have to gloat. Unload the damn thing.”
He put the bullets in his pocket and tossed the gun to Ahmet.
“Now defend yourself,” rubbing his palms against each other.
Sara ducked the last minute tripping him with her left toe as he suddenly dashed at her. Ahmet held him before he landed.
“Never tackle this woman,” he said to Ahmet.
“Who taught you?” He asked her.
Sara didn't answer him. She didn’t think Ali’s name should be brought up, at least not yet.
“Ali Soner,” Ahmet replied in her place. “Sara is his fiancée.” Then he turned to Sara, “He’s okay, don’t worry,” he said. “Hamdi is with us.”
“Not really,” Hamdi shook his head. “I only applaud them. Both are Don Quixotes. They are fighting a losing battle.”
“I should have warned you about the empty gun. It’s his favorite trick. Many were taken by it,” Ahmet said in the car later.
“It worked well,” Sara said. “Except, he wants me work during school time in the afternoons.”
“He can’t bend the rules too much,” Ahmet said. “You’d be invaluable to us. I hope you can swing it.”
“I think Luther might help me with it.”
“This job was no coincidence. Hamdi had to switch people around to create the opening.”
“But he was reluctant at the start," Sara looked at him.
“He didn’t expect you. He expected one of our men as I had asked him originally.”
“Is that why Ali trained me?”
“No, Ali wanted you to be able to defend yourself. He still has no idea what this job is about.” He scratched his head. “See, you might be carrying important stuff to and from places, and you’ll have access to the main computer. Ali thinks this is only a desk job.”
“Ali should know the truth,” Sara said.
“Why not start working first? You are not afraid, are you?"
“No, not at all.”
“One thing about Ali,” Ahmet frowned as he applied the brakes at the stop sign, “You got to him. You got to him in a bad way. He doesn’t seem to care for much else.”
“Ahmet, he does care about the investigation.”
“Not if you’re hurt even slightly. He couldn’t bear it when you got upset over your mother about Hotel Laslo.”
“That was my fault. I acted like a baby,” Sara bit her lip.
“No, you didn’t. It was an understandable reaction. But frankly, I don’t blame Ali. He wants to hang on to you. He has lost so much...”
“I want to hang on to him, too.”
“It is so discouraging. No hope’s in sight even if we gather full evidence.”
“Things may change,” Sara said with hope.
“To tell you the truth, you were in more danger working at the bookstore,” Ahmet looked at her.
“I am not scared. Except, I don’t want to upset Ali,” Sara said. “I don’t want to get those sons of bitches for my own personal reasons either. I want this job for something more than a personal reason.”
“It is your decision,” Ahmet said softly like a man with some good news.
“Consider it done. I’ll start whenever Hamdi Bey wants me.”
“He told me to tell you to be there one o’clock sharp, Monday.” Ahmet smiled impishly.
Emel insisted she wouldn’t accept rent. Then she cleaned and aired the second floor apartment and they hung Sara’s unused articles in the entrance.
“I want to help, too,” Emel said. “Besides it’s my brother’s wife’s place, and she’d get upset all over again. She won’t even sell or give away any of the furniture.” She wiped her tears. “If she knew about the work you are doing, she’d only be too happy.” She handed the key to Sara. “In case you have to prove you live here, switch on a light here and there at nights.”
“Good idea,” Sara said gratefully.
Sara went back to school on March third, the same Monday she started to work for the Sisli Police Department. Her dream had stayed where she had left it, right inside that smell of turpentine. She felt guilty as if she had intentionally escaped from art, the one love which had been with her the longest. Would she be able to handle two very difficult jobs, both at the same time? She consoled herself as she stepped on the bus to Sisli at noon. A few lost battles she could not evade, but the final victory had to be won.
Her job was filing alphabetically everything that came to her. Then she had to feed that into the computer system.
“Once in a while on a rare occasion, you’ll have to carry information to a hearing,” Hamdi said.
“Where is the danger in this?”
“Until you reach the hearing. Two officials were attacked before you, one killed. We have leaks. Before all this madness, we used to hire regular file clerks for the job. Now, everyone has to be armed to work anywhere.” Now she understood why Hamdi had tested her the way he did.
The afternoon was boring, but she was happy to be free at last. Next morning when she was first out on her own, she kept looking at everyone and everything as if granted with sight for the first time in her life. While she walked up the street to the apartment, she thought of the computer. Once she’d become familiar with the system, she’d bring the data from home to search. Then she could quit the job if she had to.
“How’s the first day on the job?” Emel asked at the entrance.
“Okay,” Sara said. “Filing is boring.”
“Ali’s upstairs. Something’s wrong. I better warn you.”
He was gazing outside the window, his hands in his pocket, his shoulders rigid. She knew he heard her but he didn’t look around. He turned abruptly when she went near him and began pacing the floor in silence. She sensed that his anger was directed at her, but couldn’t determine its exact source.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, as she felt a tension growing upward her throat.
Finally he looked at her. “As if you don’t know...”
Sara shook her head, “No, what happened?”
“You think you can take on the world single-handed, don’t you?”
His chin forward and his eyes hardened, he stood in front of her. He looked as if he lost something inside a turmoil of anger.
“Please, tell me what’s eating you,” Sara said gently.
His eyes had watered like Kenan’s when it would be time to go and he did not want to leave.
“Your job, dammit! Why didn’t you tell me what was involved in it before you took it?”
“Oh,” Sara said softly. So, he had found out. “I can quit any time if it gets tough, or as soon as I can check up on our stuff...”
“I thought it would be filing and you’d be safe sitting in an office. Isn’t that what you both told me, you and Ahmet?” His eyes narrowed accusingly.
“How can I relax now that you’ve volunteered to stand target to every God-damned criminal alive!”
“Come on. You’re exaggerating.”
“Do you really believe that you can handle this? If you do, you’re one damn fool.”
The lines around his mouth were drawn tight. He turned his back and walked into the kitchen. Sara heard him talk to himself in anger but could not make out what he was saying. The sound of broken glass echoed through the apartment. So he did have a temper! She smiled longing to hold him in her arms but decided to let him on his own until he calmed down.
When the doorbell rang, he was still in the kitchen, and she was still sitting on the divan. She rose to open the door as she heard Ahmet’s voice outside.
“Where’s Ali?” Ahmet asked as he took off his coat.
“In the kitchen, having a tantrum,” Sara said.
“I know he found out. Let me see him.”
“Good luck,” Sara pointed to the kitchen.
Ali appeared at the kitchen door at that same time, his face confronting them both.
“Looking for an old friend?” he sneered at Ahmet.
Ahmet laughed. Then he took Ali’s arm and shoved him into the living room. Sara went into the kitchen and closed the door. She didn’t wish to listen to his anger.
She heard Ahmet call good-bye a few minutes later. The kitchen door opened and closed. She knew he was standing behind her but did not move. He put his arms around her from the back and tightened his grip. His face was in her hair.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realize.”
“You didn’t realize what?”
“That you didn’t know about this either, and that you wanted to tell me when you found out.”
“Even if I knew and didn’t tell you, would you still hold me?”
“You bet,” he winked. “It was easier on me when I came home and found you ready and willing.”
Sara turned around to him. “Nothing will be changed much,” she said.
"BOSPHORUS - 19"