Ali was out of the apartment when Sara woke up. She plugged the phone in smugly, glad at not being found out with her little trick. Love had melted Ali's bad mood like fire melting metal.
Around 7 P.M. Ali came back.
“Get ready, let’s visit Madam Arakian,” he said with a smile.
“There’s no danger now, come on.”
“I’m still worried. I feel like I’m going to jinx you,” Sara said.
“No way. They are giving Enver such an awful time lately that he is afraid to go out himself.”
“Did you just learn this?” He nodded happily.
Madam Arakian’s friends were also leaving for the States. They wished to make the trip altogether had her place been sold, but most buyers didn’t want the place because of the bomb damage. If it were not for her friends, Madam Arakian would have sold it at a loss right away.
“All I need is a plane ticket. Even that my sister has offered to send,” she was saying.
“Madam Arakian,” Ali said calmly, “Someone I work with wants to buy your place. The price you have mentioned is what he is offering.”
“When can he buy it?”
“Anytime you’re willing to sell.”
“This is the broker’s card here. Give it to him. He’s taking care of everything for me.” Then she turned to Sara. “With everything going on, I’m going to be worried about you. Maybe you come with me, too.”
Sara hugged her. “I don’t think you’ll want to take me with you, Madam Arakian.” She pointed to Ali. “You see, I’m marrying him, very soon.”
“Did you mean it when you told Madam Arakian you'd marry me?” Ali asked in the car.
“What makes you think I was putting her on?” Sara said.
Lamia had just returned from work when Sara went to visit her.
“I’m starting from scratch all over again,” Lamia was determined. “If Enver wants to join in, old agreements are still in effect.”
“Doesn’t he want to make it work?” Sara asked.
“He’s so frightened of those people. He says he has something in mind, though.”
“Shouldn’t you be scared, Mother?”
“No, Sara. If it weren’t for me, he had the business sold by now. I’m also holding on to it for him but Enver doesn’t understand that. Would you like to work with me Sara?”
Inside her, Sara marveled at Ali's assessment of her mother. Lamia really had a childlike vulnerability.
“I’m working in the police department, close to your office, “Sara informed her.
“That means we can visit each other.”
“You may not like the characters downstairs, Mother.”
“Why would that be?” Lamia made a sweeping gesture with her right hand. “I’m used to all sorts by now.”
Before she left, Sara told her that she was buying Madam Arakian’s place.
“Property like that always doubles in value. You’ll get good rent money, too.”
Sara looked at her wanting to tell about Ali and her plans, but she held back.
It took two weeks for the legal procedure to clear off for Sara to have her name on the deed. Madam Arakian laughed as soon as she found out who the real buyer was, when they met to sign the final papers.
“I should have guessed it would be you,” she kissed Sara. “I’m happy my home will be appreciated.”
“It is still yours,” Sara said. “You’re welcome to it, anytime.”
Another week later they drove to the airport to see Madam Arakian off. She hugged Sara over and over before she entered the restricted area. “Somehow, I don’t feel right about leaving you,” she wiped her eyes. “Take care, will you?”
“What did Madam Arakian tell you when she pulled you away secretly?” Sara asked Ali before going to bed.
“It was a secret advice,” Ali winked. “But I’ll tell you anyway. She wants us to be on guard. About Enver.”
“She’s right,” Sara said. “I feel it in my bones that she’s right.”
April came with first blooms and promises only to find the city in a blind rage, life shattered and threatened at every corner, and mobsters tearing at anyone. The reciprocal killings of rightists and leftists had risen to record numbers. Police and the military guards walked the streets to prevent violence, and Ali could be home only about few hours every night.
“Things will get better once the schools are closed and the rioting students will be scattered. Then, we’ll have time to get married and move into the new house,” Ali was saying. Sometimes Sara wondered if Ali believed his own words.
During the last week of April, he came home with a bullet wound on his left arm. “It is nothing, just scraped the surface.”
Sara felt her insides churning at the sight of the bandage. “You can’t help them. You’ll quit the force now. That’s what you’re going to do, right?”
“I know you don’t mean that,” Ali argued. “You work harder than I do, but in a different way. Can you really quit now?”
“I’m lucky to have a job. Besides, I’m not the one lying in the bullet path.”
“We are all in danger daily. You know it.”
“Not as much as you are.”
“Honey, I’ve had these kinds of things and so has Ahmet. It comes with the territory. You’ve seen it before. Do you want me to turn my back on people now?” He was now stroking her hair. “Your nerves are shaky lately, do you know that?”
Sara put her hands to her face. Her cheeks were burning. “I have this fear in me,” she said gently, “It keeps popping up whenever you’re late or away.”
He took her arm, made her sit next to him like a limp doll, and said, “I did not want you to do the work you do now. I was selfish. Ahmet had gone through a great deal to get you that job, so you could speed up the process.” He brushed off the lint from her sweater. “None of us can quit. Even if we did, the danger is just as great.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry,” her voice came in a whisper.
“I wish you could draw and paint and be by me every night. But, that is a selfish wish.”
“Lately with the filing, I have been having problems with the names,” Sara said. “There are so many people with the same initials. I don’t know how to sort them. I wish we had more to go on than the initials.”
“Keep at it, Honey. Something will come up.”
Sara opened her mouth to say something but closed it again.
“There is something else, isn’t there?”
“I saw a doctor last week,” Sara said in a whisper. “He says I have a retroverted uterus. I can’t have babies without an operation.”
“So who wants babies now?” Ali clasped her shoulders. “That can come years later.”
“I thought you did.”
“No way. I want you only. Period.”
“You asked if I was pregnant once.”
“Because of the way you go crazy over Kenan.” He kissed her. “I think I’ll get two aspirins. This is starting to bother me.” He pointed to his arm. “This bandage better be off by next week. We have quite a job on the streets with the Mayday demonstrations banned.”
Luther still worked with Sara twice a week. He usually came to the apartment and sometimes stayed late in order to chat with Ali. He was confident about Sara’s talent, and as he put it, her extraordinary progress. Sara thought half of that praise was for Ali for they had become such good friends.
The building of their new home was going very slowly. Building materials were being stolen from the site every day, and several times, vandals had knocked down what was put up.
“Under the circumstances, I can’t promise you to get it finished before the end of the summer,” the builder had told them.
“If the times were closer to normal, I would assign someone to keep guard or I would watch it myself,” Ali was saying. “But we are extremely short-handed as it is.”
Sara had the house decorated in her mind. She knew the color schemes of the rooms, what they would look like with the furniture eventually, and even the kinds of flowerpots she would put in the balcony that would be built adjacent to their bedroom looking over the water. ‘Begonias, African violets, and a tea rose,’ she thought. And of course a large box of spearmint to match the smell she had grown to love so much.
Lamia was working very hard also, but she was getting nowhere. Twice her two stores, the ones she was operating, were held up and gunned down. The insurance had paid too little. Any profit she had made went into fixing them up again.
Sara saw Lamia frequently. Lamia, not having her own driver anymore, stopped by the police department a few times and they went home together on the bus. On several occasions she visited Sara. Still cautious, Sara welcomed her to the second floor apartment. Sara visited Lamia’s workplace once. The rooms in the building were rented out except for a flat where Lamia used as office with a secretary.
“I may as well rent that one and work from one of the stores,” she was saying, “But I feel safer inside the building with the holdups we’ve had in the stores.”
Enver was nowhere in sight. According to Lamia, he was in hiding, trying to work things out with the leftist mob.
During the second week of May, the bookstore re-opened. Taner asked Sara repeatedly to come back to work but she refused. Her refusal had more to do with the investigation than her love with her present job, which wasn’t as risky as Ali had feared. Only once she had to bring documents to court and that was with escort. Actually that might have been the highlight of her career. The rest was boring.
An early June rain had slapped the asphalt. Sara walked skippingly, trying not to step into the potholes. She held on to her shoulder bag with one hand, while with the other she clutched the papers Lamia had forgotten in Sara’s office the day before. Sara had taken time off to deliver them since over the phone Lamia had said she needed them immediately.
The sun was starting to come out when Sara entered Lamia’s building. She heard the screams while checking her watch inside the elevator. She unzipped her bag and held on to her automatic. With the two men who worked in the next section running with her, she rushed into Lamia’s office. She heard the popping sounds about the same time a medium-built man with yellow tightly curled hair dashed out. He had a revolver in his hand, and he was heading toward her direction to the stairway behind her. She ducked suddenly, tripping him with her knee, and fired from the sitting position, then rolled and fired again.
The man fell by the steps, bent in two, still holding on to his gun. Sara edged up to him to kick it out of his hand. He fired as soon as her toe touched his hand. One of the two men rushed back out of Lamia’s office and held the gunman down; otherwise, he could have gotten away although she had hit him twice. People from the other offices also came to assist.
Sara ran into Lamia’s office. Lamia’s secretary was whimpering in shock on the floor. The second man who had rushed in to help had blood all over his face, but he was still standing holding his left hip. Through the slit of the door to the inner office, Sara saw Lamia’s feet in high-heeled beige shoes under the desk. She pushed the door open. Lamia lay slumped on the right arm of the chair, blood gushing from the side of her neck. She was motionless.
Someone had called the police. Sara stared at her own hands as she talked to the officer. They were small, pale, trembling, and had shot at a man.
Lamia was the only one dead. She had actually died from a chest wound in seconds. The other man who had come in to help had a surface wound on his scalp and was also hit on the leg. She asked falteringly about the condition of the gunman as they were taking him away.
“He kills your mother, hits two other people including yourself, and you want to know how he is doing?” The policeman shook his head. “If it were anyone else, they would empty their gun into him.”
It seemed strange to be taken into questioning inside her workplace after the hospital.
“You should be getting a medal for this. I knew you had it in you,” Hamdi told her.
Sara answered all questions in a monotone. She repeated what she had already told the officer at the scene. Yes, she had a license for the gun. Yes, she did work for the police department. Yes, Lamia was her mother. Yes, she came upon the crime as she was returning Lamia’s papers. For the rest, the other witnesses backed her story. Still she gasped for air when she talked about shooting at the man.
Ahmet came before Ali did. “I’m really sorry about your mother, Sara.” He said, “Ali is at the other end of town. I talked to him on the phone. He’ll be here as soon as he can.”
“Oh, no...” Sara said.
“Oh, no...” Ahmet said imitating her, “In that you’re right. Good luck to both of us!”
Sara almost panicked when Ali entered the small room they were in. But just as soon as she saw him, she was instantly caught in his embrace.
Ali drove in silence. Now and then she was aware of him looking at her sideways. She wanted to talk to him but was not sure any sound would come out of her mouth if she opened it. Her shoulder throbbed with pain and her left side was stiff. She wondered why she hadn’t felt the sting of the bullet when she was first hit.
“I’ll give you a pain-killer at home,” Ali said suddenly. He had gotten inside her head again. Unable to answer, she smiled at him.
“I want to take a look at it,” he said, as soon as she slumped into a chair in the living room. He unwrapped her arm, frowned, and rewrapped it.
“Here, take these,” his hands were behind her shoulders as she washed the pills down with water.
“I want to talk to you, except I’m all tired out today,” Sara said.
“Tomorrow, Honey. We are both home tomorrow.”
How he had managed to be off, she did not know.
“You should eat a little,” he offered. She gagged at the thought of food. She shook her head.
“Come, get in bed. “
He went to bed with her, holding her until she slept. Several times during the night she woke up, moaning in confusion. Each time, he eased her head back to the pillow, kissing her lightly.
She kept dreaming of her mother at her best. Then the last vision of her, all bloodied-up, kept breaking through, startling her into awakening. Grief tore through her although she fought against it. The overwhelming emptiness she felt in her center was filling with pain. She opened her eyes and sat up shivering. The room wavered about her in the dark. ‘The effect of the pain-killer,’ she reasoned. Ali had given into sleep next to her. She felt a sudden urgency to go to the bathroom. ‘Another effect of the pills or the anesthetic,’ she thought as she slipped out of the covers. By the time she made it to the middle of the room, he was standing next to her.
“Go back to bed. I can manage,” she said.
He was waiting by the bathroom door when she came out. “Go to bed,” she said, “Why don’t you go to bed?”
She stood by the living room window. He was standing behind her. She could feel and detect his warmth. This was not just the chemistry between them. His sensitivity was something different. Was that because of the way he cared and suffered inside other people?
“What are you thinking about?”
“You,” Sara said.
“Me, I am flattered.” She welcomed his embrace as she felt his face in her hair.
“Ali, there are two men down there,” she said, suddenly noticing the street.
“It is all right.” He stroked her back. “They’re supposed to be there.”
“They are policemen. You’re under protection for the time being.”
“Because of the people who sent the killer. You got their man. They might want to reciprocate.”
“Do you think so?”
“No, but the boss did. Do you know I am working now?” He chuckled, “My favorite assignment, yet. Still I wish I didn’t have to do it.”
She leaned against him. “This morning I took out my birth certificate to give you for the marriage license. I guess it will have to wait.”
“We’ll get that license sooner or later,” he kissed her.
“The wait is at least forty days after someone close dies.”
“Whatever you wish, Honey.” His palm moved over her forehead. “You have fever.”
“I’m supposed to for a couple of days. They said so at the hospital. You had the same wound in April.”
“Not the same thing. It was simpler. The bullet scraped past. In your case it was lodged against the bone.”
“I watched the doctor pull it out.”
“Come, you’re worn out.” He goaded her toward the bedroom.
“No,” she resisted. “I don’t want to go to sleep.”
“All right. Stretch out on the bed then, okay Honey?”
“Okay, but don’t let me sleep.”
He crouched beside her and put his arm around her. “Are your dreams bothering you?”
“I can’t tell if they are dreams or just plain me.” Her voice weakened. “I keep seeing Mother, like I saw her last and then like before.”
His hand gripped hers. She felt her fingers warming up like the times when she held them in front of the stove.
“So many times I was certain I hated her,” she whispered.
“I don’t think you did. It was disapproval,” he squeezed her hand gently.
“Shame was more like it. All my life I had hoped that someone made a mistake and that I didn’t belong with her. Still, I guess I liked her. She had her own style.” She turned to her side facing him. “Remember the cups and saucers I was drawing when we were studying light and shade?”
“My best one was the cracked vase with the light directly over the break. That imperfection made it perfect, the teacher said. Mother was like that.” She paused for a second. She was lifting her eyelids with difficulty. “Do I sound silly?”
“Not at all. I agree with you. It hurts to lose one’s mother.”
“I was ashamed of myself today,” she sighed.
“What for, Honey?”
“I didn’t feel anything at first, like grief, you know. All I worried about was the fact that I shot at a person. Then I was ashamed for worrying about it.”
“Yes, you would react like that,” Ali mumbled almost to himself. “Look, sometimes grief takes its time before hitting you. And in that man’s case, you figured what he did inside, and then he shot at you.”
“No, I shot him first,” she shook her head. “He fired the gun when I kicked it out of his hand.”
“I know that’s what you told the police, but they found that bullet in the wall. He must have fired as he came out of the office.” Ali’s face grew very serious.
“He was coming at me. I ducked and tripped him. I shot at him without knowing he shot first.” She bit her lip.
“Good thing you ducked! He probably had the gun aimed right at you.” He let out his breath.
“How did they know to call you?” Sleep had begun to charge at her with full force.
“Hamdi did. Incidentally, the word is around about who my fiancée is and the way she caught a gunman,” he smiled proudly.
“Oh, no,” Sara moaned. Ali was talking as if there was nothing to fear.
“I am relieved,” Ali said. “The whole world should know we are engaged. We have a right to claim each other. This frees us, don’t you see?”
Sara was sure Ali was underestimating the Enver’s talent to bounce back. But she didn't answer him. Her eyelids wouldn’t open.
Daylight had filled the room when she awoke. He was lying on his back, his hands clenched under his head and he looked alert and serious. What was going through his mind?
She tried to veer her thoughts into how it would be like in the new house and what it would be like for him to run a restaurant as they had talked about. ‘Selfish of me,’ she ached inside. Ali would be blunted like a used up knife. He would turn into any other man, and Sara did not want any other man.
Her arm hurt. Her whole left side weighted her down, throbs echoed through her temples, and the pain, creeping into her like a drill, carried in the previous day’s scenes and persistent images.
“You are hurting, aren’t you?”
She felt too exhausted to answer.
“I’ll get you something.” He rose to his feet.
“No,” she refused. “Those pills put me to sleep.”
“You’ll be uncomfortable without them.”
“Aspirin,” she suggested. “Let me take aspirin, first.”
Her balance gave way as she tried to stand up. He steadied her.
"Tylenol is better," he said. "You may bleed too much with aspirin."
“I better get up or my head will be foggy all day,” she said.
The water, cold and clear, slapped her face and gathered in tiny crystals around her lashes, stinging her into awareness. It was still early in the morning. Her daze and grief gave way into realization that there were things to be taken care of like the funeral. She had washed off the shock, but the pain stabbed her constantly. After dressing and breakfast, however, she felt stronger. She wanted to clear the table. Ali made her sit down. Inside her mind, she started totaling up the things he wouldn’t let her do.
“Stop fighting with yourself.” He lifted up her chin. “Why don’t you let go? Things will take care of themselves. You do need a good rest.”
“Look, who’s talking,” she raised her eyes to him. He had a pleading expression on his face. She pulled him down by the hand to sit next to her. “I want to get rid of the pointless way I keep remembering yesterday.”
“How is your pain?” He circled his arm around her waist.
“I’m trying to control it in my mind like you do. The dressing has to be changed.” She looked at her shoulder with displeasure. She probably had to go to the hospital.
“I’ll change it,” he said simply. "I can do it. Don’t worry.”
“Did I ever doubt you?” She put her head on his shoulder. “I have to take care of the funeral. Also I want to go to her apartment. There might be something else.”
“Everything’s taken care of,” Ali said. “We have to wait for the autopsy results. And we’ll go to the apartment if you want. It is probably full of policemen now.” He kissed her before he rose to his feet. “About the dressing,” he said, “Let’s see to it.”
“Ahmet and I were afraid of you being upset yesterday,” she said, as she watched him wipe the area around the stitches.
“I had a very good reason,” he mumbled while holding the gauze down with one hand. “The guy who first called me said you were shot. That’s all. I flipped. Then Hamdi got on the phone and explained.”
“Ahmet said you were at the other end of town.”
“That made it harder, but do you know that you’re some sort of a celebrity at the department?”
“Sure, why not? I shot at a person...” Her voice was cynical.
He looked at her, trying to understand her conflict. “Honey, he’d have killed you. I am proud of what you did. He is harmless at the moment at least.” He smiled in consolation. “Also, it means that we didn’t work out here for nothing,” he added.
“How did everyone find out about you and me?”
“In order to reach me, Hamdi had to tell a few people.” He looked at her guiltily and added in a hushed voice, “I admit I did talk about it before to a few friends, after you got out of hiding. I don’t want to keep you a secret.”
A stab of pain shook her left side. She squirmed shutting her eyes and her face crinkling. Then her pain mingled with pleasure when his hands combed through her hair. He coaxed her to get in bed and lie down on her right side, pulling her down and stroking her back.
“Please don’t fight it anymore,” he said. “Tylenol won't cut it. I’ll bring the pills.”
Sara woke up shivering as if under a snowdrift. She was covered inside the earth with Lamia’s eyes in her own eyeballs. She pulled the blanket about her. There was no haven in sleep. Like a faint rumble, she heard his voice talking on the phone. ‘Must be something unpleasant,” she thought. His pitch always deepened to hide anger or hurt.
He gave her a grave but gentle smile when he saw her awake. She was getting winded as if she had run a marathon. She realized that she had turned and slept on her left side. She struggled to turn on her back.
“Oh, I’m so stupid.”
“Don’t say that. You are perfect.” He pressed his lips on her cheek. She sensed the uneasiness in him immediately.
“Are you going to tell me about it?” she asked.
“You were talking on the phone.”
He looked at her with sadness. “I got the autopsy report. We can go ahead with the burial, tomorrow or the day after.”
“There isn’t much. It was instant. Three bullets.”
“Neck, head and chest.”
He was trying to control something within him. She could tell. She pressed his hand to her cheek, then kissed it. His eyes had gotten misty.
“You are so sad, why?” she asked.
“I don’t know exactly. I respected her in a way, I guess, if only because she was your mother.”
“I almost told her about us,” Sara sighed.
“She’d be happy about it.”
“You know something?” Sara said looking at him, “Since yesterday, I thought I was falling apart, but I don’t think I am as crushed as you are.”
Ahmet and Ayten visited them during the evening. “I don’t know what to say,” Ayten embraced her. “I am sorry you are hurt, and I am sorry about your mother. But I admire you. I would have frozen in your place.”
“They might be treating the case as a regular robbery, and I have no idea what we should do about it,” Ali said.
“Was anything stolen?” Ayten asked.
“Lamia Dincer’s wallet was found on the man,” Ahmet said.
“That’s a ploy,” Sara looked at Ayten, “Enver and that mob had good reasons to kill her.”
“Other than the agreement between the partners, there isn’t much else for motive.” Ali said.
“Mother told me Enver was pushing her to sell the business to pay their so-called debts. Mother resisted. She started to operate the two stores and was working very hard. Then the stores were gunned down and damaged.”
“The problem is, this sort of thing became so widespread that no one can be sure who did it.” Ayten said.
“Unless we turn in all the evidence...”
“No, Ali. I won’t let you.” Sara was upset.
“It would be very unwise,” Ahmet frowned. "First, it would expose all of us to terrorists’ activities. Second, supposing we got arrests and convictions, can you be sure that the justice will be carried out? They’ll skip jail and try to get back at us.”
““We haven’t finished finding out who they are,” Sara said, stirring in her seat. Her left arm annoyed her beyond endurance. “Except maybe a person here, another one there. We need time. Once we have everything, Mother’s case can be reopened.”
“I don’t feel right to let it go just like that,” Ali rapped his fingers on the table.” I think I should at least show the agreement to the District Attorney. I might be able to cast a doubt.”
“No, you won’t,” Sara looked at him horrified. “I don’t want Enver and those guys come after you. We have enough to worry about as it is.”
“Honey, it makes sense. Let’s have him squirm a little. Besides, I did call Enver today.”
“You did what?” Sara’s face reddened.
“I couldn’t get through. He had to be notified of the funeral. He was her business partner, to say the least.”
“Ali, next time let me call him,” Ayten said. “Sara is right. You are taking too much onto yourself and you’re worrying her.”
“Maybe I’ll take the agreement to district attorney,” Sara said. “I’ll also tell him what Mother said.”
“You want Enver chase you again?” This time, Ali looked enraged.
“And you want me to enjoy it, if he sets the whole mob after you, right?” Her voice had turned shrill. The pain was making her impatient.
“You are the one shot at. What do you think happens to me each time they try to gun down your workplace, burn you out, or kill you?” He banged on the table with his fist and walked away into the kitchen.
“Great,” Sara yelled after him. “Now you’re going to pout and nothing will be solved.”
Ayten was uncomfortable. “Maybe we should leave.”
“No, he’ll come around,” Ahmet said, “He needed to let off steam. This happens to him often lately.”
“Please don’t go,” Sara said. “We have to decide together. I’ll get us some tea.” She went into the kitchen.
Ali was standing against a wall cupboard, his fist between the wood and his forehead. His eyes were shut tight. She touched his cheek lightly as she walked past him. She set out the teacups and turned the faucet on. The water filled into the kettle in a metallic rhythm. His arm extended from behind her. He grasped the handle, “Let me,” he said. She let go of the kettle and turned around to kiss his cheek. He put the kettle on the counter and raked her hair with his fingers. Then he pulled her to himself and kissed her with passion.
“Forgive me,” he whispered. “I can’t take it when you’re hurt. This whole situation is getting tougher to bear.”
“There’s nothing to forgive. We are under pressure. I feel panicked, too.”
The throbbing continued way into the night. At least Sara felt relieved because Ahmet convinced Ali to stay out of Enver’s way. “So you can back Sara up when and if needed,” he said.
Sara stood leaning against doorjamb after they left. The floor vibrated at her face, and her head rocked within.
“You’re not doing well, are you?”
She turned her head to him with effort and shook her head. Then she straightened up and walked to the bedroom unaided. He followed right behind. She sat on the bed and pressed her hand to her face. Her skin was hot and wet.
Ali felt her forehead with his hand. “You weren’t up to having company. You have fever.” He started unwrapping her bandages. “Let’s check that again,” he said.
The inside tissues of her nose itched from the smell of the antiseptic, and the altered taste of tea covered her mouth after resurging from her stomach.
“Do you feel nauseous?”
She nodded. He prodded her to lie on her back. “Okay, no infection. You just have a nervous stomach. You pushed it too hard. It has been too much for you.”
‘He fusses too much,’ Sara thought. ‘Maybe he doesn’t believe in my body but my strength is hidden, not exposed like a man’s.'
“Did the doctor give you a tetanus shot?”
“Sure he did. Relax, will you? I need a rest, that’s all.” Yet, her voice contained a hint of pleasure. His caring was precious in her life.
She was pulled into a mirror. Flashing lights on skeletons reaching out, chanting, “hold my hand,” Lamia’s neck was pulsing with blood, flooding every surface. Blood coated the sea. The meows of a cat. A marsupial form tearing into her. “Get me out of this dream.” Yet her scream solidified, choking her throat. ‘No getting out,’ she thought. Her nightmare was perpetual.
When she opened her eyes, she saw him crouching on the bed, watching her with an anxious face. Suddenly she worried for him. She worried about the burdened way he looked; his shirt hanging from his shoulders like weights, unbuttoned; his hair disheveled; his color turned to hay yellow from the dim lamp. ‘This man needs a cure,’ she thought.
“I didn’t want to wake you up,” he said. “But you were so agitated. I didn’t know what to do.”
“I know what to do,” Sara answered, sitting up. She pulled herself up to her knees beside him. With her good arm she yanked his shirt off. Then, she ran her fingers on his lips before she kissed him. “First help me out of my nightgown,” she said.
It was going to be a warm day. She could tell from the bright sunshine seeping through the thickly woven cloth curtain. The pain had ebbed somewhat during the night and Ali was sleeping with his head resting against her right side. Some surprise his passion had been the night before. With everything considered, she had expected a dulled interest. She watched his skin sparkle over his shoulder all the way down along the contours of his body. What a painting this would make! She concentrated to memorize the shapes, the light and shade patterns, and the way he had anchored his leg around her. He moaned and said something. Then she felt his lips press tight into her skin. “That is for watching me when I sleep,” he said.
Ayten called around midday. She had reached Enver about Lamia’s funeral. She said he had cried on the phone and she had become doubtful of his guilt about Lamia’s death. ‘Ayten is a foreigner to his games,’ Sara thought.
She glanced at Ali during lunch. His healthy color had returned and the lines on his forehead had evened off. Her “cure” had worked.
“You look much better,” he commented, “Your arm. Doesn’t it hurt anymore?”
“Not much. Tylenol eases it now.”
He smoothed the tablecloth with his hands. “Good, we settled that one.”
She could tell that he felt like a healer who mysteriously took care of the wound, but she knew that the mystery lay in their inner music.
“I should go over to Mother’s apartment today.”
“Are you sure? It will be difficult.”
“There may be some information somewhere that they might overlook.”
“All right. We’ll go.” She was surprised that he didn’t put up a fight.
When the policeman saw her first, he stretched his palm outward. “No, it’s forbidden.” But he swung the door open when Ali stepped off the elevator behind her. A glow of respect and excitement had spread over the policeman’s face. Ali whispered, “It isn’t me, it’s you!”
Sara felt drained within as soon as they set foot in the hallway of Lamia’s apartment. She had expected the old showplace look to jump at her from each corner. But the carpet had lost its spic and span look; dust and footprints had bullied it all the way to the rooms inside.
“This used to be my room.” She pointed with her hand but walked past the door, hesitating for a moment in front of Lamia’s room.
What she saw gave her no joy. All the drawers were open, bed taken apart, and the carpet lifted at one corner. Even the books from the small bookshelf were on the floor.
“The work of my colleagues,” Ali sneered. “They get into everything and find nothing.”
Sara opened her mother’s jewelry box. It was empty. “I wonder if she had to sell the stuff,” she muttered.
“No,” Ali said. “I asked one of the guys to keep the valuables in a separate bag. You couldn’t guess how things like that evaporate into thin air.”
“Who cares! If you really traced the rightful owners around here....” She didn’t finish.
She felt his arms around her. “Don’t think of things like that. She’s dead.”
Strange was his reverence for death, like her grandmother’s. ‘Never talk against the dead,’ she recalled her grandmother scolding Lamia after she had ridiculed Sara’s father. ‘You torment their souls.’
“What are those? I never saw them before. Except these. I remember Mother writing into one of them when I came to visit her once. She said she took notes and it relieved her stress,” Sara stood by the bookshelf.
“These are probably ledgers and other notebooks your mother kept. This one has figures and notes, mostly.” He knelt down leafing through one. “See, didn’t I tell you? My colleagues always overlook the obvious. Interesting... We’ll take them with us.”
Sara’s freestanding armoire was the only furniture left with closed doors. As soon as Sara opened it, a fragrance filled the room. Ali swiveled on his toes toward her, the back of his hand against his nose, his eyes half-closed.
“What’s that?” Ali exclaimed.
“Mother’s perfume. Jasmine nights. Strong for you, sad for me.” She closed the door.
“Let’s get out, Honey. Sometime soon, we’ll have to come back anyhow,” he said reaching for her hand. He had the four notebooks under his arm.
The sun was pure white and dazzling in the sky. It was the kind of weather people would wish to take a stroll by the water. But Ali circled around her like a watchdog until she got into the car.
“Am I in danger?”
“No, but it pays to be alert. I’m cautious about myself, too. More than ever before because of you.” He patted her knee before turning the key in the ignition.
It was stupid of her to worry. Once she had dreamt of him evaporating. Something in her mid-center folded in pain whenever she remembered that dream. But now these words from his mouth soothed her like cool water.
As short as it was, the car ride upset her stomach. She had never liked Lamia’s apartment, and today had been the worst, despite the fact that Ali had been with her. She lay on her back on the living room divan and slept.
When she awoke, she saw him examining one of the books they had brought in the morning. He had his left elbow on the table and he sat leaning on it, looking down. He had an angry expression, with the frown on his forehead etched deep, his lips moving convulsively but wordless. He looked at her momentarily. Closing the notebook on the table, he leapt up and raced to her.
“Don’t get up, please. You’ll get dizzy again.”
Puzzled, she checked herself inside her mind. She wasn’t feeling sick. Why had he panicked? He was trembling slightly. There were still so many things about him she didn’t understand.
“You are nervous. Why?” She stroked his hair. “What were you looking at?”
“Just a ledger. That isn’t it.” He looked at her searching for a right answer. “The funeral,” he said. “That’s it. The funeral. They called about the funeral. It is tomorrow noon.”
Somehow she had the feeling he wasn’t telling the truth, but that was not like him either.
“Why are you so upset over the funeral now?”
“I don’t want you to go.”
Her mind whirled. “She’s my mother. I want to go.” How could he say that?
“All right. Then, we’ll go. Just don’t get up until I come back.” He took the book off the table and headed into the bedroom.
“Why?” Sara called after him.
“I want to lie next to you,” he called back.
Ayten stood glued to her in the women’s section inside the mosque. Another surprise was the abundance of women at the funeral. Lamia was not the sort to be bothered with friendships. Ali had kept reassuring Sara that there was no danger, still two policemen sat on the backseat of the car when they drove to the cemetery.
Sara saw Enver by the casket. Under the dark glasses, his face looked swollen and red. Some act he was putting on... Dread arose in her in wild currents. What if he hurt Ali after seeing them together? He was capable of anything. He probably knew of her relationship with Ali by now. ‘Get rid of him. Get it over with,’ she told herself. She opened her bag and fumbled for the handle of the gun inside. Her wrist was instantly seized by Ali’s iron grip. “Not here, Honey. Not now,” he whispered. There were sad smiles on many faces. His arm around her was interpreted as endearment to people.
During the last rites, the imam asked the crowd, “How did you know this woman?” It was customary for everyone to say that she was a good woman. Sara didn’t hear Ali utter a word. Enver sobbed loudly when they were shoveling dirt over the grave. Everyone was praying in sad discordant voices like music without harmony. The words were Arabic and few knew what they meant, but as the meaning muddled, the feeling intensified.
Many policemen were at the funeral. “If there is no danger, why are they protecting us?” Sara asked Ali in a whisper.
“Few were sent by the department. Others are here on their own, out of respect for you. The man you shot had killed five cops.”
It started to drizzle. “God is sending his mercy,” someone said.
Sara turned back to look at the spot under the cypress trees where her mother had just gotten buried. It was said that God had a reason for everything. Then, why had Lamia lived and died the way she did?