Istanbul Days Istanbul Nights
(The First Chapters)
CAST OF CHARACTERS
In order of appearance
Hasan Çentitaş: 30’s rising young star in film circles in Istanbul, went to US to get a PhD in Media, met & married Katja, returned to Istanbul to work for Bekir in the new university but who died tragically from a heart attack one morning after leaving his wife asleep to go play basketball with some high school friends.
Katja: a dance instructor/choreographer, in her 30’s, from Sarajevo, Bosnia originally, she met her husband Hasan in NYC when both were at Columbia University, she was getting her MFA in Dance and he was finishing his PhD in Media, and returned with him to Istanbul to work at the college. Her personal history is marred by tragedy—her father, mother, brothers, and older sister were killed in the civil war that ripped Yugoslavia apart and her husband died in June on a school yard basketball court early one Sunday while playing with his friends. Though in shock for a month afterwards, and in a foreign country, she slowly is emerging into life with the help of her late husband’s mentor Bekir. A great cook, a lover of jazz and opera, she has terrific legs and the sexiest walk in Istanbul.
Bekir: the visionary who creates colleges, 50s, tall, moves with the grace of a former dancer which is what he was during his youthful college days; also was a member of the Communist Party and spent some time in prison during the 80s coup and was tortured. Still liberal in his political leanings and a great believer in the power of education. Family was originally from the Black Sea and he is very proud of that and also being able to speak Laz.
Michael: he’s been chair of the Theatre Department for four years, ever since the university was founded. Before that, he was chair of a theatre department in California where he also occasionally acted in shows. As he approached 60, he longed for an adventure and responded to an ad for his present job in Turkey. Before that he had dreams of retirement on a beach somewhere with his cat, a glass of red wine in his hand, and the time to read all the books lining his walls. Instead he ended up in Istanbul and has not regretted it since.
Özge: Mustafa’s wife of 25 years.
Murat: 40’s, married with three children, two girls of three and seven and an infant son, holds a PhD in American Studies and a masters in Musical Theory and Composition, has composed some short choral pieces that played at a few festivals and is currently working on an operetta he hopes to conduct himself.
Philip: British, 50’s, from a working class family, graduated Oxford on an academic scholarship, teaches playwriting and screenwriting, intellectual, has written stories, plays, screenplays, even independently produced his own work, is fascinated with building structures around a single word, rereads Proust every year, and though very social, can withdraw for long periods of time to submerge himself in his work, loves taking long walks wandering around the city and has a fondness for collecting old photographs and postcards.
Meric: early 30s, an acting teacher/director, restless, always seeking something just out of reach, has an MFA in Acting and studied at The Stella Adler Studio in NYC, passionate about theatre, acting, drink, and women, not necessarily in that order.
Gamze: late 20s, costume designer in the theatre department who is leaving to get married to her boyfriend in Adana in August.
Simon: early 40s, department head of the English Preparatory Program who is returning to his college in Michigan in August.
Jennifer: late 20s, blond, blue-eyed, exceeding attractive young Prep teacher from Ohio who came to Turkey right after graduating from grad school in search of adventure and found it and romance at the college, is madly in love with Meric and will do whatever is necessary to keep him madly in love with her.
Meral: an English Prep instructor, married, no kids, 30s.
Elif: an English Prep instructor starting her fifth year of teaching, late 20s, unmarried, loves poetry and the theatre.
İşmigül: an English Prep instructor with one year of experience, lives at home, a shopaholic, 20s.
Fersat: a student in the film department whose shyness has, at times, made him appear backward but who has always been alert to whatever was happening around him and found, after being given a camera for his birthday one year, a way to record what he saw in ways no one who knew him would have ever imagined. It was more than his eyes; it was his voice, too.
Berat: a student in the theatre department and one of the lead male dancers. He has since he was a child been graceful on his feet and though he at first wanted to be a footballer, he found that majoring in dance not only suited his artistic temperament but also allowed him to be surrounded by beautiful, shapely young women who enjoyed being held in his arms.
Elena: a student in the theatre department and the lead female dancer. Is a foreign student from the Ukraine: long legged, blonde, blue eyes, every Turkish man's dream of a goddess from the North who not only dances like the wind but is as free.
İrem: Michael’s assistant in the Theatre Department, 32, wants to be a director, has a degree in Cultural Studies from Sabanci University and an MFA in Theatre from the University of Michigan, worked for a few years after college and though she loves her job, often thinks of returning to the US for a PhD. Cooks dinner for Michael every Saturday night, watches old movies with him, and considers him her best friend.
Deniz: mid 30s, slender as a model, is a costume designer who studied in London for three years, paints at home in her top floor apartment with a skylight that she’s converted into a studio because of the light, loves to paint barefoot in a short, silk dress holding her brush like a knife while playing music, mostly Turkish pop or lately The Rolling Stones. She is filled with energy and loves change so much she is constantly rearranging the furniture in her apartment and adding clothes and shoes to her wardrobe.
Dave: a visiting professor from a US college that has a faculty/student exchange agreement with the college. He will run the English Prep Program for one year before returning to America. Is originally from Indiana but left the state for his current college in New York after a painful divorce. Eventually became the Director of the English Language Institute (ELI) as well as editor of the college’s literary magazine. Was quite a ladies’ man in his younger days but has, for the last few years, found himself without female companionship and has not been able to adjust to that very well.
Brenda: early 30s, from Britain, recently divorced from a husband more interested in writing love poems than the actual performance, a recent graduate of a PhD program in Media Studies, presented a paper at a conference that Bekir attended in London and, having finally been granted a divorce, jumped at the chance to teach in another country.
Sönmez: Murat’s wife, late 30s, pays more attention to the children than him.
Mert: 50s, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, owner of the college, has known Bekir from their student days when they were young communists and briefly imprisoned together in the early 80s coup.
Meltem: a student in the theatre department, a born actress, has as long as anyone in her family can remember acted out all the parts in every movie or TV show that she has watched, donning costumes, applying make-up, changing her vocal register, even appearing either taller or shorter as was required, to everyone's delight.
Onur: Murat’s best friend, 40s, teaches finance at another university.
Mark: Brenda’s ex-husband, 30s, poet, more interested in writing about love than demonstrating it.
Pelın: a young student in the Theatre Program with a minor in Music who wants to study eventually in America. Besides wanting to be an actress, she sings with a trio of musicians from the Music Department at the university in local clubs and bars. Is heavily influenced by the torch singers she listens to, emulating vocal styles and mannerisms, exuding a world-weariness from life's experiences she sorely lacks but would desperately love to acquire.
Naım: a waiter at The Hamsi Pub.
Mermati: a waiter at the Hamsi Pub.
Osman: barman at the Belfast, a popular bar in Moda, in his early 20’s, a former language student taking some time off from college to work.
İrem’s mom: widow, early 50s, lives to see her daughter married with children of her own.
Brenda’s mom: late 50s, concerned for her daughter’s well being and marriage.
It begins at a funeral, never an easy place to begin in any country, in any culture, though there are some who use it to commemorate a life well lived, with photographs of those important events in all our lives: birth, school days, graduations, weddings, children, if we are lucky, vacations, family picnics, friends and relatives gathered around on holidays, changing hair styles and hairlines, fashions come and gone, smiling faces around dinner tables, in backyards, on trips to warmer climates with beaches and sand. But here, today, we have no such photographs for here, today, we bury a young man, only 36, a man who was still in the process of acquiring those moments yet to be captured on camera and stored away in our collective memory.
We stand at the mosque as the Imam reads from the Qur’an and there is murmuring of voices following along, hands raised palms up, female heads covered, moist eyes, and some sobbing, a solemn group of friends and colleagues surrounding the young widow, a woman named Katja who endures the burial of her husband. She stands mute, numb, one supposes, from the shock, and her knees buckle as she throws first a white rose onto his body covered in a burial shroud lying there in its grave, then a shovelful of dirt onto his body, that body she had clung to not so long ago as they slept in the bed that will now offer no comfort to her again. But Bekir, the university director, holds her firmly on one side and Michael, the theatre department chair, on the other and they both help her move off to the side while other friends and colleagues from the university, some former students of his, and some of the university staff all pass by, dropping a shovelful of dirt onto his cold, still form.
Afterwards the cars and minibuses bring everyone back to the school where tables are set-up with food and beverages because Bekir knows Katja is in no condition to host this herself, nor is her apartment large enough to accommodate everyone. So he turns the school and its staff over for this occasion and his wife Özge is in charge of organizing it while they all attend the service.
Katja sits in a chair at what could be considered the head table if this were that kind of occasion, a wedding, say, or a graduation party, but being a funeral, no one thinks of it that way. But people do file past offering condolences that she more or less acknowledges with a nod of her head or a faint smile or sometimes both. First, of course, there is Murat who though he never worked alongside her late husband in the film department since he is the head of the music department, he still, like Michael who stands at her left side, worked with him on committees. And though Murat feels awkward since he always felt somewhat threatened by Hasan because of his close relationship with Bekir, who stands at Katja’s right side, and being the head of the school is thus supervisor to them all, he still can't help but be moved by her loss.
Next comes some film department faculty including Philip who teaches script and playwriting for both departments and who awkwardly bends over to kiss her cheeks which she is too distracted to notice. Then there are the theatre faculty, among them Meric, the acting teacher for the Turkish track students and the other director of showcase productions besides Michael, and Gamze, the costume designer who is leaving in another month to marry her fiancé and live in Adana, and then the English Prep teachers, lead by Simon, a visiting instructor from America who is returning to his college in Michigan at the end of July, and the other teachers including Jennifer, Meral, Elif, and İşmigül, and students, of course, from his film classes, like Fersat and Meltem, as well as from the theatre and dance program, especially her favorite dancers Berat and Elena, and Michael’s assistant and protégé İrem. So many others, all filing past, with moist eyes and mumbled words of condolences, all looking sorrowfully at Katja who sits dazed in her chair, and making meaningful eye contact with Bekir and then Michael, this sad parade of colleagues and students showing their respect for a fallen teacher lost so early in life on a basketball court on a Sunday morning.
And afterwards, they mill about the exhibition hall of the college, nibbling on food, sipping soda or water, speaking in hushed tones of the departed, and casting furtive looks at the young widow lost in mourning with Bekir and Michael still at her side.
And finally the ordeal ends for her. Bekir drives her home and Özge helps her get settled before they both leave her to lie in a semi-catatonic position on the bed, still in her black dress, her eyes closed, wishing herself asleep.
As for the others, well, they drift off back to their lives and we will let them go, except for a few who we will follow till the end of this day.
First there is Philip sitting in a bar watching the world go by. He is thinking about mortality, his own in particular, and wondering just where the time goes. He had liked Hasan, a polar opposite version of himself in some ways: a PhD in hand, a credible academic resume, papers presented at the right conferences, articles on up and coming Turkish directors who live in other countries like Germany and Italy, a book in progress about the artist as an alien in a foreign culture, a promising career ahead of him in academic circles, a beautiful, foreign wife, a man destined for success. And now, a generation still behind Philip’s own, dead. Ah yes, Philip sighs. The good really do die young.
He sips his beer and watches a young couple walk past him to another table in the back. He can’t help noticing the way their jeans hug their hips, the young man’s hand sliding down to rest somewhat possessively on the small of the back of the young woman, the smiles they each have as they lean forward over their table whispering in the semi-darkness.
Youth, Philip thinks. Where did it go and how come one can’t get it back? Surely, with modern science making such gains, there can’t be a pill one could take which would allow one at least a fleeting moment of youth recaptured. A night, say, once a month, a weekend in the country, a candlelight dinner, an hour under the sheets.
Of course Philip never really thought he would ever be anything but young since he did not imagine he would live long enough to grow old. He himself had never really expected to make it into his fifties, much less beyond that, but here he is firmly implanted in that decade and though he smokes three packs of cigarettes a day, he still can't quite get himself to think beyond the month. It is a flaw in his character, he thinks, but he does not know how to plan ahead beyond 30 days. It is possibly the reason his last lover gave up on him as a losing proposition, since no matter how often he was lectured on being fiscally conservative, Philip never seemed to listen. Actually, though, he did listen but he just never earned enough to do anything but live hand to mouth in London, and would still be doing the same thing if he were there. Here, at least, with a full-time job, health insurance, and a flat he can realistically afford, if he has no money left at the end of the month, he still does not have any debt, either. And since he has no dependents to be concerned about, living this way suits him for the present. Perhaps if he ever worried about the future, he might rethink his strategy, but he has no belief in any time beyond the end of the month and so is quite content to continue this way until he stops breathing.
Then he thinks of Katja, alone in her bed, mourning a future she had envisioned but now is so cruelly denied, and he feels immense sorrow as he once again realizes how random happiness is.
Meric meanwhile is rolling over on his side in bed watching Jennifer’s naked back and quite lovely ass disappear on its way to the bathroom. He rubs his hand across his abdomen and thinks he is a lucky man to be alive, in bed with a beautiful woman, working at a school he loves. Funerals always depress him but now, afterwards, he only has reason to rejoice. Poor Hasan, he thinks. Gone so young and by surprise. Meric did not know him very well since he was in the film department but he knows Katja well since they are both in the theatre department and all of his acting students must take her dance classes. He thinks he wouldn’t mind dancing with her himself, then feels slightly guilty for thinking that. Hasan isn’t even cold yet, and right away he is thinking of his widow.
He turns over on his back and stares at the ceiling. Jennifer will be back out soon and with luck she will stay the entire night. These American girls, he thinks, are so much easier than Turkish women. They are just the way he likes them.
His eyes begin to close, languid thoughts drift through his semi-awake mind, and then there is a weight on the bed, Jennifer’s hands on his chest, combing his hair back from his forehead, licking his ear. “Miss me?” she breathes.
“Always,” he says, and takes her in his arms, his fingers working their magic, and any thoughts of death far removed from either of their minds.
And then to Michael who sits on his couch, his cat purring in his lap, while Miles Davis plays on his stereo in the living room and İrem is busy cooking something, which he knows will be delicious, in his kitchen. He thinks he really should get up and go help, or at least watch, but the cat keeps him anchored on the couch and Miles’ trumpet kisses the air around his ears and he can’t seem to rise to the occasion.
İrem appears wearing the apron she keeps at his place and carrying a glass of wine for each of them. “I’ve finished with the mezes,” she says, “but the fish needs to bake a little longer in the oven.” She smiles as she sits opposite him and hands him the wine. “But knowing you,” she says, “I knew this would be welcomed.”
“You know me too well,” Michael says and touches his glass to hers. “To life,” he says.
“Yes,” she says, her smile turning slightly melancholic.
They are quiet as they sip their wine, each listening to the trumpet, lost in their own
thoughts, a world apart and yet closely bound together. Then Michael clears his throat, takes the remote in hand, and skips to the next CD in the player, a Frank Sinatra disc, and says, “Care to dance?”
“You want to dance now?” she asks, only slightly surprised since nothing he ever does surprises her for long.
“Yes,” he says. “I do. Don’t you?”
She smiles, stands, and, after carefully untying her apron, says, “Not with this on.”
“Ah,” he goes, “but it is so charming on you.”
“You say that because I cook for you,” she says, “and you’d like me to continue doing that.”
“Well,” he admits, shrugging, “there is a bit of self-interest here.”
She holds out her hand so he can lead her to the center of the room and then they embrace, he holding her ever so lightly, she floating on air, and slowly they begin to dance to Sinatra singing I’ve Got You Under My Skin and death, remorse, all the cares of the world seem to fade away as the cat watches serenely from his position on the couch and the night slips by.
Murat stands in his living room staring out to the courtyard below. His wife is asleep in the back bedroom, their three children also asleep in the bed with her, even the oldest at seven still preferring to lie with her mother than in her own bed. Only Murat sleeps alone, out here on the couch usually, or in the kids’ room on the single bed that should be his oldest daughter’s but is, more often than not, his now. He holds a glass of raki in his hand, the milky liquid offering some comfort on this night, though not enough to quell any thoughts of death and mortality for long. He wonders how his life turned out this way, alone in his own home, and alone especially tonight after just burying a colleague, an almost friend. Poor Hasan, he thinks. So much to live for and all gone because his heart was weaker than he knew.
Murat moves from the window and sits on the couch. He wishes he could sleep but his mind is too active, too many unnecessary images floating through, many involving women and none are his wife. Where did the passion go, he wonders, and stifles a cry.
He pours more raki into his glass, drops in some ice cubes from the ice bucket on the coffee table, and mixes in some cold water, but he knows it will take several more of these before his eyes finally close. And his eyes move restlessly over to the shelves of DVDs and CDs lining the wall next to his home entertainment unit. He picks a CD of Kazim Koyuncu and puts it into the CD player, slips the headphones on, and turns up the volume. And as the Black Sea music blots out all else, he leans back on the couch, closes his eyes, and sips his raki. It isn’t the evening he would like to have after burying someone he had liked, but it will do. It has to. It is all he has left.
And finally we end with Katja. She lies in bed, curled up in a fetal position, wishing she were anyplace other than where she is, in bed, the bed she shared with Hasan up to not so very long ago, the bed where she would lie in his arms, being held by him, inhaling his smell, feeling his arms around her, his breath on her neck, the warmth of his skin. She cannot believe she will never feel that again, and yet she knows it is over, over never to return, and yet how does she live knowing that, how does she go on?
So Katja lies in bed and cannot even cry. She can do nothing. Only lie there. In bed. And wait for the end of the world.
The early morning call to prayer from the local mosque wakes him, his now familiar alarm clock. The cat, too, stirs and stretches, looks over at Michael who keeps his eyes closed in a futile attempt to fool him, but the cat is wise to his tricks and pulls itself up, and slinks over to stare into Michael’s face until he opens his eyes to acknowledge him. “Okay,” Michael sighs wearily. The cat them plops down in the crock of his right arm, puts one paw ever so gently on his exposed forearm, and rests his head, closes his eyes, and falls back asleep. Michael, used to this routine, joins him. And they both drift off for another half hour of rest.
Katja wakes up in a cold bed in the morning, missing her husband’s arms, his breath on her neck, the long, slow penetration she had grown accustomed to. This is a morning, a world, a life, she doesn't want to be in. A world without any relief from the loneliness that has been her life until she met Hasan. Her heart, her body, aches for him, turns in her bed, her legs open, yearning for him. Hasan, she thinks. My Hasan.
And this is not the first morning she wakes to a longing in her very depths that she knows she may never fill.
Deniz’s dream: she is walking in a forest towards a man she does not recognize but knows intimately. As she approaches, there is a rustling of leaves in the upper branches of the trees and she turns toward the sound, startled to see a flock of sparrows, their eyes intently watching her every move. And she smiles in turn because that seems to be what one does to sparrows in trees, and yet it does no good, for the birds begin to fly and then soar forward, circling above her head, their beaks open, a chattering sound filling her ears, and yet it is not unpleasant and she awakes smiling, and thinks of her mother and fortune tellers back in Fatih and omens about money, good fortune and birds in dreams.
Dave wakes not knowing where he is, the bed, the room, the air he breathes unfamiliar. He gropes his way up to a sitting position and surveys his surroundings, his eyes adjusting to the room as the morning light filters in through the open window. And as he hears the morning call to prayer, he realizes he isn't back home on Long Island but in Istanbul, his new temporary home for a year. His heart slows down, his breathing normal, and he lies back to try to catch some more sleep before the alarm rings and he begins his new adventure.
Bekir’s wife Özge prepares breakfast while he shaves, showers, gets dressed. It is a typical Turkish breakfast: olives, three types of cheese, some meat, a sliced hard-boiled egg, honey, jam, bread, a sliced tomato and cucumber. He eats without talking, just listens as Özge relays the latest news of their children, both at college now, from emails received during the night. He half listens, not because he isn’t interested, but because his mind is on the school, this first week of the fourth year, the faculty, the staff. the months of preparation during the summer he endured to get to this point, the first gathering this year of everyone connected with this, the fourth college he has willed into being. And his mind cannot stay focused on anything other than reviewing all the last minute details, the registration process for new students for the next two weeks, the introductory remarks he must make in less than three hours. Most of these people are returning faculty from the last three years but there are some new people hired to replace those who have left and others to teach for the increased enrollment, so the mix is different, is challenging, is just the way he likes it. Always a fresh challenge, always something slightly different, in this a university dedicated to the performing arts. And this year, his all-important year, must turn a profit, or else be on the verge of turning a profit for his contract to be renewed. For the Board of Directors are growing a bit impatient with his results so far, and he knows if he doesn’t do something this year to guarantee a marked increase in enrollment and exposure for the college’s programs, his tenure as director will be over. And with this on his mind, he sits down to eat.
Bekir smiles as he eats and Özge thinks it is because of their son’s amusing stories that she is relaying, but it is because of what awaits him outside the door: another leg of a new journey on which to test himself once again.
Brenda’s journey begins at the elevator and continues down the five flights to the ground floor where we watch her step out of the apartment house door and take in the rich aroma of freshly baked bread from the bakery across the street. Then it’s the beginning of what will come to be her morning routine: her “merhaba” to the baker as she buys her morning simit and then the brisk five minute walk along Bağdat Street past all the shop owners starting to open up for the day until she catches a mini-bus for the rapid darting through traffic to the ferry at Kadiköy for Eminönü. She waits with the other passengers, Michael among them, though at this point she does not know him and so there is no look of recognition on either of their faces, while the ferry disembarks its passengers at Kadiköy before the gates open and both Brenda and Michael are swept up in the surge forward with everyone else onto the ferry to look for a window seat: Brenda on the first floor, Michael on the second floor deck.
Brenda’s head is lowered as she immerses herself in a book, reading Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust while the ferry pulls away from the dock and moves off toward the European side. She is oblivious to the other passenger’s, lost in the world of the novel, a marriage unraveling, much like her own back in London, but this one being much more humorous, as fiction often is in regards to life.
Michael, meanwhile, on the second floor deck always feels relief settling in as he gazes out the window watching the coastline recede, the wide expanse of the Bosporus with freighters and smaller fishing skiffs scattered about, and then the landing at Eminönü drawing closer as they pull up next to the dock. The lines are thrown out and slipped over the moors, the gateways are slid across, and the crowd scrambles off, either over the gateways or taking giant steps from the boat to the dock.
Michael makes his way to the buses and boards one headed for Balat and stands for the short ride up the coast of Haliç, or as he likes to refer to its former name The Golden Horn, and sees the signs of early life as mothers push strollers along the waterway, enjoying the early morning hours of autumn. Some wear scarves, some without, but all stroll leisurely along. There are a few older women on benches watching grandchildren and one ambitious grandmother in head scarf, long sleeves, and baggy black pants is astride the exercise stirrups working her legs in concentrated motion to her own beat. Michael admires her concentration and wonders if maybe he shouldn’t start exercising again.
Brenda, though, we see getting into a taxi and handing the driver the business card for the school and asks, “Okay?” He studies the card, looks back at her, her thin, pale face, her long, blonde hair, her long, slender neck, and nods, says, “Okay” in reply and starts the engine, and they are off while Brenda makes note of the meter reading and gazes out the window at the same scenery Michael sees but with cooler, more remote eyes.
Murat sits at the kitchen table and watches his wife Sönmez breast-feed their infant son. She seems so blissful, so very much absorbed by his sucking that she is unaware of anything else in the room, especially Murat’s own presence at the table. And this depresses him. Their three year old daughter is intently staring at the cereal in her bowl as if she expects it to somehow magically transport itself into her mouth and he wonders how he ended up like this: married, with children, and a wife who grows more distant with each passing day. He remembers how they used to touch each other all the time, as if they couldn’t bear to be separated for a minute, a second, but now they never touch at all, except when she hands him the baby to hold while she prepares the bath, or at night when she accidently brushes against him in the hallway in the long cotton nightgown she now wears to insulate herself even further from his touch. And he wonders how they grew so far apart and if he’ll ever again prefer to stay here rather than board a bus to go to work.
Dave has the easiest commute of all since he is in an apartment supplied by the school for visiting faculty from America or England, but he is, this semester, the only visiting professor and thus the sole occupant of this apartment. He stands at the window looking down at the waterway known as Haliç and thinks what a way to start the day. He is drinking a cup of tea and nibbling on some hazelnuts and wondering who is cutting his grass back at his home on Long Island, then dismisses that thought as he watches a small fishing skiff sail by. Life, he thinks, in a new city. Another adventure. Another new day.
Deniz meanwhile steps off the bus coming from Sultanahmet and crosses over to the school. Dave actually sees her while scanning the street looking at people stepping off the buses but he, of course, does not know Deniz so there is no look of recognition when he sees her. She is just another pretty woman crossing a street to him but we know different. We know she is on the alert looking for sparrows. And her heart beats a little faster as she steps through the school’s front door expecting one to swoop down. She is almost disappointed when no bird appears.
Brenda appears, though, emerging from a taxi just outside the front door and Dave, looking at his watch, thinks he should get down there and meet some of the English instructors he’ll be supervising this year in the English Preparatory Program. But first another player goes walking in just before Dave, the music department chair Murat who is still thinking about his wife nursing their infant son and wondering when he will once again have the attention of those breasts himself. And he, like the rest, finds his name tag on the table set up just outside the auditorium door and fastens it on his sport coat lapel while taking a seat two rows behind Deniz who sits toward the front, crossing her legs and studying the agenda for the day. And they are very shapely legs, which does not escape Dave’s eye, for he sits in the row opposite hers across the aisle.
Michael comes into the auditorium then and though he is on the lookout for İrem, he sees Philip off to the side and settles in next to him. “Ready for an hour's worth of speeches in Turkish?” he asks.
“I wake up mornings thrilled by the thought,” Philip says. “But won’t İrem be here to translate?”
“That’s the plan,” Michael says. “But you know that quote about mice and men, right?”
“By heart.” And he perks up a bit when he spies İrem entering the auditorium as she pins her nametag above her left breast, “It appears, though, that İrem is neither.”
She takes a seat between the two of them and says rather casually, “Miss me?”
“All the time,” Michael says, “but I try to repress it.”
“Hmmmm,” she goes. “Repression isn’t healthy, you know.” Then she turns to Philip and says, “Isn’t that so?”
“Absolutely,” he says. “This I can attest to.”
“See?” she says to Michael.
“Are you suggesting I’m repressed?” he asks.
“If the shoe is the right size,” she says and leaves it at that since there is movement at the front and the speeches begin. İrem does her best to deliver truncated versions of each and every one for both Michael’s and Philip’s benefit. Michael, for his part, uses all his former actor’s skills to appear interested while Philip just tries to stay awake.
Other non-Turks like Dave and Brenda are completely lost since this is their first year here and are totally unprepared for this. Jennifer has Meric to translate and Katja knows enough Turkish from her almost five years of living with Hasan to get the gist of it all.
Mert, the chairman of the Board of Directors, speaks first and though his speech lasts approximately 20 minutes, İrem’s translation of it is about a minute long and is that they, as staff and faculty of this school, are like a family and their role in the family is as parents and guardians of the students who will be like their collective children.
Both Philip and Michael look at each other but neither knows quite what to make of the look so their attention goes back to the closing remarks from Mert who speaks of the need of a school like this to contribute to the artistic life in the city and praises Bekir for his vision and his ability to assemble such a talented, experienced staff and faculty together.
This speech, of course, goes over well with everyone present because they are all here because of Bekir, the engine behind this endeavor. And everyone applauds as Bekir takes the stand.
Bekir’s speech is short and to the point: this is a school devoted to the performing arts. He expresses confidence in all the staff and instructors whom he has personally selected for this venture. The next three weeks will be devoted to some orientation meetings, departmental meetings to plan curriculum and teaching schedules, and the final two weeks of student registration. There’s a lot to do, he concludes, but he knows the people gathered here are more than capable of fulfilling their duties and proving, by year’s end, that this will be the premier performing arts college in the city. Then he asks everyone to stand one by one and briefly introduce themselves to the assembly.
There are over 60 people who stand but we do not need to note them all now since most of those who will be our principals have been introduced already and the rest we will meet as this day continues. And later, during the reception that follows, it is only natural for our players to meet.
Dave is especially in his glory flirting with the Prep instructors who will be working for him, almost all female except for one lone male, especially zeroing in on Jennifer who is a native American like himself. “You’ve been teaching here long?” he asks her.
“This will be my fourth year,” she says. “I’ve grown with the school.”
He thinks she has grown rather well but keeps that to himself and rambles on about how this is a one year exchange for him. “I’m here this year and one or two of you will go to my school in New York next year,” he says. “There’s also a plan to send about 30 of your graduates this year to my college for their MFA degrees.”
“Yes, I know,” she says.
And though he tries to keep the conversation moving along, he notices it is flagging on her end, she being obviously distracted by what is happening on the other side of the room. He glances over and notices the theatre group but cannot, for the life of him, figure out why she is so distracted by that group.
But we can guess, since Meric is obviously flirting with Deniz and Jennifer can’t help but size up her new competition.
“Do you ever miss the States?” Dave asks.
“Sometimes,” she says, looking back at him. “But this city grows on you.”
And though Dave is thinking about growth in other directions, our gaze, along with Jennifer’s, returns to the theatre group where Meric stands between Deniz and Katja facing Michael, İrem, and Philip.
“I love working with the Turkish track students,” Meric says, “but hope one day you’ll let me work with some of the English track students as well.”
“Well I am contemplating a year end project that will involve both groups,” he says.
“Really?” and Meric’s eyes light up while both Philip and İrem look over quizzically at their boss.
“It’s just an idea,” Michael says, “and I have to get Bekir’s okay first, but it’ll be a full production done at the end of the spring semester. A play with music and dance incorporated into the text in both English and Turkish.”
“Will we still do the end of semester showcases from both track students?” İrem asks, but in her mind she’s also wondering why he hasn’t mentioned this idea of his to her yet, and can’t help but feel a little hurt by this omission.
“Yes,” Michael nods. “This other thing will be in addition to the two showcases at the end of each semester.”
“That sounds like an ambitious expansion of the department,” Meric says.
Michael nods some more. “It is,” he says. “And it will involve all of you cooperating not only with each other but using student crews to help.”
“I think this all sounds very exciting,” Deniz says, her eyes sparkling with enthusiasm which Meric finds most appealing. “I feel so at home here already.”
“That’s great,” Meric says, his wheels already spinning in regards to making her feel even more at home.
And İrem looks at Michael who realizes, of course, what her unspoken question is and says, “I haven’t mentioned this before because I want to make sure Bekir will approve it first. “
“And you think he might not?” she asks.
“Well this is the first year we graduate students who have completed the entire program and he might not want to make any changes in our operation.”
And changes in the current operation are exactly what is on the mind of Murat as he looks into Brenda’s eyes at this, their first official meeting, and his first conversation with the woman hired to replace Hasan.
Brenda, too, finds herself attracted to Murat’s deep, sensuous eyes as he talks about the impact of Western composers, especially those of twentieth century masters like Ralph Vaughan Williams and Aaron Copland had on his life. She can’t help but notice the wedding band on his finger, though, or his attempt to hide it as he speaks.
And Murat finds he has a hard time keeping his eyes from traveling to her opened blouse and the cleavage she so brazenly offers for view. “You’ll like our students,” he tells her. “Of course I’ve been teaching the language of music in both language track programs but those students who have passed the English Prep Program and have entered the English language track program in film will be your responsibility.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Brenda says.
Then he studies her face for a second before asking, “May I enquire as to why you chose to come to Turkey to teach?”
“For the challenge,” Brenda says, though if she is to be totally honest she would also add and to escape a messy divorce, but she doesn’t know him well enough yet to be totally honest. Besides, she thinks she is often not totally honest with herself for she could no longer keep living in London knowing that any moment, in a pub, at the theatre, turning a corner on a street, she could run into Mark and then how would she ever be free of her marriage? No, the only way to flee from it, from him, from the mutual friends who kept looking at her as if she were making the biggest mistake of her life, from her mother's accusing eyes, was to leave London and thus she jumped at the first offer to go as far away from all things familiar as she could go. Istanbul. It is here in Istanbul that she will hopefully find herself and be free. So she smiles as she adds, “I’ve always been fascinated by Turkish history and culture.”
“Well,” he smiles, “we do have plenty of that to hold your attention.” But he is thinking that if he weren’t married, he would be more interested in holding her attention himself. That thought, though, is almost as unsettling as any action would be.
She, for her part, finds herself admiring his height, his broad shoulders, his dark eyes. She begins to wonder about what goes on in his mind behind those dark eyes. “I don’t think I’ll have trouble finding things to interest me here.”
Dave, meanwhile, wanders over to the theatre crowd where he spies some very attractive women, thinking if he is going to look for someone to be involved with, it’s always best to look outside one’s own department. Besides, he thinks he might as well introduce himself to Michael, the only other American besides Jennifer at the college.
“So,” Dave says, “how long have you been in Turkey?”
“This will be my fifth year,” Michael says.
“You must like it then.”
“There’s much to fall in love with here,” Michael says, and though he doesn’t look İrem’s way, he knows she is watching him.
Dave, meanwhile, begins a conversation with her about the theatre program and in the middle of her description, says, “Your English is very good. Did you study overseas?”
“In America,” she says. “I have an MFA from the University of Michigan in Theatre.”
“Ah,” Dave says. “Great school. And so you teach here?”
“I teach but I’m also Michael’s assistant.”
“Ah,” Dave goes again and thinks lucky Michael. And though he looks over to see if he’s paying attention, Michael seems to have wandered off in his mind because he has the look of someone not consciously in the room.
Which is not exactly true, for he is once again thinking of his project, a play with music and dance but not a musical per se but a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in English and Turkish, with subtitles flashing above the theatre like at City Center in NYC, with colorful costumes and characters of all ages, with two different languages causing misunderstandings, and those two star-crossed lovers torn between their two families that are at war with each other, and a love that can never be in a world where a happy ending is unrealistic and tragedy looms over all. A play about life, about love, about gaining some sort of wisdom. A play that will be the culmination of everything he has thought or felt these last decades. His opus. Here in Turkey, before he has his own heart broken and he must leave.
Meanwhile Philip moves over to Katja and says, “And are you ready for the new year?”
She is almost startled, not expecting anyone to try to engage her in conversation, her mind off somewhere else, thinking of the past, perhaps, and seeing Hasan standing over by the film people and smiling her way. But Philip’s voice brings her to the here and now and she smiles tentatively and says, “More or less.”
“Me, too,” he sighs. “Though I do so enjoy the teaching, I think I would rather, if I could afford it, not be bothered and have more time to write.”
“You’re lucky that way,” she says. “You can work in isolation. But dance should be more communal. It should flow from people making connections somehow in their lives.”
“And from what Michael has said,” Philip says, “it looks like you’ll be getting ample opportunity to make connections on stage.”
Katja finds she is not prepared to make any connections now, would much rather withdraw, she can’t help it, all this talk about enthusiasm for the upcoming year only brings back the memory of Hasan and his perennial optimism. She almost wants to cry, but instead has retreated to the safety of silence. But she also can’t ignore Philip or even Michael for they have both been so kind to her these past few months and she is grateful for that, this kindness during this period of still fresh mourning has been a comfort to her.
Dave seems to need a little comfort of his own and sidles over to stand next to Philip. “It’s nice to see so many of the faculty here speak English,” he says.
“Makes you feel at home, does it?” Philip asks.
“Especially since they all have accents. Reminds me of my old ELI,” and he sighs. “Though no Spanish accents here, which I sorely miss since it’s the only other language I can actually get by on.”
“Well that won't help you much here,” Philip says.
“I guess I'll have to try to learn some Turkish,” Dave says and smiles ingenuously.
“That would be more useful,” Philip says.
“And you?” Dave asks Katja. “How's your English?”
Katja looks at him almost as if she does not understand the question, then says, "I speak five languages: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Turkish, and English.”
“I’m impressed,” Dave says, but, of course, he is impressed with more than her ability in languages. It is, after all, hard not to be impressed by her poise, her dark, sensuous beauty, her deep, sexy eyes. “And you teach in the theatre department?”
“I’m the college’s choreographer and dance instructor.”
“Actually,” Dave says, “my parents were going to name me Fred instead of Dave, thus anticipating my other great passion.”
“Which is?” Katja asks.
“And how is Fred connected to that?”
“Astaire, I bet,” Philip says.
“You can read my mind,” Dave says.
“Unfortunately,” Philip sighs, “that doesn’t seem to be all that difficult to do.”
And though Dave realizes that isn’t exactly a compliment, he lets it slide as he begins relating his passion for the tango.
Michael, meanwhile, having rejoined the group, looks over at Philip and says, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was Irish.” Philip grins but the others look a bit confused and when confronted by looks of a lack of comprehension, he explains, “The blarney stone.” But that does not seem to clear up the confusion in any of the women or Meric standing before him so he begins to explain the legend but is interrupted midway through by Bekir’s appearance in their group.
“And how is my thespian department?”
“We’re in the getting to know you stage without the music,” Michael says. “Which is something I actually want to talk to you about.”
Bekir looks both amused and intrigued, but that’s often the case in his dealings with Michael. “Music?” he asks. “Or getting to know each other?”
“Well, music actually,” Michael says. “The getting to know you business will take care of itself.”
“And what about music?” Bekir asks.
“Well I’d rather do that at a sit-down sometime.”
“You want me to get some chairs?”
“Only if you want to do it here?”
“We could,” Bekir says.
“And spoil the reception?” Michael says. “I still haven’t had my lunch yet and later there’ll be wine, right?”
“Then we should wait till tomorrow,” Bekir says. “Your head will be clear then?”
“Like a bell.”
“A bell?” Bekir asks.
“It’s an idiom,” Dave interjects.
“Really?” Bekir says. “I don’t follow it.”
“The sound of a bell is very clear,” Dave explains. “And it carries a great distance.”
“Ah well we don’t have many bells in Istanbul,” Bekir says. “Maybe there are some in areas where there are churches but they do not ring them with much frequency. At least not so often for us to catch this meaning.”
“It is, like most idioms, culturally bound,” Dave says.
“And you’ll be teaching a lot of idioms in the Prep, I suppose” Michael says.
“Ah yes,” Bekir says. “The Prep.”
“Students love to learn idioms,” Dave says. “It makes them feel like they’re mastering the language.”
“I could use some lessons on idioms myself,” Bekir says. “But I hope you’ll be too busy with our Prep for that.”
“You expect a large group?” Dave asks.
“We had 220 last year,” Bekir says. “This year we should have about 300.”
“Yes,” Bekir says. “At least I hope so. We have hired enough teachers and I would hate to be over-staffed.” He smiles. “Did you meet them all?”
“Just a few who are returning from last year.”
“Well they are around. Mingle and look for the ones who look somewhat lost. But, of course, you’ll meet them after lunch at the departmental meeting part of the agenda.”
“How many are there?”
“A nice number,” Dave says.
“Your dean back in New York tells me you had over a thousand students in your program.”
“Yes,” he nods. “And over 40 languages and 70 something countries.”
“Well here’s it’s mostly one language but we have some students from other countries here through the Eramus Program,” Bekir says. “You think you can accept that challenge?”
“Well it’s not as big a challenge as what I left,” Dave says.
“Except there you didn’t need to know another language other than your own,” Bekir says. “But here, you’ll have to learn some Turkish to survive.” And he smiles. “That’s a different kind of challenge, isn’t it?”
Dave nods. “I see what you mean.”
“Not yet you don’t,” and his smile broadens as he looks over at Michael who smiles back. “But you will soon enough.”
And soon we find them all filtering in to the cafeteria to pass down the line to fill their trays with food, desserts, beverages, bread, and take seats at the tables and continue talking, renewing old friendships, making new ones, gossiping about the changes to come in this the fourth year, and anticipating the increase in the enrollment and their work loads.
Then, after cay or Turkish coffee, they move off to designated classrooms to begin the week long series of departmental meetings, the ordering of textbooks, the revising of curriculums, the scheduling and then the rescheduling of teacher assignments, the shuffling of office space, the indoctrination of the new faculty, the necessary preparation for the next two weeks of student registration and finally the first week of classes. And the excitement mounting each day.
But we won’t dwell on this except to drop in on the meeting between Michael and Bekir for the outcome of that influences all that follows.
“So,” Bekir says as Michael settles into a chair in his office, “what’s this idea you have?”
“Well we plan to do scenes from plays every semester from both the Turkish track students and the English track students but I’d also like to begin work on a large scale production to be done at the end of the year using both groups of students in a bi-lingual production, a musical, actually, with dance numbers, subtitles in both English and Turkish, a large cast, a full-blown production.”
“Do you think our students can do this?”
“Yes,” Michael says. “Since it’ll be a bi-lingual production, we’ll play to both their strengths, and we can fully utilize Katja and her dancers.”
“What about the music?”
“There are many students here who play instruments and sing in our Music Department. We’ll audition them and pick the best to be in our orchestra. And, of course, I hope to get much cooperation from Murat.”
Bekir sits back and stares at Michael, a smile forming on his lips as he thinks this could be a great marketing and recruitment tool if successful. “You think you can do this?”
“Yes,” Michael says.
“And what play will you use?”
“This, too, must be one of our own creation,” Michael says. “So I’m thinking of adapting Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.”
“Shakespeare?” Bekir asks, his eyes widening a bit. “Do you really think our students can do Shakespeare?”
“We’ll adapt it,” Michael stresses. “We’ll keep the basic plot and characters but change the dialogue to a more contemporary usage and add songs and dance to move the plot along. Sort of like what they did with West Side Story only maybe using a time period here before the founding of the republic. I’ll get Philip to help fashion the script using some of the best student writers. And the acting teachers can help coach the students in both languages. It’ll be a real collaborative effort.”
“This would be quite an achievement if you can do this.”
“Not just me,” Michael says. “A lot of the faculty will be actively involved.”
“Yes, but you will be the director, so organizing and developing this will mostly fall to you,” Bekir says. “This is a big project.”
“I know,” Michael says. “But I’m confident we can pull this off with your blessing.”
“You have it then,” Bekir says. “Insallah.“
“Yes,” Michael grins. “We’ll need all the help, divine included, we can get.”
And the weeks fly by rapidly, registration is both busy and hectic with more students than they anticipated but certainly not unwelcomed, and before they know it, the first week of classes begins to find Brenda greeting her first class of students in Turkey. “Merhaba,” she says, and then gives a somewhat stiff smile. “And that’s one of maybe four Turkish words I know, so I certainly hope your English is better than my Turkish. Otherwise you may have trouble in this class.” The greeting does not elicit even a flicker of a smile on any of the students’ faces, just blank looks as they intently watch her fidget slightly behind the podium with her notes. But the fidgeting does not last long, and soon she has their undivided attention as she begins her lecture on the history of film. And as she speaks, she could be anywhere, these students could be anyone, this moment suspended in time, in place, her life lived in between the here and now and the long time ago.
Deniz spends most of her days organizing the costume shop. She has material to sort, mannequins to position, sewing machines to set-up, and rows upon rows of closet space to partition. There are some students on scholarship who are assigned to her as assistants and, of course, her students must also put in time to help. But the most difficult thing for her to determine is just what she needs to stock. It would help, of course, if she knew what shows are planned and so she decides to speak to Michael about this and she finds him in his office drinking Turkish coffee and making notes on a legal pad in front of him. “Am I disturbing you?” she asks.
“No,” and he smiles relieved. “You’re actually giving me a great excuse to take a break from this endless paperwork.”
“Oh, so you like being disturbed?” she asks.
“From this, yes,” he says. “Feel free to barge in here at any free moment and pull me away from these endless reports and projections.”
“And what are you projecting?” she asks. “The upcoming year?”
“Yes, more or less,” and he leans back in his chair and looks at his cup of Turkish coffee, which has grown rather cold. “Would you like some cay or coffee or something?”
“Oh, so typically Turkish,” she says and laughs. “You are adopting our habit of always offering refreshments whenever we meet.”
“Well we Italian-Americans do that, too,” he says. “You couldn’t go anywhere when I was growing up without bringing some cake along so wherever you went, they had to offer tea or coffee.”
“I guess it’s very Mediterranean,” she says.
“Yes,” and he picks up the phone and calls down to the cafeteria. “Let’s hope someone picks up who can handle my basic Turkish.” Then he asks, “So what is it? Cay or coffee or something else?”
He fumbles through an order and then hangs up. “I think they got it.” Then he settles back in his chair and says, “But you didn’t come in here for cay.”
“No,” she says. “I came to find out about your projections for shows so I can begin to prepare.”
“Ah yes,” and he nods. “Preparation is a good thing.”
“So can you help me prepare?”
“What do you mean?”
“By telling me what you’re planning.”
“You mean the shows?”
“Well, yes,” and she laughs. “Aren’t I supposed to design costumes for whatever shows we do?
“Ah, yes, of course,” he nods. “The costumes.”
“So do you want to tell me what the shows will be or at least give me some hints?”
“Ahhhh,” and he leans back further in his chair and just stares at her. Then he says, “I don’t mean to be mysterious but I’m still thinking about that.”
“Oh,” she says. “I see.”
“I mean I have definite ideas but maybe it would be best to discuss this at the next departmental meeting.”
“Well,” and he shrugs, “we could have one today, I suppose. Say at four when all the classes are over.”
“Okay,” she says.
“I’ll have İrem tell the others and we can meet in an empty classroom.” He smiles. “Okay?”
“You’re the boss,” she says. And the refreshments arrive then and they both sip their respective drinks while eyeing each other.
Later we find Michael eyeing İrem as she works on her course outlines and we see İrem returning his gaze as she sits opposite him in their office. “What?” she asks, looking him directly in the eye.
He seems to snap out of whatever thought is in his head and shrugs. “Nothing,” he says. “At least nothing important.”
“That was an interesting look for nothing important.”
“It’s just that I was wondering if you were upset with me for not talking to you about this proposed project first.”
“Not upset,” she says. “But you do usually use me as a sounding board. That is the correct term, right?”
“Right,” he nods.
“And so I was a little hurt maybe.”
“Maybe?” he asks, almost tentatively.
“Well maybe more than maybe,” she says.
“More like probably?”
“I think more like definitely.”
“Ah,” he goes. “Then you were seriously hurt.”
“You can say that.”
“Ah,” he goes again, then is silent for a moment while he continues to stare at her. “I apologize,” he says finally.
“You don’t have to apologize,” she says. “Just don’t treat me like the others.”
“But I don’t treat you like the others,” he says.
“You did with this project.”
“Yes,” he says with genuine regret in his voice. “I did. And I’m sorry.”
“You should be,” she says, and though her tone is light, almost joking, they both know she is deadly serious.
“You know,” he says after a slight pause, “I don’t think of you as being like the others.”
“I know,” she says. “But I also don’t know exactly what you mean by not thinking of me like the others.”
“Well you’re special to me,” he says.
“I am?” she says.
“Yes,” he says. “I thought you knew that.”
“I do,” and she smiles. “But it’s nice to hear every now and then.”
“And you think because I didn’t tell you about this proposal first that you’re not special?”
“Well the thought did enter my mind.”
“Get it out of there,” he says smiling himself. “Immediately.”
“Okay, boss,” she says. “But you won’t let that happen again, will you?”
“No,” he says, holding up his hand in the old Boy Scout sign. “I promise.”
And though İrem doesn’t need to take it that way, she knows instinctively that it is more than a promise. It is, she thinks, bordering on commitment.
And Katja cannot shake the feeling that another promise has been broken. Not by the man who made it, but by whatever guiding principle there is to the universe. For whenever a vow is made by any man in her life, it seems it cannot be fulfilled. Her father, her uncles, now Hasan, the first man she trusted since she was a child. All gone. Disappeared. Never to return.
It haunts her still and the only release she feels is in dance. So after warming her students up, she puts on some samba and demonstrates to her class what it means to move. And as she loses herself in the music, she loses the emptiness that plagues her day, that stains her nights.
And her students watch with rapt attentiveness, mesmerized by the intensity with which she dances. She is not of this world, but of another, a fantasy on two legs before their hypnotized eyes.
“A fantasy,” Michael explains to his staff later at their meeting. “That’s the way I see this being done. A celebration of love in all its forms. In both languages, with dance and music being an integral part of the production, and the language simplified enough so our students, even the more advanced ones from the Prep who want to be theatre majors, can handle.”
“But Shakespeare?” Meric says. “Do you really think they can do it?”
“Simplified Shakespeare,” Michael says. “And yes, I do.”
“Well I think it’s exciting,” Deniz says. “And the costumes can be so colorful, and representative of different styles, too, for each age group within each family.”
“Yes,” Michael says. “That’s the way I see it, too.”
“And you want me to rewrite Shakespeare?” Philip says. “I mean, for a Brit like me, that’s almost sacrilegious.”
“Well, you’ll keep the plot and the characters but make the language more modern and idiomatic.”
“Still,” and he sighs, “this is a bit daunting.”
“And I’ll ask Murat from the Music Department to help with the music,” Michael says and smiles. “So we won’t be in this alone.”
“That’s comforting,” Philip says.
“And Katja, you’ll need to start thinking of dances that could move the action along. I have some ideas already that I’ll share, okay?”
Katja nods, thinking she needs projects like this to immerse herself in so she can focus on something other than loss. And her mind starts to drift with images of lovers’ ballets while the meeting continues without her.
Murat sits at his desk in his office staring at a drawing on his wall. It is a sketch, really, of the poster for a concert he gave in college done over twenty years ago, with a young man staring off into space where various instruments, musical notes, float suspended in air, and his eyes are gazing lovingly, longingly at the sounds he must hear, the sense of wonder, of awe on the young man’s face as he listens to music only he can hear. The face, of course, resembles his, as if foreseeing what would be his role in life. At first it had amused him, but now it saddens him. And though he will not be taking it down, his eyes grow heavy, and they begin to close, there in his office, seated there at his desk.
And Katja watches her students in the dance club try to limber up. There are so few who really have the grace of dancers, but what does she expect. She cannot relate to these young women. When she was their age, she lived and breathed dance. Her body was like an instrument and she constantly practiced at playing it. But her students lack that discipline, all except her two favorite students: Berat and Elena. They seem almost as serious as she was at their age and are lean and lithe the way she was, still is, today. Only now she lacks the intensity she possessed. Life perhaps has robbed her of that. But her hard earned discipline, at least, sustains her.
And the young, the young, they crowd the halls, sit in the classrooms, dance their hearts away. And Katja looks out from tired, wistful eyes remembering her own youth, the boundless energy that once flowed through her limbs that now only ache for the one body that held her so long and so lovingly throughout the endless night.
Watch Deniz peruse magazines, carefully cutting out advertisements of fashion, admiring the lines of bodies, the cut of fabric, the contours of material against shapes, and filing them away for future reference, ideas for costumes, for this year or the next. She cannot always determine what to use or when, for she sees so many shapes, so much color, such a world in transition before her stunned eyes.
“So,” Michael says at dinner at his favorite fish restaurant in Kadiköy, The Hamsi Pub, “that’s my idea. A timeless Romeo and Juliet.”
“Well,” Philip says, “it certainly is ambitious.”
“Ambitious?” Michael laughs. “That’s the understatement of the year.”
“Yes, it is,” Philip nods.
“But I see this so clearly. I have to do it, you know.”
“Well, if you have to do it, don’t let me dissuade you. But you know, this is not going to be easy,” Philip says.
“I know,” Michael says, “but that’s why it excites me. The challenge it represents.”
“Hmmmm,” Philip goes and looks over at İrem. “What do you think about all this?”
“I don’t know yet,” she says, and then looks at Michael. “But he's the boss and he hasn’t disappointed me yet.”
“Really?” Michael asks.
“Really,” she says.
“Not even once?”
“Well maybe once,” she says, “but I’m trying to not hold that against you.”
“Was it recently?” he asks a little tentatively.
“Not so recent.”
“Were you very disappointed?”
“I think it’s better if we don’t discuss it. After all, I am trying very hard to forget it.”
“Me, too,” Michael says. “In fact, I think I’ve already forgotten it.”
“That’s rather convenient of you,” Philip says.
“I always try to cooperate when someone is overlooking my shortcomings.”
“But back to this play,” Philip says. “You really expect me to rewrite Shakespeare?”
“You’ll have help,”Michael promises. “I’ll get Murat to write music not only for the dances but some songs, too, to move the plot along. Maybe even use some film as backdrop or transitions. You know, a mixing of different media. We’ll get all the departments involved.”
“I don’t know about you,” Philip says to İrem, “but I’m getting a little overwhelmed now.”
“And that,” she says sighing, “is not surprising at all.”
And Michael is off again, painting pictures in the air of how he sees it: a new version of a musical Romeo and Juliet with language being the stumbling block to what will eventually be a happy ending. And while he paints his pictures, Philip strains to catch his enthusiasm and İrem finds herself smiling at the grand design while we pull back and leave them to their meze dishes, their wine, a basket of fresh bread, a çoban salad, and grilled fish. A meal. And the beginning of their great adventure.
And finally we end the month with Brenda as she stares at the phone as it rings in her still half furnished apartment. It is long distance, she knows, and it is England calling. Or, to be more accurate, her husband, ex-husband now, though still trying desperately to erase that ex from before the role he so avidly wants to resume playing in her life. Oh Mark, she thinks. Mark, why can’t you just go away, though in actuality it is she who has gone away and what she really wants is for him to stay where he is, a few thousand miles away in London in what used to be their flat but is now solely his.
Leave me, she thinks. Leave me to my new adventure and continue playing the misunderstood poet writing your sad, forlorn verses of lost love. She thinks he is only good at love on the page but could never quite make it work in bed. Words, she thinks. Love is just words for him and she craves action.
And as she stares at the phone until it finally ceases ringing, she wonders, hopes that she will find what she is looking for here in this new old world. In this city straddling two continents with over two thousand years of history there might be hidden, somewhere in its bosom, what she is eagerly searching for.
Dave finds himself enamored of İrem from the theatre department. It’s her quiet efficiency, an almost serenity that exudes from her, that he finds most appealing. And, of course, it helps that she is strikingly beautiful: has full, sensuous lips, deep, dark, mysterious black eyes, black hair that captures the light, and a slender body that moves with poise throughout the day. He catches sight of her in the cafeteria, sipping cay and listening with attentive eyes to whatever is being said around her. And though he doesn’t fully understand her relationship with Michael, he decides from all the nonverbal clues of their body movements that it is not sexual and so begins to plot in his mind ways to have more interaction with her. And then, one morning when he comes down to the cafeteria for a late morning snack, he finds her alone at a table drinking cay and reading a play.
“Anything interesting?” he asks as he stops, a cup of Nescafe in one hand, a simit in another, in front of her table.
İrem looks up and for a second does not quite register who he is, then smiles and says, “Just some Chekhov I've read about a hundred times.”
“Then it can’t be for pleasure,” he says. “Is it for a class you’re teaching?”
“Modern drama,” she says.
“Of course,” he smiles. “I should have guessed.” Then he looks at the empty seats at her table and asks, “Mind if I join you? Or would you rather not be disturbed from rereading the play for a hundredth and one time?”
She laughs and puts the play down. “Please do,” she says.
And so it begins: the innocent, seemingly harmless chitchat of nothing of any importance, at least that is the way İrem views it, but Dave sees it another way, as an opening to enlarge, an opportunity to exploit, an avenue that lies open now to her heart.
Brenda stands in the shower for a long time letting the water cleanse her. She takes comfort in the way it rolls down her breasts, follows the curve of her hips, her buttocks, soothes the heat in her thighs. She has the blues, she knows, and the shower seems to be her way of washing them away, of giving relief to the aching in her heart, though the relief only lasts just so long, and so long is the time it takes for her to pat herself dry, wrap the towel around her now clean body, and lie down on the bed. Then they come back to rest on her chest, creep up her calves, slide along her thighs, and nuzzle up to that place that misses a man the most. There they are again, the blues, and she feels so empty, so lost, so far from home, she silently begins to cry.
Katja smiles in her sleep and will not wake up. For if she does, she will be in a world that does not contain Hasan and then how will she find happiness? There is only work, there is only toil, there is only the dull pain in her heart. But here, in sleep, there is Hasan. He is smiling, his dark hair is cascading in curls over his ears, on his neck, touching his shoulders, his eyes are twinkling, and his hands, his hands slowly unbutton her blouse. Her breath constraints with anticipation. Her back arches, her breasts rise to meet him, her lips part, her tongue, his tongue, sucking beauty.
And when she finally, reluctantly, awakes, as she knows she must, this world is dull, is gray, is soulless. And she wonders why they had come here, to Turkey, to find such sorrow.
Murat sits in his office and finds it is the only place he does not feel oppressed. It is a haven away from his home and it is here that he can forget that he even has a home, as if this office, this school, is the center of the entire universe and gives meaning to his life. He has respect here, for his knowledge, his talent, his abilities. He can become engaged in meaningful conversations about topics of interest to him and his colleagues. And the students all wish to pursue lives similar to the one he has led. He walks the halls and he is somebody, admired and conspicuous, getting polite nods of greetings from all. He belongs here more than anywhere else, and he knows, deep in his heart, that if he could, he would never leave.
Meric finds a reason, any reason, to pass by the costume shop where Deniz is working to say hello. Sometimes he brings her a glass of cay, or a piece of fruit, or the latest gossip about the students. Other times he invites her to lunch or asks if she’d like to have a drink after work, for he has found out that Deniz likes a glass of wine afterwards to unwind and he, of course, likes a beer.
And Meric charms her with stories about the students or tales of his passion, the art of acting. He describes moments he witnessed on stage, great cinematic moments still etched in his mind, the subtle nuances of an actor’s style, his time in New York City studying at The Stella Adler Studio, his classmates, the plays he saw on Broadway, Off-Broadway, in tiny workshops in The Village, his season of summer stock in Michigan, the theatre group he works with in Bakırköy. He recites lines from favorite speeches, gives dramatic readings of poetry, does his best to seduce her with his love of his craft, and finds he falls in love all over with the power of his own performance.
And Deniz finds herself enamored of a passion similar to her own.
“So what do you think of the new film teacher?” Fersat asks Meltem as he sits next to her on one of the benches outside in what is a designated smoking area.
“I like her,” Meltem says, flicking ash from her cigarette and then taking a long drag. “Judging from her comments, I think I have a lot of things in common with her. She likes film noir and melodramas and that’s what I’m interested in, too.”
“Yes, but she doesn’t seem too interested in films made from graphic novels.”
“Or from Play Station,” Meltem laughs. “That disappoint you?”
“A little,” he says. “She doesn’t seem to get the humor.”
“Or appreciate the demeaning way women are depicted there, either.”
“It’s not all demeaning,” Fersat says.
“Not if you’re a juvenile boy,” Meltem says, teasing him.
“You just don’t like it because the women all look like Megan Fox or Michelle Rodriquez.”
“You’re right there.”
“How do you want them to look?”
“Like Saadet Isil Aksoy,” she says. “Or, if you want to go American, then Natalie Portman or Kirsten Dunst.”
“But they’re not film noir types,” Fersat says.
“They could be,” she says, “if they were cast in one.”
“I think our teacher could be cast in one,” Fersat says. “At least I would cast her.”
“Oh?” and Meltem’s eyebrow raises up an inch. “Do I detect a crush on teacher?”
Fersat laughs. “No,” he says, “but I do think she’s kind of sexy.”
“So is she your type then?” Meltem asks playfully, though not as playfully as she had hoped for there is a hint of disappointment in her voice, which she, despite her best efforts, can’t seem to hide.
“Not really,” Fersat says. “I know Turkish men are supposed to be crazy about blondes, but I prefer dark Turkish girls.” And though he doesn’t say “like you”, it is implied, he thinks, she thinks, and suddenly the air around them seems to change. Then he picks up his camera and, holding it quite gently in his hands, he asks, “Can I take your photo?”
And Meltem doesn’t have to say anything. Her smile is her answer and Fersat begins clicking away.
Jennifer knows Meric is flirting with Deniz but thinks as long as he frequents her bed, she still has a hold on him. Deniz is, after all, just competition and Jennifer has dealt with competition before. And though she is old enough to know better, she is still young enough to not be intimidated by a competitor, even one as attractive as Deniz. So as she looks over lovingly at Meric stretched out in her bed and snoring peacefully, she thinks his infatuation with Deniz is a passing phase and if she can control her jealousy, it will soon run its course. She is confident in her hold on him just as she has always been confident in her ability to attain whatever she sets her mind to. This confidence stems from her awareness of just who she is and how no matter what outside forces have tried to mold her, she has always steered her own course through life.
She comes from a typical Midwestern family of good Methodist stock: conservative, Republican, people who have never gone anywhere more exotic than Disney World and who spend most of their weekends at the mall. And though they did not stand in her way when she told them at the dinner table one Sunday that she was going to take a teaching job in Istanbul, they did not encourage her, either. In fact, they were secretly concerned about her choice of country, it being a Muslim one, and they were sure she would be forced to wear a headscarf and thus would come home at the earliest opportunity. They also knew she was a bit headstrong, a trait they attributed to her maternal grandmother who had some French blood mixed in her and had always been a little different than the rest of the family, so they just kept their opinions to themselves and only voiced them when she was out of earshot. But after the first year, they could not contain their amazement that she not only stopped talking about coming home for visits, but she made it clear that she liked Istanbul. And it was at the end of her second year that Jennifer finally felt free of whatever constraints had been tying her to a life like her parents, which she knew she did not want, as she became known in her family circle as the black sheep.
So the black sheep with the long blond hair, who is positive she knows what men really want, slides her hand across Meric's abdomen and down below his waist to where his manhood lies, and finds his response is just what she expected. And she, of course, smiles to herself knowing exactly what to do with it.
İrem enters their office carrying a CD of songs by Chris Rea and puts it on Michael’s desk. He looks at it somewhat confused and then looks up at her. She smiles and says, “Somehow this reminds me of you.”
He looks at the song titles and though he vaguely remembers a song called “Fool If You Think It’s Over” which could be a reminder of his past life, it does not seem to be here which causes him to blink a few times, rub his eyes, and ask, “Any song in particular?”
“No,” she says. “Though there are certainly several candidates there, but I think it’s more like a complete package idea.”
“I see,” he says.
“Anyway,” and that sweet smile of hers again, “I couldn’t help thinking of you as I listened to it and so thought I should give it to you.”
“Am I going to thank you for this later?” he says.
“If not,” and the smile grows sweeter, broader, “I don’t know you as well as I think I do.”
He sighs and puts the CD in his book bag then points to the chart on the wall opposite his desk and says, “My latest thinking on our Romeo and Juliet.”
She looks at the flow chart of character names with lines drawn to connect relationships and a breakdown of the play’s scenes and nods, “It’s a beginning.”
“I’m beginning to feel the old fire again,” Michael says. “That old passion is once again being rekindled here.”
“That’s good,” İrem says. “But I don’t think you really ever lose something like that.”
“Maybe,” Michael says. “But like all things, there are ebbs and tides. But I feel it coming back now with this new challenge.”
“Yes, those challenges,” İrem says laughing. Then she looks at Michael with much affection in her eyes. “I think there is much more to learn from you. You are a real risk taker.”
“Well there’s no point in playing it safe,” Michael says.
“And do you feel that way about all aspects of your life?”
“I gave up everything in America and came here to start all over again, didn’t I?” he asks. “Isn’t that risk taking? Especially at my age?”
“You’re not so old,” İrem says.
“Well not so young, either,” Michael sighs.
She looks at him carefully, those dark eyes of hers appraising him again as they often do, and finally says, “I think you worry too much about your age. Those of us who know you, work with you, are friends with you, we don’t think of your age at all.”
“I am ageless to you?” he asks, a smile forming on his lips, though a bit crooked. “Sort of like the stars. A thing that has always been there.”
“You are a star to me,” she says, and though she doesn’t mean it to be serious, it comes out that way, which surprises them both.
And then he turns back to the chart, not knowing what else to say, leaving all else open, and draws her into a conversation about the play, ideas for a set, a time period to set it in, details to distract them from any more talk of personal matters, details about work to absorb them in something else.
And the students watch Katja as she leads Elena through a dance routine. They are mesmerized by her involvement, her total absorption in the dance and after some missteps by Elena, she, too, becomes at one with the dance steps. The two of them glide across the floor like well-oiled parts of the same engine and everyone in the class applauds them, though one of the male students is a little more enthusiastic than the others for Berat has his eyes trained on just one of the women, and though Berat’s eyes are focused solely on Elena, we can’t help but notice that all the other eyes in the class stay glued on Katja in tights.
Deniz stares fixedly at the empty canvas in front of her. She knows she wants to fill it but cannot think of how she wants to start. Nothing comes into her mind and she almost loses herself in the whiteness of the canvas before she turns away and begins to dance to the music blaring, The Cranberries singing about a love that just keeps lingering and she begins to sway rhythmically to the music, her short skirt floating above her knees, the sky above dotted with stars, and she feels so alive, so very much a part of the world around her, that she begins to sing along even though she does not know all the words. But who needs words, she thinks, when she has rhythm, when she has the music inside her, life pulsating in her veins, movement and sound and color begin to appear before her eyes, color that takes shape and fills the empty space that once was her canvas but now explodes into brilliant form as a brush flies through the air as she dances, as she twirls, and there is life there, now, on the canvas, and Deniz is in a trance as she creates another burst of vibrant colors in a design on what once was an empty void.
Brenda is standing in her kitchen staring at the contents of her refrigerator. There really isn’t much there and she certainly doesn’t feel like cooking anything anyway, but the thought of going out again and sitting at yet another restaurant eating alone depresses her. She wonders if there would be anyone appropriate to call and then thinks of her fellow countryman Philip who, she knows, lives alone, too, in nearby Kadiköy. So impulsively she picks up her cell phone and gives him a ring. “Hello,” she says after he answers. “I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
“No,” Philip says. “I’m just walking over to a kebab place to get something for dinner.”
“Oh, well then I am disturbing you. You must be meeting friends.”
“No, nothing like that,” he sighs. “Just my usual self.”
“You’re eating alone then?” she asks.
“Yes,” he sighs. “Caught me, didn’t you, leading such an exciting social life.”
She laughs. “Mine’s no better,” she says. “Mind if I join you?”
“Yes,” she says.
“Well then,” she says, “where shall we meet?”
“Do you know the Eminönü and Karaköy ferry stop?” he asks.
“Then we’ll meet in front of that big theatre, Haldun Taner. That good?”
“Lovely,” she says. “I could be there in 20 minutes.”
“I’m sure I can rein in my appetite till then.”
And Brenda hangs up thinking how easy that was.
Michael is standing with İrem in front of Ali Üsta waiting their turn for a two scoop cone of ice cream and enjoying another warm October evening.
“What are you getting?” she asks.
“Almond and pistachio.”
“I never decide until I’m standing in front,” she says smiling broadly.
“Now who’s the risk taker?’ he asks.
She laughs and playfully hits him on the shoulder. Then, after ordering, paying, standing off to the side as the line moves, he watches her licking a triple scoop cone of raspberry, mocha, and caramel.
“And what do you want to do now that you have your ice cream?” he asks.
“Well I was thinking we should go over to the tea garden and have some Turkish coffee since it’s such a lovely night.”
“A brilliant suggestion,” he says.
“Of course,” she answers.
And as they begin their leisurely stroll toward the tea garden, they both somehow feel strangely at peace.
Dave feels nervous about the evening and wonders why he should but then again knows exactly why: because he has been invited by Jennifer, along with a few of the other Prep teachers, out for drinks in Taksim. And though it seems innocent enough on the surface, the director having a casual night out with some of his staff, he is much too carried away with the thought of an evening out with young, possibly available, women in a foreign city and all the images that conjures in his mind. Could an affair be just around the corner, on its way toward him now, wearing a dress that gently blows above the knees, with clicking high heels and a look of careless abandon in the eyes? But one step at a time, he tells himself. One baby step at a time. And so he waits in front of the 1923 monument next to Galatassaray Lycee looking casually dressy in a white linen shirt, navy blue cotton pants, and Allan Edmund loafers, his heart beating a little too rapidly, his nerves desperately wanting a cigarette that his lungs can no longer handle. And his mind wonders if indeed he needs to put himself through all this for what will be, in the end, a hopeless fantasy on his part, but catching sight of Jennifer walking toward him with Elif and İşmigül next to her makes the breath in his chest constrict.
“Hello, boss,” they all say, and as both İşmigül and Jennifer each take him by the arms and lead him into the crowded street, he feels he must be blushing but knows he is happy just the same.
Deniz is twirling under her skylight to the music of Serdar Ortaç when the phone vibrating in her pocket makes her stop. She lowers the volume and answers the call.
“Hi,” Meric says on the other end of the line. “Am I disturbing you?”
“No,” she says. “I’m just dancing in my room.”
“Ah, how timely is my call,” and he laughs. “I was calling to see if you wanted to meet me tonight to listen to music and dance, too.”
“Really?” she says.
“Yes,” he laughs. “I am outside a club now and was hoping you’d like to join me.”
And so, of course, Deniz knows where that is and promises to be there within 30 minutes, her heart suddenly leaping in her chest, her skin alive and tingling with anticipation.
Murat finds himself sitting at an outdoor table at a café in Bebek staring at the people at the tables around him. He feels that life is somehow passing him by and wishes he knew how to stop it and catch as much of it as he can. His friend from college, Onur, is sitting opposite him talking about work as if somehow Murat might be interested, but, of course, he is not. His mind is weighed down by this feeling of inadequacy and he does not know how to shake it. Finally he turns to Onur and says, “My life is not the life I started out to have. Somehow, I lost my way.”
Onur looks at him, concerned and worried. He has known him for over 20 years and this is the first time he has heard such a remark from his friend. “Is it work?” he asks.
“No,” Murat says, shaking his head. “It has nothing to do with my professional life. It is my home life. I do not know the people who live in my house.”
“Your wife?” Onur asks. “You are talking about Sönmez?”
Murat nods sadly. “Is there anyone else living there?”
“But I thought you were happy,” he says.
“It is just appearances on my part,” Murat says. “But I think she is happy. She has the kids. They are her life. I am just a necessary part of the family unit she craves.”
“When did this feeling start?” Onur asks.
“It has probably always been there. Married life is not exactly what I thought it would be.”
“For any of us,” Onur says. “But it is a necessary part of life. How else does one have a family? And isn’t that what we all want?”
“Is it?” Murat says.
“Isn’t it?” Onur asks, suddenly perplexed by his old friend. “I thought you wanted a family, too.”
“I guess I was conditioned to think so myself,” Murat says, “but now, I look at my wife and she is a stranger to me. And the kids, the kids…” And he falters here, not knowing exactly what or how to say what is in his heart. He just looks out at the people passing by, at the Bosporus stretching out beyond them, and wonders just where his life went and how can he possibly get it back.
“It’s not that I’m unhappy I came,” Brenda says as she sips her beer and watches the people stroll by on the crowded street full of restaurants specializing in fish. “It’s just I sometimes think I’m running away from London rather than coming to Istanbul.”
“Ah, well we all must leave behind some things to find other things in front of us,” Philip says. “I didn’t exactly run away from anything but I needed a change in my life and a different city, a different culture, different people surrounding me seemed like an ideal way to get that change.”
“It’s just that I had a very messy divorce back home and I needed to put a great deal of distance between me and my ex,” she says. “So when I met Bekir at a conference in London and he offered me a job, well, it just seemed the perfect way to escape.”
“Ah divorce,” and Philip sighs. “I understand.”
“Well not exactly a divorce in any legal sense,” Philip explains, “but a break with the past, too.”
“I loved him,” she says. “I just couldn’t live with him.”
“An all too common complaint.”
Brenda almost hesitates but then blurts it out anyway, sensing somehow she can trust this man to keep her confidences. “It was the sex, really,” she says. “Or I should say lack of it that caused the rupture.”
“Ah sex,” and Philip sighs again. “Then you did right, my dear. Sex at your age, or rather at almost any age, is quite an essential part of a happy arrangement.”
“You think so, too, then?”
“Absolutely. We do not live for the mind alone,” he says. “There are many muscles and organs that have very specific wants, too.”
“That’s what I think, also.”
“And rightly so.”
“But Mark just couldn’t understand that,” she says. “Mark’s my ex-husband.”
“And he’s a wonderful man, really. Wonderful poet, wonderful family, wonderful teaching position and publications. It all seemed so wonderful in the beginning.”
“You were in Wonderland then, I take it.”
“Yes,” she says somewhat dreamily. “At least that’s how it seemed at first. But then the wonder was gone and only a cold, lonely bed was left.”
“Well that is all in the past,” Philip says. “You are here now, and are young, very attractive, and I’m sure if you open yourself up to it, you will find ample opportunities to change your life and fill your bed with young, virile men.”
“I certainly hope so,” she mutters, and drains her beer and signals the waiter for another.
“I love it here,” İrem says, looking out at the Sea of Marmara below through the trees shedding their leaves. “Don’t you?”
“Yes,” Michael says. “It’s one of my favorite places in Moda.” Then he turns to look for the waiter and says, “Would you like another coffee? I certainly could use another cup.”
“You’re finished?” she asks. “Shall I tell your fortune?”
“You ask me that every time,” Michael says.
“Yes, I do,” she nods.
“And every time I decline,” he says.
“Yes, you do,” she says. “And you make that same face when you do it, too.”
“What face?” he asks.
“That face you’re making now.”
“I’m making a face?”
“Yes,” she nods. “And it’s always that very same one.”
“So,” he says, deciding not to belabor the point about which face he is making since he cannot possibly see, or feel, any face at all, “if I decline each time and make whatever face I make when doing so, why do you keep asking me?”
“I’m just an optimist,” İrem says. “I keep thinking that one day you’ll say yes.”
“Is it that important to you? To read my future?”
“It’s just a little game,” she says, “that I used to play with my friends. And you’re my friend so I would like to play it with you.”
“So it’s just a game?” he says. “Nothing serious?”
“Well I must admit I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years.”
“So it’s not just a game?” he says. “You do take it seriously?”
“Not so seriously,” and she smiles. “Of course, I’m not as good as a real fortune teller but I’m pretty good for an amateur.”
“Well I really don’t believe in these things, especially when it’s told by a rabbit like you see around here.”
“You don’t have to,” she laughs. “It’s just for fun anyway. And besides, I’m certainly better than a rabbit.” He doesn’t look too excited by the idea so she adds, “I promise not to tell anyone at school.”
He laughs. “I don’t think anyone would be that interested.”
“Oh I don’t know about that,” she says. “You’re very popular, you know.”
“That’s because I’m a foreigner and there are very few of us there.”
“More this year than last,” she says.
“That’s because the English track programs are getting bigger.”
“But back to your fortune,” she says. “How about it, boss. I promise to be discreet.”
Michael can’t help but laugh. “I don’t think at this point in my life there’s that much that could be labeled indiscreet.”
“So you are ready then?” and her eyes sparkle mischievously.
“Okay,” he says, and turns over his coffee cup. “But just this once.”
“You never know,” İrem says, that smile almost seductive, “but you could get used to this.”
“I suppose one could get used to almost anything.” And, following her instructions, he rotates the cup three times before setting it down on the table. Then as they wait for the grinds to cool, Michael has another Turkish coffee and İrem some more cay.
Dave has another glass of wine while his “angels”, as they are now calling themselves “Dave’s Angels”, have more drinks, too. Dave notes that Jennifer, like any good Midwestern girl, can handle her beer and he is pleased to note her familiarity with the other two young women who now seem like young women anywhere in the world: laughing, teasing, aware of how they look and that they are noticed by men. And he is flattered to be in the center of their evening out, to be the envy of much younger men at the surrounding tables.
And so he regales them all with tales from his youth, the wild adventures, stories that always feature him in a leading role, for Dave is not just trying to impress but to lay the groundwork for a possible future seduction, though he has little hope of the success of that, but still, being human, has hope, and he cannot afford, at his age, to let an opportunity like this slip away.
Deniz, meanwhile, is being swept away on the dance floor, swirling, whirling to the sounds of Moby’s music as it fills her ears, swells her heart, her dress twirling in the air, her thighs so long and shapely spinning in the night, and Meric, Meric is in and out of her line of vision, in and out of what can only be thought of as the presence of her mind.
Brenda’s state of mind gains a kind of serenity talking with Philip. It is as if he understands her without needing too much detail, too much exposition. Perhaps it’s their shared cultural heritage, though there is at least a generation between them, or maybe a similar experience with ex-partners, though Philip seems a bit hazy on that subject and Brenda is not sure if that is a natural tendency toward reclusiveness or a lack of trust but she is determined to find out.
“I can’t tell you how much this talk has meant to me,” she says.
“Think nothing of it,” he says. “Glad to help.”
“You are so understanding,” she says. “I guess your experience is similar to mine.”
“Well, as I’ve said before, I wasn’t married but was, pardon the expression, a kept man. So when it ended, I had to find someplace to go and a change in scenery was most welcome.”
“And that’s when you came here?”
“Shortly thereafter,” and his eyes glaze over a bit at the memory. “It’s been five years now and I am very much adjusted to this life and don’t really miss the other.”
“Not at all?”
“Just some people, but,” and he smiles, “not my ex. And…” and his smile grows broader, “…I don’t miss the life there at all. I’m perfectly content to be here. I really love this city.” He reaches over and pats her hand. “And believe me, my dear, so will you.”
“I hope so,” she says.
“You just need to find a man to get your mind off London,” he says. “And I’m sure there’s one lurking in your future as we speak.”
Michael is amused as İrem leans over his coffee cup and begins to see shapes in the grinds that don’t indicate anything concerning his future but rather, in his mind, her incredibly vivid imagination.
“I see a woman here very clearly,” she says. “Either someone you are involved with now or someone you know and who you will become involved with in the future.”
“Are you sure you’re looking at my coffee cup?” Michael asks. “Because that sounds like someone else’s fortune, not mine.”
“Why?” she asks, looking at him with the utmost curiosity. “Don’t you want a woman in your life now?”
“No one in the capacity you’re speaking about.”
“I’m perfectly content with just my cleaning lady,” he says. “She’s the only woman I know who has been in my apartment since I’ve been here, besides you, of course, and neither of you would, I suppose, qualify as involvement.”
“Be serious,” she says.
“I am,” he answers. “There is no woman in my life.”
“Well it could be a woman you know now who you will one day be involved with.”
“No,” he says. “I don’t see that happening at all.”
“Why not?” she asks, and it’s almost a challenge as well as a question.
“Because there are just students and some faculty like you.”
“And you’re not attracted to any of the faculty?”
“No,” he says. “Everyone is just too young for me.”
“But you’re not that old,” she says.
“I’m old enough to know what too young is,” and he smiles, though there is a touch of melancholy around the edges.
“But there are younger women who like older men,” she says, counting herself among that number but not telling him that.
“Maybe,” he says, “but I know my limitations. Besides, my cat is more than enough involvement for me.”
“But cats are not people.”
“How can you say that since you know my cat?"
She laughs and says, “Well I see a woman in your life whether you want one or not. And it looks like she likes cats, too, so you are both going to be happy.” Then she looks at him again and adds, “I don’t understand why you don’t want a woman in your life.”
“Having you drop by every Saturday to cook me dinner,” he says, “is actually more than enough for me.”
“But what will happen if I decide to go away?”
“You’re going away?”
“I don’t know yet,” she says, “but I have been thinking of going to the US to do my PhD.”
“You have finally decided to do that?” he asks.
“Not finally,” she says. “But I have been thinking about it again. And if I do, who will look after you then?”
“I guess I’ll have to find another assistant who likes to cook.”
“Is that your criteria for assistants?”
“Well it wasn’t until you came along.”
She looks at him then not knowing exactly what to say because what she wants to say she thinks she really doesn’t want to say or at least shouldn’t say though she can’t think of a valid reason why not. It seems a little confusing to her then, this fortune telling in regards to him and suddenly she wishes she hadn’t suggested it or at least he hadn’t given in but she did and he did and now here they are talking about, what seems to her, her value in his life. And he is not, as usual, being very helpful in defining it and she cannot help but wonder why that should upset her slightly but it does.
And Michael, for his part, wonders just what he is doing making light of something that is not insignificant at all but rather something serious, for he cannot imagine having any other assistant than her and the thought of not having her unnerves him, though he would be the last to admit that, especially to her.
And so they both sit there rather lost for the moment over a cup with coffee grinds that have settled into something neither of them quite anticipated, both alone with their thoughts even though they are together.
Murat sits alone in his living room, a glass, a bottle of raki, and a small pitcher of water in front of him. It is two o’clock in the morning and his wife and children are asleep in the back of the house, the kids curled up with their mother, and an empty space on one side of the bed waiting for him. But Murat cannot bring himself to lie in that space. He would rather drink more raki until he falls asleep once again on the couch. This is Murat at home.
Katja visits Michael in his office because he wants them to meet so they can begin to plan which scenes will have songs and dance and which characters will perform them. Michael is, of course, not really prepared for this meeting because he is experiencing anxiety attacks about the thought of İrem leaving for America though he is trying his best to deny that. But Katja has finally been infected not only by Michael’s vision of the play but also of a dream of entanglements and obstacles surmounted in two lovers’ divergent but similar journey toward a happy ending. And a happy ending is something she, in particular, wishes to believe in. So she comes ready to discuss this with Michael who, though, unfortunately is ill prepared to discuss anything. And though Katja doesn’t know it, we know he has other things on his mind to distract him, but first, he must muddle his way through this pre-production meeting with Katja, who Michael sees as a collaborator on his modern epic.
“Your heart is not in this, is it?” Katja asks.
“It’s not my heart that’s absent but my brain,” Michael says. “I just can’t seem to concentrate today.”
“We can try to do this another time,” Katja says. “After all, we do have this semester to plan. It’s not scheduled to be performed until the spring.”
“Yes, but if we don’t start thinking about it now, spring will be upon us and nothing will be done.”
“That’s optimistic,” and she laughs.
“That’s one thing I’m never called,” Michael says and smiles thinking, I like her laugh. Such a wonderfully sexy laugh from deep down inside her womanhood. And he thinks it’s a good thing to hear it again though he knows her grief is still fresh in her heart.
“Well, I was thought to be an optimist, but now…” and a shrug, “I’m not so sure.”
“I don’t think we can afford more than one pessimist on this project,” Michael says. “After all, this play is supposed to have a happy ending.”
“And I want it to,” she says with more force, more conviction than even she knows she has.
Michael looks at her carefully and intuitively knows she is thinking of all those dark corners in her life. He wishes he could be more upbeat so this enthusiasm she is beginning to show will be reinforced but can’t quite rise to the occasion. Later, he thinks, he will find his own enthusiasm again. Later, with İrem sitting across from him and his world once again in balance. Later he will once again be the engine that drives this project, these people, forward. Later.
İrem meanwhile finds herself with a protégé: Pelin. The student follows her everywhere when not in class and once Pelin finds out that İrem had studied in the United States, their bond is sealed. “I dream of studying in America,” Pelin tells İrem in the cafeteria at lunch. “I’m just crazy about English.”
“But you should finish here first,” İrem says.
“Oh yes, I know,” Pelin says. “But when I’m graduated, I want to transfer to a US school and do graduate school there,” she adds.
“That sounds like a plan,” İrem says.
“And I want to study in New York City or in Los Angeles because that’s where the best acting schools are. And I want to find a really good voice teacher, too.”
“You want to sing, too?”
“I already do,” Pelin says, though somewhat modestly. “Sort of, anyway. I sing with a trio of some of the students here in the Music Department. We perform in small clubs and bars.”
“Really?” Irem says. “I must come hear you sometime.”
“Wait till we get better,” Pelin says. “We’re still not quite where we should be.”
“Well you tell me when.”
“But hopefully when I graduate I’ll be ready to do an MFA in theatre and music.”
“Well there are some very good theatre departments in colleges in other parts of the country, too,” she says. “And musical theatre is part of the curriculum, also.”
“Really?” Pelin asks. “I didn’t think they had theatre colleges anywhere else.”
“My old alma mater, for instance,” İrem says, “has a very good theatre department.”
“Where’s that, hoca?”
“The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.”
And so İrem explains the geography of America while Pelin listens with rapt attention. “You could always go to New York or LA after college,” she says. “But there are really so many good schools to choose from.”
“Will you help me decide?”
“Of course,” İrem says. “Maybe even next year if I go to America for my PhD, you can come visit me. Would you like that?”
“Oh, that would be fantastic,” Pelin says and she almost hugs İrem. “I’m so excited already.”
And İrem, in her new role as mentor, can’t help but see a younger version of herself in Pelin and thus is excited, too.
Berat has a hard time containing his excitement as he finds himself walking with Elena in Beyazit Square. They stop at one of the cafes to eat some kebab and drink a cola. Then they wander somewhat aimlessly through the Book Bazaar, leafing through the racks of books on display and, though seemingly talking of nothing important, they both manage to find out something very important to both of them: that neither has anyone special in their lives at present. And this, they both silently conclude, is something they intend to rectify.
And so as he walks with her back to the bus station where she will board a bus for Ortaköy before he takes the ferry home to Üsküdar, he sends her an invitation to become friends on Facebook from his iPhone which she promises to acknowledge once she gets home. And though they don’t hold hands yet, they have both moved a few steps closer to that in their minds.
Fersat meanwhile has created a new album on his Facebook entitled Turkish Women. And though it contains photos of various women he has photographed on his wanderings around the city, there are a significant number of shots of Meltem: in the cafeteria, walking along the Golden Horn, laughing midair on a swing, eating a fish sandwich at the ferry landing in Karaköy, and gazing in shop windows in Taksim. And as he stares at the photos, he finds he gets lost looking into her eyes.
İrem gets a call from Pelin who asks, “Am I bothering you?
“No,” İrem says. “I’m just reading through my cookbooks lookıng for new recipes.”
“Oh, you like to cook?” Pelin asks.
“Yes,” İrem says. “It relaxes me.”
“I’d like to cook, too, but you need someone to cook for, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” İrem nods. “That’s always the most satisfying.”
“I’d like to have someone to cook for,” Pelin sighs. “Do you have someone you cook for?”
“Well I cook dinner once a week for Michael,” İrem says, then, for some reason, decides she should elaborate on that a bit. “Besides being colleagues,” she adds, “we’re good friends.”
“Do you like him?” Pelin asks.
“Of course, I like him.”
“No,” she says, a little hesitant at first. “I mean, do you like him?”
“We’re just friends,” İrem says, and then thinks how trite that sounds, and yet can think of no other way to call what they are that would make sense to anyone else.
“I don’t mean to be rude,” Pelin says, “but I just wonder if it happens between people, between older and younger people, that is.”
And though neither wants to actually say what this “it” is, they both understand what she is saying. And İrem, sensing that Pelin is on the verge of revealing some hidden intimacy, says rather delicately, “Yes, it can happen between people of any age.”
“I think it’s happening to me,” Pelin sighs.
“Is it mutual?”
“No,” Pelin says and sighs again.
“And this person is older?” İrem asks.
“Yes,” Pelin says. “And my teacher.”
“Oh,” İrem says doing mental calculations trying to remember Pelin’s class schedule.
“Is that wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong when it comes to the heart,” İrem says,
“I don’t think it’s wrong, either,” Pelin says, “but I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Well, is he interested in you?”
“He likes me, I know, and I think I’m one of his favorite students,” and then she sort of laughs, though it is as much from embarrassment as anything else. “I mean, I know I’m one of his favorite students. You can kind of tell that.”
“Yes,” İrem says. “You can.”
“But I don’t think he is interested in me the way I am interested in him,” and she sighs again. “I’m pretty sure he has a girlfriend. I mean, he must have a girlfriend. He’s so hot.”
İrem smiles to herself thinking they are always hot when you love them, but the smile is perhaps a little rueful as she also thinks she is not so different than this poor lovesick girl. Except maybe for the fact that she does not act on her feelings anymore but suppresses them. And being aware of that, she can't help but be envious of this girl.
“I guess there’s nothing I really can do,” Pelin says.
“Well, not if he has a girlfriend,” İrem says. “But perhaps you should find out if that is true first. Don’t you think?”
“How do I do that?” she asks. “I can’t ask him.”
And İrem finds it amusing that Turkish students have no problem asking personal questions of their teachers as long as those questions are not about something that might be personal for themselves. “Just be observant,” she says. “You can find all the answers to your questions if you just look for them.”
“Yes,” Pelin says, brightening a bit. “You’re so smart. I’ll do that.”
“And good luck,” İrem says.
“Thanks, hoca. You, too.”
And as İrem hangs up, she thinks Pelin has wished her exactly the right thing without knowing. And as she sits staring off into space, all she can think is “Insallah.”
Michael sits staring at the glass of whiskey in front of him on the coffee table in his living room. He has not eaten tonight, or at least had any solid food for dinner, this being one of those nights when he feels the need for liquid companionship, though he doesn’t really drink, either. He just stares at the glass of whiskey he had poured earlier in the evening and marvels at its color, the way the cat had climbed onto the coffee table to sniff it, then turned away and jumped over to lie beside him on the couch, its head pushing against his leg while he stroked under its chin until it purred itself asleep.
He thinks he is really almost content. Almost. But somehow something he can’t quite put his finger on seems missing. And as he looks at the whiskey in his glass, he knows it is not that. For that will not keep him warm at night, nor will it offer comfort or understanding. And though the cat lies sleeping next to him, he knows he needs more. He has, though, stopped believing in attaining it. He has stopped calling out in the night and expecting anyone to be there to hear. But the memory of İrem’s fortune is gnawing at the edge of his mind. And though he doesn’t want to acknowledge it, it isn’t so much the fortune but the person telling it that lingers in the air.
He sighs and would look out the window but the drapes are closed. He thinks about opening them and staring down at the street to see if there is anything there that might amuse him but it is too much energy to get up, and besides it is night and he wouldn't see much anyway. He rubs his eyes and begins to think about fortune telling. He, of course, doesn't believe in it, he actually believes in very little, even not believing in the old adage that things happen for the best because he thinks rather that things just happen and people make the best of them. He knows this would put him at odds with one of his favorite authors, Thomas Hardy, but there is no causality in Michael's world, probably because he does not believe in a god, or any kind of divine operating power in the universe, just chance, blind, random chance. It is the main reason he gravitated toward directing, because he wanted to impose an order on his corner of the universe so he could sleep at night. It had always confused his ex-wife, that is his first ex-wife, who embraced Eastern religious thought, or at least what passed for Eastern religious thought in the California of the 1970s, and who believed devoutly in karma, reincarnation, and followed the advice of mystics and fortune tellers, and who would be more at home listening to what coffee grinds say than he is. Michael only grew more restless during the years, as if tempting lightning to come down from the heavens and strike him into ash. Perhaps, though, if he had shared her views, they might still be together and he would be a father now. Instead he moved through life, and women, making every possible mistake he could without once thinking there would be hell to pay for it, just a profound sense of regret and an emptiness in what passes for his heart.
So this idea of a play becomes for him a way of possibly redeeming himself here in a foreign country where no one knows of the folly of the last several decades of his life. It would not get him into heaven because he does not believe there is a heaven so that is not his aim here, but rather it could, if orchestrated correctly and, of course, changed the current ending of the play, make him feel like he can give a happy ending to someone, even if they are characters in a play. And that, to his current way of thinking, is as close to a blessing as he will ever get.
And Philip is up and out, wandering around the city in the dead of night with only stray cats lying on car roofs or picking through half opened garbage bags to keep him company. But there is something in the night air he finds comforting, his mind a blank slate waiting for something in this dark night to engage it.
And finally, to Berat who sits alone at his desk in Üsküdar staring at the pictures of Elena on her profile. She looks so beautiful, he thinks, especially in ones that catch her staring pensively into the camera’s eye, as if contemplating a question that has just been asked before she replies. He has watched her dance so often in class, in the studio with Katja, and is thus so familiar with the lines of her body, her grace, but he has rarely had the opportunity to stare into her face. Even that afternoon they wandered around together through the book stalls gave him little time to actually look into her eyes for longer than a few seconds at a time, but here, now, he finds himself becoming lost as he stares into her face. And those eyes, especially those eyes, seem to hold him in a trance which he finally pulls away from long enough to type a message he will send her, a message telling her how beautiful she is.
His hand moves the mouse up to the send button and his finger hovers over the left side of the mouse hesitating to click on it. It is there now, the open invitation, and he just has to send it out into virtual space to be opened and read. And though he wants to send it, fear mingled with his excitement holds his finger suspended in air. And he closes his eyes and lets his mind go blank for a long, long second. Then he clicks on send, logs off his computer, and goes to bed.
Night & Day
of Other Books