by Ömer Faruk Toprak
It was a road I took morning and night, stretching down to the sea. In winter it got a little muddy but when spring came it looked clean to me. I guess the market traders washed it down with water. I knew all the faces of the fishermen and the young bloods selling fruit & vegetables. If I ever went past without saying hello I’d get no more than five steps when I’d hear them call out behind:
“Abi, don’t go without these fresh lettuces. I’ll cut out two of these hearts for you”.
Even when I wasn’t sure what to buy they’d choose something and thrust it into my hand. It was like there was some feeling that bound us. I didn’t look down on them and they never showed me any disrespect.
I suppose it was the beginning of April. I’d left work early and was walking around aimlessly. It was when I was walking past the fruit stalls, I saw the apples and stopped. The vender smiled from behind his moustache. Even his blood-shot eyes were smiling. He began picking from the red apples:
“Is two kilos enough, Abi?”
“That’s fine” I said.
The April sun began to warm the damp street air, mixed with the smell of the sea, and came sharp to my nostrils. I looked to the sun and sneezed twice. Ten steps later I was in front of my house. Hayriye, the speechless, miserable hunchback, was once again at the basement window, where she always was, smiling, staring through the dirty glass. I took an apple from the paper bag and gave it to her. Her eyes flashed for a second. Some kind of human light flickered across her brow and her head nodded in thanks.
I pushed open the iron door and went inside, started up the stairs. This old house had once belonged to Armenians.
Hayriye and her mother lived in the basement. The taxi driver, Tayfun, and his wife were on the second floor. I lived alone on the third and on the fourth was old Madame Onnik. Selchuk, the painter, had a studio in the attic.
I opened my window. From across the roof-tiles I could see the Marmara. The pale blue, calm, April sea.
I took one of the red apples, washed it, peeled it, and ate it looking at the coast. The houses opposite looked old and abandoned but in spite of it, in this clear air, they gave a feeling of contentment to a man.
I undressed and put on my pajamas. For a few nights I’d slept late. I was tired. I thought if I stretched out I could relax, sleep. I drew back the bed sheets and lay down. No doubt I’d be awake again soon.
When I woke up there was someone outside making a noise and banging at my door. It was Hayriye’s mother, Hatice. As I opened the door there she was, her face as white as paper. Before I could say a word she began:
“Hayriye’s missing. I came back from the laundry early evening, I couldn’t see her in the window. Whoever I asked said they hadn’t seen her. You know, she hardly ever goes into the street, and even if she did she’d have been back by now. It’s quarter-passed nine, where could the child be until this time? What was she thinking. I’ve looked everywhere. Will you help me? We ought to tell the Police”.
“Okay” I said “I’ll get dressed and we’ll go.”
I dressed quickly and went downstairs. The smell of fried fish was seeping into the street. I walked with Hatice to the station.
Within a few minutes we were explaining our story to the tall, boney faced, shrew-like commissioner. He listened to us indifferently, gave an optimistic smile and said:
“She’s probably playing somewhere. Perhaps by the time you get home she’ll be there.”
These words did nothing to light a flame of hope in Hatice’s eyes:
“My daughter’s a cripple, she never leaves the window. I’m sure something’s happened. Please, send out a search for her.”
The Commissioner continued with the same optimistic air:
“I’ll warn the guards. If they see a girl like that, they’ll bring her to the station”.
We left with nothing solved. “Let’s search down by the coast.” We both said. “Where could she be?”
On the coast we had eyes only for Hayriye. Apart from the lights of passing cars we saw nothing. Half an hour we walked. In the darkness we even looked in the cracks of protruding rocks. Nothing. No little Hayriye. Hatice’s shoulders sank and we eventually made our way home. In the basement window everything was dark, quiet.
I went to my room and it was a while before I lay down. I couldn’t sleep. I closed my eyes tight in the dark. Whenever my thoughts returned to the house, I saw her smiling face in the basement window. She was happy when she saw me holding out an apple, or an orange, or some sweets, which she’d take with a little tilt of the lips in thanks. The dazzling blue of her eyes moved people like the sea.
It was growing light. I was still awake. I could see her eyes.
I turned over and slept for a while. When I awoke it was half past eight. I threw myself out of bed. I shaved, brought the morning’s softness to my face, and dressed in a hurry. As I was about to go down I heard the sound of feet coming from above. I paused. There was the crazy painter, Selchuk, coming down the stairs, holding Hayriye by the hand.
“This child’s been missing since last night, where did you find her?” I asked.
The painter, without knowing anything, answered innocently:
“I was coming into the house yesterday afternoon when I saw Hayriye at the window. I suddenly thought, I’ll paint this child’s picture. I called her and she smiled. I thought, I have to put this smile on canvas, those blue eyes. So we went upstairs. She posed for three hours. The portrait was going well. Then I looked up and saw she was tired. I told her to rest awhile and I’d go on with the picture. She fell asleep in the chair. I forgot about her. I worked until late and in the middle of the night I felt tired. Still forgetting she was there I fell asleep. When I woke up this morning I saw Hayriye sitting there. Her mother must have worried. We’re going downstairs now”.
Having said that, he went down the stairs, as if nothing had happened at all.
Translated by George Messo