It had all happened as if in a dream. When he was left alone in his room he could not believe it. Truly, a minute or two ago there was a woman here, that woman was Bihter, was she?.. He was wandering in the dark, dragging his feet on the carpet so as not to bump into anything, as if looking for a trace of Bihter’s existence there, a little while ago, a remnant of that dream. He could not put his thoughts into any order. Suddenly he realised that he needed something to think: light… Yes, this darkness was keeping him from thinking straight, engulfing his brain in clouds. He was drawing his hand along the guéridon to find the matchbox, something was catching at his hand. At first he could not understand. Then, ‘ah, the sweets!’ he said. He was smiling to himself in the darkness. This, here, was not this a remnant of Bihter’s dream? He opened the box, reached his fingers in and took one of the fondants. As soon as the sweet melted on his tongue, he sensed a scent that was familiar to his soul with a fresh recollection. This one was violet-flavoured: Bihter’s scent, Bihter’s breath, Bihter’s soul… He fancied that Bihter was still there, in his arms. Now this scent was intoxicating him, his whole being was melting, softening with the overwhelming violet essence of the sweet that dispersed in his mouth.
Truly, truly, Bihter was now his, was she? This was a thing so far above his wishes, a thing that he had not even been brave enough to desire, that its unexpected occurrence had left him dazed and lethargic. There was not even a palpitation in his heart, a warmth in his nerves, a fever in his brain; nothing, he had felt nothing. Behlül was astonished to find himself to this degree indifferent to something so surprising.
He searched for the matchbox again. He supposed that if he saw himself among his furniture, among the bits and pieces that were the constant companions of his thoughts, those feelings that were now numb and listless would kindle. He struck a match, strode to his writing desk, lit the candle that was hidden behind a little Spanish tambourine. Reaching his hand into the cigarette box on his desk, he took a Havana…
Gazing, through the cigar smoke, at the odds and ends in whose faces there now wavered a smile, he could think long and long. A new chapter was opening in his love life, beginning tonight. He was suddenly finding himself elevated, raised above the base love-making, the sordid relationships. At last, the little love stories of his life had been closed, now a long love story, with all its passions, desires, fevers, happinesses, had begun. He was finding all the old memories petty, lowly. They had become like rough drafts that had been scribbled over as a child, which one, embarrassed, wanted to tear out and throw away, to burn to ashes. Now he was going to write a perfect chapter of his love life, and after this chapter, he could end his love story.
There was a token of almost all of those old affairs in this room. His eyes caught here and there on the walls that seemed to shake under the wavering light of the candle, and at each point a story was appearing; then, shattering these valuable heirlooms of his love memories with a merciless, mocking blow, he turned them to toys to be thrown away. Yes, what could these be, after Bihter, but childhood toys to be discarded? He was amazed that he had once given these so much importance. Here, here was a pencil drawing of the uncertain face of a young woman which was one of the affairs that had most occupied Behlül. He had wandered for a whole summer around the Emirgân dock to be able to see her. An affair conducted with the eyes only… Finally, he had got from her a ribbon tied around four colourful carnations. Poor flowers, poor piece of satin. Who knows what they had tried to tell him with their various colours?… All that was left of this adventure was a vague dream drawn in pencil on a scrap of paper, framed with that faded pink ribbon, in one corner the now dried carnations. Further on, beneath one of the shelves, dangled a bouquet of dance cards: here was a rich anthology of memories. He remembered one in particular, a German Jewess met at a show of the Operaia Italiana, who, hearing a rumour that was being circulated at that time, that Behlül was to be consul general to some fashionable place, had gone mad with the dream of being the wife of a Turkish civil servant. Beginning that evening, she had spoken to him of marriage every time they saw each other. This story had ended with the mother, who, unable to give her daughter away as Behlül’s wife, had given herself instead. Then Behlül’s eyes were drawn to the shelf where an elegant veil of crimson satin was draped on the head of a statue of Vishnu.
‘Ah! Charlotte, you flirt,’ he was saying to himself. ‘How she upset me that night! It had been impossible to recognise her until she finally took off her veil at Gambrinus. Who could imagine it possible to meet a severe English governess who had the appearance of a dignified missionary, on carnival night at the Odéon?..’
Seeing a bunch of dried ferns in a Japanese urn, he smiled. These had been picked during a woodland walk in Alemdağı.
‘Poor İkbal,’ he was saying to himself. ‘She wanted so much to make a woodland outing with me. I don’t know if she had read it in a story, seen it in a poem… She was prepared to brave all dangers for it. This was such a show of courage on her part that it would have proven her attachment to me beyond all promises. Here’s an affliction that exists in almost all women: the need to appear generous…’
Thus he was dismissing all of the memories of those love affairs whose tokens were scattered here and there about his room. He would pull them off with merciless hands, he would tear and burn all of those pictures, those bundles of letters in the compartments of his writing desk, and from now on there would be only she, only Bihter in his life.
Peyker suddenly dropped into his mind. ‘Fool,’ he mouthed. Why hadn’t she consented? He had hit upon a foolishness that had remained unshaken for a year and a half. He could only find one reason in his philosophy why a woman would resist him: foolishness! What a wonderful revenge he had on Peyker by conquering Bihter. He wanted to go to her now, to shout in her ear: ‘but you have no idea… Bihter, you know? That delicious woman was in my arms tonight. While you, you didn’t even want to give me the tips of your fingers…’
But it would not be enough to tell only Peyker of this victory, he wanted to announce it to the whole world that today, he was the owner of the most beautiful, the most sought-after woman in Istanbul.
‘What a pity,’ he was saying to himself, ‘that only I will know it.’
His chief habit was a desire to announce everything. He planned his love affairs with the object of recounting them to others. An untold victory was practically one that had not taken place. He would relate all of his alliances, all of his experiences with many additions and embellishments, concealing the names, but allowing those names of which he was proudest to be discovered, and he would feel his greatest pleasure, actually, in the retelling.
He drew a long breath on his cigar; the scent of violets still pervaded his lungs, wafting towards him dreams of reunion. Abruptly, he felt his heart pressed in the vice of a violent desire. He wanted Bihter. He longed, at this moment, to be near her once again, to be in her arms, his lips in her hair, drinking in her violet scent. This was a painful desire. He had never, until this moment felt such a violent yearning for Bihter. Even when this woman was here a moment ago, he had not felt anything more than he usually felt for any other woman. But now, this minute, he was under the influence of such a force that he could undertake any sort of madness.
This love would not resemble any of those old loves. He sensed that, while he had always left his love affairs victorious, he might be vanquished by this love. This time, there was a difference: he had not gone to take Bihter, Bihter had come to take him. This difference could affect the whole current of his love-making. This time, he was the one who was owned.
Then all of the dangers of this relationship rose before him. The cigar in his hand was annoying him, and he was looking around for a place to put it out. He heard Beşir’s voice.
‘Little bey! They’re calling you to dinner.’
Without thinking, he declined. He would not go to dine today. He would not go.
‘But why?’ he asked himself. ‘I’m hungry but I don’t want to go. Why?’
He was avoiding someone. He felt that without thinking he was avoiding someone, namely Adnan Bey, and a refusal had escaped his lips reflexively, only through a nervous evasiveness.
After he had given this answer, he regretted it. He considered being overcome by such a reason, a shameful weakness; a foolish, childish weakness… Of course he loved Adnan Bey, they were even a little companionable together, doubtless it was his duty to seek his love affairs in places other than in the sanctity of his wife’s boudoir. He confessed as much to himself; but then he was finding a series of excuses, and trying to keep this betrayal from becoming a painful burden on his conscience. This marriage was the craziest thing in the world. Naturally a woman like that could not remain faithful to such a husband. Who could blame her? The fault was in the marriage itself. He had done nothing to lay the grounds for this betrayal to take place.
He was kneeling before the stove which he had opened to throw his cigar, considering the matter. Suddenly finding himself in this position, deep in thought, he laughed. Those issues that were difficult for his philosophy to resolve always ended with such a laugh.
‘Very well,’ he said, ‘and now a pained conscience! That’s all I needed. But my dear Behlül, surely you aren’t backing down from your philosophy? Since Adnan Bey is the happiest husband, and without a doubt, he cannot be aware of anything that could in the smallest way disturb his happiness, then this event has in effect, never happened.’
By this simple axiom of his philosophy, he had silenced the reproachful voice that had woken in his conscience. Afterwards, he felt in himself a lightness that made him want to fly, or to frolic. For him, this affair would be all the more attractive, all the more passionate for its dangers and difficulties. He viewed himself as the hero of a story. He was denying all of his old loves, declaring that he saw nothing, felt nothing in them of the things expected of true love, of those excitations that ruined the soul with quaking, those frenzies, even those tears, and aches. But Bihter would provide all of these, he would love her truly, this would be the one love of his life. The rest would be as a pile of toys.
He was walking around his room now. He was whistling a slow, faltering, made-up tune to distract himself. A need to ruminate drew him to the window. Outside, small snowflakes were falling with a steady calm that gave the night’s darkness a white that was close to black. Nothing could be seen: not a single tiny light from the far shore, no small corner of the sea… Only these white things falling and merging in a black abyss.
He could not leave. Standing with a frozen mind before this black view, he was thinking of the life of passion that was to being from this night forth. To make love in front of everyone, without them noticing… Oh! There would such little delights in this secret that it would allow them to live in a heretofore unseen happiness. While he stood as a stranger to Bihter among everyone else, there would be a look that said, ‘I am yours, yours only!’ For a whole week they would not speak one word to each other, even while they lived in the same house, they would be crushed under the torture of separation, then, in ten minutes stolen from curious onlookers, they would have the recompense of all those torments.
Every one of these difficulties would renew their love, keep it from dying out, and every time they would make love with a fresh passion.
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Notes – A brewery and public house on İstiklal Street.
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