Chapter Thirteen – Forbidden Love

For Nihal, this wedding had suddenly brought to light many truths that until that day had not been clearly understood, but had only been sensed vaguely. There were certain corners seen from afar, away from the life they always saw and knew. She had never observed its inhabitants, in particular its women — the women of her own world — so closely.

She had not enjoyed the wedding at all. Rather, she appeared to have been wounded by a forceful blow from those many realisations that until then she had glimpsed from a distance but not been able entirely to distinguish. After her return from the wedding, the faces she had seen, the words she had heard during those two days, all the scenes, the sounds, the music that made up the events in a house where a wedding was to take place, were tossed about in her brain like the wreck of a world that exploded in whirling clouds.

What had she seen, what had she heard? She could not place them in any order; if she had to relate the wedding to someone, she would lose track, confuse the episodes one with the other.

The first night was a private entertainment: only relations and one or two close families were invited. That night, everyone had believed that she enjoyed herself. Nihal was not sure whether she had enjoyed herself or not. There was a fat young woman whose breasts spilled over her corset, who had strained her vocal chords for hours trying to imitate the singers one heard on Kadıköy stages, and had ended this feast of the senses by placing Peyker at the piano for a shepherdess’ ballad. This was considered such a sight to behold, that even the servants were overcome with mirth, and collapsed, laughing, in the doorways to the hall. There was an elderly woman who, unable to sit on the chairs, had asked for a cushion on the floor, and who, as the fat young lady danced, kept exclaiming, ‘oh! What delight!’ then signing to the bride, and calling to her: ‘My jewel, my child! Won’t you give me your hand? This cursed old age! It won’t let me stand…’

The bride’s mother kept pulling Firdevs Hanım up from her chair, and together they would go into a room, the door of which had one leaf closed, and would return from a one or two minutes’ absence laughing, whispering things in each other’s ear.

At some point, a band was arranged. Peyker remained at the piano, an oud [1] was found for Bihter. ‘I can’t give the tambourine to anyone!’ the fat young lady was saying, and the old woman sitting on the floor cushion was shouting, ‘find my Firdevs a tambourine. If she won’t play, I won’t listen,’ and then calling to the band not to forget to play the song, Is There Any Delight in Loving Someone Who Doesn’t Love You? One of the mothers, unable to bear that her daughter was being left out, asked the lady of the house, ‘Sister! Is there no kanoon? [2] Naciye should be part of the band too.’

Finally, a kanoon was procured for Naciye Hanım. A black-browed, black-eyed, chubby girl was standing up without invitation, and going to stand near the musicians. ‘Won’t you play?’ she was asking Nihal. 

Nihal was not answering.

During the oud improvisation, the old woman on the floor cushion had closed her eyes, and  was mumbling something incomprehensible as she swayed from side to side.

It was the suzinak [3] section. Firdevs Hanım and the lady of the house were sitting side by side, stifling their laughter; the bride was seating herself next to Nihal and saying in her ear, ‘shall we go to another room? I’m sure you must be bored.’ A quiet conversation had begun between Nihal and the bride. The bride was telling her about the people there, in one or two short sentences. That fat lady had fallen in love with an officer and left her husband and two children, and now the officer would not have her either. The chubby girl who was singing was to be married next week. To the owner of the kiosk next to theirs at Çamlıca. Her fiancé was only eighteen, and had not yet finished school; that was why they would wait a year after the marriage.

Nihal, surprised, uncomprehending, was listening without response. Bihter’s voice, rising above all others, was beginning the song, Don’t Bear the Burden of This Mortal World. The bride, with the familiarity of this ten minutes’ acquaintance, was saying, ‘well, sister, do you have any suitors visiting you?’

Nihal was blushing, and saying, ‘oh, I don’t know!’

As the line, ‘everything in existence is intoxicated,’ was read, the lady of the house was once again pulling Firdevs Hanım out of her seat, the old woman on the floor cushion was opening her blurry eyes to search for the bride, and saying, ‘my dear Besime, where are you? You’ve forgotten me again.’ The bride, paying no heed, was urging Nihal with the complaint, ‘let us go to another room. We can’t talk here.’

As they passed the room whose door had one leaf open, the bride looked in, and then beckoned Nihal. Firdevs Hanım had leaned on a couch, the bride’s mother had put an arm around her neck and pulled her onto her shoulder, and they were both murmuring the song with their eyes closed.

The bride, laughing, said to Nihal, ‘they’re both done.’ Nihal did not understand, but chose not to ask lest she appear foolish.

Having retired together to another room, the bride had told her the history of her own marriage. This wedding was the work of the old woman sitting on the floor cushion. She was surprised that Nihal did not know this lady. There was almost no one in Istanbul who did not know her. She was like a fairy godmother to marriageable girls and young bachelors, and always carried a few pictures and notes in her bosom. Mothers would pull her into empty rooms and hold long conversations with her, young women would kiss her hands. This woman, who found husbands for all the young girls, had only failed to find herself one. She had been widowed for time out of memory, perhaps she had been born a widow. She was so engrossed in other people’s marriages that she might have neglected herself. One day, for some reason, they had sent the young girl to Kalpakçılarbaşı [4] with this woman as chaperone. There they had wandered from shop to shop without buying anything, but whenever they went into a shop, another customer would follow, and standing in a far corner, would look at them, or at her only, even as he engaged in heated haggling. The young woman had instantly understood the reason for this Kalpakçılarbaşı adventure. When, a few days later, her mother had shown her a picture of the same young man with a staff officer’s badge on his lapel, there was no further room for doubt. Later…

The young girl admitted, after a little hesitation, that through this lady’s mediation, she had exchanged letters with her fiancé. She was telling Nihal about those letter. Then at last…

‘At last,’ she was saying, ‘you will see him tomorrow at the koltuk, [5] only twenty-five years old…’

From within, the old woman’s voice could be heard. ‘Besime Hanım! My dear Besime! Where are you, my jewel?’

The bride had finally begun to interrogate Nihal. She wanted details about her father, was asking questions about his marriage. Then, interrupting one of Nihal’s vague answers, she said, in her familiar tone: ‘Don’t be offended, but isn’t your father too old for Bihter Hanım? If it were Firdevs Hanım,’ she was saying, and leaving off the sentence with a laugh.

As well as feeling a secret resentment towards this girl who talked of her father’s age, Nihal, without being able quite to identify it, also felt something like gratification. That age difference, by constituting a deficiency in this marriage, seemed to exact Nihal’s revenge. The conversation had naturally drifted to Firdevs Hanım. The bride was relating all that she knew about Bihter’s mother.

‘Even though we’re distant relations, you’re hardly a stranger! You probably know more than I do…’

No, Nihal did not know anything; Nesrin and Şayeste’s chatter would not pass beyond a certain bound. Now, as she listened to this young girl who spoke constantly, like the trickle of a small tap, the veils fell away from her eyes one by one. So Bihter’s mother was a… Nihal could not find a description, and was leaving off the sentence she had begun to form in her mind.

Now she understood it all, she understood so many things that she did not wish to listen any longer. At one point, the bride had talked about Behlül. Who was Behlül? Was he young? Was he handsome?

Why was she asking about him? Then the conversation had turned directly to Nihal. Was she not thinking about becoming a bride? Whose wife would she like to be?

‘There, you are blushing,’ she was saying.

Nihal was not aware that she was blushing, but she was now tired of this tête-à-tête. Now, within, the saz [6] was playing a dance tune. Some of the young people were dancing. The old lady’s voice was raised once again: ‘Oh, where is the bride, my children? Find the bride…’

Nihal had stood up. They entered. The black-browed, black-eyed, chubby girl was hanging on Nihal, intent on making her dance. Nihal, shaking her head, was saying, ‘but I don’t know!’ Then the chubby girl, leaning towards the kanoon-player, Naciye Hanım, was whispering loudly, ‘what a cold thing! She neither sings nor dances…’

Nihal had gone to sleep that night with a painful worry upon her small heart. All she had heard, all she had seen had hurt her. As soon as she woke up on Thursday morning, she asked Bihter, ‘when are we going?’

Bihter was admitting it too: she too had grown bored. But they could not leave yet. Today was the day they had come for. Now they would dress the bride, and would prepare themselves; then there would be the koltuk, and dining, and finally…

Nihal was confusing the order of that day’s events. Her frail nerves had never been subjected to such a crowd, to so much bustle. Now when she closed her eyes, she saw the bride seated in a cloud on the sofa. The young girl who had talked constantly the night before was now reluctant even to smile at the friends who whispered — no doubt amusing — things in her ear.

Today, there was a formality about everyone. No one would imagine that the fat young woman who greeted the morning guests with due gravity was the same chattering divorcée who at night imitated the singers of the Kadıköy stages.

This wedding house was a gathering of opposites. Nihal had never encountered such a strange mixture of faces and outfits that did not resemble one another. Next to the most select and stylish toilettes were to be seen the strangest costumes. There was one old lady wearing a purple velvet-covered fox fur stole over a paisley-print entari, [7] who was looking rebuke at a young girl wearing a hotoz [8] of yellow crêpe, and who dared not raise her eyes. Nihal had learned that these were a mother-in-law and and her tormented bride, who, under the decree, ‘this is how it was done in my day,’ had been forced to don the yellow crêpe hotoz.

In the crowded hall of the wedding house, there were well-dressed women walking up and down, arm in arm, dragging their long skirts, who doubtless considered this promenading the epitome of elegance, but who were seen as quite conceited by those whose feet got entangled in their skirts. There were women kneeling around the special platform made in one corner for the band, children who were fretting in their nurses’ arms, and young ladies who were eating pistachios and throwing the shells on the carpet.

Then there were onlookers who waited for who-knows-what without taking off their sheets or their veils, and among the servants Nihal could discern many women dressed with care. These had come to see the bride; they were besieging the bridal room; having gauged the prices of the curtains, the mirror and console table, the sofas and the armchairs, they were surveying the bride’s clothes, and when they had finally satisfied themselves with having formed their opinions of these, they were glancing into the bedroom that had been fenced off, and studying the bride’s furniture.

There were people pushing and shoving on the staircase, shouldering a way through. The voice of a servant who was trying to pass by with a tray of coffee, was rising above the throng; a child who had come with its mother to watch the bride, was howling in the press of the crowd; a black woman was taking out her anger for being trod on, by swearing at those around her; an old halayık, who had been pinched by a grandmother for painting her face was crying out, ‘you wretch!’ From further away came the chink of plates from the dining room, and the nearly imperceptible strains of the band who continued to play upstairs, and all this confusion of noise and complaint flew about the air at great volume.

Finally, that long-awaited koltuk ceremony had taken place. Nihal had only just been able to see. There were women who had brought headscarves specifically for this occasion. Those who had not taken this precaution were hiding under silk handkerchiefs that only covered their topknots. Many were clambering onto chairs to witness this important spectacle.

Nihal had finally seen, amid a great stir of approval, a red fez, a black dress with embroidered collar, and beside it, a head shining with diamonds under its tulle. A brief pause, a deep rumble, and then… Nihal did not understand. White bills had rained from the sky, and suddenly, like a great wave that rose and frothed, and then broke up, this crowd that was swollen with bated breath had all thrown themselves to the ground to gather the fallen things.

These showers of money were scattered in handfuls on both sides, and the wave, scattering here and there, was descending upon it. They were snatching and snatching at these white things. There was no longer any koltuk ceremony, nor any bridegroom to see; they could now leave. But no, no one was leaving; they would not leave. Thus they would sit here, looking at each other, enjoying the hubbub.

Nihal, finding herself alone at last in the happy silence of her room, was thinking about the wedding house left far behind, of the things she had heard and seen there, and as she pondered, she was resolving in her mind: ‘become a bride? Never.’

No suitors would see her, and no one would send her to Kalpakçılarbaşı with an old woman. She would stay at home, like this, in her own room, by herself, alone in the world.

Then she was thinking of her father. If her father was with her, like the old days, without someone else between them…

There was rising in her once again a desire to be close to her father. The next day, as soon as she woke, she felt an irresistible need to see her father.

This habit of going to her father’s room of a morning was such a distant memory to her soul that as she entered the small study downstairs, where years had been spent alone, together, she felt that she was doing something quite out of the ordinary.

Adnan Bey was bent over his desk by the window, as usual, busy carving something. Lifting his head, a little surprised, he looked at Nihal. Nihal was standing before her father, waiting, with a smile on her lips.

‘How is it that the little lady has come to see her father this morning?’ Adnan Bey asked.

Nihal laughed, and shrugged her shoulders, as if to say, ‘who knows?’ Did she know? For whatever reason, she had been thinking of her father since the day before, then this morning, involuntarily, following an impulse from some unknown source, she had come to his room. In her sensibility, one word, one look, one small nothing was enough to bring about the greatest changes. There was a small voice in her heart, and this voice told her that she had a part in having stayed distant from her father for so long. Wasn’t it time she forgave him?…

Without saying a word, she dragged a little chair and sat directly opposite him. She leaned her right elbow on her knee, placed her itty bitty chin in her palm, and with a profound smile in her eyes, looked at her father, who had now stopped his work to watch her. It was as if she were inspecting him. 

So her father was old. From whence had this idea come to her? There remained in her ears, the vibrations of a mocking voice that seemed to laugh mercilessly as it talked of oldness. Now she really did find her father old; even a little thinner, a little gaunt about the cheeks, a bit paler, older than she had known him… She was finding him suddenly altered, as though she had not seen him in a long time.

‘Nihal! Why are you looking at me like that?’

She did not respond. Something trembled about her lips, something like a smile; then this shadow was erased, the colour of mirth fled her eyes, the mist of secret worry descended on her childish brow. Perhaps her father’s lot was terrible too; perhaps there was a sorrow in his heard too, who knew what sorrow, that cried out; perhaps he too was saddened by this distance between himself and his daughter. Now, having kept apart from her father was breaking her heart with the force of an unforgivable crime. She wanted to speak such words that they would erase in an instant, the distance that had opened up between herself and her father, and make them as friendly as they were of old. She could find nothing. What should she say that it would make them forget this long, silent resentment in the space of a kiss?

She reached out and picked up the piece of wood that her father had let go. ‘What are you doing, papa, dear?’

This was yet nothing. Adnan Bey had not yet decided what to do. He was thinking of something, but… ‘It’s a tiring project,’ he was saying, ‘a bunch of grapes placed on a vine leaf. The grapes would be hollowed out, filled with cotton, and covered in little pieces of velvet… Do you understand, Nihal? A dainty pincushion…’

Nihal was liking this idea very much. ‘How lovely,’ she was saying. ‘You will give it to me, won’t you?’

Then suddenly, she remembered something else; something that would once again draw father and daughter closer. ‘You remember,’ she said, ‘you once began to carve my likeness but left it unfinished. Where is that piece? Who knows where it got tossed?…’

She had stood up and was rummaging through the bits of wood, the tools, the piles of stuff that crowded the corner of her father’s work table. She was looking for the memory of that era of a happy life that had been left incomplete, and thrown in a forgotten corner.

Adnan Bey stopped her. ‘You’re wasting your time, Nihal. It’s impossible to finish it. You were a child then. Now…’

He pulled Nihal to the window, taking her into the light to see her better before he pronounced his judgement, and looking at his daughter’s now more defined face, more a young girl’s than a child’s, the soft hair that crowned her forehead, and her long, slender neck, he completed his sentence: ‘now you are a young girl.’

As her soul embraced her father’s look in an air of delicate kinship, something seemed to melt in Nihal’s heart with the pleasure of a great happiness. She would throw herself into her father’s arms, and after five minutes, she would be weeping with the happiness of having found her father. But she could not find the strength to do so. For the sake of saying something, she said, ‘not a young girl, papa. When a child becomes a young girl, she will finally become a bride, won’t she? Don’t you remember? When I was little, you used to ask me: “Nihal, whose will you be?” I, doubtless in all seriousness, would reply, “yours.” Don’t be alarmed, I’m not of that mind now, but I will stay with you. Do you understand me, papa? I will always stay with you…’

Adnan Bey, with a deep, pitying tremor in his voice, said, ‘but my child, you must finally decide to marry. One day, it may be, your father will be forced to leave you alone…’

Nihal did not comprehend at first, then she grasped the meaning from her father’s trembling eyes. She responded only with a pained moan that rose from the depths of her soul. ‘Ohh!’

Was it possible? Could such a thing happen? After her mother, her father, too… Without speaking the word in her mind, she was saying to herself, ‘it isn’t possible.’

She drew near her father. ‘Tell me,’ she said, ‘tell me that this thing you speak of is impossible…’

Adnan Bey was laughing. ‘How did you come to this decision, Nihal?’ he asked her.

She told her father the truth. She had made this decision after seeing the wedding yesterday. Now Nihal, finding the joy of her childhood, was relating all of the things she had seen at the wedding, in a manner that mocked every detail with a thousand amusing expressions, and gestures mingled with imitations.

This wedding story gave strength and liveliness to the comedic bent in Nihal. The whole wedding house drifted before Adnan Bey’s eyes in fragmented scenes ornamented with oddities and amusements. After she had drawn an imagined wedding scene, like an inspired artist who creates life with two strokes of a pencil, she was standing before her father, and imitating the bride who sulked in order to look serious.

‘Only think,’ she was saying, ‘hours will pass by, days will pass by, and you will always be like this, always sulking. It’s as if you regret being a bride, as if you resent all of these people who have come to see you… And then afterwards, no, even before…’

Nihal was raising her finger in an admonishing gesture. ‘There is another thing too, as disgusting as this is laughable,’ she was saying. Then, in order to recount the lady who sat on the floor cushion, she was sitting down on the carpet, closing her eyes, swaying her head slowly from side to side to the intoxicating melodies of the saz, and throwing out the blessing, ‘ah! Long may you live!’

This woman was to pick her up, take her to Kalpakçılarbaşı, and sell her to a man whom she had not seen or known until that day, like cheap goods.

Nihal, standing up again, was saying, ‘do you understand, papa? Never.’ As she spoke, there was an iron firmness in her thin voice.

Adnan Bey was smiling. ‘But my child,’ he was saying, ‘not all girls become Kalpakçılarbaşı brides.’

A sudden question was about to escape Nihal. ‘Where else do they become brides? At Kalender, at Kağıthane, at Göksu…’ While it did not escape her lips, this question frightened her so much that she went pale; but right from the start, as she was talking about the wedding, she had wanted to find an opportunity to talk a bit about Firdevs Hanım, about them. Yet, then her father would frown, and with a stern voice, say, ‘Nihal! Won’t you leave me alone?’

She found another way to talk about them. ‘I will admit,’ she said. ‘I think there may be one reason to become a bride: jewels!.. You don’t know, papa, how I was growing giddy with my tears, that day. It was as if all of the diamonds, emeralds, rubies were entering my veins, and making me dizzy. Everyone was wearing them…’ Then, blushing a little to cover the embarrassment of this confession, she was gazing at her father with smiling eyes, and saying, ‘in particular there was someone, you know who was wearing a set of emeralds…’

She felt as if something was choking her, a knot in her throat kept her from continuing, and she fell silent. 

Adnan Bey was laughing as he combed her hair with his fingers. In a gentle voice, he said, ‘yes, but one must be a bride for that. Whenever you change your mind you can tell me, and then a set of emeralds will come for little Nihal, too.’

Nihal replied mirthfully. ‘Poor set of emeralds!.. How very long it will have to wait to come to little Nihal!’

She was not upset by this proviso. She was so happy to have made peace with her father today, that she would not be upset at him for this or for anything else. There was now within her, a desire to be reconciled with everything, everyone, with her whole life; her soul’s willingness to bond was blossoming in response to who knew what changing breeze, like a bud that grew in search of light and warmth. Today, the house listened, for hours, to Strauss’ waltzes, and Métra’s quadrilles. She went and asked Behlül for a book. Mlle de Courton had begun to give her leave to read certain stories, with the condition that she showed them to her first. With the book as an excuse, she tarried in Behlül’s room for half an hour. Today, they chattered together like two good friends. It was as if she was celebrating the truce with her father.

In this excessive joy, she was laughing as she asked herself, ‘if making peace had always been in her grasp, why had she waited until now? Imitating Mlle de Courton, she was wagging a finger at herself. ‘From now on you will be a good little girl, won’t you, Nihal?’ she was saying.

However, she could not continue long in being a good girl, for one day, for the most unforeseen reason, there began an animosity between Bihter and Nihal, who, until then, had never even exchanged a stern word. Nihal was in the wrong, she admitted this to herself every time she felt something like enmity towards Bihter; she could impute no reason to her enmity towards this woman beyond the fact that she was her father’s wife. But this unjust enmity was so necessary to her that she would follow its absolute decree; she had not been able to become friendly with this woman, so she would be enemies.

One morning, Nihal entered her father’s study laughing, half-concealing a small piece of paper in her hand. Bihter was dusting the pictures on the wall with a little feather duster. Nihal drew close to her father, still laughing, and showed him the piece of paper from afar, then she withdrew it, as if afraid that it would be snatched up.

‘What is that, Nihal?’

Nihal flung her arms wide open. ‘An enormous bill,’ she said.

Now Adnan Bey was laughing, too. Nihal had come to ask for money. She explained the matter to her father. They had done this together with Mademoiselle. There were so many things — little Nihal had so many wants. She looked at the paper and counted them off on the fingers of her father’s hand, folding them one by one. First, there were shoes to be bought, one; her gloves had burst, they were to purchase those, two… The shopping list was growing. Nihal, with the sauciness particular to children who were not accustomed to having their wishes refused, was saying, ‘see? There are enough things to merit stealing a fiver from your wallet.’

‘I didn’t know that you were going down to Beyoğlu today,’ Adnan Bey said to Bihter.

‘I didn’t know either,’ said Bihter, who was standing on the sofa in order to reach a picture.

‘We’re going down with Mademoiselle,’ Nihal answered, carelessly. ‘That’s how we arranged it. Papa! If you make us miss the ferry, we’ll be late…’

‘My dear, why don’t you wait for a day when your mother is going down?’

Nihal’s expression changed suddenly. In a voice that told him she did not wish to answer, she said, ‘because.’ Then she added, ‘we wanted to have a jaunt with Mademoiselle today. I think a young girl can go out with her governess.’

To say another word to Nihal was to create grounds for an argument. Adnan Bey preferred to give her the money. After Nihal left, he asked Bihter, ‘what’s going on between you and Nihal, Bihter?’

Bihter appeared not to have heard. She answered as if she had not noticed anything different. ‘Between me and Nihal? Why, nothing!..’

That day, when Nihal returned from Beyoğlu and entered her room, she suddenly perceived a change. There was something different about her room, a transformation seemed to have occurred that made the place look emptier. Without taking off her sheet, still standing, she was looking around with an uncomprehending gaze. Then at once she understood. Bülent’s cot was missing.

This was such an unexpected development that she could not believe her eyes. With her sheet hanging from her waist, she went out of her room and ran to the top of the stairs.

‘Şayeste! Nesrin! Why did you move Bülent’s bed?’

She cocked her ear, waiting for an answer. She descended the stairs and found Bihter before her.

‘Why are you running, Nihal?’ Bihter seemed to have decided to hold out against an unavoidable confrontation. 

‘They’ve moved Bülent’s bed,’ said Nihal.

‘Yes, I had it removed,’ Bihter replied, in a firm tone. ‘Bülent will now sleep in a separate room, we decided it with him last week.’

Nihal froze. How, they were finally taking Bülent from her completely? They did not want to leave him to his big sister for even one night a week, and this, this injustice was being perpetrated with Bülent’s cooperation, and it was not even thought necessary to inform her. Specifically taking advantage of a time when she was not at home… Oh!…

No words came out of her mouth, but she was glaring at Bihter with a hatred that was hot with the fire of her rage. Suddenly, she burst out, ‘but you, why are you interfering, if you please? Doubtless you tricked Bülent with your lying smiles… There, you are laughing again, but I know now, do you understand, I know your smiles, there is something poisonous in them. Those around you are all poisoned by you. Bülent was sent to school because of you, that child was cast aside for you, and now he is thrown out of his sister’s room too. Where are you throwing him? In the selamlık? [9]

Bihter was listening with a pained smile. ‘Aren’t you being unfair, Nihal?’ she said in a quiet voice. ‘Why are you talking in a way that you will regret in five minutes? Think, Nihal! Bülent could not sleep in your room anymore. It would be contrary to custom.’

‘No,’ Nihal was exclaiming. ‘Lies! You’re lying!’

Her thin, feeble body was shaking uncontrollably, her lips had gone white, there was a catch, a screeching whistling in her voice. ‘These are all done for no reason but to torment me, do you understand? To torment this girl who is now unwanted in this house. Only confess, why are you trying to hide it? You want to separate me from everyone, to leave me all alone, that is what you have been trying to do since you arrived.’

Bihter was pale, biting her lips as she listened. She had never seen Nihal in such a state, she had turned into a spiteful girl, talking in a voice hoarse with rage, without thinking, without wishing to listen to anything that was said.

Suddenly, she drew even closer to Bihter. ‘What were you saying a moment ago?’ she asked. ‘You are mistaken. I only regret the things I haven’t said to you until now. I never loved you, I could not love you. I hate you, do you hear? Nothing but hate!’

Bihter’s ears were ringing; the boards upstairs creaked, a door in the hallway was opening slowly, all of the inhabitants of the house, she felt — Mlle de Courton, Şayeste and Nesrin, and Beşir — all were listening to her being abused with a pleased smile on their lips. Nihal’s last words were like a whip that splashed a crimson wave across her face.

‘Nihal,’ she said, ‘will you go up to your governess? She must still have some lessons in manners to teach you…’

Bihter turned away to avoid hearing Nihal’s answer. Nihal was quivering with the frustration of being unable to respond. Adnan Bey’s door opened, and she found her father standing before her. Father and daughter looked at each with a steady, unwavering, almost hostile gaze.

‘What’s going on, Nihal?’ Adnan Bey asked.

Nihal did not answer. She felt as though she were suffocating. Now her rage had spent its last drop of strength; now there was a weakness in her nerves, a wretchedness that made her want to throw herself down right where she was, and weep. 

Adnan Bey had now approached her with a look more of pity than anger. ‘My child,’ he said. ‘Won’t you come into my room for a moment?..’

Suddenly, she saw herself in her father’s room, standing before him as he spoke to her in a somewhat hurt, somewhat chiding, slow, and serious tone of voice, saying who knew what, what heartbreaking admonitions; herself, low, helpless, unable to cry for shame, unable to find strength to speak through her defeat, writhing at the feet of her father as he tried to comprehend the sorrows of her wretched heart, and all at once she grew so terrified of this scene that had come to life in her imagination that she withdrew her hand from the hand that her father had reached out to her, and without uttering a single word, turned and fled.

Five minutes later, Nihal, alone in her room, looking at Bülent’s vacant place, was finding herself so unjustified that she repented. How would she find the power to go downstairs and look this woman in the face? She could now find no cause to excuse this flood of rage, to make her look righteous to her own self. She was so ashamed of herself that she was reluctant to open the door to Mlle de Courton, who had come to ask for an explanation.

Everyone, as if by common consent, appeared to have forgotten this incident. Bihter behaved as though nothing had occurred between her and Nihal. Nevertheless, a need to find some opportunity for animosity was once again following regret, something within her now boiled over without cause, and only found calm after it had emptied itself in a few cold words to Bihter. Now, small conflicts followed one another; an innocent word from Bihter was interpreted the wrong way, a violent exception was taken to one of her ideas during a perfectly friendly conversation, a bitter word was interjected in some speech she held with her husband. Nihal was becoming an unbearable, fractious girl. At times she would not talk to Bihter for days. Once, with the excuse of finding some suspected meaning in some word of Bihter’s, she had thrown her napkin on the table and left the meal. There had been outings planned together that were postponed due to Nihal’s sudden ailments. She took offence at the most unexpected things; Bihter, with her mocking laugh, sought an opportunity every moment to make her appear in the wrong, to embarrass her, and as Nihal saw herself defeated in these conflicts in which Bihter responded with a calm smile, a temperate word, she became all the more shrewish and unreasonable.

Bihter had come to the conclusion that a time of crisis had begun. She possessed a degree of self-control that overcame agitation, and allowed her to adopt no more than a state of defensiveness against Nihal. She had settled for herself the attitude of a mother who disciplined her daughter without being rough. One day she said to her husband, ‘your smallest interference would serve nothing but to greatly prolong this crisis. Promise me now, promise that you won’t interfere…’

Adnan Bey, preferring to distance himself from all these things that were transpiring around him, appeared to remain ignorant; in order to avoid intervening in a conflict, even if it was taking place right next to him, he would bite his lips, and take take up a newspaper.

Life became a nightmare for Bihter; seemingly at the calmest, surest moments, the necessity would arise to quarrel with Nihal. She was in constant distress that all her words, all her behaviours were held under this girl’s watchful scrutiny, to be seized upon in an instant as grounds for conflict. But since this crisis had begun, it was Nihal who bore the greatest anguish. These pets had become the unavoidable attacks of an awful fever that consumed her wretched, ailing spirit. These fits, for their duration, made her mad, left her sluggish with a sense of wild intoxication, then with her frayed nerves, her trembling, pale lips, the knot of misery that stopped her throat, and those aches that always began at the nape of her neck and strained her temples, she would find herself, like a frenzied bird battered with throwing itself against the wires of its cage, emerging from this conflict as if awakened from a delirious dream in which all follies, all troubles were remembered with greater force and clarity. To escape the shame of these recollections, the scrutiny of everyone who would criticise her injustices, she would run to her room, lock her door, and there, in her loneliness, with her eyes staring, and her fingers clenched, she would want to tear herself, to eat away at herself.

She knew how wrong she was; she could read it in everyone’s eyes.

From Mlle de Courton, who began, ’but my child, please, consider…’ to Şayeste and Nesrin who murmured their approval as they passed her, everyone was a witness to her injustices; seeing the girls siding with her gave an even meaner aspect to her behaviour, and she was disgusted to see herself sunk to their level. But why, why was she acting this way? Why could she not find the strength to consider, as Mlle de Courton suggested? And then she would find it necessary to resort to excessive displays of apology, in order to be forgiven by herself, and by everyone else. She would want to act childishly with her father again, to seek out Behlül, to drown Bülent in gifts, and finally be friends with Bihter as if nothing had ever happened; but in these displays she would feel that all those around her, even Bülent, were hiding a secret reproach deep in their eyes. In Bihter’s pursed lips she would notice the trembling of suppressed words, and believing that at last she had grounds to pull everyone over to her side, to show herself in the right this time, no longer restraining herself, she would search for the rectification of her past wrongs in a new one. Yet every time she was deceived, in none of these conflicts had she happened to see a single glance that would put her in the right. She wanted not only to find herself justified, but for everyone else to find her so, and to pity her. Yes, she wanted to be pitied, she needed compassion. Deep down in her heart, something made her look for another heart that would pull her to itself and wet her hair with its tears. To whom might that tender heart, that magnanimous breast belong? She could not determine this; but she knew that those tears, those warm tears that would trickle into her hair from the deep well of mercy, would wash the wounds of her heart, her poor, injured heart, would cleanse its venom, and only then would she be cured of this awful fever that tortured her, that consumed her from the inside.

Whose could this heart be? The hearts of everyone around her had drawn away from her; she saw no one, not one generous heart that would be able to scatter upon her those healing tears. She had become estranged from them all, all…

As she repeated this word in her mind, like a pained cry of dismay, as she threw this lament, this tormented moan into her solitary grief with all the sorrow of an orphan, she would see herself as so lonely, so forsaken, that she would long to find herself dead.

Then, when the black, winter days poured their deathly darkness wave upon wave through her window, she would feel a chill and shiver suddenly. To die! Who knows, how beautiful it would be! But how awful… It was its very horror that was beautiful. A black hole, and she, lying there, with her wholly pallid face and yellow hair, wrapped in a white, snow white shroud, and far above, a rain falling from black skies upon the black ground, as if stroking the young girl’s grave; there, those healing tears!.. Since, in this life, she had no generous heart that would wet her yellow hair with its tears, she would find these tears in her grave. As the sky scattered its drops like a mother weeping over her daughter, slowly, heavily, her soul would drink them from the grave, this dead young girl’s colourless lips would find freshness with a happy smile. Then, who knows, perhaps through the dark paths of the graves, from the black halls hidden under the earth, a dead woman, her mother, dragging her white shroud, clawing the soil with her fingernails, would open a way, and come to her daughter so as not to leave her alone at nights, and with her lips seek out her ear among her hair, and in a quiet voice, not to be overheard by the living, would say, ‘my Nihal, my little Nihal! Only I find you justified.’ Yes, only she would find little Nihal justified.

As she sat in her room, alone, thinking about death, she would see in her mind’s eye the fresh grave of a young girl, and resting her chin on her hand, staring into space, would seem to keep vigil at the head of that grave.

If only it were possible to be thus split in two! A Nihal who was dead, kissing her mother in her grave, and another Nihal, standing at the head of the grave, with her chin in her hand, her yellow hair disheveled, her eyes open to a horizon that no mortal could discern, unmoving, living as if she were not living, a statue placed there only to weep, but alive, a grieving statue.

She would feel a need for someone to cry with her in her mourning, and then she would run towards the consoling tears of music. At these melancholy times, her fingers would find things to make her piano wail. In a Chopin nocturne, or a lied from Schumann or Mendelssohn, the soul of this instrument and her own weak spirit would embrace in a writhing rapture that melted away their very identities. Then, breaking one other, killing one another with a final sob of torment, leaving a deep, mournful cadence in the air, weary, broken, injured, they would drag themselves away and fall to one side. As these wailing things, these musical odes that were a language arranged from the teardrops of her poor human life with its inexpressible griefs, passed through Nihal’s nerves, as she was poisoned by its sorrows, she would grow sicker, and take on another aspect, a delicate sorrow like the drops of pity that dripped on the graves from the night sky’s pathetic smile. Nihal would forget herself. With pursed lips, and vacant eyes, she would float effortlessly on the current of the dream wave of a senseless, lifeless, intoxicating death, staring at the black signs through a haze, without a spark of life in the gaze that seemed consumed by the complaints taking flight in that silent language.

There was one prelude by Chopin in which, as she played it from memory, with her eyes closed, she would see the shrouded horizon of one white night, one last living night in her soul. This nocturne had such a power of inspiration for her — she knew not why — that whenever she played it she would imagine, in her mind’s eye, a white night that enshrouded the whole universe, a night composed of darkness and light, clouds and sunshine, but the dead night of a dead world.

White! White! White!.. This night had great, tall trees that lifted and shook their white heads and white arms. A sea was rising, its waves flinging the white foam from their white hair, rising between mountains whose bare faces appeared through rolling clusters of white clouds. Far above, a white moon, paused in its fall behind snow storms… Then, processions of shadows running across all this whiteness, clouds that engulfed this white world in a deadly breath, and all about, a great silence; not one small melody in the clouds, not one faint murmur in the waves, nothing, nothing… only from far away, from who knows where, perhaps from beyond this world, a voice lamenting existence itself, falling upon this dead night. Finally, one last wail, heard from beneath the shroud, poured upon this sorrowful judgement day like the merciful waters of paradise…

As the only observer of this last night of the universe, she was seeing herself at the edge of these scenes that were frozen under all their snow; one person, alone in this dead world!.. Was this not how it was now? All alone… Then she would shiver with the similarity of her dream to her reality, and she would want to shrug off the consolations of this music that brought death even as it healed.

Her numb, failing nerves would need to be shaken and jolted to return to life; suddenly, the instrument that had had been wailing a moment before would grow mad and frenzied. Before the sorrowful laments that had been scattered to the air a moment before had breathed their last, the hurricane of a speed drill would burst forth, and drown all traces of the melancholy lieder with the awful din of their repetitions.

Nihal would long to become stupefied by this clangour, to be unable to think so that she did not have to think; then, when she ended this struggle, tired, pale, and with chest puffed out, she would turn her head and find her old governess looking at her with worried eyes. Almost every time these musical fits occurred, she would be found seated at a distance, having stolen in like a shadow.

She had a way of looking at Nihal that seemed to say, ‘poor child, she is destroying herself.’ Yes, these musical fits left this weak child broken, with the cruelty of fevers that follow a merciless illness. There was the treachery of an intoxicating poison in these musical consolations.

At such times, she wanted to take Nihal, and read something uplifting to her, but Nihal would grow bored of these. She asked for books from her governess that would make her think of death. ‘Death! Death! That is all I want,’ she would say.

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Notes

[1] Oud – a musical instrument similar to a lute.
[2] Kanoon – a stringed musical instrument of the dulcimer family, plucked with the fingers.
[3] Suzinak – a particular maqam, or musical mode of Turkish music.
[4] Kalpakçılarbaşı -a street that runs along the south side of the Grand Bazaar.
[5] Koltuk – the part of the wedding ceremony when the groom escorts the bride to the house.
[6] Saz – a long-necked, stringed instrument like a tamboura.
[7] Entari – a long, loose robe, worn by men and women, usually at home.
[8] Hotoz – an ornate headdress worn by women.
[9] Selamlık – the part of the house reserved for men (in contrast to the harem).


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