Chapter Fourteen – Forbidden Love

One day, Şayeste gave Nihal some unbelievable news. She had heard that Firdevs Hanım was coming to the yalı for a long stay. Şayeste had all of the details. The doctor had mentioned that the dampness of their yalı could be the reason for her knee aches, and finally, after much deliberation, it had been decided that she should come here…

As Şayeste related this news in endless detail, Nihal was standing still, silent, with the shocked look of someone listening to something beyond belief. When Şayeste concluded, she could not respond.

Was such a thing possible? This decision seemed to her a plan that had been made in spite of her. So from now on Nihal would be condemned to live with Firdevs Hanım, side by side, in one house. But she hated this woman; especially since the wedding, she looked upon her as a creature who had been created different, apart from other women. It was impossible, she would not allow it. She made up her mind suddenly, she would rebel against her father too, and fight with all of her strength.

Nihal had to put into action what she thought of, and use any opportunity for conflict immediately. Leaving Şayeste, she stood up and went downstairs; but she was forced to stop in the hall.

Today was Saturday. Bülent had just arrived, and she chanced upon him and Behlül in the hall. She and Bülent kissed. Nihal was pale, and there was a slight trembling about her lips. She wanted to fly at Bihter, finally to break everything in one awful crash.

‘What’s the matter with you, Nihal?’ Behlül asked. ‘There’s something going on with you again.’

Nihal paused. All at once she changed her mind. She decided that in telling them this surprising news, she would draw them to her side. ‘Of course, you’ve heard,’ she said to Behlül, ‘we are to have a new visitor…’

‘I suppose you mean Firdevs Hanım,’ Behlül replied. ‘But you’re mistaken, Nihal. She isn’t a visitor. She’s the mother of the woman who could be called your mother…’

‘Yes, but that woman can’t come here,’ Nihal replied, with her sudden overflow of rage.

Behlül drew near Nihal, and with the gentleness of an older brother, said, ‘Nihal, I’m sure you were on your way to see Bihter. You were going to tell her what you just told me, weren’t you? Will you hear me a moment, Nihal? But without arguing or getting angry… calmly, with a smile on your lips… You know that despite our arguments, we’re still good friends, almost siblings, siblings who tear at each other but then make up… There, you see, you’re laughing, you’ve lost, the anger is gone, and now you can listen to me.’

Behlül was pulling Nihal by the arm, towards his room, and Bülent was following them. After he had sat Nihal on a sofa, Behlül pulled up a chair and sat facing her. Bülent was on the floor between them.

Nihal had softened, as one who has relinquished her will to another. A faint smile was parting her thin lips. She was so different to the Nihal of a moment before that if she were next to Bihter, she would not have been able to say the things that she would have been able to say five minutes ago.

‘I’m right, aren’t I, Nihal? You were going to tell Bihter that that woman can’t come here?’ Behlül was asking, still in that gentle, brotherly tone.

Nihal was gesturing in denial.

‘No, now you’re embarrassed to admit it. You were going to say that, or something like it… See, five minutes was enough, if you only waited five minutes before all the things you’ve done this winter, they could all have been avoided.’

Nihal was still smiling, silent. Then Behlül explained. No one was happy about Firdevs Hanım’s stay, least of all Bihter.

Nihal opened her eyes wide. How? Was she not happy that her own mother was coming to stay?

‘I promise you she isn’t,’ Behlül was saying. ‘It’s a long story, but however dissatisfied Bihter will be, we can’t show our dissatisfaction towards her; particularly you, Nihal, you can’t show the slightest indication of this. It would be nothing like the arguments you’ve had until now… And then, Nihal; will you permit me? To tell you something that I’ve wanted to say to you for a long time, but couldn’t?’

Nihal straightened a little, waiting for that important thing that had not been spoken until then.

‘Nihal,’ said Behlül, in a serious tone, ‘Nihal, you are making your father sad without realising it…’

‘What? I’m making my father sad?..’ The question burst from her like a scream.

‘Yes, you, little Nihal,’ Behlül continued, in that calm tone. ‘You… Without knowing, without thinking, a little from childishness, a little from peevishness, but chiefly from jealousy… All those things you do to Bihter, all the injustices, yes, you admit it, don’t you? They are all nothing but unjust accusations. All those arguments you start because you’re unable to control yourself, every single on injures him.’

Behlül was continuing this chain of reasoning, but Nihal was no longer following, she could not hear clearly. There was a fog in her eyes as she saw the agreement in Bülent’s face, and a humming in her eyes as she heard Behlül’s voice. This thing that had been told her for the first time had been so unexpected, so surprising, that it had left her dazed. She felt as if a vein were bursting in her heart. So she was making her father unhappy. Yes, this must be true. How had she not thought of this herself, and how had no one spoke this truth to her until now? All at once she felt that she was culpable of some great, murderous crime. To have made her father unhappy… Yes, yes, it was so, it must be so. What was she to do now? How could she erase everything?… How could she be forgiven of everything? Doubtless she would not longer say anything against Firdevs Hanım’s coming, no longer harass Bihter, but how would the earlier sins be forgotten?

She was not listening as Behlül continued to speak, but was remembering, one by one, everything that had passed between her and Bihter. She found herself so much in the wrong. How had she found the strength to do all this?

Nihal left Behlül’s room a changed Nihal.

‘Do you see, Nihal?’ Behlül was saying to her, ‘whenever you feel something like anger, we can quarrel a little so you can give vent to your urge to argue, but not with anyone else…’

That day was Nihal’s calmest day. For hours, she listened to a book that her governess read to her. Today would be the start of a new era for Nihal. After this, she could not say a word; she would try to find the strength in her weak heart to quash that rebellious sensibility that drove her to all those frenzies, and shutting herself in the silence of her wretchedness, she would seal her lips and stay silent, always silent. so as not to hurt her father.

This was all that Nihal was thinking as her governess read. Today, the old girl was distracted from her reading, too; lowering her book slowly, she would regard Nihal for long and abstractedly, with eyes that seemed shrouded with a cloud of tears. Thus, moments drew out between them, until, without saying a word, they tore their eyes away with difficulty.

‘What are you thinking, if you please?’ Nihal asked, twice.

The old governess, with her lips twitching as if with the effort to speak, would only say, ‘nothing’.

Nihal had not placed much importance on her hesitation that day; the old girl probably did not have anything to say to her. But the next morning, this meaningless thing brought forth an awful revelation.

Mlle de Courton, calling to Nihal from the half-open door, woke her. ‘Bonjour, Nihal! Are you in bed, my child? I am going. I will only just make it to the ferry in time.’

The old girl had told Nihal the day before that she would go down early to Beyoğlu that Sunday, to make the morning mass. 

Nihal, poking her head out from under the blanket, called to her governess, ’please return quickly. The weather looks nice, we can have a little outing together…’

Today was one of the last days of winter. A cold, but sunny day. From her bed, Nihal could see the sun’s light, frosty as if from a cold breath, slide in through the window and lick one side of the curtain. On the other side of the pane, there was a lump of snow the size of a fist, that had become pocked like a sponge as it melted. Every now and again it released a drop which, following the tiny rivulets that had opened in the rime of the glass, finally dispersed, and disappeared.

For a long while, Nihal watched this light that licked her curtain, the lump of snow melting drop by drop, and the tiny rivulet. She was shivering in her bed as she thought of the gentle warmth of this sunny day. It was as if a frosted pane had been drawn across her mind too, like a cold breath that misted the sun’s light. Small shivers were flowing from her whole body. She drew her feet in and curled up in her bed, tucking the blanked under her chin, still watching that sun, the lump of snow, and the little rivulet. She would never find the strength, today, to get out of her bed, and wash and dress in this cold room. In her mind, she could feel the frigid water, and an icy path trailing down each shoulder made her curl up even tighter in her bed. She would be lazy, and not get up for hours. She was finding another reason to stay in bed: since Mlle de Courton was not at home today…

Her eyes were growing heavy as she watched the window, slowly her eyelashes lowered, her eyelids with their thin, blue veins twitched, and she fell asleep once more. She slumbered for a while; then suddenly she opened her eyes, it had felt to her as though her room had shaken. At first she did not comprehend, then a moment later, when another snowball flew upwards and slammed, scattering, against her windowpane, she understood. Someone on the ground — probably Bülent — was bombarding her window.

She jumped out of bed, and ran to her window. As she reached it, another snowball, this time hit and dissolved against the window-frame. Nihal looked out into the garden. They were all there. Adnan Bey, Behlül, and Bülent, Bihter with the wide fur collar of her coat lifted, and Beşir, leaning to gather another handful of the snow that had not yet melted…

They were all craning their necks to look at her. Bülent was preparing another snowball or two. Nihal signalled with her hand, and mouthed, ‘I’m coming!’

Five minutes later she was in the garden. There was a gentle warmth in the air, the sun this morning was bringing with it an early spring. As soon as Nihal breathed in this air, she felt warmed to the very depths of her being. The snow along the garden paths had turned to slush; droplets were falling from the branches that appeared to be covered in an icy layer of glass, and one of these fell on Nihal’s neck as she passed. With a yelp, she put her hand to her neck. They were all waiting for her to draw near, holding their snowballs. At that moment, Bülent gave the order: ‘fire!’

The snowballs descended on Nihal. She was raising her arm to shield her face; one hit her above her ear and scattered into her hair.

‘Now it’s my turn,’ Nihal was saying, as she shook her hair.

She skipped off the path. There, at the foot of a tree was a pile of snow. But Bülent, on the other side, was not standing still either, and a merciless battle began between them. The game that had started as an orderly exchange slowly descended, as the distance between them lessened, to a skirmish in which they threw hurried handfuls of snow at each other in an effort to attack faster. Everyone was laughing. ‘That’ll do!’ Adnan Bey was calling. They both ended the battle tired, covered in snow, and breathing hard.

‘Papa, Bülent lost, didn’t he?’ Nihal asked, panting.

Bülent did not believe that he had lost. ‘Me, lose?’ he was saying, ‘let’s start again, if you like.’

They all hastened to prevent this. Adnan Bey tugged Nihal by the arm, and the snowball fight drew to a close. Now Bülent was skipping on ahead of them, pulling down a snow-laden branch, waiting until they passed, and then letting it go. Nihal and her father were being subjected to a snow storm at every step.

At one interval, Adnan Bey, in a quiet voice, as if afraid, asked, ‘Nihal, did Mlle de Courton say anything to you?’

Nihal was surprised, but suddenly finding a connection between her father’s question, and the hesitation she had noticed in her old governess’s eyes the day before, as she tried to tell her something, she stopped, and looked at her father. ‘No,’ she said.

Now they had both come to a halt. A step ahead, Bülent was ready, holding the tip of a branch  that he had caught.

‘She was going to ask you for your permission.’

‘But she left early this morning…’

‘No, not like that, Nihal,’ Adnan Bey said. ‘Not just for today. She talks of being tired. She wants to spend some time in her own country, with her own relations… Do you understand, Nihal?’

Nihal understood very well. Unable to respond, with a deep ache in her heart, she lowered her gaze.

‘Who, papa? Who, who?..’ Bülent was asking from up ahead. ‘Mlle de Courton? Oh, that old parrot! Is she finally thinking of going back to her native land?’

Nihal, with the teardrops drying up in her eyes, said, ‘Bülent, I forbid you to talk that way about a woman who has always been a mother to us.’

Bülent laughed. ‘Oh, yes, but you can’t forbid her from being an old parrot.’ Then letting go of the branch he held, and scattering the snow, he turned his head, and calling to that imaginary old parrot disappearing down the road towards her homeland, he waved, and called, ‘good luck, Mademoiselle! My regards to your relations!’

Bülent dashed off in order to avoid hearing Nihal’s response, but Nihal was in no state to answer. She could say nothing to her father, either, and hearing Behlül and Bihter’s footsteps behind her, she walked on without turning her head or lifting her eyes. Adnan Bey walked beside her.

‘Poor old girl,’ Nihal was thinking to herself, and as this sentence repeated like a refrain in her mind, she was thinking. Thinking that her talk of growing tired and wishing to return to her home country could be nothing but an excuse. Bihter held an animosity towards her that could never be entirely concealed. She considered her an accomplice to all of Nihal’s bad-tempered ways. How many times had Bihter hinted this to the old girl. Even her existence in the house disturbed Bihter. Doubtless Mlle de Courton had noticed this. Finally, one day, she must have told her husband, ‘save me from this woman.’ Then, the poor girl’s unstinting devotion over all those years forgotten, it must have been explained to her that the peace of the household depended on her leaving Nihal. After this had been unfolded to her in a roundabout way, to allow her the consolation that she was not being dismissed like an ungrateful servant, they had probably given her an opportunity to request leave.

But this man, oh god! How did this father not see, not feel that once everyone she loved was taken from her one by one, she would not be able to survive, no, that she would not be able to find the strength to live thus, all on her own.

Nihal felt cold again. She no longer felt the glow of the sun that had warmed her a moment before, only the icy drop that had hit her neck as she entered the garden. This drop grew there, and become an icy torrent that caused her whole body to shiver.

And then they would say to her, ‘you are making your father unhappy!..’

But her, they were making her unhappy too. Who? Why? How? She did not know, but here she was, unhappy. Today, more than ever… So they now expected this great sacrifice from her too, from her weak heart? So if she were to cry, and revolt against this, they would stand before her and say, ‘Nihal! You are making your father unhappy.’ But who was it who was truly made unhappy?.. As she walked beside her father, touching with her toe the lumps of snow that remained on the path like little islands, she wanted to gather all her strength, and slowly, calmly, as if begging, request that he excuse Mlle de Courton. ‘Yes, at least leave her be,’ she would say; ‘only think, if she goes, what a great emptiness will open up in my life. Look, there is no one around now who will love me, they are all leaving one by one. Above all, you, papa, you seem to be somewhere far from me, you no longer hear me. And then Şakire Hanım and Cemile, they have become strangers; then Bülent, they stole not just him, but his heart from me; he doesn’t love me anymore, he always sides with those who don’t love me… Now, now Mlle de Courton as well; but father, who will look after me when I am ill, who will be my companion in my loneliness? See how I shiver with this anxiety. From now on, I will always feel cold in this house. With everyone who leaves, it’s as if our home, too, our old home is breaking apart and leaving piece by piece. You don’t feel it, but I do. This house is becoming something else with its changed rooms and halls. It’s dying, drop by drop, and the façade of a new house is emerging in its place…’

As she thought of this, she was seeing Firdevs Hanım’s face, that face with all its paints, its false youthfulness, its hidden deterioration. This face was the strange, new house that rose above the soul of the old, dead house.

She said nothing to her father of all this; with a wretched, powerless weariness, she no longer saw the need to say anything. What was the point? Whatever she did, whatever she said, they would not heed her. Only that woman’s orders were obeyed. She now felt this completely. Her father was nothing but a toy in her hands; but this toy was being used as an awful weapon against her. Despite this, her father was not a bad man, she was sure of it; he still loved his daughter, yes, loved her even as he killed her…

Why was it this way? She did not know, did not think it necessary to know; since they expected this sacrifice of her, she would sacrifice everything, even herself. Now they had walked to the end of the garden, and were taking another path that took them back to the yalı. Nihal could see Behlül and Bihter in the distance, at the yalı’s door. Before they drew near them, she lifted her eyes, and looked at her father with a pitiful surrender in her expression.

‘Papa,’ she said, ‘when will she come? Won’t she return today? We were going to go on an outing this evening.’

All the reproach of her miserable spirit was in this utterance.

‘She will come this evening, my child,’ Adnan Bey replied. ‘She will leave whenever you allow her.’

Nihal had lowered her gaze once again. After a moment’s pause, Adnan Bey added, ‘shall I seek out another governess for you, Nihal?’

Nihal raised her head quickly. ‘Ooh! That is unnecessary. Since Firdevs Hanım is to come to us!..’

She could not remain next to her father any longer. After this sentence had involuntarily escaped her lips, she ran. Behlül and Bihter were waiting for them at the entrance to the yalı. Nihal, looking at Bihter, said to Behlül, ‘Behlül, have you heard? We are dismissing Mlle de Courton.’

Then, reaching her hand, she took Behlül’s, and dragged him so that he was forced to enter alongside her. They climbed the long steps of the yalı together, Behlül’s hand still in Nihal’s. At the very top, in the hall, Nihal stopped for a breather, and dropping Behlül’s hand, summed up the whole situation, her sacrifice, this calm disaster in one word: ‘so,’ she said.

Then she turned the piano stool as if slapping it, and sitting facing Behlül, she clasped her hands on her knees, and continued the flow of words.

‘Yes, so now you may be pleased with me. I didn’t even make one small objection. See, not the smallest tear in my eyes. Even though you know, this is more important than all the rest, more painful… I would never have expected such a thing, it’s so unthinkable that if they had given me the duty of finding what would kill me better than anything, even I could not have imagined this, it seems such an impossible thing. But they have found it, and today they reported their decision: she will go, they said. Very well, let her go, do you understand, let her go, that’s all! What else, do they want anything else from me?..’

She was watching Behlül with dry eyes. With all the support of his philosophy, Behlül was bewildered by the awful effect of this trouble. He felt great compassion for this girl.

‘My little Nihal,’ he said. ‘Do you know? I pity you.’

Nihal gave a dry, humourless laugh. ‘Really? You pity me?..’ she asked. ‘But why? Is all this anything more than childishness?..’ Then, abandoning her needling tone, she added more seriously, ‘shall I speak truly? Now I take pleasure in these things. You can’t know what satisfaction I felt today after I had made this painful sacrifice.’

Behlül could not control the overflow of compassion he felt. ‘Nihal, would you like it if… if we were friends with you from now on? Forever?..’ he said, in a quivering voice.

Nihal reached out her hand, then, ‘wait,’ she said, ‘if that’s the case. I will do something I haven’t done with you in a long while.’ She was pointing to the corner of her thin eyebrow. ‘You wanted to kiss me here, didn’t you? Since you will now be a good friend, and an older brother to me, now sit down here, next to me. I will play the piano for you, yes, for hours. All of the songs you love and want to hear…’

With anxious fingers she was pulling out the pieces, the notebooks that filled the stand next to her, and piling them up in front of Behlül.

‘Let everyone know,’ she was saying, ‘that they are killing Nihal, but she is yet…’

She was completing her sentence with her actions, throwing open the lid of the piano violently, and starting to scatter about her, the light-hearted laughter of a noisy galop from the famous Le jour et la nuit.

Behlül, that loyal habitué of the Tepebaşı Theatre, [1] had a list of personal favourites — consisting of the merriest, most festive pieces — that he knew by heart. Picking them out one by one from the pile before him, he was dropping them in front of Nihal: a Gran Via, a Moscatte, a Les Cloches de Corneville, a Le Petit Duc, a Granatieri, all those frenzied musical laughs chased each other and drowned the house in a tumult of gaiety, and Behlül, as he sat next to Nihal, accompanying her occasionally by whistling, or singing a libretto that he recalled, falling behind whenever his eyes caught the pale face in profile, listening to these things that reminded him of the feverish amusements of Beyoğlu, was thinking.

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Notes

[1] Tepebaşı Theatre – a theatre in Beyoğlu which opened in 1880 and staged mainly foreign works.


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