Chapter Nineteen – Forbidden Love

Nihal had taken Nesrin and Beşir with her, and her great aunt, hearing that Nihal was coming for a fortnight’s stay, had been at pains to prepare for her a room that was entirely white. This was a little room that overlooked the green back of Heybeli [1], and a sea that glittered like a great, silver platter filled with little gems. The white tulle curtains that seemed to float above the windows, the white canopy over the little bed, the chairs covered in white linen cloths met Nihal with pure smiles that refreshed her spirits. It was so white, so bright, with the sea stretching out before it, the sun in the distance, the sky that sparkled along to the broad horizon, that it brought a breath of fresh air to lungs grown heavy with the yalı’s heavy curtains and close grilles.

‘How lovely! Oh, how lovely!’ she was saying, clapping her hands and kissing her aunt on both cheeks.

Even though there was nothing here except for the clean room that opened her breast, in her white blouse, freely to the wide horizons: not a single little painting, not a single ornament, nothing, nothing at all. Nihal, looking at the bare walls, asked her aunt, ‘may this room be all mine, mine alone?’

The old lady laughed. ‘That might be a little difficult,’ she was saying. ‘I think it likely that someone, perhaps at the end of the summer, will want to share it with you.’

Nihal was embracing her again. ‘Oh, aunt, now don’t you start. I came here to escape all that talk.’

The old lady, still smiling, was saying in a meaningful tone, ‘who knows…’ Then she added, ‘I haven’t seen Behlül all winter either. He didn’t once come to call on me. It’s possible that at this moment, taking advantage of this opportunity…’

Nihal was blushing. ‘If that’s the case, I’ll run away.’ Then, with that childishness that came bubbling up from inside her, she asked, ‘Aunt! They were saying he was to take a room in Beyoğlu. Why would he do that? Do you know? I think they’ve begun behaving as though they’ll dismiss him too…’

The old aunt had been distant since Adnan Bey’s marriage. She only knew Bihter from having seen her beforehand. When she had too freely spoken her mind to her nephew on the subject of his marriage, a sort of coldness had come between them, and left only the tie of Nihal and Bülent’s visits a few times a year.

But this year, a week before Nihal arrived, Adnan Bey had visited his aunt and having obtained her pardon, had talked at length of the marriage that had been envisaged for Nihal. With that interest that all elderly women dutifully show towards matters of matrimony, the aunt had immediately consented.

‘Oh, how wonderful,’ she had said, ‘two cousins!’

Today, Nihal’s last words had begun a conversation between them, and she told her aunt the latest news from the yalı.

‘In all this, you aren’t telling me the most important news,’ the old aunt was saying.

When Nihal asked, ‘what’s that?’ her aunt laughed so strangely that Nihal, blushing, said, ‘oh, aunt, if you act like this you’ll drive me away in a day or two.’

It was a Saturday. In the evening, Nihal left her room ready to go out; she wore a sleeveless yeldirme that was fastened at her shoulders and flowed down to her feet, and on her head, a light Japanese tulle that just covered her hair. She was beautiful with a delicate, ephemeral beauty, like a fresh lilac drowning in white gauze.

The old aunt, kissing this slender flower with her eyes only, asked, ‘are you going out, Nihal?’

‘Yes, if you please,’ said Nihal. ‘We’re taking your carriage, only Beşir and I… We’re going to go down to the pier. Bülent is sure to come tonight. Then maybe we’ll drive towards the pines a little, won’t we, aunt? I believe the moon begins to shine early tonight.’

The aunt was smiling. ‘Are you sure you’re going to the pier for Bülent, Nihal?’

Nihal stood without comprehending for a moment, then she suddenly turned bright red. This question had touched on a point that had not been able entirely to figure out even by herself, and seemed to have torn something secret that lay under a light covering.

With unnecessary haste, she said, ‘oh aunt! You keep doing this. Do you see? Now I can’t go. You’ve ruined my little outing…’

Then the old aunt had to insist, almost beg Nihal, who stood in an injured attitude, with her eyes lowered. But why? She thought Nihal’s courtesy too much. Since Behlül was now her betrothed, it was more natural for her to wait for Behlül than for Bülent. Even if the moonlight stroll was to be made with Behlül, it wouldn’t be the old aunt who would object. Only…

The old lady was adding, with a voice that seeped into a now softened, smiling Nihal’s veins, ‘only, you won’t stay out too late, will you, Nihal? I don’t say so for any other reason than because Beşir is coughing again, do you understand, my child? The night, the humidity!.. It seems to me that that child is always cold…’

The old aunt was not fooled. Beşir, who had seemed to have been rid of his cough for a period of two days, had once again begun suddenly to cough. Under the island’s abundant sunshine, there yet appeared to be within him something that persisted in remaining cold. Drawing together the shoulder blades that now stuck out enough to tear through his clothes, he had a way of pressing his elbows into his chest as he walked, as if wishing to overcome the insistent coughs that made him ache as they shook his whole body, and made him appear as though he were shivering, freezing from the inside.

And Beşir was cold. He was freezing. All of a sudden, a longing had awoken in him for the air of the African deserts, burned by the scorching sands. A corner of his memory that had lain covered for years had torn and spread before his eyes a fiery wasteland. Despite the sunny, blazing summer of his imagination, he could never feel warm, and was always freezing, hunching his shoulders, and pressing against his chest. Then there was something that hindered him from laughing, from loving life. He did not know what it was; there was such a meaning in his silent, uncomplaining writhing that it made him seem like a child who was unable to describe the nature of his suffering. He was indifferent to everything, even to his own self. He was no longer that Beşir who ran around everyone; he sought out solitary places. Usually, when someone came to look for him, they would find him in a far corner, gazing with a blank stare, not thinking of anything, but lost in the wide expanses of an endless desert. He would fall into abstractions that left him unaware even of himself. He would look with uncomprehending eyes at whoever was speaking to him, and listen, listen but not understand.

On the Island, when the cough returned after the first two days, Nihal had asked her aunt to have Beşir examined. She had been told that there was nothing wrong; however, they had sent medicines that smelled of cedar, and had prescribed long walks beneath the pine trees. Nihal was discovering, vaguely, that there was something wrong after all. For the past three days, thinking more of Beşir than of herself, she had been taking her aunt’s one-horse chaise, seating Beşir beside her, and driving into the woods. During these expeditions, Beşir, silent but happy, and wishing always to be thus ailing, would smile bitterly.

When Nihal had told Beşir that they would drive out again tonight, she had said, ‘Bülent is coming.’

This time, Beşir had wanted to sit at the back of the carriage. Nihal was managing the chaise by herself. She had brought her aunt’s little mother-of-pearl binoculars in order to see the passengers disembarking from the ferry. She drove the carriage down to the sea, and halted at a spot where she could see the people on the pier. The pier was crowded. The Island was welcoming its Sunday visitors. There were mothers, waiting for children returning from school, and young girls, gazing towards the yet invisible ferry, eager with the anticipation of seeing those faces that so pleased them. 

Nihal, watching the clusters composed of loose, revealing dresses from afar, was asking herself: in truth, had she come for Bülent? Then, not wishing to answer herself, she was questioning Beşir. ‘Beşir! What time does Bülent come out of school? He ought to have been able to make this ferry, oughtn’t he?’

Beşir either did not heed, or would not reply. The ferry’s whistle had been heard from a distance, and had made the waiting crowd shiver with the promise of welcoming. The groups were drawing closer together, and becoming denser near the end of the pier. There were people running, someone could be heard playing a harmonica, and five or six boats were leaving the shore to meet the ferry. It was now dark. The lights in the cafés were being lit.

Some people were standing on tiptoe to see the ferry that was now whistling once again as it approached the pier. Nihal, taking up her binoculars, stood up in the carriage, and looking at the passengers who were packed onto the deck, asked Beşir, ‘is there another ferry after this?’

Surely Beşir could not hear her. Without stirring, he was watching the mingling crowd absently. Now the passengers had begun to disembark. There were mothers kissing their children, guests with their baggage, and fathers who scattered greetings to the waiting groups until they finally joined one of them.

‘There,’ said Nihal, sitting down suddenly. Then, bright red, looking at Beşir, she added, ‘no Bülent!’

So who was she indicating to Beşir? He was looking at her with a deep sorrow in his eyes, and waiting for Nihal to answer this silent question.

‘He won’t see us, Beşir,’ Nihal was saying. Then indicating the pier with her hand, ‘would you go and tell him?’

Beşir jumped out of the carriage without another word. Behlül had left the pier. Beşir had to run a little to catch him. Behlül hailed Nihal from afar. A minute later he was beside her, by the carriage.

‘How did you know I was coming?’ he was asking.

Nihal cracked her whip. ‘I didn’t,’ she said. ‘I was waiting for Bülent. Little traitor!.. Why didn’t he come? I even sent him word.’

Leaving the crowded pier behind, Nihal drew a graceful half circle with her chaise, and followed the shore for a while without looking at Behlül’s face. Her eyes now lost in the mists that darkened the blue of the sea, she talked for a long time about Bülent. She swore he did not love her any more. Little by little the bonds of love between them had loosened, and now a deep estrangement held sway between them. Bülent had wanted to draw away from her in order to be nearer to other people. 

Nihal shrugged her shoulders as she spoke. ‘Just as well,’ she was saying, trying to appear indifferent in the face of this abandonment.

Then, slowly, she found herself unable to hide the pain of Bülent’s disloyalty. She did not shrink from a more intimate conversation with Behlül, and she confessed:

‘Whenever I see him avoiding me, if you knew how hard I find it not to cry,’ she said, and briefly halting the carriage that had freed itself from the narrow streets and emerged into the large avenue, she asked, ‘where are we going?’

‘Wherever you want,’ said Behlül, ‘presumably not home. As the carriage rocks the two of us, side by side, I feel as if I’m in some lovely dream.’

Nihal laughed, and touching the ears of the horse, who was restless at this pause, ‘you’re mistaken,’ she said, ‘we aren’t two people. You’re forgetting Beşir…’

They were both being lulled by the gentle, steady, and monotonous motion of this elegant two-wheeled chaise. The carriage was so narrow, that Nihal’s shoulder, as she sat a little forward in order to be able to manage the reins, rested against Behlül’s. They were following a wide street on the Maden side [2]. A light wind was opening Nihal’s yeldirme, lifting her thin headscarf and throwing it back. There were so few people on the road that Nihal was not flustered by the wind’s impertinence. Few carriages passed them, only here and there they saw groups of people on foot, on their way home. The first gloom of the twilight that gave a vagueness to their surroundings was growing darker. Nihal, gazing at the empty road, and the vista of the Kartal shore [3] that looked like a long, black cloud had fallen upon it, felt suddenly afraid of the dark, and tugging at the reins once again, asked, ‘what’s the time, if you please? Won’t we be late if we continue? You know how frightened I am of the dark.’

‘No, no, let’s continue,’ said Behlül, ‘up to the pines, at least. Look, Nihal, they’re lighting a torch for you because they know you’re afraid of the dark.’

Behlül was pointing to the moon that stood above them like a still, pale lantern of yellow paper dusted with pink. The chaise had started up again. Suddenly, Behlül indicated something to Nihal. A little ahead, at the side of the road, two carriages had drawn up side by side. Nihal looked, and saw two women in one carriage, and a man in the other. The man was laughing, and talking in a free manner.

‘A love scene,’ murmured Behlül. ‘It’s that lantern that shines above us, Nihal. Nothing loves love scenes more than moonlight.’

As they passed by the carriages, Nihal, controlling an exclamation of surprise with some difficulty, said, ‘oh, but I recognise them. Do you know who they are?’

They had left the carriages behind. Nihal explained: one of the women in the carriage, the younger one, was the widow who had pretended to be a chanteuse at the wedding. The older one was that woman whose hand every young, marriageable girl was made to kiss.

‘The woman who made me disgusted at the thought of being a bride,’ Nihal added.

‘It seems that for once she’s occupied with something other than marriage,’ said Behlül.

Nihal was looking at him without entirely comprehending. Behlül, wanting to respond to Nihal’s previous utterance, and to forestall any request for explanation, said, ‘but there is no longer anything keeping you from being a bride, is there? I think tonight, with this lantern shining above us, demanding lovers, finally you will say the word…’

Nihal, laughing, and pretending to turn the carriage around, said, ‘in that case, let us go back.’

Behlül put out a hand to stop her. ‘No, better still, let’s continue. Let’s continue like this. Until you give your word of consent.’

Behlül was speaking in a sorrowful tone. For the last five days, ever since that awful conversation with Bihter, he had been considering this marriage to Nihal as the only cure for his soul. During these five days, he had escaped the yalı, and not thought about Bihter. He felt as though he were dissolving his whole selfhood in this young girl’s love poem, in a pure, intoxicating water. He had thought only of her, had lived only in the white dreams of this unsullied happiness. Finally, one day, after a final talk with Firdevs Hanım, Adnan Bey had anticipated Behlül.

‘You can go to your aunt, she knows of the matter,’ he had said. ‘If Nihal accepts…’

Today, Behlül had come with the determination to gain this acceptance from Nihal. After his uncle’s permission, he had quivered with the fear of meeting an unlikely refusal from Nihal. At this moment, as he talked to Nihal, Behlül was like a child who had not lived a life full of those experiences, who had not yet found the language to translate the first word of love, the first cry from his heart. Drawing a little closer to Nihal, his voice shaking, he continued:

‘You don’t know, Nihal, what your father told me. “If Nihal accepts…” Do you understand, Nihal? Your whole life’s happiness is tied, if you ask me, to just one word, to one little, “yes” that will make me the happiest person on earth… What a beautiful, what a happy couple we will make together…’

Nihal was listening absently, without turning her head, a smile on her lips as she stroked the horse’s ears with her whip. Suddenly, she shook herself with a recollection, and turning to Behlül with a motion that brought her hair close to his face, she said. ‘But do be quiet. You’re forgetting Beşir. Later, later…’

Behlül shrugged. ‘And now Beşir,’ he said. ‘Later, later, but when? Just one little word? It doesn’t take a moment to say…’

Nihal turned her eyes away from him again. Now the little, irritable slaps of her whip on the horse’s ears were making the animal nervous, and the swaying of the chaise was bringing them closer together.

‘Now, now, Nihal. Do you understand? Just one little, “yes”.’

Behlül’s words were echoing in her ears, as if begging, writhing in their agitation. Nihal, pale, pursing her lips so as not to say a word, closed her eyes and with a slow nod, said, yes. Then, suddenly licking the horse’s belly with a long touch of her whip, she drove the chaise at lightning speed.

‘But do please be quiet,’ she said in French, ‘a little later, further up, in the woods… You don’t know about Beşir, you haven’t been told. Beşir is ill…’ Then, sighing deeply, she added, ‘he is badly ill.’

They had arrived. Nihal, halting the carriage at the edge of the woods, said, ‘we can rest a little now.’

Behlül jumped out of the carriage, and gave Nihal his hand.

‘Will you alight, Nihal?’

Nihal gave her hand without answering, and gathering her yeldirme, jumped down. The thin scarf on her head had fallen to her shoulders.

Behlül, gathering the reins, handed them to Beşir. ‘Take care, Beşir,’ he said.

He and Nihal walked to the edge of the road that now looked as though it had been scattered with a shiny, yellow powder. Before them, at their feet, was a steep slope, and below that a terrace with scraggly pines that hid the foreshore. Their view was cut off, and all they saw beyond was the sea, spread out with the pallor of a melted, blue star. Nihal, throwing her arms open as if to embrace this enchanted scene, said, ‘how beautiful! How beautiful!’ 

The two of them looked on for a long time, silently, overcome with admiration for the intimate poetry in the splendour of this prospect, unmoving for fear this ephemeral dream vision, composed of air and light, trembling like a fragile mirage, would be erased by any motion. 

The sea spread out in the calm of a sound sleep, as if sighing deeply in a tired dream, under the moon that sprinkled the sweet waters with light from a bottle of yellow fire, making the horizons drunk. In the distance, it nestled into the crooked tassels of the shores that stood like indistinct mounds of shadow; searching for darker, more secretive, more private, more solitary corners to hide, to take cover. Fleeing before the imposing black giants that had sprung up on an obscure cliff of the islands — each visible only as a dark ridge — who seemed to look on with a fiery malevolence in their thousand eyes, the sea stretched out far away, towards the vastness of the endless horizons. And the waters that thus extended, glinting with the fall of light spilling from the moon, appeared as if to join the sky on the distant horizon. At the point of their union, a white line, dawning in a joyous flurry of sparkling dust, seemed to mingle with the scattered, still glowing ashes of a burnt-out sun. 

There was such a poignant meaning emanating from the sea’s numbing calm, such a soulful gloom, that Nihal and Behlül were feeling a vague sorrow in their hearts, and the need for a silence that kept them from exchanging even one small word.

Nihal, for herself, was feeling the misery of a child, abandoned on the calm shore of such a deserted, slumbering sea, and doomed to an eternal oblivion. Everyone she had loved in life had pushed her away with merciless treachery, had forsaken her; she had been left by herself, all alone in the world. This quiet night and that other night, the white night that woke in her daydream as she played that Chopin piece she loved, were drawing together, and crushing her with the despair of having been left all alone in a dead world; forgotten by everyone she loved, abandoned!..

As she lost herself in gazing out at the endless expanse of the sea, something seemed to pull her, to drag her away to some faraway place. There was neither a helping hand, nor a kind eye to give her courage. There was no one, no one around her; then, trembling from the fear of this imagined solitude, taking her eyes away from this broad, fiery desert that made her dizzy, away from the raging depths of those distant horizons, and without looking but feeling Behlül’s body next to her, she was finding the security, the refreshing calm of finding herself in her own bed after waking from the terror of a nightmare. In that moment, in the pleasure of secret certainty, escaping that quiet loneliness, she was drawing near to Behlül with an imperceptible inclination.

They stood side by side, their shoulders just touching. Behlül seemed to have grown numb with a deep weariness; he was looking at the view with its blur of brownish white, at the city that resembled the outlines of an abandoned memory, an abandoned life, that reminded one of an old dream with its indiscernible images, of surfaces that beneath their clusters of black, were drowned in vague whiteness. Before this tableau of the old dream, he was thinking of his own life, of the life whose final page would perhaps be closed tonight, with one word from Nihal, of the life that would resemble just this view, turned into an abandoned ruin with its faded lines, its washed-out planes. Already that life seemed to have grown distant through an interval of long years; all those faces, even Bihter, all those memories belonging to yesterday, had been buried in the ruins of that old dream, far away, beyond such a wide sea. Now beside him, a fresh flower of hope was promising him the horizon of a new life with its shy glances. And Behlül, as he sensed Nihal a little closer, wanted to take her by the hands, to pull her, to take her far away from here, to somewhere more secret, into the shadows of the pine trees, and there, in the warm breathings of the forest, to fall at her feet and kiss her hands and say, ‘love me, Nihal.’

Then he was feeling a great desperation that he could not give Nihal anything but this worn, dirty heart, that beside this child, he would be left like a patient whose ailment suffered no cure. A moment came when he was afraid of himself: was he certain that he would make Nihal happy? He had never expressed this question to himself; perhaps this too was seasonal, a passing fancy. Then he thought of Bihter: everything was over between them; there could be no more affection between them. Since that day he had only been in the yalı for two hours, and he had not seen Bihter. Once the marriage was decided for certain, that woman, who showed a childish laxity after every attempt at mutiny, would be forced to acquiesce to this fait accompli.

Nihal, breaking the silence for the first time, said, ‘do you hear that?’

In the silence of this calm night, the scenery was pulsing with a deep thrum. There was a slight trembling, as if from a waterfall beneath this sleeping sea, a pulsing that could not be seen but only sensed in the ground beneath their feet, in the wind over their heads. Nihal was lifting one finger and inviting Behlül to listen; then, between this trembling, from the night’s secret bosom, they heard another trembling, something high, almost imperceptible, as of a melodious breath, a wandering breeze that chanced upon the strings of an aerial saz. It was so faint, so light, that it could barely be heard.

At first it seemed as though some small waves stroked the air with the tentativeness of a heartfelt secret trying to keep itself hidden; then the shy ripples of this melody woke the ready strains of the winds that softly kissed the sea and the pines, sleeping under golden dreams, the drowsy, calm lullabies of that countryside. A fluid shiver ran across the landscape, it was as if the night’s soul sang in a warble of deep delight.

Behlül replied. ‘A mandolin!’ he said.

A mandolin! A little mandolin that longed to relinquish what secret worry to the night, or that poured its sorrows at the feet of a pine tree, against the moon, or that dropped a greeting to the airs above the wild wavelets!..

This sound, whose source they could not determine, on this night, in the calm of this magnificent scene had a strange effect on them both; in this vague melody that invited their hearts to murmur a hidden song, they wanted to draw closer to each other, to be nearer. Nihal took Behlül’s arm with a small movement.

‘I think we are growing late,’ she said.

Behlül, with a trembling hand, took the hand that Nihal had laid on his arm.

‘No, let’s listen,’ he was saying. Nihal’s hand, too, was trembling under his, but this time this little hand was not drawn away, but allowed to stay, with the abandon of a wounded bird. 

That sound that for a moment seemed as if it would gain clarity, had, with the joining of these two hands on this night, begun to be covered, to shy away, as if with a desire to be erased. For a while they stood, close together, in the hope of hearing it again. Suddenly, behind them, at some distance, tearing the contented calm of this night, came a choked cough.

Nihal shivered. ‘Do you hear? Beşir is coughing again,’ she said, and without removing her hand from Behlül’s arm, forced him to turn. ‘Let us go now! You know how awful the damp of these nights is for him…’

Beşir was at the edge of pines, on top of the carriage. When they reached him, they found themselves standing before an even more magical scene.

‘Look at the pines, Nihal,’ Behlül said. ‘Just five minutes; we can wander for twenty paces. You can’t refuse that, Nihal!..’

Now Behlül was governing the little hand that lay under his with a light pressure, and pulling Nihal along. He called to Beşir. ‘We’ll be back in a minute, Beşir!..’

They had left the road and were among the trees. Behlül, following a small, narrow, bumpy track, was taking Nihal further and further in.

Every three or four steps Nihal was saying, ‘but I’m afraid. I don’t know why, but I’m afraid. All these shadows, all these trees, I feel as if they’re going to come alive and attack us.’

Then she was halting suddenly, and pointing with a finger. ‘Look! There is a long, black sleeve, and a hand with huge fingers, do you see? It’s reaching for us.’

Herself at moments amused by these fears, she yet continued to be frightened, and walked with faster footsteps, as if trying to escape. She was drawing closer to Behlül. Suddenly, not wishing to continue, gazing with frightened eyes at something that seemed to waver among the shadows, she slowly said into Behlül’s ear, ‘no, no, that’s enough! Let us stop here. Or let us go back, yes, let us go back…’

She was clinging to Behlül’s arm, with an awe of the calm of the whole of nature that seemed full of the unknown. She could only step with the toes of her half-boots on the weeds that gave a muffled rustle when crushed, as if in anger. 

‘You’re such a child,’ Behlül was saying. ‘We’re following the edge of the road. If we bend a little we can see the carriage lamp. And what’s there to fear from this innocent forest? Look how beautiful it is, Nihal! Don’t you find all this beautiful?’

Nihal buried her face in her hands. ‘Beautiful, yes, beautiful, but awful,’ she was saying.

The woods stretched before her, climbing a hill, ever-darkening under lights that were more green than yellow, and finally drowning in frozen shadows, and a strange breath emanating from this forest, like a fairy’s breath of life that had lain slumbering in a breast full of the wonders of those dark depths, bringing murmurs from far within, seemed to be flying, flapping its invisible wings among the pines. Further away, in a profound hum, the Island’s hubbub sounded like a treacherous cataract that tumbled into a ravine that had opened in the forest’s shadows, dragging away all with it in an ineluctable flood. They were yet at the edge of the woods; Nihal was loath to proceed. Overhead, the wood seemed to tremble under a green rain, like a wall that was ready to topple, a great wall that shook awfully as it took deep breaths of the living darkness. Nearer, little clearings of bluish green were beaming in the streaming moonlight that was painted a dreamy green, like wide smiles of relief.

They were standing in one of these clearings.

‘What do you think? Shall we sit here?’ asked Nihal. ‘But only for a minute, long enough to forget my fear… If we turned back now, do you know what I think? This whole forest, these pines that reach out their hands and arms behind us, will move, and chase us, and catch us. And then…’

As she spoke a stream of shivers that ran down her shoulders made her draw her yeldirme tighter around her. She crouched right where she stood in one elegant motion. Behlül was standing, looking down at her. They stood for a moment, looking at each other in this green lustre. Nihal, sitting thus under Behlül’s gaze, felt something that made her sway, something that might make her swoon and collapse in a great weakness, and perhaps kill her in a moment. Suddenly she wanted to cry out with another sort of fear that woke in her, a fear whose source was unknown: ‘but hold me, take me away from here! To the carriage, home, yes, home, home!..’

She wanted to be home right now, in her room, in her white bed; now she was frightened, not only of the dark spectres of the forest behind her, but also of the man who stood before her, watching her. This night was like a bad dream. In order to forget her fear, she addressed Behlül with the first words that occurred to her.

‘You must admit that it was a strange idea to come here tonight.’

Behlül did not seem to hear. He was looking at Nihal with those absent eyes; then, suddenly, sitting down right at her feet, he said with a shaky voice, ‘Nihal, do you love me the tiniest bit?’

Nihal gave a short, broken laugh. ‘There! That must be what we came here to say. But this is such a simple thing that there was no need to come here to say it.’

Nihal did not seem to want to take such a conversation beyond the basis for a jest; she was speaking with a great effort, with a smile on her lips. Behlül replied in a very serious, in fact, a slightly affronted tone.

‘I assure you, Nihal,’ he said, ‘tonight, at this moment, the smallest jest upon this subject could have the weight to hurt me very much. Now you too, yes, you too are not inclined to jest. You’re forcing yourself to smile in order to avoid replying… Don’t deny it! It’s obvious. Then why not say it? Yes, why not, Nihal? Surely you love me a little, not a lot, but enough to satisfy me. When it’s such a simple thing to just say so…’

Nihal wanted to continue smiling as she replied. ‘But you are mistaken; I love you very much. Especially now that our quarrels are over!.. Are we two now not more than friends, but brother and sister?’

Behlül looked on with a pained smile. There was such a deep remonstrance in this smile that the jesting smile on Nihal’s lips vanished instantly, and she said, ‘Behlül, will you tell me? Why do you wish to marry me? Confess that this is nothing more than a joke. You would admit the possibility of anything but the possibility of this, this joke, of marrying little Nihal, that girl who looked like the pictures on Japanese fans. Yet chance brought before you a woman bound to her chair, looking to amuse her empty hours, and a father searching for an opportunity to be left at peace with his young wife. They had on their hands a girl doomed to be handed over to the first suitor who appeared. You were thought of first because you were closest. You too, were a little tired, a little bored of your life, you were looking for a little change. When this jest rolled before you, you reached out your hand. Here is a fine toy, you said to yourself, an excellent diversion for a while! Easy to discard once it’s broken…’

Nihal looked at Behlül again with a small smile, then she added, with an elegant gesture in the manner of a child throwing away a broken toy, ‘I think that now it’s time to throw away this plaything.’

Behlül had listened in silence. When Nihal’s light, calm flow of speech was concluded, he replied.

‘But don’t you see, that is the very thing I don’t wish to throw away? Yes, itty bitty Nihal, yes, the girl who looks like those Japanese paintings, as you say. You are a toy, a toy discovered after I’ve grown weary of everything I’ve done and entertained myself with in my life. But not a toy to break and cast away, but a precious toy, one to keep always as the only tie to life, forever, do you hear me, to be hidden among the softest, most delicate flowers!.. If you knew, Nihal, how I surprise myself as I tell you these things. A completely changed, altered Behlül! Because you changed me, yes, yes, entirely… Something of your childishness, your purity infected me; it was as if several years of my life, those pages filled with empty pursuits were at once torn out. I was made younger when I came before you, and, why should I not admit it, I was cleansed. If you reach out those itty bitty hands to me, I will be a saved man. A man who will be glad, no longer finding it necessary to chase after other objects, but having reached the happiness that was allotted to him, will dwell upon his own happiness… Confess, Nihal, that you too need such a hand, a hand of protection and companionship…’

Nihal was listening, her eyes lowered, her hand twisting one corner of her yeldirme, her breast rising and falling with a small palpitation.

Behlül was continuing. ‘Yes, you need it, Nihal. Do you think I don’t feel all your aches, those secretly weeping sorrows? You now think yourself apart from everyone, from every heart; alone among all those you love… You who are so in need of being loved…’

Behlül stopped speaking all at once. He stooped, wishing to see Nihal’s eyes. ‘Are you crying, Nihal! Yes, yes, you are crying. But why? Since there is a heart in all this loneliness that loves you, that will always love you. If you love a little, yes, a tiny bit… You do love, don’t you, Nihal? Only a little, yes, see, now you’re laughing… We would enter into our own world, and taking no notice of those around us, we would be busy only with each other. We would hide in just such a bright forest, with a moon above us to brush us with its light, in a green nest, a nest of happiness that sends us to sleep by its glimmering vision…’

Nihal was no longer crying, her eyes still wet, she was looking at this man who promised her these bright dreams. Such a need for love had awoken in this child’s sorrowful soul at this moment, that it filled her with a desire to listen to these murmurs of happiness for hours on end. As she listened, she was thinking of the pained disappointment of the past two years, and of the torture of that life. Then, through a strange working of her fancy, she was seeing a vague shadow that resembled the face of a mother in her thoughts.

To be loved! To be loved! This was the only cry of her aching heart. And now there was someone who loved her, who repeated it at her feet, and she was only desired to give a little love in return. Did she not love Behlül a little bit?

She had wanted to say so many times, but there was something that prevented her. She thought that if she said it, Behlül would laugh, and jeer, and from among the pines would explode thousands of mocking laughs. ‘But child,’ they would say to her, ‘how they have toyed with you!’ Then? Then she would have to die…

Also, something in her heart, a faint voice, was saying from afar, ‘avoid Behlül.’ What did that mean? When had she heard it? Where did this voice come from, that would not leave her in peace in this happy dream?

And Behlül’s gentle, persuasive voice was ever stroking her ears with its song of happiness.

‘You agree, don’t you, Nihal? Tell me, just one word, one little word, and then we can leave this place, we can go back to our carriage and fly away to our old aunt. We have brought you a lucky pair, we will tell her. Yes, won’t we, Nihal?’

She said, ‘yes’.

Then Behlül drew this dainty head with both his hands, and kissed her at the edge of her eyebrow, right at the end of that thin line. Now they could hear voices in the distance, hoofbeats, broken laughter.

Nihal, standing up, said, ‘there are people passing on the road. Let us go. How late we must be…’

They discerned the carriage light from among the trees, then Beşir’s long, choked cough.

‘Beşir is coughing again,’ said Nihal. Then, pointing to her chest, she said, ‘do you know? When he coughs like that, I feel as if something is being torn within my own breast.’

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Notes

[1] Heybeliada is the second largest island in the Sea of Marmara. It lies to the west of the island of Büyükada, where Nihal’s great aunt resides.

[2] Maden is an area on the eastern side of Heybeli Island, so called because there used to be a copper mine at the site now called, ‘Çam Limanı’.

[3] Kartal is a district on the Asian side of the mainland, northeast of the islands.


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Lady Writer

I write about literature, language, love, and living off your pen. Also, fortifying fiction, personal amelioration, and tea.

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