Chapter Twenty-One – Forbidden Love

The recounting between mother and daughter was brusque and harsh. Beginning with her final meeting with Behlül, when this love — for some time a means of amusement, but now grown wearisome — was flung in her face with an insulting slap, like something dirty that was being returned, there had lived on in this woman only one emotion: revenge… To take revenge on him, on all of them! This emotion united Behlül and Nihal; she wanted to throttle them both in the same vice of wrath and enmity.

This love had been her all. She had placed all of the hopes of her marriage in this love, had given it her whole soul, her whole self. This affair with Behlül had begun just like her marriage to Adnan Bey. This woman, born into the pedigree of the Melih Bey set, needed to make a choice marriage, such a marriage that would come with a little, golden key. This marriage could only have been possible with Adnan Bey. Without thinking of anything else, she had reached out her hand to him. But it had not taken her long to realise that giving her hand did not mean giving her heart. That little, golden key had opened the door to all of her dreams, but before that piece of gold that made the iron doors of her dreams yield with its slightest touch, her heart, her own heart had remained locked. Then to fill the void this marriage had left in her heart, that void of lovelessness, it had been necessary to invent a love independent of her marriage. It was not necessary to search far and wide. There was someone at her heels who gazed at her with desire in his eyes; she had taken one step, and thrown herself into Behlül’s arms. But beneath this step, yawned a great, hidden chasm.

She had not wanted to see it. She needed a dream to help her forget the hollow spaces in her marriage, that was all!.. As she closed her eyes in an effort not to see her married life, she kept returning to this dream. But this was only a dream, it could not continue. There were feverish fits, and nightmares. This dream had become such a necessary, indispensable part of her life that she had wanted to tolerate those fevers, those nightmares. She fooled herself in the face of Behlül’s betrayals, then, when she could no longer continue to deny the witnesses, the evidence, she forbore. She forbore the insults, the scorn, everything. This was such a self-sacrifice that the wild pleasure of its tortures made her happy.

But in the jest about marrying Nihal, she had felt a danger that threatened her love, deep down in her soul, and had rebelled against it. This marriage would not be. Behlül would be hers alone. This woman, who until then had acted only out of concern for her love, had quickly understood that this love could not survive, and had made her decision: yes, this love would perish, but not without scattering calamity all around it…

She did not pity Nihal. She had stored up many grudges against her; all the things she had tolerated had each become an excuse for enmity towards this girl, each bearing the weight of due vengeance. But beyond all this enmity was that in Nihal, who had been a child only yesterday, had emerged a rival. It was this more than anything that she could not forgive Nihal.

After this marriage took place, the life of torture that would begin for her was so oppressive, that she had decided to sacrifice everything in order to keep it from being realised. But before this last resort, before she told Adnan Bey everything, there was a measure she could take: which was for Firdevs Hanım, who had followed her with an unquenchable grudge since her marriage, for those hands that had wrought this game, to take it apart again. There was such a deep and dark look in this woman’s eyes, as if rising from her soul — blackened by the disappointment of all that lost, irrecoverable youth and beauty — that whenever it was levelled upon Bihter it took on a ferocity that made the young and beautiful woman tremble. These two, who had never been mother and daughter, were so near to being enemies that Bihter considered the duration of Firdevs Hanım’s presence in the yalı a dangerous period. That gaze of her mother’s that followed her around, seemed to be thinking perfidious thoughts; her eyes always made her shiver with a fear like that of green cat eyes shining in the dark.

One day she had come to the conclusion that her mother knew everything. Then, when she realised that the subject of this marriage had been an invention of Firdevs Hanım’s jest, she had decided that an open battle had begun between her and her mother. Since that day, these two enemies were playing this awesome farce with their teeth gritted behind their veils.

When Nihal was sent to the Island, Bihter had made up her mind: it was time to unveil. And that day, when she was left alone with her mother, she had gone straight to her mother’s chaise longue, sat by her side, and ordered Emma out.

‘Leave us alone.’

Mother and daughter looked at each other with the gaze of two enemies who were sizing each other up before attacking. They both remembered, unbidden, the look they had exchanged in the bay window of the pale yellow yalı one night, in the darkness. At the time, the animosity that this look expressed seemed to have been buried in that darkness. They had still been but a mother and daughter before an intended marriage. Today, that meaning had found clarity, it was entirely in the open, now they were wholly hostile.

‘You had Nihal sent to the Island, did you not?’ Bihter asked in a calm, and decided tone. ‘Of course you will send Behlül too.’

This was spoken in such a tone that there was no possibility for Firdevs Hanım to doubt the true meaning. She was sure that Bihter had come with a desire to do battle, but she replied in her plainest, calmest voice, even with a slight smile, ‘yes, I think he will go to the Island on Saturday evening, too.’

She was watching Bihter with a strange light in her eyes. Bihter appeared not to notice.

‘So this marriage is becoming a serious matter?’

‘I do think so!’ said Firdevs Hanım, bowing her head. ‘Adnan Bey seems decided. Then, wishing rather to assume the role of questioner in this difficult conversation, she asked, ‘but I am surprised that you should ask me for an explanation, when you yourself should know more than I of Adnan Bey’s decisions.’

Bihter replied without hesitation. ‘One would expect you to know the reason thereto. You put the idea of this marriage in Adnan Bey’s mind, and it falls to you to take it out again. That is why I am applying to you.’

Firdevs Hanım sat up a little. ‘I found many reasons to put this idea in Adnan Bey’s mind, but I see no reason to take it out.’

Bihter looked at her with a wry smile before replying. Then locking eyes with her mother, she said, ‘you know very well that this marriage is impossible.’

Firdevs Hanım could not keep back a cry of surprise. ‘Oh, on the contrary, I cannot think of a more possible marriage. In fact, I don’t think I’m mistaken that you, yes you, when we first spoke of the matter here, thought an alliance between Nihal and Behlül quite natural.’

Bihter suddenly grew tired of this mode of conversation. ‘Mother,’ she said, ‘let us speak plainly, shall we? You know very well that I have obstinacies that cannot be overcome by any force when I set my mind to certain things. This marriage shall not take place. I have decided on everything already.’

Firdevs Hanım only asked, ‘on what?’

Bihter was becoming angry, a vague flush was rising in her cheeks, and a small trembling was beginning in her lips. With an impatient movement, she said, ‘you wish for the conversation to go on, do you? Very well.’ Without taking her eyes from her mother’s, the dimple that appeared when she smiled now taut with suffering, she added in a nonchalant way, ‘let me tell you what I have decided on. If you do not agree to what I ask of you today, at this moment, I won’t make a fuss, but wait for his return — you know who I mean, your son-in-law — and go to him and say, ‘you are giving your daughter away to Behlül; that’s all well and good, except that he has been your wife’s love for the past year…’

Bihter was speaking slowly, clearly, in utter calm; insouciant as if she was saying something quite natural, but with a wild smile emerging in the eyes that remained fixed on her mother’s. A mocking, belittling sneer was taking shape on Firdevs Hanım’s lips. She straightened with a motion to stop her daughter from continuing, and through her teeth, she hissed, ‘shameless!’

Then Bihter continued. ’To stop my husband from flying at me, I will say, “no, no, why be angry? You knew that your wife was the daughter of Firdevs Hanım. A pity that there was a Behlül nearby. Be thankful that this woman is coming to you today to tell you not to give your daughter to this man, and to throw this woman and her mother — and her mother, mind — out of your house.’

Bihter stopped talking. Mother and daughter were now looking at each other with all their savagery. They sat for a half a minute in an uneasy calm. Then another word came through Firdevs Hanım’s locked teeth: ‘disgraceful!’

Bihter responded without hesitation. ‘No, quite the contrary!.. I don’t believe I’m denying the grace I learned from you. Nor am I telling you anything new. You were not ignorant that I was Firdevs Hanım’s daughter, nor that there was a relationship between Behlül and I. Admit it, you invented this marriage in part, or wholly because you were aware of this relationship. Would you like us to call a truce now? Since after me, Adnan Bey will not take you…’

Firdevs Hanım seemed to be choking with wrath. ‘Bihter!’ she cried.

Bihter put out a hand. ‘It is not at all seemly for the servants to hear. If you like, we can resolve this matter, mother and daughter. Here are the terms I offer you: Behlül will leave this place; — she shook her head with a look of pained resignation — yes, he will leave, never to return again; you can accomplish that with a word or two. Marriage! It was a toy, something made of bits of wood. If you but touched it with the tip of your finger…’

‘But you are mistaken,’ said Firdevs Hanım, ‘they love each other. It isn’t at all simple to break up this marriage.’

‘Even if it isn’t easy,’ Bihter replied, her voice harder than ever, ‘since they love each other, it is even more important to break up this marriage…’ Then, all at once, with an overflow of her sorrow and suffering, she cried out, ‘but god! It’s killing me. To see them making love before my eyes, before my eyes… While I’m writing in torture, their happiness is killing me…’

She had not been able to hold back this lament. Afterwards, all her strength was extinguished in a flood that she could no longer conceal, and falling at her mother’s feet, sobbing in her awful misery, she wept and wept for the first time…

On Sunday morning, Firdevs Hanım, still undecided what she would do, had tricked Bülent into going to the Island. As she gave him the small envelope, she had said only, ‘for Behlül. Make sure no one else sees it.’

And when he chanced upon Behlül at the pier, Bülent had pulled him aside, and secretly slipped the envelope into his hand.

Behlül had at first felt mutinous. He had never encountered such obstinacy in any of his relationships heretofore. So Bihter was one of those clinging, tiresome women with whom one cannot end by being friends. Since this woman wanted to harry him, to use those hours of love-making they had spent together as a vengeful weapon, to oppose his marriage, Behlül said to himself, ‘is that what you want? Very well.’

He was responding to Bülent’s chatter, trying to look unconcerned while he determined what to do next. He would make up some excuse to Nihal, and go there straight away. He would go up to Firdevs Hanım, and say, ‘she has confessed all, has she? I have something to confess to you, too. Behlül loves Nihal, and Nihal loves Behlül, and they love each so much that no power can separate them.’

Despite these resolutions, a hidden fear was making him quiver. In his eyes, Bihter was now quickening into a spiteful woman capable of anything. Bihter, this woman who had gone to her mother and confessed that sin, could go to Nihal and tell her the same truth.

And then?

He was afraid that if he went back to the house in such an agitated state, he would not be able to manage himself, not be able to tell Nihal the necessary lie. He wanted to spend the hours until he could go back down to Istanbul, away from her. Then he had an idea.

‘Bülent,’ he said, ‘shall we wander about a little?’ He was encompassing the entire Island with a sweeping arc of his arm.

Bülent agreed at first, and then pointing at his stomach, he said, ‘but Bülent is hungry.’

So Behlül bought him things to eat and organised a little picnic, and they climbed into a carriage. Behlül was so confident, that he was convinced he would return from this outing with a solution that would level all difficulties. In the carriage, he questioned Bülent expertly. He was finding opportunities to invite Bülent to talk about Bihter.

Had she been with Firdevs Hanım when this message was handed to him? Had Bülent seen her as he left the yalı to come to the Island? Did she have no message for Nihal? He was scattering these questions skilfully in among Bülent’s chatter, and from the responses trying to gauge Bihter’s state.

The conclusion of this interrogation showed that Bihter was calm and composed.

‘Perhaps it’s possible to reach some accord,’ Behlül was thinking. Abruptly, he ordered the carriage to stop.

This was the place where they had stopped together with Nihal the evening before.

‘I’m not hungry,’ he said to Bülent. There was something in his throat.

How happy this place had been last night! As he felt Nihal next to him, what hatred and disgust he flung at his life’s bootless memories. Today his horizon had become sullied, the previous night’s brilliance had evaporated, leaving behind a pale, dusty haze, had turned into the memory of a distant dream.

‘No,’ he said to himself, wishing to shake free of a deep depression that besieged him, ‘it was no dream, all those others were a dream; Bihter was a dream, and a bad one. It’s Nihal who’s real, the only real thing in my life!..’

So he loved Nihal; with all the overpowering partiality of an eighteen-year-old just out of school, for a vision seen in a window. So he loved Nihal, this child? When only yesterday this had been a risible jest, so today it had become a reality that governed his life?

Yes, only this pure, and fresh love was true; all those in the past were lies, treacherous lies, each one. This love had given him back his eighteenth year, his schoolboyhood, the gaucherie of that life of innocence. Last night, those five or ten minutes he had spent at her feet were the cleanest, choicest moments of his life. As he touched her small hands, a life of poetry had been resurrected in the purest depths of his soul, but had not yet begun its course.

Now he was going to break this obstacle that wanted to stop him, and trampling Bihter, he was going to go to Nihal. But this woman could destroy Behlül if she wanted to. He had to attempt a truce with her. If necessary he would beg her, take her hands and say, ‘what’s the point? Why play the villain? You’re going to kill Nihal in an effort to be avenged on me!..’

He made up his mind; yes, he would beg, if necessary he would fall to his knees before this woman, take her hands, and plead with her to stay friends for the sake of respecting those hours of sacred lovemaking. 

After this decision, he felt lighter. ‘Come on,’ he said to Bülent.

One small resolution was enough to make him take up the most difficult games. After he had played his part with Nihal, it was also necessary to play the game with the acquaintances he chanced upon on the way, during the two-hour ferry trip. Now and again, in the midst of a merry conversation, as he recalled the reason for his departure from the Island today, he was surprised that he could laugh so indifferently.

‘Congratulations, Behlül!’ he was saying to himself. ‘You’re a sound chap.’

He would show the same steadfastness towards Bihter; but as he was walking towards the Boğaziçi piers at the Bridge, he came to a sudden halt. Until then he had been eager to see Bihter, to obliterate the danger that threatened his happiness as soon as possible. But now he grew afraid of that difficult moment of conversation, and wished to put it off. He would go up to Beyoğlu, hire a carriage, and take a long drive. He was going to go there with the last ferry, and that difficult conversation was going to take place, again in his room, among the still-warm breathings of those memories of yesterday. Finding an opportunity, in that old, pleading voice that belonged to the first intoxicating period of their love, he was going to say, ‘tonight, in my room.’

And he was certain that she was going to come once more, and when she came, she was going to relinquish her love in a flood of tears.

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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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