Chapter Nine – Forbidden Love

Nihal, without turning her head, amid the noise of a speed drill on the piano, asked her governess, ‘Mademoiselle! What time will Bülent arrive today?’

Bülent had been at school for a week. Sending the boy to school had been so long talked about, and Bülent, after hearing so many amusing tales of recess diversions, endless games played with a band of rascals in the sun and the dust of courtyards, had accepted this idea with such joy, that finally one day, as the child was leaving the yalı, to return for only one day a week later, he and Nihal had been laughing as they kissed goodbye. What made Bülent so ecstatic, had also been an occasion to make Nihal happy. Yet that day, after Bülent left the yalı door, Nihal had run to the window and looked after him. Bülent, in order to reach as soon as possible that new horizon, composed of entertainments heard from Behlül, was running across the stones of the dock. He did not think to turn his head and wave one last goodbye to his sister who watched him. Then something ached in Nihal’s soul. Even after Bülent turned the corner of the dock and disappeared, she continued to watch.

That evening, seeing his place empty at the dinner table, and his empty bed at night, she had felt like crying. So this was something more than a laughing matter, after all? So now a sea, a long distance, high walls, and a strange life had appeared between these two friends? He would have other companions, other loved-ones, other people than his sister to tell him what to do; at night he would sleep with other children than his sister, and everything, everything would be different. Then, without being able to judge the importance of this little matter, her spirit felt its full pronouncement: they had not just parted, their souls were to grow apart; the ties of their heartstrings would be unbound one by one, no, for Nihal, they would be torn, ripped to shreds.

That night, thinking these things, unable to sleep in her bed in her now solitary room, she considered herself completely alone in the world, and felt all the pain of this loneliness. Could they not leave her Bülent? Why had this school business been invented? Was it necessary to take children from their homes, from the arms that were content to embrace them, and throw them in schools?

Was this life? Was it the cruel law of this life not to leave two hearts to their own devices?

After Bülent’s school business was invented, she had heard these lectures on life. Life… life.. what did it mean? Was it such a terrible thing? In her itty bitty judgement, life took on a form and face; became a monster with long, tearing talons, terrible, treacherous, burning eyes. Then people, surprised, crazed, could not struggle free of the hooks of those talons, or escape the fires of its eyes.

This was the life that took her mother, and this life had changed her father, and it, always it, had hooked Bülent onto its claw, and flung him far away. Yet all of these conclusions drawn from her reasoning snagged on one point, and stuck. ‘If she hadn’t come, life would have left us alone,’ she was saying to herself.

Yes, she ascribed the full responsibility for everything, everything, even her motherlessness, to her. ‘Oh! This woman!..’ she was saying. Now her thoughts were growing muddled, and she was falling asleep; all of a sudden, she heard a shy scratching at the wood of her door. Shaking herself awake, she asked, ‘who is that? Fındık, is it you?’

Fındık was answering. Tonight, Fındık was coming to keep her company and help her forget her loneliness. How, how grateful she was this night for Fındık’s presence!

Early the next morning, Nihal had taken the calendar from her father’s study, gone to Behlül’s room, and together with him marked all of the school holidays in red pencil.

Today, knowing only that he would arrive in the evening, she had been waiting for him all day. ‘More waiting,’ she mumbled to herself, upon her governess’s reply. Mlle de Courton was sitting, knitting her a woollen fingerless mitten. For a long time nothing was heard in the hall except the sound of the speed drills. Fındık was patting the ball of yarn that slipped from the governess’s lap and rolled onto the floor, sending it this way and that, sticking his tail in the air and jumping after it.

Abruptly, Nihal turned around on the bench. ‘Mademoiselle,’ she said, ‘do you know what I have thought of? Even if you object at first, you’ll agree later. Agree at once, won’t you? I expect you know what I have thought of…’

‘My child, such strange ideas generally occur to you, that it is not possible to discover them.’

Now Nihal had stood up, and drawn near in order to better beguile her governess. ‘You understand! You understand,’ she said, ‘and see, you’re laughing… Why not? There’s more than two hours before they leave school. We could take the ferry from here, right to Beyoğlu… Think for a minute, when Bülent sees us standing in front of him as soon as he leaves school… There, there, you cannot object, you agree… I will be ready in five minutes, Mademoiselle!’

Without leaving her an opportunity to speak, Nihal threw herself on the old girl’s neck, and kissed her on both cheeks. Then running, she called from the stairs, ‘Beşir! Come along, we’re going to pick up Bülent…’

Nihal wanted Bülent to tell her about school life, right down to the smallest details. There was no end to her questions: how was the school, what did they eat, how did they sleep at night, what were the teachers’ names, and how did they look? Had he found friends? Who were his classmates? To seize these names and attend Bülent’s school life from afar, she repeatedly asked for explanations of every minute particular. 

Bülent, with the deceitfulness peculiar to all children who have recently entered school, was embellishing all particulars and drowning all descriptions of the school in exaggeration, with colourful little lies that would awaken envy in his audience. The school became a building so large that one could not see where it ended, the courtyards each grew to encompass the Bebek Gardens four times over, the teachers and wardens were all great, burly people. Then the children… who knew how many of them there were? An uncountable number… Was it four thousand? And they were all amusing, handsome, courteous. He was already friends with half of them. He informed her of their names, and spoke of a tale of Namık Bey’s, and an anecdote of Raşit Bey’s. Then the food… There was dessert every evening. Last night they had eaten something like revani [1]; he had never eaten such a delicious dessert. He would no longer be able to enjoy Hacı Necip’s desserts. 

‘And me? Didn’t you look for me?’ asked Nihal.

Did he just! The first day he had cried all night in his bed, silently so that his neighbours would not hear and make fun of him. As Bülent spoke, he nuzzled against his sister, and the two siblings, feeling an affection at having thought of each other all that night, exchanged kisses.

‘Couldn’t you write to me from school?’ Nihal was saying. ‘A little piece of paper every day, two or three lines…’

This idea appealed to Bülent. ‘How nice that would be. You can write to me too, can’t you, sis?’ Then he considered the difficulties of such a correspondence: but who was to take and deliver these letters?

‘You can keep them,’ Nihal was saying, finding a solution to this too. ‘You can bring them with you when you come.’

They were so proud of having invented this form of correspondence that starting with Adnan Bey, they told everyone in the house.

After that day, one of Nihal’s entertainments was to write Bülent a little letter every morning. She had begged a box of letter paper and envelopes from Behlül; jumping out of bed, she would find enough store to write three lines, or at most a page on one of these, would put it in an envelope, write, ‘to Bülent from his sister’ across it, and add it to the pile on her writing desk. The letter she wrote on Saturday, at the end of the second week, ran thus:

Today I will go to Şakire Hanım’s kitchen. A while ago, Mademoiselle and I had read a recipe for an English dessert in my household management book. I will make it for you. We’ll see if it isn’t better than the school’s revani.

That day, Mlle de Courton could in no way deter Nihal from her plan. She would absolutely, absolutely make Bülent such a dessert, better than the school’s.

‘But my child,’ the old governess was saying, ‘it is easy to read these recipes, but they never turn out as well.’

Nihal went downstairs to convince Şakire Hanım into helping her. She was approaching Şakire Hanım’s door. She saw Cemile in front of her. When the child noticed Nihal, she turned and ran back into their room without saying a word. Nihal heard a bustle from inside, then, just as she was about to enter, they closed the door from inside, and locked it.

This had occurred in such a strange fashion, that it was impossible not to think that Cemile was about to play a joke.

‘Cemile!.. Cemile!..’

Cemile would not respond. There were whispers, and a stir inside. What was going on? Why had Cemile run away from her, why had she wanted to hide this room, the people in this room, from her? Nihal grew impatient. She absolutely wanted to see, to understand.

‘Cemile,’ she said. ‘Whyever did you lock the door?’ she asked. ‘Do you think I didn’t see you going in there?’

As the door persisted in remaining shut, it felt as if something was being crushed inside her. There was a curiosity in Nihal that would brim over suddenly and if left unsatisfied on the instant, would lead her to cry and stamp her feet. She was grasping the knocker in her hand and banging on the door.

‘Cemile! Cemile! Ah, why won’t you open up?’ she was shouting, now in a choking voice.

Now it seemed as if they were talking inside with many whisperings. Something was closed. Then suddenly Nihal felt the touch of a hand on the door, the key turned slowly in the lock, and the door opened.

They were all there: Şakire Hanım and Nesrin, Şayeste and Beşir, and Cemile… They were looking at her as if they had been caught in a great wrongdoing. At first Nihal did not understand. Then she saw the unhooked curtains, the floor covering that had been gathered up, the dismantled bedstead, the bundles piled up in the middle of the room, the chests that had been moved from their places, and understood that something that had been kept secret from her was in preparation. With a question quivering at the edge, yet too reluctant to leave her lips, Nihal looked at each of them in turn, waiting for one of them to explain the matter to her without her needing to ask. Nesrin could not stand it; wasn’t it enough that they had remained silent until now, had kept the child out of all of the secret conversations?

Watching Şakire Hanım, she said, ‘what’s the use of not speaking? Won’t she know all, in a little while, when she can’t find you? Let’s tell her and get it over with…’ Once she had started, she could not stop, and not shirking the responsibility of speaking to one of the others, she turned to Nihal. ‘They’re leaving, they’re not going to live here any more. And not just them, no one will live in this house. We’re all out of place here. You know who makes us feel out of place. One by one we’ll be taken by the arm and thrown out on the street. They can be comfortable once they’re rid of us…’

Nihal could not remain standing. She sat down on one of the chests in the middle of the room. She felt crushed. This unexpected incident had shocked her, and in her eyes, had taken on the aspect of a huge, terrible catastrophe.

So they were leaving. People would always leave. Had not Bülent left too? Was everyone to leave, and she alone to remain? A single person, friendless, without companions or guardians, all by herself… But this woman, by god! What was she doing that all those whom Nihal loved, were being taken and thrown into the street?

They were all talking now. Şakire Hanım had knelt there, before Nihal, and was sobbing. In a confused speech, in sentences begun by one and completed by another, little things that had been carefully kept from Nihal, a thousand nothings that were daily the causes of complaint among all servants and their mistresses, reasons constructed between a reprimand of the master’s, and a chance whisper of the mistress’s, the excessive significance extracted from a simple look, and then seemingly greater matters whose retelling appeared to be checked by a long sigh, all this heap of complaints were being spilled before Nihal, as if to say, ‘do you see? They’re driving us away, killing us with these, and these are happening before your eyes, and you don’t protect us.’

These nothings that she was made to hear were creating an overwhelming effect. The tales were always considered enough reason to drive people away and to kill them.

But was she going to stand there, wringing her hands from her anguish, and be content just to listen? Was she not to do something to hinder them from escaping, from dying? She wanted to find something to do that would change the business at once, so that the old life, the old life with its amusements, its delights, with Bülent’s laughter, would begin again. But what?.. Yes, what ought she to do?..

‘No, you are not to go, do you understand?’ she said to Şakire Hanım. ‘What am I to do if you go?’

She was looking at Cemile as she spoke. Cemile was lowering her eyes to avoid crying. They explained: it was no longer possible not to go. Süleyman Efendi had found another job, they had taken a house in Eyüp [2], there was even a market boat waiting at the dock for their furniture [3].

Şayeste and Nesrin thought it right that Şakire Hanım should leave. Only Beşir now and again glanced at Nihal as if he wanted to say something, then, unable to find the courage, decided to stay silent.

When they had explained that it was no longer possible to stay, Nihal was silent. With an absent air she looked at Şakire Hanım, at Cemile, at all the gathered belongings, and standing up suddenly, she said, ‘oh! You do not love me. If you loved me, you wouldn’t wish to leave like this…’

Without another word, no longer looking at any of their faces, she went out. Now she was  resentful of all of them. She could not forgive their wanting to leave her like this. After she had left the room, she remembered the dessert that she was going to make Bülent. Those kitchen diversions would be at an end. That place would no longer be called Şakire Hanım’s kitchen; perhaps its key, too, would be taken, and placed with the rest of the keys, on the chain that hung from Bihter’s waist.

As she was passing her father’s room, she stopped suddenly. If she were to go in and talk to him?.. But what was she to say? She could find no words to speak, to express the ache in her heart. The door was open, she poked her head in to look. There in the room was her father, all alone; she could go in, throw herself upon him and say, ‘no! I don’t want it, don’t let them leave!..’

She did not enter.

‘Nihal, why won’t you come in?’

She did not reply. She wanted to run away, she did not. A need was urging her to her father. She advanced to the centre of the room, then, unable to go further, she stopped. Adnan Bey had at once understood that this was an affair out of the ordinary. Father and daughter looked at each other.

‘Father,’ said Nihal, in a soft voice that was shadowed by her palpitations, ‘Şakire Hanım and Süleyman Efendi are leaving.’

‘Yes, my child!..’

‘Why are they going, papa?.. Will does everyone leave like this? Last week Bülent left, this week they’re leaving, and next week who know who… What will I do, papa?.. Will I always be left alone?..’

She was speaking with a calm, aggrieved expression. Adnan Bey saw the dangers of a conversation that was begun in this guise. He wanted to dissuade her from continuing the discussion. In order to give a somewhat stern, somewhat serious reply, he said:

‘You are not at all alone. You now have a friend, a companion who ought to be preferable to all those childhood friends. Besides, please, my girl, I beg you, in matters of this kind, have recourse to reason. Süleyman Efendi couldn’t remain a steward until he died, could he? Could I keep him from owning his own home, from finding a job?..’

Nihal had sat down on a footstool and was looking up at her father. As Adnan Bey waited, with a slight smile, for an answer to these questions, she could not find the words to describe her feelings. She wanted to pour forth the complaints that had lately been poured forth to her, to say, ‘there, do you see? This is why they’re running away, not because of the things you mentioned…’ But all of the functions of her brain seemed to have been frozen. There was a layer of ice in her head that was being turned over. She thought she was sliding off the stool, falling into the deep, unable to control her body.

Suddenly she was afraid that if she were to remain there any longer, she would faint. She stood up, and left without another word.

Mlle de Courton’s door was shut. She thought it best to draw away without giving her the news. She passed on softly, and entered her room. It seemed to be quaking. What was going on? She held her head with both hands. Now, behind her ears, there was a point on either side which felt as if it were being drilled. Without undressing, she lay face-up on her bed.

It was around noon. In order to go down and check on Nihal’s dessert, Mlle de Courton was hurrying to finish reading a chapter she had begun. Suddenly she heard someone breathing deeply in the next room.

‘Nihal, is that you my child?..’

No one was replying. She thought she must have been mistaken. As her eyes followed the lines of her story, her ears kept thinking that they heard the sound of someone taking deep, long breaths. Putting her book aside, she rose, and opened the communicating door. Nihal was on her bed, asleep.

The old girl was surprised. When had the child come in, when had she lain on the bed, and why was she asleep?

‘Nihal!.. My child, why are you sleeping?..’

She was leaning over the bed to see. Then she trembled in the face of this untimely slumber. Nihal’s fists were clenched tight, her arms stretched straight and stiff, her lips pursed and her chin wrinkled as if to hold back a cough. All at once she remembered Nihal’s old ailments, those little sensitivities, the fits that exceeded the capacity of her weak nerves, and battered her frail body as much as an illness would that had lasted for many months. She was thinking of a particular fit when Nihal was only eight, that had begun for some reason too petty even to be recalled, and had left the child in the state of a convalescent for a whole year. It had started with just such a slumber. The old girl was leaning over the bed with a knot of sorrow in her heart, and watching the breaths that seemed to roll like waves from within Nihal’s weak breast, to be choked by the thin muscles on either side of her throat. Nihal seemed to crying, silently, without tears, on the inside.

‘Nihal!.. Nihal!..’

She had taken up the bottle of cologne and was rubbing the child’s wrists and the nape of her neck. Nihal opened her eyes, and looked at the old girl with a frozen, sleepy expression.

‘What is the matter with you, my child?’ the old girl was saying. ‘Won’t you answer me? I’m sure the coal has made you ill. Ah! My little Nihal, you get these ideas…’

Nihal was only staring, unable to comprehend, letting fall her wrists as if they did not belong to her. All at once she remembered; with a heedless gesture she drew back her hands, a trembling wandered about her eyes, and the old girl saw two teardrops run away down the child’s pale cheeks, slowly, hesitantly, unable to find a course. Then, chasing these tears, more and yet more drops flowed, sliding down her cheeks, looking for a place to hide in the hair on either side, as if with a wish to remain the private tears of a private distress.

Unspeaking, unmoving, Mlle de Courton was allowing her to weep freely. These tears seemed to her a sign of health. After Nihal had wept long and long those tears that, from her anger and frustration in Şakire Hanım’s room, she had bottled up, unable find an opportunity to shed, she rose. She looked at her governess with a smile that hastened to be erased. ‘Who knows how childish you must think me,’ she said, then, one by one, she told her that Şakire Hanım and Cemile had left, and the things they had poured into her ears, with the weighty significance of a disaster.

‘Oh! He doesn’t love me anymore,’ she added, meaning her father. ‘He loves only her, that woman… Do you know? I don’t love him any more either. Why have I loved him until this day?.. I want to escape this place too. Perhaps to go with Şakire Hanım… They’re going to Eyüp. Where is that? It’s far, very far, isn’t it? I want somewhere far away too… Did we go there once with you? Why didn’t we go again after that? What if we were to go there again, to be far from here… Let’s go, can’t we, you and I?’

She slid off her bed. She was surprised to find herself so uncertain on her feet. She felt as if she had been through a long illness. She found this infirmity strange. ‘I think I will have trouble walking, Mademoiselle,’ she said, laughing. ‘Shall we go into the hall? We can watch the ferries from the window. Bülent will be here soon, won’t he?’

As they walked to the hall together, she asked in a soft voice, ‘will you promise not to say anything to my father?’

That evening Bülent came home with a huge notebook. He had kept his promise. He had written his sister sundry letters. On the cover of his notebook was a pigeon, and in the pigeon’s beak a letter. Above this Bülent had written a line in a fine hand: ‘belonging to Nihal Hanım.’

He wanted to read them all himself. Nihal was listening quietly, with a slight smile. Interrupting him suddenly, she said, ‘Bülent! Do you know? There is a new development in the house. Şakire Hanım and Cemile have left.’

Bülent shrugged. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘I had it from Beşir. She shouldn’t have annoyed my mother…’

Nihal pushed away Bülent’s notebook with an involuntary gesture. The day’s greatest wound had thus been opened by these words. What? So he found that woman in the right, did he? His mother!.. But the woman who had brought him up, who had looked after him, who had mothered him since the day he was born was Şakire Hanım. And these words were the recompense, were they? His mother!.. That woman…

She was looking at the child’s face without saying a word. She pushed the notebook away again. ‘I don’t want it anymore, I’m tired!..’

Bülent, not understanding, asked, ‘what about you? Didn’t you write me a letter, sis?..’

‘No, I didn’t,’ Nihal lied. ‘It’s such a silly thing to do.’

She felt as if a vein had been severed in her heart. She did not wish to see Bülent any more in that moment. ‘Bülent,’ she said, ‘won’t you go to your father?’

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[1] – A dessert like a sponge cake made of semolina, soaked in syrup and sprinkled with ground nuts.
[2] – A district of Istanbul on the opposite shore of the Golden Horn from Beyoğlu, and extending to the Black Sea.
[3] – A market boat was a large barge with five or seven pairs of oars that rowed passengers and luggage.

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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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