Since the following story contains Turkish words, I herewith include a pronunciation guide for the used letters:
a – as u in sun
c – as j in journal
e – as e in fed
ı – as e in open (it’s a dot-less i)
i – as i in bit
u – as u in pull
ü – as u in French tu
y – as y in you
BATTAL Tilki swore and wiped his forehead, which gushed with perspiration. He had to climb a steep, inclined alley that was blocked from traffic. Thus, he left his car behind to reach his destination. He huffed, puffed and almost whistled like an old steam-engine. Half to himself, half aloud he cursed Istanbul for the way it had been established on hills. But he also hurled swear words at his customer, who lived in a place that was unapproachable by car.
Battal was an estate agent of the shifty and wangling sort. Whenever and wherever he could, he duped his customers, but with such cleverness that they couldn’t do anything about it once they’d signed his contract. Without any better thing against him, his wronged customers could only give him sobriquets like: “the fat devil” or “the black devil”. Both were apt, since he was indeed overweight and his hair was also coal-black, though he was already way past fifty. What was more, the pupils of his blue, piggy eyes were always so diluted that they seemed black too. And above them a single, abundant and contiguous black eyebrow hung like a curtainless pelmet.
When at length he caught his breath, he continued on his way. It took him two more minutes to reach the address. It was an ancient wooden house. The passage of more than a century had faded the gloss of its varnish, yet it still stood proudly. However, it seemed the mosaic tile-clad houses on its sides hugged it so closely as if they wanted to crush it. The windows of the house were dark, just like its future. And the ground floor windows, like almost every ground floor window in Istanbul, were barred. Rusty, wrought iron bars covered them.
The door was once as strong and straight as that of a fortress, but now it was old and warped. A red sign with a white number was nailed on it, proclaiming the house number. Next to the door hung a little brass bell, mantled with Verdigris, on a rusty arm.
The estate agent jerked it angrily. The bell’s strikingly dissonant and ominous toll rang out along the alley in which he stood, Battal only now noticing that though it was early evening, when everybody hurries or arrives home, this neighbourhood was silent and deserted. No street cat scuttled about, and not even a street dog lay around lazily. Moreover, neither the constant murmur of the city nor the screams of the gulls could reach this alley. He couldn’t ponder this for long however. The lock clicked and the old door opened, creaking-cracking. Behind it stood his customer, Fusun Sihirci.
The woman was dressed impressively. She wore a long, dark purple dress that covered her legs. Around her waist all kinds of rosary and other beads hung, which collided silently to her slightest stir. Golden weaving adorned the chest of her dress. But it was only partly visible because of the way various necklaces and their amulets covered it. She held these with one of her hands, revealing many rings hugging her fingers. Some were studded with gemstones, real masterpieces of gold- and silver-smithery, but others were quite simple. Specks of liver spots were visible on the back of her hand, betraying something about her real age. Her visage wasn’t such a tell-tale, albeit she barely had any make-up on. And a golden patterned, dark purple shawl covered her raven-black, wavy hair. Yet it didn’t conceal her locks, in the way of religious women, but in fact complemented her beauty.
The agent had totally forgotten about her beauty. Athough the pursuit for money had calloused his heart, her appearance impressed him greatly. Battal couldn’t utter a word for moments. His glance sank into those brown eyes like a stone cast into a lake. Fusun’s lips stretched into a light smile, as if she had known, or she could see in the heart of the agent with her ensorcelling eyes that corporeal beauty seldom could impress this man. Having found herself the subject of amazement, like a museum relic, for a full minute, she said: “Iyi akşamlar! Can I help you?” Her voice reminded the man of a babbling brook, albeit he wasn’t a poetical soul at all.
“Um… uh… pardon. Yes. My name’s Battal Tilki,” he said awkwardly while handing over an ornate and unique business card that he used to bewilder his normal customers.
“Ah, I remember now… the estate agent! Please come in, Battal bey! Tea?”
The woman stepped aside, for the agent it seemed she rather floated aside. As he stepped inside, he cast a glance at the threshold. A blue nazar-eye looked back at him. This amulet against the evil eye was melted into the threshold. And in the dusky lights it seemed to him that it was following his glance. He considered this just a simple optical illusion then entered the house. He stood agape in his surprise. He had expected a ramshackle hovel with cables hanging out of the walls and broken plaster revealing the hiding places of old and rusty pipes. In other words, exactly the place that he had rented out to her. Instead, a warm home welcomed him, with nicely painted and decorated walls, caressed by the orange light coming from a brass lamp on the ceiling.
The creaking of the door stirred him from his surprise. The hostess locked it and gestured to her guest to follow her. As Battal took off his shoes, Fusun encouraged him on, so he pierced himself through the tasselled wings of a heavy, purple curtain. He entered a seemingly great room. Purple panelling covered the walls, with various kind of pictures on them, including paintings and yellowed photos. The cushioned furniture seemed to provide princely comfort. And in the middle of the room a little table stood on its arched legs. On its marble top a typical Turkish tin teapot steamed. And two, drop-shaped glasses were in front of it. The agent would have kept looking on, but a cat fawned around his legs, purring. Then the sand-coloured pet raised its emerald-green eyes on the guest.
“Sanem, leave Battal bey alone now!” The cat walked away, obeying her mistress. “Please sit wherever you please!”
The agent stuttered, then picked a rather throne-looking armchair next to the coffee table. As soon as he sat in it, the cushions hugged him close like an animal hugs her cubs. It was so comfortable, he almost forgot why he had come. But not even regal comfort could make him forget his avarice. He was about to say something, but the hostess entered the room again, as she had left it with a jinn’s silence. The wings of the curtain almost fluttered away by themselves before her. She held a little metal box in her hand. Putting it down on the table, she opened it and the scent of candied fruits billowed forth from it.
“Turkish delight, please have some!” she said, while from the upper pot she poured strong, dark red tea into the drop-shaped glasses. She only poured a little, not much. Then taking the lower pot, she poured steaming hot water to it, filling the glasses almost to the brim.
Meanwhile Battal tasted the dessert as the sweet scent of fruits tickled his nostrils. As the Turkish delight melted in his mouth so his senses melted in the pleasure of flavours. He had never had anything like that before. He felt the amazing, zesty harmony of fruits on his tongue. Yet it had an even better effect on the mind. These savours brought back beautiful childhood memories. Not only memories rose in the wake of these tastes, but emotions that he had forgotten a long time ago. He felt as though Fusun’s sweets brought him more pleasure than any drug in the world. His inhibitions loosened, as if he were drunk, yet he retained his faculties. He felt vigorous and young once again. He looked out of the room’s sole window. Istanbul, he had cursed so much, now looked heavenly as the setting sun’s last rays of orange hues brimmed over the city. The sweets even tricked his sense of time because these seconds of elation and pleasure seemed to last for hours.
As soon as his humour and the colours of life returned to their original saturation, the hostess asked: “Well, what’s this all about?”
“Well… uh… um…” The agent began perplexed since he couldn’t find the right words after his joyful experience. Moreover, he couldn’t recall why he had come at first. “So it’s about… uh…”
He scratched his black mane to quicken his mind, but he couldn’t remember what he had wanted.
“Do you mind if I take another Turkish delight? Perhaps it will help me remember. It’s so tasty!”
“Go ahead, Battal bey!”
He barely uttered thanks before his chubby fingers had grabbed a green piece of the sweets. In his grip, the green cube quivered, strewing some shreds of coconut. Another melting pleasure followed. And when the jelly melted totally, only a brace of pistachios was left in his mouth. He gently crunched them, and suddenly all his reasons and plans, which had brought him here, came to his mind. Marvellously, the bright shades of life and joy didn’t fade this time.
“Got it!” exclaimed the agent, forgetting about courtesy. “I got it, Fusun hanım! I came to negotiate the rent.”
“The rent?” asked the hostess baffled.
“Yes. I must raise it.”
“The taxes… you know, the government raised them.”
“I haven’t read anything about that; neither in the papers, nor on the net.”
“But that exactly happened. And you know, the law binds me.”
“What kind of law?”
“The one which says the municipality can raise the rent on renovated flats.”
“But this house isn’t renovated at all.”
“Come now! I remember renting you out a rundown hovel. And now you’re living in such comfort that one can only see in the Topkapı palace. Just the marble tiles missing from here.” He pointed at the floor.
“I’ve never heard of such law or that tax raise! I think, Battal bey, you’re trying to dupe me!”
The estate agent heard these words so many times that they ran off of him like spitting drops from a raincoat. For such occasions he assumed his most obnoxious smile. He used it to infuriate his customers. It was a conscious manipulation of his. He knew very well that no people, especially not women, would hit him. However, it was a very good tool to bereave his customers from certain abilities, which they possessed in their sober state.
“Look, it doesn’t matter whether you have heard of these things or not. You must pay.”
“Well, considering the extent of renovations… hmm… I’d say I must raise your rent by fifty per cent.”
“Yes. I haven’t told you about the fine yet.”
“The fine for the unauthorised renovations. You know, this is a historical building. As it was built in the nineteenth century. And there’re strict regulations for these…”
“The building looks exactly as it was used originally. Go and check it yourself or call an expert!”
“Hmm… now that you mention it, there’s really no need for that fine, true. Yet we haven’t solved the problem of your rent’s raise.”
“How could we solve it?”
“Look, if you would offer me a smaller, but I must emphasise: one time only sum, then maybe I could arrange it so that you have to pay only twenty-five per cent more.”
Sanem, the cat, took a hostile stance and hissed at the agent. The hostess cast a weird glance at her cat then at her guest. After she shooed the cat away, the animal slunk away, and stared outside of the only window of the room… frozen-still, like a statuette. Battal, still smiling annoyingly, reached into the box and put another Turkish delight in his mouth. The white cube slowly melted, slowly casting its effects.
Fusun said nothing. She just stared. Then, as the gleam in her eyes suddenly changed, so suddenly the agent’s pleasure turned into anguish. Awful memories haunted him abruptly, in which he was humiliated, and which he forgot, or tried to forget. And these brought other unpleasantries as well. Suddenly Battal became short of breath, making him sweat again. While he was undoing his shirt, gloomy feelings assailed him: feelings of oldness and weakness spread over him, like a mantle. And the Turkish delight didn’t taste sweet in his mouth anymore: it was mouldy and rotten. He sprang up and spat it out. Wiping his sweating forehead and face, he stepped blindly to the single window of the room. He wanted to get some fresh air.
His hand was already on the handle, he even moved it a bit, when he pulled his handkerchief from his eyes. The sight made him recoil. It wasn’t the sight of Istanbul, but of nothing. Inscrutable and unfathomable blackness was there instead. He wiped his eyes as he couldn’t believe them. He could see that the room’s lamp lit the sill, but nothing beyond. What was more, it seemed to him that the darkness was imbibing the light of the room, weakening it as well. When he turned back the handle half-mad, his fear rose to a new level. It didn’t make any sound. He couldn’t hear anything else other than his own panting and the pounding of his heart. The silence was deafening. He stepped back, and noticed the cat, Sanem. It was loyal to its name now: it became a lifeless idol with a sand-coloured, rough clay body and with polished emerald eyes.
The estate agent’s mind was hanging dizzily on the cliff of sobriety, above the yawning gulf of madness. To avoid falling into it, he looked for the hostess, but he couldn’t find her. The room changed too. Not a lamp glowed in it, but only a dirty, miserable little candle flickered there now. Battal ran to it. He felt as though the blackness tried to take this away from him too. He protected the tiny blaze from everything. He himself barely dared to breathe at all. He thought he saw Fusun in one of the corners, but the light was more important to him. He didn’t notice it, but he retreated back to the window with his small candle.
The window made a loud crack as he bumped into it. His troubled mind however was glad for that noise. Something finally broke the loneliness of silence. He only thought this for a moment though. As he turned around, in the dying light he caught a glimpse of, or rather felt something beyond the window. Something stirred in the blackness.
It seemed something like that only a Bathyscaphe’s almost blind, black and white camera could spy in the murky depths of oceans. This thing rather looked like a single tentacle than a whole being. With such savage abruptness, of which only wild beasts are capable, it burst into thousands of strands. The estate agent watched it mesmerised. He became the fear incarnate, all his muscles tensed and the candle broke in his grip. His eyes and veins bulged. The jellyfish-like tentacles floated around him, and suddenly locked on him. Battal wanted to scream, but he could only voice a faint rattle. As darkness closed on him, so his mind fell into the gulf of madness. He heard his own rattle and then a thunder.
And during the night in Istanbul, another ancient wooden house collapsed…