Authors: Sait Faik Abasiyanik
Copyright © Sait Faik Abasınayık
English translation copyright © Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe, 2014
Copyright © Darüşafaka Cemiyeti & Yapı Kredi Culture, Arts and Publishing, Inc, 2002
Copyright © Kalem Literary Agency
First Archipelago Books Edition, 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the publisher.
232 3rd Street #A111
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Distributed by Random House
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sait Faik, 1906-1954.
[Short stories. Selections. English]
A useless man : selected stories / Sait Faik Abasiyanik;
translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe. –
First Archipelago Books edition.
Includes bibliographical references.
978-0-914671-08-4 (alk. paper)
I. Sait Faik, 1906-1954–Translations into English. I. Freely, Maureen,
1952- translator. II. Dawe, Alexander, translator. III. Title.
Cover art: Abidin Dino
Archipelago gratefully acknowledges the generous support from the Turkish Cultural Foundation, the American Turkish Society, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism through the TEDA Program, Lannan Foundation, NYC’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.
“That’s the morning call to prayer, my son. Wake up or you’ll be late for work.”
Ali had finally found a job. He’d been going to the factory for a week. His mother was happy. She knelt down on her prayer rug and said her prayers. Entering her son’s room with the Supreme Being in her heart, and seeing his dream rippling along his smooth face and long, supple form – a parade of machines, electric batteries, and light bulbs, a purr of oiled metal and diesel motors – she’d been reluctant to rouse him. Ali was as flushed and damp as if he’d just come home from work.
As it rose out of the mist, the chimney of the Halıcıoğlu factory seemed to crane its neck, like a rooster. How proud it looked as it gazed out at the first glimmers of dawn on the shores of Kağıthane. Any moment now, they’d hear the whistle.
At last Ali woke up. He embraced his mother. He pulled his quilt over his head, as he did every morning, leaving his feet unprotected. His mother bent down to tickle them. Her son jumped up, and when she fell back onto the bed with him, giggling like a girl, she could count herself as happy.
There weren’t many who could say that. Was it not the very modesty of their existence that lit their souls? What could a mother wish from a child, or a child from a mother, if not happiness? Arm in arm, they went into the dining room. It smelled like toasted bread. How beautifully the samovar was bubbling. It put Ali in mind of a factory where there were no strikes, no accidents, no sorrows. A factory that brought forth only fragrant steam and the joy of morning.
Ali loved the samovar, and he loved the
kettle that stood outside the factory. He loved the sounds: the Halıcıoğlu Military Academy’s trumpet and the factory whistle which went on for so long it could be heard the length and breadth of the Golden Horn. First they would awaken the flames of desire in him, and then they would put them out. That is to say, Ali was a bit of a poet. And while an electrician working in a big mill has as much space for poetry as the Golden Horn has for transatlantic liners, well – Mehmet, Hasan and I – we’re all a bit like Ali. In each of our hearts, a lion sleeps.
Ali kissed his mother’s hand. Then he licked his lips as if he’d tasted something sweet. His mother smiled. Every time he kissed her he would pass his tongue over his lips in exactly the same way. In the little garden outside, there was sweet basil growing in pots. Ali picked a few leaves and rubbed them in his palms, breathing in their fragrance as he stepped out into the street.
The morning was cool. Mist swirled over the Golden Horn. Ali’s friends were waiting by the rowboats at the pier. All four were strong young men like him. Together they crossed over to Halıcıoğlu.
Ali has fire in him today, and joy, and fervor, and it will all go into his work. But he’ll take care not to outshine his friends. For them he’ll be honest, he’ll take care not to show off. Otherwise he’d be putting on airs. His
boss was once the only electrician in Istanbul. A German. He had taken a shine to Ali. He’d taught him all the tricks of the trade. If Ali had gained the respect of those who were just as able as he, it was because he was so agile, so fast, so playful and so young.
By evening he could go home happy, knowing that he was just the sort of friend his friends most needed, and just the sort of worker the bosses most trusted.
After embracing his mother, he was off to the coffeehouse across the street to see his friends. He played a hand of whist and then moved on to watch a game of backgammon. Then he headed home, to find his mother performing her evening prayers. And he knelt down beside her, like he always did. He turned a somersault over her prayer rug. He stuck out his tongue. When at last he had succeeded in making her laugh, she sat up to greet him.
“Ali, my darling, it’s a sin!” she said. “My boy, it’s a sin, so you mustn’t!”
And Ali replied, “God will forgive us, Mother.”
And then in a soft and innocent voice, he asked, “Doesn’t God ever laugh?”
After supper, Ali curled up with a Nat Pinkerton novel and his mother went back to knitting him a sweater. And then they laid out their bedding, heavy with the scent of lavender, and drifted off to sleep.
Ali’s mother woke him up at the morning call to prayer.
How beautifully the samovar was boiling in the room that smelled of toasted bread. It put Ali in mind of a factory where there were no strikes, no accidents, no sorrows. A factory that brought forth only fragrant steam and the happiness of morning.
Death came to Ali’s mother with a guest’s soft footsteps. It settled into the shadows, like a pious neighbor bending over to pray. In the morning she had made her son tea and by evening she had prepared two pots of food. Then, tugging at the edge of her heart, she felt an ache; hurrying up the stairs in her evening muslins, she could feel her worn body going soft, and moist, and limp.