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Authors: Orhan Pamuk

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BOOK: The New Life
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Take that! He was no fool! Pleased to have hit the nail on the head, he was stroking the pop bottle with his pretty hands.

I couldn't decide whether I should pull out my gun and put holes through his delicate skin, or become his best friend, his confidant, his fate mate. Perhaps I might settle on a middle course, such as shooting him in the shoulder, only to regret it and rush him to the hospital; and then at night, his shoulder in bandages, we would open and read one by one all the letters in his mailbag, having a madly entertaining time.

“Doesn't matter,” I said finally. I left the money to pay for the bill on the table with a jaunty air. Then I turned and left. I don't know from what film I had pinched this gesture, but it hadn't played too badly.

I walked rapidly like a man who means business, a go-getter; he was probably watching me walk away. I went around the Atatürk statue and up the shady narrow sidewalk, and toward the bus terminal. Terminal is just a figure of speech. If there were a bus unlucky enough to have to spend the night in the miserable town of Alacaelli—my mailman friend had called it a “city”—I didn't think there would even be some sort of hut to shelter the bus from the snow and the rain. A proud man who was condemned to sell tickets in a closet of a room for the rest of his life was pleased to tell me there was no bus before noon. Naturally, I did not bother telling him that his bald head was exactly the same color orange as the legs of the beauty on the Goodyear Tire calendar behind him.

Why am I so angry, I kept asking; why have I become so ill-tempered? Tell me why, O Angel, whoever you are, wherever you come from, tell me! Take care of me, at least, warn me not to go off half-cocked with anger; let me set things right as best I can, taking care of the world's ills and misfortunes like some family man intent on protecting his nest; let me reunite with my Janan who is burning with a fever.

But the anger inside me knew no bounds. Was this what happened to every twenty-three-year-old youth who began carrying around a Walther?

I glanced at my notes; it was easy finding the street and the shop in question: Salvation Sundries. The handmade tablecloths, gloves, baby shoes, lace, and prayer beads that had been displayed with care in the tiny window, patiently alluding to the poetry of another time, would have warmed the cockles of Doctor Fine's heart. I was just going in when I saw the man behind the counter reading the
Alacaelli Post,
and I felt uncertain about confronting him; so I turned back. Was everyone in the town of Alacaelli really so self-confident? Or did it only seem like that to me?

I sat in some coffeehouse feeling slightly defeated, I drank a bottle of the local soda pop and marshaled the armies of my mind. I went and bought a pair of dark glasses I had seen in the pharmacy window when I had walked by it on the shady sidewalk. The industrious proprietor had already clipped the ad about the laxative in the paper and pasted it on the window.

Once I donned the dark glasses, it was a breeze venturing into Salvation Sundries, having myself been transformed into one of those self-confident fellows. Speaking in a bass voice, I asked to see the gloves. That's how my mother did it. She never said, “I am looking for some leather gloves for myself,” or “I need some medium-size wool gloves for my son away in the army.” She'd demand, “I'd like to see the gloves!” creating a commotion in the store that was beneficial to her purpose.

But my command must have been music to the ears of the fellow who obviously was both the owner and the clerk. With a careful grace that was reminiscent of a fastidious housewife, and an orderliness approaching the obsession for hierarchy displayed by a soldier determined to make staff officer, he showed me his entire line of inventory, which he took out of drawers, handmade satchels, and the window. He seemed to be in his sixties, there was stubble on his face, and his voice was assured enough not to betray his fetish for gloves. He showed me the small women's gloves made of handspun wool, each finger of which was festively knit in three different colors of yarn; then he turned the coarse wool gloves favored by shepherds inside out to show the Maraş-make goat-hair felt that reinforced the palm; no artificial dyes had been used in the yarns, which he personally picked out himself and had peasant women knit into gloves according to his specifications. He had the fingertips lined, considering that was the place where woolen gloves were so easily frayed. If I wanted a flower design on the wrist, I should go for the pair that had been graced with the purest walnut dye and lace along the edge; or else, if I had something very special in mind, would I please take off my dark glasses and take a look at this wonder made of dogskin that came from the Sivas breed
kangal.

I looked and put my glasses back on.

“Orphan Panic,” I said—that was the pseudonym he used in letters he sent Doctor Fine informing on people. “I was sent by Doctor Fine. He is not at all pleased with you.”

“Why is that?” he said with equanimity, as if I had merely taken objection to the color of some glove.

“Mehmet the Mailman is an inoffensive citizen. Why would you want to harm such a person, informing on him?”

“Not so inoffensive,” he said. And with the same voice he used displaying the gloves, he explained: The fellow kept reading the book, and he did it in a way that attracted attention. It was obvious what he had on his mind were dark and ugly ideas that had to do with the book and the evil the book was intended to disseminate. One time he had been caught in a widow's home where he had entered without even knocking under the pretext of delivering a letter. Another time he was seen sitting knee to knee, cheek to cheek, with a school kid at a coffeehouse, presumably reading the child a comic book. One of those illustrated stories, of course, the sort that appraises bandits, reprobates, and thieves by the same measurement as the saints and prophets. “Isn't that enough?” he asked me.

Feeling somewhat uncertain, I kept silent.

“If today in this town,”—yes, he said town—“the virtue of living an ascetic life is considered shameful, and ladies who put henna on their fingers are belittled, it's because of the stuff brought in from America by that mailman, the buses, and the television sets in the coffeehouses. What bus brought you here?”

I told him.

“Doctor Fine,” he said, “is indubitably a great human being. Following his orders gives me peace of mind, I thank God. But young man, you go and tell him not to set some kid on me again.” He was putting away the gloves. “Also tell him this: I witnessed that mailman at the Mustafa Pasha Mosque, masturbating in the latrine.”

“With those pretty hands too,” I said and left.

I had thought I would feel better once I got outside, but as soon as I set foot in the stone-paved street that lay flat out under the sun like a hot plate, I remembered with horror that I still had another two and a half hours to kill in this town.

I waited, feeling sort of faint, fatigued, and mostly sleep-deprived, my stomach full of all the glasses of regular tea, linden tea, and soda pop I had consumed, my memory full of short local news items from the
Alacaelli Post,
my field of vision full of the red-tile roof of the town hall and the red and purple colors in the shiny plastic sign of the Farmers Bank that appeared and disappeared before my eyes like a mirage, my ears full of birds twittering, the hum of generators, and coughing. Finally when the bus swerved in and parked with pizzazz, I eagerly grabbed at the door, but I was pushed and shoved away. People behind me pulled me back—without feeling the Walther, thank God—getting me out of the holy Sheikh's way. He went by me swaying solemnly, an enlightened expression on his rosy face, carrying himself with dignity as if he were full of grief for those of us who lived in depravity, but he seemed extremely pleased with himself at all the attention he was getting. What's the use of reaching for my gun? I said to myself, feeling the gun in my belt against my belly. I boarded the bus not giving a damn about anybody.

I had a feeling the bus would never leave and Janan and the whole world along with her would forget me sitting and waiting in seat 38, in the meantime I couldn't help watching the crowd that welcomed the Sheikh, and I saw the busboy from the coffeehouse when his turn came to kiss the Sheikh's hand. He had just finished kissing the Sheikh's hand properly and was raising it with the utmost care up to his forehead when the bus started up. It was then that I noticed the heartsick shopkeeper's head among the heads in the undulating crush of humanity. He was making his way through the crowd like an assassin resolved to kill some political leader, but as the bus pulled away, I realized he hadn't really been trying to get to the Sheikh, but to me.

The town was left behind us when I said to myself, Forget it. The sun kept collaring me in my seat like an ingenious detective after each turn in the road or moment of shade from a tree, and it was relentlessly baking my neck and arm like a loaf of bread, but I kept repeating, Forget it, let it go. As the shiftless bus traveled, making nasal sounds over this yellow arid wasteland where there was no house or chimney, no tree or rock, and my sleepless eyes were dazzled in the light, I realized that, let alone forgetting it, something had gone very deeply into my consciousness. During the five hours I had spent in that town, where I had gone on account of the given name of my mailman buddy Mehmet whom the heartsick shopkeeper had turned in, something had already been defined—how shall I put it?—which colored and harmonized the scenes and people I would observe in all the towns I was to visit in the spirit of an amateur detective.

Thirty-six hours after I left Alacaelli, for example, it was midnight and I was waiting at the depot for my next bus in a dusty and smoky town made over from a village that seemed to have come out of some fantasy, chewing on a cheese-filled
pida
to stop the gnawing in my stomach as well as to kill time which would not pass, when I felt a malignant shadow approaching me from behind. Was it the shopkeeper who fancied gloves? No. His soul! No, a heartsick and angry dealer? No. I was thinking maybe it was Seiko when, bang, the door to the latrine slammed, and the apparition was altogether transformed from Seiko wearing a raincoat into a harmless avuncular man in a raincoat. And when he was joined by a traditional lady wearing a scarf on her head and their daughter, I wondered where in the world I got an image of Seiko in a dun-colored raincoat. Was it perhaps because I had seen in the crowd my heartsick shopkeeper friend whose raincoat was of the same color?

The threat put in an appearance another time, not as the ghost of Seiko but in the form of an entire mill. I had slept soundly on a fairly quiet bus and then continued sleeping like a top on a second one that was not only stable but had better shock absorbers, and then in the morning, at the flour mill where I went directly to get a quick result interviewing the young bookkeeper who had been denounced by a baklava chef, I had made up the lie that I had been his buddy in the army. Since all the Mehmets I was tracking down were roughly twenty-five years old, the army buddy pretext which always came in handy must have sounded convincing to the worker I first spoke to, who was white from head to toe with flour dust; his eyes lit up with camaraderie, brotherhood, and surprise as if he too had done his military duty in the same squadron, and he went directly into the management office. I withdrew to a corner, and for some reason I felt an odd sense of threat in the air. A huge shaft powered by the electric motor that ran this flour mill turned ominously over my head, and white and scary ghosts of the workers with brilliant tips of their cigarettes in their mouths moved very slowly in the dim white light. I sensed that the ghosts were observing me with hostility and talking among themselves, pointing at me, but in the corner where I had withdrawn I tried to appear as if I was not concerned. A little later when I thought that I was being menaced by the dark flywheel I had seen through chinks in the wall of flour sacks, one of the busy ghosts, limping slightly, came up to me and inquired who was I to break wind here. He couldn't hear me over the din of the machinery so I was forced to shout, telling him that I had not broken wind. No, he said, he had only said what wind brings you here. Once again I explained loudly that I had been very fond of my army buddy; Mehmet had a great sense of humor and was a true-blue friend. I was on a tour of Anatolia selling life and casualty insurance when I had remembered that Mehmet worked here. The floury ghost questioned me about the insurance business: were the people in this business a bunch of thieves, low-life three-card sharpers, masons, gun-toting queers—perhaps I was mishearing him because of all the noise—and other evil-minded enemies of the flag and the mosque? There was no help for it but to explain, which I did at length; he listened with a friendly look on his face. We progressed to the view that all professions have their share of good and bad: there were honest individuals in this world, as well as the swindling sonsobitches you didn't know what they were after. Just then, I inquired again about my army buddy Mehmet, what was keeping him? “Take a look, fella!” the ghost said to me, and pulling up his pant leg, he showed his odd-looking leg. “Mehmet Okur is not some sort of cheat who'd think of going in the army with a leg like this, you got that?” So, who the hell was I?

It was not out of helplessness but surprise that for a moment I could not come up with an answer to that question. It must be a mix-up of addresses resulting from a confusion in my mind, I said, knowing full well that was not at all convincing.

I was lucky to slip away without getting walloped, and later, eating a delicious slice of melt-in-the-mouth Anatolian
börek
at the establishment of our heartsick pastry chef informant, I thought how lame Mehmet did not look like someone who had read the book, but my experience taught me how wrong it is to assume one can know what lies in the hearts of men.

BOOK: The New Life
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