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Authors: Orhan Pamuk

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BOOK: The New Life
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“Don't scare him now,” Janan said.

There was a silence. Mehmet looked at me for a moment as if he had known me for years. I felt I had let him down.

“I am not scared,” I said, looking at Janan. “I am capable of pursuing it to the very end,” I added with the air of a strong type in the movies.

Janan's incredible body was just a few steps from me, between the two of us, but closer to him.

“There is nothing to pursue to the end,” said Mehmet. “Just a book. Someone sat down and wrote it. A dream. There is nothing else for you to do, aside from reading and rereading it.”

“Tell him what you told me,” Janan said to me.

“That world exists,” I said. I wished to take hold of Janan by her long graceful arm and draw her to myself. I paused. “I will find that world.”

“World shmorld!” Mehmet said. “It doesn't exist. Think of it as tomfoolery perpetrated on children by an old sap. The old man thought he'd write a book to entertain adults the same way he did children. It's doubtful he even knew what it meant. It's entertaining reading, but if you believe it, your life is lost.”

“There's a whole world in there,” I said, as strong but stupid men do in the movies. “And I know I will find a way to reach it.”

“In that case, happy trails…” He turned away, gave Janan an I-told-you-so look, and he was about to leave when he stopped and asked, “What makes you so sure of the existence of that life?”

“Because I have the impression the book is telling the story of my life.”

He smiled amiably and walked away.

“Don't leave,” I said to Janan. “Is he your lover?”

“He actually liked you,” she said. “Not for himself, but for me. He fears for people like you.”

“Is he your lover? Don't leave without telling me everything.”

“He needs me,” she said.

I had heard those words so many times in the movies that I supplied the fervent response with spontaneity and conviction: “I will die if you leave me.”

She smiled and joined the students crowding into Room 201. For a moment I had an impulse to follow her and sit in. Looking in the classroom's wide windows from the hallway, I saw them both at a desk they had found to sit at together among the other students all dressed alike in khakis, faded clothes, and blue jeans. They were waiting for class without talking when Janan pushed her light brown hair gently behind her ears, making another piece of my heart dissolve. Contrary to how love is portrayed in the movies, I felt more miserable than just miserable following my feet wherever they took me.

What did she think of me? What color are the walls in her home? What did she and her father talk about? Was their bathroom sparkling clean? Did she have siblings? What did she have for breakfast? Were they lovers? In that case, why did she kiss me?

The tiny classroom where she kissed me was free. I retreated in there like a defeated army which was nonetheless staunchly expecting new battles. My footsteps echoing in the empty classroom, my miserable, reprehensible hands opening a pack of cigarettes, the smell of chalk, the white light made of ice—I pressed my forehead against the windowpane. Was this the new life I beheld myself in at the threshold of this morning? I was exhausted by all that had taken place in my mind, but still, the rational student of engineering in me was busy in one corner doing his calculations: I was in no condition to go to my own class, so I'd wait for theirs to end in two hours. Two hours!

My forehead was pressed against the cold windowpane, I don't know for how long, but I was full of self-pity; I liked wallowing in self-pity; I thought tears were about to well in my eyes when snowflakes began drifting on light gusts of wind. Beyond the steep street that leads to Dolmabahçe, I could see the plane and chestnut trees. How still they were! Trees did not know they were trees, I reflected. Blackbirds took wing out of the snowy branches. I watched them with admiration.

I watched the snowflakes, which fell in gentle flurries, lingering indecisively at some point in pursuit of their fellow flakes, unable to make up their minds, when a light wind bore down and whisked them away. And at times a single flake swayed in the air for a moment and stood still, then acting as if it had changed its mind, it turned around and began to rise slowly up toward the sky. I observed many a snowflake revert to the sky before it could land in the mud, the park, on the pavement or the trees. Did anyone know this? Had anyone noticed?

Had anyone ever noticed that the acute point of the triangle which was formed at the intersection and which seemed to be part of the park pointed to the Tower of Leander? Had anyone noticed the pine trees which, under the influence of the east wind all these years, had leaned over the sidewalk in perfect symmetry, forming an octagon over the minibus stop? Watching the man with a pink plastic bag in his hand stand on the sidewalk, I wondered if anyone had realized that half the population of Istanbul goes around carrying plastic bags. Utterly unaware of your identity, I wondered if anyone had seen your footprints, Angel, in the tracks left by starving dogs and ragpickers in the snow and ash that cover dead city parks? Was this how I was to witness the new world, revealed to me like a secret in the book I bought at the sidewalk stall two days ago?

It was my heart and not my eyes that first became aware of Janan's shape in the graying light and the deepening snow on the same sidewalk. She was wearing a purple coat; my heart must have impressed the coat upon itself without my knowledge. Beside her was Mehmet, wearing a gray jacket and walking in the snow like an evil spirit that leaves no tracks. I had an impulse to run after them.

They stopped to talk at the same spot where the bookstall had been two days ago. Janan's hurt and withdrawn stance, accompanied by their wide gestures, indicated that, more than talking, they were having an argument, like a pair of old lovers all too accustomed to fights.

Then they started to walk again only to stop once more. I was at a great distance, but still I could coolly infer from their body language, and the looks they got from the sidewalk traffic, that they were arguing even more violently now.

This didn't last very long either. Janan turned around and began walking back to the building where I was, while Mehmet followed her with his eyes before continuing on his way toward Taksim. My heart kept missing a beat.

That is when I saw the man who stood at the Sarıyer minibus stop cross the street, carrying the pink plastic bag. Focused as my eyes were on the grace of the purple-clad figure, they were in no state to notice someone crossing the street, but there was something like a false note in the man's behavior. A few steps from the curb, the man pulled something—a gun—out of the pink bag. He aimed it at Mehmet, who also saw the gun.

I first witnessed Mehmet take the hit and shudder, then I registered the report; after that, I heard the second gunshot, expecting to hear yet a third. Mehmet stumbled and fell. The man dropped his plastic bag and made for the park.

Janan was still approaching, her steps wounded and dainty like a little bird's. She hadn't heard the gunshots. A truck full of snow-covered oranges rattled rambunctiously into the intersection. It was as if the world had gone back into motion.

I noticed some commotion at the minibus stop. Mehmet was getting up. In the distance the man was running without his plastic bag down the hill toward Inönü Stadium, skipping and hopping across the snow in the park like a clown bent on entertaining the kids, with a couple of playful dogs on his trail.

I should have run downstairs to meet Janan halfway and tell her what had happened, but I was riveted to the sight of Mehmet wobbling and looking around in a daze. For how long? For a while, a long while, until Janan turned the Taşkışla corner and disappeared from my angle of vision.

I ran down the stairs and hurtled past a group of plainclothes police, students, and janitors standing around. When I reached the main entrance, there was no sign of Janan anywhere. I quickly went upstairs but didn't see her there either. Then I ran to the intersection and still didn't see anything or anybody related to the scene I had just witnessed. Neither Mehmet nor the plastic bag that the man with the gun had disposed of were anywhere.

The snow on the spot where Mehmet fell had melted into mud. A two-year-old kid wearing a beanie went by with his stylish and attractive mother.

“Mom, where did the rabbit go?” the kid said. “Where, Mom?”

I ran in a frenzy across the street toward the Sarıyer minibus stop. The world was once more wearing the silence of snow and the indifference of trees. Two minibus drivers who looked exactly alike were much astonished by my queries. They had no idea what I was talking about. What's more, the tough-looking fellow who brought them their tea had not heard any gunshots either; besides, he had no intention of being astonished by anything. The attendant at the minibus stop held on to his whistle, staring at me as if I were the criminal who had pulled the trigger. Blackbirds congregated in the pine tree over my head. I stuck my head in the minibus at the last moment before it left and anxiously asked my questions.

“A young man and woman hailed a taxi over there and took off,” an elderly woman said, “just a little while ago.”

Her finger pointed to Taksim Square. I knew what I was doing was not sensible but I still ran in that direction. I thought I was all alone in the world among all the vendors, vehicles, and stores around the square. I was about to make my way to Beyoğlu when, remembering the Emergency Care Hospital, I tore off down Sıraselviler Avenue and went through the emergency entrance into the smell of ether and iodine as if I were a trauma case myself.

I saw gentlemen lying in pools of blood, their trousers ripped, their cuffs rolled up. I saw the blue faces of victims of poison and gastroenteritis whose stomachs had been pumped, and who were now stretched out on gurneys and left in the snow behind the potted cyclamens for a breath of fresh air. I showed the way to the tubby but nice elderly man who was searching door to door for the doctor on duty, all the while holding tight to the clothesline he had made into a tourniquet for his arm to avoid bleeding to death. I saw the pair of old cronies who, after knifing each other with the same knife, were now politely giving their statements and apologizing to the arresting officer for failing to remember to bring along the offending knife. I waited my turn and was informed by the nurses first, and later by the police, that no, no student had showed up that day who was suffering from a gunshot wound, accompanied by a girl with light brown hair.

Then I stopped at Beyoğlu Municipal Hospital too, where I had the impression that I was seeing the same cronies who had knifed each other, the same suicidal girls who had resorted to drinking iodine, the same apprentices who had had their arms caught in the machinery or their fingers under the needle, the same passengers who had been crushed between the bus and the bus stop, or between the ferry and the ferry platform. I examined the police reports carefully; I made an off-the-record statement for the benefit of a policeman who became suspicious of my suspicions; and upstairs on the obstetrics floor, I was afraid I was going to burst into tears smelling the cologne a delighted new father doused liberally into our hands.

It was getting dark when I returned to the scene of the incident. I wove in between the minibuses and made my way into the minipark where blackbirds darted angrily over my head at first and then kept watch skulking in the branches. I might have been in the thick of city life, but I heard a deafening silence in my ears as if I were a murderer who had knifed someone and was keeping out of sight. In the distance I saw the dim yellow light in the little classroom where Janan kissed me and surmised a class must now be in progress there. The same trees whose distress had baffled me that very morning had now turned into clumsy and pitiless stacks of bark. I walked on the snow in my shoes, tracking the footprints of the man with the missing plastic bag, who four hours ago had hopped and skipped his way through the snow like a carefree clown. To make certain that the tracks were indeed there, I kept on his trail all the way down to the highway, then turned back, and as I backtracked I noticed that my footprints and the footprints of the man with the missing plastic bag had been inextricably intertwined. Presently, two dark dogs appeared from the bushes looking like just such a guilty party as I was, only to take fright and flee. I stopped for a moment and stared at the sky, which was as dark as the dogs.

My mother and I ate our supper watching TV. The news broadcast, the faces flashing on the screen, accounts of murders, accidents, fires, and assassinations seemed as distant to me as the stormy waves on a tiny section of an ocean visible in between mountains. Even so, the desire to be “there,” to be part of that leaden ocean in the distance kept stirring inside me. Pictures kept flickering on the black-and-white TV for which the antenna was not properly set, but no mention was made of a student who had been shot.

I shut myself in my room after supper. The book stood open just as I had left it on the table, just so … I was afraid of it. There was brute force in the book's summons for me to return and wholeheartedly abandon myself to it. Thinking I would not be able to resist the call, I took to the streets once more and walked in the snow and mire all the way, again, to the sea. The darkness of the water gave me heart.

I sat down at the table thus heartened and, as if submitting my body to a sacred task, I held my face to the light that surged from the book. The light was not so powerful at first, but as I turned the pages it reached into me so deeply that I felt my entire being dissolve. An unbearable urge to live and run, aching with impatience and excitement in the pit of my stomach, I read until daybreak.


I spent the next few days looking for Janan. She was not at school the following day, nor the next day, or the day after that. At first, her absence seemed explicable, I thought she would soon be there, but just the same, the old world under my feet was gradually retracting. I was tired of seeking, watching, hoping; I was head over heels in love and, what's more, under the influence of the book I kept reading throughout the night, I felt I was utterly alone. I was all too painfully aware that this world was contingent on a string of misinterpreted signals and an ingrained miscellany of indiscriminate habits, and that real life was located somewhere either outside or inside, yet definitely somewhere within those parameters. I had come to realize my guiding spirit could be none other than Janan.

BOOK: The New Life
2.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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