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Authors: Orhan Pamuk

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BOOK: The New Life
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I observed passengers who had been cruelly speared into the front seats when their bus had heedlessly and treacherously slammed into the back of a truck loaded with steel bars the tips of which projected out. I saw a driver who in an effort to miss a tabby cat had driven his clumsy bus into a ravine; his corpse was so jammed in, it couldn't be pried out. I saw heads that had been ripped to pieces, bodies that were rent, hands sundered; I saw drivers who had tenderly taken the wheel into their guts, brains that had exploded like heads of cabbage, bloody ears that still wore earrings, eyeglasses both broken and intact, mirrors, florid bowels carefully laid out on newspapers, combs, squashed fruit, coins, broken teeth, baby bottles, shoes—all manner of matter and spirit that had been eagerly sacrificed to the moment of truth.

One cold spring morning I was tipped off by the traffic police and caught up with a pair of buses that had butted heads in the silence of the steppe. Already half an hour had passed since the moment of ardent and blissful collision that had tumultuously exploded, but the magic that makes life meaningful and bearable still hung in the air. I was standing between vehicles that belonged to the police and to the gendarmerie, studying the black tires of one of the buses that had turned over, when I caught the pleasant whiff of new life and death. My legs trembling and the stitches on my forehead smarting, I pressed forward with determination as if I had an appointment, making my way among the bewildered survivors in the misty dusk.

I climbed into the bus, the door handle of which was somewhat hard to reach, and I was going past all the upended seats, gratified to be stepping on eyeglasses, glassware, chains, and fruit that had succumbed to gravity and spilled on the ceiling, when it seemed that I remembered something. I used to be someone else once, and that someone used to desire to become me. I had dreamed of a life where time was blissfully concentrated and compressed and where colors flowed in my mind like waterfalls, hadn't I? The book I had left behind on my table came to my mind, and I imagined the book staring at the ceiling like the dead staring open-mouthed at the sky. I imagined my mother keeping the book on my table among all the things left over from my previous life which had been interrupted. I was imagining myself say, Look, Mom, what I am searching for among shards of glass, drops of blood, and the dead is the threshold of another kind of life, when I spied a wallet. Before expiring, a body had climbed over the seat and up toward the window, but it had come to rest at the point of equilibrium, and presented to full view the wallet in its back pocket.

I took the wallet and slipped it in my own pocket, but this was not what I had recalled only a moment ago and yet pretended not to remember. What was on my mind was the other bus; where I stood looking through the shattered glass and the cute little curtains that wafted gently in the windows, I now read the Marlboro-red and lethal blue lettering on the other bus that said
SAFEST SAFEWAY
.

I jumped out of one of the window frames in which the glass had been totally smashed and began to run, stepping on bloody shards of broken glass strewn between the bodies that the gendarmes had yet to carry away. I was not mistaken, the other bus was indeed the same
SAFEST SAFEWAY
that had safely carried me from a trifling city to an obscure town. I climbed into this old acquaintance and sat in the same seat where I had ridden six weeks ago, and I began to wait like a patient passenger whose trust in this world is optimistic. What was I waiting for? Perhaps for a wind, an appointed hour, or perhaps for a wayfarer. Twilight began to fade. I felt the presence of other living or dead souls who like me were ensconced in the seats, and I heard them calling out to some enigmatic spirits; they were gasping as if talking to beauties in their nightmares or else, in their dreams of paradise, they were having a spat with death. Then my attentive soul sensed something even more profound: I focused on the driver's station where everything had vanished except for the radio, where, along with the sighs and cries, there was music playing that was enveloped in a sweetly exquisite aura.

Silence fell for a brief moment, and I observed that the light was growing denser. In the mist I saw the blissful ghosts of the dead and the dying. You have gone as far as you may, thou wayfarer! But I think you can go farther! You are pleasantly swaying in anticipation, not knowing whether there is another door and another secret garden where life and death, meaning and motion, time and chance, light and happiness come together. Suddenly that same impatient desire rose once more from deeper depths and besieged my entire body, the desire to be both here and there. It seemed as if I heard several words, I shivered, and it was then, my beauty, that you came through the door, my Janan, clad in that same white dress you were wearing in the corridor at Taşkışla Hall where I saw you last. Your face was drenched in blood.

I did not ask you, “What are you doing here?” And you, Janan, neither did you ask me what I was doing here. We knew.

I took you by the hand and seated you next to me, in seat No. 38. And with the checkered handkerchief I'd got in Şirinyer I tenderly wiped the blood off your face and your forehead. Then, my sweetheart, I held your hand, and for a while we sat thus silently. It was getting lighter; the ambulances arrived, and on the dead driver's radio they were playing and singing our song.

5

We caught the first bus out of town soon after Janan had had four stitches on her forehead in Rumi's moribund Konya, where we walked along the low garden walls, somber buildings, and treeless avenues, conscious of the mechanical rise and fall of our feet on the pavement. I sort of remember the next three towns: one was the capital of chimney stacks, the other the capital of lentil soup, and the last, the capital city of bad taste. But after that, as we were driven from town to town, sleeping and waking on buses, everything blurred together. I saw walls where the plaster had crumbled off, where posters left over from the youth of antediluvian performers were still being displayed; I saw bridges that had been swept away by floods, and refugees from Afghanistan peddling Holy Korans no bigger than my thumb. I must have seen other things besides Janan's light brown hair falling on her shoulders, such as the multitudes at bus terminals, the purple mountains, glossy plastic billboards, frisky dogs playfully chasing our bus out of town, abject peddlers hawking their wares through the bus. At some obscure rest stop when Janan had lost hope of finding any clue for what she called her “investigations,” she set up repasts on our laps with foodstuffs she bought from these peddlers, such as hard-boiled eggs, meat pies, peeled cucumbers, and some no-name provincial soda pop. Then it was morning, then night, then a cloudy morning, then the bus changed gears, then a night darker than dark was upon us, and the video screen above the driver's seat radiated red-orange light the color of cheap lipstick, when Janan began to relate her story.

Janan's “relationship” (her word) with Mehmet had begun a year and a half ago. She had a vague apprehension of having perhaps seen him before in Taşkışla Hall milling about among students of architecture and engineering, but the first time she had actually noticed him was at a reception being held for a relative who had recently returned from Germany at a hotel in Taksim. Around midnight, she and her parents had gone down to the lobby, where the pale, tall, and slender man behind the reception desk had made an impression on her mind. “Perhaps because I couldn't figure out just where I had seen him before,” Janan said, giving me an affectionate smile, but I knew it was not the case.

When school started in the fall, she had seen him again in the hallways in Taşkışla, and soon after they had “fallen in love.” They took long walks together in the streets of Istanbul, went to the movies, frequented student canteens and cafés. “At the beginning we didn't talk too much about things,” Janan said, using the voice she reserved for serious explanations. But it wasn't because Mehmet was shy or didn't like talking. The longer she knew him, the longer she shared her life with him, the more she observed how gregarious, tenacious, articulate, even aggressive he could be. “His silence came from sadness,” she said one night, not looking at me but at the chase scene on the TV screen, and then she added, with the hint of a smile on her lips, “It came from grief.” The police cars speeding on the screen that had been flying over each other and off bridges into rivers had now crashed together and tangled into a knot.

Janan had tried hard to untangle the knot of his grief and sorrow, and she had been successful to a certain degree in penetrating into the life that lay behind it. Mehmet had initially mentioned a previous life when he was someone else and lived in a mansion somewhere in some province. But as he grew bolder, he had said he had left that life behind him, that he desired a new life, and that his past meant nothing to him. He was once someone else, but then he had willed himself to become another person. Since Janan knew only his new self, he advised her to relate only to his present identity and leave his past alone. The terrors he had encountered on his quest were not part of his previous existence but part of the new life that he had once been seeking ardently. “That was the life…” Janan had said to me in some dingy bus terminal where we had been amicably, even playfully, arguing about which bus to take, sitting at a table over a can of ten-year-old food which she had managed to locate on the shelves of some mice-infested grocery in this shabby town, as well as the watch movement discovered in an old clock repair shop and the children's comics on the dusty shelves in the Sport Toto shop. “… That was the life he had encountered in the book.”

It was the first time we had mentioned the book in the nineteen days after we ran into each other on the crashed bus. Janan told me that getting Mehmet to discuss the book was as difficult as getting him to talk about the reasons for his melancholy and the life he had left behind him. There had been times when they had been dejectedly walking the streets of Istanbul, or having tea at some café on the Bosphorus, or studying together, when she had demanded the book from him, asking him for that magical object, but he would refuse her in no uncertain terms, telling her that it was not right for a girl like Janan even to imagine the land of perdition, heartbreak, and bloodshed because in that twilight land illuminated by the book, Death, Love, and Terror wandered like hapless ghosts in the guise of downtrodden, heartbroken men with frozen faces who packed guns.

It was through her perseverance and protestations of anxiety that Janan had been able to beguile Mehmet, even if only modestly. “Perhaps he wanted me to read the book and rescue him from its enchantment and its virulence,” she said. “After all, I was sure by then that he loved me.” Then, while our bus waited patiently at a railroad crossing for a train that seemed to be in no hurry to go by, “Or perhaps,” she added, “he unconsciously wished that we could enter together into that life which was still viable in some corner of his mind.” Clattering like the trains whose locomotives screamed through my old neighborhood, a string of boxcars loaded with wheat, machinery, and broken glass went by our bus window, one after the other, like illegal and chastened ghosts from another country.

Janan and I said little about the influence that the book exerted on us. The influence was so powerful, so indisputable, and so right that talking about it would turn the book's content into a kind of prattling, idle chatter. The book was something whose necessity was so indisputable in both our lives that it existed palpably between us, basic like sunlight and water. We had set out on the road in response to the light that surged from its pages into our faces, and we attempted to progress on this road by virtue of our instincts, but without wishing to know for sure where it was that we were headed.

Even so, we often disputed long and hard over which bus to take. There was an instance when the metallic voice announced the time of departure and the destination on the loudspeaker in the passengers' lounge (which was too much of a cavernous hanger for a town that small), inspiring in Janan such a longing to go there that, despite my opposition, we had complied with her desire. Another time we followed a young man carrying a plastic suitcase to the bus lanes, flanked by his teary-eyed mother and his cigarette-puffing father, just because the young man's size and his slight stoop reminded her of Mehmet, and we boarded his bus, where a sign informed us that Turkish Airlines was the bus line's main competition, only to observe our young man get off three towns and two dirty rivers later and make his way to some barracks surrounded by a barbed-wire stockade and observation posts, where the lettering on the ramparts proclaimed that
HAPPINESS IS BEING A TURK
. We took many and sundry buses that went to the very heart of the steppes, sometimes just because Janan took a fancy to some felt-green and brick-red bus, or else, look! how the tail of the
R
in
GREASED LIGHTNING
on the side of the bus seems to have become tapered from the vibrations and speed, zigzagging like a bolt of lightning. When Janan's investigations proved inconclusive in dirty terminals and sleepy marketplaces in the dusty towns where we arrived, I would question her as to why and wherefore we were traveling; and reminding her that the money I had lifted from the pockets of dead passengers was dwindling, I would pretend that I was trying to comprehend the illogical logic of our investigations.

Janan was not at all surprised when I told her about looking out of the window in the classroom in Taşkışla Hall and seeing Mehmet get shot. According to her, life was full of distinct, even intentional, convergences that some obtuse fools called “coincidences.” Shortly after Mehmet was shot, Janan had sensed that something extraordinary had taken place from the movements of the fellow who ran the hamburger stand across the street, and remembering she had heard gunshots, she intuited all that had transpired and run to Mehmet, who lay wounded. If it were up to some others, they might consider it coincidental that there was a cab immediately on the spot where Mehmet had been shot, and the fact that they were taken to the Kasımpaşa Naval Hospital was merely contingent on the fact that the cabby had recently done his military service in the navy. The wound in Mehmet's shoulder was not too serious, and he was to be discharged in a day or two, but when Janan arrived at the hospital the next morning, she found that he had taken off and vanished.

BOOK: The New Life
10.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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