moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The
Tralfamadorians [...] can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can
look at any moment that interests them.
At one time
or another we have all thought how our life would have been if at a certain
point in the past we had taken a decision different from the one we took. Who could we
have been? Would've we been the same? Different?
What would we be doing right
now if we had taken a different path at that very moment years ago? Is it ever
possible to go back and change one's life? Most say no. Some say yes.
The woman steps outside the door
visibly anxious. She carries a small suitcase and holds a mobile phone in
her hand. She looks at it in earnest. Maybe she called the wrong number. Maybe
her plane arrived too early. She looks around her. A couple is helping an
old woman with a humped back, dressed in black from head to toe. The three
of them are walking very slowly. A few taxi drivers are talking to each
other without paying any attention to her.
She should call again. She knows
that yesterday, while they were arguing, she said she would not be coming to
Istanbul. But in the end, they had made up. Or so she thought.
She's already been waiting for ten
minutes. Should she let go of the suitcase? It hardly weighs anything. She had
planned on staying just three days. She gives the phone another
look. Maybe something happened. Maybe the taxi or the bus got into an
accident. She imagines him hurt, trying to find the phone. In the midst of
people that does not understand him. She feels tears coming to her eyes. No,
she cannot cry now. Now is not the time.
Fifteen minutes. Maybe she should try calling back. What if someone else
answers? Perhaps he asked her to come only to take revenge. To laugh at
her. To abandon her in front of everyone. Perhaps he's a bad
person. She closes her eyes and considers going back into the airport to
rest a while.
Twenty-five minutes. She switches
her suitcase to her other hand. She holds on tight to her mobile phone. A group
of Japanese tourists pass by like a flock of happy sparrows. Her nails
hurt her. Her head spins. She made a mistake. He is not the man she
thought he was.
And suddenly, like a summer shower,
the heat makes her legs give way, her eyes blur, her hands loosen and she lets
the suitcase fall to the ground. He steps out of the taxi with his tie
askew and a huge bouquet of yellow
driver swears under his breath while he dodges the black-clad old woman, who
looks like she's just about to pass out. He's in a hurry, trying to get home,
where he knows he'll face an argument. He steps on the accelerator as he tries
to find his mobile phone in his pockets.
You never find these modern pieces of junk when you need them!
stops at a red light and finally finds his phone under the passenger seat. He
tries to ring home but has trouble seeing the numbers on the small screen. The
glasses are less help than hindrance, and he never wears them. The car behind
him honks, urging him to move on. He looks at his rear mirror and sees a blond
girl in sunglasses. She's impatient. A little piece and quiet, gees, he thinks.
This is not end the world. He starts the car again. There's a lot of traffic at
this time and he proceeds slowly. He hears the melodic voice of the muezzin
calling to prayer, and he knows it must be seven o'clock. What will Nadia say?
What will she say? He strokes his still thick white hair. He well knows what
she'll say. Where were you, Dad? I should've been in class an hour ago! I can't
go on, Dad! I can't. Can you hear me? I spend twenty hours a day with him, Dad.
I can't go on. Since the day he was born you made me take care of him. But I
never wanted to. Never, Dad! I hate him! I hate him because he's a vegetable. I
hate him because he can't talk. I hate him for the way he looks at me. I hate
him because he's your son!
Let me go, Dad. Let me leave this house. I'll
never ask you for anything else, ever. I'm thirty-five years old. And I want to
be free. I want to fall in love and have children and cook for my husband and
finish school and be a lawyer, and I want to be with normal people and do
normal things and speak normal words. Let me go, Dad. I beg you in mother's
is what Nadia will say. And his heart will break seeing her small and thin,
like her mother, her eyes intensely black, immensely sad, while she scratches
her white neck, a neck as soft as a little girl's. He strokes his hair again,
looks back and sees that the blond girl is still behind him. She seems okay,
now, with her phone to her ear. She seems happier now. She's going to have an
accident, if she's not careful. The young always are in such a hurry. Always
doing ten things at once.
guy on the green bike is lying on the ground. People stop and look. Some
approach him. The driver gets out of his car in shock, with one hand grabbing
his head. It hurts. He must have hit it. He sees the young man, blue eyes open,
not moving. Something light flows from under his head. More people approach him. They talk to him, but he does
not understand. He looks bewildered, lost. He understands nothing. The young
man remains in the same place. Still looking at the sky with his blue eyes.
Still not moving. The bike is untouched. Close to the sidewalk. Green.
He looks at her surreptitiously
while drinking his coffee--cold, as always--slowly. Every morning the same
ritual: take the child to school, make the bed, tea for her, coffee for him,
the little table by the window, just as she wanted it, bread with butter. Today
she has her eyes encircled by blue shadows. The corners of her lips are
slightly turned down, but this is normal for her: even when she laughs
wholeheartedly it looks like she's laughing sadly, because of the natural shape
of her mouth. Her hair covers her face. She hasn't combed it yet. She'll do it
later, when she goes to work. She doesn't speak. Perhaps she's tired. Perhaps
she didn't sleep well. He went to bed late, and she pretended to be
The woman is young and her hair is
long and black. She looks pensively out the window. And sips her tea. Cold
again. She doesn't bring it up or reproach him. She doesn't want him more
withdrawn. Everything she says, he takes it the wrong way. She doesn't feel
like arguing today. She's tired. She slept little and badly. Like almost
always. She stares outside and sees the Bosporus, looming in the horizon,
gray and silent, a lonely minaret slicing it in two. It's been so long since
they strolled by the sea. She's tried to tell him she needs tenderness like she
needs oxygen. She does not know how to be without tenderness. Without giving
and receiving. Feelings. Sensations. Gazes. Embraces. Words. She needs all of
that. She doesn't understand him. Some days she asks herself who is this man,
this man she lives with. Yes, he loves her and she knows it. Her life is
full: the hotel is working, their child is healthy and smart, their parents are
still strong and fit, their new apartment is beautiful. Everyone envies her.
She looks at him from under her bangs. What is he thinking about? How can she
get inside him? Know what he is really thinking? Know what he really
wants? . . . Does he know it himself? Does he know why for so many nights they have been sleeping in the same bed
but dreaming their own dreams? What could he be thinking?...Her tea is
cold, and she feels her hands, freezing on the white porcelain cup.
"I had a bad dream last
night," he starts to say in a low voice, unsure, not knowing if Selma
wants to hear it. "I don't remember all the details. I don't know if it
was us or another couple. She had short hair. It was my birthday. We had
argued. I don't know why. I was tired. The night before had ended late. I left
the room slamming the door. I couldn't bear to see your eyes full of tears. Not
that day. It was my birthday. I wanted to be happy. I didn't want to think
about the money that was running out or your mother who was not answering the
phone. That day I didn't want to think about anything. I just wanted to see
your face happy. But I left. I grabbed my bicycle, the green one I had for so
many years. I wanted to leave. Far from you. Desperate I could not make
you happy...And, I don't know how, this taxi ran over me. I remember the face
of the man, getting out of the car. Looking from one side to the other
like a crazy person. He had his hand on his head, as if it was hurt. White hair.
A gray mustache covered his large mouth. He seemed lost. I wanted to help him but couldn't
move. It seemed like I was nailed to the ground. I wanted to yell at him, I was
upset, but I couldn't open my mouth. Every time everything was moving more
rapidly around me. I woke up with a dry mouth and clenched fists. Covered in
sweat and shaking. Everything seemed so real. I was not sure if I was dead or
alive. You were still sleeping. It didn't look like you. I sprang out of bed,
afraid to infect you with the
evening, when Nadia leaves to go to school and Father, tired, with a cup of
apple tea and a piece of borek pastry, sits in front of the television, Amin
knows that he has at least one hour to himself. One hour to be free, without
having to pretend to be the good boy who always minds his father and sister.
His blue eyes, usually subdued, lighten up. One hour to live.
Most days, he walks to the beach, where he can
see the tiny boats that carry the tourists for their night outings. He likes to
sit still and watch the gray seagulls flying through a sky with bold traces of
aged gold. On the facing shoreline, across the Bosporus, the Topkapi minarets
rise, weaving delicate filigrees in the twilight. Here, no one sees him, no one
talks to him. He doesn't have to listen to her sister's complaints nor his
father's grunts, nor the shrieks of the children who harass him whenever he
steps out of the house. No one looks at his face with pity or disgust. Here,
there is only the sea and the sky.
last few days, however, there was an intruder. A young woman, blonde, with big
sunglasses that covered half her face. She would come and sit beside him,
pulling out a cigarette and smoking it slowly, without looking at him. She seemed
sad. She looked beautiful.
Today she is late. Amin knows that someday the
woman will stop coming. He isn't sure whether that will make him feel better or
worse. Perhaps she will no longer come.
When she arrives, he sees that her face, what
can be seen under her glasses, seems happy. Her lips, slightly open, seem
fuller than on other days. When she leaves, he follows her. He's never done
this before. But today he doesn't want to go home. He needs the fresh air. He
wants to punch the mirror. He is not a mongoloid, he is not a vegetable. He is
a man. He feels trapped at home. No matter how much he cries out, no one pays
attention. No one hears him.
blonde girl stops in front of the tower. It's almost time to close and there
are only a couple of oblivious tourists lingering around. At the gate the guard
lets him in without paying. He must think they are together. They take the
elevator. It goes up so fast, it seems to fly. She is so pretty. And smiles.
Maybe she is smiling at him? When they step out on the terrace, the cool air
hits him hard. Far away, looking small, stand the Topkapi minarets. He's on top
of the world. He feels his heart beating fast. He's happy. He's free.
girl lights a cigarette as she leans on the railing. On the other side of the
terrace, a man is embracing a woman with her arms full of yellow tulips. They
are watching the lights glimmer in the water. Amin feels the wings of the
seagulls rushing by. When he climbs the railing and lets himself fall with his
arms open, no one screams.
looks at the photograph she just found under one of the cushions. Her favorite
place is the corner with the red ones. There are many others piled next to it,
green, blue, yellow, brown, with vegetable or geometric designs. Many are
printed with red tulips against a gold background. From the ceiling hang
exactly seventy-seven colored lights. This place has the most colored lights
she has ever seen, aside from the busy shops downtown. She stops here after
work every day for a cup of fresh mint tea. At this hour, there are only three
or four people, watching TV, each smoking shisha from a hookah, also the young
couple who are always playing backgammon, and the waiter, who is lazily
people-watching. No one's talking. Selma feels more relaxed here than at her
photograph is a snapshot of a young man riding a green bicycle. The image is
faded. It must be quite old. The guy on the bike looks happy. He's laughing.
You can see the elongated shadow of a woman in front of him. She must be the
one taking the shot. Her shadow stretches like a trail from the laughing man to
How silly of me!” She has accidentally dropped some tea on the picture, and now
the image is even more faded. She looks at it remorsefully.
so sorry.” A fair-skin woman, with short hair, had just entered the tea-house.
Her smile resembles an open pomegranate.
She seats down beside her with a surprising gesture of relief.
I knew I had left it here!” She takes
the picture that Selma was holding gently, and her smile lights up even more
the red cushions’ corner. “ When I was very young, I lived with my father and
my brother. My brother was sick. I had to take care of him. My father forced me
to do itand my mother was dead. She could not say anything. The day I turned
eighteen, I ran away from home. This man,” and she points at the guy riding the
green bicycle, “he found me on the street in the middle of the night, half dead
of hunger, cold and fear. He took me to his house and let me sleep in his bed,
while he slept on the floor. One day he went out and did not return. Later that
day a policeman came knocking on the door. I did not open it. I was afraid that
my father had finally found me. I fled from that house full of colored lights
and books. I ran until I reached the edge of town. I never returned. I never
knew what happened to him. I just have this picture. I've been carrying it with
me for seven years."
holds the picture tightly with a happy-girl look. After a long while, she
places it on the table and turns to Selma. She covers her hand with hers, warm
hands, and looks straight into her eyes. This girl, this girl ... why does she
seem so familiar? Why does she feel the heat rising to her cheeks?
Selma touches her face with her left hand and
finds a strand of black long hair that has escaped from under her silk scarf.
She tucks it back in but it falls again. Her other hand is still resting, quiet
and ashamed, in Nadia's hands.
walk quickly, without looking at each other. It's been a difficult day. Emin
holds the woman's hand in his pocket, cold and still. Her hands is what he
likes most in her: soft as snowflakes that turn into moist caresses when we
arrive at the hotel and go up the narrow stairs. Inside, the room is warm. Too
warm. There's always a pungent sweet
aroma. Whenever she comes to visit, Emin fills the place with flowers. Sometimes she gets drunk with the
intensity of their perfume. Suddenly, her face changes: wrinkles disappear,
cheeks light up, lips open in a playful smile, and her eyes begin to dance.
Every time he sees this transformation, never predictable, never the same, he's
left speechless. That's the reason he fell in love with her the first night
they spent together, by the sea. Emin eagerly awaits the wonderful instant when
the transformation will happen, unforeseen, perchance when she happens upon a rare flower,
or at the sight of a golden cloud, or as she feels the softness of a silk
cushion, when she will let go of her every day mask and emerge as a Greek
goddess, dazzling and unique. His desire for her has not diminished in the
seven months they've known each other. Even now, although both are frighten and
tired, seeing the yellow light emanating from the tulips she's still holding
and reflecting on her lips, he feels the mad desire of loosing himself in her
warmth, of letting go of the fear and replace it with the safety that emanates
from every pore of her skin. He takes the tulips from her, leaves them on the
floor, and his hands feverishly search for her breasts.
She looks at him without stopping him. She
still feels ill. She felt like throwing up after seeing the man jump from the
top of the Galata Tower. The incident has brought back all her dark memories,
fracturing the fragile layer of calm that had been with her for the last three
days. The guilt that she tried so hard to ignore--the working husband, the
crying kids, the boring job, and all the rest she left behind to be with him in
Istanbul--leaps at her suddenly, like a wounded animal. He leads her to the bed
and she does not resist. After a while that seems to last forever, she whispers
in his ear that she's tired. She knows that he needs her physically close,
especially now, when he's so scared. She's not angry, but she needs rest. She
rough morning light hurts her eyes at the same moment she opens them, startled
by the voice of the muezzin. What time is it? Is it time to go? Where is Emin?
She cannot hear him in the room. She jumps off he bed. Looks in the bathroom.
Looks out the window. It's early; there's no one yet on the street. Only the
silhouettes of the minarets, standing like watching ghosts. Where is he? Tears
come rolling down, her legs fail her and she drops to the floor, beside the
already fading yellow tulips. She covers her head with her arms. It's over.
Two hours later she gets into a taxi. He left
his phone at the hotel. His Skype account has been closed. There is no way of
knowing where he is or get in touch with him. She knew this would happen since
the day they met.
holds nothing from him: no children, no address, no ring, no phone
number. She has nothing. Only memories.
Only the open wound of not knowing whether he's dead or alive, whether he's
being tortured or whether he left because he got bored. What hurts the most is not knowing why, or where, or
how. Vanished like a dream. Leaving no open door. The gray minarets look at her
with indifference, as she climbs the taxi on her way to the airport.
walks past the old woman covered in black from head to toe. She looks familiar,
but there are so many old women in Istanbul dressed in black who follow everybody
with their curious eyes. The taxi driver had deducted three lira from her total
fare. She doesn't know if he did it because he saw how sad she was or because
that was his nature. Never before had she been in a taxi where the driver
reduced his fare, however small. The Turks do these things. They haggle as a
game, not to get into an argument. They are affable and kind. How she's going
to miss Istanbul!... Coffee houses where no alcohol is served, where no one is
loud, colorful carpets and cushions, lights framing the mosques with soft
curves, fresh mint tea, borek pastry and baklava, light-skinned people with
black eyes, the sea and minarets, life lived freely and intensely, and
especially...especially the tulips. She closes her eyes tightly and tries to
retain under her eyelids all the smells and colors of this time and place. She
takes a deep breath. She will always have these memories. They already are a
part of her.
the airplane she sits next to another woman, young, blonde, with a face that
speaks of having received an unexpected
gift. She wears large sunglasses but, when they start talking, she takes them
off and places them in her red handbag.
know you. You were in the Tower when that guy jumped off," she says, and
seems pleased to see her. "He was a friend of mine, you know? We saw each
other every day and shared our fear. It helps to share your fear with others.
He finally found a way out. I'm glad he did. Life was not kind to him. Surely,
he's found a better one." And she smiles, as if apologizing for being so
cheerful. Or for believing in hard-to-prove facts. "I'm going to meet my
husband," she continues, and her voice is like a moist cloth on a recent
wound. Can you imagine what it's
like when they tell you your husband has disappeared? Not knowing whether he's
dead or alive. Waking up every day paralyzed by fear. Turning everything off,
the car radio, the television. Escaping from people, from noise. Holding the phone tight, always afraid of missing his call.
Because you can't lose hope. Ever. You can't ever stop hoping that you will
hear his voice telling you, 'It's all right, it was only a nightmare.'"
talking, she's overwhelmed with emotion, and her eyes fill with tears. She
turns her head and looks out the window at the golden clouds. When she turns
back to her, her smile seems even brighter.
"Yesterday, I got the phone call," she says. "He's alive."
rows ahead in the same cabin, Selma is holding Nadia's hand. In her coat's
pocket she has the photo of the young man riding the green bicycle. Nadia gave
it to her when they decided to fly together to Rome. The past no longer exists.
The future even less. With each decision we take, we profoundly change the
people we will become in the next second. And maybe much more.
Translated by Lina Strenio