from: The Book of Perihan

You open a book. The first page reads:

                                        DO NOT OPEN THIS BOCK.

The letters have been drawn purposefully.

They are enlarged and evenly spaced.

You pause, you gently flip the page.


On the next, you find :

          A GLOSSARY:

  [ English – Turkish ]

  bebek – like baby
  bir varmış – there was
                 and maybe
  bir yokmuş – there
  bi dakka – one minute
                 you read
  this bock – a book
  you learn
  the hoop – like how
            it began
  in the NYC hose-pit –
            in the hospital
  in the
  hot hot – hole  of my

[ Turkish – English ]

har haar – heart          
lütfen – please
             forgive me
they have
strag – they have strange
              they have
the whent – when they
watt – they want
              to stand up to
yabancı – a foreigner
              ama please
yapma – don’t do it
lütfen – please
yavaş –
              yavaş –
slow down

As always, you’ve arrived at language sideways.

At an utterance that hovers. An utterance that has been once-removed.

In the liminal space of expression, you make out some words:

It’s August 3rd, 2002. The series of bus stations from Istanbul to Ankara arrives as a blurry transmission blue and white and gray. Some walls, some floors, some vending machines. I took a journey from one empty box within a box to another, each lined up along the side of a road that ran like a vein – bir varmış bir yokmuş – from the Mediterranean coast into the heart of the country. In this tri-colored memory, I can think only of boxes.

I left my debit card in the machine before boarding the bus. I left one box inside another box inside a bigger box inside an even bigger box, before entering – başka bir tana –another hot and muggy box. Everything looked progressively empty. I ate all the halva I had bought for the trip, and tried to forget about it. Unuttum. No one bothered to speak English, and I didn’t bother to listen to the steady flow of muffled Turkish amid the slurps and snores.

While living in the near-deserted capital, I really took to various kinds of desserts. Aslında – I decided to treat them as my main sustenance. So I would consume large quantities at unspoken, unplanned times, and then nothing much for days. A plastic bowl of rice milk pudding, and after a slow nod and a man’s half-smile, another.

I treated the television set like an estranged housemate; its antennae-eyes watching me from the corner, never finding the need to verbalize its judgment. I was glad of its presence, as there was nothing else in the apartment apart from a bed, a terrace, numerous walls and floors. When I first arrived, I stared at the television, half expecting it to inform me as to where to go, or what to do.

It stared unblinking back.

When you live on a hill, in a city as dry and quiet as a tomb, the things about you settle slowly and methodically like dust when there is no wind left. The particles in your mind do the same. You no longer feel the need to speak to anyone out loud, for there is no one to speak to, and you no longer speak to yourself, for there is nothing to say. All is left silent and – unutuyorsun – you forget why anyone uttered words to begin with.

Oho ohm. Hey. Hey there. Merhabaaa. Hi. When do we meet? Naber. And I
am curious about what is your impression about Turkish guys. Hey. When
will you talk. Don’t you speak Turkish? Nerdesin. Can you bring me Vitamin D?

The guard for the building was the only person I spoke to apart from my boss, Larry. I remember nothing of what he looked like, just the smooth shape of a man with the pooled essence of blue and white and gray. A bland and smiling man—he seemed glad to see me, when he did. He told me his name, but since I could not say it after a number of attempts, I simply left it blank in my mind, a space into which I poured put his blue and white and gray: erkek, asker, ağabeyi, adam.

I sat outside, and sometimes inside, and nothing happened, apart from rice pudding, milk pudding, the repeated decision against chicken breast pudding, and then the requisite, methodical nodding. I don’t recall what put an end to these events of pudding, what led me to walk back to the empty apartment as opposed to walking to another, possibly creamier place of pudding. Ama I always did end up back in that apartment, where, to my surprise, I discovered things much the same as when I left – aynı aynı.

Hola! Heyyy. Are you speaking only English? Would you dare look after me?

I was terrified of the terrace. I spent hours crouching in a corner of the apartment, from which I could see the dark face of the television, a white sliver of the empty fridge, but most of all, the sliding glass door. I studied the lights as they would come and go, unable to find the nerve to get close enough to double-lock it.

When the film ended and the television returned to its blank state with a soft, numbing buzz, I took the key to my apartment and walked out the front door. A cab followed me down the hill, the driver steadily staring out the window, his car crawling along at my walking pace. I looked forward, and walked as though I had someone to see, somewhere to go.

On our lunch days, Larry and the guard would eat a reasonable amount of stew, leaving the bread basked mostly untouched. Without a word, I chose to only eat the doughy white bread, right there in front of them. It was unclear whether they thought this behavior strange – garip garip– perhaps they simply became used to it. And so we had a lunch tradition of sorts, a family meal in an otherwise empty, dimly lit basement.

Dear dear, how are you? I am in Ankara now, where is it? In the basement? I am
learning Turkish, but only a little, and now I am time. I want to look at you, when? You
come here a week later, because no one is coming. I do not know if I go to the basement,
like this, in August. Okay, please write to me and tell me how you are. Kisses.

I began to clutch my key so tightly that by the time I stopped my palm was bleeding. After walking down the hill, I took a side street and walked back up the hill, methodically counting each step. Having lost the cab yet with no intention of returning to my apartment, I sat down on some steps in the dark, and thought about how easy it had been to bleed.

I don’t remember anything about the way Larry looked, only that he was a man in his late 40s, with a medium amount of medium grey hair. Unuttum. Perhaps he had a desk and a round white paper weight. Fondling its curvatures, he mentioned that things were busier during the school year, when everyone came back from their August vacations.

Hello. Where are you now? You look like a Turkish. Weirdo: Is there anyone?

With nothing left to do, I ran the key back and forth across my forearm. When the blood came again, I walked back up the hill, put the key in the door, and crouched in the corner, staring at the dark, buzzing television.

It was August in Ankara: the month that you left, if you could. I gently flipped the page: I arrived.

Sara Deniz Akant is a Turkish-American writer and educator. Her first collection Babette (Rescue Press 2015) won the Black Box Award in Poetry, and her chapbook Parades (Omnidawn 2014) won the Omnidawn Chapbook Prize. Recent work appears in The Iowa Review, New Sinews, and at The Paris Review. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches writing at Baruch College.