Inspired by our “Memory of Human Kind: Stories from the Ottoman Manuscripts” exhibition, in collaboration with Trendeki Yabancı magazine we published 6 stories by 6 writers. Every Monday a new story went online on the blog. On February 1st, all 6 of the stories were published on Trendeki Yabancı.
The last one is “Calf” by Emirhan Burak Aydın. Enjoy!
“Whoever saw the calf beholds silver in the purest form,
Would there perchance a silver mine lay in the mother’s womb?”
The Old Man grabbed the Adolescent by the wrist, and put his head on his shoulder. Time sped up. The birthday party where the Adolescent waited tables, the Old Man’s gathering, was left behind. Galata Tower. They staggered downhill. Hailed a cab. Permission to light a cigarette. Windows rolled down. The president on the radio. Eyes like glass beads on the golden retriever in the car that goes by them. How the yellow light that filters in and touches on the Adolescent’s bony hand, then disappears, reappears, and disappears again. The dead weight of the dead phones in their pockets. End of the road. The Old Man paid the cabby. Keep the change. It is only five liras anyway. Silence in the lift. Their smell in each other’s nostrils. The door unlocked. The Old Man was thirsty. He went in the kitchen. The pitcher was empty. The Adolescent heaved the demijohn. The other brought out wine glasses from the cupboard. The rest is in the dishwasher, he said. They laughed. You are one classy guy, said the Adolescent. The Old Man instantly became a guest in his own house. He liked it. They moved to the bedroom. As the Adolescent unbuckled his own belt, the Old Man reclined on the bed. A black, plain boxer. The Old Man had no underpants on. The Adolescent entered the Old Man. The Man was quite tight. The Adolescent reached and grabbed the Old Man’s member. The Old Man felt the young breath at his nape, and then he came. The Adolescent had not finished. The Old Man moved off the bed and went down on his knees on the floor. He touched the Adolescent’s flabby stomach, grabbed his calves. How wonderful. At that moment, as he knelt down on the floor, he realised something. He hadn’t asked the Adolescent where he was from. He would always ask. The Adolescent finally came. A salty taste in the Old Man’s mouth. He swallowed it. He hadn’t been on his knees in a long time. He enjoyed it. They were breathless in the large bed. Your mind couldn’t help but wander when you looked at the walls of the Room, it was so empty. The curtains were half open. Their bodies glistened in the moonlight. Everything was exposed. An uninterrupted visibility.
Where are you from, asked the Old Man.
Why do you ask?
You’ll be cross if I tell you.
Do you ever think that your life isn’t difficult enough?
No, said the Adolescent, I’m being fucked over everyday, I’m not opulent like you. In wretched dorm rooms with barbarians, with your hidden vision.
We know our Zeki, do we, said the Old Man.
The Adolescent laughed. Still, he said, and paused for a long time, there’s always someone who’s worse off than you. One shouldn’t measure heartbreaks.
You’re so young, said the Old Man, people will deceive you.
Why is that?
Given my experience of fifty-seven years in this mortal world, I’ll say a word or two, please don’t be cross. Who doesn’t measure their own heartbreak with others, my darling. Especially the opulent measure and compare. They’re only human, they’re afraid of things, especially what might happen to them. One shouldn’t be afraid. Me, I try to never compare. Today with yesterday. Life goes on. Yesterday to today.
Hold on, said the Adolescent, let’s get back to that list. What list is that?
It is hard to find a mortal who envies nothing, said the Old Man, sitting up in the bed, but if we were to become those like we envied, he continued, purely by envy… Difficult business, that. Come, get up. I’ll show you something. It’s in my library.
In the hallway lined with bookcases, the two naked men walked. The Adolescent, flabby stomach, tall, moustache, bushy black hair; his deflated member dangled from his hairy loins. If there’s this many books in the hallway, he thought, how many must there be in the library? The Old Man was gaunt, he had a tattoo in his arm: A flower with twelve petals inside a circle, then a smaller circle that interweaved the petals, and finally a small circle inside the flower.
What’s that on your arm, asked the Adolescent.
The twelve terrestrial branches, but never mind that, said the Old Man, and began to climb the stairs.
The Adolescent followed. As they entered the garret, he saw a sign above the door. It read: “We are poets, and it would besmirch our reputation, to allow prostitutes within our station.”
To each their own ancestry, said the Old Man, do you know Enderunlu Fazıl?
Nope, said the Adolescent.
The Old Man opened a glass cabinet. He brought out a leather-bound old book.
Enderunlu Fazıl, said the Old Man, was a gentleman of high rank in the Ottoman bureaucracy. Then they informed on him and he was sent on exile. He didn’t like women, you see? He had three lovers in the seraglio. He was banished after that. He was infatuated with a boy named Shehla Hafiz. But he took this beautiful boy from the arms of an elderly music master. Alas, what an accident befell me, / For while his laugh is affable / His dimples are simply cynical, he writes somewhere. You’d win him if you would trust his smile, but his dimples deceive you, he means. Anyway. The books he’d written in exile were read in secret. Hubanname is one such work. The Book of Beauties. He talks about men he found to be beautiful. Rumour is that when he spotted an adolescent in the bathhouse, he’d know where he was from just like that.
This must be quite valuable, the Adolescent thought but didn’t vocalise. It must be quite valuable.
I like Georgians, said the Old Man, and so did Fazıl, In their curly hair one’s heart flitters over new treasures, he says about them, yet don’t believe that he is a lapdog… His speech is as clear as his heart, and he is of sweet and bitter habit…
Are you shitting me, said the Adolescent. We are of Georgian origin.
The Old Man laughed. In manuscripts, there’s one such thing called reddâde, he said, indicating at a word at the end of a page. The first word of the next page is written at the end, so that pages are never disorganised. You see, how one thing begins is apparent from the other’s end. You see the tazhib, I mean the gilding; how lovely they are. In the margins the scriveners take notes if they deem it necessary.
This must be so valuable, thought the Adolescent, it certainly is.
They sat on a pair of armchairs in front of the garret window. The Adolescent must have liked the carpet on the floor, for he sat by the Old Man soon after. He looked at the Old Man’s toes. His fingernails were so meticulously clipped.
When my uncle in law expired, they found many manuscripts in his home, said the Old Man. We donated some of them. Some of them were quite worthless. After my aunt had breathed its last, that man lived by himself in that enormous house by himself. He had many manuscripts copied out of his own pocket, hired muzahhibs to illuminate the books and gifted them to people. They called him Ibrahim the Scrivener, for he had a knack for these things himself. He had learnt them. I believe he found a special meaning in these pages. They call these margins cetvel, and so did my uncle-in-law draw cetvels around him like walls, and after his death I found Fazıl’s manuscripts in a secret cabinet. I believe he was embarrassed, but I wasn’t, and that’s why, today, I put my head on your shoulder. I had many lovers, my dear, and that’s what I meant by a list. I’m not a Uranian, I don’t believe in Plato’s idea of love, I’m a bit of a pederast but don’t be cross, I just have a lot of love to give, some were villains, some were fair, some were scholars, and some were boors, here I wanted to remember them all. If I knew where those whom I’ve gone to bed with are from, I could make another notch in my mind. So that I can assume I’ve attained a Fazıl-like state.
The Old Man fell asleep in the early morning. All the Adolescent could think about was the manuscript. He doesn’t know my name, he thought, and he couldn’t guess where I was from; I could do this.
Taking pains to not startle the names written on the spines and the text on the pages, not rousing a single being alive or inanimate, like a model guest he ascended the stairs. He reached inside the glass cabinet. He opened the lid. He hesitated for a moment. Wasn’t there anything else to steal? But if he were to take them, he’d be a simple thief, and he couldn’t accept that. He didn’t want to see himself as such, but he took the book all the same. He walked out. His phone was still dead. He went to Karaköy by tram. Then across the water. To Asia. To his side. To Üsküdar. In that cold, he came to the student lodgings of his friend.
What the fuck, said his Mate, you disappeared last night, what, did you spend the night with a girl or something and miss the dorm curfew?
Mate, never mind that, said the Adolescent as he walked into the room, ther’s other stuff to worry about, he continued, and showed him the codex, we have to flog this, do you know somebody from Turkish Language and Literature or something?Student lodgings. Damp. Three acquaintances sleeping in the living room. One of them a girl. All of them snoring. They went to the kitchen. It is spic and span. In Bristol fashion. That’s the kind of man his Mate is. The whole house could be in squalor, but the kitchen has to be clean. They sat at the table. The Adolescent put the book on the table.
Bro, said his Mate, what does a student do with this?
We don’t ask them to fucking buy it, but they might know somebody who might be interested, a teacher or some shit, and we’ll divvy the earnings fifty-fifty. So stop it with the bitching.
Divvy up with me, or the other person?
We’ll divvy it up between the three of us, mate, how about that? Does that satisfy you?
People were called. Bargains were struck. Finally someone they talked to wanted to see the book. All right, so they went all the way to Ümraniye. Those in his Mate’s place were still asleep. If only I could just leave this dorm, thought the Adolescent, I’m tired of it. Tired.
Let me see it, said the Man from Ümraniye, who ate a piece of yellow cheese dunked in honey. And in no time at all, he began to snicker. My friend, my inexperienced young friend, they have taken you for a fool, you see, and quite badly, too. This isn’t Enderunlu Fazıl’s script in the first place. It is a modern replica. See what it says: Stuffed Melon. Add sufficient minc’d meat and a pair of small onions, sauté in clarified butter, thereupon add a cupful of rice…
Wait, just bloody wait, said the Adolescent, fuck this shit, mate, how were you able to guess that it was a replica anyway, isn’t it valuable enough, like, can’t we flog it as Ottoman cuisine or something?
Man, you see this note here, said the Man from Ümraniye. Manuscript readers are also its copyists, so the scrivener inscribed this note here: My dear friend Enver, I hope that we’ll taste stuffed melons from your able hands soon, god willing. Dated: 24th Rajab, 1415. Which is 15th April, 1985. That’s how I was able to tell, capeesh?
The Adolescent picked up the book and left the house. He and his Mate exchanged looks and laughed. He went to the Old Man’s door, the codex in his hand. He waited. He waited as the cats passed by. Waited as others walked in the building. He thought of the previous night, the man on the radio, the president, and the stranger. Then the Old Man. They were strangers to one another but their paths had crossed. I am looking for a stranger to believe me, he thought, and taste the honey. Then a car pulled up. The Old Man’s head appeared. Their eyes met. They recognised one another.
Why did you mock me, said the Adolescent.
I didn’t mock you, replied the Old Man, I was curious if you’d come back. Besides, I never told you that the book belonged to Fazıl. You somehow had that idea yourself. Don’t worry, I always joke around with my guests. Since nobody stole the book before, no one really learnt the truth about it. You did, but then, you’re here. And you didn’t take anything else. Your head is in the clouds, my darling, people will keep deceiving you if you go on like this.
Do you really have the original manuscript, then?
Well, hard to find an original, who knows how the copyists changed the text, but yes, I do have an Enderunlu Fazıl manuscript, do you care to see it?
Sure, said the Adolescent, but I don’t understand, why do you trust me?
They stared at one another, silently, on the street, in front of the building.
One could say I’m in love, said the Old Man, and I want to open you up. You look like you’re afraid of something.
You’re only fifty something, don’t act like you’re old, said the Adolescent. You don’t know everything, you can’t suss me out that quickly. For instance, I’m not Georgian, and you didn’t figure that shit out.
Well, I guess I haven’t attained a Fazıl-like state, yet, said the Old Man. Never mind. I know a hidden soul when I see one, however. So, what do you say, shall we go upstairs?
The Adolescent paused, paused and thought, I didn’t spend the night at some girl’s house. Then he grabbed the Old Man by the wrist, and put his head on his shoulder.
I don’t want to go back to that dorm room, he said, and I’m sorry that I fooled you, and stole your book.
Apology accepted, said the Old Man, beaming, but allow me to ask you something: Was there perchance a silver mine in your mother’s womb?
EMİRHAN BURAK AYDIN was born in Istanbul in 1990. He received an English degree from Kocaeli University. He was the translator of several books. He works as an editor. His stories appeared in Notos, Sözcükler, Trendeki Yabancı, Öykülem, Öykü Gazetesi, Sarnıç Öykü, Lacivert, Peyniraltı Edebiyatı, Marşandiz Fanzin and Altzine. His debut novel, Gözlemci Olarak Buradayız (We’re Here to Observe) was published in 2018 by Dedalus Kitap. He collected his stories in Ben Uyandığımda Gözler Kapansın (Let All Eyes Close When I Wake, 2019) a book he distributed freely.
 Translator’s note: Zeki Müren (1931-1996) was a famous performer of Turkish classical music. The Adolescent quotes the lyrics of “Hastayım Yaşıyorum”, a song performed by Müren.