Last Train to Istanbul(3)

By: Ayse Kulin



Macit was exhausted. It was almost certain that Inönü would go to Yalova the following day, which meant that possibly, probably, there would be no late meetings next week. He might be able to go home earlier, and thus temporarily avoid Sabiha’s reproaches.



“One spade.”

“Two diamonds.”

“Pass.”

“Pass…Sorry, sorry. Four spades.”

The young women looked up from their cards across the table at Sabiha. She blushed, looking thin and delicate in her pale-mauve suit.

“You are very absentminded today,” said Hümeyra. “What’s wrong with you, dear?”

“Nothing. I couldn’t sleep last night. I can’t concentrate. Couldn’t Nesrin take my place?”

“Absolutely not! Let’s have some tea. That will sort you out.”

“Hümeyra, I have to leave before five today anyway.”

“Why?”

“I’ve got to pick Hülya up from Marga at her ballet class.”

“Doesn’t the nanny do that?”

“She has something else to do today.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, what else does a nanny have to do?”

“She wants to do some shopping before she goes back to England at the end of the month.”

“I didn’t know she was leaving, Sabiha! Why?”

“Well, Hülya has grown up; she is a big girl now. She no longer needs a nanny to fuss over her.”

“But I thought she was teaching Hülya English too.”

“She has learned enough. Her father wants her to be able to stand on her own two feet now and be more independent.”

The ladies all put down their cards and got up from the card table. Sabiha walked toward the room where tea was being served. She wanted neither tea nor any of the pastries on the table. She only wished she could go outside for a breath of fresh air, but she took a cup of tea and sipped it, hoping to avoid further questions. The other women followed Sabiha to the tea table, swaying rhythmically to the music on the radio. Suddenly the music stopped and an announcer’s urgent voice was heard.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt this program to bring you some important information regarding this morning’s state committee meeting with the prime minister.”

The ladies immediately changed direction, from the tea table to the radio.

“Shh! Shh! Listen!” said Belkıs.

Sabiha too walked toward the radio, her cup and saucer in her hand. Her hands shook as she listened to the grim news. The troops had retreated in Thrace behind the Çatalca line and were apparently digging in. The government was ordering all civilians in Istanbul to build shelters in their basements. Furthermore, those who had homes in Anatolia were being offered free transport there, and could bring up to fifty kilos of luggage per family.

“My God, what somber news. For God’s sake, Hümeyra, turn that radio off,” said Nesrin.

“No, please don’t, there may be news about France,” Sabiha said. “I wonder what—”

Nesrin interrupted. “So what about France? Who cares?”

Sabiha looked at her in dismay, putting her cup and saucer on the table.

“You should have some fruitcake; you like that,” offered Hümeyra.

Sabiha declined her offer, saying, “I must have caught a chill at the races last weekend. I feel nauseous, darling. I have no appetite at all.”

“Did you hear that they are evacuating Edirne?” Belkıs continued. “In other words, war is on our doorstep!”

“My husband will be totally unbearable,” said Necla bluntly. “He barely answers yes or no these days as it is. Can you imagine what he’ll be like if we go to war?”

Sabiha felt completely suffocated by her friends’ conversation. While they were occupied with their tea and cake, she made her apologies to Hümeyra and quickly left the house.

The heady scent of lilac and wisteria filled the Ankara air. The beautiful wisteria tumbling over the garden walls, hanging like bunches of grapes, seemed almost to accentuate her gloomy mood. Her pale-mauve suit was the only thing that harmonized with the surroundings. A thousand and one things were going through her mind as she walked home to Kavaklıdere. She bumped into an old man, and as she was apologizing, she tripped on a stone and almost fell over. Sabiha was very unhappy. She was unable to devote any attention to either her daughter or her husband, and everything was beginning to fall apart. She was gradually distancing herself from those around her. From the beginning, her daughter had been a disappointment, as she had expected a son; her husband was only interested in his work; her parents were perpetually ill; and she had begun to have less and less in common with her friends. It was almost as if she were breaking away from life itself.

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