by E. Baris Altintas
Before the night of the coup attempt, there was hope.
Selin tried not to think about coups, violence, genocide or politics in general. Pulling the mustard-colored curtains of her dimly lit bedroom to the side, she peeked outside, hiding herself behind the large folds. She could see Can from the third floor, with his two sons scampering about, dribbling a basketball. The slightly sweaty muscles on his shirtless back glistened in the late morning sun.
Running her fingers through her disheveled hair and scratching her left thigh, she walked slowly to the bathroom and took out another home pregnancy test. She peed in what was formerly a peanut can, and popped the stick in midstream. Wearily, slowly sliding against the wall, she sat down, hugging her knees. After waiting for what she gauged to be four minutes, she checked the stick: A single strip. She tossed the pee stick into the IKEA bath can. She got up off the floor and walked towards the family room.
“14th through 19th..” she said out loud commandingly, without looking at Murat, who was reading on the big yellow couch.
“Hmph?,” Murat said, his nose buried in a copy of Sapiens.
“The 19th is ovulation day, so I think we should start getting to it at around the 14th, plan accordingly. Cuz I was- .”
“Alright, whatever,” Murat returned to his book.
“Anyway I’m going out,” she walked towards the door without waiting for a reply.
Uçgeçit, a rundown neighborhood where crumbling apartment blocks embraced each other, was a 15-minute walk from Formakent. In fact, the two neighborhoods were separated only by a largish main street.
She crossed the street, which looked much like a surgeon’s line across a body part to mark the place of incision before an amputation. Uçgeçit, one of the few remaining neighborhoods in Istanbul which had yet managed to escape the gentrification juggernaut, stood in stark contrast with the other side of the street, where people lived in gleaming housing complexes with swimming pools. Uçgeçit residents – a demographic medley of poor Turkish Kurdish families, desperate Syrian refugees, droves of the pious and of wayward drunks and prostitutes– lived on another planet.
Yet Selin felt the two neighborhoods were similar in a strange way. The top elite, the ones with the right passports or the good contacts, had left shortly before or in the months after the night of the coup attempt a year ago. Those who stayed, whether they were members of Turkey’s humiliated secular middle class, government loyalists or opponents had little say on their future. Deals had been made; the rivers and forests of their country had been sold to wealthy sheikhs. They were all doomed in the same twisted way; although not all of them necessarily felt a shared fear of a future disaster impending.
Walking down Uçgeçit’s narrow roads with heartbreakingly grey low-rise apartments on both sides, it wasn’t the slightly threatening male gaze of the underclass — or feeling heads turning and their looks on her spine– but being the only childless woman in the street that made her self-conscious. She shuddered as her eyes met those of a pregnant woman, walking slowly with two young children in tow.
She walked past a man with a rounded beard, sporting a turban-shaped cap, often seen on the pious. Maybe he’d lost a family member in the night of the coup attempt. Maybe he was one of those who lynched privates on the bridge that night? She had to turn and look when he heard the man-, or a man, shout “Hey sister!”. It was the bearded man alright, holding something she couldn’t quite make out at the tip of his fingers. “You dropped this,” he said, extending his arm. It was her elephant brooch she’d tucked into and forgot in the pocket of her large sweatpants. “Th–thank you,” she said, grabbed the tiny elephant and continued on her way.
She rang the ancient buzzer on İbrahim’s ramshackle building. “Who is it?”, his voice came. He was usually nice, but could be snappy if he wasn’t in the mood.
“It’s me, Selin,”
“Alright, come on up.” She heard the buzzer sound.
Selin ran up the three steep flights. İbrahim was at the door, obviously not up for a chat.
“Here’s your stuff, you’ll pay next time,” İbrahim tossed an amorphous transparent bag towards her.
“Can’t I come in?”
“Not a good time. Wasn’t really expecting — sorry, see you later,” İbrahim closed the door.
Selin was no junkie, nor was she an adventurer, and İbrahim was not your average drug dealer. In fact, he was quite an intellectual. She knew him through a mutual friend from her teaching days at the university. They weren’t friends, but he would often invite her in for a cup of coffee or sometimes for a beer. He owned scores of philosophy books and Selin had met some of his hipster friends.
Tears welled up in her eyes.
“I am very lonely and I think I might be infertile,” she whispered at the door that had been slammed into her face three seconds ago, shoving the grass tucked inside a tiny zip-lock bag into her pocket.
She walked back out and started walking briskly towards the main street, ignoring the stares and the occasional yet hardly audible –nearly self-censored– catcalls. She decided to walk home and Google the effects of marijuana while trying to conceive
Keeping her head down, she walked past the newly built Üçgeçit Democracy Prison Complex, erected shortly after the night coup attempt to house the hundreds accused of having something to do with the failed coup. With its enormity and black exterior, it was a monstrosity to some but a proud achievement to the government. It had been built after razing Üçgeçit’s only park, where glue sniffers and headscarved housewives, jobless potheads and 5-year-olds playing soccer happily shared stale sunflower seeds.
“Hey, you have a cig?,” a voice said. A teenager appeared next to her. She kept on walking, head down. “Hey, why won’t you give us a cigarette,” another one said, grabbing her wrist. Selin, who’d reached the edge of the main street, let out a scream, somewhat silenced by the screeching brakes of a blue Opel Astra, which pulled over just about at the same time. “Hey get away you assholes,” the driver jumped out of the car. The two ran off.
It was Can from the third floor. Even his tone of voice held a certain amount of virility, Selin thought.
“You okay?,” he asked as he helped her into car.
“You know an old woman was stabbed here last week, what are you doing around here,” he asked, putting on his seat belt.
“Nobody stabbed me. Was just visiting a friend.”
“You have a friend who lives here?,” Can raised his thick eyebrows. Selin noticed that a vague smile flicked across his lips, revealing a barely noticeable dimple on his right cheek.
And then came the indecent proposal, which is what proposals like this are, from one married person to another. “Listen, I have to drop by my office. I can take you home before that, or if you don’t mind hanging out, maybe we could grab a cup of coffee together?”
“Yes, that would be great,” she said, not so much out of her undeniable attraction to Can, but out of a gnawing sense of loneliness.
The sex was quick, yet strangely affectionate. The reason for that, Selin figured later that evening, was their shared feeling of abandonment. The same kind of angst she felt she shared with the residents of Üçgeçit.
Back in her apartment, she smoked some of İbrahim’s pot. Her mind kept going back to her escapade with Can, but her thoughts were focused not on what had happened, but what Can had said: she was lucky that she didn’t have any children. This exasperated her. Her childless status was a thing; and people always tried the sugarcoat the situation for her. Girlfriends said she’d be crazy to have kids in this country; some neighbor said so-and-so never had any children, and at 67 she hadn’t aged a bit, and others complained about their misbehaving teenagers. She sometimes felt like she was in what is the exact opposite of an Atwood novel.
“What’s up, why the face?”, Murat walked into the room.
“What face? I’m fine”
“Did you go swimming today?”
“I’m going to bed.”
Murat leaned in, giving her a kiss on the nose. “Don’t worry, we’ll work on that baby thing. I promise,” he said. For a moment, the soreness in Selin’’s childless stomach eased, “Good night,” she said. Lying on her back, she put her hand on her belly, dreaming one day, she would feel a quickening inside.