This story is by Evin Baris Altintas and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Murat was annoyed by an overenthusiastic email he received from a customer service representative who’d solved an issue. He scrolled down his inbox, and his heart started pounding when he noticed an unread email. Sender: LEILA KAN. It was her usual carelessness, writing her name like that in block letters, not because she didn’t care about etiquette, but simply because she had no idea about etiquette.
He hovered the cursor over the subject line, hesitating to click.
It was Leila, who had ruined his life. It was Leila for whom he’d been arrested (he had joined a protest for a cause that he didn’t care about just to be close to her); Leila who almost ended his relationship with his parents (missed a family reunion and a funeral for a chance to spend a night out with her); it was Leila who had cost him a job (walked out of an important meeting after getting a message from her. It was Leila, whom he had never laid hands on.
None of it was her fault. It was all his fault for being in love with this girl who had always seen him a friend. He hadn’t seen her for three years, and everything in life had returned to normal.
He double clicked the message. It said, “Hey Murat ..Long time no see. I’m in town till Thursday. Wanna meet for drinks this afternoon?”
He knew she had no interest in him romantically but Leila was like the first cigarette after staying quit for a long time.
Murat had to be in the office in the afternoon for a presentation with a new client, yet he hastily collected the car keys, walked towards the office secretary. “My mother was hospitalized. I have to run, you let Can know please” he lied, ignoring the questions from the concerned woman as he rushed out.
He was at the café hours before the time they agreed. When she showed up, he felt something awoke inside him. She was more beautiful then he remembered. She was still funny, sweet and smart.
“Hey I am going on a boat cruise tomorrow. My friend Ari was supposed to come along, but he flaked out in the last minute. Wanna go with me? It’s only a week long and I haven’t seen you in ages.”
“I don’t think I can take time off work,” Murat said, knowing perfectly well that he would go.
“Oh please…” Leila was twirling her hair around her finger. “C’mon, don’t you be raining on my parade.”
“Alright, I guess I can arrange something. So when, where and what?” Murat agreed.
He felt stupid, like the last remaining member of a tribe praying to a long-lost god.
Extending the lie about his mother’s hospitalization, he sent out an email to work. Within a few hours, he received an understanding reply from his boss Can.
The first day of the boat cruise was perfect, until the evening. They had joined a tour organized for a group of 20 people on a medium-sized yacht. Leila was great; they talked about life, politics and Murat felt once again that they were meant to be together. At dinner time, the yacht docked near the shore and all the guests onboard sat down to eat at a coastal restaurant. The tour guide introduced a new passenger who would join them. Murat’s heart sank when he saw the newcomer: it was Fiona, his boss’s wife. She greeted him and sat down with other people.
Before they retreated to their cots aboard the yacht, he got an SMS from Can: “YOU ARE FIRED”. In less than 48 hours of meeting with Leila, Murat had lost the only job he was able to find in a long time. He decided not to worry about it. Perhaps he could have a future with Leila. They chatted until the wee hours of the morning. She touched him a lot, but nothing happened.
On the third day of the cruise, Murat received a message from his brother, Metin. It was their mother; she had been hospitalized. “It is the cardiomyopathy. It’s getting worse. You’d better come down here.”
“I am out of town and will come visit on Sunday,” he replied. He was enjoying his time with Leila. Every second with her was like a new hit of fresh air. For the two of them, it was an unavoidable cliché: the girl realizes that she is madly in love with her best friend and they end up together. It was set in stone; it had been decided by higher powers. Destiny just needed more time to mature her plan. There could be no other way.
On Thursday, the yacht docked near a beach where they spent the day. Leila seemed to enjoy his company more than ever. Together, they swam, had ice cream, took a long stroll along the beach, drank beers; talked about life, death, politics, mutual friends and fantasized about moving to the same city while they basked in the sun.
All those years, he’d never made a move. Maybe she could read it in his body language, but he had never been open about it. It wasn’t the fear of rejection that incapacitated him. He loved the idea of being hopelessly attached; always being ready to drop everything at hand to see her, just like he was doing now. The idea of losing that desire was what scared him. He always believed like this thing he felt for Leila made him a different — a special — person. It made him sensual, it changed his gait, his movements, his everything.
On the final day of the boat trip, the yacht anchored in a bay. After everyone had had a swim, climbed aboard; relaxed and ready to go, Murat felt alive. He decided to have a final dive. “I’ll go for a quick jump and climb back up,” he informed Leila, who said “Hmm”, not looking up from her book. He dived into the welcoming waters of the Mediterranean. He enjoyed the waves, he swam, his body streamlined; he feeling in tune with the ocean. When he surfaced from under the water, he saw the yacht sailing away.
He frowned and screwed up his eyes; he could see the shore from where he was. He started to swim, yet, he panicked when he felt he was actually moving away from the shore. A strong current gripped his body and it seemed to get worse as he fought it. Then a dark wave sucked him in, pulling him towards the bottom. For a moment, it relaxed its grip; he was able to breathe again. Each time he surfaced, the cycle repeated itself. That was when it hit him: he was drowning. It was more sad than painful. He felt even sadder when it occurred to him he was thinking of Leila in his last moments. “Oh how I will have rained on her parade” He had no strength left in his legs, but he was still treading water. His muscles gave in, he began submerging.
Somebody pulled him out.
The boat had come back for him. Leila looked pretty when she was panicked. She cried, she said she hadn’t heard him.
The week after the trip was very unpleasant. Murat felt shame for having yet again risked everything – even his life – for an impossible dream, but the following months were worse. He was depressed, constantly playing his near-drowning experience in his head. He kept having recurrent nightmares, where he was fighting waves in dark waters, and Leila came out of the mist, extending him a heavy stick to hold on to, but yanked it away just as he was about to grip.
For months, his brother and mother didn’t return his calls. He couldn’t even keep up with them on Facebook, as they had blocked him on all social media. He felt shut out, lonely. He thought of seeing a therapist, but couldn’t brave the financial burden, being out of a job. Professional help was one of those things in life that those who needed it were usually the ones least able to afford it.
Worst of all, in his loneliness and desperation, he often caught himself thinking about Leila, who had called him a couple of times in the week after the boat trip. He was upset that she would no longer call; and often had to resist the urge to call her.
He often made pacts with himself not to call her, but then immediately thought of breaking them. At times, he thought that life had no meaning if she didn’t love him; but then, that thought also hurt; the idea of losing even her friendship feeling like a stab in the heart. Most of the time, he changed his mind, tried to call her, picked up the phone, put it down and decided to call later when he would feel better. Then there were times when he decided to quit Leila for good; which also felt unbearable; so he decided that they could maintain a normal friendship; which was also too hard to bear. Months on end, the cycle repeated itself.
It was Can who saved him.
About after six months of the episode with Leila, the doorbell rang. Murat’s former boss, thinking over his decision to fire him, had decided to check on him. “Son, I too have been in love. I understand these things. I shouldn’t have fired you without talking to you first,” Can said, looking worried about Murat’s disappearing waistline and the messiness of his home, while talked on and on about his romantic dramas. “We gotta do something about this..this situation of your son,” Can said.
As always in the absence of Leila, life started to come together again. Murat started seeing a psychiatrist after getting his job back. His anti-depressants were working. He pulled up the courage to call his family and apologize. At first, they were unforgiving. One night, Metin agreed to have drinks with him, which was the first time he had talked about Leila to somebody who was not a mental health professional. His brother forgave him. Over time, they started having family nights again. Murat could hardly believe he hadn’t gone to see her mother, who now was in good health, at such a critical time.
His “Leila sensor” felt numb. He was happy to discover that letting go wasn’t as hard as he thought. He was happy, motivated and social in the office. He started dating Suzan from the HR department. He increasingly enjoyed her witty jokes and bright eyes and the time they spent together.
One night, as he packed for a business trip to Europe the next day, the phone rang. It was Leila. “Hey Leila,” he answered the phone. “Hey drowning boy. I thought you hated me. I am in town tomorrow for my boyfriend’s exhibition. Want to meet up for drinks?”
Murat started sweating. He could see his hands trembling. He sat down on the bed.
“Sure. What time would you like to meet?” he asked, trying to suppress the quiver in his voice.