By Merve Pehlivan
Part of me says I woke up a few seconds before Emre called me at seven thirty on Wednesday. But I know it can’t be true. I hung up and texted: “What happened?” It could be anything really. It could be his wife heading to work at the crack of dawn for natural delivery so he has to drop the kids off at school or a PhD monitoring committee meeting brought forward because of a capricious professor; or worse, it could be the entire family suffering from the flu or some other preschool nuisance kids brought home.
We met a few years ago for a documentary project on tobacco farmers in the west of Turkey. He is a professor of film studies in Istanbul, an award-winning producer with a family background in the tobacco industry in the region. He willingly accepted working with our team of undergrad cinema students. He treats you like an equal because you cannot rise anywhere near his lapful of accolades. We’d been in contact ever since. He helped me out with a lot of things, gave me just the right kind of advice for my scripts and even introduced me to a few established directors. One of them I eventually ended up working for as assistant art director in a film.
I tried to find the necklace he bought for me before I came to Paris a few months ago. It’s tasteful but not extravagant, a thin chalcedony pendant probably worth less than a hundred liras, so I’d accepted it. He said he neglected me and was asking for forgiveness. But I can’t blame him for that and we meet only a couple of times a year anyway. He is always juggling so many balls in the air; films, television, student work, and hardly finds time for friends and family. I on my part was busy with PhD applications for five months straight. I spent the entire spring writing and translating my proposal and emailing about thirty potential advisers in Paris and Lyon. Then I had to run errands for endless paperwork which is so ridiculously dull it’s stressful. Life got in the way for both of us I guess; he really didn’t need to buy me that necklace. But it was nice of him.
“I’ve missed the flight.” Emre texted back. I put the phone and the necklace away and went back to bed. Why would he want to cancel the trip altogether? He could just arrive early the next morning if anything as serious had come up. Unless he’s invited to a late-night TV debate when the kids are already in bed, he never makes appointments for Thursday nights because his wife is on duty at the hospital. The Paris trip was an exception of course because he was going to give a lecture in Sciences Po on Thursday.
It was still too early in the morning, I never call him before midday and after nine pm, so I had to wait. I didn’t. I reached for my phone to find out that he was slightly hung over at the after party of the Short Film Festival, which apparently lasted until three a.m. He said he’d booked another flight in the afternoon.
I grabbed the necklace and called the restaurant to say we would be about an hour late. I’d stumbled upon this cute little bistro on my way back from the campus the other day. I don’t know much about fine dining in Paris to be honest. I live and spend most of my time in the tenth arrondissement; a colorful palette of working-class immigrants and children of rich Parisians bored to death in the glossy quiet of the seventh and eighth where they grow up. On Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, you’d smell piss, musk and beer in a three-minute stroll; see vegetables gone bad or muddied on roadsides, a bartender playing Black Sea music to writers discussing Jack Kerouac, a street vendor trying to sell plastic roses to smokers at the terrace of a café, kebab and sushi places flocked to by hipsters, shops selling pilgrimage wear and other things you need before going to Mecca. Emre would normally be interested in this youthful motley, but I wanted to treat him to a nice dinner. With a red awning and menu handwritten on chalkboard, Chez l’Ami Gérard looked Parisian enough to entertain anyone from outside the city. I knew Emre loved seafood and they seemed to have a rich selection of oysters.
One other thing about the tenth is that I’m quite lucky with hairdressers’; most of them are Turkish and know exactly what kind of grooming I need and where. The one around the corner from my flat is run by two sisters. The elder one, Sema, greeted me with a voluminous updo and lurid pink makeup glistening in sweat, her permanent business look. I sat in one of the swivel chairs with lumps of hair gathering dust underneath. Ayşe , the other sister, emerged from the kitchen with a tray in her hand, a tiny girl of about eighteen with studded jeans and a t-shirt hanging limply down her hips. I usually pick younger ones to trust my eyebrows with. “It’s been a while Naz abla. Would you like anything to drink?” This is also one of the rare places I can enjoy a fine glass of slow-brewed black tea in a country where you pay more for a teabag than a glass of wine. I took a sip and leaned back on my chair. “Eyebrows and upper lip first?” Yes. Ayşe twirled the hot pink wax around the stick and blew on it before spreading on my skin: “And then the bikini region, right?” I knew I needed it and it would be really convenient perhaps, but I could always come back later. “No, not this time.”
From the mirror I noticed a girl sitting on the couch, her head buried in a book. I wondered whether she was there the whole time. I looked closer only to find out that it was the Saint Benoit student I had seen back in Turkey. I didn’t know if she’d notice me and I actually hoped not. Not in a room where I was reading a Turkish Cosmopolitan from 2009 “How to make him put a ring on it?”, sitting behind a bleached poster of Jennifer Aniston, the famous “Rachel cut”, and a young and coy Gülben Ergen.
I went to an Anatolian high school in Aydın where rich students were a small, miserable bunch who sported yellow Timberland boots all year long in a city where harsh weather is as common as bananas in the Arctic. I could have bet fifty bucks this woman was a Mademoiselle Saint Benoit, a French high school in Istanbul - the casual trimness of her long, khaki cardigan, the tattered canvas shoes, an EHESS tote bag tossed aside. They hold cigarettes like Parisian women and have barely any make up on. They seem so bored and confident that they can afford to be lazy about their looks.
I’d met her at the doctor’s in Istanbul. Any applicant of a long-term French visa needs to get a medical check at an official centre of the Consulate. There were about fifteen of us in the waiting room, most of them married women from Erzincan or some other city in the east on their way to join their husbands in France. Some of them were probably in their early twenties, but they looked older in those large, florid headscarves and loose jackets in earthy tones. One of the women asked me why I was going to France. I said I was a university student in Paris. She looked at me vacantly. “Is there a university in Paris?” I nodded in calm disbelief. The woman right beside nudged her: “Of course there is, Muharrem told me there was one.” I wished I’d said Paris seven university but I don’t know if it would be of much help.
Mademoiselle Saint Benoit was sitting at the far end of the room, earphones on, staring into the wall. I had smiled at her when I first arrived but she looked dead like fish. As we waited for our turn in the doctor’s room, women lost interest in the television after the end of a rerun of Aşk-ı Memnu, a tale of an adulterous woman who wakes up with curler-made hair and un-smeared make up after a night of sin. A devilish toddler leaped from his mother’s lap and started scuttling behind a remote control car, snot and slobber all over his face. Mademoiselle Saint Benoit kept her composure intact when the little boy’s car buzzed around her and smashed against the wall right behind. She slowly lifted her feet to let the boy crawl under the chair and get the car out. I wondered if she’d look as collected giving birth or something.
“Done.” I love Ayşe most because while on duty, she speaks only when necessary. All hairdressers I’ve known expect you to talk about your marital status while plucking hairs off your upper lip. As I was stepping out, trim and fresh, I caught the eye of Mademoiselle Saint Benoit. Not a single muscle moved on her face, but I have to admit that I was happy she noticed me.
I left and decided to take a walk towards République Square. I texted Emre and suggested we meet in front of Shakespeare & Company bookshop at four pm. “I know I’ll find you reading on the second floor.” Good guess, I thought, he knows me. Normally we could meet after the lecture anyway but I had an appointment with my classmate Lucie on Thursday evening. We were going to co-author a paper on realism in Iranian film, a comparison between Jafar Panahi and Abbas Kiarostami. We needed to come up with an outline that week.
On my way to the metro, I chanced upon a vide-grenier market on the street, the easiest way they make money here by putting up for sale whatever junk they have at home. If you’re patient enough to rummage through the mishmash, you can find decent jackets or pants for pretty much nothing. A male bracelet caught my attention in one of the stalls, black woven leather with an unscratched metal clasp. I was originally planning to buy Emre a book on the Beat Generation, he’d raved about Patti Smith’s memoir, but I changed my mind. This was a better choice, bracelet in return for the necklace.
I found that I had left my makeup bag at home. Not that I am rigorous about painting my face regularly, but I needed to take care of pre-menstrual breakouts. I entered a large supermarket with a cosmetics section and applied a concealer on my pimples. On my way out I bought a lip-gloss and mascara.
I love using the metro to cut distances but often hop out of the train at a random stop and finish my journey on foot, especially if I am in no rush. I wanted to walk the length of Rue de Rivoli this time, starting from Faubourg Saint-Antoine. Late morning was ending mildly with loose clouds in an otherwise perfect sky. The city was beautiful in the fall, trees dying in warm, generous colours; rain mirroring the streets in shimmers. Trying to adapt to Paris had been a strange challenge for me, the unbroken beauty of its layout felt almost unnatural, as if a single ornate mass ran the entire city in a perfect labyrinth. Where a Moroccan airline company ended and a supermarket started I could never tell from a distance, the Louvre and a cheesy souvenir shop right across were all a part of the same building to me, same windowed roofs, wrought-iron balconies; blue on top, cream on the façade. All of them looked too sterile, like they couldn’t relax. I could never call a city like that home, but it mattered little anyway. Home was far away but still on the same continent; half of my city hangs on its furthest edge.
After a leisurely stroll, it took me about an hour to get to the bookshop. I slipped through the crowded store area and climbed to the second floor. I don’t exactly understand how, but the endless traffic of tourists snapping themselves and the Notre Dame out of the window frame fail to spoil the intimacy of the reading room upstairs. I perched up at the corner in front of the mirror and started reading an article on Panahi.
A few tall and pale-skinned girls entered and started talking about Scott Fitzgerald, pointing to the poster above my head. “A friend of mine collects whatever translation she finds of The Great Gatsby. I mean she bought a copy in every country she traveled in Europe. Isn’t that awesome?” whispered one of them. Other girls nodded awesome. Just as they were leaving, a chubby high school student clomped into the room and hogged the desk by the window. He laid out a pointless amount of books and papers all over the place and started to play on his tablet.
I figured it would be better if I didn’t leave too early after Emre’s lecture. I texted Lucie and asked if we could meet sometime on the weekend. A while or so later, church bells rang four pm. I applied my new gloss and mascara. Lipped. Eyelashed. Concealer still concealing.
I sat on a bench outside and reread the second part of the article. I don’t know if it was too complicated or my French inadequate but for about half an hour, the only sentence I understood was “Ceci n’est pas un filme.” My phone blipped. It was Lucie saying Saturday was fine with her. Emre’s flight must have landed about an hour ago and he must be on his way, I thought, but didn’t want to call him just yet. I fiddled around the second-hand stalls in front of the bookshop. A thick flock of middle-aged tourists with red cheeks and copious flesh stopped beside the fountain, and their guide started talking in English. He explained how the original bookshop published the first edition of Ulysses and was frequented by America’s lost generation.
“I was wrong I guess.” said a voice behind me. For a moment I couldn’t register the Turkish words and turned around in genuine surprise. A strong, sugary whiff traveled into me. Rochas. He looked no different from the man I last saw a few months back. A well-built frame that makes him look taller than he is, trimmed stubble, no belly fat. He had a pale blue shirt, two buttons undone, leather belt and jeans. He motioned towards me for a hug. “Not reading on the second floor?” I said I’d just come down to get some air. “Hope you haven’t been waiting for too long, I tried my best to not lose much time checking in to the hotel.” No worries, I replied warmly. “How are you, how was the trip?”
“Seeing you is the best thing that happened to me in this country so far” he said, and stepped back to eye me from head to toe, like a father greeting his child after a year in college. “Look at you, already a Parisian!” he quipped, holding me gently on both shoulders. We skirted around the tourist group and walked along the riverbank without guiding one another, as if it were a natural thing for us to do. He wanted to know about my university and how I was spending my days, but I had no interesting answers to the second question apart from going to Cinémathèque every week. He told me about the Short Film Festival and said he saw a decent potential in young directors, but that some of them chose the facile way of orientalizing the orient.
“Same trouble in literature you know. Easy trap when you want to be famous fast.”
“What’s new in Istanbul?” I asked. I’d read in the papers that a few journalists were recently in trouble with the government, some of them his friends.
“They’re showing cat videos in the metro.”
When I told him where the restaurant was, he wanted to take a taxi but then changed his mind. “Can we walk instead? I think we have enough time to walk and talk like flâneurs in Baudelaire’s Paris.” It was going to take us a good hour or so to reach the tenth but we were in no rush. October was ridiculously warm and now a month later, there was still only a pleasant freshness to the air, the ominous iron-cold winter nowhere in sight. He stopped talking and turned to me with a smile in his eyes. A smile I doubted I’d ever seen in him. He looked effervescent like he always is but there was something sunnier in him now, as though he was lightened of something.
“See that antiquarian shop over there, right next to the Irish bar?” Emre asked before we took a turn towards Bastille. It was one of those small, insignificant shops that sold overpriced bric-à-brac mostly to Americans who act as though they are buying Marie Antoinette’s teacups. “Those were tough times. Money was short. When I was in my freshman year in university, it was impossible to do any bank transfers and it was risky to carry large sums of money traveling across Europe. Whenever I was running low on cash, my parents would carefully sandwich a single hundred-lira bill in a book and give it to a student or friend leaving for Paris. Right after receiving the bill, I would always come to that shop, a bookstore back then, and spend at least half of it in ten minutes.”
We headed towards République and then took a turn for Canal Saint Martin. A vast, delicate bed of fallen leaves covered the canal, with broken patches of water reflecting tall, bare boughs and second hand shops. Chez l’Ami Gérard was a few streets off the main avenue. There is something homelike about traditional Parisian bistros. It’s usually not the waiters but the warm regularity of interiors perhaps. Red and white-checkered tablecloths, long, quilted booths and wood chairs surrounded by wood-paneled bar and walls.
I told my name and a balding, pot-bellied waiter ushered us to our table by the window.
“I love it. This is perfect.” Emre beamed with a kid’s joy in his eyes. It looked as if the first few hours you arrive in a new city, you’re still distracting yourself from the one you left behind, so it’s easy to overdo your judgment. He ordered a bottle of red wine, oysters and I promised I was going to join him for snails. I hate garlic though. We started talking about my studies and I told him I changed my research subject. He thought it would be a better idea to specify my topic further, comparing women’s representation in Hitchcock and New-Wave films for instance. I wondered if I could find enough books on Hitchcock in Paris.
“How about the new film you told me about, the one with three brothers plotting against their uncle?”
“We dropped that project during the treatment stage. I could never draw myself in anyway. It was set in Sivas, a city I have hardly any idea about. I am from İzmir you know, Buket is from Balıkesir. It’s quite far off. I couldn’t feel the voice of the characters, the skies, the soil. Better do nothing than do a half-assed job.” I didn’t know his wife’s name. My online stalking had proved less than helpful, not a single gynaecologist with Emre’s last name on the Internet. Buket. Buket Kalafat.
“But you were working with Ali Alper, no? You were writing the treatment together.” I continued. He unfolded the large checkered napkin with an effortless flick and smoothed it on the table. "When you make mistakes in your twenties, you laugh them off and search new ways to try and fail. When you're forty and still make mistakes, others laugh at you but you no longer can."
Most people around us were elderly couples and their friends. Paris is a perfect city where you can pretend that you are not ageing. Old people, they are everywhere. Not just playing with their grandchildren in the Luxembourg garden. You see them at a discussion on Kubrick in Cinémathèque, frantically taking notes at a seminar on Montaigne in Collège de France or in private booths watching German porn in the sex museum. My grandmother in Istanbul spent her last decade calculating the daily prayers and Ramadan days she skipped in her younger years and died a few months after she said she “finally closed her accounts.”
Emre asked for a steak, I ordered roasted chicken. He said his wife turned vegetarian a few years ago and hardly cooked meat for the children, so he was the chef at home sometimes. “I’ve become an expert in steaks and meatballs but it doesn’t mean I don’t miss Roquefort sauce on a juicy slab of beef.”
"Do you have pictures of them?" I asked.
“Who?” It took him a few seconds to realise who I was talking about.
“The kids.” He took out his cell phone and a picture of two hugging children appeared under his fingertip.
I searched Buket in their faces. I couldn't make anything out of their features except a dimple on the girl's cheek, absent in their father.
"They are- beautiful, Emre. Beautiful children."
"They are cute. Take a look at this. Miray came up to me one day and said 'Daddy, I'll undo my bun and you'll take a slow video of me and my jumping hair, ok?' She is an intelligent kid. She creates meaning in her life. She starts theater companies at school, builds lego hotels with elevators and lobbies for class presidency. But boy children are stupid and stay stupid until late in life. I arrive from work, Can sees me at the door, stares in my direction for effect and all he says is 'Dad, we should talk about my heroes." He made a funny face to mimic his son before giving his phone to me again. It was a video of his daughter. She had an ugly but loveable face that looked so much like Anne Frank. A girl dancing in slow-motion in what seemed to be a sparsely furnished hallway with a pair of flat sandals tossed aside. Her lean body shone in the light coming from a room that fell out of the frame. She was swinging her long, black hair back and forth, her arms sideways and occasionally looked at the camera to offer a wide grin. Two dimples on two cheeks.
I excused myself to go to the bathroom. As I took my purse and got up from my chair, I caught a glimpse of Emre’s smooth, tanned navel through the opening of his shirt buttons. I guzzled the rest of my wine and walked away. I put my hands on the sink and stared at my face in the mirror. A vestige of red on my lips as if kissed away, but still giving vitality to my mouth. Mascara slightly flaked under my eyelashes, thickening my look. Wine had tinged my cheeks with a soft, pink glow. I felt the grime of the city on my skin mixed with the paint on my face. Whatever I did that night, wherever I turned once I stepped out of the restaurant, I knew I would be both winning and losing. I felt too proud to admit that I wanted all of him, all of his attention, all the possibilities he had to offer a woman. So perhaps, I thought, let him want you, savour his appetite and leave him hanging on the edge. One of my childhood friends in Turkey was brought up in a strictly religious family but went onto becoming a man-eater in high school. She never had intercourse though, and once she told me that the surefire way to keep herself in check was to grow a thick, ugly bush down south. A perfect virginity girdle in a country where men cannot stand a fibre of hair on their areas of interest.
My brain needed more alcohol. I reapplied my lipstick and went back to the table.
“I’m sorry, my mother called and kept me busy for a bit.”
He grinned as he poured another glass of wine for me first. “I know you are a polite woman, but don’t apologise when you make a man wait for you.” He leaned forward and whispered:
“Unless you take twenty years or so, by which time he’d be useless.” I laughed thunderously. Wine was working like summer on wood, loosening all my hinges.
“I bought something for you.” I said. The bracelet had no gift wrap so I tried to hide it in my palm. “Nice try, but your hands are too tiny to hide that- that key chain?” He squinted as if peering into a keyhole. As I let him open my hand, I looked sharp into his face to catch a flash of honesty before it disappeared.
“Ah, Naz. You didn’t need to… This will make me look younger.” He rolled up both sleeves and clasped the bracelet around his wrist. “Looking hip, huh? Now I can hang out with you.” he said, sending me a wink. “Thanks a lot.” The ripples of my laughter were still on my face.
Rain started tapping on the windows in slanting sheets. The oldies were outside, waiting for a taxi. The waiter cleaned and smoothed out the tablecloths around us and asked if we wanted dessert. Emre said he was full to the brim and I never ask for dessert on a date. My hand was still resting on the table. He held my fingertips and looked into my eyes, searching my approval. I kept quiet. He touched my ring and rolled it inside his hand. “Beautiful.” It was the cheapest thing I had on me, a five-euro brass ring with a lustreless blue gem. “I got it from one of the vintage shops in Montmartre. I like to think it was found by a student in a long-neglected drawer in a nineteenth century chambre de bonne.” He looked closer as if he were identifying a gemstone. “I’m sure you wear it best.” I believed or wanted to believe in him, I could not tell. What he really thought of me, I could never know. He’d said we were friends to make me feel good about myself, unable to fit me anywhere else in his life. I’ve never been his student but he nudged me into direction whenever I wobbled on my way in my studies; he’s let me peer into the glam and gossip of the film industry. How else could I ever have a chance to join Ali Alper for lunch and find out we both liked to make zucchini rolls at home? How could I know he was about to leave his stunning –Emre’s word- wife Lale Sezgin for a dumb-ass –his word again- make-up artist? They are still posing for cameras on the red carpet. What can I give to Emre as a friend? Nothing. I’m standing here drinking in whatever comes from his way; his looks, his wind, his stardust. When he’s with me, there is no threat. He can be goofy, rash and even ignorant and still rise high on the pedestal knowing I’d be gazing at his glory from far below.
For a while, I wanted to freeze everything in the room; stop the rain, the chattering waiters in the bar, the whirring of night busses. I’d freeze him too, his hand gesturing midair, lips parted, eyes joining half a smirk, fixed at me. I’d walk around him and kiss his neck from under his ear. I’d then sit back on my chair, savour a final look at him and break the entire spell with a wink. He’d remember nothing.
“… It wasn’t me but I was already shitting my pants. I said, ‘Take him, he did it,’ like an asshole. No wonder he beat the hell out of me after school in front of my ex girlfriend.” He tilted up his chin for a chuckle and downed the rest of his wine. I’d missed the joke, but joined him nonetheless. The waiter said they were closing. I’d made a rough calculation and saved enough to cover the entire bill, and had already told him that the dinner was on me. He completely ignored my move to pay and slipped his credit card into the bill holder without even looking. With a smile he said, “You’ll pay for the breakfast.” Breakfast? What breakfast?
He called a taxi and said he could drop me off at the metro station on his way to the hotel. I wasn’t far from home but there was still about half an hour to the last train, so I said ok. I kept my stare outside the window. The rain was getting thinner, droplets on the window rolled down slowly, and then suddenly. I couldn’t figure out where the hotel could be or where we were, unable to map out the city in a car.
A small Italian traiteur was closing down when we stopped at the traffic lights. A young black man locked the shutters and gave two slices of pizza to the homeless man sleeping under a cardboard paper with a fragile sticker on. Neither Emre nor I spoke a word, like couples on their way home after a meaningless party. We took a right turn on Rue de Rivoli; he put his hand on mine and said: “Stay with me tonight.” Galleries on the street ran before me like a filmstrip, souvenirsdeparisbureaudechangesanscommissiongalerierousselot snap – snap – snap I cannot rewind. I’m bushy enough to hate, to protect myself. I wanted him, but I wanted to say no, just so he knows I can. But I couldn’t. He kept my hand -and my Navigo card within- in his, tightening his grip as if to pull consent out of me, and from up my wrist to the rest of my body, all words were leaving me.
The taxi stopped right across from Palais Garnier. We walked through a high, glass-roofed lobby with bamboos on the sides and a large pool of orchids in the middle. There was almost nobody around, save an old man in a suit sat ungainly in one of the large chairs next to the orchids, swiping on his phone as if trying to lull himself to sleep. Emre was gallant enough to not kiss me hurriedly in the elevator but my heart was throbbing like a pendulum clock. The smile he’d plastered on his face the whole day was still there now shadowed with alcohol and intention.
His room was large but not lavishly decorated. Most of the furniture, the headboard, the TV panel and chairs were of dark timber and all the rest was white surface. White tiles, white cloth, white wall. A mirror ran the entire half of the wardrobe. He laid out his watch and the bracelet on the table next to a crumpled-up boarding pass, reading glasses and a bottle of Rochas. He had the same bottle in his car when he offered me a ride home after working on my script. I’d sniffed it when he stopped at a gas station shop. He pulled the curtains together as I stood rock-stiff with my hands holding against the table. He came back to me, laid a soft kiss on my mouth and moved down on my neck, stopping short of my pendant. He grabbed the chain with his lips; I doubted that he remembered he’d bought it for me.
“I can’t, Emre. I-” My words fluttered like a butterfly locked in a jar. From the taxi to the entire journey to his room, he hadn’t said a single word. He looked reluctant to speak.
“Is it…that time of the month?”
“No, I- I’m not ready down there.”
He hushed me with his lips and ran his fingers inside my panties. I was a gooey, hairy mess. He shot a searing look into my face and kissed me harder. My Navigo card slipped out of my grip on the table, Rochas fell.
A beautiful day that could have been early September in Istanbul. I was sitting half-naked on the windowpane with a full view of the Opera Square animated with loafing tourists, tight-stepped commuters with leather briefcases flowing in an out of the subway. Pigeons on the stairs of the opera were regularly startled by scampering children or the horn of an unwieldy bus. A young woman in a short black skirt and a white blouse took a right turn on her bicycle and with a subtle gesture to the car behind, cut through the traffic crosswise. Another woman in a black trench coat presumably in her early thirties, that brief time in a woman’s life when she has secured enough kudos in men’s world of success and still retains her beauty promises, whipped across Café de la Paix and signalled for a taxi.
“Bastards.” Emre muttered, swiping on his phone what looked like the latest news of arrested journalists and directors from back home.
“I guess I’ll have to take a morning after pill.”
“Well, I was pretty careful.” he said, briefly turning away from his phone, “So yeah, you should be fine, but take one perhaps, so you don’t need to worry.”
The last time I felt closest to a desire of motherhood was when I was falling desperately in love with a guy at university at age twenty. I wanted to make a miniature human being who needed me even to exist, but it was long ago. I shrunk the idea into a ball and hurled it out the window like an angry teenage boy.
“Let’s go get something to eat. There is nothing special about French breakfast but I know I want a nice fluffy croissant and café crème.” Emre said. A journalist from Turkey called him, apparently a conservative one he hated, asking his opinion about the dawn raid on the house of Fehim Taşoluk. He’d premiered his documentary on vandalised Assyrian churches just two days ago. Emre ambled up and down the room with nothing but his boxers on. “Mark my words, this is just the beginning,” He approached the window and started stroking my thighs. “Absolutely. This is a true test of democracy. Unless we all stand united today, we’ll have no one to have our back tomorrow.” He hung up and kissed me on my knee. “I’ll take a quick shower. I’m starving.”
He got dressed, black pants, white shirt and cufflinks, belt picked up from the floor, jeans and blue shirt also picked up from the floor; folded and neatly placed in the suitcase on a book about Kieslowski. He put his tablet, reading glasses and notes inside a folder bag and said he was ready. It took me a minute or so to slip into my pants and grab my bag. Downstairs, I waited for him in the lobby while he checked out.
We moved round the hotel and reached Boulevard des Capucines, heading towards Madeleine. The only thing I could recognise on the boulevard was Olympia, where Jacques Brel recorded Amsterdam years ago, according to YouTube. Emre entered a high-end store and bought two pairs of shoes and a pink clutch bag. As we stepped back on the sidewalk, a girl’s voice yelled “Hocam!”, Mr. Professor in Turkish.
Emre instantly gave in to a smile. He hesitated for a few seconds like a stand-up comedian sulking backstage right before a show. He turned around and said hello. Cigarette between long, slender fingers, bob cut and no make-up. Paisley scarf rolled casually around the neck. EHESS tote-bag. Tattered shoes. Mademoiselle Saint Benoit removed her earphones and said: “Professor Emre, what a nice surprise!” Emre gave her a hug and said she looked better than he’d expected. “Apparently Eric hasn’t sucked the life out of you yet. How’s my grumpy old Trotskyist doing?” He’s fine, she said, “More forgiving of our Starbucks ways since his boyfriend left him for a young model.” İdil was apparently Emre’s student at Mimar Sinan for a short while, and then moved to France with her parents. “Naz was my student too and I injected the Paris virus in her. I’m sure she has no regrets.” he said with a smirk. He looked for a new bit of lie, but didn’t dare further. Mademoiselle Saint Benoit smiled at me, just the right amount to spare for a stranger you’ve met a few seconds ago. “I’m here for a lecture at Sciences Po. Come join us at one pm if you promise you won’t sleep while I talk about post-communist Polish cinema.” She said she needed to meet a friend, kissed him on the cheek and headed for the metro in quick steps. Earphones back on, cigarette between lips, hands in pocket looking for her cell phone. I’m sure Emre knew which high school she went to, but I didn’t ask.
We crossed Madeleine Square and entered Boulevard Malesherbes, just another boring street I had never been to. Emre was talking about the ambulance siren in France and a student prank in New York but I’d stopped listening. It was as though life was a mere succession of moments for him, dominos with perfect distance in between. He never let anyone, any circumstance to collapse those moments onto each other and ruin the separate pleasures. I knew the breakfast was on me but I wanted to leave him right there and then. “I’m feeling unwell. I think I’ll go home and sleep a little bit more.” I was unable to think of anything less silly but hoped he’d try to talk me out of it. “I’m sure you’ll be better if you get some rest.” he said mechanically. The scratch mark above his eyebrow caught my attention again. I’d first noticed it that morning. What’s this, I’d asked, touching it. “My son’s way of saying ‘I want chocolate and I want it now’.” Half asleep, his breath smelled like copper. How close you can get to someone, I thought, and how you can get only so close.
He said he hoped to see me in a couple of hours in the lecture hall and gave me a hug. “Thank you for your company. You saved me from a dinner with soixeante-huitards grumbling about politics and Hollywood all night long.” A smile spread over his face again, unburdened like it always was. When I caught myself searching for a sign in his eyes, I turned my head away and left him with a hurried goodbye.
On my way back I stopped by a pharmacist. A tall woman with a youthful face and with streaks of grey hair like broomstick fibres, asked for a pregnancy test. A soft depression appeared on her cheeks. I thought of Emre’s wife and the light that poured on the face of his daughter from what looked like an adjoining room. I imagined the mother sitting inside, clad in a nightgown, hair tousled, feet hanging down the couch, dimples sinking in her cheeks as she cranes her head to see her daughter while her son climbs up her arms for a bouquet of cuddles.
“Ow can I elp you?” asked the assistant, quite sure of my lack of French. I said I needed a morning after pill. “How many hours do I have for this?”
“Seventy-two hours. But it’s more efficace in the first hours.”
I walked to the Opera Square to get to the metro. My Navigo card wasn’t in its usual place, the inner pocket of my handbag. I instantly rewound the film in my head to find my last memory of it. Somewhere behind the table in the room. I climbed back up the square and tried to spot the room from afar. I didn’t want to go back in. But it won’t be a hassle, I thought, I’ll be quick.
I walked past the towering orchids and got to the reception desk. “Hello. I’m the friend of Emre Kalafat. We just checked out but I guess I forgot something inside.” The receptionist smiled blandly and didn’t investigate. I got the keys and walked up to the third floor. The only open door in the hallway was at the far end, blocked by a cleaning trolley. I figured ours must be still untouched. The first thing I saw in the room was the bracelet on the table. I grabbed for my necklace and kept it tight on my chest for a while, as if not losing it meant anything. The card was stuck between the table and the wall.
I collapsed in the chair across the bed and stared at the layers of rumpled white sheets, my white bathrobe, his white towel - could I smell his crotch if I inhaled deep enough?, a stain of my mascara pawed at the lower end of the white pillow, his cum obscured by the whiteness of everything, Rochas and sweat still hovering above the sheets. He thinks he was, but he wasn’t careful, dropped a piece of himself inside me like a bunch of coins you never count.
Someone knocked on the door.
"Come in." My voice died into a whisper.
"You may COME IN."
A petite black woman entered, hid behind a tower of towels.
“I hope I am not of trouble to you, I can move anywhere.” Her face now in sight and slightly disgruntled, the maid scanned the room as if trying to figure out how to get her business done with a woman perched at one corner who was fifty percent responsible for all the mess. She walked to the bathroom, mumbling to herself in French.
I watched as she emptied the dustbin, replaced the still moist towels with trim new ones, collected the condom pack off the carpet, readjusted the mattress, changed the sheet and smoothed it out tight as drum, replaced the cases and fluffed the pillows and spread the comforter and the quilt on top. She took a final glance around the room, folded the corner of the bed runner into a triangle and motioned towards the door. I don’t need the pill now, I thought, I still had time anyway. “Could you please take this too?” I crushed the box flat and gave it to the maid. I turned my chair towards the window, balled up my body and watched the square through the curves of the iron fence; my view broken by the curtain swelling and falling at my feet like a ghost.
Merve Pehlivan is a writer and an interpreter based in Istanbul.