Sunday, June 10, 2012

Istanblues - Haydarpaşa version

 Haydarpaşa had been sleeping for longer than he cared to remember. It was that kind of day. He stretched on the ledge and then rubbed himself against the earthen pot of thyme. The mild fragrance of fishes and spices emanating from the pot made him purr quietly. Bayram liked his potted plants. He watered them  twice a day in summer. Once at noon, once more at nightfall. 
Once every seven sunsets Bayram walked down from Beyoğlu to the Eminönü seaside market. He always walked right down to the farthest end of the market, where the fish was freshest.  When the fish was eaten he would pour the basin of water with which he had cleaned the fishes along with the leftovers into the pots. He was always  a little partial to the thyme. 
Bayram was older than the other humans he saw every day.  He was also a lot quieter than them.  The only time he remembered him talking at a little more than a whisper was when many full moons ago, Bayram missed his visits to the Eminönü market for two full moons. Bayram lay in bed hot as a freshly baked Simit. A man in a white coat came every two sunsets to check if he had cooled down yet and gave him vile smelling syrups which Bayram steadfastly refused to drink.
It was one of those nights when Bayram had screamed as if his soul was leaving him and then for one entire day, he kept up a steady stream of loud and frantic monologue until the man in white coat put him to sleep with a mysterious needle.  
The worst part was that he, a housecat had to, for entire two full moons, scrounge in the litter bins that lined İstiklâl Street with the other destitute cats, who spoke a crude and vulgar version of the Cat tongue and had no names.  It was horrifying to have to live on what they refused to eat.  He knew better than to pick a fight with them when more than one of them sneered and hissed at him. He, who had mastered two human tongues as well as any other cat in living memory had mastered, silently glowered as he skirted their territories.
Then at night as he lay on the ledge with a barely filled stomach, he fantasized about strutting majestically with his flowing black mane into a gang of those stringy and mangy cretin  and letting them know in no uncertain terms why they would never know what it was to listen to and understand whom the humans called Johnny Cash. What it felt like to shudder everytime he heard Bayram play Folsom Prison Blues and hear the prisoners primal cheer when Cash‘s baritone rang out  “ I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die” . He sometimes wondered if even Bayram understood Cash. 
Bayram’s umbrella was by the railing. He never left home without it. He probably was sitting by the window in the bedroom in his ancient rocking chair, his shaggy brows furrowed and his eyes closed. Haydarpaşa jumped down and felt his joints shudder with a dull pain as he landed on the hard stone.  He regretted not having stretched some more. It was still a few shadow lengths to sunset.  He decided to head down to the quieter stretch of sea south of the Galata Bridge though the lanes of Cihangir. He could see the lights of the Aya Sofia in the distance and the minarets of the Blue Mosque as he walked steadily downhill keeping to the lanes without cars and children. The cars could kill you and the children could do worse.
Haydarpaşa rarely made the journey to the other side of Istanbul. Eminönü was as far as he ventured on his own on most evenings he wanted to learn more words of the human tongues. Some human words were prettier than others. His favorite name was Dolores ,his favorite word was tinkle and he hated pulchritude. He remembered almost all of the days he actually did cross the Galata Bridge.
He remembered the last cold winds ,what the humans called winter (another word he liked), when the streets and rooftops had turned white, like in the fairy tales from a distant land called Simricina .Sirckeci, his uncle, had in the ancient cat tongue of Amezaara ,with an occasional cursory translation into Cimranza which cats in this part of the world spoke, in a trancelike state, described to him the mountains of Simricina on the last day of the growing moon, where the ancient cat king Izmirana went to pursue Axamandreu, the kidnapper of his beautiful salt and pepper maned Parmarin queen Elara . Haydarpaşa did not remember the words but the staccato images had stayed in his head. Amezaara had probably died with Sirckeci ,who was allegedly pushed off the Galata by a human young. Are you surprised that the Cat fairy tales are no different from the human fairy tales? I wonder why?
Coming back to the day he decided to cross the Bosphorus on one such cold day when it snowed for previous three sunsets without respite. However on this winter day, the sun was out and everything was sparkling. He had ventured into a side street with a café where humans with narrow eyes spoke in a strange tongue he failed to place. New languages were difficult to pick as one grows old. Next to the café with the strange race of people there was a hotel with two people,a man and a woman with a cigarette and a glass of tea.  He gingerly stepped into the snow and crossed the street to where they were and the woman patted his head and went inside and then in a while reappeared with a saucer of cold milk and placed it in front of Haydarpaşa. He drank it in evenly spaced slurps. A passerby waved and the woman said hello. He could see that she was just learning the language. It was thickly accented. The woman said she had to go to the Police station and patted Haydarpaşa on the head and threw her cigarette butt into the snow. The man said, she would be better off staying until the snow cleared. She said, she had made an appointment and pulled up her parka and left. Haydarpaşa quickly finished his saucerful and followed her at a safe distance. She seemed to know the place well. Haydarpaşa would have picked exactly the same turns she took to get across the bridge. She walked past the simit baker, turned at the coffee store where people were still lined up inspite of the chill, down  what seemed to be a dead end alley, went down a flight of stairs which opened into the Galata tower courtyard and then down the walkway to reach the Eminönü side of the Galata bridge. She crossed the bridge her head held close to her chest and her parka pulled close. The sun had disappeared behind a tuft of cloud and the Haydarpaşa wondered if he should turn back home. He continued to follow the woman. She crossed over to where the Spice Bazaar was and then turned up a hill skirting the main streets and turned into a street leading to the Topkapi after crossing the tramlines. A couple more turns and she stood there transfixed staring at the sky. Haydarpaşa keeping to the shadows cast by the trees and moving as only cats can move unseen was soon at the same square. In the evening sun, he saw for the first time, the snowed over dome of the Aya Sofia, bathed in a golden light . The minarets were refusing to let the snow settle on them, and at the foot of each, a mound had accumulated. The dome however, massive and gently curved, intricately textured held the snow together and the crystals refracted the evening light into splinters of color.  Axamandreu  may as well have been holding Elara hostage in one of those minarets.  She looked for a place to sit down, but did not find a bench nearby. Where she stood in the snow, a little slush pool was starting to form.  She reluctantly walked towards the Police station and then disappeared into the brick building.
Haydarpaşa waited at the square. Many people walked out, but she never did. He waited until his shadow was so long that it would soon die away. Maybe she was Elara and Axamandreu was indeed holding her inside now.
He turned around and walked back to the bridge and down to the Eminönü, where he watched the sun set behind the skyline and walked back to Beyoğlu the same way he had come earlier in the day.
But this was many moons ago. He occasionally visited the hotel next to the café, but he never saw her again. Haydarpaşa continued to walk down to the summer sea through Cihangir and then in a wide circle returned to his favorite ledge where surely Bayram had placed a saucer of milk. As he did every sunset.
Bayram was playing an old scratchy record of a man known as Chuck Berry. As he did every time he was happy.
Haydarpaşa went into room and leapt onto Bayram’s lap and purred. And as he purred he thought to himself.
Bayram has no secrets. Haydarpaşa has many.


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