ILKYAZ – The Address of Souls by Vedat Fatih Yaman

As part of our partnership with Ilkyaz, here is a piece of short fiction written by Turkish writer, Vedat Fatih Yaman entitled The Address of Souls

June 13, 2019

This is published as part of our partnership with Ilkyaz

23 Haziran 1995’te Ankara’da do?dum. 16 ya??ndan beri edebiyatla u?ra??yorum. Fanzinler haricinde, ana ak?m dergiler aras?nda Vapur Edebiyat ve Öykü Gazetesi’nde hikayelerim yay?nland?.

I was born in Ankara on 23 June 1995. I am working on literature since I was 16. Apart from the zines, my short stories were published in Vapur Edebiyat and Öykü Gazetesi.

The Address of Souls

Nazim Bey departed us a month ago. At his funeral, I gave my condolences to his family wearing shiny clothes and shades covering their foreheads, carrying the silence of a season foregone rather than sadness and haplessness. I watched my friend, like crockery or cutlery wrapped up in a table cloth, being dropped beneath a tree, into a rectangular hole in the ground.

“There,” I said, “a warden of memories devoid of all desire and belief, yet another hunchback of the past goes to the earth, to be forgotten.”

I shivered right after. It was foolish to associate this man with his body which I haven’t witnessed in years instead of his handwriting, transcribing his dreams, thoughts and troubles to me on snow white pages. But what spoke to me must’ve been Nazim Bey’s inflating spleen, spotted hands and short-sighted eyes, but his spirit longed for tales told in whispers and music. 

How would that unit of crowds be connected to me? When I last saw him, he had come to the village to settle relatives muttering about his uselessness. He then sat across everyone at the village coffee house and spoke to us, responding to every question put to him with similar, stereotypical sentences. He had explained in various ways how trade was no oil painting, that children grew a little older each day and that, from his own childhood, he only had scars and memories of bruises to carry. He was surprised to hear that I visited my parents with my family each weekend, jokingly asking me how I convinced the missus.  

It was foolish to associate this man with his body which I haven’t witnessed in years instead of his handwriting, transcribing his dreams, thoughts and troubles to me on snow white pages.

In fact, it was the first time he looked in my eyes during this day-long visit, the last time we were alone before his passing. I must admit that among those of us spending their time continuously cutting each other’s words short and making edits, amassing a mountain of waste, I didn’t look at his face often, but I could make him out from the back of my mind, amidst some other disenchanted memories.

Even while I wrote my letters, I was dreaming not of the man I’ve vaguely witnessed growing up, but rather a silk cradle inscribed with a slim wand on the desert sands of time. Besides in time, I came to not so much see, but solely know things about him. His hair combed to the right, his spotted face, his broken nose, his chirped lips; even such things became irrelevant to Nazim after a while. His golden dog tag/personal record, the fact that every day he drank too many glasses of milk to keep count had apparently disappeared from my memories of this old friend of mine, creating a spirit constructed of other things entirely.

As a matter of fact, a few days after the funeral, when our guests were nowhere to be seen, I felt a shiver when Sadik showed pictures of Nazim to Bedri Emmi on his phone. I had tasted a sense of guilt, not as if I witnessed nature’s plan but as if I’ve sinned. I was looking at each unveiled photo like gossiping aunties, swallowing my spit as if I’ve just kissed an ugly baby, trying to forget the sight I saw. Given that up to now, I’ve claimed my only point of reference had been a soul, I must’ve achieved this or somehow made sense of myself and my past. A freshly cut hill top, a dripping jowl, and an unseen drop of sweat wouldn’t sit still on his face. 

After the funeral service was over, I kindly asked my wife for a Turkish coffee and I flicked through the letters on the balcony. Who knows where Nazim’s first letters are? I couldn’t find them anywhere. It’s unlike me and Pervin as well. We don’t even dispose of bank letters easily. The first had arrived a year following his visit. It even took around a month between when I read the letter and when it was written. Because Nazim didn’t know either my school or home address, he sent his letters to my mum and dad. Somehow, the letter had been delayed quite a bit travelling to the village. Hatice Hanim (Or Sister Hatice?) passed the letter to me, saying “you’ve got news from Istanbul”. May Allah rest her soul; it hasn’t been long since we lost her as well. I didn’t get it at first, getting mad when I saw my name on the envelope that they opened and read it. When I noticed it stood clean and unopened, I felt ashamed that I wronged her. Whereas if some neighbour in the city kept my bills even to hand them to me who knows what I would’ve done. 

Why Nazim wrote that letter, even after all these years I struggle to understand. I also couldn’t ask him during his health. Apparently, he was upset that his eldest son Selman was doing poorly in high school, sharing a few questions and seeking advice about how his grades could improve. Yet Selman, measured up to a paragraph at best. His entire remark fit a full page perfectly with neat handwriting and tiny letters. It was as if he worked time and again to create this picture, in pursuit of a certain image he wanted to present. He couldn’t spare himself from the fire and detriment. May Allah forgive his sins.

At the start, he called me “the most reverend Muallim Efendi” His preamble resembled that of children suffering from the collision of evangelized courtesy and objectionable desire. It seemed he sought a piece of hope from the mischievousness of early days. He asked after my well-being, talking of new innovations he had heard of, in case they intrigued me.

Remembering my fondness for poetry, he enthused about some verses he had read and a moment later he timidly began talking about Selman’s never-ending problems. He apologized and thanked at the same time. And this time for a change, he remembered sending his regards to the village community. Set aside my bewilderment, that day I wrote my lengthy response to his letter intimately; without avoiding the many events and obligations, focusing on good imagery, before nightfall, as if I was responding to nature’s calling.  My words were far from answering Naz?m’s questions. I poured my heart out to him. I still find it odd; how I wasted my words on this person.   

Despite being an experienced and hard-bitten person, he got excited over every boat that strayed from its intended path and threw a line to them, seeking to create even the slightest bond.

The second letter must have arrived directly to the village; it was already there when I got back. I wish I had folded and placed it on the bookshelf all neatly and packed. Nazim is to blame too. Up until the time I warned him, he neglected the address written on the letter and kept sending them to the village. And when I warned him, he got offended and replied to my letter a bit later than usual. This shocked me. Not that he got offended but that they buried him at the village cemetery. Nazim was as moody as everyone else. He had his own kind of moodiness, like the rest of us. Despite being an experienced and hard-bitten person, he got excited over every boat that strayed from its intended path and threw a line to them, seeking to create even the slightest bond. I read this from his letters, the amount of time it takes for his reply, his choice of stamps and mostly from his half-erased scribbles on the paper, complaining and requesting empathy for his childish behaviour and acceptance for his differences.  

The craftsman took Nazim Bey to be a person committed to his land. I found that unusual. In colloquial words he was an “antique” man however, he seemed to be moody and tempered even. This had me thinking he had problem with Istanbul, which he kept in secret. Getting to rest at the village must have been equivalent to seeing the Bosporus. I never heard him complain about Istanbul’s blurry sea, damp weather or suffocating crowds. He called it the “World Capital,”. Or was he feeling obliged to pamper Istanbul to me? 

Nazim seemed to equate me with a bird not unique but precious to him that he saw when he was a child. He caressed me, heard me warble and was entranced in his imaginary world. But did he also have similar fantasies about the village? Was his wish to be buried here all about a romantic gesture?

That is where the problem begins by my side…I don’t want to believe this. Humanizing Nazim feels like an insult towards both myself and the memory of my old friend. Alongside his wish to live his dream, he knew how to keep me pleased too. He wanted his offerings to be enough. For example, Nazim never invited me to Istanbul, I have no idea as to why. Did he wish to live his dream or did he desire to forsake our souls?

How free I was in those letters. We had the chance to escape from the apartments decorated by the touch of an “evil eye” and talked about our dreams at the highest of skies. We screamed, fought and calmed down. What was the point of picking on his soul, acting as though I was his doctor? What a wonderful museum we were in. As all the world’s traffic and chaos was melting down like water running through asphalt roads, we enjoyed a great chat under a glorious willow tree.

I have to be sure and convince myself. I was friends with a soul. I forgot his face long before. And now, I will forget all the reasons.