Preview: Ayfer Simms ‘‘A Rumor In Üsküdar’: Chapter Two ‘Back For Good’

April 11, 2019

Novel Preview: Ayfer Simms





Contributing regularly to Monolith Cocktail for the last six or more years, cosmopolitan writer Ayfer Simms has posted countless music/film reviews (Ouzo Bazooka, Pale Honey, Gaye Su Akyol, Murder On The Orient Express, The Hateful Eight) and conducted a far amount of interviews (Sea + Air, The Magic Lantern) – she’s even appeared, alongside her daughter, in the video of one of our featured artists (Blue Rose Code).

Taking time away from the blog to pursue dreams of writing a novel, Ayfer has spent the last 18 months busily working away at a story that encompasses not only the personal (including the death of her father) but the wider psychogeography and geopolitics of her native home of Istanbul.

 

Born in the outlier pastoral regions of Paris to Turkish parents, Ayfer spent her formative years in France dreaming about following in the travelling footsteps of her great literature love, Agatha Christie. After studying for a degree in literature (writing music reviews on the side for a number of popular French fanzines), Ayfer moved to Ireland for six years before alighting aboard the famous Trans Siberian railway as she made her way east towards Japan. Initially visiting her sister, Ayfer not only stayed indefinitely but also got married and had a daughter. Deciding to attempt a life in Turkey, where the family is originally from, they moved into Ayfer’s great-grandmother’s house in the Üsküdar district, on the Asian banks of the sprawling Istanbul metropolis.

A Rumor In Üsküdar is in some ways autobiographical, the first chapter, which we previewed back in March, was inspired by the death of Ayfer’s father, a few years back. A familiar setting is given a slightly dystopian mystique and ominous threat by Ayfer who reimagines the Üsküdar neighbourhood of that title being isolated and quarantined by the government, as they test out a piece of (propaganda orchestrated) news on the population.

That’s just the umbrella story though; within that setting we have the main character confronted by the country where she originated from imprisoned but ready to face it all and hoping for a wind of change.

Translated into English from the original French and Turkish language versions, an extract from chapter two, ‘Back For Good’, arrives just as the authoritarian controlled Erdoğan government seeks to overturn or re-run the recent Mayoral elections (which his AKP party lost) in Istanbul. How this will pan out is anyone’s guess, with tensions running high.



Chapter 2- Back For Good

The neighbors, the passers-by, the baker, the hairdresser, the grocer, are puzzled to why I am in Turkey.

Once upon a time, a Turk coined the phrase, “to come back for good” – probably in the 1980s, when the first people started to tiptoe back (a small percentage no doubt).

Did you know that he who returns never leaves? Says a voice to me. That’s because moving between countries is not to be taken lightly for these “migrants”.

Well, I say, to that invisible person, this is why you are curious about me. I move like a feather in the barn. With no intentions or plans.

That question pounds in my head: “did you come back for good?” Why?

In the 1980s the French government offered emigrants the chance to give up all their rights in exchange for a sufficient amount of money to buy an apartment in Turkey (under the conditions of the economy of the time). Most of my friends’ parents have seized the opportunity, the chance for a new start in their home countries. My parents shrugged: why block the future of our children?

Turks of that wave are forever hybrids. Their emerging personality got thrown into another world. None of them accept to reveal their secret. None of them admit why they are here. Money or a fake sense of nationalist flattery. Stuck between monuments, caught like seagulls in the net. (Seagulls are monstrous animals, pierce kitten eyes, and defy crows, cats, and humans).

“I have never lived here”. I simply add. I can’t say anything else in truth.

The idea that the experience of being here or there is immutable seems to me incongruous. I get tangled in my explanations of my deep complex sentiments. I am in moving sand facing people who’ve never left this ground. Do they care? They are not listening.

“Well”, I say, “I’m not a clairvoyant, and I can not now say that I will not leave again. I may, or may not.”

– Do you want to leave?

– I did not say that”.

Confusing explanations.

Their eyes are floating in the air as if I did not speak Turkish.

“If it were me, I would have stayed there,” they say dreamily.

 

The country is bleeding, especially in recent years. The Turk takes to one’s heels, those who can anyway. I can, and I did take to one’s heel for lesser troubles. I’d rather not, leave behind my father’s house.

Others continue to vote for Veysel. Who are they?

We are in a decadent Eldorado.

Those who support Veysel from abroad are too comfortable in Europe. They have no wish to settle back here. We, on the other hand, are raving mad. The Turk drinks tea and surveys the Bosphorus and the seagulls, the currents could take him far.

I envied these people for a long time, the chant of the birds above their heads. I imagined they had a sense of belonging. I did not know then seagulls sounded like a baby’s tormented shrieking cries.

 

“Why undo what your parents did?” Someone once said to me.

“I am after the seagulls”, I said.

It’s better if I don’t answer these remarks because I can flee when I wish; I am a bird with a crooked leg (hard for landing).

 

“Of the two countries, which one is the most beautiful?”

I hasten to praise the merits of Turkey, to please them, and I pierce in the looks a sign of relief while heavy sweat runs down my neck. I look like a cripple. “We may not be able to leave, but at least we have a nice village”, that’s the message.

 

My house is surrounded by five historical mosques, all equipped with loudspeakers, and every morning and noon, afternoon, evening and dawn, it begins to sizzle before the pugnacious verve of a young religious preceptor compresses the air of his lungs as if to tear it better before unleashing his chant. Powerful cries erupt, wild animals land in the middle of a city after a hundred years’ war. He is imposing himself like a farmyard rooster. Some old-people-as well as the most devout-rise up, mumbling prayers on the way to their ablutions. The woman: with a samovar from the East boils the tea in the early morning. The call to prayer follows the movements of the sun, tea, that of the Turkish soul. When calm returns, the far-flung mosques scattered throughout Istanbul complete their tunes in turn and descend on us like a whisper.

Yet this morning the call is late. Instead of falling asleep, I look at the time. I have to take the Marmaray for my Judo class. Yesterday the Great Wealth Party proudly occupied Üsküdar’s Square to make speeches about its glory and shook small flags there. There were women in bright scarves. Under these scarves, something shaping the skulls in a rather wide form, giving them the look of praying mantises and the comparison has nothing to do with the name of the insect. This is it seems the official fashion of the women of the party.

 

When I go down Uncular Street, it’s still dark, but an electric blue rises from the depths of the night. The streets are deserted. Most gray buildings sprawl on twisted sidewalks. I dreaded taking this street dominated by men, when I came on summer vacations growing up. Today it’s different. I am no longer afraid and those who intimidated me at the time are dead. Sadly this is valid for my father.

 

In front of the stone market with the rusty shutters, at the intersection of the street overlooking the Marmaray, a man fails to overthrow me. He rushes towards the wall that surrounds the Mosque, pressing the pace; he hastily wraps a scarf over his head. The fabric floats in his legs and barely hides his belly emerging like an island in the middle of the ocean. He runs up and does not apologize for almost tearing my arm out.

He disappears in the big yard. Several men in a lively discussion jostle me again on the steps that lead to the train. One is short of breath, his cheeks are red and his headdress is in his hand. He follows the others with great difficulty. I hold in my mouth dry comments. Do not be angry in Istanbul because there are so many opportunities.

 

Living space in the public arena is as hard to find as cherries in winter. We push each other to the detriment of others: those before us, old people, pregnant women: no other rules than one self apply.

Sometimes I lose control. I hurry, I breathe, I push with my elbow through an aggressive mass, ready for anything, to get on the train or be in the elevator first, aiming for free places, rushing. A movement then, before sinking in the seat satisfied.

Once I did a crooked-foot. I realized the gravity of my act when I saw my ogre profile in full edge on the train window.

On the platform, a man from the railway company blocks me: the trains are canceled for the day, because of a “generalized breakdown”. The last travelers from the European side come down. Men in robes flock. Something is happening in the city this morning.


Words: Ayfer Simms

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