Preview: Ayfer Simms ‘A Rumor In Üsküdar’: Part Four

July 29, 2019

NOVEL PREVIEW
Words: Ayfer Simms




Until recently a regular contributor to the Monolith Cocktail, Ayfer Simms has taken time away from the blog to concentrate on finishing her debut novel, A Rumor In Üsküdar. Living with her husband and daughter in the same region of that title, in the sprawling metropolis that is Istanbul, Ayfer moved back into the family home after her father was unfortunately taken ill: later passing away. Within a wider context of political hostility in Turkey (bordering on the dystopian), the process of grieving is explored both evocatively and metaphysically by Ayfer in what is a semi-biographical, semi-alternative futuristic geopolitical purview of her home country and home city.

We’ve so far been proud to feature three extracts from A Rumor In Üsküdar. Part four in this series of previews from the book is both a real and metaphorical archeologist dig into the problems facing modern Turkey. A psychogeography you could say; one that merges veiled fantasy versions of a political cast and events.

 

Part Four:

Mrs. Muazzez must now be at least 100 years old or perhaps older. Specialized in Sumerian culture, she has a vast knowledge in all archeological matters. In 2006, at the age of 92, she was accused of hating the state: for having published a book on the wearing of the veil. She claimed that the custom came from the Sumerians, priestesses initiating young people to sexual practices.

Veysel pulled his hair no doubt and put the veil back in its place. He is not crazy, however, and did not incarcerate the centenary. Mrs. Muazzez lives on the European side in an old house that looks like a museum. She has an unprecedented passion for Veysel’s dead rival, Mustapha. At her age, she saw the former statesman shake the country and give a bit of a voice to women (mostly privileged ones).

 

370 days after the beginning of the excavations under the Bosphorus, the digging got interrupted by the discovery of Byzantine vessels, silver coins, cooking utensils and other trinkets. Skeletons have also resurfaced that day. What we did with them I do not know. I did not see them at the Istanbul Archeology Museum, at least not yet. Time erases the status of humanity, everyone knows it. The Üsküdar wharf was then disemboweled in a hurry, in a rush, because there was a lot of money to lose. The Japanese were politely impatient: they wanted to finish there anti seismic tunnel and leave at once.

I was not yet in Istanbul during these works, but I arrived just in time to see the opening of the new Marmaray line. The train station was planted in the middle of the ruins; the rest was covered with earth, after taking pictures that were hung on the walls leading to the turnstiles. The archaeologists spread coffee all over their shirt to save everything, but they were hungry and witnessed the swallowing of the site with cold sweats.

Since the opening of the line that joins Asia to Europe under the sea, several years have passed while work continues everywhere. Large shopping centers, widening of the wharf and other projects make the wound still fresh.

I see from time to time the black casings rising from the cement, the glowing stones – are they old? I try to guess what is hidden in the old earth, hoping also to discover the Byzantines or the traces of the life of those who walked on this patch before us. It’s a stealthy look that I throw nevertheless. I check over my shoulder that the mud spits out its piece.

 

An object has however made its appearance during the excavations and the rumors reach us only now. Turkish archaeologists – those who are not in cahoots with the government in power, or who are unaware of the impact of their discovery, or who are conscious of having to protect it at all costs – are scientifically eager to let the international scene know: on they pass it to a French specialist team. The results of which, we have only echoes despite discretion, suggest that this is something likely to displease the President of the Republic Veysel. The latter also ordered to stop the excavations, the object in question would have been confiscated upon the return of archaeologists and they were obliged to “resign”. It is impossible for us to know if this news is true or if it is the propaganda tool of the opponents of Veysel or is invented by its own entourage to make a diversion on other fundamental subjects. As nonsense is commonplace, we believe everything and we believe nothing.

The president is not afraid of anything. But, it is said, bad tongues – that he is afraid of his wife. She let him put his head on her knees, and ask her to recite prayers to appease his troubles and ill moods.

She whispers to him “God is great and he is behind you”.

It is said that he has seizures of depression. That he happens to be confused. That he sometimes does not believe in God.

That he has shoeboxes full of money.

That he has nightmares. That one hears him exclaim in the morning: “I killed God !!”

In the opacity of the still deep night, he murmurs, “I’m the greatest”, at the same time he beats with all his might his chest like a furious gorilla. He takes an ax and strikes God in the face. No more reverence. Veysel knocks, beats the air and collapses. They say he sleeps badly. We understand why. How can you sleep well after doıng what he does? He looks terrible, yet his cancer is healed – his cancer is also hidden – but his complexion remains pale and faded. Is he cured, really? Like a superhuman defying all the viruses feared by all of us? The emotions shake him and it is visible in his features. He is agitated. But he does not die of illness like his population.

Veysel feels great but lost. He has reflexes of a believer and has shaped his image on Islam. Islam is its legitimacy. He must perhaps now go beyond religion to remain powerful.

Why say such a thing? It would cost a lot to anyone who dares saying that kind of thing: Unless it’s a rumor. The object accidentally extracted from the depths of the Bosphorus, or rather from the banks of the Bosphorus, would put an end to the monotheistic religions, they say. They would put these religions in the class of superstitions or medieval folklore. This book/object (we do not know anything more) would be like the famous comet that put an end to dinosaurs.

Veysel is naked without his religion. We imagine that it would be his end. That, however, we still have trouble believing it. The danger is that he does not give up so easily. He would continue to urge women to have four children, to avoid laughing out loud, to be modest in all sense of the term.

I look over my shoulder. Watch a smart shark spring from the waters of the Bosphorus to swallow me for thinking these things. The Bosphorus swallowed me once; I fell in it when I was 4 years old. My parents’ friend fished me out before anyone noticed I was gone. I do not remember. It left me with a fear of algae and everything that swarms in the undulating mass. The second time in 1999, the sea caused an earthquake of 8.7 on the Richter scale and claimed 17,000 lives. That summer, my apartment in Kozyatagi was scorching with heat. It was one of those summers that we could only spend dozing. I was bored. Birant had decided to leave me without telling me openly by planning a holiday to the south. I had hoped he would not leave me behind, but I read it in his eyes.

The evening of the earthquake, I drank wine, alone. When I was ready to go to bed, drunk, and feverish I was like Veysel facing a dilemma: to be independent and turn the page over Birant or continue my pathetic grip. When I decided to leave Turkey, Veysel was put in prison for 4 months for reciting a poem judged to be inciting religious hatred.

When I came back some twenty years later, as it happens it is him who boxed us all in.

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