Everything came to him as if shrouded in a tepid, rainy nostalgia. Shadows, street lamps, people, the sea and the ferries were all suspended motionlessly in an oily substance, awaiting orders.
The World for Sale - Sait Faik Abasıyanık
For the first time in his life, Emin was about to steal. He was a small-time public servant, but after all, that offered him a convenient opportunity.
Once when he married, once when his wife passed away, and once when his child was born, it had vaguely crossed his mind to fill up his home with the airs of a wealth which he’d never known nor envisioned. In these moments, given a change in position and circumstances, sometimes that which was as indispensable as bread came to be as superfluous as a gramophone, and that which was as superfluous as a gramophone came to be as indispensable as bread—and Emin was surprised by his choices.
On this third time, he’d seen it just as he saw the dream that frequented him as a child on the nights he spent lying awake in bed with an empty stomach. And again on this third time, the desire to steal was vague. Perhaps he had spent more precious, more unbearable minutes than that singular moment today in which he had arrived at the decision to steal. Be that the case, it was still vague.
He had felt the same vague urge once before, although in a very strong and panicked form, when his child passed away at the age of seven. So much so that he had hurled himself onto the street, holing himself up in one of the string of mirror-filled coffee houses that lined the docks. It was an evening as yellow as gold. The world around him swarmed in a buzz. The streets were full of ruinously gorgeous girls.
As I said, he had cooped himself up in a coffee house. Two people sitting at a table shouted:
- “Well if it isn’t Emin Efendi. Come on, let’s play a round of cards.”
There was nothing Emin couldn’t be made to forget over a game of cards; when he played, Emin would become as enraged as a madman. Swearing like a sailor, his ears would flush red like a small child’s… The other players would begin to team up against him openly. Emin immediately took notice, but he’d never call it quits. Only once the round had finally ended and he’d been defeated would he blow away the cigarette ash that had snowed down onto the fabric of his pants:
- “The one to pay for these snacks… You all play together, tear me to pieces and in the end I still ought to be the one to fork it over? Well I won’t, goddamnit!”
He’d get up and storm out. The others would burst out laughing, the coffee house owners, the onlookers… everyone. The onlookers, coffee house owners, even the other players were always ready to pick up the tab for their drinks. Who cares about that pocket change? Well, it was in the course of exactly one of these card games that Emin Efendi forgot that urge of his to steal some money which had accompanied the death of his child, arriving right at his front door. It had been four years since the death of his wife. His elderly aunt was tending to the child, who had a low grade fever. He’d been administered a serum, and should have been showing some sign of improvement by then. Sitting at the side of the bed was a wrinkled, thin-faced and frail doctor, enshrouded in the smell of alcohol and sporting a melancholic expression. His eyes were fixed on a board on the wall. He took the child’s pulse again, suddenly standing up and scribbling down a prescription.
- “Get this filled quickly. If you give him one every half hour, he’ll calm down.”
The doctor scrambled down the stairs, leaving so quickly that Emin Efendi didn’t even have the time to grab a bill from his aunt and pay him. The pharmacist filled the prescription for 40 cents. With the leftover change, Emin bought a bottle of cognac. He polished it off as he walked. He wasn’t used to drinking at all, and his head felt as if it had been reunited with the world it always longed for. Everything came to him as if shrouded in a tepid, rainy nostalgia. Shadows, street lamps, people, the sea and the ferries were all suspended motionlessly in an oily substance, awaiting orders.
The child was still alive come morning, but his face bore the mask of someone setting off for a new destination. “We can’t be going there with the same ruinous, gorgeous face, now can we?” Emin said. He’d said it in a manner so typical of himself. What had become of those days when, on his way back from work, he’d find him waiting, those days when his heart started racing as soon as he’d caught a glimpse of his father’s shadow? What had happened to the air that purified him, reaching his insides? That clean, loving air that had surrounded this child, sweeping these rainy Istanbul days away to a far off green field, or even to snow-covered, pine-spotted mountains? It was as if that had been a different child altogether. Rather, the child lying here dying was the different one.
The urge to steal crossed his mind once again. He grinned. No need now, the child had died. He had so much work to do that day that he couldn’t even find the time to eat until evening. Returning home after work, everything seemed muddied and airless. He sensed a problem in his mind, thinking distant and meaningless thoughts. All of the sudden, it was as if all the windows in his mind had been opened. A train of thoughts ran through his mind. He abruptly thought he had made contact with a realm which made him feel that he was alive, that he heard and thought.
This series of moments passed like a flash of lightening. His surroundings lit up in a bright blue light at the furthest stretch of the world. In the immediate aftermath of this secondary flash, he remembered that he’d left his child at home to die. He felt an indescribable pain. Then he grew emotional: his small shoes; his thin, dirt-sullen knees; his trousers patched in the rear and his delicate ankles, the sight of which always stirred within him a crushing sense of pity; his foul-toothed grin; his face which occasionally grew suddenly beautiful, pure and adorable… The way he’d scramble up his father’s legs…
His conscious had been awakened. A thousand minor and major memories came streaming in, streaming out. At times he wished to pause on one, to turn that memory into its own story; he couldn’t. And so he sometimes the memory of what he had thought just a second before slipped away and he couldn’t manage to connect the threads, as if he were nodding off to sleep. The child was dead when he found him. The neighbors had sent over some food. He sat down with his aunt and they ate together calmly. They were sitting at the table; the sound of a woman’s voice, reading something, came from inside.
Emin felt a rebellion rising up from inside himself:
- “I’m leaving, aunty. I’ll get some fresh air.”
But Emin couldn’t find the air he was looking for in Istanbul that night. He was thirty-six years old. He was stoutly built, with a fairly handsome face. He cut the impression of a downcast, good and strong person in his droopy and ragged clothes. Emin meandered around the bridgehead. He’d lost his last reason to steal, he could get by now on his salary. His only pleasure was playing cards in the evenings. He didn’t smoke. He’d drink when they offered him raki, and they mostly did. Emin began stuttering when he drank. He would listen with his whole heart and soul to whomever was buying. Given that men who want to explain the inexplicable were the same men who’d gladly offer a fellow a glass of raki, Emin knew every tavern in Istanbul. What hadn’t he listened to intently, his big brown eyes wide open? Heroes, troubles, love stories, villainy, scandal… he listened to them all, offering stories of heroic deeds and scandal such enthralled brown eyes that the blabbers would wake up the next morning thinking their story was good enough to tell someone else.
Was it even possible for such a man to not find a soul who was willing to buy him a raki? Emin’s aunt passed away too a year later. He was sitting in a stonework building up near Tophane. The building had two rooms. He supposed it was his aunt’s, but he had it put in his name. Although Emin had looked after his aunt his whole life, he had always felt like an orphan in this house. Not to mention his wife, who had suffered so much from this aunt that she feared and who he was now taking to the cemetery. Emin rented out one of the rooms. At night he’d come back and lie down; he felt as if he’d been living this way for years. He had a dream… he was married and had children. But, where were they?
One summer day, Emin filled up a bag and left. They caught him a few days later. The money was recovered, and he was sent to the criminal medical ward. They let him walk, since the results of his mental health exam didn’t quite come back clean. Emin didn’t tell anyone what he planned to do with the money, turned only towards a ward doctor as he approached, saying with a father-like manner:
- “Doctor! Doctor! I was going to buy the world with that money.”
There in the corner of the coffee house, the wretched, good-natured looking man—hair and his beard grown wild: that’s the man who wanted to buy the world.