On the night that she fell in love with Ezeqiel’s mongrel bastard, Ezra accidentally downed a bottle of ascorbic acid tablets while trying to overdose on Paracetemol. Then she prayed Isha and sat down to write her suicide note, old-school style, with paper and a stub of pencil. The first draft went: I might say, no hell that awaits can be worse than the one I’m living with in my head -but honestly, I’m not sure about that. In any case, this is probably a cry for help… maybe.
It was too honest. Ezra tore out the page, scrunched it up in a ball and tried again: Childhood was no fun. Growing up is no fun. I’ve failed at everything. I’m sorry.
Too raw. New page: I have grown old looking for you in the faces of strange men; empty, waiting for you to show up one day, and tell me, ‘sorry, I got held up.’ I know, that even if you came to tonight, on some balmy summer breeze, with wild hair and childhood sweat on your upper lip, the time for such things has long passed me. Because I have grown up, and you are still as you were. As though nostalgia were some spell against time, which preserved you in innocence and awe. You do not belong to this world, and I no longer fit yours…
She stopped. Disturbed by the unanticipated tangent her note was going off on. Then nausea hit and nature began to call urgently. Gut rumbling like the motor of a 1967 Sunbeam Rapier, which hadn’t been serviced in over a decade, Ezra legged it to the No.100. When she eventually managed to come out she only had to go back in again. This scenario repeated itself six times, before all the vitamin-C got flushed out of her system. Ezra was still under the illusion that she was dying, slowly but surely. Who knew it’d be so exhausting. She abandoned the note altogether, fell into her bed and was out in an instant.
It was a peaceful sleep that followed. The sleep of a person who had laid her demons to rest, and who’d never again have to worry about biological clocks, failed careers or the bills that needed paying at the start of next month. Nor even this bitter, spiritual ruderlessness in the age of text-speak acronyms. Peace. But the peace was short lived. At the witching hour, Ezra’s consciousness broke the surface of sleep. Effortlessly buoyed upwards. She lay with her mind suddenly aware. Her ears straining to catch a repeat of some sound that may have woken her. There was none. Had someone shaken her? She sensed a presence in the room, but put it down to Küldane-Hatun.
Ezra reached for her phone. The time on it read one past three AM. The night’s chill had set in at the Pad and there was the light sound of rain falling into the ventilation shaft outside her window. Turning over to resume where she’d left off, Ezra tried to pull the bedcovers up to her chin, only to find they were being weighted down by something. She raised herself onto her elbow with a mind to tell Küldane-Hatun she’d gotten much too fat now. But then Ezra saw him: a shadow sitting at the foot of her bed, one leg pulled up with his elbow resting casually on its knee, peering sideways over his forearm at her. Initially she thought it was Barış, sat in the dark against his bedroom window across the ventilation shaft. Then she realised with a start that her curtains were drawn, and she remembered that she’d morted herself.
“Now you’ve done it, Ezra” she said, and then started reciting the testament of faith. “Ashhadu an la ilaha illa-llah, wa ashhadu-“
“Pack it in, daughter of Adam. You’re not dying,” the shadow cut her off. His was an unfamiliar voice that struck an obscure chord in the recesses of memory. Like an olfactory remembrance, it was vital, pressing, nostalgic. It frightened the shit out of her. Ezra lay petrified. Her eyes a pair of fortune stones in the darkness. If he wasn’t Barış, and he wasn’t the Angel of Death, then who was he? “Hello.” the voice spoke again, followed by movement. And there it was. Eight years and a counter-planetary domain wide of the mark to be deemed appropriate by any standard. She didn’t even know his name. Still, Ezra was indubitably, inexorably in love.
But it all began before. Gathering snow over years and months and weeks to reach its crescendo earlier that day of freak weather in Istanbul, in the last week of March. Ezra returned home from skiving work to Leyla’s music at full volume. In the living room, her sister was lending a keen ear to a track that merged electronic with soaring vocals that made Ezra stall in the entre to listen while removing her shoes. Then the base dropped, and her appreciation dissipated as spontaneously as Leyla’s enthusiasm kicked in.
The sister’s lived on the fourth floor of an old apartment building, on one of those narrow little streets that crawl into themselves, just off Kumbaracı Yokuşu. Beyoğlu in general was comfortably multinational, but their immediate environs were overrun with underprivileged Turkish families who were curious, socially intimate and very set in their traditional ways.
Their building, like their neighbourhood, was alive with character. Alive with the muffled arguements of neighbours through the walls; the smells of cooking wafting through the ventilation shaft and stairwells; the pitter patter of children’s feet which sounded through the ceilings above; and colours, strings of pepper and aubergine dried out over the summer by diligent housewives and strung across balconies like winter decorations.
The apartment caretaker was Fatma Abla, an old village woman who came weekly to mop the stairs and landings. Who had a face bereft of wrinkles, hair like pişmaniye, the biggest şalvar pants in the history of the world and the mental age of a 15 year-old. Ezra suspected her of being meczup –secretly enlightened in her madness. Fatma Abla was often frightened by Leyla’s music.
Leaving her sister to bop with pleasure, Ezra went to empty out her bladder. When she vacated the bathroom, Küldane-Hatun fatly rushed in like she’d been desperate for the toilet. Küldane-Hatun didn’t like closed doors in the Bachelorette Pad. And she especially felt like she was missing out on something every time someone shut her out the bathroom to take a piss or a shower.
Their kitchen was in a state. The leftovers had all been consumed with a desperate and naïve appetite –because he who hasn’t had the minaret built, thinks it grew out the ground. A jar of Nutella sat apologetically in the middle shelf of the bare, little fridge. And on closer inspection its innards proved bereft of hazelnut, chocolate spread. “Why do you put empty jars back in the fridge?” Ezra yelled with some annoyance to get her voice heard. She succeeded.
“You’re back,” Leyla appeared still swaying to the beat.
“And you’re encouraging false hopes.” She handed her the Nutella jar. Leyla put her index finger to her lips and shushed as if the two were in connivance and they ought to not make any more mention of her blunder lest a third party should hear. Ordinarily this made Ezra laugh. “Bin it please,” she said.
“Naber, Kanka?” Her enthusiasm barely dampened, Leyla did as she was told. Had the sisters ever employed the use of traditional, familial honorifics, Leyla would have to call her older sister Abla. Growing up in London had thwarted that. And ever since they’d moved to Istanbul, Leyla had been picking up Turkish slang with some enthusiasm. Lately she’d started calling everyone kanka, short for kan kardeş which meant blood-brother. “Did you see the snow today?” Did she see it? “Crazy awsome!” What Leyla really wanted to ask was if Ezra was feeling better. But the question would have been effete. Lately, Ezra had been looking like those votive, Byzantine murals that decorated the Haghia Sophia. Framed in ochre by a natural glow which illuminated everything but herself.
Ezra put a pan of water to boil for lentil soup. As she was chopping onions, Küldane-Hatun fatly got up onto the breakfast table and scowled at her, long and hard. Küldane-Hatun thought she was a person. She felt plagued by the inanity of her family’s antics even at the best of times. But Ezra had hit a new low of late. Burdened with cat senses, she saw everything. She heard everything. And she didn’t like any of it. Then the phone rang.
Grandma Remziye was calling from London to yell at Ezra and Leyla about the Istanbul weather report. She’d seen it on Turkish satellite TV. Having experienced it first hand, this was not news to the sisters, but they humoured her. In the background, Granddad Efē kept making irrelevant asides that the girls could hear but couldn’t understand. Then he started baritoning an archaic folk-song, “Ordunun dereleri aksa, yukarı aksa. Vermem seni ellere Ordu üstüme kalksa…”
“Ezra,” Grandma Remziye began. “Your Dede wants to know if you found a man yet.” Really, Granddad Efē couldn’t care less about Ezra’s relationship status. In any case, the answer to this was a curt ‘no’. “He wants to know if you found a proper job yet.” The answer to this was a more pained ‘no’, because ever since they moved to Istanbul, Ezra had been slaving for peanuts at a publishing house up in Levent, which ran a bi-monthly English city guide. It didn’t pay the rent. Leyla did. “Then why are you still there, in that God-forsaken country with freak weather?” Grandma Remziye demanded. “Come back home!” They knew what their mother would say if she were still here, didn’t they? That the planets were in a strange alignment, and freak weather signaled something ominous at play. Their mum and Grandma Remziye didn’t used to get along very much in the past. But after mum died, the two seemed always to be in agreement. “And you went and got yourself a cat!”
Actually it was Küldane-Hatun that had got them, dumped on Ezra by the ex-pat section editor she was hired to replace because the man was finally washing his hands of the magazine, and going home. The sisters had kept her under wraps for a year, but Grandma Remziye found out. She always found out. Now on the receiving end of her wrath, all they could think was they didn’t really like Küldane-Hatun and she didn’t seem to like them, so why was she here? Then Leyla told Grandma Remziye the family that lived on the top floor of Barış’s apartment, kept a rooster on their terrace. It woke everyone up for Fajr before the local muezzin did. Grandma Remziye failed to see how this was a justification for anything, and started berating them for living in a village. Leyla failed to see that mentioning Barış at every opportunity was a sure sign of the resentful crush she thought she was hiding from everyone. “Get rid of the cat and come back home so you can find husbands and proper jobs!”
To change the subject, Leyla asked after the latest development in one of Grandma Remziye’s Turkish soaps on Turkish satellite TV. After giving them the long-winded lowdown, she was calmer, and asked her granddaughters how they were.
“We’re fine,” a perky Leyla responded. We’re wretched and you’re pissing on the embers, thank you –a troubled Ezra didn’t, as she stirred lentil soup in a stupor. She’d floundered through the past week like a myopic in an opium parlour. And the night before, she’d had a dream that had seized her, as though a lurking thing on the ambush, then left her in a perpetual state of cold sweat for the entire day.
In it, there was a dark, dark night sky, arched over the rooftop that Ezra was sat on, and not a speck of starlight in it. Her gaze, like the heavens, was empty and black, and she had fixed it skywards, as though the firmament and her were engaged in a morbid rendition of endurance; competing to see who could stare longest into an abyss without blinking or going mad. Ezra lost the stare-out. She shut her eyes, shuddered, and hugged herself. Then there was a person standing above her; tall, lean and lithe. He carried that Peter-Pan air about him, beautiful on the cusp of a cruel adulthood; and precious like a thing seeing its last summer. Ezra spoke to him, ‘Are you here for me or my firstborn?’ He sank and sat down beside her, dangling his legs off the edge of the roof. His movements, at odds with his frame, were weighty, as if he were sorry or tired. ‘For you,’ he said, and grabbing her face, planted a long and lingering kiss on Ezra’s lips. His lips were dry. Rough. There was nothing childish about that kiss.
Ezra had woken like a cat fleeing a full bathtub, hurling into a morning that was grey and oppressive, with a cutting frost in the air. Pulling a sickie, she’d wandered about the town like a ghost. Let the slave-driving leeches miss her at work, she thought, but the bitter satisfaction was short lived. Somehow, the ghost crossed the Haliç and ended up in Eyüp without a lira to her name, her account balance in the minus, and her travel card empty. But there was a £50 note in her journal. Birthday money that had reached her a month ago.
Ezra found the nearest exchange bureau just as they were pulling down the security shutters. We open after cuma namazı, the guy told her apologetically, and made a dash for the mosque. Aimlessly, Ezra followed the crowds until she reached Eyüp Sultan. With the mosque packed for Friday Prayer, the congregation had spilled out into the plaza. Barefooted on plastic mats, they held ranks in the freezing weather. As the Imam wound to a close his sermon on loudspeaker, Ezra made her way to the inner courtyard. There, shaded under a colossal sycamore maple, the female congregants stood side by side in the open air. She placed her boots on a piled rack nearest the arched doorway. The cold of the marble under the sheets bit even through her woolly socks. Before joining one of the back ranks, she stopped to pay her respects at the tomb of Eyüp Sultan. But no suras came to her. No prayers. Not even words. Nothing penetrated the tumultuous bickering of doubt any more. Had it she may have asked, why? Two years ago she’d left all that she knew to come here, in search of her mother’s Tasawwuf Murshid. He would have been her last link. But he’d died the very week of her arrival, leaving her with no last meeting, no parting advice, only a cold trail. And here she was trying to start over again at age 30 with the paltry motions of life, in a country that was strange to her. Why? Was this pride, still clinging onto a moment of poor judgement?
That’s when it had begun to snow. Large flakes falling softly, like cherry blossoms carried on a light breeze. Stillness descending. The voices fell quiet. And for all her fuck-ups in life, her shortcomings, the ever-rising tides of her abyss, Ezra felt that in that moment she was exactly where she was meant to be.
“So how was your day?” Leyla asked, after hanging up with Grandma Remziye. It was gone. The financial anxieties, gnawing doubts, the abyss was come again. Ezra opened her mouth but nothing materialized. And Leyla caught herself wondering if her sister used up all her words at night so there was nothing left by the morning. She’d heard her talking in her sleep again. Watching her serve dinner with despair, she wished she could shake her out of it.
“My tooth really hurts,” Ezra offered at last albeit pathetically. Another thing she’d woke up to that morning, was a dull throbbing in the back of her mouth where her left wisdom tooth reared its head bi-annually. She’d been saving to have it removed. The tooth was as good enough a place to start as any, so Leyla ran with it. She spoke with gusto and an appetite for two. Ezra listened. With tightened jaw, and untouched plate, but a genuine light of interest behind her eyes, she listened like the playground idiot that watched the other kids but didn’t know how to join them. And Küldane-Hatun, on the kitchen floor, stared. She liked to stare when people were eating. She liked to make people feel uncomfortable, because often there were food accidents, which were advantageous.
Eventually Leyla’s conversation turned into a rant about catching Barış in mid-dress earlier in the evening. Ezra’s bedroom window looked onto the ventilation shaft in between their apartment and the next. This afforded her a view of the window belonging to the neighbour who shared her fate. Said neighbour was Barış, who Leyla had a resentful crush on. Were Barış to open his curtains during bedtime, it’d be like he and Ezra were having a sleepover. That’s how intimate the setup was.
According to Leyla, she’d gone into her sister’s room to borrow a lighter because they’d suffered another power outage earlier in the evening, and she needed to make tea in the samovar, on the stove. It had been dark, but she’d seen enough and he’d seen her see it. Leyla scowled unconvincingly. Leyla’s crush was a resentful one because she was petit in stature, whereas Barış was tall, and Leyla had pride. Despite her general chirpiness, she could be feisty and unforgiving when her pride was compromised. Scorpio characteristics, their mother used to call it.
After dinner, Ezra went to her room to try to get back the stillness. Eyes shut and wooden prayer beads in hand, she sat seiza stance at her prayer mat the way she’d always seen her mother do. ‘True Ders is taken from the Qur’an,’ her mother told her once, relating her Murshid’s words, ‘but we need to wind this clock every day for it to keep ticking.’ There was a time when Ezra did just that. But now, having put off the meditation for months, her faculties to tune in were blunted. The dhikir failed to control her breathing and her wandering mind. During the Rabita al-Mawt, her reflection on death was half-assed and overly cinematic. Then she tried to make a connection with her mother’s Murshid. But he was dead too, and she hadn’t the faintest idea where to start.
Embittered disappointment. It drove her to the medicine cabinet in the kitchen, where Ezra accidentally downed that bottle of ascorbic acid while trying to overdose on Paracetemol. She prayed Isha; made three failed attempts at writing a suicide note; spent an hour and a half trying to get out of the toilet; and then lay herself down to die.
Ezra opts to feign sleep, nay, wills her own mind to believe it. She senses movement. She feels the words on her face: “Now you’re just being rude.” Braced for the worst, she opens one eye first, then the other. At the end of her nose is the face of a young man shadowed in darkness. Head cocked slightly to one side, he’s observing her impatiently.
“Please go away,” she whispers.
“It doesn’t work like that, daughter of Adam,” is the response. “You can’t just will someone away and expect them to comply.”
Carefully, Ezra sits up, and the Mongrel raises himself from his crouch to full height. Looming tall with a graceful ease, one would never know he’s dithering over whether or not to sit on the edge of her bed. He’d rather be anywhere but here. Still he gives her a long, caustic glare like he has every right to be, and she is the one being unreasonable.
“Who are you and what do you want?”
“I’m the one you wrote this for,” between index and middle finger, he holds up the third draft of Ezra’s abandoned suicide note. Embarrassed, she tries to grab at it but he whisks it away.
“Whatever. You’re just some Jinn.” She scowls. For the Mongrel, it’s a little more complicated than that. But his silence, as he weighs up his response, occurs to Ezra to be self-explanatory. Ezra’s knowledge about the complex world and sophisticated societies of Jinn is limited to ‘good guys’ and ‘evil bastards’. She’s encountered words like Marid and Ifrit and Ghoul, but has no notion of their realities. Right now she’s trying to decide which of the two aforementioned categories this one might fit into.
He clears his throat, “Who did you write it for then?” The Mongrel knows that there isn’t a chance in all the eighteen-thousand worlds that Ezra would remember him… unless some deeper consciousness of hers picked up on his once presence. That’s what he’s clawing at now, and what it could mean if it were true.
“That’s none of your business,” hand held out to demand her note back. His eyes go squinty and defiant then. He makes a deliberate show of slipping it into a back pocket and taking a seat. In the process, he accidently brushes against Küldane-Hatun’s rump. The turgid feline, who’d been eyeing him with disdain as if in wait of a blunder on his part, now starts meowing like one possessed and dashes off the bed fatly.
“I didn’t do anything to her!” He appeals, defensive. Ezra makes her decision about the kind of Jinn he is.
“Küldane-Hatun is OCD,” she offers. “She’s repulsed when people touch her. It’s not something you did.” In the centre of the room, Küldane-Hatun makes a big fat, OCD show of cleaning off any trace of the contact. Growling complaints under her breath with furry-furrowed brow. “So?”
“So you are a Jinn clinging to the pitiful excuse of some note I wrote, and you are here because…?”
“Because you wrote it to me.” The Mongrel breathes to reign in his temper. “And because it’s insipid. What in seven, broiling hells is a guy meant to do with himself after receiving something like this?” Scratching her head, Ezra admits that she doesn’t know. In the stories, Jinn play tricks on people; grant wishes; transport heavy objects across space and time; guard buried treasure with death curses and shit. There’s bound to be a plethora of things he can keep himself occupied with. Why ask her? And why is she allowing herself to get side-tracked?
“Listen, if you don’t leave I’ll scream bloody murder.”
“No you won’t,” he says simply. And as he says it, Ezra feels her throat constraining. She gasps, but the gasp gets caught half way. No sound comes out. She tries to speak, and it’s like trying to cry out in sleep paralysis. A panic begins to rise in her. Then the pressure eases, relief –like a pair of hands gently setting her back down on solid ground. “You’ve left yourself wide open, you know that?” A hint of the man show-off. Not because he could best her, but because he wouldn’t. “You’d think a girl would grow up some.” His criticism hits the mark.
“What do you think you know?” she demands darkly.
“You.” Is the impulsive response. Then, “I… knew you.” It’s with some reluctance that he admits this, because Ezra’s childhood is not a chapter of his life that he’s proud of. And because the moment the Mongrel knew he would one day fall for her, was the moment he broke her fall, 19 years prior. But that was a thing he would never admit to himself. “Now I’m not so sure.”
Silence then, while both fall short on words. He overwhelmed by a combination of remorse and disappointment. She overwhelmed by an intense desire to get away from him. And Ezra gets out of bed thinking now would be an appropriate moment for a smoker to crave a cigarette. Sadly he watches her rummage around her bag for a pack of Winston slims she bought on a whim. “That’s not going to make you feel better,” he remarks, as Ezra opens the window and starts smoking into the ventilation shaft. Barış’s window is also open. He starts dreaming that his blanket’s on fire. “And you’re clearly not a smoker.”
“I can be,” she quips. “I just need to remember to want to smoke.” She takes a spiteful drag. The sensation of his supernatural grip around her gullet still lingers in the memory of her flesh. Ezra holds her neck and slowly exhales. Nebulous plumes waft into the night’s chill. Chaos is this, her dad told her once as a child, when she asked him what the word meant. She catches herself wondering if she aught to be wearing hijab in front of this creature, then decides it’s probably a grey area. Ezra turns to the Mongrel and says, “For argument’s sake, lets say you did know me. Why did you come back to see this?” The Mongrel doesn’t have an answer. Guilt and curiosity -wouldn’t cut it. I damaged you and I’m here to make amends -wouldn’t go down so well. So he lies. If only to buy time. Because though he’s disappointed, the guilt and curiosity are still there. They’re always there.
“I came back because you need to guess what my name is,” he says.
“I’m not in the mood for this.”
“Guess my name, and I’ll leave. You’ll never see me again.”
His mouth curls mischievously at the edges. The first hint of a smile. Devilish, like a boy with a secret. “Promise,” he winks.