In Which Murat Encounters the Nicosian Beldam and Simultaneously Goes Sober

Ezra and Leyla’s dad, Murat, suffered in good-spirited silence. And his response to all things in life was to pour himself a drink. After his wife died, Murat became a listener to of woes, but never knew how to air his own. Cracked ribs, broken hearts, insolvency and insult –he drank to it all. But nothing made him drink more than the loss of Bomboleno.

The morning that Murat met the Nicosian Beldam, he’d risen in good spirits to suffer silently about Olga. Olga was cheating on him. He intended to pour himself a drink at this, but it was much too early. So he snuck out, dressed for a jog, and was scarcely crossing the driveway when he realised he’d forgot his whiskey flask on the kitchen sideboard. Having flinched his way through every squeak under his footfalls this far, he was hesitant about going back for it. But alcoholism prevailed. Murat let himself in through the front door like a long man doing ballet under water. He was scarcely crossing the hallway when he spied Granddad Efē, shuffling into the kitchen with the morning’s complaints and box of dry cat food in hand. The cat food belonged to the neighbours. The cats also belonged to them. But the neighbours were on holiday. Secretly, Granddad Efē enjoyed this responsibility. Publicly he despised it with splenic venom.

“They’ve turned me into a feeder of cats!” the old man piped with a Cypriot baritone that woke everyone after all of Murat’s efforts to abscond quietly. Upstairs, Grandma Remziye bolted up in bed, reached for the remote control on the side table and zapped the TV on before her eyes were even open. The sound of Turkish soap re-runs filled the house. In the bedroom next to Grandma Remziye’s, Olga stretched. Her waking consciousness started ruminating on property assessments and profit and arson…maybe even alimony afterwards, if she was lucky. Murat’s flask was a lost cause, and it was every man for himself. Grabbing the keys for the Rose of Peckham, he hurled himself back out the front door and slammed it with himself on the outside, heart pounding wildly. Granddad Efē caught sight of him from the kitchen window, making a run for it. Back in Cyprus, he’d named his firstborn Murat in the hopes that if he eventually gained the epithet ‘kara’ it would make him legendary. Like The Kara Murat. He lost all hope when his son started wearing bellbottoms in the 60s. Now he was just a drinker who never really got drunk.

Murat drove to an off-licence on some quiet, residential street furthest from his neighbourhood. Eyes avoiding contact, and face muffled narrowly under a threadbare, tartan scarf he’d found in the backseat, he looked like a man about to orchestrate a holdup. Instead, he shuffled to the counter with a 35cl bottle of Jack Daniels and a slanting gait that was clearly not his. The Indian shopkeeper wrapped Murat’s purchase in a brown paper bag, and then opted to double bag it with a blue and white striped plastic one. Sadly, he gazed on after the tall, Cypriot man he recognised by sight, because it had always struck him how much he looked like Sylvester Stallone. And Murat, shuffled off and out the off-licence with a door jingle to add insult to indignity.

Long before the days he had to tiptoe out his parents’ house and disguise himself to buy alcohol at 9am in the morning, Murat had a sailing boat. She was called Bomboleno, and the flag he flew was a portrait of the Dude from the Big Lebowsky. But Bomboleno sank, so he moved back to London to figure out how to acquire a new Bomboleno. With him, he brought Olga: a Russian free-loader who was looking for a sugar-daddy when he picked her up on a Greek Island two years ago. After one phenomenally debauched night they found themselves in connubial bliss. Then it was downhill. Olga realised Murat was not a sugar-daddy, but a tormented dreamer who’d got lucky. That didn’t stop her rinsing his resources. Murat lost his sailing buddies first, a group of guys who were perpetually pissed and fancied themselves pirates. Then the money went. Then Bomboleno. Then the insurance claim from Bomboleno.

And now, moments before his fateful encounter with the Nicosian Beldam, it has come to this: Not pouring, but taking swigs out of a bottle of Jack double-bagged, on a pavement in front of an off-licence. Here comes the heady buzz. The whiskey in his bloodstream already colouring his predicament an amber warmth. On this side, even cuckoldry is stomachable. Forever and ever.

“Lucky for me you’re as ugly as a dog’s bollocks,” Murat says, toasting the Rose of Peckham. Parked at a slant, the ancient relic does not respond. But she persists with the silent dignity of bungling, ludicrous things on their last legs. The Rose of Peckham is a community heirloom left over from Murat’s hippy, bachelor days. She once belonged to someone in his social circle, but ever since psychedelics went out of fashion no one would admit ownership of the thing. The year Murat married the mother of his children, he parked the Rose of Peckham in Granddad Efe’s garage where she’d bid her time, turning magnolia with cracks. In his youth, she stank, vibrated terribly, made the strangest, most embarrassing noises, had back windows that didn’t open, and front windows that couldn’t shut once they had, which didn’t matter since no car thief in his right mind would bother to steal the thing. Now she does all of those things, and also has a gear stick that gets jammed. Olga won’t come within a mile of her, and everyone else hangs their heads in shame to see Murat driving her with pride.

“Perhaps we should hit the highway. You and me and…” he raises the bottle to gaze at it fondly “and Jack.” Happily, Murat has another drink and looks up at the sky. It’s blue, but not the blue of warmer, Mediterranean climes he’s used to. He puts on his sunglasses and is satisfied. The day looks warmer through tinted lenses. But then someone bumps him from behind. A mother, manoeuvring her mountain-buggy past him on the pavement. One of those yummy-mummy pram pushers, briefly subjecting him to her judgemental glare. Murat gets his own back when he smiles at her. It’s a smile that makes her doubt all her life choices. Then there’s a moment of clarity, where his need to be inconspicuous resurfaces. He pulls the tartan scarf back over his mouth and nose, and looks about him shiftily from behind his aviators. That’s when he comes eye to eye with the most grotesque spectre he’s beheld in all his 60 years of living.

It is a leer. The leer of what appears to be a woman, but could also easily be a man, standing in the side doorway of the house opposite the street from him, with the air of someone who’s been there, watching for a while now. Capping his bottle, Murat makes for the Rose of Peckham when the spectre calls out to him in Cypriot Turkish. The sound of its voice makes him drop his keys.

“Beh, aren’t you Remziye’s son?” Worse than the horror of being recognised is this diabolical omnipresence. “The one with the dead wife and two daughters?” When she speaks she rasps, but there’s an unmistakeable femininity in the sound. Stout and gruff like an Albanian gypsy, the under of her eyes are a spiral of dark circles. And she’s decked in gold from teeth to toe.

Murat nods something non-committal. It’s likely his keys have fallen under the car. He’ll need to get on his hands and knees to find them but he’s petrified.

“Daughters. Troublesome creatures aren’t they?” she asks with the hint of a private smirk. “Tell your mother I’m back. Tell her to come see me.” Murat starts to nod again when the matron raises her arm in a slow, foreboding gesture. Like a witch placing a hex, she points, and he feels his strength draining with a sensation akin to liquid wildfire coursing through his frame. It burns from the top of his head to ends of the toes in his trainers. “Your keys,” she rasps again, and Murat realizes then that she’s not pointing at him but the ground at his feet. Clumsily he bends down to pick them up, and then fumbles a while as he unlocks the car doors, old school style.

The Rose of Peckham’s doors shut with a tin-can clang that grates on Murat’s suddenly sober nerves. Inside, he breathes to steady his heartbeat and uncaps his whiskey. But his stomach heaves before he can raise the bottle mouth to his own. He recaps it and lights a cigarette instead, letting his mind peal away from everything. When the engine starts noisily, the smell of exhaust fills the car. The Rose of Peckham hits the road with more purpose and clarity then she’s ever driven before. Peering out from their abysmal spirals, a pair of eyes hold her in their voracious gaze until she is out of sight.

***

The day that Murat encountered the Nicosian Beldam, he returned home to find Olga on Granddad Efē’s verdant front-porch in her negligee. It was a curious place to find one’s wife. The front porch being so deliberately overgrown with flowerbeds, wasn’t a place to loiter leisurely. Everyone who wanted to get to the front door had to pick through it like a boot camp training course. Still, Olga stood in it taking selfies, while a small army of Greek gods and naked cherubs watched her with stone gazes, and bees flitted about buzzily. In that early light she looked beautiful. Tall as an Amazon, hair like spun gold, an elegance perfected. Pulling duck faces at her smartphone, with her pretty nose shoved into a nearby rose. Or it could have been that the rose was in her face because there was no room. Either way, the rose was of little consequence when she turned to the driveway, grimaced at the sight of the Rose of Peckham, and Murat felt himself sobering up again. His gut reaction was to reach for his bottle, but his gut did a double take and churned at the thought.

“Murat, when will you get rid of that car?” she said then. No good morning. No Baby, where were you? “You shame me to drive it.” And there it was. The scalding cold. Spreading like liquid mercury. Suddenly, Murat had no desire to pour himself a drink or chug whiskey at Olga’s betrayal. Suddenly he craved blaring, abrasive abstemiousness, so he could behold her as he did at that moment, in all her ugliness. Then the words came. He’d be filing for a divorce that day on grounds of infidelity, he said. Meanwhile, she’d be better off moving in with Murray Trewin –the public school bumboy she’d been fucking. They were the two most decisive sentences he’d spoken in over eighteen years.

Two days later, Granddad Efē is standing where Olga was standing then, the rose in his left ear, and Murat next to him. Together, they watch her watching the Uber driver load her set of Louis Vuitton cases into his boot. Murat feels lighter as she gets into the cab and drives off without looking back. Lighter. Light like the wind was in the sales of his Bomboleno, and all he desired was the horizon. Misreading his son’s silence for sorrow, Granddad Efē places a hand on his shoulder. His expression perpetually severe. Personally, he knows he’ll miss seeing Olga traipse about the house with everything bouncing like a Playboy Bunny, blissfully unaware that her genes are a ticking time-bomb set to age 40, when she’ll balloon out irreversibly despite all her best efforts.

“Beh Murat,” he offers in the way of a consolation. “She’s gonna clog up her ass-hole.” He alludes to the fact that Olga believes in swallowing olive pits. It’s meant to be good for the digestive tract.

“That’s her business,” Murat retorts. Back indoors, Granddad Efē starts preparing mezze with his air of tedium in tow. He has a mind to cheer his son up. But Murat wants to get pissed with old friends tonight at the Duck Egg. Granddad Efē looks at him intimidatingly.

“You’re going out to see your friends?” His is a tone of condescending derision. In fact Granddad Efē means well. It’s just his way to state the obvious about the things people do or say in all innocence, in order to make them feel guilty and/or inadequate. Murat is about to tell him not to start when they’re interrupted by the sound of a familiar hum. Grandma Remziye is coming downstairs on her stair lift. Being a big woman with troublesome knees and a heart condition, the stair lift makes her life easier. It also imposes a momentary pause on domestic ruckus, because her entrances are always grand but everyone has to wait for her to reach the bottom of the stairs before things can resume.

Murat takes a seat and starts rolling himself a cigarette. He’s rolled three by the time Grandma Remziye saunters into the kitchen with her wide, swaying hips, and zaps the TV on. They all endure a painful ten minutes of overly dramatized, drawn out acting. Naturally it all ends in a stupendous cliff-hanger. When the credits roll, she puts a consoling hand on her son’s shoulder and tells him Olga was no good any way. Grandma Remziye is so maternal she raised three sons and two granddaughters. Still, she’s always harboured a clandestine dislike and distrust for daughter in-laws. More in principle than personally. Poor Nur, Ezra’s and Leyla’s mother, had suffered the brut of it being the first wife of her eldest. But it was true what the proverb said, gelen gideni aratır -what comes will make you pine for what went. After Nur, Olga had felt like divine retribution.

“I spoke to the girls the other day,” she offers, changing the subject. Murat’s innards recoil. Every conversation he has with his mother about his daughters, ends with him wanting to pour himself a drink. “You need to tell Ezra to come back already. The little one just follows her everywhere anyway.”

“Anne, stop telling people how to live their lives,” Murat says, defending his eldest despite his own personal resentment over her life choices. Deep down, he too can’t understand why home and family weren’t enough for Ezra. Why she had to go the way her mother once did, after mystics and gurus and shit.

“But they’ve got a cat now!”

Murat gets to his feet, and grabs a bottle of water. He pours it into one of the crystal whiskey tumblers Granddad Efē had placed on the table alongside the plates of nuts and olives and prawn cocktail he continues to bring out in hopes of tempting his son to stay. Granddad Efē pauses and looks at Murat in horror.

“What are you doing?” he asks.

“What does it look like?” Murat’s response is defensive as he downs a second glass. It makes Granddad Efē thirsty to look at him.

“Beh Murat,” he says. “Pour me a glass too.” Murat does, and then he puts on his jacket, equipping himself with keys, a lighter, tobacco, rizzla, filters…his wallet. Grandma Remziye follows her son to the door, complaining that if he leaves now he’ll miss the soap where a poor village girl falls in love with a wealthy landowner to whose infertile wife she’s forced to rent out her womb for the money she desperately needs to get her mother out of prison for shooting her father who tried to wed her off to a gangster he was indebted to. Murat stalls, remembering his encounter.

Grandma Remziye has only ever seen the Nicosian Beldam once in her life, over 29 years ago. But when Murat describes the woman to her, her blood-pressure plummets in an instant. To her son she suddenly looks smaller, deflated almost. Expending an immense effort to maintain her calm, she asks him casually where he saw her, and what they spoke about.

“She told me to tell you to go see her,” Murat offers. The sparse hairs on Grandma Remziye’s dumpy arms stand on end. Had she said anything else? “Anne, the woman looks like a zebani of hell. You think I was going to sit there and converse with her?”

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