BY AHMET HAMDI TANPINAR
TRANSLATED BY AYSEL K. BASCI
At first, he didn’t notice the change. He just didn’t want to work; he was sluggish and in low spirits, either sitting in a corner all day or wistfully wandering around, as if something important was missing from his life. He eventually realized that he was having mixed dreams at night, getting up reluctantly in mornings; it was tiring him. He began to wake up almost against his will and get out of bed unwillingly, as though departing a beloved country and leaving behind things he would never see again. Then, as if experiencing homesickness, he would spend his days thinking about his nights and his dreams.
Yet he never remembered his dreams. No comings or goings, no desire to escape, no familiar faces from his life, not even a recognizable countenance. Just … nothing. As soon as he fell asleep, he exited reality and entered someone else’s world. His dreams didn’t explore any great secrets. They were quite ordinary, like things we value and cherish only because they are in our lives—love, our troubles …
When Cemil tried to analyze his dreams, as far as he could tell, they didn’t involve anything out of the ordinary. “They consisted of movements gaining speed from one another, like a vast, tumultuous sea.”
Sometimes, but only rarely, he recognized something in his dreams, something he’d once paid attention to. Like the Jonas tree in front of their house. When they moved into the beach house, at the beginning of April, both Cemil and his wife liked that tree. Cemil named it Persephone because it arrived from the dark depths of winter so adorned and beautiful and, like a golden spear, ripped through the morning fog.
Sometimes, daily mundane things or things from his past appeared in his dreams, which surprised Cemil the most. These two types of dreams were different. The first type generated feelings deep within him, quite apart from the usual dreams. The second type, based on their progression and depending on how we sleep, made up our night life.
A few weeks later, the vast, tumultuous sea suddenly calmed down, as if a curtain had been pulled back. Cemil remembered different pieces of his dreams, although he couldn’t connect them together. Once, he dreamt about a small staircase; another time, red fish swam in a glass bowl on a small table, but the short dream lasted only a moment. It was short, but quite lucid. Perhaps he woke because of its clarity. “I wish I could’ve looked at it more.” That day, Cemil felt anxious, sad, and filled with the anticipation of those waiting for something important to happen.
The following night, he dreamt he was lying in a beautiful room with curtains made of white lace. Actually, he was both lying down and looking out of the room’s only window to a very expansive dwarf tree. It was a strange tree, standing up like a human. Like a silenced human. Cemil didn’t think the tree belonged in that garden. A feeling of expectation arose in him. He was waiting for someone to arrive from the small road leading to the house. The next day, he couldn’t shake the road from his thoughts. Even while walking, he thought about it. “It was a dirt road, and someone was going to come from there.”
The third night, as soon as he fell asleep, he found himself in front of a door—a door he would recognize in albums full of door photos. He waited, longing for it to open, but he knew it would not. With that knowledge, he woke up. Cemil spent the rest of the night in his wife’s bed next door, and for a week he didn’t have any dreams. He slept comfortably and uninterrupted.
He was somewhat surprised that he could sleep without dreaming. In fact, he was a little sad because, in his dreams, though they lasted only a few moments—as soon as they began, he awoke—he lived very meaningfully, which he had never tasted before.
Toward the end of June, his dreams returned, but their order was different. The first blurry dream occurred at midnight just after he fell asleep. In a way, it was similar to everyone else’s dreams. In a chaotic world—no segment or movement of which he could remember—shapes, faces, and meanings were mixed up and, like a fast-forwarded movie, identities and the order of things were unrecognizable, just a wide, infinite turbulence without any proportion. But in a turbulent sea, one can at least witness the waves’ arrival and the foam they carry with them. Even if one can’t distinguish the individual waves, one can at least observe their similarity. Here, even that didn’t exist. As soon as he closed his eyes, the center of an unfamiliar world made up of dark shadows seemed to emerge, exploding.
Yet these shadows and their illogical, disconnected movements had to mean something. Otherwise, he couldn’t explain the deep feelings they evoked in him. That night, Cemil had a second dream. He was in an unfamiliar house, with large rooms and large windows. Big festivities were going on. He stood in front of a window looking out at the sea. Sunrise must have been near. The sea was perfectly smooth, deserted, and full of colors. Then its entire surface, perhaps—no, no, for sure—up to the window, suddenly filled with boats, barges and merchant dinghies. A steamboat was trying to force its way to join them. Suddenly, Cemil’s dream-inspired feelings disappeared. He found himself among those boats and, at the same time, still in that large house. Then he was both himself and the captain of one of the boats. Somehow, his dream had become quite ordinary. When Cemil, who had been reading about dreams for the past two months, woke up and remembered this, he was much relieved. The strange dreams are ending, he thought. I am beginning to have regular dreams. These are winning over the strange ones.
Nevertheless, Cemil wasn’t happy with his emotional state. He visited his doctor and explained the situation. The doctor offered lots of advice as to how it was all “anxiety” and “delusion” and gave him a load of prescriptions. To punish himself, Cemil took everything prescribed to him. He went on a serious diet and did tiring exercises. He swam, rowed, and hiked. But his dreams continued.
Three days after visiting the doctor, Cemil dreamt he was in an unfamiliar place. He was playing with a young girl, spending all his energy to entertain her, and he was very happy. The girl’s black hair fell in two long braids, and she had large, dark hazelnut eyes. Her smile was beautiful and sweet, like lights dancing on water. She was full of joy. Then suddenly her happiness ended. She rudely uttered, “I am leaving.” She placed a sack in front of Cemil. “Take this;, it’s yours!” Her voice was so pathetic that Cemil woke up. He spent the rest of the night thinking about the girl—her black hair, her hazelnut eyes, and the joy on her face—but he couldn’t recall her countenance.
Cemil spent the entire next day with his wife and children at the beach. He swam for hours. When he got tired, he lay next to his wife on the hot sand, his eyes closed. He was comfortable and happy. Anyone can have a dream! Only one issue remains: I can’t work. Perhaps I don’t like the subject. I am tired of love stories. Maybe I should write about something else. But his wife wanted him to finish that book. The story had happened in their neighborhood, and they had more or less witnessed it. A man named Şakir, a happily married father, became involved with a young woman and for three years his family suffered. Cemil knew Şakir and his wife well, but he’d never met the young woman. Almost no one had. One day, she disappeared. Everyone thought things went back to normal. But then Şakir went mad, and a week later, a woman’s body was recovered from the sea.
Cemil couldn’t remember why he chose to write this story. At first, it was going well, but when he got to the point that Şakir met the young woman, he stopped writing. He even moved to their beach house earlier than usual, believing he would be more productive there. His days were completely free, but he couldn’t add a single sentence to the story.
Lost in these thoughts, Cemil held his wife’s hand and said, “Let’s get in the water.” His wife turned to him. Her black sunglasses changed her face, as if she was wearing a mask. Cemil looked to her body, which was wrapped in a honey-colored bathing suit and competing with the summer sunlight and beach scenery. She looked like a small sun-boat. A boat that brightened his days and his nights. Sunglasses change a person so much. He took the glasses off and kissed his wife, looking into her eyes. This body, this small person, was the only strong shore where he could rest. Then, he suddenly remembered his dreams. Am I seeking refuge in my wife?
Hand in hand, Cemil and his wife headed to the water. He dunked his head, and Cemil’s senses changed. It was as if he was in his dreams, experiencing that same lack of clarity. He embraced a wave and jumped toward it. But the small horse with a mane slipped from under him. Then Cemil found himself tangled in the mosses of a hidden garden. With a kick of his heel, he was able to surface. A kick of a heel could change so much. If only he could escape from his dreams like that. He dipped underwater again.
The doctor had told him there was nothing troubling about the dreams he described. “They are quite ordinary. My dear, who goes to a doctor because of such things?”
Cemil embraced the waves again.
A small fish that had somehow fallen all the way down there slipped from his chest. He was living such a surreal life that it could have pierced his chest and nothing would have happened to him. His train of thought was interrupted as he tried to catch a mermaid by her hair. But his fingers grabbed his own flesh instead, exactly like in his dream. If only there was a little clarity, just as much as there is under the sea! He stopped abruptly. A few strokes away, on the surface of the sea, his wife had become an Ophelia. Her flat, stretched body was like a box made of mother-of-pearl. It wanted to leave itself to the fate of the waters, but in this closed part of the sea, the waters didn’t have any fates. He tried swimming toward his wife, but he lost all sense of reality. It was as though the water was pulling him to its depths. What type of an invitation was this?
They left the water, and he asked his wife, “Was there someone in a white dress in the water?”
Since childhood, his wife had always surprised and then mocked him. This time, she stuck her tongue out. Cemil, feeling the same sentiment as before they had gone in the water, wrapped his arm around her waist and pleaded, “Let’s get back to our senses!”
How well did they know each other? How happy were they? Unfortunately, Cemil had actually seen the image of a woman in a white dress! Or else, I slept very uncomfortably. What if this continues?
The beach was full. The earlier emptiness and the plain colors were gone, replaced with every color, every kind of body, and every possible movement. It was crowded like Judgment Day. On one side, a few children were playing with sand. Colorful cans, buckets, balls, and human bodies had turned the place into a vibrant board game. Cemil wanted to search for his daughter in the crowd, but fearing he might run into the young woman in his dreams, he changed his mind. Isn’t it strange? Every dream has an association in the real world. That’s why we interpret our dreams. The previous night’s dream of the young girl could easily be interpreted as relating to these children, to their colorful buckets and balls.
But what about that feeling inside him? That strange fluttering, that feeling of guilt? Whose guilt am I carrying? What is this torment for?
Despite Cemil’s tiredness, that night Cemil’s dreams continued. He was passing through unfamiliar roads, looking out on streets from windows of houses he didn’t know, and climbing large slopes. Close to morning, he dreamt of a woman in the garden of one of those houses. She was wearing a white dress and covering her face with her hands. She was sitting in a corner, as if waiting for someone. Cemil didn’t know who this woman was, and he wasn’t curious about it. He just wanted to understand what she was doing and why she was so sad and gloomy. He realized she was crying, and that realization upset him so much he woke up thinking, I have two lives, and I am as tied to the second life as the first. How awful!
As an honorable man, he should have told his wife about his second life. He was interested in another woman, if only in his dreams. What does it matter that it’s only in my dreams? Isn’t sleep half of our lives? But who was this woman? I haven’t even seen her face. Yet she existed, and she had entered his life. He went downstairs to look for his wife, who was making breakfast for their daughter and, as usual, telling her a fairy tale. She murmured, “My imagination is so limited, in two minutes, I will run out of things to say.” Cemil watched them. In a morning gown, with her tousled hair, his wife looked beautiful. His daughter too was wholesome, like a fairy tale. They weren’t art, but they are beautiful. Surely a picture of the two of them in their current state, perhaps with a title, “Motherly Affection” or “Family Bliss,” would be amusing. Still, it was beautiful; attractive and beautiful. Cemil changed his mind. I should not disturb her. Surely, this will pass.
He walked to the record player, selected a record, and listened to a piece by Debussy. Mixed among the noises of the sea waves were women’s voices—white, consisting of only prayers and sobbing—that sounded like large sails being torn. Cemil panicked and quickly escaped to his room, but he couldn’t stay there either. He went outside and wandered the streets without knowing what he was doing.
At one point, he decided that if he dreamt of her again, he would tell his wife. He smiled. I must be going mad. I am treating my own lie as truth. For hours, he was angry with himself and full of self-pity. His entire day was wasted with suspicions and in torment. He made another decision: he would not think about his dreams any more. This decision helped him spend the rest of the day quite happy.
Toward evening, Cemil became unusually impatient, as if yearning for the night. Throughout dinner, he was completely distracted. He didn’t respond to questions, he couldn’t complete what he was saying, and even his jokes were wretched. The truth was he was preoccupied with his dreams. As soon as he sat at the table, perhaps because of the vase full of flowers in the middle, he remembered his dreams. He recognized the fish bowl from his earlier dream. It belonged to one of their neighbors a few doors down. But the bowl was always on the dinner table, not on the etagere. Now he was able to see it—with good clarity—in the entrance, on a red velvet tablecloth, with the fish inside. While he was thinking about the fish bowl, Cemil remembered something very important about the previous night’s dream, something he hadn’t noticed before, or perhaps, had forgotten. He had not seen the young woman’s face. But through the parting of her hair as it fell from her shoulders to her chest, he had noticed a wound on her neck. Maybe he had not actually seen it, but had rather sensed it. Once again, Cemil realized how his dreams were full of tragic undertones.
To escape these thoughts, he moved. He was soaking in perspiration and wiped his forehead. My dreams continue even when I am awake. How terrible? He pulled his head up and saw his wife looking at him. For one whole hour, he had struggled to avoid all eye contact with her. He bowed his head again and continued thinking. Her hair was almost black and long. Perhaps for the hundredth time he asked himself, What strange delusion’s victim am I?
By now, he was scared to go to bed. He tried to extend the evening as much as he could. He told stories to his children and explained his winter projects to his wife. He would write a new book. “I’ll describe the creation of a shantytown,” he said. After a while, they sent the children to bed and listened to music. At around 1:30 am, he asked his wife for tea, like he used to do. He was about to drink his tea while listening to Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé when, from among the magnificent melodies in the first part reminiscent of a rough sea, he saw the woman from his dreams. Again, her hands were covering her face, and she was sobbing. Her image appeared so abruptly that he almost dropped the glass in his hand. His wife, surprised, stared at him.
Between having tea and listening to music, oddly enough, he must have slept—no doubt, for a very short time. Otherwise, how could he have seen an image plausible only in a dream? A part of him was in everything in the image: the sea, the woman’s face, the noise of the waves, the sobbing, the foam spilling all around. He remembered being sleepy before asking for the tea. He had been barely able to talk, listen to the music, or even take the tea cup from his wife. That night, he didn’t have any other dreams; the next night and the following night were the same. “I am afraid,” he confessed to himself. “I am afraid!”
Two days later, he woke up from a night of uninterrupted sleep without a single image that would make him long for anyone. He felt empty. Diminished. Poor. In reality, he had spent the whole day and night hoping to see the woman in his dreams. The next day’s experience was even worse. He wandered around all day, miserable and aimless, as if he had really lost a loved one. Am I not going to see her again?
The mystery of his dreams was so profound that Cemil felt disconnected from his normal life. He visited the doctor again. “What’s scariest is that my feelings persist even after the dreams end, as though I’ve encountered real life things in my dreams.” The doctor advised him to go to bed early and pay attention to his diet. “Take a break from work,” he said, “and try to think about other things. Every now and then, tire yourself physically.”
That night it was impossible to go to bed early. His sister and his wife’s relatives were visiting from Istanbul. After dinner, to kill time, they decided to play cards. Everything went well until 11:00, at which point he felt the same heaviness in his body as three nights earlier. His entire body tightened and was tense. He had never felt so tired, not even during his military service. He was barely able to hold the cards in his hands. But in addition to his desire to go to sleep, there was another feeling, a kind of bliss that he had not tasted before. Of course, it was not that simple, because this feeling of happiness was also sad and filled with nostalgia. While struggling to analyze his feelings, albeit unsuccessfully, Cemil passed out.
Now the image was very clear. The young woman was standing in front of him, her hands pressing into a table. Her face wore a strange fear. She was moving her lips like she wanted to say something. When Cemil came back to his senses, he found himself on the floor, the others by his side. The cards he’d been holding were scattered around him. Even during his very short dream, he had been able to hear the concern of those around him. His brother-in-law, a doctor, said, “You fainted. Has this happened before?” They all urged him to go to bed and rest.
Back in his room, he tried to remember his dream. It had been short, just a few seconds, but with the same clarity and cruel-world atmosphere as before. I am where I should be—at least, it feels like I am where I should be. But the table was not ours. It was an uncovered light table, and the woman had been standing next to it. Her neck had been wounded, although the small wound had closed. Her face had been unobstructed, but Cemil hadn’t been able to see it, because it had been covered with something else: fear and pain. Despite this, Cemil knew she was young and beautiful. Her terror-filled eyes revealed she had not experienced much life.
That night—closer to morning, actually—he had another dream. He was looking out from the door of a rather empty room. It must have been nighttime. From an open window, darkness and wind were pouring into the room. It was quite a strong wind because it lifted everything up into the air, from the window draperies to the bed covers. For a while, Cemil looked at the door’s threshold like he was looking for something he knew very well, although he didn’t know what. He then suddenly ran to the window. But as soon as he got there, the window slammed shut in his face.
A loud scream woke Cemil as he desperately tried to free himself from the draperies wrapping his entire body and his face. He was sure that the room and that scream belonged to the woman in his dreams.
Cemil was sure of one other thing: The scream would continue in his future dreams.
Indeed, the following night, following the advice of his brother-in-law and the first doctor he had seen, he went to bed early. Or rather, he went to bed as soon as she beckoned. A few minutes later, the young woman’s screams woke him up.
This time, he was surrounded by strange shadows, as if the darkness were made up of large, sticky chunks of glue that were continually separating from one another and then rejoining. They would be partially lit by an unknown light source, then turn completely dark and obscure again. Cemil was trying hard to discern something from this strange and terrifying chaos. He tried unsuccessfully to identify shapes in the blurriness. The most important impression this terrible dream left on Cemil was that, whatever was happening, it was happening in total silence—a silence that was crushing him as if he had committed a sin or a crime. This silence was so heavy that Cemil felt like he was carrying it, whether he wanted to or not, like a load on his shoulders and spine. He knew that, at some point, this silence would break and something very cruel would burst forth to break it. He was waiting for that.
Finally it happened. From all this darkness, he heard the woman’s voice. Except this time, she wasn’t screaming. She was speaking very clearly: “Save me! Please save me! You don’t know how they are torturing me. You don’t know … Save me!”
Just as Cemil was about to gallantly throw himself into the darkness, he woke up. His heart was pumping like it was about to burst from his chest. He sat up in bed and turned on the night lamp. Everything was where it was supposed to be. From the open door of the next room, he could hear the breathing of his wife and his children. Through an open window, a mild wind was carrying the smells of all the gardens in the neighborhood into his bedroom. He listened to the silence for a while. Then he got up and stood in front of the window. A group of stars was hanging so low they almost came inside his room. At one point, his eye went to the clock. It was five past eleven.
Cemil usually had these dreams between the time he went to bed and 2 or 2:30 a.m., although sometimes he had to fight with similar dreams close to morning as well. Interestingly, in those later dreams, he wasn’t experiencing what was happening, but rather things that had happened in the past. In fact, the dreams he had at the start of his sleep always involved a kind of movement. In contrast, the others, like in films, were reflections of the past. But the most astonishing thing was that these dreams had continuity, like novels published as series.
For months, Cemil read everything he could about dreams. He knew everything about them, including detailed observations about their various aspects. In the past two days, he had spent hours talking with his brother-in-law, to whom he described the entire affair. In the end, the elderly doctor changed his mind completely from his initial conviction, concluding, “I’m afraid you are not going to find the explanations within yourself.” The continuity of Cemil’s dreams had caught his attention as well.
Another evening, Cemil was talking with the young woman in his dreams. He knew she was next to him, but he could not look at her face. He was convinced he was madly in love with her. He wanted to tell her many things, and his heart was breaking into pieces. Meanwhile, she kept saying, “They are calling me. I have no choice but to go. Don’t you understand?” Then, she begged him, “Save me, please save me!” She continued, “Oh God, it will start again! They will ask me again. They will tie me tightly and will ask me over and over. They will ask me things I can never reveal.” She repeated, “Save me, please save me! How can I tell them? You don’t know how I suffer, standing at that table! People can be so cruel, for no reason.”
Although it was only a dream, Cemil wanted to ask her, “What is the truth of the story? Who are you?” But no words left his muted mouth. All he could do was listen to her, his heart full of compassion. The woman suddenly disappeared, and Cemil found himself in very dark gardens, wandering along unknown roads, and chasing noises he thought he heard in the dark. Later, a bright light came through his window and he woke up.
When he slept again, close to morning, he found the young woman at a table with her hands and legs tied. She was not talking; she was just looking at him. Her gaze was so incredibly sad that, when Cemil woke up, he cried like a child.
He spent the day very disturbed. It was a hot day with cloudy skies. He wandered throughout the house, like a tormented soul. Eventually, he left home and went to Kozyatağı. From there, he went to İçerenköy. He studied every woman he encountered, as if searching for the woman from his dreams. Next, he went to Kadiköy, and from there, to İstanbul. He visited some friends in Taksim and Şişli.
For a month, he spent his days rushing out of his home early and returning late. One evening, while returning home on the ferry, he ran into an old acquaintance. His friend commented that Cemil was quite thin and distracted, and he accused him of not taking care of himself. Running into an acquaintance, sitting next to him or standing next to him while pulling at his coat collar, was enough of an excuse for this friend to talk nonstop. He moved from one topic to another, telling Cemil about international affairs, his new job, his friends at work, and so on.
“Did you know,” Cemil’s friend asked, “that my vice director lives near you? A group of us meet at his house once a week. Many times, I wanted to invite you to join us, but they said ‘No, he is a loner, he doesn’t go anywhere.’ Imagine, my friend. I don’t really believe in such things, but there is this medium.” The friend stared at Cemil. “They also found a spirit. A young woman, Selma, she committed suicide not too long ago. For two months, we have been calling her spirit and she tells us everything. Everything we ask, she answers. Except, she refuses to tell us why she committed suicide. No matter how much we press her, she refuses!”
Cemil could not listen any more. On top of the waves, an apparition with fear-filled eyes and tightly pressed lips was looking at him, beckoning to him, as if to say, “Let’s go!”