River of The Dead

River of The Dead by Barbara Nadel Read Free Book Online

Book: River of The Dead by Barbara Nadel Read Free Book Online
Authors: Barbara Nadel
room, could hear his son Bekir and his daughter Çiçek talking in the kitchen. Bekir’s stories regarding his ‘lost’ years were becoming a feature of everyone’s evenings now that he was back home once again. Relayed in an almost casual tone that could be regarded as modest, they often drew a response of breathless excitement from Bekir’s siblings. He was engaged at that particular moment in telling his younger sister about the time he’d apparently spent living on the streets of Sulukule up by the old city walls. A gypsy quarter, it was a place that had a reputation, mainly for the high cost of its dancing girls and the toughness of its men.
    ‘Dad engaged a gypsy fortune-teller for Hulya’s wedding,’ İkmen heard his daughter say. ‘She was very good.’
    What a pity the gypsy in question hadn’t been able to predict that Hulya and Berekiah’s marriage would come under so much strain. But then the fortune-teller wasn’t just a seer, she was an artist and one of İkmen’s informants too. And although she lived in the district of Balat, she like most gypsies knew Sulukule well. If Bekir had, as he was now telling his sister, a reputation as a fighter up in the gypsy quarter, the fortune-teller would know about it.
    ‘I called myself the Black Storm,’ he heard Bekir say. ‘And I won every fight I ever had in Sulukule.’
    İkmen looked across the room at his wife, who was darning one of Kemal’s socks. It was a really old-fashioned thing to do in what had become an era of cheap, throwaway clothes. But Fatma İkmen was not a woman given to behaviour she perceived to be wasteful.
    ‘What do you think about all these stories Bekir tells?’ İkmen asked his wife when he finally managed to catch her eye.
    ‘I’m just glad to have him back, wherever he’s been,’ she replied. ‘Aren’t you?’
    ‘Well, of course!’ He said that, but was it true? Çetin İkmen alone had, finally, had to deal with Bekir when he reached the height of his bad behaviour at age fifteen. Fatma and the other children had known about the stealing, of course; he’d stolen from every one of them. They’d also known about the cannabis and the drink. But Çetin had kept quiet about the harder drugs he knew his son was taking. The cocaine and the amphetamines had been between Çetin and Bekir, as had the former’s knowledge of the latter’s drug-dealing exploits. Bekir at fifteen had been a nightmare. Taking drugs, dealing, getting drunk, fighting . . . There had been women too, İkmen recalled, ladies of his wife’s age who, if indirectly, had helped to fund Bekir’s various drug addictions. The boy had not, his father could not easily forget, always treated those women with even the most basic kindness. Allah, but the black eyes and cracked ribs that some middle-aged women were prepared to tolerate in exchange for a firm, young body!
    Fatma, her concentration on her needlework now broken, said, ‘Çetin, are you sure about that? Are you sure you’re really happy about Bekir being home again?’
    She was no fool. After thirty-seven years of marriage there was little she didn’t know or couldn’t deduce about her husband.
    İkmen took in a deep breath and then leaned forward. ‘Oh, Fatma,’ he said, ‘I don’t know. The circumstances of his leaving were so . . .’
    ‘But that was years ago, Çetin!’ Fatma said. ‘He’s changed now. Even you can see he’s not on drugs any more.’
    Bekir didn’t appear to be, it was true. In fact apart from cigarettes he didn’t seem to ‘do’ anything, and that included alcohol. That, in particular, pleased Fatma, who was a sincere and observant Muslim. But all of that notwithstanding, İkmen himself was not happy. A doubt, something he often objectified by envisaging it as the voice of his dead mother whispering in his ear, was nagging. Ayşe, his Albanian mother, the local witch of the Asian district of Üsküdar, was not happy with Bekir. He made her skin tingle.

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