Excerpt of Snow by Orhan Pamuk
(Page 5 of 8)
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"Welcome to our border city, sir. But what are you here for?"
Ka explained that he had come to cover the municipal elections and also perhaps to write about the suicide girls.
"As in Batman, the stories about the suicide girls have been exaggerated," the journalist replied. "Let's go over to meet Kasm Bey, the assistant chief of police. They should know you've arrivedjust in case."
That all newcomers, even journalists, should pay a visit to the police was a provincial custom dating back to the forties. Because he was a political exile who had just returned to the country after an absence of many years, and because, even though no one had mentioned it, he sensed the presence of Kurdish separatist guerillas (PKK) in the city, Ka made no objection.
They set off into the blizzard, cutting through a fruit market and continuing past the stores of spare parts and hardware on Kâzam Karabekir Avenue, past teahouses where gloomy unemployed men sat watching television and the falling snow, past dairy shops displaying huge wheels of yellow cheese; it took them fifteen minutes to cut a diagonal across the city.
Along the way, Serdar Bey stopped to show Ka the place where the old mayor had been assassinated. According to one rumor, he'd been shot over a simple municipal dispute: the demolition of an illegal balcony. They'd caught the assailant after three days in the village to which he'd escaped; when they found him hiding in a barn, he was still carrying the weapon. But there had been so much gossip during those three days before his capture, no one wanted to believe that this was indeed the culprit: the simplicity of the motivation was disappointing.
The Kars police headquarters was in a long three-story building on Faikbey Avenue, where the old stone buildings that had once belonged to wealthy Russians and Armenians now housed mostly government offices. As they sat waiting for the assistant chief of police, Serdar Bey pointed out the high ornate ceilings and explained that between 1877 and 1918, during the Russian occupation of the city, this forty-room mansion was first home to a rich Armenian and later a Russian hospital.
Kasam Bey, the beer-bellied assistant chief of police, came into the corridor and ushered them into his room. Ka could see at once that they were in the company of a man who did not read national newspapers like the Republican, considering them left-wing, that he was not particularly impressed to see Serdar Bey praising anyone simply for being a poet, but that he feared and respected him as the owner of the leading local paper. After Serdar Bey had finished speaking, the police chief turned to Ka. "Do you want protection?"
"I'm only suggesting one plainclothes policeman. To set your mind at ease."
"Do I really need it?" asked Ka, in the agitated voice of a man whose doctor has just told him he should start walking with a cane.
"Our city is a peaceful place. We've caught all the terrorists who were driving us apart. But I'd still recommend it, just in case."
"If Kars is a peaceful place, then I don't need protection," said Ka. He was secretly hoping that the assistant chief of police would take this opportunity to reassure him once again that Kars was a peaceful place, but Kasam Bey did not repeat his statement.
They headed north to Kalealti and Bayrampasa, the poorest neighborhoods. The houses here were shanties made of stone, brick, and corrugated aluminum siding. With the snow continuing to fall, they made their way from house to house: Serdar Bey would knock on a door, and if a woman answered he would ask to see the man of the house, and if Serdar Bey recognized him he would say in a voice inspiring confidence that his friend, a famous journalist, had come to Kars all the way from Istanbul to report on the elections and also to find out more about the cityto write, for example, about why so many women were committing suicideand if these citizens could share their concerns, they would be doing a good thing for Kars. A few were very friendly, perhaps because they thought Ka and Serdar Bey might be candidates bearing tins of sunflower oil, boxes of soaps, or parcels full of cookies and pasta. If they decided to invite the two men in out of curiosity or simple hospitality, the next thing they did was to tell Ka not to be afraid of the dogs. Some opened their doors fearfully, assuming, after so many years of police intimidation, that this was yet another search, and even once they had realized that these men were not from the state, they would remain shrouded in silence. As for the families of the girls who had committed suicide (in a short time, Ka had heard about six incidents), they each insisted that their daughters had given them no cause for alarm, leaving them all shocked and grieved by what had happened.
Excerpted from Snow by Orhan Pamuk Copyright© 2004 by Orhan Pamuk. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.