Excerpt of The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
(Page 3 of 9)
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Whats wrong with you, creep? Cant a woman walk in peace in this city?
But why walk when I could give you a ride? the driver asked. You wouldnt
want that sexy body to get wet, would you?
As Madonna cried in the background My fear is fading fast, been saving it all
for you, Zeliha began to swear, thus breaking another unwritten and unbreakable
rule, this time not one of Petite-Mas but one of Female Prudence. Never cuss at
The Golden Rule of Prudence for an Istanbulite Woman: When harassed on the
street, never respond, since a woman who responds, let alone swears back at her
harasser, shall only fire up the enthusiasm of the latter!
Zeliha was no stranger to this rule, and she knew better than to violate it, but
this first Friday of July was like no other, and there was now another self
unleashed in her, one far more carefree and brash, and frighteningly furious. It
was this other Zeliha that inhabited most of her inner space and took charge of
things now, making decisions in the name of both. That must be why she continued
to curse at the top of her voice. As she drowned out Madonna, the pedestrians
and umbrella vendors gathered to see what kind of trouble was brewing. In the
turmoil, the stalker behind her flinched, knowing better than to mess with a
madwoman. But the cabdriver was neither as prudent nor as timid, for he welcomed
all the fuss with a grin. Zeliha noticed how surprisingly white and flawless the
mans teeth were, and could not help wondering if they were porcelain capped.
Little by little, she once again felt that wave of adrenaline escalate in her
belly, churning her stomach, accelerating her pulse, making her sense that she,
rather than any other woman in her whole family, might someday kill a man.
Fortunately for Zeliha, it was then that the driver of a Toyota behind the cab
lost patience and honked. As if awakened from a bad dream, Zeliha came to her
senses and shivered at her grim situation. Her proclivity to violence scared
her, as it always had. In an instant she was quiet and veered aside, trying to
inch her way through the crowd. Yet in her haste, Zelihas right heel became
stuck under a loose cobblestone. Infuriated, she pulled her foot out of the
puddle under the stone. While her foot and shoe came loose, the heel of her shoe
broke, thus reminding her of a particular rule she should have never put out of
her mind in the first place.
The Silver Rule of Prudence for an Istanbulite Woman: When harassed on the
street, do not lose nerve, since a woman who loses her nerve in the face of
harassment, and thus reacts excessively, will only make matters worse for
The cabdriver laughed, the horn of the Toyota behind blared yet again, the rain
hastened on, and several pedestrians tsk-tsked in unison, though it was hard to
tell what exactly they were reprimanding. Amid all the tumult, Zeliha caught
sight of an iridescent bumper sticker glittering on the back of the cab: dont
call me wretched! it declared. the wretched too have a heart. As she stood there
blankly staring at these words, suddenly she felt tired beyond herselfso tired
and taken aback that one would suppose it wasnt the everyday problems of an
Istanbulite that she was dealing with. Rather it was some sort of cryptic code
that a faraway mind had specifically designed for her to decipher and that she
in her mortality had never managed to crack. Soon, the cab and the Toyota left
and the pedestrians went their separate ways, leaving Zeliha there, holding the
broken heel of her shoe as tenderly and despondently as if she were carrying a
Now, among the things included in Zelihas chaotic universe, there might be dead
birds, but certainly not tenderness and despondency. She would have none of
those. She straightened up and did her awkward best to walk with one heel. Soon
she was hurrying amid a crowd with umbrellas, exposing her stunning legs,
limping her way like a note out of tune. She was a thread of lavender, a most
unbefitting hue fallen into a tapestry of browns, grays, and more browns and
grays. Though hers was a discordant color, the crowd was cavernous enough to
swallow her disharmony and bring her back into its cadence. The crowd was not a
conglomeration of hundreds of breathing, sweating, and aching bodies, but one
single breathing, sweating, and aching body under the rain. Rain or sun made
little difference. Walking in Istanbul meant walking in tandem with the crowd.
Excerpted from The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak, © 2007 by Elif Shafak. Excerpted by permission of Viking Press, a division of Penguin Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.