Excerpt of The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
(Page 5 of 9)
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Whenever a glass broke or a mirror cracked, Petite-Ma heaved a sigh of relief.
After all, given the fact that you could not completely wipe out wicked people
from the surface of this madly spinning world, it was far better to have their
evil eye ram into a frontier of glass than penetrate deep inside Gods innocent
souls and ruin their lives.
Twenty minutes later when Zeliha rushed into a chic office in one of the most
well-off quarters of the city, she had a broken heel in one hand and a new set
of tea glasses in the other. Once inside the door, she was dismayed to remember
that she had left the wrapped cinnamon sticks at the Grand Bazaar.
In the waiting room there were three women, each with terrible hair, and a
man with almost none. Given the way they sat, Zeliha instantly noted and
cynically deduced, the youngest was the least worried of all, languidly leafing
through the pictures of a womens magazine, too lazy to read the articles,
probably here to renew her prescription for birth control pills; the plump
blonde next to the window, who seemed to be in her early thirties and whose
black roots begged to be dyed, was swaying on her feet nervously, her mind
apparently elsewhere, probably here for a routine checkup and annual Pap smear.
The third one, who was wearing a head scarf and had come along with her husband,
seemed to be the least composed of them all, the corners of her mouth turned
down, her eyebrows knit. Zeliha guessed she was having trouble getting pregnant.
Now that, Zeliha assumed, could be bothersome, depending on ones perspective.
She personally did not see infertility as the worst thing that could happen to a
Hellooo you! chirped the receptionist, forcing herself into a goofy, phony
smile so well practiced it looked neither goofy nor phony. Are you our three
The receptionist seemed to be having a hard time pronouncing the letter r, and
as if to compensate she went to extraordinary lengths by accentuating the sound,
raising her voice, and offering an extra smile on top of that whenever her
tongue bumped into that ominous letter. To save her the burden, Zeliha nodded
instantly and perhaps too heartily.
And what exactly are you here for, Miss Three-oclock--Appointment?
Zeliha managed to ignore the absurdity of the question. By now she knew too well
that it was precisely this unconditional and all-embracing female cheerfulness
that she sorely lacked in life. Some women were devoted smilers; they smiled
with a Spartan sense of duty. How could one ever learn to do so naturally
something so unnatural, Zeliha wondered. But leaving aside the question that
tugged at the edges of her mind, she responded: An abortion.
The word hovered in the air, and they all waited for it to sink. The
receptionists eyes grew small, then large, while the smile on her face
disappeared. Zeliha couldnt help feeling relieved. After all, unconditional and
all-embracing female cheerfulness brought out a vindictive streak in her.
I have an appointment. . . . Zeliha said, tucking a ringlet behind her ears
while letting the rest of her hair fall around her face and over her shoulders
like a thick, black burka. She lifted her chin, thus accentuating her aquiline
nose, and felt the need to repeat, a notch louder than she had intended, or
maybe not. Because I need to have an abortion.
Torn between impartially registering the new patient and giving a scolding eye
to such intrepidness, the receptionist stood still, a huge, leather-covered
notebook lying open in front of her. A few more seconds passed before she
finally started scribbling. In the meantime Zeliha muttered:
Im sorry that Im late. The clock on the wall indicated that she was
forty-six minutes late, and as her gaze rested on it, for a second, she looked
as if she were drifting away. Its because of the rain. . . .
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.