Excerpt of The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
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Whatever falls from the sky above, thou shall not curse it. That includes the
No matter what might pour down, no matter how heavy the cloudburst or how icy
the sleet, you should never ever utter profanities against whatever the heavens
might have in store for us. Everybody knows this. And that includes Zeliha.
Yet, there she was on this first Friday of July, walking on a sidewalk that
flowed next to hopelessly clogged traffic; rushing to an appointment she was now
late for, swearing like a trooper, hissing one profanity after another at the
broken pavement stones, at her high heels, at the man stalking her, at each and
every driver who honked frantically when it was an urban fact that clamor had no
effect on unclogging traffic, at the whole Ottoman dynasty for once upon a time
conquering the city of Constantinople, and then sticking by its mistake, and
yes, at the rain . . . this damn summer rain.
Rain is an agony here. In other parts of the world, a downpour will in all
likelihood come as a boon for nearly everyone and everythinggood for the crops,
good for the fauna and the flora, and with an extra splash of romanticism, good
for lovers. Not so in Istanbul though. Rain, for us, isnt necessarily about
getting wet. Its not about getting dirty even. If anything, its about getting
angry. Its mud and chaos and rage, as if we didnt have enough of each already.
And struggle. Its always about struggle. Like kittens thrown into a bucketful
of water, all ten million of us put up a futile fight against the drops. It
cant be said that we are completely alone in this scuffle, for the streets too
are in on it, with their antediluvian names stenciled on tin placards, and the
tombstones of so many saints scattered in all directions, the piles of garbage
that wait on almost every corner, the hideously huge construction pits soon to
be turned into glitzy, modern buildings, and the seagulls. . . . It angers us
all when the sky opens and spits on our heads.
But then, as the final drops reach the ground and many more perch unsteadily on
the now dustless leaves, at that unprotected moment, when you are not quite sure
that it has finally ceased raining, and neither is the rain itself, in that very
interstice, everything becomes serene. For one long minute, the sky seems to
apologize for the mess she has left us in. And we, with driblets still in our
hair, slush in our cuffs, and dreariness in our gaze, stare back at the sky, now
a lighter shade of cerulean and clearer than ever. We look up and cant help
smiling back. We forgive her; we always do.
At the moment, however, it was still pouring and Zeliha had little, if any,
forgiveness in her heart. She did not have an umbrella, for she had promised
herself that if she was enough of an imbecile to throw a bunch of money to yet
another street vendor for yet another umbrella, only to forget it here and there
as soon as the sun came back, then she deserved to be soaked to the bone.
Besides, it was too late now anyway. She was already sopping wet. That was the
one thing about the rain that likened it to sorrow: You did your best to remain
untouched, safe and dry, but if and when you failed, there came a point in which
you started seeing the problem less in terms of drops than as an incessant gush,
and thereby you decide you might as well get drenched.
Rain dripped from her dark curls onto her broad shoulders. Like all the women in
the Kazancı family, Zeliha had been born with frizzy raven-black hair, but
unlike the others, she liked to keep it that way. From time to time her eyes of
jade green, normally wide open, and filled with fiery intelligence, squinted
into two lines of untainted indifference inherent only to three groups of
people: the hopelessly naïve, the hopelessly withdrawn, and the hopelessly full
of hope. She being none of these, it was hard to make sense of this
indifference, even if it was such a flickering one. One minute it was here,
canopying her soul to drugged insensibility, the next minute it was gone,
leaving her alone in her body.
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.