MEHMET ZAMAN SAÇLIOĞLU
THE SECOND ISLAND (FOG ISLAND)
The train was moving fast. Only two of us remained in the compartment as the others got off at the previous station. My traveling companion, a slim, light brown haired man in his thirties, a little younger than I, took off his shoes and stretched out to sleep on the seat opposite. I was considering doing the same but hesitated, as there were only fifteen or twenty minutes left before my stop.
I moved next to the window and pressed my nose against the glass as if hoping to see something through the pitch dark. No moon, no stars, no lights to be seen out there. My eyelids became heavy, lulled by the constant rattling and swaying of the train. Just as I closed my eyes I noticed that the train sounds had changed and the shaking stopped. The train was slowing down. Soon it came to a halt. Outside, there was nothing to be seen. I entered the aisle and peered out but still nothing. This was no ordinary darkness.
I pulled down the window and detected there was movement outside. This strange darkness – like a curious child who sticks his finger into every hole he can reach - flowed through the window, twisting, winding, becoming white. Then I realized we were in the midst of a dense fog. For a moment a light shone through the moving fog. I was never aware that this last train of the day made such a stop. I closed the window to those foggy fingers. As I was about to return to my compartment, the door to the car at the other end of the aisle opened and the conductor entered ringing a small bell:
“Breakdown! We’ll be here for an hour. Please do not get off the train, the fog is very thick….”
As he passed by me I asked the conductor the name of this place.
“SecondIslandstation,” he said.
I said I’d never heard of it before.
“This is a very small station,” he said. “Not every train stops here.”
My traveling companion also awoke and was putting on his shoes. He approached me with sleepy eyes, touched my arm and cocked his head as if to ask what was happening. A questioning sound came from his mouth. I realized that he was mute, and it occurred to me that he might also be deaf.
“Breakdown,” I said slowly so he could read my lips.
I was not mistaken. My traveling companion was both mute and deaf – but we found a way of communicating. His face lightened up as he noticed the fog. He opened the window, stretched out his arm and waved it in the fog while uttering joyous sounds. Then he turned to me and made a sign with his hand for me to follow him outside. His finger pointing to the outside, he opened the door, then grasping the iron handle, stepped down. He was emitting little screams and laughing. As he reached the ground he let go, turned around and extended his hands toward me.
The view was so very extraordinary yet frightening. My companion’s outstretched hands, his face and a part of his upper body were still visible, but the lower part of his body was fading away and the feet had already disappeared into the fog. I moved my lips expressively, saying, “Don’t walk too far, you’ll get lost.” He shook his head, not understanding my plea. “Don’t go … the fog,” I said slowly mouthing every word.
He waved his hand as if to say that it didn’t matter and with raised eyebrow and shoulder, pointed to the train. I guessed he meant that the train was safely beside us.
Not to leave him alone and exposed to every kind of accident that might occur in the fog since he could not hear, I stepped off the train.
I could hardly see my own feet. Like a child about to swim and cannot separate his hands from the pier when attempting the deep water for the first time, I held tightly to the iron handle of the train. After some hesitation, I let go and stepped next to my friend whose face was barely visible. My breathing was constricted.
“Eternity,” I said, forgetting he was deaf. I whispered to myself this time, “It’s like eternity.”
This surprised me that the thick fog that hindered my view would evoke a feeling of eternity. I thought of the friend next to me. Was it the same for him? Did he constantly feel himself in an eternity of silence? We were standing about two meters apart. I could see him but as I took one step back his vision would fade away. My friend moved his arms up and down, the fog flowing in small clouds between his fingers, under his arms. Just as he was about to stand still, he would begin his arm movements again. In the course of this game he was uttering jubilant sounds. I failed to notice that we had gradually changed our position ten, maybe more, steps away from the train until I saw a look of amazement on his face, then fear. He whirled around a couple of times, then turned to me with questioning eyes. The train was out of sight. My friend approached me and took my hand, his voice making sounds of questioning and fear now. I held his shoulders, spelling out slowly so that he could read my lips, “Don’t be afraid, the train didn’t go … it’s still here!”
He nodded his head as if he understood. We took a few steps hand in hand, but the train was not in that direction. We stopped. His hand in mine felt like that of a helpless child. I turned to him, put my finger to my lips for him to be quiet. I didn’t want to miss any sounds coming from the train. But neither voice nor light came from that great mass nearby.
Silence stretched out as if rushing all around us, as if the fog were grinding down all sounds into sameness.
I remembered the story about the Trojan King Tithanos who grew smaller and smaller while getting older and, at the end, turned into a cricket, a mere sound. Still I could hear nothing. After a couple of minutes I could not stand the silence and shouted, “Hello! You people on the train!” But no reply. “Mr. conductor, can you hear me?” But the silence was unbroken.
My friend noticed that I was shouting and began his wordless calls. Instinctively, not consciously, I understood what he was saying: “We are lost, help us, where are you? I am scared, come here!” My deaf mute friend had placed so much feeling into this strange screaming with words that can’t be found in any dictionary. He shouted twice, then began looking at my face to learn if any answer was received.
I was all ears. After a couple of seconds, I heard a weak voice. Seeing that I had raised my head and turned in the direction of the voice, my friend again shouted. I made him hush. He was agitated. He also took a position as if to listen, his eyes fastened on my face trying to catch any reflection of any sound I might hear.
I believed I heard that weak voice again and made a sign to my friend to keep him quiet. He nodded as if to say he would. The weak voice was coming closer, whatever it was. I heard a scraping and tapping sound. Hearing it better I shouted, “Hello, who is there?”
The voice stopped. I was afraid that somebody or something would come and hit my deaf friend. I became anxious and called out again: “Hello, here we are. We lost the train!”
The voice started again but I couldn’t gauge the distance. I looked in the direction it was coming from without seeing a thing. Suddenly someone called out, “Yes, where are you?”
I relaxed. “Here,” I said, “we are here.”
My friend also understood that I was talking to someone and expected an explanation. I made a sign to him to wait a little bit. The smile on my face calmed him down.
“Stay where you are and call to me. I am coming toward you,” said the voice. “Keep on talking so that I may find you. How many of you are out there?”
“Two,” I said, “We are two people.”
“What is the color of your clothes?”
“Our clothes? What are you going to do with our clothes? We cannot even see the tips of our noses.”
“I mean I am just asking for fun. I cannot repeat all the time, where are you, to the right or the left? Are you going to say to me like a parking lot attendant, “go left, go right?” Just say something so that I can find you.”
“My friend has a pink bikini and I am wearing long white underwear.”
“My God, you really are lost!”
Meanwhile the voice had come quite close to us. We saw his silhouette before us. He was just two steps ahead.
“You should be somewhere around here,” he said, and touched my foot with a thin metal walking stick. When his stick touched me, he stopped. He didn’t seem to be looking at us but up in the sky.
“Now I’ve got you,” he said. “I couldn’t have recognized you if you hadn’t described your clothes in detail! Now, tell me how you could get lost in this no-man’s land.”
We were startled to discover before us an elderly man who was totally blind. I kept silent for a moment, not knowing what to say. Then I said, “We lost the train. We got down and then must have stepped too far away from it.”
“Like children who stray too far from home and lose their way back,” said the blind man. “This is what being blind is like if it happens to you later in life.”
“Sorry we didn’t mean to offend you,” I said.
“I know, don’t take it seriously,” the man said. I was only joking. You must have figured out that I am blind from the sound of my walking stick as I came toward you.”
I felt like giving him a nasty answer. “No, from its color, from its white tip.”
“Amazing. I took this stick thinking that the other one would not be visible in the fog. Actually, I normally don’t use my white-tipped stick. I don’t like it when people recognize my blindness. You have good eyes, young man,” he said and continued on: “Madam, we haven’t been introduced yet, but I am happy to meet you.”
I rushed to give an answer: “Sorry sir, but this is not a lady. My companion is male. I was just joking about the ‘bikini.’”
The man frowned and was just about to say something when I interrupted: “My friend is a deaf mute, he can’t answer you.”
“Unfortunately he also cannot answer you. I regret that you make jokes on his account. I know you had no bad intentions but it was disrespectful, young man. So this is the fellow who was calling for help. Nice to meet you, young man,” he said and smiled. “Never mind. Now let me offer you both a cup of tea. Tell your friend to follow me too.”
“Thank you,” I said, “but the train may leave any minute.”
The man turned in the direction he came from and shouted: “Machinist, how much longer do you need?”
“It will take at least a half hour,” shouted someone from far away.
“Did you hear that? Come on, let’s go. Our cafe makes wonderful tea and it’s open all night,” he said.
“Why didn’t they answer us from the train when we were shouting?” I asked. “Didn’t anybody hear us? We screamed so much, asking for help.”
“They did answer. I came to help you,” said the man.
My companion had not understood what was going on but could not take his eyes off the old man. He was very impressed by his blindness. He scrutinized the man’s face, his stick, his feet, his hands. I touched his arm to make him look at me and repeated aloud and expressively so he could read my lips: “This gentleman is inviting us for a cup of tea.”
He couldn’t comprehend. One couldn’t expect him to. These words were so strange given the situation we were in. Repeating my words I pretended to hold a cup of tea and stir in the sugar. This time he understood but his eyes were full of questions. I nodded my head positively and he gave me an approving sound.
The blind man said, “Fine then, let’s go. The cafe is not far.”
I hesitated. “Fine, but how are we going to find our way back to the train?” I asked.
“Don’t make things so complicated,” said the man impatiently. “I am going to bring you back. Give me your hand. Also hold you friend’s hand. Don’t let go! I don’t want you to break your necks in this fog. If you fall and hit your head there is nothing I can do. You know I have to hear your voice to find you. Also don’t rely on the dogs. They can’t find you either in this fog. Their noses don’t function when their eyes can’t see. Anyway, in this village you can’t find a dog to track anyone. Come on now, forward march!”
We took a couple of steps holding hands but could not walk easily. I felt as though I would bump into something at each step and my friend seemed to feel the same. Our blind guide said,” Follow my steps at the same stride and pace. Imagine me to be the head of a folk dancing group, not a blind guide. Try to fit your body rhythms to mine.”
In an effort to relate these instructions to my friend, still holding his hand I gently raised our arms up and down like flying movements in the fog. He understood and tried to fall in step. Again, his little joyful screams were heard. Our blind guide started laughing. “These deaf mutes are always joyful, even when following a blind man!”
After a couple of moments we began to march in harmony. The man was walking unexpectedly fast.
“We are walking on a flat surface,” he said. “This will continue until we reach the cafe. Here is a broad square. There are no salient parts that could make us fall, nor is there anybody to bump into. Nobody but me would wander about in this fog. We get fog here frequently. I enjoy myself when the fog comes, and when it disappears everybody rejoices except me. Now tell me, which is better, clear or fog? Hard to decide, isn’t it?”
I felt I had to say something. “But seeing people are the majority. Fog is no good for them,” I said.
“It is wrong to think that what the majority wants is good. In such foggy weather, I show them the way, bring the sick to the hospital or the doctor to the sick.”
“Are you the only blind man around?” I asked.
“Yes, unfortunately,” said the old man. “This place is smaller than you think. There were two other blind men here but they left a couple of years ago to work in a big city. I heard that their workplace was very well lighted. Isn’t that funny?”
A couple of steps further on, the ground seemed to slant slightly upward.
“Are we climbing a hill?” I asked.
“No, we are almost there,” he said. “On our right is a 200-year-old fountain. … Now we are right in front of it. You should be able to see the reliefs on it. 28 steps further and we will be at the cafe.”
And, truly 28 steps later we were standing at a doorstep. The old man found the door with his stick, tried to push it back, but it was closed. “Do you see any lights at the window?”
“No,” I said.
“Look at that. They are closed again. Sometimes when it is foggy they close the cafe.”
“Why shouldn’t they?” I said. “You said yourself that people don’t wander around in the fog. What’s the use of a cafe without customers?”
“This cafe is open 24 hours a day. Two brothers run the place. One of them works in the day, the other at night. They change shifts every month. Wouldn’t it be better if one would always work by night and the other by day? I couldn’t quite figure out which wears them out more, working by day or working by night. Anyway that’s their business, but it makes me sorry as this is no way to run a cafe that is open all night. Such a cafe is a security, like a hospital emergency service. It is important for you to know that it’s always open. Maybe you go there at midnight just once in forty years but it should always be kept open.”
“I agree with you now,” I said to the man.
“I wore you out for nothing,” he said. “Actually I could have taken you to my place, but it’s a little bit far. If you came some other time at an earlier hour, I would be very glad to host you in my home, I assure you.”
“Thank you for the invitation,” I said. “I would also like to see you again, but let us get back to our train now.”
“Fine,” he said, “but also tell your friend what’s going on so that he may know we are heading back to the train.”
“You’re right, excuse me,” I said.
“Apologize to him, not to me.”
I turned to my deaf friend and said, “We are going back to the train.” He nodded.
“Sorry for sending you back without offering you anything,” said our guide as he stretched out his hand to me. We all held hands again and walked in the direction we came from. Everyone was silent for awhile, seemingly lost in our own thoughts. I sensed for an instant that my blind guide had pressed my hand.
“What’s going on?” I whispered.
He gave no answer, turned right, stopped a little, stopped again. Then he took a deep breath. “Honeysuckle,” he said, “how nice they smell.”
I also noticed a distinct smell of honeysuckle. Our guide took one more deep breath. “I haven’t smelled such a pure white honeysuckle for a long time,” he said.As if sensing the question that passed through my mind, he continued talking while stepping ahead, “The fact that I cannot see colors doesn’t mean that I cannot call them by the name,” he said.
After a couple of steps, a huge silhouette appeared before us.
“Here we are,” I said, “the train is in view.”
“Still five or six steps to go,” our guide said and stopped after three steps.
My deaf mute friend let go of my hand and grabbed onto the steps of the train. Clearly now he felt himself safe again. Still holding our guide’s hand I said, “Thank you a lot,. This was an outing I will never forget. It was incredible. I would like to come and see you again.”
“I would be glad to see you too, young fellow. You can also bring along your friend here, or others. You can invite anybody who would like to chat with a blind man in the fog. I owe you a cup of tea anyway, don’t you forget.”
He appeared to sense where my friend was, and shouting in his direction he said, “Good-bye to you, too. I would like to get to know you better,” and waved.
He turned to me and said, “Please give my best wishes to your friend and say good-bye.”
Then he turned about abruptly. First his vision, then the sound of his stick and his footsteps melted into the fog.
We climbed onto the train, shut the car door and headed for our compartment. My friend entered and threw himself on his seat. Soon the train began to move. My friend was gazing out the window. After a couple of minutes we noticed the fog had dispersed and houses and lights had become visible. My friend took out a paper and pen from his bag, put the bag on his knees, wrote something on the paper and handed it to me.
He wrote: “What a fog that was! The man was quite interesting. I was very excited while we were walking, but the thing that really got to me was the delicious smell of the honeysuckle. I have never smelled such a white scent. It was like silk. Could you write down what you talked about with the old man?”
I nodded and wrote underneath: “How many empty pages have you got?
Translated by Carol Stevens Yurur
Original Text: “İkinci Ada, (Sis Adası)” from the book: Beş Ada, Istarbul, 2002 Published by: Is Bankası Kültür Yayınları