Last Train to Istanbul(9)

By: Ayse Kulin

My God! he thought. They probably forgot to cancel the call.

He rushed out of bed and, without even pausing to put on slippers, ran down the hall, reaching the phone and answering it breathlessly.


“I’m sorry, sir. I knew I’d wake you, but…”

“Hello…hello…who’s that?”

“It’s me…Tarık…Tarık Arıca.”

“Oh, Tarık.” Macit took a deep breath. “What’s happened?”

“I’m sorry for calling at this late hour. I hope I haven’t woken the rest of the family.”

“Tell me, what’s the matter?”

“Bad news, I’m afraid. I’m on duty at the office, and, well, half an hour ago the Germans attacked Rhodes.”

Macit slumped into the armchair. “I can’t believe it,” he mumbled.

“I’m afraid so. The secretary general, the minister, and the chief of staff are to meet in about twenty minutes. The president has been informed.”

“I understand,” said Macit. “I’m on my way. Thank you.”

He crept toward the bedroom again. Sabiha was still sound asleep. He went into the bathroom and dressed in the same clothes he had taken off earlier.

When Sabiha heard Macit close the door, she sat up in bed and waited for a while in the dark. She turned on the lamp on her bedside table. Tears were running down her face onto her pink nightdress.

She held up her arms to pray. “Please, God, protect my darling Selva. Save my sister from that hell. I beg of you, God.”

She clasped her hands to her face and rocked in despair. “Forgive me, my little sister,” she whispered. “Forgive me, Selva.”


Selva was drying her long blonde hair in the sun, combing it with an ivory comb and at the same time shaking it, scattering a myriad of tiny drops that looked like little balls of crystal. Sabiha looked on enviously and snapped, “Don’t dry your hair over here; you’ll stain my dress.”

“You must be joking! Whoever heard of water leaving stains?”

“I assure you that water stains silk.”

Selva walked away from the window and sat cross-legged on her bed, continuing to dry her hair.

“You could take me with you, you know!”

“But I don’t want to.”


“Because you’re too young, that’s why. Maybe next year.”

“But I’m taller than you.”

Sabiha looked at her sister angrily. She was going to respond, but bit her lip for a while.

Knowing how proud Selva was of her long hair, Sabiha couldn’t resist saying, “You know, I think it’s about time you cut your hair. You’ll be sweeping the floor with it soon.”

“Father won’t let me cut it.”

“You’re lying. You just don’t want to. That’s all there is to it!”

“Maybe so…”

“It’s so old-fashioned, Selva; it’s almost down to your ankles! It’s difficult to wash and difficult to dry too. For years now you have had that huge knot on top of your head. Two plaited strands of hair tied into a topknot. Aren’t you tired of it, for God’s sake?”


“Well, that’s fine by me, but if you want to go to tea parties with me, you’ll have to do something different with your hair. I can’t have you walking beside me looking like Queen Victoria. I hope you understand that.”

“I do, Sabiha.”

Sabiha wasn’t surprised by her sister’s answer. She was one of those people who never contradicted anybody, but somehow always managed to get her own way. It was impossible to argue with her, so Sabiha changed the subject. Trying necklaces on in front of the mirror, she asked her sister, “Which one do you think?”

“That one!” Selva suggested.

“No, I think this one is better. This will do. Can you help me with the hook, please?”

She pulled up her hair and knelt down for her sister to fasten it.

Selva admired her sister’s choice. “You were right, it is perfect. You’ll be the most beautiful girl at the party.”

Sabiha looked at herself in the mirror; the three strands of pearls complemented her light-green silk dress. Very elegant, she thought. She touched up her hair, tucking the sides behind her ears. She certainly looked good; she smiled at her reflection in the mirror.

Just then her mother opened the bedroom door. “Your friends are here, dear. Hurry up, and for God’s sake, don’t be home late. You must be back before your father or there’ll be trouble!”

Sabiha blew her sister a kiss and followed her mother out of the room. Moments later she rushed back, hugged Selva, and said, “I promise to take you with me next time,” and rushed out again.

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