His eyes locked on the wings of two flies on top of each other outside the class window. Their shaky dance is more intriguing than the text being read. A visible cloud of boredom in the air, heavy with ink, which the alignment of mechanic words emitted. Everyone in the room has a bubble up their necks. The teacher, who mastered yawning without opening his mouth, his wrinkly eyes half open, nodding once in a while to show that he is listening. He sensed that the teacher was about to come out of the last phase of his nap. He stretched a couple of times, scratched his gray goatee. He got up and approached the one reading. As their last sentence finished, he snatched the papers and smashed them into a ball:
“There!” he said using his high voice. “This is definitely not a short story! This is circumlocutory gibberish, not literature!”
He scored with the paper ball he threw to the bin by the door, which made him noticeably happy. He turned to the writer of the text and advised not to use the word “wig” a lot, -in fact not use at all if possible- and announced that the lesson was over. People left whispering. Rafet stayed behind, and when everyone left he stared into the teacher’s dirty glasses. “Sir, is my story getting in this issue?”
Some murmuring came out of the teacher before he left: “We’ll see, we’ll see.”
It was his third term at the workshop. For almost two years he has been literally running out of his eight-five job, planning his trips according to class hours, and worrying to death when his flights delayed. When he arrived late, he would enter the room bitter, walk to his seat as he said silent hellos to everyone else – everyone had a fixed seat at the workshop, those who got published many times and the seniors, and the award winning authors too, would sit in front. Try to sit on their seats, oh boy, they would make a scene. So everyone was careful about the seats. He did his homeworks whether he was in Paris or Almaty. He had never said pass at a reading turn. Anytime he read, he sensed that the class was loosening up. Trying not to pay attention, he continued reading. Towards the end of the text, whispers and sighs increased. He had learned not to show his disappointments and broken heart through his voice, he would immediately change his tone to a deeper one and manage to make a couple of sleepy heads turn to him. Only her, the woman with chubby cheeks listened to his readings with hope, either because she was treated the same by the others, or just out of respect. If the ending he had written had a twist, he was seeking for unexpectedly joyous feedback from the teacher. Now, he was going to get up from his chair and say “You started bad, but grabbed us back at the end Rafet. Bravo!” Or he was going to pace back and forth in the room, bite his mustache and his eyes were going to lit up, snap his fingers, and say “Did you all hear that? Did you hear the sentences put together on paper, by someone who can’t even articulate well in his everyday life?” Yet, his readings at every lesson were followed by silence. The teacher was rather saying that his stories had weak phonetics and that they lacked allurement. “You smothered us again with clichés.” The award-winning senior in front would usually say something like “How similar it was to that Atılgan story we looked at the other day…” with a grim face. Either few people would comment on his story, or everyone would stay quiet. One time, the teacher had said: “This time it sounded like you’ve done it.” The award-winning senior, instead of screwing up his face, had tilted his head a bit and said: “We might as well print it, I guess.” How many issues had come out since that? In the presence of that many people, enrolled in classes just to get published in the magazine of the teacher running the workshop, it was difficult to get to that level. Most students who were labeled as untalented in the first couple of lessons were usually quitting without getting anything published. Learning to right here was like trying to breathe in a jar filled with discouragement and disappointment. First, one had to devour all those unwritten rules, and have the stomach to move on. Pride? You’d better have none of that. You had to be open, even to the mind-blowingly stupid criticism, and listen to all with a smile if necessary. You were going to do all assignments, sit quiet if you didn’t. You weren’t going to use obsolete words that the teacher forbid, you were going to erase word patterns from your mind and work with clichés as if they were brand new concepts. Plagiarism was allowed. You could feed off classics, or foreign literature as much as you wanted, but slyly. You were supposed to regularly follow literary journals and magazines, take notes of the stories you liked, rewrite, reconstruct them if needed and make them yours. Only then, it would be not plagiarizing. You were going to be inspired, rather. Be inspired ruthlessly, to death. You were going to accept praises earnestly, and when you story got published, you were going to share it via all communication milieu. When you critiqued the work being read, you were going to show respect to the award-winning seniors, and not say things like “That’s not how you say that,” When your stories began getting published one after the other, you were going to start interrupting other comments, and accumulate stories for your file in the book volume. When your file got thick enough, you were going to print your work on A4s, and give it to the teacher. He was going to give that to the publishing house he found appropriate. You weren’t going to object, or say something, even if you didn’t feel like the publisher was right. They were printing your work, you were finally a writer, what else you could have wanted?
Then, your teacher was going to open up columns at the most established newspapers, compose praises in long, complicated sentences. You were going to shine. But before all that, you had to attend the workshop one more term.
He took his bag and left. He started walking after the chubby cheeks, who was only a few steps ahead of him.
She wasn’t a senior, but she wasn’t like him either. The teacher listened to her stories with interest, the others got jealous and looked for errors to critique. Still, she would choose to stay in the background and accept getting hanged from her foot when she stumbled. Rafet had almost never heard her speaking about someone else’s work. She usually came in with a thick novel, sat quietly to her seat, and listened without taking any notes. While others registered every word that came out of the teacher’s mouth as if they were holy orders, her hands sometimes rested on her lap and sometimes held her cheeks while she listened to what was said. Although her eyes shone with wit, there was a wall that her sentences couldn’t get over, a captive she couldn’t save. Despite the teacher who always advised her to work a couple of times more on what she had written, she kept submitting her first drafts. One time at a break, -during one of their few conversations- she had told Rafet that writing could not be learned, and that talent could not flourish workshops like this. When he asked her the reason for her attendance, if that was the case, the woman had said that it was hard to stay home alone, and had gone to get coffee, looking embarrassed.
Rafet carefully observed the silhouette whose butt kept jiggling as she walked. He felt warm inside and wished to give her all his words and dreams. She was the only one whom he wanted to be better than himself, to outwrite himself. If he could just reach and catch her, touch her arm and give the books in his bag to her, as a gift. Ask her favorite writer. Then maybe at the coffee shop around the corner… At that summer day when the sun set late, with his shirt clung to his back, Rafet suddenly felt that all the things he couldn’t catch were in front of him. To escape his home for example, or to merge with the life beyond the workshop, which he synchronized in a way that enabled him to step away from his wife amongst the vapor of the iron, to hear less of his kids buzzing, not to be the one walking in the street but the one describing them, to be able to depict the air slamming his face properly, to wrap his arms around someone he truly wanted, touch them in the middle of a bar surrounded by beer and fried mussel smell, to walk with his feet cutting each other’s way, not being able to find the keyhole, and to fall on the bed as heavy as a nugget while landing on the body next to him as light as a sheet of baking paper… To spend the money he saved from his salary with that doll face in beaches, rather than these classes. To read together, exchange books, say the poems out loud the moment they come to mouth. He would write her if he could. If only he could write.
The line composed of the dots where “school-house” turned to “house-work” represented Rafet’s life. He had read the classics, which were obligatory in school, his knowledge of stories had never moved pass The Currycomb and The Last Birds, never finished Crime and Punishment, and he had spent whole summer vacations dragging along Les Miserables’ second volume. He was an average pupil, who barely passed math and was always excused from PE but still carried his tracksuit with him, whose paintings rarely made it to the showboards in the hallways. His cheeks would sizzle as he gave the charity envelopes, filled with the lowest amount of banknote, thinking the inside would be seen. He froze during oral exams and built cities on his desk with pencils. He liked geography the most: Rivers, coordinates and the equator. He had scored enough to study Business Administration, then started working in a company’s marketing department for a salary that covered only his rent. During one of his visits to his hometown, he had found himself paired up with whatsername’s daughter. Seeing a tiny bit of thighs, and a wet mouth, he had gotten dizzy and said yes to marrying her. He even stayed quiet when they tied a red ribbon around her waist at the wedding, while the two had already shared a bed weeks before. In their very first year as a married couple he had found out that his wife was pregnant, worried a lot thinking his young age, tried throwing himself out to the streets and bars, but as he couldn’t afford drinking his way out, he had always returned to his detergent smelling apartment, where there was always laundry, and zapped the tv. When the circle of busses and traffic lights got real tight, he started looking for a “hobby” with the courage he took from self-improvement programs. A cheap, but fulfilling hobby. One day he saw his friend taking pictures of Madonna In A Fur Coat next to a cup of coffee. He asked to keep the book for the weekend. As he turned the last page on that Sunday evening, he had arrived at the hidden heaven of literature. He was going to read.
He began frequenting bookshops. He devoured Aylak Adam, The Disconnected, and The Time Regulation Institute one after the other, and finished The Lily of The Valley, Les Miserables he hadn’t been able to read after its second volume, and The Karamazov Brothers, deaf to his wife’s nagging. The Magic Mountain, Sentimental Education, Anna Karenina … He realized he couldn’t satisfy his hunger to read, and started ordering books in bulk online. He was almost proud of his small library, which had begun to rise in the living room. He had written his first short story when he entered Sait Faik’s world -because Sait Faik gives everyone the courage to write something- an island story, written just like him. Although he had been living in Istanbul for years, he had never been to the islands, he didn’t mind anyway. In the end, a writer was the one who imagined places that they never saw, and recreated them? Right? His second kid was born following his promotion, and he was feeling like he was drowning in puke when he saw the ad of the workshop in the literature supplement of a newspaper. The price was exactly the amount of the raise he had gotten. He had fifteen stories in his backpack. Obviously, he was a treasure waiting to be found. And, weren’t his friends messing with him upon seeing the boxes of books coming to his desk, asking him to write about them too? Mr. Writer. This was a divine calling, a magical sign. He lied to his wife saying he was working overtime and started going to classes. He was accustomed to falling asleep on the couch with a pen in his one hand, a pacifier in the other. Reading the miserable lives of Carver and Plath had encouraged him. He was pretending to watch the screen beyond the vapor of the iron while he prepared the next week’s assignment. He bought the magazine every month with loads of hope and stuffed his disappointments under the bed.
He was leaving the cities without seeing them, and the growing frustration of the airport-hotel-meeting room-airport cycle made him take the pen with more and more ambition. He kept watching himself from the outside; a genius in endeavor, tearing his own skin apart. I’ll go crazy if I don’t write. That was exactly what he said to the cafeteria guy, who followed the gossip supplements as if they were sacred, while he stared at Rafet with dead eyes. There is that one day when that ultimate piece, the pure text that would never be written once more, is written. Sword-sharp depictions, skillful play of emotions, words slippery as ice. He was waiting for that day. There was just that wall if he could pass that. A ladder, if he climbed that. A story.
He darted in the crowd to go after her. His emerald-green eyes found the woman turning the street to the building’s right, his hand grew huge as he touched her shoulder. As he cried her name out, he also let out a lie by impulse and pointed the bookshop behind him: “Efsun! I saw you on my way out of there.”
When she smiled, the woman’s cheeks rose up to his eyes, they turned into thin lines. She instantly knew he was lying, but didn’t mind. She said she had just been there herself and showed the content of the cloth bag she was carrying. She walked with the man who asked her to grab a beer, after a gulp. They sat on low stools, drank a lot. They shared their past with each other, even though they were pretty ordinary. As they talked, every ordinary thing turned into an epic chant. They found common characters and scenes. A few lines, each said and agreed that they loved them. The moon showed up, the street became the host of its usual crowd and loud noise. They forgot about the things that awaited them at home. Efsun took out a rather thick notebook from her bag and gave it to him.
“Things I wrote to this day but didn’t read in class. I hate homework,” she said.
He fixed it under his arm. As they got up, Rafet tried to wrap his other arm around her waist but failed. He accompanied her to the long queue for the yellow bus and left.
He opened the notebook two days later at the economy class of the flight to Cadiz. He read everything Efsun wrote, at the moving walkway, customs, metro, meeting room, after signing the export agreement for bearings, bench in front of the hotel. As if he was reading Balzac, Pavese, or Oktay Rıfat for the first time. While the ondulated pages quivered under his hands, he got up and bought a pack of cigarettes from the tobacco around the corner – he didn’t smoke much, when his wife forbid it in the house he had said goodbye to the attitudes of a smoking writer. He wanted to read the rest with a cigarette in his mouth. He even said “De nada.” to the man who thanked him after asking for one himself.
The sunlight faded after nine in the evening in Cadiz. His flight was usually at five in the morning. He always slept in his hotel room in the time between. His joints still in pain from the arrival. This time he dived in the city, which got lively around eleven. He sat on the tiny tables of tapas bars. Drank lots of sangria – how many times had he been to Spain, he had never had sangria, what a fruity magic it was. The pages he was turning were satiated almost, he felt being crushed under them. The sound of laughter was ascending, people were multiplying. He felt like he was waking up from a deep sleep, and his eyes were trying to focus. He was trying to figure out what was going on, reshaping his reality. He took deep breaths as he waited at the commas of a slow pace. He found shelter and food in the well-written texts. Green olives, wet almonds, glasses now filled with Cava rather than sangria. The idea of the workshop, so meaningless. Grimaces of the award-winning seniors and the haughtiness of those with a couple of published works seemed, so, meaningless. His voice when he addressed the teacher was once loud and sure of himself. But what did that guy know that his voice muted? Could he understand these for say, could he see the sentences beyond his fame? Was every written sentence destined to be monetized? Which of the files that ended up in the volume, and left to rot at the inventory of an unworthy publishing house, could beat him? How well could the teacher have known the poetry, the harmony of the words when they intertwined?
He got up. He started to walk on the way he thought to be towards his hotel from the small square filled with cafes. After a couple hundred meters, he stopped at the bottom of the building that outgrew his height multiple times. He took a step back and examined the church, by making a visible effort. St Vincent Church was standing tall before Rafet with its three domes, compartmented windows and stained glasses whose colors were faded by nighttime. He didn’t mind himself, pushed the heavy door and went inside. His nose smelled incense. He walked to the candles, took out a euro from his pocket and tossed it in the box. He closed his eyes as he lit the candle.
“I see what brilliance is now. Everything was so simple before this notebook. To dream. To imagine oneself later on in life. As if I could become something, somebody. A writer. A reader. But mostly a writer. Loved. Admired. One that people wants to be written by. One that makes people say stuff like ‘I could write too actually…’ Simpler than a poet. Reachable, but still above a certain level. Turns out it is beyond estimations. Brilliance, I see it now. God, Allah, Sky, are you hearing me? Turns out I had none of it, what I have was…”
He lifted his head up. Only then he realized that he was kneeling down in front of a statue. He looked at the small book in the hand of the golden statue, almost being shown to him. The contemplation that it shared the same size as the notebook under his arm. He hurried to stand up. The spear in the statue’s other hand caught his eyes. A spirit, imaginary, just swooshed his pupil. Then Rafet read the plate under the statue’s feet, where his name was engraved: St.Raphael.
The heat pressed on him. His sweat, tiny droplets on his forehead. Salty. The plague had already blurred the clear waters. Twists in his stomach. He closed his eyes. Wanted it to pass. The statue leaned down, its robe fell from the shoulders, its breast came out and got in Rafet’s mouth.
“You are my child,” it said to him. “I’m feeding you. Grow.”
The wall behind the statue shook, expanded and opened. Rafet screamed. He heard his own voice deepen. He got pulled into the void beyond St. Raphael. He fell on an island. Infinite water lay beside him, one with the horizon. He turned to his back. He saw the beech tree, rising up to the sky. At the bottom of it the nine plants that produced all plants. He touched them all with his palms. Rafet dived in the sea without thinking for a second. To other seas, salty, warm, some of them ice cold. He trembled but went on. He found the way back to the tree and saw people from many nations on the shore. He heard noises. People were telling him, all together: “It has been decided that you are to have a gavel made from this tree’s branches.” Birds took of from the surface of the sea. Rafet grabbed one’s wing, and they flew away. Take them the tree said to him from behind. All my branches are yours but leave one. Leave one branch so that people can build themselves homes with it. I am the tree that gives life to all construction. Rafet gathered all the branches in his hands. One of them didn’t fit, and scratched the side of his hand. Branches started to stuck in Rafet’s body, his palms then his groins, his arms and legs. He looked at his hands, still without a gavel. But hadn’t they said so? He ripped into pieces, his flesh separated from his muscles, his nerves, disassembled in air. He wiped the bones clean, with his own teeth. Spitted the pieces out and afar. He waited. Raphael came, empty-handed. He collected each and every piece of him from the nine seas, and land. Attached the flesh to the bones. He switched his eyes though, he took the emerald-green himself and left him the sea-green. Faded, but strong, spirited. He was going to everything a lot different now. Clearer, purer. He pierced Rafet’s ears so that he could hear people better. He even heard the crackling of the cartilage when he stuck two fingers in his two nostrils. Rafet was reborn from Raphael with a whole other set of senses. He heard his voice, which announces the light to all spirits. He stood stronger at the spot he was, the seas he passed. He saw through the responsibility of his healed soul, not talent, and certainly not brilliance. He saw the end that he could reach using a different ability.
He lifted his head up from his joint fists. St. Raphael was glancing at him with his book in one hand, and his spear in the other from gold. He took a step back. After all the things he had seen, his legs were still functioning and his blood was still running. Deep breaths. He went back to the hotel, gathered up his stuff and got on the plane, without stopping for another second.
He waited patiently for the teacher’s yawning phase. He watched his lips turning into a straight line as the sleep shut them tight. He listened to award-winning seniors’ stories, without vexing at all. His attention was at the seat next to him. He moved his closed fist toward the armrest as if he was hiding something -an eraser, a sharpener, something.
The seat was empty. She hadn’t come.
When his turn came, for the first time he said that he hadn’t done his homework. He wasn’t ashamed. The heads at the front turned to Rafet. The teacher shrugged his shoulders as if to say “Well, that is indeed expected of you.” Rafet, however, turned to the senior who had just finished reading:
“The story you wrote was published twelve weeks ago at Coffees and Cigarettes. Nice steal.”
He got up, he was fed up with that place. Without making an excuse, he left. Started walking. He sat down where they had been with Efsun. Ordered a glass of water. His throat. Burned.
That night he tried to find her contacts from the group mails. When he did find, he sent an email asking how she was. He waited for an answer until he went to bed. He fell asleep counting the breaths his wife took. The next day, he wrote a longer email and sent it. Three days later, he was, again, writing to her from his hotel room in Santiago de la Compostela. Nothing was coming back. A short response came up while he was setting an order for bearings at the airport.
They were going to meet at the same place. He smiled foolishly when she sat on the stool in front of him. He couldn’t speak. But his hands didn’t tremble either as he returned the notebook to its owner. Their skins touched during the exchange. He looked at her eyes in that moment. He wanted to give her everything he healed, everything he saw over the nine seas. He wanted brilliance to grow where it belonged. To grow strong, to have roots, to twirl when its roots found the essence. Consolation, how sweet… To give. To give up, to settle with that giving up. From invisible strings, veiny, luminous, transparent, to transfer. From me to her. From you to her. To embrace what’s given and to transfer it as it is, pure. All the things there is about a word, into the sentence that immediately penetrates the soul. My present, to those who write straight from the finger. Pure.
Chubby cheeks moved up and down. Words transferred between them through their touching hands. From skin to the hand, nine seas passed, soil from nine lands sprinkled on the nail. The cure (!) poured and overflew. Efsun left the notebook to its owner from then on. And she left.
From finger to finger, from soul to essence, brilliance spilled. The file, with a nice cover, turned into a book and went up to the shelves. It was a momentary dream or sickness. A different kind of high, a seizure. To die and to resurrect. It was the replacement of all organs, one by one; attachment of veins. Of verbs and pronouns. Of ancient words, underlined. As one hand brings the black notebook, the spear in the other hand, into the mouths, tongues.
 In the order of appearance. Novels by Yusuf Atılgan, Oğuz Atay, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, Fyodor Dostoyevski, Thomas Mann, Gustave Flaubert, Lev Tolstoy.
 Spanish sparkling wine.