WAITING FOR A COINCIDENCE
“The dead are the products of living people’s imagination.”
It was the best hour of the best day of the best month of the year. After seeing off his last patient with a smiling face, Doctor Kemal took his briefcase from the next room and, as he did at the end of every work day, he turned off the electrical instruments and the lights and left the office. At one time, there used to be a secretary who did these chores. But after the economic crisis left him without help, he had to take care of everything from making tea to answering the phone.
At first, it was difficult for him to accept this situation. But he got used to it after a short while and never saw the extra work as drudgery. He started walking along the dusty streets that led to the noisy main road of the modest small Aegean town. As he hadn’t felt like changing into street clothes, he drew a lot of attention from children and women as he walked in his doctor’s uniform along the short and yet long way from his office to his home. The briefcase was full of the money for four months’ rent and Doctor Kemal was finally at peace, full of confidence and joy after a long period of distress. The question “Where will I find all that money?” had been growing inside him like a spider’s web for four months.
Now that it had disappeared, the space left behind was filled with a magic blend of sweet evening aromas, the soft light of the setting sun and the song of many birds. What he wanted to do was to have a deep sleep without nightmares after giving the money to the landlord who had constantly been pacing up and down with nervous steps in Doctor Kemal’s mind like a second person. But first, he had to stop at the barber shop. His hair had grown out of control and lost all shape, casting sinister shadows on the noble whiteness of his doctor’s uniform.
Osman the Barber
It was an ordinary hour of an ordinary day of an ordinary month of the year. Osman the Barber put out his cigarette and began to change the channels of the small black television set which was hanging from the ceiling like a large bat. After a long tour, he stopped at a channel which was broadcasting Turkish pop music videos. He began to fold the light blue head towels carelessly as he hummed wrong words to the music.
At the sound of the opening door, he shifted his gaze from the darkish drawer where he kept the cleanish towels to the refreshing luminosity of the mirror. It was in this mirror that Osman the Barber first saw those who entered the shop. Then he would turn his large eyeballs to the owner of the reflection as if testing the validity of the image. This large mirror had never failed Osman yet. Nevertheless, the sneaky doubt that the one who entered might be different from the person in the mirror never left his side for a moment.
Finally, first gazing at the image in the mirror, then checking the original turned into a tic which he wasn’t even aware of. He turned his large eyeballs to the owner of the image,
“Hello, Doctor, welcome!”
“Hello, Osman my friend, how are things?”
“I’m fine I guess. Working… Your hair has really grown.”
The doctor said, “Do something with it, for heaven’s sake.”
He left his briefcase on the stool by the door with a secretly proud air and sat on the black chair which the barber was pointing at with an inviting air. It resembled a wounded animal with badly torn skin. Osman the Barber tightly tied the large white barber’s apron around the doctor’s thick neck. He looked at the image in the mirror and asked the question to which he knew the answer would be “Yes.”
“The usual, Doctor?”
It was the worst hour of the worst day of the worst month of the year. Ahmet Bey left the office hastily without even saying goodbye to his colleagues. He wanted to get home as quickly as possible. Without being seen by anyone… He decided to walk along the narrow, winding, dusty footpath passing through the cemetery. He didn’t like it at all and it was a much longer road but it was completely deserted, therefore a preferable choice. The cemetery was making him nervous and tense but at the same time it also had a calming and relaxing effect. Ahmet Bey continued to walk, trying not to pay attention to the clash of these contrasting feelings inside him.
He hadn’t had a moment’s peace since that horrible night when he had run home like a miserable rat after stealing the gray briefcase from the back seat of that car which had crashed so badly against the wall. He hadn’t seen the face of the driver. The skin on the poor man’s face had merged with the leather of the steering wheel, becoming a bloody and dark whole. He learned the next day that the man had died on the spot and would be buried in the cemetery whose wide gates he had just walked through.
Nobody said anything about the briefcase which contained very little money. After that day, the lost briefcase which nobody cared about became Ahmet Bey’s most important problem. He had always prided himself on his righteousness and honesty, and he could exist only through these pure traits. The briefcase broke his sleep many times every night, caused him to wake up listless and tired every morning, to be careless and sloppy at his job all day and it made him take isolated cemetery lanes in the evening.
The briefcase he had stolen played the central role in a different nightmare every night. The first night, the severed head of its owner had emerged from the briefcase amidst all kinds of vermin and had scolded Ahmet Bey at length. The next night, everybody in the street had briefcase-shaped heads. One night, he dreamt that he bought eight electric saws with the dollars in the briefcase, lined them up, turned on the power and jumped on them. The eight pieces of his body were put into different briefcases and left at the doorsteps of his loved ones.
Another night, he found a briefcase within a briefcase within a briefcase and so on while he wrestled with briefcases until morning. The curse of the briefcase was not limited only to nightmares. Even when Ahmet Bey was awake, it appeared and disappeared in most unexpected places. Sometimes this was repeated so many times that Ahmet Bey stopped being human and turned into an insane briefcase detector.
The only reason, even if a feeble one, why Ahmet Bey had committed such a contemptible and inhuman crime was that he was up to his neck in debt. Ever since that disgraceful night when he stole the briefcase from the dead car, he was living with a terrible feeling of guilt and could not tolerate facing another living being.
The scissors were flying around the top of the doctor’s head with a rapacious speed like an iron-winged prehistoric bird. The scissors’ jingling sound seemed to remind him of money counting machines. Just as he had abandoned himself to its rhythm, the sound suddenly stopped.
“Doctor, I have some very good face powder, European. Shall we put some on?”
“Sure, Osman. Go ahead.”
The barber poured the powder into his hand and started applying it to his important client’s face with gentle slaps. With his white shoes, white trousers, the white apron that stretched from his neck to his knees, his white powdered face and the righteousness of finally paying four months’ rent, the doctor was covered from head to toe in a dazzling whiteness. With a childish glee, he looked at the mirror to see the reflection of the briefcase on the stool by the door. He didn’t bother to check the original.
Osman the Barber
The barber carefully put back the powder in the cabinet. He chose the blue comb from amongst the ones standing in the glass of water and took it in one hand. With his other hand, he picked up the red atomizer he used to wet hair and he turned back to the doctor. Suddenly they heard the door open and close quickly with a loud bang. The bag the doctor had left on the stool close to the entrance was no longer there.
Osman the Barber turned his large eyeballs to the stool to confirm that the bag was not there. The doctor realized what had happened and jumped from his seat. He shouted “My bag! Thief!” and began to run madly. The barber stood outside the door and watched the doctor run down the road and disappear around the corner in the fading light, with the barber’s apron flapping behind him like a cape. As he went back into the shop in bewilderment, it passed through his head that he would not be able to charge the doctor for the haircut.
Then he was immediately ashamed of himself for this sneaky thought. He changed the television channel with his powdered hands. At the sound of the opening door, he shifted his gaze from the television to the mirror, then from the mirror to his new customer who was entering the shop.
The doctor could not bring himself to believe the tragedy that had happened to him. In desperation, he had started running after a thief whose face he hadn’t seen and didn’t even know which way had gone. With eyes wide with panic, he was looking for the briefcase like a hungry dog. As he stopped in desperation by the roadside to catch his breath after a long and tiring chase, he noticed someone walking with uneasy steps in the cemetery ahead. Assuming that nobody except the dead and fugitives would be in the cemetery at that time of the evening, he started running towards the man he suspected had stolen his briefcase and hid it in the cemetery.
When he heard the running footsteps, Ahmet Bey shuddered and turned around. He saw a white figure approaching him from amongst the gravestones leaning in all directions. He froze before this mind-boggling sight. When the whiteness came closer, he saw that this was a ghost with a white face, a white cape and disheveled hair.
Ahmet Bey’s feet were beginning to sink into the ground from fright. He shut his eyes very tightly and opened them again. The white ghost continued to come closer. Ahmet Bey wanted to escape but could not move. All his joints were locked. Finally the white creature grabbed him by his left arm and with a voice that seemed to come from the ground, he said,
“Give me my briefcase, quick! Where is my briefcase? Give me my briefcase, I’m telling you!” Ahmet Bey’s body suddenly went numb on the left side. Everything turned black and then became white. Ahmet Bey quietly collapsed amongst the gravestones and lay there very still.
Hakan Bıçakcı was born in Istanbul in 1978. He is the author of eleven books. His most recent novel is "Sleepy" (2017).