Part 5 (1/2)

Black Milk Elif Shafak 86300K 2022-07-22


”Oh, shut up! HELP ME INSTEAD!”

This time it is a different person shouting. Are there two ladies being robbed?

”Is there no one to save me from this shrew?” the first voice yells.

Or are there two ladies robbing each other?

”Huh, it's you who is hara.s.sing me,” the other snaps. ”I'm sick and tired of you standing in my way. Why don't you take a vacation? Go to Disneyland.”

”Why should I leave? You should go. I've had enough of you confusing Elif with your harebrained ideas!”

Hearing my name, I freeze and strain my ears.

”It's because you want to influence Elif. But I will never let that happen. Over my dead body, you hear me?”

That is enough eavesdropping. I part the bushes and there, standing on a tree trunk, their hands clutched around each other's throats, I see the unmistakable profiles of two finger-women.

”Hey, yo, Big Self. Wa.s.sup?” says one of them, forcing a smile.

The second woman takes her hands off her adversary, and makes a sign of peace. ”Good to see you, Sister.”

I frown from one to the other. ”Little Miss Practical! Miss Highbrowed Cynic! What are you doing here?”

These two have been on a collision course for as long as I've known them. At first glance, they both seem to embrace reason and rationality. But that is as far as their similarities go. While Little Miss Practical wants to overcome every challenge in a pragmatic way, Miss Highbrowed Cynic isn't interested in easy solutions. The former wants to solve things as quickly as possible while the latter opts for a detailed, complicated, philosophical approach. Where one prefers to be clear and concise, the other favors ambiguity and abstraction. One likes answers, the other prefers questions.

Without a further word, I pick them up by the napes of their necks and place one on each of my shoulders. In this fas.h.i.+on, I walk back toward the Bosphorus. It doesn't take long before another line of amateur fishermen appears before us.

”Look at those fishermen,” says Little Miss Practical, craning her head from where she sits on my left shoulder. ”They're wack. How many fish do they think they'll catch like that? They stand there for hours, and go back home with a couple of sad rockfish in their buckets. In the time they spend here, they could work and earn real cheddar. They could buy a huge salmon!”

”What do you know?” Miss Highbrowed Cynic says, with a snort, from my right shoulder. ”What can any pragmatist know about philosophy, art and literature, and the things that make life worth living?”

”What have fishermen got to do with that?” asks Little Miss Practical.

”Fis.h.i.+ng's got to do with that,” comes the answer. ”It is the perfect way to contemplate the endless mysteries of the universe.”

I nod in agreement, but the truth is, I don't understand the fishermen either. How does it feel, and what kind of state of mind does it require, not to rush, not to push? What level of humility does it take to be satisfied with what you have, and be happy to go home with two flimsy fish in a plastic bucket at the end of a long day?

Of all the prophets, it is Job who, on some level, I cannot empathize with-Job who, according to the Qur'an, is the symbol of patience, humbleness and peaceful surrender. I have never understood how he doesn't get angry, not even upset, in the face of the ordeals G.o.d puts him through, and remains ever thankful, ever accepting.

Unaware of my thoughts, Miss Highbrowed Cynic continues her dissertation. ”Many books have fishermen as their central characters.”

”What books?” asks Little Miss Practical. There is nothing about awakening the fisherman within in her enormous self-help collection.

”Scire tuum nihil est, nisi te scire hoc sciat alter!”

”What the h.e.l.l was that?”

Miss Highbrowed Cynic raises her voice over the incipient hum of the city. ”I said: Your knowledge is nothing when no one else knows that you know.”

”Poser!” hisses Little Miss Practical.

”My point is, how can you follow Melville's adventures of Ishmael and Captain Ahab, and not contemplate our tiny little place in this universe? What about Hemingway's epic battle of wills between the old fisherman and the giant fish he longs to catch? And take Ursula K. Le Guin's A Fisherman of the Inland Sea-you will be thinking twice as hard as you ever have about the roles of good and evil. You see how fis.h.i.+ng is intertwined with philosophy?”

”All right, all right, I get the point. While you're at it, you might want to tell the philosophers over there something about efficiency,” says Little Miss Practical. ”There must be, what, thirty of them. Why don't they, say, rent a fis.h.i.+ng boat together? Then, when they go out to sea and cast their nets, their output would increase tenfold.”

Miss Highbrowed Cynic heaves a sigh. ”Fis.h.i.+ng has depth. It has wisdom. You will never understand if your only concern is productivity. Why am I wasting my breath? No philosophy or art will ever come from the shallow waters you swim in.”

”You're all big talk! You always talk about depth,” grumbles Little Miss Practical. ”What are you, a scuba diver?”

”Ladies, ladies, please,” I interject. I know I need to handle this as delicately as I can. ”Let's not argue on this beautiful morning.”

”What is wrong with arguing?” objects Miss Highbrowed Cynic. ”The German philosopher Ernst Bloch used the concept noch nicht-not yet what things could be. Instead of trying to be complete, we should embrace the idea of being without a beginning and an end, a state of continuous regeneration. That is why questions should not be answered. They should be deepened with more questions.”

”That is the craziest thing I've heard in a long while!” comes a grumpy voice from around the corner.

We turn our heads and see Miss Ambitious Chekhovian ahead of us, standing amid the feet of the fishermen. I am scared out of my wits that someone will accidentally step on her, but she doesn't seem the least bit concerned.

”Deepen dilemmas with more questions? What next? Do you know how much time this stupid Sunday morning walk has already cost our career? Elif, you should be writing right now. Not wasting your time like this!”

I shoot a glance left and right. The fishermen are busy staring at the water. I wonder if there is anyone other than me who can see Miss Ambitious Chekhovian.

I drop my voice to a menacing whisper. ”What are you doing?”

”Well, I was hoping you might have had time to reconsider what we were talking about several weeks ago,” she says nonchalantly. ”You know, the hysterectomy.”

”You are nuts,” I say, and the two finger-women on my shoulders show their support by clapping their hands.

”All right, if you want to become a moon woman, I'm not going to stop you,” Miss Ambitious Chekhovian says. ”Go and get pregnant, gain all the pounds, and worry about breast-feeding, then raising the child, sending him to school, sending him to college, and before you know it, you will forget all about literature and writing.”

I want to protest but she doesn't give me a chance.

”Don't you dare tell me that the literary world is not a compet.i.tion, and you don't have to rush or push, because that is gibberish. Even if you're not racing against other writers, you are racing against yourself, and your own mortality.”

I open my mouth again, and again she interrupts me.

”And don't you forget that the writer was Leo Tolstoy, not the moon woman Sophia.”

”What does that mean ?” I ask.

”It means what it means. Remember the woman on the steamboat. The woman who was twenty-five years old but looked forty. The woman who collected pounds and resentments like free cakes. Do you want to become her?”

”You talk as if she were the only one who is unhappy in this world,” says Miss Highbrowed Cynic, ”whereas all humanity is in a similar position. Melancholy is central to being human.”

We ignore her.

”Yo. Women can be both good mothers and good career women. And they can be happy. . . . It's simple. The key is time management.” This from Little Miss Practical.

Miss Ambitious Chekhovian snorts. ”Of course, there are women like that, and I call them circus jugglers. Send the kid off to school in the morning, cook the husband a perfect omelet, two eggs and a tablespoon of b.u.t.ter, dress in a hurry, make it to work, rush home in the evening, set the table, feed the kid, then pa.s.s out on the couch while watching TV. . . . Yes, those women do exist. But they never write novels.”

”You are the Queen of Hyperbole,” I chide.