In Van, where we had gone to search for the monster, the
Turkish “Nessy”, in the lake, we were welcomed so warmly that we
understood we were more important than we had thought we were. I
was so excited as I had finally got the chance to visit this most
extra-ordinary city in East Anatolia. We were the university
professors coming from the Capital; we were different. The way we
dressed, the way we talked, the way we walked, the way we greeted
people, the way we held the cutlery at the table; we had some
special aura, yes, we were different, that was for sure. We had
the grandeur. The interest spared for us by the inhabitants
proved it as well. We could select the best carpet at the carpet
shop. At the jeweller’s, we could prove our simple but subtle
taste by selecting the unembroidered turquoise, by inclining to
buy not gold but silver pieces, or not the diamond watch coming
fröm the Far East but the ordinary stones shaped and carved by an
anonymous shepherd, who lived in a village very close to the
Turkish border with Iran. We would also prove that we were
different by our generosity and our polite abode by being a
relief to the grievance of the poor villager who came into the
shop head down in shame as we were drinking the linden tea that
the jeweller had offered us.
The poor villager was standing embarrassed as if he wished
that the ground cracked and swallowed him. He took a coin out of
his pocket and handed it to the jeweller, who happened to be from
his village in the South East. The poor villager mumbled:
“Umm, the chief gave this to me, what is it worth?”
The jeweller inspected the coin carefully. He finally said:
“Nothing. This coin is a dime a dozen.”
As the poor villager headed for the door his eyes facing the
floor as if his last hope had evaporated, I grabbed his arm and
bought the coin. Had I, out of pity, just put some money in his
pocket without buying the coin, he could have been offended as he
would then think that we mistook him for a beggar.
We were definitely different. The people of Van had _also
noticed the difference and they did their best to welcome us:
ragout with olives, fried pieces of meat, and special sweatmeat.
We did shopping madly starting from the very first day of our
stay. We drove around the castle, which was surrounded by barbed
wires, god knows why. We also posed for cameras in front of the
camp of tents for the Kurds who emigrated to Van from the South
East. We took so many pictures in front of the colorful frozen
clothes left to dry in the fatal cold of the East Anatolian
winter. Van people did anything to please us.
The first night, in my room that looked down on the Van Lake I
fell asleep thinking of the monster in the lake. In my dream
there was an earthquake, but to my relief, a whitebearded old
saint would wake me up and would help me get out of the building
just in time.
In the morning at breakfast, I told my colleagues about the
dream or rather the nightmare I had the previous night. None were
surprised. They told me that there was really an earthquake the
night before and that, according to them, I, half asleep, had
felt the earthquake and had confused the dream with reality. To
me, I had experienced something mystical and surreal. What is
more, a saint had selected nobody else but me to save. I would
never let my friends underestimate my experience and make it
sound ridiculous. I finished my breakfast quickly and went for a
walk by the lake in the early lights of that morning. There was a
fog over Van and the lake. I could vaguely see the castle amidst
the fog. It looked like an island in vacuum. It was certain that
I was in a slice of some different time, and I just could not
take my eyes off the castle.
Suddenly, I saw a creature flying towards me from the castle.
As it started flying around me I could do nothing but stare at
its colorful feathers like ariels on its head, its red tail and
bluegreen chest. It started circling around me, then it flew
high up and then glided towards me and kept circling around me
again. I was petrified. I had never seen such a creature in my
life. It was so different. And its shriek! It was otherworldly!
Could it be the phoenix? I unconsciously took the coin which was
supposed to belong to a chief of some South Eastern Kurdish
tribe, and instinctively started to spin it in my right hand.
When I realized that I was doing this, I heard some footsteps
approaching me. Behind me was standing a whitebearded old man
dressed in pure white. To my surprise he was the saint I had seen
in my dream the night before. I should ask him about the flying
creature. Who else but him would know? A new excitement covered
me and I began to shiver. The blizzard had overpowered. I was
going through some extraordinary experience. It was certain that
I was elect. I asked the old saint:
“You are from this town, aren’t you. Could you please tell me
what this flying creature is?”
I could have a heart attack any time. This was the turning
point of my life. Nothing would be the same again. I could feel
that I was going to learn some truth that would definitely change
the course of my life. The saint looked at the flying creature
and then at me, and then in such a confident tone of voice he
answered my question:
“Oh, that! That’s a bird, just a bird.”
I looked at the coin in my hand. It was just a piece of metal.
I hurled it into the lake.
Then I saw. The bird had gone. So had the saint.
(Translated from Turkish by the author)