Translated by Hardy Griffin
Translated by Hardy Griffin
A few minutes before Mr. Kadir arrived, Sezgin had completed all the preparations—set the lighting to a deadly gloom and laid the table service with flawless symmetry. The sounds of a well-known classical piece filled the dining room. The restaurant, which usually turned into a carnival on Friday nights, was dominated by a hellish disquiet each time Mr. Kadir came. For some time now, Sezgin's job was to create a vacant, soulless, dismal atmosphere every day at noon. Even if he did get paid three times as much, Mr. Kadir’s eerie eating habits made him feel like a fool as he cleaned the silver fish fork.
He didn’t sense Mr. Kadir come into the dining room. How such a tall, thin, large-footed man could walk so silently no longer surprised him. Sezgin straightened his back, put on a shapeless smile, and walked towards him.
Mr. Kadir nodded hello and immediately extended his briefcase and overcoat. As usual, he looked at the table with voracious eyes.
“What are we eating today?”
Sezgin gave the coat and case to another waiter who had just come in, then he hurried to the table. He endeavored to pull the chair back soundlessly.
“We have prepared fish for you today, sir. Scorpion fish… A green salad with shrimp, broccoli done in olive oil, poached asparagus, corn bread, white wine, tahini dessert.”
Mr. Kadir’s wide forehead wrinkled as he sat down. Even if he looked discontent he had never been a picky eater.
“Banana as well. Put cream, chocolate sauce, etcetera on top.”
“Of course, sir. As you wish.”
He would have preferred to call him Mr. Kadir from the beginning but, knowing Mr. Kadir definitely wouldn’t enjoy even this slight familiarity, Sezgin had never dared. Like it or not, the word “Sir” had become a sound that spilled from his mouth. If he knew the customer wouldn’t mind, he would have comfortably said “Mr. Kadir,” and everything would have gone smoothly from the outset. Or that’s what he thought.
Without the slightest clinking of dishes, Sezgin wheeled the service cart in front of Mr. Kadir. On lifting the lid of the fish platter, both of them eyed the contents with wonder. The scorpion fish had been roasted as if petrified in mid-curl in the sea, its sad lips extended in a final, blistering scream. Sacrificed to a malevolent god, it had long forgotten the Black Sea. No memory, timeless, prostrate—a ghost wafted up, unable to accept death. Mr. Kadir took the fork and knife in his hands as Sezgin quickly opened the wine. Mr. Kadir waited impatiently for the wine to spill into the glass. His haste brought a depressing weight down on Sezgin, who wanted to cry “Enough!” and, taking a seat across from Mr. Kadir, to look at him indifferently and create an emptiness in this man’s thin body. A single drop of the wine swirled over the edge of the glass and stained the white tablecloth. Sezgin bit his lip.
“Excuse me, I can immediately change the cloth.”
Mr. Kadir forcefully raised the hand holding his fork: “Leave it be.” At that moment, another waiter signaled Sezgin from the edge of the dining room with the banana dessert. Sezgin ran to take the dessert plate and put it in a far corner so as not to have it clash with what was on the table. Knowing he wouldn’t have an opportunity to return before all the food had been consumed, he visually measured the table’s perfection one last time. There remained only a single move between the scorpion fish and Mr. Kadir—the fish’s head would be cut by the time Sezgin had left the dining room.
Without removing the fish’s chagrined eyes, Mr. Kadir separated its head with a stroke of the knife. He struggled for some time to separate the white meat from the bones. Taking in the dining room and the other tables, he checked to see if the waiter had left. A forgotten mimosa in a vase three tables away made him pucker. He loathed how this season brought everyone outside and invigorated them. He dropped his knife and fork and thrust his fingers into the fish’s body. His eyes grew round, his nostrils flared. As he ate, he made a humming sound while breathing that drowned out the music—the instant the first bite entered his mouth the door to his appetite opened wide. He never wanted this to end. In place of his gravitas, an unnerving biting, chewing, swallowing amalgam had come, its back hunched over the fish plate. His hands were covered in oil, his eyes opening ever wider with each shrimp snatched off the salad and thrown in his mouth. He looked at the ceiling. He wanted to engulf the whole dining room with his eyes. He plunged into the virgin olive oil up to his elbows then dived into his wine glass up to his nose. When he’d finished the glass, he grabbed the bottle by the neck and began to suck. Finally, he was relaxed. Quite relaxed. Opening the fish’s head, he fingered the delicious meat behind the eyes. As Mr. Kadir’s chest expanded and contracted, something lay sleeping in his expanded stomach—the fact that this great cave was only sated with hunger itself.
Sezgin, one hand over his mouth, watched through the crack between the doors to the kitchen and couldn’t keep his thoughts in check. Even after two years, he still couldn’t understand or learn anything from these noontime murder sessions. Each time, tears would well up in his blue eyes as he understood how it was a matter of fate, the loneliness on the other side of those doors persisting over a lifetime—and all endured in the service of great fear. Sezgin would tense up till he felt like something cooked, like his flesh had been gnawed off on all sides. A human being oppressed by such a level of fear would feel twisted till they were as blackened and formless as the cud in Mr. Kadir’s maw.
Mr. Kadir popped a hunk of fish into his mouth and went to swallow it with a perfect move of the neck. A transparent fishbone stuck in his throat. He couldn’t get the mouthful back out—so he tried to swallow it. The bone cut the muscle and, bending like a bow, lodged in the small of his throat. Mr. Kadir started to turn red. He didn’t want to panic—this had happened before. Reaching for the wine bottle, he tried to cough. Pain rose in his chest and slowly expanded to the left and spread to his back. His heartbeat becoming irregular, he tried to yell: “Waiter! Waaii…” The wine spilling out of the bottle wet his tie. Attempting to grasp the table, he turned the salad plate over. The dish lay upside-down in mayonnaise and sauce. Wanting to get ahold of the monster in his throat, he started wringing his own neck. He struggled for breath. He tried to stand and jump. Disrespectfully ignoring the breathless, fighting hops in the dining room, the background music played on. Shuddering, Mr. Kadir fell, feeling the touch of something for possibly the first time—the cold of the ceramic tiles went straight to his bones. A strange humming started in his head. As his vision of the dining room blurred, the last thing he saw was the waiter coming towards him with slow, measured steps.
Sezgin bent his rod-straight back with the same careful timing as his walk to the table, then he proceeded to politely right the overturned wine bottle. Mr. Kadir’s eyes remained open, a tear sliding slowly towards his nose. Sezgin watched it for a few seconds. The mouthful that the wretch hadn’t been able to swallow rolled out. His life’s last opposition was the twitch of his feet, then they stopped. Sezgin took the plate. The scorpion fish had not another morsel of flesh on it—Sezgin looked straight into the naked eyes that had been pulled out and set aside.