Bones of Spring – preview – Chapter 36

Augustin made a point of arriving to the ancient university campus an hour ahead of his class, aware that the simple challenge of finding it would probably require extra time. Every simple thing in his life now seemed to take twice as long, but at least now it was due to a language barrier, and not because he had to ignore the threats his mind would periodically manufacture for him. Being foreign was by far preferable, and in this case, he was pleased he had decided to come early. 

The campus itself was a glory, its late-medieval Ottoman architecture as clean and ornate as though it had been built yesterday. Some of it was even more ancient than that, harkening back to late Roman times. The neighbouring the Süleymaniye Mosque made a helpful orientative point, and he had his pick for German and English speaking students to help guide him to his own perch. 

The woman waiting him in the classroom was not at all what Augustin had expected. Hazal Sadik was tall for a woman and had some of her cousin’s angular features, but there was a sternness to her that didn’t quite match what he had pictured. She was in her late 20s, a little too patrician to be called pretty, and dressed in a conservative beige blazer and ankle-length skirt. Her headscarf was a bright blue, which brought out the amber in her dark brown eyes, something he noticed when he leaned in to shake her hand.

“Professor Vann,” she said with a tight smile, her German almost perfectly accentless. “Or is it Dr. Vann?”

“Augustin is fine,” he said before he realized this might be overly familiar. 

“Dr. Vann, then,” she said, as though that was a compromise. 

“I brought you a copy of my notes —“

“Thank you, you needn’t bother in the future. I only need to review yours once.” She took the offered pages, and began to look them over. Her scrutiny made him feel suddenly self conscious, and he wondered if he’d adequately prepared. It was only a brief overview of the concepts they would be covering, but still, he felt self-conscious.  

“Here,” she offered them back, giving no indication of her opinion. He thanked her, and went to the podium.

A surprising number of students turned up for the overview lecture. He introduced himself to them, and explained the thesis of this seminar, then paused so Hazal could render his words into Turkish. The process was disconcerting at first, but he soon discovered a rhythm, finding moments to pause so that she could catch up. She had an astonishingly good ear, and her attention to detail, while practically meaningless to him, was clearly communicated to the students. 

They were all in their late teens and early twenties, men and women both, and they seemed attentive. He wasn’t sure his lecture on basic psychological terminology was necessarily of deepest interest to any of them, given this was a summer course for general credits, but he felt enough engagement not to be too discouraged. 

He went briefly over some of the schools of thought he intended to cover, testing to see how these students reacted to the introduction of Jewish names such as Freud and Hirschfeld, but no one batted an eye. Augustin thought it was quite likely that was due to ambivalence or lack of awareness, but no one stood up to denounce him as a traitor to the Reich, so he pressed on.

The hour passed relatively painlessly, and he fielded a few questions before the session closed, and his students left for the sunshine outside. He observed them as he packed up his notes, a mix of locals and foreigners, some of them wearing Muslim observance, some dressed in western shirts and skirts. 

He had so far felt reasonably comfortable within the secular mandate of this new republic, but it was impossible to dismiss the heritage around him. He turned to Hazal, wanting to ask questions about this blending of cultural currents, but she was packing up her slim briefcase. 

“I must be in another class,” she said curtly. “There are so many German professors in our universities these days.”

“Indeed, thank you, Miss Sadik.” He smiled. “I will be seeing you again soon, I hope? Before next week’s lecture, I mean.”

She gave him a tight smile. “My cousin asked me to assist you in learning Turkish, so I expect so. Good day, Dr. Vann.”

Augustin watched her go, admiring her briskness, the confidence and authority with which she moved. There was something steadying about her presence, and he felt that with her help, it was just possible he might be able to regain some small sense of his own equilibrium.

Three day later, he felt he had the confidence to make his opening bid as Janicke’s sub-agent. The third summer meeting of the Austro-Turk Communist Committee was well attended, but this wasn’t much of a surprise to Augustin. He’d made himself visible without drawing too much attention to himself, and at first he’d made little attempt to ask questions or share his views. None of the translators had Hazal’s skill, and it proved to be a drag on business to involve the Austrians in the main conversation.

Instead, time was reserved at the end for chosen guests to speak, and almost always from prepared statements that could be handed out in Turkish. The others, mostly Austrian Jews, spent most of their time elucidating the need for communism to commit more deeply to protecting humanity from fascism, as well as condemning the trade in arms, materiel and raw resources to the Axis. 

Augustin, who had now found stride with his new identity to such a degree that he no longer thought of himself by his given name, had trouble identifying much of what was being said even though he now received twice-weekly Turkish lessons from Hazal Sadik at his little apartment a few blocks away from the university. At this point he focused simply on remembering names and faces, and hoped he might be able to detect militant overtones when his vocabulary improved. 

His own countrymen did not dare draw too much attention to themselves from the German embassy by raising their fists for revolution, but he marked them anyway, knowing Johann expected him to pursue them to other groups.

It wasn’t until this third summer meeting that he noticed Hazal Sadik in attendance. To his surprise, when the men had finished their usual, mostly-incomprehensible communications, she rose to speak

Augustin met her eyes from his place in the audience, but her glance was fleeting and he understood he was not to disclose their connection. He had the sense from her harsh words, the slight colour in her cheek and the way she slapped the podium with an open hand that she was making some kind of condemnation, and that she was passionate about it. He tried his best to follow, picking up a few words here and there. Their group of twenty-odd members made sounds of agreement. He remained silent, knowing that in an hour, when she was scheduled to give him his Turkish lesson, he’d have a chance to ask her about it. 

“What were you doing at the meeting?” she asked as he stood aside for her. Her unusual show of of emotion had not yet abated, and his curiosity grew further. 

“I’m not politically indifferent,” he said with a smile. “Though at the moment the revolution might be scheduled for tomorrow and I wouldn’t know.”

“Yes, it’s very obvious you have no idea what’s being said,” she said sharply, then pursed her lips. “I’m sorry, I know you’re trying, Augustin.”

It was the first time she’d used his name. He met her eyes. “You’re upset about something else. I can tell.”

She waved away his concern, but it was clear by the way she sank down into the chair, her eyes gazing out into the bright, mosaic-covered square, that she was troubled. She had a deep purple head scarf on today, and strands of black hair were creeping out of it, catching in the breeze.

“I’ll make tea.”

“Don’t,” she advised, glancing over her shoulder. “You make tea like a German.”

“I’m actually Austrian.” 

She got up, went to his little kitchen, and began to take supplies down from the cupboards. He moved aside and watched as she vented her irritation on the task. 

Yardımcı olabilir miyim?” he ventured in his stilted Turkish, hoping to tease her out of her agitation somehow. 

May I help?

“Your accent is German, too,” she said, then gripped the edges of the counter, steadying herself. “But it is improving.”

He stepped in, assembled the tea and cups on to a tray, then took them not to the kitchen table where lessons usually took place, but to his coffee table, and his mismatched, but comfortable couches. 

Hazal sat, knees together, letting her forearms rest on them as she watched him pour. Then she took her cup, blew on it before bringing it to her mouth. She let the edge of the cup dent her full lower lip, her kohl-painted eyes staring into space. 

“My fiancé,”she said finally. “He’s working with the Germans, coordinating trade for Turkish arms and raw materials.”

“You don’t like that,” Augustin said in Turkish, attempting by speaking it to find some middle line between the intended purpose of their meeting, and any personal feelings she might want to express. 

“The Turkish economy is supported very much by this,” she sipped her tea. “People suffer here, while men profit from suffering abroad. Esam used to manage a clothing business and would buy from village tailors and dress makers, sell them to people in the city. Now he gets very excited about shipments from the mines, how much the miners are producing for him.”

“Does he know that you’re a communist?”

She blinked at him. “Who said that I was?”

“That wasn’t your first time. Those people knew you.”

“What about you?” she eyed him. “That wasn’t your first time, either. They told me.”

“Tell me more about your fiancé,” he said by way of a gentle diversion. “He clearly has his own views.”

“He always says, we must live in the world we live in,” she sighed. “How can he say that in this world?”

“He likes Germany’s chances.” 

“Do you?”

He looked at her for a long moment, then let out a breath. “Matters are confused. Some German factions are fanatically loyal to Hitler, and others believe this is a monstrous waste for a failed cause. “

“Do you, Augustin,” she said reproachfully. “Like their chances?”

He felt a little guilty, knowing he had to preserve his cover in this way, with her, a woman he respected. He could not reveal any insight that would not otherwise be available to her, and he had to play his part. He set down his cup.

“It’s complex. America is now in the war, which means Germany’s military chances are severely reduced. If Russia receives enough reinforcement and materiel from the Allies, she’ll prevail much faster. I worry about the impact on Turkey. The TKP must work with our Russian comrades to mitigate the capitalists’ impact on this country.”

“Capitalists like Esam,” she said bitterly. “I wish he would come home so I could marry him, and make him listen.”

“You miss him.”

She shrugged. “Sometimes I think I’ll never see him again, and I feel relieved. Then, I reach for him in my dreams, and when I wake up, he’s not there. I can’t even yell at him like a wife should.”

“You cohabitated prior to his leaving?” 

She raised a black eyebrow at him. “Don’t look so shocked.”

“I only meant, that must make it more difficult,” he smiled. “What is the Turkish word for difficult?”

“I’m not made of stone,” she muttered into her cup. “You think I don’t notice you flirting with me?”

Now he raised an eyebrow. “I never meant to give such an impression.”

“Muslim women can’t marry Christian men, you know,” she set down the cup, evidently bored with it.

“I’m aware,” Augustin said cautiously, wondering now where this was tending. “I believe premarital sex is also prohibited.”

“You’re a psychologist of sex, of course you would know that.”

“I studied sexual relationships,” he corrected. “Not necessarily what I would call my specialism.”

“My family is very tolerant,” she met his eyes. “As long as all is seemly and private. No one ever gave me trouble about Esam because we always knew we would marry. We were always discreet.”

“How many people know that you come here to teach me Turkish?” he ventured. He’d been quiet about it, but not totally opaque.

“Reza, of course. Some friends know I give lessons to a professor from school, but they don’t know that it happens here, in his home.” 

“We might find somewhere less…” he was going to say intimate. “Perhaps more public, more suitable.” 

“Reza asked me not to be seen with you in public outside of professional situations,” she admitted. “For appearances’ sake. He is not a fool, he knows how I guard my independence. We both are a new generation, you understand?”

“But you can’t be a new generation in public.”

“Not yet. Not until there is reform, until there is… but you know, of course.”

“I’ve seen what puritanism has done to the German people,” he said slowly, choosing his words with care. “They are by turns obsessed with and repelled by sexuality. It is a form of control, of racial conformity. The idea of people engaging in what is, I believe, a most essential, natural form of human play is… ” he paused, then met her eyes. “It is a stupid reason to kill someone, Hazal. In any society, for any cause.”

“Do you really think there is room in the Revolution for such…” she needed a moment to extract the word from her German vocabulary. “Emancipation?”

“As much as there is for freedom of religion, but you and I both know that the Russians disagree with this.”

“A revolution begins between people,” she said firmly. “It must reflect freedom of beliefs, not define those beliefs.” 

“So you mean to say that your private religion is not a matter for the revolutionary state.”

“Obviously.” 

“To commit to not marrying outside your religion is your choice.”

“Observance is always a choice. Because it is here,” she pressed a hand to her heart. “What if I was thrown naked into a prison, would Allah not know my heart because I was not covered? He made me this way.”

“And,” he continued, now unable to stop himself from baiting her a little. “If you were to sleep with a foreign, godless infidel, Allah would not necessarily consider that a dire failure of observance.”

“I like to think he is more comprehensive than Adolf Hitler,” she said coldly. 

“Or Josef Stalin,” he offered. “Or Vladimir Ilyich Lenin for that matter.”

“Russian prophets,” she scoffed. “Karl Marx knew his own people as Muhammed did, and those people were not Russian at all, were they? They were British workers.”

Augustin felt his mind flexing a little around her slightly tortured logic, but there was something in her pedagogical certainty that made him smile.

“What?” she demanded, catching his expression.

“This is a different lesson than one I was expecting.”

She frowned at him, then rose. Carefully, she untucked her headscarf, untying its deep purple tresses, and slipping it off her her head. She folded it neatly, and set it on the side table. Her hair was shiny black, the locks long and snaky as they framed her face, and fell down the back of her trim grey blazer. 

“I think Allah has much more important things to do than listen to us chat,” she said with perfect calm. “His will is my respect is for my family. For my father and mother. That is my faith, my commitment to Muhammed’s words. I will marry Esam, even if he is a capitalist fool. And I will always protect my family honour. So if you tell anyone about this, I will have my cousin Reza kill you very severely, and after I will pretend you never existed.”

Despite knowing she was in earnest, he was untroubled by this threat. “What if we fall in love?” 

“That’s your problem, infidel.”

She would not let him undress her, as to avoid getting the scent of his cologne on her clothes. He never wore more than a trace of this, but he didn’t protest, quite enjoying the view of her as she disrobed in her oddly meticulous fashion. She also did not do this in his bedroom for similar reasons, instead carefully folding her blazer, her blouse, her long skirt and her the opaque black stockings she wore beneath. Even her bra and underwear, items he thought would not have been at much risk of being smelled, went on top of the neat pile. It was such a strange undressing that he found it almost distracting from her figure, the new person she was under the armour of her clothing. 

That was not new to him, as he experienced it with other women, but he was usually enlisted in the process so that his introduction to someone else’s naked body was much closer, more tactile. It was rare for him to immediately have the full picture as he did now. She watched him for a moment, her long brown body standing before him in a posture that was both upright and relaxed. There was natural asymmetry to her, her breasts spaced apart on her torso, her rib cage broader than average. Her hips, too, had width to them, thickness in her thighs and belly, all of it carried easily by the strength underneath. 

Nothing about her was virginal. Nothing about her was submissive. She’d made up her mind about him, about wanting him, and any idea he might have had on the matter was the merest afterthought. And given the erection now straining his trousers, he had to admit, she was fully justified in her assessment. 

He rose, allowed her to lead him into his bedroom, and stood still for her as she undressed him. Her mouth was soft on his, flavoured with the spices from the tea, fingers firm on his chest as they slid under his shirt. He gasped when she kissed his fevered throat, her hand sliding down the front of his briefs, gripping him. 

She explained to him, in spare detail, how she expected him to conduct himself, that he would provide protection. Then she explained to him that when they were in bed together, he would not use German words when making love to her. He would speak Turkish, and only Turkish. 

That first evening, he had enough vocabulary to remain conversant without her help. They were such simple words — faster, harder, don’t stop, my darling, my beautiful one — but she taught him more. He learned fuck me and take it, as well as the words for breast, for mouth. Soon all communication ceased to be of any linguistic importance as she rode him, taking her due from him without much real assistance from him. He was content to explore her sweat-glossed skin with his fingertips, adding the simple sensation of touch to her increasingly erogenous body.

As they lay together recovering, he requested a new vocabulary lesson from her. She taught him to name parts of their respective anatomies, using touch as a kind of mnemonic. Certain words like penis, testicles were, for him, very easy to remember, as well as the more vernacular terms she listed for him. Less obvious points, like elbow or knee, were harder for him to recall. He’d explain to her about the explosion, about the trouble he still had with his memory, so she had devised a brilliant and lovely solution. When he forgot the word for any part of her, he was permitted to touch it, but not kiss it until he corrected himself. When he demonstrated he knew the word, he was allowed to speak it as he kissed its corresponding location. 

Sometimes that meant he had homework, but he didn’t mind. Over time, they graduated to full sentences. Sometimes his verbal education was conducted in bed, each exchange of statement evolving into entire discussions held in varying states of sexual congress. Being made to recite Turkish poetry during oral sex was perhaps his favourite, but he loved everything they said, whether their speed was rapid, intense impact, or slow, languid conversation. Those were the times when he  forgot the struggle, preferring to speak what she referred to as “stupid Turkish” rather than hesitate to find a word. 

Augustin knew he was in love with her, but he also knew there was no chance he would violate her confidence, or her commitment. As the war progressed, they simply did not talk about it. The affair remained fully concealed in his bedroom, her clothes always stacked on the living room side table, keeping his access to her body limited to their very small world. They could not go to any of the cafes or clubs. He was, she insisted, free to seek other female company if he felt like it, but it was rare that he ever did. His relationship with Rosie had mellowed into more of a working friendship, though they did dance and lunch together on occasion. He never asked if she was using him to spy through Johann, because he didn’t really care. 

Once the summer course wound down, the only other time he would see Hazal was during the committee meetings. They acknowledged each other on these occasions, but rarely spoke at length. He did not let on that his Turkish was improving because he knew the other members would speak more freely in front of him. He kept his comprehension to himself with the other members when they’d broken apart and drifted to the bars or the restaurants.

“I love you,” he said to her after an extended afternoon of lovemaking in the sweltering July heat. “And you love me, too, don’t you?”

She said nothing, only reached up and drew her fingertip through the sweat on his brow. He knew she would never speak those words, just as she would never raise the question of whether he would consider converting in order to be with her, just as he would never raise such a question with her. In this omission, his adoration could live honestly. He adored that she had principles she would not surrender, even if it meant surrendering all prospect of partnership with him. 

“It’s all right that you’re going to break my heart, Hazal,” he said softly, seeing the clouding of her expression. He kissed her gently. “It’s all right. It’s worth it.”

“I didn’t teach you that word,” she said with a smile, her fingertips sifting through his sweat-slicked hair. “Heartbreak.”

“Yes, you did.”