When we began corresponding, in our heads there were a whole lot of words waiting to be written for a long time. But time is one of the most deceptive things on Earth. Of course, it went by very quickly just like it always does and left behind nothing but far away shadows. After all, as we write and live, aren’t these shadows the only things left for us after so much toil, trouble and weariness?
For these last few months we’ve chatted a lot, albeit not sitting across each other sipping on Turkish coffee, but at our keyboards, knowing that we were being read in faraway places. As always, we took shelter in words to express what went through our hearts. And now, what is left in our minds of those words we trust so much? Thankfully, they are all written down. Still, I believe that, when writing and living, we shouldn’t make too much of words, giving them more meaning than what they are, we should remember that they aren’t “things” but their names.
As this is the last letter there is no harm in telling, in fact, it is the right moment to do so. At the start of all this hullabaloo of corresponding in which we talked about literature and life, as two people who didn’t know one another, we both were curious about how we would be writing to each other. As letters started to move back and forth the curiosity got replaced by the concern if we would be pleased to meet. To tell my side of the story, as I was busy writing my new novel about two sisters corresponding, sometimes their letters and mine got intertwined. Not topically of course, – they were in the 30s and in completely different conditions – but emotionally. Something strange happened, after a while I began to feel as if I were one of the sisters writing to the other. It was as if a bond of sisterhood had formed between us. And time showed us that we had a lot in common, more than we could have imagined. Yet it also showed us our many differences, ranging from our language to our style, from the issues that troubled us to the way we solved them. (Later, we would attribute some of them to the properties of the cultures that shaped us.) I think it was our differences more than our similarities that enriched our letters, which was also what made me await your next letter with excitement and read it with delight…
When we neared the end of the letters, we knew much about each other. We had written so fully that it was as if we had been friends for years. However we had never met in person! And we were in agreement that this had a romantic air to it.
We were to come face to face for the first time at the Istanbul Tanpınar Literature Festival. We had arrived in Istanbul, I from Barcelona, and you from Preston. We were going to meet at the opening ceremony that was going to be held at the Netherlands Consulate. I remember as if it were yesterday; it was the beginning of October and a warm Istanbul evening.
I had arrived early and had begun waiting for you. For a while, as the garden of the consulate became populate with more and more people, I became worried. Because when you’re looking for someone you only know from photographs, a crowd doesn’t really help things. You could even consider it already an effort in vain. As I was too conscious of this I couldn’t help glancing around as I spoke with familiar faces; and I kept asking Cihan from Kalem Agency if she had seen you whenever I ran into her. But you hadn’t even met her yet either! Who knows, maybe you had already arrived and were among the crowd looking for me. You had become a complete mystery, Jenn, you just wouldn’t show up!
As I almost emptied my third glass of wine I finally found you. You stood before me with a great big smile across your face. Strange, but we hugged like friends who hadn’t seen each other for a long time. Okay, it was the first time we were side by side, but after so many letters, we knew one another far more than those who got together often but never managed to really listen to each other…
In the following days, we travelled all around the city, every place we dreamt of in the letters. And better yet, we read the letters which we had written from afar face to face at the Istanbul Tanpınar Literature Festival. It was wonderful to be able to hear your words in your own voice.
When our Istanbul adventure ended, we moved to England. You took me to that wonderful garden in Preston, the one you had mentioned in your novel, Cold Light; I saw the pond at its center. It was just like crawling into a novel and quietly walking around inside it! Then, at the University of Lancaster, at the Manchester Literature Festival, we read our letters, pieces we chose from our novels and talked at length about what this special journey we had embarked on by grabbing on to the wings of the letters contributed to our lives. Everyone was asking us the same questions: “How did it feel to have met after so much time? Did you like each other? What if you hadn’t?” What if we hadn’t liked each other, Jenn? Then, I guess we would have politely finished what we had started and then retreated to our respective corners. But that never happened.
Eventually, summer is over, the year is about to end too and we are at the end of this beautiful journey. We shall keep on writing to one another in private, of course, but now, here in this last letter that I’m writing for the Manchester Letters, I would like to convey my love and thanks to those who accompanied us on this journey. As I believe that it is a fine example for showing us which doors the road can lead us, I’d like to end my letter with that interesting incident that happened to us in Istanbul.
I believe it was the day after when we had first met. We were at Hagia Sophia. Although it was a place I had been to and had been influenced by many times before, I never considered writing anything about that magnificent church. As soon as we passed through the doors of the 1500 year old edifice, something truly bizarre happened. As we were gazing at the wonderful mosaics on the ceiling with our mouths open, a man that no one else noticed suddenly appeared beside us. (Well, literature is also lying beautifully, so with your permission, I changed “in our minds” to “beside us.”) The man seemed to be from a different time. There was something in his composure, one could tell he was definitely in the wrong time but most certainly not at the wrong place. He looked at you, then at me. We looked at him, then at each other. Then, somehow we began to write a story about this mysterious man who had entered our minds at the same time. As we walked around the building, we told each other the story of this man, a mosaic worker who made the mosaics of Hagia Sophia… Thus, our mosaic worker had become real. Of course, his was an unfinished story.
Since that day, whenever I sit down at the computer to write to you, the mosaic worker appears beside me. “I,” he says, “am half a story now, thanks to you. You just left me like that. Could you please complete me?” I could just scribble something to make him happy, but can’t bring myself to do so. I look at his face, sulking like a child, and tell him “Wait, just wait a little longer. Because the best stories are the ones that wait for the right moment.” Because, Jenn, this story that we started together, I want to complete it together as well. After the talks we had, I’m sure you feel the same way.
So, dear Jenn, if the fruit of these letters is to be a mosaic worker who came to life between us, I’m in! I know that one day we shall write that story. And now I call out to that mosaic worker at Hagia Sophia: “Don’t think that we have forgotten you! Be a little more patient. Because the patient ones are the heroes of the best stories. Know that one day we shall come back to you. Writers who are short of words always come back!”