Fiction in Translation: ‘The Baffling Case of the Man Called Ahmet Yilmaz’

He suppressed that desire; maybe one day he would be able to see the world through Turkish eyes.  Exhausted from his convoluted thoughts, Ahmad reached home, where his wife Fatima had supper waiting. Romantic Turkish soap operas, long turquoise abayas and embroidered headscarves of every color, beautiful fair-skinned girls, their veils draped gracefully, the poetry of the great Mevlana Jalal al-Din Rumi and Shams Tabrizi, a huge array of Turkish food at cheap prices. How long ago the intoxicating joy of those days seemed! He was overcome by dizziness, unable to move or speak. We hope Sultan Erdoğan will now liberate the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem the same way he’s given Hagia Sophia back to the Muslims.”  Fatima said: “We need to find somewhere else to live. I’m a Turkish citizen now, the same as you!” “Citizenship doesn’t make you a Turk,” said the landlord. He was certainly not the first person to get Turkish citizenship and change his name. Katherine Van de Vate translates modern Arabic literature into English. A person can change anything and everything about himself except his past. It was as if reality were determined to dash a man’s hopes. As he turned to leave, Fatima looked into her husband’s eyes with irrational fear. She was the prism through which he viewed everything.  No longer able to suppress his fury, Ahmad turned toward the landlord. Yet he had not given up on his dream for a moment, nor had he lost his respect for the president of this great nation.  Fatima turned on the television and began talking animatedly about the Hagia Sophia Museum, which had recently been converted back into a mosque. We promise we’ll move out as quickly as possible.” The pressure cooker inside Ahmad’s skull rose to a shriek. Fiction in Translation: ‘The Baffling Case of the Man Called Ahmet Yilmaz’ April 19, 2022April 18, 2022 by mlynxqualey This short story, chosen for the shortlist of the 2021 ArabLit Story Prize, ran in the Spring 2022 MIRRORS issue of ArabLit Quarterly, which you can find   in print via   GumRoad   and Amazon (US,   UK,   Canada,   Germany,   France,   the UAE,   Japan,   Italy,   Spain,   Australia, and elsewhere); digitally on   GumRoad   or   Exact Editions; or at select bookshops. Though he wasn’t actually in a good mood, he laughed uproariously during supper as he entertained his wife with a joke about a goose that had unsuccessfully tried to fly. Kissing his mother’s lined palm and his fiancee Fatima’s forehead, he promised his wife-to-be that he would soon bring her to join him in the most beautiful city in the world. With a wail, Fatima fell to the floor, awash in her own blood. He’ll have to throw me out!” Fatima stepped back fearfully. In an effort to calm things down, she said with a smile: “Mr. The landlord interrupted him with a grimace: “There’s a perfectly good reason, and I don’t have to explain myself. Whenever he watched the Turkish flag flutter in the breeze or sipped Turkish tea, he only felt an aching nostalgia for a glass of Moroccan tea suffused with fragrant mint leaves. He didn’t enjoy eating milk pudding with pistachios or Adana kebab. The pressure cooker inside his head had begun to whistle, and he felt as if he was about to lose his mind. By Karima Ahdad Translated by Katherine Van de Vate His bald spot gleaming in the overhead light, the airport border official raised his head and scrutinized the traveler in front of him. The sound of the television and Fatima’s chatter jumbled together in Ahmad’s head. Sirdar walked to the door without a backward glance. Two months is enough for you to find another place.” Ahmad hated smokers. “I’ll sort things out with this prejudiced idiot!”  Sirdar stood up and stubbed out his cigarette in his tea glass. A dusty brown suitcase in tow, he caught a plane to Istanbul, his heart full of anticipation and his mind filled with beguiling images. Anyway, what was wrong with changing your name to a Turkish one?  “Names are only names; most of the time they don’t mean anything,” he consoled himself as he stared through the taxi window at the road, as dark and desolate as his mood. Leaning on the chair opposite him, she muttered:  “There are lots of houses nicer than this one in Üsküdar and other parts of Istanbul. She sat down across from him and gazed dreamily into the distance, her round face lit by the room’s weak yellow light. Sirdar! Her only remaining link to Morocco was to its food, like couscous and lamb tajine with prunes. He switched on his phone and scrolled through Facebook posts as he drank his tea. My husband is rather short-tempered, as you see. The landlord came the following day to try and reach a solution. As the door closed behind Sirdar, Ahmad smashed the statue over his wife’s head. It was the first time he’d been embarrassed by his Turkish name, the one he’d chosen when he turned 30, after living in Turkey for six years.  “Ahmet Yilmaz!” How often had he swelled with pride when he said those words. He didn’t appreciate Turkish music or believe that blue beads protected one from the evil eye. Ahdad has just completed a novel about Arabs living in Turkey. He hadn’t given them a second thought in his rush to acquire Turkish citizenship and change his name from Ahmad al-Mansuri to Ahmet Yilmaz. We need more time to—” “Get back in the kitchen!” Ahmad cut her off in Moroccan Arabic. Why did they still treat him like a foreigner? What about his curly hair, his dark complexion, and his North African features? Flashing Fatima a look of furious contempt, he reached over to his right and grabbed the bust of Sultan Süleiman from the table. Let’s see what you can do about that!” Unperturbed, the landlord replied: “You have no idea what I can do.” Fatima hurried back from the kitchen. But before he could sit down, Fatima told him she’d just heard from the landlord that he wanted them to move out. He looked at his plate of Iskender kebab with uncharacteristic distaste, then directed his glance towards a side table on which sat a heavy copper bust of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent. She was still attached to Turkey and to her dream of acquiring citizenship. I no longer want to rent my flat to Arabs.” Ahmad objected vociferously: “I am not an Arab! “You have no reason to throw us out illegally!” he shouted. His decision terrified Fatima—Ahmad could see the fear in her eyes—but she wasn’t resentful. She speaks Arabic, French, English, and Amazigh. Coming across a Facebook post that he liked, Ahmad read it out: “The first call to prayer in the Hagia Sophia after its conversion back into a mosque. I’ll give you two months to find a new place.” His offer only enraged Ahmad further.  He replied defiantly: “I’m not leaving this apartment until the end of the contract!” Lighting his cigarette, the landlord replied nonchalantly: “I can’t wait five more months. With a sneer, he handed him back his dark red passport.  “Welcome, Ahmet Yilmaz Bey!” Ahmet felt his face flush. He used his university studies to establish himself in his new country, renting a room in a small apartment with a tall, blond, athletic Turk. And ever since Ahmad’s wife had come from Morocco to join him four years ago, she too had longed for the day when she could take a Turkish name. His Palestinian friend Mustafa Abu Khadra had changed his name to Mustafa Özdemir. He can alter his nose, his hair color, even his name. Lost in her reverie, Fatima sat motionless, absentmindedly holding her tulip-shaped glass. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading… Even her back would suddenly develop an astonishing curve, as if it carried an invisible, heavy stone. He could not understand why this blue-eyed young man looked at him with disapproval whenever Ahmad talked about the glories of the Turkish nation and its president. His colleague, the Syrian refugee Muhammad al-Khabbaz, had become Mehmet Demir. Ahmad was mystified by his wife’s astonishing ability to change her personality so quickly, and often asked himself if he behaved the same way in the presence of Turks.  He watched her angrily as she disappeared into the kitchen. Sirdar, I hope you’ll go easy on us. He had bought it from a shop by the Galata Tower during his first year in Istanbul. They both came from a Moroccan city where almost everyone’s first language was Amazigh. He even acts like this with me. Everyone should hear it and know he was now Turkish in his own right.  Why does a person want to become something other than what he really is, he asked himself, as he contemplated his reflection in the glass doors of the airport. Ahmad was enchanted by it all, and captivated by the Turkish president’s proud demeanor, his confident stride, and the fiery cadences of his speeches defending the world’s Muslims.  He couldn’t bear to wait any longer. For him, there were only three kinds or classes of people in the world: Europeans, who had the highest status; Turks, who ranked slightly lower; and at the bottom, Arabs, the last people on earth to deserve respect or appreciation.   “So why do the Arabs flee their countries and infest the rest of the world, like fleas?” he once overheard a Turkish colleague ask. She previously worked as an Arabic curator at the British Library and as a US diplomat, serving tours in Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, the UK, and Syria. Her hands shaking, she said in a quavering voice: “Please forgive us, Mr. And for him, Ahmad al-Mansuri, it was that he’d been born in Morocco, not Turkey.  “What country are you from?” asked the taxi driver with a smile, squinting at him in the rear-view mirror.  Ahmad gazed through the window at the road and pretended he hadn’t heard. When people asked him his name, he replied “Ahmet Yilmaz!” in a loud voice, articulating it slowly and clearly, almost boastfully. We can find somewhere else.”  She fell silent for a moment, then said with a forced laugh: “Don’t you remember the proverb: ‘Moving house brings peace of mind?’”  All Fatima’s efforts to calm her husband down ended in failure. Her translations have been published in ArabLit Quarterly, Words without Borders, and Asymptote. Ahmad slammed his glass down and exclaimed: “I’m not leaving this place no matter what! Why would his landlord throw him out now, when he was a full citizen? Why did people continue to look down on him? You know how hard it is to find an affordable apartment in Istanbul these days. When the goose gave up and tried to walk again, she had forgotten how, and was obliged to spend the remainder of her days neither flying nor walking.   “Once you get your Turkish citizenship, what do you want to be called?” he asked Fatima, his tone now serious and his face downcast.  “Amina!” Fatima replied enthusiastically as she poured him a glass of Turkish tea. When they met to sign the rental contract, he looked Ahmad over from head to toe with a mistrustful gaze, as he chewed gum with a heavy smell of mint. He picked up his passport and stalked off through the crowds in Atatürk Airport, jerking his suitcase violently behind him. Pictures of Ottoman palaces and mosques, the TV drama “Resurrection Ertuğrul,” and the Facebook pages of President Erdoğan’s many admirers. Why did they call him “yabancı”—foreigner—every time he took a taxi to the immigration office or even just to the supermarket? He knew many people who hoped to become Turkish. Her first novel, Cactus Girls, was published in 2018 and won the 2019 Mohamed Zefzaf prize. Instead, he channeled his rage into his ambition to obtain Turkish citizenship.   And here he was, finally, Turkish.   But he derived no pleasure from gazing at the Bosphorus. Her 2014 short story collection The Last Hemorrhage of the Dream was awarded the prize for best young author from the Moroccan Writers’ Union. Their landlord was an irascible, ultra-nationalist Turk. A thought suddenly hit him like a splash of cold water on his head: “So if that’s the case, why do we try to change our names?”  When Ahmad first came to Turkey to study communications, the so-called “Turkish dream” had conquered the hearts of Moroccans, displacing their dreams of America and Europe. “She’s wonderful! But he was actually angry at himself and at the world. Placing a cigarette between his narrow blue lips, the landlord said arrogantly: “I’ve come to resolve this disagreement peacefully. When she was dealing with a Moroccan, she held her head high, but when she met a Turk, she would lower it deferentially. I want to be like her one day.” Regarding her with an absent smile, Ahmad did not respond. He’d given up his real name, his identity, and his ties to his homeland so he could enjoy the same treatment as others in this country.  Now his landlord was saying he’d changed his mind and didn’t want to rent to Arabs any more. * Karima Ahdad is a Moroccan writer, journalist, and author from the city of El Hoceima who worked until May 2021 as a digital content editor for TRT Arabi in Turkey. Today, for the first time, he felt like there was a pressure cooker instead of a brain inside his skull. Ahmad could not open his mouth or say a word of protest against the situation. He had grudgingly agreed to rent him the apartment on the grounds that Ahmet was an Arab. Collecting himself, Ahmad got to his feet. He got into a taxi and headed towards his home in Üsküdar, musing that some things in life can’t be changed, like the past, or one’s memories. Fatima prepared tea and welcomed him like a king, an artificial smile fixed on her face as she set out the glasses on the sitting room table. “Only blood and birth can make you Turkish, nothing else.” Thrusting his agitated face into the landlord’s, Ahmad declared: “I’m not leaving! She was only a mirror reflecting him and all his shortcomings—his weakness, his servility, and his sense of alienation. In actual fact, neither Ahmad nor his wife was Arab. “But that’s an Arab name!” Ahmed said in astonishment.  “I know, but it’s also the name of the Turkish President’s wife,” Fatima said with undiminished enthusiasm. I hope you’ll be good enough to extend our notice period. We only have a month.” Ahmad felt the blood rush to his head. When Ahmad came home from his university classes, he would find his housemate sprawled not on his own bed, but on Ahmad’s, or wearing his clothes, or even using his bath towel and razor. Ahmad did not say a word. That colleague was like his landlord, not in how he looked, but in how he hated Arabs and felt superior to them.  But all of that had happened before Ahmad received his Turkish passport. He began coughing, not from the smoke but from the anger mounting inside him. Why did his landlord treat him like he was an outsider who knew nothing about Turkey, and always tried to cheat him?  His Turkish was excellent; he spoke the language fluently. A person can change the way he thinks, his car, or where he lives. But there was no way to make this clueless Turk understand this.

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