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Three Daughters of Eve

Elif Shafak


From The Handbag

 Istanbul, 2016

It was an ordinary spring day in Istanbul, a long and leaden afternoon like so many others, when she discovered, with a hollowness in her stomach, that she was capable of killing someone. She had always suspected that even the calmest and sweetest women under stress were prone to outbursts of violence. Since she thought of herself as neither calm nor sweet, she had reckoned that her potential to lose control was considerably greater than theirs. But 'potential' was a tricky word. Everyone once said that Turkey had great potential — and look how that had turned out. So she had comforted herself that her potential for darkness, too, would amount to nothing in the end.

And thankfully Fate — that well-preserved tablet upon which was engraved everything that happened, and was going to happen — had, for the most part, spared her from wrongdoing. All these years she had led a decent life. She had not inflicted harm on a fellow human being, at least not deliberately, at least not lately, except for engaging in an occasional bit of gossip or bad-mouthing, which shouldn't count. After all, everyone did it — and if it was such a monumental sin, the pits of hell would be full to the brim. If she had caused anguish to anyone at all, it was God, and God, though easily displeased and famously capricious, was never hurt. To hurt and to be hurt — that was a human trait.

In the eyes of family and friends, Nazperi Nalbantoglu — Peri as she was known to all — was a good person. She supported charities, raised awareness about Alzheimer's and money for families in need; volunteered at retirement homes where she competed in backgam­mon tournaments, losing intentionally; carried treats in her handbag for Istanbul's copious stray cats and, every so often, had them neutered at her own expense; kept a close eye on her children's performance in school; hosted elegant dinners for her husband's boss and co-workers; fasted on the first and last days of Ramadan, but tended to skip the ones in between; sacrificed a hennaed sheep every Eid. She never lit­tered the streets, never jumped the queue at the supermarket, nev: raised her voice — even when she had been treated rudely. A fine wifi a fine mother, a fine housewife, a fine citizen, a fine modern Musi"' she was.

Time, like a skilful tailor, had seamlessly stitched together the two fabrics that sheathed Peri's life: what people thought of her and what she thought of herself. The impression she left on others and her self-perception had been sewn into a whole so consummate that she could no longer tell how much of each day was defined by what was wished upon her and how much of it was what she really wanted. She often felt the urge to grab a bucketful of soapy water and scrub the streets, the public squares, the government, the parliament, the bur­eaucracy, and, while she was at it, wash out a few mouths too. There was so much filth to clean up; so many broken pieces to fix; so many errors to correct. Every morning when she left her house she let out a quiet sigh, as if in one breath she could will away the detritus of the previous day. While Peri questioned the world without fail, and was not one to keep silent in the face of injustice, she had resolved some years ago to be content with what she had. It would therefore come as a surprise when, on a middling kind of day, at the age of thirty-five, established and respected, she found herself staring at the void in her soul.

It was all because of the traffic, she would later reassure herself. Rumbling, roaring, metal clanking against metal like the cries of a thousand warriors. The entire city was one giant construction site. Istanbul had grown uncontrollably and kept on expanding — a bloated goldfish, unaware of having gobbled more than it could digest, still searching around for more to eat. Looking back on that fateful after­noon, Peri would conclude that had it not been for the hopeless gridlock, the chain of events that awakened a long-dormant part of her memory would never have been set in motion.