Tell It to Me

Tomris Uyar

Illustration by Emily S. Franklin


It happens once in a while. One evening, in a crowded, stifling, smoke-filled room, a room in which strangers are randomly drifting, everything feels stuck, and no other sound is heard besides the clinking of the cutlery. Everyone, possessed by a strange feeling of guilt, tries their best not to make a peep.

The owner of the house gets up and makes a last-ditch effort to save the night. He cracks a dirty joke, relates an ordinary incident, or repeats a well-worn anecdote, and something happens, suddenly something releases, everyone relaxes, and as if they were waiting for this common, cheap mutuality, everyone laughs in unison. Right at that moment, two people who had never met before, conforming to an inexplicable gravitational pull, raise their heads. Their eyes meet. The same words are about to come out of their mouths, but they do not open their lips. They evade each other’s eyes, and yet the change has already taken place; like a river, like a desert, a border already separates them from the crowd in the room. They know each other now.



“Please, tell me something. I’m not talkative, don’t mind me.”

“What shall I tell?”

“How did you get here? What did you do in the morning?”

“The weather was nice, so I went out. I walked around for a bit. I guess I enjoy being by myself. But then I got bored. When I left the house, calling on you was not on my mind . . . but then I just felt like it. That night we had promised to grab a drink together.”

“Don’t explain, tell it to me.”

“I walked along that beautiful, tree-lined sidewalk near Dolmabahçe. The breeze from the sea hit my face. I can’t even describe it; all the trees, the pebbles, the cars, they were all covered with a warm blanket of dew. Weather so beautiful, it would wet your eyes. My eyes filled up with tears. If you are expecting beautiful things, look, I’ll tell you something beautiful. I thought that everything green needs a flower. I realized I didn’t really love coltsfoot or rubber trees for that reason. The gypsies had spread out their flowers on the sidewalk to sell. If I said that ‘a rose is the flower of greenery and of green,’ what literary art would that be?”

“I have no idea. But I didn’t say I wanted to hear beautiful things. I just wanted to hear your voice, that’s all.”

“Alright then, I’ll tell you. I know that nowadays the rose is a good that they resuscitate by force, by sprinkling water on top of a certain number of impoverished, scam flowers. I also know it is a delicacy that bourgeois women wearing gloves and heavy perfumes on sunny days buy. And when it is a single rose, how it becomes a womanizer’s tool acquired for next to nothing. Yet, if I have an apricot-colored rose in my hand, I can better appreciate the shades of a garden wall, a street name, or a plastic trash can just bought by a woman.”

“I don’t know if I have the right to ask, but I would have liked to hear things that really concern your heart, things you wouldn’t tell others. Tell it to me . . . ”

“When I was looking at the flowers, I thought that this weather whose beauty causes tears to well up in your eyes is not good for announcing martial law, but this weather is just right for searches, night raids, and rounds ups. Suddenly, you came to my mind and I thought that maybe we would never see each other again.”

“I didn’t think you would call. It had been almost a month. I said to myself, 'she won’t call.' And to be honest, I was secretly happy about it.”

“That’s exactly why I hesitated. Objectively, I shouldn’t have called because I don’t know anything about you . . . ”

“I would assume you call every man you meet, right? Otherwise, I would think you chose me only because you called me.”

“No, that’s not it. I don’t think you can look at it objectively. The thought of not being able to talk to you again was so intense that, at one point, I suspected I had made too big a deal of it. But that wasn’t it. I bought a newspaper from the kiosk, and sitting on the side of the pier, I dangled my feet over the sea. No one was around at that hour. I tried to read the headlines and also between the lines.”

“When we find a rational explanation, even if it’s wrong, we cling to it with both hands. It is because facing us are always those things, swinging in the darkness, that frighten us with their shadows.”

“During one of the night searches, I’ll never forget, when I opened the door at three in the morning, two policemen and a naval officer greeted me with their rifles. I wasn’t as scared as I thought I would be.”

“Those who know fear, who have lived through fear, are not easy to figure out, believe me. By which I mean to say, they know their own private fears.”

“At the pier, I turned my face toward the sun and sat like that. It felt good. Everything I had put off, left incomplete, floated up to the surface; I decided immediately to complete them all. I got up and called you.”

“Our rakı is gone. What would you like to eat? I have money, don’t be shy.”

“I don’t really feel like eating but maybe you should order some grilled meat so the waiter doesn’t have to come and go. And also a salad.”


I am sweating. My armpits are soaking wet. Why did I wear a turtleneck in this heat? As if I didn’t know. But it is not like that. This sweat is not from the trembling afternoon sun whose burning heat has dissipated. It will cool down in a bit.

It is the arrival of an intimacy that has been given preferential treatment but that has also been kept waiting for two hours, no, not for two hours, actually for a month now, an intimacy, in fact, whose realization has been avoided.

This warmth, that is trickling slowly and quietly through me, touches the person across from me (should I call him a boy, a man, or a friend), and then spreads out to the world after reflecting off his eyes.

This warmth is flowing with a dizzying speed toward a world that is ceaselessly capsizing and renewing itself.

Its nature can change at any moment. It can decide on friendship and adopt the warmth of soft wool. It can turn into passion and sharpen like the sun that makes your head throb, its heat giving a bitter taste to the alcohol. It could even leap to love. But it will not stay still.

He is so good at tailoring an identity for himself. He can handle all the deadly curves that appear ahead of him and find a safe track.

This sweat is a debt, an exuberance, an inebriation that has been borrowed from the world but made richer through others, and which has been paid back to the world.



The fact that the person across from me has shared similar moments and emotions with others—with other women, with other men—and that he will certainly share them again in the future does not bruise the reality of this moment and this feeling, or my having lived it. Just the opposite: it increases and burnishes its respectability.

Now that the moment has been lived, it will continue on. With others, at other times and places. An instant renders two individuals as two distinct personalities; it reflects the colors of other individuals on them but then obscures their faces like a pair of solar binoculars. Who is it across from us? Who are they?

You pick up minor details, new dimensions. You take something over. You bequeath a will.

I feel deep in my bones how this slippery warmth inside me will one day turn into dried dung that will warm up village houses that I will never visit and become the grass a wise ox feeds on.

And how it will, upon being grafted onto a rose, take up colors somewhere in the depths of the world.

His face reddens as well. We remain silent.

An out-of-place laugh, the breaking of a water glass, and even a blaring foghorn cannot spoil this silence, which was built not by fact or imagination but by a deeper, inner reticence.

He turns around to call the waiter. I see how his thick neck muscles look odd against his thin, childish hair, dappled from the sun. The hair at the back of his neck is soft and curly. I look for and find that deep line. I imagine a fragile line dividing his back into two, sloping down to his buttocks, his tense loins, and the cavities that balance the audacity on his front.

Yes, I can tell what is on his mind, and also know the qualities that would only come out when he is utterly naked.

For example, he does not have a “room.” He has a home.

He does not go to a hotel to make love. A painstakingly placed hanger, a red night lamp, a gold picture frame, a mirror that has been nailed to the ceiling to make sex easier might make him lose his temper.

He desires to hold a woman against the sunlight and examine her. He learned about them when he was young. He once had a friend at a whorehouse.

Because he has become a man slowly, he is self-confident, without hurry.

If he does not have any matches left, he leaves the bed in the middle of things and goes to the corner store. He may not come back with the matches or he may come back with something he hadn’t thought he needed.

I could have probably laid my head against his nudity for a while and slept. I could have heard his heart fluttering like a wounded animal, his exhaustion inside me. But this will not happen now. The magic is gone. We are at a new bend in the road. I am looking at his nails, the gnawed tips of which have begun to resemble mine.



The waiter brings a fresh bottle of rakı and the grilled meat; the sun stands outside the door that opens up to the terminal, boring a strip of light inside of which tiny dust particles jostle playfully.

Broken and worn-out tables with cardboard pieces, matchboxes, and soda bottle caps stuffed underneath their legs . . . their surfaces are covered with a thick, greasy cloth.

Lining the shelves behind the counter are your go-to Turkish rakıs, bottom-shelf vodkas, red cognacs, dusty liquors, and whiskey bottles. Their labels are unreadable because of all the dust and soot.

The glasses have grease circles. They are lusterless and crooked.

The remnants of spiderwebs dangle from blackened tulle curtains.

Someone looking all businesslike, perched behind the counter, is making a call.

With a voice that does not sound believable at all, “Yes, yes,” he says, “I will wait a little longer and then head out. If it wasn’t important . . . you will entertain them then? You can tell them I had to go to a meeting at five.”



It is past three. The train is late.

An old couple and a boy are sitting at the adjacent table. They have ordered lamb chops for the boy, and stewed beans and rice for themselves. They take small spoons from the dish and tear off chunks from the bread. They frequently cast their eyes outside. From the boy’s belt a cheap, German-made toy gun is dangling, its sheath red. They are waiting for the train that is about to arrive. The old couple is going to deliver the boy back to his parents. That explains the lamb chop.

The employees are preparing the platform for the train. They have brooms, rags, long-stemmed brushes, and colorful buckets in their hands. The luggage carts are being driven to and fro. Porters go to their spots. In one cart, there is a pile of letters reaching the skies. One of them falls; the postman bends down and picks it up. That all these letters will reach their destinations is hard to believe.

A dove, which must have just taken flight from either Sultanahmet or Yenicami flies in through the broken window. It cruises the ceiling that resembles a silent mosque dome. It will become one of the thousands of doves that will pass through the narrow, rough-and-tumble, hopeless streets, on which wandering peddlers sell inconceivable things, cassette tapes blast music, and lottery ticket sellers guard their corners. A sacrificial offering, this lazy animal has grown fat and forgotten how to fly.

An old alcoholic is dozing off at the large table in the middle. He is waiting to die his own private, small, rightful death.

Apparently, a dope addict was sleeping in the toilet with his pants pulled down to his knees, his hems touching the common liquid oozing from the newspapers, pads, and toilet paper stuffed into the hole of the squat toilet. The waiters found him and are tossing him out.

The smell of sour appetizers, overripe melons, burned grease, toppled rakı, dust, soot, cloth, wet serge, fuzzy velvet, crumpled paper napkins, feet, and feces all combine into one smell: from the tables surges the smell of a washcloth that has been dried off in the hot kitchen without someone having gotten rid of its grease.

The perfume seller approves this smell and formalizes it with a stamp that will not go away for three days.



“Why don’t you eat? The fat on your meatballs has congealed.”

“You didn’t eat anything either.”

“What time is it?”

“When do you have to leave?”


“It’s you who hasn’t talked at all. Come on, tell me something.”

“Do you want me to tell you that I love you?”

“No. I know that you don’t love me in the way that word is often used. Or maybe you only love me that way, I don’t know.”

“But you still want to hear it. The words a man tells a woman. And that’s your feminine side talking.”

“Is it shameful? Is it a bad thing?”

“No, it is what makes you you, but saying it ties me down.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can only tell you this much: I would have liked to see you in your old age. When everything is finally calm and far away and clean, when everything is at peace.”

He bent and kissed the woman first on her forehead, then on the tip of her nose, then on the line that extended to her trembling lips that were now getting ready to cry.

“Come on, let’s walk. I’ll see you off.”

translated from the Turkish by Ayten Tartici

The story in its original Turkish appears in Tomris Uyar, "Anlat Bana," Bütün Öyküleri, (YKY: Istanbul, November 2014), p. 323-330.