Photo: Tressler.

Nizam walked quickly and nervously through the twilight. The fences and houses along Limon Paşa Boulevard were dark silhouettes beneath the rapidly aging sun. Ah, the Golden Hour, he mused, not without nervous irony. A golden death at the golden hour.

Not that he was really planning to go through with it. His whole mindset had been kicking around in a daze for some time. Everything had taken on this dense unreality, like those false sounds one hears on a sleepless night (something he had been rather familiar with of late).

It was Saturday evening, and the young people passed him on the sidewalks. They chatted gaily, some even rode the green scooters that were available all around the city. Their forms were cast in a strange blue mist as they went on, bound gaily for the city center and Saturday night charms. He bitterly envied them, and eyed them wistfully as they disappeared into the murky shadows.

Nizam was 26, at the straying edges of youth. He had not managed to graduate university as he had promised his family the year before, when they had issued their ultimatum. True to his father’s word, he had been cut off from his allowance, was told, “Time to be a man, son!” That was the previous June.

Now it was late November, the last rays of the long autumn fading with the sunset. The forecast called for rain the following week, and the slog into winter was surely ahead. On top of that, he was behind on rent. His flat mate, an easygoing Erasmus student from France who had been kindly sponsoring his precarious lifestyle since September, was heading home in a few weeks, which meant that he most likely would be out on his ass by the New Year.

“This fucking inflation!” he said, repeatedly. “You can’t step out the door these days without dropping a hundred lira!”

It was true, for the record. The country’s currency had fallen sharply in recent weeks against the dollar, as the Federal Reserve and other international entities tightened their policies. Experts had warned of double-digit inflation in Turkey.

Nizam, whose primary source of income was giving informal English lessons and writing term papers for a handful of lazy associates from college days, found himself broke most of the time. Hell, all the time! His father owned some mining interests in Central Asia, but since the divorce a few years back, had slowly cut back on alimony payments, most likely because he was giving this money to his new girlfriend (a theory posited by his mother, who herself had resignedly and angrily gone to live with relatives in Arizona. The mother sent Nizam whatever she could send, but Nizam suspected she was wearing out her welcome with the relatives more and more with each financial request).

Two hundred bucks. No, five hundred. What he could do with that right about now. Dollars were like gold here! With the current exchange rate, five hundred would be worth more than ten times that in Istanbul. He could even keep them a few weeks on the almost sure bet that the lira would continue its plunge.

None of these thoughts were really in his head as he walked along Limon Pasa. They had been on his mind the past couple of days, but they were not justifications so much as indications. Indications of what? The “approximate possibilities of his reality,” as Nizam had put it. He was rather a deep thinker.

“Anything is possible in this world, of course,” he would reason. “We all know that! But that is not the issue. The issue is – within each person’s own individual universe (this was key) – what are the approximate possibilities on any given day? After all, there are some things that just will never happen, not in our individual universe. I could win a million dollars, or get hit by a train – all in the same day even, you say. Yes, but we all know ourselves, right? And I know that in my approximate universe, those two things are never likely to happen. One cannot force things, you see – “

And on and on, in this nebulous world of Raskolnikovian proportions the young man swirled, as he walked on through the twilight. The street lights were on now, and the cars had turned on their headlights. The big city buses hurtled past. Naturally, all of the taxis that passed were busy since it was the weekend.

This idea concerning his “buyuk anne” (grandmother, in Turkish) had evolved from this strange thinking, and he knew it was just a crazy lamp post kind of reasoning. He was on his way to see his 90-year-old grandmother at the hospital. A couple of weeks before she had fallen down at her apartment, broken her hip and been taken to hospital. The surgery was successful, but then she had contacted Covid at the hospital. The doctors thought she had got it while getting X rays.

His grandmother was a strong old woman, always had been. She was conservative, still wore the headscarf and traditional dress. Her side of the family was the wealthy side, having made a modest fortune in agriculture and real estate back in the day. As an economics student and would-be entrepreneur, Nizam could say he was pretty well-versed in the family fortune. And he could also boast that he and “Granny” had always been close, but then one could also say she was a traditional woman who was fond of all her children and grandchildren.

What occupied Nizam in his twilight walk (it was actually dark out now) was the pure romance of his notion. That he would actually put his granny out of her misery. How hard could it be? She had had very few visitors (relatives mostly lived in the south of Turkey, and his own parents we already know about). The poor woman had lived 90 years, all happy and healthy until the unfortunate accident. He actually lamented this accident. After all, he had always admired the old lady, the strength, good sense and spirit of her. To him, she represented the ideal old-fashioned Anatolian woman, broad-shouldered, broad-hearted and absolutely practical in all affairs.

And yet look at her now, he thought. All alone in a hospital, sick with a disease that she never would have caught if this stupid accident hadn’t occurred. If the stupid hospital staff had been more careful. Most likely, she would die in that hospital anyway. Was that any way to end a beautiful, long and well-lived life? He even fancied that his grandmother, in her staunch, practical wisdom, would approve of his plan.

(Full disclosure: Not too long ago, Nizam had read of a man in India who had been killed his wife with a cobra, had in fact bought and learned how to milk the cobra. The man had administered a sedative to the wife, then had the snake “bite” her in her sleep. However, the subsequent inquest had revealed that such species of snake would have been dormant during the estimated time of the bite, and that nevertheless tests had shown the species to be non-aggressive. The Indian man had been forced to confess.

After reading this story, Nasim had envisioned a conversation with his granny:

“Did you hear about that guy in India, granny? Tried to get away with killing his wife with a cobra. The dumb bastard got caught, of course!”

“Hmph!” granny in his thoughts sniffed. “You’d think there would be much easier ways than that!”)


Easier indeed, Now, if he could actually do it … All he had to do was stop in for a visit. He was family after all, they had to let him see her. He could stay for awhile, and if his granny was awake she would of course be glad to see him. They could talk for awhile, and he could amuse her with his quick wit and family gossip. And sooner or later, she would tire, fall asleep, and he could just take a nearby pillow and …. The Golden Death, that’s what it was called in this part of the world. The reward for a long, good life was to die peacefully in one’s sleep. So would it be so wrong, to give his dear granny the Golden Death?

He knew enough of her affairs (from his mother) that the properties were to be divided equally among the mother and her two brothers, and that the mother planned to immediately sell her share. That would presumably be enough to take care of them both, if the offer were good. Well, there were always foreign buyers on the market.

Nizam reached the intersection in Üsküdar. It was a bright, busy Saturday evening, lots of traffic. He had a few lira left on his Istanbulkart, enough to get him to the hospital in Acibadem and back. The bus ride was usually about 15 minutes, but took a bit longer because of the traffic. He was so preoccupied that he forgot to don his mask, and the bus of course was very crowded. A nearby woman, a nervous type, sharply reminded him. “Mask!” she snapped, pointing to her own black one.

Nizam apologized abstractedly, and fished his mask from his coat pocket. The bus was mostly full of families, with mothers balancing shopping bags in both hands while their children, wearing winter coats, looked out the windows. The buses going the other way were all full of young people heading to catch the ferries to Beşiktas and Karaköy, where all the good bars and night spots were. Nice to be them, Nizam thought absently.

He knew that he would never go through with this sordid plan. He knew that as the bus went up the hill, with the streetlights shining damply in the gauzy night air. A light rain had begun to fall, and the streets were shiny and black. He would go to the hospital, check on his grandmother and dumbly head back to the flat in Kuzguncuk. He would drink the last of the bottle of Jack Daniels he had at the flat, smoke the last bit of joint he had saved in the ashtray next to the bed. And in the morning, he would wake up with the same feelings of loneliness and desolation.

At Koşuyolu, he got off the bus, and changed to a blue minbus. It only cost two lira, which he paid with two coins from his pocket. He arrived at the hospital about ten minutes later. It was slow at the hospital, but then it was early. As always, his eyes took a moment to adjust to the sterile brightness of the corridors. The woman working at the desk recognized him and nodded as he indicated toward the lift.

Up on the second floor, he went to his granny’s room. Not unexpectedly, she was asleep. Against the fresh whiteness of the hospital bedding, her face looked grey and wasted. She looked very tired. Nizam sat down and just looked at her for a long time as she slept. He thought about the time in high school when he’d brought a girl home from school. He had been nervous about it, as he introduced the girl to his parents, and they all sat in the dining room having Turkish coffee and some chocolates. His granny had been visiting for a few weeks then, and had come out and sat with them during the visit, and Nizam remembered how he had looked at her, and his granny had smiled and given him a wink with her twinkling brown eyes, and he had been grateful for her quiet encouragement.

He thought of that day again, as he regarded his sleeping granny. Ninety years! And not sick a day in her whole life, he reflected. If it weren’t for her falling down, she no doubt could have lived to be a hundred. No doubt at all! Now most likely she would die soon. The doctors said the operation and the Covid had really sapped her strength, knocked the life out of her. Their hope was that if her recovery continued, as it seemed to be doing, she would be able to return home to her apartment in a few more days.

That would be best, Nizam thought. If she had to die, as she soon would, it would be better she died at home, not in some hospital bed surrounded by nobody, or by a grandson who had pondered (briefly) the idea of murdering her. To die at home, in her sleep, in her own bed: that was truly the golden death.

He kissed his granny on the forehead, even though he was supposed to avoid touching her, and wished her good night.

On the way home, Nizam felt better. Maybe he had figured something out. Maybe in the approximate possibilities of his world, he could turn out all right. He was still young, after all.


James Tressler, a former Lost Coast resident, is a writer and teacher living in Istanbul.