In Sine Ergün's playful short story, a young man discovers a secret that will be his undoing when a simple trip to the bathroom has unforeseen consequences.
I remember finding it odd that three people would choose to live together. We were at an age where everyone had a place of their own. They seemed like normal people. It was only with time that I realized that they weren’t normal at all.
Selen had none of the characteristics you expect in an average woman. She was cold, quiet, and not a particularly talkative person. She had no problems, or if she did she never mentioned them, but a look of discontent was plastered permanently across her face. We slept together for months and we talked. I still don’t think I know a thing about her.
Onur was even quieter than she was. He got up at the same time every morning, went out for a run, came home, made himself breakfast—an omelet and some milk—and went to work. When he came back—depending on his plan that day—he would play basketball or football, take a shower, shut himself in his room, and watch TV. I spent plenty of time in that house, but I hardly ever saw him get excited about anything. I suppose the only thing he got excited about was birds. With no concern for what we might be doing, he would knock stubbornly at the door, saying, Selen, come and look, they’re in the back garden. Selen would jump up and turn to the window, as excited as he was.
Like I say, they were strange people who seemed normal at first, but neither of them was as strange as İnanç. İnanç never left the house. At least, he never did when I was there. He stayed in a dark little room that might have served best as a closet. But I only rarely saw him in his room. He would doze off on the sofa in the living room or work at the table. He was always snacking on something, fixing the bike that I’d never seen him ride, as if the whole house was his, and, just like the others, he didn’t speak unless he had to. He was the oddest of the three. When I saw him, I would just stand there, wondering whether to say hello. And whether he acknowledged me or not, he clearly didn’t consider it worth the disruption to his day.
In time, I realized that their coldness was not reserved for me alone. They never said more than a few words to each other on any given day and this allowed them to act as if each of them lived separately. This set-up surprised me because I knew that they had become roommates after years of friendship; I thought perhaps they had already said everything they could possibly want to say to one another over the years. It was as if something linked them to each other aside from the connection I knew about. I even wondered whether the three of them might have been members of a cult or something like that.
Despite this strangeness, Selen and I had a tacit understanding. I had been trying to find someone to agree to such a set-up for some time. We slept together when it suited us both—at her house, not mine—and the chance of it turning into a relationship was smaller than the chance of one of us getting together with someone off the street. It was this easiness that brought me to her house so often, despite how odd I found her and her housemates. I never thought the situation would come to this.
I spent most of my time at the house in Selen’s room. It was the only place where you could smoke—and I had no intention of strengthening my bond with her housemates. We would meet up for a drink before going back to her place. Both of us were working away at our theses for the promotion to assistant professorship, so the conversation always turned to these, or to our experiences with the university; personal matters weren’t off the table, but we never felt the need to reveal too much.
We would go back to the house at midnight. As usual, İnanç would be on the sofa with his computer in his lap or hunched over it at the table. “Hi,” Selen would call from the hallway—as if forbidden from entering the living room—and something resembling a greeting would slip past İnanç’s lips. At first, I did the same, but in time I realized that it wasn’t necessary and headed straight for Selen’s bedroom along the long corridor. I realize now that in all the time I spent in that house, I never once went into the living room: one wall was covered with books, another had a long table on which stood a record player, a TV, and an old typewriter, and at the window there were flowers tended to, I presumed, by Onur.
Onur’s light was always on and he would only leave his room to go to the bathroom. If you excluded the three housemates, it was actually a pretty cozy home, quiet and nicely furnished. From Selen’s messy, disorganized room, I got the impression that she hadn’t had a hand in the rest of the house; I guessed Onur had an eye for these things.
That day wasn’t any different from the others. We went for a drink, came home, had sex. Afterward, I got dressed to go to the bathroom and left the room. The light was on in the bathroom opposite Selen’s room. I turned back. Selen? What? There’s someone in the bathroom, I said. İnanç has probably left the light on, she said, check the living room. If he’s in there, it must be empty. I checked the living room but İnanç wasn’t there. I came back. Nope, I said. Then he must be in the bathroom, she said.
I sat on the edge of the bed and waited, wondering what to do. Selen had forgotten about me and had put on her glasses and started reading. It was my lack of purpose at moments like these that always made me feel unnecessary in that house. My routine had been ruined. I would come to the house, have sex, go to the bathroom, and then go to sleep. The next day, we would wake up, leave the house, and go our separate ways like any other housemates. I opened the door a little; the bathroom light was still on. I really needed to pee. I walked around the room, not knowing what to do. How do three people cope with just one bathroom? I asked, annoyed. I don’t know, she said, we don’t tend to run into each other. And there are two bathrooms, anyway. I felt a sudden, hopeless urge to grab her by the throat. I had been squirming around for minutes and she hadn’t thought to tell me there was a second bathroom. Where is it? I asked, calmer. By the front door, she replied.
I left the room and went into the little bathroom; it was clear from the dust that it was never used. And then it happened: the thing that changed everything about me and my life forever. I was nailed to the spot. It shook the foundations of my beliefs, my ideas and my choices. I tried to force myself to leave the bathroom, but somehow my hand wouldn’t reach for the door. When I left the bathroom some time later—exactly how long I don’t know—everything had changed. By the time I got back to the room, Selen had been asleep for a while. I switched off the light and lay next to her. But I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened in the bathroom and somehow I couldn’t get to sleep.
At the university the next day, I made futile attempts to focus. I ended the class halfway through and went home early. I walked around aimlessly. Places I had never known opened up to me; I walked through gardens, noticing their beauty for the first time. Sounds reached my ears with perfect clarity. My ears tuned in to the peculiar secrets of the people I passed. I don’t know how long I walked for but when I got home it was dark.
For two people who aren’t in a relationship, the rules are much more fixed than for two people who are. I was seeing Selen twice a week at most; we arranged our rendezvous at the last minute and didn’t contact one another during the day. Did she or her housemates know about the secret of the bathroom? I was desperate to find out, but I didn’t know how to ask. There had been nothing unusual in the way Selen had mentioned the second bathroom. And so, I became convinced that the secret of the bathroom was known only to me. But I wanted to be able to go back to the bathroom straight away—to make sure I hadn’t imagined what I had felt there and to feel it again. So I rang Selen. Confused, she answered the phone. Shall we meet up tonight, I asked. OK, she replied, half-heartedly. I’ll come straight to yours, I said. OK, came her reluctant reply.
What happened next was the same as usual. The house, İnanç in the living room, the room, sex and then it was time to go to the bathroom. I promptly left the room. I made no pretense of going to the other bathroom, heading straight for my destination. I felt İnanç looking at me from the table in the living room and went into the bathroom. And there it was; I hadn’t made it up after all. I stood there. I didn’t turn on the light. I greeted the voices warmly as they swarmed into my brain; I became a part of them. I was ready to do whatever they told me; it would be good for me. I don’t know how long I spent in there, but when I went back to the room Selen had completely forgotten about me and had gone to sleep in the middle of the bed. I curled up in the corner and looked at the wall.
The days went on like this. We no longer met up outside and we had sex as briefly as possible. Instead of going to work in the mornings, I would go for long walks; the city never disappointed, it revealed to me its biggest secrets.
I don’t think we should see each other, said Selen on the phone one day. I begged her, coming out with a stream of lies about how I hadn’t loved her at first but did now, how this had to become a relationship, how we understood each other so well, and so on. I couldn’t imagine giving up the bathroom. OK, she said, either out of pity or genuine agreement, and so we embarked on a relationship, and I started coming to the house almost every day.
I could tell that this change was not popular with Onur and İnanç. It was so obvious, I’d have to be stupid not to. Onur’s breakfast hour clashed with ours so the kitchen became crowded and Onur would walk back and forth in front of us animatedly, like a nervous deer, trying to reclaim his dominion over the kitchen counter.
Selen seemed not to notice my absence when I was in the bathroom. The only person that concerned me was İnanç. His eyes followed me to the door every time.
We didn’t have sex that day and perhaps that was where I tripped up. Now that we were a couple, there was no need for us to have sex every day, I thought, so after reading in bed for a while, I went to the bathroom. A little while later I heard Selen say, Have you seen Doruk? No, said Onur. Her voice grew closer, Have you seen Doruk? He’s in the little bathroom, said İnanç, I don’t know what he’s doing, but he’s in there now, he spends hours in there every night. Selen tapped twice on the door, Doruk? I didn’t make a sound, I wasn’t ready to leave yet, I needed more time. She tapped three times, Doruk? He’s not in there, said Selen, He is, said İnanç, I saw him go in. She knocked again, Are you in there? Perhaps I could come out, save the situation with some lie, but the voices held me back. They promised to explain the secrets of the whole universe to me if I just stayed a little longer. What’s going on? I could hear the sound of Onur’s footsteps coming along the corridor. Doruk’s in the bathroom but he won’t respond and the light’s off, said İnanç. İnanç persisted, his voice stubborn: I’m telling you, he’s in there! I could see the shadow of the three of them behind the door. I waited. Maybe they would leave. But it didn’t sound like it. Whatever they meant to say, it was lost on their lips. I opened the door, squeezed past them and put my shoes on. I opened the front door a crack. Slipping out, I heard Onur’s voice behind me: “I told you that guy was weird.”
©Sine Ergün. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2017 by Ayça Türkoğlu. All rights reserved.