The Flea Palace
by Elif Shafak

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People say I have a fanciful mind - probably the most tactful way ever invented of saying "you’re talking nonsense!" They might be right. Whenever I get anxious and mess up what I have to say, am scared of people’s stares and pretend not to be so, introduce myself to strangers and feign ignorance about how estranged I am from myself, feel hurt by the past and find it hard to admit the future won’t be any better, fail to come to terms with either where or who I am... then at yet another one of those recurring moments, I know I don’t make much sense. But nonsense is just as far removed from deception as truth. Deception turns truth inside out. As for nonsense, it solders deception and truth to each other so much so as to make them indistinguishable. Though this might seem complicated, it’s actually very simple. So simple as to be expressed by a single line.Let’s presume truth is a horizontal line.

Then, what we call deception becomes a vertical line.


As for nonsense, here’s what it looks like:


With neither an end nor a beginning to its trajectory, the circle recognizes no horizontal or vertical axis.

You can plunge into the circle from anywhere you want, as long as you don’t make the mistake of confusing that point with a beginning. No commencements, no thresholds, no endings. No matter at which instant or with what particular incident I make the first move, there will always be a time preceding that start of mine – always a past ahead of every past and hence never a veritable outset.

I never saw it myself but heard from someone wise enough that back in the old days when the garbage cans on the streets in Istanbul had round lids of grayish aluminum, there was a game boys and girls collectively played. A certain number of people had to get together; few enough not to crowd, large enough to enjoy, just the right amount and always in an even number.

First in the Garbage Game came the question "when?" For an answer, four different segments would be chalked on the round lid with a separate word corresponding to each direction: "Right Now–Tomorrow–Soon–Never." The lid would then be spun from its handle in the middle as swiftly as possible, and before it found a chance to slow down, the person in line would stop it with the touch of a finger. The same would then be repeated one by one for all the participants of the game so that each one could fathom which time frame he or she stood closest to. In the second round, four separate responses would be written down as possible answers to the question "to whom?": "To Me–To The One I Love–To My Best Friend–To All of Us." Once again the lid would be given a spin, once again the players would reach to stop its delirious circumvolution. In the third round, the turn would mark the time to find the answer to the question "what?" Four auspicious and four ominous words, always equal in number, to add a dash of fairness onto the whims of fortune would be marked on the remaining eight spaces: "Love, Marriage, Happiness, Wealth, Sickness, Separation, Accident, Death." The lid would turn once again with the answers now building up so the players could finally reach the long awaited response to "what will happen to whom and when?:" "To Me-Wealth-Soon," "To The One I Love- Happiness-Tomorrow," "To My Best Friend-Marriage- Right Away," or "To All of Us-Separation-Never"…

Starting the ball of narration rolling is not hard. I too can employ the logic of the Garbage Game with some minor adjustments here and there. First of all, one needs to find the time frame of the narration: ‘Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow-Infinity.’ Then, the places should be designated: ‘Where I Came From-Where I Stand Now-Where I Am Headed-Nowhere.’ Next, it would be the player’s turn to assign the subject of the act: ‘I-One Among Us-All of Us-None of Us.’ Finally, without upsetting the four-to-four balance, one needs to line up the possible outcomes. In this manner, if I spin an imaginary garbage lid four times in a row, I should be able to construct a decent sentence. What more than a sentence does one need to start off a story that has no start to it anyway?

‘In the spring of 2002, In Istanbul, one among us died before the time was up and the line closed into a complete circle.’