Thirty-one year old Onur Erdem was re-keying the tumblers on an antique strongbox when the pretty woman attorney arrived to carry off all that he owned. The Turkish locksmith greeted her warnings with a meditative silence: He gritted his molars down on his calabash pipe and fed a stack of blanks through the computerized code cutter. Twice already he had lost everything—once to the creditors who'd bankrolled his late father's gambling sprees, once to an electrical fire—so the prospect of dispossession, which in the past might have conjured up traumatic images of refugees pulling featherbeds with horse-carts, now merely vexed him like a minor rash. Transience was the price for breathing American air, for doing business in Jackson Heights, Queens. He could live with it. (That was why, in his personal affairs, he favored things British—test match cricket, Darjeeling tea from Taylors of Harrogate—anything that smacked of stability and empire.) Yet Onur enjoyed having the pretty woman attorney, whose name was Claudia Crane and whose sandy hair flaunted an un-lawyerly streak of fuchsia, sitting with her legs crossed on the cast iron mini-vault in his shop. Claudia wore a black skirt, stockings. Pink lacquered nails poked through the toes of her shoes. Onur noticed her wedding ring, but still had no desire to see her leave too quickly. "What did you call it?" he asked.
"Eminent domain," answered Claudia. "If they pay you fair market value, they can come take your property."
Onur nodded indifferently. He blew the tiny brass shavings from each of the processed keys, holding the finished products to the light one at a time. "I understand that," he said. "Why don't you stop them?"
Claudia breathed deeply—maybe to mask frustration. "That's what we're trying to do, but at this point it won't be easy. They already have an order of necessity."
"Why didn't you stop them sooner?" asked Onur. He fancied the way his visitor toyed with her crystal necklace.
"We didn't know. All the state has to do is run 'notice of intent' ads in the local papers, and that's like not doing anything at all. The whole process is completely Kafkaesque. What I mean is—"
"I understand Kafkaesque," said Onur.
Claudia took another deep breath—this time pausing to exhale as though she'd been punched in the abdomen. "Of course, you do," she said. "What I wanted to emphasize was that if we don't take action soon, the bulldozers are going to roll over your business."
"And my home," interjected Onur. "I live upstairs."
"And your home. And my office. And the Whatever 4 Cafe. And everything else within six square blocks. All in the name of hockey. And minor league hockey at that. All so that a bunch of assholes can get piss drunk, shout obscenities and drive home."
The locksmith smiled thinly; he wished to conceal his jagged teeth. Although he had no interest in hockey, the prospect of a government buy-out actually had its plusses: What better excuse to invest in cutting-edge equipment? Or he might expand into home security systems, maybe closed-circuit surveillance. Next year—when the hockey players rolled through—he'd be installing burglar alarms in the suburbs. His aunt might not like the move, but she'd get over it. Onur bit his tongue to keep from laughing, steeled his face. "Is that hockey on grass?" he asked. "Or hockey on ice?"
"Hockey on ice. An arena. Please, Mr. Erdem, we need you."
"Me? I'm so important?"
Claudia glanced toward the shop window. Her pale slender neck shimmered like rose marble under the fluorescent light. "I'll be honest with you, Mr. Erdem," she said in a hushed voice. "We think it's very important for the committee to reflect the community . . . Different viewpoints, you know."
Onur wondered how many Gujarati farsan mongers and Senegalese hair beaders and Hmong green grocers the woman attorney had approached before finding him. He explored the stem of his pipe with his tongue, while running security keys across the electric buffer. "Did you know that the first locks were made of wood?" he asked.
The woman attorney smiled at him as though he'd walked in off the moon.
He looked straight into her eyes for the first time. He had a granduncle in Baltimore—also a locksmith—who'd once told him that the eyes were like keyholes into the palaces of royalty. He had been only a child; the uncle had been drinking. Now Onur wondered what regal secrets lurked behind the pretty woman's opaque gray irises. She struck him as a woman of significant complexity. "The first wooden locks adorned the imperial gates of Sargon of Persia in the eighth century before Christ."
"How interesting," said Claudia.
"I think so," said Onur. "You said you wanted diverse viewpoints. I'm offering you the viewpoint of a locksmith."
The woman attorney opened her mouth—but at first no words came out. She finally asked, "Does that mean you'll do it?"
"Sure," he said. "I'll do it."
He shook her hand across the countertop. He did not appreciate the way that she held her arm straight out from her body; it was almost insulting. But her long, glabrous fingers were as cold and delicate as porcelain. Outside, a taxicab honked. Onur relinquished the exquisite tiny hand. His body shivered at the burst of chill air as the woman attorney exited the shop.
On the counter stood a coffee cup. It bore the inscription: "Small keys open large doors"—a present to his late father from a friend. Onur picked up the stack of newly minted keys and dropped them into the cup, one by one. The polished metal clinked on glass like coins upon the stones in a fountain.
"You're running out on me for that?" asked Jude Basso.
The twenty six year old elevator technician leaned over the chessboard; his beefy forearms rested atop his thighs. Onur had competed against Basso on the Internet for months before discovering that the Italian lived in nearby Flushing. Now the two men played in Onur's sitting room, as they did every Wednesday evening, surrounded by the scents of turmeric and toasted caraway. Mama Fairuza, Onur's maiden aunt, had cleared the tea service moments earlier.
"Trust me," said Onur. He used his palms to mime the shape of the woman attorney's chest. "Like the Himalayas."
Basso shifted his queen's bishop the full length of the chessboard with the assurance of a surgeon wielding a scalpel. "Has her husband invited you mountain climbing?" he asked.
"Come and see for yourself, my friend," said Onur. From the kitchen rose the crunch of Mama Fairuza grinding coriander for Harissa sauce. The locksmith removed Basso's bishop and replaced it with his king's knight. "Checkmate."
"I'm no politician," said Basso. He stared at the chessboard in wonder—as though attempting to Monday morning quarterback a shell game.
"And I'm a politician? It's all about business."
Onur explained his calculus to the Italian. If the activists defeated the hockey arena, his stature in the community would rise considerably—and that could only be good for the shop. If the developers prevailed, of course, he'd pocket his 'fair market value' and upgrade to a security outfit on the Island. Neither way could he lose. "So I'll pay lip service to property rights and John Locke and Jefferson," he told the bewildered Italian, "but what I'm really doing is marketing me."
Basso grinned. "I bet you want to pay lip service."
"We'll tell them you live in my building," said Onur. "It's not like you're doing anything else tonight."
Onur settled the chessboard onto its perch atop the piano. He threw on his black cashmere coat and led Basso down the two flights of steep wooden stairs into the bitter gelid night. They walked quickly, the wind at their backs. The gusts hooked sandwich wrappers around car antennas and sandblasted the traffic signs. It was too cold to speak. When they finally arrived at the offices of Tooth Fairy Orthodontics, where the steering committee conducted its biweekly meetings, tears frosted the corners of Onur's eye sockets. Fifteen people had already crowded into the lobby. He recognized the orthodontist, Dr. Gussoff, from his subway advertisements; Gussoff's rodentine features instilled even less confidence in person. The pretty woman attorney was also present, speaking with the elderly Ismaili Muslim who owned the flower shop at the corner of Jackson Avenue and St. James. All the rest were male and strangers.
"Looks like you've got competition," whispered Basso. The locksmith stood in the doorway defrosting, watching the florist demonstrate a dance move to the female attorney.
"Piss off," answered Onur.
He wove his way through the sea of bodies. The woman attorney had traded her business outfit for tight acid-washed jeans, glossy maroon boots and a skimpy scarlet top. She flashed her smile in his direction—and he was about to call out her name—when a robust older man emerged from the crowd to peck her on the lips. The newcomer wore a thick mustache and had eyebrows like hedgerows. Onur heard Claudia introduce him to the Ismaili. "Mr. Kurji. My husband, Eric."
Onur stepped into their conversation. He did not like that the woman attorney had any husband other than him. "Ms. Crane," he said.
"Ah, Mr. Erdem," said Claudia. "Mr. Kurji was just showing me a traditional Tajik folk dance."
"The dance of the eagle," said the florist. "It is usually accompanied by flutes."
The locksmith did not know any traditional Turkish dances. At the state university, he'd won the intercollegiate waltz competition three years running.
"Who has time for dancing?" asked Onur. "We have a neighborhood to save, don't we?"
He had intended no offense—but the crestfallen Ismaili mumbled apologies, his hands jammed into his trouser pockets and his gaze down at the floor.
"I don't see it that way at all," said Claudia. "I agree with the anarchist Emma Goldmann: If I can't have dancing—traditional dancing, folk dancing—I don't want your revolution." The woman attorney added all too quickly: "But I am glad you've come, Mr. Erdem. We need enthusiasm like yours."
At that moment, the orthodontist rose on a plastic milk crate—like a false muezzin on an ersatz minaret—and called the meeting to order. The woman attorney took her place at Gussoff's side, affording Onur no opportunity to say anything further. The locksmith retreated to the back wall. He tried to feign interest in the speakers—the manager of the Whatever 4 Cafe, the proprietor of a local bridal boutique, an architectural preservationist from some obscure foundation—but they bored him senseless. All anger, indignation. With not an original thought among them, each felt the need to throw in his ten cents. The locksmith didn't dare retrieve a magazine from the end table; instead, he busied himself reading a wall poster that diagrammed the components of braces. Bonded brackets. Rubber bands. Archwires. A vocabulary of appliances as intriguing as those in his own shop. He refocused only when the woman attorney mounted the makeshift proscenium.
"You win," said Jude Basso. "Like the Himalayas."
The top buttons hung open on the woman attorney's blouse. From his angle, Onur could see the magenta frills on her brassiere.
"What we need most right now," she said, "are volunteers."
She spoke about recruitment techniques, door-to-door campaigning. Onur left forty-five minutes later as co-coordinator of fund-raising. He knew as much about fund-raising as he did about dancing the rakkas —but at least he lived in the community. His fellow co-coordinator, Jude Basso, had to take the subway seven stops home.
Onur discovered his gift for political oratory the following Saturday at the loading dock behind Caravan Kabul. The Afghani restaurant was owned by two Iranian brothers, identical twins named Malik and Majid; each sported a full gray beard. Although Onur had assisted them several times in the past—once following a burglary, twice after automobile lockouts—he still couldn't tell them apart. For fund-raising purposes, of course, this didn't matter. While one of the brothers and a frozen produce wholesaler inventoried sacks of vegetables as they came off the back of the dealer's truck, the locksmith stood in the flurrying snow and spoke of property rights. Nearby, a visibly uncomfortable Jude Basso chain-smoked cigarettes.
You ask: What does this have to do with me? I'm no politician. I'm no rabble-rouser. I don't want any trouble. That's why you've come to this great country, America—so you can avoid politics and trouble. At least, that's what I myself believed at first. You're likely thinking what I was thinking: I'll take their 'fair market value' and expand. Upgrade. Maybe move out to the suburbs. But what then? Please hear me out, my friend, small business owner to small business owner. What are you going to do when the government comes after your new restaurant, your new store, your new home? My father picked us up from Anatolia —gave up everything he had back in Turkey. And why? WHY? I ask you. To move where his property would be protected. Not his right to speak. Or even to pray. No, no, no. His right to make a decent living. A secure living. The Declaration of Independence was originally supposed to say "life, liberty and property"—that's what the pursuit of happiness really is. Without property, there is no stability. Without stability—Revolution! That's why we need to stand up for ourselves.
Onur placed his hand on the Iranian's thick shoulder; his voice dropped to a confidential lull: They drove you out of Iran in '79. I know how it was, my friend. I know. But don't let them do it to you a second time. Remember how you swore it would never happen again? Here's your chance.
The Iranian spit into the snow. He signaled for Onur to follow him into the meat pantry, a small freezer that doubled as an office, where the locksmith waited between dangling rabbit carcasses while his host rummaged through the desk for a checkbook. To Onur's shock, the restauranteur—Malik—wrote out a draft for five hundred dollars. "Here," said the Iranian. "Tell them from me: Go fuck themselves."
Similar success greeted Onur at the Cambodian deli, at the television repair shop operated by the Pakistani with the bell's palsy, at the storefront offices of the Hungarian foam rubber supplier. All he had to do was alter the proper nouns: They drove you out of Czechoslovakia in '39. Out of Cuba in '59. Out of Uganda in '72. Or occasionally he'd add a touch of his own personal history: I've been to college, to the state university at Albany, but did I abandon the neighborhood? Of course I didn't. Would I leave my family? Of course I wouldn't. I take pride in being a locksmith—the same way I imagine you take pride in being a landscaper—a piano tuner—a beautician—a liquor dealer—a masseuse. I cared for my widowed mother until she died—I still support her unmarried sister—the same way I am certain you look after your own. So I am not asking for any more than anybody else gets, my friend. But I am not willing to take any less—and I am certain that you are not either. Onur made a point of leaving his business card at every office and kiosk and apartment that he and Basso visited. Why not? Considering his efforts, the least he deserved was free advertising. He'd distributed more than eighteen hundred by the end of the month—and also raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars—when the woman attorney paid another visit to his shop.
Onur heard the door chime, but did not look up. He was teaching his sixteen year old cousin, Yusuf Gurkan, how to pick a wafer-tumbler with a tension wrench. "When raking the tumblers, the trick is focus," explained the locksmith. "You put pressure on the sidebar with the steel wire, my boy, and you concentrate." Then Onur caught sight of Claudia and nearly sliced off his thumb.
The woman attorney did not appear to notice the mishap. She was leaning over the countertop, examining his family photographs.
"Who's that man?" asked Claudia.
She pointed to a sepia portrait of a dapper young Zouave in puff-trousers, a short red jacket and a matching fez.
"That's my great-grandfather," answered Onur. "During the Russian War. He later served as chief-of-staff under Ataturk."
"Impressive," said Claudia.
Onur grinned—inadvertently exposing his bad teeth.
Claudia returned his smile. "Is there someplace we can speak?"
The locksmith left his cousin in charge of the shop. He led the woman attorney into the stockroom, pulling the bulb light on with a string.
"So this is your secret lair," she said.
The musty, cedar-lined closet embarrassed Onur. He dusted off space atop a worn steamer trunk for the woman attorney to sit down.
Claudia tucked her skirt beneath her. "It's amazing, what you've been doing."
Onur nodded stupidly. "Thank you."
"The truth is," said Claudia, "I came to apologize. For the Emma Goldmann remark the other night. And for misjudging you. I'm a straight-shooting kind of gal, Mr. Erdem, so I'll say it like it is."
The locksmith leaned forward on his splintered wooden stool.
"You weren't our first choice for the steering committee," said Claudia. "Even three weeks ago, I considered asking Mr. Kurji to take your place. But what you've done since then is, well, just unbelievable."
"Oh that," said Onur, disappointed. "Nothing beyond the call of duty."
"The call of duty," she echoed. "That's probably what your great-grandfather would have said. Maybe we'll have to start calling you The Ataturk of Jackson Avenue. Or, better yet, The Ataturk of the Outer Boroughs. It has a ring to it."
Onur said nothing.
"You'd make your great-grandfather proud," said Claudia. "Steve Gussoff's getting thirty, forty calls a day. People wanting to volunteer. People wanting to give more money."
"That's good news," said Onur.
He was sitting so close to Claudia, he could smell her shampoo.
"We're going to win this," said Claudia. "On The Spot News is doing a story, maybe Channel 5. And our lawyers—thanks to you, we've got a dream team."
"I thought . . . "
"No, no," said Claudia. "I do family law. I advocate for abused women."
She stood up and extended her hand—still outstretched rigid like a metal bar.
"May I come bother you again, Mr. Erdem?" she asked.
"It's no bother," said the locksmith.
Call me Onur—he thought, the moment she'd left— Why didn't I ask her? Call me Onur. Call me Onur. Call me Onur.
The locksmith redoubled his fund-raising efforts. He no longer had time for chess, for monthly backgammon tournaments with his Staten Island relatives. He delegated increasing authority to his teenage cousins, Yusuf Gurkan and Yusuf Nesim, who practically ran the shop in his absence. His waking hours—often from the crack of dawn through the marrow of the overnight—he passed canvassing the neighborhoods beyond the six square blocks of the impact zone.
You ask: What does this have to do with me? They're building that hockey arena in Jackson Heights, not in Corona. Not on 103rd Street and Northern Boulevard. If anything, you think, all those fans will be good for business. But let me tell you—small business owner to small business owner—that you're fooling yourself. Today it's a hockey rink, my friend, but tomorrow it's a sports complex. Parking lots, luxury hotels. Like Disney World. Let me ask you this: Does a wolf devour only one lamb? If today they take what is mine, surely tomorrow they will take what is yours.
Onur left a business card at every encounter. Yet as his sermons grew more urgent, as he haphazardly quoted Patrick Henry and John Stuart Mill and Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France—to Egyptian cabbies and Ecuadorian grocers who didn't know political philosophy from a hole in the floor, the young locksmith became his own most loyal convert. Absolute property, he decided, made sense. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, he warned Jude Basso, is for good men to do nothing. Onur's deep-set black eyes acquired a distant, slightly prophetic gleam. He condemned Lenin and the Queens Borough President in one malignant breath. When Mama Fairuza observed that she didn't see what the fuss was about—Is it so awful that I should die in the suburbs?—Onur nearly put her out on the street.
Claudia's visits became a weekly, then daily affair. She updated Onur on their legal progress: evidentiary hearings, preliminary injunctions. Once she brought with her a television crew from a cable access channel; on another occasion, she arrived with two city council members from Brooklyn, both Republicans, who'd wanted the hockey arena for an abandoned switchyard between their districts. Onur quoted for them Irving Kristol and Barry Goldwater. He preferred it most, of course, when Claudia arrived alone. That gave him an excuse to invite her back to the stockroom. Later, they graduated to the parlor where his aunt served them tea. All perfectly innocent, of course. But the locksmith knew by memory every inch of fabric in the woman attorney's wardrobe, what days she visited the hair dresser, which earrings she matched with which shoes—a fashion extravaganza etched indelibly into his heart. His interest transcended the political, but it wasn't as though he viewed his canvassing as an arrow into Claudia's affections. Not at all. Rather, the two causes had grown so intertwined in his hysteria that true happiness depended upon both.
And then one March morning—the ides—the pretty woman attorney and her husband arrived together at his shop.
"It's over, Mr. Erdem," she said. "The whole goddam shebang."
Onur surveyed the husband. He wondered how she could prefer this dopey looking clod who had eyebrows like black moss and hardly ever spoke.
"Judge Katz tore us to shreds. An air-tight, seven hundred page opinion. The old geezer even refused to stay the order pending appeal. He said, and I quote, it is utterly inconceivable that the plaintiff might ultimately prevail."
The husband shrugged his shoulders, dejected.
"Are you crazy?" demanded Onur. "We can't give up."
"We have no fucking choice, I'm afraid."
Onur snapped shut a bronze padlock. He twinged at the memory of the city marshal dragging his father's furniture to the sidewalk in the pouring rain, of the caustic metallic odor that greeted him after the electrical fire.
"How long do we have?" he asked.
Claudia scowled. "The evictions begin May One."
The locksmith nodded. "Plenty of time."
Onur passed the night of April30 th locking people to inanimate objects.
The final eviction notices had already been posted for weeks. They came in various unlikely hues—mauve, chartreuse, vermilion—each affixed with four jabs of a staple gun. They reminded Jude Basso of quarantine warnings in science fiction films. From the Viennese waiter at the Whatever 4 Cafe came a harsher verdict: "Anschluss in Technicolor." Earlier in the day, police—not from the local station, but from distant precincts—had barricaded the cross streets. Outbound traffic, only: an entire community of one-way boulevards. Later uniformed officials had spray-painted bright yellow directions on the sidewalks, letters, numbers, indecipherable shapes, a patois recognized only by bureaucrats and bulldozers. Several families did depart; they loaded their Penskes and U-Hauls in sheepish silence. Others dispatched wizened fathers-in-law and toddlers and nursing mothers to the homes of nearby kin. A few businesses, too, carted off their wares: not just the mega-drugstore and the chain supermarket, but also both Korean newsstands and the Dominican drycleaners. Miraculously, that was all. When dusk settled on the last day of the month, the impact zone still teemed with life. By prior arrangement, the locksmith and his cousins went to work.
The three men set about their task systematically: They started at Washington and Hickory, chaining the orthodontist to a postbox, then worked their way north to the corner of Jackson and St. James. Along the way, they fastened and bolted like madmen. They secured people to awnings, to drainpipes, to bicycle stands. King Gordius of Phrygia, boasted Onur, didn't tie his chariot half so well. They tried, of course, to make the captives as comfortable as possible. Most carried water and reading materials to their posts. Restauranteurs issued pots as makeshift bedpans. But the team's ultimate goal had to be security: this was no cause for plastic handcuffs and slipknots. Onur made certain to secure himself and Claudia on either side of his own front door. The husband—"for the sake of reconnaissance"—had been given a cellular phone and been bolted to the trash dumpsters behind the Greek used car lot. "You're our cavalry," explained Onur. "Our eyes and ears." The locksmith had hardly latched himself into place when the roosters from Wirkowski's Live Poultry greeted the dawn.
"I can't believe you pulled this off, Mr. Erdem," said Claudia.
She was wearing her baby pink tank-top without a brassiere.
"Call me Onur," said the locksmith. "Please."
The woman attorney looked away from him. "I was afraid to ask," she said. "How funny. I'm not usually like that."
A solitary black crow landed on the brim of a nearby trashcan.
"You know, Onur," said Claudia. "You're quite amazing."
"Nothing has happened yet," he said.
"But really," insisted the woman attorney. "I don't know if I'm supposed to say this or not—I don't know much about Turkish conventions—but I think you're one of the most amazing people I've ever met. Sincerely."
Onur waited for her to say more, but she didn't. He retrieved several stones from the nearby sidewalk and lobbed them at the crow. He missed each time. Eventually, no more pebbles remained within reach.
"I love the way you dress," said Onur. "You know that, don't you?"
The woman attorney eyed him for a moment. She smiled—but maybe there was less warmth in her smile; he could not be certain. "No, I had no idea."
The locksmith was eager to say more—he had a whole disquisition prepared, in fact, one that he'd repeated to himself for days—but the arrival of police on motorcycles cut him short. State troopers appeared in their wake, then the Commissioner of Public Works wielding a bullhorn. Even the mayor made an appearance: Hizzoner personally entreated Onur to obey the law. But it was the media that generated the frenzy, the scores of reporters and cameramen and executive producers, the sound trucks and satellite feeds, the big name network anchor who compared the locksmith to Gandhi and Martin Luther King. No, Ataturk, Onur corrected him. I think of myself as the Ataturk of the Outer Boroughs. The newsman nodded and asked: "Who's that?" Claudia, meanwhile, granted interviews of her own. Other than bathroom breaks, conducted behind the veil of a plastic shower curtain, they had no privacy. Certainly no opportunity for an intimate conversation.
At mid-morning, a phalanx of fire engines rolled in. The glistening red trucks gave the lock-in the carnivalesque atmosphere of a tremendous block party. Shackled to the phone booth at the corner of Hickory and 83rd—and supplied with several dozen rolls of quarters—Jude Basso told the locksmith that the vehicles reminded him of the Italian civil defense drills from his childhood. More like floats in a private parade, thought Onur. He relished the flags billowing over the ladders that provided a patriotic, all-American backdrop for his soliloquies on Madisonian democracy. Someone had the good sense to run an extension cord into the corner deli and to set up a row of televisions on the adjacent sidewalk. Onur watched himself on all three networks simultaneously. He regulated the volume by remote control. The sun rose above the Commerce Bank, trailed across Roosevelt Park and descended behind a stand of little-leaf lindens. Nothing else happened.
Around midnight: a false alarm. Basso roused the locksmith out of a half-stupor to report national guardsmen with bolt cutters. They circled his phone booth—but at the first sight of the press, they retreated.
Onur steeled his vigilance. Claudia's eyes soon drifted shut. He let her sleep. Her body shivered in the damp, and Onur dispatched a reporter for a blanket.
—And then it was over.
Fast. Like a Houdini trick. All done.
A woman reporter told him the news. She was down on her knees, the microphone like a club in his face.
"The consortium pulled out," she said. "No arena."
The locksmith drew back. "Do you mean we won?"
"That's what the Associated Press is reporting. How does it feel?"
"Claudia," he shouted. "We won!"
He unlocked himself—a rather intricate process—and went to work on her bolts. When she was completely free, she hugged him. Tight. His chest against hers. He could feel his pulse in his temples.
The woman reporter persisted: "You must be very excited?"
"Of course, we are," said Claudia. "Now we can return to our lives."
"What a relief that must be," agreed the woman reporter. Other reporters, young and energetic, closed in on the locksmith. He watched on the television monitors as they surrounded him. A broad-shouldered black man in a dark blue parka—Onur recognized him as the host of an edgy cable newsmagazine—thrust his way between the locksmith and Claudia. "You must also be relieved, Mr. Erdem," continued the woman reporter. "You must be excited to return to your business."
The locksmith couldn't breathe. "Yes," he said, mechanically. "My business."
"Tell us a bit about it. About being a locksmith."
He tried to answer—to explain his previous existence—but he couldn't. He no longer remembered the life he'd lived then, not really, except that Claudia hadn't been part of it. His entire past seemed suddenly unsalvageable, like a key blank trimmed too close.
"Tell us about your former life," demanded the cable host.
Another reporter barked a question. And then a fourth. Their words didn't register. My former life—Onur stepped backwards, but there was no escape— My former life. My former life.
They thrust their ugly black microphones at Onur's mouth, pressing him further back against his storefront, but he said nothing. For the first time in months, he had nothing to say. Nothing newsworthy, at least. Did they really want to hear about his former life? About backgammon or test-match cricket? About chess? About Mama Fairuza's second-rate Harissa sauce? Of course they didn't. Who could possibly want to know about surveillance systems and fire-proof safes and locks, mortise locks and cross bolt locks and janus-faced locks, and all the locks that you could spend your entire life jimmying and picking—and still never be free?
Copyright©2005, 2008 Jacob M. Appel
"The Ataturk of the Outer Boroughs" was previously published in the Winter 2005 issue of Raritan.