The Island of the Dogs

[Published in Williwaw: An Anthology of the Marvellous]

The Island of the Disloyal was a small rock in the middle of the Marmara Sea. Once upon a time, they threw mad people onto that rock. They threw the most hated criminals, the contagious, the plagued, and the lepers. Sometimes monks went to that island too, on self-inflicted purgatory.

On the Rock of the Disloyal silence was paramount. You could only talk in whispers, if you could talk at all. And the wind was strong amongst the leaves; and the criminals, and the monks, and the lepers, and the plagued confused the song of wind with the song of sea.

It was in my early childhood that Istanbulites decided to send the stray dogs to that island too. The animals were dirty and loud, and so the Sultan had all 60,000 of them put in a flimsy boat headed towards the rock. That is when, and probably why, the city was taken over by fires. Flames licked the houses of Pera and Galata and Fatih and Laleli. Istanbulites started believing in the revenge of the dogs then, in the curse of those harmless creatures with the soulful eyes. And after a hundred dwellings were consumed, they insisted that the animals be taken back to the city on the very same boat they had departed on.

But when I grew older, when my hands became laden with guilt, the dogs were sent out to that island once again. A case of rabies, the Sultan said. There were more of them this time, 80,000 large. They began to bark, then howl. City dogs forget what it means to be a beast. But on that rock, in the absence of food and water, they remembered.

People heard them from the shores, from bedrooms and breakfast tables set out on balconies. Those who heard the cries told their children that the one thing they must never do is to live on an island for too long, and with only their own kind for company.

The Sultan forbade Istanbulites from naming the rock The Island of the Dogs, but that is what that island was and that is how it shall be called. Its carcasses used to crumble with the touch, and I remember its winds were parched. I hear them still; I knew their boat. I took a ride once on a vessel with discarded dogs.