Sonnet of the Wishing Stone by Enis Batur

stones

If I were rain, and on your earth could rain

If I were a candle, could light your way

If I were fire, could set your bed aflame

If I were a pen, could write on your page

.

If I were sky, carmine blue

If I were desert, scorpion yellow

If I were stone, heavy black

If I were water, froth white

.

If I were a soul, if I could fly, a bird

If I were flesh, if I could swell, the sea

If I were body, if I could blow, the wind

.

If I were mist, could drop upon you, morning

If I were cloud, descend to your world, evening

If I were a candle, could expire inside you, night.

.

poet:  Enis Batur

translated: Cas Stockford

at DAM, Istanbul, September 2016

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Burden by Ayfer Tunç

The truth is like an iron shutter – if you get caught underneath it you will be crushed.

 

We had no intention of causing so much distress; absolutely not. How could we have guessed that a thing like this would happen?

We’ll ask our questions, we thought, and if she wants to give an answer, she will. If she doesn’t want to answer, she won’t, and the worst-case scenario – she’ll kick us out of her house. That’s what we thought.

Of course it’s never quite that simple. We were making a documentary about the Turkish Republic’s Medal of Honour and before we’d set off for her house we’d had a long discussion among ourselves as to how to frame the questions. Shall we refer to it as a ‘campaign’ or as a ‘massacre’? The words that you choose when you’re posing the questions are very important – for example, I wasn’t going to use the word ‘genocide’. The truth is like a shutter made of iron and if you get caught underneath it you will be crushed. That’s the most tragic aspect of historiography; in attempting to open the shutter there are those who are crushed beneath its weight – and no-one writes their story down.

We had a lot of arguments before going to see Neyyire Hanım. ‘Let’s be honest,’ we said, ‘and ask her outright. Let’s say, “How do you feel about the fact that your father, as one of the officers who participated in the massacre, may or may not have been responsible for the murder of over fifty thousand women, men, children, elderly people and, worse still, babies?’’ Then again, we thought, the poor old thing is no longer a spring chicken. For eighty years she’s been believing that her father was an honourable officer and to just come out and ask her a question like that would be inhuman.

On the other hand, if we didn’t ask our questions one way or another then we would be guilty of adding a litte more shine to that medal of honour that had already been polished up for so many years; and that certainly wasn’t our intention. In the end we decided to make ourselves appear impartial and go for the soft approach by starting a sentence with something like ‘some historians would say…’. It would be a front, of course. We were not impartial, because to reach the truth you have to be partial to the truth – and thus you have already chosen your side.

Were we honest? I’m not going to get into an argument over where honesty begins and ends but to tell the truth, I have to say that we weren’t very honest because we opened Neyyire Hanım’s door with a lie. There are some doors that you can’t open with fair play. In order to enter the house of an old lady, ask questions that will probably expose the lie that she has lived with her entire life and be able to access documents that might lift the iron shutter of truth you first have to gain her confidence. Being honest is not as easy as people think, since when the matter in hand is written on the dark pages of history honesty can sometimes be the adversary of truth. Yes, it’s a paradox – trying to achieve what’s right by doing what’s wrong but, sadly, honesty and truth don’t always go hand in hand.

You can’t just say to the person you want to interview, ‘We’re making a documentary about the bloodiest pages in the history of the Republic and we’ve come to ask you questions about your father’s role in the massacres.’ If you just come out with something like that, the person won’t talk. Why not? Because from that moment on you are an enemy in their eyes – and why should they talk to an enemy who has come to expose as a lie something they’ve believed in for so long?. And more importantly, they’ve beaten you to it and have already asked themselves that question. It may only have lasted a fraction of a second but they’ve already had their moment of doubt. It may have been in a dream or perhaps in their subconscious, but the question has been posed and they then spend the rest of their lives trying to forget that fleeting moment when they asked, ‘What if?’.

So, you have to start by choosing a vague, relatively ordinary topic and during the interview you slowly increase the weight that your questions carry. If you ask your final question at the beginning, the chances are that you will go back empty handed, and for this reason you have to be aware of the psychology of the person in front of you and always keep the tension under control. It’s unlikely that you’ll get right to the end either, as there’s always a moment when the interviewee tunes in to the subtext of what is happening, and that’s the moment when their trust in you is shattered. As you’re trying to raise the iron shutter of the truth, they suddenly stop trusting you and that makes you feel like crap! And that’s the price of this job.

At the end of the day we not there to talk to the man who’d actually taken part in the massacres and been rewarded for it with a medal of honour – but to his daughter and granddaughter who believed that he’d been a patriot ready to lay down his life for his country and who had spent their own lives trying to live up to this honour bestowed on the family.

We didn’t ring up Neyyire Hanım’s daughter, Serap Hanım and say that we wanted to speak to her mother in relation to a documentary we were making about the officers who had participated in the bloodiest massacre in our history. No, we said that we were making a documentary about the recipients of the Medal of Honour who had participated in the ‘manoeuvres’ and left it at that. The woman nearly jumped for joy, assuming that we were going to secure her grandfather’s place in history. I admit, ours was not a very ethical approach.

But the interview developed in a way we could never have expected. There was a kind of chemistry, I don’t know how else to describe it. You know, when one thing comes into contact with another and bang! you have an explosion; that’s just what it was like.. And it wasn’t our fault, either. Granted, we did have a motive in all this, but what happened was not our fault; honestly.

Neyyire Hanım lit the fuse of her own accord and we were just there to witness the shocking fallout.

It did make our job easier in some ways, because we didn’t have to experience that moment when they lose all trust in you and you feel like crap. But even so, it was still pretty awful, witnessing someone else falling apart like that. And it wasn’t even the bloody-handed officer’s daughter but his granddaughter who went to pieces. She’ll never get over it.

You do feel a bit anxious, of course, when you have a hidden agenda in relation to the person you’re interviewing. But given the kind of country this is, the kind of times we’d been through and the nature of the history that we were trying to rake up, hidden as it was behind such thick iron shutters – we had no other choice and so decided to take it as far as we could. Some historians have said that they prefer a neutral starting point, a stock-standard sentence from which to begin to probe their way forward towards that bloody massacre. But whichever way you do it, at the end of the day every medal of honour is dipped in blood.

But the opportunity didn’t present itself for us to ask our sugar-coated questions. Serap Hanım fluttered around us like a moth, pouring tea and offering cake, ‘please eat some, for goodness’ sake, please’… The woman was going on about how difficult our work must be and flattering us; sincerely. This is the dirtiest side of the job. The fact that the person of whom you’re going to ask agonizing questions goes around treating you like an honoured guest. No, we didn’t want any tea, thank you very much, no cake, no, please don’t go to all that trouble. It’s enough to make a person shout, ‘No! We’ve come here to ask you the kind of questions that will swamp you in deep sorrow, so no! No cake!’

I told the cameraman that we should record the photographs they were showing us first. This way, if they kicked us out, at least we’d have something to show for it. They had some important photographs, you see, some of which were records of the massacres. Their Medal-of-Honour- daddy was standing there smiling his best smile whilst stamping out the rebels.

The touching part was that Serap Hanım had laid out the family photo album, her father’s medals and insignia upon a coffee table in an effort to assist us in broadcasting this glorious period in history to the world.

We weren’t exactly sure of Neyyire Hanım’s state of mind, either. The woman was 83 or so and there was a chance that she wouldn’t be ‘compos mentis’. But we had nothing to worry about, as her mind and memory were as sharp as a pin. You could tell that she was a very astute lady. First there was a bit of smalltalk of the order of how ‘there was so much traffic over the bridge nowadays’ and ‘yes, this city is getting harder to live in by the day’. Then it was our turn with the, ‘why don’t you sit there, let’s put a microphone on you and get the lighting right, and can we move this chair a little over this way?’, of course we could, we were free to turn her house upside down in order to set the perfect stage.

We started by asking her when and where she’d been born and if could she tell us a little about her family and her childhood. I felt really uncomfortable with these questions as I had no interest whatsoever in her answers. These were just the warm-up questions to get her into the flow of talking about herself and gradually opening up. But in answer to our questions Neyyire Hanım gave surprisingly clear, comprehensive answers full of the detail we were after.

The old lady was completely in love with her father. She told us – there could never be a better father than hers in the whole world and no children ever loved their father as much as she and her siblings loved him, her daughter’s face shone with pride, while I inwardly cringed and outwardly smiled. I nearly snapped when she showed me the photographs of her decorated father posing over corpses. The urge to get up and throw the pictures at her was almost overwhelming. When you consider how the interview ended, I can’t help but be staggered by the seemingly heartfelt love that this woman expressed for her father and by her worship of this man she’d crowned with the halo of a hero. With hindsight, I think that in her own approach to the borderlands of death she wanted to relieve herself of a burden that lay on her conscience. Did she just decide at that very moment to come out with it? Was it something she’d been thinking about for years? I don’t know and I’ll never find out.

It’s really odd, but the alarming end to the interview came about when I asked her about her own mother’s death. Had it been an illness or, perhaps, an accident? I only asked it as a throwaway question to lead us into chatting about her childhood, family life and eventually her father. In retrospect, it makes me think that I’m not really that good at my job. I didn’t pay enough attention to inoccuous questioning and reading between the lines. The iron shutter of truth flew up of its own accord, quite by chance, and I had nothing to do with it.

Firstly there was silence. I repeated my question. Silence. As the silence grew, Serap Hanım spoke in her mother’s place. ‘Grandmother got ill didn’t she mother? You remember, you told us, she’d just had a baby and she got puerperal fever … and they couldn’t save her,’ she said.

‘I lied’, said Neyyire Hanım.

That’s how it started. That split-second before the detonation.

Serap Hanım was shocked by her mother’s answer. It’s as if she could tell that a family secret was about to be revealed, one too enormous to ever be swept under the carpet. When I think back, I’m sure that she had no idea what was coming, her face betrayed that much. But more than that, I think she sensed the presence of something that must never be spoken of and that had needed to be buried in a place deeper than mere forgetting. And so she tried to change the subject, ‘Never mind how dear Grandmother died,’ she said, ‘Shall we move on to another question?’ But Neyyire Hanım did not want to move on. The mother and daughter began an obstinate battle of ‘yes/no’ with each other and when Serap Hanım saw how determined her mother was, she wanted to end the interview. She told us to leave. We didn’t. So then she accused her mother of having gone senile and tried to convince us, unsucessfully, that her mother had lost her mind.

All at once Neyyire Hanım said that her mother had committed suicide. One simple sentence. ‘My mother grabbed hold of my father’s service pistol, put it to her head and pulled the trigger,’ she said.

Her daughter screamed, ‘No!’. The bomb went off.
The old woman said it again, differently this time.
‘My mother-killed herself-with my father’s-service pistol’.
Full stop.
Then everything erupted.

What had happened was this:
The medal-of-honour-bearing-officer had finally returned from manoeuvres to a great family dinner. The house was full of people – children of all ages, and all the relatives sitting around the table. Neyyire Hanım was nine years old and well remembered the coal stove burning away, emitting a cosy ‘bup, bup, bup’ noise. The stuffed, spit-roasted lamb filled nearly all of the table, specially roasted by her youngest uncle in honour of his brother’s return. Her two month old baby sister was on her mother’s lap, sleeping like an angel, a charm against the Evil Eye pinned to her tiny shoulder. Everyone was jubilant at the safe return of Neyyire Hanım’s father from military operations and happiness was so thick in the air you could almost hold it in your hand. They ate the enormous lamb.

Eveyone was chatting away, her father, uncles and aunties, nephews and nieces, soldiers who had come to congratulate her father, his civilian friends and their wives… ‘Water may run still, but the enemy never will’, they were saying. They were talking about the country’s enemies, within and without, and came to the conclusion that the enemy within was much more dangerous as it had nested in the heart of the country and sucked its blood. They went on about how their soil was still wet with the blood of the martyrs who had fought to unify this country, never to be divided; how each person in this country was a soldier, from babies in the womb to one-hundred-year-old-grandmothers, and how one’s duty was to lie down and die for one’s country. Her father then went on to tell them how he had eradicated the bloodstock of the rebels, sparing no gory detail as he spoke. He told them how the rebel’s children and even pregnant women had to die and how, for the continuing good of this country, their little bastards must not be born, and why that was the reason they had cleansed the land of the trecherous pregnant women and their children. Everyone had agreed with him with great enthusiasm.

They’d sat up until late, eating and drinking. Her mother hadn’t said a word all evening and her silence was passed off as her being overwhelmed with joy at seeing her husband safely home.

Later that night, when everyone had gone, her mother sat and looked for some time at the baby sleeping on her lap, before putting her to bed and taking a seat at the table.

Then she’d started to cry. ‘Did you kill babies?’, she asked her husband, ‘And did you kill pregnant women? And what about old people who couldn’t lift an arm to defend themselves?’. Neyyire Hanım’s father was stunned. He’d been expecting acclaim, not inquisition, he wanted his wife to be roused by his heroism and proud of his medal. But her mother just kept crying and asking, ‘Why?’

‘Why did you kill babies?, she’d shrieked, ‘Because if you hadn’t stamped out their father’s line they might grow up to bring trouble to this country?’..

Neyyire Hanım had felt awful for her mother and hadn’t wanted to see her parents arguing.

Then her mother suddenly reached for her father’s service pistol, put it to her head and fired. Everything happened in a few short seconds. She could still see the blood running down the wall to the floor. That was all.

‘Now I can die!’, sobbed Neyyire Hanım, ‘Now I can die! Now I can die!’. But it was her daughter who had turned into a woman possessed. She grabbed hold of her mother in a frenzy and we had a real struggle to free the old woman from her daughter’s grasp.

 

Author:  Ayfer Tunç

Translator:  Caroline Stockford

 

Night Butterfly, Kurdish novel excerpt

An excerpt from Chapter One of ‘Night Butterfly’ by Haydar Karataş – translation in progress.

This is the true story of his mother and grandmother’s experiences in Dersim, Turkey in the 1930s and 1940s when the majority of Kurdish men living in Dersim had been marched into forced exile or massacred by Turkish military troops.  Women and children were left stranded, starving in their villages after the soldiers had burned all the crops and taken their livestock (and man power) away.

 

 

After the Armenian incident my father and his brother Sahan took over the administration of the Bactrian tribes from their father Yusuf Ağa. They, and the armed men they had gathered to their side, were responsible for security in the Bactrian region. They also wanted to bring my mother’s four children by her earlier marriage to this household. These were times when clashes were frequent and increasing.

At the time in the Bactrian region there were the armed bands of Yusuf Ağa’s two sons, Sahan and Hıdır and also the armed band led by Pırço. Pırço’s outfit was extremely brave and were dressed from head to toe in armour taken from the Bronze soldiers. The Bronze Hun army attacked Dersim on two occasions from the direction of Erzincan but were never able to fully enter. When the soldiers of 1938 entered Dersim the armed bands of my uncle Sahan and my father Hıdır joined forces with that of Pırço.

They set off to bring my mother’s children from her first marriage to Weroz. Baki, who was working in a salt mine in Kemah was now fourteen years old and Ali Riza was eleven or twelve. Their little brother Hasan, eight, was also with them. Soldiers had raided the village of Eniesıt where they had been living and marched the entire village off into exile somewhere beyond Erzincan. Those who managed to escape fled to the Bactrian region. When my uncle Sahan, my father and Pırço heard that two children had been taken along with the villagers they set off after the soldiers.

They came as far as Kemah. There they managed to overtake the soldiers in a valley near a former Armenian refugee village1 that had been emptied of all inhabitants during the Armenian incident. They confronted the soldiers and there followed a heavy clash in which the forces of my uncle, father and Pırço killed many soldiers and took possession of their guns, horses and provisions. However, they failed to find the captives who were being marched into exile from Ovacık and therefore had to return to the village of Eniesıt.

There they found out that the men and boys who formed the line being marched into exile had all been executed along the way. Baki had been in that group. As they put a manacle around his neck and led him off on the road, his brother Ali Riza had managed to escape and had followed the column of captives as far as the refugee village.

The villagers told my father that the soldiers set up camp with the group of men they were marching into exile just below the village and handed the captives over to another regiment as the day was drawing to a close. Towards morning screams were heard. The villagers couldn’t understand what had happened. Then they discovered that the entire group of captives had been bayoneted.

The place where the group of men and boys being marched into exile were killed was a flat crop field. The next day, soldiers on duty spotted Ali Riza who had been following the group. The child ran off in the direction of the refugee village and, if what the villagers said was true, those now living in the village hid Ali Riza. The soldiers searched the village and gathered all the inhabitants in one place but they still could not find the child. When Ali Riza looked out of the window of the house he was hiding in, to see what was going on, he was spotted and taken captive by the soldiers.

The man who was hiding him in his house said that he’d taken him in with the intention of making him his shepherd. The commander in charge of the soldiers claimed that the boy was an Armenian. They gave his clothing to my father. There were two bayonet holes in Ali Riza’s shirt. One had pierced his stomach at the front and had pricked a hole in the material on the other side where it exited, the other wound was where they’d stabbed him in the liver.

My uncle and father hid the deaths of Baki and Ali Riza from my mother and for a long time she believed that Baki had taken Ali Riza to Kemah and that they’d both found work and had been spared.

After my father died his place at the head of the armed band was taken by a man called Doğan. One day Doğan told my mother the truth about the line of captives. However, even if my mother believed it at first, she soon took to denying it had happened. She kept fantasising that her children would be coming to join her. As these hopes of hers grew with each passing day, Doğan, who by now was my mother’s third husband, took her to the village where it had happened. The villagers there told the story once more to my mother.

The place where Baki had been killed was a flat wheat field. My mother told me that the crop there had grown as high as a man and that it swayed in the cool and gentle breeze like the blonde hair of a girl. The dead were buried under this field where a dozer had dug a mass grave. As for Ali Riza, the villagers had buried him on a hill right next to the village cemetery. My mother was more upset that Ali Riza was lying on that hill all alone, than she was about his death.

 

Excerpt from Night Butterfly by Haydar Karataş

İletişim Yayınlar, İstanbul

Draft translation by Caroline Stockford 2015

ISBN
9789750507700

8. baskı – Eylül 2014
255 sayfa

Twenty-seven steps by Gökçenur Ç

The-asylum-project-empty-bed-erik-brede

Twenty-seven steps

(Darkness is the only excuse for the mess on the paper,
the shadows are clawing the walls of the ward
I sit crossed-legged on the lower bunk, as the meds mix with my blood
the sherbet of sleep thickens sweetly,
I hold my battery torch between my teeth, and as I try to shroud its light
with my blanket, I rip the back cover off my favourite book

and write to you
-just as you’ll guess straight away The Eternal Stone-)

I wandered by the riverside reading your letter
took a grasshopper in my hand
and walked for twenty-seven steps not knowing what to do with him
I thought of the day I brought you my manuscripts

You and me, you’d written,
we’re like two small spoons forgotten
in a bowl of cooling angel-hair soup
two toppled chairs
a blue table – made love upon

You and me, we’re like a door
and a note slipped under it

Two boats floating towards eachother
that think they’re approaching the pier

You and me, constantly
write down what we are like
without really knowing what we are

(NB. Remember that night when we sat on the sea
the brush of pure touch and salt igniting the leaves)

.

Poet: Gökçenur Ç
Translated by Caroline Stockford at the Cunda International Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature, 2014

photo: Erik Brede

Küçük İskender – Mothers do not forgive their sons

Küçük İskender’s latest poem in English translation featured this month in Kalyna Review

Click this link

http://www.kalynareview.com/kucuk-iskender/4587168899

photo copyright of Istanbul Places

AMAT by İhsan Oktay Anar

On the third night of Şevval in the month of October the city of Constantinople, whose fame had spread with great fanfare and felicity to the world’s four corners and seven seas, lay sprawled like a slumbering colossus beneath a canopy of cimmerian cloud.

 The date was approximately 1080 years after the faithful of our Lord the Prophet and his holy book were forced by Mecca’s idolators to embark on their hijrah to Medina.  This corresponds, we can say, to 1670 years after the time of Jesus, May his Name be Praised!

 A wildly gusting wind that had been wreaking havoc in the sky since first light suddenly slowed and dropped.  The heavy theatre curtain of cloud parted and the full moon’s silver light poured down like a waterfall over Galata and bathed in a sublunary glow the majestic buildings of the Arab Mosque, the churches of Surp Krikor and Aya Nikola with its soaring tower and pitch black stone parapets that had cost the Genoese merchants dear at 48,000 gold pieces.  In the silence left behind by the baying wind an owl shook it’s wings as it roosted on the crescent that topped the minaret of the Kılıç Ali Paşa mosque.

Oh! If it were only possible to hear the silence and to see in the dark, then we would hear the clack-clack of the prayers beads of believers, the hurls coming from the chest of the drunk bequeathing his meal to the pavement at the corner and the whispers pouring off the lips of invokers of magic tucked away in darkened recesses.  We would see the eyes shining in the light that streams from the fortunes made of tens of thousands of gold pieces, the red lamps hung at the doors of dens of vice that tinkled with coquettish laughter and we would make out the gleaming blades pulled out by dirty hands on deserted street corners.  Were the full moon that night to slip once again behind the black curtain of cloud, the district of Galata would not be plunged into darkness;  because from within the many double padlocked iron chests hidden in the blackest vaults of stone-built houses the pale glow of ill-omen that  flowed from the hundreds of thousands of Florins, Viennese Ducats and Hungarian Zloty continued to light up ever-hungering eyes and to warm up solid cold hearts. 

 

At that time of night a money lender was busy at work shovelling the gold in his vault to make way for the takings of that day.  Little did he know, singing a lively song as he worked, that each and every one of these gold pieces could tell a story of its own, however tragic it may be. 

The Viennese Ducat, for example, that lay under the foot of this avaricious fellow was a fortune saved up over 9 years of hard toil by a street porter named Big Migirdiç and had remained sown into his waistcoat for the next 40 years.  On becoming confined to his bed, as a result of so many years of back-breaking labour, Big Migirdiç used this gold piece to pay off his bill, acquired over a period of four years at Karagöz Kirami Efendi’s grocery store on Voyvoda street.  This coin was added to 18 others in the purse of the grocer and was soon passed on to join the tens of thousands lying in the vault of the money lender.  However, the grocer was unable to pay the remaining half of his debt and was imprisoned in Galata jail for nine long years. 

One should mention though that life was not all kindness to the money lenders of Galata.  Take for example the case at the docks of Galleon Clerk Yağlıkazık Recep Ağa, who had taken out a debt to build his son-in-law a wooden house at Azap Gate.  In order to get out of repaying his debt he bribed the Head Chandler to set his guards on the money lender Salamon Efendi.  After ordering him to write off the debt of the Galleon Clerk the Guards persisted in hammering upon his door each time they made their rounds and extorted a small fortune from him over a number of years.  Over time his treasury decreased in size from 100,013 to 99,997 gold pieces. 

Once his fortune had fallen from six to five figures the poor fellow suffered a nervous breakdown and made the first fiscal miscalculation of his life.  He took upon the idea that his fortune had diminished by a sixth, the shock of which caused him to undergo divine enlightenment.  He decided to make donations to his poor brothers of the faith and made a promise to the Rabbi that he would send donations every Saturday of 3-5 coin, delivered by his own five year old son.  Whether held in strongboxes or just in dreams, money is money.  In the district of Galata there was not one man from the shipowner to the landlord, the drunkard to the devout and the nightwatchman to the Chief Guard who did not spend his days in pursuit of money and who could not be bought and sold.  Well, apart from the Crazy Carpenter!

 (c) İhsan Oktay Anar 2005

(c) Translation Caroline Stockford 2013

For rights inquiries, please contact Amy Spangler at AnatoliaLit Agency (amy@anatolialit.com).

Copyright: (c) İletişim Publications, 2005, Istanbul.  Currently in its 12th edition.

Amat
EAN 9789750503726  ISBN
Fiyat 19 TL
Yayın No İletişim – 1116
Dizi Çağdaş Türkçe Edebiyat – 155
Sayfa 235
Baskı 12.Baskı Şubat 2013, İstanbul (1.Baskı Ekim 2005, İstanbul

Pine cone by Sema Aslan

 

In those days there was still a stream running below Bomonti…  If you looked straight across from it, you’d see the yellow building of the Bomonti Beer Factory.  You could walk from our house to my mother’s house in fifteen minutes; then you’d go up three sloping streets, one of which was really steep.  My mother and the rest of the family lived on the second floor of a medium-sized apartment block that had a non-Muslim name.  We were on the second floor of our block too.

My late Uncle Hasan, who worked as a watchman at the Social Security offices had built that apartment block by the sweat of his own brow.  Opposite us stood two buildings that were at first, for whatever reason, quite separate and had then been made into one. Each building had its own entrance but the upper floors were joined.  In between the two entrance doors was a flight of narrow concrete steps.  The first three or four steps of these stairs were in the daylight but then they descended into the darkness.

I always used to wonder where that concrete corridor led to.  Did the houses at the end of the corridor get good light?  Was their view of the sky a blue space like ours or was it just red roof tiles?  But I never let Bedir know that I was curious; he was still at the stage where he liked to go out to play in the street…  I was worried that if I told him, he might get lost in a corridor that led to knows where.

One day, Bedir was playing outside again, and I saw the he had a kid next to him, a bit bigger than him… a rather odd boy…  people in our neighbourhood called him Mıstık.  When Mıstık came out of that dark corridor and into the light, the whole neighbourhood watched him; if he went to the grocers, that too was talked about; when Mıstık disappeared, dragging the backs of his flip-flops, into the pitch black corridor, various neighbours would ball up their fist and rap a few times on the windowsills.  Mıstık, with his bony frame and small body would go into a yellow room; his uncle would smile.   Mıstık would press down his toes to make his flip-flops drag along with a slap and his uncle, with his Bryl-creamed hair, thought he was a dark actor in a dark film: ‘The beers are here, now the only thing missing is a youngin to mess around with. Oh yes, that’s what I call livin’ it up!’

Mıstık was the kind of kid one avoided. And my Bedir was a lonesome little boy.  Throughout the ages they’ve always found each other, the lonely and the distant ones.  This wasn’t some lesson I’d always known, but more the essence of a story that my father told me in secret from my mother:  ‘You know that pale, faraway land that your mother keeps telling you about… where your grandmother, with skin the colour of marble is buried on the right-hand side of your copper-skinned grandfather – where cold water flows and turns into tiny little ice cubes; and where in every season underground springs well up and gush forth sweet water…  your mother was brought up in a Turkish bath, my child.

Her mother and father were the tenants of a bathhouse with grey walls, where there lived an old lady with a filthy mouth.  The place your mother called home were the grey walls that had turned to brown stone just to spite their greyness.  But they still carried the sound of the gentle splashing of the bathhouse.  I had gone to visit my aunt who lived on the Asian side of the Bosphorous.  My aunt had made haricot bean soup for me.  I’ll never forget the taste of that wonderful soup.  Your mother was fourteen; I was twenty-one.  She was sitting at the door of the bathhouse, all alone.  I looked at her skin, her body was white here and there; she’d just come out of the bath, and the dust of the baths was still on her.  And the foam… white soapy suds…  the moment I saw that coffee-coloured marble covered in dirt and suds, my child, I forgot all about my fiancée on the European side of Istanbul (not that she had such a hold on me anyway).  I said to myself, she lives in a public bath and I go to the baths myself at every opportunity.

When her father died she took her mother with her, saying that she wouldn’t go without her.  The old bath owner had taken them under her wing…  When I got closer I noticed that your mother was like a beautiful weed.  You had to think very carefully about how to hold her, where to latch on.

She’d lived beneath a dome, albeit it a small one, for many long years.  The daylight had never really fallen on her.  The bathhouse had been the warm, half-lit soil for this weed.  I didn’t want her to die as I tried to transplant her from her former home so I showed her the dome that was the roof of my mouth and with my tongue touching the walls of this dome I was able to sing to your mother; it made her happy.

Then one day, she wondered if she too could make this sound and she touched the dome inside my mouth.  From that day forth, my girl, your mother and I have shared with each other our loneliness and the feeling that we’re set apart from the world.  Whenever we fall on troubled times we sing songs under our small but spectacular dome.’

 

© Sema Aslan, İletişim Publishing, İstanbul

For all rights enquiries please contact Amy Spangler at AnatoliaLit amy@anatolialit.com

© translation Caroline Stockford cevirimiz@gmail.com

Ferdi’s in the house.. and playing full blast! by Mahir Unsal Eriş

‘once upon a time in a nightclub…’                                                                                               When my sister got married for the first time, I was in the last year of middle school and she was in the final year of college.  My father had sent her to Savaştepe Teacher’s College for the benefit of her education.  But just one week before she graduated she married a waiter and came to kiss my father’s hand and receive his permission.  My father gave them both a good beating and kicked them out, of course.  As a result, however, of my mother’s subtle behind-the-scenes efforts, my father forgave my sister, who meanwhile had been staying for a week with my aunt.

My sister was then able to return home, and when she did, she brought her bridegroom to live with us as well.  Neither of them worked and since they had no money to go out and about, they spent all day long at home. It was great fun for me.  During their short-lived marriage I enjoyed myself like never before.  Hüseyin believed that it went against human nature to work and he had even convinced my mother and sister of this.  My father wasn’t buying it though.  ‘If he has the balls to marry, then he should be man enough to find a proper job and work.  I can’t be looking after a bloke with hands the size of shovels!’, he’d say.  

But Hüseyin couldn’t have cared less.  All day long he’d chatter on at my mother with his silver tongue, zip about on his moped, play spinning tops with the neigbourhood kids, collect picture discs from crisp packets and eat non-stop.  Eventually my father found them both jobs as waiters, got them some furniture and set them up in a house of their own, the costs spread on hire purchase over twenty-four months.  That’s how he managed to get them out of his hair.  I was so upset when they left.  They used to play games with me, make all sorts of funny jokes while we watched TV and make my mum and I laugh such a lot.  When they did really naughty things it was even funny to see them get caught. 

At least then there were people at home.  My big brother was even older than my sister and lived in his own house, doing his own thing.  And because my sister had been at boarding school it was great for me to have someone around other than my mother.  I was really devastated when they left. 

But my sister’s happiness wasn’t to last long.  Not more than a month or so later she’d come home to find the house completely empty and Hüseyin gone too.  So she turned up again at our doorstep.  My brother-in-law, the waiter, according to how my mother told it, had cleaned out the entire place, leaving not even a sock behind.  He’d even taken the cooker’s extractor hood, which had been part of the property’s inventory, and had disappeared.  My sister was gutted, my mother was beside herself and I was just stunned.  As for my father he went ballistic.  Then there followed court cases, prosecutors and written proceedings.  Nothing.  That’s the way it went.  It must have started with Hüseyin selling this and that when he needed some money and now it was just a memory that relatives sometimes mentioned, promptly ‘knocking on wood’ to protect themselves from such a fate.

I was at university when I heard that my sister had got married for a second time.  My mother rang and told me.  I went straight home to Biga on the first bus from Uludağ.  That’s when they had buses.  That service from Biga is no longer running.  My sister had gone to work in a bar in a hotel in Assos with her friend Gülfer, who was a hooker.  We’d been told it was a nice hotel bar of course, so that my father wouldn’t go crazy, saying, ‘What kind of place is that for a single woman?’  It was actually a full-on nightclub.  And I know where it was.  My sister had got married to a guy from the club.  But for now they had only been joined together with the blessing of an Imam and were not officially hitched.  This was because the man was already married.  His son was taking the university admission exams in the coming year and the man wanted to get the results out of the way before getting divorced.  So they would have to make do with an Imam’s blessing until then.

My sister got my aunt to break the news to my father over the telephone.  ‘Whenever I leave her alone for a minute she goes and gets married!’, was how, years later on a Kurban Bayram morning, my father remembered that day.   The day on which the apple of his eye went up in flames of fury.  The next thing my father did was to get my uncle, all my grown up cousins and a few close friends from work and pile them into his panel van.  Within half an hour they arrived in Assos, raided the club and rescued his princess from the castle dungeon.  For a while we couldn’t show our faces in Biga, not even from the other side of a window.  We did our best to laugh it off. 

Now that there were less comings and goings, things returned to normal.  We told ourselves that this latest dear brother-in-law hadn’t really been all that fond of my sister anyway.  My sister took her beating and was forced to live with us.  Her punishment went on for about three months.  My father wouldn’t even let her go out to the corner shop.  Then he found a job for her at the Kaşıkçıobalı furniture factory.  The ban had been lifted.

In truth, by now my father was tired of having to deal with her.  He was getting up there in age and wasn’t the man he used to be.  His blood pressure and diabetes were competing with each other and he used to say, ‘Sixty is sh*tty, and your backside has no pity’.  Later he was to leave my sister pretty much to her own devices in Biga.  She’d go out in the evening and meet up with Gülfer.  They’d go for tea or soft drinks at Kaynanalar Park, Bigaspor and Avcılar.  My father stopped making a fuss.  ‘Biga’s not big enough to swing a cat in; at least we can keep an eye on her here,’ he’d remark to my mother.  They then decided to get a house, she and Gülfer, in Hastanebaşı.  My father agreed to this, but only after my mother stepped in and pleaded with him too. He had his fill of fighting with my sister.  And that’s how my sister left us.  I’d get to see her very little after that, at Bayrams, weddings and funerals, when I could make it.

She’d really truly left us this time. And when you factor in the generally unpleasant business of growing up as well, we were never quite as close again.

©İletişim Publishing, İstanbul

For all rights enquiries please contact Amy Spangler at AnatoliaLit amy@anatolialit.com

© translation Caroline Stockford cevirimiz@gmail.com

DG by Murat Başekim

 

Cevher Ağa didn’t open his eyes.

His men had died.  There was no need for him to look.  He’d felt it in his marrow before he’d even heard their screams.  In the end what was done, was done…  He’d asked one of the lads, Enkebir, to join them.  And he had…

There was no salvation for he who encountered Mad Gücük on the plain at night.  There’d be no getting out of this one alive.  He was infamous.  His name was on every tongue in every town.  From Morocco to Romania.  And especially in the far flung regions and secluded corners of Anatolia.  In its wells, on its mountains, in its legends.  Woven into its past…

If the past were something that could be swiftly severed with a razor then firstly Cevher would want to castrate himself from his own past.   If he could make such a cut he would erase from his mind all the memories of the aghas and rich men who had groped him to ‘examine the quality of the goods’ in the market where boys were sold as catamites.

With one slash of a sword he’d slice from his mind all those painful memories of when he had been forced to work as a public bath attendant and was sold to bandits for forty akçe a time.

But even Alexander the Great would not have been able to untie this tangled knot.

That was why, as soon as he had gained his freedom he took his old public bath nickname of Cevher, meaning jewel, and prefixed it with the noble title Agha.  He didn’t even remember his real name.  First he’d found Zarif, then Jerome.  The rest had been easy.  Noone knew the market trade better then Cevher.  He knew who would pay the highest prices and which types of boys were suitable to be sold to those men.  As for the business of castration, he and Jerome learned this together, by trial and error mostly.

He himself was not a eunuch. His motive was not one of jealousy.

Because he was unable to cut out his past, his hate, he cut instead all the things that represented his past and were the reason for the Gordian knot in his soul.  He was trying to untie that knot in his own way.

Cevher opened his eyes.

He was lying naked on the bare soil with his arms outstretched on each side of his body.  He couldn’t have moved even if he’d wanted to.  Something outside his field of vision was holding down his arms, his legs, his chest.  He looked up at the dark night.

Mad Gücük, with seven crows perched on his back and shoulders and his staff in his hand, was waiting for him.  Silently watching, judging.  Shepherds would find the Circassian boy in the morning, alive and in one piece.

As for Zarif, Jerome and Cevher, they were now forever a part of this Anatolian tale of sin and conscience, guilt and punishment.  This story was their epitaph.

Agha looked at the silhouette in front of him one last time.

Mad Gücük.

Did it make any difference whether he were real or not?

Did Mad Gücük not symbolise the night that their hearts, swelling up with pus and suppurating with sin, finally exploded?

The crows suddenly took flight, descended on him and jostled for position on his belly and loins.  As he felt the flesh of his crotch being torn to tatters, Cevher Agha closed his eyes in peace for the first time in his life.

 

©İletişim Publishing, İstanbul

For all rights enquiries please contact Amy Spangler, AnatoliaLit

amy@anatolialit.com

© translation Caroline Stockford