Ahmet Büke

Time Decay
Day by Day - © Nurdan Hatipoğlu
Translated from the Turkish by Kerim Biçer and İdil Aydoğan.

Bump… I opened my eyes. My ears filled with the sound of a murmuring engine. Followed by shadows, and then light. Then again short and subtle shadows. I felt the breeze. Inhaled the smell of filthy leather. I wanted to reach out to the darkness covering my eyes. I couldn’t lift my arms. I felt them under my body. Pain ran down my shoulders. I couldn’t force them any further. I held my breath. And then let go. I tried to twitch my fingers. My right arm felt more comfortable. I touched my right wrist. Cold iron.

Someone grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me up. The light was brighter now.
“You thirsty?”
I nodded.
“We’re almost there. You’re gonna have to wait.”
It felt as if my arms had been chopped off. Thousands of needles piercing my flesh. I wanted to rub my face against my arm.
“No. We can’t take your blindfold off.”
They must have opened the window. The cool pine air flowed in. I could hear cicadas droning. So it was almost evening?
“Where are we going?”
I could hear noises coming from up front.
“How much longer?”
I think it was the driver who answered.
“About a quarter of an hour.”
“We’re making good time.”
“Where are you taking me?”
The one sitting next to me placed his hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t worry. Ain’t no place you don’t know. We’re going back to your childhood.”
I felt a slight sting in the back of my neck. I shuddered. Hundreds of tulle curtains descended upon me. My face slowly cooled off. A winged horse came and wrapped me up in its mane. The noise and the breeze gently swept over us. I sank into moist mud.


Mina, I’m your brother, you know that, right?
You were a real brat. You’d always have dirt and mud stuck in your long blond hair. Boys would claw your face. But you’d never back down. You’d risk getting beaten up just to hang on to that little corner where you and your friends had drawn a hopscotch court with pieces of broken bricks, to keep from surrendering it to them and their football matches.
You’d cut your dolls’ tummies open with the silver scissors you’d snitch from our grandmother’s wedding chest. You’d stuff chickpeas inside them after pulling out all the cotton, and then you’d struggle to sew them back up.
“They’re going to have babies. Chickpea children with no arms or legs,” you’d say.

Do you remember, our grandmother, that Caucasian woman, was terrified of you.
“Watch out for this girl,” she’d moan. “She’s going to bring this family nothing but trouble.”
You never went out to sickle tobacco. You never liked the soil. No matter how badly mother beat you. She dragged you by the hair out by the little pond in our backyard.
“No way I’m sending you to school! Forget the tobacco leaves, it’s your skin I’m gonna hang out to dry!”
Father would shout out from the only window in our jerry-built house.
“Oi, that’s enough!”

Mina, I’m your big brother.
We went to İzmir together. To study. They put us in that aileevi1 in Karataş. Quite a spacious room. Two small spring mattress beds. A table. Stools.
You remember?
You remember that young fireman in the room next door who was studying for his exams? I used to go to his place and drink wine.
“Brother, you should concentrate on your studies. He’s nothing but a pig. Don’t go taking after that bastard,” you’d say.
Mina, that scoundrel gave me money. Found me a job. I quenched my thirst for women, thanks to him.

What? My job?
Is there such a thing as an easy job in this world? And what if I had finished high school? What if I’d had to go back, back to the tobacco fields? Breaking leaves all night until dawn. Flies attracted by the light of the fluorescent lamp all going in your mouth. Stringing tobacco leaves under the arbour all night until you can barely sit upright. Fried courgettes for dinner, and warm water to drink.
Do you remember what grandmother used to say? “Go rinse your mouth. Courgettes is a dish fit for prophets.”
Mina, why on earth did you get involved in all this?
It’s all my fault. I neglected you.

On that day when we went to bury mother, father entrusted you to me.
“Listen son! Your mother and your sister are both bad seed. Your mother drank tobacco pesticide. She died foaming at the mouth. Watch out for Mina. Trouble breeds trouble.”
What did I do? I went and took you to the dormitory myself. Just to get you away from that one bedroom home. So you’d stay away from me. I now carried cold iron in my belt. In my heart, a twelve bullet courage had settled.

What? My job?
There’s no such thing as an easy job in this world, is there?
That night towards dawn, my hands were trembling as I took whiffs from the fat roll. Is there a job in this world which is not stained with blood? With me living in the guise of a man, walking up and down, let’s say, Konak Square, or rambling around Kemeraltı dirt-poor, and those tarts reluctantly spreading their legs as they lie in beds reeking of piss, dare anyone speak of conscience?
Who took notice of me?
Not even you took me for a man.

That afternoon, following the radio announcement, we cut off the road. I ran up the street where the crowd had parted. You were leaning against a utility pole in the corner, trembling. Pulling at your hair I dragged you into a row of houses. I could have taken you away with me then. But you just stood there looking at me. And then you pushed me away. You walked all over me like I was a wad of tawny phlegm on the ground.
Mina, why?
Look, they brought you all the way up here. To the final destination of those who don’t speak. Here, the tick-tock stops. We end it. We take away the vigour of life and in its stead, we leave the coldness of disappearance.

No, we won’t torment you any further. We possess the mortals on whom pain can no longer be inflicted.
We only ask the final question.
“Would you like us to erase all the faces you’ve ever seen, all the breezes you’ve ever felt, and all your moments of joy and sorrow?”
Mina, if you don’t speak now, you’ll be the end of me. They’ll have me pull the trigger.
But Mina, is there truly any job that’s good?
Is this world not made of decaying meat and shattered bones?


They’re burying me where I thought they would. I know so. Above us will be cypress leaves. Towards evening, herds of goats will pass by the lower wall of the cemetery. A boy shall whistle them along, taking hesitant steps. The worst thing is they’ll lay me beside my mother.
And they’ll say, “She killed her mother slowly with grief.”
My brother takes the shovel now.
The worst thing is, my breasts will decay and fall to my mother’s side.
My brother shall live on like a blood drenched country.


1. Aileevi: Also known as ‘kortejo’ (courtyard), are homes built by Sephardi Jews who settled in İzmir some 500 years ago. Jewish families lived a communal life in these buildings, where they shared common kitchens, bathrooms and living areas. Their only private space was their bedrooms. In time, as the Sephardi Jews began to move out, the buildings were occupied by other minorities. These were poor families of various different ethnic backgrounds who had newly immigrated to the city.

Originally published in Turkish as: Zaman Çürüğü
As part of the collection: Alnı Mavide.
by Ahmet Büke.
Published by Kanat.

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