Barış Bıçakçı

An excerpt from: After Gliding Parallel to the Ground For a While
The Butterfly - © Nurdan Hatipoğlu
Translated from the Turkish by Ruth Whitehouse (‘Equilateral Hell’), Selhan & Cliff Endres (‘Give Me Your Mother’), Nilgün Dungan (‘Now Listen to Me Carefully’), İdil Aydoğan (‘No Sign of Life’), Bengisu Rona (‘In the Clasp of the Song,’ ‘An Older Woman’), Selhan & Cliff Endres ('Did You Do This Yourself?'), at the Cunda International Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature, 2009.

Equilateral Hell

My mother and I were washing and tidying up after supper. She raised the subject again, saying, “At least the poor woman’s old mother would…,” “No, Mum!” I shouted, because this nonsense had to stop. “No, I tell you, no!” I threw the sponge as hard as I could at the African violet on the windowsill, covering the poor plant in foam.
“There you go again, acting like some angel of goodness!”
One of my hands was clutching at my throat, the other was dripping soapsuds onto the floor.
“I don’t want to be a do-gooder, don’t you understand that, Mum?” I took my hand from my throat, clenched my fist and started pounding at my temple. “Do you understand?” Then, “If she’s dead, she’s dead!” I said, “It means she’s free! If only I could die and be free!”
My mother pointed anxiously towards the sitting room and tapped a finger on her lips indicating that I should keep quiet, as if they cared. It had become a real habit of hers to make this gesture behind my father’s back. Straightening up, she came towards me, pushed aside the African violet with her shoulder and retrieved the sponge from behind the flowerpot. She took over from me as if nothing had happened and continued wiping down the sink. I could see the redness of her hands gradually spreading to her arms, shoulders and climbing its way up to her face.

Not knowing what to do, I remained at my mother’s side watching as she held the sponge under the tap, splashing the running water around the sink. Then, as I went out of the kitchen, I heard her say, “You rude, obnoxious little...!” She said some other things as well, but they got mixed up in the noise of the refrigerator and television.

In fact, everything is like that in this house, all mixed up. It makes me feel sick. My mother takes an interest in the problems of others, as if everything in our life were a bed of roses. She is blind to the misery that exists in this house, where every nook and cranny is occupied by demons. Her main concern is cleanliness. She wipes the doorstep twice a day and wants us to roll up our trouser legs whenever we enter the house. But the demons remain. My father and older brother communicate silently, using secret codes of winks and smiles... The only thing I’m ever asked is whether I am doing any work for my university entrance exams. They’ve been asking this for years. No, I’m not studying, and the idea of talking with some woman I don’t even know and pretending to be her granddaughter drives me mad. Her dead granddaughter.

Of course, I didn’t let my mother raise this matter again. We went back to quarrelling about the usual things. Whom do I talk to for so long on the phone every evening? Why do I keep going out on to the balcony, am I going out there for a cigarette? Why don’t I help her with the cleaning? Why am I not studying? Life returned to the normal routine that I hated so much. Spiders crawling back and forth between home and classroom... The spider’s web is supposed to be a wonder of nature. I see it as a trap.

Then one day I saw that woman, the one whose daughter committed suicide. She had come to our house and was sitting on the sofa in front of the window. The sunlight was striking her from behind. The light seemed to be passing through her short curly hair and entering a deserted space. That’s how it seemed.
“Canan, my pet, this is your Aunt Türkan,” said my mother, in her good angel voice. This voice made me feel sick.
The lady smiled at me. She recognised me, but I couldn’t remember her.
“Of course, it’s been a long time,” she said, still smiling. Her eyes seemed to have shrunk. No, not shrunk, it was as if they had escaped and gone into hiding.
“We used to see each other more often,” explained my mother. “But after the incident…. We lost touch,” she said, and fell silent. She didn’t know how to continue. I couldn’t take my eyes off the woman. She had become shrivelled. Not thin, but shrivelled. When I saw the state she was in, I immediately understood the reason for her strange request. For one last time, she wanted to squeeze a final drop of life from her own shrivelled body into her aged mother’s parched earth. The old woman knew nothing about the death of her granddaughter, and she mustn’t know or learn about it.

I indicated with my head that I wanted my mother to come out to the kitchen. “Tell Aunt Türkan that I’ll phone her mother,” I said. In order to avoid seeing my mother’s pleasure, I went straight off to my room and buried my head in my pillow. I wanted to cry, but I managed to control myself. A bit later, my mother called me from the other room. When I went into the sitting room, I regretted my decision as soon as I heard her saying things like, “We too have a boy and a girl….. And Canan is a marvellous impersonator…. In fact, she wants to be an actress.” I wanted to storm out and slam the door. But I was too late, because I had caught the look in Aunt Türkan’s eyes.
“My mother’s hearing isn’t very good,” said Aunt Türkan. The grandmother had been told that Başak had gone to America to do a PhD. Aunt Türkan told me all about her family and Başak, whom I hardly knew. Başak had graduated from the art department and done a masters degree. The elder brother was a mechanical engineer. Their father and Aunt Türkan had separated years ago. If the grandmother asked where I was in America, which was possible as she had spent time there because of her husband’s job, I was to say I had gone to the University of Michigan in Detroit. Aunt Türkan explained all this in an easygoing, cheerful voice, so as not to scare me. This has nothing to do with death, it’s just a game - that’s what she wanted me to think. I understood.
“When Başak was a baby, she couldn’t say ‘grandmother’, anneanne, she always said ‘Nanna’,” said Aunt Türkan, “She carried on saying this, and even we call her Nanna.” She stopped for a moment, then repeated, “Nan-na.” As she did this, her eyes retreated even further.
Like a primary school child, I repeated “Nan-na,” nodding my head in time.

That evening, I looked up the time difference with America on the calendar my father had brought home from work. I made up sentences to myself: Nanna, I’ve missed you a lot. Dearest Nanna, how is your health? Take care of yourself, dear Nanna.

The next day in class, I blurted everything out to Ebru. “Did you know this girl?” she asked excitedly, “Why did she commit suicide? Was it because of love?”
“Yes, we were very close,” I said, lying for some reason, “We don’t know why she committed suicide.”
Ebru advised me to cover the telephone receiver with a paper towel or handkerchief. She also suggested that if I could find nothing to talk about, I should say, “I must finish now, telephone calls are very expensive here.” She said, “I think there was something like this in a film, where someone was making calls pretending to be someone else.” She stared out of the classroom window for a long time trying to remember the name of the film, but couldn’t.

The first time I called Nanna, I didn’t object to my mother standing next to me. I wasn’t at all nervous. The moment I finished, my mother took the telephone from me and called Aunt Türkan. “My daughter sounded exactly like……,” she said, shivering for a moment with fear and perhaps saying to herself, “God forbid the same happens to us.” She swallowed and continued, “….exactly like Başak, and they spoke for a full five minutes. Yes, yes Türkan dear, the poor lady was very happy.”

The old lady had indeed been very happy, but my mother exaggerated as usual. The conversation had lasted no more than two minutes, for half of which the woman had been crying.
When my mother started going on again to Aunt Türkan about my impersonation skills, I interrupted saying, “That’s enough, put the phone down!” I had clenched my teeth so hard that my words came out in a sort of hiss. Like a snake trying to bite the stupid good angel. That was the first and last time, I said to myself.
I knew it was not the last time.

The next day I told Erhan what had happened when he met me after class. We were walking towards the metro station hand in hand.
“How could you agree to do such a thing!” said Erhan, “How could you do that to me!” He spoke as if he had been wronged, as if I had deceived or betrayed him. He let go of my hand. Like I cared. Everything seemed nonsensical and futile.

About a week later, my mother looked at my father during dinner and said, “I was at Türkan’s house today. She told me over and over again how grateful she was to Canan.” My father said, “I don’t suppose a woman of that age is still involved with the leftists.” He looked at me, adding, “Don’t let this go on for too long!” My brother, who was ladling out the soup, asked, “Why on earth did the girl throw herself over?” He was almost laughing. My father winked. I jumped up from the table, leaving the plate my father had held up for a helping of green beans suspended in mid-air. Like I cared.

I called Nanna. I called because I was upset. As soon as she heard my voice, she began to cry. She asked when I would be coming back. “My dear Nanna, I told you,” I said crossly, “I’ll be back at the beginning of summer.” I enjoyed getting cross like this. It was more real like this, more realistic. Nanna fell silent and sniffed, then she said in a polite voice, “Darling, I’d like you to listen to a song.” “A song?” I was astonished. I heard her put the receiver down, the sound of her slippers shuffling away, and then some crackling sounds followed by a song. It was a song that I knew, one that was always being played on the radio. As well as the song, I could hear Nanna’s nervous laughter. Without worrying whether she could hear me or not, I said, “I’m running out of credits, Nanna, I’m putting the phone down.” The palms of my hands were sweaty.
Before I went to bed, I said to my mother, “I called Aunt Türkan’s mother a little while ago.” I didn’t look at her face, I didn’t want to see her face.

A few days later, I called again. “It’s raining here,” said Nanna. “Have you got an umbrella?” she asked, as if it was raining in America too. “It always rained when we were in Boston,” she said.
I stopped myself from saying that I wasn’t in Boston. “I have a raincoat,” I said. “The weather’s gotten awfully cold here. It’s absolutely freezing in the mornings.”
“Have you got woollen socks?” asked Nanna, “What do you eat over there? Their customs and meals are very different from ours!”

And so on, and so on. I became used to her and to our trivial conversations. I now phone her whenever I feel like it. “When you were little, you used to think that cherry jam had living creatures in it,” she says, and we both laugh. I get her to tell me about the latest television shows. I listen to her complain about her caretaker, gossip about her visitors… She even told me that she has foreign cash hidden under her mattress.
In exchange, I tell her about my dreams. My hopes for the future. Of course, I can’t mention anything about acting. But it doesn’t matter, Nanna listens to me, going ‘hmm... hmm’. Sometimes she sighs and says, “Hold on, let me turn the television off.” Other times, she says “Of course, of course.” The more she says it, the better I feel.

One day, I think I’ll be able to explain everything to her. About this hell we’re all in together, this misery, this suicide…
One day, I even think I’ll tell her that I committed suicide.
She’s Nanna, I say to myself, she understands, she’s bound to understand.

Give Me Your Mother

I did what I had to do as soon as I heard that Başak had committed suicide. I kept my eyes on my mother. I didn’t take my eyes off her. I was afraid she might lose control and hurt herself.

My mother didn’t lose control. She didn’t pull her hair out. She didn’t repeat an absurd sentence over and over, like “What should I cook this evening?”, or “The balcony is so dirty, I should clean it.” The only thing was that her movements slowed down. And something appeared in her eyes. They . . . they became smaller, without a doubt. They grew smaller like they’d been nabbed while trying to escape, to go into hiding.
Pointing to the phone, she said, “Your father has to be told.” She always constructed this kind of short practical sentence whenever my father was involved.

The living room was crowded. I wanted to be in my room alone when I spoke with him.
“Başak is dead,” I said. “Suicide . . .”
My father did not say a word. He remained silent, silent for some time. Then, “Alright,” he said. “Give me your mother.”
From the living-room door I called to my mother and gestured toward my room.
“He’s asking for you.”
For the first time in all those years, they talked.
“Tomorrow,” said my mother. She was cold and distant. She listened to my father for a while. She listened as if he had no right to talk. She shook her head from side to side. “No, nothing like that is going to happen.” “No, we’re not going to do that.” She was getting angry, it was clear.
“The dead belong to their immediate family.” Her voice was trembling.
I put my hand on her shoulder. I squeezed gently. Her flesh was both yielding and unyielding. Her strapped dress was embellished with a pattern of faded flowers. I felt a sense of age and fatigue. Stay calm, mother, calm.

She hung up. I thought she would cry or curse my father. She didn’t. She took a tissue and dabbed the sweat that had broken out on her neck and under her arms. She was calm. She went back to the living room and the friends trying to console her. She sat wordlessly on an armchair baking in the sun. Under her dress her small sagging breasts appeared to be pointing in two different directions.
She looked at me.
My mother was carrying an old hell inside her, stumbling before a god in whom my father believed, yet forging ahead, fearlessly.

Now Listen to Me Carefully

Dear Umut, now listen to me carefully. I got mad when I read your letter. For some time now, I’ve been able to express myself the best when I’m angry. So open your ears and listen to me carefully.
First of all, it’s not like I live like a hermit here, like you insinuated. And I don’t feel that I’ve given up anything, either. I came here simply because I love this village. Besides, Nergis and I want our son Can to get accustomed to the life here and start primary school in the nearby town. That’s all. There’s no need to bad mouth Ankara. I can be more creative than you think when it comes to bad mouthing; I could blame Ankara for all our troubles, but like I said, it’s pointless. To me, hating a city, or a place where you live, means loving yourself too much. And ever since Can was born, I don’t feel anything “extreme” about myself.

As for deserting the city being the trendy thing to do... Don’t forget that we were able to settle down here thanks to Nergis’ family. What we’ve done has nothing to do with that “idyllic plan which has become the latest fixation of people like us.” You’re saying I ascribe too much meaning to nature. I don’t know... At a highish spot on the road in from the town, from a few kilometers away, you can see the village. There, in the distance, among all shades of green, inside a rugged field. My eyes fill up every single time. That’s how it is! Part of this has to do with Nergis, because the village is a part of her and her childhood.
Hence it’s not just the nature here, there are other things, too.

I’ll tell you what, why don’t you, together with Başak and Türkan Abla, come here, “where chickens roam raw”! (Do you remember where this quote is from?) I know, you won’t stop hassling me until you see for yourself the village and the way we live. Plus, I don’t want to make a fool of myself, sounding like one of those shiny travel magazines with all their “must see places” and “must taste flavors” by going on and on about this place!

Nergis’ family would also be very happy to see you; we tell them about you all the time anyway.
Can mentioned your name the other day. “Did Umut get upset, Dad?” he asked out of the blue. Of course, Nergis and I didn’t understand it at first, and so we just said, ‘Why should he?’ Then it occurred to us, here they have an expression “getting hope upset” which means losing hope. And since your name means ‘hope,’ well, you get it.

Nergis’ brother has this friend, Kemal Ağabey, who knows Türkan Abla from the party. A good, heavy-hearted man. He said to say hello.
I started out angry but my anger has subsided. I noticed while I was writing: I really miss you. Come now, before the summer is over! We are waiting.


No Sign of Life

My mother and father wear their identical navy smocks all day. Whenever I drop by at the shop I find them labouring silently. They only speak to each other when it is absolutely necessary, when they have to work on something together. It seems they lack the slightest desire to do anything. As if they always did. People who watch them moving around like robots and see their blank faces probably think, “they must be a couple with no kids”.

When she came to the shop to see the torn painting, Başak Hanım must have thought the same thing.

She told my folks that she could repair it. They’ve also agreed on the money. She lives outside the city. It’s my job to take the painting to Başak Hanım’s house. I prefer being outside, on the road like this, to being stuck in the shop.
Using my shoulder, I ring the bell. When the door opens, I tilt the painting sideways, away from my face, and ask: “Başak Hanım?”
“I’m Başak,” she replies. She’s young. I’m surprised. She looks more like a student than a painter. “Come in,” she says, pushing the door wide open.

I haven’t yet stepped inside when I think to myself, I could never ever hit her. Somehow I get this idea and, as if declaring that it’s not simply going to die out on its own, it circles around in my head, in the largest possible loop. I’ve never hit anyone in my life anyway.
She introduces me to her mother, and then says, “let’s go inside, to my room.”
“So you work at the shop?” she asks.
“They’re my parents”, I reply. She smiles and looks at me in surprise. “I did my military service straight after college. I just got back a few months ago. I lend them a hand every now and then.” Actually, all I really want her to know is that I’ve been to college, because her room is filled with books. I don’t want her to imagine that I make frames for a living.
I wait; wait for her to ask me what I studied. She doesn’t.
“I’ve seen it at the shop but let me just have a quick look at it again” she says, showing me the way to the balcony.

We go out onto the balcony, into broad daylight. To the west, you can see the city extending before you, as far as the ring road that surrounds it. Yellowed grass. The steppe. The height gives me a strange sensation inside, and that idea begins its loop again.
She examines the painting with her pale hands, moving her long fingers over the “y” shaped tear, turning the canvas around to look at it from behind.
It’s a family portrait done by a renowned painter for a renowned doctor and his family. The doctor and his wife are seated on a couch. Two brothers almost the same age, young and proud, are standing behind them. The one on the right, the shorter of the two, has his hand on his mother’s shoulder. The other one, the one in a white shirt and sleeveless sweater, has his arms folded in front of him. He is turned slightly, so that his right side is facing the painter, and he has his head tilted to the left. The mother and father’s hands are joined on the couch, the father’s hand on top. On the coffee tables on the two sides of the couch are a few books and a little silver box. There in the background, on the wall, right between the two children, hangs a huge mirror, with an engraved wooden frame. The light penetrating the room from the left is reflected in the mirror, its beams illuminating the whole room. The tear is on the doctor’s left ankle, right between his sock and his trouser cuff. And to the right of the tear, you can see the painter’s signature.

“We keep a box under the counter where we collect broken pieces of glass,” I begin telling her, although I know there’s really no point, my folks would’ve already told her the whole story when she came to the shop. I just babble on to drive that idea out of my head. “My father accidentally kicked the box and a piece of glass went straight through the painting which was there on the floor, leaning against the counter. The box should have been emptied before it got so full.”
“It won’t be hard to repair.” She pauses. “It’s easy, easy to get the colours right and everything.” Another pause. “I’m going to take the canvas off. You can fit it back on after I’m done.”
And then suddenly she asks: “And you are? I didn’t get your name...”
“Ahmet,” I reply, ashamed of my name.
“Your mother and father...” she begins, and then pauses as if she wants to be careful what she’s saying, “they show no sign of life whatsoever,” she says. “Standing there in front of the frames displayed on the walls... Behind that carpet-covered counter... How strange... They looked as if they’d been born to suffer, not to live.”

It feels as if what she has just said has nothing to do with me, or my parents. It’s as if she’s talking about herself.
As if she’s pouring her heart out.
For a moment there, we are connected. Connected...
“I feel the same sometimes,” I say.
She replies with a smile that shows she understands.
Together we look at the doctor and his family.
And they look back.

In the Clasp of the Song

Winter. Afternoon. Everywhere covered in snow. Sunshine. No sign of hope. All the lives of all the people, nothing but this sunny cold winter day, bereft of all hope.

“What should I have done?” whispered Başak, “Should I have joined you?” Her whisper appeared on the glass as a shapeless patch of mist. And then it disappeared.

Outside in the biting cold, within the wide expanse cut through with the pale colours of vertical surfaces, a black dog was struggling his way through the snow up the hill where the heating centre was. It was like a song.

Başak heard a song.

Clearly it wasn’t the dog singing the song: it wasn’t the kind of song you’d find in a dog’s repertoire.

Sometimes you hum without realising it… But no. Başak wasn’t singing the song either.

The song was coming from outside – somewhere external to the dog and to Başak. It was coming from a place outside the room, the house, the twelve-storey building, the snow-covered hill, the heating centre with its two chimneys, the masts of the telephone exchange, the newly built housing blocks in the north and the Susuz Lake. It was coming from somewhere that was so external to everything: the main street where the buses ran through, the mosque in the corner, the market place with its awnings of turquoise-coloured metal sheets, the slope in front of the post office, the new building sites with their rows of cranes, the sugar factory which made its presence felt with its constant droning, the shopping centres on both sides of the road leading to the town centre, the railway running east from the south of Mount Idris, the yellowing, dry plain between Kırşehir and Kayseri, the doors and windows of empty villages with their crumbling, empty stone houses, the sorrow that leaps across the Euphrates and the Tigris in one bound, Mount Sümbül, the deserts of Iran, where an endless sunset reigns, the herds of silence grazing on the Tibetan plateau, the Yellow Sea full of fishing boats, the world’s deepest trench at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, the Polynesians casting spells for love and revenge, volcanoes sticking their heads out of the sea, the lands of the Aztecs, the Mayans and the Incas, the Atlantic Ocean, men and women with white capes in the Canary Islands, ancient Carthage dedicated to the gods of the underworld, the hills of Athens which young men climb with accordions slung over their shoulders, the clock-tower in Konak with two boys leaning against it, waiting there looking out to sea, the Porsuk river which takes its name from a Selçuk commander, the steam rising to the sky from the Ayaş Spa, the heating centre and its two chimneys with wide red bands round them and the snow-covered hill, the black dog and Başak, all seemed to be inside a glass globe; and the globe clasped in the hands of the song.

“And I was always in the clasp of the song,” whispered Başak, “that’s why I couldn’t join you.”

Her whisper lingered on the glass as a shapeless patch of mist.

An Older Woman

The city buses kept going past all full: they didn’t even slow down. The drivers just threw their hands up in the air in a way that people waiting at the bus stops could see. On the buses, some passengers had to stand right down on the steps with their backs leaning against the doors. The people waiting at the bus stops were furious. Some stood in the middle of the road as if they were trying to stop the buses. And some pointed at the empty spaces on the buses and complained of people who forgot about those left by the roadside as soon as they got on the bus themselves. Some even swore at the mayor.

Finally somehow a bus did stop, and they managed to squeeze themselves on board. Then a white-haired man started shouting:

“We’ve been waiting here for an hour!”

He seemed to be shouting not just at the driver, but at everyone on the bus. “I’m fifty three years old. Honestly I’m not myself any more! Every morning all my nerves are on edge. I quarrel with everyone because of these buses. I even screamed and shouted at this lady here.”

The people around him first looked at the band-aid on the man’s forehead and then at the woman he motioned at with his head. She was an older woman with short curly hair that had gone white here and there. She was clutching a brown leather briefcase to her chest - in the crush it was impossible to carry it by the handle. A man in a suit sitting in the front row got up and gave up his seat to her. She was confused. She hadn’t noticed that anyone had shouted at her, and in her confusion she sat down in the seat the man had offered her. Then she raised her head and said “Thank you”. She settled her briefcase in her lap on her faded dark blue skirt. She looked at the young woman next to her who was sleeping with her head against the window. Rubbing her sweaty palms together she placed her hands on her briefcase.

The white-haired man had calmed down and started to share his woes with the driver and the people around him. Once the bus got on to the Istanbul road everyone seemed to calm down. They were going at a steady speed without being held up by traffic, and at this time of the morning everyone welcomed the speed. “You think I’m happy! With all this driving I can’t even go to the toilet,” complained the driver. And those near the front fully agreed with him with all the sincerity of well-meaning folk.

And the woman had also calmed down. She stretched her legs out and settled herself properly in her seat. A little later she opened her briefcase and pulled out a book from amongst a bundle of papers. Her hand instinctively went up to her chest. When she realised that her glasses were not round her neck, she felt in the front pocket of her briefcase, pulled them out and put them on. She opened the book and chose a story short enough for her to finish reading during the journey.

The young man, the hero of the story, was nervous. He had to spend a weekend by a lake away from the city with a crowd of people from his workplace; an outing organised so that they could get to know each other, so that they could bond and increase productivity. The young man spent most of Saturday travelling with a group of colleagues who became childish as soon as they left the work environment. They didn’t miss a single opportunity to have a laugh, and even if they did, they still laughed. They sang songs, they clapped their hands, they danced dances. The young man took part in none of it. He seemed to be carrying a heavy burden on his shoulders. The woman looked up from her book and glanced around her. They were in Batıkent Junction. When they reached the guest house where they were going to stay it turned out that there’d been a mistake with the booking, and there weren’t enough rooms. The young man was almost in tears. Not to be able to go into a room and be by himself and the possibility of spending the night with someone from his workplace had totally exasperated him and frozen him rigid. The guest house staff said they’d find a solution to the problem before dinner that evening. The group lost none of their glee. After leaving their belongings where they were told to, they decided to go for a walk around the lake. The young man walked behind the group all by himself. The woman jolted forwards as the bus braked suddenly. Without letting go of the book, she supported herself by pressing the backs of her hands against the bar over the seat in front of her. The driver and the passengers sitting at the front swore at a car that swerved into the path of the bus. The woman tried to see what was happening outside and then settled herself back into her seat. The young man was walking and watching the soothing autumn landscape, but somehow couldn’t let himself go. They sat on the benches by the shores of the lake and ate the flat bread provided by the people at the guest house. They returned to the guest house as it was beginning to get dark. It became clear that the room problem had still not been resolved. In the end a sharing scheme was devised under the direction of a couple of people who were trying to have a go at leadership on this bonding outing, even though they’d never done such a thing in the work place. They’d get extra beds put in some of the rooms, couples would have their own rooms and the rest would share with men and women in separate rooms. Chance and mathematics conspired to increase the young man’s unhappiness: when it became impossible to work things out it was decided that an older woman who worked in the switchboard at the work place would share a room with the young man. This morally repellent idea, this “safe solution”, based as it was on the assumption that young men would not pester older or ugly women, outraged the young man. He wanted to make grand statements and shout in protest at their hypocrisy. When the woman noticed that the bus had slowed down, she looked out of the window. They had passed the Çiftlik Junction and were proceeding slowly in the congested traffic towards Yenimahalle Bridge. After dinner, when everyone went to their rooms, the young man lingered in the lobby for a while so that the woman would not feel uncomfortable. Then he knocked on the door and went in. The woman was in the bed by the window; she was lying curled up with her back to the door. The young man went to bed without turning the light on and without taking off his clothes. His anger kept him awake. He got up and approached the older woman’s bed. He put his hand gently under the covers looking for the woman’s flesh to stroke. The woman looked up abruptly and snapped the book shut. Her face was flushed. She took off her glasses and put them into the briefcase with her book.

Suddenly she thought of upbraiding the white-haired man who’d said he’d shouted at her. She looked around her, but couldn’t see him. She noticed the man in the suit who’d given her his seat. Now she felt furious at him.

By the Gençlik Park, the bus turned towards Sıhhiye. The woman got off at the Adliye bus stop, along with almost everyone else. Just as she was getting off a girl suddenly appeared beside her and said “Good morning, Türkân Hanım!” Before the woman had a chance to turn around and look at her, the girl leapt off the steps of the bus on to the pavement in one go. The woman watched the girl darting off, but could not work out who she was.

The woman started walking towards Kızılay. Everyone seemed more cheerful and faster than she was. The whole city was cheerful.

Whereas she had a ghastly feeling of defeat within her.

Did You Do This Yourself?

One day my mother said, “Your father is in Izmir.”
My father sent us postcards now and then from Izmir. He complained about the heat. He wrote about Izmir people sleeping with their doors and windows open. And things like strong wind, constant rain, and no snow in the winter. The panoramic view from Kadife Castle. Konak Square. Basmane Station. The International Fair. Sometimes he informed us, “In Izmir they sell a pastry called boyoz” or “The imbat just blew in and we feel a bit cooler. You know the imbat is what they call the wind that blows from sea to land during summer.”
Başak wrote a composition she called “Imbat” when she was in middle school. It was about a girl and her older brother’s trip from Ankara to Izmir. Of course these siblings were us, and Başak’s handwriting, which softened the curve of every letter, took us over hills, mountains and rivers through tunnels, villages and flocks of sheep, past soldiers standing guard and lots of electric high-line poles, to Konak, where it dropped us right at the clock tower. There brother and sister turned their faces to the sea and began waiting for the imbat to blow. Just to annoy Başak, I asked, “Is this why we came all this way?” But her Turkish teacher’s question was less creative. “Did you write this yourself, Başak?”

Many years later Başak would say that she wrote her composition in order to memorize firmly the fact that the imbat blows from sea to land. She was always getting confused about whether it blew from sea to land or land to sea, and she did not want to be confused and she wanted to remember with precision everything about our father. “The best way to do that was to create an image in my mind. That’s why I wrote my composition like that,” she said, adopting the Miss Know-It-All tone that suited her so well.

“But that’s not what was important,” she went on. “What was important was in fact the teacher’s question. Because literature starts with questions. This might seem meaningless to you, but I discovered for the first time that it was really someone else who’d written that composition, and that this someone else was present somewhere inside me, hearing and seeing things that I failed to acknowledge seeing and hearing, and then writing about them, sometimes enslaving me and sometimes enslaving herself as necessary.”
Although Başak was an art student at the university, she always thought she had a greater affinity for literature.

But that’s not important; what’s important is the following: I found Başak’s words far too literary at the time; now, however, the thought that there could be “someone else” inside her was a relief.
Now all of us, me, my mother, Abidin, Nergis, Ahmet, my mother’s friends, all ask, “Did you do this yourself, Başak?” And though we fail to get any meaningful answer to our question, we arrive at a conclusion simply because we’ve asked this question.
We arrive at a conclusion.

Originally published as Bir Süre Yere Paralel Gittikten Sonra.
by Barış Bıçakçı, pp. 7-30.
İletişim, 2008

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