Murat Özyaşar

Short story: Night Eraser
Nightwalker - © Nurdan Hatipoğlu
Translated by Amy Spangler

Scented eraser

They came.
There were so many of them. They came one by one. They came with their big, giant feet, their brows of sweat, their eyes of spite. Lining us up, our hands in the air, they leaned us up against the wall. After some time, from my mother’s mouth spilled prayers that struck the wall; prayers to the şeyhs, to the pirs, to the evliyas...

Truth is, I had seen their long long, dark dark guns before. Once, when I went to bring the ball back; I’d failed to save it. The sting of that slap is with me still. I didn’t tell my mother, she still doesn’t know. If she did, she’d probably whoop their asses. Don’t speak of your brother to anyone, she had told me once. ‘He went to Istanbul to work, alright?’ Alright. I’d never seen him anyway. There were pictures of him hanging on the walls. My mother would look and look at them and collect prayers on her lips. Why was it that my mother was always praying? Every memory I have of her, lahavle, suphanallah, Allahuekber... Everyone always spoke of my big brother lovingly, with longing... I mean, they were worried about him, worried about whether he was still alive or not. I don’t know how many times they said he had died, and black cloths were hung over his photos. Why did my mother always cry whenever his name was mentioned? Just who was it she kept cursing, for whom did she count her prayer beads? This house was called the house of mourning. They said my big brother was brave, they said he was proud, and that that’s why he’d left. Nobody thought I was anything like him. All the fingers on a hand are not necessarily alike, as they say. I was proof. They just couldn’t figure out who I took after. It hurt my pride. But my mother, she loved me.

The first time I see my big brother. The first time he comes to see us. He remembers me though. He’s taller than me. And handsome, very handsome. Even more than my mother said. He doesn’t limp like I do. The others call him general.
He was my big brother.

The guy next to him said that if they came back, they’d have to play a right good match: ‘This time though, we’ll beat you guys, and you’re not scoring no head goals either.’ My mother said he used to play football all the time when he was a kid. ‘The teams always used to fight over me,’ my big brother said. ‘I always played forward, and I always scored most of the goals.’ Then motioning towards me, he said, ‘I wouldn’t even recognize him if I saw him out on the street.’ Mom, doesn’t he look like me? That’s what I heard him say. Or that’s what I thought he said. That’s what I wanted him to say. But he didn’t. What could I do about it? When I touched his gun, he scowled at me. Mom loved him more than she loved me, did she! She did away with the black headscarf she’d been wearing for years and the black cloths covering the photographs and donned a colorful dress; you would have thought she was a new bride in her new home. How many times I had cried, whined, kicked and screamed for her to take off that black headscarf. But she hadn’t.

Back then, at that age, I was ashamed of my mother: Of the scarf on her head, of her gold teeth, of the tattoo on her forehead, but most of all, most of all of the fact that she didn’t know Turkish, I was so ashamed. And for that reason alone I wouldn’t want her to come to school, I never brought any of my school friends home, I wouldn’t even bring them near our street. Why was my mother different from the mothers the teachers showed us in our lesson books? Why was my mother fat, and always wearing black?

Why were there so many of them; I counted and counted but there were just too many. ‘Search the place,’ said the biggest, harshest voice. It was my turn. My knees shaking. You would have thought I’d broken the vase in the guest room. I didn’t expect them to, but they walked right past me, and my mother... Then they went into the rooms, into the basement and the bathroom. They even looked up the big stove pipe, and in the wood shed. ‘As Allah is to heaven, so are we to this land,’ they said. My mother always said that we had no one, nobody at all. At that moment, I believed it. ‘There’s no one here,’ said a husky voice. I could hear my mother breathing, heard her say ‘Thank God.’ I turned and he and I came eye to eye. Me and the blue-eyed one. He winked, took some candy from his pocket, stroked my head. ‘I got this for my son, but it must be your lucky day,’ he said. I turned and looked at my mother. I thought she wasn’t looking. I took the candy. I’m going to be like him when I grow up, I thought. I’ll have guns; I’ll scare the team captain who always makes me play goalie. What, my big brother gets to have one and I don’t? I’ll have a khaki uniform; I’ll raise my right hand to my forehead in salute. And then I imagined my big, giant feet. I would let my beard grow long... If my mother knew, she’d be so angry. She’d told me about how evil they were, told me all about it, a long time ago. Never forget, okay! she’d said. How could I...

They were going to camp out at our house, to find my brother; my mother told me so. ‘Don’t panic, listen to me good. It’s up to you whether or not we leave this place,’ said the most familiar voice. But I was afraid of that voice. My eyes would grow bigger and bigger and I’d just stare at him. We’re obviously going to be here for a while, they said. I grabbed on to my mother’s skirt. It was as if my mother, with her neverending prayers, had forgotten all about me. ‘Don’t worry, you’ll forget all about this when you grow up,’ said one of them.
I didn’t.

One of them pulled back the curtains. My mother was silent, silent the whole time. ‘So no one’s going to tell us where they went,’ said the voice I feared most. They waited and waited. It was like my mother was mute. I could tell that she was praying inside, her eyes looking up, her fingers on her prayer beads. And then our eyes met again. Again he winked, the blue-eyed one. ‘So which team do you root for?’ he asked.
‘Galatasaray,’ I said.
‘Me too,’ he said.

Yes, yes, I’m going to be just like him; I’ll have guns, khaki clothes, big, giant feet that stomp on the ground... He put his arm around me and stroked my cheek. And then finally, he asked that long question; only later, much later, did I realize it was a test that would make me sweat blood:
‘So where’d your brother...?’

It was like she was someone else, like she wasn’t the same woman who had doted over me, given me her lap so that I might rest my head... I had never, never ever in my life seen her eyes like that before. For years, so many years, she had let it build up, build up inside her, until finally, she was able to ask:
‘Is that how I raised you, to betray us for a piece of candy?’

Attendance Sheet

‘I’m here. Where are you?’
‘After the sidewalks and the cinemas; yes, yes, I’m here.’
‘Can’t you see me, look, I’m here too.’
‘I was there. I was in a dream. I’m here.’
‘That one over there!’
‘I went to Dost’s, they were at home. I’m here.’
‘They were looking for a fourth player at the coffeehouse. I went over, but they wouldn’t let me play. I’m here.’
‘I thought someone said hist, hist. I’m always here.’
‘I’m here, sometimes.’
‘I went to get my photo taken, just got back, sorry. I’m here.’
‘I was mesmerized by the tick-tock of the clock, so I’m late. But I’m here.’
‘Hasan Ali!’
‘Whenever, I’m always here anyways.’
‘Mark him absent, sir. He went to take his brother’s place, they say.’

Originally published in Turkish as ‘Gece Silgisi’
as part of the collection Ayna Çarpması
by Murat Özyaşar
Istanbul: Dogan Yayincilik, 2008.

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