Sibel K. Türker

To Love, to Kill
Ground - © Nurdan Hatipoğlu
Translated from the Turkish by Amy Spangler

It was back in the days when Ahmet seemed to me like a dark warrior. I was afraid of him, or in other words, I was in awe of him. We didn’t want any other friends, just the two of us. He was cranky. Now and then I would say, “Let’s invite so and so over,” but he would just shrug his shoulders and reply, “Who needs them.” He always had a long face. “Alright then,” I would concede helplessly. Eventually, I got tired of insisting. I accepted him as my one and only indispensable friend.

His grandma would tell the neighbor ladies how smart he was: Ahmet repaired broken radios, took care of blown fuses, identified the woes of vacuum cleaners and took them in for surgery in a snap. He never left his room, he was always reading, that boy. But then brains ran in his family; after all, it was too much brains that had driven his dad mad. And so Ahmet’s mom had deposited his dad at a hospital in another city before taking refuge in her own father’s house. Or so his grandma said. Whenever I went over, their sunless apartment full of stale air would give me the creeps at first. Lazy gramps would be asleep on the balcony, a newspaper in his hand, a plate full of grapes on the coffee table next to him. Flies would be buzzing around the grapes, one landing as another took flight. No matter what they cooked, it always smelled awful. Burnt meat, stuffed peppers gone sour, rotten chicken... His mom would be in her room, flipping through magazines. “Who’s there?” she would call out in a disinterested voice. His grandma would inevitably grab the first old rag she could find and sheepishly pretend to dust the television. She would stretch her neck out, motioning towards the room at the very end of the hall. “He’s in his room, reading.” I would quickly get used to the lofty air of this dusty sanctuary and slowly make my way down the hallway before knocking on the door.

He never said, “Come in”; he would leap out of bed, open the door, and then turn his back to me and jump right back in bed, without even saying hello. I could smell the dank humidity of the place, even when the windows were wide open. I’d sit on the edge of the bed and shyly look up at the ceiling, its whitewash cracked and flaky. Each time the yellow water stains would have grown a little bigger, extending across the ceiling like some sort of tasteless decor.

He would come up with a question all of a sudden, like “Have you ever heard of Marco Polo?”
“Yeah, I think we read about him in history class,” I would respond, annoyed.
“Look... I’m reading a book about his life.”
He’d shove the book right under my nose, showing me the cover.
Flinching, without further delay I would ask, “So whadda we gonna play?” At that moment, his grandmother would stick her head in through the door. “I brought you boys lemonade and cookies,” she would say, smiling. She would trudge into the room, her humungous hips crashing down with each step, and place the tray on the desk. Next she would caution us, “Don’t make too much noise, gramps is sleeping.” I knew there would be a white hair amidst the cookies, there was no question about it. And I knew that the lemonade would be warm and sugarless, and I wouldn’t want to touch the smudge-stained, unwashed surface of the glass.

Ahmet would leap up, down his lemonade in a single gulp, pick up a cookie, and return to his bed.
“It’s always the same ol’ stuff,” he would say, looking at his bare feet. “I’m bored. You’re little.”
I’d look at his feet too. On his right foot he had two pinky toes that were stuck together and it looked absolutely hideous. It was inconceivable to me how such a thing could be possible and each and every time I would expect him to offer an explanation. Two toes stuck together… Could he not have surgery to fix it? What would the harm be in removing that sixth toe?
“It’s a sign of good luck,” he had said once, proudly. “Did you know Napoleon had six toes too, just like me?”
I had shaken my head from side to side, because I didn’t know. “Or that Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror had thirty-three teeth, that the male servant who looked after him as a child said it was an omen, and that the extra tooth fell out just like that on the day he was to conquer Istanbul?” I had shaken my head again, ashamed. But then I always felt ashamed of myself when I was around him.

The truth is, he was a pompous jerk. He had a pear-shaped head covered in prickly black hair. His flap-ears reminded me of a sailboat in distress. And so I always thought of Ahmet as living in the sea but desperate to reach land. Ahmet was at sea and always far away… The wind behind him, he is trying to reach me and my games. He misses me… Unfurl the sails…

Summer break would pass slowly, the days long and hot. I’d convince him to come down into the backyard every now and then. “There are mouse nests this big back there,” I’d tell him, holding my hands far apart. “Liar,” he would say, and I would swear to God. “Alright then, but if we find it, I’m gonna beat it to a pulp,” he would say, and I would acquiesce. We would set out on our exploration in our tight, clingy shorts, wielding clubs made of branches. With each step we took, the dried grass covering the garden would snap, crushed beneath our feet. We’d turn and look at one another. I would try to find a spot, walking slowly towards the darkest corner of the yard. And I would be sure to put on a mysterious face and movements to match.

“Where’d you see it?” he would ask, his voice full of disbelief.

I would point to a filthy nook where a few hollyhocks grew. Not letting on, I would glance around one last time, wondering where else it could be. And then I would convince myself of the appropriateness of the spot I had chosen. Ahmet would grasp his branch tightly, immediately take the lead, and forge ahead with big, silent steps. We would crouch down at the spot that I had shown, and begin to wait. Conscious of the fact that it was superfluous, the sixth toe poking out of the side strap of his sandals would be ashamed and struggle to squeeze back in. His twin didn’t like him, I think, and would often say to him, “I can live perfectly fine without you.” In vain the sixth toe would look for a place to hide and then grow angry at Ahmet for not concealing him inside a sock.
“It’s not all that big,” Ahmet would say, looking at the hole.
I would tell him that I had seen a fat field mouse come out of that hole last time, to look for food, and that I thought the hole was full of baby mice.
“There are cats all over this place man, no way that idiot could survive.”
“So… Whadda we gonna do?” I would ask.
“We’re gonna go after those babies.”

His voice would come out with such resoluteness that I would immediately feel a deep pang of regret. I would want to run away from him as quickly as possible, lie face down on my bed and just evaporate. I would want to never see Ahmet again. But I had a record of telling lies, and for their sake, I stayed. For a moment I would think of all the lies I had said to ingratiate myself with Ahmet. And I would be unable to budge.
“There’s a dead bird with blue wings in the yard over there, I swear, it’s just beautiful!”
“I saw bugs that look just like shit, on my honor!”
“Karabas ripped that cat out of the tree and strangled it to death just like that, I tell you!”
Even with my child’s mind, I had understood that Ahmet only liked stories of victory and death.

This time, the lie has to come true, I thought to myself, otherwise I’m done for. I couldn’t have cared less about the orphaned babies, their shivering bodies covered in thin, pink skin, their eyes still sealed shut.
Otherwise, he would yell at me, “This makes how many times now, huh?” and give me a swift slap to the head. And as he often did, he would say in a commanding voice, pointing me straight in the eye, “I curse you. You got that, you dirty liar, I curse you! Do you know what that means?” I would know what that meant; it meant he wouldn’t kiss me. A shiver would run through my body. Having Ahmet as my god would burn me, scorch me, punish me, and give me endless pleasure. For me, being kissed by him resembled melted chocolate, that’s how I thought of it. Melted chocolate appeared to be calm and abandoned, but in truth it was always tense, on edge. It knew its own taste, but it couldn’t reach it, and so it would be devastated by sorrow and desire. Flowing represented escape; melting, anticipation.

With all of these thoughts running through my mind, I said to him, “Let’s start a fire in front of the hole.” It would at least distract him and postpone his anger for a while. I hurriedly gathered some twigs to make the fire. His palms to the ground, his knees bent, he looked at me disgustedly…
“And just how are we supposed to start the fire?”

I sprinted home, nervous as could be. As I put the key in the hole, my body tensed as if I had to pee.
Telling my mother I was going to get a drink of water, I dashed into the kitchen.
“Ömer! I just cleaned. Take off those sandals,” my mother yelled from the balcony where she was watering the flowers. But I didn’t have time. In a flash I slipped the box of matches lying next to the stove into my pocket.

When I got back down to the garden, Ahmet was standing, his hands on his hips, waiting for me impatiently.
“Took you long enough,” he said, agitated. “Do whatever you’re gonna do now, otherwise…”
My hands shaking, I struck the first match. A malicious wind coming from who knows where in that summer heat swept over me, immediately extinguishing the first match. The second match, the third…
Ahmet snatched the box of matches from my hand. His long fingernails scratched my skin. “Give me that, you useless twat!”

Pushing me to the side, he leaned over the entrance of the hole and set the brush on fire with the very first match he struck. As the dirty white smoke rose into the air, I read the first letters of my fate. “It… will…” I completed the sentence… “be” and I prayed to the other God who felt so deeply annoyed at Ahmet.
“I resent it that you only think of me whenever you need my help,” said He Up On High. “Now get rid of that Ahmet once and for all…”
“Alright. But not just yet… Just this once, and then, I swear…”
“Otherwise, I will curse you,” said He Up On High.
I fell silent and bowed my head.
His head bowed, puffing his cheeks, Ahmet tried to blow the smoke into the hole.
“C’mon, you blow too…”

The useless smoke wouldn’t heed our command, but instead foamed furiously in our eyes. We both wiped our eyes and coughed. I was just about to lose all hope when I saw something budge at the hole’s entrance. A head poked out of the hole for a brief moment before quickly disappearing once again.
“There it is! There it is!” I screamed, as if snitching on the mouse.
“I didn’t see anything,” said Ahmet, still inflating his cheeks.

A short while later a tiny head holding a pink piece of flesh in its mouth struggled out of the hole. It hurriedly dropped the pink piece of flesh next to the hole before slipping back inside. Contrary to my hopes, the fire was beginning to die out, the smoke to gradually wane.
“Well lookie here, who woulda thunk!” Ahmet said as he poked at the piece of flesh. The baby mouse, its eyes still shut, began to move its tiny hands and feet. Its body, accustomed to the warmth of the nest, was shivering.

The mama mouse’s gray head appeared once again, this time with another piece of flesh in its mouth. It quickly deposited this piece next to the other before dashing back into the hole. It did this six more times, so preoccupied with rescuing its babies that it didn’t even notice the shadows of the two giants waiting at the entrance. The way Ahmet raised the branch in his hand, as if it were a sharp sword, as he waited for this boring task to be over with, he really did look like a powerful commando. I felt tingly inside, knowing that I would soon get my reward.

“Still?” He Up On High asked. “After all that I’ve done for you…”
“Still and always…” I said, swallowing. “I’m sorry.”
“You piss pants devil!” he roared. I scratched the inside of my ear.

By the time the mama mouse, now surrounded by eight chunks of pink flesh, became aware of the real danger before her, she was too exhausted to perform the same task all over again. Narrowing her eyes she leaned over her babies, trying to keep them in a huddle.
“Now!” Ahmet screamed.

I don’t know how many times we swung our clubs down upon them. Tense as could be from excitement and revulsion, I was breathing deeply. I looked lovingly at Ahmet’s sixth toe, which was now jutting out of his sandal. With the tiny drops of blood splattered all over it, it had turned into a wonderful, spotted creature. Like a cute mushroom or a tiny berry.
Happy as larks, we flopped down onto the ground. Small thorns and foxtails lightly pricked us on our backs.
“Now,” said Ahmet, looking at the swiftly rolling clouds in the warm, blue sky, “You’ve earned yourself a small reward…”

Originally published in Turkish as ‘Sevmek, Öldürmek’
as part of the collection Agula
by Sibel K. Türker, pp. 35-41.
Istanbul: Dogan Yayincilik, 2007.

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