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FICTION / Adaevveda / Nazli Karabıyıkoğlu

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This story is dedicated to the people
 who were killed by the Turkish army and government
during 1970-80 revolution attempts

 

I was on the ferry where kids cried, screaming on their fathers’ laps. Ladies and ladies, this amazing citrus squeezer you see in my hand is not only one lira and one lira only, but also is your biggest helper in the kitchen. Tea one, orange juice one. Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten off the ferry that carried five hundred of us, maybe I shouldn’t have set foot on the island, continuously ransacked by humans. Maybe I should have lived my one-lira-only-life on the ferry. We were five hundred people, whose eyes were lost on around their feet. We didn’t have the means to buy citrus squeezer. We got off the ferry, stepping on each other’s toes.

Horses, great manes but no horns, grazed on grass in the garden of the house on the island. I searched my bag for the keys. I was scared of horses. I was seconds away from tangling my fingers when I found them and entered, quickly. Phew! Would you look at that dust! The curtains had changed colors from a raw white to sepia yellow. The trees in the garden were bent, their hair touching the cheek of the sea, who seemed to be more than okay about it. Seagulls began circling over my head. They leaped and dived, clapped to my fears and sang to my losses. The mole on my cheek hurt when it saw the sea and buried itself deeper. The sofas quivered and reeked. The floorings were loose; they cried, crack, crunch… I couldn’t stand seeing the rotten pieces of bread and moldy walls, so I jumped over the railing of the balcony, into the garden. I walked to the deck little further. I took my shoes off and dipped my legs in the water. Ice cold, I shivered from my toes up to the roots of my hair. I had never existed. I hadn’t seen or heard anything, I hadn’t thrown fish bones to cats, nor had I run galloping from whinnying horses.

The moles that I collected on my way to face the island fell in the water one by one, I couldn’t save them. In this garden, where wild rose scent prevailed now, the sound of toasts we made three months ago filled in my ears. Do you remember? I asked to the sea. The horse mackerels that  jumps over us, the sharp sun beams that come into the house at the afternoons, the faded light of the moon, which I thought was a cookie, the way my footsteps spilled downstairs as I walked upstairs, the jokes of my grandfather he had the whitest of beards, the laughter of my grandmother, she smelled like mastic. Do you remember the bougainvillea that hid the door from the neighbors, the jasmine I stuffed in my bra? Have you heard, my dear sea, that this house is sealed, that it is locked shut, to eternal singularity?

I was one of the three, sitting at a brasserie in Büyükada. Cats sweeping under the table, rubbing on our legs, dogs sleeping all coiled up in the corners. My eyes hurt; I was trying to hide it from my parents. If they knew, my dad would throw me in a carriage, take me home, make me sit next to my grandma and return to the table. But then I couldn’t listen to them, I couldn’t have recorded my father’s voice in my head, saying this can’t go on, not like this, we should be taking action, I couldn’t have memorized Nazım’s poems, nor inherit the muted fear in my mother’s eyes. I couldn’t remember how young, how brave and how much in love they were now, as my feet touched the sea.

Then my feet touched the night, where the island house was buried in silence for the first time. My heart bounced once again in its cage. A dark, dirty green their uniforms were, and their cars black and white. Faceless men, some with galaxies stitched on their shoulders. They neither cared for the smell of roses in the garden, nor for the way vales of honeysuckles in the wind. They came out from the path with the horses, my father in front, my mother at the back. Ferries blew whistles, five times.

My arm, if reached straight out from our balcony, could split the Sedef Island across in half. So I did, with wrath. I smashed on the lightless island. I broke my arm.

I wiped my tear with the sleeve of my tweed.

My grandpa became my dad, my grandma my mom. The cats of the brasserie died of hunger, one after the other.

Could my feet, now accustomed to cold, carry me to that balcony one more time? Could my hands open the doors of the house? Sedef Island had many lights now; would I break my arm again if I wanted to split it in half?

I got up, walked on wet wood hoping to dry my feet. I went into the house. Ants running on the walls. Wheels squeaking outside alongside hoofbeats.

There were books with pages torn away in the library. Tea strainers, knife sets, spoons, citrus squeezers in the kitchen…

Then, what I feared the most happened: the house began to speak. It opened wide its windows, unlocked its doors. Shutters hit my head. Seagulls swarmed in. Different voices cried out loud from different rooms: the jokes that it wasn’t able to take revenge for, foreign songs that I didn’t understand, poems that fed me and complaints that tucked me in at nights. Tomatoes chopped by the mid-size knife of the set that my mom got at the ferry poured down the walls; the ant population skyrocketed. Grandpa slammed his anchor on the walls to kill them, but instead he took down the walls. Seagulls over my head circled and shit on me. I shook one of my legs, and shook, and shook. Whistles were blown; the teeth that they ripped off my mom’s mouth rained on me. My dad’s torn fingernails got stuck in my eye. Then his beard touched my face. I pushed him because my cheeks hurt. I pushed my mom—  I don’t want to sleep, I’ll swim to Sedef and back, I’ll jump from the deck, don’t be scared mommy

Won’t you be scared, she asked, swimming on your own?

“Why would I be?” I said. “I have you, I have grandpa, and granny, and dad.”

I wanted the house to shut up. None of them were here now. Two of them were under the ground, and two were in a country I didn’t even know.

Thanks to you, I’ve always loved what’s missing.

I went after what I lost. I got off the ferry and onto the tram, then to a bus, then on a train. I watched the walls underground for hours. I thought I could find you if the train went a little further down. I dug the garden of the island house. For me, I buried you in the graves I made. Unlike the house you two were very quiet. You were used to having dirt all over your faces. I didn’t put flowers or anything with you in there, only the pages of your favorite poems. I planted your favorite scents on your tiny hills. Both in order: Rose, honeysuckle, jasmine, bougainvillea and Yeni Harman, hedge shears, citrus squeezer, and mist septile.

I went to the kitchen, took a bite from the moldy bread and a sip from the vinegary wine. I couldn’t figure out what to sing, had to be a favorite of yours.

I was one of the five at the ferry. My luggage was bigger than me at the time. Ladies and gentlemen, this stain remover you see in my hands is the right hand of women at laundry, and the best friend of men’s shirts!

I returned to the main hall. The house had gone mad. I wanted to throw myself under the horses and have them run me over until I became thin as a paper. I was about the go out on the balcony when I realized that the key of the drawer of the corner console wasn’t in its place, like it had been for many years.

Then, the house went quiet, as if it wanted me to face all that was hidden. My heart in my throat, I reached the drawer. It wasn’t locked. I shouted at once: “Sea! They left it open for me, right?”

“Yes,” the sea said. “The key is between the third and forth fold of your grandfather’s shroud.”

 

I opened the drawer. I took the notepad I already knew I was going to find, the one that my grandpa filled for hours, sitting at the gazebo outside, watching the horizon. As I lifted its thick cover, the house decided to be loud again. The content of the notepad can only be read in the moonlight, it said. I jumped over the balcony and ran to the deck. Gave my feet to water once again and began to read.

 

My dear son, my dear daughter. Sedef thinks that you’re in exile, somewhere in the world. But even we don’t know where they buried you, whether your soil has rocks, or sand… We don’t know how badly your bodies were bruised, in how many pieces you were thrown out… We don’t know if your throats were sore from screaming when you died, or if you were able to depart together from this world. Sedef calls me father, and to Asuman mother. It’s killing us.

 

SHUT UP I yelled at the notepad, SHUT UP!!

I threw myself to the Sedef Island, along with the notepad.

The deck refused to have me; the sea embraced me. The island was split in half. Five whistles echoed from the last ferry of the day, a sizzle in my arm.


Nazli Karabıyıkoğlu is a Turkish author, now full-time resident in Georgia, who recently escaped from the political, cultural, and gender oppression in Turkey. She helped create the #metoo movement within the Turkish publishing industry, from which she was then excommunicated. With an M.A. in Turkish Language and Literature from Bogazici University, Karabıyıkoğlu has five published books in Turkish and has recently completed translations of two new books for international publication. Having won six literary awards in her country, she has been actively writing for magazines since 2009. You can find further information about her on the web site via www.nazlikarabiyikoglu.com.