At the end of the hall, a large room, two closets one on the left, the other on the right, two good-quality adjustable beds. At their bedside, two tables and on them, two bottles filled with water, along with glasses… Above the beds, emergency calling systems — should the red button be pressed, staff will come running toward this last room in the hallway…
She, he, do not own a single souvenir photo with loving looks, to decorate their walls, or places on their tables. There is only one decoration showing a landscape, nailed to the wall between the two large windows. A landscape, without a house, without a human presence, just daisies blooming under tall trees… That’s all.
How much would it matter for them, to have personal items? If truth be told, in this room, there is nothing other than the two of them. The final late crumbs of a life… Two old people attempting to keep those final crumbs from falling to the ground, not letting a single second go by, and who tremble. There is nothing beyond this, no door on which to knock after this one, this here is the last stop, this is a retirement home.
This is the İzci family. The couple, Hasibe and Mehmet.
In the saga of the cheap labour migrations that began in the 60s — in other words, the open market on cheap humans — the convoys left from Sirkeci station in Istanbul and ended at the Munich train station; the İzci family was among them.
Mehmet did not see very well out of his left eye. Therefore, Germany did not accept him as a worker. Suitcase in hand, he went back to his country with his broken dreams. He was a man from the Black Sea area. A child of thick beech forests, of mountains shaking hands with the sky, of bounding streams, of deep luxuriant valleys.
The administration of the Republic established after the collapse of the empire which disappeared in history, was no more able to remedy the poverty of the inhabitants here. Despite all these beauties and blessings of a fertile nature, there is a poverty here than presses down on the necks of people and is the cause of much suffering, as in all the other regions in the country…
Was it the end of the world, if Mehmet could not go to Germany? Of course not. As strong as a mountain, Hasibe was the one who would go. Tall, strong Hasibe, where she put her foot down, the earth trembled, if she squeezed a stone, she pulled the sap out of it…Hasibe had a surly disposition, one that didn’t let anything pass, she didn’t lower her head, she didn’t let go of anything, and this is what made her grow. She resembled her country’s lands, she was as strong as a galloping horse and in just as good health too.
She was leaving behind two little children who still called milk lolo but it didn’t matter, was she not leaving precisely for their sake? Wasn’t all this for a better future, a better life? And Mehmet trusted her, “even in a regiment, she would not fail at honour…”
Hasibe ddid not know how to read or write… like almost all the others applying for the work.
Hasibe’s height, good, her weight, good, she had healthy lungs, hands and feet were in good shape, so were her teeth, her eyes… A woman admitted by the German health control, on all scores. “Sehr gut”, they said.
Hasibe could do anything, no matter what the job, she would bear it. As long as her poverty could end, as long as her face could smile…She would now go to great Germany, the war had ended over there, they no longer changed people’s flesh into soap. Those who have already been there informed her she would come back with her suitcases full of money…Even if the work contract was only for one year, even that would be enough…Hasibe wouldn’t eat anything, she would save up every penny, and would come back to her home, making it warm and joyful…
Sirkeci station was crowded. You would have thrown up a handful of earth, it would never have touched the ground. Men of a clean appearance wearing ties and hats, short hair, modern, women in mini-skirts, all in good health…
Like the others, Hasibe did not know a single word of German. Nor did they have a government on which to fall back, one that would protect them, that would guarantee health and work conditions. Nor did Hasibe have a class consciousness, that of a worker. Nothing of all that… Nothing, nada.
But as she had managed the health evaluation, she bent her head, she ent it out of despair. People such as Hasibe would do any kind of work at all. They have to. Their obligation is that of despair, their despair is that of poverty.
The people of my country are the best source for production and services, and the cheapest… What could be better than that for the German bourgeoisie?
The train journey began, lasting three days and three nights. Women and men travelled in separate coaches. Anatolia’s historical and fertile lands remained childless… with a last look behind the departed… behind those who went away and never returned, leaving a trail of incinerated songs. Thus did the great migration of Anatolian labour enter history, the journey toward exploitation, undeniably the greatest tragedies of ruined, destroyed families.
After this transportation ending at the Munich train station, a new journey began, this time at the bus terminal of the same city. Sources of cheap labour, people from my country dispersed into different towns in West Germany.
But this kind of work is not like minding livestock, and even less like handling a sickle or picking ears of corn. One way or another, they would get used to it… They got used to it. To doing all the heaviest, most dangerous, dirtiest work the Germans did not want to do… They got used to it and what’s more, they worked as if these were their own father’s factories or firms, putting their own lives at stake.
Hasibe was one of those who got used to it. After years of labour in a canning factory, she began with some friends as a worker in the automobile industry. She did not go back, Hasibe, did not go back. Money’s face is gentle, she got used to it and could not go back, and that was that.
Four years later, Mehmet and the children arrived in Germany through the family reunion plan. Mehmet also became a worker, also in the automobile industry. Working and working, that’s the capitalist system, it consists of exploitation against bread, no one looks at the tears in their eyes. Working, and working…
There, they had another child, a girl. Hasibe named her after her own mother: Fatma.
She did not manage to rebuild a true link with her first two children, Hasibe. The children would spend their entire lives in the revenge state of mind of abandonment. There were days when Hasibe had enough, and days where she wanted to die. Such was her life as it came and went.
But she gave all her love to Fatma.
Life goes by. How to stand so much labour? How to go on with so much nostalgia, so much feeling of exile? Faced with solitude, with treason, with exploitation down to the marrow of your bones, to silence, to waves of hesitation “to stay or to go back?” Faced with the growing problems of growing children, even a stone would break. This is what happened to Mehmet. When the time came to enjoy his retirement, diabetes landed on him…First, he was amputated of one leg, at thigh level, then a second. Who was there to take care of Mehmet, other than his road companion?
By then, Hasibe herself was but a shadow of her former self, because of all the work. Henceforth, both of them were ruins. Their children had flown the coop years before…
If only Hasibe could take Mehmet with her, as she did with her dreams while filling her suitcases on arrival. Even if there was only half of him left, even if he wasn’t much, she would go back to the Black Sea, to its mountains shaking hands with the sky, and she would savour the memory all the hard work she had done here.
If only with a call, with a gesture, she could gather up the neighbours, drown these luxuriant valleys in gales of laughter, throw to the wayside her German consisting of a few words, silenced for years, if only she could throw it into a corner… If only she could howl in her native tongue, if only she could sob in her native tongue, letting the sorrow of her heart rain down on the mountains, if only she could…But there was nothing doing, even if she wanted to, she could no longer go back.
Here at least, there was a health system that was still functional for the time being. What would Mehmet become over there?
Mehmet who was nothing but a handful now…
An apartment solitude that they have been living for years now, where no one knocked on the door except nursing aids, where their lives were lost, where they were even lacking the faces of their children, where what lacked the most was a voice, a gesture. Both were retired, both needed help. The retirement home was now the last door on which they could knock.
Here is the large room at the end of the hallway… On the door is written “İzci Family”.
Wasn’t there a time when Mehmet beat Hasibe. A time when Hasibe insulted and cursed Mehmet. During the four years of their separation, didn’t a thousand foxes wander through Mehmet’s head, didn’t he think, imagine many things… No matter…
This room, this space filled with their two breaths forgave everything with dignity, excused all the past sufferings. How did this huge solitude join these two labouring hands. These two hands that had never been as close, never had their voices been so interwoven, their breaths keeping one another company.
In the retirement home, a four-storey building, nice and square, built in a suburb, only one other person spoke Turkish. A young woman who planned their pork-free menus and who came to them whenever the red button was pushed.
He lasted two more years, Mehmet… During two years, he loved Hasibe as he had never loved her before. He understood her as he had never done…Hasibe gave Mehmet the finest love of his life. There was no one inquiring as to their fate, not one child, not one acquaintance to walk into this room, at the end of the hall and make their hearts beat with excitement, drowning them in joy.
Mehmet, a clever one, had become a “member of the mosque” in his day 1. His remains were transferred back to the country by Diyanet 2. His casket was tiny, like that of a child… Hasibe was moved into a smaller room. In her hand, the red button became her only toy. The red button became her most precious possession in the world. She thought the young woman working in the kitchen was her daughter Fatma.
- Come Fatma, sit down… Fatma, my darling, take me in your arms, hug me tight, don’t ever let me go.
- Are you hungry, Fatma? Are you cold? Embrace me Fatma, hug me, don’t let me go.
The clouds of the Black Sea, companions to the mountains where is grown the best tea. Does not tea open the door to social relationships, to ties that bind?
- Make some tea, Fatma, bring some tea Fatma, EMBRACE me Fatma, don’t let me go.
Who was Fatma? A new slave labourer, exploited in this capitalist system for her value added sweat. The bosses didn’t care about Hasibe’s nostalgia over Fatma. After each push on the red button, could “Fatma” come to her rescue? An order (!) fell from on high, and “Fatma’s” visits became rare. She sulked, Hasibe. She sulked against the whole world, she sulked against the food, called for Fatma, crying in her rough Black Sea speech.
- Come Fatma, come, embrace me, hug me, don’t let me go… Fatmaaaa come.
Four years after Mehmet, Hasibe also died, with the red button in her hand, calling “Fatma”.
Diyanet also transferred Hasibe’s remains to the country, burial fees were paid in advance.
So alone, so abandoned, so destitute…Thus was another worker’s name erased from the records, another who had come from the greatest proletarian migration from Anatolia.
As if she had never lived…
Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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