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The moment arrived that everyone was awaiting, the one that Şengül feared.
İsmail appeared in the courtyard to cries of joy, everyone was so happy, and showed İsmail so much gratitude. As for Şengül, she observed the crowd from behind her curtains, like a stranger. She was afraid, she trembled from it. Should she come out? Or should she die? Was this what it felt like, to be squeezed between two mountains? If they came to hear about it, if they already knew, every member of this courtyard would see their nails turned into knives to lacerate and kill her. At last, she came out into the courtyard. Was she dead? Was she alive? No one could tell.
Şengül’s eyes, filled with sadness, bottomless wells, on her lips, a barely perceptible smile. “Welcome İsmail, welcome to the courtyard” she said. İsmail held her against his chest with all kinds of tiny joys from Germany, like alms, joys he so lacked over there, and he held her against his chest as if the gift was for him, as if the whole earth illuminated him with the rest pouring out in the courtyard. When the children would begin picking up these joys, it would go on for days
Henceforth at night in her bed, Şengül is like in a freshly dug tomb, she is the coffin in the tomb and, in this coffin, she is as if dead, perfectly naked. Yes, there it is, now she is certain of it, she loves Mahmut with all her soul and body beating for him.
İsmail had brought a blue dress covered in flowers, an ornamented comb and, for her tiny feet, a pair of patent leather shoes. Şengül will wear them, and around her neck, she will put the gold pieces Sirin left behind. This neck kissed by Mahmut, caressed by Mahmut… This neck İsmail touched with his rough worker’s hands turned to stone, if he were to press it more for a moment, just a bit, to extinguish the last breath of her life. İsmail hugs, kisses her neck, Şengül gathers up all her life force… İsmail’s hands wander like a cold snake emerging from seven feet underground. At any moment, he could show his tongue, bite her as if to say “how could you do this to me?”
Şengül will leave this courtyard. She will be remembered in her flowery blue dress, she knows she will never come back. All that is left in this courtyard is the love for Mahmut. She found love here, within this courtyard, she explored how one loves someone to the death. Now, she will leave, relinquishing everything in this same courtyard. She will never see Mahmut again, Mahmut whom she loves so much, she will leave with such deep sadness, knowing this…
The passports were delivered, preparations were made for a road trip with no turning back. Şengül distributed to her sisters-in-law everything she owned, everything in her room. They grabbed at it as if it were war bounty. Nothing remained in the room except Sirin’s dowry chest. It remained alone in a corner, like an anonymous coffin. It seemed to say, “go ahead, bury me”.
Even though this chest now belonged to Şengül, she had never opened it to see what was inside. Şengül crouched then with deep sadness, lifted the lid, and a smell of rose-scented soap escaped into the room.
Nightgowns, never worn, piles of napkins, muslim scarves edged in hand-stitched lace, canvas, embroidery. All packed so carefully, these things seemed to be calling for their owner, enquiring about her, waiting like orphans one against the other.
Şengül pulled everything out, kissing each item in turn, smelling them. They held traces of her older sister’s hand, she had touched every one of them. She searched for this hand. “Rise up, hold my hand, help me, older sister”, she said.
Then, completely at the bottom of the chest, a white cloth tied with with a red string caught her eye. She undid the knot to the parcel, carefully folded like rose petals. No one would dare break its corolla.
She unfolded the fabric. And there, the courtyard collapsed over her head, she was overcome by dizziness. Something was hidden in the folds of the cloth. Sirin’s blood, the seal of her virginity… the seal shutting everyone’s eyes, even those of the blind.
God, what horror was this…Şengül held the linen cloth between her fists, so tightly that the fabric might have bled. And then, she cried so hard, she cried with such remorse that the whole courtyard quaked. “Sister, forgive me, forgive me, forgive me…” she pleaded with the white cloth, she inundated this dried blood with her tears.
They are now in the town’s bus station, in a little while they will be on the road toward the capital, then the plane to Germany…They will leave toward a place unknown to her. With the last impulse of one sentenced to death about to hang, her eyes searched for Mahmut. Her love still flowed in her, if only she could catch a last glimpse of him, even if it meant dying instantly. When they said “God is ordained by god, but what if separation is worse than death?” This was what they meant.
Inside her, quakes were collapsing all her inner walls, one after the other. Eyes glued to the travellers’ entrance. “The one who loves you is leaving, Mahmut. Who can love you as much as I do? Who can love you to the point of risking the rope hanging in the courtyard? Mahmut, come for one last time, show yourself Mahmut, even from afar, Mahmut. Mahmut…ah Mahmut…my love.”
The bus pulled away slowly, Şengül watched the entrance door until her neck could turn no further. Mahmut did not come. Şengül was wounded as if she had lost all of her guts on a battle field, as if she had nothing left but her eyes, she was bleeding.
İsmail held Emre on his lap. He had one arm around Şengül’s neck. Hot tears trickled down her cheeks, one after the other. İsmail wiped her salty cheeks, kissed them. “No more hardships, I will make you a life in Germany like that of a princess, I’ll make sure your hands never touch hot or cold water again… all that is finished, finished”, he said…
The courtyard remained, thousands of kilometers away. Between Şengül and the man she loved there were not only mountains now, there were also entire countries. Abroad, the water was different, birds were different, people were different, you became tongue tied, you understood nothing. This is how Şengül was now, she had pulled her knees up against her belly, had retreated into her inner self. “İsmail be blessed” he had prepared everything. A home like a cocoon, new furniture, rooms for the children, everything was set up for Şengül’s comfort. And in the living room, there was another pair of eyes, on the wall. A pair observing their life, Şirin’s photo. How afflicted they looked, how mutilated she seemed in the middle of the wall…
Even the longest-seeming days go by, go by and become years. Things that strike you as impossible happen, turn into so many hassles… After that, there is nothing left for you but to suffer.
Şengül in this land of exile gave birth to another boy. Tiny, skinny, srcrawny, pale, but a beauty. If her child was born this weak, it was because of her pain, because of the secret buried inside her. It was because of the love for Mahmut which gnawed at her like a worm. Waiting, without any news, how unbearable it was, an inexpiable suffering. Şengül chose the baby’s name. “Eren”, she said, “his name will be Eren“1. “May he at least find his happiness in this world” Senül thought. İsmail worked day and night, still bearing all the weight of the courtyard and the torture of being unable to reach Şengül, detached from everything, always in her corner, you couldn’t tell if she was dead or alive.
Weeks follow days, months follow weeks, the years ran on… The children grew up, became used to this air and this water. Şengül never did. İsmail always protected her. She did nothing other than burrow inside herself, like a dove in a cage… İsmail had a large house built for his brothers remaining in the village. While he worked in exile, his mother died. He rushed to the funeral and arrived at the last moment.
When İsmail came back from the courtyard, he was so sad that Şengül felt pity for this man. “If at least İsmail did not love her so much, if he behaved poor with her, she wouldn’t have such a burning sensation in her chest, her conscience wouldn’t weigh her down as badly.” He was a good man, devoted, a good father but, despite it all, no matter what she did, Şengül could not love İsmail after Mahmut.
“News, a bit of news…” It was secretely killing her. “How are the folks in the courtyard?” she asked.
Everyone was fine, in good health. Their numbers kept increasing, soon they would move into the big new house. The courtyard had put up with several generations but, slowly, it was giving up, collapsing under the onslaughts of nature. İsmail talked about the mountains, the prairies, the villagers, then, “Mahmut”, he said. “Mahmut was also at the funeral. He has a good wife who took good care of the guests. May the god bless them, he has two daughers.”
Hearing this was like having a knife plunged straight into her heart. Şengül stopped breathing. In her chest, in the depths of her heart, a small bird flew away, flew, flew… reached the heavens, then, exhausted, its breath spent, it fell into the void… landed on sharp stones, lost its blood before disappearing in shreds…
The night is long, the night is black, a sleepless night, night is the final minute before death, a night of fire, she is being consumed by the flames. Not a single person can put them out. What kind of pain was it to love someone so much that death no longer existed, was not even dust. “It seems Mahmut will come to Germany, life is getting too hard over there”, İsmail would do everything he could to help him “after all, he worked a lot in the courtyard…”
Şengül is a garden of ruins… No pain resembles that of love. “My knees, don’t bend, take my heart’s hand, lift it up…” lamented the dove inside Şengül.
“If only İsmail was not such a good man, ah if only…” Mahmut arrived at last. He came through the countries in the Balkans, İsmail went to fetch him, have him cross the border by car… İsmail plunged into new dreams. Mahmut, a distant member of the family. Here, he would be a travelling companion, he would find work for him, would rent a house for him, he would take care of everything, would do everything to get him a residency permit, then, he would bring over Mahmut’s wife so she could remedy Şengül’s solitude, her apathy.
They met up at the address provided by the smugglers. İsmail embraced Mahmut with joyful cries. Such an embrace, Mahmut’s bones cracked under it.
Once crossed the hardest borders, they were now on German soil. A grave music filled the car… It was a love song, mourning like their fate…
How was I to know that this desire would drive me so mad;
That my heart would become a prison, and my eyes, a river?
How was I to know that tears would carry me off like a flood,
And would throw me, like a boat, into a vast sea of blood?
That waves would beat and beat against and split this boat plank after plank
Until each plank was twisted under the weight of all this torture?
That the sea monster would lift its head and swallow the sea;
That this huge sea would dry out like a desert plaine?
That the devouring sea monster would then split this plaine,
And suddenly plunge me into a pit, like Qarun in his anger?
When these transformations occurred, nothing was left;
What do I know when the why and the what swallow one another?
Oh how numerous are the “I don’t know” — but I don’t know:
Because I have swallowed the foam of opium to forget this sea!
To be continued…
Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
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