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Once upon a time, there was talk of the loves between Ferhat and Şirin, Tahir and Zühre, Aslı and Kerem or yet again Romeo and Juliet, impossible loves or thwarted ones whose names never left people’s lips…
Şengül and her god are the only ones to know how much inner suffering she endured over the years, how many fears and deprivations. To how many conversations did she lend an ear, waiting for “some news, a whisper”? Pain over Mahmut dug deep inside of Şengül for years, driving her crazy…
And now? Her husband, the children’s father, İsmail, who knew nothing about it, was bringing Mahmut, the man she loved, right to her feet.
Ah İsmail, he had such a way of saying Şengül that, each time, a thousand Şengül’s seemed to pour out of his mouth.
Through this door, both her husband and the man she loved would enter.
A hurricane arises, the wind spreads its lamentations over the earth, ruining everything in its wake, can you see it? Şengül is shaken by this gust, like an uprooted tree, she is on the verge of falling.
Is it truly Mahmut, the one who enters? Is that flour sprinkled in his hair? Where is the coal-black hair of yesteryear? And what is that well of sorrow in his first look? As if every sadness in the world, finding no other place to go, had settled in those two eyes. What is more, he was trembling.
İsmail, so delighted, with a wide smile on his face, every childish joy gathered against his chest. Şengül and Mahmut’s hearts, beating, pounding, boom boom. Mahmut gazed on Şengül as if she were a heroine…
Did Germany’s industrial rains pour out of the sky on to the blackened sidewalks? They poured down. Mahmut also became an exile in this country? He did. Did the flame of love declared in the courtyard follow its course here also? It did.
Henceforth, there was no longer a distance of thousands of kilometers between them, but only a 30-kilometer road that the lovers could cover in a single surge. Whenever he found the time on weekends, İsmail showed Mahmut around town. Sometimes, he greeted him at home. And İsmail was pleased whenever the conversation dealt with the courtyard, with its sorrows, and sometimes with its joys.
Şengül was strange, she plunged as if absorbed. On her lip played the semblance of a smile, like the remains of a morning wind, a kind of vitality, a pink shadow. During one of the conversations about the village, Mahmut said he was not happy in his marriage.
“I was unable to love, brother, what can I do about it”, he said, looking diving into Şengül’s eyes.
“You shouldn’t have afflicted the poor girl,” İsmail said.
From where would İsmail have known what it was like not to love? If Şengül were to put the question, he would have raced to the mountain to bring her snow, he would have torn out his heart to offer it to her in her hand. “You know best…” he said and was silent. What else could he say?
For two years, Mahmut was part of the family. İsmail found work moonlighting on weekends “even if you don’t love her, don’t destroy your family” he advised. What is known as living occupied the time with many things, there were days where tears replaced laughter and death occupied the space of life.
Black winds blew in İsmail’s home. There was an agitated state of denial. Şengül did not allow İsmail a single touch, or a single caress. They were like a sister and a brother sharing the same bed.
“Let’s separate”, she said, thus sending the final bullet into İsmail’s heart. Fog over İsmail’s head, like on mountain tops… One couldn’t tell anymore if he was still of this world or had already passed over. The bread he ate had no taste nor salt. This silent Şengül knew the roads by heart. Mahmut would arrive and leave when İsmail was absent. The Turkish neighbors in the building gave İsmail funny looks. İsmail pleaded with Şengül – nothing doing, he begged her, nothing doing. Nothing worked, nothing.
Each passing day was a torment but “it was impossible, you couldn’t live this way”. İsmail was determined, no matter what, he would resolve the matter. İsmail gave up his weekend moonlighting. He would speak with Şengül… A suspicion had landed on his heart, had turned into a worm that would kill him with its gnawing.
That day, the children were sent to the cinema. They had to be alone, him and Şengül. She would tell him what the problem was, openly. İsmail would lower his head faced with her reasons, but he needed to know. They were alone in the living room with Şirin’s photo as sole witness overseeing everything.
Crouching, İsmail begged with Şengül: “What is wrong with you, you for whom I would die? What is it, you for whom I burn? What is it, what is it, tell me, I must know…”
Şengül sighed deeply. Mentally, she went out to the courtyard and returned. She sat mentally on the threshold of this courtyard and spoke “I want us to separate”. “Why?” asked İsmail. She stuttered, “the reason… I can’t manage to love you as a husband.” İsmail stood up, walked twice around the room.
“But Şengül, I love you…” he laid a hand on his heart “I love you to the point of killing myself…” He crouched again at Şengül’s feet. She sighed, unburdened her pain. Today, she would rid herself of its weight, everything seemed so heavy for her now, much too heavy.
“I was a little girl, my breasts were barely growing in, a child delighted with wearing her older sister’s flowered dresses, a child who spun her skirt in the wind… A child who considered the tinkling of her sister’s necklace you put around my neck. I did not know what love meant, I did not know what being married was about…
Then you arrived, you were my brother-in-law. Brother-in-law İsmail, I loved you as such. I am unhappy İsmail, I love you like a brother-in-law; let’s separate İsmail, I beg you, let’s separate, look, isn’t this bad for you also?”
Şengül stopped speaking, she was sobbing, trembling.
İsmail stood up, paced the room, again and again, then he stopped in front of Şirin’s photo, looked at it for several minutes.
Şengül said: “She’s the one you love, truly, I am not Şirin, İsmail, I am not Şirin”. İsmail, so anxious, so sad, wanted to put a question, but he was struggling inside, for fear of hurting Şengül. But a suspicion burned inside him.
“All right”, he said, “in that case, go a bit to your parents, relax, think things out until you can decide quietly. Then, we will do what will make you happy.”
“I won’t go,” answered Şengül, “I will die and I won’t go…”
İsmail started pacing across the room again, then he crouched once more, on his knees in front of Şengül and asked, almost begging: “Do you have anything to tell me, can I hear it?”
Şengül’s heart was beating as if it would tear itself away from her, a silence fell, a deathly silence…
İsmail took her hands, looked at her with imploring eyes. “OK, do you have anything to say? We’ll do as you wish.”
In her pain, Şengül mumbled “Mahmut”. Instantly, she threw the weight of the courtyard off her back.
“Mahmut? Mahmut? Mahmut, what, Mahmuuut?”… İsmail paced inside his home as if walking in a public place, he drew circles, came, went, stopped in front of Şengül and in front of Şirin’s photo.
“Since when?” İsmail asked calmly, like a vanquished, exhausted warrior. “The courtyard,” Şengül answered, “the courtyard…” she said in the same quiet way.
İsmail did not so much as lift a finger against Şengül, he did not want to offend her… A silence like a tomb filled the room. İsmail, knifed in the back. The iron of treason is like none other.
“This is a catastrophe, a terrible disaster,” he said.
İsmail held his head in his hands, tore out his hair, filled his hands with it. He clenched his fists. Blood rose to his face, his eyes seemed like bullets about to leave their orbits. “I love him, he loves me also,” Şengül said, and what was meant to be, happened.
İsmail stood up, mouthed a long “aaah”, headed for the kitchen and grabbed the bread knife.
Growling in anger “Mahmut huh? Mahmut…” he came back into the living room, looked at Şengül, then at Şirin’s photo. He struck the opaque glass in the living room door, the room filled with broken glass. Şengül had pulled her knees up to her belly, trembling, sobbing.
“I’m going to kill that son of a bitch, I’m going to kill him” İsmail said while his hand bled… He stormed out like a hurricane.
What kind of fear was it? This fear that will keep Şengül shaking like a leaf for the rest of her life. She grabbed the phone, called the camp where Mahmut was sheltered….
“Run, Mahmut, run and save your life. İsmail knows everything, he will kill. You, get away from here, leave!”
She spoke with Mahmut for the last time. She heard his voice for the last time. Everything was for the last time…
She cleaned the bloodied shards of glass with her tears. The children were about to come home.
That day, İsmail did not find Mahmut at the camp, nor the day after. He tracked Mahmut for three months, but did not find him. He then headed to the shacks in the vineyard where he moolighted… He stayed there several days, painfully digesting his sorrow. Then he went home.
The house was one of bereavement, a house where one cried over a corpse…
Just like Şengül, İsmail was no longer anything more than a bag of bones. Şengül trembled constantly, she had trouble lifting a glass of water to her mouth. İsmail saw that the children were in decline, but still they loved Şengül, despite everything.
He took Şengül’s trembling hands one last time “let’s forget everything, let’s give ourselves another chance, let’s settle in a country where no ones knows us, I love you Şengül, come on, do not sacrifice us,” he said.
Şengül looked at İsmail with sorrow “I can’t İsmail, I can’t , I can’t die every moment under your eyes, and I love Mahmut, I will never manage it with you.” She went on repeating this…
What a sharp dagger is treason, how it pierces the heart, and how it makes it bleed?
İsmail never stopped tracking Mahmut…
At last, he learned that Mahmut had gone back home and the village was shaken by the story of Şengül and Mahmut. His father Seydali kept saying over the phone, “kill her, kill her, kill…”
How could İsmail have sacrificed Şengül?
He would kill Mahmut, not Şengül, he would kill him, he had no other choice. “This story will have the best of me,” he said.
As the melting snows in the mountains pour down their waters in a deluge, the flood carries everything before it; thus was their home smashed, ruined. Even the children had trouble breathing in the air of the house. İsmail left, he went after Mahmut to kill him, to fill the courtyard with his blood.
Toward midnight, he found himself in town, by walking two, even three hours, he would reach his native village. He walked through the night darkness and made it there. Unnoticed by others, he hid and made his way to the courtyard. Two steps away, the lights were on in his brothers’ houses, in that of his father Seydali. Their voices reached him like waves, resonating in a well. In front of their door was a bale of hay and, in front of the bale, the tractor he had bought. He was the only one to know with what toil and sweat he had offered them this prosperous life. All of them were happy, none of them had known a calvary like his. Deep inside himself, he felt resentment, mixed with anger, but set it aside… He accepted his sacrifice with great dignity.
He opened the courtyard door tied by a rope. The roofless courtyard, delimitated by the walls of the small houses, seemed like a headless body. In it were stacked kindling and bricks of dung for wintertime. This courtyard, formerly Armenian, had belonged to a family killed with bayonets. Refugees had been installed there later, arrived from elsewhere. Then his father Seydali, also an exile, had settled there… This courtyard where he had been born, had grown up, had married, where he had lived both hard times and happy days, resembled him so much. Those headless walls were slowly falling into ruins, how much longer would they remain standing under these rains They were collapsing, just as he was.
The weather was cold, he raised the collar of his vest up to his chin. On the threshold of his own little house, he stretched himself like a bow… He bore a sharpened dagger against his chest, his warm tears fell to the ground of the courtyard. How alone he was and so desperate.
Everything was settled in advance. Mahmut’s small house, the time at which he arrived, the time at which he left, the road he followed… Did a single door exist that would not open for a few pennies? Before he had arrived, money had settled everything.
Mahmut had found a job as a driver for a bus company and tomorrow would be his day off at the house…In this courtyard that belonged to him, İsmail was like a stranger nonethless. Hair, and beard disheveled, bloodied eyes. In this courtyard where he was born and innocent child, tomorrow he would become an assassin.
He would kill “that ingrate devoid of honor”.
The night darkened in the courtyard, he said goodbye to all his memories. He distanced himself from the village, still on the sly, staying out of sight. He was like a dry branch, so frail, so dead, as if about to snap at any moment.
He walked for an hour, using shortcuts and reached the road into town. He lifted a hand, stopped a delivery truck and climbed aboard. He would get off before reaching town and head to the house Mahmut had built in a field inherited from his father… This is what he did.
He then hid at the foot of a mulberry tree by roadside, on the path Mahmut would cross to reach his home. The lights were on in Mahmut’s house. He imagined his wife, his two young girls. Then, he thought of Mahmut’s hands moving on Şengül’s body. He touched the dagger against his chest, and started to wait. He waited for hours… There was nothing but the sound of insects and the voice of the anger inside him, “without honor”…
He jumped at the sound of a distant motor, a car stopped at the crossroad. Mahmut got out, saluted the driver, the car drove off.
Mahmut lit a cigarette. Its spark headed toward İsmail in the night. The sound of footsteps drew nearer, nearer still…
İsmail grabbed his dagger firmly, jumped out of his hiding place and faced Mahmut suddenly. Mahmut jumped. “Mahmut, Mahmut without honor !” yelled İsmail and he plunged the knife into the belly, without Mahmut having the time to understand what was happening. Everything was over in a few seconds.
Mahmut was stunned. They stood chest to chest. Mahmut grabbed the knife with both hands, he was holding on to his own blood, he was lamenting, then he looked at İsmail with wide open eyes… How long was that look, filled with calls for help… How painful was that look. That final look İsmail would carry inside for as long as he lived.
“I loved her, brother, I truly loved her,” said Mahmut and collapsed.
İsmail lowered himself next to Mahmut and, as if he wanted to be one with him in order to incarnate a lament. Slowly, Mahmut’s groans fell silent…
Mahmut’s blood had splashed onto him. He headed back to the road to town, walking like a cadaver, without looking back. He had internalized a new sorrow; Mahmut’s look…That same morning, he turned himself in to the police.
On the spot where she stood, Şengül gave a start. A thin warm pain showed up and settled in her heart, she laid a trembling hand over her left breast, “Mahmuuuut…” she said, burning from within.
İsmail had never so much as cut the head off a chicken. Here he was now, a murderer with bloody hands… Tomorrow, they would call him a hero. As far as he was concerned, he would look at everyone with disgust.
The years went by… Şengül and her children survived with social aid. Not a single servant of god spoke to Şengül. Each look, each word struck her bowels, like a bullet. Her family had disowned her, her trembling increased, she hardly spoke anymore, her belly caved in, she looked like a skeleton.
Formerly, İsmail had handed over to the courtyard almost all the salary he had earned in the wealth of Germany. He had made sacrifices depriving his children, mortaging their future. Now, life went by differently, each decision taken without real thought in the past dug holes in the present…
His son Emre became a neighborhood kaid, he became a dealer for drug gangs. He was going to become “rich, very rich”. He rented his own apartment, the gangs provided him with a silver handled gun… Now all the places of ill-repute were his favorite hunting grounds.
Eren, that frail, pale child, looked up to his kaid brother with pride and admiration.
After school, he often went to Emre whom he considered like his father. One of those nights, he went over to his big brother’s as usual. Emre came home late at night, drunk, from a nightclub. He pulled out his gun and put it on the kitchen table. Eren could not take his eyes away from this symbol of power. His brother smiled, “there it is, the miracle that opens every door”, he said, picking up the gun and swivelling it around his finger, as the bums do in American movies.
Then he turned the gun toward his young brother “Boom! Boom!” he laughed to frighten Eren. He scared Eren who shook, “Stop it, brother!” he said “don’t do that!”…
The sound from the shot was only too real. Eren’s bloodied face on the ground. The innocent child born of Şengül in the pain of love, no longer lived either.
At three o’clock in the middle of the night, the phone call arrived for Şengül; her son, Emre was on the line, crying, sobbing and repeating “I killed him, I killed Eren, I killed him, I killed him…”
That night, Caïn and Abel had returned…
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!
Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
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