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The alarm on my phone is set for 3:50 AM and I attempt to wake up with light taps on it. My body remains as if nailed to the bed and I don’t know what oth­er peo­ple can think about at times like this, but for me, I rail in anger against life. I even blame it with every­thing that comes to my mouth. Then, as I do each time, as I always do, I calm down, I sub­mit to my anger, pull the nails out of the bed, get up and dress myself like a good girl…

The first thing I do is to open the door to the bal­cony wide, breathe in a breath of the world, bathe my face in the black fresh­ness of night. The lunch box for my youngest, a cof­fee, a cig­a­rette, and I return to my navy blue bicy­cle, locked in front of my door. When every­thing is still in dark­ness and quiet­ness every­where, most peo­ple are asleep when I take to the road.

I then come across oth­ers who don’t sleep either, who get up and go to work, as I do, and also, those return­ing to their homes after their night shift, tired, exhausted.

Five kilo­me­ters stretch out between my home and my job. One street fur­ther, there is a bak­ery in an alley giv­ing out on a wide avenue and, fac­ing the avenue, large mil­i­tary bar­racks. Although these bar­racks have now lost their for­mer pow­er, old war tanks are still repaired there, they serve as a huge oper­at­ing room. On some days around 4 AM, a line of tanks comes out of the huge met­al gate, they look like dark iron coffins with their cater­pil­lar tracks, their engi­neer­ing adapt­ed to all cli­mates, new­ly restored. With their regen­er­at­ed organs, they form like a large herd of mon­sters, march­ing toward improb­a­ble poor coun­tries, to rip their bel­lies open.

Occa­sion­al­ly, peace move­ments orga­nize demon­stra­tions in front of these bar­racks, but its a waste of time, because the busi­ness was set­tled a long time ago, the coffins already loaded onto the wagons…

How do I know all this? Well, because there was a time when we owned that bak­ery… Back in the days when we were a fam­i­ly. At a time when I hugged my chil­dren against my chest, breast­fed them, days when I took them to the parks, swim­ming, out for walks. Now they are grown. Although they go on call­ing me “mom­myyyy” behind my back, long gone are the voic­es in which they pierced my heart when say­ing those words.

Bar­racks and a bak­ery. Such a para­dox; one con­sumes, the oth­er pro­duces… One smears the inno­cent in red blood, the oth­er feeds bel­lies with white flour.

Is that why we acknowl­edge bread before the four sacred books, kiss it and hold it to our fore­head? 1 And thus, I instant­ly become the bak­ery while the Bar­racks act as the Mas­ter, con­trol­ling the bakery’s cash register.

There it is, the bak­ery with its four huge eyes, always open; even when I pass by it quick­ly and bear down on the ped­als, it sees me every morn­ing and howls behind me, and its cry makes me shiv­er. It bears down on my heart, the way the tanks do. And it says this, pre­cise­ly: “Bear down, bear down more quick­ly, faster, you idiotttt!…”

It does this every time because it also knows that I have no oth­er choice than to go through here. But I’ve decid­ed that one of these days soon, I’l grab the bas­tard by the col­lar, stick my face up close to its four huge eyes and, with all my anger and my pain, I will say to it: “Tell me, oven, tell me how you laid a trap on your com­rade, Eye, tak­ing a bead, how you pressed down on the trig­ger. Bam!”

Tell me, tell me how we were betrayed, come on, tell me !…” 

I bear down on the ped­als, faster, faster, faster… Dark­ness, everywhere…Having crossed the iso­lat­ed back alley, I’ll feel bet­ter when I reach the main street where ran­dom cars and bicy­cles move about. A bit fur­ther, on the bicy­cle paths, I will reach my work place. My work place, like an octo­pus, spread­ing its yel­low lights in the night, shoot­ing out through the hun­dreds of win­dows, twist­ing its arms, wait­ing for me.

The entire town gets washed from this place, all the garbage col­lect­ed, all the pub­lic toi­lets, streets, kinder­gar­dens, all exist­ing munic­i­pal pub­lic ser­vices get cleaned up from this place. The town is cleared of its filth, its cor­ro­sion and its stink, thanks to the sweat of migrant work­ers, work­ing from this place.

In front of this big rec­tan­gu­lar five-storey build­ing, an impos­ing blue lion rears up. On this lion, an inscrip­tion in white let­ter­ing; EAD…2. Card in hand, the god­ly pow­er open­ing all doors, I reg­is­ter my time on arrival: 4:45…I take the ele­va­tor to the sec­ond floor in a closed-off and glassed-in sec­tion, grab a set of five keys, then those of the vehi­cle I’ll be using. Every­thing is in order now.

Vic­to­ria is wait­ing for me on the first floor. We go down to the garage. The South­ern side is for us. At this time of day, there are four oth­er groups like ours. All migrants… We dis­perse into the town’s open arms, and with god’s help, we will wash, swal­low, lick down every­where and leave every­thing spotless!

Soon, along with Vic­to­ria, after clean­ing two child care cen­ters con­sist­ing of large build­ings with dozens of rooms, eleven san­i­tary instal­la­tions, sports and game rooms, we will pour boil­ing water over the cof­fee we brought from home, light a cig­a­rette, and thumb our noses at our tired­ness for a while.

We are in charge of clean­ing two kinder­gar­dens, two youth estab­lish­ments, three pub­lic san­i­tary instal­la­tions, end­ing with an 18th cen­tu­ry vil­la, nation­al­ized by left­wingers and now used by dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al groups. Both of us are quick, we work fast and well…

Every morn­ing, at 6:30, I call my youngest to wake him, remind him not to be late at school, not to for­get his break­fast and to close the door properly.

Vic­to­ria, new­ly arrived from the Balka­ns has a 16 year old son here; her oth­er chil­dren are in her coun­try. Because of his vio­lences, the sep­a­ra­tion from her hus­band was vio­lent also. She was liv­ing in a one-room apart­ment and, when her son arrived, she gave him her bed. She was sleep­ing on a couch in the entrance. Vic­to­ria often had back pain.

She is a pious Chris­t­ian, Vic­to­ria. On Sun­days, she goes to church, lights can­dles for her chil­dren, and prays… We we fin­ish our work, we leave the keys at the kinder­gar­den, the car in the garage, reg­is­ter our end of work time on our cards, and Vic­to­ria takes off for anoth­er small job. On week­ends, in a restau­rant, she han­dles the ser­vice, the dish­wash­ing and the mop­ping of the floor. This is a lux­u­ri­ous restau­rant, patron­ized by bureau­crats, local nota­bles. One of them has a reach that ren­ders him untouchable…

It is quite dif­fi­cult here, find­ing and rent­ing apart­ments. A while ago, all the pub­lic hous­ing was sub­ject­ed to pri­va­ti­za­tion to firms that often changed own­er­ship. Which is why, although Vic­to­ria renewed her request every year to the social hous­ing organ­ism, like many oth­ers like her, she couldn’t obtain a decent roof to put over her head.

What was Vic­to­ria to do? Poor dear, while serv­ing shish-kebab to the bureau­crat who fre­quent­ed the restau­rant, she opened up to him on the top­ic. Noth­ing could be sim­pler, he would solve the whole thing imme­di­ate­ly, no prob­lem. Vic­to­ria is aver­age size, with blond hair, fulls lips, per­fect eye­brows, a rav­ish­ing woman. She had to move faster than her age allowed, and grew up quick­ly. The entire respon­si­bil­i­ty for her shat­tered home rest­ed on her shoulders.

As she was rejoic­ing, telling her­self that her hous­ing wor­ries would soon be solved, the man bent toward Victoria’s ear while she was tak­ing her cig­a­rette break out­side and whis­pered: “I’ll find you a pret­ty lit­tle apart­ment, with a bal­cony, not expen­sive and down­town, if you want. I’ll do it now with one phone call. But I have one condition…”

- What is it?

- You sleep with me, and the mat­ter is settled… 

Vic­to­ria gives me such a sor­row­ful look that my heart breaks. “Rapun­zel, let down your hair so the creep can climb the gold­en stair…” I say.

Days go by like this, nights, weeks, the floors are cleaned, get dirty again, are cleaned again.

The bird flies off, rests on a branch, the cat miaows under the tree, I smoke a cig­a­rette on my bal­cony, I cook, I clean my own space, I clean oth­er people’s homes, I meet inter­est­ing peo­ple, I lis­ten to ter­ri­fy­ing stories…On Sat­ur­day nights, I write…

Per­haps I would like to pour out there every­thing gath­ered up in me?

Then I meet those who read what I write.

They look at my life as a bay­o­net and ask “you’re the one writ­ing these texts?”

Not at tall, ladies and gen­tle­men”, I tell them, “who am I to allow myself the right to write?”… I evade and take off, and I like being alone some­times. I con­sid­er them, and I think that my wor­ries wouldn’t even add up to a pair of san­dals for any­one else. Hav­ing been around them, despite every­thing, I like people.

Vic­to­ria final­ly found her apart­ment… She moved in, fur­nished it, she final­ly had a room of her own. She even has a bal­cony where she can smoke. It’s down­town, no more expen­sive than the old one.

Vic­to­ria no longer has back aches, she no longer uses heat­ing salves to ease her back pains. One night, Victoria’s back pain worked its way toward her heart. Victoria’s heart is in pain. Victoria’s heart suf­fers. Vic­to­ria suf­fo­cates. Vic­to­ria… my dear, my sister.

Floors get dirty, floors get cleaned, floor get dirty all the time. Myself, I fall in love with Per­sian music, I lis­ten to Sha­jar­i­an, I take off for far­away lands. I don’t lis­ten to any psy­chol­o­gists, my lit­tle one comes into my bed, I hug him as close as the light of day, I kiss him, I take in his scent, and I even lie to him: “I’m cold, dear heart, I’m cold, hold me very very close”. He hugs me in his arms, I clear away the day’s table, and I fall asleep, clasp­ing my son.

It is 3:50…

Next week, per­haps, I will go to the bak­ery, I will show up in the mid­dle of the avenue, between the bak­ery and the bar­racks and, no mat­ter the cost, I’ll set­tle my accounts with time.

To be continued…

Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
Illustrations Naz Oke adoptart.net

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Suna Arev
Née en 1972 à Uzun­tar­la (Elazığ).Dans une famille de huits enfants, elle est immergée dès son plus jeune âge, par­mi les tra­vailleurs agri­coles à la tâche. Tel un miroir qui date de son enfance, la péri­ode du coup d’Etat mil­i­taire du 12 sep­tem­bre 1980 a for­mé sa vie poli­tique. Diplômée de l’École pro­fes­sion­nelle de com­merce d’Elazığ, elle a vécu, en grandeur nature les com­porte­ments fas­cistes et racistes dans sa ville. Mère de qua­tre enfants, depuis 1997, elle habite en Alle­magne, pour des raisons politiques.
Suna Arev was born in 1972 in the vil­lage of Uzun­tar­la, Elazığ dis­trict. From a fam­i­ly of eight chil­dren she became one of the agri­cul­tur­al work­ers at an ear­ly age. The mil­i­tary coup d’état of Sep­tem­ber 12 1980 served as a mir­ror in shap­ing her polit­i­cal out­look. After obtain­ing a diplo­ma from the Elazığ Pro­fes­sion­al Busi­ness School, she expe­ri­enced the full force of fas­cist and racist behav­iours in her town. She has lived in Ger­many since 1997, for polit­i­cal rea­sons. She is the moth­er of four children.