TWO MOTHERS

TWO MOTHERS

 

SUZAN SAMANCI – INTERNATIONAL PEN

 

THIS RIVER TIGRIS, how she rises and overflows! She’s gone berserk again. A soft breeze is bringing the scent of newly ploughed soil and of narcissi. How nice to feel the warmth of the sun on my back! Well, it’ s almost time for the third cemre… How many cemres, how many springs have passed, and yet the pain in my heart has not eased; it keeps growing and gnawing away at my bowels. It’s not easy to endure such pain: he disappeared right in front of my eyes… If it had been death, I would have mourned over his grave. Son, how difficult it was to bring you up in all this poverty! Did you take no pity on us? We’ ve been crying night and day, our eyes riveted on the TV screen, on the pages of newspapers, our hearts in our mouths…

 

It was a beautiful day just like today. He had come back from school; without talking to me or looking at my face, he kept staring beyond the Tigris. He didn’t like what I cooked anymore; after eating just one stuffed chard he pushed the plate away, went out into the courtyard, and kept gazing at the mist beyond the river. Then, without ever glancing my way, he asked for his green coat, the one he’d recently bought. When he leaned over to lace up his sports shoes, his face fumed rosy. Son, how handsome you looked with your light beard, your henna- colored moustache! As he went down the stairs he searched through his pockets and looked inside the wallet his uncle had sent from prison. I ran to the window when the bell of the garden gate tinkled; he was putting on his coat. He turned his collar up, put his hands, into his pockets, and started to walk away. When he saw Şirvan, our neighbor’s little girl sitting at her doorstep, he stopped, stroked her hair and gave her something – later they said it was a five thousand lira bill. Before rounding the corner he stopped for a moment, as if he was about to turn back and take a look. I couldn’t take my eyes off his long legs, his broad shoulders. Did I know it then? My heart was filled with fear. I went to visit my neighbours, from one house to the next, to get rid of the anxiety I felt; and when the night fell, I didn’t want to go back home. Later, Filit’s son took me home. My heart was fluttering like a bird, I was sweating. I saw the girls sitting on the divan embroidering their trousseaux and I yelled at them about the courtyard being covered with mud. I wished to smother my husband who was snoring in bed. I looked at the clock on the wall. It was early yet.

 

Spring heat strikes fiercely and makes everyone lethargic. These linnets, they are piercing my ears. I feel as if I’ m swaying in the blue void of the sky. One moment my ears start ringing, the next, darkness sinks into my soul. Memories seem to spring from every corner. They slowly surround me. I don’t have anybody any more. I’ll be alone forever. I’ll sit in front of the window and count the neat Mondays, the slovenly drunken Sundays. Here comes the postman waddling again. If he would only bring letters as he used to do, grinning and lisping! If only I could melt away in the letters starting ‘ Mom’, if only I could caress his slanted handwriting, desolate photos falling from among the stained sheets of paper. I was a mother, a widowed mother, oh God, how can one endure such pain!

 

At weekends, when I was exhausted by constant sewing. I would rush to his school. With long leaps he would come to me and hug me. He always felt embarrassed when handing me his dirty clothes. ‘I’ m making work for you again,’ he used to say with a warm and shy look. We would walk past shop windows and booksellers, then sit in the park under acacias and drink something. His friends, with their youthful laughter, would sometimes join us. I felt younger when I was sit with them. On winter nights I would sit by the window, my hands busy with my work, my eyes expectant. He would never ring the bell; creasing his nose, he would gently tap on the window-pane. He would clean his shoes on the doormat with extreme care. After taking his bath, he would sit on the pillow next to the stove and start taking the bastings out of the sewing, as if that was his duty. He had learned to play bağlama from Sadi, the son our next-door neighbour. While the tea stepped on the stove, he would start playing his bağlama softly; sometimes he would even hum the tune. My hands would become stiff; I would stop to watch him. My heart would fill with strength; my body would shake with vibrations of happiness. Noticing my glance and as if he was irritated by my doting, he would stand up, hang his bağlama on the wall, pour tea into the cups which I kept behind the stove, smell the aroma and say, ‘Hmm, bergamot…’

 

I walked up and down in the room. The clock seemed to stand still. When it finally struck two, I went out on to the exedra. Everyone was asleep. The breeze from the river brought the smell of clay and rotten plants. It felt as if in my heart a rabid puppy was turning round and round. I was restless. I lay down on the paved stones. Now and then my daughters came and took a furtive look from the windows. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. I scratched the cement I lay on. I felt as if I was burning on charcoal. I went to the cistern; when I drenched myself with ice-cold water, a hawser broke in my heart and I wept. My voice expanded in the dark; in the end I was afraid of my own voice. Even the dogs echoed it. With my wet clothes, I lay down on the wooden divan in the courtyard. I heard the hushed sobs of my daughters. Then I started to count the cars leaving the city: one, two, three…

 

I used to lie to him; when I gave him the secretly bought almond kernels and walnuts; I would tell him they had been brought by some neighbour. He never learned that I had bought them for him. In the summer we used to have a wonderful time. Early in the morning we would water the plants in the back- yard; when the grass and flowers were still gleaming, we would go under the trellis covered with ivy and bindweeds to avoid the sunlight penetrating through the black cherry and plum trees. When I was busy with my sewing, he would read, playing with an ivy rose in his hand or munching on the fruit he had picked from the trees. Sometimes he would fall asleep with the book on his chest. Waking up to the noise of the neighbours who came for a visit, he would say ‘I’ll just go and take a walk’, and then leave. When he came back in the evening, he would bring some Maraş ice-cream. He would laugh and say: ‘I must marry a girl from Maraş so that her father will supply us with this…’

 

My hands shake, I cannot sew anymore. I’m scared of the furniture in the house. Loneliness, desolation is overwhelming me. It’s daytime; I’ m scared of the light outside. Oh, God, should I go out into the garden? The gate opening into the backyard has become rusty, it creaks so loudly. I feel nauseated; weeds have overtaken the garden, it smells like a graveyard and chills me. My eyes become blurred: I see soldiers running… The fog rising over the mountains… My son is running through the fog… He falls, blood gushes from his forehead …. Did I hit my head against the door? Was it the doorbell? A telegram… Telegram… Your son, stop, died for his fatherland, stop, in the line of duty, stop…

 

Was it a place called Şırnak… My son, where is he ?… I want my son back… I want him back…

 

Just before dawn, I woke to my husband’s tobacco-smelling breath. ‘Piroz, wake up. Come inside,’ he sad differently. I was stiff all over, my voice had become hoarse. For days on end, I had waited. I chatted with the clock on the wall, I kept looking at his white labcoat. Every night, I took the artificial bones out of the cupboard, the ones he’d put on his lap to study; I caressed them. The wound in my stomach keeps troubling me; he was going to have me operated on… This irresponsible bum, he should repair the roof this year. I must go downstairs; tomorrow we’ll have the henna night for our second daughter… The sun has gone down beyond the mountains. If only I could reach those mountains! The birds keep singing. Son, how I miss your face! The Tigris, she knows my sorrow. I pour out grief into her, I pray, I send you my greetings sometimes, do you hear it, I wonder…

 

Translated by Şebnem Susam



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