Daring to Remember

The Bee

  • Read in Turkish by the author
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  • An excerpt from The Wasp by Müge İplikçi
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A short story by Turkish author Müge İplikçi, translated by Berrak Göçer

She mumbled: “There, it’s the bee! Oh, son!”
 
The woman waited. She ran her hands over the boy’s forehead. His fever had not calmed down since yesterday. She had been carrying around the weight of that fever on her shoulders for hours. But her weary lungs let her come only so far. They certainly could not keep on walking like this. If only it was all over! Deep inside, she yearned for it to be all over. She was tired, extremely tired; she was reduced to skin and bones. And now, on top of it all, this! It was hard enough to carry herself, now she also had to carry the child on her back. But she was exhausted. Now she had to wait. She had to wait.

At least until the boy could get up again… She saw the fever seep into the child under the scorching shade of the August heat from a scrawny walnut tree. Then voices. The crickets were chirping relentlessly. Although the grandmother had suggested that they could wait too, the woman had replied, “No, let us rest for a while, then we’ll catch up with you.”

The grandmother was her usual self: too kind, protective and observant. Always. An angel without wings. She had a golden heart under which the woman felt crushed; it consistently suffocated and annihilated her; especially after everyone was gone, after death upon death, mourning news upon mourning news filled the house, and they were the only ones left in it. She was not like a mother-in-law, but like a mother; not like an old woman, but like a peer; not like the mother of her husband, but like one of her own kin. Kind acts followed one another. Kindness was a prison for the woman now; it was poverty, slavery… Food, clean beds, child care, house cleaning… The grandmother did it all, with compassion, understanding, good will and love. However, what the woman needed more than any of this was a life. The air she breathed with her husband was stolen from her, the privacy of her home was diminished by premature deaths, her hopes were lost and her dreams were gone. On top of all that, the grandmother took her under her wings and it suffocated the woman; she could not breathe. She was not even thirty yet. But she was through. After all the intricate tricks destiny had played on her, she felt as if she needed malice around her. She was ashamed to feel that way, yet she could not run from it. She let out a big sigh. She gently moved her shoulders up and down.

The boy moaned as a shiver ran through the depths of his body. The woman mumbled again: “Oh, son!” The fever had already taken over his body. The woman poured some water into her hands from the tankard and ran them over the boy’s feverish forehead. The skin was so hot that it immediately sucked in the moisture; all that was left was the woman’s dry hand. That same hand would caress his hair and hum lullabies to him in the smoky light of the oil lamp that cut through the night, in the upstairs bedroom of their home in Edirne. “Oh…”

The boy heard her voice through the bright memories he had lost in the gloom of being on the road for days. As she called to him, he felt like his mother was looking at him through the steam rising from the kitchen of their home. The Kavala cookies were fresh from the oven, now sugar coating the view with their steam. This was from the brisk quiver of the powdered sugar from the cookie rising into the air; the moment when butter touched the flour, the sugar and life. A deep and quick breath softly shook the child’s body from head to toe. He had been breathing this way for a while. The woman pushed away with hatred the ants that climbed over the small rug they were sitting on, crouching onto the child’s bare – now of a blue-gray color – ankles. She crushed some of them in her palm; she resented these beings for not knowing their proper place. They were the reason why purple veins were popping out on her skinny neck: “Just what we need!” she said, scolding them…

The weary, tiresome steps of the convoy slowly flowed before them endlessly like the shadows of poor trees falling into the River Maritza. Dozens of children, elderly and wounded people. Heavy, short of breath, weary. A few of them called out to him: “What’s wrong, my lad?!” A few were figures from Didymoteicho, even Sofulu with whom she came to Edirne when she was a new bride. Neighbors, distant in-laws… Didymoteicho… “Oh,” she sighed. “Every single Didymoteicho girl was as robust as a sycamore tree back then.”

She did not have this breathlessness that suffocated her “back then”; “back then” days and nights were so refreshing, just like drinking cold water. There once was a bride who was all smiles with that refreshed feeling. That bride would go running to everyone’s aid, never stop, carrying the responsibilities of the whole household on the shoulders of her long and lean body like a sleek carpet-saddlebag and never feel tired. This was before the gangs began surrounding the houses. Before their savage voices piercing the night and calling out the young men within the houses. Before pouches of gold coins were thrown into the darkness, allowing them to regain their breath for a while. Before they ran out of pouches and gold coins.

And then? Then came sorrow.

They had covered the way from Didymoteicho to Edirne with a similar sorrow. That’s how it was when they were leaving Didymoteicho. The Balkan War could break out at any minute, in any corner back then, it was difficult to be patient. A growing brutality had taken over each village. A brutality practiced by men upon men, by religion upon religion, by nation upon nation. There could be no winners in this quarrel. No winners, all right, but the die was cast. Everyone in Western Thrace was grief-stricken. They were more and more repressed. No one had the time or the strength to give anyone their due.

On that road from Didymoteicho to Edirne, the woman had remembered the wedding that took place a few months ago and cried. Her Hasan, her husband, the son of their neighbors, her childhood sweetheart was there with her. “Don’t be scared,” he had told her. “We’ll build our home in Edirne, we’ll start over again.”

Was that really what had happened in Edirne?

No.

For one thing, home had meant nothing to the woman at that point. Home was the place you left in the middle of the night one night and never returned to. Home was consuming the past within yourself at every step, at every breath, it was living your life as you erased the memories and it was keeping quiet as you lived. Home was getting lost along with everything else. Something would always be missing, and the bitterness of not being able to forget completely too. But… You would still remember. It was remembering absence, like remembering the taste of honey, but He was always there, even in the absence. Seemingly new words whose meanings were neither past nor present would be added to your vocabulary. To leave, now meant crossing over the fences of that old house and leaving; to fall, now meant falling into that deep well in the backyard of that old house; to be locked up, now meant being locked up in the attic of that old house… After that came a homeless life, but one that was intertwined with “home.” Home meant a mansion. The mansion in Didymoteicho. Home was the moist smell of the creaking stairs, the wood-carvings on the ceiling, the bay window upstairs, the next-door neighbor’s house that could be seen through that bay window, the many days and many nights when rooms opened upon more rooms and wished each other happiness as they did so. Home was the songs accompanying those days and nights:

There is a spring in the middle of Monastir
Oh spring, my dear spring
Didymoteicho girls are like sycamore trees
We sing and dance

The move from the house in Didymoteicho to the house in Edirne took a decade, emotionally. That was only possible under these conditions. Uneasy and silent.

Then the woman gave birth to her children, one, two, three; she experienced motherhood, so she changed a little. Temporary bliss that suddenly disappeared with the Balkan Wars and the Battle of Gallipoli. “If land means tears, I can do without it,” she said all of a sudden. Suddenly she wanted to forget absolutely everything. Especially the time when she lost her husband, her Hasan right after her little girl was born and particularly when she lost her son after having lost Hasan… She had surrendered Hasan and her younger son to a feverish disease, to the hell that is cholera. Love had been blended into the earth – and that was not good at all. And then new losses followed. She buried her parents, then her father-in-law in the soil of Edirne; she started feeling like she belonged to Edirne, not with the living, but with the dead. Again and again, she wanted to die, again and again, the grandmother saved her. That warm-hearted grandmother! That grandmother who said, “Women who know the loss of a child stick together!” That compassionate woman who said, “From now on you are not my daughter-in-law, but my own daughter, my sister, my blood.” That demented old woman who stopped her from going mad!

Now they were on the road again, with her. They felt more fatigue than fear, they were more furious than desperate. Now the destination was Istanbul, and after that, an unknown corner in Anatolia. Almost all of them knew and recognized this migration story. This knowledge now ran in their veins. It was so rooted in them that it became their names, their souls. Memories were what was left behind with this migration, without looking back. Ash-covered memories.

Could the woman start everything all over again?

All they were taking into the future was a tiny little boy melting away on her knees, a girl that was two or three kilometers away, a limping grandmother in pain, and a few pieces of kitchenware.

It would be more accurate if she said that they were “dragging” these into the future.

There, they were all being swept away before her. The blue mansion in Didymoteicho, the modest three-storey wooden house in Edirne, moments of mirth tinged with sorrow, joys hinged on grief… Bodies being swept into the future. Or were they corpses?

The woman stared vacantly at those walking before her.

Someone was calling out her name now.

Bedriye!

Bedriye would reply to almost all of them in the same distant way: “A bee stung the kid two days ago, down there in the plain; he has a fever.”

Though this fever couldn’t be from a bee sting.

Some offered to carry the child on their backs, some on their weak horses. But Bedriye knew that being an immigrant on the move meanttaking stock of every millimeter tread when venturing towards the unknown. The burden of broken hopes loaded with a few belongings and memories is barely enough for one person; no one else could benefit from it or make room for themselves. A vacant place – an excessively luxurious, unnecessary dream in immigration. So she would wait. She would wait for the fever to fall, for the shivering and the chills to subside. But the child’s body was shivering even more; the light in his eyes was fading. Bedriye knew what this wasting away meant; she knew all about it, yet she didn’t want to think about it for a single minute. She could not go on this way.

No.

Still she prayed to her God:

“Either make him better or give me the strength to leave him here!”

So Bedriye would leave without looking back. It didn’t matter where she would go. The grandmother would take care of her little girl anyhow.

The child once again imagined that he was in the wheat field where the bee stung him. This time there was no pain, no doubts and no fear. He could not make out which was blonder, the wheat ears or his hair. They swayed swiftly from one side to the other in the wind. Then the wind gave the boy a little nudge. He started to run. He ran and ran and ran. He ran to the abbey before him; he ran to the splendid pond in the middle of the abbey. Clearly the boy was at the beginning of a long dream. The water sounds merged with the coolness in the courtyard. Clearly the most innocent sounds of childhood were echoing in the water. Then his mother’s moving voice. The voice that embraced and charmed the house, the voice that carried along that beautiful song that tamed life:

There is a pond in the middle of Monastir
Oh pond, my dear pond
All didymoteicho girls are tougher
We sing and dance

There is a well in the middle of Monastir
Oh well, my dear well
All didymoteicho girls are stellar
We sing and dance

There is a spring in the middle of Monastir
Oh spring, my dear spring
All didymoteicho girls are like sycamore trees
We sing and dance

The woman gazed into the eyes that had taken refuge in the head slipping away from her hands. They were so familiar. The color of the eyes, the hazel of that color reflected in a wide forehead, tiny little dews scattered around in the hazel… They would keep wandering in the creases she had known so well since the day he was born. Even his eye sockets looked like his fathers’. His dark eyelashes and the fiery curves brushing the lids of those eyelashes. The stars circling his eyes would reflect on the eyelashes:
“Oh, son!”

But for some reason she was suddenly startled. She must have been mistaken. It was a bee, after all it was just a bee! A bee sting didn’t mean anything!
They were still going to hit the road, catch up with the grandmother and the girl, and they were going to tell each other stories.
She looked into the eyes of her son.
She looked at the sky.
She looked at the people passing by her.
She looked at the world through her son’s eyes.
These eyes didn’t hold the reflections of a bright day that the eyes of her Hasan and of her long-departed younger son once held, but the dimness of their deathbeds.

 

© Muhsin Akgun
Müge Iplikci from Turkey
Müge İplikçi was born in 1966 in Istanbul, Turkey, where she lives today. She studied English literature at the University of Istanbul and at Ohio State University, earning her Master’s Degree at Istanbul University with a thesis on “Popular Culture and Women”. Müge İplikçi is a lecturer at the Faculty for Media Sciences at the Bilgi University in Istanbul. She is an author who has published numerous books, the most recent of which are: Kısa Ömürlü Açelyalar, short story, (İstanbul, 2009), Kafdağı, novel, (İstanbul, 2008), Gelaciyen Bajare Nu - Yeni Kent Dedikoduları, selected short stories (Diyarbakir, 2007), Cemre, novel, (İstanbul, 2006), Kül ve Kel, novel (İstanbul, 2004) and Transit Yolcular, novella (İstanbul, 2002). Her work has been translated into several languages. She has been awarded the “Yaşar Nabi Nayır” and the “Haldun Taner Kısa” prizes.

 

Translation by Monika Demirel
Monika Demirel was born in 1960 in Wiesbaden, Germany. She studied translating and  interpreting in Heidelberg (Spanish and English, 1981-87). After spending  several years abroad working in the tourist business, she became a teacher of  German as a foreign language and translated a great deal of non-fiction. Since  1999, she has been working as a free-lance literary translator from Turkish  into German. She has translated works by Oya Baydar, Gülten Dayıoğlu, Kemal  Özer, as well as numerous essays, short stories and travel guides by various  other authors. Monika Demirel has been living in Turkey since 1993.