An essay by Turkish author Aslı Erdoğan, translated by Berrak Göçer
I’ve been alone here, in an attic room lit by a skylight, since yesterday. This room has thoroughly cracked windowpanes; it’s dusty, almost completely bare – a low, knee-high twin bed, a massive drawing desk that looks like it hasn’t been used in years, a few shelves... that’s all. And empty film boxes piled up in the corners. I could easily feel like more of a stranger, feel younger, more free than I actually am here, at this rest stop of evanesce... caught between not being able to go and not being able to stay... As if I were in that room where I’ve spent years, nights, seasons, in that single, most inner room which I’ve carried with me... If I were not so tired last night, I could have looked at the stains on the walls, especially that large, horryfying stain on the ceiling at great length and discovered all sorts of images in the shadowy light... All sorts of stories stories, stained I’s, pasts... Images that become more real, more alive with the deepening hours, images that pull out my half-verbal self along with themselves from the completely flat walls.
I have a balcony squeezed in between steep roofs: groggily blooming marigolds, flowerpots (all empty except for one), sparrows and a crow that befriend me readily. And bullet and shell holes on the wall before me. Down below, the street market is opening; trucks are pulling up one after another, lettuce, apple and orange cases are being carried; they are placed on the tables that are perfectly aligned like school desks, and sprinkled with water. A few tables display handicrafts, lacework and towels, a few others hold flowers... Scents arise from the pastry shop next door; a lot of women marketeers wrapped up in their scarfs and jean jackets light their cigarettes and slowly start to cast off their silence. A tram passes obtrusively. It is only six am. In less than an hour, the market place will become packed, colorful and lively; a tiny square, no larger than fifty square meters, the square where a rocket tore sixty eight people to pieces almost ten years ago. The square whose blood-and-brain-spilt photos made the headlines in the international media, the square that made photographers and journalists famous, the square that reminded the readers sipping their morning teas and coffees the “cruelty” of war, which they had somehow forgotten. As I gaze at the tables aligned like coffins, at the plain, simple lacework, at the pale faces of the saleswomen, I remember what my Palestinian friend who lived through his fair share of wars had once asked me: “What are you looking for in that shambles of a city?” I’m learning how to return, I had simply replied.
I am in Sarajevo. In this tiny little town in between steep hills, a town surrounded by sparse pine forests, dusky valleys, mines, graveyards... Graveyards that are spread around houses, trees, parks, squares, school yards; graves of the young dead. It seems as if each one is waiting for one another, missing one another. No matter which hill I turn to, I see erect, quiet headstones, white, non-reflective eyes following me with their gaze all the time. It seems as if a net made out of last, unfinished gazes has been cast over life. In Sarajevo, a city which survived a thousand-and-four-hundred-day siege, Sarajevo where all buildings are full of holes, Sarajevo that is still trying to heal its wounds, and has been for the past decade (even though some wounds refuse to be healed, refuse to form a scab), perhaps I am learning to bless life, despite everything, I am learning to bless it one more time. While remembering a faint, residual yet still truly pure, truly deep joy… The joy felt for the river of life flowing in its course. Even if, as it flows it leaves me here, in the middle of my solitude, facing a wall full of holes… in the rooftop balcony of a foreign city, waiting for a new day, amidst what has long been over and what is yet to be born…
I think I can consider this to be the first day of spring.
I am on the stone bridge in front of the burnt library. The full moon is larger, brighter and barer than I’ve seen in a long time; it seems like it’s trying to call out to the human world. A pale golden color, talking about a much older world... It has gotten closer to the hills, close enough to brush against the pine trees... The moon light reflects from the white stones, from the shallow, muddy waters of the Milyochka River... Seems like I’ve lived here once before. Lived through all this, this feeling of being under siege, of being encircled, this pain of that which will never come back, never return, of that which is lost forever... Perhaps in an older, more real life of mine, in another life, one that was cut short, unfinished... The city has grown quiet before midnight; the only things I hear are the river “singing lullabies to children” and a rusty swing. An old woman with her grandchild and dog is smoking in the park. Here, in this quiet and lonesome night, perhaps I am looking for my way back to life. Since I arrived here from life...
I hear from a phone call that comes in around nine in the morning that a gas leak started a fire in an orphanage around midnight; a four-year-old baby perished.