by GÜRGENÇ KORKMAZEL
As published in In Focus Vol. 11, No. 1, March 2014
He was five during the commotion of wartime displacement. There were gaps in his memory about before the displacement but he remembered well the days after, the flurry of people seizing the houses left behind by Greeks and the fuss over the loot.
When they first arrived in this village, they had settled in the house across the one in which they lived now. More correctly, the Committee of Migrants had seen it fit that they settle there. After staying there for a few days, they changed their mind and moved to the larger and more modern house across, without alerting the Committee.
He liked the first house, where their neighbors were now, better. It was old indeed, but had a large garden with fruit trees and a swing. Their new home housed no trees but a tender chinaberry and two young grapevines.
In order to complete whatever they were missing at home, they would walk through the empty houses with his father; collect tables, chairs, glasses, plates, knives, forks, toys, decorations, gilded books and the like from rooms, that had been looted by others before them, and carry them home.
Entering those abandoned houses and stores where no one lived anymore, going through the things Greeks had left behind, looking at family pictures scattered across the floor, searching for toys and taking whatever one wanted was the kind of adventure few children had the chance to taste. He didn’t think the war had been fun but its aftermath was.
Were the new soldiers already there before they had arrived? Or had they arrived afterwards; he couldn’t remember. He had noticed them for sure in the fall, when the bee-eaters had camped shortly in Mesaria to hunt before the colds and rains started.
Here, there and everywhere were soldiers.
Day and night, they would stand as still as statues in their steel helmets inside their sentry huts and say that they protected the migrants from the enemy. (In the South, he had heard gunfire. He had also seen dead bodies brought to the village a few times. But he had never seen an enemy. For him, an enemy was something like a ghost.)
One of those red and white sentry huts stood near their house, on the bend of the dirt road heading towards the hills. Army vehicles would stop there and show papers to the guard in the hut, who would change every few hours.
He was a very curious child. He had a lot of toys after the looting trips he took with his father but he didn’t play with them. He would break them open and look inside to see what was inside, what mechanisms were there, how they worked.
With the same curiosity, he would look inside the tin sentry hut each time he walked by. It was narrow, and held nothing but a small table, a portable phone and a notebook on the table. Still, it appeared to him that inside was a mystery that was not outside, and it was actually this mystery that the guard kept watch over.
Every now and then, when he brought water to the soldier on guard, the soldier would answer his questions and even let him touch his gun. In those days, the bullets, gleaming like a death dream, used to bewitch him more than the gun.
The new soldiers would generally treat him nicely but still, they wouldn’t let him inside the hut.
Outside the village where migrants lived in the South, there had been a small camp. The old soldiers who served there and spoke a different language used to treat children nicely as well. When children went to the camp, they would give out coke, chips and chocolate. Whenever the kids were a little insistent, they would heat up small change and throw the coins in the air for kids to catch. When the kids burnt their hands catching the coins, they would laugh.
The new soldiers seemed tougher than the old soldiers and smelled bad. Also, they never gave the kids anything but asked for things instead.
He was a five-year old, who was not only unaware of what was going on, but who even tried to love cockroaches, the animals he disliked the most, because his mother had said, and he believed, that he would come back to life as an animal he had mistreated before his death. He wouldn’t ask himself why these soldiers were here, what they were doing; he didn’t even think about it. Soldiers being here seemed as natural to him as villagers being here. It was even more fun because wherever there were soldiers, there was always excited activity. Like every other kid in the village, he would get carried away with wonder and awe as he watched trucks, loaded with long-range guns, tanks and armored vehicles pass on their way to target practice.
As soldiers practiced on the hills, they would sit at home and listen to the gunshots. The gunshots would remind him of when his village in the South had been besieged by EOKA, how his mother had bolted the door in panic, how she had taken him onto her lap, and hid under the sofa and how she had cried until the gunshots were no longer heard.
The sun was still scorching even though it was the final days of fall.
Bee-eaters, the most spectacular birds of Europe… They had flown all the way down here and honored the children. The bee-eaters had grown in number, covered the sky like a dark cloud and were chasing bees with wild cries. He didn’t like wasps as they attacked and ate honeybees. Still, he felt sorry for them each time he saw them fluttering about helplessly in the beaks of bee-eaters.
Older children were chasing and cornering the last few pigs, saved from the hands of looters who didn’t eat pork, as they wandered about town looking for something to eat, and wounding them by stoning and spearing. Then, the kids were pouring gasoline over them and burning them. The pigs were dying with horrible sounds, their bodies burning for hours.
His father was like a magician; always drawing a surprise from his hat. Who knew where he had gotten it, but this time, he had brought home a long horned, brown goat. The goat was his new plaything. He would tie a rope around its neck and take it grazing in the fields near the house. His father wouldn’t let him, but still, climbing on the back of the goat he had named “Horned” and riding it like a horse when his dad wasn’t around was more fun than breaking his toys.
The fields where he used to take his goat grazing were right across the sentry hut.
When he took his goat grazing on that sunny day, the soldier who treated him the nicest was on guard. When the soldier called him, he thought he would be asked to bring water or fruit from the house. The soldier held his hand and pulled the child inside. The man stood before him and kept smiling. He had tried entering a few times, but had been chased away with a “Forbidden!”
Now, he was inside.
It was hotter inside than it was outside, but being inside was still more important than being outside.
The soldier kept looking about, sweating.
The soldier was being nicer to the boy than ever: “I’ll buy you a bicycle… I’ll take you to my country,” he kept saying. He had neither asked the soldier to buy him a bicycle nor to take him to his country.
He was inside. He was searching for the mystery inside with all of his power to see. What could be seen inside was the same as what could be seen from the outside. There was nothing resembling a mystery.
Meanwhile, the soldier had pulled and pressed him slowly against the tin wall of the hut. The wall was hot. He couldn’t move.
Without laying down the gun swung across his neck and undoing his belt, the soldier unbuttoned his pants, took his manhood out and said “take it.”
The soldier kept looking left and right; he smelled bad.
Horned was nowhere to be seen. He wondered where it was. Left all by itself, it could easily run away and get lost. His father would get really angry then.
Bee-eaters were circling somewhere over their heads. Not seeing them, he was only hearing their wild cries.
by GÜRGENÇ KORKMAZEL
As published in In Focus Vol. 11, No. 1, March 2014
Despite the heavy smell of moisture and soot, he had his morning tea standing on the farthest corner of the house, the balcony. His thick, faded blue robe on his back and slippers, his latest birthday gift from his wife, on his feet, he went into the kitchen. He had his light breakfast of fruits. His wife was at work, his kids at school. He had no need for any gadget showing the time and he had no need for music. His insides were as calm and clear as the morning sea. Without washing his face or looking at the mirror in the hallway, he entered his study. He drew the curtains wide open to see the comings and goings on the street and the movements of the trees. He put his glasses on, turned on his computer, arranged the notes before him, organized his desk and started writing where he had left off…
(He started writing this novel when he was 22 years old; he’s 42 and still writing. Actually, he finished it a few times before. Or rather, he thought he did. He found himself unsatisfied after reading it again. Sometimes, he did not touch it for years. But it was always on his mind; he could not stop thinking about it. He wanted to write a novel without any unnecessary excess. He even shortened the novel to accomplish this. He threw out 40%. This time he lost the narrative. Without the excess, the narrative ceased to exist. It was impossible. At first, the novel was called Go. Then, he decided that it should be Come through the Shadows. After he burnt 40% of the novel, he changed the title to Burnt Novel. It became Hole. Then it became Shadow upon the Road, but he didn’t like that either. Unsatisfied with all these changes, finally he let go of all of them.
To those who ask about the novel, he responds “I burnt it; it’s ashes now,” and denies the existence of the novel but the truth is that he cannot get rid of it. At times he touches it, crops this part and that, makes changes, but cannot unburden himself of this mental and emotional weight. Even if he shortens it, turns it to a short novel, novella or long story; calls it a narrative or travelogue, nothing changes; it doesn’t end. At times he grows cold, distant. He really considers destroying it. And then one day, he starts to work on it again with a new idea and renewed enthusiasm. He works day and night. He grows detached from daily life, grows pensive. And then a moment comes and he realizes that he has failed again.
He thought of severing the novel to pieces, getting rid of the connections between and publishing them as stories. He turned some of the sections to stories even. He published them as well but these seemingly unrelated pieces never severed his mental ties to the novel. His unfinished novel always reminded him of his ineptitude and failure. The neverending novel, like an unrealized suicide, is always on his mind, disturbing him.
In truth, lately he had been heavily criticizing the art of the novel. If he were able to, in order to take revenge from the art of the novel, he would have liked to have written a hundred-pages-long novel in the vein of Monsieur Songe, written in 1956-76 and as satisfying to him at each read as the first. Then, he would also have answered that uneasy question “why write novels?” with merely a hundred pages but he couldn’t do it.)
“It’s not working. It’s not working the way I want it to,” he grumbled to himself. He couldn’t load yesterday onto today. He got up, changed rooms. He didn’t feel hungry but his stomach was growling. He went into the kitchen to change his mood; nibbling something he hadn’t tasted in a long time would surely help him. He searched around, didn’t find anything to his appetite. Still, he popped a few pieces of walnut into his mouth. He made himself a light coffee. He looked out the window. He saw nothing but the chaos called order. The leafless trees, wet rooftops, unlit streets, low clouds were not very cheerful at all. It was only the first month of winter but it was already irksome enough.
It wasn’t working. No matter how patient he was, it was not working. He was constructing on one hand and ruining on the other.
Could this failure be related to the fact that he lived in a graceless corner of such a large city? Because of the life he led? Would this block lift, if he were to live a different kind of life by the sea and go on long walks by the water at sunset each day?
He thought of the 13 months-long Celtic calendar, and the 13th month that consisted only of 3 days when the veil between the living and the dead thinned. Maybe, he should be changing everything all over and writing the novel of those three days? No, he was too tired to make such deep-rooted changes.
Now, he was thinking of that Chinese proverb, ‘When faced with only two choices, choose the third.’ How could he adapt this to the narrative of the novel?
What could the third choice be?
Picking the first, second and third choice or path changes nothing. He is always stuck somewhere. It’s not working. He is failing. He doesn’t know exactly why… Maybe, so maybe, novel writing wasn’t an art form, fit for reaching perfection?
Gür Genç (Korkmazel) was born in 1969 in Pafos. After 1974 he was evacuated with his family and resettled in the region of Mesaoria where he grew up. He lived for many years in Turkey and England. As well as poet, he is a short story writer, translator, and editor. Since 1992, he has published 11 books.