From the Turkish of Erendiz Atasü
Translated by Nilüfer MİZANOĞLU REDDY
Strokes come down quickly, one after the other without disintegrating … A tangle of effects that don’t turn into impressions or memories … They get lost in reactions and form again and again without respite … Seeing is only differentiating the light without knowing what it is … That strange, disturbing effect – the light. And the sounds … hearing, in a way, is a kind of insulation … Unconsciously, one is searching that soothing and soft darkness and the fluid touch … The familiar sounds emanating from darkness … One is missing the quiet plashing of the blood, the heaving of breathings and heartbeats. The air is a harsh touch that hurts and burns the insides and outsides of the places that are not yet in one’s consciousness … There is plenty of time for learning to exist. Only the sense of smell and the sense of touch connect one to the surroundings; and the huge scream coming through one’s throat without knowing where it is coming from.
The woman moved with difficulty and picked up the baby she had given birth to, two hours ago, from its cradle. A tiny gel – with eyes tightly shut and crying very loud! On the defense against the aggressiveness of the world. The crying gel stopped suddenly, its heaviest part, the head adhered to the woman’s breast. The lost smell was found; the flesh attracted to familiar sounds wanted to go through the woman’s flesh. It became the same shape it was twenty-four hours ago; just like when it was swimming and moving in that soft darkness. Mother put her hand on her baby that covered almost the whole of the gel. The baby happily clung to the bare flesh.
The woman thought “this is stardust,” the tiny creature lying on her bare skin was nothing but stardust. It was made of the same stuff as the planets, nebulae, and the women’s body. The woman had never felt such an expansion of her body before. When the baby was a tiny heap of cells inside the transparent liquid bubble, it was protected like a star in the universe – singular and without a care. It was satisfied and was getting fatter. Twenty-four hours ago the special space of its existence became tight, it had to be kicked and pounded and torn apart. Its first cover – the amniotic fluid – had trickled down in globs and disappeared. And now the naked little gel was without ties and limits and homeless.
“You are not alone my little one,” said the woman feeling the warm and moist flesh of the baby touching her own flesh and the strong attachment of the roots of life’s big tree to earth and she whispered, “We are not alone.”
The baby had resumed its prenatal position, her pains had stopped and she was sleeping soundly inhaling her mother’s smell. This was her first earthly bliss.
For the woman the most difficult thing was the separation from her little daughter.
Her husband said: “Just think about the days you were depressed, the mornings when you dashed into the streets, and the joy you felt when we could leave her just one night with your mother.”
Empty words that don’t console …
“You are going to have a whole week at the hospital to rest your mind. This is a simple operation.”
She was thinking of the night she gave birth to her daughter. After that big effort her whole body was crushed with a sweet exhaustion. She couldn’t sleep from the crying of the little gel. They put the baby on her side and left. She had picked her up with great difficulty. She remembered the perfect happiness she felt when the baby was on her breast. That sensation of expanding and becoming complete. Her feelings could not be contained, neither by her body, nor by the rooms or the earth, they extended to the whole universe.
But now she felt like she was diminishing. Supposed to be a simple operation! How could being cut with a knife be simple? Of course she was afraid. It was a different fear from the other fear which expanded, became lighter and was absorbed by the physical pain when she was giving birth to her daughter. This fear was cold, narrowing and made her feel diminished; it was much too conscious. It was a trap that separated her from everybody, even her own daughter.
“Children don’t understand the separation, they don’t even notice it. Anyway it is only for a few days,” said her mother. That was the utterance expected from older women.
The woman thought words like, “children don’t understand, they don’t notice,” were a convenient cover that left the acceptable part of reality in the middle and blurred the rest. She wanted to give a last hug to the child, but she ran away and hid under grandma’s skirts. Then she held her daddy’s hand happily. Daddy used to go away for business trips quite often and the little one would not become cross but welcomed him happily when he returned. Obviously she preferred her daddy to her mommy, who already felt abandoned.
What wouldn’t she give for her baby to remember that unique moment – two hours after she was born – how she resumed the fetal position and slept on her bosom? But she was the only one who remembered that.
Grandma said, “Ah, you’ll get used to these,” as if she was joking, but involuntarily her face and her voice had taken that familiar sour expression. One cannot say that it was vengeful, but a kind of bitter satisfaction was there. “You have to wait for years for her to come back to you. Let her grow up, get married and have her own children…”
The young woman thought to herself, “Is she implying that we need her for helping out with the baby?” She didn’t have the strength to reply to her. Anyway, at this point it was useless to start an argument. As long as she could remember that strange reversed working of feelings between herself and her mother – a half-pronounced sentence, the powerless power struggle like a stuttered word was again at work. Intervention, innuendos, rebellion, repression, control, self-control… But this conflict did not have any violence; it was as though a thick layer of dust had covered her innocent childhood love for her mother. In her childhood, in that forgotten land, she must have been attached to her mother with such love! Then she had moved to another land and the old place was forgotten.
She would like so much for her baby to remember that primordial attachment.
After the building’s door was closed, she looked at the windows of their apartment – her little girl’s home. It was a lovely spring day. A strong aroma of acacia and honeysuckle leaves, delineated by light, permeated. Suddenly, at long last, she felt herself alive and invigorated. Instead of that spacious, both simplifying and self-contained, feeling she had a while ago, now a new kind of warmth circulated in her body. It was like the redness of the setting sun glowing with its final fire. She lifted her hand and held it against the afternoon sun filtering through the leaves. The lines of her fingers had become indistinguishable, almost melting, making her hand a reflection of light. It was, of course, an illusion. All the liveliness, like the extinguishing of sparks – the secret mystery of fire in ashes was a dream of the matter in the silence of the space. The bond between herself and her baby and whatever special thing that existed in motherhood was an illusion. How could a one-sided love be reality?
The consciousness of the little girl was like a shiny little mirror. Basic lines of memory to reflect the light had not yet formed on its surface. She was reflecting some of the effects with quick smiles or tears to the surroundings and the others were going into the dark magma of her tiny body’s complex net of the nervous system.
Magma was sucking, licking and swallowing the effects like starving earth and depending on the taste or poison of the nourishment was going through the sometimes fast, sometimes slow process of transformation until it became solid and settled.
The little girl consisted of her body only; and at the age of a year and a half this body was pursuing its own needs. She was sweeter than honey when happy, but cranky when things did not please her. Of course, she didn’t know that her mother was going to be hospitalized and they would be separated for some time. She didn’t fully know that a certain voice, a certain smell and touch belonged to her mother. Just as she arrived at the secret meaning of meaningless sounds and new words by repetition, the smiles, the sour faces and hesitant expressions that were reflected in the mirror of consciousness became more or less meaningful. This much she could gather, that her mother was going to do something that wouldn’t please her. As soon as she felt that the needs of her tiny body were going to be curtailed, she took refuge under grandma’s skirts just as the chilled flesh would look for the woolen shawl.
She was happy there.
This happiness lasted barely for a few days. Then the shiny mirror craved for the missing image. She wasn’t fully aware of what that was, but something was amiss anyway. These smells, voices, and touches called grandma and daddy must have been hiding her. If not, why didn’t they bring her over? The child was getting crankier and crankier, breaking her toys, crying nonstop and having temper tantrums. Daddy tried to show mommy’s picture, but the child could not be fooled, she grabbed the picture and tore it up. She had startled daddy again with her relentless strength. She was like a mini-flood going from room to room making the air of the apartment move around like a whirlpool centered around herself.
Then grandma’s eye caught her daughter’s nightgown as she was desperately searching for something pacifying. She handed the nightgown to the child. The child held this piece of cloth to her nose and became quiet as if she had suddenly smelled a mysterious object. She fell asleep as she breathed the smell of her mommy’s nightgown.
The glacial darkness of the space was opening up in places with scorching lights reflected from the suns and its silence was shaken by huge explosions. The downpour of the stars’ particles side by side hit the globes they came across in magnetic abysses; they became smaller and smaller and they fell upon the earth, upon the women’s wombs and mixed with the plants and the foodstuffs.
The smallest particles were endlessly torn from the living creatures, from the earth, air and water and were circulating in the air. The invisible atoms were oozing out of the atmosphere, or were flowing abundantly from the ozone holes into the dark substance of the space and its silence that absorbed the lights and the explosions. The smallest were following the similar orbits that the biggest had made in the course of infinite life.
At the point where the smallest met the biggest, generations were being born, grown, getting old and dying, without even thinking that they were moving with the rhythms of the same dance. It was like the changing of the water of the river whose bed remained the same. In fact as the illusion of sameness was created it was gradually becoming worn out, just the way the bodies changed as if the relations did not change. But destructions went on clamorously and creations proceeded silently and patiently. One person’s life in the scale of the planets wasn’t even a single breath, a blink of the eye or a shudder. The tiniest drop in the wave’s foam…
The breath was blown away, the teasing blink of the eye stopped and the foam was burst… Human beings came and went away… children grew up, little girls first became mothers, then grandmothers, then they all aged and started waiting for their turn to be extinguished.
Material objects take longer to get worn out. In closets where they remain forgotten they silently observe this hasty dissolution of the living creatures. A piece of pink cotton cloth… An old nightgown with stitches undone here and there and faded. Not very clean either. Why was it saved, any special purpose? To remember what? Maybe it was a touchy or a funny story! The smell of the past had settled in its tired threads.
The old woman writhing in spasms and seizures was lying unconsciously in a walnut bed with carvings. Grandmother was fond of old things unlike the people of the modern times. Drawers of the chest by her bed, a part of her bedroom set, were full of worn out scarves, blouses, stockings etc., etc.
“I warned you so many times to cut her fingernails,” uttered one of the worried voices in the room. “Look, she’s tearing up her quilt.”
“She should be given another calming shot.”
“No use, it doesn’t work anymore.”
The old woman had pressed in her sore fingernails on the cover of the quilt. Clearly she was not quite ready to enter into the silence of the matter. Even though an important part of her being was already far gone, a fiber in the secret dark neural magma in her body resisted parting from her familiar surroundings and the world of humans.
Her daughters and her grandchildren were wringing their hands desperately. The sick woman had pressed her nails into her palms and was trying to hold on by herself.
Someone screamed, “My God, she’s making her palms bleed!”
Another one was groping for something in the drawers of the walnut dresser without knowing what it was, hoping to find some solace from the past as she grabbed a piece of cotton cloth which was there all the time patiently waiting to be useful. The old pink nightgown of grandmother’s mother was put into the hands of the patient, “Let her tear this.”
The old woman brought the nightgown to her nose with an unconscious movement. It was as if she had smelled a magic thing! On her face contracted with pain there was a happy smile