How much he liked separating the animal’s skin from its pink flesh! Neat work. In one pull, he needed to do it—in one pull and should not break the skin.
Kemal was skilled in his art.
This calf’s meat would be delicious, he knew. It was from his uncle Salim’s herd. Salim Amca made his herd graze on the vast green of their small town Topaz in Kastamonu. The family in whose backyard he was performing, knew this too, and he felt they trusted the calf and him, though which one more it was questionable. One of the family members, however, showed a bigger interest in his work, the little daughter of the house, Cemre. Her light blue eyes were taking in every second his skillful hands were dancing on the pink flesh. She was nine. A girl of her age would normally be unable to look at the scene, but thought Kemal, this girl was different.
Twenty four was Kemal. Since his thirteenth birthday, he was in this job. How many of those calves he cut into pieces he could not even remember. Dark brown hair he had—hair falling onto his forehead which was half-covered with a cap the color brown. He was wearing a blue striped shirt, mintan, as called in his town, with sleeves rolled up. And under it, dark blue jeans and dark brown shoes. He had the habit of stepping on the soles of his shoes. On occasion of work, he would complete this look with usually a cream-colored apron which, at the moment, was covered with blood.
Today he was particularly enjoying his work, both thanks to and despite the little girl’s admiration and curiosity. The girl scared him a bit.
When Cemre was finished with scaring the butcher, she asked for a leave from her parents to go and play with Seda. After giving a fond stroke on her daughter’s auburn hair—hair that she had braided with utmost care in the morning and now was in a complete mess with unruly strands escaping through here and there, mother said, “Sure, you may, but don’t you dare to come back having oozed with sweat, all right? For dinner, we are expecting Nazife Teyzes, remember?”
“Nazife Teyze…” Cemre thought. Nazife Teyze, who always joked about making Cemre get married to his son Sinan. Sinan was the fattest boy Cemre would ever know of. His greasy body was covered with sweat all the time, and all the time he spoke as if he was choking on something. Looking at him disgusted Cemre. Sinan was five years older, and yet he didn’t excel in anything except for backgammon in which no one could compete with him. No one even dared to play against him. “Sure, he’s cheating,” Cemre often thought, and though Cemre insisted to learn his notorious tricks, he refused to admit even the existence of them and accused Cemre of not thinking accordingly.
“No, Cemre,” he said each time, “no! You just can’t think properly. Each time you are making the wrong move. You should always plan ahead. Always. You live in the moment, but backgammon—backgammon is about the future, not the present. Always remember, tamam mı?”
“Stinking liar! Dirty cheater!” Cemre would call him, her face red, “one day, one day I promise… I’ll prove it.”
“Ha-ha,” Sinan would laugh. “I’ll be looking forward to it, darling. And I hope you will turn out to be right.”
Hasanoğlu family’s door was knocked twice, at dusk, when starlings left their chores of bringing lovely tunes to the warm and lovely evening of that August day. Cemre was the one to answer the door. Inside, Cemre’s mother Kerime was busy stirring the kavurma on the cooker. Cemre’s father Hüseyin was forgotten in front of the TV, taking a nap with his reading glasses on his nose. But his glasses were not doing their jobs of reading the newspaper with the headline “637 terrorists neutralized in Operation Peace Spring,” which he was holding in his hands half an hour ago but now was on the carpet next to Hüseyin’s slippers. On TV, the 7 O’clock news was on. A rascal of noise was coming from it—sounds of a delirium. Last week, during one of Hüseyin’s such sleeping moments, Turkish forces had crossed into Syria, aiming to clear the region of Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). On the screen, battle tanks were moving; rifles were fired. And behind what was shown, everywhere there were bare feet—in mud or blood. A little girl was crying in silence, only with her gestures, a woman was wailing into her scarf, a man with a grey beard and a dusty face was sobbing, having knelt down on dirt.
Cemre ran to the door.
And opened it.
Nazife Teyze, Sait Amca, and their son Sinan were lined in their habitual order, side by side, at the door, standing in their best clothes as the day was Kurban Bayramı. Sinan wore a yellow jacket that fit too tight for him anyway. “No one so fat should wear anything like this,” Cemre thought the moment she saw him. And as if this had not been enough, he had situated a purple bowtie on his fat neck which was almost spilling onto the collar of his white ironed shirt. By looking at the two taller faces who were standing before her, she put on her studied cordial smile and said in a cheerfully, “Hoş geldiniz!”
Turning her head down and looking at Sinan’s face, she glared at him. This little gesture didn’t go unnoticed by Nazife Teyze and Sait Amca, and the two exchanged looks of amusement, which made it clear that they were enjoying this playful tension between their son and Cemre. Cemre had become very dear to Nazife over the years. Kerime and Nazife were friends since high school, and they were always together since the day they met. So Nazife was like an aunt—much of a real one—to Cemre.
After she was done with glaring at Sinan, Cemre let in the warm and delicious August evening weather, and though she was not much interested in them, the guests too. The three found their ways into the living room, at whose door, a bell awakened Hüseyin was standing. He was in one of those days of him, when he could easily go to sleep and be awakened by the tiniest glimmer of human voice. With the still touchable remains of sleep on his face, he made an awkward gesture of rushing forward to welcome his guests. He cheered out his hoş geldiniz too and hugged Sait in the warmest way. Over the years, though they had not known each other before, thanks to their wives’ friendship, they became the pair who did every sort of activity together—such as watching football matches and playing cards with one or two of their common friends. After their hugging ceremony was finished, Hüseyin turned to Nazife, making a small kind nod, took her right hand into his, cupped it over with his other hand, and shook it longer than necessary. Then it was the turn to greet the little boy that came along their favorite couple. He patted the top of Sinan’s head and said, “Aslan parçası, maşallah!”
But a half-embarrassed, half inattentive Sinan freed his head from the patting hands and led his parents to the sofa. When all were sat in the exact order they had rung the doorbell, and after an uncomfortable minute of silence had passed, Hüseyin broke it, “Well, how goes it with you? Is everything all right?”
After heaving a sigh, the couple sang, “The same, işte!”
Then Nazife Teyze took the lead and added, “Just the same. You know… The boy is going to start high school this year, so we went shopping to buy the school uniform, but you know… You know our son. He is not the size of a normal. We went through the whole marketplace today to find a jacket that would fit him. Finally… Finally, thank god, we found one, but this time it was bigger than his size. So we had to take it to the tailor’s.”
Nazife seemed to want to continue her report on Sinan’s unfitting uniform when she was interrupted by Kerime who oriented through the door with a half soaked apron on which she was struggling to wipe her wet hands frantically. At that moment one could tell that she had this air to herself, which told of an assured embarrassment caused by her being late to welcome the guests. With each demeanor of her arms’ movements, her three golden bracelets jingled in the stiff air stuffed within the living room. She wore a silk, soft pink shirt with sleeves rolled up, and underneath, a cream-colored pencil skirt covering her knees. After she was assured her hands were dried enough, Kerime ran to Nazife and hugged her friend who had stood up immediately when she heard Kerime’s jingling presence at the door. The women’s hug was even more ceremonious than the men’s: while hugging, Nazife and Kerime rolled from one side to the other and repeated their action till eternity. At least this was how it seemed to the eyes watching them—the eyes that did not know of the secrets those two women must have had shared at high school. After they finished their hugging ritual, Nazife sat down again, leaving an anxious Sinan on foot, waiting to be greeted by his elderly host in vain—in vain because Kerime moved directly to her next target Sait and shook his hand with a visibly forced smile and yet managing not to reveal any of her teeth. Though their eyes met for the shortest one second, their discomfort was tangible like a dead snake lying right at the center of the room. Only then and there Kerime seemed to remember, at the last minute, the boy down there, in front of the couch. She first cupped his cheeks and then her hands moved down to Sinan’s shoulder blades. Her hands did not stay there, though. She patted two times and then said, “Look at you! You have grown up to be a real gentleman. Maşallah kuzuma!”
She pulled a chair from the dinner table and sat at a nearly far and a closely distant place from her guests, though there was already one empty seat adjoined to the TV set. It was her way of self-assurance—of her role as the host and also of her separation—from them.
The room in which the group was sitting in a silent agony had one sofa, two winged chairs, a dining table, and a TV set. Except for the TV itself, everything touchable had that essence of a soft pink, with here and there hints of purple shades. The carpet was the one to blame, all three guests were thinking, the carpet under their feet, with its shining aura and gleam of a million cut threads in soft pink. The chairs smirking from underneath the dining table and the little lilacs on them bred a creamy comfort. The table’s auburn feet were the only things that distrpted the room’s pink dreamy weather. After nestling her butt cheeks into the chair, Kerime repeated her husband’s earlier question, “Well… How goes it with you, then?”
The only difference in Kerime’s question was the addresser and the addressee. Hüseyin’s question had been asked right onto Sait’s face; this time, however, Kerime’s danced first in her eyes in glittering vigor, then in a muted shyness, faded into her best friend’s eyes.
Cemre was the last one to attend the crowd in the room. She immediately ran to the back of her mother’s chair and started caressing her mother’s neck, her one favorite place on her mother’s body since she was a baby. At this, Kerime seemed to be annoyed, as she complained, “Don’t, kızım!”
After the warning she got, she let go of Kerime’s neck. But this time she started to play with the edges of the chair and started to shake it as if in an attempt to dethrone her mother. A displeased Kerime turned back but managed, in her calmest and most sensible voice, played in slow motion, to utter, “I told you—to behave—didn’t I?”
Deprived of her toys to play with, Cemre ran to the window and wanted to stare outside, into the darkness that stood in the shape of a stranger man—a man of shadow, with corners and a flat cap, perhaps. She felt this stranger’s darkness was leaning each second, more and more, onto the realms of her parent’s house. “His hat would drop in a second,” she thought silently. And yelped. The crowd ignored her shriek, and she continued to ignore them too. Kerime got up two seconds later and put on the light right above the dining table, which illuminated the whole room and made Cemre see only her own reflection instead of the dark man through the window. Not much changed for Cemre, though, as she could still and again ignore the rest resting behind her. But if she had not seen stupid Sinan’s stupid eyes catching her own blue eyes on the reflection, everything would be better. She caught herself and caught that Sinan’s reflection behind hers drove her attention to the edges of his eyes, wondering what those edges might actually be wanting to tell her. She felt the two pairs of eyes were somehow merging into each other—slowly, silently. She then decided they were telling of more—more than she could decipher—at that age, but she knew that a time would come and would make her understand the real blue behind the blue—the blue of the days and the nights that the blue hid behind.
When she saw him, he was on foot, talking to one of his former school friends, in front of one of the three grocery stores in their town, which was run by a sixty-eight-year-old semi deaf Mustafa Amca. Cemre was there for the only reason she could be there: to buy some groceries—groceries ordered by Kerime. The two pair of eyes met or rather clashed when Sinan parted his eyes from his old friend’s young face and saw her, in the middle of the road, standing and looking directly at him.
This was Sinan’s first summer in his hometown in five years after he went off to college in İstanbul, the big city, to be a lawyer. Cemre was exactly where Sinan left her to be. She was continuing to a local high school.
“The same air to herself she still has,” he thought, “the same eyes, unafraid—to look and to see.”
His eyes traveled from her head to her toes and then way back up, under his frameless glasses situated perfectly on his perfectly shaped nose. A red t-shirt was on him and dark blue jeans on his long legs.
“Look at that groaning body,” thought Cemre. But unfortunately, Sinan was quick enough to end his line of thought about Cemre’s eyes and to turn, completely uninterested in Cemre, to his friend.
“How dare him, how dare!” Cemre frowned.
Cemre walked towards Sinan and touched his right shoulder. At her touch, Sinan turned and found a giggling Cemre who said, “Hey, it’s been long. I mean… Since you ceased to be a fatty. You know what? I think you’re still that same dull, fat boy underneath this smug look. Who do you think you are? Everybody knows who you really are, except you!”
Both young men were looking at Cemre in a daze. When the daze disappeared or moved from his ears to his heart, Sinan grabbed Cemre’s arm and dragged her to the other side of the building—the side with no doors or windows. He said, in his simmering anger, “Who the hell do you think you are? Who? Huh? Who? Did you think you could humiliate me just like that in front of my friend? You need to remember— You— Little princess— Of the little town? No more darling… No more! I am that boy no more— You see? You see what I mean?”
His black eyes were penetrating Cemre’s, and Cemre thought, at that very moment, that she was left no room for her eyes to see on their own from then on. Cemre did not know what to say, but Sinan insisted. Shaking Cemre’s—now even more—tender shoulder roughly, he asked once more, “Do you?”
Cemre could only nod her head. She was shaking when Sinan turned away and disappeared from the corner. She wanted to cry but could not. She felt too angry to cry. Then she began running—running from that corner, from the grocery store, from the groceries she was expected to buy, from herself, from her life. Running away from any of these would not be possible or true, she knew—she knew it even before she found herself in front of her parents’ house. She felt she could breathe only if she kept running. She had run as if she had been running away from a lion—a lion with a groaning stomach. Unable to stop, she dived into the house from the main entrance and inside, ran till she could, till the farthest spot, till she threw herself onto the kitchen counter, right next to her mother whose hands were lost in the bubbles of the dish wash. While Cemre tried to catch her breath, Kerime, first with her ears, attended her daughter’s heavy breathing, then with her eyes that had been questioning, over the sink, of the ivy’s never-ending persistence to move up the neighbors’ sidewall and to cover all the rest around it.
“Cemre, don’t leave the groceries out. Put them right in the fridge,” ordered she.
When no hint of impulse came from her daughter, she repeated, “Cemre!”
And once more, “Cemre! Shh, do you hear me?”
“I’m sorry… Mom! I could not… I could not get… What you wanted.”
She then dried her hands on her beige apron, placed the back of her hand on Cemre’s forehead and checked Cemre’s fever.
Cemre blushed then—from her fingertips to her toes, brushed her mother’s hand, and rushed out of the kitchen.
All summers were stale for Cemre after she got a disappointing score from the university entrance exam. Cemre was sure her broken heart would not handle another defeat, so she did not even consider retaking the exam. Her heart was already shattered into millions of pieces—pieces she saw no use in bothering to collect.
On a dense April evening, a confident knock was heard on Hasanoğlu family’s door. This time Cemre was not the one who answered the door. It was Kerime who did. She welcomed the guests with a broad smile, trying to look as happy as she could manage to be. “Welcome, welcome!” she greeted each guest with the same big, heavy smile and the same big, heavy nod while her left arm was opened wide, down into the corridor, pointing the direction her guests should follow. Kerime was dressed in a two-piece black suit under which she wore a pale pink silk shirt. Hüseyin was standing right behind Kerime. The four guests Salim, his brother Sadık, Sadık’s wife Saniye, and Sadık’s and Saniye’s son Kemal got seated in the living room. Kemal was wearing a navy blue suit, a white shirt, and a grey tie with black and grey stripes on. He sat right between his parents on the couch while his uncle Salim found a spot for himself on the winged chair next to the TV set. After making sure everybody found a seat, Kerime pulled a chair for herself from the dining table. While sitting down, she asked the room, “Welcome, again. How are you all?”
With this, a blast of undecipherable noise started within the room, caused by the confidence one finds in small talk—till Cemre entered. Cemre entered the room, carrying a tray in her hands and on it six cups of Turkish coffee. Everyone had stopped talking and started to watch the ritual Cemre was serving. Cemre’s hair was done up in a neat bun, and she was wearing a long pale pink chiffon dress. Whether the dress was flattering her feminine figures or it was hiding them, one could not decide. She served the first cup to Salim and then to Sadık, then Saniye, then Hüseyin, then Kerime, and lastly to Kemal. Though while during the rest of her performed ceremony, she tried to keep her head bowed and to lock her eyes on the cups, when Kemal took the last cup on the tray, she lifted her head and looked Kemal in the eye. In that instance, Kemal thought how little she changed over the years. Her eyes, he meant. The same eyes that now paralyzed Kemal to utter a proper thank you but only a hum of a single syllable—a syllable that was never heard and that never needed to be, as his uncle Salim was the one who did the necessary talking—to ask for Cemre’s hand from her father as was the tradition.
That night, Cemre and Kemal got engaged—to be married for the rest of their lives.
Ayşe Tekşen is a research assistant at the Department of Foreign Language Education, Middle East Technical University, Turkey. Her poetry has been published widely, including in Ohio Edit, The Paragon Journal, Arcturus, Constellations, the Same, The Mystic Blue Review, and others. Ayşe lives and writes in Ankara, Turkey.