A short story collection by Çiler Ilhan
Translated from the Turkish by Ayşegül Deniz Toroser Ateş
Published by Istros Books
When I looked for my daughter one morning, I realized she was not around. I thought to myself, where’s she bleeding gone again, at the crack of dawn? She was always out, and never listened to me. I went into her brothers’ room; all three were sound asleep. I woke the eldest up, telling him he was late for work. I was surprised; he’d gone to bed with his clothes on, just like that, just as he’d come home from work. ‘Do you know where your sister is?’ I asked. He just stared. ‘Mother, come, there’s something we have to tell you,’ he said. He woke up his brothers too. ‘Go and pour us some tea,’ he said. I was scared of the way he sounded. I went into the kitchen and poured some tea for the three of them.
‘Mother, we killed our sister, there was no other way out, she was bringing shame upon our family,’ he said.
Suddenly my blood pressure rose, I felt I was about to collapse.
They gathered around me, rubbed my hands and arms with cologne. When I came round, I started repeating: ‘Oh God, please let it be a dream, let me wake up… Oh God, God forbid.’
Repeating bismillah over and over again, I ran into my daughter’s room. She wasn’t there. I went back to the kitchen. Her three brothers were staring intently at my face. The youngest started sobbing.
‘Mother, you keep our secret,’ said the eldest.
I sat there and cried my eyes out, oh God, what else was I going to do. But there is no escape from fate. In the end I decided, what could I do, I’m a mother and I’ve lost my daughter, let me at least not lose my other children. And so I have not said a word to anyone for nine years. I’m so very sorry.
Which one of you came up with the idea of making soldiers out of us? Asking for us from our owners, from our patriotic owners, as donations? ‘We’ll even pay for them if they turn out to be promising as soldiers’, you said. And we thought they loved us as much as we loved them. Many of your good citizens whom you paralysed through fear gave us up after a single campaign.
We, the donations, were gathered in the Dog Training Centre of the Ministry of Defence. Some of us saw it straight away; this was no vacation. Some of our owners decided against giving their friends away as soldiers at the last moment. Mine didn’t.
They made us play games, so to speak, and divided us into three categories. We realized that those who wouldn’t let go of the ball under any circumstances would be trackers; the fastest would be used to catch runaways; and those who are absent-minded would be used in the dirtiest jobs by the Pentagon, the building in which we were housed. Pentagon, what a gracious host you are.
We were put under a strict programme. Little food, lots of training. Little food, lots of training. Little food, lots of training. This is what we are. You bipeds wouldn’t understand. We love and miss our owners no matter what they do. We missed them. We also missed those concrete walls you call homes, no offence, and which we protected on pain of death. We missed our food that smells so good but is all hollowed out after so much processing, we missed our bones, our toys, our yellow balls, our soft beds. And the Pentagon’s guesthouse turned out not to be as comfortable as our owners were promised it would be. They didn’t even give us mattresses, whereas back home most of us would sleep in our parents’ beds.
After four months of training, we donations gradually started active duty. We awaited each return anxiously. The fact that no one in the first battalion that came back was harmed gave us a little comfort. The ones in the second battalion came back with slight wounds or missing limbs: one of them came back with the right hind leg severed, another with a dismembered ear. When it was our battalion’s turn they took only one soldier for the first mission. Two days went by, it did not come back. On the third day they sent another soldier on a mission, it did not come back. A third, a fourth, a fifth – they did not come back.
I’ve been absent-minded all my life; is that a crime? All the other Retrievers were chosen for the tracker battalion. My mind, however, does not stay on track, it just wanders off; if it didn’t, or if I were very agile, or if I could run fast enough to catch the bad guys, these bombs wouldn’t have been tied to my belly right now. The remote control, in the hands of my own trainer too. We spent four months together! Aren’t you going to feel the least bit sad when my bones are scattered on the streets? Just so you can blame this unsolved case on some jihadist group or other, on suicide bombers blown to smithereens?
The three of them suddenly came into my room one night. I saw that my favourite brother, the youngest of my big brothers, had a cable in his hand! He wrapped it around my throat before I could ask what was going on. He started tightening it. He was crying at the same time. My eldest brother was like a stone, staring at me. I was sad not because I was going to die but because this job fell to the youngest of my big brothers. Although he was the one that loved me most, that protected me most, they laid it on him because he was underage. Poor kind-hearted brother of mine; how could you be taken in by their words and have the heart to kill me?
My death came quickly and quietly but I was undaunted. Ever since my first night in the next world I haunted my eldest brother’s dreams every night, persistently each night, until they appeared in the newspapers. He turned out to be stronger than I expected; after all, he’s the one that is most like his father. But nine years is a long time, he couldn’t stand it.
Yesterday, he finally went to the police and blurted it all out: ‘we killed our sister!’ While they tried to make sure I wouldn’t be the talk of the neighbourhood they themselves appeared in the newspapers altogether as family, serves them right! ‘I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know they were going to kill her. I was the last person to find out,’ said my father. Don’t believe him. He’s the one who had me strangled.
I’m Out of Sorts
Hello there uncle. What’ve you been doing? Give us a cup of tea, thank you. Eh, I couldn’t sleep well last night man… I don’t know. I’m out of sorts, for some reason… nah, it’s not about my woman. Forget it uncle, don’t start with marriage now. She’s fine the way she is, let her stay that way. The kids? Well, I don’t know really… they’re growing up probably. I’m sure they’re fine, their mother is sure to look after them. Uncle, what should the kids do with me, for God’s sake, it’ll all be fine, their mum will take care of them. Oh, I do send them stuff now and then. Thanks, thanks a lot, I’ve got money all right. They’ve named me Murat* , haven’t they: things come about when I want them to. Well, what can you do, you can’t live a life without jokes, can you? It was funny though, wasn’t it? Go on, laugh… that’s it . My father? Why ever should I see that cuckold? What do you mean he’s my elder, uncle, what father? Bloody bastard, forget it. He’s ill? Hope he gets worse. Uncle, don’t make me run on with my curses: Look, uncle, you’ll get your share if you continue, eh… I swear I’ll just take off, don’t make me feel sorry I’ve come… first thing in the morning, for God’s sake… I swear, don’t make my blood boil. See you’re still at it…get out of my way. I said get out. Let go of my arm man… I said let it go, I’m telling you, you’re going to get hurt now… I swear I won’t care that you’re my uncle, I’ll break your hand: Get out of my way uncle, let go of my arm! I said let go! I’m telling you, you’re really making my blood boil! ‘ere, let go man… let it go, let it all go! Move aside! Good grief man! Why do you push me so uncle, I’ve told you a thousand times not to mention that man when I’m around: Why don’t you just do as you’re told: I swear, this is the last time uncle. I swear by my mother I won’t ever see you if you mention him again. I swear to God: I’ve taken a great oath, mind you. I swear… I swear to God. What was that? That’s it… Now, that’s good. Swear again, right, right, I’ve got it, !ne. No need to hassle me like a woman. Give us another cup of tea then. Fine, I’m not leaving, go on with your work, I’ll take a look at these newspapers here. Hey son, hand me that newspaper, will you… thanks. Now see that news… price increases, accidents, murder… man, isn’t there a single bit of good news in this whole newspaper for God’s sake. Good grief the world. Now see that, this was all the country needed, and it’s happened! Did you read this? They say an Italian girl is missing… they say she was travelling from one city to another in a wedding dress. No uncle, she was making art or something… seems she’s been missing for some days… How naïve you are, man, ‘should anything ill have befallen her’… of course it would, what else? They probably raped her and murdered her. God knows what bastard did it. They’re going to disgrace us in the eyes of the EU.
* Murat is a (name meaning desire, wish, aim, and goal. (T.N.)
We strangled my sister; she haunts my dreams every night!
She went around with boys. She used to dress indecently. There was no end of the gossip in the neighbourhood. We warned her time and again… she wouldn’t listen. Seeing there was no way out, the four of us men, along with my father, we sat down and talked. It is like this and this, we said. ‘is girl is ruining our honour. She’s wayward too.
We decided she should be quietly killed. We assigned Izzet, our youngest. One night we went into our sister’s room while she was sleeping. Izzet wrapped the cable around her throat and tightened it. She didn’t even find the time to fight back, she just opened her eyes wide and looked like she was sad for a few seconds, and then my sister was gone, just like that. We carried her body to the car. We took it to Sile and threw it into an empty field. Everyone in the family knew what we had done. We thought we had restored our honour. We thought we had done a clean job, but I can’t stand it any more. My sister has been haunting me in my dreams every night for nine years! What we did was inhuman. Shame on us!
I recognized my leg. Anyone would recognize their own leg. You would, if it was put up on auction on the Internet. You would, even if it were in a gold plated, Swarovski-encrusted, elegant ice bucket.
You’d think such things only happened in new-fangled cheap thrillers: you wake up from your sleep and your leg is gone. It could have been the work of the organ mafia that kidnaps children for spleens, kidneys and hearts if it were not a leg but a spleen, a kidney, or a heart or something. But your right leg having vanished when you wake up in your own bed one morning? Now, you don’t expect that. Nonetheless, this actually happened to me, I who never took good care of my muscles.
I didn’t know you were so spiteful. Whose stride are you going to march to now?
ÇILER ILHAN, born in 1972, studied International Relations and Political Science at Bosphorus University and then hotel management at the Glion Hotel School in Switzerland. Having worked as a hotelier, a freelance writer (Boğaziçi, Time Out İstanbul, etc.) and an editor (Chat, Travel+Leisure) at different periods of her life, İlhan, based in İstanbul, now works as the public relations manager of the Çırağan Palace Kempinski hotel.
In 1993, she received a prestigious youth award for a short story. The award was a tribute to the memory of Yaşar Nabi, a leading publisher and writer. Ilhan’s stories, essays, book reviews, travel articles and translations into Turkish have been published in a variety of journals and newspaper supplements. Her website is www.cilerilhan.com.
Exile won the European Union Prize for Literature in 2011
About the Translator:
AYŞEGÜL DENIZ TOROSER ATEŞ is a lecturer in the department of English Language and Literature at Istanbul University, Turkey. She is currently working on her PhD dissertation on the contemporary English novel. Translating literary and academic works into English and Turkish, Toroser Ateş translated P Art and Culture magazine into English throughout 2007, and 2008. Together with Nuri Ateş, she also translated Çiler Ilhan’s first short story book, The Dream Merchants’ Chamber, as yet unpublished in English, which can be seen on Çiler Ilhan’s website www.cilerilhan.com.