/A day in Limbo

/Crack! /Çat! (Turkish)

Towards morning my sister grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me: Wake up, something’s happening. In my dream I had climbed up a tree and I couldn’t get down. I had no idea how I’d got that high. I had to call mom for help, but even if she heard me and came out she would definitely be really angry. Then I realized I’d climbed up the tree in the middle of the night. And I said to myself: You idiot. And this: Now you have to jump, you idiot. And if I let myself fall I thought I might fall like a sliver of flesh or a stone sinking in water, slowly and gently, and I tried to calm down. But in vain: You couldn’t know until you jumped and jumping without knowing is terrifying. Suddenly there was a boom and I heard a crack. Looking down, I saw a chasm big enough to swallow the tree. The tree violently shook. And I was torn between jumping and holding even more tightly onto the branch. The tree might protect me. And the shaking and the crack seemed like a chance: Maybe now, I said, like this, I won’t have to jump. 

My sister’s hair was a mess and with pillow marks on her sleepy face and dressed in her blue pajamas covered in clouds she seemed to me like she always did on one of those mornings when we were both afraid we were late to school. A sound like a hiccup rose up from her chest. Then mom appeared in her nightdress, barefoot, a whistle around her neck, a big rucksack on her back, sleeping bags dangling from the sides, and she said in a tone of voice so calm it would frighten the living daylights out of you: Something’s happening. 

When we got to the landing in the stairwell we saw everyone pushing and shoving to get up onto the roof instead of leaving the building. Without thinking we slipped into the crowd but there was hardly any room to stand. The older folks struggling up the steps were already turning the impatience of the crowd into rage. Children were huddled together, crying, and mothers shook them by the shoulders, shouting, don’t be scared! A man hugged a massive plasma TV as he pushed it upstairs, grumbling, get out of my way. Whoa, shouted someone else, turning around. Move aside, what the hell, another man snapped. This was an earthquake but the building contractors would kill us. Terrorists had been dropping bombs. There had been an explosion of methane gas. This was a sign. The end result. It meant paramilitaries were on the move. The day of reckoning had finally come. Newspapers had been writing about this for a while now. We were all on the same train that had just slipped off the rails. What were we waiting for? Damn. Foreign powers! Meteor! Conductor! God! Calm down! shouted a woman from the top floor. In a tone of voice that was hardly calm. The crowd jolted to a halt and everyone knew they were on the brink of a stampede, a tangle of knees, hips, elbows and hands reaching for the bannister, and a vibration rose like widening rings of resentment: We were dying, because of someone else. 

I have no idea how but somehow we all managed to make it to the roof. And would we ever get back down, no one had a clue. I got an elbow in my side. My sister was rubbing her ears. When we stepped outside mom came between us, took us by the hand and led us to the guard wall, but she suddenly stopped before we got there. My sister and I looked at each other and then up at her, and on the tips of our toes we strained to see over the railing. But all we could see was a plane, and purple and black, mushroom-shaped clumps of smoke rising so slowly it seemed so strange, billowing as they rose, and little stars bursting, scattering like brilliant marbles, and so many birds. We didn’t need to stand any higher to see everything. And there was nothing else for us to do. Not a trace of the stress and panic on the stairs was left. They were all looking at whatever it was they saw, as if no longer troubled by knowing or understanding. Apart from a few children like us on tip toes watching only the fanfare of light in the sky everyone looked like my mother: Every face was a gold fish dreaming with open eyes. 

Was this an eclipse of the mind, a reverence, a transcendence, a horror, I couldn’t understand, but in that silence that gave us the feeling it might swallow us if got any denser there was a crack! A walnut dropped in front of my sister. Then came a crow, who picked it up, flew off and dropped it above the concrete surface of the roof again. Crack! To pry open the nut the crow had to do it again. But by then that bright, omniscient, playful expression had already appeared on my sister’s face. She picked up the walnut, popped the nut out of its shell with one hand, ate one half, and handed me the other. And with that childish grin that declared to all living creatures she was present, she looked up at the purple sky wondering if another walnut was going to fall.


Birgül Oğuz / October 2018

Translated from the Turkish by Alexander Dawe with the author