Oryantasonun ilk gününde koşarak GazeteBilkent standında gittiğim günden beri GazeteBilkent’te yazıyorum. Bilkent’te geçirdiğim dört sene boyunca bu kulüp bana birçok arkadaş, birçok anı, birçok tecrübe kazandırdı. Mezun olurken bu platformdaki son yazım olarak sizinle bir hikayemi paylaşmak istedim. Umarım keyifle okursunuz. Bu güzel dört yıl için GazeteBilkent’e çok teşekkür ederim. Sevgiyle ve sanatla kalın.
At first, I thought he was just an old man who had no one to chat with or someone who drew the longbow when he found someone who had to listen. But when I look at it now, I see that he was using me as an anchor to throw in this world. I would take up the duty to embroider a thread of his existence into the minds of others. So here I am.
The road to the town took 47 minutes exactly with the shuttle—which was nothing more than a light lorry that took up to ten men on its bed. Yet, that truck never carried less than fifteen for the sake of profit. I would watch the hands of the wristwatch my father used to wear as they raced with the numbers. The sun would go down, and the landscape would be stroked with a calm blue as lights from the houses behind the tobacco fields sprinkled on the skyline. I was usually too tired to chat; most of us were. Yet there would always be a bunch who would somehow suppress the mutterings of the truck as we pottered along the bumpy road with the summer wind as our companion.
I don’t really remember how I ended up on the small country road instead of the white lorry after another long working day. The sun wasn’t down completely, so I could see the farmhouse getting smaller in the distance behind the orange haze of the sunset with every step I took. The straps of my hat were rubbing on my face, and the cheap fabric made my forehead itchy. My working gloves were crushed in the back pocket of my boilers suit. The July sun was merciless, sticking my sweaty clothes to my shoulders. I wiped the sweat on my head with the back of my hand. It was then that I saw a pair of headlights coming toward me. I stopped at the side of the road, teasels pricking my ankles. I raised my arms in the air, waving, hoping to have bumped into someone who would take me into his vehicle.
Headlights got closer and took the shape of a wobbly white truck that loudly slowed down as it got close to me. A pair of glasses and a bald head were all that could be seen from where I stood. The truck slowly kept going on its track as the owner of the bald head slowly winded down the window.
I started following the truck, which went on with its way as if the driver’s commands were none of its business.
I quickened my steps. The glasses talked, this time louder.
“Get in, now!”
The white door opened with a squeak. I pulled myself up, closed the door behind me, and I came eye to eye with a bobblehead dog toy sitting on the inlaid quilt put on the glove compartment.
“It’s really hard to restart it once it’s stopped,” he smiled. He had black-framed glasses and a bunch of white hair here and there. The truck started grumbling as it got a little bit faster. I could see the sun turn into a hot bowl of light and spread its redness from the side mirror.
“I was going to the town, is that on your way?”
He shook his head.
“Thank you, it would’ve taken me forever to get to the town.”
“You were lucky,” he slightly rose from his seat to see the rocky path. He wasn’t exactly the tallest man. “I usually don’t take this road.” I jumped in place as the truck went over a bump. “I was supposed to take the other road at the, uh, you know, at the fork. So you were in luck, heh.”
I smiled out of courtesy. The sweat on my back hadn’t dried yet, and my eyes were itching from the tobacco leaves. Yet it wouldn’t be polite to just close my eyes and sleep while this man drove me home. He must’ve been around 70. His round face looked even rounder as the shine of his bald head added to his frame. There were tufts of white hair just above his ears that just seemed like they had forgotten to fall out with the rest. He was terribly sunburnt. The slightly lighter parts of the skin showed themselves every now and then between the wrinkles on his forehead when he squinted. His hands controlling the wheel were square, filled with wrinkles and liver spots that old age had gifted. He occasionally moved his thick black glasses up to his bald head and back down to his nose. Even today, I can’t quite figure out why he did that. I guess some moments were worthy of being seen through the glasses, and some were not.
“What are you carrying?”
I raised my voice.
“What are you carrying? In the back, I mean.”
His frown turned into a smile.
“I can hear, don’t worry.”
I felt a hotness climb over my face. I opened my mouth to apologize.
“Not much now, few boxes of hazelnuts. Do you like ‘em?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, harvest wasn’t the best this year. There were these weird furry caterpillars all over the trees. Have you seen ‘em?”
I shook my head. Those nasty creatures would climb into our boots while we worked in the field.
“I put up a good fight, I can tell you that. But,” he said, “it seems like they won, heh.”
The sound of cicadas competing with the snarl of the truck swept in from the open windows, along with the fresh smell of harvest and the summer heat that had only started to descend. The sun was almost out now, the fields and the road before us dipped in a warm color. I took off my hat, threw my arm and head out the window. I closed my eyes and let the breeze wipe my dusty face. I had never felt this tired and satisfied at the same time.
“Are you hungry?” He said. I drew my body into the vehicle again and felt the emptiness in my stomach for the first time in hours. I looked at his face to say no. I wouldn’t want to inconvenience him.
“Let’s have breakfast,” he said and slowed the truck to pull it over at the lay-by.
“Isn’t it late for breakfast?” I laughed.
“It’s never late for breakfast.”
The lorry rumbled as the tires went in and out the bumps on the side of the road, one by one. He slammed on the breaks, and the truck stopped hard, pitching us forward. He pulled the parking brake and jumped out. I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea, yet I couldn’t turn down the offer of food. I went around the truck from the front to find him. He was in the back of the lorry, tussling in the rattling sound of the metal. My eyes were getting used to the fading light. The crescent moon was making its entrance, and the wind was being kind this evening.
He jumped out of the lorry with a camp stove in his hand and a small box under his arm. I took the box from him.
“Thank you,” he said and rushed to the side of the truck to open a lid that revealed two shelves—filled with enamel plates and cups, interwoven saucepans, salt and pepper shakers, and stuff. He put the camp stove on the ground. As he pulled out a pan from the secret cupboard, the stuff that was placed on the pan fell into their new places with a rumble. He took forks and a wooden spoon from a little rectangular wooden box.
“Come on,” he said with a little gesture of a hand. I was standing there, watching him, with the box in my hand the whole time.
“Where should I put this?”
“Just,” he swept aside the things he put on the lid-table he took down to reach the pan, “anywhere really, heh.”
He took an oil lamp from the cupboard, put it on the table, and fumbled with a match for a few seconds. It lit after a couple of tries, and a warm yellow slowly rose and started to judder on the glass surface of the lamp.
“Have you ever seen one?”
“As a decoration, I think.”
“She’s 25 years old! You imagine? Not a scratch, still fit as a fiddle, heh.”
“Why don’t you use an electric lamp? They have ones with batteries.”
He reached into the box and took out a little bottle of oil. The dense green liquid covered the surface of the pan he put on the camp stove. His hands disappeared, then reappeared a couple of times in the box that seemed like it didn’t have a bottom, and brought out some eggs. The shells cracked on the side of the table, and the eggs leaked down from the crack into the sizzling oil. He put the shells in the box.
“I give them to my chickens at home,” he said without turning his head. The wooden spoon was smeared with the yolk.
My hands were in the deep pockets of my boilers suit. We had stopped right next to a big oak tree, one I see on my way home between my near-shut eyelids at the back of the shuttle. The image had always been blurry for me, yet somehow it felt like it was creeping closer every day. Inch by inch, its roots slowly moved towards us like a mischievous little child sneaking up to scare you, as if you didn’t know he was coming.
I flinched as he suddenly appeared in front of me with two plates filled with scrambled eggs and two slices of bread next to them.
“Can you hold them,” he said and slipped the plates into my hands. He turned off the stove and took the oil lamp. “Let’s eat by the tree.”
He sat down with a big sigh. I sat next to him and handed him his plate. I noticed some mud stuck under my shoes, but I didn’t feel like doing anything about it.
The oil lamp he put on the bruised grass attracted a couple of fruit flies in seconds. The sky was hovering between a crimson sunset and a cooled-down evening. Scattered clouds were sliding high up above, lightened with soft orange. I saw him dig into his food, occasionally raising his head to look up at the branches covering the sky on our heads. I spooned the eggs with my bread and sent half of the bread down in one bite.
“You see that water tank?” he said with his mouth full. I looked in the direction of his finger to see the bleary water tank across the fields. It was an old tank, I could tell by the ivies covering its head and legs. It stood alone in the middle of the field, like a wintry scarecrow. I shook my head. He swallowed and started speaking.
“I went there once, as a kid. I was seven, and I hung out with these three other boys who were older than me.” He shooed away a couple of flies swarming over his food. “The thing is, I don’t ever remember that tank being in good condition, even when I was a kid. The stairs looked unstable, and the stone used in the construction was covered in moss. No one used it, but no one took it down either. I sometimes felt like it was the guardian of our fields. Anyways, we weren’t allowed to go there. But you know, kids.” He laughed.
“One of those boys bet the oldest that he couldn’t get to the top of the tank. We were adventurous boys, so we carried around little sacks of useless stuff and all. He accepted, put his bag on the grass, and opened the cramped little door, we saw a muddy, smelly puddle coming up to the first few steps of the stone ladder. The boy hesitated for a second, but you can’t handle being mocked by other boys at that age. He had to do it. But he didn’t want to be alone. So he said,”
He raised his voice to the pitch of a middle-school boy to relive the scene. His tired voice trying to imitate a pure soul echoed between the trees and the hills across.
“Every traveler needs a companion. I need someone to be my sidekick.” He laughed and fit another bite of the bread into his mouth. “Kids can be funny. You see, it’s a clever way to have another victim with you without saying you’re afraid. The others weren’t happy, of course. They accused him of being a wet blanket. Still, he was the oldest one. So it was his word against all others. I want him, he said and pointed at me. You see, I was a measly little kiddo with the heart of a sparrow. I was also the smallest one, so I didn’t really have a choice. I wanted to run away, but my knees were locked.”
He patted his right knee. “Sometimes I think I have knee pain because of that day. Heh. Anyways, somehow they agreed and pushed me forward to get inside the puddle. I thought I was going to be a sidekick, but no, sir. I was a whipping boy. The oldest one took me to the puddle and pushed me to go forward. If I wasn’t dead by the time I got to the staircase, he would go in. I remember my eyes tearing up, and my heart beating like its cage wasn’t there. I stepped into the muddy water, and it leveled up to my belly. I was squeezing the boy’s arm and didn’t want to let go, but he shook me off. All the others crowded in front of the gate to watch me find my way into the swamp, holding my tears back. The floor was slippery, and I was keeping my chin high to not taste the water. Mold and other things were floating on the surface.”
“I finally reached the ladder and climbed up the stone steps, shivering. I saw the admiring look on the boys’ faces, and it made me feel proud for a split second. The one who took the bet rushed into the puddle to get it over with. Since even I made it, he would’ve been fine. But things didn’t turn out that way. When he was halfway through the puddle, a loud croak echoed between the stone walls. The boy stopped in horror, then took a step back, but he slipped and sank into the water. We screamed in fear. I was too scared to move, and others were hesitant to go in.”
He started giggling like a little boy. He had this look in his eyes that people get when they go back in memories. Distant, yet so present. It made me smile too. He turned to me and continued his story with excited hand gestures.
“Then he resurfaced with a gasp, but his trial wasn’t over. The bullfrog we heard before came out of nowhere and jumped onto his face.” The giggling now turned into our loud cackles. He put his glasses on his head and threw his hands in the air. “He screamed like crazy to get rid of the frog. Then it fell in the water with a blop, splashing water all over, and the boys ran away.”
We laughed, throwing our heads back, holding our stomachs, slapping our thighs. I wiped my tears.
“What happened next?” I asked when I caught my breath enough for words to come out. “Did they just leave you there?”
“Ah, the villagers found me crying on the stairs that night. I was too afraid to go out, knowing that the frog was still there. They thought my pants were all wet because of the water, but that wetness wasn’t just murky water, I can tell you that much!”
We broke down, laughing hard until I felt cramps in my stomach. Even after we calmed down, hearty chuckles sneaked out now and then. The blue hour had come, and there wasn’t a beam of sunlight. Only the light of the gas lamp, shining on the grass.
“Let’s get you home.”
We puttered along the dirt road. The radio sizzled out an old song with a crooning deep voice the whole time. He told me other stories. Stories of how he stole the homemade wine of their neighbour, how he almost dodged the draft, how Iraqi soldiers thought he was a spy while he was going across the country to make a delivery. I didn’t think of anything else as the scenes changed next to us, as the evening grew darker. The sight of him turning the wheel, hitting it as he laughed, and putting his glasses on his head before he cracked a joke won’t leave my mind even now.
“What’s the story behind that?” I asked, pointing at the red and white charm hanging on the rear-view mirror. He took a timid glance at the charm.
“Well, that’s,” he looked at me, “that’s a story for another time.” He pointed with his eyes at the bus stop at the start of the main road of my small town. The silence stretched long until we got there, even with the truck’s grumble and the scratchy radio.
“You know, I can’t stop,” he said with a muted smile. I shook my head.
“I’m glad to meet you.”
He turned the wheel lightly, without saying a word, and took his foot off the gas. I opened the car door as he slowed down and jumped off the truck. I paced and slammed the door, trying to see the thick-framed glasses he placed on his head from the rear mirror. The truck revved up, kicking up a cloud of dust that shimmered under the street lamps. He tooted the horn two times as his solitary taillight turned into an almost imaginary red flicker before dissolving into the dark summer night.