I must have been in my first year of junior high; I remember I had my black school bag in my hand. It was winter. Dusk was about to fall. The streets were filled with students out of school and government officials done with work. It wasn’t raining, but that sticky, humid air that never left the city had grown awfully denser.
I was on Trabzon’s most crowded thoroughfare, in the middle of Uzun Street –somewhere between Mehmet’s Bookshop and Saray Cinema– when a man walking in front of me suddenly leapt into motion, taking out a stick –or maybe it was an iron bar, I couldn’t tell– from under his thick coat and slamming it on the back and then the head of a young man in a parka a few steps ahead of him.
As the poor bloodied man collapsed into a heap, the other ran away. A buzzing crowd gathered at an unexpected rate around the young man whose head was already sitting in a pool of blood. Having so closely witnessed such a horrific event, I was overcome with palpable terror and excitement.
People started trying to lift the motionless body while I continued to stare, curious. As I was pushed back by the erratic crowd that flooded the “crime scene”, I lost sight of the young man’s split head and ran away from there.
What thrilled me so, I have to admit, was my sudden and privileged inheritance of a horrific and bloody story. I had come to possess the witnessing of an awful murder (he might not have been dead, but that didn’t matter so much at the moment).
I sprinted along the rest of Uzun Street and dove into my father’s cigarette-smoke-filled shop in the Square completely out of breath (My father had a shop where he sold spare car parts, which was located on the Square, across from the municipality building, and frequented by his garrulous hunting buddies).
The seven or eight regulars inside turned their heads to take a glance at me and then resumed their interrupted conversation.
In fact, I was pleased with their indifference, unwilling to betray my fear from the first –my knees were still shaking slightly– but I also felt this unstoppable urge to tell them about the incident of the split head that I had just witnessed.
That being said, the horde was uninclined to pay any attention to me as they listened to the story my father was probably telling for the hundredth time and always with the same verve. The topic was a large bear my hunter father had shot around Van months ago. Shooting the bear he’d been following for a long while, reaching the tall, steep rock where he got stuck in his crawl, skinning it there, and taking out some of its inner fat, prized for its medicinal qualities, had taken him so long that it had gotten dark by then.
It had been very dangerous to get back from that steep cliff and the hills in that darkness, Mauser rifle in hand and the bear’s hide weighing on his back, but he hadn’t had a choice. In the end, after averting quite a few dangers, including falling over twice and spraining his ankle, he had made it to his car (My father had a green Skoda then).
This adventure led to others, to different hunting stories amidst heated cries, and I lost my appetite about telling the splitting head story. I kept on listening to that rowdy conversation from a corner.
After a while the door opened and a lottery seller came inside. I can vividly picture the moment and my own astonishment in it. The lottery seller was a skinny woman looking all the more feeble in a thin beige overcoat that was too big for her.
With the white baseball cap that said National Lottery on the red band on its bill she wore over her tightly wound headscarf, she was standing at the doorjamb, lottery tickets in her hand, staring at that strange assembly of men.
Their excitement brought to a sudden halt, the men looked at the woman for a short while and then turned their heads away to pick up where they left off in their impassioned hunting stories.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t tear my gaze from the white nylon cap sitting so pitifully atop the woman’s head and felt ashamed.
I felt truly ashamed by the woman’s so suddenly materializing and, under the gaze of that horde, so suddenly disappearing presence, and by that white cap. I felt ashamed in a way I could never explain to myself. I felt so ashamed I could die.
The woman just stood there for a while without saying anything, and then she silently turned and left.
Some time after she left, the horde dispersed amid laughter. On the way home I told my father my bloody murder story that I had witnessed.
He didn’t react as strongly as I thought he would.
We picked up bread from Rüştü’s bakery. The rain had started by the time we got home. (TP/APA/PU)
52 WEEKS 52 MEN
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