The cedar trees which seem to continue breadthwise and lengthwise, provided a border to the farm that was about twenty kilometres from the town. There were peach , cherry and lemon trees in the tranqualizing land. The small and white village house was built in front of my father's vineyard.that provided shelter in hot summer days. The forest of pine trees could be seen from the left side of the white washed house and the smooth breeze has always swept away the uneasiness of the day. The barn was between the house and the forest. On the right side of the village house , the river flowed gently where I used to go fishing. The pink oleanders bent over to hear the sound of the flowing water. Actually, there were more turtles in the water than fish but during Summer holidays and at the weekends in Winter I have always gone there to catch some .
Though, I have generally disliked going to the farm as there were no children to play with, except Sundays. Sundays were fun! I used to spend time with the children of our guests who were stopping by on the way back from the beach.
Mehmet, my indispensible hero had grey-white hair and the color of his eyes always reminded me of the mossy blanket that one could only find in the depths of the sea. For he always had a smiling expression , his wrinkles were more obvious and as he didnt like to use a belt, his trousers were always down but he never cared about it until somebody warned him. Dad always liked to fix something in the kitchen for his guests. Extra virgin olive oil, thyme, daphne and garlic were the basics in many of his recipies. He slowly made the grill ready while drinking raki and murmuring couplets in Cretan to make the guests laugh. One of them still echoes in my mind:
Ολοι μου λένε πως μεθώ
Μα 'γώ κρασί δε πίνω
Ένα πουλάκι με μεθεί
Κι' εγώ στον θεό τ' αφήνω.
He had always eaten alone beside the grill, rarely sat down with us. Even at those times when he used to make everyone laugh and leave them breathless with his naughty jokes, he would generally conclude that 'laughing is a good way to digest food.'
His Cretan roots have always brought diversity of colors to our table. Collecting wild greens, so carrying a knife were indispensible delicacies of life . Γιαγιά was even able to tell from a distance where she could find wild artichokes due to the whitish color of the soil. My favorite was always wild asparagus cooked with eggs and spring onions. Favoring that sort of a bitter taste was making me feel privileged.
During the week at the farm I always wished to be at home back in Izmir so I could watch TV , but since I was only eight I wasn't allowed to be left alone at home and I had to go to the farm to make the family happy. Later on, I finally decided to try enjoying my time while I was at the farm to make it more bearable as I had no other choices but to go anyway.
The barn was huge; Mehmet had built it according to the plans that he brought from the capital city. There were rabbits, cows, horses, chickens, roosters and sheep. We also used to have two hunting dogs called Zoka and Kostak that always protected me from the strangers and the other dogs that looked disturbing.
Mehmet used to put traps for the rats in the barn. I remember taking out the dead rats and carrying them with a shovel to the paved road and whistling their funeral music. After leaving them on the road, I waited for the cars to pass by so I could watch the rats to be transformed into paper sheets.
Inci, my mum, complained about almost everything that she've experienced in her life. Perhaps she wasn't aware of the tension that was reflected to her face. Her matte green eyes have always seemed very black to me. Remembering tragic moments of her life have eventually become a permanent habit as the years passed by. Somehow the psychiatrist's prescription was not working well on her. When I was fourteen, I remember asking her to watch the movements of the willow leaves so maybe she might feel ease. As a response she said,"Are you on drugs, so you are talking like this?" Through each and every attempt that I made to "reach" her inner world, I was refused and after a while I had to accept the unbreakable distance between us.
There was an endless tobacco field at the neighboring farm where I used to escape until my hero, my sweet daddy got back home. It was fun to collect tobacco, to help to our neighbors. I was gladly giving massage to the backs with my tiny little hands as they worked. Sometimes I was even stealing some pans full of food to bring to our neighbors because I thought mum can always cook but those people had to work. And I was the one to balance justice between the two farms! Of course, on the way back home I knew what was waiting for me: Inci with a willow branch in her hands.
"But I wanted to help them!"
"Oh really, I don't have anyone to help me! This is not an excuse and it is not the first time you've stolen food from your own house to bring to the neighbors. Do you have any idea how many hours it took me to roll the stuffed grape leaves?"
I never felt any pain because I was so sure that I hadn't done anything wrong. The problem was her, Inci. While I was counting the traces of the wounds on my legs, I was so sure that she again misinterpretted my deeds.
One day, in the afternoon Inci and I were drinking tea under the willow tree in front of the house. She was obsessively twisting a strand of her curly hair. She took a deep breath and started to talk about her father again. I, a fifteen year old, was again patiently listening her story. "God, I hope he is resting in peace wherever he is" she said and turned towards to me: "You know, he was a great man one could ever meet in a life time...When I had a headache, he cried. You cannot imagine how strong were his manners, everything about him was beyond human limits. And my mother right after losing such a wonderful man, got married with a drunken worker. How come she dared to do that, I will lose my mind!"
I said, " Mum, please try to leave it behind you. Whatever happenned, has happened. You cannot change it. Maybe it was not the proper thing to remarry right after losing your father but perhaps it wasn't easy to keep up with the daily routine as a single parent in those years. Please try to forgive her and moreover try to love her along with her mistakes. You don't know what you could have done if you were in her shoes. She was only thirty two and she needed someone. You can't simply die with the dead."
Inci got mad, she really freaked out: "What about 'honor'?" she shouted.
I was already tired of talking to her for she was a stubborn goat! She stood up slowly, holding an empty tea glass in her trembling hands, looked at me in a weird way and walked into the house mumbling to herself.
Right after she got in, my brother Ali showed up. He was back from hunting. He was snorting with anger. He threw his back pack, his rifle, common quails and grey patridges over the empty chair, next to me. Then he pulled the water pump a couple of times and washed his face with the ice-cold water. It was not something uncommon for him to be aggressive but this time he looked like he had a good reason.
"Hi, a bad day?" I asked him.
His eyes got even darker and shouted, "Damn Zoka died!"
"He wanted to challenge the train. He was running along the railway and has completely forgotten about birds or hunting. When he almost passed the very first wagon, he suddenly disappeared underneath it."
I was scared to respond, as if my muscles turned into marble pieces at that second. Poor Zoka, my friend...I wonder what he thought that the train was; a huge bird? Or a monster to challenge? Or did he simply try to prove to his master that he was faster than the train? I asked Ali if he burried Zoka. He didn't respond.
Mehmet had always been an easy going person. I remember him saying, "Oh my cheeks are aching again of smiling." He was generally discreet and modest although he had a lot to be proud of; he was a calm sea. He was my harbour! He donated an elementary school to the government and although he was not a wealthy man he happily paid for many children's school books for so many long years. Whatever he did, I was deeply in love with my hero.
One sunny afternoon I was digging the ground to find some worms to use as a bait. Mehmet was smoking his narghile in front of the house. His stillness pulled my attention. As he laid down on the divan and I realized he was staring at a picture. There was a sulky expression on his face, his eyes were shimmering though. In his sullen expression there was something rebellious and at the same time his wrinkles were so obvious which made me think that he was actually smiling. I was so curious to see that picture!
It was my grandmum's picture, his mother. She was quite chobby and taller than usual standards. Her curly hair was tied up very properly. The most noticable feature of hers were her big green eyes and the way she looked; I thought one could easily cast under her spell. She'd passed away when Mehmet was born.
Mehmet's father, Ali had done his best for the child; feeding him with goat milk and making sure that he was always clean. Ali was rarely having time to rest; he had to till the land and plant various greens. As Ali didn't know any Turkish, Mehmet used to speak only Cretan until he was finally six years old. Then on Mehmet was sent out to play with the locals so he could learn and practice some Turkish in order not to experience problems at school.
As Mehmet grew up, he eventually started to help to his father and learnt how to deal with mother earth.
They rarely talked while cultivating the land.Sometimes Ali murmured some couplets in Cretan or fed Mehmet with many interesting stories about Crete and eventually Mehmet grew up with admiration to an image in his mind which even shaped his soul by bestowing him self-confidence, pride and manhood. He was so proud to have his roots from an island which was accepted as the most beautiful piece of land on the entire Earth. As his father explained, Crete was a land with endless and fertile vineyards; and that the amazing vineyards looked like the waves of the Aegean sea; that Crete was a holy land. Mehmet has felt that he was superior than the locals for he had Cretan blood in his veins.
At nights, Mehmet was hiding in the darkness of his room and was crying secretly, of not having the warmth of a mother and for not being able to put his head on her lap. "Why God?" he begged. He couldn't understand why she had to leave him so early.
I was back to the worms again when Mehmet called me, "Hey, your worms are escaping!" I suddenly decided to invite him for fishing trying to take him out of the world that he seemed he got lost.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
At six o'clock in the morning I heard a fluster in the house. It was too hard to open my eyes but Mehmet's voice was tense: "Give me the car keys. It's time." He was running about in panic. I stood up, washed my face and brushed my teeth in a minute. İnci told me that our horse, Rebecca would be delivering her baby soon. The steward, Ahmet has been checking with Rebecca for the last two days. I rushed to the barn gate but I wasn't let in. Ahmet explained that horses like to be alone during delivery. I started to pray for Rebecca, for she would have lesser pain and cramps as I cried without knowing why.
Mehmet in the meanwhile was already back with the veterinarian. As they got in to the barn İnci said, "Go and bring some eggplants from the backyard. I'll cook." I was almost paralyzed for her impassive way of looking at things. Then she said, "Are you still here? Go out of my sight!"
I slammed the door, walked quickly to the barn gate and sat beside it, consumed with impatience I felt gorge start to rise. I felt I was pining away with grief. Then I started to pray again while I watched the ants rushing to extend their food reserves for winter.
Four hours later, dad appeared by the gate. I sighed. He was looking down. I still can remember the sound of my own voice, screaming, "NO!" I started to walk backwards, Mehmet grabbed me from my arm and hold me tightly. "Child, I know Rebecca was very important to you. You grew up riding her. She was also very special to me, but I want you to be sure that we did our best."
I laid my head to his shoulder and whispered, "Why?"
He said, "My sweet baby, she had twins and her womb was upside down. Believe me we did our best."
I swept away my tears and shouted as I kept sobbing, "Don't you ever leave me alone!" He hugged me and said ," I'll never leave you, I promise. Now let's go and wash your face."
İnci was in the house, still cooking when we got in. "I'm starving" she said. "Couldn't you leave it to the veterinarian? What could you do to help her for heaven's sake?"
Mehmet said, "We lost her."
İnci was serving the lunch and she mumbled, "We'll get another one, no need to worry."
I ran to the bathroom and threw up.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * **
A month later, I was still crying for Rebecca. It was August and even under the shade it felt like Equador at the farm. The next day was my birthday and all I wished for that night when I layed down on my bed was a healthy life for my dad.
The following morning I woke up to a caterwauling. I saw from the window that Mehmet and İnci were having breakfast under the willow tree. I started to search the house to find the source of the noise. And finally I saw a black cat in the kitchen and I thought that the window was left open and probably the wind shut it. The cat jumped through the window to get out and it fell down. With each attepmt to get out the black cat broke another piece of glass, its paws were cut and bleeding. The sink and the kitchen counter were washed into red in a few minutes. Finally it saw the door that I opened and ran out.
I thought that all these were frustrating but when Mehmet received a letter from the government informing him that a dam was to be built in the area and that he had two months to leave the farm I stood aghast. I was twenty by that time and for the first time I realized how much I actually loved to be at the farm. It was impossible to get used to the idea of losing the farm. The forest was going to be cut down, Mehmet's vineyards, mum's rose garden, everything!
Then on, Mehmet was stuck in an apartment. At the weekends he strolled around nearby places and he objected buying another land and he constantly kept saying that he did not want to betray the farm. He still liked to voice the Cretan couplets while drinking raki but I had rarely seen a cheerful smile on his face.
Finally it was my turn to leave home for university. I was doing well with my lessons and was so happy to have a flat of my own in Ankara...until one day I got a phone call from my mum, informing that I was supposed to get to Izmir as quick as it was possible. Mehmet was not well. In half an hour I was at the train station as there weren't any flights at that moment. There was no way to take the bus where smoking was not permitted. I was sure that six hundred kilometres was not going to pass without smoking.
I am always going to remember that journey... I was exhausted of anxiety when I arrived home. Inci, with an artificial smile on her face, welcomed me. Then she leaned against the wall, "You are a strong girl but this is hard even for you. You will have to experience what I had experienced long ago and I hope you would not go mad like I did...Your daddy has cancer of the liver."
I fell on the floor.
I do not know how long it took me but I finally woke up some time later. Inci was smoking a cigarette and staring at me. "He doesn't know yet. Behave properly." she said with a frigid voice. I left the room silently. Only one single word was echoing in my mind. "No!" He has broken his promise! Inci was responsible of his illness, she was the one to be blamed. Her pessimism was injected into Mehmet's liver in the form of a tumor and now it was her getting bigger and bigger every day.
A month later, Mehmet's huge body was fighting against death. I brought him some chicory that I collected from the greenest pastures, hoping to cure his liver. And yesterday friends came over to visit us. Mehmet promised to have some raki as soon as he gets well and he told some couplets in Cretan:
The doctors, medicines
none worked at all
and my lonely heart
is left without cure.
"Licking the Pages" Magazine
Bilkent University Editions
Bilkent University Editions