“So does this mean I’ll leave this world without lying down on the dewy grass even once?”
“There are more important things than that to think about, actually, but if that’s what’s on your mind, you could still do it. You’ve got at least three weeks left.”
“But there’d be no point now. I’m not going to.” I didn’t let him say anything else, and I left before he could start with the trite words of consolation.
In the street people were walking along quite naturally; they didn’t seem to be in any turmoil at all. A taxi crawled along by the curb, the driver listening to trashy songs on the radio, a cop carried on directing traffic, there were beautiful women . . . I stood in the middle of the road and started shouting:
“You bastards! How can you be like this when I’m about to leave the world! How did you people get to be so cruel? Look at me! I’m just like you, but I’m on my way out, I won’t be part of your lives anymore—doesn’t that make you sad? Aren’t you ashamed? Is it because you don’t know me? But still, why be so cruel . . . Can’t you at least stop what you’re doing for one single day?”
But I didn’t actually do that. I imagined doing it, and I wanted to, but that was all: I swallowed my words, defeated.
When I got to my neighborhood some children were playing in front of my building. I went up to one of them and asked him:
“Have you ever held a little sparrow in your hand?”
The rest of the children gathered around me before the boy could answer, and one of the others—a boy with a face full of freckles—answered me instead. “What, rather than a big sparrow?” The rest of them laughed at the little rascal’s joke.
“You think it’s funny, do you? You’ll regret it when you’re grown up, you stupid brats—quick, go and find some little birds to hold. In my whole childhood, I never once held a bird in my hand: when I was your age we’d hang out in the ruins of the old city, looking under stones for a certain kind of worm we called ‘jughels.’ We’d put them into traps as bait, then we’d wait for hours in the burning sun until one of us managed to catch a bird. As soon as the jaws of the trap snapped shut around a little sparrow, joy snapped its jaws around our hearts, and we’d take off—like birds freed from their cages—to seize our prey. All the other kids enjoyed the hunt, but not me. I never dared grab the sparrow and release it from the trap. So if I caught one, I’d sell it to one of the other kids, for five lira if it was a female bird and ten if it was a male.”
Standing here now, I’ve got such a lump in my throat and I’m trembling like a little sparrow’s beating heart: how did my childhood slip away from me like that? I never once held a single bird in my hands. How did I make do with just watching the others stroke those smooth feathers and feel those warm little bodies in their hands? I envied them so much.
But I’m only thinking about any of this because I know what’s around the corner—if I’d died unexpectedly I wouldn’t have felt all this grief.
“Don’t let your childhood pass you by, you stupid little brats.”
“I can get you a bird to hold if you want—a little one, not a big one. How much will you pay me for it?”
“He’ll give you five if it’s a female and ten if it’s a male.”
“No, he doesn’t dare hold a little bird, let’s bring him one of those worms—what are they called? Jughels?”
The children carried on showing off, competing to tell the best joke and make the others laugh. It was as if they’d discovered a new game, so I left them to it and went sadly into my house. When did the world become so cruel? How could children like these not understand a man like me—that my heart was being eaten away by grief at the prospect of leaving the world without even once holding a little bird in my hand?
In the house I lay down on my bed and tried to cry, staring up at the ceiling until I felt like my eyes were stuck to it. I lay there for hours, my eyes like two inkwells spilling letters onto the ceiling, as if spelling out messages I was afraid to write. The letters of the departing always make me so sad:
Remember that time when I had vernal conjunctivitis? I was scared, and I ran to you. I kept my head in your lap for hours, my eyes closed, while you bathed them with water to ease the pain.
But I couldn’t stop complaining the whole time. I want you to know that it wasn’t because of how much my eyes were stinging, but because I couldn’t describe exactly what I was feeling, couldn’t put it into words. That was what made me cry, the shapes I could see when my eyes were closed—those shapes weren’t just images, they were bearing down on my head from all sides and giving me an anxiety I didn’t understand. How was I supposed to explain and describe that? Would you have believed it?
Imagine . . . I’m thirty now, and still not capable of expressing it properly. But of course now I understand that lots of things happen and people aren’t able to describe them to anyone else.
I’m in pain every day, Mom. After all this, how come I still can’t understand what these distances are doing to my insides? Why can’t I manage to describe the things I feel? It’s like something is gushing out from somewhere inside of me, sort of near my heart, but not quite—I can’t even work out where it’s happening . . . Why do I feel it? It pains me that I can’t describe it to those that are far away.
It was me who used to steal your razors and hide them. I would use them to shave the peach fuzz off my face every three days so that I’d become a man more quickly, but even after stealing all those razors, I’ll leave the world without ever becoming a man.
Should I have shaved more often? Or did I need to grow for another thirty years?
Oh distant woman,
Today I counted up all the emails we’ve ever sent each other. Imagine: there are 38,771 messages, and 983 pictures of you.
But I just want to know one thing: how would it feel to hold your hand?
What’s it like to the touch? Soft and damp like sad eyes? Or cold and dry like a dead person’s brow?
Or are you unable to describe it?
I love you, and I’ll leave: without lying down with you on the dewy grass even once.
© Noor Dakerli. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2016 by Alice Guthrie. All rights reserved.