[Story]"A Pera Tale" | Erinc Büyükasik
"DID POVERTY SMELL DEATH?"
First Voice (Ali’s Story)He woke up. In the air shaft of the depot that stinked damp and fusty, for days, everytime he held his head up he felt the heavy smell of not being able to take a shower. He was suddenly disgusted at himself. He was scared of his miserable, scrawny body. He found himself such alien at that moment; he wanted to look at his blackened face through the broken mirror. He was angry with empty dreams that consoled him for years, when he came hereabouts from Mardin(1) four years ago. In this depot's empty garden space that he stayed between Beyoglu's(2) apartments cheek by jowl, he kept turning inside his bed that was gray from dirt, wishing he never woke up.
His other friend who also stayed in the depot slept inside the fusty, dirty and damp bed, the depot that the apartment's sewage flowed. They were no longer disgusted niether with this depot's heavy, nauseous smell nor with the garbage heap that they had gathered. It was a reality that dwellers weren't devil a bit pleased with them, they called the police regularly and they had to face the police's "Don't wander around hereabouts!" treats after an ordinary id check. The day that the police came, they moved away from the depot for a few hours; later, again in the darkness of the night, they came back to this isolated place. In the depot, they held the garbage they had collected at night; towards morning, among the garbage, they separated the handy ones, plastic bottles, sometimes discarded electronic stuff that junkdealers gave a little money. Clothes to wear also happened to come their way. Their stomachs were full thanks to Erdogan Agabey.(3) He had arranged this depot for them. He started to bring beer and hash now and then. They had tried all kinds of drugs since they were fifteen to get carried away, to get out from the cruel concreteness of the world they are living. It was apparent that their souls were becoming numb, as their bodies went numb.
When they felt suffocated from the police's frequent visits at nights, GBT(4) control that was becoming continious, he also swore; with his smoky head, he was getting angry, saying "F… it, are we going to kick the bucket in the streets because of these crook cops?" Inspite of the anger in his face, he had always a childish expression. A child that was lost and gone inside… Since he moved to Dolapdere(5) with his parents, that childish state had gone; yet in his tens' he joined the grown-ups' world. Having come from Mardin, he left the school and tried working as a footboy in a few workshops but was unable to settle down; ever since he wrapped himself in damn hash, he broke up with home, he began to prefer living in the streets. If his comfort hadn't been occasionally disrupted by the police, if he hadn't frozen to death in the winter colds, he would have got used to the street. Just after he commited this basement in Tepebasi(6) as a depot, he started sleeping here, he found a pillow to put his head on; here at least some things entered in his stomach.
Second Voice (Murat’s Story)He had always dreamed himself as a beautiful, charming woman since he was a child. It was as if his mother gave birth to him as a girl, but somehow he had come out with a boy's body. His uncle's molestations in his childhood, his making use of him, this little boy's unability to raise his voice and "Be quiet, look, I will take you to the big city to make you a beautiful girl; if you like, I can marry you over your aunt-in-law"(7) kinds of harrassments.
His uncle's promises went through his mind. With also the effect of the beer he had drunk all night long, he had half-naked slept on the bed in the depot. He hadn't had a shower for months, except in the mornings washing their faces with the dirty depot water which they filled inside a water bottle. What need to take a shower a garbage collector would have; again beginning from morning, they would go on collecting garbage along Tarlabasi(8) Street.
During the days he stayed in the depot, there were times that he hooked up with men around for a little amount of money. Especially men of forties, who were dissatisfied with their wives. Noone except "balamoz"s(9) would demand him. He certainly had buyers, too. For his dirty, stinky skin, his body was already a belonging that was bought and sold with money, with drink and with hash. He surely hadn't had a market like his sisters in Tarlabasi. At least they were operated; they were treated more like women. But with his face, he was an attractive woman; with his body, he was a skinny, poor boy whose bones protruded from their places.
Dwellers got pissed off because of "Prostitution!", but they didn't say it much louder for they held back from Erdogan Agabey; they didn't get smeared with them.
Inspite of the smell of urine and mold of the bed he was lying on, he put his head on the pillow that had turned gray. He had got used to sleeping here, it was better than trying to sleep in the street on stone steps or on benches. A dog and its three puppies that lived in the depot with them had also got used to lie on his bed. He felt he was being loved, when he saw the puppies and their mother sleeping near him.
In this depot, noone judged noone. They were as if parts of the same putrid fate anyway. They likened their lives to Ferdi Baba's and Orhan Baba's(10) songs which they frequently listened. They were inside the weird state of mind, which was used to suffering, yet felt plesure from this. On the previous night, how he muttered "Hatasız kul olmaz, hatamla sev beni"(11) delightedly with the enhusiasm the hash gave.
He undoubtedly wouldn't have known that the abuse he had gone through in his childhood would change the course of his life. His family was still in the village. His father had already disowned him, saying "I don't have a sissy son." When they stocked the garbage in the depot, his frequenter, a middle aged dustman tagged along after them. He was a man who was saucy, smelled as bad as him, had rusty teeth, was paunchy; who in spite of his disgusting appearance, could be considered as docile, affectionate. Sometimes the woman in his soul craved to have a husband like him. Maybe this man would take him out of this depot's fusty, damp and dirty walls and make him "lady of her house". It was a silly dream, the man was married. He was working at municipality. He also collected garbage, but he was on a salary for the garbage he collected, he had a particular influnce in the municipality as a regular worker. However, he and his friends were usually thrown in the street by municipal teams, because of the garbage they gathered in these isolated depots.
Amongst all these thoughts, he recalled a "Zeki Müren"(12) movie he had watched when he was a child. When he had watched Zeki Müren performing on the stage at Viransehir's(13) only cinema, he had dreamed to become an "artist" like him. His uncle had promised to introduce him to taverners as soon as they went Istanbul . When they came, he was hastily entrusted to Erdogan Agabey. Erdogan wasn't someone who had an ability more than collecting garbage and selling hash. There were times that he sold him to one or two customers. He had already understood that; this huge city had drawn his path long time ago.
The beer bottles that the man had brought were beside the corner of the bed. His friend in the depot was sleeping on the bed near the airing. They had chatted until four o'clock in the morning. He was from Urfa(14), his friend was from Mardin(15). They were almost fellow townsmen. He called him "Toprak"(16). "Your people can't sleep without boys, I don't think it is few that has slept with you" said he smiling.
His eyes were fairly swollen, the smell of garbage that they had collected all night long pervaded upon him, he woke up having been disgusted from himself. Banging into beer bottles that they gathered in the depot, he tried to walk waddlingly and to wash his face with the water in the bucket which could hardly be considered clean. For days he was having hardship in waking up in the mornings. A few days ago, having being examined in venereology, he had pretty felt offended.
There were no place for him to go except from this city; but could another life apart from this life be possible in this city? At the crack of dawn, he realized an indistinct tear pouring, when he made his way to wash his face. He couldn't come into the open anyway, he couldn't explain the terrible dullness inside him. Even their next door neighbour Zehra Abla(17) wouldn't understand him. In fact, it wasn't rare that Zehra Abla had helped them. Sometimes a cup of hot food could enter their stomachs owing to her.
Third Voice (Zehra’s story)They had also come from Mardin as a family. Ten years ago, they had settled in this old ruined building in Beyoglu; when actual hosts had to go back to Greece years ago because of forced migration, they started living in this empty house by means of distant relatives. Her husband was in charge of electric work. Since these children came to the depot, she began to believe with humane sentiment that there were other pathetic lives than hers. Their story evoked her own migration story a little.
She didn't know reading and writing, she didn't understand anything else than earthwork and housework. She helped the family budget by going to house cleaning in the huge city.
Years ago, in severe winter cold, when it was sleeting in December's colds, they took shelter in this house with a bundle and a few belongings. These children's stories seemed close to her for this reason. She especially loved the one who is "like a girl". Dwellers kept saying that he was at nights taking up with the men of the quarter. She let them say nothing about him. Every time he passed in front of her window, he said "Abla, abla!(18) How beautiful was the food you gave us yesterday" and this made her cheer up. She pitied them of course; but there was some kind of maternal side of this pity. With the frustration of having being beaten every night, hearing unutterable words from her lame husband, she compared these children's lives in deficiency with hers; she became happy for she could full up and they could bring home the bacon.
Dwellers had once again complained about these boys. As they said, the smell of garbage in the quarter had become unbearable. But what did they want from those oddities? Moreover, she let her little son play with them. They were good children indeed and they collected garbage not to starve. They were smoking this damn thing, yes, there was also no day that they didn't drink. Let them drink. Many adolescents were smoking damn hash. When it comes to drinking, her husband drank every single day. Furthermore, he finished a little bottle(19) at a night. Followingly he found an excuse to beat her.
"In fact, mine is a good guy" said she to herself, "He at least doesn't forget to bring home the bacon." He had pitied these odd boys and he had connected illegal electricity to the depot. He had good sides in a sense. But he didn't like the boy, who was the apple of her eye; he cursingly said "he is too sissy", but he again pitied his situation.
He sometimes tried to arrange debris works of constructions for these boys. They drank to not sleeping all night long, not being so willing to work. In spite of his anger, his feelings of being a townsman were aroused most of the time. Mardin, Urfa … There were neigbouring hometowns. They were almost the same land. Similar exiles from same lands… It didn't disturb his husband that his ghastly faced, scrawny son loved these odd boys.
Small VoiceDid poverty smell death, did life amongst sewages intersect their paths with migration? He who wrote this story was searching for the answers to this question. The poverty, which couldn't make its voice heard, make its voice multiply in Beyoglu's unchanging polyphony, had already pervaded in the streets. While fleshes, bodies, souls were marketed in the streets, the laws were in favour of the power. Remainders of buildings from Pera(20) that were about to collapse were witnesses from the past until today. The dirt, the rust, the night and the day of the streets…
Ali, Murat, Zehra and her husband, stinked garbage, sewage maybe, they used to smell poverty and slackness. But it was a fair sum of Istanbul that reflected from their faces. These two children's tired and exhausted faces were describing this suffering city, which each road story intersected. And the writer of this story, as a tragedian, wanted this city to give out its sound.