taken by Pentax K10D, at Istanbul
DEFEND MY LOVE YOU DEFEND
There were two of them.
They came with a bucket of paint.
They painted over in gray the many-colored
wall under the acacias and they left.
Everything wears out quickly. Shoes, curtains, buildings, streets and love affairs. Everything is quickly consumed.
I’d been thinking that nobody cared about the acacia trees anymore. They seemed more alive and everlasting as remembered in an old song than in real life. However, on the east side of the city the low buildings on a very narrow street still guarded them. As did the pale autumn sun that came after the rains. But the nights were cool; they made the dusty green leaves fade. And all autumn long, the leaves kept falling on my mother’s lovebirds.
When they passed in our street we felt more cheerful and almost smiled. They didn’t hold hands. They didn’t put their arms around each other. But, just the same, to us, they always seemed as though they were locked in an embrace. My mother called them “the lovebirds.” When she said, “My lovebirds are passing by!” what she really meant was, “What’s happened to you? You’re so gloomy.” My husband of a few years would look at our tattered love and smile dejectedly. I’d sworn to make a fresh start. And every time they passed in the street I almost felt as though we were rejuvenated. Both my husband and I tried to dispel our deep-seated gloom and keep our love, frayed without our willing, from drifting further away. As we rinsed the bitter taste from our mouths we were eager to give a new zest to our life.
Their hair was always covered with leaves. Pale months and days glided and fell off their bodies like sequins; and they became more beautiful as their feet made the fallen leaves rustle. I even believed that they had come from a faraway place to bring joy at a time when loveliness had been forgotten.
The girl’s face was delicate and clear. Her forehead shone with the pride of her love. And the young man carried a little live bird inside his rib cage. They used to talk very little. They valued their silence. They made you think they would never do anything rashly. Each time they passed they stopped to sit on that wall under the acacias. From summer through winter the lacy patterns of the branches and leaves reflected on their faces kept changing. But the childish seriousness that came upon them, as they did not waste words in a hurry, and the many-hued pink glow flushing their cheeks never changed. This was so appropriate for their tender youth. Their love seemed to be beyond any apprehension about the future. Anxiety did not seem to have any hold on them.
For months they passed in our narrow street. They sat on that wall many, many times. They talked gently, never arguing, and neither of them ever walked away leaving the other one behind. They nurtured my yearning for a change from the arguments at work, the endless complaints and the dramas forever acted without an audience. Every time I saw them, I would say, if we have to endure until tomorrow, defend yourself dear love.
It was hard for us to tell which part of the city they came from. They were clothed, from head to toe, in their love. Their desires and their freedom were lined up like pages. Or so it seemed to me. I kept finding all the evidence to prove my observations. They were the ones who never forgot the acacias. They always noticed when a baby smiled. They gently picked up a ball rolled under their feet and tossed it back carefully. They never provoked rude behavior from teenagers playing in the street. Anything that interrupted either their silences or their conversations was gently pushed aside, kept away from them. How did they manage to do this in those days when nobody cared for anybody else? I was amazed. And they were the ones to notice the silver glitter of the snow on the bare branches.
My husband said both the young man and the girl were students. I thought they both worked because they always met in our street at regular hours. My mother swore her lovebirds were also angels. According to her, these two weren’t from this city, this country or even this planet. They came from a more perfect world. One day, as my mother was carrying the groceries home, huffing and puffing, she ran into them. They said:
“Let us carry them for you.”
My mother right away wanted to make good use of this encounter to question them about themselves. But, tongue-tied, she could only say:
“Thank you, my children, thank you. May God bless you and give you all you wish for.”
She kept saying: “Oh, they’re not only bright and beautiful, but they’re also very good children!”
Our gloomy faces puzzled my mother all the more since there were such good people around who could get on well in sad and oppressive days as easily as they carried her string shopping bag.
It was the second month of the year. The street was covered with ice. The acacias were bare, their song forgotten. The silvery branches stretched toward a sooty sky. It seemed as if everything was lying in wait. It was an eerie kind of waiting. We didn’t know what spring would have in store for us. I couldn’t even imagine the acacias’ blooming again one day. I kept forgetting to observe their changes. But one thing was certain: As soon as summer arrived there would be the most beautiful wedding for my mother’s lovebirds. A wedding that might seem modest from the outside, but if one looked carefully from the inside, it would be decorated in the colors of the rainbow, with thousands of bright balloons flying all over. This lively and serene love was the only bright spot on the horizon. The lovebirds were like a sign. Many evenings, when I returned from work, I thought that if I saw them, I would run to them and hug them. But I wasn’t free enough to do that. Unfortunately, I had learned too well to suppress my spontaneous desires, to keep them hidden under cover. The young couple would soon pass and leave us behind. As for ourselves, we had to be satisfied with the bright sparks they had inspired in us. I had to stare at the windows with drawn curtains. Only with the sparks they had kindled could I put up with this dull street, the forgotten acacias, and the faces which no love ever penetrated. Secretly, but with a dogged perseverance, I had to try to find the meaning of life in a love that had neither failed in the past nor would fail in the future and thus would unite the past and the future. Every day as I returned from work my eyes would search for them in the street by that wall under the bare acacias.
When the acacias began to bud again my mother’s lovebirds no longer appeared in our street. It was as though I had to adjust my eyes to a pitch-dark room. I questioned my husband. He told me I was much too preoccupied with them. And my mother with an all-knowing air said:
“Eh! Sooner or later the lovebirds must fly to their nest. They couldn’t have wandered in the streets forever, could they? They must have gone to their nest.”
She seemed half-pleased and half-sad.
The top of the wall across the street was always deserted. The acacias lacked something. I had hoped to see them once more. Neither the big flood after the March rains, nor the torrents that carried off all the debris in their way could make me forget the girl and the young man who never appeared in our street again. Now, not only I, but all of us needed that pure love and those clear foreheads. I tried to avoid thinking that that bright sign might never have existed. In a place where we had forgotten about love, we couldn’t possibly stop everything from wearing out and being consumed, when the young ones themselves had forsaken love. Perhaps it was all a dream. Only a vain attempt to resurrect our ruined love with that dream.
One day when the acacias were in full bloom, my mother, all worry and flutter, said:
“Ah! You know, our lovebirds didn’t have a wedding after all. They couldn’t build their nest. Like so many others, those wonderful children, too, were taken to jail. Ah, I never expected this!”
I couldn’t figure out if my mother had become suspicious of her angels, was worried about them, or was disappointed. And my husband in his most reproachful voice said:
“Don’t worry, they’re near each other even when they’re far away. It doesn’t matter if they’re separated.”
He turned his face away:
“Some people in the same room are more distant…”
He had summed up his bitter reproach just like that. He had put his signature right there to show how futile were our efforts at restoring our love. But he was neither an authority on that matter, nor solely responsible for it; also his rosy view of the prison wards wasn’t convincing at all.
However, it is still dreams that embellish the darkest nights. This time I was fully aware; I had my dreams. I thought that the young man and the girl, in their wards — their foreheads touching the iron bars of the narrow windows — would each look in the other’s direction and would smile. Now they would be sharing the moon that was only a sliver in the sky. And the moon made the acacias sharable. Then, I, too smiled. I could lift, a little, the fog that came between myself and my husband. I was struggling to have faith. Love kept going on and on. New and lasting loves germinated in dark corners, in narrow places and in difficult times. That strong love, too, would not be punctured, would not be torn to pieces by hostility. Love would always be a peaceful place safe from war; it was the only thing that nurtured its endurance with its own forbearance and would not spare itself the effort necessary to go on.
I was waiting for them. I waited for a long time. Another fall came and went. Then winter, then spring again. Twice the acacias bloomed and shed their leaves. I had changed my job. I had left the dramas whose only audience was ourselves. Now, I was trying to produce something durable with my own hands. Thus came the fourth fall, and I saw the young man, at a time when even I had forgotten about him and the young girl.
For quite a while I couldn’t believe my eyes. Without the young girl he seemed a totally different person. He hadn’t grown taller, nor had he gained weight, no. But the serene smile was gone from his face. His steps were rough. He had let the little bird in his breast escape. That’s how I saw it. He came to our street, under the same acacia trees, with three other young men, who were about the age he was three to four years ago; and at an hour when I wouldn’t expect to see him there. It was too early. The day was just breaking. No one was passing in the street yet. I had opened my window, I smelled the half-rotted, half-burned odor of the acacia leaves. In the past years, I had tolerated both my husband’s inability to fight our rift — whose causes were beyond us — and my clumsy struggle to keep on going. Those days were now behind us. Ahead of us lay many days to live. My mother’s lovebirds had multiplied in me. Perhaps that was why I had forgotten just the two of them.
Now there, across from me, were four people; all men. And one of them, sure enough, was that young man. I saw the others for the first time. In a hurry, they wrote a political slogan, in capital letters, in the middle of the wall under the acacias and they left. I heard the piercing whistle of the young man I knew, as the stroke of the last letter was made. Was it really he who whistled impatiently and intolerantly to order his friends to hurry up? As I stood by the window amid the smells of the rotted, burnt acacia leaves, this wasn’t the question I asked myself though — because the answer was obvious. No matter how much he had changed, this was the same young man; I gave no thought to whether the slogan on the wall was right or wrong, needed or not needed. Only where was the girl? Where was the female of our lovebirds?
No matter what, whichever direction it was going to be, they should have been doing everything together. Even that slogan on the wall! They should have written it together. This was their promise to the people who had chosen them and their love when they passed in this street in those half-sunny and sunless days. Who had broken this promise? Was it they, the others, the words, or death?
I couldn’t imagine that the girl had died. That clear, childlike forehead couldn’t have fancied death. But one never knows! Death is beyond judgment, like birth. But love is not. No! Not the love that promised life and inspired renewal.
Because of this, I don’t at all wish that the last one of the three young people (two boys and a girl) who came, a few days later, to that wall and painted, in an ugly yellow, over the slogan there, and on top of what was covered wrote just the opposite slogan beginning with “DEATH”, should herself be the girl I knew. Oh, she looks so much like her, I say to myself, but it cannot be, it just cannot be. Anyway, the girl’s hair isn’t adorned with the acacia leaves. She’s passing the brush quickly over the wall — as harshly as the piercing whistle of the young man from whom she once was inseparable. The lacy pattern of the branches doesn’t fall on her face. There’s no time for that. That forehead, once full of love, is now creased with impatient lines. But, just the same, it is she. She herself with her much used heart quickly worn out in only a few years.
I could never imagine anything under these acacia trees or over the wall without them — as long as the acacias existed they too existed. Now, I dread that they might suddenly meet under these same trees by the same wall. The leaves fall one by one, having no time to adorn someone’s head. I fear that they too might intermingle with these fallen leaves. They might make each other fall like a leaf by this same wall. Like worn-out love.
Two men came; with a bucket of paint.
they painted over in gray the many-colored
wall under the acacias and they left.
I saw it: nothing but a worn-out wall; love had moved elsewhere.
“Savun Sevdam Sen Savun,” Hadi Gidelim (1982)
(translated by Nilüfer Mizanoğlu Reddy )