This is a true story …
She comes at the most unexpected time. In the evening, when the sun has sunk behind the hills, and it’s time to roll back the canopy on the terrace to allow daylight into the flat. I head towards the kitchen door and open it to let in the cool evening breeze. Something crawls around my foot. A kitten, on the first floor? I look down and see a small pigeon.
She walks, but can’t fly. I presume she would have the moment my foot touched her body. Something must be wrong. Maybe her leg or wing is injured? I fill two bowls, one with water and another with bread and seeds, and place them near her. She doesn’t touch them. Frightened, she seeks refuge in dark corners. I let her be and watch her from behind the terrace door.
Darkness falls. I switch the lights on in the lounge. She hides by the flower pot next to the kitchen door. I must not disturb her. Later, before I go to bed, I must lock that door.
Discreetly, I close the door. She’s sleeping on her feet by the flower pot. Let her be …
It’s still dark when I wake up. Under the moonlight, I see her shadow against the flower pot. I slide open the terrace door. She doesn’t move.
I turn on the coffee machine, sit in my chair, and switch on the computer. I hear wings flapping. Through the netting, I peek outside. Birdie is thrashing herself on the terrace tiles. She makes an attempt, falls on her head or sideways, and tries again, as though her legs are paralysed. She can’t walk. What happened? She was pacing the terrace last night. I took photos …
She’s still trying to hide from me. Desperately, she moves to the opposite side of the terrace, and then, under the table, seeking refuge. I don’t know how to help or comfort her. I take a soft floor brush and gently move her towards the food and water. She perches on the food bowl, then on the water, and stays put.
I check my watch, 7.30 am, can’t call anyone at this hour. I wish my downstairs neighbour were here. She’s good with animals and would know what to do. My conscience hurts as Birdie flaps her wings and falls sideways. She’s trying to hold onto life.
My plans for the morning and the day over, I desperately Google information on vets who might take care of birds. I come across a name I took my neighbour’s cat to. I punch the number on the landline. No reply. At 8.30 am, I call my neighbour, away on holiday, asking for help. “Any vets who can take care of birds? This one is dying and I can’t do anything to help.”
She comes back with a name, someone she knows, but he won’t be at the clinic till 10 am. I look for a suitable box, lay some paper at the bottom, get dressed and call the Vet clinic after 9 am. They tell me I can bring her in.
I lift birdie with plastic gloves and put her in the box. She’s faint, but still living. I drive slowly towards the address not far away from home.
Carrying the box in my hand, I walk into their office. “Can you please help her? I think she’s dying.”
The young Vet takes her out of the box and examines her with his gloved hands. He says, “Her rib-cage is hollow. This is an advanced stage of a viral infection. She’s dehydrated, suffers from malnutrition. “
“But I did give her water,” I say.
“At this stage, you need to force her,” he replies.
He asks the assistant to bring some water and puts her beak into the paper cup. Birdie takes a couple of sips.
“I tried to do that,” I say.
“Maybe she was frightened,“ he says.
“Can you help her?”
“Very difficult at this stage. This infection progresses fast.”
“She was walking last night. Look I have photos.” I show him the images on my phone.
“It happens. Why don’t you leave her with us? We’ll take your contact number and get in touch with you.”
I leave the Vet’s Clinic without Birdie. I arrive home and think I must wash the balcony, get rid of the bird’s poo on the tiles. I can’t. I sit and wait. I’m unable to go for my morning swim. I can’t move. An hour later, the nice girl at the Vet’s calls me. “I’m sorry,“ she says.
And I cry for Birdie.
Watching movies to pass time,
Benjamin Button, Up in the Air and Babel
butterfly effect with the underlying theme of loneliness,
feeling the empathy for the love and loss,
of youth, dreams and purpose
It’s easy to analyse the past,
to death, sometimes,
but analysing the present is hard,
why we have become who we are,
without dissecting the contributing factors
How did I get here?
Can I time-travel and put it right,
or am I just a casualty of the past,
in my loneliness among the crowds?
Will I age backwards like Benjamin Button
in complete memory loss,
from diapers to diapers
in the reverse order?
Or will I continue existing Up in the Air
with free miles on my card I won’t be able to spend?
Token miles for life expire within a set time,
no longer valid in this act of the play,
and the anticipation for the grand finale,
which we’ll only know when the play ends.
anthology, Erzurum, Flash Fiction, hope, loss, Mountain Villages, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Occupied Turkey, poverty, Remote, Ripples on the Pond, Short Stries, Snow, The Great War, War of Independence, WWI
A story from Ripples on the Pond, to commemorate the beginning of the War of Independence in Turkey that began when Ataturk arrived at Samsun on May 19th, 1919, 99 years ago today.
Palandöken Mountains, Erzurum
A mountain village in Erzurum
Through the window of her stone house, Ayshe gazed at the infinite white blanket covering her surroundings. The remote mountain village in East Anatolia had been cut off from the rest of the world ever since the roads were closed during the blizzard. Her thoughts drifted to Ali, her husband. She had not heard from him in the past four years. All the young men in the village had been called to fight in the big war, they had no idea about. The remaining folk, old men, women and children, did not even know the enemy. The only enemy they knew in these parts were the Russians, who raided the region every now and then, burning the villages and the mosques.
The loneliness and the void the whiteness evoked would last another three months, escalating the grief of her solitary existence. Hearing the chuckles of her baby filled her heart with joy. She rushed to the crib to hold her, only to find it empty, again. Tears in her eyes, Ayshe began her chores. Every day, she cleaned the house, from top to bottom, making everything sparkling, to wash away her sins. The fatigue that set in each evening relieved some of her pain. Her hands red and cracked from constant scrubbing, she rubbed with oil and wrapped them in muslin at night. In her dreams, she played with her little angel and held her to her bosom.
The Sultan, they had heard about, but their Sultan was food, which was scarce. Only some grains and legumes remained from the summer, while they had difficulty keeping alive the chickens, anorexic cattle and sheep, once snow enveloped the meadows in the winter. The white blanket isolated them from the big town of Erzurum and the villages scattered along the way. Abandoned to their fate, they dealt with their problems as best they could.
Internal administration and strategy left in the hands of the Imam, a council of old men aided him. The local midwife, the only person who contended with health issues and bringing new life into the world. The children attended Quran courses held by the Imam and learned the alphabet, while suffering under his sharp cane.
One night, three months after Ali’s departure, she’d fed the baby, put her back in her crib, and fallen asleep. A strange feeling in her heart, she awoke with the rising sun, and rushed to the crib. The baby lay still, a translucent whiteness spread over her dainty face, and her lips a shade of purple. Ayshe screamed at the top of her voice. Her neighbours came and called the midwife. She rocked the dead child in her arms, until the midwife prised the baby away, and gave Ayshe some calming tea.
They buried the little angel, in a small coffin, the size of her crib. Ayshe wept inwards, not a single sound coming out of her mouth. She stopped talking and wandered around, lost in her head, until one day she climbed up into the hills and screamed, “Aliiiiiii, come back!”
The mountains echoed her voice and carried the words of lament to the addressee far away, but time had to take its course.
Ayshe wept and wept, until there were no more tears. She resumed her life, looking after the house, her meagre cattle and sheep, and the chickens. She never mentioned the baby again. Only talked to her in her dreams.
The Imam said, “Beware of strangers. Do not open your doors, especially to those who come in the night.”
Her parents dead a long time ago, her husband’s family scattered around the neighbouring villages, Ayshe was left on her own, but closely watched by the elderly.
Towards the end of the winter of 1919, someone knocked on her door in the middle of the night. Ayshe rose, grabbed her gun, and tiptoed to the entrance, her heart pounding.
“Who is it?”
Another knock and silence. The weapon in her hand, she unlocked the door and saw a body lying face down on her doorstep. She poked it with the gun and leaned down to turn the head. The familiar eyes of the bearded man stared at her through frozen eyelashes. “Ali!”
She dropped the gun and dragged him inside, calling for help. The neighbours lent a hand to carry him to the bed and strip his ice-starched clothes from him. She rubbed oil into his frozen skin and limbs, and covered him with blankets.
Ali opened his eyes three days later. The purple marks on his hands and feet had begun to fade, and colour rose in his cheeks. Ayshe wrapped him in her arms and cried with joy. “Thank God!”
Ayshe knew then she had to tell him. She pointed to the empty crib and said, “The baby is dead and it’s my fault. I failed to look after her. She would have been four years old now.” She retreated into a corner and sobbed.
Ali saw the anguish in her eyes. He had lived through enough grief during the war. Bodies blown to pieces and covered in blood. The desert had turned to a sea of red, corpses rotting in the heat, famine and plagues threatening the lives of those who survived. The faces of the enemy changed, depending on where they were fighting. The English, the French or the Arabs. The Ottoman army bled, until the war ended and troops dispersed.
On the long trek home, he’d heard her voice echoing back from the mountains. Through heat, starvation, dehydration, diarrhoea, and fever he had survived. The call of her voice, whispering to him on the wind, kept him going, on his solitary journey. By the time he reached his native land, the snow had blocked the mountain roads. He could no longer wait. He’d lost so much time. He would make it.
Ali held Ayshe’s hand and embraced her. He stroked her hair and wept with her. “We’ll have other babies. Spring will be here soon. They say Mustafa Kemal Pasha will end all this misery.”
The snowy plains of Erzurum
Memories gathered dust among the cigarette fumes. The smoke had always surrounded them in times of love and pain. A silent witness to the affair, it rose in spiralled clouds that vanished into the atmosphere, the hint of its existence trailing behind in scent. Consumed yet lingering, like the hurt in her heart.
She sat on the open deck of the channel ferry, as the scenery passed before her eyes. Her thoughts eclipsing the images, life seemed to evolve without her participation. Sunsets and sunrises, the moon and the stars no longer evoked feelings of wonder. Their charm exhausted, their meaning lost. A meandering melancholy had stolen the colours and transported her into a scene from a black and white art film with little conversation and tedious gazes shot in slow-motion.
In a state of detachment, she continued to stare into the distance, as the ferry approached the terminal. A scurry of muffled footsteps and snippets of conversation sneaked into her reverie. Silhouettes passed her by and disappeared, until new figures emerged and left at intervals.
Cruising back and forth across the channel, the vessel made its scheduled trips, as she sat unmoved through the motion. Daylight turned into night, electric beams lit up the distant hills like a shower of fireflies.
A ferry conductor’s voice broke her thoughts. “Lady, this is the last stop for the night. You must get off.” The pixels of his face materializing before her, she tried to command her paralyzed legs to get up and move. Holding onto the barrier, she stood and staggered to the stairs. The abyss frightened her. One step at a time, shaky limbs proceeded towards the set destination. Reaching the bottom platform, she paused and took a deep breath.
The conductor following her asked, “Are you on drugs?”
“If memories are drugs, that’s what I’m on.”
“You lost someone.”
“You could say that, but not to death.”
“Ah, to someone else? That’s even sadder.”
“You seem like a ghost in the land of the living. That’s bad.”
She resumed her steps and froze when she came to the portable bridge connecting the ferry to the quay. Images of falling into the gap and of being squashed between the vessel and the concrete rushed to her mind. Cold sweat broke out on her forehead.
“Here, let me help,” the man said. He held her hand until she landed safely ashore.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice quivering.
“Stop and think,” he said, and smiled. “Fear of death means you want to continue living.”
“Live it up, then, instead of ignoring it.”
“There are no buses at this hour, you must take a taxi.”
“Thank you for your help. Good night.”
Her steps now more confident, she ambled to the taxi rank and took a cab.
Home she thought, and the sanctuary of her bed. She needed a rest from the memories. Tomorrow would be a new day, when, perhaps, she would allow them to gather more dust while she followed the cigarette smoke to new destinations.
Smoke Works, Cutting Edge by Mehmet Özgür, Mehmet Ozgur
On my Instagram page, Jeanne Moreau and Sam Shephard gaze at each other. Her sad news came before his, on this last day of July 2017. She is talking on the phone, with a pensive look on her face, staring into the distance. He is watching her closely, to incorporate her character in one of his new plays. In the photos, hers in black and white, his in colour, she is younger than him. He was 73 when he died, last Thursday. She was 89, the same age as my departed mother.
I remember the black and white movies of my youth, mainly French and Italian, of the New Wave. She was the unpredictable protagonist, smoking Gauloises, in the dark stories. Her eyes and lips acted the part when she let them take over, instead of speaking. A mysterious beauty whose acting talent has been endorsed in cinema and on stage over the years.
Sam Shephard, a soft spoken man, whose talent is deeper than his image in the movies. A Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, one who, as the New York Times says, captured the darker side of the American family life. A member of the Off Broadway movement. A man who has crossed the borders.
Sam looks at Jeanne and studies her, remembering the many characters she’s played. He’s thinking about a new screenplay. She’s the protagonist, wild, sensuous, intriguing and mesmerizing.
Jeanne feels she’s being watched. She recognizes the man, the playwright, the director, the actor. She likes challenges, she likes change. “If he offers me a part, I’ll take it. But I’m too old,” she sighs.
Sam smiles. “The part is for an old lady, but a mischievous one.”
adoptipn, art, blood, child, comfort, desolation, family, father, loss, love, mother, music, omp, OneMillionProject, redemption, revenge, sadness, safety, Short Story, thriller, ThrillerAnthology, torchlight
Cover by David J. Meyers
Here’s the link and the blurb to a short story I posted on Wattpad and submitted to OMP, One Million Project, for their Thriller Anthology. (2,700 words)
Toby waited for Mummy, but she never came back. Uncle Jim and Aunt Doris told him she was in Heaven. Why did Mummy go there without him? Why couldn’t he go to see her?
He kept Mummy’s torchlight safe, to guide him through the darkness, knowing she’d watch over him.
Many thanks for publishing my drabble. 🙂
I wish I could forget, but I can’t. I’ve rewound the tape, it’s on repeat. The island, the beach and the sun. The cities, the dinners, the fun. The cottage, our love and the river. Me sick with flu, you and your tennis elbow.
The Far East, the last of the colonials and the tropical storms. The first Walkman, the automatic camera.
My town, your town, and the path that brought us together, for a while, then split. Did I understand? No. Did you? I hope so.
I’m writing about love. I have no other reference. So I indulge.
Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Her work has appeared on the Harper Collins Authonomy Blog, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, and Spelkfiction.
Soghut, a pretty seaside village on the eastern coast of the Southern Aegean, beguiles newcomers with its stunning views of the islands in the cove, and Symi in the background.
A well-kept secret, with exquisite villas on the hills, it had been recently featured in Exclusive Escapes. The article gushed: the unspoilt beauty of its shoreline boasts of a small restaurant called The Octopus Man, renowned internationally for Ali’s unique recipe.
I met Selma during a walk on the pebble beach after my first scrumptious grilled octopus lunch at Ali’s. An old woman with striking blue eyes, a small, upturned nose and delicate features on her weathered face. In a printed dress that swayed with the warm breeze and a white scarf wrapped around her frizzy, grey locks, she greeted me with a toothy smile.
“Hello, are you visiting?”
“My first time here, but I love your village.” I smiled in return, and gazed at the seascape.
“I came here as a bride. I’m from Bozburun.”
“I’ve been there. It’s very close.”
“It was love at first sight. One look, and we were enamoured for life. That’s until he left.”
“He was lost at sea. Told him not to go out that day. He didn’t listen.”
“I miss him. My house is down there, by the sea. Come visit me next time you’re here.”
The following summer I drove to Soghut again, and walked to her house to see if she was around. She was sitting in a wheel-chair under the canopy of her patio, stroking the fur of a gorgeous golden cat lying next to her.
“Hi, Selma, do you remember me?”
“Come closer, my sight is not very good, lately. It’s too bright out there.”
I stepped inside and sat on a chair, looking into her clouded blue eyes.
She pointed a crooked, arthritic finger at me. “Oh, yes, you’re the lady from Istanbul.”
“That’s right. Lovely cat you have.”
“That’s Tonton. He’s been my sleeping partner since my beloved left.”
“Pets are great company, especially if you’re on your own.”
“Told him there’d be a storm that day, but as they say, if you love someone, set them free.”
“I know. Sad …”
The table next to her was stocked with her immediate needs. A bottle of water, a glass, some food and a roll of paper towel. My gaze returned to the wheelchair.
She pointed at her legs. “Arthritis, very painful these days. I can move a little, but with difficulty.”
“Your children, are they here?”
“All in the big city. They want to take me there, but I don’t want to go.”
“Maybe you should. Isn’t it hard on your own here?”
“I can’t leave. They never found him, you know. Just the boat, washed up on the rocks. He’s out there somewhere. Besides, I have many sons and daughters here. Ali brings me food every day. The women help me and I entertain their children, telling them stories. That’s how village folk are. ”
“What stories do you tell them?”
“About life in the village. Their favourite is Ali’s tale. How he was stranded on the rocks with a sinking boat, a huge octopus he’d just caught, a supply of lemons and some vegetables, and came up with his famous recipe. When the fishermen rescued him and brought him to the village, he kissed the ground, and opened the restaurant to honour the octopus that provided him with food for many desperate days.”
“I read the story on his website. It’s curious how necessity is the mother of invention.”
“My beloved sometimes visits me at night. I say, take me with you, but he keeps saying, Not yet. Then I wake up, and watch the stars and the moon, my other sleep partners in the night. I wish he’d hurry up and steal me away, and take me into that world of his.“
The golden cat with amber eyes purred and jumped on her lap, surrendering to her caress.
The next time I was in Soghut, I asked Ali how she was.
”She’s gone. Back to her beloved, I hope.“
”I’m sorry. I was hoping to see her again.“
“The cat, Tonton, is also gone. I was going to adopt him, but he hasn’t been seen since the day she passed away.“
”Sometimes cats are like that. They just disappear.“
”Her children put the house up for sale. They’ll make a fortune. Prime position on the beach with a big garden at the back.”
A knot in my throat, I walked to her house and peeked at the empty corner on the patio where she had sat last year. I passed the For Sale sign and ambled to the back of the house to see her garden. A spacious patch of land with walnut and almond trees, and to the left a magnificent weeping willow by a small creek that ran to the sea.
Soghut (Söğüt) means weeping willow. Weeping willow, weeping widow. For a moment I pondered the meaning behind this. It’s graceful branches, leaning towards the water and the water reaching the sea. Perhaps, like Selma.
It began with a single word
then words gathered in the sky
like dark, sinister clouds
laden with electricity
and they clashed
Noises rocked the earth
as torrential showers of tears
fell on the house,
drowning its dreams.
When the rains stopped
the house was gone,
washed to the sea.
Hope lingered on the shore,
and wept under the rainbow
in the clear blue sky
No more words,
only sorrow and memories
of a love consumed,