By Bengisu Sakarya
The trauma, the terror is calculated by numbers. Numbers keep us safe.
One hit, two hits, three hits in the parking lot. How many busses pass? How many people? How many of them are children? How many are teenagers coming home from after school? I could have been there.
I knew that place like the palm of my hand. One, two, three, four bridges that cross a busy highway and next to that is one of the city’s landmarks. A little piece of greenery trying to hold down to the cement. Many trees, two paths for walking, many benches for sitting. Many benches for men, but no benches for children who steal wallets and sell tissues, no benches for gypsies who steal purses and sell flowers, no benches for women who steal souls and sell themselves. Only men will sit on the benches, many benches but only men. Legs spread apart, they will look at you numbing the bare skin of your legs but you won’t look up for they will take it as an invitation. They take everything as an invitation.
Three attacks in the last five months: What nobody seemed to understand, what I wanted to scream out, is that this was our home, our safe place. This city was the locket that we carried around our necks, it collected things, it collected and built us up. We’ve locked inside that city whatever it was that made us human and someone stole the keys.
I held on to the numbers. I could have been walking – not sitting, not looking – to catch bus110. Bus110 would come at half past six and arrive in front of apartment number eight at around half past seven. At thirty-five past six today when the bomb exploded right in the middle of the park, I might as well have been there. But I wasn't – you were.
I imagined you going up from the metro station. You were tired. You were thirty-five years old. You felt like even though even though this life gave you sour things like, piss smelling undergrounds, an average job and baldness, it has also given you, your wife and two lovely daughters. One of them is just three weeks old now. You bought mandarins to eat after dinner, you thought about feeding the little one her first mandarin, looking at her curious face with pride as you taught her a new flavour of life. They were your family. You kept holding on.
You never liked the city centre. The city centre was hot and dangerous with pickpockets, gypsies and horrible men sitting on three-person benches all by themselves and spitting on the ground. You didn’t like using the subway but your car was seven years old now and needed fixing all the time. You’d like to change it, but, then again, there was the new-born daughter, and truth was you couldn’t afford a new car while saving for the private school tuition. Not right now. Maybe someday. You hoped someday.
You didn’t let this sink your shoulders down. You weren’t a man who sat on the bench alone, you would offer the seats to your wife and daughters on the three-person bench, not feeling ashamed to stand upright and tall; just like a man with two beautiful daughters and one smart wife should stand. They gave you all the blessings that this ordinary life could offer, so what is a bench seat compared to all that? I knew you thought that they deserved thrones, it was all you worked for. I knew you. You were great and beautiful.
So you walked, how many steps? Into the parking lot. Your mandarins in a little plastic bag, the almost invisible grin on your face; you with all your little plans and little hopes; you walked into the park to get to the bus. You didn’t hear me but I was screaming: ‘Don’t go in there!’ In my mind your steps were like the tick-tocks of the detonator. One, two, three - it hit. You hit the ground. Did you hit the ground? How many were you? All limbs attached. One, two arms; one, two legs, one head and a body. Tell me, did you open your eyes. One, two. What did you see?
Mum told me not to think of these things. When things die I ask, how much did they suffer? Because actually, you can only mourn for the things that are alive. You can be scared and sad of the things you know of. Death is alright for me. Death is blank and unknown and I think that there is something mysteriously warm about it. I imagined things happening to you, bad things; I imagined your suffering and that was what I mourned for. : I mourned that you’d be alive after all this. You’d be alive and you’d have to carry all this with you.
I think there is something selfish and masochistic in the way I felt about the possibility of your death. It was almost seven when I heard about bombings. I immediately messaged the family. I waited almost ten minutes until I gave up and called my mum, she didn’t answer. I’ve thought about the terrible things in my life, but nothing was more excruciatingly sickening than the brief glimpse of a thought passing my mind: The thought that she, my mother, might be dead.
I called her again. It rang six times, with every ring my insides trembled. It went, once again, to voice mail and I almost threw up. What I didn’t know was by then, you were still on the ground slowly opening your left eye. You saw blood and closed your eyes again.
Five minutes later, kilometres away from you, I was looking at the blank white screen of my phone. It was looking at me empty. Nothing was frantic here. Everything was like the white empty screen: mechanic and silent. I was counting back from ten to distract the nauseating fear in me. ‘Ten, nine, eight, yedi, altı, beş, dört...’ My mum was also counting, splashing water on her face and breathing heavily. It was ten minutes later when she gathered enough courage to call me on the phone.
I remember when we lost uncle Can. He was my mother’s best friend and it was the first time I saw her drunk and miserable. It made me grow a little bit to know that mothers can also be miserable.
In my selfish suffering, I picked up the phone angry, please forgive me, I didn’t know. I thought everyone was fine, I thought I had the right to be not-fine. My mum told me you were there, and now you were nowhere to be found. Should I apologise for not crying, yelling or shaking?
You are my half-father, we have a connection between us. I mirrored your stillness. I sat there on my bed and went back to staring at the wall. A deadly silence crept over me, while outside me, anyone who knew you even just a little, were calling numbers and numbers, hoping to reach a calm voice. They passed through the hours like an airplane gliding through the sky with flaming engines. As the plane went down, numbers went up. Numbers that have been called, numbers of places that they searched for you, numbers of news flashes and the worst of all the numbers of death.
There were three wounded in hospital Guven, forty-three in the Numune, thirty-two in Ibni Sina, forty-four in hospital Gazi, thirty-one in the Hacettepe and thirty in the Diskapi. My mum told me that they started searching for you in Gazi because it had the highest number of wounded. She waited, a desperate hope buzzed through the telephone lines, it died without reaching anywhere. In a whisper, she added, ‘we’ll check the morgues too.’
Meanwhile, it was you in the middle of the mass murder, you were laying on the cement like many others. I imagined a green digital countdown clock above the sky, on which the number went down with every last breath. Slowly but surely, the life was draining from all of you. The paramedics were rushing around like fireflies trying to put the light back in people’s eyes. You tried to get up but it was hard. Your right side was crushed to the cement so breathing was hard too. Your right eye was blood shot but the left was working fine. You caught a glimpse of the young girl laying with next to you. You tried to reach out, call out, get some help, but it was hard to make a sound. Maybe you thought of your daughters. You are a dad after all, you imagined your girls grown up into beautiful young women like her. You wanted to help, but then you understood. You saw the death in her details, her face chalk white, her toiletries – make up brushes and powder – her books, on the ground, on her other side laid a young boy. You didn’t see their hand locked together in rigor mortis. Both chalk white. They could have been anywhere else but they were here. Maybe you thought of me, maybe you thought of crying, but I know, it’s hard.
Another friend called me, asking if we had found you yet. ‘No.’ Her friend was dead. I had a red shame passing across my face, as if someone else had hopped into your grave, you got off easily this time. We all did. I could have been there.
Her friend was dead and I have to note that I have never seen death so early before. I have seen death in life, my goldfish was flushed down the toilet, I had trouble thinking how to describe aunt Fatma’s home after she died because that was, after all, aunt Fatma’s house but she no longer lived there. Or she no longer lived, at all, to be precise.
The trauma, the terror passed and counting started. You’d see, with terror, that it never stopped. It didn’t wait for you. You paused and people continued counting. Traditionally, mum says, one counts forty days after the death. She says that when your loved one dies, it lights forty candles inside you, heating you with anger and grief. With each day, one candle dies, slowly cooling you down. On fortieth day, only one candle remains inside you, a faint light, a warmth in your heart. That candle goes on forever. Forty days are the deadline for death, after forty days, you have to move on. While you are inside blowing out candles and pouring buckets of water around the house to put out the fire, they will be outside counting.
I’ve seen death in my life, of course I have. However, even in death, there should be a system; a calculation. There is no equation that can validate the death of a twenty-one-year-old. Death should not come to someone who is twenty-one years old.
I tried crying. I couldn’t. The phone wasn’t ringing anymore, I didn’t want to call and hinder anyone, but I needed somebody. I went to my flatmate’s room. She was laying on the bed, watching a motivational speech on Youtube. Her casualness broke me. Not that any of it were her fault. But everything about our lives offended me in that second and roaring blasts started in my head.
There were approximately three thousand a hundred and eighty-one kilometers between me and my city. You’d think that I wouldn’t hear the bombs explode, but I heard them in my head with every heartbeat. Every passing moment, in my brain, another car exploded. It killed many fathers like you and many children. It reached my mouth, she wrapped me in her arms when I detonated. “Ne demek ulaşamıyoruz ya! Ne demek. İki kızı var, iki kızı var.” Words were unintelligible little explosions, but whatever I said would be unintelligible to her. I couldn’t help thinking that she and I were on two sides. I couldn’t help thinking, while my lungs collapse here, she is and forever will be another type of someone. Someone who sat down in desks to discuss wars, terror and tension.Someone who spoke of death and sipped some tea, spoke of bombs and took another sip to make it all go down easily. She had many politicians talking about many threats and many problems, while all I’ve got are numbers. Whatever I said would drop from her ears, she’d never know what it is to get words strung together in between breaths “What does it mean they couldn’t reach him? He had two daughters. Two daughters.”
You had two daughters and just this morning my phone beeped and their little faces were on the screen. I answered saying that you were so lucky to be by their side and wished we could change places. You replied: ‘Would you like to come work with the boring men in the government offices?’ And you know what? I would. I would love to change places with you. You, the Schrodinger’s cat, I’d love to be you. Hit the ground, torn limb from limb my name not on the death toll because I am unidentifiable. You will never learn whether I’m dead or alive. You will count, while I will be just a number. They say there are at least twenty-five deaths. At least...
There was a broadcast ban, which scared me the most. All the things I was not allowed to know transformed into a monster of ruptured limbs and numbers. My little count-down clock above the park was spinning through numbers frantically and I couldn’t calculate the possibility of you being alive. Or the possibility of you being there laying next to my friends, a young couple, hand-in-hand in rigor-mortis. The possibility of you being the last face she saw. Not her mother, not even her boyfriend, but you.
This will stick to you; all the young deaths you have seen. I know it because it stuck to me. I have been there a lot of times where the bombs exploded. I’d go there to go back home from prep school courses, for university exams. I’d wake up at six. School ends at five in the afternoon. I’d be at the prep school by six, and finally at home at ten. In my free time I’d argue with my mother, numbers failing me, my failure determined by numbers: Why wasn’t I in top hundred, top fifty, top ten? In my free time, I’d lose hair and develop an eating disorder. I was a victim without an offender. Nobody ever knew anything else than to count. It was nobody’s fault. It was numbers who were guilty.
I could see the square bustling up with kids going to prep school. I imagine them walking into the bus stop. No one hears me through time and space, I am yelling ‘Don’t go in there!’. Their steps do the countdown. Numbers didn’t leave them alone. Numbers always counted them down, one by one, they scattered around. How many? All limbs attached?
Too many minutes passed and I gave up counting for you. Too many hospitals visited, too many morgues and too many corpses. My dad told me he searched for you in the park, his feet slipping off from the blood. Think about looking at the dead face of somebody and feeling relief flowing over your heart like a cold fresh spring of water. Think about seeing so much death that you can rank them now. Think.
My roommate splashes water on my face and rubs it clean. I know she is trying but she doesn’t know. One day this face will tell her little cousins the story of the search for their father. ‘We looked for your father across hospital halls, my face will say. There were broken bones, scars and blood. We looked for your father in a crime scene, an explosion site, a wreck of a city. We looked for your father in hospital morgues, there were nothing. Nothing.’ I can’t wash this face pure anymore.
My phone rings.
They found you. My mum told me that you were chalk white. She told me not to think about this, too. She said, we can’t change what’s happened. Too many candles to be put out. Numbers are too high. It’s better not to think about it. You’d agree. You told me once to ‘not get too political’. But in defiance all this, shouldn’t we be carrying our candles like torches of Prometheus within us? Isn’t it our turn?
Democracy works by numbers. Numbers are guns for politicians. We are small people, wanting small things in life. We explode in big numbers, we die in big numbers, in fights that we didn’t start and for the lives that we didn’t take. One day passes nine out of ten speaks, after a week five out of ten, after a month only one out of ten opens her mouth to speak, and after that, we forget. Numbers kill us. Numbers sedate us. Numbers make us forget. Numbers keep us safe.