This month, PEN Canada is proud to partner with İlkyaz, a monthly, literary platform that features works from writers in Turkey who are under the age of 35 and whose voices are rarely heard. The publication aims to do this by showcasing the prose or poetry of three selected writers each month. To help amplify their voices, we will be sharing the work of this month’s three selected writers here on our website, as well as on Twitter. Each piece will be published in both English and Turkish.
Abdullah Öztürk was born in Sivas/Şarkışla in 1986. He graduated from Erciyes University Electric and Electronic Engineering department in 2010. He has worked as a scriptwriter and director for nonprofit organizations. His screenplays have been staged by professional and amateur theatre companies. His short stories have appeared in several magazines and have been performed as closet dramas. He is currently working as an engineer and continuing his studies in Dramatic Writing at the Fine Arts faculty of Ankara University.
by Abdullah Öztürk, 32 years old
I don’t know how it looks from the outside but to be in a train cutting through the darkness of steppes in the middle of the night, especially if you have insomnia, is not a thing to lust for. The ever-lengthening train corridor resembles a secluded street in the dodgy neighbourhood of a city. The passengers on the other hand, remind of residents of shanty runaway houses on a non-resident zone… Everything in this threading darkness is desolate, eerie and slow. Long as I can remember, night trains have reminded me of foxes surrendered to the vastness of the steppes and the serenity of nights, faster in comparison to poppies but still behind the life speeding up day by day, far behind in fact, often seeming as nothing more than a stream of light taking you back to the serenity of a moment on floor beds in village homes, with their pale lights shining afar. Perhaps a stream of light that those gazing at it from those dim-lit villages afar deem very fast, and dream of traveling the world from top to bottom in a blink. Whereas, the passengers of the train are sluggish, as if they have seen each face of life to realize there was nothing to hurry for.
It may be considered strange that a railway engineer whose job is to run trains faster is thinking about these things. But if you are not getting your share of the deep sleep those who mistake tiny train stops for dreams do, you either think of such things or make up dreams no different to thinking. This is especially true for those like you who can’t sleep or those that haven’t yet slept as they’ve newly got on the train… There are so few of them at such late hours of the night… The minute you consume a dream, the rush to reach the next station persists. If you don’t make it in time, you are left to consider aspects about your life. Thankfully my waiting didn’t last long this time. The train stopped like a horse sensing danger and neighing in unease. When the doors opened, the roar of the station crowd rushed to fill the train where nothing else but the rattle of iron wheels was heard. The bleary eyes inside knocked open and stared at where they had arrived. Then the train, moved from the small station it stopped for just long enough for a sleepy passenger to wake up and fall back asleep, and sunk into the steppes’ darkness.
The small station on the other hand, had been left behind like a dream unbeknown if it was ever seen.
Me and the conductor had gotten off at the station. Although we seemed to be in agreement, the truth of it was not so. In the previous station the conductor had looked at my face whilst checking the new comers tickets and walked right off into the trains shaky corridor, taking his disapproving glare off me, as if to glaze over a blame. I couldn’t make out his face. And now, my eyes were trailing behind him. It seemed as though he carried the weight of long years on his broad shoulders. The passangers dispersed to the sides of the corridor on their seats were deep in sleep, resting upon the window reflecting dim lights from far away villages. They each seemed to be pinning a dream on the flickering train lights. Yet only the conductor didn’t seem to notice the lights. Or more precisely, only the conductor knew that dreams pinned to dim lights would wane along with the rest of the lights upon alighting the train. Perhaps this is why he had gotten off on this small train station and I was drifting along behind him. I felt as though I was not really after the conductor but of a reality mixed in with fantasy.
Sitting on the bench with rusted iron and paint falling off the wood, the conductor lit a cigarette, staring down where the train had left. He was somber as though he had just bid farewell to his beloved, never to see her again. I approached him with reserved steps that shared in his sorrow and sat down. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye upon noticing and carried on smoking unperturbed.
To soothe his gloom growing in silence:
“Were they close to you, whoever just left?”
He looked at my face quietly, determined in thickening his blues.
“My son,” he said “he is going to Ankara, he will be starting work.”
I said, “Best wishes. At least, he is leaving for a good cause.”
Pointing out and comparing the situation with examples of worser ones, always a great consolation.
“True,” the conductor said, like he already resigned to everything.
“Don’t feel bad. He will come visit soon and you can see each other again.”
It was as if he left himself to the mercy of a subdued miracle. His face was shrouded. I couldn’t manage to see it in the train or at the station before, but right at that moment as shadow fell, I saw him. A very familiar face… it reminded me of kites made of cheap shopping bags, gliding imperfectly in thin air; that specific joyous, feeling. But I couldn’t tell who he was. He stood there, as an album photo, its head cut out with scissors; unidentified, the memory still alive and kicking…
The sound of an approaching train, beating the rails like a master blacksmith caught our glaze. The conductor got up, finding nothing odd about a second train approaching this little station, which welcomes just one train a day. I followed him with my eyes. The train, which seemed similar to a faded vision of a faraway village as it approached, enlightened the little station, situated somewhere on the boundless steppe. We walked towards the train, unhurriedly. After all, there was no other passengers or anyone to say farewell… The conductor looked back as he climbed the stairs to the train. Our eyes met, as I was trying to untie the knot. Wisely, as a father who is about to give some advice, he said:
“Trains serve as the vehicle of rangeless trips; they carry people who expect to leave but never really do, or people who carry the weight of whatever it is thing they are running away from and all the things they’ve left behind.”
“Sometimes it’s good to hop off at stations in between and catch a breath. or to remember once again, the ones you left behind.”
Like a character in a novel, he turned his back and walked inside the train.
I followed him in the train.
The shallow corridor extended like a narrow street. No one was around, not a soul, a memory, nothing…
It was as if the conductor appeared and disappeared in the blink of an eye.
My seat from the previous trip was empty. I sat on the same spot. The train, as if it never paused, picked up speed like a toddler who keeps annoying the old man longing to spend his last days in peace. I leaned my head against the window and disappeared into the dark and infinite steppe. The hollow inside me grew even larger than the darkness, it swallowed everything that came near. Moreover, it seemed impossible to fill and satisfy this hole within. The past and present, dreams and reality, assumptions and truth… Every idea which had an antonym seemed to come together in one body, when swallowed by this gap. My mind in the other hand was too weak to distinguish what is real and what is a dream.
I escaped from my gap as I felt a hand on my shoulder. I hardly opened my tired eyes, trying to wake from the nap, I saw the conductor’s face reflecting from the window.
“Where to? Ankara?” he asked, as a powerful wave of disappointment for waking up to reality filled my soul. The train never stopped, we never got off at the station and with the conductor; we never shared the sorrow of his son’s departure. I, by myself, added an additional trip to the train and imagined my own farewell. As I returned from saying farewell to the ones, saying farewell to myself, I caught the train that led me to my reality, the real, naked world.
“Yes, Uncle Necati,” I said wryly.
In an effort for consolation:
“You didn’t have to start working immediately…”
“It’s worse if I stay home all day. At least work is a good distraction.”
“True… Whatever is destined for us, we live through. He was very happy when he heard that you started working for the state railways as an engineer. He said sent you off at the station and looked after the train for a while after it left. His death was so sudden. I wish you were there during his last moments. Only if he could see you once more before…”
He put his hand on my shoulder and stopped talking. He choked on sentences filled with descriptions of forsaken memories, unfinished sentences and disappeared into the darkness of the corridor. My eyes followed him and searched for a discreet place to shed tears. The dark steppe, swallowing dim lights of villages afar, reflected upon the train’s window, resembling the bitter reality of forsaken dreams.
Translated with the author’s approval by Ege Dündar and Irmak Erta