A Young Man in Front of the Taksim Monument
Tarık Dursun K.
Translated by: Vuslat D. Katsanis
Artwork by Bruno Côté
The winter of 1944 was brutal in Ankara; it snowed for months on end. Frozen blocks of ice from the Black Sea made their way down to Istanbul, newspapers published the photographs; our neighbour, Mr. Mustafa the barber, on his way to open his shop at the crack of dawn one day, slipped and fell on the road and broke his leg; he was bedridden for months.
War continued around the world. Bread was rationed; coal too, and so was Sümerbank’s muslin cloth. There was no sugar. We drank our tea with seedless raisins. We lived in Ulucanlar, had a one-and-half bedroom house, and struggled with all our might just to get through. Papa Muzaffer (mom’s second husband) had become the Head of National Press, so we moved from Izmir to Ankara.
My elder brother was drafted into the army from that home. His mustache was still barely visible, his voice was just starting to get deeper, he was still in love with Muazzez.
At the start of summer, when we had just arrived in Ankara, my mom took it upon herself to find a job for my brother. Back then, Mr. Emin (a relative of my dad’s), was the Head of the Electric Company, and took my brother in as an employee. He met Fahriye auntie (my sister-in-law), there; that’s where they fell in love.
One evening during supper, with winter approaching, my brother, his mouth still full, said:
“I received the summons, I sign-up at the branch tomorrow.”
We all froze in silence.
“So, I’m going into the army,” he said. “To Istanbul, Hadımköy…”
The next day, I skipped school. Papa Muzaffer gave my brother 10 liras as allowance, kissed him on both cheeks, and said “Godspeed, have a good journey.”
My mother and I escorted my brother all the way to the Samanpazarı Military Branch. They wouldn’t let us through the branch doors though. We stayed in the courtyard. The ones who were permitted access exited back to the courtyard in the afternoon with their freshly cut conveyance slips in their hands. They were all dressed in military uniforms and wore metal-studded boots on their feet, walking with great difficulty.
I took his civilian clothing, which was wrapped in a newspaper.
“They said there’s a military train in the afternoon, they are going to transfer us with that train, that’s what they told us…” said my brother.
His uniform was much too large and loose on him. He had woken up quite early that morning, gone to Mr. Mustafa, and gotten a buzz-cut; it was nearly impossible to recognize his face under his capped soldier’s hat.
Under one arm, he tucked away the lunch bag that mom had improvised for him, and with his free hand, reached for her hand and kissed it.
“C’mon, get going,” he told her.
Mom, in her faint, weeping voice pleaded:
“Let’s stay a while longer.”
“It’s cold out,” said my brother, and lifted his head to look at the sky above the courtyard.
“It’s going to start snowing.”
He turned to me, winked. He stared at me as if to tell me, “Take her away, don’t wait, it’s going to get worse,” and I understood. I started tugging on mom’s hand.
“What is it?” she asked nervously.
“Let’s go, I’m cold!”
My brother took advantage of the opportunity.
“It’s really cold,” he said. “C’mon, get going!”
He linked arms with my mother and walked her down to the main gateway. A sulky guard with an armband first fixed his frowning eyes on us, then turned his gaze away empathetically.
My brother stopped, his back against the guard:
“Maybe they’ll send us with the evening train. They say it’s better if we arrive with daylight,” he said. “You should get going now; you can come again in the afternoon.”
All three of us knew that there was no such thing as an evening train. They were to board the conscripts onto the afternoon train and send them off to Istanbul.
“Alright,” said my mom. “We’ll come back again at 1 p.m. Be on the watch for us and come over when you see us, okay? We might not be able to find you in this crowd.”
“Don’t worry at all,” said my brother, extending his arm toward me.
We shook hands.
At the mouth of the exit, the guard with the armband stopped my brother. He stayed and we left.
It actually did start snowing in the afternoon. The first snowfall of the year. The cement courtyard of the military branch was completely empty. The gazebo at the center was snow-capped and the ground was wet. At the gate was another guard:
“If you are looking for the conscripts, they all left with the afternoon train, ma’am!” he said to my mom.
Mom stared back at his face, not fully comprehending:
“Did they leave?” she asked. “All of them?”
“All of them.”
Not even fifteen days passed and we received the first letter from my brother. Instead of a stamp, the letter had an illegible seal stating, “Soldier’s letter, reviewed.” He was fine, comfortable, and after his training period, he was to go to Uncle Fahrettin Paşa to get himself transferred to the officer’s club in Harbiye. He even gave his address: “Hadımköy, 3rd Batallion, a private in the 5th Division, Hadımköy, Istanbul.”
Mom mailed him 10 liras right away, without informing Papa Muzaffer. She also had me write him a letter: “My dear son, we were very happy to receive your letter. We are all fine. Please don’t worry about us. Take good care of yourself. There’s a lot of snow here. It’s always very cold. Mr. Mustafa slipped on ice and broke his leg. They brought over a bonesetter, and his leg is in a cast now. Your brother is continuing his studies. Your dad is good too, he sends greetings. Write to us often, don’t leave us without news. I’ve sent you a bit of money. Be conservative with it. I will send you more at the beginning of the month. We kiss you with yearning. Your mom, Ayşe.”
We barely made it through the winter. By April, there were still icicles hanging from the gutters, and a handful of snow on rooftops. It even snowed during the April 23 holiday, and our school couldn’t make it to the stadium for the parade.
The photograph was inserted in a letter which arrived after the schools closed for the holiday. My brother, dressed in civilian clothing, a huge fedora hat on his head (most likely to hide his soldier’s shave), and a newspaper rolled up like a pipe in his hand, was standing before us in front of the Taksim Monument. The clothes were not his because he didn’t own a checkered suit. Maybe he borrowed it from a friend. It was obviously not his if you looked at the photo carefully. It was a bit loose, the shoulders were too wide, and the pants were sagging at the crotch. (He had met with Uncle Fahrettin Paşa, had his things taken care of, gotten himself transferred from Hadımköy to the Harbiye officer’s club cafeteria, and was permitted to go out in civilian dress like this every Sunday).
Fahriye auntie, had also taken her annual leave and went from Ankara to visit her elder sister Atiye in Istanbul. She wasn’t in the picture, but he says they agreed to meet in front of the Taksim Monument that day.
Fahriye auntie’s elder sister, Atiye, had apparently escorted her to Taksim on a tram. My brother was waiting in front of the monument with a newspaper rolled up under his arm. Atiye apparently observed him from a distance and didn’t like him at all.
“Girl, you’re crazy,” she said to my sister-in-law. “What’s there in him to be all head over heels about? He is dark and dry, like the stem of a grapevine.”
Fahriye auntie used to lament, “I couldn’t get anyone to like my Faruk. That day, my sister Atiye saw him for the first time, and didn’t find him the least bit attractive. We met in front of the Taksim Monument but my sister departed after dropping me off. We walked all the way down until the end of Maçka, and from there, we passed through the garden under the Taşokul and into the fig grove. Faruk had a schoolmate from Ankara named Turgut; he lived in Poet Nedim Street, where we went to visit him. After a while, we got up and kept strolling until arriving at the Kadıköy pier. I took the ferry and returned home, and he to Harbiye.”
My brother’s service lasted forty-six months. Those born in 1340  weren’t discharged because of the war. The Germans had surrounded the country from every corner, you could hear the cannon balls from Edirne, or so people said. All of the youth in our neighbourhood in Ulucanlar were drafted. The colour of bread became even darker; soldiers’ bread portions were sold on the black-market for fifty kuruş. Once a month, we would get 750 grams of sugar rationed at 250 grams per person. On the fortieth day of my grandma’s passing, there was no sugar at home so my mom needed to use molasses to make the semolina helva.
One day, my brother used his military leave to visit. It was only for a week. He spent all seven days with Fahriye auntie, and I barely even saw his face. He left early one morning while I was still asleep. I found a silver coin on my pillow. “Don’t touch him or he’ll wake,” he apparently warned mom and kissed me; he took his wooden soldier suitcase, and left.
When he was discharged and came home three months before any of his peers, he was thoroughly chubby; the skin on his face had tightened, he was wearing golden-framed eyeglasses, and he had a mustache.
He returned to his old job. During that time, National Press was sold and Papa Muzaffer was dismissed. He searched for a new job for quite a while, and finally became an accountant at the Balıkesir Forest Administration after passing a test. Mom didn’t go to Balıkesir, she stayed behind. We left Ulucanlar and moved to a small garden home in Küçükesat. My brother was the man of the house now. Papa Muzaffer was sending money monthly. Back then, Esin still hadn’t come of age. Tan, curly haired, wearing those skyblue clothes my mom dressed her in, a true daredevil of a girl whom everyone in the bus loved and adored. (It was surprising, even offensive, that my mom gave birth at the age of 40. I was thirteen, in the first year of middle school. The week when mom returned from the hospital with Esin, I collected money from my friends and ran away to Istanbul to be with my brother. My brother was still a soldier, but he had a side job operating a rundown shop across from the officer’s club with some other people in Harbiye. His customers were all soldiers. He would fry eggs in enamel pans on two small kerosene burners, and mix tahini and molasses. Those with more money would order slices of sujuk in their eggs. There was also frozen kavurma.
My brother was surprised to see me. “Mom gave birth,” I said. “And to a girl. From Papa Muzaffer.” He searched for my eyes, but couldn’t find anything. “And you got offended and ran away, is that right?” I remained silent. “Stay here for a few days,” he said. “I have a room where I stay during my Saturday and Sunday off-days, you can sleep there. But then you’ll need to return home. They’ll worry.” I sniffled. “No one is going to worry. I don’t worry about them either!”
His room was facing the gardens above Beşiktaş. The landlord was an ugly, old Greek woman. She hemmed and hawed at first, but my brother argued, “He’ll stay a week at most. Then he’ll return.”
And in a week, I went back.
Esin was newly starting to walk and she was beginning to form words too. She would waddle out of the house, take guidance from the walls to reach the corner, and just like that, we’d lose sight of her. She would hear us calling for her, but she couldn’t holler back. We would search and search, and finally find her under some grapevine, completely covered in leaves, eating handfuls of sour grapes. Mom used to give her a good spanking: “I’m fed up with this girl, fed up, fed up!”
My brother had purchased a shepherd’s dog for fifteen liras to guard the house and to accompany mom and Esin during the days when we were not there. It took the dog three or four days before warming up to us; he kept searching for his previous owner and even tried escaping. He eventually got used to us though. Every morning, he would walk my brother all the way to the bus stop, then come back, and later that same day, he would send me away on the 11:40 bus. I have no idea how he knew our return times. We would always find him waiting for us at the bus stop.
Our situation worsened when my mom decided to stay in Ankara instead of moving with Papa Muzaffer. The monthly money that he had been sending steadily was becoming less and less frequent, and later, it was entirely cut. Every three days, my mom would sit and write a letter on her own using old script. Every letter was another plea, asking for money. Papa Muzaffer did not like to write letters. When he would get fed up with my mom’s letters, he would send short telegraphs. One telegraph stated, “I wired 150.” We waited for two months for those 150 liras. “Did it get lost in the post office or what?” and my brother, with telegraph in hand, went from one post office to the other.
It was finally decided to go to Balıkesir. Mom arranged our belongings; brother came to pick us up with a car and drove us to the warehouse near the station and dropped us off. We took the train to Balıkesir.
My brother married Fahriye auntie soon after we left. Mom learned of this news much later, and she became furious. Her son was young and handsome, just like Rudolph Valentino; (I vaguely remember him in the silent film, The Son of the Sheik, playing at the Modern Cinema) so he deserved not a “poor Laz girl” like my Fahriye auntie, but a rich, well-off, and “much prettier” one. Since my brother knew she would object, he told us neither of his engagement nor of his wedding.
Mom held this against my brother for years to come; whenever she was upset, she would bring up the topic and start grumbling. That’s why she and my sister-in-law Fahriye had a falling out, and it took the birth of a grandchild for them to make up.
My brother’s adventures ended when he got married. We returned to Izmir from Balıkesir. An old neighbourhood friend, Şuayyip, was a mobile postman and would routinely travel to Ankara; he would bring news from my brother every time he visited.
“Miss Ayşa auntie, your Faruk sends greetings. I paid them a visit too this time.”
Pretending not to care as if occupied with something else on her mind:
“Is that so?” she would ask, “How is he; does he remember, once in a while, that he has a mother?”
“It’s married life: go to work and come back,” would answer Şuayyip. “Fahriye is good too, and so is your son. They rented a nice place in Maltepe. An apartment flat. I went and I saw it myself. Five bedrooms, a large place. They even connected a phone line the other day.”
To change the subject, mom would offer:
“Would you like some coffee or should I press some cold juice for you?”
“Thank you Miss Ayşa auntie; neither of those,” he would say, “I won’t stay long.”
We would leave home with Şuayyip, pass Gary Tobacco, and head out to Kemeraltı behind the National Library. Şuayyip’s favourite coffee house was frequented by horse race bettors.
“Man, I’m dying for a coffee. C’mon, let’s sit here and have a cup,” he would say, and we would sit together at a table facing the window.
“Miss Ayşa auntie gets real upset at your brother, is that right?”
“The woman is right, if it were up to me. Faruk should not have done that. Wouldn’t a mother wish to see her own son’s happiness?”
“I guess she would.”
“Getting married so early is foolish in my opinion. What do you say?”
“I have no intention. Care to light one?”
We would each light a cigarette. And he would tell me:
“Your brother was the Don Juan of the Alireis Neighbourhood. However many Jewish girls there were at Ikiçeşmelik, he had dated them all. I know him juggling three girls at one time. Do you remember Muazzez?”
I would shake my head no.
“You are right. You were much too young then. Muazzez and them had come to visit Miss Gülsefa for the summer; your brother managed to get the girl in a day and made her fall in love with him. Head over heels for him, the girl left. She would write to him every day, and he to her. One day, your brother couldn’t wait anymore and he headed after her to Istanbul.”
My brother never forgot Muazzez. But Muazzez is probably married with kids by now. Even so, would she occasionally remember the days when she came to visit the Alireis Neighbourhood; those adolescent neighbourhood boys who, just to catch one glimpse of her, would sleep out on the terrace during the hot, suffocating summer nights; those secret meetings with my brother to kiss on the lips inside the bomb shelters that were dug up for the fear of war at the uneven Topaltı fields; the apricot fragranced plum tree at Miss Gülsefa’s courtyard; the fava fields under the Castle (when in-season, the favas would blossom alongside wild red poppies and spread a mesmerizing smell); my brother, who was named the neighbourhood playboy (and the one and only friend of Mr. Mehmed the lighthouse keeper’s son, Şuayyip)—would she remember?
“Muazzez was his big love. Maybe first love, that’s why.”
After falling in love with Muazzez, my brother even gave up wrestling. Sait the Arab from Altınordu had begged and pleaded, but my brother did not listen. If he had just worked and continued, my brother would have made it to the national team, he said; what a waste of talent, he said.
Şuayyip just couldn’t wrap his head around it.
“He could have married any girl if he wanted. I don’t say this around your mother, but she is right. I got married and what? Nothing!”
Şuayyip got married before my brother, and was the father of two.
“Would you say he has become tame?”
“I don’t know.”
“No, if he is the Faruk I know, he would never become tame.”
But my brother did become tame, he did the unthinkable by settling down. He loved his wife. And Fahriye auntie cared deeply for him, she would do whatever he wished at once. He was comfortable.
Some time ago, he opened a store in Ankara, he was selling dishware; when his wife took a “disability retirement” (she had a heart condition), they moved to Granny’s house in Izmir. That’s when mom moved back to Ankara. I went to the army, came back, and settled in Ankara. And after Ankara, in Istanbul.
One day, he showed up in Istanbul unannounced. He was still the same young man from back in the days, happy-go-lucky.
“I will become a singer,” he declared. “I will get on stage and earn all the money in the world. I’ve thought of everything already.”
My wife and I would simply listen. He stayed with us for three months. He had brought an accordion with him; he would lock himself in the guestroom, open his music sheet, make weird sounds like “Moo Moo!” and practice constantly.
No one ever told him, “This will never work, forget it…” I didn’t interfere. Papa Muzaffer never said a word, (it had been a year since mom died), Şuayyip never said anything, Fahriye auntie neither, his uncle Dr. Hilmi didn’t, his brother-in-law Mr. Kenan didn’t (in fact, Mr. Kenan was a lawyer) and everyone just simply listened to him.
At the start of winter, my brother returned to Izmir.
“I am not ready yet,” he said. “I will need to practice during these winter months in Izmir, but come summer, the stage is mine!”
When summer came, my brother said, “I am not prepared. I need one more year.”
Three summers went by. His son passed the entrance exam to the German high school, and the family packed up and came to Istanbul.
Neither he nor I ever mentioned the stage idea. As if nothing of this sort had ever happened. Maybe it was just a dream that only I had seen.
He sold a portion of the land on my granny’s garden, and with the money, leased a home in Kadıköy and settled in. On top of the couple’s retirement pensions was the income they received from giving music lessons. The idea of becoming a singer passed on from my brother to his son.
I thought Faruk had had enough, but no. One day when he was furious with his son, he exclaimed on the top of his lungs:
“I’ll grab the microphone and get on stage myself; I’ll show everyone what it means to sing a song!”
He was already fifty-one when he said this; that young man in front of the Taksim Monument had long started using Koleston 4 to dye his hair.
Note: This is one of the first published translations of Tarık Dursun K.'s work into another language.
© Yapı Kredi Kültür Sanat Yayıncılık Ticaret ve Sanayi A.Ş.
Special thanks to Allana Joy Bourne and the K1N reviewers for their suggestions on my English translation of the piece.
Tarık Dursun K. was born on May 26, 1931 in Izmir, Turkey, and passed away on August 11, 2015, at the age of 84. He had a long and prolific career in Turkey as a novelist, short-story writer, poet, essayist, journalist, translator, critic, screen-writer, and film director. He has authored over 19 novels, 30 short stories, and six anthologies since beginning his career in 1949, and has been the recipient of numerous prestigious prizes in literature. "Taksim Anıtı Önünde Bir Delikanlı" was originally published in Turkish in 1987.