“How much she has changed! How beautiful she is!” I thought to myself, while the woman in front of me was looking at me with sad eyes. “Oh my love!” I wanted to say, “As in the old days, let me lie flat on your knee, you caress my hair. I will put up with the smoke in the dark valley for you. I am me, even if I am a ghost.”
My biggest wish in my life was to write in a diary what I saw and felt as I took my last breath. I was a believer, so I was sure that the angel of death would come to get me. I always carried a notebook with me and was on the alert so that I could grab pen and paper in case of the slightest mishap.
Of course I didn’t know how I was going to die, but how many different ways could a single young man who has just started working be destined to die? I could catch various diseases, I could be hit by a car while I was crossing the street, a piece of huge apartment building could fall on my head on the road, or I could be injured by a bullet in an accident, all in all I was living in the city with all kinds of people. What else could it be?
Here, this confidence was the trigger for the disasters that befell me. I died in a way I could never imagine. Man calls trouble by his own tongue. One day he does what he says “I will never do it”, and what he says “it never happens to me” follows him like a guided bullet.
I had a friend with whom I shared a room during my college years. He was my role model with his intellectuality, strong eloquence and unique interests. He was handsome, of course. When we were involved in an environment together, all eyes were on him. In all honesty, I’ve never been jealous. I just admired and followed his example.
He was living in harmony with nature. He was camping alone on weekends, and he claimed that it could survive wherever it was left on the planet. Forest or desert, it doesn’t matter! He knew all about herbs or poisons. He was reading alchemy and he often repeated Paracelsus’ words: “The dose makes the poison.”
He told me interesting facts. For example, he said that the existence of zombies was possible. It was possible to make a person look like dead with a poisonous mixture obtained from toads and puffer fish. There were real cases recorded in this way in African countries. In the 60s, a man named Clairvius Narcisse in Haiti was sold to a sorcerer by his brothers due to a dispute over farmland. After being officially recorded as dead, he was dug out of the ground and worked in the fields for years as a sorcerer’s slave. I used to listen to the interesting events he told with admiration.
Of course, like everyone else in the world, Nihat’s life was not perfect. The features that gave him superiority also brought obstacles in another way. For example, he couldn’t make friends, couldn’t trust anyone but me. Because of his knowledge and family wealth, disingenuous and self-seeking people often approached him.
Over the years, while I was acquiring a social environment as an average person, Nihat, who had superiorities in every field, was left alone. The irony of life!
We kept in touch after graduation. As a requirement of friendship, I tried to never leave Nihat alone. I became a reference so that he could find a job, and even took him to a job interview. I wanted him to have a good job and have a happy family.
When I met my future fiancee, Leyla, Nihat was with us in most of our meetings. He would look at Leyla with admiration and often say how lucky I was to win her love, but he would not create a chance for himself. Through Leyla, I arranged for Nihat to meet with various candidates. He didn’t go with any of them.
Over time, I realized that despite all the improvements in his life, Nihat never smiled. He wasn’t reading like he used to. He did not go to the mountains with a backpack, did not boil various herbs in the kitchen. This depression lasted for several months. Finally, he quit his job. He didn’t see his family, he never left his house.
My mind was divided into two, apart from my daily life. While one part was loving Leyla and laying the bricks of the beautiful future we will build with her, the other part was shaking on Nihat with paternal affection. I was trying to call him every day to make him joyful again.
“Take your tent on Saturday, you’ll feel like you’ve been reborn if we get that mountain air. Come on boy!”
I was describing my experiences exaggeratively. What my wedding plans are, what’s going on at work… I wanted to encourage him, I wanted to bring back my old lively friend. My efforts lasted for a season.
The trees I planted at the beginning of the summer began to bear fruit. I learned that Nihat left the house on a Friday and spent time in the woods by a pond. On Saturday, he sailed by boat, alone. I woke up Sunday morning to the phone ringing.
“Kerem!” said a familiar voice. “Come on, wash your face, take your bags, we are going to the mountain!”
I wanted to shout “Hurray!” My friend was back! With the enthusiasm of my student days, I jumped out of bed and got ready. After putting on my chunky shoes, I took a deep breath, breathed in the fresh air of the sunny day, and got in my car and drove to our meeting place.
The car was hot like a greenhouse, my neck drenched with sweat. I drove up to the end of the road at the foot of the mountain and parked carefully. While looking for a tissue in the glove compartment, I found the notebook that I always carry with me. I wrinkled my nose. Would I ever die on this high mountain, in this beautiful weather? Contrary to my custom, I left the notebook where it was, got down, leaned against a rock, and inhaled the fresh air.
Five minutes later, another car pulled up behind mine. If I hadn’t known that it was Nihat, I wouldn’t have known him. His weeks in seclusion had made his body very weak. His hair was cut and pitch black glasses covered his face.
His face was pale. I teased a little to make his laugh, I tripped over his clothes, he faked a laugh. At that time, I could clearly understand that Nihat was not healthy. My friend was probably in the grip of depression.
He grimaced. “Are you sweaty?”
“The car was hot. Or do I smell?”
“A little,” he said, softening his expression. He took out a small jar from his bag. “Look what I brought you, Kerem! You rub this solution under your armpits, you say goodbye to the smell.”
Curiously, I took the jar and looked into it. “I hope it isn’t toxic,” I said.
“Shame on you! When did you see that I couldn’t dose a mixture? I picked the materials with my hands, how many days have I been dealing with this. Very useful, try it and see. Oh, I’ll take it back if you don’t want it.”
“No no!” I said curiously. My forehead crinkled involuntarily as I opened the box and smelled it. “This… a little…”
“It smells like fish.” he said, shaking his head. “Right! Because it contains seafood. I could add essence, perfume, but it would be unnatural, wouldn’t it? You can’t smell it when it’s on your skin.”
I didn’t need to say anything more. I applied Nihat’s fish mixture to my neck, chin and armpits. The places where the mixture touched began to go numb. It must have been a very effective formula.
While going up a path “You were right!” he said. His voice sounded as cheerful as in our old days. “The mountain air will be good, very good.”
We climbed to the top of a high rock. Our cars looked like ants below. The view was magnificent. The new day had risen from the mountains in front of him, and gazed at the summit. The fog that enveloped the valley split the sunlight into beams. The shadows of the trees laid aside to meet the sun. I opened and closed my eyes several times to keep this image in my memory.
At this moment when life showed itself in all its glory, death was the last notion to come to mind.
I got a kick in the back. My body rolled down the mountain like tin. I hit my head a few places. My knees and elbows were injured; needle leaves sank into my skin. However, after a few meters, I was able to stop by hitting a large stone. My head was turned towards the top of the mountain. I could see Nihat running towards me.
“Kerem!” he was shouting. He stood next to me and grabbed my chin with the palms of his hands. “Wake up, wake up! I followed the devil. I’m jealous of you Kerem! Despite my best efforts, when I was incapable of making a life on my own, I was jealous of your rise. I am grateful to you for what you have done for me. For a moment, the devil poked me to kick! Wake up! I don’t want anything to happen to you! I can’t handle this regret!”
The strange thing was that I was extremely conscious. I was fine except for the pain in various parts of my body. I heard everything he said, but I couldn’t open my mouth or move my fingers. I thought I was paralyzed. I filled with anger and feeling of helplessness.
Nihat continued to cry. “Don’t die, please don’t die!” he begged. After that, he calmed down. He took out his phone and called the ambulance. He said we were on the mountain, my foot slipped and I fell. I wasn’t breathing, my heart wasn’t beating either.
“Liar!” I thought to cry out. I decided to wait for my locomotion to return to tell the police everything. The mountain wind was blowing through my hair as if to comfort me, and the ants were crawling over my fingers.
When EMTs arrived, my body felt heavy. Even my consciousness was a bit hazy. My reflexes had stopped working. The attendants, who were measuring my pulse, looked at each other with worried eyes. After saying something to Nihat, whose face was red from crying, in the form of “sorry”, they laid me on a stretcher and covered my face.
I didn’t believe it. I did not believe that I died while I was waiting in the morgue, when Leyla came to the hospital and cried by my bedside, or when the imam was washing me. “Dear officials, there is something wrong!” I was saying to myself. “I am alive! I see your sadness, your rush!” In the two days that passed until the funeral, my efforts to act ended in frustration. Even while being carried in a coffin wrapped in a shroud, I hoped to show that I was alive.
Now that I think about it, my wish was nothing more than a vague dream. One cannot realize that he is dead so that he can record the moment of death! They laid me in my grave. They threw dirt on me with shovels. When the world went completely dark and quiet, that’s when I was convinced: I was dead.
As I said I am a believer, I am still surprised that the angel of death has not come. I spent a night in silence with the perception of the world. Then there was a stream of air, terrible noises. I felt dozens of hands on my shoulders, arms and legs. These hands pulled my body out, laid it on another floor. I heard engine noise. While all this was going on, the darkness never went away. Then my consciousness fell into the slumber of obscurity.
My sense of time was completely lost when a yellow light shined that it sort of burn my pupils. It could have been a day or a year since I was buried. When I blinked, the images became clear. I realized that I was inside a concrete cell resembling an elevator cabin. The light came from a lamp in the ceiling. In front of me was a stone and a sledgehammer. Thick chains dangling from my ankles… I shuddered to my bones when a raspy, terrible voice commanded me to stand up.
Even though I thought that I would go weak at the knees, I managed to move, and I started to wait helplessly in that hot and airless ambiance. The voice was telling me I had gone to hell. It told me that I lived as a bad person because I bragged about what I had to other people. However, I also had small favors, so they wouldn’t throw me into the fire. They was going to let me sleep, eat and drink a little. All the remaining time, I would break stones forever. When the stone was broken, a new one was going to come.
When I opened my mouth, the voice intervened immediately. I was strictly forbidden to speak. If I spoke, I would be punished by the torment of the smoke in the dark valley. They wanted me to experience this punishment once so that I could understand what would happen to me, I would be silent, I would be silent forever.
Black smoke filled the four corners of the ceiling. A fire ignited in my lungs, and I burst into tears, writhing on the ground, struggling not to shout. The first days passed with pain and suffering. Every time I slowed down or I avoided work or my arms got tired from lifting the sledgehammer, the chains attached to my legs were electrocuted. And when I parted my lips involuntarily, I was punished by smoke. Even though I begged for forgiveness, swallowing, bowing my head, making strange noises with my lips tightly closed, no one answered me.
Strangely enough, as time passed, I got used to these harsh conditions. I was sleeping for a while sitting down, then waking up, eating the bread and drinking the water on the tray brought through the hole in the wall, and as soon as I regained my strength, I was going to the stone. I was like a robot, not stumbling or opening my mouth so I wasn’t punished by electricity or smoke.
I no longer thought about my memories in the world. There came a time when I forgot that I was once alive. When I heard noises above my concrete cell, I carried on with my work without hesitation. Even when the ceiling of the cell was opened, when a person wearing a police uniform hugged me like a rag doll and pulled me out, I kept my eyes on the stone and tried not to let go of the sledgehammer.
The lights increased, the sounds increased, the landscapes changed. Human faces lined up around me and were saying something to me. I couldn’t understand any of them. They took me to a large, white building. They laid me on a white bed and tied it to my arm through pipes I forgot the name of. A man in a white coat came. “Mr. Kerem!” I felt familiar, as if I knew the meaning of the word. “I am your doctor, Ümit Yılmaz. I will try to explain what happened to you. The person named Nihat poisoned you.”
Words were gaining and losing meaning in my mind. I could hear the voice of the man in the white coat uninterruptedly, but I could grasp his words as if I was listening to a fuzzy radio.
“This poison has slowed your heart rate and breathing. That’s why it was decided that you died medically and legally. After your funeral, the bouncers hired by the person named Nihat secretly dug you out of the ground. They locked you in the concrete cell they placed under the ground on their own land. They made you believe that you died with various suggestions and tortured you.”
I stared at the doctor with a blank expression. I didn’t know what he was saying, but his speech put me at ease.
After the man in the white coat finished speaking, he left me alone. I began to remember, this was a hospital. Nurses was checking on me every ten or fifteen minutes. What happened to me? How did I come back to life after I died? Or was I not back? Was I a ghost running from hell? Would they burn my liver with the fumes, lock me back in the concrete cell?
After a while, the room door was opened once again. A person I knew, whom I knew with all my cells, entered the room. My Leyla had come! She had come to visit me. I tried to smile. Her hair had grown to her waist, and her face had matured
She glanced at my face for a moment and turned to the doctor. “Tell the truth,” she said. “Is he really Kerem?”
Leyla objected that I could be Kerem, arguing that I looked too weak and depressed, while the doctor said that it was extraordinary that I could even survive for five years under those conditions.
Long afterwards, the woman I loved brought her hands to her face and sobbed. “Woe to me, what kind of villainy is this? How could I have believed such a man, moreover, I married him! Kerem, ah, Kerem…”
Were we married? I couldn’t remember anything. After a while, she started talking about her child, about raising her or him without a father. “No,” I thought, I’ll be fine. Even if I don’t remember her or his name or existence, I will not leave our child without a father.
“Just believe me,” I said. I swear I said it, even if I didn’t budge my lips, even if I didn’t make a sound. “How you have changed! How beautiful you are! Oh my love! As in the old days, I lie flat on your knee, you caress my hair. Hear me, hear me so that I can open my mouth. I will put up with the smoke in the dark valley for you. I am me! Even if I’m a ghost…”
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