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from the November 2008 issue

For Years

The hospital odors do not offend anymore. We have been here since yesterday morning and I am used to them. There are two beds in the room. Day is breaking. The man in the other bed is my brother. His still silhouette and even breathing tell me he had a comfortable night.

A little while ago, I reached and turned on the small fan on my bedside table. My nephew brought two early yesterday evening. He placed one on his father's table and one on mine.

He is set to join the army next month. How fast the years go by . . .

The fan started swirling from side to side. The air conditioner in the room is faulty. It was hot and stuffy in here, yesterday. I am hoping that the fan will help a little. I wonder if I should stop it. It may not be right to have it working the day after the operation.

He shifts in his sleep. The kid appears comfortable. Kid? As children, the three years between us mattered. However, three or four years lose their significance after a certain age. The age difference between us doesn't mean much, anymore. Three in sixty-five . . . He looks older than I do anyway. The kidney disorder wore him down.

When he woke up, the light hurt his eyes. It must have been snowing the whole night. His sleep was interrupted several times during the night, and he fell asleep again after seeing the silhouette of his brother in the next bed. But the brightness of the snow that filled the room this time made him jump out of his bed. He ran to the stairs on the buckling and squeaking floors, looked downstairs. There was only his mother left in the house.

"Mommm! Why didn't you wake me up?"

He has been home for the past two years; his five-year schooling was over. Those who continued past the grammar school had to move to the town. That's why he could see his tenth-grade brother only during the weekends. He was everybody's pride, his brother. Their dad kept saying, "Cannot afford all of you going to school." Their sister started this year; apparently she would also quit after the grammar school.

"I was going to . . . Your brother didn't let me."

The family genuinely cheered my every success in education, each advance in life. Not that they expected me to be of any help to them or anything. All they wanted was that I told them about my achievements and the events of my life. We never competed or kept score.

I hadn't realized that the job I found midway through my university days would have pulled us apart; I eventually settled in Istanbul. We married women that the family hadn't known before.

He always stayed at home, in the village. The income from the fields was dwindling. He insisted on working them even after Dad passed away.

He separated our sister's share from ours. She had married and moved to a nearby town, and was now a member of another family. But she and her husband visited quite frequently and were able to take care of their land.

Landowners from outside the village usually let sharecroppers work the fields. He kept on tending the plots that were my share. We never felt the need to talk about this. He used to transfer something after the harvests; no need for books and figures.

I was thirty when I first noticed that we started referring to cash we gave to each other as debt. I was dismayed. Was it marriage, life, or us . . . Gradually, he started to calculate what was produced in the fields, what would be designated as my share, and the corresponding amounts, precisely.

Then, in Istanbul, my wife really wanted to buy a house. I don't remember how, we decided to sell the land.

When the crops in the following years were poor, we thought we did very well to sell when we had. My brother, however, suffered. The crops he was producing were steadily losing value.

He ran down the stairs. Quickly put on his shoes; couldn't waste time with socks. When he opened the door he saw that the snow in front of the house was plowed. Yet the snow around the side wall was almost up to his waist. He couldn't go in that direction fast. His mother's yelling caught up with him.

"You don't have your clothes on!"

He pushed the top snow with the back of his hand and found the brick quickly. As were most of the houses in the village, the northern walls were laid in double layers of brick. In the later years when new types of bricks became commonplace, these old ones were called black bricks.

He pulled out the brick in the outer layer; it was freezing. He reached in and pulled out the money he had stashed away. The cold coins almost burned his hand.

Everyone in the house knew about this secret place of his. Nevertheless, nobody used to look in there or talk about it. He had also hid a case among the thorns in the upper yard. He covered it with leaves in summer. Inside, it was always cool. The figs and grapes he hid there lasted longer. He hid things for his brother there. Still, he couldn't give something to him every time he came . . .

He didn't waste time replacing the brick. Before he had started to run, knowing that she wouldn't be able to stop him, his mother put a sweater on him in a hurry. The warmth of the ice-cold coins in his palms . . . . He started to run.

He didn't get on the road. He was struggling with the deep snow on the shorter path. He got warmer; his sweater started to burden him. Yet he didn't take it off. No time . . . . Besides, he was afraid his mother would scold him. He followed the shortcut until the last slope that went down to Çerkez Creek. He would follow the cart road from there on.

When he got on the road, he saw his brother. He was breathless. Stopped. He felt the cold sweat on his back. His brother was walking downward among the whiteness, pulling his feet high out of the snow at each step. He rested a little.

"Brother! Hey brooother!"

We saw each other less frequently. However, our link was strong. The people around us, our lives, became different. Seeing him started to become like an escape from my world, my hectic life, and assumed a new meaning.

His life continued to change. He had planned certain things. He made some large investments, by his standards. Calculating and pondering, he eventually decided to act. However, things didn't turn out as he hoped. He came under financial pressure.

My wife and I had bought our second car. Mine was quite expensive, although my wife's wasn't. If I sold my car and got a small loan I could help him straighten out his affairs. In one of my infrequent visits, we talked about this as if it was the most normal thing to do.

When I returned to Istanbul, however, the magic was destroyed. I couldn't come through. I don't know how I didn't realize I wouldn't be able to persuade my wife. I couldn't explain.

A couple of days later, I gave him, not the money he expected, but some advice on the phone. I told him we were forty, that we needed to lead quiet and peaceful lives and not try to change them . . .

He said I was right. Actually I was changing our lives with that very telephone conversation. I think he was heartbroken. For a long while, our meetings were cold. We met as a matter of duty. Although his resentment troubled me, we never talked about it. I don't think he understood me, either. Or maybe he did.

I felt the problem more in later years. We started to meet more frequently and more or less normally. I suppose his expectations and trust were hurt and he had accepted this situation.

I wondered what he would do for me and how much?

His brother, who wasn't aware that he was being watched, was about to reach the bridge over the creek. The little bridge was the lowest point of the road. You had to climb up the slope past the bridge. His big brother looked tiny in the snow. He took a deep breath.

"Broo . . . therrr!"

His face shone. He smiled. Through the steam of his breath he saw his brother stop. He saw him turn and look. He had stopped on the white bridge; he was looking up the slope without moving.

His heart filled with joy. He waved to his brother, fists closed around the coins, ice on his back. No response. After catching his breath for a short while, he started to walk down. His brother was waiting without moving. His pace picked up. Then he slowly started to run again, going in and out of the deep snow and steaming like an engine. Still no movement ahead.

When he reached him, he extended his fists to his brother without a word. He dropped what he had in his fists into the hands that were put beneath them. He looked up to his brother, raising his head a little, smiling. Chilling clothes on his back.

He turned around and started up the slope. When he raised his head and looked ahead, he saw the village buried under the snow. How far, he thought. He started running, retracing his steps.

Just before getting back on the pathway from the cart road he stopped and looked below. His brother was on the bridge covered with snow. Again he saw him behind the steam of his breath. He realized that he didn't have to keep his hands closed anymore; opened them. He waved. No response.

He whispered, "You'll get cold."

Why was his brother standing there without moving? He raised his arm and motioned to him to go. No response still. He entered the shortcut, running. Then suddenly he slowed down. He saw the footsteps left behind a little while ago when he went down. He looked on to the whiteness. The tree branches were carrying quiet weights. Right in front of him was an ever-rising, undulating land. Whiteness. He was walking slowly. His hands warm, streams of ice in his back.

He overcame his problems one way or another. Started to lead a quiet life. He saw his children through school and married them off. They visited him frequently from the city. He was spending time with his grandchildren. He was alone with his wife in the village.

I retired ten years ago. My family doesn't need me. They don't have problems either. I have grandchildren. I don't know if it is from habit or need, but we see each other steadily. I don't have to clear anything with anyone anymore; I'm not responsible for anyone. My life has started to be mine alone.

I had been seeing my brother infrequently. However, the link between us was again getting stronger. The people around us, and our lives, differed once again. As seeing him meant a return to my own world, our meetings assumed different meanings.

But now this health problem appeared. In one of our rare meetings we talked about this as a most natural thing. I could give him one of my kidneys without harming anyone. I thought he would object to my proposal. What I cherished most was that he accepted it as if it was quite a normal thing.

Our only worry was if the test results would not come out favorably. Would it be possible to get one of my kidneys transplanted to him? When we got the good news, I don't know which one of us was happier.

He is lying like an innocent child in the next bed. The air from the fan is chilling my cheeks. Every single memory of him has become good once more.

I sort of remember when I looked up at him from Çerkez Creek that winter day . . . There were streams of ice on my cheeks.

Translation of Evin Yolu. By arrangement with Mevsimsiz Yayınları. Translation copyright 2008 by Candan Baysan. All rights reserved.

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