Purple and yellow, yes. Today it’s purple and yellow.
He leans forward to tie his shoes, but he is careful not to focus on the patched parts. Because one direct look and he’ll see his father’s old and tattered wallet. He’d rather not. He stands up and cleans the fingerprints on his glasses with the bottom end of his shirt while he reads the writing covering the entire entrance of the station – Somebody stop us! It puts a smile on his face. He paces up and enters Sirkeci Station.
His father is standing next to the small cabin with wide open windows letting some fresh spring air in. His back turned against the door, he’s skimming through papers and talking to himself. “D100, Orient Express, right, uh… Germany, 2345, hm…”
His father, with his wrinkled neck, locked eyes, and sonorous or even leaden voice. Nowadays he’s obsessed with his laundry; his uniforms are always neatly ironed and washed every two days so that people don’t deduce that his wife left him.
He feels crushed inside; for a moment he thinks about turning around and leaving, about finding salvation on the iron train rails… He wishes to throw away his books and pens, to isolate himself from the silent sacrifices of his father.
“Demir, is that you my boy?”
His father turns partially and waits for a response, looking over his glasses. He has such thick eyebrows that they shade his already black eyes. Demir looks into the darkness, into the two bottomless pits. Everything that crushed him a second ago fly away. He’s angry now, “No, it’s not me. I’m still at school.”
“I had grilled cheese at school.”
“Have some tea, it’s over there.”
“No, I’m fine.”
He drops his textbooks and notebooks next to his father’s papers on the table. Demir pulls a fifteen-year-old chair and sits by his father. Teapot on an outdoor propane stove is boiling outside. He slants his eyes a couple of times. He needs a new prescription for his glasses, these ones are giving him headaches.
“My head aches,” he says.
“Hang on a bit more, we’ll see the doctor soon.”
The ground suddenly trembles under Demir, it’s as if the cement is about to split and swallow him. Or chew him good and spit him back onto the rails. Puh!
An arriving train’s whistle screeches in his ears. One of the guards, Himmet, briskly walks in. “Chief, Ankara just arrived,” he says.
His father puts on his hat, turns to Demir, “You start studying now, I’ll be right back,” and leaves.
Purple and yellow…
The teapot is still boiling.
Math exam is tomorrow.
His grades are… low.
If he could only stand up before his father, look him in the eye, and say, “I don’t want to be a civil servant.”
He takes out the sketches he drew during math class, he shuffles though. If he could only say, “I want to paint, dad.”
Years ago, way before starting school, Demir began overflowing from paper. What he wanted to draw didn’t fit in papers, his pen slipped first on the table, then on the walls. His mother didn’t react, not even in the slightest, so he kept looking at her over his shoulder, drew her, sometimes in red, sometimes in turquoise, sometimes in yellow. Her hair was always purple though. And her lips, the color of marigolds. With his mother, they saw one teacher after the other so that he’d pass the entrance exams for the conservatory. Teachers tapped Demir on the back, smiled, nodded, and that made his mother beam. This went on until he was thirteen. Every time his mother smiled, he found new colors. The corporate smell that came in with his father though made him feel bleak. The afternoons he spent in Sirkeci Station during his mother’s unexpected disappearances made him feel the blue in glazed tiles, the sea green, and the violet purple. He dipped his fingers in paint, Demir shook with passion. He painted the station, with its trains, passengers, conductors, officers, ceilings and bagels… Then, he met the city and its cracked, mossy, filthy walls. He discovered that there were others who wanted to paint the walls too; he shook their hands with an enthusiasm and excitement that sliced through his knee caps. Knowing that he was capable of letting himself go on an empty ugly wall and beautify it – and not only by painting, but also by spraying the paint – equipped Demir with a better vision and nimbler hands.
Then, gradually but eventually, his mother stopped looking at what he drew. Demir spent more time walking on the rails at the back of the station in the afternoons, thinking that maybe if his father was ever less busy, he could show him what he drew. One day, although the sun had already set, his mother didn’t show up anymore. After that, the trains became his mother.
He puts back his sketches inside his book. He starts looking at the cracks in the ceiling. If his mother didn’t leave, would he have collected marigolds by the rails anyway? Would he sigh before their color? Would he still be obliged to take the civil service exam? Or, would he be inhaling the dense air of the station while counting the trains spreading out in four directions from the chief’s post and dreaming about jumping on a train to Germany one day?
Would the dreams he brewed imagining himself painting the entire station, including its ticket desks and benches and watches and waiting rooms, ever become real if his mother returned to them and ironed his father’s uniform again?
Today, it’s purple and yellow…
His father walks in. “It’s chilly outside.” He pours himself a cup of tea with trembling hands. “You want some, son?”
“Don’t you have an exam tomorrow?”
“Why don’t you go home and study a bit?”
Demir shrugs his shoulders. “I will, whatever.”
“Son, I… You make sure you won’t fail again…”
Sugar cube dissolves in the tea and tea in his father.
“Are you on the watch tonight?”
His father nods. “The first train in the morning will be loaded after the shift.”
“Where is it headed?”
Demir’s eyes light up. He rushes to gather his books from the table. “I’m leaving.”
His father tries to answer back, “Study, okay son?” but Demir is already out of the cabin.
“Purple and yellow,” Demir says.
“Nice color choices, dude.”
He doesn’t necessarily enjoy talking like this, but this kind of talk is an unwritten rule to be a part of the Yellow Fists. So Demir does what he can to fit in. He doesn’t eat or drink, he walks and doesn’t ride the bus to buy paint.
Graffiti is a basic need like water and bread for the members of the gang. They don’t care about the police or the security guards; they climb roofs and electric polls if necessary to paint the walls. Each sign in their own unique colors and symbols under their graffiti so that everyone else can tell exactly who did that piece anywhere in Istanbul. The one who has their signature under the most popular pieces creates a fandom in time and is dubbed “king”. All walls, cement blocks in backyards, roofs, and pavements now belong to the king.
Demir will become king one day, he knows it.
He gives five liras to his peer, takes the two cans and shakes them. The cans rattle. He sprays one can on the ground: purple. Then the other: yellow. He smiles, with teeth showing. Demir inhales the paint smell.
“Tonight,” he says. “Germany train.”
He moves his glasses over his nose, looks towards the member, and acknowledges him by doing the same hand signal with his index and middle fingers. He shoves the spray cans into his coat and heads home.
Meanwhile, the city is deteriorating in pretty much every aspect, yet some of its parts still accommodate stubborn crickets that don’t seem to mind the poisonous soil. There they lie on the train tracks and sing tunes for those asleep in this chilly spring night.
Lights intermittently shimmer from the station. Blue-yellow. They are like the language of wagons. Something squeaks. The breeze is trying to gently sweep the filth off the face of the homeless sleeping under cardboards on a bench.
The city is asleep, so is the sea. Buses, shop owners, beggars, bagel sellers, and drunkards are all asleep.
But not Ahmet the Chief. He’s pulling and pulling the bottom bits of his shirt, drinking tea, cup after cup. He’s thinking… How is he going to take Demir to see the doctor, will the new prescription glasses require a new frame, or…
The Yellow Fists’ members aren’t asleep either. On the contrary, their bones are sizzling with adrenaline, dreaming of the wagons they have to paint in a matter of minutes keeps them boiling hot. They are thrilled to think that the messages they are about to convey and the images they are about to spray will reach to the artists like them in Germany.
Ahmet gets comfortable on his chair and turns on his transistor radio.
The Yellow Fists wrap their scarves around their noses and mouths for protection. Their backpacks filled with cans rattle in the silence of the night. They are on the move, and their destination is the station.
Ahmet watches the void in occasional sighs, the songs get him thinking… What is his wife doing right now, he wonders… Could Fatma be telling the truth? His Gülay… Is she really with that douchebag? His eyes are burning, he rests his on the table in his cabin. His sorrows unite and he’s drowning under them. He sighs and asks himself, isn’t there a train to hell?
The night and crickets,
Rails separate, multiply,
Spray cans in their hands rattle,
passengers beyond borders.
love of some,
dreams of some,
selfishness of some,
control of some.
Whif, whif, whif, whiffffff,
of the wagons.
Click clack clock,
Blues and pinks and oranges.
Ahmet jumps from his chair, half-asleep.
“What is it?” he says as he fixes his clothes. “What’s going on Himmet? You scared the hell out of me!”
“Chief,” the man is trying to catch his breath, “I saw… They are painting… The trains-there… Shadows…”
He’s looking for his whistle. Where did this come from? And on top of the lecture he got from his boss just two days ago… If it weren’t for that he seriously wouldn’t mind the bastards doing whatever they wanted to, or the small cut from their salaries for the damages. But chasing around kids, at his age!
He signs Himmet to follow him and whispers, “Be quiet.”
They slowly pass a couple of wagons, hiding behind columns. How many are there? Four?
Ahmet asks, “Are there four of them, Himmet?”
“There is one more ahead, chief.”
“By the last wagon over there. Far from the others.”
“Well… That part is quite dark.”
“Chief, how about this? He cannot see us in that darkness, right? So if we get to him behind that wagon, we can surely catch him.”
Ahmet grunts, he clearly isn’t happy with the plan, but he has no other alternative.
“You take the right, I’ll take the left,” he says.
Cautious not to alarm the others, two officers surround the last wagon in the dark.
Their ears catch the harmony of excited breathings and whiffs from the cans.
Tall, skinny silhouette wearing all black, two cans in his two hands, a tiny flashlight in his mouth…
They go at him at the same time. “I got him chief!”
Himmet grabs the shadow, they fall together, while Ahmet freezes by the sight. He hears a screeching similar to the high-pitched sound the trains make on rails. “My eyes! It hurts!”
Himmet manages to get up, covering his eyes with his hands, while the shadow also gets up with his paint in his hand.
Ahmet jumps on him.
“Will you be coming back again? You pain in the ass!”
He points the can to Ahmet, he’s about to spray. He can’t. The chief comes at him, he will beat the shit out of him.
Anywhere the fists land.
Chief, it burns. The bastard sprayed that shit on my face. My eye
As does my
The shadow lies there, quiet. Taking the hits.
He tries to get up. And he does. Anywhere.
A huge cargo train. Full to the maximum capacity, not a single fly could fit through. It has a long way to go – days, months, even years ahead on the rails. Though, on its itinerary, there are stations where it plans to stop and rest, places where it will stop for a second and relax but always keep an eye on the clock for the departure time. There will be a time when a sound beneath it on the rails tells him to slow down as it moves on its way like an exhausted horse, breathing heavily at full gallop. Slow down, now. There’s a switch up ahead. Pull it to the wrong side and you, a gigantic train, will start going in the wrong direction!
Ahmet the Chief was never once wrong in twenty-five years; he always turned the switch to the right side. Trains always went the right way. Now, he isn’t fully aware that he has turned an invisible switch to the wrong side. The train is going in the opposite direction from the right one by the screeching switch.
All trains of the world in all stations are off the rails now.
Having heard the cries, the Yellow Fists’ members are already gone.
Ahmet the Chief can’t stop. He doesn’t have control over his arms that he’s been using to signal the trains to the right directions for twenty-five years. The silhouette’s darkened head crackles in the silence of the night.
Ahmet stops, just like that, by the coiled up body. His heart is pounding.
“Chief, maybe that was too much…”
Ahmet pokes the body with his foot. He crouches and reaches to uncover the shadow’s face. But pieces of glass fall on his hand from the narrow eye gap above the scarf.
His fingers tremble. He’s stunned looking at the body, covering the head with his arms. He curses and curses. The body by his feet, he cries his heart out.
Then, he slowly takes off the scarf. A crooked glasses frame falls down from the head.
Ahmet picks up the flashlight and holds it towards the wagon, his eyes open wide.
Wagon is incomplete.
Wagon looks at him with the face of his wife.
Demir’s mother. On the wagon. With her entire face. Next to the face, it reads COME BACK.
Translation: Eylül Deniz Doğanay
Illustration: Olesia Lys