Sun sets and hands grow within me, they pull me around, making me shrink inside my black shell. I’m a blob of flesh, without any limbs attached. It’s been like this since I taught myself to close my eyes and feel the full extent of my weaknesses instead of avoiding moments of sorrow. Mare clicks and clacks its shoes in the wide, calm box and I see that every time I mount her, my body clinging on her back consumes her, hurts her. But it’s the only thing that I find strength in.
I finish grooming and saddle her; she’s not liking this. She’s cranky, she opens her eyes wide and moves around. I caress her neck, grab her mane, and pull myself on her. I let the reins go. We walk. The shiny black hair protecting the animal’s skin reeks of debilitation.
We make our way in knee-high bushes of prairies. We strike through the tranquility of villages on the hill. This is how I break out of my shell every day.
When I met her, she was going through a period where she craved to be in weird situations 24/7. For a long time, she was nothing like what I dreamt of… A stance sharpened by a short, boy’s haircut, triggered by the shiny rage in her dark eyes while the baby soft texture of her white skin and femininity that she emitted from her bare chest gave you the most awkward of sensations. Adjectives aside, there was no way to define her. I first saw her during this evening course, a covert getaway for those who sought a way out of their problematic jobs, relationships, or mostly households. She usually came with a bunch of books either under her arm or in the cloth bag she carried. I might have very well not given any attention to the fact that she smoked under the staircase during breaks, wore odd earrings, or wore nothing but black… Or that she spent a considerable amount of time and money to attend this course every day but didn’t talk at all and watched the ceiling with a smile on her face… That I just couldn’t accept. She wasn’t listening, hearing, or communicating in any way. For three hours straight, she was mentally elsewhere and paid for it. When she scratched her forehead with black-painted nails and grimaced at whatever she thought of, she looked like Gatsby’s wicked Daisy. And other times, she was focusing on the cracks on the ceiling as if they were the gilded wrought-iron columns of Versailles. I swear I could see the long skirts of her gown sweeping the palace floors. When she looked behind over her shoulder, she looked like Marie Antoinette. Her eyebrows, although very thin, almost touched each other, and the edges of her lips curled upwards, chins creating valleys on her sea-levelled face. I imagined her finding the beating tremble of life, then she would start her passionate valse. And me, I was waiting for the joy within me to gust out, put me on my feet, and make me scream, Teach me how to dance!
Thick olive tree layer makes it hard to see. The mare’s ears keep turning to sides, the urge to run towards the nature’s sounds is contained. But she wants it, she wants to use whatever that’s left in her strong legs and run at full gallop. I tell her about the olives to calm her down. I lean forward to take the weight off her back. We begin climbing a steep hill.
After two weeks the evening course turned into an excuse to see only her. I had even purchased a red velvet covered notebook to take down information about her. Since I didn’t believe that the name on the class list was her real name, I began calling her Nathalie. It was the name of the woman who also wore black in a movie that I had seen when I was kid, and it sure suited her. I started jotting down her features in the notebook..
Age, unknown. Eyes and hair, black. Height, short. Weight, somewhat chubby. Shoe size, no bigger than 6. Her favorite authors, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf. Favorite novel, Mrs. Dalloway. Note: She knows the first line by heart, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Favorite opera, Carmen. The movie that made her cry the most, Cholera Street. Favorite drink, rum. Lives in G. In a rooftop flat overlooking the strait. Doesn’t drive. Knows French, and a bit of English. First boyfriend, Monsieur Arnoux who taught French grammar. Favorite city, Paris, no doubt. No parents in the picture. There is however a grandmother, a cruel woman. Always crushed under the authority war between her parents and her grandmother, she grew up to be a silent kid. Once blown away by Tom Sawyer she made a raft and set sail to the Black Sea. Fifth minute at sea, the raft sank, so she returned home, dried herself without anyone knowing. First made aware about her genitals by her older cousins. First cigarette smoked, Camel. She wants to resurrect, if she can, as a mare: a plump Dutch Warmblood with a high croup, super strong thighs and neck. Her dream, to gallop into an indefinite time, beating and shaking the soil whilst swirling her tail around, wavy in the air.
I review my notebook and try to sketch her only to fail at it. I don’t have what it takes to portray Nathalie with lines. Nor my words are enough to describe her, not anymore.I decide to talk to her after class one day, and I barely manage to make it to sunset. The course ends, I approach her and as I am about to open my mouth, she loads her cloth bag on her back and dashes out. Air fills in my mouth, I gulp. I run after her.
From the hill we climbed, I can perceive the sea and the rocks sprinkled beneath. I get down and hold the reins. My heart pumps in my cheeks. You brought us to an even lovelier spot this time, Nathalie. My throat almost hurts because of the oregano scent coming off the ground, from the bottoms of olive trees. We walk to the river close by and get knee-deep in the water. She drinks a couple of handfuls. I fill my hands and splash water on my face. There and then, the intensity of living in the moment collapses in my stomach. The mare approaches and puts her head on my shoulder. I cry a river to our bitter freedom.
She walks, taking quick steps and drawing zig zags in the back alleys of Beyoglu. She enters record and book stores, filling up her cloth bag. She ends up in a bar, where old French songs are played. I sneak behind her, sit somewhere I can see her face. She rolls down a shot of rum, lights a cigarette. Her makeup comes running down. She drinks some more. She reaches down in her bag and takes out a card, same size as a postcard. Though the light reflects on the object, hindering me from seeing its front, I get that it’s a picture and the deep creases tell me that it’s pretty old. If I got up and told her that I needed to speak to her, would she believe me? Maybe her guards are finally off, with the help of plenty of rum, would she put herself back in a plastic bottle and tightly close its lid if I approached?
She waves her finger at the bartender, preaching, mumbling poems. This goes on for a while, then she gets up, now her body is zigzagging. It’s the time of the day when you no longer need any proper demeanor. She walks out of the bar and slips on wet pavement. I dash forward and grab her, wrap her arm around my shoulder.
As she finds the strength to get back up, she says, “We can go.”
With my other hand, I take the postcard she dropped and dry it on my shirt. It really is a picture of a prairie where blues and greens mix in with the sky and the wind. Her head stays down, and we walk all the way to Karaköy.
At the shore, she faces the sea and asks, “How long would it take to swim there?”
She jumps forward without waiting for my answer. I grab her mid-air. I take out my lasso and get her neck through the hoop. She rears over the pitch-black sea, reaching for the moon. I whisper, to calm her down. Wisp-
Translation: Eylul Deniz Doğanay
Artwork: Amanda Corbett