Who are You?
Sample translation of first pages
Dolls in rubbish
Ms. Nilüfer was about to put out the rubbish. As she was tying up the bin liner, she paused. Underneath the crumpled papers, she noticed a lock of blonde hair. She pushed away the papers, some cabbage leaves and some orange peels to see what it was. There she found one of her daughter’s dolls. Startled, she pulled the doll out of the rubbish. It was not thrown away due to some apparent defect or because it was broken. Her hair was cut, her clothes were all ripped, her arms and legs bent and her face had X’s drawn all over it with a ballpoint pen.
“Something’s wrong for sure…” she muttered.
She bent over and continued inspecting the huge bin liner. Her instincts had not failed her; all the other dolls were there as well. They all went through the same thing. Faces marked, hair cut hastily and clothes shred to pieces. All the dolls were savagely mauled. Ms. Nilüfer stood there in a cold sweat.
Her daughter Elif always collected the dolls she played with, never until now had she thrown any of them away. She didn’t know the exact number but she assumed there were about forty of them.
She was undecided whether to put out the rubbish or not. But what good were the dolls in this state… She needed to talk to Elif or observe her discreetly. What could make her daughter do such a strange thing? Were all those vampire books she’s been reading influencing her? Or was she trying to replicate some scenes from those gory horror movies? Was she angry at something? Ms. Nilüfer was scared whatever caused her daughter to act like this must be dangerous. She thought about talking with her husband. Maybe the two of them could figure some logic out of this.
She securely tied the black bin liner up and left it outside their apartment door for the caretaker to pick it up.
On his usual round within the building, the caretaker picked the rubbish and took it outside. From his perspective, nothing extraordinary was going on. He carried all the bin liners to the habitual spot on the pavement. The one he picked up from Elif’s apartment was slightly torn and the thin arm of a doll was protruding through a hole. It was as if the doll was trying to grab something but just couldn’t reach it. We still didn’t know what the doll was trying to seize when half-an-hour later a well-dressed woman in her 40’s entered the street. Judging by the bags she was carrying, she had been grocery shopping and was returning home. What made her stop on her way home were the bin liners that were left in front of Elif’s apartment building half an hour ago. She saw the hand reaching from inside the bag. Seeing the slender fingers and the fresh red nail polish on the doll made her heart race. She wanted to take that doll, but how? There were people who knew her on this street. She couldn’t be seen while going through rubbish. What if someone was sitting in their balcony, or looking out their window? She lowered her bags near the pile of bin liners, as if she was tired and wanted to catch her breath. She glanced around for witnesses. After having waited around for a few minutes, she grabbed the black bin liner along with her own bags and quickened her pace.
As soon as she got into her apartment, she opened the bin bag with excitement. She liked that there were a great number of dolls and that they weren’t all damaged. Some of them had their eyes, ears, hands and feet intact. She transferred the waste into another bin and placed it outside. She then immediately immersed the dolls in a bucket full of bleach to begin the process of disinfection.
Elif felt lighter when she woke up the next morning. She had disposed of her dolls last night, hiding them under the cabbage leaves among the rubbish. They were one of the many things she wanted to get rid of. The dolls felt like the easiest to begin with. It was a move that wouldn’t upset anyone. She didn’t intend to be hurtful anyway. She couldn’t figure out what was troubling her. Whenever she sighed deeply in frustration, “Pffff”, her parents always gave the same reaction.
“Our daughter is growing up!”
If growing up meant an increasing amount of “Pffff” and frustrations, it couldn’t be a good thing. But staying a child had its own set of problems! Not being taken seriously, constant supervision and advice from adults, falling down all the time… School!
“Pffff”, she heaved a big sigh and got out of bed. Yes, she had to go to school. She dragged her feet to the bathroom. As she was washing her face, she tried to avoid looking at her reflection in the mirror but ultimately failed.
“Who are you?” she asked the image reflected in the mirror. It answered back to the girl in the bathroom with the same question.
“Who are you?”
Elif looked for someone else in the mirror. In fact, she was looking for multiple people. She tried to find the features of multiple people in her own reflection. She looked for that perky nose commonly found on her dolls and that only Ayça from her classroom possessed. She looked for a flawless and spotless, porcelain like skin. She looked for gently waving hair adorning her face. She couldn’t find them…
She started doing to her face what she had done to her dolls. Her parents were still asleep and she had to leave before they woke up anyway. She grabbed her mother’s eyeliner from the shelf. She drew a cross on her nose. The outer V of her eye did not curve, noone’s eye does that, and so she extended the line following her eyes towards her temples. She always found her forehead too wide. Today was no exception. To hide that wideness, she hastily cut some uneven bangs to fall on her forehead. She wetted the misshapen bangs to make them behave. She deemed her chin oversized, it looked so big to her that she thought, “I could draw a pair of lips”. She reached for the reddest lipstick her mother had. She drew thick lips on her chin. Now, she transformed herself into a girl with two sets of lips. Such that, one could pout while the other smiled.
She arranged her hair to the back to reveal her ears. Now she felt her face looked too naked. So, she drew some hair coming out of her ears and advancing towards her cheeks. She placed her initials in the middle of her eyebrows. She even fitted lowercase e’s around the uppercase E.
She hurried to the room to get dressed and checked the clock, she still had time to have breakfast. But to avoid the risk of her mother catching her like this, she gave up on breakfast, grabbed her bag and quietly left the house.
She noticed people were looking at her as she was walking to her usual corner to wait for the school bus.
“Go on, look… You won’t find anyone like this again… You either notice someone beautiful or ugly. Meanwhile, there are millions of people around the world who are average but deserve just as much to be looked at,” she thought.
Five minutes later, Mert showed up. They were in the same class. Mert was a shy kid. He was often found looking at the ground. He would especially avert his gaze from girls. But that morning, he looked at Elif and couldn’t bring himself to turn his eyes back to the ground.
“What is it?” asked Elif. “Have you never gazed upon beauty?”
“No, it’s not that…” stuttered Mert, “I’m just surprised… have you joined a theater company?”
“Yes, I joined a new company called the Theater of Life…”
“Really… I’ve never heard of them.”
“Of course you haven’t, I’ve set it up last night. I’m rehearsing as of this morning.”
Mert was determined to keep up.
“I am guessing this is a solo performance.”
Elif wasn’t used to this mocking tone from Mert, which surprised her, but she composed herself.
“Isn’t that what life is Mert? We are all performing solo plays. Or are you one of those people who claim true beauty comes from the inside?” she said and laughed loudly at her own joke.
Their verbal duel concluded with the arrival of the school bus. As she stepped inside the bus, Elif was greeted with a lot of “Oooo…”s, followed by jokes, exaggerated comparisons and snide remarks.
“Woooo, you look like a punk singer!”
“Who are you? Which comic book did you run out of?”
“No no! She is from a video game.”
“Did we have a field trip today to cuckoo town and no one told me?”
The jokes fizzled out eventually.
Her friend Ebru asked, “You’re not considering going into the classroom like that, right?”
“You should,” said Kenan, “we start with literature, you’ll bring some joy to the class”.
“Yeah, right. Mr. Ertuğrul will immediately send me to the bathroom. Then, we would get on with the class. If you are looking for a way out, look further, not here. I will just do some silliness like this until I find my own way.”
Mert, who is usually known for being quiet, seemed determined to surprise his friends that morning.
“Life is not about finding yourself but creating yourself!”
The entire bus “Oooo”ed again.
“Man, are you waxing philosophical now? Aren’t you a charmer!” said Ebru.
“That’s no philosophy, it sounds more like a commercial for makeup…”
Mert was annoyed at this comparison.
“Each of us understands as much as our capacity”
And now, Semih was annoyed at this insult. He was about to pounce on Mert, if Vedat and Kenan, who were sitting on his sides, didn’t grab him.
Before the literature class, Elif went to the bathroom and washed her face. Maybe the hassle she created this morning was enough, she didn’t have the courage to take on more. During class, she glanced at Ayça’s perky nose, Ebru’s shapely chin and Seda’s locks of blond hair, and sighed. She was convinced that she got the worst attributes of her parents.
At lunch break, while eating the cheese sandwich she bought at the canteen, she looked for her friend Ebru in the yard but couldn’t find her. Instead, she saw something else, the way Mert was looking at her.
“Why is he looking at me like that?” she wondered. Maybe he was still thinking about the way she looked that morning.
Ms. Nilüfer woke up right after Elif closed the door behind her. Now, she made tea and was waiting for her husband to wake up. Her eyes went to the rubbish again. Was there anything new in it? She went and checked, no, the new bin liner was still empty. She went to her daughter’s room. She scanned the room for anything out of the ordinary. She wondered what had gone into her daughter’s head. The rack where the dolls used to be was empty. Clothes thrown on the floor, bed unmade. This was the usual state of this room. She would have been worried if it were any different.
She noticed a book tucked under the pillow. She reached for it. It was a comic book. She read the title:
Translated by Canan Marasligil