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Junk Plaza

Junk Plaza

Sample translation of first pages




The clatter of metal rising outside was making it harder to hear the cartoon playing on TV. The boy raised the volume on the old television set a little higher.

His mother shouted from the section she used as the kitchen:

“Fırat! Turn off the TV and go help your father.”

This was Fırat’s least favourite sentence: “Turn off the TV!”

The least favourite but also the most heard one in this house.

House? Was this really a house?

Once, their art teacher had asked them to draw their home. When Fırat had completed his drawing and placed it on the teacher’s desk, the man was surprised.

“Is this picture supposed to be a house?”

Yes, Fırat had drawn a house. It did not have a roof made up of red tiles, windows or curtains that billowed gently in the wind. It did not have smoke rising from its chimney, nor had it a chimney at all. It did not have a well-tended garden, or a garden wall. This house did not even have a door.

The house Fırat had drawn was like this:

An assortment of iron piping, a slope that resembled a car bonnet. Car and truck tires, piled on top of each other, some barrels and a bicycle wheel, next to them a misshapen couch and behind it rows of bricks. Heaped on top of the bricks, various beams, arches, numerous indeterminate shapes, pieces of tin, stacks upon stacks of paper, huge sacks and other bits of trash layered upon pieces of junk…

“Where is the house?” the teacher asked,

“This is our home…” whispered Fırat.

“What kind of home is that? Take a look at your friends’ drawings and get a clue.”

Fırat glanced at the front, back and side rows. Indeed, everybody had drawn a house, but none of them made a drawing of their home. None of them lived in houses like that, nor had a roof like that, nor had flower gardens, nor had shutters on their windows. The houses and the roads in their neighbourhood didn’t in any way look like houses and roads.

“Sir, they didn't draw their own homes, they’ve drawn homes they saw on TV.”

The teacher didn’t like that answer. “Sit down!” he said in a tone of rebuke. The teacher didn’t want the reality but what home was supposed to be. Home meant warmth: flowers in the garden, smoke rising from the chimney, a cat sitting by the window. That was how it should be pictured. The teacher once drew a house under a rose bush on Hıdırellez Day, celebrating the coming of spring, and now he had a home. This method must be working then.

Fırat had no clue about rose bushes or Hıdırellez wishes. He would observe and recount his actual experience. That’s why he had made a drawing of the piles of junk he lived in, on the paper he had borrowed from a friend.

His father called him from the house’s courtyard:

“Fıraaaat! Come here son, I found you a magnifying glass. It has a green frame!”

Now, this house has become a real home. He flung the TV remote on the shabby couch with broken springs. He pushed the old wardrobe door that served as a house entrance and flew out. His father had piled the old iron junk from his cart to a corner and was waiting for him with the green magnifier in his hands. As he saw his son running towards him like an excited puppy, he turned the magnifier towards him. Just like a cameraman. Although the magnifier didn’t show anything but a blur, he could very well see his son’s excitement. He could feel his son’s joy peering through the mists of his own childhood. A new friend was joining the other magnifying glasses collected in the box under the misshapen couch.

 Fırat almost yanked this new treasure from his father’s hands. He was jumping up and down with excitement. Seeing his son’s joy was worth everything for him. The manner he waved his arms about, his facial expressions, the way he swayed while running, his tendency to hide in a corner to cry, all matched exactly his recollections of his own childhood. Like when he would wait for his father, back in their village in Hakkari, and would run and run as soon as he’d see him appear atop his horse… As the warm, tired breath of the horse caressed his face, it felt like the arrival of spring, of summer. His father, slender like a bow, would lean, grab the tiny arms extending for him and pull him up. He would laugh just as Fırat was laughing now. He would imagine there was candy hidden in his father’s puffy shirt pocket. As his father moved his hand towards that pocket, he would become the happiest child in the world.

Fırat, unaware of his father’s reminiscing, first started investigating the hair on his arm with the magnifying glass. Then he grabbed a dry leaf from the ground and looked at its lines, cracks and shifting colours. Well, this one was just like the others. Fırat wished this one magnified a bit further. He wanted to see just like in the documentary films he saw on television. You know, where you can see microbes and bacteria in great details, Fırat wanted to see just like that. He was frustrated with the limitations of the sight range offered by his own eyes and by his magnifying glass. Nevertheless, with its distinctive frame and flawless glass, it was still a good addition to his collection.

“How many do you have now?”

“Seven…” said Fırat, proudly.

His father started teasing him.

“We can sell them in bulk when you get to twenty.”

Fırat immediately hid the magnifying glass behind his back.

“No! They’ll never be for sale.”

“You sell it, or throw it… That’s how things work around here.”

“They are mine, I won’t give them away, or let them be sold.”

“You’ll soon get over them son, you’ll get over them.”

Murat, out of breath, was pulling his two-wheeled cart into the courtyard as the banter between father and son about the saleability of magnifiers was still going on. Murat’s cart, two times his own size, was used for collecting waste paper. The huge sack on the cart was filled to its brim with reams of paper, carton, old newspapers and magazines. He had been walking up and down the streets for six or seven hours. He had waited at the doors of many warehouses and pounced on the packaging of all sorts of goods, oil, tomato puree, sugar, pasta and rice as soon as the unloading was done.

His mouth watered when the supermarket employees were unloading all kinds of sweets and chocolates. He always hoped one of the packaging crates would fall over and spill its contents onto the street. But the loading crews were always careful and he had never witnessed such an accident. Maybe factories made the packaging of sweets much stronger than the rest. But even if one would burst, the employees probably wouldn’t leave any for him. They would quickly carry it inside and eat it all. Only once, he had found two sweet almonds inside a crate. The unforgettable taste of those almond sweets was enough to keep him dreaming about finding such a surprise again.

It was one of those days when he had not found any almond sweets as Murat entered the courtyard. He got angry at the sight of his brother holding a magnifying glass. Perhaps he was angry with the supermarket employees or the factory workers who made the packages so strong. But, as most people, he directed his anger at the closest and easiest target.

“What are you going to do with that? No scientist can come out of this neighbourhood, don't get your hopes up!”

“I am collecting those.”

“Bleh. We live on the breadline and you…”

Their father interrupted.

“Leave him alone… He wants to collect them.”

Fırat relaxed. That must mean his father was not going to sell his collection. He could hold onto them.

“Collecting is for rich people!” said Murat as he kicked a rusty oilcan. “This one is more like a magpie hoarding beads.”

The can rolled with a clatter. Their mother heard the noise and came to the hole in the brick wall they left to serve as a window. She knew exactly what to say to ease the tension:

“Are you boys hungry?”

Murat looked as if wondering what was to eat. If it was anything good, of course he was hungry. His mother knew this look very well.

“We have chicken…”

Their father laughed.

“I ate some this morning and I am still alive. So it should be fine.”

Like many people in this neighbourhood, their father had waited an hour yesterday at the disposal door of the supermarket and grabbed two chickens that had past their expiration dates. They smelled a little funny but his wife seasoned them so generously with salt and pepper that there was no odour left.

“I’ll have some,” said Murat.

As if something occurred to him the father asked:

“Where is Feride? She is not around.”

“She went to the plaza,” said the mother.

“Didn’t I tell you not to send her there? They won’t let her dig around the trash there. No good can come of those security guards.”

“She wasn’t alone, she was with a few of her friends. They dressed up and everything. They say if you dress up, they don’t bother you.”

Murat was also angry that his sister went to that so-called “plaza”.

“Mum, those people recognise us from the way we walk. No amount of dressing up is going to change that. They would know looking at her face, her eyes, her hands, that’s she’s from this neighbourhood.”

Their mother brought the chicken pieces she warmed on a pan with half a bread to the table.

“How would they know? Is it written on her face that she is from the Gülova neighbourhood? For God’s sake!”

But Murat was certain.

“Yes, it’s written on her forehead, mum. In fact, it’s written on your forehead too. It says she escaped from a village in Hakkari and found herself in a garbage dump in Ankara.”

Their father pulled a chair and sat across his son.

“Mind your tone when speaking to your mother, we didn’t come here out of choice. We had no village left, no cattle left, no home left… We came to be able to feed ourselves. It was your fault that you failed high school and got stuck in this dump. Say we missed our chance, what about you? You willingly got into the swamp.”

This was a frequent conversation in the impoverished courtyards of this penurious neighbourhood. Almost all the broken houses witnessed similar arguments. Murat gave his usual answer and went back to eating his chicken.

“I’m better off working, what difference would school make? None. I could either mind a stall in the market or become a security guard. What’s the use of a high school diploma to work at a market stall? I don’t want to be a security guard anyway. Am I supposed to put my life on the line and sacrifice myself for the rich people to be paid peanuts? That’s how much these people are willing to pay to secure their lives and belongings!”

After dinner, Murat went to the junk heap on one corner of the yard. He laboriously pulled an old, rusty billboard. He looked it over and decided it would serve. Then he went over to the wooden crate where he kept his paint buckets. He knew he had some red paint left. He picked up the can, and indeed, there was enough left inside. All these came from the junk he and his father collected. When there was enough paint inside, they would sell them to the vendors at the local market, but sometimes there would not be enough paint left in the cans to be resold. These, they kept for themselves. Murat leaned over the crate and found some yellow paint too. That would be enough.

First, he painted the billboard over with red paint. He waited for a while for the paint to dry but soon his patience ran out. Then, he used the yellow paint to write “JUNK PLAZA” over the still wet red paint. The two colours bled into each other to make mottled letters.

 Miyase Sertbarut


Translated by Canan Marasligil