WED 21/12/22: Bahar.

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

A Tired Attempt at a Short Story.

Bahar hadn’t really been the biggest fan of anything like ‘nationalism’. Of whatever it usually entailed.

She: was Muslim first, and decided she definitely always wanted to love Syrians, for example, just as much as she would love her fellow Turks. Oh, and… Polish people too: Polish couples, and sometimes their children with their white, sun-susceptible skin and their bright blonde hair, would visit the mountains every holiday season. Bahar had grown rather used to seeing them: but still found she could not decipher a single word of their language.

In Bahar’s eyes: to be a ‘Turk’ was never, ever to be ‘superior’ to anybody else. To anyplace else in the world.

She also: loved fiery scents, like in Wintertime, when they’d burn wood inside the huts to keep warm. She’d linger by the heating vessel, the big cylindrical can in the middle of the tied-together tarpaulin-shaded huts, waiting for it to lend its heat to her chilled hands. And she also: loved the aroma, the feeling, the crisp and bitter tastes, of fruity herbal teas.

And cats, and birds; she loved playing with puppies.

‘Patriotism’ had never been, in Bahar’s heart, any kind of priority. Really. Although:

Since the age of five, Bahar had loved specifically Turkish tea, and… the Turkish sky. The Turkish sea, and… the Turkish flag…

But only because the tea in her home country is characteristically strong, just like her mother is. Leaves that reddish-brown kind of imprint on any consumer’s mind, and they are, by tradition, served in vessels of glass. Two cubes of sugar will render them more sweet.

Both Turkish tea, and Bahar’s anne (mum) were difficult to ignore, let’s just say. And they also had the fact, the quality, of being breakable in common: Bahar’s mother had spent a year at the mental hospital not too far away from here. After her father passed, not too long ago: last October.

And because the sky over her town is gentle, like Bahar’s dear father is. The sky over Alaiye, specifically. Bahar had always found in this sky a unique sort of comfort: encompassing, truly, and yet never demanding. Like her father, and like his characteristic twice-daily embrace of her: this beloved middle child of his. The pearl one. And his love had been deep and wide; constant and plentiful. Much like the sea.

Bahar’s father worked twice as hard, at work, and as a father, while his wife had been in the hospital. He’d held his family’s whole world up, in that period of time, with his own two chalky, and kind, and characteristically soap-scented hands. The dogs loved him, and so too did their Maker: God.

Bahar stood on the side of the walkway that winds up the mountain near her beloved home. Neither Greece nor Armenia, nor anyplace else, could quite be the same as this one, she thought. And smiled. This sky, and the waters that made up this blue sea. This belief of hers had solidified itself in childhood; the thought stuck, and Bahar loved her hometown so much that it felt like nothing could change these opinions of hers, on it. In a strong and significant way: we make our realities whatever they are, Bahar had decided. Constructed day by day; action by action, and, of course, thought by thought.

Her life, her country and world and family: by far the best ones in existence, in Bahar’s own two brown eyes.

Then: as far as flags went, our protagonist hero felt she didn’t really… care much, for them. But red had been her favourite colour, while white had been her second. The tea set she’d habitually serve guests with: Turkish flag, Turkish flag, (somewhat chipped. But she’d purchased it in the box like that,) Turkish flag. The tea-towel in the kitchen: a gift. Embroidered flag: yet another one.

The fronts of her notebooks. Flags. Purchased from the mountainside souvenir shop. At a discounted price, since the owner knows of she and her family so well by now. For all the right reasons, when it came to them.

And Bahar wanted to not just do ‘well’ in, but to excel in, English. Her notebooks were filled with repeated sentences, sometimes ALL IN CAPS, and sometimes A MiX oF BoTh. With struggle and with effort: small English review and practice sessions tucked in like flowered handkerchiefs. Between shifts at the shop, and school, and helping her mother…

The smiling girl was finally getting there. She praised God so many times daily. Smiled, and rolled her sleeves up. In the heat of the summer, even; when her eyes had been sinking, her being tired. She’d: wipe the dust off of her long skirt.

And got on, with a smile, with her work. There was bereket in it, and so she loved to do it.

Then, when the going got tough, as it sometimes did: Bahar would sit down. Put down her bags and sacks of hay and/or cement. And drink fruit tea on the side of the mountain, her feet dangling from it. Or on a plank of wood.

Bahar quite liked the symbol of the crescent moon: a bright, sharp-ended disc, weapon almost, and coated in shadow.

Oh, and the star aspect: the dünya could feel quite sad, and boring, and widely tragic, even on a ‘good’ day. But at least we have the stars. Vast and mysterious, and a good reminder…

Bahar liked to divide her time fairly evenly. Between looking down at her feet. Her half-rugged ‘work shoes’, that is, and not the pair of white-strapped heels she’d wear to weddings and the like.

Like when she’d help her aunties with the bread-and-tea-making at the cabin halfway up the walkway to the waterfall. The one that tourists liked to take pictures for Facebook in front of, but that Bahar had known for years and years now, and had come home to not too long after her being born. Her father had found the sound of flowing water behind their home to have been uniquely relaxing. That’s the very sound, and view, that his children have grown up around, and knowing.

A source of comfort in an otherwise arduous world, the sound of the water. Prayer, the arms of his wife, and the scents of the soaps he’d sold at his shop, made of wood, also. Bahar’s father worked hard daily, and he’d found peace specifically in these very things.

And then: looking at the sky, day and night. Bahar couldn’t bear to always only be looking ‘down’. It wasn’t good for her posture, she found. And not good for her mind and heart, either. We’re fortunate beings, thought Bahar, thinking about the mountain goats: to be able to tilt our heads and eyes upwards.

And over at other pink-walled balconies, overlooking February stillnesses. And Autumn’s jumpers, and umbrellas, when the time came around again.

And Summer’s oranges, like the colour of Bahar’s whole entire world come Maghrib time.

Bahar had crushes here and there. Sometimes even strong ones. For boys with kind smiles, nice clothes, and pretty hair. Boys she didn’t actually know very much at all: but, from that distance, her head ran these stories about them.

Although… despite being young: she already knew that a ‘boy’ could never ‘save’ her. And nor could, for example… alcohol. She recalled the sight of the stumbling tourists who’d smelled of the stuff, and who’d been standing dangerously close to the canyon’s fence. Sleepily. Groggily.

Not even moving to London for that exchange thing could ‘save’ Bahar. Or anything else but… Submission, for that matter. Only God.

She’d come to know this. Truth.

Exquisitely well.

Bahar placed her toothbrush back into its cup, and pulled the light-string. It clicked and bounced back back up again, leaving darkness. A momentary echo resounds through the bathroom, and then the silhouette of a bird flutters by, across the entire hallway.

The aloe plants stood still along it. And the cacti, and the tweeting bird, who’d fly in and out of her cage, dangling from the ceiling, the wind-chimes elegantly sounding. Like silk, and otherwise: periodically, you could only really hear motorbike sounds outside. For the most part, at least. Sometimes gentle conversations, catch-ups, smiling handshakes and then goodbyes. And see vendors on their phones, flip-flop-clad, one leg crossed over the other on high plastic criss-cross stools. Maybe mostly on Tiktok, their free hands touching their hair and the napes of their necks, and twirling their brows. Football, makeup, and politics. And reality TV, and plastics. Lots of people came to Turkey for plastic surgery.

Even in the stillness of this place. Bahar wondered at the hecticness of the world, and how fake it could sometimes feel. The matrix, the author would like to add.

But God would keep her safe, she thought to herself. She liked to try to do things that God would always Love her for. She tried to feed the local wild dogs whenever she could: the doting and defending mother dog, and the adorable young pup. Shreds of chicken, and bones of meat. A tin box she’d fill for them, with water. Every other day.

She would spring to her feet to help those elderly neighbours of hers with their shopping. Rushing to them before they’d even fully dismounted from their motorcycle. The same Turkish red one they’d owned together for the best part of the last forty years.

The sadness Bahar had been feeling lately, and for years, had been a dull one. A long ache. And a slow, slow burn. Like a ‘Chinese burn’ on one arm: she was not unaccustomed to these, courtesy of her brother. Growing pains, prolonged and unhurried. What changes? She’d thought to herself. What has she been, and is she, wrong, and misinformed and misled, about? And: what happens… next?

Scatterbrain: sometimes, the stress of it all made her spacey, and forgetful.

Bahar prayed while it rained. Even when she’d felt particularly empty. Or alone in the world, confused, and heart-heavy. She dragged herself to the crystal-cold floors of the bathroom in the middle of the night, and prayed at that time when God Accepts. The ‘night feast’: the archer’s arrow.

Nothing made sense for a while, really at all. Figs no longer tasted so sweet: not even the ones plucked fresh from the mountain. That whole summer. And then the next one. And the two after that.

Something had seized her heart, and would not let go. Would not let go, would not let go, would not let go. For good reason? Bahar wondered, and God, of course. Knew.

Sleep did not come easy for her on that night. The poor girl moved from corner to corner, side to side, into the kitchenette, and then back again. She: drank milk and ate sweetbread and looked for comfort in many places, finding even semblances of it in very few.

Restlessness: a hurting heart, seeking satisfying peace. She’d: cried and cried as she prostrated in prayer. She’d wrestled, in her mind, with monsters whose names had been, as she’d come to know them as…

Fear,

and Terror,

and Shame.

Appetite lost, desire for anything, really, gone. Bahar’s friends were trying to tell her, gently, that they’d noticed she’d been withering away. Lately.

We went to some fruit gardens today. These are some citrus fruits my Nan picked. They smelled so fresh, amazing. In this picture: my hand, my mum’s (left) and my nan’s. My great-grandmother (nan’s mother) passed away in 2016.

But then, Springtime, and May, had come around again. Only, this time: it really had been different, Bahar had found. Like the first time that something completely new takes place, is seen, happens.

Ice breaks, new and centuries-old caves alike are discovered. And yellow and purple flowers come into bloom: the Earth is singing again. For the first time.

A cave. Natural miracles, caves are, Maa Shaa Allah.

Life isn’t just something that she would have to ‘wait out’. ‘Wait for something to happen’. No. Later, and on her way to London: Bahar noticed what was written on a girl’s jumper. ‘Just enjoy where you are now.’ Noted, in our protagonist’s sometimes-whirring mind.

The sadness, the longing, felt cavernous. Even at the ‘best of times’. Hollow and emptying.

Of course: Bahar looked forward to dying sometimes. Maybe even a lot of the time. Actual Paradise awaits, and the Final, Lasting, Peace. Still:

Shorter sleeps offered a similar kind of bliss. ‘Little joys’, ‘little deeds’, mattered, over and over again, and sometimes there had just been so many good things to see and meet and enjoy, Bahar had been surprised to find, in any single space of 24 hours. A whole entire life, and the ways in which these pages will turn.

But then again: very few things, at the end of the day, and with her lavender soap and blanket warmth and lavender spray… really mattered very much at all.

A ‘mescit’ we found on the mountain. Outdoor Wudhu taps.

How, really, do you want to live? Bahar left herself a note on a napkin. She used a lemon-shaped sticker to pin it onto her mirror. Purple LED lights, a gift from her cousins in America. While, outside: a Universe constantly expanding, a world constantly in motion. Next to the note to self about how God Created life and death to test which of us is best in deeds.

Nobody else has the ‘answers’, Bahar finally realised. God is the Giver, and each human being is just as well- (and perhaps ill-) equipped as the next person, no? And just as human: ‘cut from the same cloth’. We try to help each other. Bahar’s sister Bayan brought a hot water bottle up to her sister’s room. To help with the growing pains; to ease her aches and help her sleep.

Bayan threw a cushion at her sister’s head. And then Bahar drank some water. Thought about having milk and homemade cookies with Selma’s children the next day, maybe. She had a nap. Ached. Smiled at what was good. And drank some water. Human things.

Bahar tied up her gently-flowery pink headscarf and smiled. And felt too sad, even, to cry, sometimes. And sped smoothly to the local shops on her scooter, in pursuit of apricots, and fresh pastries, milk and figs. Pastries for Bayan, fresh milk to return to Selma after requesting from her two cupfuls of some the previous day.

Time moved dreary-swiftly. Beginning from Allah, and belonging to Him. And returning to Him too. Every single thing in the big wide Universe. And in Turkey. And in Cambridge. And in London, the city that would be welcoming Bahar soon, too.

Everything else forgot to ‘matter’, really, for a while. Everything except Bahar’s own ‘small’ world. The time and the life that she had now: it was certainly not to be ‘taken for granted’. And the fact, as Bahar had encouraged herself to always remember, of God being the Owner and Maintainer of the Universe. Every single ‘little’ and ‘major’ thing: pertaining to both time, and space. The Turkish seas, and her father’s income. Which had made the daily fruit teas, and the family’s phones, possible.

And then the sky blinked, and the stars became sleepy. And when Bahar had woken up on that, the second day of May:

Every single one of her prayers, she’d found, to her surprise: had been accepted. Everything that God Told her was always, and will always come, True. There was fresh orange juice on the table that morning; the dogs came to enjoy breakfast’s joyous leftovers, and the children arrived not too long afterwards, with their half-battered football, and scooters, and their gentle smiles. To have fun that morning. To make Bahar and her sister smile. To inhale the smiling orange sun. Eat pastries, and biscuits.

To play!

And then Bahar went home, and she closed the door. Took off her shoes, and put on her slippers.

At Fajr time, her brother would walk with her to the mescit. They’d walk through the winding alleyways, greet some of the cats they knew, and then talk to one another about Papa’s new plans for a garden area by the soap-and-gift shop.

The mescit’s door was open, glowing golden, at the feet of the mountains, which were also in complete surrender to God.

The morning birds swooped and soared and prayed to their only Lord in congregation. Bahar’s reverie had kindly been interrupted by the older lady, a sister with a wisened, enlightened face, who had been struggling to exit through the mescit’s door, and onto the bumpy, uneven cobble steps protruding from it.

The lady held onto the doorway, and smiled a little more, out of a slight feeling of embarrassment. Noor had been her name. Slowly slow, and clasping her light-brown wooden walking stick. Bahar held her hand out to offer assistance to the auntie. And soon afterwards washed herself with ice-cold water. She walked into the room, read a passage from the Qur’an, and afterwards put her head down, in pre-dawn peace. In Sujūd: and yes, everything in existence made sense again.

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