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HIMMET THE KID - Halide Edip ADIVAR

HIMMET THE KID

We hired an old guide in Elvanlar. The village was partly burned down, it was wretched; everybody was looking at the superfluous sight of the monster called truck. In everybody's soul were the despair and indifference molded out by endless suffering, famine, unexpected disaster probabilities of each day. So, no one wanted to come as far as Usak. What would they do with money? What would it buy? Only an old man with a thin face said in a weak voice:

- I know the way till Iney. But if you take me to Usak and give me an oka of sold there I will come. In the twilight, murmuring and roaring the truck set to the remote, roadless desert of Anatolia.

On the truck were journalists from Istanbul. They were going to make investigation on the ashes of the unprecedented atrocity by the Greek Army, and while I was going to prepare the rapport of the Greek atrocity they were going to announce the sufferings of Turks to the world from the news agency. The nature rules in Anatolia, not the man. With great many difficulties for hours we drove through quiet and secluded forests, on swampy plains, up very steep hills, and then through the darkness and through the bitter wind that blew cutting and freezing the man.

Iney was a village having turned into a silver fire wreck from the bank of a valley. When the truck roaring and struggling got on the way to the village, surroundings were free of human sound and of human life as though it was the beginning of the genesis. Only a herd of jackals were howling poignantly in harmony with the wind fiercely passing through the valley as though the darkness was blowing. I thought:

- My God! They have all fled from the village, how will we make an investigation?

After a while I saw two khaki shadows warming up by a scarlet flame within a stone cavity on the right move. The only light falling on the dark valley, on the silver fire wrecked bank were this fire and the headlights of the truck like two walking eyes. When the driver tried to stop the idle vehicle some silhouettes moved in front of it. Then a man wearing a black robe, a white turban and with black beard and who was on the stony way that was lighted, separated from his friends that were in silhouettes behind him and out of the lighted area. With a voice I will never forget he said:

- Corporal Halide, we were waiting for you in the Iney station.

- How did you know I would come?

- Those in the station know it. They said that an investigation committee would come.

Hearing this voice, journalist friends got into action immediately, they took out pan and paper, jumped out of the truck, and started to question the silhouettes. How many houses burned down. How many people were killed? The man with black beard came near me. He looked at my notes with a great interest.

- How many houses? The entire village burned down. How many people were killed? Only God knows the number. Bandits come and kill and rob. As you see there's neither house nor food or clothing. But now set them aside; tell another thing to Ismet Pasha!

- My job is to write about these.

A little more nervously and his voice trembling:

- Your job is to explain our situation… how many houses burned down, now many people were killed. Will this fill our stomachs or provide shelter for us? Tell Ismet Pasha…

In his voice was the superiority of those struggling for life; with downcast eyes I asked:

- What do you want me to tell him?

- We want houses, the wind cuts like a knife, there isn't even a cavity to shelter the children. They say in Usak there are lots of lumber and many Greek captives, tell him to order that from them are given to us so that we immediately build small houses.

We want bread; there is wheat in military warehouses, just one hour-distance away… tell him to order that they give us, even if they are uncooked, so that we feed our children. (His voice breaking in with pain and mercy he went on.) Adults understand the situation, they are silent, but the children don't understand; they always cry of hunger, they cry till morning, tell this to the Pasha…

Beyond howls of jackals, and the moan of the wind I imagined that hungry children are crying, mothers with their breasts without milk and empty, and having no real cloths on are shouting at world, fortune and life waving their fists.

- I have noted down. Now give us a guide till Usak.

Everybody spoke to and consulted each other, then:

- Get this kid to take you to the paved road, they said.

The huge duffle coat made of wolf skin, the thick boots, and the wool cap were not warming up any more, they were now burning. We hadn't eaten anything for the whole day. We had a sack of hard biscuits having been taken as a reserve and they were actually belonging to the driver beside me and to the toy guard soldiers on the truck. But neither they nor friends, though they were complaining of being hungry a short while ago, said a word about their desire for food as though it was a sin. Only, the desire burning silently in the soul of the soldier driver who seemed busy with repairing the vehicle passed into my heart, quietly:

- Should we give the biscuits to the villagers? I said.

These words had the impact of a spark touching dry resinous chips ready to burn. I don't know how it happened: three soldiers had grasped the sack of biscuits and were distributing them with tears in their eyes. A dignified and a tolerant voice was saying:

- May be you won't be able to find food in Usak. Keep them with you.

Once again the truck muttered, growled, crackled and drove into the darkness and wind. Himmet the guide was standing on the step of the truck, next to me, as there was no place. My heart was filled with the starving cries of the babies in Iney when I saw the weakness and pitifulness of her little child hand that was holding on to the truck. I think of the starving. In the lands I had been traveling for years what was the number of the villages that had been ruined, of which people had to starve and die.

Anatolia was experiencing the poverty and desperation pertaining to the first days of the creation. The nation that would re-build Turkey would need the power and working capacity of those coming after Prophet Adem. A despondent nation who has no shelter, no bread… while World was singing pleasantly their victory epic they were facing the eyes of the death. Who will build the country? How will we build? A shrill, yet a calm voice beside us:

- Here is Kuzgunderesi, aunt!

I turned to her. She had a little, thin face. The skin of her narrow cheek that sunk to her chin had been puckered; the skeleton of her chin was apparent. Despite this poverty and despair her head had such an intrinsic cuteness, and power which invited you to life that I asked:

- Why don't you eat your biscuit, Himmet?

- I will eat it later, aunt!

- Just eat first and we'll talk later.

I waited for her to eat the biscuit which she had slowly took out of her breast breaking it into small pieces; the entire skeleton of her head was appearing even clearly as she chewed the biscuit. Suddenly I wanted to take her runaway head into my duffle coat, and I don't know why but I wanted to sing her the lullaby I would sing while putting my own child to sleep in the past. But this desire did not last long. On the little, thin face I anticipated a maturity that forbade mercy and weakness. I started to speak in a voice that I wanted to be calm and friendly.

Very proudly she said that she was thirteen years old. As she was seven years old her parents died leaving her with an old grandmother, a sister and two oxen. For years she had plowed the fields of two widows with the oxen, she had assisted farmers in return for part of their crop, she cared for her grandmother and sister, and she had even married off her sister to a soldier. Unfortunately the region suffered from an animal disease and her two oxen were killed at the same time.

This part of the story gave pain to my heart. I asked:

- What did you do then?

She calmly shrugged her shoulders. Nothing, what could she do? She worked without ox, she worked by the day, plowed the fields of widows, worked for three years and she finally bought two huge and fat buffalo cows.

This part of the story agitated my heart again. A child in her eight or nine and without any one buys two buffalos by working in bare Anatolia, this is something like the highest degree of heroism as I understand and know it. Souls recovering Australia from her bare soil with their works and making a center of civilization out of her were souls of this kind.

- Do you still have those buffalo cows?

This time she shrugged her shoulders in a manner that brought tears into my eyes. The truck was passing through the dark valley. Valleys, sheer cliffs, precipices of Anatolia send cold chill down one's spine and imagination. They are the scene for emigrations, fights, for murders and robberies.

Three months ago in this baleful valley Greeks caught Himmet the kid and laid down her to kill; but there was a disagreement between the two soldiers; one of them wanted to take her carriage and let her go, the other wanted to kill her. The one who wanted to let her finally said:

- If there is egg in her carriage we will let her go, if not will kill her.

Her calm voice trembling Himmet the kid said:

-Granny had cooked two eggs for me, aunt…

The dark wind was howling strangely over the precipice on the left side of the valley. The kid silent and stuck to the truck, we were going. With a natural voice I said:

- Let us take you till Usak, Himmet. I know you won't be afraid of returning but we may lose our way, the driver doesn't know it.

-It's all right, aunt.

The motionless masculine face of the soldier driver that looked as though carved of stone in the darkness revived with a smile.

While entering Usak I thought. During my years in Anatolia I was coming across kids like Himmet in forlorn, man less, vanishing villages, whose family number decreased from hundred to thirty and regarded them as lights and signs in the life history of the country. If anything named life and humanity remained in Anatolia, it was due to her hardworking women and due to the extraordinary efforts of these young day laborers. One of them stuck into my brain and heart like a nail making my inside bleed.

On our way from Antalya to Burdur we were climbing up one of those endless, snow covered, poor, stony slopes, of which one side was precipice and at the other were bandits all the time.

Here carriages stop, the drivers come together and fasten some three or four pairs of animal to each carriage, and they push it at the back. Giving out various sounds they make the animals go up the slope one by one. And at most times bandit groups take away their possessions that they have brought up to Cine plane by sweating, groaning, struggling for days and by means of vehicles pertaining to prehistorical times and they return empty-handed. In a tumult like that a crystal clear voice was heard among "giddap" sounds produced to make animals move:

- Oh woman oof! Oh come and see my trouble for once!

I was drugged to where the voice came as though a string was tied to my heart; this saw a child driver about ten or twelve years old from whose duffle coat dropped water, who had a very small beautiful face, and whose lashes concealing his blue eyes were wet with tears. Like Himmet the kid he was a kid maturing in an extraordinary struggle to earn living in order to take care of an old aunt. The pain could only be directed to a woman's heart of earth.

These kids like Himmet are running Turkey still. When their pains overflow their hearts, not hearts of children but sound ones like a leviathan's they still may cry out:

- Oh my mother oh! Come and see my trouble for once!

Halide Edip ADIVAR






 
     

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