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The Barges

Photograph of Turkish barges at dusk by Ara Guler/Magnum Photos
  • By Sait Faik Abasıyanık
  • Issue 5
  • Fable

Translated from the Turkish by Alex Dawe and Maureen Freely

The crowds had gone. They were the last two men on the bridge. One was dressed like a laborer, and the other—who looked to be about the same age—like a sailor. They were sitting side by side, smoking in silence as they gazed across the water in the direction of Üsküdar.

Üsküdar is best seen from a distance, and now, as it slept, its dark shores lit here and there by red lights, it looked so distant, and beautiful, as to be forever out of reach.

The sailor turned to his companion. “I have an aunt in Üsküdar,” he said. “We could go over and visit her one day.”

“Maybe. We’ll see.”

Sinking back into silence, they watched a motor launch pass beneath the bridge. The barges trailing behind it were carrying full loads, tied down with tarpaulin. They must be carrying some sort of cereal—wheat, or barley, or corn. They had that softness.

As the laborer watched the last barge slip under the bridge, he looked at the load that he had decided must be wheat, and for a moment was tempted to jump into that softness. He tried to hold the words back. But couldn’t.

“I wish I’d jumped right in,” he said.

“Just like in the movies, eh?”

The laborer didn’t answer. He didn’t answer, but he smiled.

It was a winter night in the middle of Ramadan. Turning together to look at the old city, they looked at the lights strung up between the minarets.

“I love those lights,” the sailor said.

And the laborer said, “So do I.”

On weekends one of these men would take himself off to Galata. The other to Şehzadabaşı. On very rare occasions, they would come together to the bridge, to spend the night watching the night. They whiled away the night watching the lights of Üsküdar and the great ships of Galata, the smaller vessels tied to the piers, and the motor launches pulling barges that were sometimes empty, sometimes full. They knew from these eve- nings that they could count on one another; just by exchanging four or five sentences, they knew they were good friends.

Each time the laborer came here and saw a barge loaded down with wheat, he had to fight the urge to climb over the railings and drop himself into it. Sometimes he would say this to his friend, and his friend would say, “Just like in the movies, eh?”

Then they would go home, or if they had this conversation early enough, they would suddenly remember a movie house in Yüksekkaldırım, and so they’d go there and sit together in the front row.

No matter what film was showing, it left them happy and smiling. They didn’t say a word on the way home. And that night one of them would dream of kissing his Galata friend like the tough guy in the film. Meanwhile the other dreamed of taking his friend to the darkest street of Şehzadabaşı and burying his nose in the palms of his hands and kissing them. These dreams would rob them both of sleep and make wrecks of them.

“Did you sleep well?” one would ask.

And the other would say, “I sure did.”

It was a white, moonlit night. Light puffs of smoke were rising from the ferries docked along the pier. They made a man yearn to set out on a long journey. Now and then a ferry would approach the pier and behind it a second ferry, lit by a second light, to send a flurry of passengers up and down the gangplank.

Suddenly, the laborer said, “Why don’t we go with them?”

The other said, “Let’s go, then.”

They slept in the same room. One was from Sivas. The other from Izmir. One worked at the pier, tying up the ferries as they docked. The other worked in a mill. The room they shared cost them four lira a month but they never once spent an evening in. They hardly ever saw each other. One finished work at nine. The other would come back at twelve and go straight to sleep. The room was pitch black. Hardly any daylight came in through the grilled window that looked out onto a grimy, musty courtyard. One man’s bed was on the right-hand side of the room, and the other man’s bed was on the left. Because he had no quilt, the laborer slept in his clothes. The other slept in his shirt and shorts.

One had to be back on his ship by six in the morning. The other started work after noon. If ever they both woke up at six, the sailor, whose boss was a Greek, would say,

“And fine kalimera morning to you, my son.” Not knowing that kalimera was the Greek word for good morning, and taking the Greek word kalimerato be kalimera, he laborer would say, “And yours is latilokum,” and together they would smile.

One day they fired the sailor. A falling out with a harbor official. This was all he told his friend:

“He called me a son of a donkey, and I smashed his jaw.”

His friend said, “I wish you hadn’t done that.”

These words so upset the man that he went three days without eating, and without asking his friend for help. The other thought he must be living on his savings, so he didn’t ask him how he was. Then the sailor found work in the Paşabahçe glass factory. He was going to board there, too, and so he bid his friend farewell. They embraced each other. That last evening, they went out again to the bridge.

“We never made it over to Üsküdar to see my aunt,” the sailor said.

“No, we didn’t, did we?” said the man from Sivas. “But maybe we’ll still get there one day, my dear friend!”

How beautiful the moon looked, in the sky above. How strange it must be, up there on the moon. If only we were there, just the two of us, they thought, If only it were just the two of us, safe inside that moon. But neither man spoke. Neither man could find the words. Just then, they heard a motor launch puttering across the smooth waters. And behind it, barges. Again, carrying wheat. The sailor gazed down at the wheat-laden barges passing just beneath them. But this time he had no desire to jump in.

Sait Faik Abasıyanık (1906–1954) was born in Adapazarı, Turkey. He is the author of twelve books of short stories, two novels, and a book of poetry.

Photo © Ara Guler/Magnum Photos