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Sport 40: 2012


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Gül rests her elbows on the fence and looks down the road in the direction from which the postman has to come. Perhaps he has a letter from Ceyda, from her mother-in-law or from her friend Suzan, her old neighbour back in Turkey who left for Germany long before her. She lived in Duisburg, wherever that may be. Gül had thought it was nearby, but Fuat says you can’t just go there. Suzan had her children with her at least, but they liked the country as little as she did. The Germans are so cold, Suzan had written from Duisburg when Gül was still in Turkey, and they talk so little it’s hardly worth learning the language. She’d learnt Italian from the Italians in the neighbourhood, and now her letters come from Naples, where the family now lives.

Gül’s new neighbours are Spaniards, Greeks, Turks and a few Germans as well. Heimstraße, where they live now, doesn’t have an asphalt surface, there are no pavements or paving stones. When it rains the water pools in brown puddles, and even the Germans take off their muddy shoes outside the front door.

Every house on the estate has a small front garden and a larger garden to the rear, where you can plant fruit and vegetables and have a hutch or a coop, for which Fuat wants to buy hens. There’s a large kitchen and a living room downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. The toilet is in the house, albeit at the end of the corridor leading from the kitchen to the back garden.

It’s a little bit like home, thinks Gül. We have space here, we can breathe here, feel the earth under our feet and hands, and most of all there’s space for the children. Soon she won’t have to lean on the front fence and wait longingly for the postman, like so often in the past months when she worked the late shift in the nearby wool factory.

Four weeks after she had to stop work in the bread factory she got a work permit, at a different labour exchange.

‘Why is it all right of a sudden? I don’t understand,’ she said to Fuat.

‘Bremen is a different province, they have different laws,’ Fuat answered, and Gül just frowned. It was a peculiar country; every two steps was a city, a town or a village. The people didn’t seem to need page 223 much space, but the fact that they lived closer together didn’t mean they felt closer to each other.

With her work permit, she was able to start at the factory where Fuat worked. When Gül worked the late shift they saw each other even less, as Fuat continued to work nights. And even though he gambled and drank just like before and was unnecessarily generous to his friends, the money mounted up.

Fuat has a moped now and drives home on it at weekends without difficulties or major swerves, but as soon as he gets off he has the feeling he’s standing on curved feet on swaying ground.

‘When the children are here,’ he says, ‘I won’t work so many nights.’ And he tells Gül over and over how much bonus he gets just because the sun’s not shining outside.

‘What do I want with the sun?’ he brays. ‘It doesn’t shine on the factory floor anyway. Whether the wool gets washed at night or during the day doesn’t make any difference to the wool or to me, but it does to my pay packet.’

Gül stands by the fence with both feet on the earth, but her heart takes flight with joy every time the postman brings a letter from Ceyda.

My little girl, she thinks. Hardly started school and she can write already, faster than the others, because her mother’s left her behind and it’s the only way to stay in touch herself.

She must take after her Auntie Sibel, Gül’s younger sister, who started school a year early at the age of five because she wept after the other children every day at the end of the holidays. They’d been her playmates all summer long and now they suddenly left her behind every morning to go to school. And although she hadn’t started school until six weeks after the beginning of term, by the end of the year she was one of the best in the class.

May my children get a good education like their aunties and not have to finish school by correspondence course once they’re married like I did, Gül prays. She had failed her exams in the fifth and last year of school and had to repeat the year. But instead of trying over the next year, she had simply not gone back to school after the holidays, and her father had soon sent her to Esra the dressmaker to learn a trade.

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Today the postman shrugs his shoulders.

‘Sorry,’ he says, ‘no letter for you today.’

Gül doesn’t wait for the answers to her letters; she writes one every few days so she hopes almost every day that an answer might come. Every day of the week, the postman sees her standing at the fence. Only in heavy rain does Gül wait at the living-room window looking out on the street.

Words, she tells herself, I only ever have words to ease my longing. If you don’t have anyone to hug and kiss, you have to seek solace in words.

The calendar on the wall seems to soothe her longing too, the calendar from which she can tear another sheet of this separation with every day that passes.

Five months to go, only five months, then they’ll be flying to Turkey, she’ll see and hear her children again, taste them and feel them, she’ll have the scent of her daughters in her nostrils again at long last.

She’s been in Germany for over a year now, and when she looks around her that time seems long and hard, especially in the little flat. Now that they’ve moved to Heimstraße everything seems to have got slightly easier.

Those jobs before she started at the wool factory, the hours in the kitchen she’ll never forget, the visit to the doctor, Fuat’s face when he said, ‘He said baby, didn’t he? You’ve heard that word before, haven’t you? What is it you can’t understand?’

Her relief when she saw the blood, her dream that remained with her for days.

It seems to her as if she’d lived a great deal and aged, and she wishes her daughters are still just the way they were when she left them, even though Ceyda can write now, even though the image of Ceren scratching her face still lies as heavily on her heart as if it were an anvil in her father’s blacksmith’s shop.

‘Come on, stay in bed another five minutes, my husband’s always saying,’ complains Ela, one of Gül’s workmates. ‘He wakes up after his night shift and even if I’ve been up and about for ages and have to leave for work he begs me and touches me here and there, all to make me stay.’

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‘Mine’s just the same,’ says Huri. ‘Whenever I have to leave for work he starts pleading for minutes.’

‘Oh, men are all the same,’ says Isik. ‘Don’t think mine is any different. If it was up to him I’d be late every day.’

Gül bites into her bread in silence. She still hasn’t got used to the taste.

She likes working here at the factory. It’s not too big, the work’s not hard, and it’s not even a ten-minute walk away. It’s easy for Gül to find the way and there are lots of young Turkish women working here in the combing department, and women from Greece, Spain and Yugoslavia. But this conversation churns up something in Gül that she doesn’t like at all. She pretends she’s savouring every bite of her sandwich.

She married Fuat because she wanted it that way. Other men had asked her father for her hand, and she’d said no. She married Fuat because she wanted it that way. She wanted to get out from under her father’s roof so her sisters would have it easier, so there’d be one less mouth to feed. Fuat is her stepmother’s younger brother, she knew him and she thought she’d find it easier to be with someone who wasn’t such a stranger.

Fuat is good-looking, he was one of the most attractive men in their town; other women said so too. He had a full head of hair back then, shiny with brilliantine, and he made a point of wearing a good suit. He had learned a trade and seemed to be capable of feeding a family.

Gül didn’t know then how much Fuat drank and gambled, but lots of men have those vices, especially young men, vices that people generally call bad habits, and Gül never thought she was in any different position to other women.

But her husband never asks her to stay in bed a few more minutes. Not at all. He always says, ‘Get up, get up, you’ll be late for work. This is Germany, you can’t just turn up late. There are rules and regulations here and timetables. Work is work, and schnapps is schnapps, as they say. Off you go!’

Gül hardly talks to her friends for the rest of the day. She does her work, giving the impression that it demands more concentration of her than it really does.

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The next day, she’s almost forgotten the whole thing when Fuat nags her again: ‘Get up, get up!’

And she never is late for work. As a child, she often dawdled and forgot the time, but that’s long ago now. Even if Fuat never said anything she’d always be on time. She’s offended that Fuat doesn’t seem to know that. She makes two sandwiches more than usual.

‘The same again today,’ says Huri at tea break later. ‘My husband grabs me by my skirt and tries to drag me back into bed.’

For fourteen days, Gül listens to all these stories. She isn’t even pleased about the two chickens Fuat brings home. Her moments of light are the times at the fence when the postman smiles at her from a distance and gives a hint of a nod. Then nothing else matters, then she’s like Fuat when he’s drunk, but in these two weeks she looks at her husband more often than usual and tries to understand if he might be different from other women’s husbands. He never hesitates to wake her up when he has a hankering, but he’s never asked her to stay in bed.

After fourteen days, Gül says to her friends, ‘Yes, but if they keep asking and asking, why don’t you just stay? Do them a favour. What’s going to happen if you turn up late that once? Look at Rocío, nothing ever happens to her.’

Rocío is as thin as a rake, temperamental and talks a lot. When her German runs out she carries on in Spanish. She seems to think if she only speaks urgently and quickly enough and makes enough gestures, people will understand her well enough.

Rocío lives with her husband and children on Heimstraße too. Gül has never seen Rocío walking; the woman always seems to be in a rush, moving quickly, smoking hastily, but regularly arriving after clocking-in time. Only her mouth is faster than her feet.

‘That’d be nice, wouldn’t it?’ says Gül. ‘Give it a try.’

Gül means it quite innocently; she’s just curious, she wants to know what it is that makes Fuat different from all the others.

She didn’t imagine in the slightest that Huri and Ela would turn up the next day not only on time, but also in an obvious bad mood. They look the way Gül hopes she didn’t look over the last few days, even though she felt that way.

‘What happened?’ Gül asks, honestly surprised.

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‘Oh,’ says Ela, ‘I went back to bed, and two minutes later he said, Make sure you’re not late.’

‘The same with mine, he slapped me on the backside and said, Get off to work,’ says Huri.

‘Mine didn’t even ask today,’ says Isik, ‘but I can guess what’ll happen.’

Gül feels sorry for putting her friends in such a situation.

‘Forgive me,’ she says, ‘I had no idea . . .’

‘That’s all right,’ says Huri, ‘it’s not your fault.’

The same, thinks Gül. They’re all the same. The only difference is that Fuat doesn’t know how to flatter me. At least he’s not putting on a show.

And although she’s in a good mood now all of a sudden, she feels guilty at the same time and regrets having made her suggestion to the three of them.