Short Story: If Only Land Could Talk

Short Story: If Only Land Could Talk

“For me, this place is one big grave.[1]

The Water Diviner

‘Let the General know, they are here.’

‘Yes, commander!’

The soldier salutes his back as the commander keeps his gaze fixed at the flags waving just above the sea. Red, blue and white taking different forms to represent three different nations. It doesn’t matter. They are all there to bring the red upon the dead.

I look into the water from the car window; all so blue that it’s hard to imagine it ever having space for red. ‘Çanakkale içinde vurdular beni/ ölmeden mezara koydular beni off, gençliğim eyvah![2]’ I’m out of the car before I can hear the rest of the song. I don’t really need to; I know it all too well. A song we listen to on a road trip to a touristic visit to graves. A song taken from the lips of the dead and carried to the lips of another who lived to tell how they shot him in Çanakkale and how they put him to his grave before he was dead. Alas, his youth! [3] How old was he? Eighteen? Nineteen? Perhaps, younger. How absurd it is that at one point we stop listening to what lyrics tell us.

‘It’s a national song.’

‘It’s the song about how men died so we could live today.’

Same words in the mouths of everyone; memorised, uncontemplated. Did he really choose to come here to die so we could live? Did he even know what was going on when they put a gun in his hand and drove him far from home? Perhaps, not as absurd as wars and how after seeing all the chaos people go back to wars.

‘Today, we fight until the last one of us falls, and this city shall forever stand!’

We all cheer the words of our commander. Someday, they will sing about us. One day, our children will live free on these lands.

            Marble stones, lined up in alphabetical order of cities: Adana, Antalya, Bursa… How neat they made death look. How many bones those dead had missing under the soil? How many the sea took the ownership of, how many it returned to the land?

‘Mustafa of Edirne, son of Ahmet (1889 – 1915)’

No surnames until 1934. God knows how many Mustafas, how many Ahmets were there in Edirne.

‘Mustafa! Don’t close your eyes, stay with me!’

I fight myself to keep my eyes open, but my eyes are like glasses removed from the mud. I know the voice no matter how muffled it gets. It’s Metin. I can’t see him, but I know he’s sitting on the floor next to me with a hand on his chest.

‘We’ll set sail any minute now.’

I wish my sight was sharp and my sense of smell was unclear. I need to take the photo of my son out of my pocket and look in the eyes of my three-year-old, but instead, I smell the rotten flesh of hundreds. I’m not sure who’s still with us, but I hear many still howling onto their lives.

‘I heard more people are volunteering to take care of the injured. Our scars will be gone in no time. We’ll be as good as if we were born yesterday.’

My lips dared not move, but my heart, beating faster, still had the passion for the idea of living yet another day and perhaps-

2 July 1915. The ferry carrying injured people to get treated in Istanbul get attacked. It sinks with hundreds of wounded men and everything they carried in their hearts.

            ‘The dead don’t appear in photos’ I want to tell the girl posing next to the grave with a glass headstone.  If they did, they wouldn’t want the photo anyway. It wouldn’t look ‘aesthetic’ for their Instagram profile where this photo will end in a minute with the caption ‘Çanakkale geçilmez[4]’ and a red flag with a crescent and a star on it, identical to the one on the glass stone. The tomb belonging to ‘anonymous soldier’.

‘Allah! Allah! Allah!’ we scream as we run towards the men with blue eyes and dirty faces. As my friends take wrong steps and become the victims of the obscurity of the ground before they can touch the enemy and end up being a mark on my face, I hope he hears us with his name being the only thing giving us strength. Day after day we wait to ascend, prayers are all we got and as I start questioning my faith, maybe my moment was close. You get sloppy without an anchor-

It’s weird to think people dig their own graves. They are called trenches, but what difference was it to a grave? Dug earth with corpses inside. Maybe the difference was that they didn’t lay alone there and a few got to actually walk away. And they didn’t only laid dead there but laid alive. People didn’t accept to call it a grave, so they dug the dirt somewhere else and decorated it with fancy marbles. I hope they can see this importance given to them now and not when they were walking on the earth.

I hope we get some bread today, I think as I take the metal plate with a ladle of dried grape compote. I like to close my eyes and imagine it is my mother’s tarhana soup[5] as I take a sip. Coming home in sweat from playing football with my friends all day, my mum puts a towel to my back, sits me down to the table and puts a bowl in front of me with the most pleasant smell rising to me with the steam hitting my face. I open my eyes to see Murat coming with a plastic bag. He splits the loaves into halves and hands them to us. ‘Thank you’ the words push their ways up my throat, crowded where my hope is hiding.

            The aim of leaving the trenches was to remind people of the horrors went down here. Then, why fathers are putting their little boys into those pits to take their photos as if they are at a movie set? ‘That’s my boy! He’s going to be a hero one day, as well. He’ll make us proud.’ I hope your boy has a better future than that. I hope he can actually grow up to see you be proud of him, but not for killing people and dying while killing people but for being a doctor, a teacher, a writer, an engineer or whatever the passion he has in his heart that you did not contaminate with your nationalistic pride. I hope his mother never has to run to the back room and dampen photographs, while you boast about the son you don’t have anymore.

‘Hold on Hasan! They will send help, they will take you to the infirmary.’

He couldn’t take his eyes off the enemy to actually look at my skin with no inch untouched by the dirt and blood. The torn flesh thinks it could hide under this fabric that was once my pride and now looks like nothing but my shroud. The crimson paint spread through the canvas while the rough brush marks  the bullet put to my skin spread through my core. I tremble as I feel like the old sheets my mother used to rip to turn into dustcloths. My limbs give up on being mine, my chest doesn’t have enough space to contain the air.

‘Kill me.’

Now he turns to look at me. I can’t distinguish the drops on his face but it doesn’t matter, the look in his eyes speaks better than the droplets around them.

‘You’re a brother to me.’

‘I know, that’s why I know only you would do it.’

‘Help is coming.’

‘You know there is no way out of here.’

He looks like he’s been shot, but it wasn’t the bullet tearing his heart.

He takes off the blade attached to the front of his gun, and I know this is the final sense ever, the heat on my forehead of plastic and metal. I close my eyes.

I open my eyes with the vibration sent through me by the gun. It was like Hasan’s soul past through me, his life passing through me and giving me life; only to take a part of me while he raises to heaven. I take the photograph in his pocket. His mother. I put it next to my lover.

It is then that I realise the screaming silence.

This trench has fallen. I hear footsteps jumping in. They are here. I take Hasan’s body and pull us into a corner. Forgive me, brother. Forgive me for turning you into a shield. Forgive me for hiding behind you instead of dying beside you. But I need to live. I need to go back to your mother and tell her the story of your bravery.

My mind jumped from soldier to soldier. Twenty years old, fifteen, thirty-five… Each with someone waiting on them. This place is surrounded by ghosts with forgotten stories, each ending the same.  I can’t stand it anymore. We drive away from the monuments. Nothing’s left on this side of the city, anymore. A village for the dead.


A gigantic wooden horse is standing in front of me now, piercing through the sky. The Trojan Horse. A bedtime story of gods and heroes and a wooden horse. It’s like meeting Cinderella at Disneyland. Just a random girl paid to dress-up. There are steps up into the horse. How easy it looks. Fascinated children climbing up the stairs and posing at their mummies from the window of the horse-shaped tree house.

We’ve been sitting here for hours. I am starting to doubt I even exist in this moment, that the people surrounding me are still there. We’re using our breaths carefully. Even the sound of my own breath sends shivers through me. May Athena give us courage. May Hera aid us and keep the Trojans from turning this pile of wood into our pyre.

            This horse screams fake, as I step into it, the reality says hello. You’re at another cemetery commercialised. Just one that looks more like a cartoon. This city has layers. They numbered them due to which one was built first. I walk the stairs down to its core. The dust dancing with the wind. I wonder if this dust is only the dry soil or still carries what was left of the Trojans.

            I watch my home turn into the sun. Take away my husband, everyone I have ever known, my memories wrapped around the future I dreamed for the baby in my arms, too young to understand the fragility of the flesh.  And I run into the water accompanied by other lucky women. If being alive was luck, after losing everything we had. But that was the gods’ will. Apollo wished us to see another day. May Poseidon guide our little boat to somewhere safe. If safe even exists.

            I search for the sea. Now so far away. Hard to believe that the Greeks reached Troy from the sea and perhaps, some Trojans escaped through the sea. Maybe the earth was exhausted of men exploiting the sea to torture her that she pushed the sea away. But who am I to know what the Earth has witnessed? Who am I to know the fears of all these forsaken?

[1] The Water Diviner, dir. by Russell Crowe (Entertainment One Films (Australia), Universal Pictures Australia (Australia), Warner Bros. Pictures (United States), 2014-15)

[2] İhsan Ozanoğlu, Çanakkale Türküsü (A Ballad for Chanakkale), arranged by Muzaffer Sarısözen (1948)

[3] Translation of ‘of gençliğim, eyvah’ in the song lyrics

[4] ‘Çanakkale is impassable’ – widely used phrase representing the victory at the Battle of Gallipoli during World War I, unknown origins.

[5] A traditional Turkish soup that includes fermented milk products, tomato, pepper, onion and eastern spices.

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