1 · Mirrored eyes
HE LOOKED at his own reflection, paying special attention to the dark regions under the eyes as if he could decipher the secrets of the universe. Those baggy eyes could be interpreted as a sign of some chronic pathology caused by an intruder that would waste its host up to death.
2 · Departure
IBRAHIM WAS the only surviving member of a poor, unimportant Turkish family from a small village embedded in the mountains, tens of miles from Gürün, in the province of Sivas, almost equidistant from the Mediterranean and Black seas. His parents tried to escape the despotic government of Mehmet Cimšir who had been in power long enough to make it hard for people to properly reckon when the protectorate of Turkey was governed by someone else.
In a very hot and dry afternoon, Erdogan and Mina Mousmée took their five sons—Iusec, Vural, Ilhan, Can, and Ibrahim—and threw them into their old transporter, taking turns at the stirring wheel for endless hours avoiding the official roads, crossing the dangerously steep Taurus mountains until reaching the town of Samandaǧ, by the Mediterranean, near the Syrian border, from where they would depart to Famagusta, in Cyprus, and then to the shores of Brasilia, the earthly paradise, the continent that more than a century before was divided in many nations and had been called America.
The children, hungry and thirsty, kept silent for the most part of the trip; they had been well guided and, loving their caring parents, did as they had been told. Their wide eyes nevertheless portrayed their uneasiness and the fear of the new lands far from the tiny, magic universe that meant almost everything to them. The family was running away and the boys did not know from whom or what for.
They were leaving their friends, the games that took place on the sandy streets, lizards pulled by braided sisal strings, transporters made of cans of produce brought from places with strange names, packed with labels printed in bright colours and written with weird signs making up weird words of unheard languages. There would be no more Ataturk fairs, no more apricot festivals. The roads were taking them away from the old Ahmet, the grocer, to whom they were sent by their mother to fetch canned goods, olive oil, wheat, jerked beaf, and goat’s milk with which the woman would prepare the meals to cheat their hopeless hunger. Ibrahim would surely miss Ahmet’s generosity that was often translated by bekleuas floating on heavy syrup and crispy djinkas that melted in the mouth with the taste of dreams to pursue.
Different from his four brothers, Ibrahim loved to engage in trips on untrod paths taking to strange destinations. He only disliked few previously known places; discovering new ones was an immesurable joy.
Erdogan and Mina were abandoning a miserable life, they were leaving behind the anguish of being unable to have their sons educated in the capital, Ancara, as did the Akbuluts and the Tekkes, people who worked miracles to keep their offspring alive under a meager diet on ground grains and stale water but never missed one payment of the dear monthly fee for the fancy private schools that would supposedly transform their children into luckier people. Erdogan and Mina were leaving the long nights when the empty stomachs seemed to chat; they preferred to fast to have more to offer to their sons, hoping they would survive the pests, the weather, the adventurers and Cimšir’s or Mussaka’s soldiers. They were departing to a new world, one with opportunities aplenty; a land with a language they did not know; a land of which tales were told under the moon, under the light of the stars; a land of a joyful people of many ethnicities; a nation untouched by the belicous tides of post-war; a place beyond the lands of the pharaohs, beyond the Afrisouthern frontiers, beyond the waters of the big ocean, far from the reach of the local despots, far from the unquenchable greed of the mayor of Gürün and the emperor of Afrisouth who took the little the poors were left with to enrich the ones who already had much. They were escaping the unhealthy work in the coal mines, on the olive plantations, with the herds of husky sheep and frisky goats. The couple was sad to leave unnoticed, without saying goodbye to the friendly neighbours who suffered the same fate, but had their hearts swollen with hope to offer a better life to their children. They could not risk to be snitched to the Afrisouthern police or taken to the independent butchers who faked loyalty to Cimšir.
The trip had been difficult until the outskirts of the village of Uzgel, thirty miles from Samandaǧ. Everyone in the transporter had their eyes reddened. To Ibrahim, under that weak light, his parents and siblings seemed to belong to a tale taken from pantheons of easterner distant lands with gods of bluish skin and many arms; stories and characters as pleasing and charming as the ones from the lands to the west.
The travellers reached Uzgel, wasted and hungry, at the wee hours of May 15, 2201—few months before Ibrahim’s seventh birthday. He had become the youngest of his siblings after the deaths of little Kari, five years old, the only girl among them, and Huseyin, three. The recent passing of the boy had rekindled the couple’s wish to leave.
Erdogan let the transporter go slower and slower. Ibrahim asked to get off to pee. He stopped and allowed the boy to distance himself from the transporter with a condescending smile.
Samandaǧ was almost at eye’s reach. For the parents the dream began to feel palpable, but such an escape had big chances to go wrong. The scheme prepared with the cousin of a friend of a tradesman who negotiated illegal parcels filled with stuff to be consumed by the high echelons of the Brasilian government should not be considered sensible. Some do not believe in fate, but some say you cannot escape the surprises, adventures and misfortunes the gods use their infinite time concocting.
It happened quickly.
Ibrahim did not see the group of men in dark outfits approach the transporter. He only noticed them after hearing his parents plead desperately to the men who spoke a language he could not recognize. The soldiers had their weapons aimed at Ibrahim’s family. His brothers were crying, sobbing, their high-pitched voices echoing through the rocky hills surrounding the unpaved road.
Ibrahim kept silent, in the darkness, frightened, watching everything from the near distance he had walked to protect himself from his family’s prying eyes. It made him invisible to the gunmen, while peeing on the straw-coloured sands of Anatolia before reaching the delta of the Orontes river.
It felt like an eternity while Ibrahim heard the members of his family being silenced—one by one—after the bristling sound of the electromagnetic pulses killing all of them. His father was the first, his last word aimed at praising Allah. Then Mina and his brothers. The last scream, from Iusec, who had completed his twelfth birthday, was followed by strident laughter and the clashing sound of metal; the soldiers-for-hire were looking for valuable goods they could trade with other road pirates. The unfruitful search caused their anger. One of them pointed his gun to the transporter engine and shot, igniting a fire the colour of an almost beautiful shade of orange.
All that could be ablaze kept burning for hours; the stink of old painting and boiling metal got to Ibrahim mixed with the sour-sweet smell of burning flesh: the smell of his family going to the Heavens.
The boy stayed there for quite some time, the eyes stuck to the bonfire the transporter and his family had turned into. He cursed Allah, protesting against his doom, shedding not a tear though.
He had foreseen it all but was not prepared to face it so soon.
One of his waking dreams, a couple of months before, had brought the screams and the high orange flames as clear as the fire that consumed the remnants of his dear ones.
The blazes were far from giving its last sighs when Ibrahim, after spending some minutes staring at the distant skyline of Antioch, decided to check the existence of that immense mass of salty water everyone called the sea, before his own existence ceased to be. Hungry, exhausted and hopeless, he took his way into the future.
The first lights of the morning were able to flood the blackened carcass of the transporter and its unlucky occupants—while streaks of dancing smoke were still rising to the skies—but found no trace of the young Ibrahim Mousmée. His time in Turkish territory was over. The mild breeze coming from the sides of the Mediterranean took care of erasing the footprints he had left on the sands of his homeland; an inexperienced hunter would have a hard time before knowing the direction the boy had taken.
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