Faithful to her name, Birhan Keskin has a unique, sharp and intense way of telling a story which cuts right through to the heart. The poet recently wrote a short story as a contribution to Murathan Mungan’s collection Kadınlar Arasında (Among Women). Its title “Bürokratların dolaplarına hayırrrrr”(“Nooooo to bureaucrats’ cupboards”) already attracts the reader’s attention. But we’ll come to these soulless cupboards later.
Everything starts on a peaceful summer day in Istanbul. We might recall those times as the happiest and most innocent of our childhood, playing with our peers in the sun and chasing them through the streets. Birhan Keskin describes this particular summer atmosphere in a poetical style, making come to life not only the protagonist and her closest friend, but also characters like Kader Abla who knows a remedy against every kind of pain and the mothers of the neighbourhood doing handwork together.
The solitary protagonist is a little girl aged 8 or 9 who seems to like hiding from the rest of the world in a shadowy, secret place of the garden. However, her hideout is discovered by Ceylan who is a few years older than her. The name “Ceylan” means “elegant”, “swift” and “graceful”, thus being a perfect match to this fairytale creature. The two girls become very close but for our young protagonist this is not just an ordinary friendship. You might think it impossible at such an early age, but no, it is not: She falls in love with the beautiful Ceylan who reminds her of an angel growing wings when walking against the wind. Starting with admiration for Ceylan, her overwhelming feelings increase until they reach the emotional state of unconditional love. At the beginning of autumn, when Ceylan needs to go back to Germany with her family, a period of endless waiting begins until the next summer. For a few years, the girls enjoy holding hands, caressing each other’s hair and even taste a kiss on the lips. By mentioning Sezen Aksu’s song “Kaç Yıl Geçti Aradan” (“How many years have passed since then”), Birhan Keskin summarizes this incomparable sensation of having become two halves of the same apple (“Biz bir elmanın iki yarısıyız”):
But the innocence of childhood does not last forever. The older we get, the more we become used to the possibility of our hearts being broken. For the protagonist of Birhan Keskin’s story, however, this is the first bitter, painful experience of the kind. Having turned into a teenager, Ceylan is now more interested in boys of her own age and starts to go out with them, leaving her younger friend behind. This is the end of their paradisiac summers together. The following winter of waiting has a different taste, less delicious, somehow burnt, already announcing a childhood love going up in the flames of disappointment. The day our protagonist learns about Ceylan’s planned wedding to a bureaucrat, she says “Nooooo to bureaucrats’ cupboards”. She is inconsolable, crying for days and nights, being swallowed up in her own grief. It is as if love would never knock on her door again. And even if it did, she would not let it enter after this pain.
Written in a partly humorous, sometimes detached, but always intense tone, this story is deeply moving because of its innocence, purity, authenticity and honesty. Birhan Keskin does not only describe a first experience of passionate love and heartbreak, but also captures the unique atmosphere of the summer months in Turkey seen through the eyes of a child. She knows how to put life altering emotions into a few words. Her style is original and her perception sharp. Maybe this is the reason why her words always cut right through to the heart. Faithful to her name. “Keskin”.
Paris, 11/07/2017 © Mine Krause