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Babel 6600— Nazli Karabiyikoglu

Oct 23, 2022 | Non Fiction | 0 comments

Translated from the Turkish by Eylül Deniz Doğanay

(And) The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

Genesis 11-6:7

All it takes to make music with a wine glass full of water and your wet finger is trying hard enough and, well, your finger, writing novels takes so much more, you have access to pen and paper because you, the reader, are born into this era, I, on the other hand, have to turn to my room and my time, where there’s still time for cave walls, old testaments, and moldy volumes of records to be discovered, and even more time to point at the woman as their creator. 

***

It wasn’t a dream. I was drooling on my pillow, I wiped it and repeated I was actually there. I felt the destruction of humans. That was the reality, and I’d just fallen back into my dream. Being a human, is it really that terrible? The angst of not sleeping but dreaming in this room and then being pulled into a different room quenched my heart. My stomach began boiling and sent warmth all around it. I wanted to write what I saw, it sure was a story, and it would lead to more, to a novel. I had a pen and paper, and a hand. I began reminiscing, but the memories were evanescent, I couldn’t accurately find where to begin, because my mind, my box of moments, was filled up, in the way the ruling parties wanted.

A thousand-year wait. In the backyards of cabins, they buried their notebooks, and manuscripts hid them behind loose stones inside the walls of grand halls of great harems, or gave them away to men, just so their words could be read. Women. I remembered them. The darkened triangle between two symmetric curving lines on that wall, and the straight line that came down from its bottom corner, as legs. I remembered Enoch, and the bison he drew right next to her. Soft shapes, engraved in rocks, and sounds, lacking in vowels, echoed around those cave walls. I knew of the friendship over the fire, looking at the flames inspired one woman to sing, and another to write her tale on her skirt. In that one dream, I read every written word until the arrival of Moses. I saw that the pages, on top of one another, were taller than all holy books combined. In that tank I knew, I knew how it all went before Moses.

If I wasn’t stuck in the impossibility of traveling back in time, I could find those manuscripts as if I were the one who put them there. 

In the morning after that awakening, I found myself settled for the promise of a new start, even if it was faulty, and I wanted to leave. I wished for a mind without excuses, one that could find the lost texts, and one that would remember more in the guidance of these texts. It had to be able to see, clearly and vividly. My mind, my new mind, had to think apart from man, the inventor of our words. Honest, untampered. Also, with a default level of haze. It had to come with a tongue that felt unreachable, but one that hurt those who reached it, fed on their pain, and used that to spread around. A tongue to shout out what the eye saw but couldn’t articulate. One that made sentences without structure, far from the plebeian, and, at times, closer to eternity. A tongue to linger on in the cosmos, operose to translate, but relatable in every language.

Remember!

Go outside, and cover your head with this black scarf. Leave your bangs out. Hide the rest of your body with this black trench coat. Click your heels on the last remaining pebble stone road in the city. Walk. Then end your expectations from this place. Find your name. Walk. Run. Stop.

***

I was at the entrance of a marketplace. An arched door. It read “Elhamra Pasajı 1922”. I went in and found the darkest corner, where a staircase seemed to be leading to somewhere that would match my level of curiosity. I climbed the stairs and found a door.

There was no one standing by the door, it was an old door with a primitive type of lock which didn’t serve its purpose. I leaned on my shoulder and the door opened, I was now under a blue-lit corridor. It smelled like mold. I walked, and the music ascended. I found another door, it was heavier, and made from black velvet, I pushed it open. Most people would think of belle epoque at this moment; if I wrote about this, they would ask me if this was Rabelais’ dream that I tried to recreate or Sade’s cell. If I wasn’t alone in there, people around me would grab my shoulder and ask why I never mentioned to them this feast I attended in one of Rome’s villas before. Someone could take and wear the long-beaked mask they found on the floor. Some might have thought we were in a witch-burning ceremony upon the sight of burnt stakes and hay, others might have run me over to stare at the bodies under the fluorescent-colored capes as if they were seeing them for the first time. But my heart didn’t skip a beat before their nudity, calmly, I walked amongst them. 

They didn’t have eyeballs. They barely had any facial hair. They were women, men, both women, and men. Neither women nor men. Some were as cold as fallen angels stuck in stone, some were as tall as giants, as old as Adam, and some wore the crimson cape of Rebecca. Some I couldn’t recognize at first, but I grasped the importance of this gathering. Most were holding wooden bowls filled with a drink that looked like wine, and all had enormous hands. I walked amongst them and noticed some other people in the rooms separated by curtains at the back. They were the ones with enormous feet, ears, and claws, and those with breasts that fed others. I walked inside and the room engulfed me, lit bodies with their backs leaned against the walls reached out to me and I smelled odors of the season, and became aware of night and day, and the events occurring in two hemispheres. Like the lizard’s tongue, I snapped out and hit the first thing on my path, and blacked out. When I regained my sight, a big pen of a phallus and a paper-thin body was before me. I asked them what was going on here, and before I could spill out I would be glad to participate if this was a secret meeting, pen-phallus-paper-body grabbed me and we went to a dark corner of the room with no one else around. They said it was too loud, and that we could talk better there, and went on to explain this was a decennial union, that I could tell everyone about anything I witnessed, but that I shouldn’t write down any of my experiences here, which made me bite my lip to hide the need to write all this down as I obediently nodded. We went back into the crowd, they said I was given a chance to mingle, but that they would also be watching me. So I began looking around, I entered every room and walked down every hall a couple of times.

The ground was slippery, with saliva. The tongues of a freakish man dressed as Balzac ’s belly button and another of Flaubert were intertwined. The Mehpeiker were performing a dance of sorts, spreading their butt cheeks and crouching, whilst all the Namık Kemals stood there, watching them, with growing hunger, clapping. A huge swirl of beard kept stating his name was Ahmet Mithat, “fallen angels”—I read the name on their backs—grabbed him by the ankles and hanged him; in the meantime, a Milton-looking guy tried to cover his eyes with his feet, and some others tried to drink some red stuff out of his perineum.

As I rubbed my sore neck, I became more aware of my burden of both ancient and modern times, it got to the point of suffocating me a little. I couldn’t figure out why this super-rational union was taking place. There was no other food around but the mushed fruit they made with their feet, and I could taste my thirst on my palate, desperate; I walked to the table with the bowls and grabbed one. The smell assured me it wasn’t wine; in fact, it didn’t smell like anything I’d ever drunk, or alcohol either, to my surprise. The union up to that point hadn’t been as exciting as that liquid touching my tongue. It tasted of many things, a heavy essence of unripe grape extract or rose jam, but also something bitter like a lemon peel… I finished the bowl, and it numbed my mouth, which made me realize I still hadn’t said a word. I helped myself to three more bowls of that drink and went on to find the loudest section of the airy room, where people screamed and embraced one another. It looked like a performance, every once in a while, they made a circle around one, laughed at them, closed the circle and cried, screamed, howled, and then reached out to the one in the middle with their hands, lifted them up a bit, then suddenly dropped them down. They went on to screaming and embracing, and it began again. I moved past thighs and breasts and stood in the center. They stopped moving and talking. They looked at my mere body. One of them spilled out some words, but I didn’t understand, nor did the others. Another took a step forward and made an attempt to talk. Nobody understood them either. This went on until everyone tried at least once. In the end, they looked at me, exchanged some hand signals, and—presumably—they decided to take me in, and together we went to the corner of the room with the fireplace. One came up to me and, maybe, said something along the lines of, “Come, we shall make a brick, and cook it nice and hot,” in a tongue similar to mine. I saw pieces of wood and stone and figured there would be cement. Instead, they took out bricks and tar. And said, “Let us build a city here, our reputation shall too grow once we erect a tower to touch the skies, right here. That way, we will always be together.”

They worked hard, for hours. They were building the tower around me. I had to get out, though. I couldn’t stay in here. I glanced around me, the rim was just above my head. As they worked together, and their towers grew taller, they seemed to be understanding one another better, connecting words and making small dialogs. I feared they had come to an agreement over burying me in there. Panicked, I waved my arms and hit the bricks around me with all my strength. I had to interfere with their communication, they had to be stopped. I hit harder and faster, with my legs, with my head. I used the couple of steps I had inside and lashed across, which got the job done. The wall was broken, I faced the ones staring at me, shouted at them to beat it, and tore my scarf apart. I wrapped myself tighter with my trench coat and ran for the velvet door. I made it outside and had just barely caught my breath when I looked up to the arch door that no longer read ‘Elhamra Pasajı 1922’, but instead ‘Tower of Babel 6600’.


Also, read a Bengali short story by Atin Bandyopadhyay, translated into English by Ankita Bose, and published in The Antonym.

A Difficult Puzzle— Atin Bandyopadhyay


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Nazli Karabıyıkoğlu is an author from Turkey, now a full-time resident in Germany, who has secluded herself from the political and gender oppression in Turkey. She was awarded the Writer at Residence program in Prague by UNESCO City of Literature 2020 and the Writers-in-Exile Scholarship by PEN Germany for 2021–2023. Her work has appeared in Words Without BordersAlchemy, and many other magazines.

Eylül Deniz Doğanay is a student of translation and interpretation at the Faculty of Humanities and Letters, Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey.

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