Thank you for your patience in waiting for my short story to come to its completion, one installment at a time. On this Sunday, you will find all chapters combined – should you have the inclination to read “Black Rose” once more. If not, I have a new text in store for you. Either way, my hope is for you to enjoy your visit here.
“Oh, dear God. My girl. My poor girl. Who did this to you? What they did to you! Oh, God. No! No!”
“Mom, help me…”
The ambulance sped through the many rural areas to Şanlıurfa hospital. Where Huban was born. The medics raced her stretcher through the emergency entrance, while a loud speaker summoned doctors to the OP. Her mother’s bewildering plea was the only sound in the crowded lobby: “Please. Please. No window, no mirror. I beg of you. Please!”
“Hello there, my love!” Huban stirred.
A smile grew on her face.
“Hi there, love!”
“Butrus, you are here! You are here! But…oh no, wait, don’t look at me. Please, don’t. My hair -“
“My love, you’re beautiful,” he interrupted.
“Remember, whenever the sun shone on it, you’d –“
“say,” Butrus picked up from where Huban left, “your hair is too stunning to confine in braids. Let the light fall on its waist-long drop and show off its blackish maroon hue!”
“Okay, okay, you fixed my hair. But…but, see what they put on me?”
“All I see is my elegant Huban on top of a radiator,” Butrus responded.
Harran University was brand new, and its library, still under construction. A radiator below a dormer window had become Huban’s reading place between classes. It stood at the end of a hallway that strayed from a high-traffic lecture hall passage. A deep and wide marble slab atop the bars – a code for heating companies back then, diffused the burn for her just about enough. Rapt in her book, Butrus’ sudden presence had caught her by surprise, especially the ease at which he engaged her in a conversation.
“Poor me, my seat choice never escaped your teasing.”
Butrus grinned and went on: “It was an October morning. An unusual chill had set in. Black was your color: a high-neck, long-sleeve sweater, bell-bottom pants, low heel boots and a long-strap handbag. And then…there was your hair. Down. All the way down.”
“You looked so good in black,” Butrus spoke in awe. “The sun-shaped pendant on your necklace was the only different color on you. Outside the honey-touched sparkles in your eyes, of course. I had never seen such a shade of intense green before.“
How about you, my darling? Huge hazel eyes. Long thick eyelashes. Eyelids adorably slanting with each attractive smile.
“You were wearing clear, stylish glasses,” Huban uttered.
Those light brown waves of hair resting on your neck.
“You knew how to resist the college-male fad of well-below-the-shoulder-look.”
Your tall, slender, shapely body in a casual outfit. The faint laugh lines on the corners of your lower eyelids. And those lips…curling upward with each laugh. Leaving me with a sensation I hadn’t felt before.
Wednesday afternoons, Huban had a secret routine. Skipping her last class, she left the campus for the language institute. Butrus had started learning Spanish. She secured a spot in the farthest corner of the alley across from the multiple-story building. His classroom was on the second floor, with windows looking over the school’s spacious, circular landing. He always came out first. His rushed feet nearing him to her delighted Huban. One arm tucked in the back, donning his landmark smile; he greeted her with the same ‘hello, my love, hello!’ Then unveiled her favorite flower: a rose. One black rose.
“Can you believe, we have known each other four months already?” Butrus spoke in full excitement but looked tired.
“Did you have enough sleep last night?” Huban didn’t hide her concern. His classes at the university ended at noon. In the early afternoon, he studied for the next day. Then came his language hours. In the last two months, he had acquired two night jobs – one in the university library and one in the town’s largest bookstore. However well paying they were, Huban worried for his health.
“Have you extended your work hours?” Huban feared to hear a ‘yes’.
“No, my love, I don’t need to. I already put aside a decent amount of money for us. I know, my Spanish classes take a good part of it but that’s for our life in Zafra.”
“Zafra? What’s going on, Butrus? What IS Zafra?”
Butrus took an envelope from his coat’s inside pocket and pointed: 06300 Zafra – Badajoz, Spain.
“That I’m adopted, you know my love but there is more to it.”
“I wish I were adopted,” Huban’s voice reeked sadness.
“I know, love, but things will change very soon. And remember: your parents didn’t die when you were two. You made
memories with them for twenty years. I can’t remember anything about mine.”
Butrus then moved her bangs aside and kissed her forehead. With tears of regret for reminding him of his huge loss in the October 1983 earthquake, Huban held on to his hand for a long time. The nanny had stayed back with a sick Butrus, while his parents – as custom on religious holidays – had been visiting in-laws in Erzurum…
Butrus broke their melancholy: “Listen, my love, we are both going to be just fine. I have very exciting news.”
“What is it?”
“You know my uncle gave me home. ‘What IS Zafra?’ you asked. Well, he lives there. He brought me up here, in my birthplace though. The town’s esteemed Dr. Polat. He sacrificed his life for me. He left for Zafra only after I was admitted to Harran University with scholarship. Room and board included.”
Huban listened with intent.
“After all he has done for me,” Butrus’ voice echoed his emotions, “he now offers us the safety of his home. Imagine, my love! He writes we can live with him until we tire of him and he is ready and able to cover all our material needs.”
Sliding his hand in to the same pocket, Butrus brought out another envelope. Inside were two plane tickets and a sizeable pack of Euro bills.
That Wednesday afternoon in the alley opposite the language school, Butrus pulled Huban close to his warmth. He caressed her eyes with fire in his. The darkness of their corner encouraged them to their first lip-kiss.
His nicotine-filled breath right at her face, Huban’s brother looked fierce. He had gathered the family in the kitchen’s ell – their makeshift living room. A friend – the new kitchen help had seen Huban and a young man in the university cafeteria together. Stone-faced, their father got up from his chair. His muscular body of overwhelming height stopped at a breath-length distance from Huban. Scanning her from top to bottom, he spoke in threatening calm:
“He is not one of us. Get it, or else!”
His lips coiled in to one, her brother then grabbed her shoulders and shook her with severe force. He towered over her miniscule stature by at least two heads. He was even more intimidating tonight. At eye-level with Huban, he pierced her with his eyes. His angry voice rose in a growl:
“You’d better be careful. Or, you’ll answer to me!”
He threw their mother a quick, spiteful look and shouted:
“What did I tell you about mixed schools?”
His eyes almost white in rage, he turned to Huban again and yelled:
“There are two types of girls – those to marry and those to have fun with. You know what type YOU have to be. Don’t you ever forget it! If dad weren’t the youngest…if it weren’t for his brother, our beloved doctor, you wouldn’t have seen any school, let alone be in college. You’d better watch out and do as I say! Or I’ll put him in his cage!”
Their mother was silent.
‘I’ll always be there for you, my love. I’ll never let you down’.
Huban started to inch one arm under her covers. Exhausted, she gave up the effort. Ignoring the intense soreness on her chest, she tried to reach Butrus with her other arm. That one landed on her throat. She gave out a faint groan.
For weeks, she had been falling in and out of consciousness. When she tried to come to, she didn’t understand first why her head gave her agonizing pain. Or why she had fierce cramps in her abdomen. Her chest felt tender and heavy. Her hands ached in throbs. Then, she remembered…she and Butrus…
Her brother – together with all their male cousins, had cornered them just when they were leaving the language school that Wednesday. Blending in with friendly gestures, they led them away from the exiting crowd. On the curbside of the opposite street, a large van with a company logo awaited.
Their ride ended in an abandoned farmhouse at the town’s outskirts. Butrus kept repeating: “Don’t hurt her! Take it up with me! Come on!” Huban’s brother jumped out, signaled all men but one to get out. One lifted Huban from her seat, dropped her to the ground and locked the doors behind them.
“Let the cleansing begin,” her brother announced. He helped Huban up but handed her over to the circle of men. His shriek increased in hatred: “Let’s take care of this dirt!” In utter panic, Huban saw how he resembled the rabid dog that was about to attack her when she was little. A neighbor with a gun had killed it before he could get closer to her. Her eyes wandered to the van – its tainted windows, void of giving her any hope. Before she turned her head back, she felt fierce pain on her lower stomach. Her chest felt cut open. Her throat was next. Knives were zigzagging on her body. In an involuntary attempt to block the sharp metals, her hands grabbed each one of them. She came close to passing out. Oh, how much she wished for it. Still, she just wouldn’t lose consciousness. With a sudden leap, then, the tallest cousin took her head in a tight grip.
“You shamed us. You shall now be shamed.” Her brother’s voice was right behind her. Huban felt the razor blade moving up and down the back of her head – but not cutting open her skin. Then he stopped. She sighed with relief. “Look,” he yelled, “look at your honor now!” In the mirror his hair-covered hand shoved up to her face, Huban saw her reflection. Her strands of a color of rare beauty were gone.
“Are you sure you got the fire-safe one?” At the moment Huban heard her brother – still behind her, another cousin appeared before her, covered her face with a fabric – taping it along her hairline. A few seconds after she felt the burn on her bare scalp, Huban fainted.
“I am so sorry baby, I am so very sorry. Please, forgive me. Please!”
Mom? Why do you keep apologizing?
“Forgive me, my girl, please forgive me,” Huban’s mother kept begging, “I had no idea. I so wish I knew. Maybe I could have done something to stop them.”
She was a tall woman in her early sixties. A few graying hair escaped her headscarf. Her bulky, long-sleeved, ankle-length coat added to her heaviness. She bent over the bed’s locked sidebars and kissed Huban on her cheek – careful to avoid the full-head gauze. Then she repeated her frantic apology:
“I’m truly sorry, my baby, so sorry, so very sorry. For that young man, too.”
“Which young man? Why sorry?”
Huban’s frail voice was soaked in anxiety.
“Mom, tell me, who are you talking about?”
Staying close to Huban, she spoke – her voice, barely audible. Each one of her words, however, reached all cells in Huban’s body with loudest precision.
And, a gut-wrenching wailing rose out of her.
Three more minutes. She’ll be here.
A large clock hung on the wall across the bed. All others were bare. There was no window. A plastic water pitcher and a paper cup with a straw occupied the small, high night table.
Melek was a petite, fine-boned, olive-skinned woman – always under a cap. A white poplin with a thick, stitched-in elastic band extended from it and sat in a bun on her nape. Her almond-shaped dark green eyes had an intense glow.
“Good evening, Ms. Güven. How are you tonight?”
She entered Huban’s room at the same time with the same greeting as on any other evening.
What color is her hair? Is it long? Wavy? Thick?
Melek hoped her quiet patient with pained eyes would ask her for something at last – perhaps to help her take a shower. During every one of her night rounds, she felt the urge to devote all her time in this room. Just like with those others. Her checklist, however, always reached the end fast. She also knew the immediate effect of the medications too well. Once again, she tiptoed out to her station.
In her few short years in this hospital, Melek had witnessed many such cases. But they had all moved on. She had. Not that she had any choice…
“Demir, this hurts too much. Let me die. Please.”
“Melek, my sweetheart, we are almost there. I’m so sorry you are hurting so much. But Aker will take excellent care of you. We can’t possibly find more capable hands in hiding. And I’ll be by your side the whole time.”
Melek kept begging him to let her die. When they reached Aker’s clinic, a makeshift operating table was ready. Immediately, Melek was put under. A week later, hoping her brothers were no longer a threat, both men took her to a hospital. She was made into a star of a horror-show: her charred scalp, the knife wounds on her stomach, chest and throat left her disfigured to eternity. It was for her a cruel irony that her face was left untouched.
“Demir, help me die. Aker can find something. I beg of you. Look at me! I’m a freak.”
Aker knew about the women’s safe house in Erzurum – the nearest one to their town. Demir was convinced, if Melek could see how others lived on despite their horrendous traumas, she would want to continue to live.
“Sweetheart, we are taking you to a women’s shelter. You will be safe there, and they will take good care of you until you gain back some of your strength. Everyone in the center knows Aker is your doctor, so, they will allow him to visit you. I, however, have to leave for a while. If I stay, I’ll put you in greater danger. In case your brothers find out…”
“Aker, they are beautiful. But you don’t have to bring me flowers. At least not every time. You have done so much for both of us already.”
Melek’s baby had captured Aker’s heart, as soon as she found out her pregnancy. She made him promise not to tell Demir in any of his letters. Neither had she ever asked him for an address. He was safe whereever he was. Only that mattered.
“Well, Melek, I got you special flowers today because you two will finally be moving out of here! You know my flat – I’m going to settle you two darlings there.”
Melek’s unease showed on her face. A sign of relief flushed over it, however, when Aker added: “There is too much work for me at the clinic these days. Patients around the clock. I set up a hide-a-bed in my office to catch some z’s whenever possible. That’ll be home for a while.”
Aker soon turned his apartment to a lovely nest for the mother and daughter. And boxes full of necessities were never rare. Just like that sunny afternoon. This time, though, he had also brought her a letter-size envelope. Unopened. No address. Only Melek’s name in the front. Melek recognized the unique slanting of Demir’s e’s and his distinctive m’s.
“Melek,” Aker whispered, “I kept my promise. I didn’t tell him.” Then, he left her to her letter.
“My sweetheart, when you read these lines, I will be far away. Your brothers found me. I convinced them not to hunt for you anymore. For that I gave them a self-murder of a promise.
To leave the country, never to return. Our dear Aker will take –“
My Demir. Gone. For good –
Her tears falling down to her chin, she covered Melis’ face with kisses.
“My poor girl, you are never going to know your father. An exceptional man.”
Melis fell deep asleep in her arms. Melek put her on her bassinet in their joint bedroom at the end of the short hallway. Leaving the door ajar, she returned to the living room. She then dove in to a violent crying spell. Every moment of that horrible day became alive.
The joyous shouts of ‘time for honor cleansing’; the slashing of her stomach and her chest by her brothers holding large knives; the oldest one, giving her throat a sideway gash – none of the cuts too deep, to leave her alive to live the shame; the shaving of her envy-prompting hair; the meticulous steps her brothers took to cover her face; the unbearable pain on her scalp …
Melek folded the prayer rug, put it over the deskchair in her flat’s only real room. Her evening namaz never interfered with her arrival time at the hospital. Still, she hurried in dressing herself. Her uniform was a blessing. It compensated the time it took to fix her head. First came the white poplin, to which she had sewed a thick, elastic band all around. The bun almost shaped itself after the countless practices in the past. It covered her nape area in full. The nurse’s cap was last – to keep it all in place to help her avoid pitying eyes. Caressing the picture tucked in the outlet of the entry door’s speaker had been for years her last ritual before leaving home.
“Wherever you are, my baby, I hope you’re healthy and happy.”
Almost out the door, she took the faded photograph she stroked every day for twenty years, and soaked it with her kisses.
“I had no other choice, my girl. And Aker said they seemed like a nice family.”
“Demir, I found her! I’ve been looking for her in all the wrong places all these years. She is back in Halfeti, working as a –”
“As a what? Where?” Demir asked with obvious impatience. Aker stopped himself from saying anything further.
“Well, my dear Dr. Polat,” he continued with a fake yawn, “I’ll call you first thing in the morning. When we are both wide awake. I’ve been driving all day long, and you certainly sound like you’d need a good night’s sleep also.”
Feeling as excited as a child on Sugar Fest, Aker couldn’t fall asleep. His imagination took him on a joyous ride, where Melek and Demir joined hands. Their Melis next to them – no longer a secret to her father.
Huban took her medications from where she had hid them. In fierce pain, she got up. Almost stumbling over her feet with each of her steps, she walked to the bathroom. She threw all pills in the toilet and flushed. For a while, she followed the twirling water – her head feeling its heaviest. She turned around. Her face was glancing at her. She hadn’t noticed before. A small, square mirror hung above the wash basin.
Remember the day, Butrus, when we met at our new retreat, ‘Yeni Halfeti Café’? How I nagged the owner for keeping our town’s old name? I still think ‘Karaotlak’ fits it better. The home of black roses should strut ‘black’ in its name. Do you remember, how, after my lecture-filled fit, you distracted me in your usual sweet manner? Teaching me our song, my very first English song? The only one I could ever memorize…
When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you
I’ll take your part
Oh, when darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
“Good morning, Mrs. Güven.” Huban’s mother always received a friendly welcome from the nurses. Her now well-known routine was to arrive at the hospital before the doctors began their morning rounds. “She should be about to wake up now,” the youngest added in a low voice. They all watched her go in to her daughter’s room in quiet steps and close the door behind her in the same careful way.
Huban wasn’t in her bed. Her mother knocked on the bathroom door: “Good morning, baby! Do you need anything in there?” The lack of any sound made her panic. She tried the door. It was locked. She ran out to the hallway, asking for help. One of the male nurses shouldered the door. Huban was lying on the edge of the shower. Her wrists, her robe, the floor, the hand basin were all in blood. Her useless hands were still wrapped in gauze. On the left side of her head, lain a shiny piece. Her mouth was filled with blood, pieces of her lips dangled away from it…
“I loved her so. God, I loved her so! As if she were my own.”
“My dear Mrs. Güven, believe me I know,” Aker spoke in despair. His feelings of guilt were suffocating him. Yet, he was grateful she broke the adoption agency’s code for secrecy. He wrapped his arms around her. They stayed in tight embrace for a long time. He then helped her outside, inch by inch, afraid she might fall, losing her balance from the heavy sedatives. He had just seated her in his car, when she turned to Aker – her face distorted by sorrow, and asked:
“Can we say her night nurse goodbye? She treated Huban and me with such caring respect all this time. I never learned her name. I don’t think my Huban did, either.”
Aker’s heart ached beyond consoling. ‘She requested a transfer,’ he had overheard the head nurse tell the others that morning, while waiting for everyone to clear Huban’s room.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Güven but she no longer works here,” Aker replied, sad to disappoint her. Much sadder to have lost Melek by a few hours…Yet, comforted to know she was saved from finding out her Melis’ tragic fate.
Back in the hospital, an attendant was called in to get Huban’s room ready for a new patient. His first stop, per strict instructions, was the bathroom. When he left it, the space was showing no trace of the horrifying scene many witnessed earlier that morning. That the bed was made took him by surprise. The head nurse had told him it was untouched – exactly how Huban had gotten out of it. He reached over and pulled open the covers to start with the fresh linens. He let out a big moan, thinking what he saw on Huban’s pillow to be a violin spider. Jumping back, his elbows hit the side bars. When that jolt didn’t make the thing move, he felt safe to take a closer look at it. His teen eyes were witnessing the most beautiful sight he had ever caught: a black rose.