By Benjamin Doty
When Reyhan learned that a Turkish soldier had shot her twin brother, Arif, with a hollow-point bullet through the head, she didn’t believe it. When she went to identify the body, she recognized him by his silver bracelet, identical to the one she wore, a present on their fourteenth birthdays from their father.
As Arif lay on a metal slab with a white sheet over his once pretty face in a local police station, two-hundred kilometers southeast of Diyarbakir, Reyhan laid her shaky right hand over his. The tan color of their skin had matched perfectly.
“He’s your brother?” asked the military captain, a thin, short man in green fatigues, standing behind her, the bridge of his nose crooked, as if he had suffered an injury from a childhood brawl.
Reyhan nodded, never taking her eyes off her brother’s hand, cold to her touch. Arif had been gone for three days, and she didn’t believe it when several soldiers had come to the door of their stone-walled house to deliver the news.
When she and Arif had been four, Reyhan had held his hand under a blanket in his bed after she’d gotten scared from watching an American horror movie. Until they had turned seven, they had held hands walking to school together because their mother had told Arif to look after his sister. Only weeks ago, Arif had helped Reyhan up an incline of rocks into the mountains. He had stretched his hand with the bracelet to her, and taking his hand, she had lifted herself up as they made their way to a stronghold of the Cause.
Under the white sheet now, Arif lay ruffled in a black t-shirt and grey gym pants, his body stiff and smaller. The blue tennis shoes Arif had worn seemed too large for the body, which made Reyhan, just once, think it couldn’t have been him–but nobody else wore shoes so baby blue with three white stripes over the arch of each foot.
“He was trying to kill our soldiers,” the captain said, still behind her, “the soldiers who die for our Republic.” The last point was unnecessary. Wasn’t it enough to only mention the first?
The primary room, the morgue of the police station where many bodies had been identified, was damp and cold. None of the pock-marked whitish-grey walls of the original concrete were painted. Bullet holes riddled it. The smell of death had been strong before they even brought in Arif’s body.
Only two days ago, before going up to the mountains, Arif had been sitting at the dinner table with her and her mother, and they had been eating a white bean stew called kuru fasulye, something their mother had only been good at making, but, of course, her mother had been good at making many things. Arif had been smiling and complimenting their mother on her cooking. Only two days ago.
“Such a young man, such a waste,” said the captain.
Reyhan kept looking at her brother’s hands, boyish hands, not long, angular and hardened, the way she expected a man’s to be.
“What was he doing up there?” asked the captain, hands clasped behind his back. The captain had answered his own question.
“I don’t know.” Reyhan whispered. She wanted to throw up. She asked where the bathroom was. She heaved over the sink in the one restroom of the police station, where a naked white bulb hung from the ceiling over a squat toilet. She couldn’t dispel the knotted feeling in her stomach or the smell of human waste in her nostrils. Only three days ago, Arif had bent over his shoes to tie them because they had always come undone, clumsy as he was. She looked at his feet. The right shoe, smattered with dirt, was untied. It was him.
When she came out restroom, they were waiting for her to ask her more questions. Reyhan imagined a sniper’s shot and an ambush in the mountains, and how silly, yet dangerous, her brother must have looked with a rifle in his hands, right before he had been killed.
What Reyhan didn’t tell them was that her brother had been returning from a supply delivery to the front line when they had shot him. What she didn’t tell them was that she had accounted for weapons that came over from Syria. What she didn’t tell them was that she had kept track of bullets, which made their way into the bodies of the young men the government sent from other parts of the country to engage the rebels. What she didn’t tell them was that she, sometimes, went to the mountains with her brother.
When she was free to go, Reyhan walked home alone. No one knew yet, except the rebels who had been with him. The path was rocky from the police station, up on a hilltop. Reyhan had slipped the bracelet off of her brother’s wrist when they weren’t looking. She knew that someone else would have already been planning to pick up the body and at some point, she knew, the bracelet would have been stolen for the value of its metal.
The wind from the mountains now, as if impatient, matted Reyhan’s t-shirt and jeans against her body. Her dark hair twisted in one direction and then another, slightly, as two different gusts vied with each other. She walked with her arms crossed, hugging herself, her brother’s bracelet in her pocket. A crescent moon lit the night sky. She stopped at the gravel road that led up to the police station and curled on the ground as her stomach tightened into a stone. Reyhan lay there, almost unable to breathe. Her brother was gone. Death was everywhere, and she would join the ranks of his soldiers for the cause. It wasn’t even a choice, no more than it was for her brother when they had shot him.
Two weeks passed. It was early September. The day after the funeral, Reyhan and some of her friends set fire to the police station, which the military had taken over. All night on the hill above the town, the station burned. The hilltop was a lit torch, and the smoke from the fire traveled for kilometers. Almost everyone except Reyhan watched it in the town. It was a message that enough was enough, but what price could anyone pay for the cost of a brother or the future of a people? What fire could burn hot enough to extinguish the memories of loved ones? There were so many questions running through Reyhan’s mind.
One idea, however, took over her imagination, and for that, Reyhan’s cousin slapped the left side of Reyhan’s face with an open palm. The sound in Reyhan’s left ear was like the sound of diving underwater when she was little. The second slap hollowed out what she heard in her other ear. The pain was sharp, the skin against skin numbing, but Reyhan didn’t care. They were outside, and the blaze from the hilltop flickered in her cousin’s pupils.
“How could that thought enter your mind? You stupid, bitch. You stupid—“ There was no logic to the order of names springing from her cousin’s mouth or the names themselves. Her cousin, least of all, would be able to dissuade her. “Get that sick thought out of your mind,” she said, screaming in Reyhan’s hollowed-out ears. “I never want to hear of this again. Isn’t your brother’s life enough for this whole country?” There was once a time when her cousin wouldn’t have acted this way, when she might have understood. Reyhan didn’t know when the change had happened, when they had grown up and parted ways. She wished she hadn’t said anything to her.
Yet Reyhan couldn’t unthink it. The idealism and necessity of the idea choked her, and then only loosened its grip when she conceded to it. Everyone was out to watch the fire. There was her brother’s lost face, his absence added to their father’s. It wasn’t only the idealism, but the necessity, the brutal fact that there was nothing else to do. There were only courses of action: freedom or death. It wasn’t even a choice.
“We live in two different worlds. I live in the real one, where my brother’s been killed, and you, another. You do something, or you help those who killed my brother,” said Reyhan.
You couldn’t stand by and do nothing, Uncle, who held a position high up in the Velvet Wolves, had said. You couldn’t.
A tank rolled in, followed by three military jeeps. In the last truck, behind the jeeps, were fully armed soldiers sent to be dispersed after what had happened at the police station.
She and Arif had been eleven. Their father hadn’t been sent to prison yet. Uncle’s speeches went as they had one evening when Reyhan and Arif sat in the second row of the gymnasium, where physical education classes were still held at the old school. Half of the town seemed to fill it up. Her father, in fact, had introduced Uncle.
“Freedom is not given,” Uncle said, before the sitting and standing crowd of people. He closed his hand into a fist and raised it above his head. His voice rose. His tone was primal, from the pit of his gut. The speech went on about so many injustices. It wasn’t the voice of a man anymore but that of a fire-breathing dragon. “It is taken. It is won,” he finally said. “You die for it.”
Everyone who had been sitting stood. It was altogether different from what her teachers at school had once taught her when they had made the children memorize allegiances to uphold the dignity of the state and good citizenship. No outsider could understand. No outsider was left.
Some clapped. Others shouted words of support. Then the chanting began. “The cause is for the people, the people are here.” Her brother chanted, she chanted. “The cause is for the people, the people are here.” Reyhan had never seen such an outpouring of emotion from so many. It was the first time she had seen so many rally for a purpose. Her father took back the podium. He wasn’t as charismatic as Uncle but his low but sure tone left little doubt as to his loyalty.
“The cause is the people,” he said, “the people are here.” A man of action, more than words, he began to outline what those gathered could do to change things. Arif never took his eyes off each person who spoke. Reyhan couldn’t help but notice how much Arif wanted to be like their father. If their father believed in something so strongly, they could too.
Yet Reyhan’s mother was eager to see Reyhan leave for better opportunities. Once her mother had been stoic and calm; her mother had understood and even participated in the revolution. Her mother had said she could even bear having no husband, but once Arif was gone, her mother cursed the cause to hell. After years of loss, and only an escalation of tensions, her mother didn’t believe anymore. It was a shame because that was when the strength of your beliefs stood their test. Murmuring to herself, her mother would roam around the house. She’d stay in bed hours later than she normally would. She’d go into Arif’s room and disappear for a while, but when she emerged again, nothing would be changed in his room.
“Go and get out of here,” her mother told her days after Arif’s funeral. “You’re all I have left. Go before this place swallows you.” Her mother was angry, red-eyed now.
Reyhan thought, for a moment, that maybe her mother was right.
“Look at what it’s done,” her mother continued. “It’s killed your brother.” She had raised her voice. She took Reyhan’s face between the palms of her hands.
“Soldiers killed him, mother,” said Reyhan, but it was no use to make her mother understand, no more use than it had been with her cousin.
“Promise me,” said her mother, eyes bloodshot but wide as moons. “Promise me you’ll leave this place.” She squeezed Reyhan’s face between her hands again. “Promise me.” It was a command.
“I promise,” said Reyhan.
The next day, however, she went to see Uncle at his house, which was only three blocks from hers. It was a small dwelling, and the light blue of its exterior walls had faded over many years. Only in the kitchen, it seemed, were there photographs of his family and relatives and friends. One black and white photo even had her father with his arm around Uncle’s shoulders, both of them smiling.
Uncle commanded thousands of followers in the revolutionary arm of the movement. He had fought the Turks longer than Reyhan’s father had. A stout bearded man, he took her into his modest kitchen with an old stove and tarnished teakettle on it. They sat. Everything looked as if it was at least twenty years old. The plates and cups were all chinked and didn’t match. It was in the kitchen that Uncle met most when the meetings weren’t secret, especially in the winters where his wooden stove, an ancient thing, was always running. The smell of a cigarette, which had been put out before she came, was still in the room, the butt lying on the ash trap of the stove.
“What is it, child?” he asked. Everyone was either a child or parent in the community. He hugged her. “I am sorry about Arif,” he said. “I promised your father I was going to take care of him, and I didn’t.”
Finally, he wept. Reyhan had not seen Uncle, except once at the funeral, since all of this had happened.
She fidgeted and hesitated. Minutes passed until Uncle, slouching over his table, regained his composure. He offered her tea. Her glance went back to the wall of photographs.
“No,” she said, her palms sweaty. “It’s time.” She mustered the courage to tell him the purpose for which she had come, and how she would give her life, as her brother had, for the cause. This would be her test.
After the last dishes were put away after dinner, Reyhan heard the sound of a car engine outside. She peered out the window and saw the headlights of a military jeep pulling away from where it had been parked across from her house on the gravel path. How long they were there she didn’t know. Why they were watching she could suspect. The military was everywhere now, as pervasive as the mosquitos in the summer by the river.
Reyhan packed her suitcase for Ankara. Her own room was so small that it only left enough room for a bed and nightstand, but she had spent nearly every night of her childhood in it. She lay her purple sweater, the last gift from her father before he had been caught and sent to prison, on top of all her other clothes in her one suitcase. Hemmed between her clothes were books and CDs, some pirated, some not, the things a normal teenager had before going off to college. Reyhan had thought of giving some of these things to her cousin but now thought to give these to a friend. Giving anything to her cousin would have only raised her suspicion that she, Reyhan, hadn’t changed her mind.
Reyhan’s mother noticed nothing unusual in what wasn’t there. They packed so quietly together, in fact, that it was as if both of them were holding back a secret. Reyhan didn’t know how long she could just say nothing.
Finally, her mother said, “I am glad you are going to university and getting out of here. I am very proud of you.”
“Thanks, mom,” said Reyhan. She would be the second person from her family ever to receive schooling past high school.
“Don’t worry about your marks. Just because someone may not think you’re from a big city, doesn’t mean you can’t handle knowledge.”
Reyhan nodded. “I don’t want to leave. You need me around.”
“I’ve always gotten along by myself.” She folded a t-shirt of Reyhan’s. “No husband. No one.”
Reyhan hugged her mother and kissed her forehead. Her mother’s moods waxed and waned between extreme grief and the appearance of normalcy. At the funeral, her mother, aunt and the other women had wailed and beat their fists on Arif’s wrapped body, in defiance of the fate that had met him.
Her mother excused herself and talked of something still being on the stove, even though dinner and cleanup afterwards had long passed. Reyhan continued packing. Her mother knew nothing about her real plans.
Folded inside a pair of jeans was a picture of her with her brother at six when they were at the Kurban Bayram. Reyhan had stolen this picture from the desk in Arif’s room, which her mother hadn’t upset since he had been killed. Taking it had crossed her mind when she remembered the photograph at Uncle’s. These images were all that seemed left of the men in the family.
Reyhan thought again of the blood of her brother’s face under the white sheet at the police station. It wouldn’t leave her imagination. She thought of his young hands with the smell of gunpowder. Her own hands were unsteady as she picked up another item to put away. Soon, like her brother, she would be gone, too. Then she picked up the picture to look at again. These little things brought back memories. It was strange, impossible to believe he was gone.
She and Arif were six in the photograph. It was the day of the Sacrificial Festival, when they commemorated Abraham’s sacrifice of Ismael for God. They had put on their cleanest, most expensive clothes and gone to the mosque for prayers. Their father had the photograph taken as they left the mosque. It had been a bright winter day, and she and her brother were squinting in the picture.
When their father had slit the throat of their fattest goat and the animal had been cleaned, she and her brother took back a large piece from the animal’s rib cage, wrapped in old newspapers, to the mosque, where the poorer would come to take some for their own feasts. It was their father’s idea that they would learn something by delivering the extra meat.
She had carried it first. It had been heavy, and the blood from the dead animal soaked through the newspaper halfway to the mosque. When she noticed the blood coming down her wrists, she stopped and shook, but held back the urge to scream. Her brother took the package from her and reassured her it was only an animal’s blood, not her own, nothing to be afraid of.
Reyhan remembered how her brother had stepped up to be a brother. They had been tied to each other in ways no one, not even her cousin or her mother and father, could have understood. She cried, but it wasn’t only for her brother. It was for another, herself. Perhaps it was selfish, someone might have said, but she once had dreams that had nothing to do with the Cause—working as a teacher, seeing bigger cities, maybe traveling abroad, maybe having a family of her own—who knew if she got far enough away? Those dreams, though, now seemed to belong to someone else. What had happened to that girl’s innocence? Who had killed that girl? Any tears she had now she wiped away with the back of her hand.
Reyhan didn’t have any dependents other than her mother and aunt, no obligations to a husband. She had fallen in love once with a man five years older than her, but where he was now she didn’t know. Their parting was bitter; she tried not to think of the necessity of men. She was neither beautiful enough to appear in the photographs men ogled in the gossip pages of the newspaper nor so unattractive that the eyes of young men hadn’t noticed her. But she was always Arif’s sister and, therefore, their sister, a comrade for the cause. She was dismissive of most of the interest young men might have shown with a joke or compliment, which intimidated some from even trying to flirt with her.
Reyhan believed that she had as much revolutionary fervor as her father and brother. Her family had been as attached to the cause as any other, as branches to a tree, nourished from the same soil and swayed by the same winds. From the moment she had informed Uncle of her decision she visited him every day. He gave her counseling, he talked to her about the times he had spent with her father, and he indoctrinated her again into the reasons and history of the Cause. He taught her what it meant to be a fighter in the Velvet Wolves. Three weeks of preparation passed under his roof, three weeks to remember all that Arif had given up his life for.
If there wasn’t freedom for her people to speak their language and acknowledge who they were, she wanted to believe fighting for freedom was worth her life. And if the revolution didn’t happen today, she wanted to believe it would happen tomorrow. Her brother’s death demanded revenge.
When she walked to the shoe cobbler’s next to the restaurant where she worked, there was no military jeep following her. The streets were empty. Almost every other house was deserted.
The military had tapped the cobbler’s phone, but the secret meetings took place in the basement. Reyhan opened a closet door attached to the cobbler’s bathroom and descended the dark stairs through another door behind it.
When she entered the basement, where she had worked with other volunteers, Reyhan tried to put her reservations aside. Bright bulbs hung at different heights from the wooden beams of the ceiling almost in an ornamental fashion and kept everywhere well lit, especially for anyone working at the long tables. The basement was cool and smelled of wet earth. Reyhan rehearsed all of the reasons Uncle had given her, as if the cause itself was a religion, its unwritten dogma sacred when committed to memory and spirit. She fingered Arif’s bracelet in her pocket. She now carried it everywhere as a reminder of her purpose.
God help her, she would succeed.
The engineer, a short, spectacled man who made most of the Velvet Wolves’ bombs, sat at a table under two naked light bulbs. He strapped half a dozen plates of C-4 explosives with electrical tape across the vest Reyhan would wear over her abdomen. Over the plates he laid a fragmentation jacket with steel balls for shrapnel.
Embarrassed at first, Reyhan finally stripped above her waist to her bra and put on the explosive vest, left shoulder strap on first. She was almost nineteen years old, and people would always remember her for what she was about to do.
Looking over his work in progress, the engineer gauged how many more steel balls he could add and how much padding over the fragmentation jacket he would have to have to give her abdomen the shape of a pregnant woman’s stomach. The vest weighed over twenty kilograms, which would be more than sufficient to make Reyhan waddle to balance the load she would carry.
Uncle, nothing but seriousness in his expression, watched on.
Reyhan looked once in a mirror with her armament and observed, for the first time, what she would look like if she were a mother. She stared for a long time in the mirror Uncle held up for her.
When the engineer asked her if it was too heavy, she said it was fine. She then took off the vest and handed it back to the engineer.
“When I finish the jacket,” he said, “I have to lay in the detonator. There will be a pin you will have to release and a button you will have to press at the bottom of the vest. We will go over this again, but don’t forget.”
She nodded to indicate she understood.
“Are you okay?” asked Uncle.
She nodded again.
“Go home to your mother,” said Uncle. “Spend some time with her. She will miss you. I will drop by.”
Reyhan put her shirt back on and left quietly, full of mixed emotions. The vest was heavy. Wearing the bomb gave her an altogether different feeling of what she was about to do. Only a few other women in the history of the Cause had done what she was going to.
That night Reyhan saw a carpet of orange flame roll over women, children and men. She saw their bodies in yellow silhouettes that became as bright as the light from the flash of a camera, bright white, until everything was fire orange, as bright as the center of the blaze they had set at the police station. It gave her feelings of nausea. She woke up in a night sweat.
What did her father think of in all his time alone in a cell without anyone to talk to? Would he have approved of her chosen path if she could have asked him? Thoughts raced through her head. Reyhan had not seen her older cousin in forever, it seemed. She wondered if her cousin had told someone of what she had thought–and now was committing herself–to do, and if her cousin had believed her when she had said she wasn’t going through with it.
On her bedside table, the only piece of furniture in her room beside the bed, was Arif’s silver bracelet, reflecting the blue light of the night that came in through the window. Reyhan rose out of bed and took the few steps to her brother’s room. The door creaked when she gave it a nudge. They had the same bed, a holdover from their childhood. Arif had their father’s desk, even though they both shared it at different times. A dark blue denim jacket was draped over the back of the desk’s chair, as if laid there temporarily to be put on again. It was hard to believe he was gone, even though he was. Reyhan returned to her room.
She told herself about sacrifice of the few for the many, that means justified ends, that there was no such thing as innocence, that rights were taken and never given, and that you struck with what you had, even if it was only a body.
Every justification she had heard or could think of passed through her mind. There were no choices, only courses of action. She used almost the very same words Uncle did. She rehearsed. “You must believe before everything else that the revolution must come,” he had said, “that there is no other choice because everyone will try to take that purpose from you.”
Three more had died four days earlier less than a hundred kilometers away. There was a war going on, and no one could avoid it.
Before Reyhan left for Ankara, her mother and aunt made her favorite dolmas for dinner; they pampered her, for they didn’t expect her back for five months or until the end of the university term. She was starting classes at the university under the pretense of studying to be a teacher. It was a chance, in her mother’s eyes, for Reyhan to start a better life.
Reyhan fell into tears at one point, and the two women crowded around her and assured her it would be okay in the capital. They said it was a golden opportunity; she earned the right to go by doing well on the national exams. Reyhan conceded that it was, as her family history hadn’t blacklisted her from the opportunity yet. Her mother and aunt would manage fine without her; they told her she shouldn’t worry.
On the footstep of the bus for Diyarbakir that came once every other day through her town, which had a population of less than several hundred now, Reyhan waved at her mother and aunt, who were waiting by the empty ticket stand as her bus pulled away.
“I love you,” said her mother, screaming. “I love you! Call me, call.”
Watching as the figures of her mother and aunt became smaller, Reyhan had a brief wish for her mother to run after the bus, save her from herself, and make her keep the promise she had made for the Cause.
In Diyarbakir she left one bus and got on another. She tried her best to stop crying. The inclines of the hills rose and fell, the landscape undulating less each time until if flattened out toward the capital. She carried her one suitcase and her brother’s silver bracelet, which she still took out of her pocket on occasion to compare to her own. His was well worn. It had the same last name, Akcan, but was badly nicked. Maybe she looked like an ordinary girl to those who saw her with her blue jeans, cotton green hoodie and curly hair pinned with bobby pins to her head.
In Ankara she stayed in an extra room a family, sympathetic to the Velvet Wolves, had. Before she went to sleep, she wrote a letter to her mother. She told her mother how much she loved her brother. She told her other things too.
She never called. She couldn’t.
The military intelligence service raided the cobbler’s shop and café beside it on a coerced tip from a captured rebel. There, they found the materials for a bomb, a set of instructions for the bombing half complete, and the cobbler, who had moonlighted as the engineer, lying as if asleep after a soldier had shot him.
As the captain who had interrogated Reyhan sat down to go through the documents strewn amongst discarded components of the engineer’s work, his eyes went wide as he pulled the little bits of information together.
At the two-star hotel Reyhan was instructed to go to by phone on her second morning in Ankara was Uncle and Hasibe, an older woman who would accompany her on the mission. Hasibe was probably ten to fifteen years her senior. Hasibe wore dark blue jeans, a burgundy-colored blouse, and sunglasses. Her clothes were casual but chic. She seemed anything but a rebel. She seemed sophisticated, a completely different face of the Cause. More people than Reyhan could keep track of were involved in what she was about to do. There was the family she had stayed with for two nights, the two college students who had met her in Ankara, and others. On the made bed of a second floor room was everything she would be wearing.
Reyhan put on the vest, a blue maternity dress and a yellow jacket. She wore a black headscarf to keep the bangs of her brown hair out of her eyes. When she walked with the vest over her stomach, she moved slowly, the upper part of her body arched back, her left hand on the vest.
Uncle and Hasibe nodded; Reyhan had the desired look. She was a conservative young girl with a child. They even had a wedding band for her to wear. It wasn’t snug, but it stayed on her ring finger. The glint of the band even matched her bracelet.
Uncle kissed her one last time on the forehead and prayed for God to guide her way. Reyhan closed her eyes and joined him in his prayer. She prayed for all the help that could be given to her.
“You remind me of my own child,” he said, wiping a tear from his right eye. Reyhan understood now why people believed in him so much. Two children of his had passed away, one soon after birth and another to the Cause. Nobody believed in the Cause more than Uncle. “Our people couldn’t be prouder. They couldn’t have a better martyr,” he said.
Reyhan returned an innocent, almost grateful smile. For the Cause, she thought. For my brother and father. Yet, it was almost as if none of this was happening, even though it was. As parts of the plan they had formed took shape around what Reyhan was about to do, she saw it more clearly, in totality–the work they had put into the Cause and how important what she was doing would be.
They reiterated what she was to do if she had to pull back from the target. They told her what to do if she was caught. She handed the letter addressed to her mother to Uncle. At the end of it, she did nothing but apologize and ask for forgiveness. Uncle promised that her mother would be taken care of for the rest of her life. The Cause could do that; it did after the state had incarcerated their father.
A taxi with bad plates pulled up in front of the lobby. It was late October. The two women stepped inside and the taxi drove them to their destination, the crowded train station.
In the midst of this madness, Hasibe tried to talk to her. The black faux leather of the backseat stuck to the underside of Reyhan’s knees. Many thoughts scrambled inside of Reyhan’s head for a chance to be heard.
“You do look lovely as a pregnant woman,” said Hasibe, smiling.
“Your brother was a good fighter.”
Reyhan pressed her lips together as if she were on the verge of saying something about Arif, but didn’t. How did she know about her brother? She searched around her for her purse, but stopped when she remembered that Uncle had taken it from her. It was a natural impulse, which seemed silly now, given what she was about to do.
Hasibe took out a color photograph from her own.
“It’s my boy,” said Hasibe, pointing to the two-year-old child on her lap in the picture.
“He’s adorable, like his mother. He has your eyes.”
“Thank you,” said Hasibe. “Everything you are doing will be for him too.”
The taxi cradled them left to right as it took turns through windy streets, filling up with the first wave of rush hour traffic. The car smelled, as all taxis did, of old, tired, barely working class men who smoked. The chauffer drove furiously as the two women tried to have a normal conversation in the back seat.
“And I have one here.” Hasibe pointed to her belly.
“How old?” Reyhan did her best in the conversation. The vest was heavy.
“At least two months.”
“How wonderful.” Reyhan let the ends of her mouth form a bigger smile. She didn’t know what emotion to have.
“And I’m going to name her after you and tell her what you did for us when she’s older.”
Reyhan couldn’t find the words. Thank you didn’t seem enough, or even appropriate, but she said it anyway, as awkward as it sounded.
“It’s okay,” said Hasibe, massaging Reyhan’s arm, holding her hand and reading her thoughts, “to be scared. Everyone is filled with last minute doubts. What gets us through is courage, and you have so much of it, dear.”
Reyhan turned her face to Hasibe, and their eyes met. Reyhan didn’t understand why, before this, they hadn’t met. Uncle, now, wanted her to be with a woman, and now as well, Uncle couldn’t be seen with them. He was a central nerve of the Cause.
“You can stop,” said Hasibe, “if you want. I’m just trying to get your mind off things.”
Reyhan wasn’t sure why she was crying again—if she was scared or for some other reason. She was even embarrassed by it. “It’s okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she said, squeezing Hasibe’s hand. “I am not afraid.” No, she thought, that wasn’t true. But instead she said, “I have to do this.”
Hasibe hugged her, and the taxi came to a stop in front of the train station. Hasibe stepped outside of the taxi first and came around to lift Reyhan out of the taxi to her feet.
It was the bus ticket receipt, the designs for the bomb, and a map of the central train station in Ankara that a soldier had found scattered at the bottom of the cash register at the café that put ideas in the captain’s head, but it was the appearance of another woman, Reyhan’s older cousin, under the frame of his office door, once the entrance to a classroom of the old high school, which confirmed them. The captain got on the phone with his Diyarbakır commander.
A junior lieutenant, the commander’s secretary, answered the phone.
“We must stop a young pregnant woman in Ankara. Give me the number of the train station police. Give me the commander.”
“Get a hold of yourself. Who is this?”
“Gül. Get me the commander.”
The lieutenant knocked on the commander’s door.
“What is it?” he asked.
“You have an irate officer on the line. Gül. It sounds important.”
The commander took the call, and the captain explained all he had found. He explained what Reyhan’s cousin had told him. The commander shouted to his secretary for the numbers of the train’s transit authority and the Ankara police chief and his own officers.
Hasibe held Reyhan’s elbow with one hand and her back with another to support her as they left the taxi and took the long steps to the twenty-foot high entrance of the train station. People flowed in and out, lightly brushing against them.
Reyhan stopped, and Hasibe kissed her right cheek. Reyhan was sweating profusely. The sunlight pounded on them even in the late October afternoon.
“Go now,” said Hasibe. “Our fate is in your hands. Don’t look for me. I’ll be here. I’ll be here thinking of you.”
Hasibe took Reyhan’s hands and squeezed them in return before letting go. Reyhan noticed how damp her own hands were. Her insides knotted even more tightly as she stood there. As the moment grew closer, it felt as if going through with it would take an amount of strength she might not have.
“God be with you,” said Hasibe.
“God be with you,” said Reyhan, tangled in uncertain emotions about what else to say.
Now is the time, she thought. Hasibe closed her eyes, nodded, and left her.
Reyhan tried re-assuring herself. Now is the time. I am scared, but I am brave. I am death, and I am life. She was making up things, almost whispering them to herself, anything to continue. She walked toward the busy entrance.
The Cause is the people. The people are here. They will remember. They will understand. I am here. I am the Cause. Reyhan made it up as she went along. I am the Cause. She plodded through the crowd with the explosives over her belly. She regained her composure and as she moved through the throng of people, they made way for her, apologizing on occasion if they weren’t making enough room. She concentrated on her short steps, each essential to putting her in the one place she had to be. The load was heavy.
When others said excuse me, she didn’t meet their eyes. She was afraid to look at their faces; if she picked one out, she was afraid she’d miss something else she wouldn’t want to see, a hint of the humanity that pointed to her own, a hint of sadness that said, “I too have known what you know.” The sadness was lonely. She imagined what was there if only to negate the absence around her.
Uncle had said that desperate times called for desperate measures, and when one didn’t have an army, one had other things, such as a body. She reminded herself of this. Her future as a teacher, a wife, or a daughter–none of it mattered in the face of injustices.
The only faces she saw out of the corner of her eyes were those of two slouched guards, leaning tiredly against a wall by the exit turnstiles. She caught her first glimpse of the long lines from the ticket booths. Between the queues were occupied chairs.
When she arrived to the spot by the large clock next to the queues, she stopped and leaned on it for support. She rubbed her stomach of padding, steel, and C-4 with her right hand, and reached into the left pocket of her dress with her other for her brother’s bracelet. She rubbed it for luck, and conviction, between her thumb and forefinger. She rubbed it for many reasons, compulsively, because of the nearly impossible thing she was about to do.
A businessman reading a newspaper and waiting for his train rose to offer her his seat.
She hesitated but then said thank you without looking at him directly.
They shuffled between others to exchange positions.
Yet she couldn’t avoid all the glances in the crowded train station.
Across from her now was a boy not much older than she and her brother had been in the picture that had taken her attention only nights ago. The boy reminded her of her brother at six.
She saw her brother in those brown eyes of his, the innocent search for a reading of her face, the full lips opened just barely, waiting to say words that would answer and be answered. She saw his gentle hands, too small to hold an automatic rifle.
She imagined herself leaving her body before her body left her. She fixed her eyes on him.
The boy looked at her with eyes eager to help, the way her brother’s face had been before he had read the expression of fear on her face and saw that his sister needed him to take the bloody package off her hands during the Kurban Bayram.
Rubbing her brother’s bracelet between her fingers, she gave the boy what he was looking for and smiled.
The boy returned her smile with an even bigger one. She almost forgot the reason—the cause— for which she had come, even though it had consumed her life and the lives of those around her.
The two men who had been standing idly by the turnstiles received an order over their radios and turned watchful. Six armed police officers arrived in two cars where the taxi had dropped off the two women before them. There was always a heavy presence of police in the capital. More would come. Hasibe took the safety off the small muzzled automatic pistol in her purse and moved within a close but safe enough distance from the bomb to set if off without great harm to herself. Hasibe leaned on the balustrade of the second floor of the station behind a marble column and saw the two transit officers searching through the crowd.
The great clock struck five. It chimed over the voices of travelers conversing with each other or on their cell phones. Those who knew were all close with their pistols. One officer, sweat beading down the sides of his temples, saw the wanted young woman and drew his weapon to take aim. Hasibe didn’t have her eye on everyone.
But the young rebel, thinking of her brother as she smiled at the little boy, rubbed her brother’s bracelet with her left hand and closed her eyes. The boy’s face had made her doubt her mission for a moment, but she reminded herself of why she had come.
The boy wondered why her eyes glistened again when she opened them and smiled. Her right hand slid down from her belly, but never released the pin to detonate the vest. The boy saw that she wore a silver bracelet on her right wrist.
There was a scream from a stranger. A shot rang out that made the boy flinch. After a space of only a blink, the boy saw a blotted red star grow on the young rebel’s forehead that wasn’t there some short second ago.
He stayed transfixed by the direct gaze of her shiny eyes on him. The gaze was soft. When she closed her eyes, she slouched over to her right side. Something fell from her left hand and glinted in the light with purpose.
Benjamin Arda Doty received an MFA from the University of Minnesota. His fiction appears in the 2014 issues of upstreet and Red Earth Review.