written by Nazli Karabiyikoglu
Her eyes gazed over the furthest corner of the farm, from the pit she dug amongst dead olive tree trunks. Silent as a dolmen, she was waiting to hear the sound of the earth. Only then she would have dug deep enough. She was aiming for a depth three times the size of a person standing up. In the meantime, she envisioned herself as a beaten Ionian commander whose city had fallen into the hands of her enemy. Her arrows broken, not just against her adversary, but against life. Remaining parts of her cape swung with the wind, her feet and sword covered with blood…
She pushed the heavy gate of the stable and walked to the other end. There, she held on to the head reaching out of its box and leaned on its cheek. She inhaled the fresh scent of its existence. She tied leather straps on the animal’s head, gently and carefully, as she was handling a butterfly. She slowly pulled the giant black being towards the space in the middle of the stable and clipped the leather straps to polls. So, how have you been today?
It was about two months ago when the lively horse who normally ran around kicking the air in the paddock stopped jumping up and down when let loose and instead began grazing idly on the grass. Not a week had passed when blood built up in its left eye and started to fester in thinnest of streams. They assumed it to be an infection like every other, but the eye just didn’t heal. In the end, the entire eye had to be removed with surgery. She had first felt the halt to its existence then and there while it was being prepped for the procedure; five hundred kilos of dignity was drugged and lay on sterile rubber cloths. Although Heraclitus showed signs of recovery after the surgery, it didn’t take long for it to stop interacting with others and eating oats.
She began grooming. The brush used to flow over the stuffed black skin, now she feared she would hear the sounds of bones breaking when it touched the animal’s ribs. She pressed on its stomach to examine, washed, combed, and trimmed its tail. She climbed on the two-step ladder and faced the horse, wiped its good eye, ran her fingers on its white mark, combed its bangs. She got down from the ladder and looked at Heraclitus.
How does a horse lose its battle? Or, how does a young and prosperous horse lose any battle? Shooting it may come to mind. Then letting it loose on its own, maybe. To drift away with the wind, its shine gradually dying off. In both scenarios, we wrap it in a blanket, load it up on the farm’s truck and beg for its approval from the earth. When we bury a horse, we bury dignity; we bury pride, grace, obstinance, and cheer. Pure blood or mixed, by the grave of each and every horse we must stand with respect, if not shed tears. Once their head touches the soil, you can no longer take pride in the chores they did and the prizes they won, instead all their achievements start giving you sorrow. The knot in your throat grows and grows each time you think of them, may it be their rearing up to salute the sun the moment they get rid of straps; or being afraid of baths, suspiciously similar to children; or dropping their head down solemnly after a perfect jump… You find yourself rinsing the bit collar in warm water, though it won’t be used ever again.
She was battling her own emotions. She pulled herself together when she heard the engine sound. Butler of the adjacent farm and vet from the town entered the stable. Parties greeted one another and the vet began examining the horse.
The butler, squeezing his hat in his hands, said, “Miss, I…” The man gathered the courage, but still shyly he said, “There’s no point in torturing the lad, right? We can’t let it go either…” He squeezed his hat even harder. “And I, I’ll take care of it, I promise. You won’t even hear it.”
Mistress of the farm looked at the bony hands of the girl on the horse’s neck. “He’s right,” she confirmed. “The infection has spread everywhere; in a few days it won’t be able to get up.”
Beaten. She looked down.
The animal looked, with its good eye, at the ones deciding on its future. The mistress felt this look right between her shoulder blades. You can’t reach, you can’t speak, can you?
How do you settle in a horse’s heart? At what point do you find yourself whispering into the void, telling it not to be afraid, after seeing its ears turning on their axes? How do you tell it exactly what to do with a single clack of the tongue? The ones who leaves their warm bed in the middle of the night and enters the horse’s box, lies on its aching stomach, in the centre of its four legs, could they take the pain away from the animal, and settle in its heart?
All of a sudden, she found the strength to say, “Okay, shoot.” I’m going to need a grieving dress. Like Ionians wore, a stiff piece of linen, wrapping the body, dark-coloured. Minutes, of agony… She couldn’t. She told them the horse would stay there, die at home. She called her own butler, told him to lead the way for the vet and the other butler.
The night bares no spring, only an inappropriate warmth. Owls rushed to hoot. The black horse raised from its bed made of wood chips. Stood first on its front then hind legs. It shook the filth of the ground off quickly. It pushed the half-open door with its nose, its hooves being shoe free; it left the stables in silence. It walked past flower gardens, olive saplings, and poison darnels, to the furthest end of the farm, midst of the dead olive tree trunks. It reached down to scratch its chest. Then nibbled the side of the pit that would barely cover its height. It pulled some grass and piled it at the head side. It lay along the pit, saw a cloud passing over the moon. One last sassy breath left its once victorious neck. It dropped in its new bed, fitted its entire length. Life flew from its one eye, trotted out from its nostrils, and left for good.
Nazli Karabiyikoglu is a Turkish author, now full-time resident in Georgia, who recently escaped from the political, cultural, and gender oppression in Turkey. She helped create the #MeToo movement within the Turkish publishing industry, from which she was then excommunicated. With an M.A. in Turkish Language and Literature from Bogazici University, Karabıyıkoglu has five published books in Turkish and has recently completed translations of two new books for international publication. Having won six literary awards in her country, she has been actively writing for magazines since 2009.