Hear a Voice Say
…an old tramp sat, grumbling, emptying the dirt and stones
out of his huge dustbrown yawning boot. After life’s journey.
–James Joyce, Ulysses
When I start walking, nothing remains behind. Nothing except an invisible and impalpable void, an emptiness filling up the space and the ringing in the ears of a silence which has been begged for and long awaited. Some, too recalcitrant to be muted, continue to speak, rebelliously but almost imperceptibly interrupting the silence. An involuntary chorus of solitude. Silence please, I hear a disowned voice say, and the silence breaks.
When I start walking, my feet are not mine anymore. I walk down a familiar road, my legs the legs of a stranger. In front of me, dawn breaks, solely in shades of gray. Dust to air and air to nothing. Neither God nor any other superior being has granted me a trusted companion. Only a sly shadow, tailing me.
When I start walking, words begin to form. While at first my voice is loud and clear, it gradually gets lower and becomes indistinct, ending up in a monotonous mumbling. The syllables wither and the words decay. Their sense slowly evaporates and leaves me shuddering. A derailed train of thoughts overwhelms me. The deceitful mirror of this world is taken away from me. I am left blind, cold, hollow and speechless.
When I start walking, I realize that living, insubstantial in itself, is merely a vessel to be filled with the lives of others. It is a mirror which both reflects and absorbs. On the road, I am what I am not. Bearing others on my back is no burden for me. Although I am nothing out in the world, there is no one but me in here. Contradictions are everywhere.
When I start walking, I stumble and fall and find my grave before my time. From the ground, I see a beggar, floating, yet heavy, pleading for his death. With a raised and open palm, he tells me that dying must be earned. The beggar turns into a praying man and the praying man into a sage. I sit up and wait for something, but for what, I do not know. I would greet the people if they looked down. I would greet them and let them pass by. But so many of them do not even see me; they walk over me with blurred faces and indifferent feet.
When I start walking, I ask myself: Why doesn’t the world break apart? Why doesn’t the sun go out? Why don’t I disappear? Nothing existing has the slightest idea why it exists. The world turns. The sun shines. And I live. Living must be earned, I hear a borrowed voice say.
When I start walking, it suddenly darkens and the road bends back on itself to form an infinite loop. There is a man I hardly dare to remember, a shadowy figure. A featureless face, just a rough beard and crooked teeth, leans down over me. I remain in the shadow. No, I am the shadow itself. An infant tainted from birth is forced to carry his light within. The darkness is a shroud of invisibility. In the empty corridors of a lost childhood wanders, by day and night, a shy specter of limitless opportunities, trapped in time and space. There is a tiny hole in the wall through which air is alternately sucked and blown. I put my mouth against it. Now I am the brick wall lingering and waiting for the resurrecting breath to pass through so that I can tumble and fall and be free. I keep on walking because I know what I am not. I am neither a wall nor a breath. I can neither stand still as if frozen nor blow freely like the wind. I can only walk.
When I start walking, I find I am someone else, someone who is warm enough to give warmth and alive enough to take a life. The old me stays at the place I have left and the new me walks along the road and a tired me arrives back at the spot where the old one lies deserted and still. I go round endlessly in circles. What I leave behind and then find again is just another me. A pile of my selves, each one more jaded and wearier than the other. A vast but crowded desert of ego.
Somewhere, wherever it may be, I stop walking. I have traveled so long and so far. Where I have arrived, I think I have earned a silent, mild and compassionate death in compensation for an unwanted life. I clear my throat, almost involuntarily, as if preparing for a long final speech. Silence please, I hear an estranged voice say and then I stop talking, too, for good. The secret of life cannot be uttered, anyway.
About the Author: Orçun Ünal is the author of a short story collection, Dekadans ve Ölüm (Raskol’un Baltası, 2014, in Turkish) and a short play, Yılan Sütü (Kendi Yayınları, 2016, in Turkish). His fiction, poetry, essays, and translations from English and German have appeared in numerous Turkish literary magazines. He lives with his wife in Istanbul, Turkey, where he teaches modern literature and Turkish language as an assistant professor.