Literature: SADIK İKİNDİ OYUN /THE GAME / ИГРА
An excerpt from Turkish poet Turgut Uyar’s poem, Kan ve Uyku (Blood and Sleep)
A nine card, my kingdom for a nine card! My heart was pounding in my chest like a prisoner trying to bang on his cell door in a hurry to make himself heard to the prison guard, my tummy was tightening, as if it was putting much effort to touch my back. I lowered my head slightly to hide the change in my pupils and proceeded to check my cards. In my mind, I had this sentence of assurance on the off chance that if I lost the hand; “It’s not the end of the world”. But it was actually; the end of the world. It was one of those ends that make us utter big fancy words of self-promises that we also use to create all our refreshing beginnings.
It is said that the hormones; namely adrenalin, are responsible for these kind of changes in the human body. The same keywords are used to describe gambling addiction. However, I do not agree with this. I have subjective yet difficult to prove reasons. If you have ever tried scuba diving or parachuting, you have probably already known how enjoyable adrenalin is. These pleasures belong to what we label as the real world. Hence the game has its own world. Us human beings are all strangers to what is described as the real world and bump into this estrangement in a constant battle between wealth and poverty at the gambling table as long as there is enough money to play. If you ask me what else gives me such pleasure, I could not give you a proper answer. However, I could tell you that the key to heaven is receiving the play card you are expecting.
İbrahim the maimed, worthy of his own name, is a slightly chubby man and has one prosthetic arm. His coffee shop is located on a small isolated street. The four card tables are situated towards the left wall near the entrance. The right side of the shop consists solely of the kitchen and paths to the tables near the far end of the shop. The tables where the big dogs play are also near the end of the shop. These tables are the kind that other customers tend to avoid. The incessant smoke that lingers a meter above the customers finds freedom when the door opens. I have seen many casinos and gambling houses, but this place is different…This place seems to reduce ones will to win. You can even tell that the people here have already lost in life by the wrinkles on their faces. That night the players consisted of 5 regulars and me.
For instance, Dusky Kaya has a regular seat at the table; to see the whole place comfortably, he sits turning his back to the left wall (how he manages to take the same seat each time is beyond me). Regardless of the time, Kaya’s place is constant at the table. Sometimes I wonder if he comes here at night and waits till the morning. Looking at his hat and skin, one would mistake him for an Indian. And that is partially true. If you watch him working, it’s easy to tell his ethnic identity, he is a gypsy. When he had a nice hand, his mouth would open wide, and you would notice his teeth. What strikes you would be his toothlesness. He missed his whole set of back teeth. He plays his clarinet at weddings and with his gains, he sits at gambling table. He trusts no one and even at times where he had bad luck, you wouldn’t hear his noise. The only thing you would hear from him, even during the worst of times would be a silent grunt. He would either gamble until he lost all his money or till gained loads of money. When he won, he wouldn’t appear at gambling sessions for a while. He spends all his money on wine and doesn’t stop till he spends every bit. Right on his left sits retired sergeant Davut, who swore to the recent rise in gasoline prices.
His paternal and comforting voice, true to his name, would dominate other players and the dealer every time. Everyone knew him as the commander. His default from being a commander was that he always gave orders. He would avoid playing with strangers. During the times he didn’t play, he would whine about his wife. Although he wouldn’t be fasting during Ramadan, you could easily spot him at local coffeehouses, playing cards until suhur. He tilts his head forward and corrects his glasses with his right-hand pinky. When he is in luck. You could distinguish whether he is winning or losing by the way he answers the phone. Usually it’s his wife calling him reminding him it’s dinner time. If he has a good hand he says, “Thanks honey, I am not hungry yet, don’t mind waiting for me, do you need any groceries?” and if he is losing, he would say, “You go on eating. Its none of your business, I’ll come home whenever I want woman.”
The one listening to the news about the operations in Cizre/Şırnak was Keko* Ferhat, a construction subcontractor. He employs kit and kin (friends and relatives). The only difference between him and the other workers is that he came to town before them. As you can tell by his nickname, he is Kurdish. He worked more than others to hold to the city life and because of this, developed a herniate. Since he has been diagnosed with hernia, he tried everything to avoid the surgery. Because of this, there were no fingers left that wasn’t up his ass and no trees left he wasn’t crucified on. Once, the bonesetter went too far and Ferhat was partially paralyzed for a week. Despite, he never gave up on alternative medicine. Because of the pain in his back, he sits sideways on the chair. When he has a good hand, you can hear him chupping silently.
A youngling from a desk on the frontside of the local coffeeshop tried picking a fight with Ferhat.
-Hey Kurd! State will eat up your people at last!
As the crowd giggled, Keko stretched his hand backwards and said:
-You don’t know shit about it, but you keep talking and talking…
Right then, the maimed left a deck of cards on the table. He felt the silence before the storm and tried to prevent a possible argument with this gesture. Most of the time, the maimed kept his ideas to himself. He didn’t even speak about being a “Turk” or religion. His religion was money. The customer was always right (as long as they gambled and payed their part). And he got what he wanted. He grabbed the deck on the table and stared at the cards for a while. Then he shook his head in disapproval and started mixing them.
A bulky man with a clean shave and brown suit entered the coffeeshop. Right away he said, “Gentlemen, please place your ID’s on the table.” He obviously wasn’t a cop. As the younglings tried to understand the situation, a laughter came from our table. The man by the door was Pasha Murat.
Pasha Murat Works at the city hall. He is the former mascot of the city’s football club. He prevented the supporters from cursing to the mayor when the team wasn’t successful and directly guaranteed his position at the city hall. Murat grew up missing his dad and lives in a tiny shanty house with his mother. When he has a good hand, he caresses his knees. When the bet is high, he doesn’t involve. He spends the money he gains from gambling -and he rarely wins these games- on prostitutes. He is Emine’s,(the city’s sweetheart) regular customer. He spends every penny at Emine’s guesthouse, which makes Emily fancy him more than her own mother.
Pascha continued in the same tone of voice:
-Fuck whoever gives a vote in favor of this mayor.
The Cripple intervened:
-Pascha, it seems they tempted you again…
-Your business goes fine maimed; you have nothing to worry about. We didn’t get our salary in two months now. I told the guy to end my duty in cemetery section. He said, ‘All right Pascha,’ and nothing happened since then.
Everyone was about to pick a card from the deck to choose the fairest distributor. The TV was on at that instant. The newscaster was talking about the rape of a 12-year-old.
-These people deserve to be hanged. Said Yalçın and added:
-To hell with it, execution should be legal…
-Come on, pick a card, stop lingering.
Davut turned towards İbrahim and said:
-And close this fucking TV too.
Yalçın’s daughter is around the age of 14. He leaned towards the cards with half-gone temper and picked a card from the deck.
Yalçın The Driver is one of maimed’s least favorable customers. Whenever he stops by the coffeeshop, İbrahim grimaces and starts squinting. When Yalçın has a bad hand his hands slightly tremble, so he isn’t quite the right person to gamble. Everyone on the table knows that he bets higher than the money he has on him. This is the actual reason behind everyone’s antipathy towards him. Whenever he hits the bottom, he ends up begging for some money from the maimed. He is great at making himself look pathetic. He is indeed a pathetic player. Once, he lost his daughter’s school fees and another time the money he saved to go see his father in law… In times of losing, he keeps talking about all the money he has, and this is understood as cursing by the other players. Still, everyone has a place around this table. Because each and every one of these players sitting around this table are hopeless addicts and already lost a battle in life at least once.
He had to take every little detail into consideration… Keko said pass as soon as he saw the first hand. Pasha called out after Yalçın’s raise in bet. Yalçın’s expectation was for everyone to call out as he raised the bet, but that didn’t happen. Yalçın’s hands started trembling. It also wasn’t hard to tell what Davut’s closed card was. He offered the open card as soon as the five appeared and corrected his glasses. What I struggled reading was Kaya’s hand. If he had another queen, he would definitely show his toothless mouth. I had one open and one closed, a pair of nines. I disqualified Kaya’s hand in this case. Davut, who had five pairs was even easier to beat. Only me, Davut, Yalçın and Kaya was left in the game.
As the third hand was dished out Yalçın and I both got a Jack each. Davut got a Queen and Kaya got a King. I still had the winning hand. I had to push the others out of the game. I had not been working for some time and took my place at the table with what I had left for rent. Even though Yalçın wanted to wait and analyse me a bit he was stopped by Paşa’s “don’t fool me” command and proceeded to fold. Davut had nothing to say. He organized and folded his open cards and placed them under the deck. As the fourth hand began it was just me and Kaya at the table.
I noticed that Kaya’s lips slightly opened as the ace was distributed during the final hand. His closed card was definitely an ace. As I locked my feet on the front legs of the chair, I waited for the card Davut was offering, the card that would pay half of my rent. A nine.. for once I hoped to be lucky… the card was a six that seemed like a nine. Even for this, one would appreciate the distributor. Usually after these cards, comes a seven. Seven puts an end to everything with a godly and painful grin on its face. If it could speak the first thing that would come out of its mouth would be, “Hi friend it’s me again, the worst out of all prime numbers. I came to teach you that there is no such thing as luck in this world.” The six in the other hand, despite it’s ironic appearance said with a stressed attitude, “Think before you go all in. You can win in other hands.” There was only half a second to think. If I express any sign of weakness, they would notice the card wasn’t what I expected. I preferred losing the game instead of showing any weakness.
The relation between winning and losing is the same as life and death. Losing, is riding on the edge of death. If you aren’t dead, its beating death. More truly, it’s giving in to the comfort of death and watching life go by. This relaxation can be seen through your body language. I leaned backwards and called for a rest, trusting in this very relation. But something was wrong. Kaya asked for some time to use this rest. Now, I was completely sure his last closed card was an ace because I could easily see his tonsils. When he was evaluating possibilities by looking at my cards on the table, I was trying to prepare myself for the inevitable end by thinking how I lost half of the rent on the previous hand and the other half is no longer important.
Kaya finally ‘called’. How can one describe this feeling? Imagine you love your job and gain loads of money by it, have a beautifully designed house, a top model car, both smart and beautiful wife which you go travelling with. What if you wake up one morning finding out it was all a dream? Imagine waking up to a one-person bed, in a tiny house all alone, how would you feel?
I said, “Gentlemen, I’m done,” as I slipped both of my hands that were on the table to my knees. The maimed put his hand on my back. I slowly put on my jacket which hung on the back of my chair. I wished everyone good luck. As I opened the door to leave, I felt the gaze of the players on other tables that were busy with playing smaller games, their looks translated to “See, that’s all you can get” in words.
There was heavy rain outside, and it was windy. My cachet jacket was wet. I knew the smoke on the jacket would evaporate into thin air as it starts to dry at home and everywhere would end up smelling like mold. I was thinking way ahead. What about the money I lost? Well, it was too late to think about that. At that instant, the best thing to do was to promise not to gamble anymore. “The casino is the only winner” was what I had to think. By now, I was exhausted from trying to quit smoking and gambling. Who knows how many times I left the coffeehouse without a penny for the cab. The days I won wasn’t any different. I spent all the money I won on other poker tables or for alcohol in less than three days. I have to admit I am addicted and place myself in life accordingly. Many questions came rushing to my mind. Addiction! What a magical word…
I admit I am addicted, but isn’t everyone slightly addicted too? Don’t we all lose when we choose to live? Aren’t all humans slightly addicted, in a world where money and possessing more than ‘others’ is what everything comes around to. Souls who go to the exact same office every day, listen to the same newscaster every evening and lived and died as the same cog in the same insignificant wheel of this system. Maybe the maimed’s coffee house wasn’t even real? Wasn’t the coffeehouse full of different kinds of people from various ethnicities? Wasn’t it a life on its own? As I tried to answer such questions, I arrived home.
I spent a week away from card games and smoking. How did I feel? A week no different than strolling around an Anatolian steppe which showed no sign of life; no animals, no nature, nothing other than my memory.
What am I doing now? Apart from “being a tourist with a typewriter” I returned to my realm and started searching for the answer to one question: Do we count as alive when we are in the game or is being alive all about writing the game itself?
* Keko originally means orphan in Kurdish. But in some regions it is used as a nickname/salutation to insult Kurdish people.
Lıterature +: Desıgner/Illustrator Ksenıa Gorshkova (Illustratıon, for Dicours Online Magazine published in Russia, in collaboration with PEN Moscow)