The Festival of Bulls
by Kenan Orhan
In Kaan’s pictures of Istanbul, half of the women don’t cover themselves. Kaan turns the car north after patting his pocket.
“Will there be any bulls from Istanbul?” I ask my brother.
“No,” Kaan says. He keeps his eyes on the dark tire tracks shooting ahead of us, the contrast making brighter the rows of the barley fields and the silhouette of the foothills.
“Is it because they have their own festivals?”
“There are no bulls in Istanbul.” Kaan brings me along on trips like this so that I experience the world. “Progress,” Kaan says, “begins where the people gather,” but I know this is only because he doesn’t like home.
For ten kilometers around our farm, there is only sun and rock-summit hills and slender acacia trees where fields are not cleared. Farther north, by the sea, clouds linger around shallow mountains. People do not gather.
Empty crop rows, like the fine-combed hair under mother’s hijab, run quickly from the road. Kaan must miss the university the way I miss sitting on mother’s bed, watching her prepare to go to market, but I am too old to mimic her brushing by her bedside anymore.
The sun leaks through thin clouds, but the land holds no hard shadows, and trees the color of dirt overgrow the fields without any hurry. The breeze funnels through the hills, the branches shiver, and the world looks cold without stark gradients of shade and sunlight.
I pull one of my mother’s hijab from my rucksack, its thistle-purple making me smile, and I can’t stop the airstream eddy whipping through our open windows from catching it. I begin to wrap the cloth around my head and jaw. I check the mirror and tuck all the after-sunset shades of purple into the folds of cloth over my ear. I try smiling like my mother, but I have my father’s large nose and fat eyes, and I feel his ugliness starting to pound in my temples and throat.
“What is this?” Kaan says.
“We’ll be in public,” I remind him.
“You’re not old enough to be so closed-minded.” Kaan reaches for the scarf.
I move my head into the corner by the seatbelt anchor. “Stop. You wouldn’t do this to Mom.”
“Sevinç,” Kaan says. “Sevinç, quit knocking around. Mother looks stupid for wrapping up like that.”
I slap his hands away, and Kaan returns them quick to the wheel. The path is narrow, and I tell him not to kill us. Kaan is strong, quick, and throws his right hand at my scarf between turns.
“Don’t be reckless,” I say.
He tells me to shut up, and the car rides up the lip of the path, shaking our heads like the coins on a bedlah skirt. I try to push him away, but he catches my wrist and squeezes it pale. I scream for him to stop.
“Stop acting seven years old,” Kaan says.
“Treat me my age then,” I snap back. I’m sixteen to the whole of the world, except Kaan. He’s a brute behind a mask of Western ideas. Kaan says I shouldn’t be so quick to buy into backwater lifestyle. “You talk as if we are Kurds,” I say.
“You look like a damn Kurd with that on.”
“Is Mom a stupid Kurd to you?” I slip my arm from Kaan’s grasp. He swerves the car, making it jump over the lip and straddle the ditch. My head whips hard into the doorframe. Kaan snags the cloth and begins to undo me by a strand. My hair unwinds from my spool head as Kaan unravels the scarf and the cloth spills over the inside of the car. Kaan manages mashing the scarf and closing the color into his fist. I cover the forming bruise on my head and cry. He watches me push complaints out the window. The damp trailing down the sides of my eyes are cold in the breeze. “Dad would hit you,” I try threatening.
“Damn it, I’m tired of hearing about them,” Kaan says. Kaan’s eyes are darker than his hair, and he wipes them fast from side to side. He keeps patting his jeans. “Fuck Dad, anyway.” Kaan squeezes the cloth, and I’m scared he’ll grab me as tight again. I wait until we’re far into the hills before I whisper pleas for him to return the hijab before others see me.
I follow the trail around a collection of tents and park the car near the staging area for the bulls. I get out and Sevinç fidgets hard in her seat, picking at flaking pieces in the ceiling of the cab.
“If you think you’re grown up, you ought to quit these tantrums,” I say.
She curls up behind the car door when she hears footsteps pass behind me. I go back to the trailer with Tolga’s cousin, Bartu, to unload my bull.
The tailgate slaps the dirt, letting out the heavy smell of manure. Bartu waves his arms along the side so my bull will follow me to a bit of rope we’ve tied around a tree. I leash my bull, and we pitch hay from a large pile in the midst of the trees so that my bull may eat. I tell him to eat well and not to let me down.
Bulls smother the edge of the forest, all tied loose with rotting lines to thin trees. Bartu joins me in the clean geometry of the straight trunks, level ground, and mounds of dry hay. The smell of döner and biber dölma rises from the camps around the clearing. A draft pushes between the springtime buds, so the air feels clear and beautiful upwind from the beasts. I check the other bulls, sizing them up to mine. I should’ve waited another year to let mine grow. The other bulls loom, weighty, surrounding my bull. The prize this year should be over 10,000 liras. In fact, such an amount could buy plenty of new land, a motorcycle, and hay for the winter feed. Doubling it would be more than enough to start my own paddocks. I tuck my hand on the lip of my pocket. The other bulls are immense and might as well be elephants.
“What’s she been grunting about?” Bartu asks me.
“She wants to be a sheet head,” I say.
Bartu thinks hard and then laughs thickly to match his hands, arms, and face. “Let her be a nice girl.”
“Become a fucking sheet head, too, then,” I say, and he wraps my neck and head into his arm, laughing, and I have to hit hard before he lets me free.
“I’m hungry,” he tells me.
“Arab might have food.”
“Tolga is here somewhere,” Bartu says. “He’ll feed us.”
I go to get Sevinç from the car.
“They will all look at me,” she says.
I say, “Coward,” and she nods her head.
“I want to go back home,” she says.
“You need to get away from home every little while.”
“Please, Kaan, give me the hijab.”
“There are nice men who will feed us. They are too old to think that way of you. You mustn’t worry about modesty.”
“Please,” she says.
I make her promise she will come along and eat, and I’m hopeful she will see the women who come and do not cover themselves. I give Sevinç the scarf. I wait for her to adjust it, and I expect an apology, but she does not apologize. I check for my phone, and for the hundredth goddamned time, I reach into an empty pocket. My father smashed it in the workshop with a mallet a week after I left Şehir University. I had read a tweet out loud about Erdoğan’s policies. Bits of oil from the ATV smeared my father’s neck and collar, and he smelled like old coins. He took his hammer and my phone to his workbench, and in four swings, he crushed its insides to bits. There was a picture on my phone that I took at the Golden Horn. All of the fishing poles that hung over the rail of the bridge looked like a million spider legs.
We follow Bartu into the camps away from the bulls. The ground shifts from mushy mud to rock-filled dirt. Bartu guides us through tents and tables, around children with dirt caked into the sweat on their faces, and past men with so many years behind them that it all sits heavy, strapped to their backs.
Bartu walks up to a tall, slender man, and they slap each other’s shoulders and smile. I recognize Tolga’s voice from our conversation over the phone. I had to go into town to use the post office’s telephone. I hug Tolga and thank him. He’s promised to hear me out about an investment.
“Who is this little gem?” he asks Bartu.
“My sister,” I say. “Sevinç, come up and be kind.”
“A lovely little girl,” Tolga says.
“In some ways, I agree,” I say.
Sevinç won’t look at him directly after that, and he laughs and pulls us along to a grill and flame pit with a few other guests sitting around it. He has köfte already cooked, and the döner is almost ready. We all sit around on a few cushions and rugs he’s strewn about his jeep. Bartu presents a bottle of raki, and I relax. Sevinç keeps nibbling at her piece of meat, though the food is good and generous.
“What’s the matter with your manners?”
“Who is that?” she asks me.
“He’s helping me buy some pasture land and bikes.”
“But Dad will give you the paddocks when he retires.”
“He’s old with no intentions of quitting,” I say. “There are some new techniques I want to try on my own.”
She laughs. “Dad knows all the techniques.”
“Salak, you wouldn’t know anything anyway. Lots of nothing you keep tied down up there.”
She tuts at me and slaps at my arm, but does so quickly, and then goes back to eating when Tolga looks over. “He’s awfully nice for helping you anyhow,” she says.
Tolga owns pasture and crop fields and stocks. So long as my bull wins the festival, Tolga will consider business with me. My bull weighs exactly 620 kilograms.
In the main clearing, a waist-high, chicken-wire fence circles stamped-down dirt. Beyond the fence, men and women have gathered folding chairs, cushions, and rugs to spread out on while they watch the tournament. Most of the men wear tattered slacks and baseball caps, and most of the women wear large dresses. There are a few parasols for shade.
Beyond the rugs, wealthier families have drawn up their flatbed trucks to serve as elevated stands. They plant their fat bodies in folding chairs sitting along the beds. The men on the trucks all have mustaches and vests made from hides. The older women wear their bedsheets around their heads.
A large flag of Atatürk in his kalpak hangs from a small construction crane behind the trucks, his trademark gaze staring over the assembly. Past the picture, the Şavşat countryside, full of trees and fields and hills, settles down for a nap under thin, silver clouds lit by the afternoon sun.
Inside the ring, the bulls teeter their shoulders and haunches like the pistons in a motor. The bulls, like zeppelins, boom their presence around the wire perimeter. They follow the tracks like toy race cars with electric rods, grooves, and trigger controllers. Arab, the official, guards himself with a short stick which is just as rivered by wrinkle sas he is and almost as thin so that I confuse the branch and him with every swing. He wears an orange towel wrapped around his head as his mark of authority. Arab’s son and a third official swat brittle twigs and wear orange as well. They help keep two 1000-kilogram ferocities from colliding with planetary inertia. Pressed up against the wire are the bodies of eager boys with fascination stuck on their faces. Nervous men with bets at stake stand just behind the boys, their impatience squeezing fat arms and hands against the fence. The excess bubbles up in round diamonds through the wire. I play with a string of evil eyes I bought from a vendor selling semit, gypsy cloths, and neckties.
“Which is yours?” Tolga asks me.
“The brown one.”
“With the white ridge?”
I nod. “Sevinç calls him Domuz—”
“Because of how much he eats,” she says to him and grins.
I pray for my bull to win and repeat it for each evil eye on the loop. The bulls acknowledge each other’s inevitability with hisses from their nostrils, but they have not yet settled, not yet agreed to play the game. The owner of the other bull is fat in his belly, but nowhere else.
Six months ago, I tied my bull by each leg to the beams of my father’s workshop while he was just a bullock. He shook some. He was young and sexually immature. I picked up a wooden plank from my father’s scrap pile. The grain was rough. I whipped the plank across my bull’s backside and stood clear as his limbs and head rattled around, trying to break free of the ropes.
Three months ago, my bull became fertile. He writhed each time I hit him with the plank. His guts expanded against his furnace-ribs and bellowed out hot grunts of air. I’d take a long iron with a hook at the end and scratch his underside after each hit. I’d scratch until his muscles slacked, and I’d go back to the plank, and even when I didn’t swing, his skin would.
A month ago, I’d ditched the plank and started standing in front of him, staring into his eyes, trying to excite and anger him, and playing the games of wolves that hover over carcasses. I’d swipe my feet across the shop floor, kick up the dirt, and stamp my feet, and my bull would do the same, and he’d shoot taunts from his snout so I would charge him. And I did. I’d scream, fan out my arms, and run up right to his nostrils to get him to shudder. Until a week ago, he had never stood his ground. I only weighed 77 kilograms.
Arab steps back from between the bulls. The animals are now free. The two orbit around each other. The fat man’s bull has gypsy bands tied around its shins. The crowd counts one. The bulls quit turning, and they stand rigid. I can see the grooves of strained muscle on their thighs, shoulder points, and necks. The animals stare at the crest of the other’s neck. Their penises are erect. The crowd counts two. My bull’s back leg retracts, childish, a faltering toothpick underneath a cooked roast. I scream at him, and I can feel the rough grain of the plank in my hand, its fibers like a carpet. I almost pull the loop of evil eyes apart, so I lump against the wire fence to make it droop, and I’ve lost the hopes of buying my own paddocks. My bull’s back leg shivers, and I know he will not charge.
The crowd screams, but at nothing in particular. Arab does not notice my bull’s flinch, and I am saved from disqualification. My bull settles, and his ears are back, and I clench my jaw like his, and the weight of his muscles pours into the top arch of his neck as he trips forward. The other man’s bull reels back on its hind and then comes down hard, kicking dust onto the trees and the shoulders of the crowd. The crowd counts three. My bull, head lowered beneath the other’s chest, loses confidence, and the other man’s bull routs mine back to the wire.
But Arab has ended the match. His son waves a stick at the other bull’s tail, and the third official runs to stop my bull from jumping into the side of a truck. Arab caught the other bull’s slight flutter and disqualifies him for moving backward. The fat, spindly-limbed man screams over hands exchanging money. I release the breath that I’d forgotten was pent up in my lungs. The two young officials chase after Domuz, the bull now caught in the folded-over fence. Bartu does not even brandish glasses for us to drink in celebration.
Maybe sixty women are here today and all of them cover their heads in self-respect. I want to throw that in Kaan’s face, but he’s busy leading Domuz and talking to himself. Tolga, Bartu, and their commotion tag along. Tolga has given me fifty kuruş to buy semit from a vendor, and I think to do so just to share it with him. Tolga is much taller than Kaan and clean-shaven. He wears his hair long and swipes it back with his slender hands before he smiles, like drapes uncovering bay windows.
“Sevinç,” Kaan calls. “Sevinç, hurry up.”
Kaan begins to tie Domuz up to one of the trees again. He gives Domuz plenty of slack to graze when he’s hungry. Bartu hurries to grab the pitchfork and scatter hay around the tree. For fifty meters in all directions, dark trees anchor a herd of bulls like sandbags to black balloons.
“Come closer and listen,” Kaan says to me. “I want you to sit with the bull.”
“He smells awful, Kaan. You sit with him.”
“The bull likes you. He is calm with you. He’s too flighty today, and I need you to calm him down.”
I tell him I don’t want to and I don’t understand why he wouldn’t stay with his own bull. He tells me Tolga and he must talk through things. I want Tolga to stay with me while Bartu and Kaan can go talk through things.
“Things for men,” says Bartu. He smells like the bulls.
Kaan doesn’t know what to do with his hands. He looks uncomfortable, keeping them in his pocket.
“You’re still too young for some things,” Kaan says.
“I thought you wanted me to expand my understanding,” I say.
“Not with this. Not today.” Kaan nudges Tolga back to the hills in the forest. Bartu goes ahead and Kaan follows.
“It is hypocrites like you,” I say. I can’t finish my thought. My voice leaves me.
Kaan turns back to me and walks slow, deliberate. I try to move away from his path, but his hand grabs my arm, and again, the pressure pales my skin as he drags me in front of the stupid bull and sits me down in the hay.
“Don’t talk about shit you don’t even get,” Kaan says, and he stands like he’ll hit me.
“Kaan,” says Tolga. “Let’s get this settled. She’s just bored.” Tolga looks at me. He blends into the acacia trees and is patient while Kaan stares into the crown of my head. I try to thank Tolga, but then Kaan would grow sorer. They leave me for the other side of a bump of ground and light cigarettes like they were at a café.
On the outskirt of the camps, two women stand by a sedan from the Cold War. Their bodies fill their dresses like wide stumps, but they wear beautiful red scarves that fall long over their chests. They smile and gossip about who’s left the pens open back at their pastures. They discuss how four sheep wandered off two days ago.
I want to join them, but Kaan will pull me back to Domuz, this time tying me to the tree as well. Dry dirt circles cling to Domuz’s matted hair. I slide carefully next to him and sit alongside the hay. I try to pick out the dirt, but he doesn’t let me. I pet his head and ears. I keep brushing his ears back, and Domuz huffs and lay his head down. His head is as big as my torso. I wish he wasn’t so heavy that his head could lie in my lap and I could brush his wiry mane. The rope tugs at the skin around his neck. He looks curious, but he’s just a bull. I think then for a moment to untie the rope, just to give him a little more room for rolling around.
Domuz looks up over the small hill at a sound like laughter. I don’t coax him back to relaxation, but follow his attention to the hill, and I slowly crawl to the tip of it and look down on the collection of men.
“Feisty isn’t the right word,” I say, but I’m not playful like Bartu and Tolga.
“She’s a pain in the ass,” Bartu says.
Tolga laughs hollow, but only for Bartu’s sake. I agree, though, and tell them how she pines over the shit my parents say, buying into the politics of ignorance.
“She’s just got too much conviction for Kaan,” says Tolga.
Bartu’s laughing almost every chance he gets, and I wonder if he’s had too much raki and if Tolga’s had any.
“It’s her blindness.”
“And you’ve learned so much in the West,” Tolga says to me, and I feel the way I did when Dad tackled me into the kitchen table after riot police invaded Gezi Park. “I don’t wish any bad blood, Kaan, but you must let her decide for herself the customs she desires.”
“But how can she choose with only the single option,” I say.
I know Tolga wants to say I too am ignorant, too concerned with my own discontent at the way of things, but Tolga is smart and quiet, so he nods. I watch Bartu, but he has given up on laughing.
“With sincerity, I’m wondering about Sevinç,” says Tolga.
“She’s half your age,” I say, knowing how Tolga means it, and I feel vomit swimming up my stomach because of him.
“I mean it, Kaan. She’s grown.”
“Not grown yet,” I say.
“Growing then. She ought to start wondering about men,” Tolga says. “Your father ought to start looking for a man.” Bartu can’t help but laugh about that.
“She can find her own man,” I say. My stomach isn’t as upset as my blood pressure—as if Father knew a single good thing in the interests of Sevinç.
“There are some things that just must not change,” Tolga says. “I think I’ll talk to your old man about her.”
“You’re as likely to convince him to sell the land as you are of persuading me to stand by and allow my sister’s predetermination.”
Tolga has a hollow laugh.
“I just don’t understand why your father won’t sell me the land,” Tolga says.
“He’s that way.”
“I have tried offering to buy the ewes with it.”
“I don’t know how much longer until he quits the racket,” I say.
“The codger is bound to give up soon,” says Bartu. I shake my head, upset that now even Bartu must talk of my father. Tolga agrees with Bartu. Bartu starts another cigarette, and Tolga again declines the offer. I join Bartu, the raki bottle empty now.
“Whenever he decides to leave it to you, I’d like about a fifth of the acreage in return for my investment,” Tolga says.
“That’s worth more than half the new land plus motorcycles.”
“But will your father let you try winter feeding? How is working for your old man?”
Father believes driving sheep to warmer climates in the winter is the only option for maintaining a herd. With proper housing and straw supplies, we could keep the sheep nearer to our land and save on renting out poor fields of stubble in the winter, but his father and his father’s father didn’t practice such things. His father’s father was a cab driver in İzmir. I spend most of my days in my father’s workshop, fixing things while he throws bolts, wrenches, and cans at me.
“A fifth of the acres then, but I want half the money for housing and straw as well,” I say.
“You ought to throw your sister in, too, then,” Tolga says.
I’m sure my expression stuck funny, contorted, and I wanted to hit Tolga for saying something like that. I search for my cell phone. Empty pockets—I swear, the next time I’ll bite off my pinky to remember.
Bartu bursts his gut and shoves it all through his tight mouth, and Tolga grins. “It was just a joke, Kaan.”
I nod.“I still want half the expenses,” I say.
“A deal, my friend, but the rest you’ll have to win with fat Domuz.” Tolga has another hollow laugh about that. We shake hands. I pray my bull can go on to win.
At the top of the slope behind us, outlined by the generator lights of the camp, a small minaret of purple cloth pokes above the mangy grass.
I climb the hill, and the ground sucks up the cloth, covering it behind the other side.
“What’s got into you?” Tolga asks.
At the bottom of the other side, Sevinç scrambles to get her lap under my bull’s head. She’s petting him and watching me with wide eyes hidden under her scarf.
“Sevinç,” I say. “What’re you doing?”
I don’t let her answer. I run down the hill, the uneven ground and the raki tripping me along the way. I can hear Bartu and Tolga behind me saying to bring more to drink from the car. Sevinç’s arms are stretching over my bull’s neck like she’s fastening herself to him.
“Is he calm?” I ask.
She nods at me, lying. My bull’s back legs are already tense. His eyes train on me. I sprint the rest of the way, rushing the two of them, yelling that Sevinç is an eavesdropper.
My bull doesn’t move, but Sevinç quakes next to him. Her body rattles up against his shoulders. I run right up to Sevinç. She stares at my boots, tightening her grip on my bull’s neck. I crouch down, trying to look her in the eyes, but her eyes are slippery and hard to hold.
“Were you eavesdropping?”
“No,” she whispers.
“Are you a liar?”
She can’t say anything. I ask again, but she remains quiet. I pat my bull’s head and go to the car. I grab more alcohol and some rope. Bartu and Tolga are waiting by the bull for me.
“No,” Sevinç says, following me. “I swear I’m not lying.”
“I told you to stay with the bull.”
“I am. I did. I’m not going anywhere. Domuz is quiet, see?”
“Stop this,” Tolga says, more like a question, wondering what’s with the rope.
“Hands out,” I say to Sevinç. She’s reluctant as if she’s worried what’ll happen if she shows me her palms and what’ll happen if she doesn’t.
“No, Kaan. I’ll stay put.”
“What’re you doing?” Tolga asks.
Bartu nudges him, and I tell them to both go back with the raki. Sevinç hides her fingers in my bull’s coarse hair. I snatch her wrist up and start looping the rope around it while she wriggles her whole body to get it free.
“Kaan, stop. I hate you. I hate you.”
“When will you learn?” I ask her.
“Stop it. I’ll tell Dad. I’ll tell him the whole thing.”
I pull hard, burning her with the rope. She lets out her whine. “What did you hear?”
“Stop this, Kaan,” Tolga says. “She’ll be fine.”
“What did you fucking hear?”
Sevinç cries as I lace up her other wrist.
“Kaan, cut it out,” Tolga says.
“She’ll tell my father. Think you’ll get your acres then?”
“It would only break his heart,” Sevinç says, trying to be ferocious.
I laugh at that. I pull as tight as I can and tie the knot around her wrists.
“Kaan. Kaan, she won’t tell.” Tolga keeps on talking, but I can’t hear him anymore. The rope is warm and Sevinç keeps wailing. My bull, the whole time, doesn’t flinch, and maybe he has a shot to win, so I smile at him and laugh some more because Sevinç thinks she’s tough, kicking about.
I grab hold of her head. “Listen,” I say. “Listen, can you listen?”
Sevinç settles a little.
“Can you pay attention? You know me, Sevinç. I won’t tie you up. But you have to do something for me.”
Sevinç tries to kick my shin. I laugh again.
“Listen close. I’ll untie you right now, okay?”
Sevinç calms herself and sucks in deep breaths like she’s drowning.
“Promise you won’t tell, and I’ll untie you.”
“Kaan can be reasonable,” Tolga says to Sevinç.
She watches Tolga nod at her, coaxing her to agree. She looks him over, eager to get away from my grip.
“I promise,” she says.
And I undo the rope as quickly as I can. “You see?” I say. “Now please just stay here with the bull, and I’ll take you home tomorrow.”
Sevinç won’t look at me, but I’m satisfied, so I follow the Tolga back over the hill. Bartu’s already disappeared, likely trying to find some food or a woman. The smell of fire fills the space between the ground and the low tree branches, and the raki will taste like a lullaby.
The men sleep with their arms tucked around their chests for warmth. Kaan lies across the bench seat of the truck with an empty bottle between the pedals. Bartu is in the bed of it, the sides propping his arm straight up. Tolga has a tent to himself. Inside there must be a dozen carpets to keep him off the dirt and a dozen pillows to pick from. He turned out the two lanterns on the beams a few hours ago. Someone burns incense or nargile.
The bulls, too, are sleeping. Their exhales rumble like muted thunder. The northern hillside is spotted by the dark bodies rising and falling with lazy breaths. I leave the mess of cars and tents sprawled across the dry earth to join Domuz. Perhaps his belly is comfortable.
I could join Tolga. There isn’t room for me in the truck. It’s not as though I could knock on the door of his tent and invite myself in, but he would understand. Tolga would tell me I’d had a tough day and he’d make me tea. Dad really isn’t such a bad man, I’d say. I know, he’d say. Dad just wants the best for us, I’d say. I want the best for you, he’d say. I’d give you the best, he’d say. And I would let him.
I sneak up on Domuz so he won’t startle. I’m worried the other bulls will grow violent if I’m too loud. I bend so carefully that I hear my knees creak in the still night. The stars are dim behind the treetops.
The rope is still slung around Domuz’s neck. I check my wrists for marks, but I can’t see any in the dark. I nestle myself into the curve of the bull and think of the star on the Turkish flag, protected by the crescent. I scratch with light fingertips the scruff of Domuz’s chin and draw a line down his throat to his neck. I hook my finger in the rope. Domuz opens his eyes, and I jump, and he startles because of me. But I settle him before he can make too much noise. His smell bullies out the incense, and he shoots his breaths at me. I call him fat and smile.
As I pull the rope, Domuz shifts his weight around and leaves his eyes on me. It feels heavy to be watched by the bull. It feels heavy the way it does to be watched by Tolga. I want Tolga to know I love my dad. He knows it, I’m sure. All daughters love their dads, but I want to tell him. I want Kaan to leave our dad alone. I want Dad to drive Kaan away.
I bring my hand around to the knot on the rope. Gingerly, I pry at it with my fingernails. I’m careful not to rile Domuz. It takes minutes before the rope softens and unwinds. In the moments afterward, I stare back at the tents and cars to make sure Domuz is all clear. I tell him to run. I tell Domuz not to play these games anymore. I tell him to get up and run. I hit Domuz on the hind, and he grunts. He pours the heat from his exhaust over the cool earth and he stands up. He matches the night with his black hair. I hit him again, and he moves away from me. I pick up a stick, slap him with it, and chase him up the hill, and still, Domuz does not leave me. I snap the stick across his hind. Domuz trots off into the trees, and I imagine he’ll continue until the trunks become so dense that he can’t squeeze through them.
I scream at the instant pressure around me. Kaan’s grabbed hold of my body. My shoulders compact between his hands, and he, like me, has father’s ugly, faded-photograph eyes. He screams at me, the licorice smell of raki piercing into my mouth. He throws me down the hill to join the bulls with their lackadaisical horns. He stomps down after me. The truck’s headlights spur on while Tolga and a number of others rush out of their tents. Kaan is on me quick again, and he pulls me behind him to the car.
“Stop this,” says Tolga. Bartu climbs out of the truck bed, and the others return to their tents. “Stop this.”
Kaan can’t hear him, and the four of us make an awkward huddle, more of a dogpile, in front of the headlights. I scream that Kaan is terrible. He screams back at me with breath as heavy as the bull’s. I scream that he is a demon. Kaan almost sits on me.
“Why’d you do it?” he roars. “Why’d you do it, you little bitch?”
He pins my hands back and starts spitting on me. When he can, he wrestles his knees into my sides. Kaan slams his fist into my shoulder. He aims for my face and misses.
Bartu now protests beside Tolga, telling him it is enough. I want Tolga to rip my brother off of me, saving me from his fists. Kaan grabs hold of my head.
Tolga can’t stop himself, repeating, “Kaan, Kaan. We’ll find the bull. We have to look now.”
I’m desperate to agree with him, just to distract my brother. I wrap my hands over Kaan’s, and he lifts my whole body into the space lit by the headlights. I’m screaming so loud that I can feel it building pressure in my head, the way pressure builds when you keep crying after running out of tears. He tries to rip off my hijab, but my arms close tight around my skull, the pressure growing into throbs in my ears. Tolga and Bartu are talking, but I cannot hear them. My nostrils clog out the smell of filthy bulls and raki with sobbing.
Kaan lifts his leg like he’s trying to figure how best to pry me open, to claw with pincers at my mom’s scarf. He puts his foot back down and yanks my right arm so that I think it will break beneath his sandpaper hands, rough with calluses. Kaan’s earned a second or two of vulnerability to free the cloth and tear it from my scalp.
My cheeks burn against the cold, wet lines down my face, and my ears boil and pound. I look at Tolga, who steps carefully toward Kaan. I bury my face into the dirt—deep, deep into the dirt. The stench of bulls and the itch of dry grass and the grains of sand, pebbles, and earth press back, rejecting my skin. I choke trying to breathe and look up. Through the dirt that has latched onto the sticky tear residue, I watch Kaan—curses swirling up from him—rip the purple into shreds with frayed edges. He does not let the pieces fall but swings them into the dust, violently to match his hair.
“How could you?” Kaan yells at me. He’s back over me with more presence than before. He grapples my arms again and knocks me into the front of the car, and I wallow into the reflection on the hood. My hair dances now, as violent as Kaan’s, in the channeled wind coming down from the Black Sea. “How could you?” he keeps saying.
Bartu wraps around Kaan, constricting his whirl. Tolga forces himself between Kaan and me, trying hard to calm us, but it does not work. Kaan shimmies away from Bartu’s arms and throws his fist as hard as he can at Tolga’s jaw. Kaan throws with too much anger and misses, but he pulls back and catches the side of Tolga’s head. Kaan shifts to try again, but Bartu is back around him, around his neck, and applies pressure—thick and heavy—so that Kaan can’t move to the right. Kaan’s lost his force. After seconds, Kaan’s eyes flicker shut. He crumples, unconscious, and Tolga yells at Bartu for it. Tolga checks his temple—blood. He checks me, but I have fallen to the bumper. I peak through teary eyelids at the dashes of purple between the gray dirt and the gray grass.
Kenan Orhan is a Turkish-American writer and MFA candidate at Emerson College. His stories appear or are forthcoming in The Puritan, Carbon Culture Review, Circa Review, and others. He plays tennis when the weather allows and watches James Bond movies when it doesn’t.