I was in year ten. All I had was two shirts. One was old and I would wear it at home. The other was pretty new and I used to wear that when I would go to school.
Our relative, who was working in Germany, had given it to my mum. “Look, it’s brand new… Let the kid wear it” he had said.
Well, actually it was pretty big for me but who cares, it was new. And it’s size wasn’t obvious under a jacket.
I hadn’t even cared as it was a summer shirt, I used to even wear it in the middle of winter. The shirt was green, one of those “greens” which grabbed everyone’s attention.
We were in our English class. Our teacher, Mr. Seref, had gone to England for the summer holidays. And, at every chance he got, he would talk about the English people to us.
We couldn’t learn English but we had learnt how gentleman-like the English were, how they dressed up, and how they ate, all off by heart.
The first time he had come to class, he had introduced himself and then said, “We will only study this lesson in English”. How was this possible? He explained it to us.
Throughout the lesson, no one was to speak a word of Turkish, and if anyone had anything to say, they would have to say it in English. And we were all going to address each other as either “Mr.” or “Miss”.
Our English was really weak. Because we hadn’t had a proper English teacher before.
The teacher started to apply his method. We understood nothing. So he would get angry with us and blast us.
We used to understand all of his insults because they were in Turkish. It’s not like we could have understood the English words of such civil words (!) like “Fools!” “Idiots!” “Imbeciles!” “Morons!”.
We only had one friend in our class who was able to speak to him: Belgin. She was the daughter of an army officer. She had studied in big cities. When her father was appointed to our city for work, she also found herself amongst us. Only them two would discuss the lessons and we would just listen.
Then, the teacher also had enough of this situation, so he started to explain everything in Turkish instead but I think he had lost all his motivation.
At the start of each lesson, he would make us write something down, then tell us to “Study!” or “Memorise!”, and he would stare out from the window or watch us.
At one stage, he caught my eye and with the middle finger of his left hand signalled to me. I figured that “he was calling me next to him” with this signal.
So I went.
He bended down to my ear and pointing to my shirt said, “That is such a fussy green!”
I kept my silence.
“Boys don’t wear such a colour as this!” he said.
I kept my silence again.
“You’re like a walking grave!” he said.
I kept my silence again.
I was looking at my shirt like I had seen it for the first time.
There was some kind of humming in my ears.
Where am I?
My perception is weak…
I should go back to my seat…
Everyone was looking at me…
Where is my desk?
Let the kid wear it!
Well, how did I end up sitting down?
I was droning…
Look, it’s brand new!..
The humming ceased…
After this incident, I couldn’t sleep properly. The speaking was still going on inside of me. I was imagining that I was speaking with Mr. Seref.
I had probably played that scene a hundred times. I was trying to tell him why I had to wear this shirt, I was saying, “This is the only shirt which I can wear at school!”.
Then, I wouldn’t find that good enough so I would say, “Sir! Do you think that I love wearing this shirt? And by the way, what’s it to you? Your job is to teach English, not to criticise what I wear!”.
I would make him feel ashamed, make him regret what he had said, and each time would make him apologise.
By the way, why had he said this in a mocking way. It was like he was kind of making fun of me.
Each time I would imagine it, I would add new details to the scene. I would drift away somewhere far, and never was able to concentrate on the lessons.
Finally, it was the weekend and I went to my village. And of course, I took this incident along with me there, too.
My mother quickly realised the change in me and asked. I said “There’s nothing wrong!”. She didn’t insist. We were sitting next to the stove with grapevine stumps and dried cow dung burning inside it.
She had a tray in front of her, putting worsteds which she had spinned with a spindle and was trying to dye them with a homemade alizarin.
She was going to weave small rugs with these colourful threads.
My mother wasn’t one of those women from the cities with soft white hands. She wasn’t like those well-kept women who would sit by the window and watch passers by behind a tulle curtain. She was a woman with a sunburnt face, with a deep voice and was very strong. Her love was veiled. She would speak only when necessary.
Apparently, she was full of life at one stage, but I never saw it. In summer, she worked in the fields, and in winter, at home. She liked to stick her feet into the river under the heat of August and also love to take a nap under the shadows of willows.
She would mostly cook wheat pilaf with butter and make a salad generous with peppers aside it. And in winter, she would spin wool, dye threads, and weave rugs. And when she’d get drifted away with her work, she would start singing some folk songs.
My father apparently loved her voice.
My father was a black and white photograph on the wall.
I could no longer hold myself, so I said, “Mother!”.
My voice was cracked.
She looked at my face in complete astonishment.
I quickly blurted out what was on the tip of my tongue, “I don’t want to wear the green shirt again!”.
At first, she couldn’t understand what I was talking about. With a bit of curiosity and worry she said, “What green shirt?”.
“How many green shirts do I have!” I said.
Then, she understood. “Why?” she asked.
“I didn’t like its colour” I said.
“What’s wrong with its colour?”
I was getting even more furious now. And, all of a sudden, I started to cry.
“I just don’t like it!” I said with my teary voice, “Why are you constantly asking!”.
Whatever it was that was accummulating inside of me for days was now all pouring out from my eyes.
She didn’t tell me to stop crying, nor did she come and hug me, and she also didn’t say that she would buy a new one. She stared at her tray and drifted far away.
After a while, she said, “I’ll dye it”.
I looked at her face to see if she was serious.
With a serious voice she said, “Take your shirt off and I’ll dip it into the tub”.
“Will it work?” I asked.
“Of course it will” she said.
I took off the green shirt. And she dipped it into the tub.
“Let it wait for the night, it will absorb the dye until morning.”
In the morning, she took it out of the tub. “Don’t be fooled by its colour now, it’s still wet” she said.
She rinsed it in water and hanged it on the line.
“Let it dry, then the colour will come out” she said.
I had gone back in the afternoon, it had dried. The dye hadn’t spread evenly, but it didn’t matter, the colour had changed. Now it had a reddish-yellow colour.
Of course, I never knew if it would match my jacket. I went to school with that shirt. I went into my final exams with that shirt on. I got a low mark for English.
The other name of this colour apparently was ‘alizarin’, my art teacher whispered this into my ear, enlightening me!