The Smuggler

by Tugay Bek

I was born in 1974. I work as a freelance lawyer in Adana. My family is from Çorum Osmancık province, more precisely Çampınar village, which is a village of Central Black Sea Region of Turkey.

Tugay Bek

Çampınar is a forest village. The people who lived in this village once made a living from the forest and smuggling. I got inspired by the memories of smuggling that I used to hear from my father

Tugay Bek

The Smuggler

With his blonde curly hair, sparse eyebrows that were not noticed until we looked near, the new sweaty mustache that stole red, Irfan was like a thin, long, walking sapling. He was sixteen years old, and he could just go to sit in the village coffee shop, looking out for moments when his father wasn’t there.

He woke up that night with the voice of a howling dog. He thought it was late for a moment and jumped out of bed. When he drew the curten, which had sunflowers on it and looked at the moon, which hung like a lamp in the sky, the palpitation of his heart rested, relieved, not belated. Trying not to make noise, he poured the water in the copper pitcher and hit it in the face. Cold water with crispy ice in it, touched the forehead and neck, and he felt that his entire body was waking up. First, he put the old one of the wool socks his mother knitted, then put the new one on top and pulled it to his kneecaps. After dressing up a few layers, he put on the green parka his uncle brought back from the military service and went downstairs. When he opened the door, he saw two cows and a pair of oxen lying down the wall, unresponsive. Standing right next to the door, Rüzgar swang its hips and shook its head twice as if saying “I’m ready.” Rüzgar, who was five years old, was taken from a peddler for seven sacks of wheat by Irfan’s father when it was just three months old. The elder peddler explained that Rüzgar’s mother was a champion horse who participated in the races in Urfa. The old man said this horse’s lineage came from Hejaz. Irfan dreamed that perhaps it was a descendant of Hazrat Ali’s horse, Düldül. Rüzgar and Irfan grew up together. No one has ever boarded Rüzgar except Irfan because he did not let others draw near to Rüzgar.

Irfan covered an old black rug onto Rüzgar and put a saddle on it. He carefully tied his axe, which he sharpened meticulously last evening, to the right side of the saddle, its bit fronting the ground. He hung the food bag consisting of onions, molasses and the flat bread wrap with dry cottage cheese, which his mother prepared before going to bed, to the hook at the back of the saddle. When the door was closed with noise, he was glad his father hadn’t woken up yet. Because his father would never let his only son go to the mountain alone at night for a jacket.

It was only three hours before the sun came up. Irfan could curb his fears thanks to the moon, which illuminated the surroundings like a daytime. For a while, he watched the hectic state of two bats circling around a mulberry tree in the garden with a few dry leaves left on top. He thought his time was running out, and he got on his horse in a move. Rüzgar, which has carried trees many times before, began to climb into the forest road with rapid steps. As they approached the forest, the higher the snow was. Irfan was following in the footsteps of another smuggler who was understood to have crossed the same path the day before so that his horse would not be stuck in snow. In this time of winter, no one visited the creek bed for days and it snowed without interruption. There he found a storm-torn old pine tree. The trunk of the pine tree, which is almost as long as the minaret of the Ulucami mosque in the town, two strokes thick, was completely stuck in the snow, its majestic branches stretching towards the sky as if they were asking for help.

Irfan tied his horse to the nearby juniper sapling and put around its neck a bag of barley straw more abundant than ever before. Waiting for this moment, Rüzgar buried its head in the bag with pleasure and loud noise. Irfan expertly separated the edge branches of the pine from the body. He decided to divide a pine of this size into three, thinking it would be difficult for him to carry it to the town in such a snowy weather. Having difficulty feeling his cold-freezing hands, Irfan’s long nose was glowing like a tomato. After swinging the axe for about two hours in a row, he managed to peel off and divide the pine. He threw the small hard unopened pine cones falling from the pine tree into the bag standing in the horse’s back with the thought of painting them colorfully and giving them to Zeynep when she would arrive at the village.

Before sunrise, there was no time to rest as he had to enter town before the foresters kept the roads. After loading his horse, he covered the rest of the pine with the snow so that no one else would take it and set off. Irfan, who could not use the main road to avoid coming across the foresters, drove his horse to the edge of the creek. Irfan was very careful because he knew that his horse would be confiscated if he was caught. Thanks to this work he had done secretly from his father, before the eid he would be able to buy the black jacket with its fine brown stripes, which he saw in the draper Ali’s shop and liked very much. So far, irfan had always worn the old clothes from the relatives, he had never had his own jacket. He dreamed that he was wearing the jacket, that he had met his childhood friend Zeynep, who had been going to study in the city for two years, and who came back to the village for every eid.

The tree-laden horse in the front, Irfan in the back, in his dream world, they were about to get out of the moonlit forest road when Rüzgar suddenly stopped. Despite hitting it slightly on the back with his wand and shouting “Giddy up my lion!”, Rüzgar didn’t move. It had its big black eyes open to the end, and Rüzgar looked like it saw the devil. When Irfan looked in the direction in which Rüzgar fixed its gaze, he noticed a pair of glowing eyes from the darkness. When he looked with a little more attention, he realized there was a herd of six wolves lying under the pine tree above the passageway. It was like irfan’s heart was going to pop out, thinking the wolves would tear himself and his horse apart. He thought he had to untie the ropes tethering the tree so his horse could escape in the event of an attack. But in this snowy weather, his horse didn’t have much chance in front of six wolves.

Yet sixteen-year-old he didn’t want to believe he was going to die with his horse for a jacket. He took the axe hanging on the horse and took a few steps towards the side where the wolves were lying. He made meaningless noises and started shouting so that the wolves might drum up their interest. And even though the wolves cocked an ear, they didn’t move from where they were.

Irfan leaned the axe on his shoulder like a rifle, turned it towards the wolves and made sounds similar to the gun explosion. He, himself, was spooked by the echo of the sound, and the wolves were not leaving the passageway. Rüzgar got more uneasy, lifting the front feet up to the air and trying to get rid of the load on his back. This unresponsiveness and determination in the wolves has further amplified the fear. He’s never felt so helpless, Irfan. He desperately let his hands drop to his sides, thinking the wolves could attack at any moment. Meanwhile, a bulge from the parka’s right pocket was touching his hand. When he dipped his hand in his pocket, he found the slingshot his father made from the branch of a mulberry tree two years ago. Irfan was more of a master than his peers in using slingshots. Every time they shot at an old pot cover with children gathered in front of the school in the summer evenings, Irfan would win. When everywhere’s covered in snow, he couldn’t see a stone to throw with the slingshot. After looking around further for a while, he remembered the pine cones in the bag. He took one of the cones and took aim at the head of the big wolf with long grey feathers, which had a big head and looked like the leader of the herd. But he didn’t feel his fingers from the cold, and adding the effect of fear, he stretched the slingshot with a shaking hand. The cone that buzzed in the air went right under the nose of the big wolf and got stuck in the snow. The big wolf pricked up its ears, opened its nostrils wide and smelled the place. He shoved his nose where the cone got stuck and opened a crater-like hollow on the snow, and sprayed the snow into the air with its breath. Irfan, with the other cone in his hand, took aim at the top point of the tall pine tree, with its branches widened like a hand fan and covered with snow, under which the wolf pack was lying. He stretched the slingshot with all his strength, and left it all at once and calmly. The pine cone again made a buzzing sound in the air and hit the grand pine with a big noise. The pine was shaken like a giant awakened from his sleep. Snow from the upper branches caused snow in all branches to fall with noise, like a domino effect. The bodies of wolves lying under the pine were largely covered in snow. The wolves who were lying until then, all of them, rushed into the air in a panic. Meanwhile, a pair of shepherd dogs barking were heard from the village side of the passageway. The big wolf, the leader of the herd, shook off the snow that had accumulated on it and ran rapidly into the forest, followed by other wolves. Irfan took a deep breath, waited for a while, pulled the rope of his horse and left the passageway. Irfan, who did not feel his ears and fingertips from the cold, looked at the lights leaking in the remote hills and heaved a sigh imagining that it would be nice to be there in these houses next to a hot stove.

Irfan and Rüzgar, at the end of two hours, when they arrived in the town, the street lights were still on. He reached the sawmill on the edge of the river and unloaded his horse. Rüzgar, foaming at the mouth, which got rid of the weight on its back, licked the sweat for a long time and nipped itself hard. While Irfan was collecting the rope that he had used to wrap the tree, the owner of the sawmill came to the workshop. The sawyer measured the length and diameter of the tree with the scale in his hand. He made a quick calculation and said that he would pay 80 Turkish Liras for the tree. Irfan felt that all his fatigue was gone, when he thought that with this money he could buy the jacket, which was 70 Turkish Liras. He ripped off half of his flat-bread wrap in his food bag and devoured it.

He tied his horse to the sawmill and went to the draper Ali’s shop. He asked for the black jacket with brown stripes in the window. As he watched the close-fitting jacket in the mirror for a while, he got impatient, thinking of returning to the village and telling his friends about the dangerous journey he had and showing off his jacket. With the remaining money, he bought her mother a black shalwar fabric with red poppies on it. He returned to the sawmill, mounted Rüzgar, which was finally rested and recovered, and made his way to the village, galloping from the main road. Just outside the town, where he stopped by the spring to water his horse, he encountered three foresters who were wearing green parka and bright starred hats and walking in overweight pants as if to tear at any moment. He had already seen them at the village coffee before and he didn’t neglect to salute them this time

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