REPUBLIC OF TURKEY MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND TOURISM

I'M STARTING SCHOOL - Ahmet RASİM

I'M STARTING SCHOOL

I had to give my hand to Hodja Effendi by going his home, kissing his hand and taking his good wishes all the time.
I used to see the school building, which was dark gray and high and under which were grocery and herb stores for five or ten times a day. But I hadn't entered it. If I had been told: "Come in", in fact I was not so voluntary to plunge into.

One day I bought, what a greedy I am, some Russian olive or nuts, and when I was eating them I saw Hodja Effendi. I put the nuts in my pocket immediately.

"Hodja Effendi, let me kiss!" I said and stretched my arm to. He gave me his hand and I kissed. But this time he did not release my hand as he usually used to. He used to be more charming when he smiled since he was a pretty man. We walked hand in hand for a few steps. Then he said to me:

"Aren't you starting school, yet"

I remember very clear. I said neither yes nor no. And from that day this situation turned into a habit for me. I don't answer any question that I don't estimate the consequences.
We walked till the school door in this way. "Come on, let's go upstairs. Come and stay for a while, then you may go." said the hodja.

I obeyed. We entered. We were still hand in hand. Steep stairs the light enters through the big windows that are on the right side. When we went up nine or ten steps we entered a large room through a door of which both lives were opened. I saw at first sight: Fifteen or twenty children of my age kneeled down on the cushions in front of narrow tables that are called bookrest. They are reading silently. Among these, Monitor Mumin whom I know well was moving about. The edge of his green turban over his fez was waving. He was wearing a striped cardigan similar to that of Hodja Effendi's that he wears sometimes, but his nape of the neck is wider and in layers. Both edge of his brown mustache come over his short-cut beard. By this way, his thick lips and white big teeth become clear. His face is more smiling than that of Hodja Effendi's.

Hodja Effendi took me until to his seat. All the children are staring at me. The ones who are my playing friends among those are smiling at me.

The Hodja Effendi's seat is opposite the door. It is higher, at the bottom there lain a rather large sheepskin, around it there is pillow. He moved his lower, big table and sit on his divan. He showed the cushion on the right of the table to me and said:

"Sit down there."

I realized immediately. In fact I was young but I was very clever and agile. The Hodja had taken me to school as guest.

After Hodja Effendi had said that and smiled at me again, he called the children in twos and threes in each turn. The ones that had been called came with their books and sat before the hodja's table and read altogether. The ones who read individually followed them. It took long for them to read. I grew impatient at my place.

When they finished, or did we stay more, I did not remember, the hodja stood up. I also stood up. He held my hand. My legs had got numb. We left the school. Our houses were only thirty or forty steps far away. We separated; I went to my house and the Hodja to his.

All of a sudden, the door was opened. My mother was sour-faced. Then she asked harshly:

"Well, where were you?"

She would never beat me in fact, but she intimidated me. I was afraid of her.

"I asked to you, where were you?"

"I was…"

"At that ruins again, weren't you?"

"I swear I wasn't…"

"Shut up! Don't swear. How many times I warned you, let me get you punished…"

"Mommy believe me, the Hodja Effendi took me to…"

The poor woman who spoke harshly than the hodja once, became completely silent as soon as I said the hodja… She slowed down.

"The Hodja Effendi took me to school."

"So that's the case… What did you do at school?"

"Nothing… He made me sit near him… The children came… They read."

"Did you like it?"

Frankly, it would not be true to say no.

"I did. Furthermore, the Hodja Effendi did not beat anyone."

"Why on earth should he beat the one who reads, who keeps quiet? Instead he loves. If you want, I make you start school."

Yes, she said so: "If you want, I make you start school." This sentence echoed inside her with amen voices. May she rest in peace; my black skinned middle-aged wet nurse interfered in this as she interfered in my all affairs.

"If lady said so to me, I would start. The best clothes, fezzes with golden amulet on head, brand new shoes on feet. Book pouches made silver thread… Who doesn't want? I prepare a puffy cushion and a mat. When you sit on your head touches to the ceiling. Everybody says 'may god preserve him from evil!' What's more, the mouth of the one who reads smells sweet. Because every night the angles kiss him while he's sleeping. (She turned to my mother.) Lady is it possible that my son doesn't want? See, I did not read and my face became that black. You want, don't you my son?"
Since I was encouraged by the scene, that there was no beating, clubbing, cuff, slap, I saw I said:

"I want"

My middle-aged wet nurse, stressing the r, said:

"Brravo, my son!"

I think I took courage.

"I mean immediately!"

"Of course immediately! Not this Thursday but next Thursday…"

My mother was happy:

"I hope so…"

First Days At School

In the morning that I would go to school, as soon as I woke up my wet nurse dropped in my room. My face, my hands and my feet were wiped off. I had my eyes on my new clothes and my book bag. I was dressed, and my book bag was hung on my neck.

If they let me, I would go to school on my own. I was very excited, and I was moving about in the house aimlessly, and all together with the creaking sounds of my new boots.
The knocker of our door was knocked. And my heart fluttered at the same time.

To a sound echoing as "Come on! Go to school!" a few more sounds from inside of the house joined: "Come on! Go to school!" I would run. But my wet nurse's black hand grabbed me:

" Will you go without kissing the hand of the lady of the house?"

And she shouted out:

" He is coming!"

I dropped in my mother's room without losing my initial speed. I kissed her hand.

And she also kissed me saying:

" May god give you comprehension and mental alertness!"

I went down stairs. I saw that my wet nurse was also waiting for her turn. I kissed her hand, too. I also kissed Dilfeza's hand. I went out of the door, and I saw the doorkeeper of the school, Tahir Agha. I moved and kissed his hand also.

That's the way it is… You will adjust… If you want to behave more mannerly gradually, you will kiss the hand of whomever you see aged on the road until you arrive at school and have the blessing of them… Because they taught me like that.

Besides Tahir Agha I had a few more new friends. I also joined them. We walked, and we came to school.

It is tragic to be crammed into this building.

What you call school must be a place like a garden, like a field that it is worth your leaving home. My feet that did not lose its strength till the stairs slackened here. They did not move backwards but they did not also want to go forward.

Anyway, we climbed the stairs all together collectively. We entered the class. Monitor Mümin was sitting in his place.
The puffy cushion and the mattress full of big, blonde branches on a blue ground were also beside him.

One more hand kissing.

" Sit down!"

I kneeled on the cushion.

" Take out your book!"

I took it out.

" Did you study for your lesson?"

" I did."

" Read now."

I read before taking out my book:

" Elif."

" Is that all?"

" Hodja Effendi told this only."

" All right."

As the school was getting loaded, the noise was increasing. The shouting of the ones who pronounced "In God's Name" in Arabic was growing more. The noises of the ones who were reading fast as " bab, bat, bach" loudly and the ones who were coming to listen to the lesson as the monitor called were gradually increasing. The class was turning into a mess.

As I was new, I could not look around without getting shy. Even so I could notice. All of the ones that were reading were swinging. Especially swinging of the one seemed very harmonious to me. He kneeled on his cushion with sheepskin on it. With his fingers attached to each other, both of his hands were on his knees. In front of him there was a small table that was collapsible. He fixed his eyes on Koran that he put on the table. And his body was moving forward and backward in harmony of a pendulum. Later on I also got used to such swinging and imitated it.

The noise got out of control. Especially the reading of six or seven children that came together in the same way and in the same pendulum movement was more powerful than all the others. They also tuned their voices as if they were singing a song, and they were reading aggressively. The noise of an irritating song that was composed of the voices that were more shrill and smooth and inharmonious occupied everywhere.

This noise could not find an opportunity to get louder. Right beside me, a thundering sound, a cracking sound that surpassed all the others boomed all of a sudden terrifyingly. Monitor Mumin hit his shiny, short, boxwood stick on the table in front of him with all his might.

"Shut up!", he said.

In a moment silence covered everywhere.

It seemed that he hit the stick at just the right moment. Hodja Effendi entered the class with his tender appearance. Slipping quietly away like a shadow walking, with the silent footsteps of his heelless thin-soled boots he came near his place and sat.

He took off his robe. He gave it to the doorkeeper Tahir Agha coming behind him. He felt about his beard with his soft hands. Suddenly he looked at the corner and called someone. A child that I hadn't seen since I came and that was five or six years older than me rushed out of his place. He went near the Hodja Effendi. After kissing his hand, he kneeled down. He was thin turbaned, and he had a fair complexion. He was wearing an overcoat that was pretty clean and closed up completely.

I was all ears. Hodja Effendi leaned his both elbows against the table, and the head of that little hafiz started to swing in the space between Hodja's both hands. Hodja's right hand was sometimes touching the table slightly. Every time he touches, the child was shaking his head as if he was correcting his mistake. Spontaneously. Then in a moment he was turning back to his former swinging again.

At first I could not understand such reading without any book. Later on I saw many of them that read without any book. I learnt that the blonde child was trying to memorize the Koran.

He must have finished the lesson of that day that he stood up. He took a Koran out of his bosom. He showed something. And then he kissed Hodja Effendi's hand again.

As soon as the child came back to his place, Hodja Effendi fixed his eyes on me. He called me with the movement of his head. Immediately after I grabbed the holder of the Koran, I rushed. For I had seen all the events that took place… I behaved just like the child hafiz. But I wasn't without a book like him. I took out my book. One the one part the papers and on the other part the peacock's feathers that would help me to write. I started to read the first letters.

I had read at home with my wet nurse already. I knew till the letter "dal". Elif, be, te, se, cim… We stopped at the letter cim. My lesson for that day was this much. After the lesson finished, Hodja Effendi turned towards me.

"Your lesson is this much. Did you understand? Tell your mother to buy you a book like the ones at our school. It's a pity for this book; it may be torn. Go and kiss the hand of the monitor, and then go home. You come after lunch."

The monitor… The doorkeeper… After finishing the turn of kissing hands, I rushed to home. Confusion in everybody…

" Why did you come?"

" The Hodja Effendi told so."

" What did he tell?"

" Go home and come after lunch, told he."

My mother started to laugh.

" This is being a guest."

She said so, but could my wet nurse remain still without interfering in my affairs? She interrupted:

" But keep your eyes open. Being a guest lasts three days. If you behave naughtily, you get the bastinado."

The Slap

For three days I took lessons from the Hodja Effendi. I sat on the cushion with the satin covered pouf that was right by the monitor. I returned home one hour earlier than all other children in lunch times and at the afternoon breaks. However, when I came to the school in the morning of the fourth day I could not find my cushion in its usual place. Pointing out to a place far at the back, in front of a window and with a rather harsh expression on his face the monitor said:

"From now on you will sit on there. I will call you."

The school democracy that was disturbed because of me for these three days seemed to be reset by this way. However, this situation turned out to be better for me.

I have told you. Hodja Effendi was a gentle man. But the monitor was rather stern. During those three days I did not see the Hodja giving a flick to anyone. Neither heard him rant and rave. But the monitor was either smacking or hitting with his stick all the time. It was his habit to pull by ear and even more bloodily to scratch ear cartilage.

Those whom Hodja Effendi send from in front of himself by saying "Go and recite your lesson to the monitor" he would grab at once from the ears and after shaking them violently he would give them a heavy slap on the face. Or he would make them open their hands on the desk and hit them till they cried without heeding to their begging, "Please Monitor Effendi, I won't do it again… Ouch! ow!"

One morning he even sent for Tahir Agha. He subjected the thin, little, blond hafiz in turban to the bastinado he had taken down the wall, pronouncing "in God's name."

He hit his bare feet with his shining stick of boxwood shouting, "You did not study, did not recite your memorization, moreover did not perform ablution!"

Monitor Mumin became a "terror" in my eyes with his similar manners, each of which separately caused my heart to miss a bit and affected me deeply. As I told about them to my wet nurse at home she used to say

"If you sit still, don't behave naughtily and study your lessons the monitor won't beat you."

My mother did not care about it.

Our childhood can be described best with the words "whatever you do is bad". You aren't satisfied with dressing-downs, scolds, slaps you get at home? Then don't study and don't stand still at school either and you are getting a beating there as well. It was only the zone between these two places that was safe.

In fact my having been placed in front of the window at school was to my benefit. While sitting next to the monitor I had to look at the book all the time. So I used to get bored very much. Now here I had several fellow cronies. Especially one of them, I think he was called Fevzi, was very found of fine arts at that age. He would find and brought such things like papers and pencils that I would look for at the shops and could not find at all. And then he would sell them to us. I got intimate to him immediately.

Days were passing without any event. I would not sit before the Hodja any more. I would recite to the monitor. And the only literate person at home was Dilfeza. In the mornings and evenings she would help me learn my lessons. Some one or two weeks passed. Now I had finished the alphabet table and moved to another page. I also got used to the school. And as I was among the intelligent, sometimes I would even get impatient while the monitor was teaching.

Oh! I used to like balls… whether they were made of rubber or of leather. Plays with ball were among my favorite entertainments. I used to throw the ball and catch it back; hitting it at the wall and clapping I used to count one, two, three then catch it back.

I was best at the play called "goal post" that was the primitive form of kicking a goal, of which today's footballers are very proud. I would take aim at the goal post and kick. It was another excitement to get into different protection positions in the play called "hit" so as not to be hit by the "it". Hitting the rubber ball to the ground and making it fall on my head was particularly entertaining.

One day my friend Fevzi secretly took something out of his green striped bag for book, which he would always hang on his neck. Then he immediately hid it and made me curious. I begged him earnestly. And he showed me at last. It was a tiny red ball of leather. Such a lovely, such a nice ball it was indeed. Having been sewn in slices, all of them in the same color. It dazzled me.

"Give it to me."

"I won't."

"My brother, I will give it back."

"No."

"I swear I will."

"You'll soil it."

"I swear I won't."

I could not manage to get it. Not at that moment. But due to an absence of mind I achieved my goal. At one point either the Hodja bawled someone out or the monitor hit someone. When Fevzi was engrossed in that I immediately struck at the ball and got it. A High-pitched, sharp voice ready to cry drawled:

"Hodja Effendi… Eeee!"

No sooner than the voice had come out the monitor plant himself right beside us. A slap on my face… moreover the ball was gone. In addition he got the ball torn into pieces with the knife he would sharpen a pencil while sitting on his place.

We did not go pale. As the slap had flushed one side of our faces. Particularly mine was burning fiercely. I hadn't get such a heavy, pain causing slap that far. Sometimes my wet nurse used to be fed up and give me a slap. But compared to that of the monitor's hers was a drop in the bucket.
When I went home at lunchtime my wet nurse realized this at once. It must have been because of my fear that the redness had increased. To my mother:

"My lady one side of this child's face is flushed," she said.

Mommy looked for a while, then having understood she asked:

"Have the monitor hit you?"

No sooner than she said this I broke down. Whereas not a single tear had come down my face at school.

My excitement must have reddened even more that already very red area. I squatted down in front of the cushion. I leaned my head against its edge. I wept and wept.

My mother, my wet nurse, and Dilfeza gathered around me.

First my wet nurse said:

"Come here my son, let me kiss it so that the pain goes away."

She kissed.

After her Dilfeza said:

"Come and see! I have got many things for you. I will cure it immediately."

Suddenly she took me, a big boy at his six or seven, to her arms and carried to her room.

My wet nurse grew even more anxious. She was talking to herself angrily and produced sounds similar to bellowing. And in the meantime she was saying to my mother something like:

"Is he right to hit such a fine boy with his giant hands."

Dilfeza gave me some things in her room. She asked me the entire event that had taken place. I told her.

"I will go now and get one made."

It must have been my mothers order that she fed me and allayed my hunger. Putting a pillow on the cushion she laid me and put me to sleep.

I don't know how many hours passed. Upon opening my eyes I saw Hodja Effendi incanting a spell over me. I jumped up suddenly and kissed his hand. He was stroking me without speaking. From time to time he was running with pressure his thumbs from my temples down back sides of my ears and then again pressing he was running them back.

Guess what! The right part of my neck had started to swell. He incanted a spell over there as well. He said to my wet nurse:
"I will send it immediately. Pour it in half a glass of warm water. Leave it there for about one hour. Then have him drink it. If it isn't gone by tomorrow I will come again and write."

The sadness of the blessed man was apparent from the look on his face. And he warned Dilfeza:

"As you put him to sleep incant the spell I told you over him."

It must have been because of that slap that a gradually increasing sickness appeared in me. I was laying, sleeping, and waking up. I saw sometimes my mother, sometimes my wet nurse, and sometimes Dilfeza with three both large and small red balls in their hands and was falling asleep again.

I suppose that malaria with high fever last for about a week. It was at the times I had started to recover that the steward of our house whom we used to call Black Mother tangled the red sherbet in the green cup around my head. Then she went directly to the garden. Out of the window I saw her pour it at the foot of the mulberry tree.

Dilfeza was saying these about Black Mother to my wet nurse:

"May God preserve her from evil, grand steward knows everything. All those medicines, those amulets were of no use whereas after her third pouring, may God preserve him from evil, he recovered."

When she returned Black mother looked at my face carefully:
"Now say the truth. If you don't I won't take you to bed with me no more. Have you ever pee at the foot of this mulberry tree?"

God knows what a manner I adopted that the three took that as "yes". So Black Mother turned to my mother who had just entered the room:

"Yoo-hoo, my lady… I had said to you. He has done."

"What shall we do now?"

My mother was confused. And Black Mother said decisively:

"It's impossible to live in this house. Once jinns begin to haunt the result won't be good. The slap of the monitor is because of them and nothing else. The poor man has no fault at all. Tomorrow I should give one more sherbet. And then let's look for a house far away from here."

That meant a new school for me.

Ahmet RASİM