Mother called me in the middle of the night. “Uncle Hikmet passed away, and I didn’t want you to learn from social media.” We talked a little bit, and then she ended the call…
I was never close with Uncle Hikmet. Over the 34 years we shared this earth, we probably spent less than 34 hours together. Yet, he had been a haunting figure in my life.
Giresun is a small city on the northern coast of Turkey. It also happens to be the city where my mother’s family lived. I also spent the majority of my childhood years in Giresun. My parents were young, and they didn’t have any idea about raising a child, so grandfather from my mother’s side took on the job. He would come to Ankara, where we lived, regularly checked on me, and took me with him to Giresun whenever he could. I didn’t understand why at that age, but I loved him, and I loved my grandmother, so I would cherish the time I was with them.
My grandfather was a kind man who understood earthly things. He would spend hours talking to me about life, instilling a reading habit, and encouraging my hobbies. We had a lot of relatives, and he took care of everybody both financially and spiritually. I didn’t know who was who and was enjoying the love and care I got from these older people. I don’t know when I met Uncle Hikmet. He was someone whom everybody talked about behind his back. They would talk about how he messed up and how he was a lost cause.
He was a kind and silent man, but that didn’t stop me from getting scared shitless from this man who dressed up like a beggar and trotted the streets of Giresun with a gnarly log he had been using as a staff.
At that time, and probably even today, mothers and aunts were threatening children to give them away to beggars if they didn’t behave. Having this man, who looked like a beggar in my life, was a constant source of fear.
The first time I understood that he was different was around the time when I just started primary school. Grandmother owned a curtain shop, and she had to visit a client to measure their windows. I don’t know why the workers weren’t there, but grandmother left me on duty to entertain any customers that might visit when she was away. I waited for hours, and the only person who entered from the door was a beggar, or at least that’s what I thought.
“Grandmother isn’t here,” I said.
“It’s ok, Yigit; I will wait.” He said.
That’s when I recognized Uncle Hikmet and felt really dumb. I don’t know if he recognized my mistake or not, but he didn’t show it. That’s the first interaction of ours that I remember. He sat down, and we started to talk. After some small talk, he decided I was worthy of having a conversation and started telling his life story.
He told me that they used to have to pass really tough exams to graduate from high school and people usually failed, so he used to take other people’s exams for money when he was going to middle grade.
He told me that he loved this woman and didn’t marry her because his mother didn’t like her, and the woman died in an accident, and he still loves her.
He told me that he doesn’t value earthly things because they are meaningless.
He told me about the time people from Germany came and bought his childhood project, an automatic hazelnut cleaning machine.
And he told me that he doesn’t talk to people anymore because they are not smart enough. That they value the looks more than they value substance. He said that “people whom I trained to go to university when I was going to middle grade, are now looking at me condescendingly; because I don’t care what I wear.”
He was a kindred soul. Of all the things he told me that day, the only thing I didn’t understand was why he became a deeply religious man. Yet, I was amazed that he learned Arabic by himself, and I was smart enough not to argue about people’s religions.
It was years before I saw him again. He went deeper into the religion and didn’t care about secular thoughts anymore. He concluded that earthly things didn’t deserve his attention, and he shouldn’t pursue earthly goods. He had a retirement wage, and he should be ok living on it.
Grandfather passed away, and then grandmother did. I had no reason to go to Giresun anymore. I didn’t see him, but Uncle Hikmet became a distant reminder of what would happen to me if I didn’t hang on to life. What would happen if I stopped caring…
The last time I saw him was a couple of years ago. He was living in an elderly care facility in Ordu. We learned that he had been hanging out in the hospital cafeteria. He found doctors cool enough people to hang out with. He couldn’t see well because of cataracts, but when we found him, he was solving Sudoku, which the hospital personnel had been saving for him, by putting it really close to his eyes.
We figured out he only had one outfit even though my mother had been sending him clothes all the time. When we inquired, he told us that he had been giving his clothes to poor people because they needed those clothes more. He was smoking cheap cigarettes that are more rat poison than tobacco. He told me that he is ashamed that he still had some earthly habits and should give them up soon.
We learned that he had been giving all his money away and living by the goodwill of people around, who loved to talk to him or liked him. We walked around Ordu and saw people waving at him. He found his place, I thought; at least these people value him in their own way.
We spent a couple of hours with him and made appointments with the dentist for fixing his rotten teeth and the ophthalmologist for eye surgery. We made sure that he got those surgeries.
On our way to Giresun, my mother told stories about his youth, when everybody knew that he was the smartest guy in town and thought that he was destined to do great things.
Life happened, and he gave up everything except cigarettes. He was never gluttonous, but that didn’t stop him from dying of stomach bleeding. Maybe all that rat poison he had been smoking weakened the stomach he rarely filled. I hope that he is with my grandmother and grandfather, whom he called his real parents.
I remember him saying, “I hate myself because I live and they died. They deserved to live, and I am ready to die.”
I am sad that he, a giant brain with amazing possibilities, passed away, silently, without making a mark…
Let this be a small mark.