TUESDAY: The Family Dummy

BY MIMI KARABULUT

Copyright is held by the author.

Istanbul
August
Age 7

CARS, SEMI-TRUCKS, and pickups swoosh by us without a care for our crossing. With each minute, we three little ducklings wait behind our teenage cousin, bobbing behind her body to look at the Marmara Sea before us. Her face grows with tension, and in an explosion of frustration she says, “Wait here.” She struts to the middle of the highway in sea-blue heels. Her eyes are slits as she commands a white pickup to screech to a halt with a stop-signed hand. She turns, her face moving from stern to playful and yells, “Run!” We scurry across the highway and run the path to the sea. Ferah sets up our towels and we throw off our clothes and splash into the cool waters, forgetting to thank her.

My father comes to relieve her. They exchange some words in Turkish, many I don’t understand. I move my seashell collecting closer to eavesdrop. Just as I circle closer, she quietly packs her towel to leave.

Baba lays in the hot afternoon sun while Orhan and I race to the ocean. The rule we must follow is: “Never go past where your feet touch.” We swim to a sandbar while Kemal does a mix of a flail and doggie paddle behind us.

Minutes later, the sandbar disappears. Orhan feels for the bottom. In a panic, he screams, “Help!” Nobody but Baba knows English here. We see him lying in the sun with his shirt over his face. Orhan screams again and again but Baba sleeps on.

Kemal cries and latches onto Orhan, pushing him under. Orhan screams, “I can’t . . . breathe” in between gulps of water. He wrestles Kemal off. He’s screaming and Kemal’s sobbing, forgetting how to doggie paddle. Baba always says we’re excellent swimmers, but the sandbar is gone and we can’t touch the bottom and we’re breaking the rules and Baba’s going to be so mad at us and I can’t breathe and I’m sinking to the bottom. I open my eyes to greens and blues and a small crab. I took a good gulp of air, so I sit on the bottom of the sea Indian style like they say at school.

I unbend my legs and thrust up to take a necessary breath. Kemal is struggling onto Orhan, sobbing with a puckered face of red and white tears mixing with the sea’s salt. I relax into a pin, releasing bubbles until I’m peacefully on the bottom. I immerse into the blues and greens and listen to the muffled chaos above. I like the bottom of the sea. I wish I could stay here.

As I come up for air again, Baba has Orhan under his arm. Now Kemal grips my body with his limbs, flipping me in endless backward hamster wheel into the water, swallowing and choking and spinning and I tell him to stand on my shoulders, it’s not that deep, but he can’t hear me because there’s no bottom and we’re breaking the rules and Baba will be so mad at us and we can’t breathe.

Baba picks up Kemal next. I float on my back for air and take a giant breath. I sink to the bottom where I wait for Baba to save me last.

A hand pulls me from the bottom and stuffs me under an arm. Each right-handed stroke forces salt and algae into my mouth. As I finally stand at the shore, I join my brothers coughing and spitting up salt water. Baba beings his lecture.

“Cocuklar, you have to swim where you can touch the sand.”

Orhan angrily says, “We were on the sand — it went away!”

“Orhan, you must listen to me. The sand does not disappear like that. I sailed the seas for 20 years, I know the ocean. You were carried in a —” He takes a moment to remember “current, you were carried away in a current.”

“What’s current mean?” I ask.

“A current is the ocean’s hand. It pulls you far away to play with you. But the ocean is not always a good friend. The ocean can be a bad friend, and today it was bad. We must not play in the water anymore today.”

“But Baba,” I say, “The ocean was a nice friend to me! I saw a crab and it was almost like that one from the mermaid movie we watched.”

“Aptal! That is a movie! This is the real life.”

I am the family dummy.

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