THE DUSTMAN

 

Orhan Kemal

 

The day after losing the job which he had for ten years, Halo the dustman who was a tiny and very wrinkled old man appeared for the first time without his dust-car in the part of the town where he used to work. With the cap which was a part of his official uniform as a dustman pulled low over his ears, with his ill-fitting loose coat, his ragged trousers, his worn-out shoes, he stopped right in the middle of the street.

 

Ten years, ten long years...This district where he came every morning walking slowly alongside his horse had become a part of his being and there was something of him in these streets. He used to knock one by one at every door and as "is there any garbage?" If there was anything to take he would take it and if not he would not get angry with those who made him wait and wait and then said "no, we have no garbage."

 

Many sultry summer and many rainy, stormy, frosty winter he had seen in this part of the town. During one of these winters his wife had died and during another his three sons had left him in the stable of the Municipality and gone forth to earn their bread in foreign parts. They had left him in that ruined stable and forgotten him. But he did not complain of his fate. What terrible yearning he felt now for that stable with its warm smell of horse-dung! Gm(1) whom he had come to love as his own child had been born with his help in that very stable and had grown up there curried by him and under his care.

 

How he loved Gm! Gm was like a human being. Stop you said to her and she stopped, go on you said to her and she went on.Gms mother was Boncuk, Boncuks mother was Mercan, Mercans mother was St(2). But none of these were as wonderful as Gm. Gm was like a human being. When you called her by her name, she stopped, turned and looked. The night of the day when she had sprained her leg, how she had moaned, how the tears had dropped from her beautiful black eyes!

Gm was like a human being.

Suddenly a dreadful idea occured to him: What if the man from Bolu(3) beats Gm!

He frowned, he took off the cap which was part of his official uniform.

Hell beat her! he muttered to himself, he'll surely beat her!

He looked with anger up and down the street. Why didnt these people wake up early? If only they could wake up, if only they could know that Halo had been fired, if only they could go all of them to the President of the Municipal Board and say to him:

What does the man from Bolu know about garbage? The man from Bolu wont even know how to handle a curry-comb. Halo has been our dustman for ten years. He brought up Gm.We refuse to give our garbage to any one but him. It is impossible that we should give our garbage to any one but him. It will have to be Halo. We don't want any one else! If only they could thus protest and if only the President of the Municipal Board could summon up the Director of the Cleaning Department and tell him:

Why did you fire Halo? Halo has been the Dustman of this quarter of the town for ten years. He brought up Gm.The man from Bolu wont even know how to handle a currycomb. Get rid of the man from Bolu and take back Halo. Come on, do it at once!

 

There was hope in his heart. His eyes began to shine. He smiled with his wrinkled face.

Why should this be impossible? The people living in these streets, the people with whose doors, door-knockers, garbage-cans and even with whose cats and dogs he was so familiar, might not, after all, give up Halo easily. There were important people living in this quarter of the town, so important that even the President of the Municipal Board bowed down to them.

You wait and see, he muttered to himself, if the man from Bolu has influential friends so do I!

 

Right then the street-sweeper of the district appeared at the opposite corner. With his long-handled broom he swept the pavement in a cloud of dust. Halo went up to him.

I hope you wont get too tired, he said.

Thank you, Uncle Halo,said the street- sweeper. Where is your dust-car?

Halo shrugged:

They took it away from me.

They took it away from you? Do you mean to say you have been fired?

I have been fired.

So you have been fired?

I have been fired.


 

And whom did they put in your place?

A good for nothing...but you wait and see.

So it is true...Our Ibo had told me about it, but I had not believed him. O poor Uncle Halo!

So Ibo told you about it?

Yes...the poor old thing said Ibo... What a shame, what a pity he said.

Ibo is a good boy, a brave boy.

What are you going to do now?

Are you asking me? Wait and see. God is great.

He looked again at the street.

The people who live here, he said, do you know the people who live in this street? I swear theyll never give their garbage to the man from Bolu. Do you ask me why?... He wont even know how to handle a curry-comb! And do you think the people who live in this part of the town arent aware of it? I know so many important people here...

Somewhere near by, a door opened and closed.

Thats our lawyer, said Halo.

Something stirred in him, a hope, a brilliant light...


 

The Lawyer was a man who had a kind and smiling face and who always spoke softly and pleasantly. In the Bayrams he used to tip people generously. On one occasion he had even offered Halo a gold-tipped cigarette.

Take a good look at that lawyer, said Halo; that lawyer speaks in such a wonderful way that even your President of the Municipal Board, like a well trained dog, respectfully stands on his hind-legs while listening to him.

Is that so, Uncle Halo? asked the street-sweeper; how do these important people learn to speak in such a wonderful way?

Halos eyes shone brightly.

In the school for commanders, he said. Then he took off his cap and like a soldier on parade, he stood stiffly at attention on the sidewalk.

 

The tall, large-shouldered lawyer, was hard and shining like a fres apple. He walked slowly past the dustman and the street-sweeper, he nodded them slightly, but did not ask them what they wanted.

Halo amazed, stood looking after him.

How his shoes creaked! said the street-sweeper.

Halo gave no answer. After all this lawyer was not the only man in this part of the town. Right then another door, opened. Halo waited hopefully for the big fat cotton merchant who came out of it. He again took off his cap and like a soldier on parade, stood stiffly at attention the side-walk. But the merchant too walked past them like the lawyer, without saying anything. He didnt even look at them.

The doors were opened and closed, people went to their business, school-children passed by, but nobody took any notice of Halo.

At last, when the street-sweeper said dont wory, lets hope everything will be all right, and walked away too, Halo lost all hope. For a long time he looked around him with empty eyes, then he sat wearily on the side-walk and took his head between his fists.

 

The sun was high up by now. The windows facing the east were all red. Out of one of the narrow streets appeared a hunch-backed old woman. She had a huge basket in her hand. As she walked on talking to herself, she happened to glance at Halo.

Whats that? she muttered, what has the man done with his dust-car?

She went close to him:

Where is your dust-car?

Halo looked up at the old woman.

I don't have a dust-car, mother, he said, I no longer have a dust-car!

Why? What happened?

They took it away from me, they have fired me.

Why did they fire you ?

In order to give my job to the man who is protected by the Director of the Cleaning Department.

He looked at the old woman with a last glimmer of hope in his eyes.

The old woman squatted on the pavement opposite him.

Yes, she said, the whole trouble lies in this question of favouritism. Havent they fired my poor Sedat in order to give his job to a slut with painted lips? Dont think that I am praising him because he is my grandson, but where can they find a nice intelligent boy like my Sedat nowadays? He doesnt drink, he doesn't smoke, he doesn't go to bad places...And it happened just as my darling boy was expecting a raise in his poor little salary. And I was thinking that as soon as we get the raise we should buy two sacks of coal and keep them for the winter. I guess well have very bad weather this coming winter. You know those terribly cold winter days when the wind begins to blow...


 

Dont I know them, said Halo; my Gm was born in one of these cold days... You remember, the year when they said the telephone wires broke and the earth cracked... But the stable was so warm...If you ask me why, it is because I dont remove the horse-dung. Let it remain where it is.. It keeps the stable so warm...It was at midnight. The mother I mean Boncuk the mother of my Gm... The wisdom of God cannot be questioned... Mares, too,moan like a woman in labour. When I woke up the whole stable was moaning. Outside the snow was knee-high. The storm shook the stable. But the stable was so warm...At last the head of Gm appeared. But you ask poor Boncuk what she went through. Her black eyes were wet with tears and so sad, so sad...

He again took his head between his fists. He seemed even smaller, shrunk in his wide loose uniform.

Gm was like a human being, he said, shaking his head; stop you said to her and she stopped, go on you said to her and she went on.Gm was like a human being. When you spoke to her she understood you. When you called her by her name, she turned


 

and looked at you. Gm wept, she moaned, she laughed.Gm was like a human being...O my poor little one!

He was not even aware that the old woman had gone. Leaning against the side-walk, he got up. All wrinkled, tiny, weary, he slowly walked away from this quarter of the town.

 

Notes:

1 - Silver

2 - Bead, Coral, Willow

3 - A town in Anatolia