Hisht, Hisht!…

I WAS WALKING. The more I walked, the better I started to feel about things. I’d left home with so much anger piled up inside me. Maybe it was the razor blade that made me so angry. Oh yes, certainly. The razor blade! For sure, that’s what got me so mad.

The green of the grass, the blue of the sea, cloudless clear skies . . . Well these, mind you, are things to ponder, certainly. Who on Earth would deny this? Foolishness! What if it rained . . . what if the green grass was purple . . . what if the blue sea was red . . . If that were the case, that would be a thing to worry about, indeed.

I saw a leaf the color of chocolate, a goat the color of green almond. Someone, from behind, called out:


I turned around to check. The still not-so-tall fresh thistles at the edge of the road and the French lavender stared at me with a plum-tasting look. My teeth squeaked. There was no one on the road, not a single soul. I saw the roof of a house, one or two birds flying in the distance, the sea through the leaves. As I continued walking, I heard:

Hisht, hisht!

I wanted to turn around and look. Maybe because I wanted to so much I could not. Well, that could be it. Maybe a bird flew overhead, sounding hisht hisht. Maybe a snake, a tortoise, or a hedgehog passed from behind me. Perhaps there is a certain beetle, sounding like hisht hisht.

Hisht! it said again.

This time, perhaps out of unwillingness, I turned around and looked: I had a slight feeling that someone might be hiding in the bushes.

I knelt down at the edge of the sidewalk. A little in the distance, a donkey was grazing; it too had the color of green almond; its mouth, teeth, ears, neck . . . What a beauty. Grazing. Eating the grass with a sound like crunch crunch crunch. Could it be that I heard this crunch crunch sound as a hisht hisht? A sound quite different from the sound of a donkey biting off grass went:

Hisht hisht hisht!

It happens that sometimes, on your earlobe, a voice that you are very familiar with suddenly calls out your name. Isn’t that possible? Very rarely, though. Maybe it could be that, I thought, a voice that you love, that you remember, from inside your own head, calling out to you, voiceless. Quite a possibility.

All of a sudden a strange yellow fog, with no resemblance to a cloud, covered the sun. A dirty hand culled and pulled a cloth from the green almond back of a donkey. It dressed the donkey with the usual ash gray color, old threadbare overcoat. I stepped down to the road. Well, I said to myself, he may keep on saying “hisht” as much as he wants . . . whether he is a real, fun-loving friend, or whether there is no one around and it is me, my very self, a madman, whispering “hisht hisht” to my own ear . . . I will not care.

Maybe it’s a bird. Maybe it’s a tortoise. Maybe a hedgehog. Or maybe a fish, a monster, calling out from the sea nearby. Maybe a cormorant. Maybe a mihaliki1 bird.

Or better still, why don’t I, myself, start a “hisht hisht.” Right at that instant, I began murmuring a sound, not at all resembling the hisht hisht sound that was going on . . . a sound, though I wrestled, that would not resemble the sound I had been hearing.

All of a sudden, a man and a woman appeared ahead of me. They asked for the road to Kalpazankaya.2 “You’re right on it,” I replied. It seemed as though the road moved . . . as though they didn’t walk. They became distant to me in a matter of steps. I noticed the priest’s son lying facedown among the sheep. From his face rose a creature, silly and like a freckled rooster. He wiped saliva from his mouth. He grabbed the lamb by its legs. He fell with the lamb. He kissed the lamb on its nose. He stared about with an ugly, silly, jerk-off’s face. Now I was in a flower field. It was, no doubt, some kind of bird that kept saying “hisht hisht” to me. Y’see, there certainly are birds like that. They do not go “chirp chirp”; they go “hisht hisht.” A bird it was, a bird.

A man was spading the ground. He was stepping on the metal of the spade, and was tilling the soil, reddish in color, upside down.

“Hello there, my fellow friend!” he said.

“Ooo! Hello!” I replied.

He became absorbed in his work again. “Hisht hisht,” I went. He paid no attention. I said “hisht” one more time. Still nothing. Faster and faster, “hisht hisht hisht!”

“I beg your pardon,” he said.

“Didn’t say a word,” I said.

He put his little finger into his ear. He scratched. He pulled his finger out and examined it. He pretended to wipe it on the grip of the spade.

“Hisht hisht!” I said.

He lifted his head up to the sky. He gazed at the birds. He gazed at the sea. He turned and gazed suspiciously at me.

“Say, how’re the artichokes coming up this season?” I said.

“Not well,” he replied.

“When are you gonna cut the horsebeans?”

“They need some more time,” he said.

Like breathing air, I said, “hisht.”

And again, he gazed suspiciously at the sea, suspiciously at the sky, suspiciously at myself.

“It must be the birds,” I said.

“I, too, hear a swishing sound,” he said, “but from where? I am hard of hearing these days, in this ear.”

“You should get your ear washed out,” I said, “I too was hard of hearing a while ago . . . ”

“Did you have your ear washed out?”

“No, I did not. There was no need, I saw a doctor. He cleaned it all out, saying it was just dirt.

“How are the kids?” I asked.

“They’re fine,” he said. “It’s down to eight now, used to be nine. Y’know the story with the ninth . . .”

“Oh, don’t tell me,” I said. “Breaks my heart. Goodbye then, may God be with you.”

“So long.”

Just after I walked a few steps away:

Hisht hisht.

This time I got him. It was the gardener. It was him! It was him!

“Now, now, I got you this time!” I said.

“No, I swear,” he said, “I swear I haven’t cut the horsebeans yet. Why would I keep that from you? Don’t I take your money for them?”

“Didn’t you go ‘hisht hisht’?”

“I, too, keep hearing something, but from where?”

Let it come from wherever, it does not matter . . . from the mountains, from the birds, from the sea, from humans, from animals, from grass, from insects, from flowers. From wherever it comes, it doesn’t matter, as long as it is here with us! When no being cries hisht hisht, that is truly bad. As long as it is with us, hurray for the flowers, the insects, human beings —

Hisht hisht!
Hisht hisht!
Hisht hisht!

1A mysterious bird found in this story only.
2A rocky beach at Burgazada, the third largest of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara, off the shore of Istanbul.

This piece, originally published in the September/October 2009 issue of Orion magazine, is part of a joint effort by Orion and Words without Borders. For more information and for other Orion pieces, click here. And click here for the project in Words without Borders.

The renowned Turkish short story writer Sait Faik Abasıyanık (1906–1954), in his surreal story “Hisht, Hisht! . . . ” from his 1954 collection Alemdağ’da Var Bir Yılan (There Is a Snake in Alemdağ), was sounding a wake-up call for the upcoming danger of “silent springs.” Burgazada, an island in the Sea of Marmara, in the ’50s was teeming with life, as indicated by the hisht hisht sound emanating from nature’s diverse beings. But one can never be certain how long this life sound will last.

Translator Ufuk Özdağ is associate professor of American culture and literature at Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey. Özdağ is the author of Edebiyat ve Toprak Etiği: Amerikan Doğa Yazınında Leopold’cu Düşünce (Literature and the Land Ethic: Leopoldian Thought in American Nature Writing) and is currently organizing Turkey’s first ecocriticism conference. She is translating Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac into Turkish.