An extract from ‘He Who Hears the Dreams’ (Edition Nautilus, 2019)
by Selim Özdogan
translated from the German by Lina Briks
Keeping distance from people. I thought it would help. It did help, it had helped for years.
And now…I thought she was lying. What kind of story was that? You wouldn’t have believed it either.
I remembered that night. I had already moved away from Westmarkt, there was no blood on my hands but no one got out of there entirely clean.
I was sitting on the tram when Kamber got on. I was really happy when I recognised him, we hadn’t seen each other for ages. It seemed so unlikely to just bump into him like that, it wasn’t like him to take the tram. We hugged each other for a long time and when we let go, my eyes were shiny and his probably were as well. He was on his way to meet Kerim, so we picked up Paster and then went out the four of us, heading to Chronic where they played Dre, Gang Starr, Snoop, Geto Boys, R. Kelly, Wu-Tang. The Slim Shady album had just come out a few months back.
A few drinks, a few joints, a few quick lines, that music… I felt great. Sometime after midnight, Kamber and I were standing in front of the toilets when his Motorola rang. He answered, said yes a few times and then: “I’ll be right there”.
“Business,” he told me. “Gotta go, I’ll see you.”
We hugged each other and once he’d left I started getting off with Ayleen. Ayleen with her squeaky voice and her big bum that she moved to the music. At the end of the night we took off each other’s clothes on my bed.
I can’t remember saying goodbye, or exchanging numbers. I hadn’t spoken to her for seventeen years, just heard about her every now and again. I was gone. Far, far gone in the same city.
And then she called and told me that we had a son. That until recently she’d thought her husband was his father.
Of course I didn’t believe it. You wouldn’t have either. I believed she thought that I had got rich somehow. I thought that she was looking to take advantage in some way. I know where she’s from, of course I didn’t believe her. I believed, somehow, that I would have felt it if I had a son. I was sure he wasn’t mine. Only the test results could convince me otherwise.
Keeping a distance from people. It doesn’t get much closer than having a son, though. A son. There he was, standing opposite me. Black jeans, tight around his legs, Nike T-shirt, a pair of Jordan 33s on his feet, Iriedaily cap. He could hide his insecurity better than I did.
When we shook hands, he reached out in a long, fluid movement from his shoulder as if we were old friends.
“Lesane,” he said.
“Why are we meeting here?”
“I thought we could go in there,” I said, nodding towards the place.
“No idea.” Neutral ground, I thought.
“A café for Blondie grannies? They look like they’re on their way out.”
“Yep. But we aren’t. Let’s go inside.”
When I sat down, I put my hands on the table in front of me. Damn, how long had it been since I was this nervous? Like many times in the past few days, I thought about what I was like at his age. Who was I when Regulate… G Funk Era came out? Illmatic, Tical, Direkt aus Rödelheim, Murder Was the Case, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. I remembered the albums, I remembered the buzz, the hours spent on the pitch, the possibilities I saw in front of me. I remembered how big the world had felt and how big my dreams were. But I also remembered how I would see myself in sad lines like: You don’t see what I see, every day as Warren G, you don’t hear what I hear but it’s so hard to live through these years. How much pain there was in the joy and the possibilities. I remembered how I made money with Kamber so I could buy the latest Jordans, a Spalding, a PlayStation and whatever else had been important back then.
“Strange of your mum to keep it a secret for so long,” I said.
“Seeing she’s trying to teach me not to lie,” he said.
The waiter came, I ordered a coffee and a Coke for Lesane after he had asked for an energy drink.
I didn’t know what to say next. Maybe you never do. For so long I had managed not to get tangled up, and now I was right in the middle of it.
Savaş died when Phantom of the Rapra came out; I was one year older than Lesane is now. Brain tumour. He liked me, he liked me a lot, even if we never talked much to each other. In the early days of his tumour, he was often in a chatty mood, but also unpredictable. It was only in the last few weeks that he got so aggressive. One time we were sitting together in the living room while Kamber wasn’t there.
“My son,” he said, “the Germans are proud of their jobs, they go underground and they’re proud of it. They shovel coal and they are proud of it. […] When I am dead, it is the turn on you.”
I didn’t understand what he meant.
“After me, it is the turn on you to die. You have to go front.”
I was touched but tried to not let it show.
Three months later he was dead. He was buried in Turkey; I didn’t go. Neither did Kamber.
I thought about our conversation and how close we had been. There must be a way to connect with Lesane.
“Are you angry with Ayleen?”
“Because she’s only just told you the truth?”
“Das sind alles Lügen, jeder lügt dich an,” he said.
He didn’t rap to the beat but I recognised the inflection.
“Azad,” I said.
There was a moment of surprise in his eyes.
Hip-hop. He must have been eight when the album came out. Hip-hop is where it all started, that night when we made this boy. That night. Ayleen had told me how her parents broke up when she was six. How she missed her dad. How her mum found a new man who moved in with them and how she kept telling Ayleen: if things don’t work out with Thorsten, it’s your fault. How she hated Thorsten and how guilty she had felt about it.
That night in which Lesane was conceived. Hip-hop, weed, whizz, vodka, regret, longing, confessions, false nostalgia, sweat, sex.
“What else do you listen to?” I asked.
“Haftbefehl, Xatar, SSIO, PA Sports, KMG, Sido’s early stuff, Nazar, Nimo, Vega.“
“Do you rap?”
He shook his head.
This extract is taken from ‘Voices from the Outside: UEA MA Translation Anthology’. The full anthology can be purchased from Egg Box Publishing.