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Death Candy

— Mina Hamedi

We had a cat who was sent away across the Bosphorus Strait.

The cat rode the ferry and came back the same night.

My grandmother chuckled in her seat as I walked up to my grandfather’s office.

It was cleaner now, but it still smelled like him. I left my jacket on one of his old, brown leather chairs.

My mother was sorting through the mevlüt candy—matte rocks of white sugar sorted into cone-shaped containers.

Ölü sekeri, she said. Death candy.

It was the seventh year.

My grandmother called on a December afternoon and asked us to take our grandfather to the hospital because he wasn’t feeling well.

My sister and I sat on either side of him in the car. His head was turned towards my sister the entire time; I wasn’t sure he knew I was there too.

I waited beside his bed as my sister filled out paperwork in the hall. I don’t remember what happened after. His nurse ran out of the room screaming, He isn’t breathing, as other nurses and doctors rushed in.

When they wheeled him out, we walked back into the room. Wrappers and plastic from opened syringes and bloodstains were on the floor where the bed used to be.

I didn’t go to the morgue to see him the morning he died, and yet I felt it the second he did. I’d been asleep for exactly forty-five minutes that December night as the 27th became the 28th. Someone frantically rang the doorbell, and I ran downstairs behind my father.

I saw my aunt leaning against the door. My mother crossed her arms, having stopped at the staircase just behind me. I walked back up and into my sister’s room. I didn’t have to say anything.

It was still dark outside as my mother, sister, and I walked past stray dogs, the neighborhood ice cream parlor, and the beautiful house down the street with the broken roof that people tried to renovate after the 1999 earthquake.

The housekeeper opened the door for us, and we walked upstairs together.

We woke my grandmother, and she gathered the robe she’d fallen asleep in across her neck in fists. She took one deep breath.

As the day began, others came to see my grandmother and pay their respects. Neighbors and close friends parked their cars from one end of the street to the other as early morning changed into midday.

Relatives gathered together, drinking tea and coffee, trying to remember a tradition or superstition about death:

When someone passes away, you leave his shoes at the door for another to take them.

My mother told us to light a candle and let it burn to the end.

A family friend told us to go upstairs and turn the lights on in my grandparent’s bedroom.

I pushed stray hairs back under my headscarf as a hand reached out to me. My fingers squeezed together in the chilly morning air under an old man’s strong grip. His palm was rough, but his movements were gentle.

All the women around me were wearing headscarves. They draped the silk around the crowns of their heads down to their shoulders.

I was in the middle of a line, standing in front of a row of chairs and portable heaters. My mother, aunt, and grandmother were to my left and the rest of my family to my right.

I recognized a lady in the distance. She turned her back to a news crew. I had seen them emerge from white vans, cables snaking behind the cameramen and the anchors running up toward the tent.

Cameras flashed; light streaked against the mosque’s wall.

There was a Sufi mystic who dreamed of finding a well in her garden. A monolithic piece of marble had been placed on top of the well mouth.

She lifted the marble. There were steps leading down the well. She descended and saw a beautiful fountain. The water was warm and sweet. She walked out into a garden.

The gravesite of our Prophet, she realized.

She walked further out, and there it was, The Green Dome.

We broke away from the receiving line. My father and uncles pushed through other mourners to lift the wooden coffin and begin the procession.

It was too dark to see anything clearly under the tent.

I would see photographs of the entire scene the next morning when it appeared in every major newspaper in the country.

The headlines were all the same:

Borusan'ın Kurucusu Asım Kocabıyık Hayatını Kaybetti.

Asım Kocabıyık, founder of Borusan, has passed away.

The business world has suffered a painful loss.

The business world.

The photographs were all the same: the men of our family at the front, standing beside the imam, heads bowed, hands together.

The imam wore white.

There was still an hour to go before the noon prayer, zohr. The prayer must begin once the sun is exactly halfway between sunrise and sunset, at the highest point in the sky.

The men shuffled to the front of the courtyard, where hundreds had now gathered. Women stood at the back, long jackets and scarves swaying slightly in the wind.

I saw my father in the crowd. He was also making his way to the front, towering above the others. I knew he wanted to be beside my uncle in front of the coffin.

The smell of smoke whirled through the many arches and domes of the mosque.

My grandfather would soon be carried from this grand complex to the nearby Edirnekapı Cemetery.

Enormous Mediterranean cypress trees grow where the graves are scarce, hiding the markers and gravestones, some of which are raised or leveled with the ground.

My grandfather would be buried in the plot where his brothers and sisters were laid to rest.

The cemetery was called Edirnekapı Martyr’s Cemetery, located right outside the Adrianople Gate, through which Mehmed the Conqueror entered Constantinople.

We passed under the Valens Aqueduct, the water from which was once stored in the Basilica Cistern.

People were gathered behind a row of cypress trees.

The ground was soft and clung to the bottom of my black heels. A smaller crowd formed around the open grave. Several people tried to block the press and their cameras.

My grandfather’s only surviving friend, Mehmet Amca, grabbed my arm and led me near the edge where I saw the body.

He looked small, wrapped, leaving me to imagine where his hands were, and which way his feet faced.

But I stared at the way the cloth wound around his body. How does the earth find room for all the bodies buried here?

The imam recited another prayer and I felt people pushing me.

My mother grabbed my hand from in between the women in black. Her hazel eyes were clouded, vulnerable.

I gathered a handful and it fell, clean and cold, ready to receive my grandfather.

We prayed after the funeral.

We prayed after forty days.

We prayed after fifty-two days.

The Quran says that is when the soul has stopped wandering.

That is when the flesh separates from bone.

People will start coming soon, let’s take the candy to the living room to hand out later, my mother says.

I walk down the landing. My grandmother’s cat runs past me. She nestles between the carnations on the windowsill, her green eyes watching me.

The cat had been wandering the garden the night my grandfather died. We noticed her limp tail, caught her, and took her to the neighborhood vet.

They amputated her tail, and we brought her home to my grandmother a few weeks later. The cat walked around the room then lay on my grandfather’s side of the bed.

The Sufi mystic realized the garden was Medina. She knelt down and sobbed. She prayed.

The existence of a before and an after. To hold the hands of those who were before, and those who are after. That is happiness.

She walked up the stairs of the well, re-sealed its mouth with the marble, and went back to her home.

Now, no one would find out. The ignorant would not stumble upon the path accidentally.

I quickly found a headscarf and settled in an armchair across from my cousins. The imam had arrived, and everyone else was already seated. He tested his microphone.

My youngest cousin, Emir, was staring down at his lap. As the imam’s prayer filled the first floor of my grandmother’s home, Emir’s face reddened, tears began to stream down his cheeks.

I leaned forward in my chair. Silently, we walked up the landing to my grandfather’s office. We sat on the old brown leather chairs until the yearly prayer ended.

His sister and my mother joined us for a few moments. They coaxed him to go with them to the dining room to get something to eat.

I told them I would be there soon.

I walked down the short hallway to the room where we used to play as children. The basket of death candy was beside the door, ready to be handed out to the guests who had come to pay their respects.

I unwound one of the paper containers and grabbed a piece of candy.

I will eat seven, I thought. One for each year.

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