My Boots Hurt Me
Rana Demir is a nurse with a life so rich with friends and family that she has no desire to travel. Then, there is a shocking government decree that she must destroy her beloved books. She knows she must leave her beloved home. The sturdy brown boots that carry her to Toronto in 2013 are old now, but they are a familiar reminder of home.
I never wanted to go to other countries in my life. My little world was enough for me. I found joy in simple things like meeting my friends and reading books, listening to my favourite radio channel and reading my daily newspaper. These habits gave me a sense of belonging. But somehow, I find myself in Canada on a winter day with my brown boots.
My mind goes back to my life in Turkey, my country. It is a place on fire. I remember moaning sounds of people, chaos, a different tragedy in every corner. I remember looking down at my hands. What is this? I’m tearing up my books with my own hands. Why am I ruining these books that I was so delicately taking care of? But the truth is slapping my face, forcing me to see that everything I have witnessed is not only in my mind. It is real.
Let me tell you why I was tearing up my precious books. In Turkey, it is a crime to keep any publications of Hizmet, a movement I was part of. Newspapers share stories of people who got caught while trying to get rid of those banned publications. The cops look for clues in the books people throw away to detect a name or a fingerprint, which can lead them to the “criminal.” A criminal who is guilty of reading books. When someone is caught, the successful police operation hits the headlines as a national victory.
Whenever I bought a new book, the first thing I did was write my name and the date on the first page. How could I have known this would make me a criminal?
I try cleaning my books to remove my fingerprints, but I decide burning my books is a more practical solution. Then I remember that rising smoke on a summer day makes for suspicious neighbours. I remember friends who got caught that way. But okay, I will risk getting rid of my books by burning them. It creates a barbecue atmosphere as if the smell of paper and the smell of meat are the same. It’s ridiculous, like a tragicomedy. I give up.
In those days, when I woke up in the morning, I used to turn on my radio and listen to the sermons of Fethullah Gülen while I prepared breakfast. But one day my son came to me in a hurry and said that our neighbours could hear the sound of the radio and they would report us. After that day, I started to listen with headphones, but after a while, there was no need because the broadcast was terminated by the government.
As my world shatters, I can only watch with great sadness. I can’t call my soul my own. My bonds of belonging are broken one by one. Everything that looks familiar to me has been cut off as if with a scalpel. I find myself deciding to leave my country. I get winter boots as a final preparation. I like a sturdy, brown boot with laces to keep them from slipping.
The brown of my boots reminds me of the earth we return to, that everything is temporary. When I think there is no chance for my life to be okay, nature feeds my hope, like dry tree branches blossoming in the spring, coming back to life again. I let myself live in the moment. Neither joy nor sorrow can last forever.
This is my third winter in Canada, and my roots are growing more deeply. I wear my boots, but after a while, I feel a sharp pain in my toe. Sometimes it makes me limp. I think I should buy new ones, but I find myself fighting back against this idea. I have included so many foreign things in my life; I don’t want my boots to become one of them. Even though they make my toes hurt, I hope that they will be a souvenir from my own land. As I wear them, they will become old and stretch. My feet will get used to them, and I hope to get rid of the pain.
RANA DEMIR came to Canada in 2018. Before that, she worked as a nurse in Istanbul, Turkey for 13 years. She is now studying to be a medical laboratory technician.