Golden Horn by Moujan Ardani
Updated: Jan 25, 2021
I don’t get along so great with dogs, not that I haven’t been able to get close to them – just that they are as unbearable as toddlers. I would feel exasperated when they began to run around me in circles, licking parts of my body with their sloppy tongues, or right after their owner exclaims, “Look, you are already friends.” while I’m given a toy or a bone to throw for the dog.
I always thought I was able to throw it somewhere the dog couldn’t find, but it was just wishful thinking. In the blink of an eye, the dog grabbed me and begged me to throw it again and again so that it could go and bring the thrown object back, holding it between its jaws, to receive our praise. Pointless act!
However, I accepted all of these fooleries when I became a dog walker; I was an undertaker accustomed to death. I took three or four dogs out everyday, sometimes five to six dogs, sometimes in multiple groups. I had no other option to find the money for the journey which had begun a month ago, and no one knew how long it would continue. I couldn’t find any other way to make money in a city where no one knew my language.
As a dog walker you need not communicate with people. The dog owners would just repeat a few rules, such as not to let the dog walk ahead. I hadn’t speake to anyone, I was just like a puppeteer who merely makes puppets perform. A silent show in which no one would talk, that was all barking.
Sometimes I felt that those dogs were walking me. I was the one who held the leash, as it was attached to the collars on their necks, but they were the ones that dragged me wherever they wanted. I was always afraid that one owner would see me and think I was the one tethered to the dogs, that I was ruining their many years of training.
But I had no other choice, the strength of my hands was not as strong, and they were strange creatures. Just as the leash was attached to their collars, their power and desire to reach unknown things multiplied. When they were in groups things got worse, when one of them slowed down or refused to come, or stopped to raise its leg to urinate, for which they had a special ritual. I had to wait until they shook their bodies and then agreed to continue, and all this happened while the other dogs were struggling to run off.
Though, all of this was nothing compared to being obliged to bend over to take their waste off the ground. The first time, a black dog, whose body was bigger than the rest, stood up, doing what he had to do, and I had to clean the ground. The poop was a little lighter than its body color, first glancing around so I might claim that it belonged to someone else's dog, but I couldn't. No other dog was around.
I took out one of the plastic bags I had in my pocket, and then, as I had to smile at the older woman I saw in the park every day, I knelt down and grabbed that waste and held it in my hand for a few moments. I didn't know what to do with it, I felt its heat was raising my body temperature too, but then I felt I was freezing. It made me want to puke; I cursed and lashed out at the dog.
I was living in Merve and Kemal's apartment then, they were the only ones I knew in Istanbul. I shared just a couch with them. I remember that when I went back I washed my hands many times but still felt the smell. It had penetrated my body. I didn't want to see that dog again, but I had to, the owner made a generous offer.
Among the others, he was the strangest. His skin looked like leather, shining in the sun, with ears that stood up straight. The dog always seemed to be on the lookout. However, his distinctive feature was the marking on his forehead. It looked as if a horn was supposed to grow on his forehead, but it turned into a flat horizontal line on his face. A horn doesn’t suit dogs, it’s bizarre.
His name was Golden! I always thought how ridiculous it could sound for people who didn't notice the golden line on his forehead, an all-black dog called Golden. It was like when a family wanted a girl but got a boy. For a while they would not cut the child's hair, hang colored clasps on his head, and dress him in girlish clothing.
Though this all changed when you were in front of that dog. That golden marking explained his name. He was an expensive and purebred dog. He was a muscular Doberman in appearance, but not temperamentally. He barely showed his teeth, nor did he attack strangers and other dogs, you could hardly hear him barking. If he were a human, you could say that he is a loner.
But he caused more trouble than others. The park where I used to walk the dogs had a dog walking trail where I released their chains and let them run until they passed out. The owners expected me to do so. They didn’t mention it directly, but I knew that deep in their hearts, they desired a dog-tired creature that would submissively sit next to them and be stroked. All the dogs joyously played by chasing each other, except Golden. He always sat in corners and watched others. If he was in a good mood, he came up to me, stood on his hind legs, put his claws on my chest and tried to lick my head and face. I didn’t let him do so.
Though he was stronger, heavier and taller than me. He bit me with his teeth; my hands were full of his scratches. The owner said this was some kind of a play biting or it was his way of showing me his compassion. I simply smiled, thinking about that white envelope that she brought every two days. But I knew that there was no such thing as play biting. It made no sense. The bites were real, and so were the wounds.
I remember that teachers always said there was no difference between students. Or a better example, my mother always said that she loved all of her children equally, and she favored my brother and me alike. Though, as a kid, I remember asking my mother, “Whose life would you save if you had to choose one of us? “And she was left mute.
All these things were nothing more than a claim, an indisputable lie. There is no one in the world who could love two things equally. Because there was no scale to calculate love and say that both were equal. Although as a kid, when they asked me how much you love so-and-so in almost every family gathering, I always said three and showed ten with my fingers. This wrong move overjoyed all of them.
Now, when I think of those dogs, I can only say that neither of them were equal to me. I loved one just a little bit, the other a lot more. And I needed no calculation to admit that I had a strong dislike for that black dog, the dog with which I had to spend most of my time. Every day, I had to pick him up at four o'clock to walk him around by seven o'clock. It was a while since his owner wanted me to walk him separately.
Walking in the park together, I sometimes felt he was mirroring my actions; namely when I turned my head to the left or the right, or the way I walked. The playground was the only place where he stopped imitating me. I ran so that he would run too, but he went on walking slowly or sometimes he stood and stared at me, his eyes seemed to tell me how ridiculous the game was.
Some days we sat by the sea together and filled all those hours just like that. I rested on the rocky shore, reading a book, and he gazed at the sea in astonishment. I couldn’t figure out why I hated him so much, perhaps because he didn't let me feel alone. And I was there to be alone. The other dogs went their own way and came to me every now and then. They barked and wanted to be petted, then pursued their own games. But this one somehow seemed to say, “I am like you.”
Maybe he was; he couldn’t accomplish what the others expected of him, he could never make a guard dog. Many were terrified by simply seeing his mouth, which only opened to yawn; some people turned back, mothers took their babies' hands and pulled them away, but Golden only glimpsed at them and then stared at the sea again.
One of those days, I was to visit Merve and Kemal in that park. It was a holiday, but dog walking gave me no days off. They came there to spend time with me. Kemal, Merve's brother, was my friend. I got to know him first, and then he asked me to see his sister on a long walk.
At first glance, Merve was a girl with colorful hair that was too long, floral dresses that I would never wear. But she looked cute on these dresses, it seemed that the colors were absorbed into her skin; her skin was like a canvas that the pigments had penetrated, its textile, not a collage in which everything seemed derivative and coerced.
That day, the siblings were lying on grass; I waved my hands toward them, with Golden beside me. The closer I got to them, the more restless the dog became. He pulled the rope, breathed heavily with his mouth open and his tongue lolling out. Kemal got up and came toward us; he began to bark at him and drool. I had never seen him like that before.
I tried to calm him down, but I failed. Kemal sat down on his knees, gazed into his face, then rested his hand on that golden line, and after a few seconds, the dog relaxed. The three of us went toward Merve and then lied down on the grass. Golden sat somewhere behind us where you could still see the sea.
It was mid-autumn, the wind coming from the Sea of Marmara was no longer so warm and humid enough to make its way into your body molecules and then turn into drops sitting on your skin. Instead, the chill wind hit your face. The shiver, running up my spine, made me feel numb, I didn’t feel like moving.
I stared into the sky, listening to the siblings whispering in Turkish. I didn’t know a word of Turkish, but I had learned to feel it. I could guess whether they were talking about the past or the future by their breathing sounds and the fluctuations in their vocal tone. The past made them speak with lengthened or drawn-out vowels. They drawled every word and breathed more profoundly or perhaps more pressure came out of their lungs.
But the future, as it hadn’t come yet, excited them, or sometimes frightened them or blocked their airways for breathing. I had not yet found the code for the present. People were less likely to talk about the present, past or future happenings are more important. As if the sole purpose of the present tense was to exist so that the past and the future could stand back and forth. I was like a newly blind person there; I had to touch the word to understand them. But I wasn’t experienced enough to differentiate a sharp blade from a shard.
It was fun, especially when I was alone among their friends who all spoke Turkish together. Sometimes, though, I was frustrated, like the day when the wind kept erasing all the signs I had flagged and I couldn't guess what they were saying until the sound of Kemal went up a bit, then he stood up and sat down, pointed to Merve's leg and snapped something.
Then he went toward the dog and petted him. Golden remained indifferent. He was still gazing at the sea. “Is he always like that?” Kemal asked me. “Almost always,” I nodded. He shrugged his shoulder, then said goodbye and walked away. The wind had become less intense. The sun was going down; Merve stretched her body and sat, and I did the same.
The sun rays had fallen on her face and now her brown eyes looked reddish. “What did he say?” I asked. “What does he have to say? Nonsense, the same old things about my leg,” she said with laughter, “He says it needs surgery, and he thinks I don't know it myself. He thinks the doctor hasn't said it a thousand times.”
Merve went lame; her leg was broken in a car accident. She had undergone several surgeries, but they weren't effective. It required a metal implant to substitute the unrepairable fracture so she could walk flawlessly. She pretended she didn't care about not being able to walk like the rest of the people, saying it was just a small thing, just like going bald or having facial moles, but I had noticed how she looked at the running girls or how she stared at dancers’ legs.
But she would always gather herself immediately and make a gesture of indifference. Sometimes she couldn't fall asleep at night due to leg pain and would sneak into the kitchen to sit on the floor to cool off, saying the pain was hot and had a burning sensation.
The sofa I slept on was close to the kitchen. I had caught her red-handed many times. Then we both sat on that cold floor and talked until morning, telling her things I had never shared with anyone. She spoke English better than anyone I had ever seen there, and I felt lucky for being with her. Though language and words were of no importance those nights. We used to talk for hours, without having to ask the meaning of a word.
We talked freely without worrying about being humiliated, due to bumbling. It was my first experience of a deep friendship with that girl. I always wanted to have a same-gender friendship, but I was scared. Whenever I tried to get close to them, I was hit with invisible bubbles that were around them and made me move farther and farther away. But this one was different; there was something hidden in her face, voice or behavior that dared me to go for a new adventure, say the unsaid words.
One day, the first week that I stayed with them, we were walking around their neighborhood; and walked past a fruit store. I saw her stealthily picking some oranges in the pockets of her loose dress and then as if she had done nothing wrong, continued talking again. When we got a little farther away, she peeled the oranges one by one and then offered one to me. And we ate them all together, though I was scared to death and looked over my shoulder all the time.
Merve laughed out loud and said I was too scared. I really was. The other day, she stole a book from a mega-bookstore. I was so fearful that my fear caused me to tremble. I paused for a moment when I heard the alarm sounding as we walked out the door. Not until Merve grasped my hand and pulled me towards her did I notice that that sound was only in my head, without an external source.
On the way, she told me she really wanted this book, but it was grossly overpriced, so she had no choice. I couldn’t understand, it was strange to me. But a couple of weeks later, when we were passing by the same fruit store, I did the same thing — I was like a kid trying to prove herself to her peers. I didn't have the courage to steal something as big as an orange, so I shoplifted some tangerines and walked away as quickly as possible, and then I just realized I had left Merve behind, so I turned back and saw her walking lamely, smiling. I went back toward her too, but I was so keyed up that the tangerines rolled out of my hand, disappearing down a manhole. I stood still, watching them. I didn't even have the chance to taste them.
Now the tangerine scent was driving me crazy. Merve was peeling one, and then pulled out a slice, pointed to Golden and said, “Give it to him.” I said, “it might be harmful to him, don’t bother“. Then I saw it tossed towards the dog. It hit him on the back, which made him turn his back to us. The sun was going down; its rays had fallen straight on his forehead, that golden line had taken on a magical appearance. It looked like a source of light emanating and seemed to be a fragment apart from the rest of his body.
Merve threw another slice at him; the dog smelled it, and then tasted it on the tip of his tongue but didn’t eat it. A bit later, Golden gazed at Merve, approached and stood before her. They stared at each other for a few moments. The world had stopped. I was afraid I wanted to take Golden away, but then the dog bent down and put his head on Merve's leg: the lame one.
On the way back home, as I was walking beside the animal to hand it over to its owner, that image was constantly before my eyes. Then I thought about Merve's leg, if I walked around more dogs, maybe I could help her with the operation costs. I began to work in the morning hours too, I dealt with so many dogs in a single day that I sometimes imagined myself as a dog.
I spent more time with dogs than with humans. I learned the knack to deal with any kind of dog; the jealous dog should get my exclusive attention, the unspayed dog should be kept separate, which meant sacrificing myself. One was allergic to big dogs and attacked them, the other kept howling to be pet. But the most bizarre dog was Golden; he was out of character and always left me in a daze.
One of those days when we sat in our accustomed spot by the sea, I took my eyes off the book for a second, and he was not there. I looked for him everywhere, even went to the dog trail, but he wasn't there. My body was freezing, I started sweating. I went back to the first spot, looked down at the rock where we always sat, there was no beach, there was all rock.
All at once I saw an image of him drowning in the sea, but dogs knew how to swim. A dark thing met my eyes. It was him, staring out to sea on the rocky coast. I called him, turned his head but headed back to the sea again. What would a dog seek from an endless horizon. Why wasn't he fed up with it. No matter how many times I called his name, he refused to acknowledge my presence.
Finally, the sound of the thunderstorm triggered him. The rain had fallen by the time he was at my side. It rained for a week straight. The heavy rain made my business stagnant. No one wanted their dogs out of the house in such rain.
The pain of Merve's leg got even worse, the cold kitchen floor no longer worked. But our nightlife was not abandoned. Now Kemal, who had been jobless for a few days, joined us at night. Sometimes if we got bored, we rose from the ground and stared at railways through a small window to bet on their arrival time. Three days after the beginning of torrential rain Golden's owner asked me to walk the dog. The owner was a bizarre woman - as bizarre as the dog.
There was apparently no emotional bond between them. Was it possible? Dogs were supposed to adore their owner, but every time I returned the dog back to his home, he didn’t even greet her, jumping, his tail wagging. And the woman never pet the dog on top of the head. She used to open the door halfway, limiting herself by watching the dog from top to toe, and stood aside so that the dog would enter its home. Then she would arrange the next appointment with me.
The park was desolate. The dog and I oddly seemed like two lovers, walking under the rain was one quality of our love. Yet I still couldn't develop any feelings for him. He didn’t look as proud and grandiose under the rain. His skin was not shiny anymore, and that golden horn turned brownish. Nothing was like it was before during those rainy days, even the sea. The fog had covered the whole surface and you could only hear waves. Golden and I walked from one end of the park to the other twice or three times daily.
Sometimes, we went to the playground. There was another dog walker who was out to walk a small dog. He always smiled at us, even that little doggy seemed to have a smile on his face but Golden and I took no notice of them. Golden looked for the sea, which he could not see but could smell; and I just wanted to pass the time.
One of those days when we were both walking slowly, Golden began to run at once, the rope slipped out of my hand. The dog was running nonstop, so I went after him. I saw him go through a row of trees behind the playground, there was nothing but a tangerine, and the dog was licking it. I kicked the tangerine away from him. I was only a step away from the leash, so I bent over to grab it, but someone grabbed me from behind.
After a lot of struggling, I could turn my head; there was a man much larger than me, he had worn all black, and he had even covered his face. When I turned around to see Golden, I saw another man with just the same appearance just a little smaller. I was struggling to pull my wrists out of his hands, but I felt my bones would crumble at any moment, and even heard the crunching sound in my ears.
I called Golden several times, but he ignored me. He was there sitting up on his legs and looking at the man. I kicked him with all my power, then I opened my mouth to yell but no sound came out, he put his hand over my mouth to quiet me. I didn't know what they wanted, they said nothing. Then the other man kneeled down next to the dog, stroked that golden horn and then lifted the rope from the ground and stood, Golden stood on hind legs too.
I bit the man as hard as I could, and I shook myself out of his grip and attacked the other one, and I grasped the hand that tightly held the rope, I didn't know how I was capable of hitting them. I tried to pull Golden back to my side, but the animal stepped away as if he liked being a witness. Then the man cradled my hand and pushed me back and gazed into my face. For a moment I realized I knew those eyes, and my legs became numb.
The other one punched me in the back and knocked me to the ground in revenge. The rain got heavier. Lying down, drowned in the mud, I saw them leaving. The dog stood there, struck dumb. I tried to stand up but couldn't. I should have dragged myself along the ground as if I was paralyzed; I called out to Golden again and again.
I don't know if Golden really turned his head and glanced at me, or it was all my delusion that I had seen that golden horn for the last time. There had been many times on that trip I wanted to burst into tears, but I had always controlled myself. Then, as I was crawling on the ground, I became alert to the reality, from the sound of my weeping. Perhaps that happy dog walker had also heard something that came up to stand over me.
He helped me to pull myself together; I didn't know how to explain the story. I stood up and looked around dumbly for a few seconds. Then I stroked the pup's head and went my way. I heard that the dog walker kept calling me but, still, two rounds in our daily walk were left, and I had to leave. I had to go all the way alone, without that black body walking next to me, I preferred to walk side by side with him on the way back home, though he wouldn't even look at me if he wasn’t in the mood.
The mud on my head streamed down my face with raindrops. When I reached my destination, I rang the doorbell and sat down on the main staircase. The woman opened the door halfway and waited. When she saw me she came out of the door a little bit. As she was looking at me from a distance, she began to call Golden.
She imagined I was that dog. Then I waved my hands for her. She went back in. I stood up and told her the whole story, word for word. She didn't say anything and slammed the door without waiting for the dog to go inside. I stood behind the door for a few seconds. I heard the woman scream several times and then there was no sound. I have gone into the details of what happened many times. I have kept thinking, I could have risen and run after the two men and asked a passersby to aid me, but I didn't. Perhaps those eyes bewitched me! Several times I asked myself whether they knocked me to the ground, or if I faked falling down.
After that, I walked no dogs again, not that I wouldn't, but no one ever trusted me to leave their dogs to me. I was super lucky that the owner saw me wrecked that day and believed what I said, that the police only asked a few questions and then let me go, that the dog walker found me there in that situation.
Sometimes I dreamed about those dogs; I was lying on the ground and they were licking my head and face. People circled around and watched, I screamed and asked for help, but no one cared. My face was always wet after waking up, I didn’t know whether I was sweating, or if it was their saliva on my face.
I never dreamed of Golden, I just once fancied that I saw him in waking mode. Kemal, Merve and I were lounging on the seaside. For a moment I thought a black thing was going up and down in the waves, I got up and called his name a few times. It was a piece of wood, black wood, shining in the sun.
I burst into tears, and then Kemal put his hand on my shoulder. He asked nothing. We merely stared into each other's eye for a moment. Perhaps we had nothing to say. But I decided to ask him the question that never left me in peace. It didn’t matter whether or not he would respond but those words had to come out of my mouth.
But I couldn’t; he seized on the chance and pointed to something at a distance and said: "Do you see that chokepoint there? Its aerial silhouette forms a horn-like shape. It's called the Golden Horn bay; it is fed by two small streams.
"What's the golden for?" I asked, casting a glance upon the sea.
"It comes from the rich yellow light blazing upon the estuary’s waters as the sun sets over the city," Kemal said, staring at the sea.
I turned back and blinked at Merve who was doing postoperative exercises; the replacement surgery was done two or three weeks ago. Now all the pain had disappeared. A surgery scar was the only thing that remained on her leg which might turn out to look like a horn at a distance, glowing in the sunlight.
Moujan Ardani is an Iranian story writer, currently living in Istanbul. After graduation from IT in 2014 she started her career as a writer. She worked as a freelance journalist in Iran for four years and had her stories published in some magazines there. In 2017, one of her stories was awarded in Bahram Sadeghi award which is a prominent literature contest in Iran. Presently, she is working on her short story collection and translating them to English.