Hot Is Good

“It’s very cold,” said one of them.

“It was cold yesterday, too,” said another.

“Not as cold as today,” said the first.

They were walking along, holding their hands over their mouths and noses, then taking them away as if they were holding hidden microphones.

“Where are we going to stay?”

“In the storeroom.”

“Not the storeroom,” said the first youth.

“Why?” the third one wanted to know.

“Someone’s complained about us,” said the first.

The mongrel that was weaving in and out of the legs of the youth holding a carrier bag in his hand, jumped up and placed its paws on his chest, making him stop. The creature, its tongue outside, started gazing into his eyes.

“It’s really cold,” repeated the first youth.

“We’ll find somewhere,” said the second.

“Let’s go into the toilets at the mosque,” said the other boy.

“There are other people sleeping there,” replied the tall one.

As he put his hand near the mongrel’s face, the creature wrinkled its nose and retreated. Then, after turning rapidly round and round several times, it again started gazing into the eyes of the youth with the carrier bag.

They all laughed together.

“Where did we stay yesterday?” one of them asked.

“By the cash dispenser,” said the other.

“Why don’t we go there?” said the first.

“They’ve mended the door, you can’t get in without a card,” replied the second youth.

He poked the thumb of his right hand through the mouth of the carrier bag, then, thrusting his left hand inside, took out a piece of bone which he tossed into the air. The mongrel stood up on its hind legs and caught the bone in mid-air. Then it crouched down in the snow in front of the entrance of a block of flats and started gnawing the bone.

“There’s an office block here,” said the first youth.

“There’s a light burning inside,” pointed out the second.

“It’s the cleaner,” replied the first.

“They’ll be going soon,” said the tall one.

“You put in an appearance and then we’ll see what’s what,” said the second boy.

“Take a good look round,” said the third one.

As two of them walked back in the direction they had come, the youngest one began to walk towards the office block. Passing in front of it, he slowed down and took a good look inside. Then, after taking a few more steps he crossed the road and walked back again in the same direction, slowing right down to take another look inside the building from where he loitered. They met a bit further down the street.

“One man,” said the youngest boy.

“What’s he doing?” asked the second youth.

“He was going upstairs,” said the first.

“Was the door shut?” asked the tall one.

“It was ajar,” replied the first youth.

“The light has gone off on the top floor!” exclaimed the second youth, pointing with his finger.

“That means he’s gone up there to switch off the lights,” said the first.

“Quick! Get inside!” said the tall one.

They raced over to the door of the building, crept in quietly and made their way downstairs.

“It’s very dark,” whispered the first youth.

“Don’t make a noise!” said the tall one.

“I can’t see a thing,” said the second youth.

“There’s a light on down there,” noted the youngest boy.

“Downstairs quick!” urged the tall youth.

“Woof! Woof!” said the mongrel.

The tall youth put his hand over the dog’s mouth and they went down into the basement, which was dimly illuminated by a single bulb hanging from the ceiling.

“This is the coal cellar!” said the first boy.

“The boiler room,” remarked the second.

“Shut up!” said the third.

The sound of the iron door of the office block closing, followed by the grating of a key turning in the lock, came from the floor above.

“He’s gone!” said one of the boys.

“It’s nice and warm here,” said the youngest one.

“The fire in the boiler will go out soon,” said the tall one.

Putting down his plastic carrier bag on the floor, he opened the door of the boiler. Then, picking up a shovel which was leaning against the wall he poked at the embers inside.

“Let’s put some coal on!” said one of the youths.

“Throw in a bit of wood first,” said the second.

“Bring some wood!” commanded the tall one.

While the second of the boys went to find some wood the youngest of them turned an empty tin can upside down and sat down on it. He leant back against the wall.

“We’re here for the night,” said the tall one.

“What’ll we do tomorrow?” asked the youngest boy.

“We’ll come here again,” said the second youth as he put the pieces of wood in his arms down on the floor in front of the boiler.

The tall one carefully placed the pieces of wood inside the boiler and shut the door. The mongrel, which was stretched out on the floor, watched the proceedings. The youngest of the boys stood up and removed his shabby jacket. Spreading it on the floor in front of him, he called the dog. The creature ran over to him, lay down on top of the jacket and closed its eyes.

The three of them laughed.

“The wood is burning,” said the second youth.

“Bring some coal!” said the tall one.

“Let the kid bring it!” growled the other one.

“He’s fallen asleep,” replied the tall one, pointing to him.

“It’s the warmth,” said the second youth.

He got up and opened the door of the boiler. “Hot is good,” he murmured, and, after throwing a few shovelfuls of coal into the boiler, sat down again. The second youth, burying his mouth and nose in his hand, which seemed to be holding a microphone, nodded in agreement.

“Why did you leave home?” asked the second youth.

“I don’t remember,” replied the other.

“I was born in prison,” said the second youth.

“Hot is good,” murmured the tall one. Rising to his feet, he threw a few more shovels of coal into the boiler.

“Have you got a mother?” asked the second youth.

“I used to have,” he said. Then he got up and threw a few more shovels of coal into the boiler. Again he murmured, “Hot is good.”

The basement was now illuminated by the light emanating from the blazing boiler and the lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. The youngest boy and the mongrel, tired from a day spent walking in the freezing air, had fallen asleep immediately.

“Isn’t it getting a bit too hot?” the second youth wanted to know.

“Hot is good,” murmured the tall youth in reply, not taking his eyes off the fire inside the boiler and getting up to remove his jacket. Then he threw a few more shovels of coal inside.

“I want to sleep now,” said the second youth.

“Sleep, then,” replied the tall one.

The second youth took off his jacket and spread it on the ground, after which he curled up on top of it and closed his eyes. The tall one, repeating the words “hot is good” went on shovelling coal into the boiler. “The stove at home used to burn like this,” he added. Then, having shut the door of the boiler, he removed a bottle from the carrier bag and poured a quantity of liquid onto a rag in his hand. Finally he buried his nose in it…

“It’s very hot!” muttered the youngest boy from his place on the floor.

He was bothered by the dry heat and, rising to his feet, went out of the boiler house and climbed a few of the stairs leading to the entrance. He went back to sleep there. The second youth murmured something indistinguishable.

“Hot is good,” said the tall one. Picking up the shovel, he threw coal inside the boiler until it was full up and he himself was bathed in sweat. From time to time he put his right hand over his nose and mouth. Closing the door of the boiler with difficulty, he sat down facing it. By now the boiler was beginning to vibrate and was making strange sounds. “Our house was warm,” he said. “Our stove always burned in winter, and I would go to sleep in front of it. I would wake up in my bed in the morning.”

The three of them were sweating and the boiler continued to roar and vibrate. “Hot is good,” he repeated.

First the thermometer on the boiler burst, then the boiler itself.

The bricks which flew in all directions struck the youngest boy and the tall youth in the head. A few pieces embedded themselves in the body of the second one. Nothing could be seen because of the smoke. The smell of burning flesh spread everywhere.

The mongrel somehow made its way over to them, first licking the face of the youngest boy, then the faces of the second youth, and the third. The lips of the tall youth moved slightly to frame the words, “Hot is good.”

The mongrel lay its head on the youth’s left shoulder and gazed into his face – but the animal could not understand what he was saying.

Merih Günay was born in 1969 and continues to live in the city of his birth. Since he embarked on his writing career in 2001, his short stories have been published in a number of national and international magazines. His first book, The Writer of My Shoes, was published in 2004, and his second book, The Seagulls’ Wedding Feast, in 2007. This was followed by publication of a third book, Nothing, in 2008. Sweet Chocolate and Stroll followed in 2019.

The Seagulls’ Wedding Feast, from which this piece is extracted, is a novel consisting of 18,500 characters. It was first published in Turkish in 2007, and in 2008 was awarded the prize of the Turkish Language Association. In 2009, a German translation of this work was published in Vienna by Picus Verlag.

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