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Time to Burn
Apr 1, 1994

Hikmet worked in a bakery. He was a meticulous worker and was concerned about earning honest living. Every evening, he was the last to leave the bakery. It was a large bakery, daily producing thousands of loaves of bread. When its gigantic oven had to be cleaned, it was Hikmet who used to do it.

It was the last day of the Eid, Muslim religious festival. The bakery had to be prepared for the following day. Hikmet went to clean the oven. He was alone in the bakery. He locked the main door, turned the lights on, opened the door of the oven and went in. He planned to return home after his shift. The workers would start the morning shift at about 4 a.m. and turn on the electrical oven to warm it up while they prepared the dough.

Hikmet was absorbed in his work, and hummed a song. At that moment Cengiz, a young worker in the bakery, came in. He had returned to collect his dirty apron. When he unlocked the main door, he was very surprised: ‘Hey, someone has forgotten to turn the lights off,’ he murmured. He took his apron; shut the door of the oven, unaware that Hikmet was inside. He turned the lights off, and went out.

When the lights went off, Hikmet rushed to the door of the oven, but it was locked. He began to shout at the top of his voice. He hit the door again and again, but nothing happened. No one heard him. He shuddered with honor. Then, trying to be calm he looked at his watch. It was 11 p.m. He had about five hours before the oven would he switched on. He felt himself being brought face to face with death. The oven would slowly become hot. First he would sweat. Then he would be gradually suffocated. The temperature would rise. His lipids would melt, and his flesh would be roasted. Probably, he would die of a heart attack before that, or perhaps he would go mad and die laughing. That would he better, he thought.

He remembered the pain on his hands when he had to take the loaves from the oven. Now, he would be baked like one of those loaves. A few days ago he had burned two fingers while cooking. What pain he felt! He kept them under cold water for ten minutes. And now? Not just two fingers, his whole body would burn. He recalled the fire scenes of movies. The thought was unbearable.

He felt it was getting hotter. He wondered who had shut the door and lit the oven. O my God! It was too early. He looked at his watch. It was 1:00 am. Two hours had passed. Two hours had flown. He touched the walls and bars. They were cold. He calmed down a little.

He thought of his family. His wife and son must be worried. He remembered that he had offended her. Shouldn’t he have been kinder and more respectful to her? And his son... He wished he had not beaten him. He beat him after he had unintentionally broken a window. He thought that he would he asked about these.

He wished he had accepted his wife’s offer. She had asked him: ‘Let’s begin to pray together.’

‘When we get old’, he had answered. Would he only be asked about his old age? No, he would be asked about his whole life.

Why didn’t he go to mosque when he heard the call to prayer on the way to the bakery? The muezzin called for the night prayer with a voice coming from the depths of his heart, and announced the supremacy of God and called to salvation. He would have prayed his last salat before his demise, and perhaps God would have forgiven him. ‘What a fool I am’, he groaned. ‘How lucky are those who pray five times a day’, he thought, ‘any prayer could be their last one, and they would be prepared.’

What about his seven year old son? He cared for his food, clothes and health, but not for his heart. Why did he let him watch all the rubbish on TV? Why did he not make him love God and the Prophet, peace be upon him?

He recalled his childhood and youth-day by day. There was nothing left for him except regret and shame. He would be asked of everything he had done. He remembered his marriage and how he had made his parents sorrowful. He was bent double in regret.

An idea came to his mind. He would pray inside the oven. He made tayammum, dry ablution, by putting his hands on the walls and then he began to pray. Who but God could help him now?

For the first time he felt himself really talking to his Lord. For the very first time he understood the meaning of the verses he was reciting: to thank the Lord of the worlds, to trust in Him, to ask for help from Him, to be on the Straight Path and not to go astray.

He prostrated with all his being. He felt and confessed his insignificance saying ‘You are the Exalted, You are the Compassionate!’

After the night pray he began to make up some of the missed ones. He came from Him and was returning to Him. He wished he had not forgotten this return. When he got tired, he sat down, rested for a while and continued to pray.

Cengiz had gone to his house and slept. He woke suddenly. It was 3 o’clock. He had a nightmare. His friend Hikmet was burning in flames in the oven and shouting: ‘Cengiz, Cengiz!’ What a strange dream it was! Then he remembered what he had done that evening. ‘No! It can’t be!’, he screamed. He immediately dressed and rushed outside. He ran and ran. It was 4:45 a.m. when he reached the bakery. The workers had not yet come. He unlocked the door, turned the lights on, opened the door of the oven and shouted: ‘Hikmet!’

There was no answer. He shouted again and again. Hikmet was deep in prayer and weeping. He was startled to hear his name. It must be a dream. Someone was calling him, and the lights were on. He went to the door, saw Cengiz and went outside.

Cengiz screamed as if he had seen a ghost: ‘Who are you?’ Hikmet hesitated when he came to embrace him. ‘What do you mean? Don’t you recognize me? I am Hikmet. I was in the oven cleaning it when someone shut the door.’

‘I don’t believe it. You cannot be Hikmet,’ Cengiz said, Hikmet was perplexed. How could his friend and colleague not recognize him? He saw a mirror, rushed to it and looked at himself. No! This face, this hair was not his. He looked at his wrinkled face and touched his white hair with his hands. He had become old. He was about to be suffocate with his sobs. He couldn’t look at the mirror again. With his hands on his head he stood in silence.