Remember how you called me to the kitchen to say goodbye on that Sunday? Yes, that Sunday. I’m still haunted by the slits on your wrists and the two dark puddles pooled on the wooden floor of the kitchen. I was actually playing doctors-and-nurses with my nursery friends at the time, the game grandma had forbidden me to play by slapping me hard across the face a few weeks earlier. I remember thinking it was my fault; when I played that game, something horrible happened.
Honestly, what were you thinking? Perhaps, you weren’t ready to die and were clutching at straws. I’m glad you called me. I needed you alive. But for god’s sake, why did we never talk about what went on. I held my breath every time I saw a stack of tablets by your bedside. Or when you were late and came home drunk. As if you didn’t know that you’d be beaten up for that by your brothers, or worse, by your dad. I hated when you whimpered in the lobby and called in sick to work until the bruises cleared from your face. You plastered your face with bodyaga, that stinky gooey substance we always had in reserve.
All my childhood I feared you’d leave me behind. And eventually you did. Fortunately, alive. Not so fortunately for me, you moved to Latvia with your new husband. I cried for a year and a half that you were away, mostly at nights, because I didn’t want to offend your parents’ feelings. They were good to me (considering their parenting style), but they were not my parents. You left me behind with your mother, the same mother you ran away from…. And when you came back… Well, by then, I’d almost given up. I vowed to never trust that you’ll be by my side when I need you.
Wise move, because you didn’t stay long.
By the age of 18, I decided I didn’t care. I was old enough to be a mother myself now. You had two other kids from your second marriage. So, we didn’t need each other anymore. By then, I’d been judging you for years: why couldn’t you be like my classmates’ mums? Take Tarana. Her mum was a single mum, the only single mum I knew. She adored her daughter and dedicated her whole life to raising her. Why all you thought about was how to get the next husband, each one younger than the one before?
I don’t know what was worse: the fact that the last one was only five years older than me or that he stole my money. Oh, yes, the money. The money I hid in your flat. You denied it all. Yet, I noticed you were buying new clothes and a video player. I thought perhaps he got a job and finally was bringing some money in. Well, I was wrong. We never talk about that money anymore. It’s gone, just like him. I still can’t believe he died at the age of 35…. But back then, I gave you an ultimatum: it’s either my money back or he had to leave. When I found him in your flat again, I walked away. I didn’t look back. For five years. Of course I thought of you every day of those five years. I grieved you, and us, and love. I lived in hell. That relationship… I can write several books about it. Well, from what I gathered, you lived in hell too. Losing a flat and ending up on the streets with two young kids – is there anything worse than that could happen to a mother?
We are strong women though, aren’t we? You picked yourself up, rebuilt your life, and started serving other women. Women like us: those who are beaten up at home, those who are sold into trafficking, those who are helpless and broken. I saw you on tele and scribbled down your number on a napkin. When I called you after five years of absence… you didn’t recognise my voice. Why would you? I was a blast from the past.
I was grateful to have a mum again, so grateful that I think we made a silent pact to never talk about difficult subjects. We treasured each other, and that meant avoiding anything that could break that brittle peace. Life was almost normal: I had a job, bought a flat, brought grandma to live with me right around the corner from you. I didn’t want anything from you, but love. You had different ideas. You expected me to translate your projects and work for your organisation on top of having my two other jobs. When I said no, things started cooling down between us. I started finding black magic in my flat. Time and again I brought those old women to sniff the air out and find those objects in my pillow, under my mattress, buried in front of the flat….
A psychic told me it was you who was behind it. I didn’t want to believe him. But then what choice did I have? You failed me so many times in life. And now you were out to harm me. I couldn’t speak to you about it. I still don’t know who was behind it. So I did one thing I could.
I ran away.
I came to say goodbye for my own sake. I looked at you through your kitchen window, and my heart shattered in pieces. I couldn’t do it. It was easier to disappear. I hid away in England. By then, I was so good at hiding that you thought I was dead. My siblings found me on the internet. It was a torture to listen to their voice message on my office phone and keep a straight face. I was both glad and horrified to be found out. But when I got an e-mail from my sister inviting me to my brother’s wedding, I was torn. How could I walk in and walk out again? Once I was back, surely I’d be sucked into your dramas.
But I did it anyway.
I called grandma and arranged to come to your flat when you all were out. I opened your door and stood behind it dreading your reaction. Bracing myself for shouting, accusations and perhaps even a slap, I didn’t anticipate that your knees would buckle. I pulled you up and we embraced.
The wedding was a blur. There was no time to ask questions or have conversations. I posed for family photos, and walked around the hall as if I’d never left, knowing all too well that the day after I’d disappear again.
Another two years passed.
I got married and wanted to sell my flats. My husband and I came to visit. I forbade him to take his shoes off and sat on your sofa clutching my handbag. What if you slipped in some black magic to ruin one good thing that I finally had in life? The trip went well, and before too long I was back again. I even stayed the night in your flat. We shared the bed, while my sister slept on the sofa. I couldn’t sleep. Wide awake, I was waiting for you to get up and do something horrible. You slept all night long. I watched you breathing in your sleep, apparently peaceful and innocent.
And something gave way inside.
Perhaps it was all that inner work I’d been doing, but that iceberg between us had started to melt away.
It wasn’t too long after that when I called you and said I want to call you ‘mama’. Because even though all my life up until then, I had called you ‘baji’, sister, I wanted you to be my mum.
Oh, and I was wrong at 18. It turned out, we always need a mum. Do you know when I needed you the most? When I was giving birth to my son…. I’d have given anything to hear you in that moment. I couldn’t though. I thought you’d be worrying about me, and may even add to my stress by calling back and asking what’s going on. So, I just cried quietly imagining you holding me by my hand. I cried when I came home after the C-section and there was no one to care for me and my baby (apart from my exhausted husband). I was better prepared after the second birth, but I still cried returning home after another C-section with two young kids to care for….
All my life I ran away in the hope that you’d follow me.
Sadly, you didn’t know the rules of that game. And, it turns out, I didn’t know either.
But it doesn’t matter anymore.
I feel the urgency of time. I don’t want to wake up one day to realise that we’ve never spoken openly again. I don’t want to carry this burden inside any longer. I don’t want to write this after you die (not that you can read this anyway).
So the other night, I asked for your forgiveness. Tears streamed down my face faster than I could wipe them away and my nose was dripping with snot, but god did it feel good to say SORRY. It’s not the hardest word. It can be the best one.
I’m so sorry I’ve hurt you so many times in life. The fact I was hurt myself doesn’t justify my own cruelty. Of course there’s more to this story. And yet carrying it around hasn’t healed me or kept me safe from you. If anything, it made me vulnerable. And not in a good way.
I hope one day, we can sit together sipping strong Turkish coffee you make so well, and talk.