by Ayshe Dengtash
She walked out of the wooden hut, her face smeared with blood and her hands dripping with sticky placenta fluid. She could still hear her mother’s murmurs, and was not entirely sure whether they were resonating into the cold Boltasli night from the open window just then, or whether they were the sounds of pain and fatigue that had emanated from her mother for the last few hours; the sounds having adhered themselves into the inside of her ear.
She thought about her mother holding her breathe while straining; the veins on her temples and neck protruding as if on the verge of near explosion. She could clearly recall the noise of grinding teeth and drawn out sighs; things that made her feel that she’d never be able to speak to her mother again. Her mother’s relentless exasperation fit in perfectly with the way she had described death to her two years ago, when her granddad had passed away with his eyes still open and his tongue hanging out of his mouth, as if to show everyone that he had given up on even the most natural things. “Don’t believe people when they tell you it’s peaceful,” she said. “Everyone is scared of it. And everyone will make it known that they are scared when it is happening. Even those who don’t believe in God will call to him, begging that they be taken away smoothly, hoping that everything would be over sooner rather than later.” And sure, her mother had been calling to God repeatedly, but Fatima could not quite understand what it was that she wanted from him and so she presumed that she, like all the others dying, wanted a peaceful transition from this world to the other. When the whole process was over, and a hairless pale baby had entered this world, she was relieved to see that her mother was still alive, breathing heavily but thanking her over and over again for doing what she had observed her mother do several times when the young women of the village called out loud that they were “ready”. This girl who had pulled the baby out by its spindly slimy legs and held her mother’s hand was twelve-year-old Fatima.
Fatima’s mother, Shengul, was a taxi driver’s daughter. She grew up in a city called Lefkosia, in an apartment that had been built straight after the war to accommodate families that had lost their homes and women who had lost their husbands, the backbones of their families. Women, at the time, found themselves to be widowed very early on in their lives with children of all sizes, too much energy, and a not-so fully formed awareness of the severity of the terror that had taken place around them. Shengul was one of the lucky ones. Her father had managed to make it out of the war alive and in one piece, and although he came back telling stories of how he’d killed mercilessly and fought bravely for his country, thanks to Uncle Behcets’s loose mouth, everyone in their immediate family knew that he’d done none of these things because he was very much overweight and couldn’t bend his fat fingers to hold a fork properly, let alone a weapon. Shengul’s mother was a housewife prior to the war and a mediocre tailor during and after it. She often narrowed down dresses for women who gave up on eating from grief and worry and melted away into walking phantoms with hollow eyes and souls. And so Shengul had been brought up wearing skirts that started long on one side and gradually shortened on the other and trousers that were too wide at the calves and too narrow at the thighs, popping loudly almost every time she sat down. She hated that she had to position her hands over the burst patches of her clothes at awkward angles, her fingers splayed apart and her thumb tucked in, because she wanted boys at school to like her, but they never did in the way she wanted them to. They looked at the uncomfortable positioning of her fingers and immediately thought she was paralysed in both hands, had multiple sclerosis or something, and so they all stayed away from her because marrying a person with disabilities, although not forbidden on paper, was illicit in the minds and hearts of the people of the Boltasli who thought that a line tainted by disabilities was a line tainted forever. And so, she had married Fatima’s father, Mehmed, who was a decade older than her and snorted every time he spoke because of a broken nose—he had been a fiery young lad— that had been neglected and therefore had healed incongruously.
Fatima wiped her hands on her flowery dress, which left behind a pink sludgy streak, and watched her brother, Ali, run towards the house, down the highest hill in the village. She then heard her mother’s exhausted voice telling someone that the worry was over now, that everything would be OK. “We are going to be OK together, you and me. You and me,” she said. Her mother spoke like this sometimes, separated herself from those around her, desired to isolate herself from everyone. She would, for example, say that she was going to go far far away by herself one day, not for good though, she’d tell them, just a few days, just by myself, away from this. Fatima never understood what it was she was trying to get away from. She was happy with her life, her mother tending for her and bringing her all that she needed and more, and her father, whom she didn’t like very much, was home just the right amount, a couple of hours a day when he’d bring her sweet treats: shiny hard sweets of all colours, as well as scrunchies for her hair.
“Where’s mum?” asked Ali, shaking his head to free his eyes from his sweat-infused hair. “She dead or something?”
“What do you mean she’s dead?” blurted Fatima. “Of course she’s not. You know she’s not and you’re always saying things like that.”
The day was coming to an end, the sun peacefully setting behind Ali concealed his features behind a dark shadow. Fatima tilted her head to one side and knit her bushy eyebrows; her way of trying to understand whether he was proud that he’d annoyed her. He always seemed to be saying these things about people, placing them in the realm of the dead. Whenever he saw Musteyde Nene walking slowly in the village all shrivelled and gaunt from old age, he’d say that she should die already as there was no point on living if even a simple thing like walking was so hard. When Fatima and her mother writhed in pain that one week of a month, prodding their pelvic areas firmly with the tips of their fingers, lying in foetal position for hours on end, and drinking all sorts of herbal teas to relieve themselves from the burden that they felt was too much for their bodies to bare, he’d tell them to just kill themselves then if their lives were that bad. Ali always felt that every problem in life could be sorted by death.
“Me and Baba were waiting for you to come and tell us that the baby was born.”
“It is,” said Fatima, rubbing her fingertips against each other and causing small flecks of dried blood to fall from her hands like miniscule rose petals. “You better go let him know.” She inhaled and felt the Boltasli dust stick to the back of her throat. “It’s a girl.”
Ali gave her a solemn look, his eyebrows low almost covering his blue eyes; the kind he usually had when he had nothing to say but knew that he had to fill the silence somehow. Fatima noticed that he was interconnecting his fingers on either hand and rubbing his palms vigorously against each other as if he were cold, but Ali was never cold, even when heavy snow struck Boltasli two years ago for the first time and the water froze in the taps he hadn’t worn socks.
“At least you have a friend now,” he said after a while. “You were always moaning that you had no-one, always complaining that we were too fast for you, but you see you can look after her now, feed her, clean her sloppy shit. I know you’d love that.”
Fatima opened her mouth to say something, but all she managed to blurt out was a couple of sounds; lone vowels that were generally reserved for expressions of agony. Then before she knew it, after laughing out awkwardly, Ali started running back towards the hill.
“I’m gonna let Dad know,” he shouted, his voice bouncing back towards her from the barks of wrangled fig trees, whose branches danced in the warm Cyprus breeze.
There was a story that Fatima was told time and time again, since she was very young, even before she was able to talk, before she was able to walk. Every girl in the village was told this story and it was only the boys and men who told it, while the girls would nod passively, their mothers occasionally disrupting the ongoing speeches to assure their daughters, to listen to what was being said to them, because if they didn’t bad things would happen. They’d fall into bad hands and find themselves in irreversible situations that no one would be able to take them out of because they’d have “dirtied” their bodies and tainted the family name.
This had happened to, Ayesha, her cousin, her mother’s sister’s daughter to be precise. She’d run away in the middle of the night one day, with a guy from the village who was also her father’s brother’s son. When the first rays of the morning sun started making themselves visible behind the olive-tree dotted mountains, and Safiye, her mother, climbed up the two flights of stairs to her bedroom to ask her to help prepare the filling of the pumpkin borek before she set off to school, she noticed that she wasn’t there. Her room was tidy, her bed made, and a cup of water which she normally brought up to her room every night lay on her chipped bed-side table, devoid of the outline of her plump lips. When such a thing transpired, and a girl just happened not to be in bed in the early hours of the morning, a single thing came to the minds of the residents of Boltasli. Everyone knew that they’d have to be a wedding soon, and that nine months later the squeals of a new-born would be heard in every corner of the village, echoing in the fields. And that is, of course, what ensued in the case of Ayesha. She was found in a barn on the outskirts of the village, her legs covered in patches of smudged blood which she had tried to wipe away, sobbing relentlessly, while Mustafa, the boy she’d run away with, tried to comfort her, his arms wrapped around her, his chin resting on her head. They’d been chased away by the village Muhtar, a man in his late fifties with a face the colour of sun-kissed tomatoes, who was both Ayesha’s and Mustafa’s grand-uncle; their father’s father’s brother. Now, this Muhtar was said to be a very close friend of raki, and so most of the time, if not all, he had bad body coordination, throwing his right leg too much to the left, his left too much to the right, always on the verge of falling. So, when the men of the village told their wives, who were making round sourdough loaves in preparation for the approaching cold winter months, that the Muhtar slid off his belt, and managed to swing his belt so consistently that when Mustafa was hit once (in reality the belt barely brushed him as was the intention of the Muhtar) Ayesha was whipped twice, the women said:
“Good. It’s a woman’s job to protect her honour. A man can’t help it when a girl smiles at him like that. How can he say no when a girl leads him on like that? Why should he?”
And the men said: “True. That’s just how man is built, to take all that he is offered. What kind of a man would he be if he didn’t?”
So, when Ayesha and Mustafa reached the village, her head bowed down, his fingers reaching for her fingertips, they were each taken to their own respective houses. Ayesha’s dad, Ahmed, was apparently waiting inside, not daring to go out lest someone verbalised their disgust at the sort of daughter he had raised. When she walked in, some said that he had something between a frown and a smirk on his face; upset about how the people would view him, “the whore’s father” they’d call him “what kind of a man is he if he can’t even control his daughter” they’d blurt to one another whenever they saw him and even when they didn’t. But he was also glad his daughter had chosen to be with his brother’s son. In fact, he’d always hoped that when they reached the height of their puberty and his daughter was ripe enough to be able to give birth to a male heir, that they’d get together somehow. He hadn’t imagined the humiliating events that were taking place right then of course; his thoughts comprised of a bouquet of purple carnations and a box of sweet Turkish delight. He would have acted all coy at first, going as far as saying “no”, because a woman could never be too eager to be handed over. When he heard that his daughter had chosen Mustafa , the villagers said that Ahmed was unable to contain his excitement as the family fortune: the fields of olive and carob trees, the only well in Boltasli with an infinite fill of water, and the small house that their grandfather’s grandfather had built was going to stay in the family. Ayesha and Mustafa were married off in a large wedding in the square of the village a month later, after their fathers had sold their most precious cows to pay for the huge pots of foods that were to be distributed on the day: buttery steaming pilaf, tender lamb seasoned with bay leaf and black pepper, and crispy potatoes with seasonal greens that were drenched in olive oil. Ayesha cried under her veil that day. While most people thought that they were tears of happiness, her younger sister Sirin, whom she confided in afterwards, told her aunt that she was crying because she hadn’t had a Henna night like her friend Nurten who had had hers the previous month.
Fatima did not have to be reminded why this was so because she’d been told so many times about how Henna was only for the pure, the untouched, the ones that did not mingle with the opposite sex before marriage. Fatima thought back to Ayesha and recalled how she’d given birth to a baby boy less than nine-months after the wedding; a baby so hairy one could not tell where his hairline ended and his face began. Ten-months later she bore another baby, this time a daughter, as furry as the first. It was sometime between the birth of the first baby and the conceiving of the second that Mustafa started coming home late, with bruises on his neck so large and brown that it was as if he’d been attacked by leeches. His breath was so heavily infused with alcohol that the baby who was asleep every time he came home would take a single whiff at him and wake the whole village up with painful bursts of shrieks. After the second baby was born, Mustafa would come home less frequently and Cevat, a middle-aged man in the village who worked in the steel factory in a town not too far away told his wife (who’d told Meliha, who’d told Shefika and so forth) that he’d seen him coming out of the brothel, his shirt’s buttons undone and his fly open.
Ayesha left not too long after with a flattened cheekbone and eyes so swollen that she’d reached her parent’s home only by retracing her steps from memory. When she climbed up to the doorstep, unable to see whether anyone was home, she called out first to her father and then to her mother, the latter of whom came out and started beating her own thighs mercilessly when she saw the state of her daughter.
Ayesha listened to her mother sob.
“Don’t do it mum,” she said. “I’m home now. He can’t do this to me anymore. I’m home.”
Her mother ushered her in, gently touching her shoulders for fear that they too were as damaged as her face.
“Husband,” she shouted, “husband! She’s here. Ayesha...he’s done it to her again. Come down and look.”
“It’s OK ma,” said Ayesha, trying to grab her mother’s hand that she kept ruthlessly hitting against her chest. She couldn’t bare the idea of her mother harming herself or even getting slightly upset because of her. “I’m home now mama. We’re all safe, me and the children.” She hugged her mother, placing her chin on her shoulder and inhaling the chemical smell of the commercial detergent she always used. Her face hurt whenever it touched her mother’s warm neck, but she didn’t care. The stairs creaked, and then her son, whom she’d placed down by the front door in a bamboo basket, let out a cry. When the child stopped screeching her father spoke:
“What are you doing here?” Ayesha didn’t know why he was asking this question. Couldn’t he tell by just looking at her? “You need to go back to your husband,” he said.
“I can’t,” said Ayesha. “He’ll kill me this time.”
“We can’t look after you here. You must have done something for him to do this to you. Men don’t just beat their wives for no reason. You ran away with him and you didn’t ask us when you went away all those years ago, and now you want help? You chose him, you have no choice but to put up with him. Especially for your children.”
The men made the rules in Boltasli. No matter how much Ayesha’s mother pleaded with her husband, hitting his chest, slapping her face, and tugging her daughter by the arm, shouting and sobbing that this was “her home too,” that “this was where she belonged not in some monster’s house,” her father could not be persuaded. He stood there, at the foot of the stairs, his arms crossed over his chest, looking ahead of him, as if deliberately trying to avoid their gazes. Ayesha left that day: heartbroken but not surprised. In fact she was a little surprised at herself for taking this step, for thinking that she could go back to a house that she had run away from, for even contemplating that there might have been a possibility that her father would feel sorry for her when he saw the state she was in. This never happened in Boltasli It hadn’t happened when Esma went back to her parent’s house six months ago, nor when Fadime did two years ago. Why would it happen to her? Ayesha walked out of her parent’s house on that particular day, leaving her son behind but taking her daughter with her – wrapped around her back with an old bedsheet – because a female baby was a heavy load in Boltasli. It had several invisible, yet solid weights attached to it: chastity, honour and relentless responsibility. You had to find the time and energy to always have one eye on a female child, to see where they were at all times, whether the wind had blown their skirt too much above their ankle, whether they had changed the style of their hair (this always meant that she had her eye on a young gentleman in the village), whether her eyes were moving too quickly in a crowded space. Male children were simple. They were born, they grew, they chased girls, they reached old age, and then they died. That was it.
Ayesha never returned back to that house that day. A week later she was found inside a shallow well in a barren field not far from the village; her body blemished with deep purple cuts where a knife had been inserted twenty-seven times. She’d fought back, her mother had told everyone. Her middle finger was sliced to near severance and her long nails were filled with the swarthy flesh of her murderer. “She was brave, my girl”, her mother told everyone after the discovery of her daughter’s body, and she continued telling everyone that her daughter had stood up to her killer until the day she died six months ago from complications that arose after she’d broken her hip following a fall in the kitchen of her house. The moral of the story, Fatima was told, was that a daughter should never betray her parents, never cause her father’s head to bow with shame, because fate would turn around and punish her; as was the case with Ayesha. Fatima never understood how this was the moral of the story. How was it fate that had punished Ayesha? Surely it was her father’s fault for not taking care of her, and her husband’s fault for taking a life that only God had sweetly granted her. Fatima thought a lot about these matters, trying to imagine if Ayesha would have still been alive if her father had helped her ,or if she hadn’t run away in the first place, but she decided that if it wasn’t Mustafa it probably would have been somebody else. Most girls ran away with their loved ones in Boltasli. There must have been a reason for why these girls desperately ran away into the arms of those who would later claim their lives. These ideas would churn in her mind, but she would never talk to anyone about them. She didn’t know why.
Fatima wondered if her baby sister would be told this story and whether she’d question the morality of it as she herself had since the day she’d been thrown at the garden wall with the back of her father’s hand when she’d attempted to save her mother from his merciless punches. She never understood how her mother could stay with someone who treated her that way, someone who broke her teeth and pulled out her hair as he dragged her from the sitting room to the kitchen to show her the big pot of soup which she’d added too much chilli to, or the cup she had accidentally chipped. But she knew why she had to stay: because of them, her children, and money and her lack of it. She had no skill and was not even good at cleaning the house, as she tended to only scrub the bits that were visible because she never understood how dust could get to covered places. But when the whole village did their big bayram cleaning once a year, she watched them lift their vases and scrub under them vigorously and she realised that she was wrong; that dust could get under things that hadn’t been moved for months. So, while everyone completed their clean-out by the evening, she would still be moving furniture and dusting and sweeping until the early hours of the morning.
Fatima’s mother never spoke much, and when she did, she only uttered a few words at a time (Yes, no, maybe, maybe not). Fatima would hear her moaning to herself, murmuring that she had had enough and wishing that He (God) take her away soon to the afterlife, which although she wasn’t sure existed, she guessed could not be worse than what she was experiencing then. Her mother was a fair woman with silky blonde hair and big eyes the colour of the morning sea, her father, a stumpy man so brown one would think that he’d been forgotten out in the sun as a child. And these were not his only bad qualities. He was also nearly bald with a few clumps of hair dotting the top of his head like forlorn twigs trying to survive in the desert, and a double chin so large that it hung off his face as if it contained a thousand pebbles. It was as she stood outside in the middle of the front lawn of her home, thinking about all these things that didn’t matter, when Ayesha realised there was an unusual stillness around her; the calm before the storm as some might put it. She ambled towards the door, trying her utmost best to stifle a cough that had started to tickle the back of her throat, so as not to disturb the silence that had suddenly enveloped her surroundings.
“Mother?” she whispered as she extended her head around the crumbling wooden frame of the door. There was no one around. The minder that her mother had given birth in was smeared in blood, some areas splattered with purple lumps resembling chopped liver. The spot where her mother had sat, screaming out the name of the Lord and all her ancestors, bore the marks of her bottom, and a single white sock that Fatima had knit for her baby sibling lay on the concrete ground, sprinkled with crimson blood.
“Mother?” Fatima shouted once more. “You there, mother?” A single drop of water fell from the tap into the stone kitchen sink, disturbing the silence. Then, something caught her eye. There, on the dark-brown wooden table lay a white napkin, the salt-shaker laying on top of it. From where she was standing, she could see that the napkin was covered in what appeared to be black smudges. As she ambled closer they transformed into thick undefined letters written with what looked like coal, thinned and sharpened; the kind that her mother used to draw around her almond-shaped eyes, enhancing her hazel pupils she was so proud of. Fatima picked up the napkin, and gazed down at it, skimming through the writing. There was the word “pain” that caused a constriction in her heart because she knew what had happened. “Mother. Mother,” she shouted again looking around the house, at the spotless kitchen that her mother had cleaned just before giving birth, at the empty spot on the shoe rack behind the door where her mother’s only pair of leather shoes had been, and then back at the bloody minder. She gazed down at the napkin once again and noticed that the sweat of her palm had almost smeared away the last two words.
There’s too much pain. You’ll not understand. You never have. I need to go.
T ke Car.
Fatima read the letter a few times, trying to understand whom her mother was addressing. Who was it that had hurt her? That had made her leave? Had it been her? She tried to think of all the things that she had done wrong for the last few weeks, occasions when her mother had opened her eyes so wide Fatima thought they would pop out any second, roll down the large hill the village was situated on and finally fall into the river at the bottom where they would be carried off to places that she had never been. Her mother never shouted, she preferred gestures, using her body to tell Fatima when she wasn’t happy with her; squinting or glaring, wagging a finger, or pinching her neck so fiercely that white patches would form where the blood ceased to flow. To other people she never showed any emotions. Whether she was angry, upset, or disappointed, she always looked the same: deeply fatigued, slow in her motions as if she was always on the verge of using the last drops of energy her body could generate.
Fatima heard the rhythmic sounds of muddy footsteps resonating from a distance and then gradually getting closer before ceasing near the house. She swung around and saw that it was her brother standing in the doorway. He was breathing heavily, clutching his chest to catch his breath and rocking back and forth. Heel, toe. Heel, toe. Clumps of mud fell from his shoes onto the concrete floor and broke into a thousand pieces. Rain had started to fall, pattering against the aluminium roof of the house and releasing the fresh smell of wet grass.
“Mother’s gone,” she said, shaking the napkin. “She left a note.”
“I know,” Ali said, still panting.
“You’ve seen the note?” asked Fatima. “You couldn’t have seen it. I was here the whole time.”
“Not the note,” said Ali. “Mother... Uncle Cevat caught her trying to run away through the olive grove up there. He ran after her and grabbed her and brought her back to Father.”
Fatima knew that this was far from good. She thought about Ayesha and her dark end, then tried hard not to imagine her mother in the same situation. She tried to convince herself that the situations were different. While Ayesha had run away from her parents, her mother had simply just run away from her husband and her child. While Ayesha was a young girl, her mother was a grown woman.
“What’s going to happen to her?” asked Fatima. She looked at his face and couldn’t help but notice the bulge of purple vein on his right temple. “Is she going to be....”
“Shut up,” said Ali, walking towards the kitchen. He picked up an empty glass bottle from the clutter of many next to the rickety oven, placed it in the sink and opened the tap. He turned around and yanked his trousers up from the waist as the water overflowed the bottle and loudly drained into the sinkhole. “Let me know if you want something,” he said whilst removing the cork from the blue olive oil dispenser and jamming it into the bottle that was now filled with foamy water.
“Where you going?” she said.
“The neighbour,” said Ali, but Fatima knew that he was lying because his left eye was twitching, which meant that he wasn’t telling the truth.
“You’re not going to the neighbour,” said Fatima. “Tell me where you’re going.” Ali grabbed the bottle and strode out of the kitchen towards the front door and Fatima followed, but once he had reached the outside, he started sprinting and she couldn’t keep up. “You’re going to mum.” She gazed behind him, the water bottle shining as the sun’s strong rays reflected off it. “You’re going to mum,” she shouted.
Her brother’s eagerness to leave the house assured Fatima that her mother was somewhere in the village and that he was on his way to see her. She pushed her mother’s note into her dress’s pocket, and then walked out, contemplating where to go first. Where should she ask of her mother’s whereabouts?
She started walking towards the village square, regretting her choice of shoes: they were her brother’s old sandals, at least two sizes too big for her, and a large whole on the left sole meant that her pinky toe touched the ground. She had barely made it a quarter of the way when she saw her uncle’s wife, Nurten Yenge, hanging the bedsheets she washed every week and speaking to someone out of Fatima’s view.
“Nurten Yenge,” she called from across the road, waving. Her Nurten Yenge pulled off her red headscarf, wrapped it back around her head, brought it round under her chin and tied a knot. Then, she took a few steps backwards and closed her metal front door.
“Fatima,” she said quite nonchalantly. “What are you doing here?”
“Mother’s missing,” said Fatima. “I don’t know where she is.”
“Don’t be so ridiculous,” said Nurten Yenge, picking up her laundry basket. “Where’s a grown woman going to go?”
Fatima thought about whether to tell her auntie what had happened, but then decided against it. Her auntie was a loudmouth, always able to tell you exactly who had walked past in front of her house at which particular hour, or which couple in the village had had a rowdy argument at what time. She knew all that went on in the village. Once she had told her neighbour that her husband was sleeping with another woman and that she should be on the lookout for a love-bite just above his right nipple, and when he did come home, tipsy and joyful, she pulled apart his shirt and there indeed it was; a small purplish blotch. Fatima shook her head and was about to leave when she heard a sound from inside; a moan so painful that she could only imagine it coming from a cat who had gotten its tail trapped. She took a few steps towards her Yenge’s door. Her Yenge had started throwing the pegs into the plastic laundry basket with such force that some leapt out landing on the concrete floor. Fatima slid her legs closer to the door.
“You better go on your way, looking for that mother of yours.” She grabbed onto the door’s handle. “She’s a disgrace. Go tell her that. She has no face to come back.”
Fatima was about to tell her auntie that she was wrong, that her mother would not do something without good reason. Then she heard the same muffled sound.
“What’s that?” asked Fatima. Her auntie glared at her, her eyes so widely open that Fatima couldn’t look at her for too long, as the bulging eyes reminded her of her father’s glare before he would lift his arm and let it fall on her bony back.
Her Yenge banged her elbow on the metal door, then shrugged, as though this simple gesture was enough of an answer to Fatima’s question. The intensity of the wind rose, the brittle leaves of the almond tree in front of her Yenge’s house rustled, and a single raindrop fell onto the tip of Fatima’s nose. “Mamo,” she managed, an endearing word she used for her mother. “I’m here.”
Fatima looked down at her own bruised right toe nail (she’d hit it on one of the legs of the wooden table the day before when trying to run away from her brother who was chasing her with a belt swinging over his head, eager to punish her, as he’d heard from his friend Sami that she’d been looking him straight in the eye) and then at the morbid expression on her Yenge’s face; at the way she pursed her lips and lifted her pencil-thin eyebrows.
“You better go,” her Yenge said. “Your mother’s where she deserves to be. No woman gets to run away from their husband like that. When you get married one day, you just don’t decide to run away.”
Fatima thought of her mother writing the note, slowly drawing the words out one by one, her hands quivering as she struck the line of the “too”, then again when she dotted the i in “pain”. Then she imagined her own hands doing the same, her lips trembling just like her hands, the inside of her palms shiny with sweat. She imagined that purple mounds concealed her mother’s beautiful hazel eyes, that her lips were crusty with yellow pus, and that her hands were sliced in several places, deep scarlet cuts glistening in the afternoon sun. She imagined the same for herself, the wounds of her hands stinging from the salt of her sweat, the yellow pus bubbling on one side of her lips.
The hinges of the metal back door squeaked and then shut loudly with a clang before footsteps were heard in the house: small baby steps.
“Humeira. Is that you?” shouted Yenge from inside. The footsteps ceased.
Then after a minute of silence: “Yes.” It was Humeira, auntie’s youngest daughter, the one who’d fallen off a tractor when she was only a baby which had left a large dent in the centre of her forehead.
“Don’t open the door,” shouted Yenge. The metal hanging peg which she had been holding in her grip fell and tinkled towards Fatima, stopping only when it hit the tip of her shoe. Before her mother could say anything else, Humeira opened the door. Fatima felt her heart constrict and her throat tighten as if a large object had been wedged there restricting her breathing. She forgot words, the ability to speak, and not even sounds escaped her open mouth, from which only a single streak of saliva dripped down.
Fatima ran, and felt her sandals crumbling with every stone she stepped on. I shouldn’t be running, she thought. Why am I running? Where am I running to? She was running away from the hands that had distorted her mother’s face. She was running away from the voices that would obliterate her mind into a sloppy mush. She was running away from the glares that would cause love to coil inside of her like a frightened caterpillar. But where she was running to, she had no idea. She just knew that she had to cross the field in which her mother had been caught and then she’d be running to safety, to freedom.
English translation of Turkish words
Boltasli – a small village in the northern half of Cyprus; an island in the Mediterranean.
Lefkosia – also known as Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus.
Nene – grandmother. Also a general word used by the young to refer to the elderly.
Baba – father
Borek – A pastry with a sweet or savoury filling, using consumed at breakfast.
Muhtar- a senior member in the government; one in charge of a village in Cyprus. Every village has its own muhtar.
Raki – a popular spirit, made of aniseed, consumed in Cyprus
Bayram – a religious holiday of Islam.
Minder – a piece of furniture that is a mixture between a sofa and a bed.
Yenge – auntie, generally used to refer to close male relative’s wife.
Ayshe Dengtash was born in East Street Market, a council estate in South-East London, in the UK to immigrant parents from North Cyprus. When she was 10, her parents and herself migrated back to North Cyprus where she completed her secondary school studies. She later went on to study English Language and Literature at Eastern Mediterranean University. Subsequently, she earned a scholarship from the European Union to undertake a Master’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham in the UK. After completing her MA studies, she moved back to North Cyprus where she worked as a translator and editor at a small newspaper. Eager to continue her studies, she set off to the UK once more, taking up odd jobs (working as a cashier for two years, and a freelance content writer for a year) to fund her PhD degree in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. She completed her degree in early 2019. She currently lives in Hong Kong with her husband and two cats, where she teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. She has previously been published in Newfound and The Journal. Writing is her greatest passion, everything else is just a chore.