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Balikligol

When we landed in Urfa, I took a scarf from my bag and tied it around my head. For me, it’s a simple gesture of respect as I will be staying at Haci Amca’s house and all the women in it will be closed. I see it like this.

Wherever I have been in my life, I have dressed appropriately for the occasion and this is no different. Nobody is telling me to do it, nobody is asking me to do it, it is my choice.   I also like the fact that I am no longer a slave to the hairdryer or straightening irons. In a way, a headscarf is actually quite freeing.

Under the watchful eye of Dursun, I tie the ends of the scarf behind my neck and then pull them to the front to rest casually on my collarbone.  She nods her approval with a silent “aferin kiz”.

Haci Amca and Ide arrive. We pile our bags into the boot of the car and make the short journey to their apartment. I had not forgotten that their apartment was up five flights of stairs and I was dreading carrying my suitcase up them.  No sooner had I wheeled it into the lobby and pushed the handle down in preparation of the struggle Ide shouts at me.

“Noh noh” she says raising her eyebrows  and tilting her head up as she whips it away from me and hoists it up onto her shoulder like a docker carrying half a pig.

I hurry up the stairs guiltily as she, in her seventies, carries my suitcase up those 95 steps behind me.

Reaching the top floor, I kick my shoes off at the door as I knock on it and am surprised when it is opened by hard faced Ayse and not syrupy sweet Tuba.  I wonder what Ayse is doing here? She lives in Istanbul. On discussing my trip with Murat, he had said there would be just us with Haci Amca, Ide, Tuba and Selim. Murat is a fibber.

‘Where’s Tuba’ I say

Ayse just nods her head in the direction of the kitchen and walks off.

Tuba comes out then and greets me. We carry on through into the lounge and there is Miesa, or what’s left of her. ‘What’s Miesa doing here?’ I think and why does she look like a walking skeleton?  She greets me in the usual fashion of cheek kissing and I ask her where her twin babies are. She tells me that they are at her mother in laws and that she is staying here at the moment. Hmmmmmmm

There’s a baby in a wooden cot in the corner. I wonder whose it is.

Tuba has gone to make cay as the rest of us settle down on the floor. I ask who the baby is.

“Zeynep” Miesa says in a voice that says ‘you really should know that’.

“Zeynep?” blimey.  She has done a lot of growing in just two weeks!  Wait a minute…. if that is Zeynep then Havva must be here I think as she appears in the doorway. We swap face kisses and I ask her if she too is staying here.

“Yes” she says

Two children wander in; Ayses two children Kerem and Yaren. They sit at their mothers’ feet and not so quietly ask her who the yabanci is. She tells them.

“I’ve got an English aunty?” exclaims Kerem with a big grin on his face.

Everyone laughs.

Tuba brings a large silver tray though to the lounge and plonks it down in the middle of the carpet, then sets about pouring.

Haci Amca leans on a green bolster cushion with a cigarette; the breeze from the air con sweeping his smoke around the room in circular patterns . Ide takes cigarettes from a packet and throws one to Dursun. She looks at me. I tut, raise my eyebrows and tilt my head up slightly in the gesture that means ‘no’ here.

After cay, the girls drift from the lounge. I find them in the kitchen smoking. None of them smoke infront of Haci Amca and I have decided not to either.  I sit on a rickety chair breathing in the smell of onions wafting from a bowl that sits on the table. Miesa sits on the floor, back resting on the wall where there’s a patch of missing tiles, the sharp contortions of her bony knees sticking up in the air through her skirt.  There is no air con in the kitchen and no breeze from the window at my back; just hot arid air and sunshine. We sit chatting with our headscarves pulled down as Tuba chops and dices patlican and tomatoes in preparation of dinner.

‘Seven people’ I think, eight counting the brother Selim and, not forgetting the two kids and baby Zeyneb.  That’s ten of us that will be sleeping in the lounge tonight.  I am going to kill Murat.

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