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Melisa in her Bayram Frock

Melisa in her Bayram Frock

It’s not been the usual Şeker Bayram here today. The normal happy celebration has been marred and the day has been rather emotional.

6:30am this morning and I am wide awake. The sky is grey and a cool breeze wafts through the window stirring the covers. Murat rolls over; ‘hadi’ he says.

“Hadi?” I think. What on earth for? I know today is Bayram and breakfast is earlier than usual but not this early!  He then reminds me that he is going to the mosque first and tells me to meet him at his mums at 7:30am.

I have not bought new clothes for Bayram this year as I have plenty in the wardrobe that are hardly worn. For today I choose a yellow cotton summer dress and top it off with a pink chiffon tunic that matches the floral pattern on the dress. This time in the morning it’s still cool, making this ‘get up’ bearable.

Driving to the village, it feels like the world is sleeping; there’s not a soul anywhere and when I pull up outside the house at 7:15am, there’s not a sign of life, or Murat’s car. As I turn off the engine, something strange happens; all of a sudden I am engulfed by the past and cannot for the life of me get out of the car.  Sitting there, I launch into a serious discussion with myself and tell me not to be so stupid. These people love me and I know I’m welcome anytime. They don’t see me as an inconvenience; they don’t wish that I wasn’t around. If I get out of the car and bang on the door, they will welcome me with open arms, even if I have just woken them. They won’t look at me as If I have just ruined their day by turning up.  But I can’t do it. Somehow, the past feelings I have battled through this life get the better of me and they win. I start the engine and drive out through the village on the verge of tears.

The world is definitely awake now. Swarms of men fill the streets, on their way home from their morning prayers. I pass the village mosque and continue to the main road, heavy with traffic as the mosque there empties, bodies spilling out onto the road and into haphazardly parked cars.  I am still arguing with myself and I know if I don’t turn back, there will be a whole heap of other problems to deal with.  The phone will ring, everyone will ask me why I’m not there and Murat will have the hump which will lead to a row. Pulling over onto the side of the road, I sit and compose myself before turning around.

Back at the house, I get out of the car, open the entrance door, kick off my sandals and make my way up two flights of stairs and then I turn the key to the front door and walk in as if I have every right to be there. Dursun appears from the salon, making her way to the kitchen “iyi Bayramlar Kym” she smiles at me as we lean into each other for the dual cheek kissing. Sebiha and Ozlem great me in the same way and I shake hands with brother in law Hussein who has been playing with Melisa. Naturally, I snatch her off him and start biting her.  As the girls prepare breakfast, I tell them that I was here earlier and sat outside. They laugh and ask me why I would do such a thing. “I thought you were all sleeping” I say. “Why would that matter?” Dursun says.

I am feeling a right proper Charlie about now. I don’t know what came over me. After all these years here, I should know better. Just goes to show, the past can bite you on the arse when you least expect it!

Murat turns up just as the floor is laid and breakfast is eaten among much chatter and cay drinking.

After breakfast, Murat takes off to visit Nene (grandmother) at Safiye & Hayder’s house. Nene is very sick. The tumours are still growing and she is in decline; everyone knows she doesn’t have long. I wait for Dursun and we follow around ten minutes later in my car. As we arrive at the house, Celal is hovering outside, car keys in his hand waiting to take Nene to hospital. We wait as she comes slowly and painfully down the steps, held up on one side by Safiye.  Celal steps in and takes her other arm and between them they help her into the car.

It’s a sombre mood we walk into, not like Seker Bayram’s past. We sit inside with Dursun’s older brother from Hilvan. Safiye’s daughters Berfin and Fatoş bring in the cay and a tray full of glasses and Dursun takes over; warming the glasses with hot water before filling them with the amber coloured liquid.  It’s not long before there’s a knock on the door and visitors arrive. There will be a steady stream of them all day long. In and out of houses they go, shaking hands, kissing cheeks and uttering Bayram greetings. The men enter; everyone stands up respectfully as they make their way around the room hand shaking with the other men. I take this opportunity to leave and head for the kitchen with Berfin and Fatoş in tow. Dursun follows. A few minutes later, Ayfer arrives with Helin and Kuçük Murat. Next through the door are Crazy uncle and Bedir Amca followed by Lami, his wife Sevda and their daughter Irmak. The men sit in the salon discussing manly things while we women sit and chat about everyday things in the kitchen as it slowly fills with more female relatives and neighbours.

There must be at least fifteen of us women in the kitchen when Nene arrives back from the hospital. She is led in by Safiye who helps her down onto a makeshift bed on the kitchen floor. Nene lays muttering, her clothes dishevelled. Strands of damp hair poke out from under a white headscarf and cling to her face, where a large angry tumour grows, distorting its shape. I have no idea what she is saying as she speaks only Kurdish but her mutterings can’t be good as everyone has tears threatening to spill from their eyes. Dursun sits next to her and takes her hand. Nene fidgets, pulling her clothes around her, trying to keep her dignity and as she does so, I see a large shape jutting out from under the fabric at her waist. Crazy uncle comes in to see her but, he has no words. He just stands over her as his eyes turn red. It’s clear; the hospital did not give good news.

Sitting here, right now, I feel like I am at Nenes deathbed. Such is the feeling that permeates the room. I have no idea what the hospital have said but, again, talking to myself, I remind myself that these are emotional people and this is a sad time. We all know Nene does not have long but, it won’t be today surely? For that, I offer up a prayer, even though I’m not usually a praying person.

When things settle down, Safiye reheats some garlic bulgur and chicken, chops some tomatoes and onion and lays the lot on the floor for lunch. Murat’s sister Ramsey has just arrived with baby Devren and she looks awfully pale. Dursun has already mentioned that Ramsey is getting even skinnier and is not sleeping well.  Funny enough, I also noticed that Ozlem and Sebiha looked pale when they arrived at the house today but as they have just finished fasting and one is pregnant and the other breastfeeding, I took no notice. Now I pay closer attention to the three of them. The sunken eyes have disappeared but all three look washed out even though they are wearing make- up. Hmmmmmmmmmm well done Miss Marple, I think as the penny drops. Leaning in to Ozlem, who sits on my right,I say

“Are you wearing foundation?”

“Evet” she says smiling

“Is Ramsey wearing foundation” I ask her

“Evet” she says again

To my left, I turn to Sebiha and ask the same. All three of these lovely girls are wearing a porcelain coloured foundation that is even too pale for my English complexion in winter.

“Why?” I ask them. They shrug their shoulders and say “we like it” – fair enough, I think. Sebiha rubs my face as she asks me “what colour do you wear?”  I just start laughing. I don’t wear foundation in summer as it would simply slide down my face and make me look like Freddy Kruger.  On occasion, I wear eye pencil but that doesn’t last five minutes in this heat and sleek and feline soon turns into Alice Cooper.  I tell her this but without references to Freddy and Alice as she would have no idea who they are. She does however know how to stop the Alice effect. “You need dry pencil” she says, “not oily” and then promises to buy me one.

The men are long gone now. They upped and left and have been peacocking around the village for the last few hours and now Murat is at home having a little nap. It’s just us girlies in the house but we remain in the kitchen and our numbers are gradually reducing. A banging at the door signals a new visitor and everyone stands as the village Muhtar comes to pay his Bayram respects and his well wishes for Nene’s health. I see this as an opportune time to announce my departure and after he has left, I say my goodbyes to cries of “where are you going?”

“To the pool” I say, teasing them. I have already invited them to ours on Monday and told them to bring their shorts. Obviously they don’t have bikinis and wouldn’t wear them even if they did. Nor do they have those trouser suits and hoods thankfully. Shorts and t-shirts will be fine, although I do wonder if they will take their headscarves off to swim?

When I get home, Murat is snoring on the sofa. It’s such a hard life being a man I think and start yawning. Perhaps I’ll just have a little nap myself…….