I have to make myself look as unattractive as possible.
I tie my hair back. Leave my face make-up free. Then pull on a dress that I last wore when I was six months pregnant. I put my glasses on. And I’m ready.
Mia is an absolute vision in a floaty pink dress and matching shoes; she is safe, they are not looking for a husband for her. Yet.
We’re going to my cousin’s wedding (under duress). She forced me into it by making Mia a bridesmaid. The last Turkish wedding I went to was mine. And that didn’t turn out too well.
Mark and I had wanted a small wedding. And my father had agreed “Yes, a small wedding....just four hundred people”.
It was the first mixed marriage in our community. And it showed.
We had tried to brief the small number of English guests on etiquette. But it was all forgotten after a few drinks. One man approached a Turkish girl and asked for her number. He was silently lifted off his feet by her father and escorted back to the English corner of the hall. There were no further requests for numbers after that.
We tried to incorporate English tradition as much as we could. This (to the bemusement of the Turks) included speeches and a toast. Mark’s best man wimped out so my brother stepped in to deliver an impromptu speech. He started by saying “I will speak in English for the benefit of the ethnic minority here tonight”. That provided a rare moment where the guests were united (in laughter).
My brother is very aware of the stereotypes attributed to Turks. And enjoys playing on them; he continued with “Normally we run kebab shops or cafes or dry cleaners but really, my sister had no choice but to become a lawyer because we needed someone to look after the family interests and by family I mean” he paused and looked slowly around the room. Then smiled wickedly as he said, “I mean...the Turkish Mafia”. The Turks clapped, whistled and hollered. The English guests were (visibly) very nervous.
Mark whispered “They really are mafia, aren’t they?” I followed his eyes across to my father. People were lining up to kiss his hand (a sign of respect for your elders). Then I realised; The Godfather. It looked like they were kissing his ring. I suppressed a giggle. But didn’t enlighten Mark until later. Much later. Years later in fact.
My brother concluded his speech with the words “Mark, thank you for making my little sister very happy, but if you ever make her unhappy....” He made a gun gesture with his hand and put it to Mark’s temple “Bang!” The hall virtually erupted with (over four hundred) Turks clapping and cheering.
At least this is a straightforward Turkish wedding without any poor English people to torment.
My parents arrive to pick us up. My mother takes one look at me and says “Hurry up and get ready”. I tell her that I am ready. She purses her lips and takes me by the arm. I am led into my bedroom. She starts going through the wardrobe “Most of these people haven’t seen you since your wedding. The least you can do is look pretty”.
She pulls out a clingy Karen Millen dress.
My immaculately dressed father walks in (he wears a shirt and tie just to go to the supermarket). “Please wear something nice. You look pregnant in that”. I find it much more difficult to say no to him. So I put the dress on. My mother puts her hand down my bra and hoists my breasts up so that they are practically spilling out “There. That’s better”
I stuff a wad of dollars (money is a big theme) into my handbag and we leave.
It takes a while to get to our table. We are stopped every few feet by people paying their respects to my father. He comes from a long line of village leaders. And he may no longer be in Cyprus but neither is the village; it is now in North London.
I always forget that we are supposed to be Muslims. And so does everybody else if the amount of alcohol being consumed is anything to go by. Not to mention the skimpy clothes. They are clearly not aware of the golden rule; breasts out, legs away or legs out, breasts away. You can’t get both out without looking like a tart. I would never let Mia dress like that. Shit. I’m starting to sound like my mother.
And the live band is too loud. I'm definitely getting old. Then I get cornered by a lecherous (distant) relative. Thankfully my phone starts to vibrate. I excuse myself and walk outside. It’s Joanna. She is calling to ask if it is ok to give Jake my number. Apparently he has been asking her for it since New Year’s Eve. And it took her two weeks to call me? I thought I had scared him off with my verbal diarrhoea.
I walk back in just as they start calling out names for the testih dance. I hear my name. I turn around and start walking back out. But it’s too late. I am grabbed by my (pimp) mother. She drags me to the side of the dance floor.
The testih dance is open only to single girls available for marriage. Each girl takes it in turn to dance like Shakira whilst holding a lavishly decorated clay pot.
I tell my mother that I can’t possibly dance with the testih because (traditionally) you have to be a virgin to take part. She holds me firmly in place and hisses in my ear “Pah! You think any of them are virgins? There are no virgins left!”
I have no choice. I throw dollars at the other girls while they dance. Then it’s my turn. I am the last one which means I have to smash the pot.
I decide to cut the dancing short and just smash it. I am surrounded by children waiting to scramble for the money and sweets inside the pot. I keep shouting at them to move back; flying bits of broken clay can be lethal.
But they won’t move. So I throw it down as close to me as possible. It smashes. A sharp piece of clay bounces off the floor. And into my leg. It starts to bleed. I step carefully over the children and hobble to the bathroom.
Then my phone vibrates again. And I’m caught off guard. It's Jake. I wasn't expecting him to call so soon. It’s too late to hang up.
He asks me how I am “Well-I’ve-just-done-the-dance-of-the-virgins-not-that-I’m-a-virgin-obviously-but-I’m-not-a-slapper-either-I-was-married-for-a-long-time-so-I-haven’t-slept-with-lots-of-men-or-anything-anyway-I-smashed-the-testih-and-I-didn’t-want-to-hurt-the-kids-so-I-ended-up-cutting-my-leg-and-now-I’m-in-the-bathroom-cleaning-my-leg-that-is-not-on-the-toilet-I-wouldn’t-answer-the-phone-on-the-toilet-that-would-be-rude”. I manage to stop talking. But I fear the damage is already done. I sound unhinged.
There is a brief pause before he laughs. Then asks me out. And I say yes.
I hobble back to my seat grinning inanely with a piece of toilet paper stuck over the bloody gash on my leg. And suddenly this wedding seems fabulous!
I have to make myself look as unattractive as possible.