Monthly Archives: January 2019

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!

Being a mother leaves you with an open wound forever. I read that somewhere once (before I became a mother). And I remember thinking ‘how melodramatic’. I didn’t give it another thought. Then I had Mia.

The memory of that traumatic first week of her life is still so painfully vivid. Mia was twelve hours old when we brought her home;

I tear myself away from her to get in the bath. Then Mark comes running up the stairs holding Mia. She is choking. I leap out of the bath. And we rush to the hospital. I’m holding her and praying all the way there. She is turning blue. I ask for proof that there is a God. Save Mia and I’ll believe in you I say.

Then she throws up a thick gooey substance. And starts to breathe normally again. I realise that I am writing this without emotion. But only because I was numb at the time. It’s my natural default to shut down when I can’t handle the level of emotion threatening to flood through me.

They think she still has birthing fluid in her lungs but they are not sure. And “an infection in a baby this young could be fatal”.

Mia is placed in a cot with an alarm that will go off if she stops breathing. The consultant arrives and tells us (very matter- of-factly) that “there are two ways of telling if there is something wrong with a baby this young; when they stop feeding or when they stop breathing”.

I am still numb. They take Mia away for blood tests. I send Mark with her. I don’t want to see them hurting my baby. I hear her crying almost immediately. And I finally break down.

The emotional floodgates are ripped wide open. I am sobbing and shaking uncontrollably. My baby is hurting. And I can’t make it stop. The pain I feel is unbearable. Totally unlike any kind of pain I have ever known. I feel like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. And my insides are being twisted so tightly that I can hardly breathe. I love her so much.

And that love makes me feel so vulnerable. There was nothing that could have happened to me before that would have broken me. I had made myself so tough. But I cannot survive losing her.

I look around for a window. We’re on the tenth floor. If Mia dies, I’m going to throw myself out of it. I can’t live without my baby. I ask forgiveness for all the wrongs that I have done. Do anything to me but not this. Not my baby. Don’t make her suffer for my sins. Please.

I don’t sleep so I can constantly check that Mia is breathing. I don’t trust the alarm. What if it doesn’t work?

Then something unimaginably horrible happens. I hear this horrific wailing. It sounds like a wounded animal. A child has just died. And it is his mother that I can hear. I have never heard such raw pain in my entire life. My heart breaks. Children are not supposed to die.

I have a real fear of flying. So whenever I get on an airplane, the first thing I do is look around to confirm that there are children on the flight. Then I feel safe because I assume that nothing bad can happen with so many innocents on board. I can never make that assumption again.

One week later and we are back at home. All of the tests prove negative. It was the birthing fluid. Apparently they shouldn’t have discharged us for three days after the birth to monitor Mia.

I refuse to put Mia in her cot. And she sleeps on my chest so I can monitor her breathing. Everyone makes mistakes. Even doctors. I don’t trust them.

I learn how to resuscitate a baby. And obsessively practise on a doll; over and over again. Mark says he can’t wait until I can relax again. I don’t think I ever will. How can I when I have responsibility for another’s life?

I have gradually relaxed (a little) since then. But I still feel that sense of responsibility very keenly. And it’s been making me toss and turn all night. My mind is overflowing with irrational fears; what if Jade does something to hurt Mia? What if she pushes her down the stairs? Or abuses her emotionally? It’s frustrating because (in this instance) I can’t protect her until after she has been hurt in some way.

The alarm goes off. I haven’t slept at all.

I look outside, the snow has settled. Everything looks beautifully pure and sweet; as though it has been covered in icing sugar.

Mia’s school is closed. It is also closed the next day. And the day after that. Then it's the weekend.

We have been cooped up in the house for days. I can’t move without bumping into her. And my patience is starting to wear thin. I tell her to stop following me around. She scowls at me. Then walks off.

I check the school website on Monday morning. It’s open. I wake Mia up. And get her ready in record time. I think we both need a little time apart. But I can’t find my glasses or my keys. Mia wanders off. Then re-appears and holds them both out to me.

As I reach out to take them, she puts her hand on her hip and says "See mummy, this is exactly why you shouldn’t tell me off for following you around, because if I didn’t, I’d never know where you put things would I?”

She has a totally triumphant look on her face. And I can’t fault her logic. The fact is, she got me. I am always losing things. And she is always finding them. So I tell her that she is right, apologise, and promise that I will never tell her off for that again.

Naturally she starts following me around the moment she gets home from school. It’s driving me mad but I can’t break a promise. So I coax her outside instead.

We go to the park. And build yet another snowman. Then we play our favourite game. We choose something around us, a bench, a statue, anything, then make up a story about it.

She is a complete natural. And I love listening to her. All her stories have a happy ending. Her view of the world hasn’t been tainted yet. I want her to hold on to that innocence for as long as possible; the blind faith that good will always prevail over bad.

She tells me a story about the tree. A little boy sits under it every day and talks to it. He tells the tree about the horrible boys at school that bully him. The little boy doesn’t know it but the tree can hear him because it’s alive. Then one day he is sitting under the tree when the bad boys come along and start being horrible to him. He gets scared and runs to the bark of the tree and clings to it.

The bad boys run after him. But before they can get to him, the branches of the tree come down and grab them. The tree wraps its branches around the bad boys and picks them up high into the air. It throws them around until they are crying and begging the little boy to make it stop. He says "Only if you promise never to be bad again". They promise and the tree puts them down. The bad boys run off and never bully him again. And he lives happily ever after.

I tell her I love it. Then I ask her if she is being bullied at school. She sighs “No mummy, I was just using my imagination. I’d tell you if I was being bullied wouldn’t I? I tell you everything”.

I say “I just worry about you, that’s all”. Then she mutters (under her breath) “I know. You’ve been worrying about me since the day I was born”.

I feel terrible that she has such a keen awareness of my neurosis; she is barely six years old. But I can’t dwell on it for too long as she shouts “Race you to the swings” and sprints off.

We swing side by side, giggling together as we go higher and higher. I am purely happy. I turn to look at her beautiful little face as she says “Don’t worry so much mummy, ok?” I nod; overwhelmed by emotion.

But I know that I will never stop worrying because being a mother leaves you with an open wound forever.

I manage to last an impressive forty two minutes.

Then I retrieve the letter and the gift wrapped box from the bin.

I understand that you are angry with me and you have every right to be. I have ended it with Maria. I know that I really messed up with you. I don’t expect you to give me another chance. But I need you to know that I love you so much. I hope my gift proves that to you.

I stop reading. And open the box. It is a beautiful diamond and sapphire encrusted ring. My stomach does a little somersault. My heart flutters.

Then my head takes over. Trust cannot be bought. Does he really think that an expensive trinket will absolve him? Or serve as proof of love?

He did it to Maria. He can do it to me. And the more I love him, the more it will hurt. My head overrules my heart. I will return the ring.

I throw myself into enjoying the holidays with Mia. And do not give him another thought.

Then Mia goes to stay with her father. And there is nothing to distract me from my bruised heart; it is time to feel the pain. I put Tori Amos on (‘Little Earthquakes’). Light some candles. And prepare myself for the worst.

Then the phone rings.

I throw my arms up in the air. Somebody cares! Somebody save me! I grab the phone. It’s a wrong number. Typical. I start to feel sorry for myself; wailing as I fall to my knees. I hug Mia’s teddy as I curl up in the foetal position. And stay like that for a while.

Then I get angry. I can’t believe I got him so wrong. I am such an idiot.

I stop hugging teddy. And start using him as a punch bag. Then I throw him down. And pull books off the shelves; hurling them across the room.

I catch sight of myself in the mirror and see myself for the drama queen that I can be. I start to giggle. I can’t stop. Not sure if I’m hysterical. Hang on. Wait. No tears! I’m not hysterical! I must be happy! Shit. Tears. Maybe they’re tears of happiness? No. I’m definitely hysterical.

I calm down long enough to notice a flashing light on the answer phone. Joanna has invited me to her New Years Eve party. Ordinarily I wouldn’t go. I haven’t known her very long. But I don't have anything else planned. So it's either that or wait here to be sectioned.

I drive there. I'm feeling too lonely and emotional to drink. And there is nothing that says “I’m vulnerable, hit on me” quite like a woman sobbing into her wine glass.

I walk in. And I am immediately accosted by a very loud American banker. He tells me all about himself in a very confident (verging on arrogant) manner.

Then he offers me a glass of champagne. I tell him I’m sticking to the coke tonight. That seems to get him quite excited “Really? Come with me.”

He takes me by the hand and leads me into the bathroom. I assume Joanna is keeping the drinks in an ice filled bath. I get a little worried when he locks the door behind us.

Then I notice that the bath is empty. I can hear him fumbling around behind me as he says “I can guarantee this is the best you’ve ever had. It will make you feel incredible.”

I turn around sharply with my fist raised. And almost punch the large bag of cocaine that he is holding up; I’m not sure which one of us is more surprised.

He speaks first (whilst clutching his cocaine protectively) “What the hell is wrong with you?” I tell him that I meant coke as in diet. He finds this hysterically funny.

It's a long time since I've been around Class A's. And I did note the symptomatic over confidence, the shouting and the self absorption. But I put it all down to him being a banker (and we all know what that rhymes with).

I leave him to it and rejoin the party.

I retreat to a corner of the room. Then I notice a skinny man wearing a red bowtie (and jeans that are way too tight) walking towards me.

He stops, leans forward and pulls a coin from behind my ear. I smile politely. He takes that as an invitation to start performing his entire repertoire of magic tricks. I say “Wow, that’s great” then add firmly “Now stop it. Please”

He carries on. I walk away. But he follows. And asks if there is a specific trick I would like him to perform for me. I respond with “Yes, make yourself disappear.” He laughs.

I tell him (through gritted teeth) that I’m not joking. He just laughs harder. He is really starting to piss me off. Then I hear “Kitty! There you are!” And I am whisked away by a very attractive man.

He guides me to safety, introduces himself and explains that Joanna sent him to rescue me. I check his pupils (discreetly) to make sure he isn’t high.

The more Jake talks the more attractive I find him. He is funny and charming. There is something endearingly unguarded and open about him.

Then he asks me what I do. I hesitate before replying “I’m a writer” I pre-empt his next question by adding “And no, I’ve never been published. But it is all I've wanted to do since I was nine.” Shut up Kitty. This is not interesting for anyone except you. I stop talking.

But he asks me to continue. So I start to babble nervously at high speed “The-teacher-asked-us-to–write-a-romantic-fairytale-and-I–knew-the-other-girls-would-write-about-kissing-a-frog-that turns-into-a-prince-so-I-wrote-about-a-princess-who-swam-to-the-bottom-of-the-ocean-and-kissed-an-octopus-mine-was-the-only-one-that-went-up-on-the-wall-that-was-the-moment-I-decided-that-I-was-going-to-be-a-writer-unfortunately-I-brought-so-much-shame-on-my-family-rebelling-against-their traditions-and-having-way-too-much-fun,-that-the-only-way-to-redeem-myself-was-to-become-either-a-doctor-or-a-lawyer-and-I hated-the-sciences-so-law-it-was!” I finally take a breath.

I can feel my cheeks burning. I talk too much when I’m nervous. And when I run out of things to talk about, I resort to telling people totally inappropriate things (like the colour of my knickers) just for talking’s sake.

I decide to leave (somewhat abruptly).

I stop off at Anthony’s and post the ring through his letterbox.

I go to bed; my thoughts wandering towards Jake. I sleep until it is time to pick Mia up. And meet Jade.

I walk in expecting Grace Kelly. In my mind she is tall, elegant and effortlessly beautiful. Mark tries to keep me in the hallway. But I walk around him and into the living room. I brace myself for a vision of perfection.

She is short. A tad overweight. And non-descript. It takes me a moment to adjust. Maybe she was a hand model?

I introduce myself and shake her limp hand as she scrutinizes me. I am determined to be civil for Mia’s sake. Then she smirks at me as she asks “Did you have a nice time at the circus?” She is gloating about preventing Mark from joining us on Mia’s birthday; something she clearly views as a victory. I smile as I tell her that we had a wonderful time. And resist the urge to slap her.

But I can’t resist the parting shot that Mia hands me on a plate; “Daddy and Jade work together”“Really?” I ask, looking from one to the other “How convenient”.

I walk to the car with Mia. My ego is satisfied (no woman wants her ex to upgrade). I don’t like her but I will continue to be civil; until she crosses any kind of line with my daughter...

Mia interrupts my train of thought by asking me what my new year´s resolution is. I absentmindedly say "to be nicer to teddy". She looks suitably confused. Then rattles off her list of rather more grown up resolutions.

Happy New Year (I hope).