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Her lips are fat, crooked, as if they’re stuck on. They shine like a red light. She looks too big in our lounge; her hands long and thin, her boobs like the melons my dad loved.

He’d bring one home every day, small and green, as shiny as a bald skull. He’d cut halfway with a knife; rip the rest open with his hands, feed Mum with wet fingers until red juice dripped down her chin. She’d grab his face then, wipe her chin on his beard, kiss his lips.

Maybe that’s why he left. Maybe this woman’s melons are sweeter.

Mum’s sitting next to me, kneading her hands that have wrinkled from cleaning. She smells of white king and scrubbing. Her breathing is slow, mouth open, filling her insides with air as if to keep words in. She stares at her lap while the thief on the opposite couch surveys the room, eyes darting past the pink carnations on the coffee table where the family photo used to be.

I pat Mum’s knee, and she rests her hand on mine. The smell of chlorine clouds the room.

“I’m sorry,” says the thief, her fat lips barely moving. “So sorry.” Her head hangs low, eyes rest on Mum’s green slippers.

I want to grab her words, throw them at her like arrows. “Sorry isn’t good enough. Isn’t that what you people say? Too little, too late?”

Mum’s hand stiffens, her palm wet on top of mine. She talks in Turkish, her voice haunted by him and his promises that died on this woman’s fat lips.

“What did you say? Please,” says the thief, her ghostlike face finding Mum’s. Her voice is small, each word light, without meaning.

Mum’s voice still heavy in the air, like an angry song. I hope it shatters this foreigner’s ears, curls around her throat. In here she makes no sense, her hair too yellow, skin too white, her language without passion. She belongs outside where everything is bland, without spice.

“Tell me why you’re here or leave.”

Her face is pale like I’ve sucked out her oxygen. “I promise,” she wheezes, taking a breath. “I didn’t know he was married.”

“This isn’t church. We’re not interested in your confessions. What do you want? You haven’t taken enough?”

Mum elbows me, shakes her head, tries to keep her features still but I see her chin tremble, know how it must hurt her to see this woman in the lounge that once sheltered her marriage, kept it safe from the unknown.

The thief doesn’t know where to look; her hands massage her chest, her painted fingers dig into her skin. I imagine them wiping my father’s brow, erasing Mum’s fingerprints.

“Please…just listen,” she says, breathing heavy as if our air is suddenly thick. She opens her bag, fingers fluttering like Mum’s on the dance floor, when her hips used to shimmy with life before my father left her and the heart attack slowed down her legs.

The woman sucks on an asthma pump, taking deep breaths. “He lied to me too.” She looks at Mum’s walking cane near the couch. “I left him as soon as I found out. I swear it.”

“Huh.” Mum’s sigh is throaty, like gurgling spit. Her finger circles the air slowly the way it did when she made Dad’s favourite köfte. She used to fry the meatballs for him, making music in her kitchen with crackling oil, clinking plates. She’d cry dicing the onions and Dad would joke that he could taste the tears in the meatballs, that they made it so much better. I wonder what he tastes now at this woman’s table where there is no flavour.

“I…I…” she sniffles, wipes at tears with the tip of a tissue. Is that how she touches him, with the tips of her fingers, poking the dark hairy man with an accent? No doubt she expects him to shower before he touches her so the sweat that sticks to him at the end of each day does not blemish her skin. She’d never breathe him in like Mum used to. “He kept coming back, said you were getting a divorce,” she says.

Her words fill me with hate—it bubbles in my arms, my stomach. I want to poke her eyes out with her pointy shoes, break the woman that stole my mother’s smile.

“I just want to explain.”

I stand, walk to the coffee table. The crystal vase separates us. It is empty like this house full of halves. I see her reflection change shape around the glass, and my fingers twitch. “We are not interested. Do you understand? Two years have passed; we’ve had enough. Leave.” I wipe that vase every day; know how it feels against my palm; smooth, cool like the crisp shell of a watermelon.

She looks small with her wet eyes dripping. “No please, I’m sorry. I have to tell you—”

“I said leave. Or I will make you.” The vase twinkles like the diamonds on her ears.

“No, kizim…” Mum’s words heavy behind me.

The woman shakes her head, chest heaving, her mouth chasing breath. She reaches for her pump, sucks until her cheeks cave in. “I lost…too. I came here,” she chokes, “to…tell you…I’ve been punished. I…he, I lost my baby. I can never have children.”

Her sobs anger me more. I have heard them on actors in old Turkish movies, faking grief. I see my father’s face in this lounge, laughing at the bad acting, his strong arms around me and Mum. There is nothing where his arm used to be. “I hope you both never find happiness,” I say, watching my father dissolve into this woman, watching a part of me go with him.

She’s sweating now, eyeing me in shock. She gets up and her bag scatters to the floor. Her perfume, lipstick, tampons vomit out of her handbag onto our carpet. She crouches down to clean her dirt, her head bent.

I see the grey glint of her pump a foot away.

I pick it up; feel its pulse in my palm, her secondary heart.

She’s on her knees, surveying the floor, the couch. “Where is it?” Her hand on her chest. “My pump,” she says, trying to steady her breathing. She looks up, eyes glazed. “I’ve lost—”

“This?”

 

The End

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Recently, I ran a creative writing workshop with teenagers in Melbourne’s north. We wrote a collaborative story on a topic of their choice. Below are the inspiring and unrelenting voices of our youth.
 

 

Why do people think it’s wrong?

            It’s still love.
            I get why Catholics or Christians think it is because they believe in their religion and their God. But why do the others think it’s wrong to be gay?
            I’m angry. Sad. I’m so disgusted that my stomach feels like it’s eating itself.
            I can’t even kiss my girlfriend in public because of these people. Just today, someone walked up to me and said, “please don’t do that, it makes me feel sick. It doesn’t look right.”
            “Deal with it,” I said. “You’re not better than me.”
            Love is love, be it with a girl and girl or boy and boy.
            There are all sorts of bizarre things in this world. Some people worship cows.
            So how is our love wrong?

Meadow Heights: the love child of Broadmeadows. She has her mother’s green fields, windy roads and tired hills that have slanted after years of carrying ungrateful homes on her back. Her mini shopping centre satisfies kebab cravings, and the imported Turkish goods crowd delicatessen shelves, bringing excited locals greetings from their homeland. The local video shop is in an endless identity crisis, changing names often, whereas the Meadow Heights Primary School juggles identities in portable classrooms. Lush walking trails weave between streets, connecting homes, bulk billing medical clinics and milk bars that are havens for loitering teens in this cultural conundrum.

At Meadow Heights shopping centre, teenagers with lowered caps are swooping on fish and chips like famished seagulls. Ali passes them and Mum’s crumbled shopping list waves before him like a hand beckoning us towards the entrance.

Abla, I hope Zara teyze doesn’t want sucuk,” he says, trying to decode Mum’s Turkish words scrawled on the back of a white envelope. “Coz it stinks!”

He hands me the shopping list and her scribbled fragments pulse in my palm like a big heart. “Sorry…” I try hard to suppress a smile. Sucuk is at the top of Mum’s list, underlined twice. The Turkish salami is a minced meat concoction that lures you with its delicious spices and once devoured, burns a hot trail of indigestion down to your belly, leaving you parched for the rest of the day. To Mum and Aunt Nez it’s a small price to pay for this delicacy that they cook, toast, fry, barbecue, or eat raw in more than 10 dishes.   

“Yuck,” he mumbles, “they are gonna burp garlic all the time.”

A few women are crowding the shopping centre entrance, their hands waving in excitement, as if telling a story of their own. I ignore their nosy stares and walk inside the heart of Meadow Heights, this haven for homesick Turks. The smell of simit, a bagel like roll drenched in sesame seeds, is strong and Ali tracks the scent to the bakery. I pay for two, and Ali wears the simit on his wrist.

“It’s like that lolly bracelet but bread.”

I laugh as he takes a bite from his simit bangle, eyes closed. This is how simple it is, to savour a moment, to capture it with all senses. In another place, kids his age are balancing wooden trays of simit on their heads with the weight of their future, weaving in and out of neighbourhoods, trying to find a tomorrow in the dusty streets of Turkey.