A slam resounded through the tiny apartment.
“Mommy, c’mon! Please!” whined the little girl, hands twisted in her mother’s skirt, pulling in the direction of the door.
“No, sweetie. I said that on the stairs and I’m saying it here. It’s too chilly, and you’re still recovering from the cold that went around school.
” The mother put down the little groceries she managed to get. Her thin hands brushed her daughter’s palms away with a firm move.
The girl continued to whine about the fair outside their house, waving her hands in anger. Her dark curly hair bobbed along with her outbursts.
After carefully putting away groceries the woman huffed, patience having ran thin.
“What exactly do you want there so badly that you are this naughty?
If it’s just to spend time with those no-good girls that spread gossip, then forget the fair, you won’t be seeing the streets at all!”
“Like it’s my fault…” the mutter wasn’t lost to her mother’s ears. She gave her a look of measured anger and told her to repeat herself.
The girl clamped her mouth shut; her eyes were brimmed with tears.
The mother sighed and went to sit beside her daughter. For a bystander, their resemblance would’ve been appalling.
“What is it, love?”
“I hate it here.” The child wiped at her eyes harshly. “It’s old and dark and smelly! Tamik made fun of me yesterday when he saw our door. He said it was as rusty as my teeth.
Are they really rusty?!” she pulled her lip down with her fingers and showed them.
She could picture the sneer the boy wore and remembered how she tried standing taller in the door so the holes in the paint weren’t visible.
Her house was ugly and ancient. Mother always told her it was her late father's treasure. Except it was anything but a treasure.
There were two rooms: the bedroom they shared and the tiny living room, which was just a kitchen with a table. The wallpapers were thin and yellowed, damaged in places with imprints of shoes.
The bathroom made her feel claustrophobic. There was so much more awfulness to the house, but the girl decided to put them aside as she watched the strange look on her mother’s face.
“It’s hard to understand for you. For now. I know you liked Nana’s place a lot more, you grew up there. But…we had to move, dear. We couldn’t be a burden to Nana anymore.
And Daddy would’ve been so happy to see you here! He bought this place with his own work, with his amazing book. That one, remember? Yes, the red one.
You’ll read it one day and you’ll see why this—here is your home.”
The girl was transfixed by how sweet the words were. Years later it remained the earliest memory of her Mother she could recall.
“…can we at least go to the park?”
“Oh, you!” the woman chuckled and grasped her by the cheeks. “Alright, just for today.”
The girl whooped in victory and ran for her shoes.
The girl, now older, sat facing her unchanged mother. There was a red imprint mark on her cheek. Her face was ashen and trails of tears scarred it.
She was in her school uniform, hair down and tangled. Her eyes were boring in her mother’s, but there was no emotion behind them.
“Are you going to at least try to come up with an excuse? At least—God, why…Why…? You had promised me to stay away from those girls, from those boys.
” The woman looked the way she had ten years before, safe from new worry lines that were imprinted by her lids and her mouth.
The girl remained silent; she stared at the brand new painting that hung behind her mother’s head.
She had some sudden bursts of energy through the years they’ve lived there when she would decorate and redecorate the place.
That was why, the walls ranged in color from oranges to greens to blacks, victim to her mother’s unsureness. The colors that usually glared from vibrancy seemed accusatory today.
She thought of Riad and of the regret that colored his face when she told him. He had stared at her stomach as if he expected a beast to jump out and curse him. In a way, it had happened.
When he left, she ran to her friends, the ones who urged her to get together with him, who dressed her the day she met him.
They gave her dismissive side-glances and gave me the address to the nearest hospital. That had been the moment the horror truly set in and she fled.
Fled from the school, across the busy streets, and in her tiny home.
“Well? What are you going to do with it?” she shook her hand at her midriff.
The girl pressed her palm against the place were life had begun its growth. She curled it into a determined fist. She didn’t say anything, only looked in her mother’s eyes.
The woman’s shoulders slumped, but she nodded and stood up to prepare dinner. Her dreams of her dear daughter bright and successful dimmed.
She wouldn’t be able to get into a university, she thought and looked at her again. She was still in her place, still rigid and tearful, but her posture was different.
She looked older, far older than she should.
In the next months the girl would move away to the father and leave the woman behind, all under excuses of looking out for her and giving the baby boy space.
However, that wouldn’t last as long as the girl wished.
The rapid knocks had alarmed her; the whimpers made her rush to the door. She opened the door to her daughter’s face, her lips trembling and a squirming bundle cradled to her chest.
Her hair was short, which didn’t suit her, but seemed to please her husband.
Her face was bear of make-up, but if it had still been pretty before, now it looked startlingly empty and hard to look at. She was wider and heavier. She never recovered from her pregnancy.
“Mom,” she whispered in a trembling voice, the baby’s cries deafening in the cold of the hall. The woman ushered her inside with no questions.
The girl breathed in the smells of the entrance; something inside of her loosened and she let her tears spill.
Osman had fallen asleep, head against his mother’s shoulder, lulled by the hum of the pipes.
That night the girl slept in her old room for the first time in a while. Her mother’s snoring and her baby’s soft breathing made her smile at the cracked ceiling.
The elderly woman stroked the head resting on her shoulder. Old age made her put on weight, so she was the softest and most comforting for the girl, who wasn’t a ‘girl’ anymore.
The woman now, her childhood curls thin and pale were in a bun, held by a stained brush. Her clothes hung on her frame, worn and plain.
“Mother, what will I do? Osman won’t handle jail—he can’t even talk to anyone without aggression…My son will get killed there!” her hiccups resounded in the tiny apartment.
He was too much like she had been. Too naïve, too spoiled with love. Like his mother, he never went to university, skipped school on daily basis.
They fought, until she screamed things she didn’t mean, until he hit her; he wasn’t going to pursue her unaccomplished dreams, he yelled one day and left.
The day the police came to her the day she finally willed up the courage to make up. She looked at him through the bars and broke at the crushed look in his eyes.
A fight, they told her, where a lot of rich kids were mixed up. No one except Osman was behind the bars. Osman’s had to lead her away before she tore the policeman’s face off.
“We’ll find a lawyer, dear, I know a good one, a good friend of your father’s, came here a lot. He’ll help—‘
“This is not the time! I’ve seen his friends, all old and mad. If you think I’ll trust them with my son’s case then—! Writers never are around good people.”
Osman had shown love for coming up with stories since childhood.
The boy amused his mother with made-up stories and fairy tales; wrote them in his crooked baby handwriting and showed anyone who cared to see.
His grandmother had been delighted and talked of his grandfather even more than she had to her daughter. It made her almost jealous.
Her mother gave her a hard look. “Your father wasn’t around the best people and certainly not around the brightest. But it was curiosity that drove him. He loved them and they loved him.
Especially, they loved this place. They gathered here, whenever troubles came up.”
At her daughter’s exasperated look, the old woman smiled. “It’s alright, you will understand one day. For now though, please trust me on this. Mammad is a splendid lawyer.”
After some persuasion, the daughter gave in. Half a year later Osman was picked up by his mother, on their way to his grandmother’s.
She had stared at the key for a long time before she finally unlocked the door. The screech against the floor spoke of a long time without care. She dusted off a hanger and hung her coat.
She took a deep breath. The musky smell of age and chemicals filled her. She smiled, the wrinkles by her mouth deepening.
The girl hadn’t aged well; her hair was white and thin, her skin full of spots and lines, her back hunched and her legs weak.
But whenever she looked at herself, she saw her mother and it filled her with warmth.
She let herself pass into the living room slowly, hands tracing the walls, the paper in ribbons here in there.
The room was still cramped with journals and plants and books, but they felt empty now.
The dishes that always stood on the tiny table were gone, back at Osman’s place, taken for his kids and wife.
The bedroom was spotless, most of the belongings taken by her or stored away in the wardrobe. The bed was made and she could tell that it was her late mother who last made it.
The lamp above her was removed and a bundle of wires hung limply.
Why had she never paid more attention before? Now that this place was empty, she realized how much more than a tiny place it was.
She took the tiny red paperback from a shelf, which hadn’t been put away. In her last moments of breath, the mother had asked not to move it, except when I was ready to understand.
The old woman opened the first page and looked at the letter of the quote that appeared to have been scribbled in hastily.
“Home is not where you come to sleep; it’s the place where you return for shelter.”