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by Trudy (8/3/2009)


Layla’s thoughts wander off, to that day twenty years ago. She was only eleven years old at that time. There were many problems in her family. Her seventeen-year old elder sister Zekiye did not want to wear the headscarf as her father demanded. She wanted to study, to travel around the world after passing her high school exams and she wanted to go out. With boys yes, also with Dutch boys. Layla remembers the fights very well, her mother’s screams, the harsh reproaches of Zekiye towards their parents: ‘You two are so old-fashioned. You are still stuck in the sandy soil of the village you left thirty years ago. Did you never ask yourself why you could not get a decent job here, daddy? Did you never wonder why after such a long time you hardly speak the local language, mama? He controls your life, as if you are not a human being. I will not accept that. I will not marry such a villager who has not seen a thing in the world. You live here, use the possibilities the country gives you and adapt a little.’ Layla also remembers the angry face of her father, the abrupt gesture with which he took off his belt and used it as a whip to hit Zekiye. She can avoid the belt but she is too late to avoid the blow with the fist that follows immediately. Zekiye fells on the floor, blood streaming from her nose. She crawls away, like a wounded animal, looking for protection against the enormous aggressiveness of her father. No-one helps her. Her mother is standing aside, doing nothing and Layla herself? She was too young to do anything. ‘You bet I will make sure you will not become such a whore,’ roared her father while kicking his daughter who lies on the floor, ‘a daughter of mine will rather die than become a slut!’ Zekiye finally manages to escape from the room before she gets kicked and hit any more.


The next day when Layla comes back from school. Zekiye is not there. ‘Where is Zekiye, mama?’, she asks her mother who is preparing dinner in the kitchen. ‘Zekiye? Who is that? I don’t know anyone by that name,’ her mother snaps, ‘I don’t want to hear that name ever again.’ Layla doesn’t understand. Why is her mother pretending she has only one daughter? What has happened? Where is Zekiye? The talks that follow make things more clear. Layla finds out that Zekiye has run away from home with a Dutch boy. Pieces of conversation flash to her when she secretly listens at the door of the living room at night. She hears her mother lament and her father talking angrily - but with a softened voice in order not to alarm the neighbours - with an uncle and some elderly men she has never seen before. ‘Dishonoured…. family name…. twenty-five thousand Euros…’ Layla does not get a clue from these words. She misses her sister a lot, they shared a bedroom and Zekiye always combed her raven-black long hair, read her bedtime stories and they romped together.


Five days later the phone rings during dinner. Her mother answers it: ‘Efendim?’ She listens to the voice on the other end of the line and without saying a word, but with a face as if she just have bitten into a lemon, she gives the receiver to her husband. ‘It is for you,’ she says, ‘the girl who claims she is your daughter.’ ‘Where are you?’, Layla hears her father asking, ‘we want to talk to you, can you come home again? I will not beat you again.’ Some sputtering sounds, the face of her father reddens but he can control himself. ‘No, in the name of Allah, I promise you I will not harm you.’ A few minutes later he ends the call. ‘She will be here tomorrow evening,’ he tells his wife,’ we have to contact Berkant and Kadir.’ ‘Berkant?,’ Layla thinks, ‘why do they need to contact her fifteen year old cousin and his father?’ She again does not understand anything of it.


The next evening Layla is sent to bed early. ‘We will have company,’ her mother says, ’you do not need to be present.’ Layla goes up the stairs, pretending she goes into her room but she hides on the landing. She wants to know what is going on, will Zekiye really come home? The doorbell rings and uncle Kadir and cousin Berkant come in. They immediately disappear into the living room so Layla cannot hear very well what is said in there. She can still hear the deep, dark voices of her father and uncle, arguing and the calming sounds her mother makes. Half an hour later the doorbell rings again. Her father opens the door. Zekiye is standing on the doorstep. A pale face, red eyes, it seems as if she has been crying. ‘Come in,’ her father says in a neutral way, ‘we need to talk.’ They go into the living room and very soon loud, angry voices are heard. ‘No, I will not do that,’ Layla hears her sister scream. For a moment there is silence and then the sound of a shot is heard. The door of the living room opens, her mother comes out, crying, yelling and tearing at her hair: ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ Layla runs down the stairs, pushing her mother rudely aside and goes into the living room. Her father, uncle and cousin are standing next to the couch, all three tight-lipped. In Berkant’s hand is a gun. Zekiye lies in front of the couch on the floor, a large red spot on her chest, blood coming from her mouth. ‘Nooooooo!!!’, Layla screams in tears while walking towards the body of her sister. ‘What has happened to Zekiye?’ Her father pulls her away from the silent body. ‘A little accident, Layla, just a little accident.’ He sighs and says to his brother: ‘We should call the police.’ Her uncle nods while looking at the white face of his son.


The wheels of government sometimes grind slowly, however not always. Within two months Layla’s life has changed radically. Zekiyes body has been taken to Turkey after the autopsy. She is buried in the village of her parents; in the same graveyard many family members are buried. Berkant has been arrested and convicted for murder. Because of his age he did not go to a prison but to a juvenile correction institute. Six years from now, when he is twenty-one, he will be free again. During court sessions Berkant confessed. He told the judge he did not want his family having a bad name because of his cousin’s behaviour. ‘I came with my father to talk to her and to be certain she would listen I took a gun with me. I borrowed the gun from a friend. I only wanted to scare her, not to harm her, it really was an accident.’ The children’s court magistrate did not buy his story. ‘Honour revenge,’ he called it, ‘murder to protect the family name.’ He expressed his thoughts that Berkant was used as a tool by his father and uncle. A minor gets less punishment than an adult does. ‘Unfortunately I cannot prove this,’ the judge tells both men in the court-room while looking piercingly over his half-rimmed spectacles, you are off the hook in judicial, but absolutely not in ethical, meaning. I can only hope you will regret what you have done.’ Then a surprising verdict follows. ‘I will put your youngest daughter Layla under the protection of guardianship. That way I can save her from you, your wife and your awful train of thoughts. I have no reason now to send her to a home but do know that I would very much like to do that.’


In the next couple of years Layla’s life is fairly calm, as far as that is possible. She gets good grades at school and with the intervention of her guardian she can enter the highest level of secondary education. Every day a neighbour, cousin, second-cousin or a friend of her father follows her when she goes to school, every day someone is waiting for her at the end of the day. They do not do anything; they do not talk to her. They just watch her to see who she is talking to and what she is doing during free periods. In the evening they report to her father. No matter how much Layla hates being followed and being spied on, she keeps calm, knowing she will be able to do more as long as her father thinks she is obedient to him. Her father keeps a low profile; he knows that every abuse of his will be reported to the children’s court magistrate and that, if Layla should be housed elsewhere, he will lose all his influence over her. After school Layla goes immediately to her room, to study. It does not feel right or good to drink ‘nicely’ tea with her parents in the living room; she has never forgiven her mother for not intervening when her father beat Zekiye up. Her father she would love to see in prison for years as it was his idea to use Berkant. She keeps aloof from her class mates; she does not join them when they go to the public library or to McDonalds during free periods. After secondary school Layla wants to go to university. With the help of her guardian she persuades her parents to give their permission. Layla is planning very smartly when she chooses medicine; she knows it will be quite possible she has to leave her parental house as there is an entry-quota for medical students at the nearby universities. She needs to live on campus. At first her father refuses. ‘No way,’ he rages, ‘and then you can go out with boys? Losing your honour? It will not happen!’ Several talks with the guardian make him revise his views. A doctor in the family is quite something to be proud of and ah, even in other towns he has friends enough to keep a constant eye on Layla, though he does not say these last words out loud. Layla finds herself a place in a campus house with only girls and that reassures her father. The first couple of years Layla concentrates on her studies, she passes all her exams directly. She avoids going home to her parents, using excuses about papers and presentations that need to be prepared. Day by day she keeps at a distance from them. One night there is that telephone call: her mother has had a heart attack and died. She will be buried in Turkey. Of course Layla needs to go to Turkey for the funeral, she cannot withdraw but she will stay as short a time as possible. As a precaution she arranges for two class mates to come with her and she tells her guardian where she is going. This way she knows for sure she will be back and not be given away in marriage to some unknown relative from a village.


Back home a lot of changes occur. Her father appears to be incapable of looking after himself. He cannot cook, wash his clothes or iron, his wife did that for him. He hardly takes a shower anymore and his days pass by in the Turkish teahouse around the corner. Silent. The control over Layla is weakening, no one is following her anymore, and she can do as she pleases. This new freedom does not mean Layla is behaving badly, it just means she starts making new friends with her classmates. Hans, Jeroen, Karin, Meryem and Abdel, five people from very different backgrounds but all studying very seriously. They study together, go out once in a while and cook together because that is cheaper. One night in her favourite pub, she meets Samuel, a Jewish law-student, who has a side job as a waiter. Soon Layla realises Samuel likes her more than just a little but she keeps him at a distance. First she wants to graduate, after that she will see.


At her twenty-first birthday the guardianship expires. Officially that should have happened three years ago but with Layla’s approval the magistrate told her father ‘extended guardianship’ really exists. ‘Nice, a man who after thirty years is still not at home in his country,’ Layla then thought somewhat mockingly, ‘one can tell him anything.’ Before the usual term of six years has expired Layla graduates as a doctor. The day she gets her diploma not one of her family is present. Her father later says he has forgotten it. Of course all her friends, classmates and room-mates from the campus where she has now lived for almost six years are there. And Samuel. He congratulates her, gives her flowers and then he bends over to her. For a second his lips touch hers and then he stands up again, a smile on his face.


During the months that follow a real relationship develops between Layla and Samuel. Layla does not practice the faith she has been raised in for years and also Samuel is not religious anymore. Samuel works as a lawyer at a solicitor’s office and Layla prepares for her specialisation as a gynaecologist. Meanwhile she gets medical practice as a GP in a centre for asylum seekers in a small coastal village. Months go by and become years. She and Samuel are a real couple now, they go together on holiday, they share a lot, and after some time they also live together. Layla’s specialisation goes smoothly and directly after passing her exams she is offered a job at the university hospital. Samuel has gained promotion as well; he now is a partner at the solicitor’s office where he has worked for such a long time.


Then there is another phone call. Her father has had a cerebral haemorrhage and is now in the intensive care unit of a hospital. ‘You will have to hurry if you still want to talk to your father, he is not doing well,’ the nurse on the phone tells Layla. By train she goes to the city where her father still lives. There he is, alone in a room, his body full with tubes of several drips, a catheter and on his chest the stickers of a heart-lung machine. His face is yellowish, sunken, his breathing erratic. He opens his eyes and sees Layla standing next to his bed. His eyes widen, a sign that he recognises her. ‘Hello father,’ Layla says, ‘I came to say goodbye. I think this is the last time you will see me so I have something to tell you.’ Her father cannot answer but he blinks his eyes to show he can hear her. ‘For years now, without you knowing it, I have been living with the Jewish man I love and I will go on living with him – and, no father, we are not getting married.’ Her father’s face is drawn, his eyes dilated; he would like to say something but the breathing tube hinders him. ‘Oh, there is something else,’ Layla continues, ‘I am more than three months pregnant now. Zekiye did not do anything wrong but I am the one who has violated your oh-so important family honour.’ She gives him a last quick look, then she turns around and walks away, leaving the shrill sounds of the heart-lung machine that beats an alarm behind her. Her revenge tastes sweet.

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