Berna

I am unable to come up with a blog post for this week.  Usually, I am doing the dishes or having a shower, (I have no good idea why those two activities are conducive to inspiration) and a thought pops into my head.  I follow that thought and it leads me to a blog post which I later hone and develop.  Currently, however I am stumped.  Perhaps it is because I am in the throes of writing a novelette and any and all thinking divorced from looking after my family, is directed at the story I am telling.  It could also be that I am totally disinterested in the going-ons of the world.  Through being on the frontline of the migrant situation and seeing the reality of what is going on and then reading the frankly false reports of the media, I am unable to accept any other world reports as true.  I think my brain, unable to trust reality is therefore sticking to fantasy.  I have been thinking one particular thought about the lives of women  and wondering if much has changed for us in modern times.  Normally, this would be turned into a blog post but due to the above, I thought I would just share a short story that I wrote ages ago.  It called ‘Berna’ and here it is:

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Berna slapped and pushed the rump of the cow willing it towards home. It was her fault really that it had gotten away. She had been tasked with tying up the bitch to guard it from the wolves and had forgotten to secure the rope tethering the cow it to its post. She hadn’t wanted to tie up the dog who would then be defenceless against any rutting male in the neighborhood, no way to shield herself from their wonton aggressions but her father had told her to do so and she had obeyed. She couldn’t understand why the sow was unwilling to be guided home. It’s groaning udders were full of milk which her mother would relieve by milking. She slapped and prodded the cow once more and miraculously it was drawn and proceeded in the direction of the yard. Berna grabbed the rope under the cow’s gullet and lead her back to where she spent her days grazing under the sun. Once back in the yard she called her mother to let her know that she could begin her morning ritual and then set about walking around to the back of the house axe in hand. She looked down at the wood pile and selected a large piece of what before would have been a small but sturdy tree. She placed it on the old stump and nimbly positioned the axe head into its middle with a sharp strong movement. She brought the log, now connected to what would split it in two, up into the air and then quickly down severing it. She took one of the halves and repeated the act. She enjoyed cutting the wood needed for the stove that heated the house especially now. Before she would have only cut as much as was required to burn on one occasion but now she would happily cut a day’s worth. It gave her a chance to be alone away from the attentions of her hovering parents. Not that she resented them. Of course they were concerned about her state of mind and she was lucky it was this way because another girl in her position would never be allowed back into the family home. Some would be banished from the family fold forever. Some mostly in other parts of the country, would be killed for what she had done.

“Good Morning!” Came a voice from the other side of the concrete wall which surrounded her parents’ house.

Between the spaces of the lattice bricks she could make out the figure and face of a school mate. His family had lived next door to her since they were babies. As children they had played together with all of the other children in the street but being cohorts they were especially close. As they grew there was talk between their parents about having them marry but of course she had put paid to that. Now she wished she hadn’t been so naive. She had been too curious and now here she was acting like a child again, back living with her parents. She would have been better off taking the route that they had been mapping out for her. Finishing school, going to college, marrying Enver settling down here. She looked into his kind dark eyes. He was a sweet handsome boy who had always admired her beauty. All of the boys in the village had admired her. They had all flirted with her in the way of young virginal boys. Knowing that her face, body and movements stirred something inside them but not knowing exactly what that was. She too had wondered about it. It was spoken about in their childish ways. It was witnessed between lovers in the street. The clasp of hands, the winking eyes, the light touches, laughter and such. She had wanted to know what her beauty meant to the boys at school. She was the cause. What was the effect?

“Good Morning, Enver. How are you today?” She was close enough to the wall for them to peer into each other’s eyes.

“I am good. I see you are working hard. Do you need some help?” He asked but they both knew that she could not accept his offer.

“No, no thank you. I am happy to do it. I enjoy it.”

“I see. It is just so cold out, isn’t it? I mean it has snowed the past two days!”

She looked up at the snow covered mountains which hugged her little village. It was colder than usual and they were not accustomed to this much snow, but it looked pretty to her. She had sat looking out of the window watching the flakes fall down, down, down to the ground. They looked so light almost like feathers, but when they had reached their destination they showed themselves to be heavy and cold suffocating the ground with their wet interlocking blanket.

“Berna, Berna!” Came her mother’s voice. “Have you enough wood yet?”

“Yes, Mummy, I am coming now.” She said a little panicky not wanting suspicion to fall upon Enver.

“See you, Enver.”

“See you, Berna.”

He walked towards his house, turned back and offered the concrete wall a little wave which she saw and pointlessly returned. She reluctantly leaned the axe against the wood pile, gathered up the pieces she had cut and headed back towards the entrance of the house. Her mother was waiting at the door. Berna scoffed silently, what did her mother think? That her and Enver were secret lovers? That they were plotting their escape from the village together? Didn’t her mother know that her daily pain and forced amnesia were enough to bear without adding the hope of a different life to her heart? The hope of another life, even though that was something she would eventually have to accept.

She walked into the sitting room and placed some of the wood in the smouldering stove. Her father was seated beside the stove having just escaped from the many blankets under which he slept. He tried to warm himself with the embers left over from the night which would soon provide the spark for the wood she had just brought inside. Her mother was in the kitchen preparing breakfast. She decided that she would rather risk the cold of the concrete kitchen than stay in the soon to be warm salon. She retraced her steps towards the house entrance turning at the door to the kitchen. Without exchanging words she and her mother settled into a synchronicity of movement all designed to fill their empty bellies. She got the large round tray from where it leaned against the wall and started putting the various dishes which her mother had prepared onto it: olives, olive oil, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread as well as sugar, teaspoons and glass tea cups. Her mother had boiled the water and placed the teapots on the stove in the salon so Berna took the tray in hand followed by her mother with the round plastic sieve which served as a perch for the tray and a large cloth which would serve as protection for their knees. They entered the salon where the wood having caught fire was doing its job of heating the small room. Her mother placed the sieve on the floor, centered the cloth on top of it and Berna placed the tray on the two. They positioned themselves around their feast and started to eat. After a few minutes Berna took the top teapot and poured some of its dark contents into three tea glasses. She reached up and took the larger pot upon which the little one had been set and topped up each glass with water to dilute the strong brew. She put a teaspoon of sugar in each of the glasses and then handed one to her mother and one to her father. They all stirred their tea in a rhythmic motion making a clinking sound in the room. Berna wasn’t really hungry these days but she forced herself to eat. It would not serve her to lose weight at this time as she needed all of her strength for what was to come. She also knew that her parents were watching each mouthful that she took willing a little more into her at every pause she took from eating the food before her.

“I will go and check the olive trees today.” Said her father to her mother. “I think that we should start harvesting them next week.”

“Okay.” Said her mother.

They sat in silence. There was a lot of silence now a days and Berna couldn’t stand it. She got up and walked to the television set where she turned it on and picked up the remote control. She flicked through the channels until she found a talk show that she liked. She always watched this show in her flat in the town. She liked the strong opinionated female host. The way that she comforted the victims that came on her show and equally confronted their victimisers made Berna feel like if she could just go on and tell her story, she would be understood, vindicated and everything made right again. At least right how Berna wanted it to be. It was watching this show that had made her think about things; about what had really happened. It made her understand that everyone around her had become players supporting others’ and their own versions of events. She had walked into a theatrical set chosen by all of them to fix the damage already done and responded to the props there. They had played their supporting roles so well until a new actor entered the series that was her life and she had decided that she was going to act out her own script.

“Berna. Berna. Berna? Are you just going to sit there or are you going to help me clean up.” Her mother’s voice shook her out of her musings. Without a word she picked up the tray with the remnants of breakfast on it and started towards the kitchen with her mother following.

“You go back in the salon where it is warm Mother, I will clean up.”

“Thank you, dear.”

Berna put on the kettle for some hot water in which to wash the dishes. She put the uneaten food back in the refrigerator and stacked the dirty dishes up at the side of the sink. She took some dish soap and the now boiled water and combined them in the sink, then she set to work cleaning the metal, ceramic and glass. She worked quickly and quietly using the chore as a forum in which to salve her soul with thoughts about her lover. He did resemble an actor. He looked just like the lead actor in her favorite series, a cop show set in Istanbul. He was tall, dark, thin and handsome, just as a lead actor should be. They started their acquaintance as normal friendly people do; saying good day and good evening when their paths crossed coming or going from their particular flats. He was around her age and still lived with his parents. He worked in town at a tea shop. He was lucky to have work in the small city as so many others didn’t. His father work in the city administration building where he was in charge of bringing tea to the staff. That is how he had been able to get his son a job at the tea shop which supplied him with the gallons of tea that the city staff drank each day and which he served them. His mother stayed at home as was the tradition here, only going out to the market or out to visit family or neighbours mostly in the afternoons. Berna’s thoughts strayed into unwanted territory, remember that she too would go out in the afternoons to visit her husband’s family. Mostly she would go visit his aunt who lived close by and was always happy to have them. They had grown especially close during her time there but now she hadn’t any contact with her since she came back to her parent’s house. She hadn’t any contact with any of them. She had known before she had made her decision that it would be like this, but she hadn’t been prepared for the pain of the separation. It is one thing for your eyes to see something in a different light, but another thing to rearrange the associative emotions that come with that new context. The heart also has eyes and it kept trying to peer back into the past to see what it’s littlest player was doing.

“Berna, I think I will make stuffed vine leaves for dinner. Will you help me prepare them?” Said her mother as she entered the kitchen

“Of course Mother. How is the stove? Shall I fetch more wood for it?”

“Yes, that would be a good idea.”

She finished the last of the dishes and dried her hands. She went back out to the house entrance and picked up her coat where she had laid it. She found herself back in her favorite place, choosing a piece of wood and then splitting it into smaller pieces. After she had enough wood for the stove, she went back inside and deposited it into the stove’s basket. Her father had already left in his truck to drive out to the mountain where their olive trees were. He wouldn’t be back for a few hours and upon his return would go to the coffee house anyway so on most days it was just her and her mother alone in the house together. Sometimes neighbors visited but recently their visits had become fewer and fewer…

The TV had remained on and the talk show was still showing. She had missed most of that day’s drama so flicked through the channels again. All of a sudden her lover appeared on the screen. It was a repeat of the cop show from many season back but the lead actors face still shone out at her like a sign of her sanity. He was a hero, an honourable man who would never hurt a woman or child. She had thought her husband was like this initially but she had been mistaken. Her husband was a few years older than her and already worked for his father’s small mine. Their office was in the village close to the school where she had been taking her last year of high school. She had been walking home one day when he approached her. He had the face of an angel and the girth of a bull. His presence and body both seemed massive to her. Still he was the most charming person she had ever met. He spoke without an ounce of guile and it disarmed her. He had said good day to her and she had answered back; that was the extent of their initial conversation. The next few times that she saw him they had repeated the exercise until one day farther in the future she had found herself in the front seat of his car going to the city with him. He had asked her if he could buy her a gift as beautiful as she was. She had agreed because she was flattered by his attentions. They had gone to a jeweller in the city and he had bought her a gold pendant in the center of which was the evil eye. To ward off any danger, he had said, but the danger had been him. She had taken her gift home and hid it in the pocket of her winter jacket. She had never had something so expensive and beautiful before and she treasured it. Soon they were often going into the city together. He would buy her a meal or a tea at one of the cafes and they would chat easily. She knew that they was taking a chance; someone from her village could see them. They weren’t even engaged and they were alone together. The peril excited her. His attentions excited her. She had no idea where they would lead until the autumn turned into winter and the early darkness provided the cover for what was the next step. They kissed tentatively at first. She had never been kissed before. Her soon-to-be-husband was gentle. He kissed and touched her like she was a china doll that would break if he bore down on her too heavily. The newness of the experiences enthralled her and tricked her into thinking that she was safe and that she was in love. Looking back she realised that she was just a child starting to play the role of a woman but she had no clue about womanly things other than housekeeping and playing with others’ children. She passively allowed herself to be lead to where he wanted her to go and soon she found out what the effect of her presence was on men. She wanted it to be like in the movies that only showed the lovers kissing and touching each other with an implored hunger and then afterwards them lying sweetly in each other’s arms with knowing smiles upon their lips. The part that was never shown but which she had first experienced with her husband had shocked her. She wasn’t prepared for the pain and violence of the first time act. Despite the jolt to her body and psyche she had still lain in bed that night hugging herself and feeling content that she had finally discovered what it was all about. The secret that adults knew about and virgins only imagined.

The creak of the door as her mother entered made her start. She stood up to help her with the tray where she had put the ingredients to make vine leaves by taking it out of her hands and placing it on the floor. Without talking they assumed their normal roles: Berna took a few damp vines leaves, cut the hard stems off of them and then separated them for her mother to roll the pilaf into. As she worked she looked up at the TV. The climax of the program was showing and her lover was racing into a burning building to save a woman and small child trapped on the second floor. Just as he had saved her alone. She hadn’t meant for their relationship to deepen, but as she came to understand that her husband had taken advantage of her, that he had trapped her into a situation for which she wasn’t ready she began becoming moody and morose. She started snapping at those around her over the littlest things that she would not have even noticed before. A broken cup, a spilled drink, a temper tantrum. She knew that she was changing in a negative way but she was so consumed with anger at her husband. It was not only that he had trapped her but his family had used her like a little village girl who was their servant. Of course this was the traditional way. She was the newest and youngest member of the family and as such she had to serve the older generation. When she was older and had a daughter in law she would in turn let her do all of the work. In the city though it was different, people were not married to this traditional structure. The social norms were different there. People were more modern and egalitarian. Her husband’s family were wealthy compared to most families she knew so she thought that they would be more like the families which she saw portrayed on TV. When she was informed that they would have to get married she was excited because she thought that she would have a lady to come over and do the cooking and cleaning just like rich people, she hadn’t realised that she would be that lady. Her neighbour’s greetings however started to cheer her up bit by bit and she became more of her softer self on the days that she saw him. Going towards him would take her back to herself she reasoned; return her to that kind-hearted girl who had started this journey. So she pursued him. Like her husband pursued her, she became the initiator. She tried to time her exits out of the building with the moment that he left for work in the mornings. She had walked along with him saying that she needed bread at the bakery close to where the teashop was. Their easy rapport grew and grew and although he remained innocent to her intentions he played right into her hands. She mentioned a day when the gas tube in the kitchen had run out and she had been left with no means to cook dinner. Her husband had been up in the mountains with his father inspecting their mine operations and he could not receive her call. The young man being a conscientious sort offered her his phone number as a means of assistance should she ever require it. Once she had his number she started to text him from time to time. Just a small greeting or a comment on something that they had discussed earlier. Very slowly she could feel his sensible nature beginning to falter. He was falling in love with her the same as she was with him. He was all she wanted to think about. Anything besides a thought of him was a mere inconvenience in her day. Her husband must have noticed this because he, unbeknownst to her, started to grow suspicious but she was propelling herself and her lover to the same moment that her husband had propelled her so many years ago and was blind to everyone and anything else. When the moment did happen, it was easy. She called him to say that there was a problem with the shower leaking a constant stream of water and could he come on his lunch break to see about it. Of course he agreed. He arrived soon after and she let him in. She let him know that she was home alone and would be for some time. She led him into the shower room to inspect the shower head that she herself had loosened. Before he could even investigate she leaned into him and kissed him. She could tell that he was inexperienced. The hot rush of red that immediately covered his face and the started expression in his eyes told her so but he was not unwilling. Then it was like the movies. She lead him to their bedroom and orchestrated the act; controlling all of the movements like the director of a theatrical piece. Afterwards just like he was a small child she cradled his head in her arms and stroked the hair off his face. It was the first and last time that they would be in each other’s embrace.

Tap, tap, tap came a knock on the door.

“Mother there must be a neighbor come to visit.” Berna said, looking away from the TV where the hero had long since rescued the mother and child from danger and the credits had rolled.

“I will go and see who it is.” Said her mother as she rose from her position on the floor and went through the door.

Berna heard the footsteps of her mother down the hallway and the creak of the front door. She did not hear the next sound she expected, that of a neighborhood lady or two following her mother back down the hall and into the salon where they would chat and drink the Turkish coffee and eat the fruit that Berna would bring. Instead she heard a familiar voice. It was her husband’s aunt. She had come to see her! Berna could not hear her mother’s answer but she heard the aunt’s now raised voice.

“She has to come and speak with the family. Why will she not speak with us? You and your husband must come too!”

“No.” Said her mother. “There will be no discussion. Berna does not want anything to do with your family. Let it now be before the courts.”

“Whatever do you mean? We do not understand why she did what she did? Why did she just run away from her husband, her family? What did he do? We know she was talking with another boy, but we can forget all of that. She must come home to her responsibilities.”

“No.’ Said her mother again. “Berna wants a divorce. Let it be before the courts.”

“If she wants a divorce then fine, but what about the boy? Why won’t she see the boy? He keeps asking for his mother. He doesn’t understand why she just disappeared. She must want to see her son.”

“We will have to let the courts decide. Now you must go.” Her mother shut the front door.

Berna could hear the other woman’s voice still not wanting to let the matter drop. She looked down at her middle. The boy, her son, the other half of her heart. After she had found out that she was pregnant and their families had met to agree a quick marriage she was caught up in the wave of action to make their relationship legitimate. Her husband’s father had paid for the wedding, the jewellery, the dresses, the photographer, anything and everything that culture and tradition dictated was necessary and more. She had felt like a princess on the day and even after it when her new husband had taken her furniture shopping for their flat in the town. She had chosen everything from the coffee cups to the curtains to the crib. Her girth had grown to match her husbands and she had thought that she was happy. When it was time for the baby to come, they had gone to the special woman’s hospital in the big city about an hour away. She had complications because the baby was especially big, and had to have a caesarean. Afterwards both sets of grandmothers had helped with the running of the house and with the baby. She was young and took the sleep deprivation, constant suckling, and unwavering responsibility in her stride. She had loved the baby. She was more in love with him that she was with her husband but they wouldn’t leave her alone with him. As the baby grew into a toddler and no longer needed her body for sustenance her mother-in-law took it as a sign that she could take over. She claimed the child like it had been born from her own body. She would use any occasion to monopolize him. If they were over visiting and he fell asleep she would insist on him staying with her and send Berna and her husband back to town alone. If they were at a family function she would take the child from Berna as soon as they arrived and reject any attempts of Berna’s to come near him. Looking back now it was when the family ordered her to stay at the hospital attending to their sick grandmother that her second act had commenced. She was a week with that old woman, looking after her in the hospital, missing her little boy. She started to see them all differently and then one day watching the talk show she realised everything had been orchestrated by her husband and his family. They defiled an innocent girl to get an heir and a servant and she had played along. A switch had been thrown. Lights, camera, action. Only now her actions would direct her life. She revelled in the intrigue. The walks, the texts, the calls. Dropping her son off to the aunts for minding, so that she could be with her lover. Even when her husband had gone through her phone and accused her of what she had actually done, she hadn’t minded. She just turned away from him and the boy and walked out the door. At that moment it had been easy; she wanted to run away from her life and the players in it.

Berna’s mother opened the door to the salon and entered without a word. She sat down where she had been seated and resumed her work on the dolmas. Berna felt her mother’s shame combine with her own and spread like a fever all through her body. She cupped her growing belly as if to shield it from this energetic onslaught. A tear dropped from her right eye but she quickly wiped it away with the back of her hand. Soon, she reasoned defiantly, she would finally forget about all of them. They still had a part of her but she was free. She would only have to wait four short months for her heart to be whole again.

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