They sat silently on the bed closest to the window and took turns gazing out through the gap between the curtains. It was Rahme’s turn to look out, her heart fluttering in her chest, a pulsing in her temple. From the tiny opening she could just about see the shiny brown bellies of the chestnuts her mother had roasted earlier that day, their skins slightly charred.
'What can you see now?' her sister asked, poking her in the forearm with the tip of her finger.
'Ow,' exclaimed Rahme. She tutted and caressed her arm. 'I can’t see anything,' she said. 'Just the chestnuts.'
'What do you mean just the chestnuts?' said Derin. 'I could see him when I was looking out. Where’s he gone?'
Rahme leaned in closer to the window, her eye glazed like a peephole between the two pieces of curtain. She saw a hand reach for the glass cup on the table; a hand with milky-white plump fingers. The cup disappeared from view and Rahme counted till six before it was placed back down, empty, a single drop of water slivering down from its rim, running a zig-zagged course.
Rahme rose, standing on the bed to gaze down over the wooden pole holding up the curtain. The sky was clear, devoid of any clouds, and the moon shone onto their porch, shrouding it into an eerie, harsh glare. She saw him then, the top of his head, his thick black hair gleaming under the moonlight. He stretched his arm, thrusting it out towards Rahme’s father who was sitting opposite him, leaning forwards with eyes wide open as if listening deeply. Rahme looked around her and saw that her sister was near the door, her back pressed against the wall and her fingertips resting on her teeth. Suddenly a loud hoarse laugh startled Rahme. She pressed her palm against her chest and called to her sister, a stifled whisper, a few successive hisses that said: 'Come here.' Her sister swung back and shook her head, and Rahme motioned for her to come quick, flittering her fingers. She glanced back out and saw the sea-blue of his trainers, unfrayed, untorn, as if they’d never been worn, unlike her own shoes, a pair of brown sandals, laying at the foot of the bed, their buckles broken and replaced by fastening pins. Once they’d belonged to her older sister, Sultan, who had nine years ago married far away to England where Rahme too wanted to go.
She stroked the yellow ribbon she had tied into a bow to fasten her plait that ran along her back. She imagined herself, holding his white hand, flying the flag of England all the way up into the skies where she had never been before, all the way to England where the roads were paved in concrete and the shops overspilled with fruits from all around the world. Her sister had shown her photos full of grey; grey skies, grey buildings, grey hair, grey people, so different from where she was born and lived for the eighteen years she’d been alive, where everything was brown. The fields that stretched out miles and miles all the way to the endless sea were brown, pregnant with the season’s harvests, so were the mud houses sitting in the middle of lands large and expansive surrounded by trees of honey-sweet fruits, figs and apricots, plums and prickly pears.
A strong wind rose and whistled against the window pane and Rahme hoped they’d come in so she could see him up close, so she could see his pale-white skin that had not been scorched by the merciless Cyprus sun as her own had, his hands that had not been coarsened by the hoe that she used to soften the soil, not stained by the crimson soil that seeped into their cracks.
Diren sat up close to her, clearing her throat before asking: 'Why do you think nobody’s come with him?' The front door rattled, awakened by the gust.
'His mum’s ill,' said Rahme. 'I think she’s in a….you know…crazy hospital in England.' She turned to look at her sister, whose face was submerged in partial shadow, the right side of her face lit up by the pale white glare of the moon.
'What if it happens to your children?' her sister asked.
Rahme winced, terror-stricken, she grabbed the edge of the windowsill, thinking of ill children, having to confine them to beds, tying them with ropes to the metal legs of the bedposts or covering their mouths with cloth, fastening a tight knot so they wouldn’t shout like Karaali, their neighbour’s son, did sometimes when the hodja blared the call to prayer a tad too loudly or when the dogs started barking at night collectively, an angry choir of howls suspended in the still air.
'If it happens there is nothing you can do,' said Derin.
Rahme knew that she didn’t have to marry him; that she could avoid ill children if she married Cuneyt, her uncle’s son, instead, who embossed her name into the fat juicy leaves of the prickly pear trees all around the village. Rahme sat further up in the bed and listened to her father murmuring, interrogating the guy who was to be the King of her home. She heard him laugh, a burst, that quickly withered. She liked that he laughed, unlike her father who was always stern, who never smiled even when they knew he was happy, when sitting on the porch in the early morning, just as the sun was rising, slurping at the Rose Water Muhallebi Rahme’s mother had made him the previous night, gazing down the path that led down to the mosque, tiny pink droplets dripping from his lips into the bowl.
Derin seized her sister’s hand and leaned in. 'What do you think he’s laughing at?' she asked.
'I can’t hear what they’re saying,' said Rahme. 'But it’s nice that he’s laughing. I’ll make him laugh all the time.'
'Where? In bed?' her sister said, chuckling, covering her mouth with the tips of her fingers. Rahme pinched down on her arm, smiling.
She could see him fanning his face with his hand, his cheeks dotted with stubble. She sighed deeply, wondering when she’d be able to touch it, the curve of his cheeks the colour of the fresh milk they squeezed out of the plump udders of their cow, Münüre, every morning. An owl jumped down from above onto the oleander tree planted besides their porch. It sat statue-still releasing a soothing hoot.
'He’s so white,' said Rahme, holding her sister’s hand. 'Imagine being that white.'
'You’ll fade when you move there too,' said Derin. 'Like Sultan who looks like she’s some European queen. You won’t need to be out in the fields all day, under the sun. He’ll look after you, and you’ll sit all day.'
Rahme imagined just sitting down in her cool room where the sun never shone, the constant ache in her calves aggravated by the kneeling and standing required of picking the seasonal harvests, alleviated, gone. Her heart leapt with joy, her legs quivering as she kneeled on the mattress, looking out at him, the saviour of her body. She leaned in further as she saw him rise, his stripy brown t-shirt, aligned with her eyeline, just beyond the humidity-fogged window in front of her.
'They’re coming I think,' said Rahme, her heart pumping in her temple. 'Stay there,' she said, throwing her long-black hair over her shoulder. 'Cross your legs. Let’s just pick up the phone book, we’ll flick through it. Talk about the numbers. Whose is whose. We’ll do something.' She was breathing heavily, her fingers erratically shaking, pins and needles taking over her body. She leaned over her sister, picked up the phone book resting on the cabinet that contained a thousand frames of her and her siblings and her great-grandfather dead a thousand years ago. She opened it at random, her left palm resting on her sister’s clammy knee. A shadow fell into the room then, obscuring the numbers. All invisible. She counted to six, her brain pulsing with a cluster of sounds that failed to come together as words. Her father grunted and she knew he was about to say something important. He always grunted when she had done something wrong or when he was going to give her a task to undertake in the fields, under the sun, the blistering sun that burnt her skin that peeled pink.
'Derin,' he said.
He’s going to tell her to leave the room, Rahme thought to herself. And then it will be me, him, and dad.
'This is Deniz,' he said. Rahme looked for numbers but couldn’t see any. 'He would like to marry you.'
Deniz took a step forward and the shadow of his bulbous head fell onto the page. And then she heard his voice, gruff like he’d been fighting off her cold for a long time. 'Hello Derin.' The ‘e’ was long and drawn out and she knew he was smiling.