Sleeping over at our maid, Aynur’s, house always thrilled me and sort of scared me at the same time. I remember having to take three buses to get there. Get on, ride deeper into the city. Get off. Wait. Get on again, the security of the Air Force base moving the other direction. The last bus was small and beat up and the people bounced around inside with blank faces. I tried to act brave and would stare at their faces out of the corner of my eye, trying to imitate. Aynur was close by but quiet this evening and somewhere else in her thoughts, and I wondered if maybe this was my fault somehow and then wished I didn’t look so American and wished that Aynur would laugh and grab my cheeks like she usually did. The bus stopped, the hiss of the breaks ascending above the silence, then lurched forward and we all shifted and staggered, then found our footing again as it barreled carelessly down the small streets. It smelled like body odor and bread and my stomach growled.
Aynur’s house was a second story apartment–peeling white paint and chickens running around out front. She kicked at them and said, “Git!” and we walked up the steps, that had no rail, up to her dirty metal-doored home. Her son Mustafa and her daughter Cheedem came out grinning and Aynur asked them something in Turkish and she frowned as they answered shortly staring up at her; then they went inside. I guessed it had something to do with her husband, only because that was the only time she frowned that I could recall. She had shown me their wedding pictures the last time I was over and all of the pictures had finger sized holes poked through above some man’s body. They were pictures of Aynur smiling, beautiful in a white dress and hair piled on her head, held there by shiny pearled pins, make-up on and nice shoes (I had never seen her like that) beside some body wearing a suit but no head. In her broken English, Aynur said something about him being bad and we laughed about the holes, but I knew we didn’t think it was funny, neither of us. I didn’t really understand it all and was a bit annoyed because I never had seen his face and he was never there those nights I slept over.
Aynur put me to work helping to prepare dinner. I was to peel the potatoes. She scolded me for peeling so much off and grabbed the potato out of my hand, picked up one of my thick peels from the bowl, then threw the peel in and showed me how to peel it close and thin. I angled the dull knife against the skin and looking at her paper-thin peels, then began again, determined to do it as well as she had. Aynur chopped tomatoes and cucumber and smiled at me now and then as she watched my peels get thinner and thinner.
Later we sat together on the floor and ate quietly, me, Cheedem, Mustafa and Aynur– all greasy-lipped and chewing. They sometimes talked in Turkish and I pretended to understand but really just guessed from their faces and the way their voices moved. When I wanted to speak, I signed and used facial expressions and sometimes I jumped around the room and acted things out. I knew how to say “yes” and “very good” and “very bad” and remember feeling sure this night when I said, “Very bad!Çok fena!” Looking at those poked out heads, “Çok fena!” and made a face of disgust at Aynur’s very bad husband.