We lived on Incirlik Air Base when I was in second grade, a southern military base in Turkey. I spent warm afternoons in the ditch near our home catching miniature frogs, so many that they squirmed and sprung out of my grip if I couldn’t scrape the wriggling pile into a jar first. My sisters and I took our dimes to buy ten-cent fudge bars at the shoppette or on more sheets of scratch-and-sniff stickers to put in our sticker albums and trade. Our maid, Aynur, helped my mom with her six wild children, bouncing my brother with his blond curls and round pot belly on her round hip. She wore floral head scarves and floral salvar pants and laughed with a smoker’s wheeze that we regularly tried to coax out of her.
Sometimes on the weekends, we would get to spend the night at her house, a white-washed home surrounded by a white, cement wall coraling a scattering of scraggly chickens and a stretch of crumbling steps leading to the upper level living area. For dinner she would hand me a bowl of potatoes and use hand motions to show me how to peel the skins away. But often I wasted too much and she’d scold me and snatch away the dull knife and produce a pile of feather-thin skins in minutes. After that I tried to be more careful.
Aynur would let us look through her wedding album and I was amazed at how different she looked, in a white lacy dress and her hair piled on her head, pearls poked in throughout. But then we’d come to the pictures of her with her husband and each one showed his body with a finger-sized hole in the place where his grinning face must have once been. She’d say in her gutteral voice, “Cok fana!” Which I knew to mean “very bad.”
Sometimes we would go up on her roof that had no enclosure, using a tiny, rickety ladder to ascend the distance, to hang up her laundry, a long line of floral pants and t-shirts extending across from one side to the other. I’d look out over the city, a greyish smog hanging along the horizon. Minarets poked into the sky and a whippoorwill competed with the man doing the call to prayer, singing out praise to the sky.
Aynur would light a cigarette and lean back on a plastic chair, blowing out her sorrows too. It didn’t matter about the language barrier. Some things need no words and understanding is felt like the sound of a bird against the sky.
These memories are rubies and stones held together in a dirty, brown palm.