She named me Toros, after the mountain range, from which
the Euphrates descends into Syria.
She disappeared into the higher elevations of the mountains,
raising me in patches of grapevines, figs and bananas,
between the Mediterranean and the Anatolian plateau.
She’d always wanted a daughter, she even had
a name for her: Kader, fate, a daughter had been
her destiny. Imagine her disappointment when I had been born a boy.

In the springtime she would take my hand
and show me the landscapes of limestone pavements,
of waterfalls coming alive, tracing underground rivers,
standing on the edges of blind valleys.
When I was older we left Anatolia, entering Muğla Province,
amongst the tourists in Bodrum.

She recited her poetry in Turkish under a big fig tree,
face smudged with dirt, a son on her breast,
selling copies of translations in English.
The foreigners would eat it up, wondering who she was,
where she’d come from, her seemingly British accent, her features
too delicate to be a Kazakhi,
the spell she cast over them with tarot card readings
and histories of lost worlds— that the very place under their feet was ancient Caria,
a province of the Persian Empire; rich with marble and scorpions, allies of the Trojans.

How she hated Bodrum, the St Tropez of Turkey,
but the vacationers with their yachts and nautical pants tipped well.
I did not remember too much of being in Bodrum, I was too little.

Late at night she would tell me her stories and I would drift away to sleep.
She told me about suffering, about envy,
the human condition, and the Boddhisattva. Everyday she waited
for something that did not come.
She was waiting for him to come get her. For him to forget she existed.
I didn’t know whom she loved more.
She told me to speak of him as my father, that I should call him Baba.
He was always strange to me in my mind, he didn’t have a name.
She told me I had his eyes, his nose, his mouth.
But I looked in the mirror and saw only her.
He lived in the color of my skin, and maybe my eyes.

I was kept on a tight leash, never out of her sight. When I was out playing ball
with the other children I would hear her shouting,
her voice desperate like she would lose me,
once home she would make me sit down and study,
the papers she had written by hand for me: “fill in the blanks”,
English, Turkish, Chinese. I hated Chinese the most,
it was too much to remember and she made me write a character
over and over again just to make it perfect. It had to be perfect.

She would teach me math problems that she herself sometimes could not solve.
And tell me about histories of lost worlds and dead people I did not care for.

© Alicia Khoo
Los Angeles, 2007

Excerpt from working novel Tesaduf