I jump up and down on the sofa while Mia hugs the TV.
“Mia, can you hear anything?” She listens intently before shaking her head.
"Neither can I sweetheart. Isn't that wonderful?" She tells me I'm being weird then goes back to hugging the TV.
It's blissfully quiet. I had almost forgotten the wonderful sound of silence; it feels so good to be home.
Then the doorbell rings. Bollocks.
Alison walks in brandishing a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine “Welcome back!” She pushes her daughter Megan towards the living room “Go and play with Mia”.
Then she gives me a big hug “I’ve missed you so much”. How strange. We’re not exactly close. We’re simply neighbours who exchange pleasantries over the garden fence occasionally.
And we haven’t even done that since she drunkenly flashed her breasts at me. Perhaps she thinks that incident forged some kind of friendship between us.
“I love your hair! It really suits you and it’s so shiny”. She starts stroking my hair.
Her over familiarity is very unsettling. I move my head out of reach "How did you know we were coming back today?"
She hesitates for too long before answering “I didn’t. I saw your car in the drive when I got home”.
She seems a little twitchy and nervous. I hope she isn’t going to expose herself to me again.
I lean in as she speaks so I can discreetly check her breath for alcohol.
Then she asks if she can use the bathroom before rushing off upstairs “We’ve been out all day and I’m a bit desperate”.
There is something very odd about her behaviour. And I intend to get to the bottom of it.
I turn to Megan “Have you been somewhere nice today?” She shakes her head. Apparently they’ve been at home all day waiting for us to come back.
Alarm bells start to ring;
How did Alison know we were due back today? Why did she lie to me about being out all day?
Why is she so desperate for the toilet when she has two of her own? And why go to the one upstairs when the one downstairs is closer? I tiptoe slowly up the stairs.
The bathroom door is open; she isn’t in there.
I find her in my bedroom on her hands and knees looking under my bed. I watch as she retrieves a red bra which does not belong to me “What are you doing?”
She looks up startled “Don’t judge me!” I tell her that I’m not interested in judging her but I am interested in how her bra came to be under my bed.
She bursts into tears and starts telling me how unhappy her marriage is. I cut her short “I just want to know why your bra is in my bedroom”.
Apparently she had a fling with one of my builders “and you had sex in my bed?” I am incredulous.
“I knew you’d judge me! You don’t understand what it’s like to be in a loveless marriage”. I tell her that I don’t give a shit about her cheating on her husband. But I am very upset that she did it in my bed.
Then I realise that if she hadn’t forgotten her bra, I would never have found out and I would have slept in those sheets. That is so disgusting.
She is still babbling on about her unhappy marriage as I strip the bed.
And she is getting progressively louder and more hysterical “We haven’t had sex for over a year! What was I supposed to do? He won’t even touch me”.
I tell her to keep her voice down and remind her that her daughter is downstairs. She eventually calms down. And asks me what she should do.
Ordinarily I would be a little more sympathetic to her plight but her lack of respect has really pissed me off. So I suggest she splashes some cold water on her face before she leaves.
I’m still fuming when Mia and I join the rest of the family at a Turkish restaurant to celebrate my brother’s birthday.
I have a quick flick through the menu and opt for something other than the usual shish kebab. But I’m not sure of the correct Turkish pronunciation for the dish that I want.
And I know that they will laugh at me if I get it wrong. It’s bad enough that I speak Turkish with an English accent.
So I play it safe and order it by number “Otuz bir (31)”. My mother looks horrified “You can’t say that”. “What? 31?” She apologises to the waiter who is looking a little flushed “She doesn’t know what she’s saying”.
I don’t understand “Why can’t I say 31?!” Then I realise that a hush has descended over the restaurant. And everyone seems to be staring at me.
The silence is broken by Ayse and Melek’s hysterical laughter.
Apparently 31 in Turkish is slang for male masturbation which effectively means that I ordered a wank.
I look around the table “Does everybody know about this?” They nod. Ayse splutters “I think you must be the only one that doesn’t” before cracking up again.
I suppose that makes sense because I don’t really mix in the community; the only Turkish people I spend any time with are my family. And it’s not really a topic of conversation that would ever come up.
“But why 31? Ours must be the only language in the world where a number means that. The number 13 would work better as the 3 could represent the hand” I start to illustrate what I mean.
My mother slaps my hand “Stop it, you’re making it worse”. But my curiosity has been aroused “Can anybody tell me why it’s called 31?” No. It just is. I try to let it go.
Then I find myself lying in bed still mulling it over. 69 I get, its’ meaning is clearly represented by the shape of the numbers. But I just don’t get 31.
It’s so random. There is no logic to it at all. It is yet another one of those inexplicable Turkishisms that I can file away along with the six month henna party and their unique approach to puberty;
When a child is six months old, the whole family gather together and the poor child has a lump of henna tied to one foot and one hand with pieces of silk whilst prayers are read from the Koran.
Then a wicker tray full of peanuts is passed around, each person throws in money and takes out a handful of peanuts in return (which makes them the most expensive peanuts you’ll ever eat).
The henna is kept on overnight before being removed, leaving the child with two orange splodges.
My mother insisted that I had to do that with Mia. And I agreed on condition that she could explain its meaning to me. She couldn’t “It’s just something we’ve always done”.
She had also used the exact same words to justify her bizarre reaction when I started my period;
I knew absolutely nothing about periods so when I started shortly before my eleventh birthday I thought I was dying. It took two full days and nights of constant worry before I confided in my mother.
Her reaction was to slap me hard across the face (as dictated by tradition) before bursting into tears and hugging me until I couldn’t breathe.
It was confusing to say the least.
But back to this whole number 31 thing – is there anyone out there who can shed some light on it for me?