The Reward

I didn’t need anyone to comfort me. Skidmark didn’t need any help, Bunny could look after himself perfectly well. Out of nowhere came shrieking voices that ridiculed me: how weak, how soft, how fragile, how delicate and sensitive. I wished they would stop this wild party in my head. I screamed, I howled, my salty tears biting into the painful wounds Emre had gifted me. Each tear penetrated my skin.

As I squirmed on the ground an almighty black cloud appeared, casting a shadow that not only blocked out the sunlight, but also put an end to the miserable party in my head. The cloud looked like a gigantic angry eye, forcing me to man up. I scrambled to my feet but a strong wind slammed me back to the ground. Flashes of lightning shot out from cloud to cloud, only to then vanish into the gigantic eye. Booming claps of thunder hurt my ears so much that I fell into a sort of trance. At first I heard ringing, and then a soothing murmur that made me forget everything. Was God giving me a sign? Could he possibly be angry? The pouring rain washed away the dirt and tears. Was God trying to comfort me? Of course, I’m special. God has a plan for me. I spread my arms out wide and let the heavenly waters fall on me. Fortune finally smiled down upon me, if just for a moment, until the sneaky raindrops trickled into my ears like little devils. Their awful voices drove me crazy. 

Mama! Only she understood me. Only she could protect me. I wanted to lay beside her and share our tears.

‘Mama, I’m coming!’ Like a sweet, dripping wet bunny, I hopped home.

 

I waited for a sign from God, but clearly he was taking his time. I locked myself away for three months with my you-know-what as my only comfort, with Mama’s constant whimpering in the background. She didn’t care about me. Where was all her grief coming from? I still dreamt about the Giant Nurse, secretly hoping she would come to her senses. Even though I often saw Emre setting out with a stick of green celery, only to return later with a specimen of her giant underwear as a cape. The demons laughed, in their eyes I was a pathetic loser who couldn’t even take proper revenge on Emre. Only sugar could shut them up.

Leyla was my rock and yet I treated her like a slave. Every day she brought me a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce. She fetched sugar cubes, she cleaned my room thoroughly, and she washed my dirty towels by hand because she didn’t know how the washing machine worked.

Every day she knocked on the door, waited for my response, put a fresh bowl of spaghetti with tomato sauce on the bed. Until I got tired of spaghetti and her presence. I took a mouthful, spat it out. 

‘Ugh. That’s disgusting!’

‘It’s a little overcooked, but it’s a shame to waste food,’ Leyla said.

‘Why did you cook the spaghetti for so long? It’s the one thing you have to do, the one thing you have to know, and you’re still messing it up.’ 

She was shocked by my outburst. ‘I just washed Mama. Maybe you should take a bath or open the window. I was planning on washing your blankets as well, but they were so filthy I had to set them on fire in the end.’

‘You did what?’

‘There were all sorts of strange creatures crawling over them, creatures I haven’t even seen on TV. I’ve made sure we won’t get any infections from all your mess, and all you do is moan.’

 

‘A big mouth as well. Take that spaghetti away and make something decent.’

She didn’t budge. ‘I’ve been helping you all this time because I thought you were mourning Papa’s death. You’re just selfish. The man of the house? You haven’t done a thing for months. Did you know that Billy washes up every day? Did you know he’s the one who’s been vacuuming? He mops as well, on his hands and knees. When I see him wringing the mop out, sweat dripping from his forehead, it makes me so proud. Billy is a real man, not an old-fashioned good-for-nothing like you. Did you know that nobody can shine the floor like Billy can? Not even Mama. While you…’

I slapped her with the palm of my hand.

‘Aaaaaaaaaaaah, you arsewipe!’ screamed Leyla.

I held my hand in front of my you-know-what so that she couldn’t kick me in the crotch. She gave me a furious look before turning her back on me. 

‘Your brother is called Bilal, not Billy. Make sure that my spaghetti is ready in fifteen minutes or make a lasagne, with lots of layers!’

 

I gave Leyla the chance to right her wrongs. It took longer than expected and my patience ran out. Here, the man of the house must be obeyed!

I behaved like a real father, grabbed my belt and slunk into the kitchen. Leyla was nowhere to be seen.

Bilal was slumped on the sofa staring vacantly at the television.

I turned the thing off, he didn’t react.

I treated him to a firm rap of my belt. ‘Why is the TV on when you’re not watching it? Do you know how much electricity costs?’

Yeah, €213 a month. There are three letters from the bailiff waiting for the man of the house.’

I struck him with the belt. Bilal stuttered like a calf. I hit him once more; this time he cried out like a little girl.

‘Are you gonna start acting like your sister now? Where is that bitch, or are you the bitch around here?’

‘What’s your name?’

‘Billy?’

I whacked him with the belt again.

‘What is your name?’

‘Bilal.’

‘That’s right. Now, do you know how to make spaghetti?’

He shook his head. ‘You?’

The audacity of that one little word made my blood boil. I was about to take another almighty swing of the belt when I heard Mama calling my name. I ran straight to her room.

‘Yes, Mama?’

‘Bunny, I can hear everything.’

How could she, when she was sobbing so loudly?

‘What did you hear, Mama?’

‘Your sister and my Billy. And how you were yelling at them.’

‘Oh, that.’

‘As soon as I’m done grieving, I’ll deal with you. No one lays a hand on my children, not even a soft bunny.’

A chill ran through my whole body. I remembered how handy she’d been with the potato knife when she dealt with Papa. Secretly, I hoped her grief would last longer and I didn’t want to think about it anymore. Had I really been too hard on Leyla? She was only ten. On the other hand… A commotion in the street caught my eye. I could see some rowdy children in the distance. Were they on a school trip? Their teacher seemed really big. Suddenly it hit me: it was the Giant Nurse! Emre was trailing behind her with seven children who were all a head taller than him.

I opened the front door, not sure of what to say.

‘Hello, Little Moroccan, nice to see you. We’ve got good news: we’re getting married! My Emre isn’t wasting any time. Little Moroccan will be invited, right?’

‘Only if he brings an expensive gift or an envelope full of cash,’ Emre replied.

I slammed the door and breathed in deeply a few times to get the Giant Nurse out of my head. Away with that wicked woman! Family, that’s what really matters. I had to find Leyla, comfort her, tell her she’s a sweet, adorable bunny too.

Next door all hell was breaking loose. Emre’s father exploded, quickly followed by his mother.

I peeked through the window and saw Emre kissing his mother’s feet. The hypocrite was crying his eyes out.

‘Please, she’s a good woman. I’m not making a mistake, honest. She even wants to become a Muslim. Her children are itching to convert too.’

‘Yeah, then we’ll get an ice cream!’ the children cried out in unison.

Emre’s father dragged his son inside and slammed the front door shut in the Giant Nurse’s face. She stood there with seven kids yanking on her gigantic skirt. The Giant Nurse had become a giant totem pole. My irresistible power of attraction forced her to turn in my direction. We looked each other straight in the eyes. A seductive smile. A moment of hesitation. Without thinking I grabbed my you-know-what and stuck both middle fingers up in the air. Nice try, stupid bitch. You lost your chance. I’m not playing your game anymore.

 

Day in, day out, every hour, every second with her had been filled with love. My life had been like an oriental poem, until suddenly I had nothing to love. I was now facing emptiness and darkness, with only my father’s raging blood to guide me. I punished her by ignoring her. With her seven little children trailing behind her, she wandered back into the glow of the setting sun. We weren’t destined to be together, God had other plans for us. The Giant Nurse. What a woman — not only gorgeous but, for many men, too much to handle. 

 

I sat down next to Bilal and put my arm around his shoulders.

‘Have you found Leyla yet?’ he asked.

‘Not yet, but I’m not too fussed. Some peace and quiet will do her good. She’s been a bit down ‘cause of Papa’s death, but I’m not that worried. Leyla’s really clever, she’s our sister. She’ll come back. Otherwise, Mama will really lay into us.’

‘I wasn’t the one who hit her!’ shouted Bilal

‘You didn’t stand up for your sister either. And you know that Mama finds that a lot worse.’

Next door it was terrifyingly quiet. I heard their front door open and close. Then our doorbell rang. It was Emre’s father. He grabbed hold of me tightly, almost as if to stop himself from collapsing.

‘I know you’ll miss your best friend, but we’re leaving for good. It’s difficult for us, but it has to be done. My worst nightmare has come true. Emre wants to marry a washed-up whale. Can you believe it? Of all the fresh fish, he chooses a decrepit whale with five children and two grandchildren. A grandmother? A grandma? A nana as a daughter-in-law? Over my dead body. We’re driving back to my village in Turkey this week and that’s the end of that. Emre can marry a young, obedient, untouched, pretty girl there. If he doesn’t like the sound of that, he can always pick a goat. Better that than a whale.’ 

God really was on my side. I didn’t have to take my own revenge. Emre was heading towards his own downfall. I never knew that someone else’s pain could feel so good. If this luck continues, tomorrow we’ll find my beautiful, dear sister and I’ll tell her that overcooked spaghetti is perfectly edible. Maybe she should try a tagine or chips. We could even all go to the chip shop for dinner. I went to Mama’s bedroom, kissed her cheek and asked if things were getting better. She forced a smile. She had not forgotten my bad behaviour. I lay down next to her anyway.

‘Don’t cry, Mama. Papa misses you too. He would want you to carry on as normal. Who else is going to look after us? I can’t do it, you know I’m only a bunny in a world of wolves.’

 

It was dark when the doorbell rang. I swore, got up and wandered downstairs, still half asleep. Bilal had already opened the door. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. Two police officers and a woman with a bowl-cut and mean green eyes. She was holding Leyla’s hand. I put on my biggest smile, Leyla stuck out her tongue.

‘I’m from Child Protection Services. Did you hit your sister?’ the woman asked.

‘Yeah of course,’ I answered, trying to suppress a yawn.

‘Why?’

‘Because the person wearing the trousers has to keep things in order sometimes.’

The woman noted something down with her long, thin fingers.

‘And your name is?’

‘My name is Zakaria, but people also call me Skidmark or Abu Batman. Wacko Jacko or Bunny also work. At your service.’

I was irritating her, so she ignored me.

‘What’s your name, Miss?’

I could not take my eyes off her. She had a thin, bird-like face with sneaky lips. With her cunning gaze, she scanned the room. Bilal came to stand beside me, he didn’t feel at ease with the officers.

‘Mrs Janssens from Child Protection Services,’ said the fake lips.

‘Shouldn’t you do something about those squeaky doors? What a racket.’

‘That’s Mama, she’s crying about Papa. He died recently. You get used to that noise, Miss.’ 

I gave her my most seductive smile. Mrs Janssens looked at me accusingly, shook her bird-like head and signalled to the police officers. They didn’t ask me any more questions. Apparently they knew enough.

They put our exhausted mother in a straitjacket and pushed her into another car.

Leyla and Bilal were crying. I could have hit Mrs Janssens. But because I had learned that good manners could diffuse tension, I didn’t. That’s respect. As the man of the house you can punish your brother or sister to your heart’s content, but you mustn’t lay a finger on someone with an important job.

NL