I had never seen her face… Yet, I spent my childhood in her garden…
I climbed her giant bay leaf tree until my knees bled, watched her violets bloom every spring, stuffed my face with sweet oranges I picked from her trees.
I entered through the beautiful wrought iron doors of her house every morning, rolled on her mosaic tile floors, played chase in her corridors, and watched the quiet street through her wide window every afternoon.
I learnt my first letters in her mother’s bedroom; I sang my first songs, laughed until my face turned purple, and cried tears of childhood fits under her roof. Yet I had never met her…
I admired and occasionally plucked her cyclamens called “rabbit ears” in Turkish, which tirelessly grew in the garden and the stone walls of her house every winter.
Yesterday, I met a woman in a random café in a random city in Cyprus.
She was a refugee, like my parents. Like the hundreds of thousands of Cypriots – Greek and Turkish - who left their lives, their childhood, their youth, their souls in a town far away.
She started telling me about her house in that far-away town
She told me about the wrought iron door, the mosaic tile floors, the giant bay leaf tree, violets that bloomed every spring, the sweet oranges, the tireless cyclamen… And my childhood memories rolled down my cheeks.
She was 13 when she left her house and became a refugee. I was four when I walked into my new nursery as the child of refugees.
“I spent my childhood in your garden,” I said.
“My garden was beautiful,” she responded serenely.
“I am sorry for your pain and longing.”
“I believe you.”
We hugged and cried. She was the 13-year-old girl, and I was the 4-year-old kid… As innocent, as naïve, as unquestioning all over again.
I went back to my childhood nursery today… her house. It was abandoned and lonely… I walked into her garden. The garden I spent my childhood in... Her garden… Now, I know her…
I picked some sweet oranges for her and stroked the lazy neighbourhood cats wandering in the garden. They are probably the only true owners of these streets, gardens, houses... Cats are lucky. Cats cannot be refugees.
* ... dedicated to one of the hundreds of thousands of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot refugees in Cyprus...