The other day I walked into my house and saw a bouquet of flowers addressed to one of my housemates – no idea who.
I don’t really have a relationship with my housemates, I don’t know who they are, what they do, or even their names. I know that most of them are from Romania and don’t really speak English, which brings all the interactions to barely saying hi when we cross paths in the kitchen.
The flowers came along with a note that got me curious, so I read it. It said something like ‘I know you need your own space right now and I totally understand it. You’re special and I’ll be waiting for all the time you need. Please let me fix things.’
So I imagined a background story.
I imagined this couple being in a committed relationship, living together, building a future together, and him screwing things up at some point. A financial issue that ended up in a bad argument? Failing to take responsibilities when running the house? Obsessive jealousy or another girl? His brutally aggressive temper? Something must have caused the break-up: who knows what “things” he needs to fix. She asks for a break, for some time off with her thoughts because she needs to focus on herself for a while in order to understand her own priorities. She needs to move out, find a new place, start over. A straight course of action, even quite simple if it didn’t affect someone’s feelings.
However, London never makes anything easy. For one main reason: housing.
Many times when renting in London, you’re bound to yearly contracts that, if terminated early, entail paying exorbitant fees – and sometimes we’re talking three figures! It’s not a coincidence you hear about a jillion of couples who are coerced into living together even when their relationship is over. Nasty stuff, but what can you do? The only way out is to hand away a couple of grand and still be able to have enough left over to afford the downpayment for a new place. And I imagine having to live like this; having to see all the pictures you have together hanging nicely on the walls, all the gifts, furniture and lovely items you bought for each other – every effort to make that place look like home.
Day after day, after day.
I’m assuming she didn’t want to live like that, that she didn’t want to carry that daily burden, for the pain and grief were too much to bear. So she takes that unfair bargain – another injustice London had carefully reserved for her – covers the fees and walks out.
Apparently, she lives in my house now – somewhere upstairs. I’ve never met her, in fact, I didn’t even know we had a new person in the house. Anyway, after being parked there for days, she eventually collects the flowers. Maybe there would be a pinch of hope for that guy if she didn’t throw them away at the sight of the sender’s name.
I seriously don’t know how this is going to develop. I’m just hoping she’ll let me fix things.
It may sound like a simple question from somebody who feels a little lonely, who can’t get a date, who doesn’t have anybody to love and doesn’t want to accept that being loved is just a movie thing. Maybe somebody who thinks that their Valentine is going to be their one true love.
It’s a simple question the girl handing out food samples outside Simit Sarayi on Green Lanes is asking to passers-by – a direct marketing effort to attract people inside for food. She’s nice and smiley to everyone, and some stop for a chat. Over and over again, for hours, she asks: “will you be my Valentine?”
She’s worked there for a couple of months now, I think, always handing out food and chatting with people. I heard her name is Asena and she’s Turkish. She’s from a poor area near Istanbul, from a very old-fashioned and patriarchic family who still believes in arranged marriages. Back there, they wouldn’t allow her to work, nor wear fancy dresses, nor go out much. She could only do housework – cook, clean, knit. It surely wasn’t the life she expected and she’d often dream of incredible experiences through the shows on TV.
One day, while running her usual errands in town, she bumped into a visitor named John who seemed to show some flair for her. She was shy but not enough to hide a smile from him, a smile that, day after day, convinced him to approach her. John was English; he was a photographer travelling the world to get nice shots for his portfolio and images he could then sell. He was a roamer, an explorer; he knew facts, stories – the world – and his tales could only fascinate a girl like Asena who, of the world, had only pictured what she saw on TV.
They met every day. They’d talk, laugh, get to know each other. She would spend all of her time with him before curfew. They’d secretly hold hands, exchange romantic notes she would store under her mattress, and finally one day he kissed her. And it was the sweetest kiss ever! She touched the sky, the planets, the top of the universe. She finally understood what love tastes like through the lips of somebody who loves you. It was all real.
Always being careful not to alert her father with her constant escapes, they met at his hotel. They made love, over and over and over again. She discovered her libido, lust, passion, her and his body. And she loved it.
It was February 14th when he asked her to be his Valentine and handed her a small shiny-red box of chocolate. She glittered! She could never hope something this delightful would happen to her, that love itself would happen at all.
They would never leave each other, they were meant to be together forever – they both acknowledged it. So she decided to step up and talk to her father, to explain she’d found true love and get his blessing. It was the right thing to do in the name of love!
Against all purest and most naive expectations, his reaction was furious! He would never allow her to see anybody he hadn’t made arrangements for. He yelled at her, made her feel miserable, called her offensive names while hitting her violently, and locked her in her room for good.
A couple of days later, hit after hit, cry after cry, she managed to escape and go see John. She begged him to take her with him anywhere in the world, as long as they could be together – as long as they could live their true love story. But John seemed to be a little off. He had had second thoughts about that relationship, he wasn’t sure it was going to work, plus he had to leave soon for another place. He sounded distant, uninterested. She was confused, “I thought this was love love”, she cried – tears of desperation, of abandonment.
But that was the naked truth. While for Asena, John was the one true love, for John, Asena was just another experience. One that would end as soon as he moved to a new place in the world.
When she got home, her father punished her with extreme violence. He’d hit her to bleed before locking her in once again.
The days that followed developed through physical and mental pain, tears, regret, hurtfulness. She wasn’t allowed to leave the house, her room, anymore. She would read and read the love notes they exchanged, she relived in her mind the future she thought they’d have – happiness – and the more she dived in, the more it buried her. She went completely insane.
So one night she did it. When her father got into her room to hit her again and swang his hand to slap her face, she pierced his neck with a paper-knife she had hidden in her tights. He fell on the floor with a horrified look and bled to death in less than a minute. Asena stared – she couldn’t move. She was terrified but relieved, and had to think quick. She got his wallet and ran off, and after a couple of miles running, she got to the port. A ferry was about to ship soon and Asena saw her only opportunity to leave that place. So she hid on the ferry and began her journey, while pain, horror, fear, love began to nurture her obsession: she’d sneer and whisper “I will find you, John, my love…I will find you.”
The last thing she heard from John was that he was going back to England for a while to settle his work. He told her he was from London, from a North-East area called Green Lanes, the Turkish area. That’s where she was headed.
Days passed by and Asena finally reached her destination. Green Lanes felt so familiar, everyone was so kind and welcoming and she managed to find a job as a waitress at Simit Sarayi – everyone liked her immediately.
So now she has a new life. She’s got a job, she’s got people who care for her, she’s happy.
Today she’s handing out food samples, all smiley and chatty.
“Will you be my Valentine?” may sound like a simple question from somebody who feels a little lonely, somebody who thinks that their Valentine is going to be their one true love. Or maybe is a sign of obsession, of mental insanity, of somebody who’s not going to stop until she finds John.
Every love story has its ups and downs but this one made me really taste the bitter end.
She was beautiful – curly bright hair, light green eyes, a nice body, a clever chick. And I still can’t believe she actually promised she would always be there for me.
I mean she knew I was struggling, she knew I needed a job, she knew how my career was important for me, and she said she could understand.
She would call me every day – asking how I was holding up, what I had done the previous night, and how I was doing with the interview steps. She would text me, email me, meet me every time I did and didn’t need her. And I did believe it was all real.
She assured me I would get the job, that she would do whatever in her power to help me out and guide me through.
Then she disappeared – no more texts, no more calls, no more meeting up. Was she interested in somebody else?
I tried. I did my best tobe patient and wait, to follow up nicely. It was a waste of hope.
I failed at getting the job. And she failed me.
The last time we met – just to quickly catch up and finalise some details – I gave her a last heartbroken goodbye. She didn’t even flinch; she didn’t move a finger until I stood up with anger and made my way to the door.
“Wait, please!”, she yelled and took my hand.
“What now, Samantha?”, I said visibly bothered.
“Can I retain your details for future opportunities?”