Zainab’s Mother

Love… It was because of her Love

Meryem was abandoned by her family for marrying below her status only to later discover that the man she gave up her family for would himself abandon her. His ever growing frustration with the very high levels of unemployment in early 1980s Turkey led to his affair with alcoholism, which subsequently derailed their marriage.

As the sole provider for her two girls, Meryem had to leave the only place she called home in order to put food on the table and send her daughters to school. She worked as a janitor in West Germany for ten years, indifferent to the cold-heartedness of her German neighbors who were threatened by the flood of Turkish workers inhabiting their city. She slept on the street with her daughters on few occasions when she was unable to gather enough money to pay for their accommodation.

Despite the difficulties, Meryem made every sacrifice to ensure Zainab and her sister Zehru did not lack the essentials for their education. Many years later Zainab, who became a successful author, asked her mother about one particular incident. This event was so clear in Zainab’s memory, it had such an impact on her because it was the only time she ever saw her invincible mother cry.

It was a cold February evening in their second year in West Germany, Zainab was seven years old. Meryem paced around a popular street corner with her girls asking for spare change from passers-by when a  young German woman with compassionate green eyes approached them. She took off her coat and wrapped it around the shivering Meryem. Seeing the hungry faces of the little girls, she emptied her purse of all the cash in her possession. She embraced Meryem warmly, waved to the girls and continued on towards her destination.

“Mother”, Zainab asked, “you have been through so much hardship without once outwardly showing any sign of defeat, why did you break down in tears after that kind woman embraced you and placed her coat around you?”

“It was because of her LOVE my dear,” responded Meryem.

“You can steel your heart against any type of trouble, any kind of horror. But a simple act of kindness from a complete stranger will unstitch you.” 

Chris Abani