Food: What’s for breakfast? Dinner? Lunch? Or maybe you could write a poem about that time you met a friend at a cafe.
He was supposed to cook for her that night, but instead, he ended up inviting her to a Mexican restaurant that had opened a couple of weeks before, right downtown. It was their last “date,” if they could call it that—it had to end at some point, they both knew it. Still, Daniela picked her favorite dress, the one he had gotten for her that one time they were walking aimlessly at the mall and she had made the mistake of pointing at a dress and saying that she really liked it. Next thing she knew, she was trying it on and he was footing the bill. There was no way he could afford it with his teacher salary, but he insisted that it was okay, that she was well worth it.
Theirs was a matter of boredom that had been blown out of proportion, in part, due to their inability to stop it. Inability, unwillingness, it was hard to tell. She was the new Special Education teacher and had walked into his classroom because he needed help with some of his language students. He had been teaching Turkish at that school going on five years.
“I mean this with all due respect,” she’d said once the bell rang and the students left the room. “I think teaching Turkish is about the stupidest thing ever.” She paused briefly then felt the need to add, “no offense.”
“Oh, thanks,” he’d told her, rolling his eyes. “I won’t be offended then.”
“I don’t mean it like that,” she’d tried again. “It’s just that, where are they going to practice Turkish? Where do they speak it, even, other than Turkey?”
“Point taken,” he said, stacking the tests the students had just handed him back.
“I didn’t mean to offend you, really.”
“Don’t worry, it’s okay. Actually, it’s no problem for me. I’m not even Turkish, so, I’m not offended. And if I have to be honest,” he whispered, “I also think learning Turkish is stupid.”
He was probably mad, but she stood by what she had said, so she wasn’t willing to apologize anymore. Instead, she grabbed her folders and her notebook and started walking toward the door.
“I’m Zaza, from a place called Dersim,” he said, and when she turned around he added, “look it up. You’ll tell me about it when you come for next class.”
“We’re short-staffed, you know,” she told him. “I can only come when you give them a test.”
“Then it’s done. They’re gonna hate you, but I’ll give them another test next class, just so that you can come back and tell me what you learned.”
She smiled as she was leaving but she didn’t let him see. Yeah, he was handsome and he had heard a couple of the other teachers talking about him. His name was Volkan—silly name—and he had a bit of a reputation around the school for being strictly business, no play. One of the teachers had even said that she’d thought he was gay until one day he had seen him holding hands with a woman at the mall. To that comment, Daniela had rolled her eyes.
Daniela’s mistake had been actually researching the stuff, and telling him that it was far more complex than she thought and that the four minutes between periods wouldn’t suffice to explain. She knew she was taking a risk, but it worked. Volkan had asked her to meet him after school. There were some things he needed to get at Walmart for his class; she could come with him and they could talk on the way.
One thing had followed the other, and there they were now, sitting across from each other, a basket of courtesy nachos and salsa between them. His eyes were just as mesmerizing as they had been the first time she’d seen them, somewhere between gray and blue with a touch of green, and his smile seemed to hide the unavoidable.
“So,” she said, looking away. “How was your day?”
“It was okay, yeah. The kids are wrapping up their projects, so we’ll see how they turn out.”
“Look,” he finally said. “This is our last dinner together, so let’s not talk about work, okay?”
“Okay,” she said, giving him a half-smile.
“So, tell me. How was your weekend in the valley?”
“Good, lots of great food, seeing family, all of that.”
“Did you pick your dress yet?”
“Yeah, yeah,” she said.
“Do you have a picture?”
She didn’t know what to answer, she didn’t want to show him, and she wasn’t even sure why. She hadn’t hidden anything from him, they both knew, but still, it made her uncomfortable.
“Here,” she finally said, handing him the phone. “You can swipe. I was torn between the last two ones, but I picked the first one.”
He took a moment, clearly observing every picture in detail. There was something in his eyes, a certain melancholy, a certain pain that she was unable to describe—or maybe that was just what she wanted to see. Nothing she had ever experienced before could compare with the discomfort she was feeling as he silently looked, carefully, at each of her pictures in a wedding dress.
“You made a good choice,” he said, handing her the phone back. “I mean, you look great in all of them. But, to be honest, I like the second one better. You look more elegant, and I like the embroidery.”
She laughed, “embroidery? I didn’t know you knew that word.”
“People surprise you every day,” he smiled. “Which reminds me, there’s something I wanted to share with you.”
“Oh, really?” She said, dipping her chip in the salsa.
“Yeah. I think I’m getting married.”
Dani wasn’t sure if it was the weird wording or the fact that it was unexpected, but she could feel a piece of chip getting stuck on her throat. She coughed a couple of times and downed her glass of water until she dislodged it.
“You think?” She said, trying to sound playful. “What do you mean, you think?”
“Well, apparently there’s this Turkish girl who just arrived in San Antonio to go to grad school, and a friend in common wants us to go on a date.”
“Oh, wait, so you haven’t met her yet?” There was an unexplainable sense of relief, however short-lived. “How can you say you’re going to get married, then?”
“I told you before, some of us do things a bit different.”
“Well, are you sure it’s a good idea, I mean, to marry a Turkish girl? Shouldn’t you try to marry a Zaza?”
“It’s not like that anymore. Maybe before, but all my parents want is that I marry a Muslim girl.”
“You mean Alevi?” She wanted to pretend that that last comment hadn’t bothered her a little.
“I see you’ve been doing your homework. But my family is not Alive, I guess they were converted, or however you can call that, to Sunni Islam a couple generations ago. But anyway, yeah, I guess I’ll give it a shot, to something with this girl I mean.”
The waiter came right there, and Dani was thankful. She wasn’t sure how to address his comment, but even more, she didn’t know how to address how awkward she was feeling. What was that, though? That feeling that it was okay for her to be planning her own wedding, but that for him, it just didn’t feel the same way? She looked down at the fajitas, then back up at him. He was smiling and she understood. She knew she wasn’t ready to lose him to someone else.