When Arie was about 2 years old, I looked for opportunities in the neighbourhood for him to play with other children. There wasn't much. There was a playground run by volunteers, but it was only open on days when children had time off from school, and then it was far too crowded with older children.
Close to the flat was a public play area, with a sandbox, which was occasionally cleaned up and refilled. When the weather was nice, I took him there, and while I was scanning the sandpit for any possible danger or dirt, another young mother came strolling by with her son. We greeted each other, and sat down together on a bench while the little ones played in the sand.
Meltem was of Turkish descent, and she could manage quite well in Dutch, so we tried to have some sort of conversation. I'm not very good at chatting myself, but I can usually manage quite well. We talked about where we lived; she lived in the same flat. We talked about the kids, their ages, the playground.
The weather stirred, it started to drizzle, and so we had to break up.
A week or two later, we were there again. After some this and that, she said she had seen me walking around before, and she liked that we were talking now, because she wondered, if I had a husband. I hadn't seen this coming. I thought: why, who cares if I have a man?
Of course I answered honestly, because why not? In my opinion, and even then, there was nothing wrong if you were not married, or a single mother. Unfortunately, Meltem thought decidedly differently. She never stopped talking about it, no matter how slyly I tried to take side roads that would lead to somewhat more neutral topics.
When she suggested that she had a single cousin who lived nearby, and that he could be a good man for me, I broke. The sun was shining, and I had remained very nice, but I really couldn't do anything with that completely misplaced remark. I told her, again, that I didn't want a man, not her cousin, not anyone, no one. And that I didn't want to talk about it any more.
It will come as no surprise to you, reader, that a week or so later, on an early evening, the doorbell rang, and a somewhat nervous young man, Turkish-looking, in a somewhat uncomfortable suit and holding a wilted bunch of tulips, began to stammer something incomprehensible. The cousin. As kindly as possible, I tried to explain to him that I didn't want this, and that I had nevertheless made that very clear. I felt bad for him, probably he was just sent by his family. I got the impression he didn't quite understand, but that was none of my business. I greeted him politely and closed the door, while he drifted off in despair.
I was 23 at the time, but I was often mistaken for much younger. Some afternoon I was walking with my infant son, and a man said to him:
"So, are you taking a nice walk with your sister?"
Even years later, for example, when my child had to go to secondary school and I had to fill in some form for that; you had to go and collect it from the relevant authority, and when I asked for that particular form at the counter, the man on duty looked at me like I was crazy.
"Which form did you say?"
I repeated the form number.
"Who told you that you need that form? Why do you want that form?"
Me: "Well, my son has to go to secondary school, and for that I need that form, don't I?"
Me: "Is something wrong?"
The man: "Ehm.... How old is your child?"
As if I would send a toddler to high school.
The man did not believe his ears, he even asked a colleague, I offered to identify myself, but eventually I was given the form. Pretty bizarre.
The Turkish young man looked about 17 to me. Was that why Meltem was so determined to pair us up, because she thought I was a teenage mother? I have no idea. I was never able to ask her either, because she wouldn't talk to me after that. To the sandbox now, she would go with other Turkish women, I would say hello, but then she’d say nothing, and talk in Turkish to the other women, who would look at me as if i was a horrible person, and talk to each other, but not to me.
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