Photo by Vlad Chețan / Pexels

On a rainy day in the Scottish suburbs, a daughter visits her mother in a care home. The two sit together, conversing over tea and a Turkish dessert. As their conversation unfolds, the older woman’s fading memory turns the daughter into a stranger for her. The mother slips into her native tongue and introduces her daughter to her former self. The daughter witnesses her mother’s shifting reality in the way she assumes the old identity she once shed to assimilate into her new country.

Written by Aya Douglas, and originally published in Hotazel Review, “The Middle Field” touches on the themes of migration and its reverberations in intergenerational relationships. In a restrained voice, the story offers a snapshot of a life ruptured by migration and the unexpected pathways the human mind can take on its way home.

Raaza Jamshed for Guernica Global Spotlights

Through the steady hiss of traffic rolling through standing water, I hear a voice speak at the other end of the line. It is my mother’s care home. I am in my garden, raindrops dance and bounce on the tiled roof. There is a sign on the pebble-dashed wall of the house. It reads: Achadh Meadhanach.

She says she’s expecting visitors today. I thought maybe it’s you that’s coming?

I tell her, “No, not today – I’m on my way somewhere, actually.”

“She says today is ‘bye-ram’; do you know what that means? She seems upset no one is here.”

“‘Bayram,” I say. “‘It’s Turkish for festival. She means Eid.”

It doesn’t say she’s Muslim, here on the system,” the voice says.

“Well, she celebrated it where she grew up, in Turkey, but then she met my dad, an agnostic Scot. She switched to Christmas.”

Behind the garden gate, by a bridge humped over a swollen river, a traffic light flashes from amber to green. I see a woman with a pram at the crossing, strands of wet hair sleek across her cheek, skin under her eyes dark with fatigue. I tell the voice that I’ll visit briefly. She sounds relieved. The voice then says, “She sometimes forgets English or drops into Turkish without realising. It happens with her illness; sometimes the second language gets forgotten. She might eventually revert to her mother tongue.”

I sit, facing my mother. She has a shimmering, violet powder on her eyelids, and a chiffon scarf which delicately shifts about her shoulders when she moves. She is thin, eyes sharp.

“Merhaba,” she says.

“Hello,” I reply.

“Mutlu bayramlar,” she says, lifting her veined hand in greeting. “I can tell you’re Turkish.”

“Happy bayram to you, too,” I say. “Yes, I’m half Turkish. Though I don’t speak the language. I’m sorry.”

“What do you do?” she asks.

I tell her I’m a lawyer. A woman with a yellow apron comes over and pours us black tea. She smiles at my mother.

My mother ignores her and says, “Ben avukatım. I am a lawyer too.”

Casting a sidelong glance at the aproned woman, she continues, “It’s good to finally meet someone here of my own class in society. You know, there are some here who sold their homes to pay for care. There are others who get the very same care for free, from the state, because they have nothing!”

I sip the tea, which is steaming and bitter. She says, “When my brother was at university in the 60s, in İstanbul, he was always in trouble for being a communist. He protested, plastered posters all over Galata, fighting for the working class. He was a good boy, evet, evet, helping the disadvantaged. We are lucky, being lawyers. Secure. We can hold our heads high.”

I remember once watching her cry. When she moved to the UK her qualifications were worth nothing. Her degree certificates, enclosed in plastic wallets, lay limp across her raw palms. I can’t tell her that she spent years cleaning, after my father left her, and that she doesn’t pay for her care here either. I do.

She scowls at the greenery outside the window, Scottish firs with branches waving in the wind. In her mind, her life here is now unlived, like a touching book once read is shelved, and forgotten. Scotland became her home, its happy memories scrubbed away with the bad. To her, I am just a dream figure. A doctor told me the heart never forgets a child. If true, hers guards the memory of me like a jealous secret.

I remove a Turkish dessert from its wrapping. Strings of golden pastry, straw-like, saturated in syrup and covered with crushed pistachio. “Kadayıf,” she says. “My sister-in-law made the most güzel kadayıf one bayram.”

“It was good kadayıf,” I say.

We eat it together, washing away its sweetness with lukewarm tea. When I was five, my mother took me to Eastern Turkey to visit family, during bayram. I sat on her lap in the shared dolmuş taxi. My cousins and I wore new clothes, the neighbors gave us treats and toys. My father brought a crumbling Scottish sweet, called tablet. Each square was wrapped with a violet bow. After dinner, we ate kadayıf. My cousins then asked me to choose a favorite, tablet or kadayıf; “Taaah-blet veya kadayıf?” I loved them both, but I chose one. Another night, I would have chosen the other. I watch my mother savor the dessert now. We both remember her sister-in-law serving it. It is a shared memory, yet she does not see me in it. She is steeped in love she cannot taste. Our eyes meet, and she smiles.

I arrive home. The night sky is thick with cloud and I am held in the cool, featureless darkness. The engine is off, the cold slowly seeping into the car. I look at the sign on the house: Achadh Meadhanach. It means “the Middle Field” in Gaelic, which is what the land once was, sandwiched between two estates, before all of it was sold to developers. There is a river that runs through the land, weaving it together. As it flows, the river takes with it pebbles, dirt, drips and trickles from streams, churning, breaking up and remolding, making all part of itself. This river has a name, an identity, as it is always the same, and yet its rushing water is renewed and different from one moment to the next.

“What’s brought me to this country, in particular?” my mother had asked, looking out at the green, alien landscape.

“Love,” I said.

“Am I visiting?”

“Evet,” I replied. “We’re both winding our way through.”

The Middle Field,” by Aya Douglas and originally published by Hotazel Review, which describes itself as “independent, unfunded, and edited by volunteers … a home for African writers and African artists, as well as everyone else.

Ayla Douglas

Ayla is a Scottish-Turkish writer based in Glasgow. Her work has featured in Scottish literary magazines Extra Teeth and Gutter, the print short story anthology All Becomes Art, as well as in Product magazine, Ireland’s No Parties magazine and South Africa’s Hotazel Review. In 2021 she was shortlisted as a finalist in Scotland’s Bold Types: Scottish Women’s Creative Writing Competition.