Fiction / February 2011 (Issue 13)

Dorothy's Song

by Margaret Hui Lian Lim

A shaft of light pierced the gap in the curtains and struck the mirror which threw it straight as a lance into the face of the sleeping girl. Melike stirred uneasily, opened her eyes, was dazzled, and quickly shut them again, but the bright light turned an irritating crimson behind her closed lids. She sat up, stretched, tumbled out of bed and drew the curtains aside. The room was immediately awash with light. It must be well past eight on a sunny spring morning. Her sister's bed was neatly made. She must have left early.

Melike had not heard Meret returning or leaving, but then, a dozen fire trucks could have gone roaring by, all bells clanging, and she would have slept through the pandemonium. She was annoyed with herself for having overslept and with Meret for not waking her up before she left.

She changed hurriedly, stepped out of her room, and stopped short. An eerie stillness engulfed her. Normally the radio would be blaring away and there would be sounds from the tiny kitchen of her mother moving heavily about, and voices of her father and brother raised in argument. But Hamit had been ordered to keep away and was staying with a relative. In this silence which hung like a shroud, she heard the distinctive sounds of the city of her birth wonderingly, with the ears of a stranger—trains coming into or pulling out of Köln Messe/Deutz Hauptbahnhof, creaking and rattling along the tracks on the Hohenzollern Bridge that spanned the River Rhine; pleasure cruisers taking sightseers to the Lorelei casting loose, chains clanking; warning toots, low and mournful, of barges laden with sand or coal; the deep clear tones of the bells of the Kölner Dom; vehicles thundering over exposed ancient cobble stones in the maze of streets left in a state of disrepair by the cash-strapped city of Cologne and making as much noise as long-haul trucks.

Her mother was alone in the kitchen. She was sitting slumped against the tiny table, staring unseeingly into the middle distance.

"Mother, I am late for school," said Melike timidly, eyeing her parent apprehensively. "Meret didn't wake me up."

"Mother!" repeated Melike with emphasis.

Zuebeyde's eyes finally focused on her daughter. They were dull, dead eyes. Today they looked even deader, thought Melike.

"You are not going to school," said Zuebeyde in a tired voice. "Today or tomorrow."


"Meret has left us," said her mother abruptly, her voice as dull and empty as her eyes. "She will not be coming back. Eat your breakfast."

"Where is father?"


The buzzer sounded. Zuebeyde stiffened. Melike, who was nearest, pressed the button to unlock the main door to the apartment building. They were three floors up, there was no lift, and sounds of feet tramping heavily rose up the stairwell.

The door bell to their apartment chimed. Zuebeyde lunged out of her chair and pushed Melike out of the way.

"Go to your room!"

Melike went obediently to her room. Once the door to Melike's room closed, Zuebeyde let in a horde of relatives who brought with them an air of suppressed excitement such as vultures must feel as they circle over a dying prey. She put her ear against the door but only murmurs and rumbles came through.

In the security of that narrow cell of a room that she shared with her sister, where the men-folk never put a foot in, and where her mother hardly ever did, except to check for orderliness, Melike took stock of the situation after absorbing the shock of the bombshell.

So Meret had gone! She had always said she would leave. Meret had dared to do what she did. Dared to do the unimaginable. Meret had finally done what she had set out to do—live her own life. Melike hugged herself to contain the confusion of feelings that threatened to erupt like a geyser.

Meret had finally broken free!

Melike was filled with jubilation. She mouthed the words and heard the tune in her head of the song that Meret had called Dorothy's Song, which Meret always sang softly to herself when she was deeply troubled:

Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue

There the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true

Could it be that Meret's dream had come true? Had she found that she could, and had flown over the rainbow, like the little birds in Dorothy's Song. Melike exulted in her sister's successful bid for freedom for it meant her salvation as well.

She came down to earth with a bump. There was a chill in her heart as she realised that she was now left without an ally. She was afraid of the disruption that Meret had left behind. Meret had always drawn the fire. Now the heat was on her. She was aware that now she would be closely watched and denied even that little freedom Meret was allowed to have.

And she was hurt that Meret had gone without leaving a word. Or had she? She went to the closet and pulled out the bottom drawer and scrabbled at the back for the loose panel behind which they kept things that were not for the eyes of their parents and their brother who had appointed himself the guardian of their morals.

She retrieved the envelope which held Meret's treasured collection of postcard-sized images of Justin Timberlake, Jon Bon Jovi, The Back Street Boys, Tokio Hotel, Antonio Banderas, Brad Pitt, George Clooney—teenaged girls' dreams that other girls of their age displayed as life-sized posters, thumb-tacked onto the walls of their rooms, not tucked away in a hidey-hole at the back of a closet drawer.

There was no message from Meret for her. There were several photographs of Meret, each showing her with a different hairdo, and a photograph of her with her newly-acquired boyfriend, Justin, whom Meret claimed, bore a likeness to his namesake, Justin Timberlake. Justin Zimmermann, slightly pimply, lank-haired, smiled apologetically into the camera. Not Melike's idea of a knight in shining armour, but a drowning man or woman would clutch at any straw. He was Meret's last straw.

The door to her room opened. With a swift, unhurried movement, Melike shoved the photographs under a pile of clothes in the drawer. With the guile born of long practice, she calmly re-folded a blouse, patted it into place on top of the others in the drawer before turning to face her mother. The rumbling voices in the sitting room had given way to sibilant whispers.

"I am going out. Do not leave your room. Your aunt Sevim will stay here until I come back," said her mother. She closed the door firmly and Melike heard her leave the apartment with the horde of relatives, thumping heavily down three flights of stairs.

Melike stood irresolutely. Something was definitely going on and she was being kept in the dark. She opened the door and walked hesitantly into the sitting room. Aunt Sevim sprang up like a jack-in-the-box from the sofa where she had ensconced herself and stood quivering like a cornered mouse.

"Your mother said you are to stay in your room."

"Please, Aunt Sevim, is it about Meret? She didn't come home last night."

"I cannot say."

"Is it about my brother Hamit, then? Is he in prison? Is that why my father is not here? Is that where my mother has gone? To see him?"

"Best ask your mother." Aunt Sevim looked desperate. She did not order, she pleaded. "Go back to your room. Please."

Melike went, as she was bidden, to her room that was her fortress against hurts. But there was no solace in that, even less with Meret gone. She stared at Meret's bed. It made a definite statement. Meret had left. Gone.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Where you wake up with the clouds far behind you

Where troubles melt like lemon drops

Dorothy's Song kept playing in her head. It spoke of all Meret's yearning.

Melike could still see the defiant light in Meret's eyes burning through the puffiness of her bruised face. Her own was just as bruised. How could she ever forget that day! She could still taste the blood where her lips had split.


Melike was sitting on a bench in the park with Meret, waiting for Meret's friends from the trade school where Meret was learning to be a beautician and hair stylist. Out of the confines of their house, Meret had removed her headscarf and the black ankle-length coat that hid the fashionably tight jeans that she wore. Both items of clothing were now in a plastic shopping bag bearing the name of a well-known clothing store. Her dark luxuriant hair gleamed with a coppery tint and there was just a hint of blush on her high-boned cheeks. Her doe eyes, fringed by long naturally-curling lashes, were highlighted by bronze shadows. Her lip gloss was a delicious pink. She was as lovely as Penelope Cruz, thought Melike with sisterly indulgence.

Melike was almost dozing off in the wash of afternoon light, lulled by the hum of voices and distant traffic, when she was awakened by Meret's startled gasp. A shadow closed in on them and Hamit's face loomed over them, white with rage, nostrils flaring, dark eyes snapping.

"Whore! To sit thus and flaunt yourself!" hissed Hamit. His hand clamped on Meret's wrist like a vice. He hauled her roughly to her feet. Melike, clutching her sister's arm in alarm, rose with her.

"You're hurting me, Hamit," protested Meret, wincing.

Hamit squeezed her wrist all the tighter. Meret cried out at the pain. Melike, limp with terror, hung on to Meret. Hamit dragged them both through the streets, ignoring the speculative stares. Curious eyes slid away when they met Hamit's knife-edged look. He hustled them into the U-Bahn station, onto the train, and out, and back into their apartment.

No sooner had the door closed on them than he lashed out at Meret, striking her full in the face and sending her sprawling at his feet. Melike, cowering and shrinking before him, was next. He hit her with the back of his hand, his ring grazing her cheek and splitting her lips open. She did not know if the salt she tasted was her tears or her blood.

Hamit then seized Meret by her hair and hoisted her up like a puppet on strings and shook her till her teeth jangled. Dragging her head back, he brought his face close to hers, spewing obscenities. Meret gagged at the foulness of his breath.

"Slut!" he screamed, pummelling her with his fist. "You dishonour our family! You shame me! You're a whore like the white sluts you call your friends!"

Their father added his voice to Hamit's crazed shouting, drowning out Meret's choked cries. He did not lay his hands on his daughters. He left that to his son. Melike's head throbbed with the thunder of their voices. She withdrew into a cocoon of her own making, and the raging voices passed over her and retreated into the distance until she heard them no more. In that safe far-away place, where she hardly felt pain, she saw her mother standing in the doorway of the kitchen, blank-eyed, face closed.

Afterwards in their room, Melike sat as in a trance, hugging and rocking herself. Meret's nose which had stopped bleeding was swollen. Her face was puffy and red. It would be a rich purple and blue by tomorrow. She was rubbing the wrist that Hamit had crunched. She had not wept one tear. Her eyes were bright and hard and she was smiling bitterly.

"I'll have Hamit in prison yet," she croaked. "I'm going to report him for battery and assault. I'll see him in hell if that's the last thing I do."

She laughed mirthlessly. Then she sang Dorothy's Song in a whisper that only Melike could hear. The tune filled Melike's head, rising to a crescendo where Dorothy sang that if little birds could fly beyond the rainbow, why couldn't she.

"I'm going, far faraway from here. Justin and I will hunt around for a place of our own. I want you to come and live with us, dear Melike. I'll send for you when we're settled," said Meret. She gripped Melike's hand. "I promise."


Aunt Sevim knocked at her door. There was still no sign of Zuebeyde.

"I'll run out and get Pita Gyros for us. Stay in your room," said Sevim.

Melike did not hear her mother come in. She slept a dreamless sleep and woke with a heavy head and a heart as leaden.

"I'm sending you to your sister Nadya," Zuebeyde announced at breakfast.

"Mother! But Nadya is faraway in Turkey!"

"You're going to stay with her."

"What about school? It's not yet summer holidays."

"You can start packing."



Melike went docilely. Once in her room, she let out a wail of despair. She took out an exercise book, tore out a page and wrote agitatedly through her tears:

Dear Meret,
Mother is sending me to stay with sister Nadya in Turkey. You will have to find out where she lives because I don't know. You do remember Nadya, don't you, she called you bad and tried to scratch out your eyes. I don't want to go to her, I want to stay with you. Don't forget your promise. I keep hearing you sing Dorothy's Song and then I am not afraid.
PS I am so happy for you.

Melike folded the tear-stained note carefully and put it into the envelope that contained Meret's photographs of her idols and returned it to its secret hiding place. Meret, when she came to collect her things, would most certainly look there to retrieve her treasure, and she would know where to find her.

While Melike was fumbling with the loose board, in the apartment building across the street, the mother of one of her classmates grabbed her husband's arm in consternation.

"Mein Gott!Du Himmel! Erich, read this!" She shoved the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger right under his nose, stabbing the column with a trembling finger.

Girl Brutally Slayed
Cologne – A 19-year old Turk is in police custody for the alleged brutal stabbing to death of his 17-year-old sister yesterday evening near the Cologne City Trade School where she was a student.
Four weeks ago, the victim Meret S. brought a charge of battery and assault against Hamit S., and a second charge of causing grievous bodily harm to his other 14-year-old sister. He was to start serving his sentence two days ago but had requested a deferment.
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