the short story project


Shadi Shaad

Hannah’s Question

“Hannah’s Question”


Hannah and I entered the house. It was small but warm and cozy. The walls were yellow, the furniture was red and there were lots of green and pink cushions all around the living room. The house was full of beautiful plants and I could smell the lavenders. All the pictures in the frames were farms and flowerpots. Hannah’s friend invited us to sit down. I sat right next to Hannah. She was nervous and I wanted to show her some sympathy, so I held her hands in mine I was thinking about something to say.


“ I am so excited for you. You will finally know about your mother. I am sure she was a fantastic woman.” I said positively. Hannah looked at me and smiled, then quietly said, “ I am sure about that too. In all of my dreams, she has always been this remarkable and great woman. I am sure she had kind and beautiful eyes as well.” While Hannah was saying those things with lots of enthusiasm, my heart ached, because we just met this weird girl, Fatima, for the first time in our lives and she says her mother used to know Hannah’s mother; however, we couldn’t be sure about that and the validity of their information. Yet, I had never seen Hannah’s eyes this shiny and happy and that would worth a lot. She thinks that she has found the answer to the most important question in her life. “ Who was her mother?”


I Had known Hannah since I was 4 and she was 6. Hannah and her father were our neighbours. I remember when her father bought the big house next to us. That house used to be a small luxury hotel, a famous one in north Istanbul, and Hannah’s father had done some major renovation on it before moving in. Everyone was talking about them. Hannah’s father was a handsome man who was always wearing suits and driving luxury cars. He was living with his only daughter Hannah. Well, actually later on we realized that he had a wife and 3 daughters and 1 son somewhere else. We all knew that woman wasn’t Hannah’s mother. Everyone wanted to know more about this man who purchased the most expensive building in our street. Hannah was very beautiful. I could see her playing from our balcony. For a long time, my father wouldn’t let me go to their place and play with her, because her father was a single man and would always ignore my father. One day when Hannah was playing in their yard I asked her a question from my bedroom’s balcony and that was the beginning of our friendship.


Hannah had been always home alone until her father hired a maid and a servant. I don’t remember how, but one day my father spoke to the maid about Hannah and when he made sure that their house was safe, he finally let me go there and play with her. It happened after one day my father cut me trying to go from our balcony to hers. He thought there is less harm in letting me go to their place than us trying to jump to each other’s balconies. Hannah had all the barbies, Barbie houses and clothes that I always wished to have, but my father would never buy them for me; and I had a fancy bike and a skateboard that she loved. So we were trading them here and there and I could say it was a fair trade for both of us. Hannah was the most caring and kind girl I knew. We were best friends, until one day in winter my father decided to move to another city for work and it made our friendship a little bit different. After that Hannah and I were mostly just talking over the phone or were writing letters to each other.


Hannah and I would see each other only 2 times a year when my parents were going back to Istanbul to visit friends and family. In one of our visits, I realized that Hannah’s stepmother had moved into the big house with them. Hannah was under a lot of pressure because the stepmother was mean to her. We were still in high school when Hannah told me that her father wanted her to get married, because of the insistence of the stepmother for getting rid of Hannah.


In high school, I was still a silly kid who was dressing like the singers and famous people but Hannah was always very simple, wise and sad. Her biggest nightmare was to be forced to marry one of his father’s friends because he was inviting his friends and employees home to show them that he has a beautiful daughter. I would feel so bad about it but had never thought that any of those meetings were serious. Probably, if Hannah had a mother who could protect her, none of these would happen. Hannah never met her mother. But she heard from some family members that her mother left her when she was only a week old and her grandparents and other family members had to help her father to raise Hannah. But the problem was that her father would never let her ask any questions about her mother. He wouldn’t even have a picture of Hannah’s mother. It was like she had never existed. Hannah begged all her family to find a picture of her mother, but no one would give her anything. It was like everyone hated her mother to a point that they didn’t even talk about her. In fact, they all were afraid of Hannah’s father so much that they wouldn’t even mention Hannah’s mother by her real name, which was Mariam, and they would often refer to her as “ That woman.” Hannah once heard from her uncle’s wife that her mother was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen in her life. According to that information, Hannah and I would go through all the newspapers and magazines and find the most beautiful women in them and then we would cut their pictures and put them inside a notebook. After assessing all of those pictures we narrowed them down to two. One brunet woman and one blonde. We kept all other pictures in case we changed our minds. Once a while we would go back to that notebook and changed the blonde woman with another blonde woman, but we never touched the brunet one. It was like we both decided that Hannah’s mother exactly looked like the brunet one, but we never told it to each other.


One day when Hannah was only 17, she called and said that her father forced her to marry one of his friends who was an older rich man. She was just crying over the phone. I was very mad at her father to a point that I started to save money to hire someone to hit him with a car when he was leaving his office. But then I got so busy with the final exams and Hannah also stopped calling me as often as before, so I gave up the plan. After a few months, Hannah completely stopped calling me because apparently her husband was so crazy and wouldn’t let her have any friends.


Eight years later when I was finishing the last year of university Hannah called me. I was very happy to hear her voice. She had a son! But she was very unhappy and broken. Apparently, her husband finally divorced her after many years of abuse. She asked me if I wanted to travel with her so we could celebrate my graduation and her freedom. I happily accepted her offer and started to look for hotels and tickets. At that time all of our friends would go to Cypress for the graduation parties. We were thinking to go to Cypress and Greece, but Hannah said that she wanted to go to Georgia; to the city that her mother moved after leaving her father. Hannah’s uncle’s wife had told Hannah that her mother was from a city in North East of Georgia which later after her divorce she moved back there. The name of the city was Gagra. It was a very small city and Hannah had a strong faith that she could find a sign of her mother. Hannah said that her husband hadn’t let her study to go to the university after college and he also wouldn’t let her work so she had a lot of time to search for her mother. Apparently, after calling some of the family members and insisting on finding some clues of her, they finally told her that her mother had died shortly after she moved back to Gagra from Istanbul. But Hannah never believed them, and she wanted to go there and find out the truth.


First, I tried to convince Hannah to go to Greece after Cypress, but when she insisted on going to Georgia I thought maybe if we go to Tbilisi in Georgia after Cypress it could also be a very fun city. Tbilisi was famous for its great nightlife and bars. Anyways, a day or two in Gagra after Tbilisi wouldn’t kill me. I would do that for Hannah. And that was what we did.

We stayed in Cypress and enjoyed the beaches and clubs, then we flew to Tbilisi in Georgia and stayed there for two nights and finally, we went to Gagra with a train. When we got to Gagra in the morning and went to our hotel, Hannah took out a big notebook and started to plan for the day. It seemed that she had done her homework and knew who to call and what to do. Actually, on our whole trip, she was just thinking about going to Gagra. We went to a nice classic café in the middle of the city and had our breakfast. Then Hannah called a girl, Fatima, who her uncle’s wife knew in Gagra. Fatima told Hannah that Mariam, Hannah’s mother, was her mother’s friend and she could give us some information about Mariam. The girl was so friendly and she invited us to lunch at their place.


We went back to the hotel so Hannah could take the gifts she bought for Fatima from Cypress. Actually, she bought a souvenir for whoever that had information about her mother. The city was very small, so we decided to walk to Fatima’s house. When we arrived at the door, we were both very nervous. Hannah asked me if I would think that her mother was alive, and she could meet her. I told her, “Let’s hope for the best but expect the worst.” She agreed and then we buzzed the door. The girl came down and opened the door and let us in. Hannah didn’t speak Georgian and the girl had to speak in English. They would speak half Turkish and half English as the girl Knew a little bit of both.  Fatima told us that her mother could Speak Turkish which was the best news.


I was still holding Hannah’s hand when the girl’s mother walked out of her room and came to us. We hugged her, and then we all sat. I could see that she was very uncomfortable and it made me worried. It was like she didn’t want to be there. Hannah gave her the souvenirs and she happily received them. Then the woman opened the gift bags and then Hannah and her started to talk about all the chocolates and cookies in those bags. They talked about Cypress and our trips. I was almost sure that the woman, who her name was Anna, didn’t have good news for us. I knew that no news about Hannah’s mother could be good, but I didn’t know Hannah’s expectations about that meeting. Hannah and I were getting frustrated as we felt that the woman doesn’t have any intension to talk about Hannah’s mother.


Finally, Hannah said, “Now Anna please let’s talk about my mother, Mariam; your daughter said you knew her.” Anna said, “Yes your mother was my friend. She was the most beautiful woman I knew.” Hannah hopelessly asked, ” She was? Is she dead?” Anna suddenly panicked and looked at her daughter and asked something in their language and then looked at Hannah and said, ”My daughter says you already knew that Mariam is dead. She died almost 23 years ago!” Hannah took a deep breath and looked down and said, ” Exactly two years after I was born. I was hoping to hear a different story from you.” Ana kindly looked at her and said, ” Mariam was always talking about you. She was very sad when her ex-husband took you from her.”


Hannah suddenly jumped up from the chair and said, ” What? but my father said my mother left us and went back to her country.” Anna was very unsure about the information that she shared with us and said, ”Maryam came back to Gagra very broken and lonely because your father took you and threatened her that if she wanted to see you or go anywhere near you he would kill her.” Hannah was bewildered and broken and she asked, “ But why?”. Anna said, ”Your father didn’t want anyone to know that Mariam is the mother of his child. He was from a big family and he had a great job in Istanbul and he didn’t want anyone to know that he made his maid pregnant.” Hannah shouted, ” What?! My mother was a maid?.”


 I was thinking that all this information was making my head spin. On the other hand, things started to make sense. When no one wanted to talk about Hannah’s mother and there wasn’t even a picture of her, it would show that something was wrong. We always knew it, but we haven’t been able to put the puzzle pieces together. Now it was finally making sense. But it was a truth that we weren’t hoping to hear. It was all bad news.


Hannah sat down again and held her head in her hands. Then she looked up again and asked Anna to tell her the story in more detail. Anna leaned forward on her chair and said, ”Darling, I don’t know what exactly happened between your mother and your father; but I remember your mother and her father and brother left Gagra and went to Istanbul to work. Mariam’s father had lost her job here and he decided to leave. Apparently in Istanbul, your father hired your mother and her father to clean the house and take care of the kitchen and garden, but very soon your mother got pregnant from your father. Then your mother’s father and your father’s parents forced your father to marry Mariam. It was just on the paper so they could get the birth certificate for you. Unfortunately, right after your birth, your father fired both, your mother and her father, and forced them to sign the divorce papers. Your father was a powerful man and he gave them a little bit of money and threatened them to leave and never go back. When they came back to Gagra all your mother was talking about was you. She even had a name for you. She was calling call you “ Irina.”


I looked at Hannah’s face, she had a nice smile on her face and her eyes were closed. She repeated, ” Irina! Irina! So my mother was thinking about me.” Then she opened her eyes and asked, “ How did she die? What was she doing before death?” Ana said, “ Darling we weren’t that close. I had a family and two kids. I hadn’t heard from her for a while until later my mother said that Mariam was sick. They took her to Tbilisi and doctors said that she had cancer. She died a few months later.” “ Did you see her before death?” Hannah asked curiously. Anna looked down and said, “ No. I just heard that she died in a morning and that was it.” “ Do you know where her brother and father are?” Hannah asked with a shine in her eye. Anna said, “ her father passed away a few years after, and her brother never came back from Turkey. That was all I knew about that family.” “ Did they have any other friends and family?” Hannah asked like she wouldn’t leave her alone until she finds someone related to her mother. However, Anna repeated, “Not at all. We weren’t close. I barely knew Mariam, let alone her family.”

Anna looked frustrated and it was obvious that she wouldn’t give us any more information. Hannah looked at Anna and kindly ask, “ Do you have a picture of my mother by any chance?”

Anna seemed ready for that question; and she responded. “ I have one picture of her when I just had my second child and everyone came for a visit.” Then she walked to her room and after a few minutes came back with a picture in her hand and gave it to Hannah. “ This beautiful woman in the front is Mariam” Anna said happily. I held my breath and looked over Hannah’s shoulder to see the picture. Oh my God! Hannah’s mother was exactly looked like the brunet picture that Hannah and I found in the magazine! But maybe 10 times more beautiful! She had ivory skin, shiny black curly hair and the most beautiful eyes in the world. Hannah remained frozen for a while. She was looking at the picture like she wanted to see her mother for all the years that she didn’t know her. Someone had to say something so I said, “Hannah! She is beautiful! Exactly how we imagined her!”


Hannah looked at Anna and said, “ Could I please keep the picture?” Anna replied, “ Of course. I had never liked that picture because I was very fat in it.” Hannah was so happy. She hugged Anna and her daughter and told them that we couldn’t stay for lunch because she wanted to try to find out more about her mother by asking people about her family.

When we walked out of their house Hannah started walking so fast with the picture in her hand. I knew that we were going to start another investigation very soon, but before doing anything else I wanted to know how she was feeling. “ Hannah, wait for a second.” Hannah stopped and looked at me. “ Hannah let’s talk. Are you ok?” I asked worryingly. Hannah suddenly grabbed my shoulders and said, “Are you kidding me? I am more than ok. I feel so happy that I want to cry. Didn’t you hear that? My mother never left me. She wanted me and she even named me Irina! She loved me.” We hugged each other and started to jump up and down for a while.


We went back to our hotel to get ready for a long walk around the city to ask people about Hannah’s mother. I was thrilled by Hannah’s reaction to the story of her mother’s life. She didn’t care about any of those bad news of his father’s behaviour and her mother’s hard life. All she wanted to hear was that her mother actually wanted her. Hannah needed to know about it so badly because when her father, stepmother, and husband didn’t want her, she wanted to know that she had a mother once who wanted her more than anything else in the world. I was so glad that this tragic story made Hannah so happy. I think the most important question in Hannah’s life wasn’t that who her mother was, but it was “If her mother loved her and wanted her or not?” Now she knew.


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