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The first time I shaved my legs, I was a few months away from my sixteenth birthday. No one was home when I locked the bathroom door, took a pack of six Bic razors and laid them out in a row on the side of the bath – their garish orange-ness offering me more hope than I’d felt in years. Climbing in, I stretched out my legs, pushing my big toes into the mouth of the taps. There they were: long, dark strands of hair covering almost every part of my legs. I shaved. When the lather ran out, I didn’t stop; I continued, rubbing the smoothness that had been underneath the entire time. I discovered marks, scars and bone shape I never knew I had, and when I finally dropped the razor into the soapy, hair-ridden water, the white bath had taken the brunt, almost completely covered in hair – a lazy apology for causing me so much grief. I took the shower head and blasted them into nothingness.
That moment unmasked more than skin and soon, everything my parents did annoyed me; I was ready to attack at any moment. If they spoke with their mouths full or mispronounced an English word, I snapped. I asked questions I knew they wouldn’t know the answer to just so I could magnify the difference between us. They had no advice to give me because they had never truly lived in the UK. We had been born at the same time and if I were to navigate the city, I’d have to do it on my own. The British me – once so obsequious – was demanding things that the Greek Cypriot me couldn’t deliver, and with bare legs and a new-forming self, I threw my own stone at the Greek Cypriot community – belonging was no fun when you had to be someone else.
And so it began: the forceps of British life yanked me out of my Greek Cypriot womb and with furious urgency, the next decade was spent cultivating a self. I refused to let a single person dictate a thing to me: wedding invitations from tenuous relatives were declined; visits to Cyprus were replaced with multi-trip holidays to America, India, Europe. When older relatives asked me if I was getting married, I looked them dead in the eye and told them there was no way I was living that life and they’d better get used to it. I spent endless days with books, reading my way out of ignorance, seeking the different minds I’d missed out on over the years. I learnt about people so far away from who I was that my appreciation of their lives alone made mine better. I went to university and studied a creative course. I travelled to obscure places that had my mum praying for me every night. I lived without tongue-biting, incense-burning or wood-touching. I experimented with choice, saying yes to some and no to others and I revelled in the different outcomes steered by me. I became ridiculously free, separate, self-grown. It worked. By the time I was thirty, I finally recognised myself in my actions; the things I believed in were mirrored in the things I did.
When I moved back home temporarily, it was like meeting my mum for the first time. One evening, we were eating glyko: crystallised fruit bobbing in copious amounts of thick syrup. She told me her family used to buy them from Varosha in Cyprus.
“Where’s Varosha?” I asked.
“Varosha is another name for Famagusta. Bappou used to drive us there every week where we bought glyko. We kept it on top of the fridge, saving it for special occasions.”
“I didn’t know you had such a sweet tooth, Mum!”
“Where do you think you get it from?” she smiled the way parents do when something affirms that we’re really their child. “When war was declared, the first thing I said to my sister was to get the glyko and eat it because we were going to die.”
I laughed, but her story reminded me that my rebellion, like a cancer drug, had killed off the good stuff as well as the bad. I asked for more, on an ardent mission for specifics, ready to learn about my own prologue from the safe distance of an authentic self. She spoke, narrating a story we had both buried for different reasons. I learnt about my grandad who swerved his car to avoid falling bombs; how they left their great-grandfather on his bed because he refused to leave his home; how Ammochostos means sand that covers because it’s so soft, you can hide in it. Her stories christened a Cypriot life I’d never known. Something inside me was waking up – now that I knew who I was, I wanted to know where I came from.
I’m still scared of something – my something, my mum’s something, her loss that had nowhere to go except into the pores of my own skin. I sometimes carry that coat on a sunny day, and often wonder what life would’ve been like had my parents been born British. But then, maybe we are all raised with lines that separate parts of us we had no say in cultivating. Maybe there is always a flit, a dance between different selves before we become who we are, and have the confidence to undulate freely between them.
I see the worms and I eat the fig anyway. I am no longer partitioned.