In All The Women She Knows, Tutku Barbaros explores the magic that comes from truly knowing ourselves. Through eleven triumphant and relatable short stories, you’ll women who are discovering their own paths, in their own ways – and the growing pains and difficult decisions that come with deciding to choose themselves.”
Tutku is a writer – across forms – of Turkish Cypriot heritage from south-east London. She is an alumna of the Royal Court Writers’ Programme as well as Sphinx Theatre’s year-long writer’s development programme, Sphinx Lab. Her play debut Layla and Youssef was longlisted for the Bruntwood prize and the Paines Plough Women’s Prize For Playwriting.
Rey Was Taught
that complex times call for simple pleasures. These are the words Rey’s mother had said.
So today, to calm her restless hands and ease her shaky breath, She says to herself again and again,
‘Look, here’s a thing to be grateful for and another, and another.’ Referring to overnight oats she made last night, in the knowledge she would feel like this today.
Referring, also, to opening a fresh tub of moisturiser and being greeted with a cocoa butter peak so fluffy it reminded her of countless whippy ice creams enjoyed as a child.
Rey’s was always hundreds and thousands and a drizzle of blue bubblegum sauce.
Her mum’s was lemon sorbet with a drizzle of strawberry, maybe a flake.
Enjoyed on the doorstep of their house, as they watched the ice cream truck chug away.
Rey is also grateful, this morning, that her favourite, usually elusive, not too loose but not too tight scrunchie is actually in the place she left it (and not moved around by the mystic forces which enjoy relocating her diary and phone charger).
Rey pulls her curls off her face,
gathers them high above her head,
and allows herself to walk a few inches taller.
Maybe, just maybe, she tells herself, today will be okay.
She repeats the words out loud, until she finds a rhythm, until they’re something she can sing. Her voice comes together like brownies in a pan, initially disparate and grainy before turning into something irresistible, something glossy, something that fills a void, creates comfort.
‘Maybe just maybeee
Today will be okaaay
Maybe just maybeee
Todaaay will be okaaay.’
She does this often. She also sings songs about the dinner while she’s cooking it.
Making up lyrics about the papayas and the aubergines.
‘Floating about in a tomato seaaaaa, oh what a life the garlic leads!’
Tapping rhythms onto the surfaces of the kitchen with ladles, nudging cupboards shut with a bump of her hips. Rey believes she is in a world of her own but Sal, the landlady, the type of woman who owns a lot of silk robes and wears a lot of beads, lives in the flat below and often leaves her window open, listening out for signs of Rey. For Sal, it’s like living in a constant musical. She listens because she cares but also because she’s a bit nosey.
Sal’s ears await today’s opening number as she prunes the herbs in the box on her balcony. Rey sings:
‘We’re gonna seeeee Mel
‘I hope it goes well
I’ve packed up his things
like saying goodbye twice.
‘We’re gonna see Mel,
Better make sure we look nice.’
Sal nods and sets about pre-emptively plucking mint leaves for a brew to soothe Rey when she returns from meeting up with her ex.
Upstairs Rey packs a canvas bag.
A bag formerly known as ‘The Clubbing Bag’, because in the early days when there was always a pizza in the oven and sambuca in the shot glasses, Rey and Mel would go out out. They and their mates would face the Brighton winds and queue for clubs that line the beach. Once inside they’d strip off their coats, stuff them in their bag and pay a pound to have it stowed away so they could dance. And dance Rey did:
she would throw her entire body into the music and she’d throw it incredibly well.
Throwing herself hard enough to the beat that for a minute or two she might forget her grief.
And sometimes she had tears in her eyes.
And most times no one saw.
Now, sat cross legged on the floor (she’s been working on her posture) Rey goes through the beer-stained, frayed bag, one last time. It sags with the weight of their relationship inventory. Mostly books. Thin ones only of course, because they both agree a book shouldn’t be too big or too heavy.
Mel is one of those people who really lives with his, shoving them into rucksacks and back pockets.
Whereas as Rey requires a reading nook, a special place she and her book can go to, with soft blankets, chocolate and a glass of red wine she chooses solely because of the description on the bottle: ‘sweet and smooth’, ‘bouncy and floral’.
Because of their differing reading habits, it’s easy to tell which book belongs to who. Rey recoils at this particular one which has evidently been dropped, at least twice, in the bath. Poor thing truly looks like it’s been through it thinks. She flicks to the back page because Mel likes to write a note about if the ending works or not. However, in this book, under the last sentence, is a question.
I’m not sure. . . Rey, what do you think???
She hasn’t got round to reading it, and now it’s too late.
Rey eats peanut butter directly from the jar as she contemplates the magnets on the fridge door.
She takes down the ones they picked up on the pier: photos of them hurtling down a log flume.
Mel is grinning and his arms are flailing but there’s nothing behind Rey’s eyes.
She remembers those days being among her numbest. Six months into the relationship when Mel’s efforts to cheer her up had become too elaborate.
Rey recalls existential dread at the group mini golf trip and feeling suffocated at the pub quiz.
It wasn’t long before she started sneaking off without saying good bye. Sending a text from the bus.
She takes the t-shirts of his she’s washed and dried, places the magnets in the middle of them and folds them up so nothing more can break.
She holds it all in her hands, a parcel and a time capsule. Hanging by the door is the ochre scarf she started knitting for him in an attempt to placate his incessant complaining about the cold flat. The argument that meant she put the project down still rings in her ears. Mel demanding:
‘You’re such a people pleaser – you won’t even complain to your landlady about how fucking cold your flat is, Rey. What else will you suffer?’
She squeezed the ball of wool tightly in her hands and hoped Sal hadn’t heard. It was in those moments Rey regretted asking Mel to move in at all. She’d only suggested it so she’d have someone to be with at 3am. I moved him into my space far too fast, she says to herself now as she applies lip balm and pulls on jeans.
Read the rest of Rey’s story, and ten others in All the Women She Knows: Stories of Growth, Change and Sisterhood by Tutku Barbaros, publishing 15 February by Dear Damsels.