Note: To follow the story it is recommended that you first read the previous parts, or from part 2 and forward, where several of the characters mentioned are introduced. Back to Table of contents
For Ajje’s 17th birthday, Aliya, me and Aram made two soft strawberry cakes with cream, the same kind that we had shared that morning at the nursing home. We had expected a lot of guests but his mom even had to ask some more distant relatives not to come because Ajje quickly became too tired.
We struck a deal. His parents said that if he started feeling better and if he could gain weight, his uncle and one of his cousins would go with him back to Diyarbakir. -As soon as and as long as his doctor said that he was well enough to fly.
None of us wanted him to go, but we only had two options: Believe that he could do it, or somehow face that he would only get worse.
I had bought him Civilization II for his computer and hooked we played together with his brother for hours and hours, and when Ajje became too tired to use the mouse we would sit behind Aram discussing the moves before he played them out.
After the catastrophe with the new doctor, he had quickly changed back to doctor Anders from the nursing home, and he was supportive of the idea.
I felt positive that he would get some of his energy back now that he had something to look forward to, but I had mixed feelings about why he hadn’t told me that he wanted to go, and why he didn’t ask me to go with him.
For my birthday he came to pick me up at school despite it being below zero outside,
and when I gave him a hard time about it he just laughed and said that he had it all planned out so that we could avoid the snow.
He took me to one of the malls in town where we could park inside and he treated me to a movie and dinner at a pancake restaurant, where we laughed so hard and ate until we both rolled out of there completely stuffed, and with jam and ice cream all over Ajje’s shirt.
Before taking me home he asked me to open his present that had magically appeared on my seat when we got back to the van. He had bought me a beautiful exclusive notebook with a black leather cover. Every other paper was striped and the other was blank.
He said that I could keep it as a diary or that I could draw something and that he would love to see it if I wanted to share it. We hadn’t talked about how I had not been able to draw since Patrik died, but Ajje always seemed to just “get” these kind of things and I loved it.
He hadn’t gained much weight, but his mood and outlook had definitely changed to the better. That he was able to stay free from colds and infections from mid November to Christmas helped a lot. Most of his headaches eased or disappeared when he caved in and started to use the ventilator more often and consistently during day time.
From mid December to Christmas I was very busy because I felt like I had to make up for missing the previous Christmas, and I was working extra at the postal service over the holidays.
Ajje had asked me not to buy him any gifts as they didn’t celebrate Christmas, but they usually had a big family dinner and presents for the youngest kids so that they would not feel sad when their Swedish friends got their presents. This dinner would take place on the 21st of December.
I was late because I had been working and because I had been out looking for a last minute flower as a present for his mom. When I got there Ajje was in the middle of playing a new nintendo game with Aram and I left them to help his mom out in the kitchen.
She had me sit down by the table and slice up some of her bread as she was stirring the stew on the stove and explaining all the ingredients, when she suddenly asked me,
“Would you like to marry Ajar?”
I was stunned. I even stood up from my chair and immediately sat down again, staring at her. I wasn’t sure if I understood her or if she had said the phrase wrong, but then she repeated herself.
She didn’t ask “Do you want to marry Ajar?” out of curiosity or to start a conversation, but “Would you like to.” I was still really confused. Maybe this is how the Kurdish people do it?
But my instinct said no. The only reference I had for marriages were mom, dad and stepdad and they never seemed to be happy.
Before I knew it I had said it out loud;
“I can’t get married... we are too young. How do you mean? I don’t understand.”
I can’t marry Ajje. You don’t get married when you are just 17!
“I haven’t finished school yet, and we don’t have any money or a place to live together.”
We both knew that I would never be able to live alone with Ajje. We would never look for apartments together or worry about money or about his care or having children together.
Even if we got married right then, that would not be the kind of life we would live.
I started crying, both because I said no when I wished that I could do anything for him, and because I knew that we would never get married, and I was really confused as to why his mother asked me.
Christine’s words echoed in my head “You believe in being with him, don’t you?”
And the answer was still yes, but it was so hard, I wanted to give him everything that he wanted and deserved, but I didn’t know what more I could do to keep him in my life.
She sat down on a chair next to me, stroking my face, comforting me. My tears dried up and we continued cooking the dinner together.
I didn’t ask her, but I was still upset, -did Ajje even want to marry me? I knew that he had so many dreams and hopes for us but he hadn’t mentioned marriage or living together this soon.
Maybe she was the one who wanted us to get married? Did he know that she had asked, did he ask her to ask me? Why didn’t he just ask me himself? Why didn’t he ask me to go with him to Turkey? I felt like I didn’t know anything anymore.
Later that evening during tea and dessert, Ajje’s cousin started talking about the trip.
Ajje glanced at me from the other side of the table and then quickly looked away, and when they said that the tickets were booked, I nearly choked loudly on my tea.
He would be leaving on the third of January. Leaving. He was really going.
The tickets were already booked, only two weeks ahead, and no one had told me about it until then. I was shocked.
Ajje rolled over to me and signed for me to take his hand but I hesitated for a few seconds before I took it.
“They didn’t tell me either. They didn’t want to tell me before they were sure that it wasn’t dangerous for me to go and that I could use my machine on the plane.”
“Carro, I’ve only known for a few days. I didn’t know how to tell you without making you all worried.”
I felt myself tear up again in front of everybody, “I know you are right, but,.. but I’ll hardly have time to see you before you go! I didn’t think you would really be going.” I confessed.
With Christmas and work and seeing Nano and Jon, and then New Years in between, I wouldn’t have much time to see him and I asked him, “How long will you be gone, when are you coming back? Why do you have to go so soon?”
I tried to come up with all sorts of arguments, that it could still be cold there in January and that he should postpone it. But I knew how badly he wanted to, needed to, go home.
I spent Christmas eve with mom, stepdad and my grandparents, and Christmas day with dad, his new girlfriend and grandma. I thought that I could pretend pretty well but on the inside I was a mess. He was going away in just a few days and I repeated the questions over and over in my head: Has his mom told him what I said? Why didn’t he ask me himself? Maybe it was all his mom’s idea, maybe he doesn’t want to marry me.
On the 26th of December me, Nano, Jon, Tess and Linn visited Rickard’s grave together and lit some candles, and we sat in silence inside the church for a while. The cemetery and the church were breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful with it’s candles and the sparkling snow outside.
Jon drove us to the castle ruins and we helped Nano cross the snowy field to the stone ship on an old wobbly kicksled. It looked kind of funny, and laughing about it relieved our tension a bit. It had been a while since we all saw each other and since we had been up there.
We put up sheaves of wheat and left fruits for the birds and animals, and on an impulse I started walking in a steady pace around the stone ship and the others soon followed while Nano watched.
We allowed ourselves to remember Patrik and Rick, but it was still difficult to understand that Patrik had been gone for nearly a year.
I only had a few minutes alone with Nano before Jon dropped me off at home and I told him that Ajje was going to Diyarbakir and that his mom had asked if I wanted to marry him.
He had no real advice to give, but told me that he would like to see him before he left.
On the 27th, we had another family dinner with my stepdad’s parents, and I didn’t see Ajje until the day after, only a week before he was meant to leave.
He was resting in his bed and he told me that he had missed me and asked for all the details about my Christmas.
He said that he was sorry for not telling me that the trip was going to happen so soon. There was a tension between us and we looked at eachother and I knew that he wanted to ask me to marry him.
“Ajje…” I started at the same time as he tried to lace his fingers between mine.
Please don’t do this to us...
“Do you want to marry me Carolina? I wish that you were my wife.” He finally asked.
“You know that I want to be with you. You are my best friend and my boyfriend.
But you know that mom would kill me if I came home and said that we are getting married, she would never allow us to go through with it. -And we would have nowhere to live together and I don’t even have a job. Maybe when we are both 18 and once I finish school and can find a job, maybe then we can get married.”
I knew it sounded like a badly rehearsed answer, but it didn’t make my points less true.
“OK. -I just wanted to be able to call you my wife. You are all that I need. It doesn’t matter if we are married or not. You and my family.”
He tried to smile but I could see that he was not OK and I repeated his name,
“Ajje, I still want to be your girlfriend. And I will be here today and tomorrow and maybe I can help you pack, and I want to go with you to the airport on friday.”
He remained silent but he didn’t remove his hand and he slowly stroked his thumb over mine.
I let go and leaned forward to hug him instead, cheek to cheek, and I held him as close and as hard as I dared.
He looked like he was about to start crying, but instead he asked for his ventilator mask and I knew that was the end of the discussion.
“I’m sorry Ajje” was all that I could say out loud. I wanted to say “I’m sorry” a hundred times over
but it would still not have been enough.
I’m sorry that I’m too scared to get married because I don’t want to be left alone. I’m sorry that I’m too selfish. I’m sorry, so sorry, that I don’t have the faith that you will be healthy and strong enough to be here with me.
We looked at each other and I could feel his golden eyes searching within me and that he knew how I felt even if I couldn’t say it out loud, and that he didn’t doubt me.
I felt so sad inside because he knew that I loved him and I still had to hurt and disappoint him this way.
We spent the next day together with Nano shopping for Ajje's trip, we kept busy and he was smiling most of the day. Nano had a few things that he wanted to send with Ajje to his family and he regretted that he was unable to go with him this time.
When he said “this time” I felt the chill return but I said “Next time I will come with you too.”
I got angry and disappointed at myself for still being upset that he did not ask me to come with him, angry even after I turned his marriage proposal down. It was so unfair and I hated myself for feeling that way.
My stepdad took me to the airport and I met up with Ajje before he checked in and it wasn’t even 5:30 in the morning. I could tell that he hadn’t slept and we talked about sleeping on the plane. I knew it would take more than twelve hours for him to get there and I asked him to please call me no matter what time it was when he arrived.
I watched him say goodbye to his family and then I tried to steal a kiss and a hug before he went through security, but he told me that he had to go inside because they had to be there early for them to pack his wheelchair properly. Ajje turned around and headed towards the elevator. When he rolled over the threshold into the elevator his head dropped and I saw his cousin help him adjust it, and I told myself that was he was in good hands and that he was going to be OK.
Ajje didn’t call me when he arrived, and not the next day, or the day after that. Ahmed told me that they had spoken to him and his uncle and that he was very tired and sore after the flight, but that their hotel was nice and that the transfer in Istanbul had gone well.
I was so worried about Ajje that I didn’t even notice that we passed the anniversary of Patriks
death. I asked his parents if they could give me the name of the hotel so that I could call him but they told me again that he wanted to rest.
When a week had gone by I knew that I was at my breaking point from worrying. I didn’t understand what was happening; if Ajje didn't want to talk to me, or if he wasn’t able to talk to me. I would have prefered if he didn’t want to talk to me because the other option would mean that he would be sick or unwell.
On the 10th of January, Ahmed told me over the phone that Ajje would not be coming home the next week as planned. He wasn’t able to fly. They were trying to book him on a later flight.
“What do you mean he can’t fly? Why can I still not talk to him?“ I demanded and asked,
“Can I come over and be there when you talk to him?”
I didn’t want to go there unannounced, but when I showed up at the apartment, his mom was only relieved and happy to see me and both his parents gave me a big hug.
We sat down in Ajje’s bedroom and Ahmed said slowly that Ajje was tired and sick. That he hadn’t left his bed since they had arrived at the hotel, not even to see his relatives, his old house or the grand mosque as they had planned.
“He didn’t want us to tell you that he can't fly back home.” He said.
On the afternoon on the 15th of january 1997 Ahmed called me at home,
"I know that I shouldn't be telling you this over the phone, but you need to know. Ajar did not wake up this morning."
I didn’t understand, I refused to believe it and I remained silent on the phone for several minutes when Ahmed repeated himself and asked if I understood him. Then he continued to
ask me not to visit his family for the next few days, because as a christian I could not participate in their prayer and their relatives would be upset.
So the next morning I got up and I went to school as usual, but I was alone and I knew that I had lost myself again. Almost a full day went by before I was able to tell my mom that Ajje had died in his sleep. I met Christine in school and she knew that something was wrong but she thought that I was just moody and sad since Ajje was away and I couldn’t tell her until friday afternoon when she asked me directly how Ajje was and if he wasn’t coming home soon.
Ajje was dead, he was gone and I couldn’t believe that I was saying it.
Not until his parents returned from the funeral a week later I got a clearer picture of what had happened. They told me that he had caught pneumonia but that he had also stopped eating as soon as he came to Turkey. Ahmed had stayed in Sweden because he was worried that he might risk his residence permit, but his parents and Aram had flown down the same day. They were not able to bury him next to Karwan, but at the same cemetery.
Determined not to mess up again like I had done last year, I tried hard to focus on school but without succeeding. Consumed by grief I lost track of time and space and when Christine left to do her work experience at Treloar in UK during the spring holiday it became even worse.
Tormented I would wake up soaking wet and screaming from nightmares about whether Patrik and Ajje were both in heaven, or if the muslim paradise was a different place. I feared that I would have to choose between them when I died and that Rick would not be there either since he had committed suicide.
Some time before easter, my english teacher took me to see the school psychologist.
I sat there on a wooden chair in her dark room -for some reason the room didn’t have a window, -making a very distressed and confused impression.
I tried to explain to her that Patrik and Rick were dead and that Ajje had left to die in Turkey.
I could tell that she didn’t understand me or that she just didn’t believe me, that I was not making sense and that she couldn’t follow me.
I got frustrated when she wouldn’t understand and I asked her in anger why she hadn’t talked to me when Patrik was assaulted and taken to the hospital or when he died. He was her student too, he was in her school.
She said to me that I needed to go home, but that she didn't want me to be home alone. Despite my protests, she made me call home. Only my step brother was there and she asked me to make sure that he would be at home when I got there. I couldn’t quite explain to her that I didn’t have a healthy relationship with my step brother, and when I eventually got home, he was not there.
Telling her everything broke something else inside of me. I became more apathetic and I stayed locked up in my room trying to sleep all day and listening to music and crying all through the nights.
One evening I went upstairs where I found mom and stepdad watching the news and talking to each other. I stood behind the sofa and they didn’t even turn around when I spoke,
“Mom.. I need you to help me. I need your help. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know what to do anymore.”
They sat in silence glancing at each other for a few minutes before they started talking to each other about the news as if I didn’t exist, and in disbelief I ran down the stairs crying again.
Even when I was angry at the world that kept on spinning even without Ajje, I seemed to place my foot in front of the other. School was really hard and I only participated in a few classes.
I tried to keep up in English, Swedish and arts. But then we started to read a book in class that made a huge impression on me. The book was about a young girl who lost her twin sister, and when I was alone I filled my notebook with his name over and over: Ajje Ajje Ajje, page up and page down, just like the girl in the book who wrote her sisters name.
-I wasn’t sure if it helped or if it was driving me insane.
In art class, I always drew or painted Patrik or Ajje. I painted the street where Patrik was beaten and I painted the silhouette of Diyarbakir against a burning sky.
I didn't notice that the days became longer, and when the summer holiday started I didn’t know what to do when I couldn’t spend my days at school anymore.
Some days I packed my backpack and took the train to the city and I started walking. I walked through the streets crying until I got too hungry or too tired, and not a single time did anyone stop me to ask how I was, and I was grateful for the anonymity the masses granted me.
When fall came I spent a lot of time with Nano and Tess in their new tiny apartment, and she took me for long rides in her car at night because it was the only way to make me sleep.
We talked about our friends and about life and I watched the yellow and white lights on the side of the road flash by as we drove past them through rain and thunder, mile after mile without a goal until I exhausted myself.
One of those nights she asked me, “Did Nano tell you why he really went to Turkey?”
“What do you mean? He wanted to find his parents.” I answered defensively.
“Yeah, but he could have gone there at any time. He didn't have to leave right when Patrik had died.“ She continued.
“I didn’t think he would tell you. -I had a miscarriage. It was Nano’s baby. It was an accident, but it was his baby. And I lost the baby because I was messing with drugs together with Rick.
That’s why Nano left in anger and that’s why Jon and Linn moved out.
I lost my baby and it encouraged Rick to do even more drugs and it led up to him leaving.
If Nano hadn’t gone to Turkey he wouldn’t have lost his legs. It was all my fault. All of it.
I made a whole lot of bad decisions and mistakes."
I asked her to please stop the car and after a few minutes she pulled over at an empty gas station where we sat in silence staring out in dark.
It explained a lot. It explained why it was so difficult for Nano to talk about Rick, and why Tess hardly ever visited him during his first months at the nursing home.
“But you’ve beaten yourself up enough about it. Even if Nano was hurting and even if he was angry, he was more angry at Rick, and he isn’t angry at you anymore. Nano wants to live and be with you or he wouldn’t have moved in with you.
We all feel guilty for what happened with Rick but it was his choice. If Patrik and I hadn’t helped Nano find his relatives he wouldn’t have gone either. So it’s just as much my fault. And if this hadn’t happened to him, Ajje and I would never have met. “
When she started driving again she said, “You have to stop beating yourself up too.”
While I thought about her words she continued, “Nano told me that Ajje asked you to marry him and that you said no and that you think that’s why he died. But I think you are wrong.”
It would take me several years to understand that Ajje didn't die because of me. That even if I had said yes he had already made up his mind.
His family was safe. His little brother would continue to receive care in Sweden and his older brother would be there to support him and his parents because of him. He had a girlfriend, friends and relatives who loved him and who would remember him. That was a bigger legacy than most of us can hope to leave behind.
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