That was the long journey that all the house residents had gone through before becoming one with the sisterhood. The sisterhood was a serious business. Belonging to such a sisterhood could change a girls life drastically. Being a resident of such a girls house usually meant being popular at the student association, meaning you always had people wanting you to join their club, commission or board, meaning you always had long lists of guys willing to be your date at soirees, diners or parties, meaning that you would know everyone who mattered and everyone who mattered would know you, meaning that you would be asked for important positions in associations directorates or university boards, meaning you would build up a resume that would knock every employer off their chair, meaning that you were building on a career that would be as smooth as butter and pay you like you’re Rockefeller. That was why people wanted to get in the house. Tuba lived with 17 girls on number 17. The House as the residents referred to it was a well organized company, with weekly cleaning schedules, chores categorized according to hierarchy and a cycle of party’s and events that the girls had come to celebrate as a tradition. The residents were disciplined in their participation in these events and punished those who tended to show rebellious behavior. During their weekly diners on Tuesday evenings they would cook together and have diner all together in the pink living room and watch a series like “Sex and the City” or some other chick flick. The walls of their living room was painted in the theme of the parties that had been organized during the past months. There was a painting of a giant blond girl resembling Pamela Anderson holding a needle in her right hand and a text written underneath saying Plastic Fantastic 23 June 2005. Sometimes the girls would think of new traditions, like the penis statue collection, the House initiation, the wall of faces and the coffee drinking with the cleaning lady on Thursdays.
The existence of the House was based on formal written and sometime unwritten rules and traditions. Without them there would be anarchy and incoherence, something that equaled blasphemy for the residents of Rapenburg 17. I visited Tuba frequently in that house and sometimes when we’d be in the kitchen together, laughing over her ex-boyfriends’ funny habits, some other residents would enter together and ignore my existence, as if to say that me being there was drifting Tuba away from them. Tuba always felt the oppressive atmosphere of the house, but she never spoke too much about it. I think she was afraid that if she’d tell me more about her house mates, and their authoritarian, oppressive behavior, she would be setting some kind of self fulfilling prophecy free that would destroy her remaining time in that house. But I know Tuba, and I know that her dreams meant more than she or her mother would dare to confess. Tuba was heading towards an abyss that she had dug out for herself, and I was the only one who could get through to her to stop her from jumping into that abyss. In hindsight I admit to myself that my advice and warnings might have had a more drastic effect on her than I intended her to have.
Tuba’s high heeled steps made echoing sounds on the stone paved street on which she walked down the canal. The sky was still black and the Jugendstil lanterns along both sides of the canal were lit and reflected its light in the black canal water. The houses were all dark, except for the most known and feared for male student house on the other side of the canal. This house had a room with its window on the canal side which always had its lights lit. Tuba knew that the poor first year student that was sleeping in that room was having the roughest time of his life, being forced to sleep in the light and wasn’t allowed to have a door to his room. Tuba continued her mechanic pace towards the train station and increased her pace when passing through the Turks’ street. This street actually had a different name, but because of all the Turkish restaurants and restaurant owners in that street, she and her house mates used to call it the Turks’ street. This was a street that a nice girl wouldn’t want to linger through for too long. It was a narrow street and because of that the sound of her ticking heel echoed in higher and harder tones that made her shiver a bit. The light of the lanterns and the neon lights of the restaurants gave Tuba’s shadow a long and sometimes malformed shape on the ground. In the summer passing this street was like going through route canal surgery. The stench of burnt fat, rotten meat and vegetables gave the street an aroma of death. On Monday mornings this aroma would attract the seagulls that like flying rats would pick the dark grey trash bags that were lined up along the street to have it picked up by the city service. Some seagulls were as big as Tuba herself and she felt the urge to kick them aside as she passed their squeaking fights over a piece of cabbage. Always when the seagulls had visited this street it looked like a war zone of greasy toilet paper, rotten food, empty cans and torn newspaper. Tuba reached the train station and saw the gigantic wall clock on top of the entrance of the station telling her she had reached a new record in speeding. It was 5:23 and her train would arrive in five minutes.
She approached a ticket machine, chose her destination- Shiphol Airport- and threw in the coins and waited for the yellow train ticket to drop down in the opening of the machine. She looked around in the brightly lit station hall. The Burger King was open. She never knew if it was still open from the night before or whether it had just opened. This same sense of twilight she also felt for the people she found on the streets at that point of time. A homeless man with long dreadlocked dark hair was searching the telephone booths for left behind coins. A few dark skinned Pakistani or Bengali young men were standing behind the counter of the Burger King staring at her while giggling to each other in their secret language. A man in his mid-thirties, wearing a dark grey suite and carrying a Samsonite trolly was examining the arrival and departure signs and finally went up the escalator of platform six, where Tuba was going to go as soon as her ticket would drop down. She picket her train ticket out of the machine and headed light footed towards the escalator. In the closed glass doors and walls of the shops in the station hall she saw her reflection. She was a machine, without history or future. A machine that would step out of her bed at 5:00 AM and become a machine, until 13:30 in the afternoon. She was a machine like the ticket machine in the station hall that had only one single function, namely to produce. Her black pumps tick-tick-ticked their way through the station hall and her slim grey skirt suite completed her mechanical movements. Even though Tuba detested the early morning shifts, she felt at ease in its automatic routine. She was a character that started its role once dressed up in the famous grey suite and light blue shirt. Her legs had become strong and toned by the daily walks to the station and back home. Her legs, covered with a tan colored panty hose one day had the deep tanned and shiny look of a Marbella tourist and again another day they resembled the dull light skinned legs of a Japanese Geisha. Tuba’s legs were submitted to the randomness of panty hose that came through the snag test in the early mornings. Some mornings when Tuba’s eyes would be too tired to see clearly, she would accidentally put on snagged panty hose. Even if she’d find out during the day that she was walking around with giant snags in her panty hose she would just act as if she hadn’t noticed it. Until someone else would irritatingly point at her legs and tell her about it.
At the top of the escalator she stepped on the platform and felt the cold wind of the black late night or early morning in her neck. Again she had forgotten to bring along her scarf. Holding her handbag under her right arm, she walked up the platform to find a pleasant place to wait for the train. She looked around and saw the man in the dark grey suite standing on the same platform reading a newspaper. At her left she saw a blond haired family with suitcases, bags and bright colored jackets waiting for the same train. Tuba begged that they wouldn’t sit in the same coupe. Excited squealing, squeaky children voices was something she couldn’t handle at this time of the day. As Tuba stared in front of her she realized she was looking in the direction of her faculty. The place where she had spent the last 4 years of her days and evenings. She remembered she had to hand in a paper next week. She sighed. She felt a heavy weight on her chest and looked around to distract her attention. She then noticed an old woman. Skinny and small, wearing a black leather jacket and black skinny jeans. Her black hair had once been dyed, about a year ago and it was growing out. Her wrinkled face was sucking on a Marlboro Light cigarette. With one single suck she burned one third of the cigarette. Her skinny cheeks seemed even more skinny while she sucked on her cigarette. She released it and a cloud hovered like the Jeanie out of Aladdin’s lamp. Tuba imagined having to make three wishes as soon as the Jeanie would ask her for it. Her three wishes thought drifted away by the sense of disgust she suddenly felt once the smoke reached her nose. Normally Tuba didn’t mind cigarette smoke, but inhaling second hand tar smoke before 6 AM was just not very pleasant. She gave the old woman a sharp look and stared into the dark sky again.
From a distance the sound of an approaching train pumped adrenaline back into her system and she started walking up the platform in the direction of the train. With a loud squeal the train stopped and the doors opened. Tuba stood next to the opened door and waiting for the drunk teenage girls and students to stumble and tumble loudly out of the train. She stepped up and found an empty seat. She immediately opened her handbag and pulled out her make- up and started her ritual. While seeing herself in the reflection of the train window she started drawing the lines of her face. First some kohl around her eyes, then some mascara and a bit of lip gloss. Sometimes she wondered whether it was someone else she was drawing on her face or if it was her own face she was trying to reconstruct. Sometimes the train moved just when she was putting on her mascara, so the black brush would touch her cheek and give her a gothic look. She would then try to wipe it off with her index finger. When she was done she pulled out a book out of her handbag. Dostoyevski had succeeded in writing the most elaborate story about a sick Russian guy who is considered an idiot because of his simplicity and integrity. The story contains about two hundred characters with at least three given names and unpronounceable surnames. Tuba had started reading the book three times and was giving it one last chance to turn interesting any time soon. She didn’t know why she gave Fyodor so many chances to start at new. Normally she would give a guy just one chance at the most and if he didn’t comply to Tuba’s expectancies she would throw them back where she’d found them, the library, the book shelf or someone else’s bookshelf. Fyodor was a challenge. If so many people could find him so magnificent, she would at least have to give him a chance to prove this to her.
As Tuba was reading the same page for the third time she heard the train had entered the tunnel. The train stopped slowly and the bright lights of the underground platform shined so ruthlessly that it hurt Tuba’s eyes. Tuba walked out of the train and took the escalator up to the main hall. While she ascended the escalator the main hall of the airport became more and more visible. The sleepless departure and arrival monitors where stressed and sweaty tourists stood staring at their flight number and gate, the flower shop that sold flowers and balloons three times the normal price, the sandwich bar, the Burger King where Tuba from time to time had greasy breakfasts and lunch, all these shops and store that always were and bored her to the extent that she knew their every item they had on their menu or racks, since it was the only place she could go to during her half hour lunch breaks. As Tuba passed by the Food Village and walked up the stairs to departure hall three she felt how her caps tightened and felt squeezed as she moved up step by step. Even though she walked around on high heels almost everyday, her feet and legs were still protesting to its unnatural position. She remembered the blisters she had the first days when she walked around in the pumps, showing off its Gucci like model and walking tall as if she was walking on the catwalk. She sometimes made a game of it walking a straight line on the station platform. After those first days her feet had become rough around the edges and had shaped themselves in the shape of the pumps. Tuba didn’t like her toes too much, they seemed mistreated and abused when she would take off her shoes and sweaty smelly panty hose in the afternoon.
Tuba, the female service machine worked from 6:00 AM to 13:30 PM and was finishing up the last piece of administration when the door opened. Her eyes flashed while she sat behind the counter. It was him, he stepped in with his grey suite with his upper buttons loosely opened, his black hair still whet with water and modeling gel, his clear blue eyes carving his look into Tuba’s eyes. Tuba’s insides were on fire and her heart started pumping with such speed that she felt it could pop out of her throat anytime soon. She still couldn’t get used to him, she hated him so much because of the way he made her feel. He was the only element that endangered her machine. He disarmed her and pushed all the buttons that had “danger” written all over it. He was the embodiment of charm and seduction. He was Ken, the new colleague that Tuba was the last to meet. All her colleagues had already told her that he was just the perfect guy for her and somehow none could actually explain why. The first time when she meat him, she knew he was going to be trouble. Tuba had lovers, one night stands, boy friends, romances, but Ken was trouble. Her first impression proved to be correct. Only by looking at him she felt her heart melt into her lap while she held on to every piece of her discipline to remain the machine she had promised herself. She would not break her own contract with herself over some guy. Ken said “hi” and waved at everyone and sat behind Tuba in front of the only remaining empty seat. “So…what’s up?” Ken never needed much words? He brushed his fingers through his whet hair while looking at Tuba. She stood up and searched for her bag. “Everything is fine, I hope you’ll entertain yourself today!” Tuba gave him a bland wink as if she was cool as vanilla ice cream. “I always entertain myself, you know that!” Ken winked back and followed her back with his eyes. “ Ok, I’m off, bye you guys” Tuba waved goodbye and almost walked into the glass door while leaving the office. She clumsily opened it and cursed unspoken words in her mind. She tiptoed away from the tunnel and went down to the trains. She cursed all the way down to the platform. The machine was running out of fuel. Ken had moved something in that machine that wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place. Behind her eyes she felt a burning sensation, she wasn’t sure if it was the dry air conditioning air she had been in all day that caused that feeling or that it had a more meaningful reason. She spoke to herself as if she were a teacher speaking to her favorite pupil, “come on Tuba, don’t let them get to you, you have worked so hard to get here, everything will be ok, everything will be ok, everything will be ok. The train approached and she let go of her teacher. She waited for all the happy travelers and tourists step out of the train before she could step in. She found an empty seat next to the window and put down her bag immediately next to her so that no one would want to sit next to her. She needed her solitude, they should grant her some solitude, she was no longer the machine, the machine was set off somewhere down the escalator just before her eyes starting to burn.
She closed her eyes while she rested her head against the window. Images of Ken came before her eyes, his boyish smile, his strong hands, his blue eyes decorated with his jet black eyelashes. Everything about him was so familiar and yet so threatening. She loved Ken. She hated him just as much. He was good looking and had a charm and humor with which he could envelope everyone into whatever shape he wanted them. He was in charge, he had it all going for him, he was lucky. A different kind of lucky than Tuba’s sense of being lucky for living on Rapenburg 17. Ken was a good guy and had a promising future. Ken once asked Tuba if she wanted to go to Nepal with him, not because he liked her so much, but because they were both looking for a trip like that. In fact it was Tuba’s long and privately cherished wish to travel to Nepal and Tibet. She imagined the Himalaya as the only purging location where the whiteness of the snow and the altitude and purity could wash away all the stains from her mind and memories. She imagined herself throwing off enormous sized backpacks off the cliffs while shouting out something amazingly meaningful. She would hear the echoes of that word coming back to her and then she knew that it was good. Tuba procrastinated the thought of going to Nepal, not because it was undoable, but because she felt that she was yet not ready to make such a soul searching journey. When Ken asked about Nepal she laughed and murmured something about money and time and study’s. Inside her mind there was a carnival of emotions undefined and restless. She said no. Ken went to Nepal alone and came back with the stories she wished were hers. She never forgave him for asking her and she never forgave herself for saying no. I remember Tuba comparing everything in her life like a pirouette. She started in a steady position, made an impressive turn and ended just where she had begun, nothing being changed. Her life was a chain of one pirouette after the other. That is why she was dizzy all the time. She was tired of dancing pirouettes and getting nowhere.
The train stopped at Leiden Central Station and Tuba got off. All the way home she walked slowly, dragging her body forth, like an old horse carrying a carriage with square wheels. All the while she felt a great weight on her chest. She had to give it a reason. The weight on her chest had to be given a name or otherwise she would have to make herself believe that she was simply depressed. Being depressed was something Tuba refused to mark herself with, because only bored housewives with three children and a unfulfilled dream of becoming a prima ballerina got depressed. Tuba thought all the way about the reason while she fastened her pace when walking through the Turk street. She called me then, for no specific reason she said, just to see how I was doing. While she spoke to me, she paused from time to time and began to tell me how she missed her home. I wasn’t quite sure which home she was talking about. Tuba had changed addresses for over 40 times in her life and had lived in 7 different countries. Whenever I asked her to explain to me why she ever moved around so much with her family, she changed the subject or said that she wasn’t quite sure. Her parents had fled from Iran in the early 80s for the oppressive regime of Ayatollah Khomeini after the Islamic revolution. The only thing that Tuba knew was that she and her family were looking for freedom and peace. This common goal forced Tuba to do and say things or don’t say things, like when she suddenly had a different name, or when she wasn’t supposed to say where she was born when playing with other kids, or never to talk about her relatives or where they lived. Tuba’s history was a black book of secrets of which she had learned to forget more than half of it all. That is the last time I spoke to her. After a few days I became restless and started calling her, but she didn’t answer. I went over to her house. I went into the house and into Tuba’s room. She wasn’t there. Her bed was made, her closet door was opened and her make up was on her table, next to the pile of books, “An Introduction to Development Studies”, “Methodology”, “Political Theories and Systems”, “Comparative International Political Economy”, “History of Western Philosophy”, “A History of the Modern Middle East” and “Thus Spake Zarathustra”.
I started going through her things, looking for a note or a clue. I don’t know what exactly I was looking for. I was getting frustrated standing alone in her room, staring around in her room, looking at her oversized white princess bed, her large mirror in which she used to look at herself, her opened closet, her make up. It was making me feel dizzy and an unpleasant sensation was burning in my stomach. I ran out of her room and cried all the way to the police station. Tuba had left. On her way home, coming back from work, while walking through the Turk street, somewhere between the bridge and the Rapenburg, she had disappeared. While I cried I thought of Tuba, I felt her last words piercing in my memory. I tried to remember our last phone call. She told me she missed her home, and I hadn’t asked which home she meant. What did she mean? Where was she? If she had meant her home, being with her parents, she would have told me. She would have called me to inform me of her plans. She had gone without a word, just a last phone call telling me she missed her home. The tears rolled down my eyes, and the typhoon in my stomach was raging through my body, flooding its way up my throat. Something told me that something was very wrong. I know Tuba better that any one else. I know how she thinks, what she feels when she lowers her tone, how she acts when she’s happy, what she likes to wear when going to a party, how she always first puts on her kohl, before putting on her mascara, how she holds a glass of red wine in her hand and stares into it when she thinks of things she can’t tell me. I was closer to her than her own skin, and I know that her disappearance is definite. I cried all the way to the police office and I stumbled into the hall and stared at the lady behind the counter for a few seconds before I could clear my throat and tell her about Tuba’s disappearance.
The police officer wrote everything down and looked up to me from time to time with her icy blue eyes from under her glasses. She left me with a cup of tea. I looked around in the yellow room, with the painting of queen Beatrix hanging on the wall. I stared into my tea and waited for the police officer to come back. After a few minutes she came with a man with white hair, a shabby sweater and brown rib trousers. He calmed me down and told me that he had called my mom to tell her about my condition. My eyes flashed as I looked at him in disappointment: “But what about Tuba?” He told me that Tuba was going to be fine. I didn’t understand him, or he didn’t understand me, I’m not quite sure. The more he talked, the less I could focus on what he was telling me. His words didn’t mean anything to me. All I could think of was Tuba, what happened to her, where did she go? Why did she leave without telling me? I couldn’t stand his talking anymore. His tone of voice was like a lullaby that made me want to sleep and forget. I closed my eyes and pressed my hands against my ears. In the blackness I saw Tuba on her white horse, in her white dress, in full gallop, heading towards the horizon. I saw Tuba dancing pirouettes in her white dress. Turning on one leg, pulling her other knee up and her stretched toes touching her knee, while turning inward, and again she rests her foot behind the other. Again, she turns on one leg, and again, and again and again. The man pulls down my hands from my ears and I look at him with my tears filled in my eyes. Everything is blurry and suddenly everything turns black. That is the last thing I remember from that day. The next day I woke up in this place. Everything around me is white and reminds me of Tuba’s dress and white princess bed. Tuba, who no longer is a machine, but now is full gallop heading towards freedom and peace. Tuba, whose buttons were pushed and who didn’t give Fyodor another chance.
They asked me to write everything about her, everything I remember of her, her thoughts, her fears and her dreams. I want you to read this and tell me what you think. Do you know where she could be? Did she dissolve into the Rapenburg on her way back home? Has she reached home? Or maybe, just maybe, she is still caught in her turn, waiting for her foot to touch the ground, and finish her final pirouette?