I know Kubra Benadam has a family, though she will introduce herself as an orphan. Sometimes she will do it even after people have met her family, and if I ask her why, she simply smiles. It’s a new smile, however, one I have noticed she uses more and more these days. Closed lipped, little depressions at the corners of her mouth, she will smile and shake her head. Like snakes her dark hair flicks around her eyes as she smiles, and insists she is an orphan.
I’ve known the Benadam family for two decades. I’ve spent weekends and summers with them. I know them all, and I have been in love with Kubra Benadam since the day I met her. Listen, do you think it’s an easy thing for me to hear my lovely Kubra say she comes from nowhere, has no family? To watch as that strange smile tightens her face and creates a fog across her eyes? If I were a different kind of man, I would probably shake her. I would. I would do anything to lift that fog, and bring back her open-wide smile. Even if that meant doing something as serious as shaking her. But I am not that man, and I am not certain what would happen if I told her she was fabricating. I have loved Kubra Benadam for over twenty years, and I simply cannot do anything that might result in her leaving me.
You need to know this: the Benadam family is made up of the usual family smatterings, no matter what Kubra tells you. She has parents and siblings, aunts, uncles and their offspring, even the odd vaguely familiar but transient friendly hanger-on that some families always have on the periphery. Kubra has what would be considered a large family, but I know I have to go along with her when she insists otherwise. Understand this alone from my story, even if you find the whole thing difficult to grasp, I have to go along. Without Kubra I would go mad. Nothing would pull me back. Without Kubra in my life I would lose every sane reference, and even death would be preferable.
By comparison, my own family is small; a hard nucleus of my mother, my father and me for most of my life. My sister, fourteen years older than me, left home as soon as she finished school, so the sheer weight of all those people in the Benadam family was something wonderful for me. I had wanted to be more than just a hanger-on from the very beginning. I wanted to be a part of the Benadam skin, that crazy energy which appeared to hold them all together.
My father died when I was eleven, a wisp of a man whose death left me more shattered than the lack of his influence in my life should have allowed for. Mom worked several jobs to keep me from the streets, as she liked to put it, that tired face on her such a burdensome thing for me. The gap between my sister and me was large enough to park an entire busload of other children into, but Mom had lost a few before me, and so the birth of Noah Farrell, fourteen years after her daughter was a shock for her: all those empty years and then suddenly, me.
My mother loved me, but there were days she looked as if she could have foregone the delight of having a child after those barren years. Especially as most of my care fell to her as my father, already an apathetic man, fell ill a few years after I was born, and after that it was as if Mom had two shitty kids to look after. The only joy for her could have been that it was guaranteed I would start walking, feeding myself and stop shitting in my pants. Not so with my father.
Sometimes I wonder whether the shock of my existence didn’t spark off my father’s decline: this sudden advent of a son for which he had no real understanding and, to be truthful, fuck-all use. I didn’t resent my father’s lack of engagement, not much – the occasional tweak when Mom looked more exhausted than usual, the odd spit of fury when I felt angered by his frailties - the weight of his sickness and the apathy surrounding the man almost too big to bear, but never a full-blown resentment. He was there, coughing and pale, asking for tea in a shaky little voice, more like an embarrassing grand-father, and then he was not there.
But even if I wasn’t resentful, I was lonely. In a slow, heavy, almost deafening way, I felt I was the loneliest kid on the planet, but I didn’t have the imagination from which to build myself even an imaginary friend or two. I’d wanted a dog fiercely for a year or so, but I gave that idea up, though, when I realised Mom wasn’t going to budge on refusing to allow me a pet. And even that I didn’t resent. I merely accepted it as being part of whatever I was expected to experience. Even as a kid, I wasn’t exactly built of gruff stuff, and harbouring resentments and angers simply weren’t part of my make-up. And they still aren't. In all likelihood, I was more my father’s son than any of us would have guessed and perhaps that was why he had never found a use for me. No doubt, if he had been pressed, John Farrell would have preferred a son like Ham Benadam, large and strong and unafraid.
The Benadam’s held frenetic, bursting-at-the-seams family get-togethers: Christmas, birthdays, the occasional Easter egg hunt if one of the smaller kids believed in rabbits and stuff that year. And, after Kubra and I became a sort-of item, never something as clear as a relationship in the very ordinary sense of it, it was just that Kubra and I were meant to be together, I would go to those gatherings with her, and smile at the crazy family things they did.
It all seemed so very normal, a pulsing throng of people big with noise and colour and besides? I’ve spent enough time with them over the years to understand that they simply were larger than life in every possible way. Even the adults took part in those Easter egg hunts: it was part of their family mayhem that one of two of the grown-ups would latch onto a small wicker basket and join the fray. It was always a great laugh watching big people become kids again, and the laughter seemed so wholesome.
So, when did I notice things had shifted? It wasn’t such a change that I could have put my head on a block and sworn to it, but there was something sliding around the Benadams that spoke of a tension I couldn’t quite place. I’ve told you their gatherings were always noisy and overloaded with people. That hadn’t changed. It hurts my head to try and remember that sliding thing. I’ll try though, because it is important. I know it is even if I can’t quite see it.
My eyes ache and they burn, and the water that comes from them feels like acid on my skin. If I pull my fingers down my cheeks the skin will come off. Look! Such layers of my face sticking to my fingers - here and here. It really hurts, but I will try to remember what I saw. Write it down. Make sure it doesn’t slide away again. I’m not sure if my head will keep holding these things for too much longer, but I know Kubra wants me to keep it together. She tells me that over and over as she kisses me, her sweet breath filling my throat and swelling my lungs for me. Can you see? Understand now? That’s how Kubra and I are. That’s how we have always been. And even that horrible sense of something altered has not changed the way we are together.