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Hands are conditioned to be forceful
Didem Caia

José Sherwood Gonzalez

My hands are conditioned to be forceful

Rough, hard.

Not only the men in my family

even my grandmother’s fingers look like thick steel

pipe pieces

drilling into the dough late into the night.

Early morning bread

ready for the family.


No school for the boys just work every morning.

My grandfather waits for me to wipe the sleep from my eyes

spoons me soup and hands me gingerbread for the walk.

Grandmother sleeps soundly

her senses shackled. The doctor told her

Zoloft because your mother died in your arms on the way to the hospital.


My hands melt into the safety of my grandfather

my backpack  ‘Bop bop bops’ on my shoulders

I try to scare away my own anxieties.


My hands are conditioned to be forceful

Rough, hard. I say to my grandfather

I don’t like other boys and girls

I can’t speak as well as them.

And when they stare at me, I don’t feel strong and

I haven't learned all the English words yet.


Every night I lie on my stomach diving into other worlds

learning new words to use at crèche the next day.

I have the nervousness of those days

still present in my fingers.


At night

the boys work on their cars.

My grandfather grows callouses as he

dances the tango with a mop, cleaning bakeries and offices.

My grandmother forever in the kitchen, gently holds her millionth cigarette between her steel pipe fingers.

Afraid she might break it.


Grandmother tells stories and waves her hands around and puts them on my face

and strokes my hair.

I tell her the Turkish translation of a joke I read and she

laughs her smoker’s laugh and

I get her a tissue.


When the boys get home, I feel like I have two dads

and when grandfather gets home

I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

The boys lift me up and let me sit in their bedrooms.

They call girls and say interesting things and

I learn new words to take to crèche.


My hands are conditioned to be forceful

Rough, hard.

You learn to be smart when you can’t be tough

and my dainty hands know how

to turn pages, but when mum comes back

they can’t defend against her smacks.

Sometimes mum comes to try and snatch me away from grandmother

disguised in

soft hands and presents.

And I don’t want to leave, because then it becomes

Rough, hard.

Didem is a writer, speaker and theatre maker from Naarm, Melbourne. She is currently completing her phd in creative practice at RMIT University. Didem has received the prestigious Melbourne Fringe Festival New Voices commission in 2022, has been honored as the RMIT Global Voices Scholar, and is working on her first documentary in collaboration with Vicscreen Australia.

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