TO THE HORIZON – Short story by Nushaba Asad Mammadli (Azerbaijan) / Translated from Azerbaijani by Kamran Yusifzada

 
Nushaba Asad Mammadli (Azerbaijan)
 
Nushaba Asad Mammadli was born in Gandja city in Azerbaijan Republic. She graduated from the journalism faculty of the Azerbaijan State University (present Baku State University) in 1972.
Upon graduation from the University she worked in the “Kirovadadsky Rabochy” and “Novosti Gandjy” newspapers published in Gandja in Russian language as correspondent, chief of department, deputy editor and chief editor. She was constututor and editor of the “El” literal-art publication (1991) and “Gandjabazar” newspaper (2003).
Her stories, novels and plays are collected in the books titled “Fall of the leaves” (1984), “Sparkle” (1987), “The last song” (1993), “Javad khan” (1996), “The Yard of Poppies” (2004), “Dance of white flowers” (2009) and “Sunset” (2013).
The plays “I want forget” (1983), “Javad khan” (1990), “Summons” (1993), “Dance of white flowers” (2007) were performed at the Gandja State Theatre. Feature films are made basing upon some of her plays.
She is laureate of various honor titles and awards like “Golden pen” (1983), “The best publicist of the year” (1989), “Honored journalist” (1991), “Hasanbay Zardabi” (2004), “Ataturk’s award” (2008), etc.
She is known in the contemporary Azerbaijani literature as prose writer, dramatist and publicist. Her works are translated into Russian, Polish, Georgian, Persian and English languages.
 
 
TO THE HORIZON
 
The rainbow came out after the rain. The bus was crossing the Danube and approaching Vienna. The TV on the bus showed a film about the Habzburg family. Romy Schneider played the role of Sissi, the influential queen. But Ali was no longer watching the film. The girl, who had just sat on a parallel seat, got off the bus near Bratislava with her friend. The girl looked at Ali. His heart filled with joy. The girl looked like Romy Schneider. Ali was desperate when the girl got off the bus. “I wish I had asked for her name. I would have learned where she lives and studies. Maybe she studies at my university in Budapest? ” crossed Ali’s mind. The bus stopped near the Habsburg Palace.
 
Ali came here to see the works of El Greco and Goya, which were on display. But when he looked at the exhibits in the museum, and later when he looked at Klimt’s works in the main square of Vienna, he thought of the girl in the bus. He was looking for her facial features in all the girls he saw. “I wonder if I’ll ever see a girl who looks like Romy Schneider?” A month later, Ali saw her at the Auschwitz camp near Krakow. Among the thousands of people who came here, Ali recognized that girl from the bus. It was very difficult to look at the children’s shoes and toys displayed there.
 
The girl left the camp after a while. She leaned her head against the wall and wept silently.
 
“Do you feel bad?” Asked Ali in English.
 
“Very bad…”
“Shall I take you to the bus?”
The girl nodded.
 
Ali hugged her lightly, as if he had known her for years, and then held her arm. They got on the bus together. They both came to Auschwitz by the same university bus. “So I study at the Central European University”.
 
“What is your name?”
“Aida”.
“Where are you from?”
“From the Caucasus”.
 
Ali sat down next to her. He was afraid to ask any more questions. He was afraid that if he heard an answer he did not want to hear, the rainbow in his heart would disappear. Even after Auschwitz, there was light in his heart. This light was sometimes obscured by darkness – when he remembered his father’s memories of Khojaly and his mother’s death from a heart attack. His father was saying that Armenians hit their car with a ballistic missile thusly killing his three sons. Ismail muallim’s (his father’s) hair turned gray in one night. At that time, Ismail muallim took his sons and helped the wounded in Aghdam hospital. He wanted the boys to learn to help those in need. They will be grown up men soon. But the children never grew up. They remained children forever. The hail that the Armenians threw put an end to the lives of their brothers. Ali was not born yet. A few months later, Ismail took his son Ali, who was already born in Ganja, and looked at the sky; Please, God, don’t take him away from me. Let him live long and be happy.
 
For a moment, Ismail muallim’s imagined his great-grandfather Seyid Hussein standing in front of him. He has never seen him. But sometimes, at very crucial moments of his life, his grandfather would appear like a miracle.
 
The last time Seyid Hussein Safavi came to Ganja was hundred years ago. Before that, he came to the funeral of his son Khali, who was killed by Armenians in Garayazi. Now the news of his eldest grandson Ali’s wedding has reached him. But he knew that there will be no wedding. The boy who committed the murder also loved Ali’s fiancé. But the girl gave her heart to Ali.
 
When Seyid Hussein dismounted, everyone came to him. Sheep were slaughtered in the yard. But Seyid Hussein saw his slender grandson, Ali, who had fallen to the ground in blood, finishing Najaf al-Ashraf. He, sometimes, wished he would die instead. But the judgment was God’s judgment. He never changed. Seyid Hussein could not speak, he was born dumb. But he foresaw what would happen in the future. He lived in unbearable pain and suffering. Before leaving for Ganja, Seyid Hussein went to the tomb of Sheikh Safi in Ardabil, where his ancestors slept, visited his loved ones, saddled his horse and left for Ganja. He knew that his son Khalil would never return to Ardabil, and that his son would be the father of his daughter. But he will never return to Ganja – he will be killed in Garayazi. His body will be brought to Ganja. Years later, the house he built will be destroyed, and the mosque he built will be demolished. His children and grandchildren will be scattered, one of them will live in Karabakh and his three sons will be killed by the enemy in one day.
 
When the little blue-eyed girl approached the Seyid, he took her in his arms. When the child’s mother, Khalil’s wife, brought him tea, he saw the world’s most unfortunate woman. Shortly afterwards, bullets fired at her son, who was getting married the next day, knocked him to the ground. Seyid Hussein involuntarily folded three fingers of his right hand and put two fingers on his hips – boom… boom… Tears welled up in his eyes. The bride’s whole body went cold. She hugged her last child. The child’s eyes were as blue as Seyid Hussein’s.
 
Seyid saw that the children of this little girl came to the tomb of Sheikh Safi in Ardabil 100 years later and visited the grave of their ancestors.
 
After the trigger was pulled, the people panicked. Then some people brought the blood-soaked Ali. Seyid Hussein got up, opened his sack, and took out the shroud given to him in Mashhad.
 
A year later, when Seyid Hussein saw his death, he took a bath, put on new clothes and lay down on his bed. He took the Qur’an in his hand and began to recite it, and after a time he closed his eyes forever. But he fell asleep in the sleep of his predecessors. If someone sees Seyid crying, it means that there is suffering, hardship, death ahead, or if Seyid smiles, it means that they were lucky.
 
Ismail muallim saw his great-grandfather in a dream the day before he suddenly lost his three sons. Seyid held his head with both hands; boom, boom – he would say. There were tears in his eyes.
 
Ismail muallim, a retired engineer, blamed himself every day of his life – “I should have forced the children out of the car, and then I would have fallen myself. Then at least I would die and my children would survive. The children were watching an adventure movie on the car’s small TV”, he thought.
 
“When you get off the car, close the car doors well”, said Ismail.
 
But he was not lucky enough to close the car door. Ismail muallim returned to Ganja with his pregnant wife, where his sons were permanently buried in Karabakh.
 
Ismail muallim worked in Karabakh for 12 years. Then he and his wife graduated from the faculty of mechanics of the Azerbaijan State Agrarian University in Ganja and went to Khojaly. Their children were born there and died there.
 
***
Ali and Aida went to the station by bus. The faces of all the passengers were pale. They traveled by train from Krakow to Warsaw. Ali would not let Aida go. After a while Aida told Ali that she was also studying at the University of Budapest and studying sociology.
 
“Why didn’t I see you?” Asked Ali.
 
“I once saw you from afar. My friend Maria from Bratislava told me that you are also from the Caucasus. Then, when you went to Vienna, my friend and I went to Bratislava. We used to go out somewhere every weekend”.
 
Then there was silence. After getting off the train from Warsaw, they took a bus to Budapest. It turned out that Aida also stays on the same campus as Ali. It was the pinnacle of happiness for both of them. Ali did not let Aida go to her room in the building at the other end of the alley. She agreed with Ali. Ali went to her room. It was as if a rainbow had engulfed both of them. Ali was making coffee in the room. He took the sausage and cheese out of the fridge. Aida sliced them up and put them on the plates. Ali put the croissants, bread and fruit he had bought yesterday on the table. Then Ali opened the wine. They both forgot the past and did not want to think about the future. But both Ali and Aida knew who they were. But it was more convenient for them to know that they are from the Caucasus. They were both 20 years old. Hungarian wine was very tasty. They were both confused. It was as if they had skipped the past, created a bridge to live in the present. Aida stayed with Ali that night. A year later they had a son. Ali named his son after his father — Ismail. Ali told his father about his marriage. Then he announced that his son Ismail was born.
“I don’t have such grandson! A child fed by an Armenian milk cannot be my grandson!”
 
“Father, please. Don’t say such things – he is my child.”
 
Ismail muallim hung up the phone. It was 2013. Ali, who already worked for one of the leading Hungarian companies, used to visit his father in Ganja once a year. He was staying in his homeland for ten days and going back to Budapest to Aida and Ismail. This went on for exactly 7 years. He used to buy presents for his father and the Black Roza who looked after him, to her husband Talat and their son Vugar. The father gladly put on the clothes and shoes his son had bought, but never asked him about his wife or children. Even if he asked, he would hear the same word from Ali. He said these words to his friend Fakhraddin.
 
“They are in Budapest. Ismail goes to kindergarten and speaks Azerbaijani fluently. He is already fluent in three languages – Azerbaijani, Hungarian and English. Aida teaches at the university. She has no one but me and Ismail. She lost her parents as a child. Her grandmother Aida, who raised her, died the year she was admitted to the university”.
 
Ali took his father to Hajikend, Goy-Gol, Khachbulag, and together they visited his mother’s grave in Ganja. When her mother was ill, black Rosa next door took care of her. Ali used to call her Gaya Yoza. His father, whose eyes were red from insomnia, tried to correct Ali’s pronunciation.
“Ali, not Gaya, Gara Rose”.
 
Teacher Ismail repeatedly told Ali the words for the letter R – corn, Rena, Ramiz… Ali used to say – co’n, Yena, Yamiz… As Ismail corrected the child’s speech, Ali became angry and seemed to catch his words. Sometimes he could not answer the questions. He was looking at his father’s face so immaturely.
 
When he began to speak, he spoke in a low voice:
 
“D..d..də m..ə..n su iste..yıra..m”.
 
Then Ismail muallim remembered his great grandfather dumb Seyid Hussein. Ismail muallim was taking the child to the speech therapist for a year.
 
Gradually, Ali began to speak fluently. The speech therapist also said that Ali’s speech was due to genes. After careful examination, Doctor asked Ismail muallim – was there a speech impediment in your family?
 
“My grandfather was dumb”.
 
“It’s all right. In a month or two he will speak so much that you’ll get tired”.
 
“Let him get tired of talking”.
 
Ali’s every word brought endless happiness to his father. He would have been one of the happiest people in the world if he did not have a terrible past and if his beloved wife did not leave him.
 
After the death of his wife, Ismail muallim did not leave his son in kindergarten for a while. He drew and fed the child himself. Every time he was brought to a speech therapist, he was taken to a bookstore, where he bought colorful books for Ali. Vugar, the son of Black Roza, later taught him to read letters. Vugar was 4-5 years older than Ali. He was a very warm-blooded boy. Ismail spared money for teacher Black Roza, her husband Talat and her son Vugar. They lived as a family. When Talat did not want to take the teacher’s money, Ismail rebuked him.
 
“How fast do you get tired of me? I am older than all of you, I will not speak to you unless you hear what I say”.
 
Both Talat and Black Rosa took the money and went to the market. Teacher Ismail also entertained his child in the park. When he returned home, the dinner was already prepared. Ali liked the food cooked by Black Roza.
 
Ismail muallim was waiting for her son. Ali landed in Baku yesterday.
Now he was coming to Ganja by car. He said:
 
“Father, I’ll leave my son at my friends’ and then come and visit you, okay?” The father did not say, ‘Bring the child’. “No worries, during the day I’ll stay with my father and then return to my friend’s house to see my son” – thought Ali. “Ismail is warm-blooded, he will be friends with the children of my friend”.
 
Before the pandemic, Fakhraddin, a school friend, and his wife and children visited Budapest in the Guild, rested on Lake Balaton, and admired the beauty of Vienna. Little Ismail was very fond of Fakhraddin’s children.
 
The war began on September 27. The enemy had already targeted Ganja. Aida said goodbye to Ali and Ismail in tears.
 
“Maybe you shouldn’t go now? Do you have to take Ismail, too?”
 
“I want my son to see his homeland”.
 
And they said goodbye. Ali thought that his son was going home with him. In a few hours, Ali would see his father.
 
“Son, I will take you to uncle Fakhraddin’s , you will stay with them, I will visit my father and come back, okay?”
 
“I also want to see my grandfather”.
 
“Inshallah! Your grandpa is ill, once he recovers you’ll visit him, too”.
 
“Do you remember Uncle Fakhraddin? Remember the kids? They visited us last year. You became so friendly that you did not allow them to return to Azerbaijan and cried when they left”.
 
“All right, father, you go alone to my grandfather, I will stay with my cousin”, – Ismail said angrily. “Ali hugged his son”.
 
It was getting dark when he arrived to Ganja. For some reason Ali’s father was in bad shape. Ismail muallim stood up to greet, hugged him and wanted to cry for some reason, but he shed the tears.
 
“Most importantly Ali came to me safe. Cursed be the ones who are unaware of your power, o merciful God. There was no plane crash, no traffic accident, my baby came safe”. Black Rose opened prepared some food.
 
“Don’t worry, Aunt Roza. I ate dolma at my friend’s house”.
 
“Let me make plov for you”.
 
Ali opened the gifts for his family – he gave them to his father, Black Roza, Uncle Talat and Vugar in a big bag. He was glad that Vugar is already a well-known cardiologist in Ganja. Great job. Then Ali took Hungarian vodka out of his bag and handed it to his father.
 
“Father, open yourself, you are well-trained when it comes to opening vodka”.
 
He greeted Talat who just came home. Ali took the vodka from his father’s hands and poured it into the glasses brought by Black Roza. They talked a lot and discussed the current situation. There was a fierce war in Karabakh. Ali felt dizzy from drinking. But in the darkness of unconsciousness he saw his son Ismail. For some reason, he saw the old man weeping in the light he had seen in his short sleep on the plane. Ali missed his child. Suddenly, he felt that he was suffocating.
 
“I should have brought the child … No, what would I do if my father didn’t let him?”
 
He hid his feelings. Old Nurani did not leave my eyes like a mirage. “Maybe I also saw in my dream my grandfather Seyid Hussein Safavi, with whom my father talked?” Ali wanted to ask his father this question, but he heard a spitting sound.
A bomb was thrown at Ganja. The windows of the house immediately shattered. The cups on the table fell to the ground. The bomber struck shortly after noon. Damn them! Ismail muallim lit a cigarette. Ali quickly put on jacket and hurried to his son in Talat’s car. When he got there, he started shaking.
 
Fakhraddin’s house was destroyed. He heard that a friend, his wife, his children, and a child from Hungary died. They were all taken to the morgue. Ali did not know who grabbed his arm and who took him to the hospital. He knew that his son, who was torn to pieces, was licking the blood from the place where he was buried, licking the blood-stained wall of the hospital. Someone from one of the clergy:
 
“Sir, the body must be buried. Do you have a place in the cemetery?”
 
“Yes. Tomb … next to my mother …”
 
He told the people next to him the address of his father’s house.
 
Ismail muallim was watching TV. Black Roza picked up the broken glass from the floor. The host said excitedly:
 
“Armenian bomb killed the son of an Armenian mother. The mother of the dead child was taken to a hospital in Budapest in critical condition – a massive heart attack”.
 
Ali fell to knees, put his head on his father’s knees and sobbed.
 
“Papa, let me bury my son in the tomb … next to my mother … I don’t want my son to be separated from us”.
 
“No, I do not want a child fed by an Armenian milk to be buried next to us”.
 
Well, both Black Roza and Uncle Talat want Ismail to be lied next to his grandmother. And … I also wanted to die … My son was such a smart boy…
Then he opened his mouth, but he couldn’t speak.
 
Ismail woke up like that — Ali’s legs were numb. He fell off his father’s feet and fell to the ground. Foam came out of his mouth.
 
“Son, son!”
 
Ismail put his hand in his mouth and stuck out his tongue. The ambulance doctor called by Black Roza quickly injected magnesium into Ali. They laid him on the couch.
 
“Oh, merciful God, kill me before you take away my son!..”
 
Black Roza Ismail rubbed iodine onto muallim’s bleeding hand. The man’s fingers were injured when he put his hand to his son’s mouth. “I wish I was blind, my son. I wouldn’t see you today, son! ”
 
He remembered a dream he had yesterday – Seyid Hussein was holding a bomb on his head and saying boom … boom. There were tears in Seyid Hussein’s eyes. Perhaps it was a mirage he saw while being unconscious. Ismail muallim believed that he saw his great-grandfather not by chance. He had no one but Ali. Ismail muallim would sacrifice his own life to save his son’s. “I should have died instead, son. I want you to carry my body to the cemetery when I’m no longer going to be with you.
 
“Did your son suddenly fall into such a situation?” Asked the doctor.
 
“Once in childhood, he had a horrible fever and a very high temperature. That’s how it was then”. The nurse was still injecting medicines. Ali was already breathing. Ismail muallim turned his face to Talat and many people in the room and said in a hoarse voice:
 
“Go and prepare the tomb. Bring the child home. Then we will take him to his grandmother”.
 
He lit a cigarette to stop the running tears. In the cigarette smoke, he saw Seyid Hussein Safavi again. The old man with the walking stick looked at Ismail muallim and after a second he merged with the sunlight and disappeared in the horizon.
There was a smile on his face.
 
Translated from Azerbaijani by Kamran Yusifzada
 
 

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