THE ASH CAGE – Short story by Vagif Sultanly / Translated from Azerbaijani by Javid Abbasli


Vagif Sultanly 1 copy

Short story by Vagif Sultanly



People dressed in tatters looking like busy were swarming in burnt earth, in the ash. Their dresses also had color of ash like their faces. Sometimes they raised their heads and looked around with cool and negligent glances and continued swarming. Small ash hills were seen far towards the horison.
He stopped and looked at these swarming people. They neither saw nor felt him and, even seeing and feeling, didn’t pay attention to him. Everybody was looking like alien here. His eyes were searching for familiar face among these cold sights freezing his soul but looked to left and right due to absence of any familiar person among the people around.
Ash was falling from the sky. His nose was full of smell of soot penetrating into the air. The random warm wind was blowing up the ash from the hills and caused a dense mist. He was stopping and waiting for removal of the mist and, wiping his eyes with trear side of hands continued walking.
He had never been to these places and even did not imagine existence of such a point in the world. He could not remember how he appeared here.
A man was sitting aloof and burning the flame was playing with the ash. He tried to miss him but any feeling made him to stop. He stopped and saw that the man also raised his head and suddenly he recognized own friend of childhood. This sudden meeting caused happiness mixed with surprise.
His friend’s face had not changed; as if, the wind of the time did not blow his face and he remained the same. He stood up:
“You are welcome”, – he said and seizing his hand made him to sit down at the flame and continued to rummage in the ash.
He understood nothing but silently looked at his rummaging in ash of the died out flame.
He lost his friend several years ago. His name was mentioned in a severe crime unknown for him and a bit later he was killed in strange circumstances. He heard about his death late and could not participate at his burial.
Their childhood passed together. They were neighbours in the village and, regularly meeting after lessons played and entertained in the bank of river till evening. After the school they lost each other and stopped connecting. The friend’s death left a bitter grief in his memories of childhood.
He turned towards the friend rummaging in ash and tried to ask:
“How are you?”
But his friend roughly interrupted him:
“Nobody asks it here!”
He got silent duet o unawareness of the reason.
“When did you come?” – his friend asked attentively looking at him.
He hesitated and felt that he lost the feeling of the time:
“I don’t remember”, – he said.
He wanted to explain to the friend the reason for own absence at his burial and apologize; however, kept silence seeing the negligence on his face. He stood up, and the friend asked:
“Why are you so anxious?”
“I have lost something”.
“I don’t know”, – he said, – “I cannot remember what I lost”.
His friend continued to rummage in ash and he left him and went away.
He felt handful ash thrown after him but did not turn back.
The far darkness of his gradually weakening memory had something sparkling and reminding a horrible dream. He tries to escape from attraction of the dream but could not despite of all efforts. He had seen similar dreams also before and, awaking, his anxiety gradually disappeared. But now his dream was lasting and was endless.
He walked over the burnt earth for a long time. The smell of as hin the ear filled into his nose and constricted him.
He met a woman calling the passers-by and blowing ash into their eyes. She dressed ash-colored wedding frock and sat on torn mat, collected ash into wooden plates and blew it into eyes of the people staying in queue in front of them. The woman saw him and he felt a sudden wave in his soul:
“Oh, my son”, – she said, – “light of my eyes!”
She did not believe to the heard words and wanted to miss thinking mishearing. But the woman ran towards him:
“What is the matter?” – she asked. – “Didn’t you recognize your mother?”
He lost his mother very early. Later, getting older he found his mother’s photo among his father’s documents; unless the woman introduced herself he would not recognize her. The woman’s face had weak lines from the photo he saw in childhood. His father never liked to speak about her and always changed the topic. Later he heard from aunt the reason for mother’s early death: his father killed the wife and imprisoned for nine years.
His mother’s thin arms embraced his neck. All of his life he fell asleep thinking about mother but never dreamt her.
“How could you recognize you?”
“How could not I recognize you? You are part of my heart. Damn your father – he destrpyed my young life and I could not take care of you as mother”.
He tried to console mother but kept silent not finding anything to say.
“I will never lose you any more”, – the woman added seeing his silence.
His mother took one of the plates full of sieved ash and said:
“Bend down, let me to blow ash into your eyes”.
He silently bended down before mother and she blew the ash into his eyes. He wiped his eyes with hands and looked at mother. Her tears opened paths on her ashy face.
He tried to go, but mother went following him.
“Where are you going?”
“I’d like to walk around.”
“Don’t go far, everywhere is ashy…”
He did not know where to go. The view did not change all over the road and nothing was seen except ashy earth and people in dirty, ashy dresses.
A thin and old woman in tatters seizing a wooden scoop was washing in a ash pool and combed her hairs with bony fingers. Her face, neck, throat, arms and naked feet were completely in ash. The traces of torments and sorrows of the life were exprecced on her face. Missing him the old woman looked at him with wrinkled eyes and opening toothless mouth tried to say something but he understood nothing from her decayed voice.
Later he met a young girl sitting on a flat stone and a queue of people in front of her.
He queued up – there were many people before him. When his turn reached his sights met the girl throwing ash onto the people’s head. That was her.
He became acquainted with that girli in his youth, in the first days of his arrival to the city. This sudden love completely changed his life. However, once the girl abandoned him without any reason and all of his dreams and future became ash. Hearing that the girl eloped with a person unknown for him he got upset and ciuld not come to his senses for a long time. Later the girl disappeared and no trace was left after her.
Now, seeing him the girl embraced his arm:
“I missed you very much!” – she said.
He did not answer.
She showed the hill and said:
“Let’s creep there!”
Several people were filling the sacks with ash and emptied them onto the hill. They missed the people and creeped onto the hill. Everything around was plainly visible here.
They sat down on the hill. She pur her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. He took the gilr’s hand into his palm and forgot everything. But suddenly he escaped from imaginations and asked:
“Why did you bring me here?”
“I wanted you to see the ash hill.”
“I thought ash hill is impossible.” ¬¬
“I also thought such before.”
He had no desire to remember the passed event after so long time. Only his pride was speaking…
“Why did you abandon me?”
A weak smile appeared on the girl’s face:
“I was not worthy of your love…”
“You destroyed my life…”
“I could not guess the result…”
“But why you did disappear suddenly?”
“There was not another way – you were blind and considered me as an angel.”
A strange silence occured. None of them talked for a moment. Then, the girl turned towards him:
“I think you were not glad to see me?” – she said.
“I don’t know… It was so unexpectable…”
“We will meet everyday hitherto.”
“No, I have famnily and children…”
“Never mind…”
Suddenly he felt anxiety and escaped his sight from the endlessness:
“I miss here”, – he said, – “I want to return home.”
The girl looked at him attentively and bitterly smiled:
“It is impossible…”
“Why? Why not?”
“There is no way back from here.”
“But where am I?”
“Calm down!”
“Am I dead?!”
The girl did not answer but took handful ash and threw onto his head.
He pushed her away and standing up looked at the ashy desert lasting from hill towards the horizon, the endless forests burnt to the ground, the grey clouds in the sky and the crowd of people rummaging in ash.
Suddenly he felt something twisting inside him.
His life smashed into smithereens under his legs.

April 30, 2016

Translated from Azerbaijani by Javid Abbasli

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