Afag Masud – writer and playwright, honored art worker.

A member of Azerbaijan Writers’ Union, the chair of Republican Translation and Literary Correlations Centre, and the editor-in-chief of “Khazar” World Literature magazine.

Her works are translated into the Russian, English, French, German, Polish, Uzbek and Persian languages.

She is the author of the following books: “On the Second Floor” (1976) ”Saturday Night“ (1980), “Subbotniy Vecher” (Moscow 1984), “Transition” (1984), “Freedom” (1997), “Writing” (2005).

Also the plays named “Near death”, “He loves me”, “Getting to leave” has come from her pen.

She has translated into Azerbaijani “The Autumn of Patriarch” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez “The Web and the Rock” by Thomas Wolfe, the Sufi manuscripts belonging to M. Nasifi - “The Truth about being”, as well as “Alchemy of Happiness”, “O' Beloved Son”, “Revival of Islamic Knowledge” by Al-Ghazali and “Meccan illuminations” by Ibn Arabi etc.

A number of TV spectacles and television movies are based on her works such as “Sparrows”, “Banquet”, “Night”, and “Punishment”.

In 2001 a doctoral thesis dedicated to Afag Masud’s work was defended at the Viennese University. (S. Dohan “Women writers and the European Oriental studies”)

She is a winner of “Humay” National Academy Award.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Sparrows

Her hands shook, or she lost her concentration. Whatever the reason, she fell down again while carrying the teacups, and the cups broke. With the cups her heart broke too. There was sweetened tea in the cups.

In the hallway her mother's angry face appeared. Her mother's face was frightening when she was angry.

Her mother entered her dream with the same frightening face. With this strange face, her mother walked over her with heavy ironlike steps . . . like a storm. With the shadow of her mother night fell and everything sank into darkness. Under the spell of her mother's rage she was left alone in the darkness. Her trembling heart turned into a small drop of water. Then her mother passed over her with her big heavy feet. She beat her and smashed her and dragged her on the floor. She tried to call for help with her weak voice. . . .

She woke up with goosebumps on her body, and while trying to clean up the broken pieces of the cup, she wondered whom she had been calling for help in her dream. Then she remembered. Her grandmother. Yes, that's it. Her mother's mother. With her heavy body, her grandmother used to try to take her from her mother's skinny hands that were shivering with nervousness. Her grandmother would hold her and press her to her heart, and she would start crying in her arms.

She missed her grandmother. She wished she could curl up in her grandmother's arms again. She thought if she could get into her grandmother's arms she would never come out. She would remain there, she would do her homework there, she would sleep and wake up there. Grandmother's arms were deep and huge like an ocean. If she had wanted, she could have even floated in that vast ocean. . . .

Her mother was still looking from the end of the hallway. It was as if the more she looked, the more her teeth pressed together, and she would make a fist, and the hair would stand up on her arms.

It looked like her mother was coming to beat her again. She was coming to pull her hair and pinch her to the bone. She thought, why didn't her mother get tired of beating her? On the contrary, the more she beat her, the stronger she became and the more relieved she seemed. It was as if her mother were getting back at someone by taking it out on her and her small, skinny body. Whom was she trying to get back at? she wondered.

Ha, she thought, cleaning up the broken pieces--maybe her mother was trying to get back at her wretched body. Why? she wondered.

At times when her mother could not beat her, she would walk around the room and curse someone. It looked like her mother wanted something badly but could not get it. What did her mother want? she wondered. As she was cleaning up the broken pieces, the sharp glass cut her hands and they started bleeding.

Her mother looked at her from a distance for a while and took a deep breath. It seemed like she did not have the desire to beat her. Maybe she was tired, or maybe the blood on her hand had calmed her mother's anger.

"Did you hurt yourself?" her mother asked with her usual dry, cold voice.

Shaking, she stood up and went to the kitchen carrying the broken pieces in her skirt. As she walked she felt the arrows of her mother's hateful words. She would always throw the same arrows at her when she was in the other room as well. Sitting in her own room, her mother would bang angrily on her black typewriter, and every bang on the keys seemed like a bullet that her mother was shooting at her.

Her mother would shoot her even in her dreams. She would ride on her black typewriter like it was a roaring tank and run over her. Pressing the keys of the typewriter, she would riddle her body full of holes like a strainer. Then she would look at her body and notice the things that had pierced it were not bullets but the painful words coming out of the typewriter. She would run to hide from her with the same words all over her body.

She went to the kitchen, carrying the broken pieces in her skirt, rubbing her knees together. There she pulled the garbage-can lid up and poured the broken pieces inside, with her ear tuned to the hallway. She got rid of pieces of glass as small as dots. She poured the pieces from her skirt into her palm.

Her mother was still in the hallway, her breath roaring with anger like a huge wave coming to pull her under.

Once she had seen her mother in a dream. It started with her mother sitting with her face toward the window and her back to her. She approached her mother on tiptoe. Her mother was silent, her hands on her knees. She was gazing off somewhere in the distance . . . then she held her mother's shoulders. As if she were empty inside and made of cardboard, her mother fell to the floor and moaned. Her mother was like her headless doll. In tears, as she tried to lift her mother, her arms came off and her head fell. With all her body shivering, she held her mother's body parts and took them to her own room, and there, with her hands shaking, she hurriedly tried to put her mother's pieces together and mend her. Her mother did not mind any of this at all. . . .

The door to her mother's room slammed. It did not take long before the angry sound of the typewriter was heard again. She took a deep breath and calmed down. She thought, what is all this her mother is writing? She had once entered her mother's room in secret and had read from the pile of her writings and had not understood a word of it. Her mother was writing something about sparrows.

She thought, maybe her mother likes sparrows. Or maybe her mother is a sparrow herself, and that's why her mother does not like her. Or maybe she doesn't like her because she is not a sparrow.

Or maybe her mother did like her. Yes, sometimes it looked like she did. This was usually when she was sick, especially when she had a high fever. It was then that her mother would not bang on the typewriter and she would not groan; she would focus her eyes on one spot and stay still, and once in a while she would touch her with her cold lips to check her fever. At those times she would not feel any warmth from her mother's lips. With the same cold lips, she would also check the heat of the iron and the wetness of the laundry. She thought maybe if she died, her mother would like her more . . . then she imagined how she would die, how she would be put into a coffin, how her mother would throw herself on the coffin and cry hard.

Her mother would throw her whole body over the coffin. Then she would feel the weight, the warmth, and the smell of her mother's body. Then sleep overcame her.

She had been imagining this a lot lately. It was nice. . . . If she was not afraid of death, and if she could be sure that she would come back to life, she would die. Yes, definitely, she would die.

She thought about this and sighed. She hugged her knees and for a long time thought about death. Death was very strange. It wasn't dark. It was cold and white as a foggy spring morning. There, what could she do in that fog with her small body? Would she be sitting or lying, or would she fly like a small sparrow? How would she go from this clear room to that foggy place? She didn't know. Would any part of her body hurt, or would she grow short of breath, or would all her body parts be cut into pieces as if processed in a meat grinder? The thought scared her.

While she was deep in her thoughts, night would fall and the room would sink into darkness. She got on her tiptoes and turned on the light.

Her mother would be crying for her. She would go mad of sorrow for her. . . . She had seen her mother crying like this when her grandmother had died. She had held on to the coffin and with a sorrowful voice had screamed, "Mother. . . ."

Then she imagined her mother's death. Her mother would be lying in the coffin with the same makeup and the same coal on her eyes and the same bored look on her face. She would sit next to the coffin and caress her mother's pale cheeks. At this point she could not control herself and her tears rolled down her cheeks.

Her mother went to the kitchen silently from the hallway. There it seemed like she was making coffee for herself. With the cup in her hand, she returned to her room and started typing again.

She thought, how strange, it looked like her mother was not alone. Being in her room for hours, or passing through the hallway pensively, standing in front of her, it always looked like her mother's mind was involved with something or someone. That's why she never felt the slow passage of time or the murdering silence of the house.

She curled up in the comer of the sofa and thought, what could be occupying her mother's mind? There was silence in the other room. She wondered, what could her mother be doing there now? She thought, maybe her mother was not doing anything at all behind that closed door. She was just sitting there, looking at the wall.

Her mother would go into her room as if she were hiding from someone. She was hiding either from her or from her father, she wasn't quite sure. But once when she was arguing with her father, she had said violently, "Let go of me. Let me die!" Then she had hidden her face in the pillow and cried.

She thought maybe her mother was right. She had gone to that other room to die. But her mother wanted to die. She was one hundred percent sure of this. Then she wondered why. Maybe the cause of her mother's gradual death was what she wrote about so madly day and night. . . .

Her father also hated these wretched writings, she was sure of this. Her father had once said this himself. In the middle of the night he had gotten up from bed, gone to her mother's room, opened the door and said, "I hate your writing." She thought this was strange since her mother was not doing anything to her father, but it looked like she was hurting him. Yes, it was strange. Then she thought, maybe her mother was also shooting her father with her typewriter from behind the door of her room.

Her father had lately been looking at her mother with such painful eyes, as if he had a toothache. Then, having no other choice, her father would contract a fever. He would lie in bed and would look at her mother and say, "Don't you feel sorry for me?" Her mother would not feel sorry for him, even when he was sick, and not even if. . . At this point she got goosebumps.

Even if her father had died, her mother would not have felt sorry for him. Once, when her father had been very angry, he had said, "If I died, I would be free," and her mother, with a cold look on her face but not raising her voice, had said, "But you are not dying." It was obvious from her mother's face what she wanted. These thoughts made her shiver. The silence was deafening.

Once when there was such a silence in her mother's room, she had gone on tiptoe and had opened the door silently and had been surprised by what she had seen. Her mother was sitting on a chair and quietly looking at herself in the mirror. Her mother looked at herself for a long time and put her head on her arms and started crying silently. Ever since that day, she kept thinking about why her mother was crying but could not find an answer.

She thought maybe her mother was crying again right now. She thought she was hearing her mother's moaning. Her heart started pounding. She got up and, on tiptoes, went to the hallway and opened the door to her mother's room slightly. Her mother was standing at the window, leaning on her arms and watching something. She noticed her presence.

"What is it?"

"Nothing. I thought you were crying."

"I am not crying," her mother responded coldly. "Enough with spying on me."

The window in front of her mother was filled with sparrows. So, her mother had been watching the sparrows all this time. . . .

She went out into the hallway and closed the door. She stood in front of the mirror and looked at herself for a long time. She looked at her eyes and her mouth. She definitely did not look like sparrows.

She thought, her mother should at least kiss her once a day. She used to kiss her when she was a baby. Maybe she had been fed up with kissing her. So be it. She had gotten fed up with kissing her. At least she could sit face to face with her and talk to her. She would only sit face to face with her mother at breakfast and talk, and their conversation would go something like this:

"Your face looks like a spoon again," her mother would say. She would smile and shrug her shoulders.

"Why aren't you eating properly?"

"I am not hungry."

"Did you get any grades yesterday?"

"I got a five in literature."

Her mother's facial expression would not change

with this response.

"Well done."

Then her mother, with the same expressionless face, her thoughts with the sparrows perhaps, would go to work. Or maybe she would go to be with the sparrows.

In the evening, her mother would be the most angry. She would first change and lie down for a while with her eyes closed. Then she would eat something hastily and go to her room and perhaps write about the sparrows again.

She thought her mother had wanted to do something for a long time. What was it that her mother had wanted to do? Maybe she had wanted to increase the number of sparrows. She then thought, what would be the use of that? She hid her head in the arm of the sofa and cried silently.

It didn't take long for her to hear the typewriter again. It looked like this time her mother was shooting at someone else. It was as if her mother would forget everything once she was behind that typewriter. Her nails would look like the tip of a sharp pen, and she herself would look like a wild animal.

Yes, that's it. She would look like a lion. Her mother would look like a lion whenever she was writing. She got up and moved closer to the window. It was getting dark. In a short while her mother would say with a cold voice, "Time to sleep," and would lie down on the sofa gazing at the ceiling for a long time, waiting for sleep to come to her.

No sooner was she overtaken by sleep than her mother would come to her. Every once in a while her mother would be kind in her dreams. She would work with a sewing machine instead of a typewriter and she would be making pink and orange dresses for her. She would then put these dresses on her and seat her on her lap and comb her hair, and her hair would fall as she combed it. Her hair would fall on her knees, on the floor, and would remain in her mother's hand . . . it was strange. As her hair fell, she would never feel any pain; on the contrary, she would feel sleepy.

The door opened with a bang. From the hallway a beam of light poured inside. It was her mother coming. She first entered with her head, then she tiptoed across the room. She came and stood above her head. Her mother stood there for a while. It looked like she wanted to check to see whether she was sleeping.

Her heart started beating fast, and she didn't dare open her eyes. After a few minutes, her mother bent over and whispered in her ear, "Are you still spying on me?" Frightened, with her eyes closed, she nodded. Then her mother held her nose and mouth with her hand so that she could not breathe and jumped up. The book slid from her knees and fell on the floor. Was she asleep?

She felt cold. She put her hands under her arms. She suddenly jumped up. Excited with the thought that had come to her, she went toward her mother's door. She opened the door and looked inside.

Her mother was writing something again. She had a kind look in her eyes. She didn't notice her coming.

She felt courageous and went in, drew closer to her mother and stood face to face with her. As soon as her mother noticed her, the kindness in her eyes disappeared.

"What is it?" she asked and put her glasses on her head, looking at her with an angry face.

"I am sick"

Her mother took a deep breath and put her cold hands on her head.

"You don't have a fever," she said, with the same angry expression.

"Maybe I should take my temperature."

"It is not necessary."

"Then maybe my fever is going to rise," she said and looked her mother in the eye. Her mother's expression did not change; instead the color of her face did.

"Then when it rises, we will do something."

She bowed her head and wanted to leave, but then she thought of something and returned.

"I feel bad . . . I am nauseous, I am cold."

"Eat a lemon and put on warm clothes." Her mother uttered these last words like a robot.

She left the room and closed the door. With her small hands, she had made a fist. She went back to her room and opened the window. Knowing there were lots of sparrows in front of the window, she tried to frighten them. They flew away. Although spring had come, it still felt cold.

For a while, in her light dress, she shivered, and as the wind was blowing through her hair, she thought of getting so sick that her fever would exceed the measurements of the thermometer. Or perhaps she could throw herself down. Then her mother would come to her, running down the steps in tears. Or maybe she would not come down at all. She would just take a look down from the window, and with bored eyes she would sigh and put on her glasses and continue writing madly. On her toes, she rose to look down. She grew dizzy, and she felt like her feet were losing contact with the floor and going down with her head. She held on to the frame and got her balance back. She closed the window, her heart pounding. She returned to the sofa and curled up.

In front of the window there were lots of sparrows eating the bread crumbs her mother would put there for them every morning. They were turning their heads from side to side, jumping over one another. It looked like they were doing the Anzali dance. Sometimes it looked as if they were peering at her through the window, laughing at her.

Every morning her mother would get up and, before doing anything else, with her sleepy face, would rush to the kitchen to get some dried bread. Then she would go from one room to the other, crumbling the bread and putting the crumbs on the windowsills. Then, with the same sleepy face, she would watch the sparrows eat the bread crumbs. The mixture of the chirping of the sparrows and the banging of the typewriter made a strange music.

With goosebumps, she got up and, like a cat stalking its prey, slowly approached the window. Quietly she opened it. The sparrows were very close. They were chirping.

All of a sudden she stretched her hand out. The sparrows turned and flew away.

Her hand was not empty. She had been successful in catching one of the sparrows. She could feeling the warm body of the sparrow in her hand, its small head was out. It was gazing at her with its small black eyes. It looked like the sparrow was laughing at her.

From her body a poison oozed out and poured into the hand holding the sparrow. Her hand started squeezing the sparrow so that its lifeless head dropped to the side.

She flipped the dead sparrow in her hand and looked at it. The sparrow still had the same smile on its face . . . that's why. She turned the sparrow's head like a key and pulled it off. She took it to the kitchen and threw it in the garbage bag. Returning to her room, she felt her knees shaking. She sat on the sofa and looked at her hands. Her hands were shaking too.

After a while her father came in. He was angry again. It looked like he was drunk. He kissed her with his hairy face and then sat in front of the television, as usual. She came and sat next to her father. She put her head on her father's shoulder. Her father's shirt felt wet.

"It is very cold in this house," her father said, and then kissed her on the head. Her father's body had a bad odor.
* * *

In the morning the typewriter was silent. The television also could not be heard. It seemed as if no one was home. She got up, put on her shoes, and went into the hallway. The door to her mother's room was open. She went in.

The room looked different. The typewriter was not there. The typewriter stand was pushed to the side, like an unnecessary piece of furniture. The mirror in which her mother used to look at herself for hours was not there either. Nothing belonging to her mother was in the room. Her mother's chair was in the middle of the room, and her father now was sitting on it. He was hiding his hairy face with his hand, smoking a cigarette. He felt her presence. She then noticed her father's bloodshot eyes.

"Where did she go?"

Her father shrugged his shoulders and looked at her with a miserable expression.

"I don't know," he said. Then father and daughter embraced and sat next to each other.

It was very quiet in front of the window. There was no sound of sparrows. She knew her mother had left them, her eyes filled with tears. Her mother had gone with the sparrows.



Translated from the Azeri By Shouleh Vatanabadi

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