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.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Crash
By Afaq Masud
First Published 1987, Azerbaijan
Translated by Alison Mandaville and Aynura Humbatova

The bedroom was warm and quiet. From time to time from the yard could be heard the shameless yowling of cats—every night it was as if someone was raping them. Nights like tonight, when her husband wasn’t at home, it seemed to her that it was he who was out there raping the cats.

Wearing her nightgown, she switched off the light and sat down on the bed. Then she stood again and switched on the light. She had forgotten to cream her face. Seating herself in front of the mirror, she unscrewed the lid of the jar of cream. She thought to herself about the many years she had been buying and collecting these jars of cream. Morning and evening she smeared it on her face. If you counted up and put together all that cream it would probably fill a three liter jug. She thought to herself, “See how much cream my face has drunk?!”

Reluctantly spreading the cream on her face, she massaged her forehead and under her eyes with her fingertips. With every stroke it seemed her face was becoming more and more wrinkled. She thought perhaps she wasn’t massaging correctly, or, maybe her face was wrinkling because she was becoming thin. Whatever it was, it was nauseating.

Standing up, she switched off the light. The muscles of her legs ached dully. She remembered that she hadn’t done her exercises for two days. Lying down on her bed, she began to raise and lower her legs and go through her routine. As she exercised, her body and scalp began to sweat and itch. She thought anxiously about how normal people do their exercises in the morning, then take a shower and eat breakfast and so on. But every morning she hardly had time to put on her housedress. Feeding three children, dressing them. Feeding her husband and dressing him.

Her husband was as if paralyzed. If you gave him food he ate it. If you didn’t, he starved. If you gave him a clean shirt, socks, and ironed trousers he would put them on. If you didn’t, he would walk around dirty. She was her husband’s mother. The mother of the whole house.

She felt very nauseous. Being a mother had become repulsive to her. What did she want to be now? She thought that maybe she would toss out the exercises. The hell with the diet also. Since she began dieting, her nerves were wrecked. Her body, head to foot, trembled at the smell of food. What a disaster. She was becoming fat? The hell with becoming fat. Her face was wrinkling? The hell with wrinkling. Her hair was falling out? The hell if she became bald. And then?! Who needed her appearance, for whom did she need to be attractive?

With the movement of her legs, the wood of the bed was creaking, as if small, dry sticks were being broken gently under it. She thought, “It’s always the same.” For however long she stayed awake her husband wouldn’t come, but the instant she fell asleep there would be a tap at the door. She would jump up, her heart beating, and with sleep-tousled hair go to door, look through the peephole and see her husband’s pale face, fearful with anticipation. Then he would come into the room and surreptitiously check her sleepy face out of the corner of his eye. Her countenance would depend on the contents of whatever dream she had been having when the door was knocked on. Either she would interrogate her husband or damn him to kingdom come. Or, as a poor woman of the world, she would go back to her place in their bed in silence. In any case, after all the commotion, she wouldn’t be able to sleep. Her heart would beat quickly; she would turn and toss in bed. Finally, she would sit up and just watch her husband, sleeping there with an open mouth. He would be eating in his dreams, smacking his lips until morning. Or, he would be angry with someone and grinding his teeth. It all made her bristle.

Just thinking about it, made her skin crawl. She said to herself, “How long can this continue?” How long could she live this way, skin crawling, on her last nerve? Although only 30, she had already become old—as if she was fifty.

Once, in a dream, she had seen herself getting older: Her fingernails had itched. As she scratched at them, they began to flake off into her palm. Then a tooth began to itch, and fell from its roots to lie on her two outstretched fingers. Then her ears, nose, and breasts too itched. Scratching at them, they too fell from their foundations, tumbling down her front into her arms.

Now, she began to pump her legs as if she were riding a bicycle. Peddling, she breathed in and then out. As she did so, she could feel the tautness of her stomach muscles.

She remembered her brothers looking at her thin face recently and saying to her, “Why are you in such bad shape?”

She thought, “Truly, what terrible shape I have let myself get into?!” Like an undernourished schoolgirl. As a result, her children didn’t seem to pay attention to her words anymore. Now, whatever she said, they just looked at her and laughed.

The strangest thing was that, although now she was even below her ideal weight, the desire to be thin wouldn’t leave her thoughts. She was melting herself. She wanted to disappear—or what?

On the other side of the apartment wall, from time to time could be heard the noise of footsteps—somebody going hurriedly up or down the stairs. Sometimes, somewhere in the apartment block someone coughed so strenuously as if to tear out their throat. As if they were enjoying the deep reverberations of their efforts. And every once in a while, footsteps would come up and approach her apartment door—but at that same instant, another door in the building would open and the sound of the steps would disappear. Listening to these footsteps it seemed to her, each time, that it was her husband coming up the stairs and approaching the door; that suddenly something had occurred to him so that he turned and went away again; that her husband didn’t want to return home.

It was because of the exercises, or maybe from the anxiety. But something was squeezing her heart. Standing, she opened the window wide.

Spring was coming…You could feel it from the smell of the air. In a few days the weather would be very hot. The sun would burn the eyes. The trees would blossom. The poets would become inspired and would write about smelling spring and buds and other creeping things…but nobody would really think about seeing this spring. Every year for fifty years they see a warm sun and buds—and spring is nothing else.

She believed that, generally, spring was the most aggravating of all the seasons. In this old, jaded world, there was something hypocritical about spring, year in and year out, becoming young and decorated. Fall and winter were better suited to this tired planet. For, the beginning and the end of the world was winter—cold and dead. There was far more death in this world than life.

She thought about her dead relations. Her father and mother, her grandfathers and grandmothers, aunts and uncles on her mother’s side, aunts and uncles on her father’s side…They were all dead. She was the only one still alive. For the last ten years she had lost herself in the lives of her in-laws and children, and others she had known.

The three children took after their father. They resembled him so much it was as if he himself had given birth to them. For this she wanted to die. She wanted to die also because the spring was coming. People laughed deceitfully, birds sang deceitfully, the butterflies would die after the sun set. The sun would brown the grass.

For the sake of her children, she felt ashamed about wanting death. It was a terrible thing to put them halfway through life and then leave. Why did she give birth to them?! How could she have known that the joy of being a mother both begins and ends when you first see your baby—that the joy ebbs along with the pain of labor. Later, as the children grew, why should she feel joy? For as the children grew, her troubles also grew.

She couldn’t think of any sage words about children. Certainly, she could not bring the children only half the way and then die. She had no right to do it. But then, she thought, look at the grief: she must have a right to die. But it seemed dying also had its rules, its time and commission. She considered that perhaps this was just a temporary state of affairs—she had experienced such situations often enough, God knew. She remembered the many times she had wanted to kill herself. She also remembered her toothless daughter once standing on the balcony and eating an apple—and her own desire to kill the girl by throwing her from the rail. For a long time she had thought to herself about her daughter going head over heels through the air, hitting the ground and dying.

Then the children had begun to collude with their father. The first half of every night she was waiting for her husband’s arrival, the second half, her little son would wake up, unable to fall back asleep. In the afternoons her daughter would become crazy, difficult. She thought about how she paced, tiredly, around the apartment, howling like a wolf and snapping at everyone. She remembered looking in the mirror, comparing herself to a wolf. Really, now she even looks like a wolf. Or, maybe not a wolf, but a dog. A clever and faithful dog.

She thought about how she had been in such circumstances before. She was bored of this life. Yes, she had been bored before, but then it didn’t continue long. Somedays she wanted to die but then the rest of the days she thanked God that she hadn’t died yet, that life was beautiful, was full of meanings and secrets….

In the neighboring house somebody burst out laughing. But you couldn’t tell if it was a woman or a man. Closing the window tightly, she drew the curtain and looked at the clock. It was a little before two. Lying on her bed, she began to stare at the ceiling in the dark. There were no more footsteps in the apartment block. All the doors were shut, as if all the hallways of the building were locked. If her husband came now, he could not pass through this silence.

In the quiet, the voices of objects around the house increasingly began to be to heard.

The plastic clothes covers collected in the wardrobe rustled gently. The covers were tired of staying tightly packed and were shaking loose, relaxing. The floor was creaking as if stretching itself.

When it had become very silent, a tragic air began flowing into the room from some far away place…yes, but such a different silence this time. A tragedy was occurring so that her husband couldn’t come. Probably her husband hadn’t been at his job since the early afternoon. Perhaps he had joined his all too inseparable friend, the inspector. God only knew— they are probably now sitting tête-à-tête and talking things to death. When they spoke they went on and on— “and so then and so then…” It made her sick. Her husband would say “So then …I am saying…so then I had to work at home…” As if he ever worked at home!

Several times she had chastised her husband about that. She had said to him, “Shame on you!” But what could she do? Her husband felt no shame from her words. In fact, it was the opposite. He grew fat and self-satisfied. For some reason, his legs were getting fat.

Her husband is getting into the car and starting the engine.

After dark the highways became narrow. More and more cars aimed their headlights like sharp horns at the pedestrians. The heat of the engines stupefied the drivers. Her husband, with half-closed eyes and a half-opened mouth, was steering groggily.

In the other room, her daughter was crying aloud in her dream, “You yourself are the child! The child is you!”

Often at night, her younger daughter screamed in her dreams, as if quarreling with her little brother. Afternoons, sister and brother often bickered that way. In the end, the girl was always beaten.

Every evening when she came home from work, as soon as she entered the house, the same words came from her mouth: “Have you done your homework?”


“Have you eaten?”


“Go and wash your hands and face.”

Then she and her older daughter would sit facing each other and eat supper. Her daughter’s face would remain pale for a long time, as if during the hours when she was at home somebody would frighten her, or jump out from a corner and scare her: “Boo!” God only knew, when she was at work, what happened in these big and silent rooms. What clatterings, what creakings, what whisperings would come out of the corners?!

“Aren’t you lonely until I come home?”

Her daughter was would shake her head, silently, looking at her mother’s face. “I am only lonely when I first come home from school.” But her food would nearly stick in her throat.

“But when you first come home from school, I am at still home.”

Her daughter would blush a little, “I am lonely on my way home…”

While growing up the girl had imitated her mother’s behavior—always acting like her.

Looking at her daughter, she felt everything begin again. Again the dark, airless school years, the too-short university years, getting married and so on and so on…

No, her husband couldn’t abandon all this without a word. Her heart was beating nervously, lying on her bed and thinking for such a long time. Her eyelids were painful, held open. Sleep had forsaken her.

Yes, this accident had to happen someday. That day had come and the crash had happened. Different images of her husband appeared before her eyes.

…The car rolls…her husband’s dry, blue hand can be seen from under the frame…Gradually his face collapses into the steering wheel, unrecognizable..

…The car veers off the road, and rolls down into the ravine…at the bottom of the ravine are heard the screams of her husband…

Yes, the accident had finally happened…a crash that should have happened long before. She had felt it long ago several times. Again and again in her dreams she had seen it. How long could you live this miserable, monotonous life?

Everybody has ups and downs in their lives. One loses her darling. Another dies. Another is childless and yet another has so many children that she can’t satisfy their hunger.

Yes, from this very night her own tragedy was beginning. After this night, at last, life will show her its dark side.

Standing, she looked at the clock illuminated by the streetlamp. It was past three. Approaching the window, she looked out at the deserted and black street. The endless procession of dark upright buildings lining the street on each side were as tombstones. The city appeared as two immense cemeteries tonight.

She thought that she would get up and call her husband’s relatives and tell them. But, what would she say? Should she say that he had died? But he might not be dead! No, he did die, because she now felt herself to be quite alone. She felt completely widowed.

She would get up and put herself and the house in order. Because as soon as the sky lightened, her husband would be found and brought home. Or else he would be carried to the hospital and autopsied. She would go and wait, crying at the door of the hospital, wearing dark clothes; on her head, a black scarf. At once she remembered that she had no proper black clothes to wear.

Standing, she switched on the light. She rummaged through the wardrobe shelves. She went and hauled down the heavy, anvil-like suitcases from the outdoor balcony storage area.

While taking one of these suitcases down, the open latch scraped her leg badly. Blood trickled down onto the floor. Trailing drops of blood, she went to the kitchen, and returned with a bandage. Binding the cut, she thought about how her husband was now in a similarly bloody condition. This thought gave her the creeps. Switching on the hall light, she looked at the spots of red on the floor. Fetching a wet wash cloth, she kneeled and with disgust wiped up the blood.

Opening the suitcases, she dumped everything out into the middle of the living room floor. She selected and held up the black dress that she had found. She put it on. It hung loosely from her. Just like last year, she was still swimming in it. From every side it needed to be taken in by four fingers.

She retrieved her sewing box from the kitchen. Threading a needle, she looked at the clock again. It was ten minutes past four. She would carry through until dawn lightened the sky. Turning the dress inside-out, she began to baste it, thinking about how she would arrive at the hospital, wearing her black clothes—what would she do when she saw the dead body?

Perhaps she should run crying to the corpse and throw herself upon it. Then she remembered her own mother’s behavior when her father had died. Her mother didn’t cry at all. Her mother used to say, “It is shameful for a woman to cry over her husband.”

So, crying wasn’t very important. Suddenly something shifted in her and she became emotional, recalling her engagement days.

Yes, as soon as she reached the hospital, she would cry and lean against the wall. She knew herself quite well: while crying she always had had to lean against someone or something. Why did she become so powerless? They might come and move her from the wall. Then she thought, if nobody came to take her from the wall, would she just be forgotten?

The needle pricked her finger. Her finger bled. Why was she thinking about such foolish things? She’d do better to cry about herself. One woman alone with three children…

Her husband had always come home carrying the groceries dripping with sweat, and the food was used up in just two or three days. After a few days she would have to go do the shopping herself again, carrying all the heavy bags, with swollen veins and cut palms.

Abruptly the thought came to her—for what would she need the shopping when her husband was gone? She herself kept a strict diet and the children, thank God, didn’t eat anything apart from fruit and candy.

She would never again have to prepare the bloody meat and the dusty potatoes and onions coming from the bazaar, or go through other such revolting processes. She would just buy a carton of eggs and put it into the refrigerator and that would do. She thought, “How great eggs are!” A very modern food. Everything contained neatly inside. You didn’t have to get your hands dirty and they didn’t smell bad. And they cooked in just a blink.

Her heart beat quickly from the thoughts that were coming to her now. So she wouldn’t cook the meals anymore. She would never have to fight with the meat grinder, waiting for her on one of the kitchen shelves. Until now, the meat grinder had been at the forefront of the many things shortening her life. Because she had sharpened it every day, its blade had become nearly as thin as the wing of a butterfly, and instead grinding the meat it would wind it around itself, stalling the motor and crying like a milk cow as if to say “Strip me, and start all over again.”

If she needn’t cook, then she wouldn’t have to fight with the meat grinder and with the whetstone making its repellent noises. She would never again have to use steel wool with bleeding fingers or wipe down the gas stove, mottled and spotted from cooking the meals. Her body flushed with heat as she thought about how she would escape from doing so many other things. As the many things that bothered her every morning and every evening and even in her dreams ran through her head, she became increasingly agitated, until her hands trembled and her scalp tingled.

Thinking over this freedom, so many new thoughts and even a new lifestyle came to her mind; if you put it all together, it would be a quite different life. She would look like quite a different person.

Yes, a new life was beginning.

The two side-seams were ready. Rising, she took off her nightgown, and trying on the basted dress, she stood in front of the mirror.

Without enthusiasm, she took the black dress off and put her everyday dress on. She looked at the gaping and empty suitcases and the clothes piled in heaps in the middle of the room. Here were so many years of clothes! She thought about how long she had been living—when had she worn all these clothes?

Going into another room, she switched on the light. Sitting in front of the sewing machine, she threaded the needle and sewed the basted seams of the dress.

Slowly the sky was brightening. She would begin to phone her husband’s relatives in an hour.

Combing her hair anxiously, the teeth of the comb became full. Putting one hand on her lower back, she looked again at the clothes piled in the middle of the floor.

Here and there, she noticed her husband’s old shirts and trousers among the other clothes. She should package and give all these things to the poor. Then, she thought, as her heart beat quickly, that probably she would do better to just destroy all these clothes so as not to ever have to see this reminder of past years.

There was a tap at the door. But, as if it wasn’t the door that was tapped, her own head jarred. Her heart trembling, she wondered who it could be at this time of night—but at the same moment she guessed: Who else could it be apart from her husband, so late?

So her husband had come. Her husband had finally come.

This time there was definitely a knock at the door. Then the door bell rang three times in quick succession, one bell right after the other. Evidently, her husband didn’t fear waking his children anymore.

“Bang,” she thought, “Bang…Bang, until your hand collapses. I’d like to see what you would do then.”

Now the door bell rang without stopping. The children had already been woken up. Their voices could be heard from the other room, when one of the children opened their bedroom door and looked out into the hall.

“Mama…hey mom…”


“There’s that knock at the door…eh?”

“I hear. Go back to sleep.”

Her eyes had darkened with her jangled nerves. She thought about how while she sewed mourning clothes for herself, this blockhead, God knew, was out merrymaking.

She began to cry. She thought, “What a stupid woman I am.”

There was another firm knock at the door. Finally her nerves couldn’t bear it, and going out into the hall she switched on the light to look out through the front door peep-hole.

Her husband was staring straight back through the hole with a defensive look, as if looking right at her face.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Open the door.”

“I won’t open…”

“I told you to open the door, don’t embarrass us. People are sleeping.”

She didn’t reply.

“Open up, or else…” her threatened.

“Yes, or else what?”

“You know…”

“No, I don’t know.”

Her husband replied by banging the door so loudly that the metal of the door thundered. One of the children woke again and cried out in the other room.

She was obliged to open the door. Her husband, with a package under his arm and a disgruntled look on his face, came in and, looking at her askance, put the package down in front of the mirror. As if he expected that when she saw the thing in the package she would regret her tactless actions.

“Is this a hotel?” she asked him.

He did not reply.

“I’m talking to you.”

Her husband was opening the package, making a show with his hands: “It’s a telephone.”

“What can I do with a telephone?!”

“You talked about it the other day!”

“The other day I said a lot of things. Why didn’t you remember all of them?”

“What else did you say?”

“I said that this wasn’t a hotel. If you came late you would have to stay outside in the street.”

“Enough already, ok?”

“What’s ok?! Did you remember only the telephone? Buying a telephone is the easiest part of what I asked! The hardest part is coming and staying at home and seeing me.”

Her husband took off his shoes and put on his slippers.

“Why did you even come? Have you no other place to sleep?”

He was silent.

“This is something new. Now every time you come, you have something under your arm. What is it? Is it a bribe? Your head needs fixing.”

“My head needs fixing because of you.”

Her husband stood listening to the music in the other room for awhile. Then, going to the kitchen, he rummaged around.

She believed her husband was purposefully rummaging around with a vacant look on his face, just waiting for her to sleep so he could lie down next to her silently and avoid her piercing questions and sharp words.

She thought that her husband would even agree to sleep with a dead body, if only to avoid her chattering. Maybe he bothered to bring her a bribe every night because he felt sick of listening to her chattering. So bent his head before her as would a naughty child. It occurred to her that her husband must want her dead.

Every night her husband would return from different colorful parties to their house—a prison. Heavily climbing the stairs, maybe he would pray to God for her death. Nights, while she slept with an open mouth and envisioned her twisted dreams, God knew her husband would lean on his elbows, look at her, and listen to her breathing. Listening quietly, he would wonder when her breaths would end. Thinking about this, waiting for that moment, he would drift off to sleep.

Her husband was still in the kitchen. Now, he was drinking or washing his hands, she couldn’t tell which. Finally something—the sounds of running water could be heard. Holding her breath, she listened in the quiet. Only the voice of the water came from the bathroom.

Standing on tip-toe, she went out to the hallway and stopped at the door of the bathroom.

The door was half-open. Her husband was sitting on the edge of the bathtub, leaning on his elbows, his head in his hands. Water was cascading into the sink.

When she opened the door wide, her husband jumped up.

“Why are you sitting here?” she asked.

He said nothing.

“What are you waiting for?”


“Why don’t you come to sleep then?”

He was quiet.

“Are you feeling sick?”

“No…Why would I be feeling sick?”

“From seeing me, I think.”

“Ah, it starts again…”

“Listen…what are you playing at? If you are feeling sick, just say, I am feeling sick…What are you afraid of?”
“What am I afraid of?” he repeated, “I am not afraid of anything.”

“Then tell me.”

“What should I say?”

“Say ‘I hate you’.”

“But I don’t hate you!”

She paused, then said, “If you are afraid of leaving, we can part without the formalities. But for the love of God, don’t play with me…Tell me, and I will know what to do.”

“What do you want to do?”

“If you want to leave I will know what to do—I don’t want to stick in your throat and leave you to rot. For myself, I…” she paused.

“Yeah, what?”

She felt that she was blushing red. As she blushed, her husband’s head caught fire; he became enraged for it was as if in her blushing there was something going on that he didn’t know about.

Her husband grew more upset. Just moments ago he had been languishing, hungover, now his eyes suddenly glittered and sparked: “Yes, why don’t you finish?

She felt herself flush deeply. God knew, her face was all flushed and darkened now.

Her husband, sitting again on the edge of the bath, was looking at her. Abruptly, she pulled the door closed and bolted it, leaving him inside.

The children were looking at her with fearful eyes and pale faces from the door of their bedroom. “Mom, what is father doing in there?”

“Your father has died!”

This was her husband crying out. Echoing from the bathroom, his voice filled the house in the dark night.

After these words, each of the children began to cry bitterly.

Comforting her children and helping them back into bed, she thought, “Every spring begins like this. Damn the spring.”

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