It was evening when I entered the yard carrying a full sack of corn over my shoulders. Tendrils of bluish smoke rose over the roof of the mud hut. Our white dog with yellow spots ran up and snuggled against my feet. The hens getting ready to roost were cackling. My mother Nasi was scolding little Tagir for pulling the calf by the tail. Her voice, affectionate and indulgent, was comforting. My father was sitting on a small bench, milking our cow; the milk squirting into the wooden milk pail. Kuna was hurrying into the house with some green onions from the garden; she was afraid the water for the cornmeal mush was boiling over. And my younger sister Juna was pounding the dust out of a mattress hanging on the clothes line. I began wondering if the heavens would really help us live better, as we did before.
Everyone had something to do. Soon after we sat down to eat supper Mata arrived. He was upset about something.
“What’s the matter, Son?” asked Father after supper.
“I’ll never again go to our master’s estate,” replied Mata as he got up from the table. “Today when I left that place I promised myself: ‘That’s it! From now on I won’t set foot here again! ‘“
“Don’t get into a temper,” said Father soothingly.
“We should have begun weeding long ago. The corn field is choked with weeds. And the tobacco plants are rotting at the roots because our sisters can’t do the picking fast enough.”
“I know all that, but what can we do? Every family has to send one of its members to work on the nobleman’s estate twice a week. That’s an old custom of ours. Besides, Shardyn, son of Alou, is our dearest and closest relative.”
Father lit a candle and sat down to sew slippers.
“I’m not alone,” blurted out Mata. “All the young men who are working there now have sworn not to go back tomorrow.”
“When there’s a unanimous decision it has to be right,” I intervened.
Father stopped sewing and looked at me severely:
“I see you’re good at adding fuel to the fire! He’s out of his mind,” he exclaimed nodding to Mata, “and all you do is encourage him. Have you forgot that Shardyn is my foster brother? Have you no shame? Not only our family, but all the Ubykhs who have settled in Osmankoy, are indebted to him for his kindness. Or have you forgot how rotten our life was on the outskirts of Samsun? It’s sinful to be so ungrateful.”
“Don’t you realize your foster brother was thinking more of his own welfare when he brought us here? If he hadn’t taken us with him who would work for him? Besides, there’s no honor in being a nobleman without manor serfs. Now he’s living high. Selim Pasha is visiting him; he came last night. They got up late after sunrise today, because of their drinking bout the night before and the first thing they wanted to do was play backgammon. Shardyn squandered oodles of money. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw him counting up those liras. I won’t earn so much in a whole lifetime... We don’t have even the smallest coin to pay for salt, but that good-for-nothing burns money as though it were paper, the money earned by our sweat. I shouldn’t say this in front of our sisters, but I heard with my own ears the vile words they used, commenting on the girls who brought presents to the princess.”
“You’re still young, my son! You’re not to judge who may do what in this world. Some people are born to command and others, to obey. It’s not someone’s caprice, but the will of Allah! And remember this, both of you,” said Father, shaking his finger at us in warning, “we’re in a foreign land and, heaven forbid, if anything should happen to us we have no one to turn to for protection but Shardyn, son of Alou! “ Father put down his sewing, blew out the candle and added: “The day after tomorrow is Friday; don’t forget to go to the mosque!
“We won’t be missed,” I said losing my temper.
“May Allah forgive you,” whispered my frightened mother.
Tired from the day’s labors we went to bed early, but I couldn’t fall asleep. I lay with my eyes open and thought about what my brother had said and about my father’s reaction.
Although we had been given small plots of land and built houses we weren’t doing well at all. We suffered hardships and did not have enough food. In the land of the Ubykhs we had one lord we worked for and paid in kind; but here we had to pay two lords. One of them was Shardyn, son of Alou, and the other was our landlord—Selim Pasha. We were left with one-third of our yields. Yet the field was nothing like it was in Ubykhia. It was a tiny patch of land that could be covered with the hide of a bull. Just try to feed a whole family on one-third of its harvest. We also had to pay taxes to the state. That night I went to sleep late and had bad dreams.
At noon the next day when Mother was setting the table for lunch, Shardyn, son of Alou, riding an Arabian horse, bursted into our yard like a madman. The horse was sweating, its master had driven it so hard. It was champing at the bit, squinting its violet eyes, and prancing on its thin legs moist from perspiration.
Without dismounting or even saying hello the horseman bellowed:
“Hey, Hamirza, what have I done to deserve your disdain?”
“What’s wrong, my dear brother, what’s happened?” asked Father frightened to death.
“Don’t you know that your arrogant young man,” said Shardyn, son of Alou, pointing his whip in the direction of Mata, “has decided to revolt? Following his lead, no one showed up at my estate today. That’s your upbringing, Hamirza!“ and raising his whip he guided his horse toward Mata who had turned pale.
“Don’t you dare,” I blocked his way and held on to the horse’s rein.
In a rage, Shardyn, son of Alou, wanted to crack his whip on my head, but the expression on my face stopped him: the whip hung limply in his hand. Both of us breathed heavily in spurts. I was the first to speak.
“Listen, Shardyn, son of Alou,” I said threateningly when I caught my breath, “I don’t care how close a relative you are, but you don’t have the right to raise your whip at us! Just watch out! “And taking his horse by the bridle I led it to the gate: “Goodbye, Shardyn, son of Alou.”
“I won’t ever forget this!“ he spoke hoarsely and spurring his horse, he galloped away.
“What have you done!“ muttered my father, his lips quivering. “How dare you drive away someone who was nursed by your grandmother?”
One evening I went to the blacksmith to pick up the hoes we had given him to be sharpened. I also wanted to talk to Dursun, the blacksmith’s son and my good friend. The smithy wasn’t far from our house, no more than a mile away. It was raining and so many people had finished work earlier than usual. There were several peasants sitting in front of the smithy under the eaves. They were gossiping, exchanging news, and speculating on the future. It’s amazing how people get their news. I don’t know how, but the whole village had heard about our argument with Shardyn, son of Alou. And many people took our side.
“Greetings, Zaurkan!“ said Omar. “You sure put that relative of yours in his place, didn’t you!”
“Serves him right!“ grumbled old Rashid as he fixed the handle of his hoe.
I didn’t want to give them more ammunition in their conversation about our falling out with Shardyn so I inquired:
“Is Dursun around?”
David, the blacksmith, was a Georgian. A long time ago his ancestors were forced to become Muslims and when the southern regions of Georgia were taken over by the Turks they moved here. David was born in Turkey. His wife died young, leaving him a son named Dursun. The boy grew up learning his father’s trade so he eventually became his helper. They were hard-working and kind people. When the Ubykhs arrived in Osmankoy they helped many of us. They made hoes and axes free of charge, shared their bread with us and took milk to the sick children. I don’t know how it came about, but the blacksmiths and my family became especially close. They helped us in every way, and when we didn’t have any money to pay our taxes, David loaned us what we needed without hesitation. His son Dursun and I became fast friends; we saw each other every day. Dursun’s father approved of our attachment.
“Both of you,” he said once, “are the children of peoples wearing Circassian coats and so you should be one, like a two-edged dagger.”
Dursun was a daring young man. His kind don’t burn even in fire. In spite of his youth, he had been nearly everywhere in Turkey. “The only place I haven’t visited is satan’s palace!“ he used to say. One time in a moment of confidence I told him about Feldysh. He sympathized with me and did his best to sooth my worries and reassure me.
“You say they took her to Rhodes? It’s not so far from here,” he said pointing toward the sea. “Don’t lose hope: we’ll think of something...” Translated into the language of friendship his words meant: “Be assured that from this day on I’m your faithful partner in this.”
It was getting dark. The rain had stopped. The peasants gathered in front of the smithy were tired of chatting and were getting ready to go home when Zhantemir appeared, soaking wet. He was returning from town.
“What’s the news?” asked Omar.
“Nothing good! The sultan is in a fix in the Balkans war. Very soon the village elders will start poking around every house to make sure all the men capable of carrying arms are drafted.”
The men’s only response was alarmed silence. You could even hear the raindrops falling from the top of the eaves.
“If they take away our sons we’re done for!“ exclaimed Saat sadly pensive.
“Hasn’t enough happened to us already!
“When the sovereigns are fighting over land, the sons of others have to pay for that with their lives.”
There was panic in our neighbors’ voices.
I couldn’t move an inch after I heard the news; I was thunderstruck. My first thought was about Feldysh. “If they take me into the army I’ll never see Feldysh again,” I feared. It’s said that a faithful friend is more necessary in time of need than at a feast. I wanted to talk this new situation over with Dursun; he would think of a way out. But Dursun didn’t come home that night.
There was a full moon out. Greenish stars glittered in the endless expanses of the sky. A slight breeze rustled the leaves. I’m ashamed to admit it, but because of my emotional confusion and unabating love, I began talking to the wind. “Do me a favor, wind, and fly across the sea to the island of Rhodes. Look for my beloved there, but don’t slam the shutters on her bedroom window or you’ll awaken her. Make her cool if she is hot, and if there is a tear on Feldysh’s cheek, dry off the salty drop. Do me a favor, wind, fly to the island of Rhodes! And when my beloved wakes up at dawn and begins braiding her silky auburn hair, whisper to her: ‘Don’t lose hope. Zaurkan is on his way. The mountains will open before him; the sea will open before him. Wait for him...’
Like a lost soul I wandered under the bright moon not knowing what to do with myself. I came close to the gate of our yard several times, but I didn’t go in. Maybe I would have gone to bed if I had become drowsy, but that night sleep escaped me.
Soon afterwards, without telling us, Father went to see Shardyn, son of Alou. Begging forgiveness he threw himself at his foster brother’s feet:
“I beg you to forgive my brainless sons. Because they offended you I punished them. Please, don’t be angry with them; they have wind in their heads.”
“Hamirza, they don’t deserve my forgiveness, but out of respect for you I’ll try to forget what they did,” Shardyn, son of Alou replied indulgently.
“My sons are true Ubykhs. The battlefield to them is what arable land is to the ploughman. Zaurkan has already proved that by his actions, and you know yourself that Mata is no coward. Rumor has it that soon they’ll be taking young Ubykhs into the army...”
“That’s just where your hot-heads belong...”
“Yes, you’re right, but I’m losing my strength and my wife is often ill. If we’re left without our sons in this foreign land we’ll perish like old horses without food. I plead with you in the name of my mother who nursed us both, please help me keep at least one son with me.”
“What am I, a magician? Do you think, Hamirza, it’s easy to free someone from military service?”
“Well, of course, I know only too well how hard it is. But you...”
“Besides, my foster nephews don’t deserve such indulgence.”
“But just as fire can’t be put out with oil so too an insult can’t be healed with anger.”
“All right, don’t lecture me! I know kinship ties can’t be ignored. I’ll try to help keep your ruffians from being taken to war.”
Contrary to my father’s worst expectations, Shardyn, son of Alou, was pleasant and hospitable. He offered him food, played backgammon with him, and even presented him with a Caucasian Astrakhan hat. When Father was on his way out, the host said in passing:
“Your sons have been exempted from work on my manor or in the fields; they can work on your farm. And you, my brother, come and visit me more often to watch the servants working. I need someone close who has a loyal eye. Oh, and I nearly forgot, the princess has asked that your daughters take turns coming to her twice a week. She wants girls from the family to be cleaning her room and doing her laundry.”
How could Father refuse such an honor! He came home a younger man, thinking that his whole family had been done a tremendous favor. How could he, a kind poor man, know that the show of benevolence put on by Shardyn, son of Alou, was intended to conceal treachery of the worst kind.
From then on my sisters Kuna and Juna began taking turns twice a week to work for the princess from dawn to darkness. My father began spending a large part of his time in the lord’s manor doing everything the nobleman said.
Kuna and Juna were nice girls, considerate and open hearted. Kuna had a fair complexion, and long hair the color of golden wine. Her large gray eyes were pensive, and sad. She rarely laughed, was quiet and shy; she was quite sensitive, and could cry at the slightest insult. She took tiny steps when she walked, just like a dove.
Juna, on the other hand, had dark skin, and wavy black hair, as black as the wing of a raven. Her hair was so thick that the heaviest rain would only roll off the surface. Her eyes were like lilac-tinged blackberries. She was good- natured, boisterous, and was fond of laughing and dancing. She was no good at keeping secrets and if someone offended her she didn’t hide her displeasure, but spoke out at once. Both sisters were slender and tall, but they were so different that anyone who didn’t know them would never take them for sisters. All our family’s joy centered around my two sisters.
One day Juna didn’t come back from the manor at the usual hour. There had been times when she was detained until late at night, but she had always come home to sleep. We waited and waited but she didn’t come. We didn’t sleep a wink all night. As you know, in the homes of the wealthy morals are not always strict. And as you Abkhasians say: a girl is like a wine glass: let it slip out of your hand and it’s no more. I had already decided to go after my sister when a red carriage with ringing bells, driven by three bay horses, stopped at our gate.
“Who are those people at our gate? Maybe they want directions?” said Mother in surprise.
But then, you can imagine our shock when Juna came out of the carriage...
“My dear, what’s happened?” shouted Mother as she ran toward Juna.
“Nothing special. Shardyn, son of Alou, was entertaining important guests and they feasted all night long. The princess made me stay and serve the guests. I was very tired so the princess sent me home in the guests’ carriage.”
We noticed that Juna was sad and quiet. “Maybe she really is just exhausted,” we each thought to ourselves.
The next day at high noon when we gathered for lunch, Shardyn, son of Alou, rode his Arabian horse into our yard, and dismounted leisurely. It was the first time he had stepped over our threshold since the day I had quarreled with him and thrown out our noble relative. He did nothing to indicate he remembered that injury, as though it had never happened. Shardyn, son of Alou, kissed all of us with a friendly smile on his face, and patted me on the shoulder saying approvingly: “Aferim! Aferim!“ * Bravo
Strange, I thought to myself. What have we done to deserve such unusually warm treatment? And I noticed that just as soon as our important guest came into the yard Juna hid in the house. No, something’s wrong here, I feared.
“Thank Allah, Hamirza, thank Allah!“ said Shardyn, son of Alou, with exaggerated joy as he sat down on the leather cushion my mother brought him.
“It’s not hard giving thanks, but tell me why should I?”
“Your daughter Juna is so fortunate that not only she will bask in golden rays the rest of her life, but you, her parents, and we, your relatives, and maybe all the Ubykhs, too.”
“Good news is expected from welcome guests...”
“So, listen here. The honorable Vali Selim Pasha who has given us this land has been visiting me for three days. If it weren’t for him I’d hate to think what would have happened to all of us. I hosted him like I would a sultan. When Vali Scum Pasha saw Juna, he lost his head. He wants her to be his wife.”
I noticed that my mother’s face went pale, but Shardyn, son of Alou, continued as though what he’d said was the greatest blessing to our family.
“Can you imagine, the sultan’s close friend, and a man of untold wealth has fallen madly in love with your Juna. He practically got down on his knees to beg me to tell you, Hamirza, that he wishes to marry your beautiful Juna. He says all the women in his palace will become her obedient servants. She can have the keys to all his treasure chests if only she will brighten up the twilight of his life. And he hasn’t forgotten about you! Oh, you’re so lucky! He says you’re welcome to move to Izmid, or you can stay here if you like. In either case he’ll take care of you—he says it’s his duty from now on!
Shardyn, son of Alou, was the only one showing any joy at the news.
“Why are you silent, Hamirza, or is this good fortune so unexpected you’ve lost your tongue?”
I glanced at my father. His face was somber, his lips
pale. Without raising his voice he said with sadness, but firmly:
“No, my friend, I cannot take your advice! I just can’t figure out how you could think of selling your own niece into the harem of the old Turk? I didn’t raise my daughter for a harem. But your Selim Pasha is, indeed, a noble man. He’s being polite about it all. Another man with a go-between like you would have simply offered me money for my daughter, and that would be the end of it.”
“Money in the pocket never hurts. If you don’t have money no one will pay attention to you even if you’re the groom at a wedding.”
“It depends on the kind of wedding you’re talking about. Convey my gratitude to the honorable Selim Pasha. He can keep his palace and treasures; he can keep his wives, but my daughter will remain in this humble home.”
Shardyn, son of Alou, nervously pulled at his mustache. Under other circumstances he would have flown into a rage, but that time he controlled himself.
“As you wish, Hamirza! I thought you’d be pleased, but now that I see I’ve upset you, I beg your pardon. Don’t hold it against me: a messenger isn’t responsible for the news he brings. However, don’t forget that when a girl in love chooses her fiance and decides to marry him no dungeon you lock her in can stop her. If that’s what happens it’s none of my business.”
With that, Shardyn, son of Alou, got on his horse and left.
The next day when we men weren’t home that red carriage—may it be cursed! — stopped at our gate again. Two men unloaded a heavy trunk and a fancy box. They put the things down in front of Mother, bowed to her and said:
“These are for you! They’re from Selim Pasha!
My mother refused to take the gifts and demanded they be returned, but the men bowed again, got into the red carriage—may it be cursed three times! —and disappeared. Little Tagir ran to the field where we were working.
“Grandma wants you to come home right away,” he burst out, panting.
We felt something was up. When we ran into the house Mother was standing over the trunk and box wiping away her tears. We opened the trunk and were amazed to see expensive cloth, velvet and silk with embroidered peacocks and roses. On the very bottom of the trunk there was a fur coat for Juna made of white fleece. When we looked into the fancy box, Oh Lord! : it was full of jewels. There were rings and bracelets made of pure gold, pearl earrings, and beads of gorgeous turquoise. When Juna saw it she froze and then shouted: “Give it to me! It’s mine! “She grabbed the box and went to her room. We were quite surprised by her behavior. Soon afterwards our neighbor Uazamat paid us a visit. We couldn’t believe our ears when he told us why he had come:
“Juna is shy like any Ubykh girl. She doesn’t have the heart to admit to her father and mother that she’s decided to marry Selim Pasha. She asked me to talk to you on her behalf and tell you that no one is forcing her to marry him. She wants to herself. Tomorrow she is to be engaged.”
My knees went liquid.
“What does she see in that lecherous old man who has more wives than he has fingers on his hands?” I asked bitterly.
“Love is blind,” remarked Uazamat, trying to console me. “When I fell in love with my old woman my friends laughed at me as if to say, what’s wrong with your eyes, you fool? She’s nothing to look at! If I had loaned them my eyes for just an instant they would have stopped laughing at me and become arch rivals! You see him one way, she sees him another way. Selim Pasha is on in years, but he’s still going strong and it doesn’t hurt to have money. And as you know money doesn’t grow on trees. Don’t judge Juna harshly; maybe she wasn’t only thinking of herself when she agreed to marry him...”
Our neighbor knew when it was time for him to leave. After wishing us well, he went off.
We sat silently, crestfallen, trying not to look at one another. Mother, shaking her head, was sniffing and wiping her tears with the corner of her black scarf.
“You can’t chop wood with a penknife. She wants to marry him; it’s too late to make her change her mind,” said Father getting up. He picked up his scythe and went out to the field.
“Maybe in the manor house she was seduced by the glimmer of wealth, the accessibility of pleasures and the high-sounding words,” I speculated. So I decided to have a heart-to-heart talk with my sister and went to her room. I opened the door and what did I see: Juna, wearing one of the dresses she had been given, was looking at herself in the mirror and trying on some glittering earrings. Gold rings were sparkling on her fingers. She was so engrossed in what she was doing that she didn’t even turn around when the door creaked. Shocked, I quietly left without saying a word to my sister.
Shardyn, son of Alou, was right.
The next day at sunset carriages of various kinds and sizes, accompanied by men on horseback, rode up to our house. Our neighbor Uazamat went into the house. Juna was already waiting for him. All dressed up and smiling, she walked out with him, sat in the red carriage and within an instant disappeared behind a screen of dust.
Deeply saddened, we lowered our heads. It seemed as though the shadow of deceased Aisha stepped over the threshold of our home. Each one of us was overtaken by unconsolable grief.
Soon afterwards, relatives, friends and neighbors began coming to congratulate us. Their joyful remarks seemed out of place to me, like laughter at a cemetery:
“We’re so happy for you! Very happy!”
“Nice going Juna! She sure did well for herself! Very well!”
“She’ll live in paradise: Selim Pasha is wealthy and a man of high station!”
“She’s really lucky!”
My Lord! How can they talk like that? My sister became a concubine of an old libertine, and they’re congratulating us! Many are even jealous! I thought to myself in amazement. For some reason the lines from an old Abkhasian song came to mind:
In the beak of an old black kite
A flower can only find destruction...
Around the same time Sakhatkeri unexpectedly showed up in Osmankoy. We had long since thought he had been lost without a trace in the foreign land and had offered his soul to God. But he was suddenly resurrected along with all his family. And he reappeared not in the rags of a wanderer, not as a vagrant dervish, but dressed like a wealthy haji* One who has made a pilgrimage to Mecca.—Tr. and wearing a snow-white turban.
“I made a pilgrimage to Mecca, my dear people, and, down on my knees in front of the black stone of Kaaba, I prayed for your salvation. As you can see, Allah heard me and sent you to lead a peaceful life in this paradise, praised be his name! There’s no God, but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet!
Soon a new mosque was opened in Osmankoy, and Sakhatkeri became the main mullah. Although he was paid out of the sultan’s treasury, he arbitrarily taxed every family “for the mosque”. It was hard to believe the main mullah had once been Sakhatkeri. He became haughty, conceited and overbearing. People were not only afraid to be open with him, but even to talk to him. And despite his religious vocation, he looked askance at everyone else.
Sakhatkeri’s return led to events similar to internecine strife. The newly born imam and the priest Soulakh began a war to the death. Each of them tried to establish his superiority over the other. It got to the point, Sharakh, when they both secretly got themselves pistols and now each had only one cherished desire—to put a bullet in the other’s forehead. As you know, it isn’t befitting clergymen to carry arms. But each decided that it’s never too late to become a pious man, even in the next world. The conflict grew more fierce and was no longer a secret to anyone, involving, like it or not, nearly all the Ubykhs in Osmankoy.
Everything is relative. When we moved from the outskirts of Samsun to Osmankoy, we felt as though finally we were in God’s favor. While thinking about ourselves we didn’t forget about our shrine Bytkha. For our holy place we selected a green hill with a hornbeam tree thick with foliage perched on the hilltop. We sacrificed a goat and held a prayer service. The shrine reminded us of our lost homeland, made us feel united as a tribe, and elevated us above worldly concerns. When we were praying to Bytkha we could visualize Ubykhia.
Upon his return Sakhatkeri said that in the land of Allah it was a great sin to worship anyone but Allah. He asked the priest Soulakh to come to the mosque and said without bothering to be polite:
“Why are you, old goat, encouraging idol worship!”
“You speak the truth, but...”
“No buts about it,” interrupted the imam. “You bury that hawk like stone, that Bytkha of yours, and cut down the tree on the top of the hill that you chose as its refuge!“
The priest got angry:
“What are you saying, Sakhatkeri! How can I bury he shrine that our ancestors bequeathed to us to safeguard better than our lives? Be careful: beware of its wrath!
“Don’t try to frighten me!
“Imagine telling me to bury the shrine!“ exclaimed Soulakh with agitation. “It would be easier to tear the heart out of the Ubykhs than to dispose of Bytkha by burying it underground.”
“You aren’t being reasonable, old man,” insisted the imam. “The bones of our ancestors are across the sea in another land. The country we’re in is ruled by the law that has to be observed by all Muslims and you can’t break it!”
“If the other Ubykhs hear about this, I don’t envy you!”
“And if the great sultan, the representative of Allah, hears that the Ubykhs prefer a hawk like stone to the mosque, it’ll end in disaster, Soulakh!”
From that day on they were at war with each other.
Imam Sakhatkeri wouldn’t stop at anything to become the single religious leader of the Ubykhs. He went to Is- mid to see Selim Pasha several times to tell on his tribes men. Sakhatkeri blacklisted many respected Ubykhs. At the top of the list, of course, was our priest. “To save the whole flock it’s necessary to get rid of the diseased sheep,” he admonished Selim Pasha as he handed him the blacklist.
When people complained to Shardyn, son of Alou, that Sakhatkeri was illegally taxing them for the mosque he let it go in one ear and out the other. The second time they wrote a complaint he just waved it aside and advised them that the servants of Allah were free to act as their consciences dictated. He was no judge of the imam.
But Soulakh the priest wasn’t idle either. He didn’t keep it a secret that the imam had demanded the shrine Bytkha be buried and the tree over the holy place be chopped down. The priest was setting a spark to dry stubble near a gunpowder magazine. The flames of resistance burned with new force in the souls of the Ubykhs.
“Because of them we lost our homeland, thousands of people died in the epidemic, and now they want to bury our holy guardian Bytkha! Well we won’t let them!
“If they dare touch our shrine we’ll burn down the mosque!
That was the kind of talk among the young Ubykh men who were proud and hot-headed by nature and paid no heed to caution. Those who act rashly aren’t concerned about the consequences. “It’s not hard to burn down the mosque, but what will happen after that?” warned those who were capable of soberly analyzing the outcome.
To me it was as clear as day that Sakhatkeri had sold himself to the Turks, lock, stock, and barrel. What made me furious was that as an Ubykh he had no regard for the self-esteem of the other Ubykhs. Why was he egging them into making a desperate move that would have ended in the death of many of our tribesmen in a Muslim country? And so I made up my mind to see the imam and have it out with him.
I stood by the doors of the mosque toward the end of the service one day. I waited until the last person left and when I was certain there was no one else there but Sakhatkeri I quietly entered. Standing between two lit candles he was counting his money and did not hear me approach. But then he caught the sound of my footsteps on the soft carpet. The imam shoved the money into his pocket and bent over the Koran. I came right up to him and our eyes met.
“You’re late, the service is over,” he said with affected reproach. I could see in the flickering light of the candle that his eyes were alarmed. “Why are you wearing your dagger, or don’t you know that you’re not supposed to step into the abode of Allah with weapons?” said Sakhatkeri in a strict tone of voice, but his eyes continued to dart cowardly.
“Oh, I’m planning to go to paradise armed. Just in case! And as I uttered those blasphemous words I moved toward him.
His lips trembled:
“What do you want?”
“Here is what I want! “ And pulling my dagger out of its sheath, I held it against the imam‘s chest.
“Have you gone mad, you ruffian! Hey, someone! Help!“ he yelled and his face turned deathly pale.
“Stop shouting. No one’s here and your Almighty is too far away—he won’t hear you,” I said as I pressed him harder with my dagger.
Sakhatkeri, moving back, screamed something unintelligible.
“Cut out that bellowing! You don’t believe in Allah or in Shaitan, you cur! You’re betraying your fellow tribesmen, you double-dealer!
The imam, whose chest was pricked by my dagger, moved hack and mumbled:
“Think what you’re doing! What do you want? Oh, someone, help!“
“Why should anyone save you? Because you led us astray when you persuaded us to leave our homes? Where is that Muslim heavenly garden where there’s no animosity, no poverty, no heat, no cold, no calamity, no hunger? Where is it, I ask you? When we were dying like flies on the coast near Samsun where were you hiding to save your own skin?” The point of my dagger was pressing harder against his chest.
“Why are you killing your father’s friend?” stuttered the mullah, his teeth chattering.
He stepped backwards, and I stepped forward. Soon his back was up against the wall, and my dagger, having cut through his clothes, was pricking his chest under his left nipple. Sakhatkeri’s legs began to give way.
“Come on, out with it,” I ordered. “Your time has come, you old liar. Tell me where you keep your blacklist?” I poked him a little harder to make him talk.
Pallid from fear and pain, he mumbled:
“Selim Pasha has the list! He ordered me to do it. It wasn’t my idea... It wasn’t me!.. To rule you must divide your subjects! That’s the law of the sultan’s state! You might as well know that if you kill me they’ll just put someone else in my place.”
I appreciated his forced sincerity and put my dagger back into its sheath. Sakhatkeri’s legs finally gave in and he slumped down to the floor. I brought him the Koran:
“Listen, Imam, to what I’m going to tell you. There’s going to be a meeting in front of our sacred Bytkha tonight, and I hope you’ll come.”
“I have no choice,” he responded, shivering.
“You’ll come and repent. You’ll say something like this:
“My brethren, there’s been a misunderstanding between us, but I’m an Ubykh and you’re Ubykhs, so I want you to know I’m not making any demands on you. Pray when you want to your hawk like Bytkha and let it help you!”
“As you say, Zaurkan,” he agreed.
“It’s too bad you gave your blacklist to Selim Pasha and we can’t get it back.”
“Yes, it’s too bad,” repeated the imam. “We can’t get it back!
“Swear by the Koran that you’ll do everything you promised me.”
“I beg you, Zaurkan, don’t make me swear by the Koran,” said the old man standing up. Tears were streaming down his cheeks.
“Goodbye, Sakhatkeri! We’ll see how you keep your word! I’d like to believe that Ubykh blood still flows in your veins. And remember this: I wasn’t here in the mosque and none of this happened.” I put my hand on the haft of my dagger and left.
Not long afterwards Sakhatkeri resigned as imam pleading poor health, and moved to Izmid. I never saw him again and never heard anything about him.
An officer who had come from Izmid spent three days going around the neighboring villages and read the sultan’s decree to the people who were gathered on the main square. The officer already knew the contents of the decree by heart, but to add to his importance he unfolded the paper and shouted out like a herald in the old days:
“The representative of Allah on earth, the great sultan, wants to protect the sacred rights of Muslims throughout the world. Because of the treachery of the infidels he is forced to call the faithful to a holy war! All the sultan’s citizens capable of carrying arms are obligated before Allah to fulfil their sacred duty—rise up in defense of Islam and destroy its enemies! ..“ The officer had a tickling in his throat so his voice was hoarse.
The decree called on all people named in the list to show up in the village square the next morning wearing the proper clothing and carrying provisions. The families of the draftees were promised assistance and exemption from paying state taxes. The population was warned that anyone who refused to do military service would be hanged.
Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds!
The following morning the earth was watered not with dew, but the tears of mothers. Many people that day saw their loved ones for the last time, but neither my name, nor my brother Mata’s was on that list.
I didn’t feel right about staying home when the others had to go into the army, especially Dursun, but at the same time I was wild with joy, the kind of joy I had not experienced for a long time. In my mind I asked for Dursun’s forgiveness: Forgive me, my friend. Don’t condemn me for taking advantage of this sudden stroke of luck. If it were the other way around I wouldn’t criticize you. I could see before me the island of Rhodes surrounded by murmuring gray-tipped waves. My dear faithful Dursun! He had planned to go with me to that island. What a pity we were pulled apart. I went to the owner of a sailboat, whom Dursun had introduced me to. The fisherman knew the way to Rhodes like the palm of his hand; we clinched a deal.
That year we were expecting a good tobacco harvest. If we managed to take it all in without any losses, after paying taxes we’d still have some money left over and I could put out the agreed price to the owner of the sail boat. And so I began preparing for that long-awaited journey. It had already been four years since fate had parted me and my beloved. All that time I had had only one secret desire, one persistent dream: to see Feldysh once again. Life was nothing to me without her.