ALONG DRY RIVERS

I joined another caravan. It was also headed for Cairo. The people with it were hospitable. They fed me the whole way and, although I was not under the protection of the law, they had no intentions of making money off me by selling me to some slave trader or turning me over to my former owner. The goods they were carrying belonged to an Armenian merchant. On our way to Cairo I found out that the cargo would be delivered from there by sea to Istanbul.

Cairo’s a grand city, but looking like a beggar, a half-starved vagabond, I didn’t have a single friend here, nor a roof over my head. My heart longed for Turkey, where I had left my family and fellow-Ubykhs. Just one day at home, just one day hearing the sweet Ubykh language, and then I could be chopped into pieces by a dull ax, for all I cared. I helped the stevedores working for the Armenian merchant transfer the goods to the ship sailing for Istanbul. When the merchant found out I was from the Caucasus he was sympathetic: he bought me clothes and shoes, and gave me money for food. The man was wealthy, but generous as well. Knowing him I learned that one does not necessarily exclude the other.

And so, due to the kindness and sympathy of the Armenian merchant, I arrived in Istanbul. I had heard a lot about that city since childhood. Ubykhs thought there was no place on earth more superb or rich. Whenever someone said: “He’s going to Istanbul,” it seemed as though the person was headed for the other side of the world. If an Ubykh saw an expensive dagger or fine jewelry he assumed they were made in Istanbul. Even in songs the eyes of a beautiful woman were compared to Istanbul amber.

Constantinople, which is what some people called the Turkish capital, astounded me with its white stone palaces surrounded by lush greenery, mosques crowned by a crescent, the most beautiful of them being the sky-blue Hagia Sophia; ships with flags from all over the world docked in the Golden Horn, and the noisy bazaars where everything was bought and sold from golden trinkets to whistles, from Iamb carcasses to the delicacies of the sea. Throughout the bazaar there were the shouts of hawkers, the aroma of coffee stands, the supplications of beggars, the haggle of buyers, the whispers of smugglers, and the open sale of people, especially women. When you heard someone yelling: “Out of the way!“ it meant a pasha or wealthy buyer was coming and the servant was telling the crowd to clear the way.

At the cemetery everyone is equal, but while we’re alive, each of us has his place on this earth. I was living among the riffraff on the docks. There you could hear every language spoken in the world, but the longshoremen and sailors understood one another without interpreters. No one asked where you were from, what you were doing there or how long you planned to stay. My back, it appeared, was strong enough to carry bales, barrels, boxes and other cargo, which is how I made my living. Meanwhile, I heard from the sailors that many Caucasians had come to Istanbul.

“What tribe are they?” I asked.

“Abkhasians!”

“My Lord,” I thought in dismay, “so there are more exiles! Don’t tell me the Abkhasians have made the same fatal mistake?”

I was anxious to go into town. When I was free from my work after the sunset and on Fridays* Muslim sabbath. I went into Istanbul to wander the streets in the hope of meeting Abkhasians from Tsebelda where my mother’s brothers lived, or just seeing a Caucasian I might know. Haunting the mosques, coffee shops, and bazaars, I kept meeting more and more people dressed in Circassian coats and carrying weapons. They all spoke Abkhasian. I would listen to them talk. It was sweet and bitter at the same time: sweet to hear that language my mother used to sing lullabies, and bitter because the new exiles talked about the same things the Ubykhs discussed in the outskirts of Samsun.

Day turned to night, but the stones near the bazaar were still warm. On one of them there was an old man in a worn Caucasian shirt, his dirty toes peering out of torn boots. With his hands clutching his head hung low, dejected and immobile, he looked like a tombstone. I sat down next to him and inquired:

“What happened to you?”

Raising his head to look at me, he showed surprise; he couldn’t imagine a man who wasn’t wearing a Circassian coat and shirt could speak Abkhasian.

“First tell me who you are?” he asked in turn.

“I’m an earlier exile, an Ubykh.”

“Oh!” he sighed in sympathy. “You Ubykhs have only yourselves to blame for your troubles because you moved here without thinking it over carefully, but we were forced here.”

“By the Russian czar?”

“No! By the sultan’s troops who came to Abkhasia to take it away from the Russians. They burned down our village, and beheaded those who resisted. Abkhasia is empty, my friend. It’s razed and empty!“ said the old man in a tearful voice.

“Tell me, old man, do you know what happened to the people of Tsebelda? My mother’s brothers lived there.”

“Three years after your brainless decision to leave your homes, emigration began again. This time people came to Turkey from Tsebelda, Dal, Guma, Abzhakua, and Machara. And as I already told you, young man, the janizaries, may they be thrice cursed, forced us Abkhasians to leave. Who is left in Apsny?* Abkhazian name for Abkhasia—Land of the Soul.—Tr. The land is there, but its soul was driven out. Dogs are howling by the heaps of ashes left behind. I’m from Abzhui, born in Tamysh. My name’s Ratsba. Good luck, my fellow-sufferer!

Two young men came up to him—probably his sons— and helped the old man get up. Leaning on them, he walked off somewhere into the distance.

If I understood the old man correctly, the people of Tsebelda moved to Turkey the same year I went to prison.

My mother had seven brothers. And so I figured that if I looked hard enough I’d meet at least one of them here. That night I dreamed again of the mountains, of a spring flash flood in the Bzyb ravine. The river rumbled like a thousand drums, but through the frenzied roar I could hear the neighing of my own horse that I had shot. Fire raged above the council house, and against the flaming background I could see the faces of heroes. The most frequent among them was Ahmed, son of Barakai, who had pleaded with us not to leave our homeland...

I woke up because one of the longshoremen shook me:

“Why are you shouting and moaning? Are you ill?”

I didn’t go to the port that morning. Instead I footed it to town again. You know, Sharakh, when others are over come with depression they seek consolation in drink, but I sought it in listening to the Abkhasian language. When you’re far from home there’s nothing like hearing your native language to make you feel better. It’s truly a guardian angel. I would sit next to people in Circassian coats, and listen more than I talked myself. The hotheaded Caucasians argued about one thing only: who was responsible for their tragedy? Sometimes people would get into fierce arguments, even fight, each side reaching for their weapons. And it was all because they wanted to establish the truth: who was to blame? Some blamed themselves, others—fate, and still others—the czar and sultan. How could they have known all the reasons behind those events? And as for you, Sharakh, you keep on writing. Who knows, maybe my stories will help answer the riddle posed by the exiles, the answer that is still a sealed book. When the bellicose men from the Caucasus became the sultan’s subjects, not being a fool, he began hiring them as cavalry men and bodyguards. The painful test of a whipping can be endured by many, but the sweet test of being treated to baklava* A Near Eastern pastry made of many layers of paper-thin dough with a filling of honey and nuts.—Ed. can be withstood by few. Some the sultan frightened, others he enticed, buying them off with fertile land and protection. The Turkish government took advantage of the fact that the Abkhasian and Ubykh nobles and peasants have always been related. Such men as Shardyn, son of Alou, were received with honor. They got land and titles, and their peasants were given small plots. The benefit was obvious: the peasant lads were drafted into the army and went to war in the name of Allah. Today only God and I know how many of them came back cripples.

Remember when I started out I told you a little about Kats Maan? He was an Abkhasian, like you. That Caucasian did a lot for the czar in his time and so he was made a general. After we Ubykhs moved to Turkey, they say the gleam on his shoulder straps dimmed quickly: the old warrior died. One of Kats Maan’s sons followed in his father’s footsteps: he became an officer in the Russian army. The general’s other son, Kamlat, when the kingdom of Abkhasia was done away with and serfdom was abolished, wouldn’t submit to the new government and so he and his family moved to Turkey.

The Turks greeted him with honor, as an old adversary of their enemies. He was given a palace right in the center of Istanbul and made the head of all the Abkhasian emigres. As you know, military men aren’t paid for nothing. They sent Kamlat and his troops to a neighboring Arab country where the imam was running things his way and had stopped obeying the ambitious Turks. Many Abkhasians were killed in those battles, but Kamlat managed to defeat the imam’s army and take the imam prisoner. He returned home a hero and came just in time for a wedding: his daughter Nazifa married the heir to the Turkish throne—Abdulhamid II. No sonner was the wedding over than there was a new celebration—Kamlat Maan’s son-in-law became the sultan. The new sultan was cruel, heartless and earned the reputation as a blood-thirsty ruler. His eyes were covetous and his hands grabby. There are three dangers in this world,

Sharakh: a knife in the hands of a child, praise in the mouth of a liar, and power in the hands of a man possessed by grandeur. Abdulhamid II dreamed of putting the Caucasus under his heel. After resolving to make his dream come true, he appointed Kamlat Maan commander of troops comprised of emigres and Turkish cutthroats. They were sent to Abkhasia. Before they set off on Turkish ships, Kamlat Maan made a speech to his men:

“My brothers, our time has come! The representative of Allah on earth, the great sultan of the Ottoman Empire, sharing our best interests, has extended a helping hand so that we can free our homeland from the infidels. When we land on our native shores with arms in hand, all Abkhasians who are being oppressed by the czar will rise up and join us. We shall free Apsny! Forward under the banner of holy war! May our sultan live a thousand years.”

Many armed men crossed the Black Sea and landed near the Sukhumi fortress. Kamlat Maan was eager to get started; he sent his men all over Abkhasia calling on the people to unite:

“Whoever wants to be free, join the army of Kamlat Maan, the liberator of Abkhasia! He will lead us to the Inguri River to defeat the infidels!”

But things didn’t turn out the way Kamlat had planned. Except for Maan’s relatives and some other Caucasians who allowed themselves to be deceived, the peasants who herded cattle in the mountains and grew bread in the valleys didn’t respond to the pasha’s call to rebellion. The people had taken Russian citizenship and weren’t prepared to give it up. Even Kamlat’s soldiers, after entering, their homeland, found ways to desert. They got down on their knees, kissed the ground and whispered: “Forgive me, Apsny!”

Their tales of what they had suffered in Turkey also had a sobering effect on the Abkhasian peasants.

Kamlat Maan headed for the Inguri River with his faithful men and the Turkish detachment. But his army was beaten by the Russians. The sultan’s hireling realized he would pay dearly for such a defeat, and for losing so many of his soldiers: some had deserted, others were killed, and still others were taken prisoner by the Russians. That’s when he devised this devilish plan. As he was retreating he burned down mountain villages and spread false rumors that the Russians were taking revenge. With the help of guns and terror tactics he forced thousands of Abkhasians onto Turkish ships. The number was double the amount of soldiers he had come with to conquer Abkhasia. But no matter how hard Kamlat Pasha tried to get all the Abkhasians onto those ships, he didn’t succeed. Shepherds with their flocks hid in the mountains, and whole families fled to the forests or to the Russians. And so Apsny eventually emerged from the ashes. The fact that you’re here, Sharakh, is the best proof of that; isn’t it? Here, let me hug you for bringing me such great joy so late in life.

I couldn’t stop thinking .about my loved ones. So I was off again, with staff in hand, heading for Osmankoy. I had a long way to go: the autumn wind blew in my face, and sometimes I could almost smell the smoke from our hearth and see my mother bending over it. Often on the side of the road I would see neglected graves. I would ask someone I met along the way who was buried there. The answer was, “Circassians!“

Oh, I still haven’t told you, Sharakh, that the Turks called all the Caucasian emigres Circassians. They still do to this day. I remember when I was a young man, the word Circassian was synonymous with bandit. If two Turks would argue and run out of insults, one of them would inevitably call the other a Circassian. And I also heard all over Istanbul the bloody story about how Sultan Abdulaziz was deposed and the sinister role played by Shardyn, son of Alou. Through history if one man commits a crime a hundred are punished for it. But about that in good time.

When a traveler’s in a hurry he doesn’t notice when night- turns to morning. That was my state of mind when I saw Osmankoy with its houses leaning against the slopes of the low hills. It was very early in the morning. There was a dank wind and granular snowflakes were falling. I could hear dogs barking, and from time to time I also heard roosters crowing half-heartedly to one another. I stood for a while on the hill in front of the place of worship to sacred Bytkha. The whole area was overgrown with prickly bushes. The lone hornbeam tree was chopped down. In its place was a stump covered with snow.

With a heavy heart I walked into the village. The first thing I noticed there was that the house where Mzauch Abukhba once lived was no longer standing. I saw the gate, but there was no house. The yard was ploughed and around the edges there were dry tobacco stems. Everything suddenly went black before my eyes as though someone had thrown hood over my face. Barely able to walk, I went up to our 1d house. It was the same house, only more dilapidated and it had sunk a bit. Children were playing on the balcony; they were oblivious to the cold. I whiffed the air and could tell from the smell that another family lived in the house. A big shaggy dog ran up to me looking like it wanted to bare its teeth, but changed its mind and sat down nearby me.

It got colder and colder. I went out to the road and heard the ringing of a blacksmith’s hammer striking an anvil. That’s probably David working, I thought to myself and headed for the shop. Its double doors were opened half way and I could see from a distance how a man who had a wooden left leg stood in front of the anvil striking it with a hammer—and each time he struck a swarm of sparks flew in all directions. The man’s head was covered with a Caucasian hood. I walked up to the door and stood there watching.

“Come on in close to the fire and warm yourself up. It’s really cold today,” he said without looking up.

I managed to swallow the lump in my throat:

“Hello, Dursun!”

The hammer stopped in mid-air. Dursun quickly looked up:

“Zaurkan! Is that you, Zaurkan!”

His wooden leg pounding against the floor, he moved toward me. We hugged one another. Tears flowed down our unshaven cheeks. A red-hot bar of iron cooled off on the anvil, while Dursun gently patted me on the shoulder with his powerful hand. Not ashamed of his tears, he smiled:

“Have you come back from the other world, Zaurkan, my brother? Your family mourned your death, and here you are alive. Come on, say something, anything. Convince me, one-legged Dursun, that I’m not dreaming.”

Then he hid his face on my chest. With the same feeling as though I was loosening a tight noose around my neck, I asked:

“Did you lose your leg in the war?”

“I left it for a hungry wolf in the desert of Tunisia. I hobbled all the way back home and buried my father soon afterwards. Now I work all alone here, on one leg.”

“Your father was a wonderful man. I’ll never forget his kindness till the day I die!

“Father wanted us to live long. May today be a sign of joyful times to come.”

“Don’t hold me in suspense, Dursun. What happened to my family?”

“When you killed Selim Pasha in Izmid, Mata came back unharmed. My father told me Hamirza, Mata and your mother left the village soon afterwards. We haven’t heard from them since, Zaurkan. And the fact that the Ubykhs were made to leave this place had nothing to do with you. Shardyn, son of Alou, was to blame, but I’ll tell you about that later. Now you should have something to eat after your travels...”

We sat down at the table. There was fish, a flat cake divided into two and onions. A copper coffee pot was on the fire. It was getting dark outside, it was snowing and the wind hooted like an owl. The wick in the lamp smoked badly, so Dursun sniffed it several times. Its dim light illuminated our meager supper.

“Forgive me, please, Zaurkan, for such a humble supper. I had no way of knowing you’d come. And I don’t know the neighbors well enough to borrow something from them: they’re all new here. A guest like you should be hosted the way my ancestors in Georgia did. I should have slain a bull, brought wine in such a big pitcher,” said Dursun stretching out his arms, “and called our friends to drink with us, sing drinking songs and dance the whole week. But, where is wonderful Georgia,” he sighed bitterly, “and where are we?”

“A word is such a small thing: it fits on the tip of the tongue, but it can win one’s heart! I haven’t felt so good for a long, long time.”

The wind blew away the clouds. The snowfall turned to ground wind, and green stars glimmered in the sky. Dursun threw some firewood into the hearth and yellow shadows danced along the walls. We lay down by the fire, my eye lids grew heavy and I dozed off...

Yesterday I promised to tell you all about what Shardyn, son of Alou, did. Only the sandalwood tree had no growths on it, and only a tiny flock has no black sheep. The black sheep among the Abkhasians was Kamlat Maan; among the Ubykhs it was Shardyn, son of Alou. They say some noble trees came to God complaining about the ax, but God replied: “The ax is one of you—its handle is wooden.”

Abdulaziz’s brother-in-law, Shardyn, son of Alou, was an influential man in the Turkish government. Honors change manners. And so by words and by deeds Shardyn multi plied his ill-wishers by the day. To his face they would smile, but behind his back they would curse him. Shardyn wasn’t the least bit concerned about his people, the Ubykhs. He thought about Osmankoy only when it came time to get taxes out of the peasants. He would take bribes from clerks and officers in return for services rendered, and without a twinge of conscience. He accumulated the wealth of ten pashas put together. He led such a depraved existence that it shocked even men with harems, men who are not that easy to surprise. He told on others, and set one courtier against the other, as though at a cock fight. He was feared and hated. The grand vizier, a cunning fox himself, tried 10 find a way to get Shardyn, son of Alou, as far away from the capital as possible. He even went so far as to urge the sultan to make the top-ranking Ubykh a pasha, in the hope of getting him sent to the army, but Shanda watched out after the interests of her brother and so the grand vizier’s plan didn’t work.

And anyway, how could Shardyn, son of Alou, be expected to refrain from temptation when the sultan himself wasted his life away at horse races, in amorous pleasures, feasts and hunting. His senses dulled by admiration, flattery, expensive gifts, the availability of women, the sultan was one fine day knocked out without one shot being fired; he was put under house arrest in a remote estate and soon afterwards killed by a hired gun. The over throw of Abdulaziz was a signal to the people at court to unite against Shardyn, son of Alou. They forgot about all I heir own intrigues, disputes and hostilities and united as one by their common hatred for the sultan’s brother-in-law. Shardyn, son of Alou, was arrested, and his title taken away. He was execrated, humiliated, tortured and jeered at. All his property in Istanbul and his land in Osmankoy were confiscated by the state.

The new sultan, Murat, was sickly, half crazy, and weak- willed. The grand vizier and one of the more influential pashas began ruling the country in his name. The world is really much like a wheel: today you’re on top, but at the whim of fate you end up on the bottom, no better than dust. Those who had just the day before cringed to Shardyn, son of Alou, the next day spat in his face and called him a dirty dog. The former pasha, a powerful man, locked up in jail, realized his days were numbered and, guided by well-concealed rage, decided to strike back. He petitioned the grand vizier to let him be sent into active army service as an ordinary soldier.

“Sure, why not,” decided the grand vizier. “Sooner or later someone will put an end to you, you wandering hound.” And so, Shardyn, son of Alou, dressed as a common soldier, was released from prison. It remains a secret, though, whether the former captive was acting according to his revengeful plan alone, or was hired by the ousted sultan’s supporters.

It was midnight when Shardyn, son of Alou, appeared in the center of Istanbul in front of the palace belonging to Mihdat Pasha, a minister. Shardyn knew already that at this late hour the Minister of War Husein Avni Pasha, and four other ministers, were to hold secret talks here. On the belt under his coat, Shardyn, son of Alou, had two pistols and a dagger. Either he knew the password, or a secret passage into the palace, I have no way of knowing, but the Ubykh nobleman managed to get to the very room where the military men were meeting. Shardyn, son of Alou, fired the first shot, and the body of the murdered war minister, who had tried to get up slumped back into the chair. His second shot hit Captain Ahmed Kaisarly right in the forehead. Then Shardyn thrust his dagger into Rashid Pasha. Shardyn was like’ a wolf who had charged into a flock of sheep, although the men he killed were also representatives of the wolf family. The two others in the room hid under the table. The guards moved in quickly. Shardyn, son of Alou, didn’t have time to fire the third shot. The guards picked him up on their bayonets.

The nation was shocked by the news about the assassination of the war minister and his associates. Shanda, upon hearing about the death of her brother, poisoned her self, because she realized what would happen to her in the end. An inquiry was appointed. But when the defendant in an investigation is dead he’s usually blamed for not only his own deeds, but those of others as well: for someone’s execution and someone’s pardon, someone’s demotion and someone’s promotion—it’s all lumped together. So someone came up with a minor charge against Shardyn. Another brought a cartload of charges against him, a third one hired all the draymen in town to bring all possible accusations against Shardyn. In the end there was a mountain of charges against him.

All of a sudden the name of the worthless Selim Pasha was on everybody’s lips. It was I who thought him worthless, hut to others he was made out to be practically a saint. “What a fine man he was, so intelligent; our state has few men like him! And his assassin was also an Ubykh!” tongues would wag. The sea is stirred by wind, and people by rumors.

“Do you remember who killed him?” “Oh, some Circassian by the name of Zaurkan Zolak!“ “He was not some Circassian! No, he was the foster nephew of Shardyn, son of Alou, who knew all about the plans to kill Selim Pasha.” “Shardyn later took all the women in Selim Pasha’s harem and made them his own concubines.”

So you see, a tale never loses in the telling. Then they suddenly remembered that I was sentenced to death, but the execution was never carried out. You can imagine what the gossips did with that:

“Who but Shardyn, son of Alou, saved his relative from the executioner’s block.” “And he helped Zaurkan escape from jail.” “Of course he was the one! Birds of a feather!..“ “I wonder where Selim Pasha’s assassin is hiding now.” “Maybe since he was let out of prison he’s killed many others, too!”

Rumor runs the world. The Turkish police got instructions to find Zaurkan Zolak! They looked for me in every city and village, but at that time I was in the Sahara working on the caravan for the merchant Kerim Effendi. Consequently, the worst thing happened that could: all the Ubykh people were held responsible for the assassination of the war minister and Selim Pasha. I had heard of such things happening in this unjust world of ours.

“Who are those Circassians, or as you call them, Ubykhs?” “Everyone knows they’re all thieves. If they had been decent people they wouldn’t have been kicked out of the Russian Empire.” “They adopted Islam, but didn’t become Muslims!” “And they didn’t do so badly for themselves in Osmankoy, for example.” “Have you heard that Osmankoy is the hornets’ nest of Shardyn, son of Alou, and all his people?”

“The government ought to make all the emigres live in a remote part of the country.” “They shouldn’t all be in one place. It’s too dangerous. It would be much safer to send them to different places. Then most will die out and whoever’s left will just assimilate with our peasants, losing their language and customs.”

The pashas quarreled, but the Ubykhs were the scapegoats. It was decided to divide them up. The Turks split them up and made them move under guard, allowing them to take with them only what they could carry on their backs. People were scattered here and there. When the exiles had sailed to Turkey they still had some kind of hope. Now, besides the guards, they were accompanied only by hopelessness.

All that took place while I was wandering through Africa.

When Zaurkan and I went to bed last night, he seemed so tired I was afraid he wouldn’t be up to talking today. But he got up even earlier than usual. He whistled to his black dog to come for breakfast, fed it, and stood there in the yard petting it for a long time on the back and talking to it like he would to a person:

“If it weren’t for the flies that give you no rest, you’d die, you poor thing, of boredom! Okay, enough, go to your place! Why weren’t you born with white fur so it’d be easier to see you at night in this black hole where destiny has cornered me!”

The dog whined and rubbed against its master’s legs, overjoyed by Zaurkan’s unusual talkativeness.

I thought to myself, just after the dog was fed, that Zaurkan normally shouts sternly at the mutt to drive it away, but today it appears the old man woke up feeling cheerful.

After breakfast when we sat down to talk, I saw I was right. Zaurkan really was in a good mood. More than usual he dotted his unhappy story with sayings and jokes, laughed himself and got me laughing, too.

Figuring this was the best time for it, I decided to ask him a question I kept putting off:

“Were there any women in your-life?”

“Sure there were,” he replied. “I already told you about the woman I loved. But it so happened that neither of us was meant to be happy. And I never fell in love again. But women, of course, there were women... What do you want me to tell you about? What you already know, or what you don’t yet know? If you don’t know anything about women—

I can tell you about them. But if you’ve had experience with them yourself, then why should I repeat what you already know?”

I was afraid my blunt question would offend a man who was three times older than myself, but he thought nothing of my curiosity; he just made a joke of it.

His large hands with protruding veins, looking like the uncovered roots of an old nut tree, rested quietly on his knees. Then he began pensively fingering his beard and, after patting it a few times, he continued the story I had interrupted with my question.

I stayed with the blacksmith Dursun until spring. I didn’t sit idly and wait to be fed. I brought firewood in from the forest, kept the flame burning in the hearth, cooked, washed, and mended the clothes. Work never hurt anyone, whether it’s men’s or women’s work. I also learned the blacksmith trade, and became Dursun’s apprentice. I could forge an ax or a shovel so well that Dursun himself praised my work. Young and tough I used to be able to tie up a hot-blooded horse and bring him down to shoe all -four hoofs.

Dursun was glad for me:

“If the sultan found out about your abilities he’d definitely make you the court blacksmith to shoe his Arabian horses.”

When there wasn’t any work for me to do in the shop, I went around the villages looking for odd jobs. I had grown a beard and a mustache, so even someone who knew me couldn’t recognize me easily. I chopped wood, cleaned out barns and stables, cut grass. I said I was Dursun’s cousin from Orda, and called myself Toufyk.

There were always a lot of people in the shop. One would come to get some work done, another just to chat. And even though Dursun passed me off as his cousin Toufyk, I lived in constant fear that someone might recognize me—and then not only my head would fly, but the son of David, who gave me shelter, would also have to pay for hiding me: I was listed by the police as an escaped criminal against the state.

Spring is the time of awakening: everything reaches for the sun basking in its warm rays. Slender shoots spring up around an old, moss-covered stump: its roots hang on to life. And what was I, but a twig on the root of the people. Now that my people had been uprooted from Osmankoy to be replanted in barren land, and I was separated from them, I was nothing more than a twig put in a vase of water.

Back in the winter, Dursun and I, sitting in front of the fire, drew up a plan how I could get to my relatives safely. We decided the best way would be by sea. But first I would have to go to Izmid, stay with a loyal friend of Dursun, and then go with smugglers on a sailing schooner to the Mersin Peninsula. There was a small bay on the far side, well hidden from the sea guardsmen. From there it would be easy to reach my destination.

When I was in Izmid I went to eat at a place for vagabonds, like myself. I sat down in a dark corner, and ordered some cheap soup and a cup of coffee. After I finished, while I was walking between the tables to the door, I saw some ragamuffin looking at me. His dark face seemed familiar, but I scratched my memory in vain. Once out of the place I got lost in the crowd that was streaming toward the bazaar, but I sensed that someone was following me. Suddenly there was a loud shout behind my back:

“Stop him! Stop him! He’s the Circassian who murdered Selim Pasha!

I looked around and saw the same ragamuffin. Only this time I remembered where I had seen him before. He was one of the servants who had tied me up in the palace garden near the fountain where his master lay dead on the bottom of the pool. The throng recoiled and the police appeared from out of nowhere. It was no trouble for them to grab an unarmed man.