THE ROAD TO MOSSUL
When the last sluggish bird spread out its weary wings and took off from the heated vault of Shah-i-Zinda, Sirin had already forgotten the strange threat that rang out in his dream as if a child was crying behind an invisible wall. It was the last day of July 814 by Hegirae*, the same night in which he opened his eyes and felt lighted up inside like a cavern in which Barbarians had broken in. Even his heart wrung into a hoarse wheeze for a moment, but the voices of the muzeins were already flying up from the mosques calling for morning pray, and he felt at ease because he felt Allah protected him.
The sun was slowly reaching out to its zenith but the streets and the squares of Samarkand were still cool. This exactly coolness, coming from the gardens and the vineyards, from the channels crossing the town with their emerald water, was what the Iranians, the Turkish, the Maures, the Arabs, the Armenians, the Greeks and the Jews, were using to fill with shrill screams Registan, the Sand place, as they used to call the cloth market in the ancient town.
Sirin had long ago unfolded the crimson flannelette, the fame of Samarkand, the silk from China and kincop from India and he was enjoying the berries of the famous “sahibi” grape when some noisy throngs of fakirs, sward swallowers, fire-blowers, alchemists and magic lamp sellers rushed in on the square, with happy monkeys scratching on their shoulders. The monkeys were not bigger than a man’s fist and as if made from ebony. This entire motley crowd was kicking up inconceivable racket and gulping inside itself even the Babylonian epos of merchants which had come with caravans from all known sides of the world. After the initial languor Sirin jumped nimbly and started gathering the cloths close to himself because this was how his master, the famous medical man Mavlono Nefis, has taught him. He also had slaves who weaved the crimson flannelette in warehouses not far from the fortified wall. “Be on your guard”, the master was telling him, “because the crafty cheats would always want to take away your eyes. Look after my commodity and you will see that one day I will reward you”.
Since he was kidnapped from Syria and sold in slavery barely four years old, Sirin used to see Allah’s will in his master. And he thought that he was merciful because he had seen half of the children that were taken in baskets at the slave caravan, left at night to die on the sand, having no more strength left, and respectively no value as slaves. And his master Mavlono Nefis appeared to be merciful in deed because he saw goodness and obedience in the young man and he promised him a liberation contract at the very moment when Sirin bowed to him and asked his permission to get married.
The young Syrian could never look in behind the high walls of the yard in which the women lived because this was punished with death. But he was always giving a covert look on the folds of the clothes under which the supple bodies of the women stepped finely as the holy book ordained it, for the jingle of the adornments, spread out as a carpet on their invisible weighty breasts, not to be heard. The priapism ruled behind the walls of the palace and this worried the secrets of his dreams. He knew that in the night behind the high walls of the harem, covered in green glazed tiles, there were battles between the concubines, which the eunuchs commented in tired voices. The women hated each other and they didn’t waste a single minute to fight. Most often they stalked one another in the bath or in the bed at night when several would pounce upon the branded woman and tear her hennaed hair, lacerate her lips and flay her shaved pubis until blood starts running down the victim’s skin.
The name of the woman was Yun Lien and it was a wonder that she came as a concubine in the harem of his master. Only once Sirin could see her eyes: gathered in a still spot whilst her delicate fingers and wrists twirled in the air in front of his face, writing the words that her lips were warbling in sweet snatches. He stood in front of the hollowed out marble grating, amazed by the mysterious marvel with which women attracted men, without being able to understand it and not daring to take delight in it. Thus, Sirin sank into the world of love that thickened his Syrian blood like a poison.
The Chinese certainly mastered some secrets of the art of love unthinkable even for Gods because the master took a strong liking to her and now she, only she, was sweetening his nights. More and more often the other women heard the master say: “To me you are like my mother’s back”. And these words were making them paler than death because they meant the door to the man’s bed was forever closed to them. Thus the fate of a concubine put Yun Lien in the middle of a giant storm. In addition to the bath battles taking place in blank silence at night and accompanied only by the fierce scream of the parrots, two times they tried to poison her by sprinkling the morning melons with juice from leafs that only women knew.
Her young body was shivering in terrible cramps and some green mucous mass was pouring out from her mouth, and the other concubines hoped it was her corrupt soul. But Allah evidently protected the woman and the master of Sirin decided to free her and grant her the chance to marry his slave because a terrible rebellion was rising in the harem anyway. Sirin was already thinking of his fate with gratitude when he lifted his head and he met the eyes of Death.
She was walking round the market in Samarkand with a despondent look as the noisy crowd was obviously boring her. The sward swallowers did not impress her and when one of the miniature monkeys tried to touch her by the red turban, Death squeamishly drew aside. In this moment she looked at the eyes of the wretched Sirin, and then she silently wagged her finger. After that she disappeared among the dancing fire-blowers. Sirin remembered once again the child’s cry which reached out of his dream and he felt the desolation of a doomed one. The firm hand of despair grasped his throat and he didn’t even want to cry, sure that fate has given up him.
In the same moment behind the big gate of Shir-Dor, the beautiful building with the lions, as they used to call the religious school in Samarkand, Mevlono Nefis showed up. He went slowly down the twelve stairs and went across the market. His lordly presence was sailing like a ship through the racket of the crowd. When he came closer to his slave he looked at his crumpled face and asked what Allah had embittered his poor servant’s days with.
“I saw Death, master...” fervently cried Sirin and he fell on his knees before the ornate robe of Mevlano Nefis.
“Get up, boy!” the master lifted his shoulders, “Every day each one of us sees Death and from this we feel neither better nor worst. She only reminds us that we have debts to Life.”
“No, master, it was not exactly like that”, Sirin cried out. “She stopped by me and she wagged her finger. After that she turned aside and disappeared.”
Mevlono Nefis looked carefully in the dark eyes of his slave and he read there the hopeless epistle of a failing mind. And then he looked to the Sun which had already reached its zenith and he sighed:
“What can I do for you, boy?”
“Give me a horse, master”, Sirin suddenly warmed up, “and I will run away in Mossul.”
“Mossul is far...” - Mevlono Nefis replied while watching the rills of sweat furrowing the dark skin of the young Syrian. Then he felt a hopeless sorrow in his heart and after lifting the rosary in his other hand he blessed the poor slave and he said: “Go, and may you find the road that is calling you...”
Sirin ran to the stable of his master and he saddled the best horse, he gave a sad look to the walls that separated the women’s world from the rest rooms of the house and he thought of Yun Lien, for her yellow skin and promised endearments. “I will come back”, Sirin swore to himself because he was sure it was Yun Liens endearment exactly that will keep him always at the ridge of life. Today he only had to run away from Death. And he tore downhill to Mossul with all his might.
The horse’s hoofs were throwing sparks on the cobblestone road of Samarkand and their rattle disturbed the ages-long dream of the mausoleums which were actually the cool stone chambers of the victorious death. And when he came close to the last gate the people preparing for the noon pray, scattered amazed under the porch scared by the ardent rider. Galloping he passed by the vineyards, the gardens and the channels around the blessed town and soon it was only the white and dusty, deserted at noon, road to Mossul in front of him.
Sirin was riding and thinking of Yun Lien. He knew, he was sure that Mevlono Nefis would grant him his slave and she would light him up with the endearments of the woman, the endearments that vow a man to strength and taste for life. He imagined her gentle breasts chiselled on her skin of a young olive and he could hear her voice in his ears, ringing in short words, as if flying from a brass tinker. He thought of his future family that he had seen in his lonely nights, when he would have two sons, strong and robust like stone, with dark skin and ardent eyes and this should be his family. Like it was in the childhood before the slave merchants took him, which he vaguely remembered.
The mane of the horse flowed and its heart beat in time with Sirin’s heart who didn’t even stop for a moment of rest in the fig-forests rarely showing on the road. It was close to sundown, the wonderful Arabian horse was starting to gasp and the curb-bit was fiercely clattering between its large teeth. Sirin’s eyes were burning from the salt of his sweat, and maybe from the tears of Yun Lien, but he didn’t close them for a single moment because he was hoping to see the towers of Mossul in the distance.
In the meantime, in front of the stairway of the Shir-Dor school, Mevlono Nefis stood face to face with Death who was still going round the market with boredom, and he asked her:
“What have you done to my slave? Why did you scare him so much that he even wheedled a horse out of me and rode down to Mossul?”
Death, who was expressionlessly observing the copper towers of the mausoleums grown blue by the air and the humidity, replied without turning aside eyes:
“I didn’t do anything to him, I just reminded him of our meeting tonight in Mossul...”
* Hegirae, “migration” - the night before July 26, 622 A.D. is the beginning of the Islamic calendar. [обратно]
© Vesselin Stoyanov