He will get some rest now, she said with satisfaction.
I went into the courtyard, which adjoined our neighbors house, to bring more tea to Ibrahim. He had moved to a cushion near my turquoise carpet, which was unfinished on my loom. My mother had recently sold the carpet to a traveling silk merchant named Hassan, who was planning to return later to claim it. But the source of the turquoise dye that had pleased Hassans eyes was still a tender subject between me and my father, and my face flushed with shame when I remembered how my visit alone to Ibrahims dye house had troubled him.
I returned to the vigil at my fathers side. Perhaps this terrible night was nearly over, and daylight would bring a joyful surprise, like the sight of my fathers eyes opening, or of him being able to swallow his medicine. And then, one day when he was better, we would take another walk in the mountains and sing together. Nothing would be sweeter to me than hearing him sing out of tune.
Toward morning, with no other sound than Ibrahims river of prayers, I felt my eyelids grow heavy. I dont know how much time passed before I awoke, observed that my fathers face was still calm, then fell asleep again. At dawn, I was comforted by the sound of sparrows breaking the silence with their noisy calls. They sounded like the birds we had heard on our walk, and I began dreaming about how we had stopped to watch them gather twigs for their nests.
A wheeled cart creaked outside, and I awoke with a start. People were beginning to emerge from their homes to begin their chores at the well, in the mountains, or in the fields. Ibrahim was still saying prayers, but his voice was dry and hoarse. My mother was lighting an oil lamp, which she placed near the bedroll. My father had not moved since he had fallen asleep. She peered at his face and placed her fingers under his nostrils to feel his breath. They lingered there, trembling, before they drifted down to his slack mouth. Still searching, they returned to his nose and hovered. I watched my mothers face, awaiting the contented expression that would tell me she had found his breath. My mother did not look at me. In the silence, she threw back her head and uttered a terrible wail. Ibrahims prayers ceased; he rushed to my fathers side and checked his breath in the same way before dropping to a squat and cradling his head in his hands.
My mother began wailing more loudly and tearing out her hair in clumps. Her scarf fell off and lay abandoned near my father. It was still tied and kept the shape of her head.
I grabbed my fathers hand and squeezed it, but it was cold and still. When I lifted his heavy arm, his hand dangled brokenly at the wrist. The lines in his face looked deeply carved, and his expression seemed aggrieved, as if he had been forced to fight an evil jinn.
I uttered one short, sharp cry and collapsed onto my father. Kolsoom and my mother let me remain there for a few moments, but then Kolsoom gently pulled me away.
My father and I had both known that our time together must soon come to an end, but I had always thought I would be the one to leave, festooned with bridal silver, with his blessings alive in my ear.
THE DAYS AFTER my father died were black, but they became blacker still.
With no man to harvest the fields that summer, we received little grain from my fathers share of the planting, although his friends tried to be generous with theirs. And with little grain, we had little to barter for fuel, for shoes, or for dyes for wool. We had to trade our goats for grain, which meant no more cheese. Every time we gave up a goat, my mother cried.
Toward the end of the long, warm days, our supplies started to diminish. In the mornings, we ate the bread my mother made with cheese or yogurt brought by kind neighbors, but it was not long before our evening meals became less and less plentiful. Soon there was no question of eating even a morsel of meat. My mother began trading my fathers belongings for food. First went his clothes, then his shoes, then his turbans, and finally his precious walking stick.
Copyright © 2007 by Anita Amirrezvani
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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