"To ward off the evil spirits
the evil spirits . . . who are they?...
toe pokers to ward off the evil spirits
.,I repeated to myself. "What did
she mean? Who are the spirits?" They
were words, empty meaningless words,
like echoes in the hollowness of a desert.
Oh how much she knew, how smart she
Was! No wonder that she had been
appointed my guide and my counsellor.
The stable wasn't very far from our
winter-house; we had only to cross our
amall yard which was already covered
with heavy snow. My cousin Sultan led
the procession, and we followed her foot-
steps like ants trailing a beaten track.
tone of us had stockings, we were
walking like cautious cats, trying to
avoid the encroachments of the soow.
every now and then a small lump got
into our shoes and made us shiver all
J-u-u-u-r, shrieked open the warped
door of the stable, and in we rushed,
chased by the stings of the snow. It
was cold outdoors, and the stable seemed
a veritable heaven to us.
My grandpa was there, too, sitting
on the sakoo. This was something un-
usual. Why hadn't he gone to work?
What was he doing there? Although
)ast seventy, bent and depleted of en-
ergy,, every morning before dawn he
ised to be at work, weaving cotton
cloth and humming his low sad song to
the accompaniment of the regular thud
Of the shuttle. Today half-reclined on
the sakoo, his long pipe in his com-
,ressed mouth, his eyes, blank like two
dim stars, his head heavily reposing
on his breast he seemed as though he
were living in a different world. In
his abstracted expression he looked like
a seer communicating with unknown
Some deep dark thought was troub-
ing him. Probably he was thinking of
hs young son who had been away from
)oome over ten years, or of his oldest
;on (my father), in Russia, who had
keen eking out a living for the family
as an itinerant trader, and who had
cot written home over eight months.
hais face tense, his look expectant, he
slowly turned his heavy rosary, and
trerough his dense moustache mumbled
'vis prayers. With his paternoster peri-
odically streamed aloft the black coils
cf the pipe, as though emanating from
a charred soul.
Possibly he was troubled with some
misfortune at home,-the insistent de-
mand of the creditors, or the threats
of the landlord to turn him out of the
village, or the lack of provisions to
carry the family though the winter, or
the tattered clothes of the children, or
the recurring pillage of the village by
tMisguided Kurds or Tartars or Turks.
No wonder that the old man didn't
noticeus when we entered the stable,
there was trouble at home, trouble
abroad-dear sons away-and trouble
within. No wonder .that he couldn't
aeeus. In vain I pulled at his rosary
to draw hisattention; in vain I buf-
feted my brother on the left and my
cousin on the right; in vain I made my
little sister cry. His thoughts were all-
absorbing; he didn't take his eyes off
that intangible point in the air. His
mood, gloomy and solemn, affected all
of us, and we quietly huddled about him
Ike a group of chicks under the wings
of their mother.
The kid of our goat was browsing
about in the trough. A stratagem
dawned upon me, and I was filled with
glee in the prospect of my triumph. I
surreptitiously approached the kid and
with a hop and a grasp I had him with-
in my clutches. Taking hold of his
oar, I put its extreme tip into my
mouth and bit as hard as I could. The
poor creature whined piteously, but
even that was of no avail.
All of us were silent . . . Yonder
from the dark end of the stable was
teard the snorting of the buffaloes and
the heavy breathing of the cattle. Out-
side the rooster crowed and the tardy
tiens hurried off their perch to join
him in his morning frolic. Our red
colt, nimble and sly, stamped the floor,
as though anxious,:like us, to draw the
attention of grandpa.
We all seemed to be convicts fettered
in a dungeon. Silent and dejectedwee
awaited our doom. We thought, "Soon
the enemy will break in, declaring our
release or our doom. Who is this per-
son that has held us under his thumb?
Or what prank of nature has subdued
us?" We were as though under the
spell of some mysterious power. Sub-
missive to this occult phenomenon none
of us dared to budge.
In the meantime across the court were
heard Mariam's assertive orders, in the
house new voices-everywhere noise
Suddenly springing to his feet grand-
pa rushed to the door; he stopped, and
putting his ear against it listened atten-
I could wait no longer; silence was
choking me. I looked around at my
cousins and my brother; they were per-
turbed, too. Pale and tense, as though
a crinkly-faced, red whimpeilng lump
of flesh. Grandma said that he was
Later in my life I have seen many
wondrous things wrought by nature or
by the hand of man. I have witnessed
great scenes, strange phenomena, dif-
ferent people in different lands, but
none of them have occasioned as much
wonder as this incident,
My brother? Who brought him?
Whence did he come . . .? Why did
he come . . .? How did he come . ..?
By saying that "he is your brother,"
grandma thought she made everything
plain to me. Everybody gathered
around this wriggling creature, but he
was entirely repulsive to me. There
was such a difference between him and
my mother. The latter, her eyes closed,
dark eyelids resting on her pale face,
W ITH MUSIC come, beguile the afternoon.
The pause of this long hill, with beating hands.
Up from the valley, summer's new horses
White as foam, charge up the shining mountains.
Talk to me with lilac-cunning, harvest me alive.
Find in me no treason to the green,
Bequeathing us young patterns, new walks to take
In musical woods; live danger enter the field,
Vanquish the memory of wastelands;
Split breathing in my palm a new season to remember.
- Howard Moss
transformed into auditory organs, they
were listening to the noises in the house.
"Lord, have mercy upon us; Lord, de-
liver us from the evil spirits, lead us
not into temptation; drive away the evil
and bring the good," again sounded
Mariam's prayer. Now she prayed, now
she commanded, now she cursed. I could
also hear my mother's groans and pleas;
they became louder and more frequent
I looked at grandpa; he was very dis-
turbed. He stood as though nailed to
the door. All silent, his eyes fixed on
the floor, he was listening, he had even
forgotten his smoke.
Mariam was killing my mother, I
thought. I couldn't stand it any longer,
I was unable to hold on-I cried, I cried
with a heartfelt, painful outburst,
"Grandpa!" I called in an explosive
He didn't lift his head; he was de-
tached . from his surroundings. Per-
haps he understood what was going on in
the winter-house. Maybe my mother's
life was at stake; maybe Mariam had
already killed her. He was seized with
"Grandpa, what is happening at home?
mother . . . ?" I asked again.
"Wait a minute, sonny!" A few silent
minutes elapsed; then he plodded back
to the sakoo and had hardly lit his
pipe, when he ran again to the door.
He listened, and suddenly uttering a
heavy sigh, rubbed his forehead. He
stood at his post like a sphinx, one who
seemed to be fixed to the door.
"Grandpa, I am going to my mother,"
I got up-he was startled; he rushed
to me, wiped away my tears and said,
"Not yet, sonny, not yet . . . wait a
few minutes . . . all of us will go to-
gether." He seated me again on the
sakoo, and hurried back to the door.
My Lord, what was happening to my
mother? Why was everybody so dis-
turbed? What were the old women
from next door doing in our house? Why
didn't grandpa go to help moher? My
heart was fluttering like a sparrow in
a cage. While I was absorbed in these
thoughts, suddenly the door burst open,
and a tiny voice shrilled
" . . . In-ya-a-h-. . . in-ya-a-h . .
in-y-a-a-h . . ." ,.
"Congratulations!" called beaming
Mariam. "It is a boy!"
When we came back to the winter,
house, we found the hearth all cleaned
up, and alongside-lay my mother with
her delicate mouth in deep repose, her
curly hair like a wreath crowning her
figure she looked like a goddess in sweet
slumber, she was divinely beautiful.
She opened her eyes and, a weak smile
playing on her lips, she said,
"Yes, darling, he is your brother,"
then she again closed her eyes.
And now my mother, too, says that he
is my brother. But I want to trample
upon him-crush him. Raising my foot
I was just about to strike when my
elder cousin seized and pushed me away.
I was cast away, I wanted to cry, but
the grief dried up my tears. Who was
this new being who drew the attention
of the entire household and the neigh-
bors? The whole affair was a new
scene on a new stage, and this little
intruder was the principal actor. They
said that he and I were brothers. Why!
he was everything and I was nothing.
As though the whole universe revolved
about him, whilst I,-I was alone, ig-
nored, and slighted. I was miserable.
I was bitterly jealous. Everybody
seemed to be interested in him. Our rel-
atives and our neighbors came in one
after the other and, poor as they were,
brought little presents for the baby,
and gifts for the mother. They con-
gratulated her, said nice things, cheered
her up, and joked, and laughed, and
And all the time my little sister ten-
derly stooped over the baby and fondled
him with the affections of a mother.
This aroused my ire more than anything
else, and in a fit of temper I rushed on
her and kicked her in the back as hard
as I could. This unexpected blow almost
staggered the poor little girl. She was
dazed for a minute; then she burst into
a most piteous cry. Mariam became
furious; she pounced upon me like a
hound and, vising my left ear in her
bony fingers, twisted it so hard that
bells seemed to ring in my head.
I receded to a dark corner in the
house, and my back toward the wall
mourned my wretched lot all alone. I
involuntarily looked at Mariam, at my
sister, then at the new born baby, at
amy mother, as though I were a prisoner
scanning and scrutinizing the whole ar-
ray of things with the object to devise
an escape. There was my mother in
the bed, pale and weak; I knew that she
was sick., There was the little lump of
living thing beside her. But I could
see no relation between her and the.
little creature. Was he the cause of her
illness? But if he were the cause, why.
did my sister and cousins flutter around
him like merry butterflies? Why did
the people bring presents for him?
I cried, and my cry was so bitter and
so pathetic that even my little sister
was moved. Possibly my childish in-
stinct had rebelled against the incongru-
ities of the universe. Maybe my cries
in that dismal hour were a protest
against the scheme of the gods for creat-
ing joy embedded in sorrow, beauty en-
compassed with ugliness, the evil along-
side the good, roses on thorns, babes
emerging out of travails, and finally
death on the heels of birth. Everything
seemed a contradiction. I myself was
a contradiction; the universe' and my
soul were in clash and I was crying.
But 0, how the dark chaos vanishes
when love dawns! I saw my mother's
face, her sweet divine face hallowed with
love'-there was radiance in her dark'
eyes. I felt my cousin's touch, her
cheek against mine whispering in my
"Don't be foolish, dear, mother isn't
sick; she has only given birth to a
But I had been told that babies came
on the sparkling wings of angels; that
heaven sent them on platters of light;
that brides in the spring went to the
brooks and with song and mirth and
merriment caught them and brought
them home. But the sun had all day
been niggardly, there couldn't be plat-
ters of light floating in the air, It was
bitter cold outdoors and the brooks were
frozen; the spring hadn't come yet; the
flowers were not in bloom-the brides
couldn't have been out hunting for
babes. I ran to my muter and, throw-
ing my arms about her asked,
"Mother, did you bear that baby?"
She smiled; there was embarrassment
in her looks, she almost blushed, and
after some hesitation, she answered,
"No, dear, the Lord gave it."
"I'll kill him," said I in a vindictive
"Oh my God!" exclaimed Mariam,
"what an evil child! Lord, forgive us
for bringing up such children; Lord de-
liver us from the devil and hell; be
merciful and make thy face shine upon
us." She uttered her propitiatory prayer
with fear and trembling.
She was horrified and haunted by
the sins of this child who had been
pestering her all day.
My grandma was awestricken, too,
All day she had done very little talking,
She was a woman of deeds rather than
of words. But the very foundation of
her conscience was shaken, a sin against
God's plans, though committed by a
mere child, was almost unforgivable in
her judgment. She ran to me and get-
ting hold of my collar shook me ner-
vously and said,
"Get up. Are you gone mad? Leave
your mother alone,
"Don't you dare to touch the baby,"
She had almost believed that I might
kill him. "If you do anything to the
baby, I'll prick your eyes out, did you
And I had to leave my mother's bed-
side; I was a potential criminal. I
withdrew, put on my shoes and went
back to the stable.
Years went by, yet the riddle re-
mained unsolved. The legend of the
brides and the brooks, the platter of
light and the luminous wings of the
angels still colored my imaginatioon.
The rosy legend had woven a magic
float for the baby and it was rolling
on the waters of eternity, like Aladdin's
carpet in the skies of Asia. Whence did
it come and whereto was it sailing? It
remained a mystery until years later,
as I was tending my sheep, I met a
fellow shepherd and he shattered the
The angels gradually vanished into
the clouds of the skies; the brides sang
their songs along the brooks but came
home only with flowers in their hands;
the platters of light diffused in the
golden rays of the sun-and my rosy
legend died away; cold reason dawned
and proffered the "fruit of the trees
At nightfall I drove my flocks home
and greeted my mother thus,
"Mother, you bore my brother. I know