Beheaded mountain, cold shouldered and sheared. Her knees sink into merciless sands. Sinewy tree limbs: fuse wires exploding, a plug neck pleads with purple punctured sky. Mourning moon picks out an arc of tree spines, like a bone whale belly cage. Austere ghost sentinels. An enclave, below the raw clavicle, grips little sister Laila tight in amethyst haze. Mist curves over the lip, bites like machete metal.
All I, Laila, have left of Beba is her purse. Black and white squares. A clasp that is two curved moons linked. 2175 pieces of silver! What was she going to spend it on? I dream: a book, high shoes, a pen? Kettles and pans are not seared on Beba’s heart. Me: sheaths of paper, cones of sweets, a doll. But the bazaar has gone. It’s flagrant, fragrant flags, rags.
Steam and dust melt my eyes. Stir the kibbeh this way, no not like that, stir the bottom so it doesn’t stick. I told you yesterday, set the loom before noon. Don’t wipe your nose on your apron, comb your hair, it looks like the goat’s hay, pull the goats teat this way, no not like that, you’ll make the milk sour, silly girl, lay out the mat on the bone dry dust. Call Mama to eat. Call those that are left of us.
We eat stiff dry kibbeh. Usually glorious but now no meat or oil. Ghostly whisper of a scimitar moon follows the goats to bed outside this cave we now call home. Mama still wore the wedding clothes, peach silk, stretched tight like our things, still in the leather saddlebags, all the shapes showing through. Kohled eyes smudged with mountain dirt. Blonde hair ashy and wiry, curls are snakes behind her ears, sneakily peeking at me to pounce and poison if I’m not good, clean, quick, fast, tidy, hungry, and full, whatever enough. A rosebud kiss on her lips that will never ever be mine.
Once upon a time, but it was really only yesterday, far from this mountain, trestles piled: baklava, pomegranate, almond, pistachio, honey drizzled goat roasting with cardamom, sweet with fennel, sweet mint tea, champagne. We danced, sang, Mama fizzy on fig wine. Beba argued with our German cousins. Silly that Cinderella had glass slippers, they would pinch her feet and she couldn’t run and it was a good job she lost one, a tragedy that the prince found her!
‘But Beba, why do you need to run?’ Dada asked and all the while the loom shunted and heaved.
Last August, twelve full moons ago, to the sky I cried ‘I want a bird!’ and a bird flew in and built a nest on my mat. Four pretty little eggs she laid to please me. My hand curled the warm curve of the egg. Stretchy plasma yolk yo-yoed through treacherous fingers. Three hatched. Dadda put metal rings on their legs ‘so they come back Beba dear.’ In my dreams I felt their chains as if they were my own, shrinking, getting tighter as nights grew shorter.
My lover awaits me. I must go. Eva…When the moon slips behind the shadow of Sinjar and the fools sleep, I will run.
Maman had known, tasted it in the wind, the way her fierce shark eyes flicked furtively past flapping silks, pointy nose tilted, nostrils flared scared, ears cocked, like rabbits, her snakes lying tamed in the blow you over, stop you breathing wind. She took the basket and padded it with her hands like a hyena at its den, smoothed over the grease and feathers and laid the baby in.
She feared for her eldest. ‘Atlan could be blown down the ravine.’
Dada mocked and said, ‘Lighter than parchment, thin as a silk thread, a yellow curly head full of air and fairy tales, that boy will rise like a balloon to the clouds. No ballast’
Glasses clinking, drinking, pewter platters tottering, jagged joy, the wind blowing in the tent sides like pig cheeks. Lights, then no lights, screaming, laughing, silence. Not even the wheeze of the looms. Dada braces the wind, fitting back the cables on the generator, other men mocking.
‘Where’s your boy? Oh he can’t help you! He’s going to make something of himself isn’t he? Studying Classics, pah!’
My sister told me where three great women meet, the Tigris, the Euphrates and the Nile, where three silver cords snake together, this is where Eden once lay. A huge tree blooms in the centre. Here her lover tells her stories till moonlight dusts cheeks. A tree with flowers like flaming swords has a heart shaped cleft. Here Beba hides her life: spirit and voice. I show her a basket under the loom where threads tangle into pretty swirls. I think it would be safe to hide them here but she said no Dada is scared of girl spirits.
Beba made me a reading tree, behind the tents, with branches and a hay stack. One evening after the rains, I quaked words deep into the earth. Mama felt the power through her feet over by the pump, stormed, stamped my letters, beat me.
Atlan bought me a fountain pen and fine rose scented paper. I hid them in the loom basket.
‘Lock your words in your heart where they will never be mocked or stolen,’ he whispered.
‘Wedding day, deading day,’ little sister Laila chanted. We awoke to spider webs stretching between loom lines. We took sticks, laughing, winding webs like candy floss. Spiders confused, skittered and scuttled everywhere.
Mama wept. ‘How would you like to lose all you worked for?’ We hung lace eiderdowns on the frames. Spider downs we called them. The spiders just climbed back to the beams and span again. We marvelled at their resourcefulness.
Beba’s smile, like marzipan stretched over lemon. Husband, a proud cockerel, owner of a beauty from a good family. Felicitous breasts to fatten babes. Dove hands to sew and stroke.
Mama kissed her. ‘I know you prefer the fragrant folds of the fig rather than the seeds of the pomegranate.’ Sorrow crushed Mama’s face like a handful of broken kaffir leaves.
Mama smelt it first with her witchy nose on the gauzy coriander horizon, a storm of dust like a master miller with a giant pestle and mortar pounding up the sand. Black pepper specks grow inch by inch. Humming down the wind. Fuzzy, buzzy, teeming black army. Like locusts with scimitar teeth, as they roll to the boil, eclipsing a turmeric sun.
How does one pack their whole life up in a second, fold it up into their pocket and flee? How does one pack all we need to survive into one bag when what you need to survive, your hope, is floating like an errant balloon into the darkest sky? It wasn’t the kind of day bad things should happen on, yes it was windy but that morning we fired kisses to a sapphire sky, clove to a clementine sun. Mama had made the basket for baby. No time to set her to sail down river. Mama spilt the spool basket scrabbling for silks. Pens, paper, poems plumed into the air.
Babe sashed to Mama’s breasts under her dress. Mama screamed at Dada with the old television in his barrow, threw it out, filled it with shoes, wheat, and bedding. Goat tied in the barrow bleating. Like garnering roses, Mama gathered my pens and paper, hugged me and said I may need them now.
I taste Mama’s thoughts, sweet powdery root and bitter aloe. I trace lines on her face with my eyes. I remember, once, Dada was hunting. Devilish dust storms flamenco the field. Mama pegged down the blowing tent skirts and lay upon me on the sleep mats to weight us down. Today her eyes are bigger, her mouth, a line, a jagged wince like a dying desert wolf.
‘Get water, get wheat, no carry it like this, are you stupid? Get the loom, the loom’ and I am proud of my clever, look after us -Mama.
No price is too high for owning oneself. I remember how my body feels like a ribbon on a lake when I lie with my lover. We ran as the sun died. We poured our life into the trailers, onto the goat.
Laila trails all the seeds into the sand by the beam of a traitor moon that spotlights our truck.
‘Like Hansel and Gretel, so we can return.’ The mountain sneered to our left. I am Fjord- Elisa, said Laila. I can climb hills with golden nails from glass eggs.
‘We can start again somewhere else Beba, a greener place. We have seeds, Laila has them safe. We can grow squash and pomegranate’ Dada repeats, repeats. ‘We can plant almond trees and butternuts.’
Rifle butts shatter the window. We are hauled out. Skin dragging on a thin edge of metal and glass. Our car hijacked. Dada unhooks the trailer in the chaos. The goat tips out and bleats her pleasure at freedom.
In a slick slice of time, we fall one side or the other. I remember the atom split of the nanosecond when I died. I ran to my lover but they snatched me, pressed me into the ground. I tucked my mind up like the teeniest origami, like the dot on Dada’s television. Remembered the hum of home, Laila’s laugh, the rhythmic heartbeat of the loom whish, whoosh, wheeze. Three old asthmatic ladies in the corner. Then it changed rhythm, the shuttle went crazy. Had a life of its own bobbing this way and that, tangling threads, shearing some, picking up others. Little sister scared.
Mama proudly patting the loom. ‘She knows what she is doing.’
Wedding champagne, stolen for my lover lay next to me. I saw the horizontal flow as the bottle lay on its side, the bubbles still fizz, the glass curved smooth, the neck slender, not broken. I saw shapes through the golden liquid. Atlan has come! The men laughed, poked, smoked, watched till my dot disappeared, my screen blanked.
Father weeping at the mountain foot. ‘Atlan I can go no further.’ Men encouraging him to walk. To tarry means death. They made a stretcher from blankets and prepared to carry him. My big strong father, hands that whittled tools from wood, that bewitched wild animals on the plains, shrunken, howling.
‘We will solve this by walking. Solvitur ambulando.’ This big man that fought a bear, I carried him till he found strength to walk, hand in hand. The wild winds whipped us and I did not let go.
‘There is no hope on this earth son’, said Father. ‘Stories, just empty stories son’
‘Father, stories anchor us to Earth, God and each other. Through knowledge we know each more deeply. Every part of the stories are true, especially the parts that are not.’ I gripped his hand tighter, spoke soft, urgent.
‘Father. Janus has two faces, one to look forward, one to look back. War, murder, terrorism had burdened Janus. There was no way he was going to use his key to open January. Better for the world that he threw the key to the bottom of the ocean. Everybody clamouring to come into the New Year like domino’s stacking up like lots and lots of angry exclamation marks jammed up against the door of the year. Janus, on the other side, pushing against the swell of the door. A sound, like tiny little beating wings. A fairy lighted on Janus’s cheek and said “I am Hope, I am Bravery. I am Grace I will go ahead with a light. Where there is life there is hope. Where there is hope there is life. I will walk with you always.” So Janus wearily opened the door.’
Father and I sat on a ledge. I held him tight. Hope ignited and she did not fly away.
‘Father, we believe the ark ran aground here. Look! When the dark folds, turn east and you will see the statue of Jonah.’ Seeds of forgiveness and love flowered in Dada’s heart. With a sharp stone and some wood he whittled a bookmarker for me.
‘I’m tired son, my hope is to see God on this mountain, I am old. I have paid pilgrimage. My hope is to rest here.’
Cold embraced him tight that night. I laid him in an enclave beneath the ghostly bow.
I await Beba. I crave knowledge of her. I should never have come. Oh Eva you are so silly. They sent me to live amongst Yezedi, to report on the insurgency. I never meant to fall in love. I offered her forbidden fruit. I gave her money to run away. The news says they are under siege now, the village captured, many dead.
Whom we love in Heaven or Earth seems so irrelevant pinned against the vast starry universe. The world, its gilded buildings, fields and monuments all look so infinitesimally small. I see my lover, kiss her in the wind, twist her hair the way she likes so she may guess it is me. Babies float down the Tigris. Eva will see and draw them to shore.
I see footprints where my body lies, sand shifted over me in the wind. I wonder how people cannot see the snapshots of time that still linger in the air, misty hazy ozone pictures like coloured gauze skirts fluttering in a still breeze, pegged forever on a ghostly washing line. How they just walked through me as I lay there, not knowing not seeing. My lover will find me and tell the world.
I swirl ‘December 20th, siege ended-Laila is free’ in mist on new windows. Awaiting Atlan. We will buy seed and chickens.
In Beba’s purse, jumping up and down, eager note folded. The tightest origami, opened, smoothed.
Beba’s voice! ‘These things I remember, the thin bite of a champagne glass, the pearlescence of a swallow egg, the tenuous translucent stretch of a spiders web.’
I, Laila, will live for both of us.
Brother fixes the generator. A broken bulb held to the light.
‘We see through a glass darkly,’ he muses, ‘you see, Little One. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are made so much stronger at the places where they were first broken.’
Morning moon milks the last fat stars. Streaming silken pleats ripple, nuzzle the crest bleached in virgin light. Bone spines sway outwards, like babes stretching in the sleepy milkiness, unfurling new-born fingers. Beneath clavicle, in enclave, hugged tight in dreamy eiderdowns, Father keeps his watch. Mountain shoulders stand proud. Yezidi blood swells its seams. The New Year kisses some of us alive.
Angel C. Dye is a novelist, poet, short story writer, journalist and script writer. She has had various poems published in literary magazines. She is assistant editor for Confluence magazine and a mentor for Wordsmithery Literary agency on their Writer's Development Programme. Angela runs writing workshops weekly and poetry events monthly in Faversham .A poetry book, The Echo Chamber, co -authoured with Matt Chamberlain is to be published soon. She has two other collaborative books and a solo collection being released this year too.