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The Black Khunu Melon

Qara xunu
by Nariman Hasanzade
Translated from Azerbaijani by
Elnur Imanbayli & Alison Mandaville
Issue 29 Online Exclusive

Fərəc kişinin bostanının yanı ilə (o, kolxoz bostanının gözətçisi idi) üzüyuxarı qalxdıqca, bilmirdim bu fikirlər niyə ağlımdan gəlib keçirdi.

Möhlət çiynimdən tutub saxladı. Ürəyimiz susuzluqdan yanırdı.

— Get qopar. Yemşənin dalında oturub yeyək. Xununun özəyi uzun olur. Çantanı mənə ver.

Döyükdüm.

— Hamı səni Sayalı oğlu Əliyə oxşadır. Get də…Birdən ayıldım.

…Müharibənin qurtarmasına bir neçə gün qalmışdı. Bəlkə də, bir neçə saat. Qəsəbəmizə ağır yas çökdü. Sayalı oğlu Əli müharibədən sağ-salamat qayıdıb rayon yolunda avtomobil qəzasına düşmüşdü.

Sinəsində gətirdiyi ordenləri, medalları evlərinin qabağındakı talvarın altında bır qırmızı parçanın üstunə düzmüşdülər. Elə bil Sayalı oğlu Əlinin yası yox, nişanı, ya toyu idi. Elə bil cammat Əli üçün elçiliyə hazırlaşmışdı. Qardaşları, yaxın qohumları bəzənmişdilər. Amma qara geyib bəzənmişdilər. Əlinin anası toy çaldırdı. Əməlli-başlı toy. Toyda gülərdilər. Bu dəfə hamı ağlayırdı. Anası saçını yola-yola oynayırdı. Hamı deyirdi, arvad dəli olub. Amma dəli olmamışdı. Axırda dedi: Mən oğlumun toyunda oynadım, yasında ağladım. İndi apara bilərsiniz. Sonra qəsəbədə yerindən duran deyirdi, mən Əli olacağam. Əli faşistlərlə igidliklə vuruşmuşdu, haqqında radioda bir dəfə çoxlu danışmışdılar da.

Əlinin bacısı yolda məni görəndə ağlamışdı: Qardaşıma oxşayırsan, a Qiyam…Anamın gözünə görünmə, sən allah…

Getdim. Əvvəlcə tağın dibinə sindim. Elə bildim kimsə boynumdan ağır yumruq vurdu. Başımı bir az əydim. Sarı köynəyimin düyməsi qırılıb diyirləndi. Az qaldı tağların arasında itsin. Tələsik götürdüm. Qarpızı qopartdım. Qara xunu qollarımın arasında durmurdu. Dayımgilin qonşuluğundakı çılpaq, körpə oğlan uşağı kimi. Başından tuturdum, ayağısürüşürdü, ayağından tuturdum, başı. Tər basdı. Elə bil indiyə kimi belə ağır şey götürməmişdim.

Bıçağımız yox idi. Bir məftil qırığı tapdıq. Möhlət əvvəlcə xununun üstə ikimizin də adını yazdı: “Möhlət Səlimoğlu”, “Qiyam Alməhəmmədoğlu”. Gülüşdük. Qarpızın bir neçə yerindən məftillə xətt çəkdi. Yumruq ilişdirdi. Qarpız həmin xətlərlə paralandı. Özəyin çoxunu mənə verdi. Sonra qabıqları yan-yana düzüb adımızı oxuduq…

Axırıncı dərsdə bizi müəllimlər otağına çağırdılar. Coğrafiya müəllimi adımızı çəkirdi. Həm coğrafiya müəllimimiz, həm də dərs hissə müdirimiz üstümüzə acıqlandı.

— Ayıb olsun, yayın istisində bu qoca kişini buraya gətirmisiniz. Adınızı divar qəzətinə yazdıracağam. Məktəbdən qovduracağam, asdıracağam, kəsdirəcəyəm…

Möhlət qulağının ucuna kimi qızarmışdı.

— Müəllim, bəlkə canavar yeyib? — Mən danmaq istədim.

Müəllim üzünü pəncərəyə çəvirdi. Yəqin özünü gülməkdən zorla saxladı.

Fərəc kişi çal bığlarına əl gəzdirdi. Üz-gözünü ovxaladı.

— Bir yox, iki canavar, — dedi. — Birinin adı Möhlət Səlimoğlu, o birinin adı Qiyam Alməhəmmədoğlu.

Qara xununun qabıqlarını nimdaş xurcundan çıxarıb müəllimlər stolunun üstə səliqə ilə düzdü. Möhlətin adının son hərfi yox idi — qabığın ucu qırılmışdı.

Bu dəfə Möhlət bomboz bozardı, mən qızardım.

Qara xununu Fərəc özü də manşırlayıbmış. Harayasa aparası imiş.

I don’t know what was going through my mind that day as we passed by the edge of what we called “Faraj kishi’s melon plantation” (Mr. Faraj was actually just the guard for the collective). But suddenly Mohlat stopped me, catching at my shoulder with his hand. It was a hot day and we were both burning with thirst.

“Look at those black khunu melons,” he said. “What do you think?”

We still had some time before our classes would begin. There were much better melons than those black khunus back in Mohlat’s garden. But for reasons unknown we desperately wanted to taste one of these particular black melons. We were awfully thirsty.

“Quick! Go!” said Mohlat. “We can sit and eat it in the field. Khunus have nice thick flesh. Give me your bag.”

I looked around, struck dumb by the idea.

“Come on! Everybody says you’re just like Ali Sayalioglu. Go then!”

With that, I came to my senses, thinking of that local hero.

 

The war had ended just a few days before. Maybe even just hours before. Our village was in deep mourning, for Ali Sayalioglu had recently returned from the war safe and sound, only to be killed in a car wreck on one of the region’s roads.

The medals he’d worn on his chest were carefully arranged on a piece of red cloth under the tent set up in his family’s front yard. Everything was set up as if it were not a funeral, but rather an engagement or wedding party. As if all the people there had come to serve as his emissaries, assembled to fetch his bride from her parents’ home. His brothers and close relatives were all dressed in their finery – but all in black.

Ali’s mother had indeed organized a wedding party – a real one. But at a wedding, people would be laughing. Here, everyone was crying. His mother was simultaneously dancing and tearing out her hair. Everyone said, “She’s gone mad.” But she wasn’t crazy.

Finally, she spoke: “Now I’ve danced at my son’s wedding and wept at his funeral. You may take him away.”

Later everyone from the region said, “I want to be like Ali.” He had fought the fascists bravely. They sang his praises on radio programs more than once.

After this, whenever his sister ran into me on the road, she would cry. “Qiyam,” she’d say, “you look like my brother. For God’s sake, don’t let my mother see you.”

 

So, I made myself go. First, I hid myself down under the melon vines. My throat was tight, as if somebody had punched me in the neck. As I crouched down, bending my head a little, a button from my yellow shirt popped off, rolled away, and was nearly lost among the vines. I snatched it up quickly. Then I quickly pulled one of the khunu melons off its vine. I could hardly hold that melon – it slipped about in my arms just like the naked little boy at my uncle’s neighbors. Holding the top, the bottom slipped out; holding the bottom, the top escaped. I broke into a sweat. It felt as if I had never held something so heavy in my arms until now.

We had no knife, so we found an old piece of wire. First, Mohlat used the wire to scratch both of our names on the outer rind: Mohlat Salimoglu, Qiyam Almahammadoglu. We laughed. He scored several deep lines around middle of the melon, then punched it. The melon broke open along those lines. He gave me the better part, with the sweet center. Afterward, we carefully put the rinds back together so that we could read our names again.

 

During the final lesson of the day we were called into the teachers’ room. Our geography instructor had called us out of class by name. Both the teacher and the director of our grade level were there to chastise us.

“Shame on you both for bringing this old man all the way here in this hot summer weather,” said the director, gesturing to Mr. Faraj. “I will have your names put up on the public news board. You should be expelled from school, hung, and cut into pieces.”

Pale Mohlat blushed to the tips of his ears.

“Teacher, maybe a wolf ate it,” I tried to dodge.

The director turned his face away, toward the window, hardly able to keep himself from laughing.

Mr. Faraj smoothed his grey moustache and rubbed his eyes. “Not one wolf – two wolves,” he said. “One’s name is Mohlat Salimoglu and the other’s is Qiyam Almahammadoglu.” He reached into his shabby saddle bag and removed the two halves of black khunu rind, placing them neatly on the teacher’s table. Mohlat’s name was missing its last letter; that part of the rind had broken off.

This time Mohlat turned gray, and I burned bright red.

It seemed Faraj kishi had been keeping close track of this particular black khunu, for he was planning to take it somewhere as a gift. He had been waiting for just a few more days to pass, for it to be perfectly ripe. He had been checking on it regularly, the director informed us.

When the director had summoned us that day – Mohlat and me – we had feared we would be severely punished or expelled. But neither of these things happened. Instead we heard a story.

 

Listen Well:

Once, long, long ago, there lived two orphan brothers. Their lives were difficult. But instead of teaching his younger brother how to earn their bread by working, the older brother taught the younger how to steal. He first told his younger brother to bring him some eggs.

At first the younger brother was too frightened. He didn’t dare. Displeased, the older brother persisted. He badgered the younger boy into submission.

The eggs from the neighbor’s barn began to vanish. The neighbor thought perhaps it was a dog, fallen into the bad habit of eating eggs. Then a house was broken into and people began to speculate that there was a thief in the neighborhood. One day, a horse disappeared from the village. This time they caught the thief and brought him to trial. Everyone wanted this thief to hang.

From captivity, the younger brother asked for permission to say farewell to his older brother. The villagers consented.

The younger said to the older, “Brother, stick out your tongue so that I may kiss it.”

Astonished, the crowd exclaimed, “What kind of kiss is that?”

The younger brother replied, “This tongue was my father – it gave me advice. It was my mother, gently entreating me. It was my brother, berating me. It was my sister, crying for me.

The older brother was deeply moved by this speech, and so he stuck out his tongue.

The younger brother promptly bit off his elder’s tongue and spat it out.

Again, the villagers were confounded, crying out, “What kind of farewell is that?”

The younger brother explained, “That tongue taught me to be a thief. That tongue taught me dishonesty. That tongue ruined me.”

 

The director watched as Mohlat and I looked at each other. “Maybe there have never been such brothers in this world,” he said, “but certainly there have been such tongues.”

He said this as if he wanted to know whose tongue should be cut.

We bowed our heads and stared at the floor.

 

Edited by: Shahla Naghiyeva, Jakub Csabay

____

 

Nariman Hasanzadeh, “Qara xunu” from Nabat Xalanın Çörəyi. Baku, Azerbaijan: Prometey, 1974, 2010.

 

 

 

Prominent Soviet-era poet, playwright, and journalist Nariman Hasanzade was born in rural Azerbaijan in 1931. His works address love, Azerbaijani history, folk traditions, roles of women in society, and the natural world. In 2005, he received the national lifetime achievement award, “People’s Poet of Azerbaijan.”
Translator
Elnur Imanbayli works at ADA University in Azerbaijan administering the Azerbaijani Language and Culture course for expatriates residing in Baku. He is deeply interested in learning about and promoting the heritage of his country. Prior to joining to ADA University, he studied International Studies, with a focus on cultural diplomacy and  intercultural communication. Elnur thinks literature in translation is one of the most effective ways to enhance capacity for intercultural dialogue and understanding.
Translator
Poet and associate professor of English at Fresno State, Alison Mandaville received a Fulbright award for work in Baku (2007–2008). She and Azerbaijani colleagues have since received Open Society Institute and UNESCO grants for work with women writers in Azerbaijan. In addition to nearly two dozen scholarly publications, her poems have appeared in journals such as Fifth Wednesday, Seattle Review, and Skidrow Penthouse. Her short story and poetry translations have appeared in World Literature Today.