I, Nighingale

            … am wondering what is happening to me. Time is slowing down, like a long path narrowing to the horizon. A light is there, flickering. It comes to me, so splendid, so tangible, so alluring. I can feel it… waiting for me.


            The day began like any other. I woke up early and found myself slinking through the corridors of our Gobustan house, trying to avoid my father and brother. Straining to see in the dim hallway, I checked their bedrooms. Were their doors open? If one or the other were, I knew that the old man or Elshan was in the downstairs kitchen. To avoid another confrontation, I would have to do more slinking, past the bathroom, past the laundry and cupboard, and up the rickety stairs that led to the porch and out to the garden.

            I got outside without making much noise. It was quiet and dark there. Bare feet on the cold ground sent chills through my body and filled me with alertness. I glimpsed a glowing dome to the north. It was Baku waking up. As I turned, I spotted the morning star on the southern horizon, in the direction of far Egypt, and I thought of Tom.

            I closed my eyes and once again saw the dream of Dingle and its orange trees. It stirred my soul. Elsab said Tom was dead, but I didn't truly trust his words or his swearing to them. Did my love know he had a son? If he were alive, he would come for me – dead, then.


             … the light grows, and then breathes out and in, absorbing me. I expand like a changeling without bounds — mourning loss, exulting being, exotic and rapturous — my heart is aching…


            When I returned to the bedroom, my little Azri was still asleep. As expected, there was a knock on the door. "Zara," Mother called. "You will go to the cottage today. We must prepare for the holiday. Elshan will take you." I did not want to be alone with him. I had been with my brother in Egypt, and I knew his secrets, his foul manners, and bitter mindcraft. This was it… the when of it.

            "I will ask Mira to come," I insisted, "and I will bring Azri too."

            "He is running around like a hellion. He doesn't need your breast anymore. Don't take him with you, he need not go." That was a strange declaration from my mother. She didn't love me anymore, but she loved my son. There was no doubt about that.

            "Ana, I cannot leave him," I said, and then drifted over to Azri's bed. I covered him with the bedcover once again, and began singing to him ever so softly:

            "Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy,

            whose trust, ever child-like, no cares could destroy:

            be there at our waking, and give us, we pray,

            your bliss in our hearts, Lord, at the break of the day."


            "Do you still love me, Azreal Conor?" I asked. I then picked up the lullaby where I left off:

            "Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,

            whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm:

            be there at our sleeping, and give us, we say,

            your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day."


            It was an Irish hymn that Tom had taught me, and I sang it often these days.


         … it stands before me, at the end of the day.


            The cottage, as Ana Kedar called it, was more than just a little retreat in the woods. It was a three-story lodge where the Kedar clan gathered. It was just outside Gobustan, on a small hill that had a few trees. There was one special tree, however, an Oriental plane-tree that was taller and grander than the others. It was known as the "Tree of Generations," and because of its magnificent height, it helped to keep the lodge cool in the dry, hot desert summers. In the fall, the family shuttered all the windows so that the murals of the Shervanshahs were protected from the damp winter winds. There was a high privacy fence as well, which enclosed the full extent of the grounds. I have never figured out if that wall was meant to keep foreigners out, or to keep the family in.

            The trip to the cottage didn't take long that day. I suspected nothing, at first. We arrived late morning, and Mira and Elshan went into the lodge, Mira to clean up the kitchen and Elshan to open the windows. Elshan told me to stay in the yard, to sweep up debris and clean the stone walk at the front stoop. Azri was with me, playing in the little garden just a few feet away.

            "Damn it, Elshan!" I saw that my brother had left the gate slightly ajar. "Azri will find it open and out he will scoot." I said the words out loud, thinking Elshan should hear them, yet another scolding for a careless brother. I had always bullied my brothers, one of my many sins. "Oh, what does it mean to be a good sister? One day I should change my ways," I promised myself.

            That’s when the inconceivable began.

            As I turned to yell about Azri escaping, I noticed Elshan was standing on the third-floor balcony. He had already opened all the windows and was staring down at the grounds, the garden, the walled fence, and at me. I took a step toward the unlocked gate, to secure it. Ever so slowly, the gate started swinging inward. It's the wind blowing, I supposed, but there was no wind.


            Someone was pressing on the gate from the outside. As it opened, two men there startled me, and I stumbled backward. I sensed familiarity and terrible helplessness. It wasn’t the men but the menace I remembered. I realized they were the ones from the accident, the thugs who had abducted me.  

            "Azri." He was there, playing in the little garden, paying no heed to the intruders. Save Azri was the call from deep within me, commanding me to act. But I suddenly recognized, I am a danger to Azri. They have come for me.

            The long, slender tip of the stiletto flashed before my eyes. "Will it be painful?" someone asked.


            … first, there is trembling, then I feel the blade slashing and ripping into my hot flesh, and pain surging from under my stomach. At that point, I detect the kindness of consciousness breaking away.


            I knew Elshan was watching intently as the short, squat man, the slayer of all wickedness, plunged the blade in, below my sternum and upward deep into my heart, again and again. I felt their anger for my all sins.


            … suddenly, I am air to sailing leaves everywhere. I am wood to walls, sky to sun, ground to garden. I am flesh-and-bone of everything living and dying nearby.

            Will you sing, oh light-winged Dryad of the trees, sing to soothe my soul and release the sorrow that comes out of me?

            I am now participant and observer in a twofold reality. I watch the murder as a billowing breeze from the treetop above, and in the self-same instant, I feel blood rushing out of me.


            It was weeping Mira who witnessed the honor killing. She saw Elshan chase down my Azri, grab him up, and with the executioners right behind, bolt from the cottage on the hill. As my life spilled out in great pools before that noble tree, I could sense the Kedar clan rejoicing, its honor restored. It was dearest Mira who cleaned up my gore, washed my body, and prepared my shroud. Then she sang to me through to evening's end, when my brothers came for my body.


            … time has stopped, and I know now the two aspects that were once me have parted ways. I also understand that nothing ever truly dies.

            One emotion remains. What do I choose: the light that still lingers there, waiting for me, or the need to touch one last earthly thing so that I might remember a connection with all that had happened before?


The End.


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