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Part One: Novella I am working on....
The legend of the fish pond had floated in currents among the village people for years, its face ascending and splashing from the fresh cool water that forever remains dark and mysterious to the villagers. Hundreds of fish would glide open-mouthed through the ripples of the water as humans pass, forbidden on penalty of death from touching the fish that laid at the pond’s watery surface. The pond trailed alongside a series of stone-chiseled pillars connected with a single engraved roof across from the black cave that remained built into a tall domed mosque etched in faded black calligraphy. The mosque now crumbled with age, soft dusky moss fingertips gently outstretched on the minarets that stood into the hot Turkish rays. Small pattering feet often hit across the cracked pavement by the fish pond and toes dipped into the chilling currents, the children giggling softly until old cloaked grandmothers holding their black veils to their faces would cry at them, beating the children lightly with a dried wooden prune branch. The children would squeal and fling rocks among each other, careful it should not land into the pond for each knew the legend that so often escaped the lips of their grandmothers and mothers. The legend of Abraham where God had saved Abraham from the depths of hellfire, saved from certainty of death ordered by the ancient Mesopatamian king Nimrud. Instead of the fiery clasp of lashing flames clutching at the outstretched arms of Abraham, God had instead sprung the pond at the feet of Abraham, the burning fire then extinguished, leaving behind a stream of water with a single white-scaled fish that, later in time, would replicate in this sacred place as a reminder of eternal life and faith in the unknown in times of adversity. And those who would interfere with the life of the pond or the pond itself were condemned to a life of exile, despair, and forced blindness.
Perhaps it had just been the time where Marriam had been most vulnerable, most confused in her life. Perhaps it was from the monotony of sitting across her father slurping loudly, his nose in the Turkish metal fincan and his lips drawling a long content sigh upon reaching the black liquid that clumped at the bottom of his cup. Perhaps it was at the moment where the beady black eyes of her mother pierced Marriam’s very soul, fearing what words would be spat in retaliation to poorly done chores or rumpled dresses that Marriam had often wore. Or perhaps it was the confusion that Marriam herself had: religious but liberal, Turkish but Arab, privileged yet caged, educated but naïve. It was perhaps at these moments that had made Marriam prime for a change of wind in her direction.
She lived in the Arab-Kurdish villages of the ancient city Sanliurfa, a destitute area in the south-eastern part of Turkey where often villagers were educated to the level of high-school and then promptly employed or married upon graduation. Those who had enough money, usually the ones with relatives in Istanbul or northern Turkey, would send their son to the closest yet high-ranking university in Gaziantep, a mere 3-4 hours away from Sanliurfa, to study engineering or medicine and prolong the time before the son would be enrolled to serve the mandatory Turkish military for a minimum of one year.
Marriam’s parents themselves were neither Arab nor Kurdish: they were northern “Istanbulis” as others called them, working in Sanliurfa as educators in the high school system that all too often proved to be lacking in resources and materials for the students of Kurdish farmers living closer to the mountains.
She was not obliged to the customs of the Arabs and the Kurds and she was herself considered as the “privileged” girl—looked upon as a snot-nosed brat offspring of wealthy educated parents. At this point in her life, she had barely turned 17 and spent her time wasting it, unsure of the future ahead nor in truth even trying to understand the future. She would apply to the university within 2 years and, unlike the girls around her, was permitted relationships with boys but discouraged from marriage upon graduation. Therefore, she had often uncommitted personal friendships and saw herself as a student priming herself for the university system. She wasn’t even sure what she would study nor what her career would be, other than wanting to travel and continue her love for languages and foreign tongues. Her life was rather quiet, confined from going to school, returning home, and occasionally going out with her Arab friends among the bazaars to stir trouble with the old men selling kebabs and jewelry out on the streets.
It was the week before June the 30th when her life had changed. When her path was aligned as if magically to cross across another’s trek into a dark and confused world. Often such words would be looked upon as a “writer’s words”—full of exaggeration and false egoistic blown-up ideas written with fanciful words and tender semantics. But truly, it was upon this night that Marriam’s entire future had been determined. Her loves and her hates, her fears and her strengths, her truth and her lies had been laid before her as if an opened book revealed from the all-telling angels that Marriam believed in.
She had received his letter on the week before her mother’s birthday, a seeming Godly assurance that she would never forget the day she had heard from him, nor where, nor how.
Marriam had been walking home when she had stopped by the old postal office across the bare deserted park of Birecik in her home city, the children long indoors since the sun had hit the pavements. The office was quiet as Marriam reached out her hand to touch the cold knob that nearly fell out of place from years of angrily shoved doors and shouted words. She crossed over the old creaking step into the office where she grimly pulled out the small rusted key from her bag and unlocked the small box in the right corner of the wall. Small white envelopes ruffled as she scooped them outwards and stuffed them tiredly into her dark maroon bag that slung around her shoulders. As she placed the envelopes into the slots of her worn bag, an old parchment of yellow fluttered onto the floor before her.
She squatted, squinting her eyes at the parchment and her fingers gingerly brushed across its surface, eyes widening at the dry flab and specks of brown intertwined into the envelope. As she pulled the envelope before her, Marriam pulled back her fingers, surprised at the cursive letters that spelled her own name in blank ink.
She stopped and shook her head. It must be the school, a letter from an irritated reprimanded teacher.
She drew forward the envelop and watched it, allowing her nimble fingers to slip between the folds of the flap and body to withdraw the brown paper, thicker than the envelope that held it. She pulled the layers of the folded letter to face her and began to read.
As years began to pass, she could no longer read the lines of the blurred images in her mind nor could she recall the words that spilled across the page and danced into her heart. But she could recall the gasp, the fear, the amazement in such a letter.
The letter had begun with Dear Maryam, I am a student from Istanbul University… and as the lines of the page began to become more narrow, Maryam’s heart had begun to race.
The letter came from the hands of a young man from the University of Istanbul studying psychology and the Turkish language, originally being of Kurdish and Arab background. Marriam’s eyes grew larger as she followed along the lines that wrote of his interest in students of Turkish origin in his home town, and had come across her registered address from an exchange-letter system offered to university students. Although Marriam had permitted her address to be displayed to Turkish university letter system students, she had never thought that hers would be chosen as hundred thousands of students resided at the Turkish universities, making her own address one of a hundred thousand.
Her hands shook, unsure of what to do with the letter. She glanced at it again, her heart beating fast and excitedly. What would her parents say to writing back? She nervously placed the letter back in her bag and walked outside quickly, mind racing. What would she do with the letter? Was there anything to do with the letter?
Upon dinner that evening, she washed the dishes sullenly, eyes mulling over once more over the images of the envelop that slept at the bottom of her bag. She was nervous, unsure of what herself to do with it. But curiosity filled her and her mind began to wander: who was it that wrote it? What did he look like? Her thoughts pondered over the words that flew across the page as if carefully yet carelessly placed, a confusion of total order. Marriam dried her hands on the purple rag that was strung from the oven handle and quickly paced to her room painted in red and orange hues.
She opened the drawer of her desk and held her spilling hair back as she withdrew a paper and placed it before her. Marriam touched the pen that laid beside her hand and paused. What would I write to him? What do I say?
She began to write…, “ Hello! My name is Marriam and I am a student…” she stopped and crumpled the paper, breathing hard as she threw it across the room. She had never spoken to a man before. How would she sound to a university man educated in Istanbul?
Her fingers began to etch again across the page. “Dear Yusuf….” She laid her head across the smooth wooden panel and tapped her head with her pen. She began again.
She felt guilty the next evening as she clutched the letter, the sweat from her palms leaving prints upon the envelope. It was nearly dark now, the shadows of sky beginning to rest upon the ground and the traces of the sun sinking into the cracks of the earth. A fear had crept upon her heart as if she had trodden into an unknown thing that she knew would return to her in the form of her parents. It was never the problem of speaking to a boy she knew; but she knew what they would tell her if she told them of this man who had found her address and mailed her without knowledge of her. She didn’t even know this man; and yet, the curiosity egged her. It led her as if a mule to the river and she eagerly followed, curious to what could possibly lay ahead beyond the river.
It was as if the entrails of her stomach were clenched tightly and if her lungs had been wrapped with the jump-starting cords that her father often used on their old car, electrifying her randomly. She quickly threw the letter into the slot and ran from the office, rushing into the darkness to escape the pitted yet conflicted feelings that clashed within her. She wasn’t in truth sure of what was she doing but nor did that really matter. A new door had been partially opened to her and there was not more she could do with it but to open and see its contents for herself.
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