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Writers International Edition

Fiction

Doctor’s Dreams: Story by Ali Jafar oglu

The plane, circling in the air, began to descend. After a while, a green forest became visible, giving a special beauty to the village, the fast-flowing river Akstafa, shrubs that grew taller than a person, and thick reeds. Life went on as usual. The shepherds grazing the herds of cattle, protecting themselves from the fiery rays of the sun, were having a sweet conversation among themselves under the trees. The reeds that grew in the river seemed to be asleep, the sheep and lambs, giving rest for respite, barely breathed in the shade.

The sun burned the whole circle with brilliant rays. Sometimes the birds, having caught fish, flew into the bushes, fed their chicks. Sparrows scurried about with joy, having landed on golden ears of wheat, caterpillars, hiding in nests under the ground, eagerly awaited the eclipse of the sun.

The village children swam passionately in the river. Their noise engulfed everything around. Either they played traps in the water, or they competed with each other to see who could hold out the longest without air. Suddenly the thunder of an airplane was heard.

The kids who had just shouted at the top became silent. Everyone looked in surprise at the plane flying very low. Indeed, the plane, descending, flew over them in the direction of the forest. Then, flying past the valley, leaving behind the gray hills, he headed inside the village.

Having worked for many years in various positions, considered one of the respected aksakals, the school director Hasan Muellim (teacher), without taking his eyes off the plane, was in thought. Suddenly he started up and said to Tarlan, who was standing next to his life companion:

– Maybe they are bringing Rahim ?! – A little closed, straightened his jacket, which had fallen from his shoulder, but the trembling of his hands intensified. Recovering himself, he continued. After all, a brother who was treated in Moscow said that if he did not recover, in his last breath, let them take him on an airplane to fly over his native village, to see the homeland to its fullest, where he enjoyed its water, where he will feel a pleasant breath.

Standing in silence, Tarlan, after the words of her husband, seemed to wake up from a dream, in longing and despondency, she realized that the tragedy had already happened. In my heart I felt that grief was approaching, and not a joyful sight. So, a scientist familiar to all with his discoveries in the field of medicine, a wonderful person who does not spare knowledge and skills in the name of the people, Doctor of Medical Sciences, Professor Rahim Abbas oglu Yusifov, who loves people more than his life, leaves the world in which he lived and whom he loves. His healing hands gave life to many patients, healed them. And such a person can die ?!

Tarlan wanted to forget these disturbing thoughts in her head, but could not. As if the event that I feared will happen. At this time, Hasan, too, was with disturbing dreams. He was stunned by the news of the painful suffering of his younger brother with cancer, but now Hasan was tormented by a feeling of fear and anxiety. Internally, he seemed to be on fire, his head was torn from the body. My throat was as if rubbed with hot pepper, I was breathing with difficulty. The wounds of the Second World War ached, the trembling of hands and feet did not stop. Rahim had not yet turned fifty, his heart was tormented by the ingratitude of his wife and children.

“I was expecting Rahim’s return recovered, Tarlan,” Hasan said and looked at his wife.

Then, condemning to myself:

-No! My heart tells me that this is not good. Probably, our son Elchin with his uncle is flying over his native village to fulfill his uncle’s last dreams. Let him look at the landscape of his native nature, – he said and could not stand it, went inside. The youngest son Yusif, supporting his father with his hand, took him to the bed and instructed:

– Don’t worry, dad! Maybe some plane has arrived and will fly away. My uncle was treated by prominent Moscow scientists, probably this will help him. With God’s help, my uncle will return safe and sound to Baku, and then to the village.

The father with sadness in his heart, caressing his son’s head, plunged into thought and said nothing.

A pair of eyes sadly looked down from the plane. Lying in bed in a helpless state, anticipating his  death in advance, resting his elbow on the pillow, nevertheless with some hope he examined the forest, river, valleys and hills, dusty roads, paths, reeds, admired the landscape to his heart’s content.

destroyed a small bridge, to create a new bridge, people were forced to act in the village in a different way. Unwittingly, the eyes paused on the line of natural gas, which stretched into the village through the river through pipes. I remembered that he himself drew this line to the village. Having raised this issue before the relevant authorities, he achieved a successful solution to it.

Residents of the village, using gas, with respect and gratitude remembered the professor, seeing him, people expressed gratitude. At that moment the thought came to him – to create a bridge in the village is a very important matter. If I stand on my feet, I will achieve a solution to this question, too, he thought.

He also recalled the day when he almost drowned in the river. He was six years old. The brothers Hasan and Nariman, friends Hamid, Majid, Sabir, Afik were also nearby. In a deeper place of the river Agstafa, called “dakhna”, they swam, and then lying on the sandy bank, they took the sun’s rays. He wanted to swim in the river. With a splash he dived into the water. Suddenly I felt that I had hit a twist. The water drowned him, no matter how hard he tried, he could not save himself.

His hands no longer listened to his will, water was making its way into his mouth. It is good that Sabir saw him in time and quickly rushed to the aid of the drowning man. Grabbing his hands, he lifted him up, somehow pulled him to the shore. Lying face down on the sand, water flowed from his mouth. Upon returning home, Father Abbas scolded him severely. Instructed not a step further to the water. His gaze was presented with a pleasant image of his father’s face, his friendly eyes. As true as his instructions were, a lot of his father’s labor in raising him. Always full of a call to science and knowledge, advice that nurtured the will to overcome any difficulties, endurance and patience inherited from his father, supported him in a short and meaningful life. He did not lose heart in front of difficulties, connected learning with medicine, deeply observed the properties of plants.

As a result of research, having repeatedly tested the experiments carried out in this area by the famous physician Ali Ali Ibn Sina and other thinkers, he introduced many innovations into science.

Mother, Vasduha, was a very benevolent, meek person. The middle brother died in the war, received black news about him. The last letter from Mezachim was received from distant Estonia, and there was only one expression: “Here blood is shed like water.”

After that, there was no news from him. When they received the black news, the mother did not want to believe it. The news of the death of his son, who left his education at the Agricultural College unfinished, and went to the front, seemed to break the camp and soul of his mother.

Then it was 1942 and Rahim was eleven years old. Rahim heard the black news on the same day, this bitter truth remained in his memory as a concept that has no end. He carried in himself, in his heart, like a carved black stone, the news of the loss of his brother.

His older brother Hasan received higher education. Although he entered the Faculty of Oriental Studies of the University, a year later he continued his education at the Faculty of History. He graduated from a higher educational institution with a diploma with distinction. At first he worked as a teacher in a rural school, then as chairman of a collective farm, chairman of a village council, instructor in a district party committee, and director of a school. Hasan had authority in the village … his hospitality, honor and respect for his brother made Rahim very happy, a sense of pride filled his soul. When he met his brother, he said: “Let there be bread and water of this land for future use.” Because you are trying with honor and conscience for the people around you. For good actions, the head is raised, the heart is calm. Hearing good words about you, my heart becomes a mountain, I am proud of you.

Hasan’s nine children all received higher education and worked in various areas of life. A son named Elchin, a daughter named Bakia graduated from the medical institute and, like an uncle, worked as a doctor. Elchin, at the same time as a candidate of medical sciences, continued the activities of scholarship, was engaged in research in the field of science. He took his uncle to Moscow and arranged for him in a well-known clinic. Metropolitan doctors met with him, did everything to treat a cancerous tumor with harmful properties. However, that this treatment was not beneficial, he was not told anything about it, but he himself felt and understood it. After all, he was a doctor who, even by sight, determined the disease. Was it difficult to determine what kind of tumor in the gums ?! But the doctors did not say anything about it.

After that, how could you talk about progressing for the better? They only talked about going and having a rest in the village in the bosom of nature. Nice to breathe in the fresh air. Only after that it will be possible to talk about progress in a good direction. And in the present, there were only 2-3 days left until the end of life.

He could no longer speak, the pain of the tumour greatly tormented him, bothered him. If I needed to say something, I asked for a pen and paper, wrote what I wanted.

The thought was spinning in my head: what great suffering is it not to be able to speak ?!

How wonderful it is to express feelings in words, turning them into a sentence, to take them out of the depths of the heart, to be relieved by this, to be saved from the weight of words. This means that the heart can rest while voicing thoughts. Until the farmer has harvested the crop, the bricklayer has not completed the house, the woman has not given birth to a child, everything is restless. …

Until the patient knows about the processes taking place in the inner world, he is calm, but as soon as he finds out, then he falls into pessimism, becomes discouraged, becomes a prisoner of thoughts. Only a certain part, having gained strength, will, as much as possible so much fighting death. Its endurance, endurance delights others.

I remembered my favorite Arabic expression: “Patience is everywhere a medicine, but there is no medicine for patience.”

Did he repeatedly, giving hope to the seriously ill, use these words a little ?! Didn’t he know that the first thing for a doctor is to create in the patient a feeling of faith and hope for recovery. Isn’t faith life itself ?!

  The elbow could not bear the weight. He leaned his head against the pillow, beckoned his waiting nephew, asked for a pen and paper. Elchin gave him what the doctor wanted. The professor asked for the last time to fly over the Motherland, which he will no longer see. The pilots respected the doctor’s wishes, lifted the plane high above the hills, circling over the mountains, headed towards the forest. Then, flying over the river, conditions were created so that the professor could see the landscape again. The professor was not satiated, looking proudly, and looking at everything with joy and was very happy.

He no longer worried that his children and his wife Maryam would be indifferent to him for going home without profit. Formerly poor, but now living in wealth, this greedy woman has always valued money higher.

Children who did not see difficulties lived in wealth. So their father’s illness, melancholy, did not bother them. The hospital was not interested in where their father was. Maryam looked down at her husband’s relatives. One day Hasan knocked on his brother’s door, and Marya, seeing that he had arrived with gifts, which she found out, looking through the peephole, opened the door. Feeling an unfriendly attitude towards his brother’s relatives, Hasan never set foot there again.

The doctor was already at the height of his fame. This man with a simple soul has helped people more than once …

These pleasant feelings inspired him, he was content with dreams. He recalled the television program “Health”, a scientific and public program, which he created, where he was the presenter. With the help of ether, he turned to the people, talking about the medicinal value of plants, about diseases and their prevention, indicated the ways of treatment.

Working as the head of the department at the medical university, he was friendly with others, lectured to students about medical science. The restless, caring days passed before his eyes, like a ribbon, when he treated patients in the Semashko hospital. He knew only that he did not live simply. Lived a clean life, with an open forehead, did no harm to anyone. From these inspired feelings I considered myself happy, I was glad.

The doctor quite enjoyed the beauty of the nature of his native land. Delight splashed out of shining eyes. Carried away by the thoughts of meeting with relatives, his face was with a smile.

As if he himself was flying in the sky, fluttering his wings. The beautiful flowers of the meadows gave rise to pleasant feelings in him. He felt the sad singing of nightingales.

Already full of joy eyes were gradually closed, hands on chest, began to fly to dreams with sails with a pleasant smile.

People surrounded the plane that had descended to the ground.

 

Story by
Ali Jafar oglu (Aliyev)

Translated from Russian into English by
Marjeta Shatro Rrapaj, Albania

Ali Jafar oglu is a Presidential scholarship holder of the Republic of Azerbaijan and a member of the Union of Writers of Azerbaijan, a leading advisor works at Akstafa District Education Department. E-mail: Ali.cafaroqlu@mail.ru

A promise from God

Recently, one desperate mother lodged a complaint with the police that her five-month-old baby was abducted from a footpath she was living on. She was an alms seeker and had no place for the safekeeping of her baby.

Despite being so helpless and so economically backward, she fought tooth and nail with the world — the world where traffickers abound, where babies are stolen and sold. Thankfully, her DNA matched with the baby she claimed as her own among the four infants traced by the police. The blood samples were drawn in the presence of a magistrate and a DNA test was conducted.

This real-life story proves that despite not being aware of any legal process or not being in a position to engage a lawyer, a mother, though she may be just an alms seeker, will not let go of her baby under any circumstances.

The motherly instinct and love for progeny is so natural and universal; I saw an example recently in my own garden.

I have been seeing a sparrow build its nest in various places in our garden, only to find its eggs and tiny fledglings being stolen and eaten away by a crow. Every time seeing that happen, I used to feel helplessly frustrated at the mother bird’s plight and her screeches of anguish.

Then, one day, I saw the bird find a very secure place to build its nest and protect her babies — right behind Maa Durga’s idol hung high up on the wall near our main door. The crow tried desperately to reach the nest but failed miserably. Now, I hear tiny voices chirping in the nest above and see the mother proudly flying in and out.

A mother’s instincts are the strongest, and her love for her offspring, the greatest! On the other side of the picture is the uncaring attitude of some children toward their mothers. I remember the case of an aged mother who lost her eyesight due to neglected high blood glucose levels over a long time and how her children would lock her up in the house to go to work, only to return late in the evening or night. They wanted to get the good name that instead of keeping their mother in a facility or an old age home, they had kept her in the house.

Is this any better than being in an old age home, where probably better care could have been provided to that blind mother and some human contact and interaction could take place? Why do children feel burdened to take care of their ageing mothers? It is said, “A mother is a promise from God that you will have a friend forever,” then why treat her like an adversary in her sunset years? Fie upon such children.

Courtesy: Deccan Herald

Ambika Ananth
© Ambika Ananth 2022

About the Author

Ambika Ananth is a bi-lingual poet, published author, translator and independent journalist. She lives in Bangalore, India. She is one of the Founder Editors of a literary ezine -Muse India. (www.museindia.com) and can be reached at ambika.ananth@gmail.com

Death of mothers

Bolpur, Shantiniketan.
January 12, 2021.

I gave birth to my second child, another girl, as beautiful as the rays of dawn, as pure as the dew drops. And her eyes! Those crystal clear liquid eyes were capable of exposing all the secrets of the universe.

I held her in my arms; she smiled and gaped at me as if we were seeing each other for aeons. My first daughter, Roshni was elated to have a sibling and that too a girl, for whom she longed for a pretty long time. Keeping a match with the name of my first daughter Roshni, I named her Ujaala.

She was born in Shantiniketan, the land of the bard, Tagore. Her eyes were as artistic as that of a peacock. Trying to cling to a poetic match, I thought of naming her Mayurakshi. So, we decided her good name be Mayurakshi. Roshni loved both names. We three were a complete family then. We were happy.

But we hardly had any idea that our happiness was so transient.

Taking Ujaala in my lap and Roshni by my side, I was sitting under the crystal clear sky, thinking about our future and making it more beautiful.

But society was not that crystal clear. Society questioned me about the father of the child. When I couldn’t give a suitable reply I was labelled as a flawed and fallen woman. It was a sin not to have a father of a child or not to know who the father was. The child was also stamped as an ominous symbol of sin. She was labelled to be a cursed child.

Opaque and brutal society decided, that we had no right to live. We were dragged to an amphitheatre; Roshni was compelled to be a helpless spectator. Ujaala was tied up in my lap, we were shrouded and stoned: stoned till the floor was inundated with the blood of a so-called whore and her cursed progeny.

I saw my elder daughter, Roshni, a destitute, seeing us in plight and I saw my death along with the death of Mayurakshi.

It was an instance of disturbing atrocity in the land of peace, Tagore’s Shantiniketan.

© Rituparna Khan 2022

Rituparna Khan is a poet and an author with a hungry and dynamic heart, a minuscule in the galaxy of constellations of stalwarts.

HERMANN THE IRASCIBLE

It was in the second decade of the Twentieth Century, after the Great Plague had devastated England, that Hermann the Irascible, nicknamed also the Wise, sat on the British throne. The Mortal Sickness had swept away the entire Royal Family, unto the third and fourth generations, and thus it came to pass that Hermann the Fourteenth of Saxe-Drachsen-Wachtelstein, who had stood thirtieth in the order of succession, found himself one day ruler of the British dominions within and beyond the seas. He was one of the unexpected things that happen in politics, and he happened with great thoroughness. In many ways he was the most progressive monarch who had sat on an important throne; before people knew where they were, they were somewhere else. Even his Ministers, progressive though they were by tradition, found it difficult to keep pace with his legislative suggestions.

“As a matter of fact,” admitted the Prime Minister, “we are hampered by these votes-for-women creatures; they disturb our meetings throughout the country, and they try to turn Downing Street into a sort of political picnic-ground.”

“They must be dealt with” said Hermann.

“Dealt with,” said the Prime Minister; “exactly, just so; but how?”

“I will draft you a Bill,” said the King, sitting down at his type-writing machine, “enacting that women shall vote at all future elections. Shall vote, you observe; or, to put it plainer, must. Voting will remain optional, as before, for male electors; but every woman between the ages of twenty-one and seventy will be obliged to vote, not only at elections for Parliament, county councils, district boards, parish-councils, and municipalities, but for coroners, school inspectors, churchwardens, curators of museums, sanitary authorities, police-court interpreters, swimming-bath instructors, contractors, choir-masters, market superintendents, art-school teachers, cathedral vergers, and other local functionaries whose names I will add as they occur to me. All these offices will become elective, and failure to vote at any election falling within her area of residence will involve the female elector in a penalty of 10 pounds. Absence, unsupported by an adequate medical certificate, will not be accepted as an excuse. Pass this Bill through the two Houses of Parliament and bring it to me for signature the day after tomorrow.”

From the very outset the Compulsory Female Franchise produced little or no elation even in circles which had been loudest in demanding the vote. The bulk of the women of the country had been indifferent or hostile to the franchise agitation, and the most fanatical Suffragettes began to wonder what they had found so attractive in the prospect of putting ballot-papers into a box. In the country districts the task of carrying out the provisions of the new Act was irksome enough; in the towns and cities it became an incubus. There seemed no end to the elections. Laundresses and seamstresses had to hurry away from their work to vote, often for a candidate whose name they hadn’t heard before, and whom they selected at haphazard; female clerks and waitresses got up extra early to get their voting done before starting off to their places of business. Society women found their arrangements impeded and upset by the continual necessity for attending the polling stations, and week-end parties and summer holidays became gradually a masculine luxury. As for Cairo and the Riviera, they were possible only for genuine invalids or people of enormous wealth, for the accumulation of 10 pound fines during a prolonged absence was a contingency that even ordinarily wealthy folk could hardly afford to risk.

It was not wonderful that the female disfranchisement agitation became a formidable movement. The No-Votes-for-Women League numbered its feminine adherents by the million; its colours, citron and old Dutch-madder, were flaunted everywhere, and its battle hymn, “We Don’t Want to Vote,” became a popular refrain. As the Government showed no signs of being impressed by peaceful persuasion, more violent methods came into vogue. Meetings were disturbed, Ministers were mobbed, policemen were bitten, and ordinary prison fare rejected, and on the eve of the anniversary of Trafalgar women bound themselves in tiers up the entire length of the Nelson column so that its customary floral decoration had to be abandoned. Still the Government obstinately adhered to its conviction that women ought to have the vote.

Then, as a last resort, some woman wit hit upon an expedient which it was strange that no one had thought of before. The Great Weep was organized. Relays of women, ten thousand at a time, wept continuously in the public places of the Metropolis. They wept in railway stations, in tubes and omnibuses, in the National Gallery, at the Army and Navy Stores, in St. James’s Park, at ballad concerts, at Prince’s and in the Burlington Arcade. The hitherto unbroken success of the brilliant farcical comedy “Henry’s Rabbit” was imperilled by the presence of drearily weeping women in stalls and circle and gallery, and one of the brightest divorce cases that had been tried for many years was robbed of much of its sparkle by the lachrymose behaviour of a section of the audience.

“What are we to do?” asked the Prime Minister, whose cook had wept into all the breakfast dishes and whose nursemaid had gone out, crying quietly and miserably, to take the children for a walk in the Park.

“There is a time for everything,” said the King; “there is a time to yield. Pass a measure through the two Houses depriving women of the right to vote, and bring it to me for the Royal assent the day after tomorrow.”

As the Minister withdrew, Hermann the Irascible, who was also nicknamed the Wise, gave a profound chuckle.

“There are more ways of killing a cat than by choking it with cream,” he quoted, “but I’m not sure,” he added “that it’s not the best way.”

EX OBLIVIONE

When the last days were upon me, and the ugly trifles of existence began to drive me to madness like the small drops of water that torturers let fall ceaselessly upon one spot of their victims body, I loved the irradiate refuge of sleep. In my dreams I found a little of the beauty I had vainly sought in life, and wandered through old gardens and enchanted woods.

Once when the wind was soft and scented I heard the south calling, and sailed endlessly and languorously under strange stars.

Once when the gentle rain fell I glided in a barge down a sunless stream under the earth till I reached another world of purple twilight, iridescent arbours, and undying roses.

And once I walked through a golden valley that led to shadowy groves and ruins, and ended in a mighty wall green with antique vines, and pierced by a little gate of bronze.

Many times I walked through that valley, and longer and longer would I pause in the spectral half-light where the giant trees squirmed and twisted grotesquely, and the grey ground stretched damply from trunk to trunk, some times disclosing the mould-stained stones of buried temples. And alway the goal of my fancies was the mighty vine-grown wall with the little gate of bronze therein.

After a while, as the days of waking became less and less bearable from their greyness and sameness, I would often drift in opiate peace through the valley and the shadowy groves, and wonder how I might seize them for my eternal dwelling-place, so that I need no more crawl back to a dull world stript of interest and new colours. And as I looked upon the little gate in the mighty wall, I felt that beyond it lay a dream-country from which, once it was entered, there would be no return.

So each night in sleep I strove to find the hidden latch of the gate in the ivied antique wall, though it was exceedingly well hidden. And I would tell myself that the realm beyond the wall was not more lasting merely, but more lovely and radiant as well.

Then one night in the dream-city of Zakarion I found a yellowed papyrus filled with the thoughts of dream-sages who dwelt of old in that city, and who were too wise ever to be born in the waking world. Therein were written many things concerning the world of dream, and among them was lore of a golden valley and a sacred grove with temples, and a high wall pierced by a little bronze gate. When I saw this lore, I knew that it touched on the scenes I had haunted, and I therefore read long in the yellowed papyrus.

Some of the dream-sages wrote gorgeously of the wonders beyond the irrepassable gate, but others told of horror and disappointment. I knew not which to believe, yet longed more and more to cross for ever into the unknown land; for doubt and secrecy are the lure of lures, and no new horror can be more terrible than the daily torture of the commonplace. So when I learned of the drug which would unlock the gate and drive me through, I resolved to take it when next I awaked.

Last night I swallowed the drug and floated dreamily into the golden valley and the shadowy groves; and when I came this time to the antique wall, I saw that the small gate of bronze was ajar. From beyond came a glow that weirdly lit the giant twisted trees and the tops of the buried temples, and I drifted on songfully, expectant of the glories of the land from whence I should never return.

But as the gate swung wider and the sorcery of the drug and the dream pushed me through, I knew that all sights and glories were at an end; for in that new realm was neither land nor sea, but only the white void of unpeopled and illimitable space. So, happier than I had ever dared hope to be, I dissolved again into that native infinity of crystal oblivion from which the daemon Life had called me for one brief and desolate hour.

THE HAUNTED MIND

What a singular moment is the first one, when you have hardly begun to recollect yourself, after starting from midnight slumber! By unclosing your eyes so suddenly you seem to have surprised the personages of your dream in full convocation round your bed, and catch one broad glance at them before they can flit into obscurity. Or, to vary the metaphor, you find yourself for a single instant wide awake in that realm of illusions whither sleep has been the passport, and behold its ghostly inhabitants and wondrous scenery with a perception of their strangeness such as you never attain while the dream is undisturbed. The distant sound of a church-clock is borne faintly on the wind. You question with yourself, half seriously, whether it has stolen to your waking ear from some gray tower that stood within the precincts of your dream. While yet in suspense another clock flings its heavy clang over the slumbering town with so full and distinct a sound, and such a long murmur in the neighboring air, that you are certain it must proceed from the steeple at the nearest corner; You count the strokes—one, two; and there they cease with a booming sound like the gathering of a third stroke within the bell.

If you could choose an hour of wakefulness out of the whole night, it would be this. Since your sober bedtime, at eleven, you have had rest enough to take off the pressure of yesterday’s fatigue, while before you, till the sun comes from “Far Cathay” to brighten your window, there is almost the space of a summer night—one hour to be spent in thought with the mind’s eye half shut, and two in pleasant dreams, and two in that strangest of enjoyments the forgetfulness alike of joy and woe. The moment of rising belongs to another period of time, and appears so distant that the plunge out of a warm bed into the frosty air cannot yet be anticipated with dismay. Yesterday has already vanished among the shadows of the past; to-morrow has not yet emerged from the future. You have found an intermediate space where the business of life does not intrude, where the passing moment lingers and becomes truly the present; a spot where Father Time, when he thinks nobody is watching him, sits down by the wayside to take breath. Oh that he would fall asleep and let mortals live on without growing older!

Hitherto you have lain perfectly still, because the slightest motion would dissipate the fragments of your slumber. Now, being irrevocably awake, you peep through the half-drawn window-curtain, and observe that the glass is ornamented with fanciful devices in frost-work, and that each pane presents something like a frozen dream. There will be time enough to trace out the analogy while waiting the summons to breakfast. Seen through the clear portion of the glass where the silvery mountain-peaks of the frost-scenery do not ascend, the most conspicuous object is the steeple, the white spire of which directs you to the wintry lustre of the firmament. You may almost distinguish the figures on the clock that has just told the hour. Such a frosty sky and the snow-covered roofs and the long vista of the frozen street, all white, and the distant water hardened into rock, might make you shiver even under four blankets and a woollen comforter. Yet look at that one glorious star! Its beams are distinguishable from all the rest, and actually cast the shadow of the casement on the bed with a radiance of deeper hue than moonlight, though not so accurate an outline.

You sink down and muffle your head in the clothes, shivering all the while, but less from bodily chill than the bare idea of a polar atmosphere. It is too cold even for the thoughts to venture abroad. You speculate on the luxury of wearing out a whole existence in bed like an oyster in its shell, content with the sluggish ecstasy of inaction, and drowsily conscious of nothing but delicious warmth such as you now feel again. Ah! that idea has brought a hideous one in its train. You think how the dead are lying in their cold shrouds and narrow coffins through the drear winter of the grave, and cannot persuade your fancy that they neither shrink nor shiver when the snow is drifting over their little hillocks and the bitter blast howls against the door of the tomb. That gloomy thought will collect a gloomy multitude and throw its complexion over your wakeful hour.

In the depths of every heart there is a tomb and a dungeon, though the lights, the music and revelry, above may cause us to forget their existence and the buried ones or prisoners whom they hide. But sometimes, and oftenest at midnight, those dark receptacles are flung wide open. In an hour like this, when the mind has a passive sensibility, but no active strength—when the imagination is a mirror imparting vividness to all ideas without the power of selecting or controlling them—then pray that your griefs may slumber and the brotherhood of remorse not break their chain. It is too late. A funeral train comes gliding by your bed in which passion and feeling assume bodily shape and things of the mind become dim spectres to the eye. There is your earliest sorrow, a pale young mourner wearing a sister’s likeness to first love, sadly beautiful, with a hallowed sweetness in her melancholy features and grace in the flow of her sable robe. Next appears a shade of ruined loveliness with dust among her golden hair and her bright garments all faded and defaced, stealing from your glance with drooping head, as fearful of reproach: she was your fondest hope, but a delusive one; so call her Disappointment now. A sterner form succeeds, with a brow of wrinkles, a look and gesture of iron authority; there is no name for him unless it be Fatality—an emblem of the evil influence that rules your fortunes, a demon to whom you subjected yourself by some error at the outset of life, and were bound his slave for ever by once obeying him. See those fiendish lineaments graven on the darkness, the writhed lip of scorn, the mockery of that living eye, the pointed finger touching the sore place in your heart! Do you remember any act of enormous folly at which you would blush even in the remotest cavern of the earth? Then recognize your shame.

Pass, wretched band! Well for the wakeful one if, riotously miserable, a fiercer tribe do not surround him—the devils of a guilty heart that holds its hell within itself. What if Remorse should assume the features of an injured friend? What if the fiend should come in woman’s garments with a pale beauty amid sin and desolation, and lie down by your side? What if he should stand at your bed’s foot in the likeness of a corpse with a bloody stain upon the shroud? Sufficient without such guilt is this nightmare of the soul, this heavy, heavy sinking of the spirits, this wintry gloom about the heart, this indistinct horror of the mind blending itself with the darkness of the chamber.

By a desperate effort you start upright, breaking from a sort of conscious sleep and gazing wildly round the bed, as if the fiends were anywhere but in your haunted mind. At the same moment the slumbering embers on the hearth send forth a gleam which palely illuminates the whole outer room and flickers through the door of the bedchamber, but cannot quite dispel its obscurity. Your eye searches for whatever may remind you of the living world. With eager minuteness you take note of the table near the fireplace, the book with an ivory knife between its leaves, the unfolded letter, the hat and the fallen glove. Soon the flame vanishes, and with it the whole scene is gone, though its image remains an instant in your mind’s eye when darkness has swallowed the reality. Throughout the chamber there is the same obscurity as before, but not the same gloom within your breast.

As your head falls back upon the pillow you think—in a whisper be it spoken—how pleasant in these night solitudes would be the rise and fall of a softer breathing than your own, the slight pressure of a tenderer bosom, the quiet throb of a purer heart, imparting its peacefulness to your troubled one, as if the fond sleeper were involving you in her dream. Her influence is over you, though she have no existence but in that momentary image. You sink down in a flowery spot on the borders of sleep and wakefulness, while your thoughts rise before you in pictures, all disconnected, yet all assimilated by a pervading gladsomeness and beauty. The wheeling of gorgeous squadrons that glitter in the sun is succeeded by the merriment of children round the door of a schoolhouse beneath the glimmering shadow of old trees at the corner of a rustic lane. You stand in the sunny rain of a summer shower, and wander among the sunny trees of an autumnal wood, and look upward at the brightest of all rainbows overarching the unbroken sheet of snow on the American side of Niagara. Your mind struggles pleasantly between the dancing radiance round the hearth of a young man and his recent bride and the twittering flight of birds in spring about their new-made nest. You feel the merry bounding of a ship before the breeze, and watch the tuneful feet of rosy girls as they twine their last and merriest dance in a splendid ball-room, and find yourself in the brilliant circle of a crowded theatre as the curtain falls over a light and airy scene.

With an involuntary start you seize hold on consciousness, and prove yourself but half awake by running a doubtful parallel between human life and the hour which has now elapsed. In both you emerge from mystery, pass through a vicissitude that you can but imperfectly control, and are borne onward to another mystery. Now comes the peal of the distant clock with fainter and fainter strokes as you plunge farther into the wilderness of sleep. It is the knell of a temporary death. Your spirit has departed, and strays like a free citizen among the people of a shadowy world, beholding strange sights, yet without wonder or dismay. So calm, perhaps, will be the final change—so undisturbed, as if among familiar things, the entrance of the soul to its eternal home.

ONE SUMMER NIGHT

The fact that Henry Armstrong was buried did not seem to him to prove that he was dead: he had always been a hard man to convince. That he really was buried, the testimony of his senses compelled him to admit. His posture — flat upon his back, with his hands crossed upon his stomach and tied with something that he easily broke without profitably altering the situation — the strict confinement of his entire person, the black darkness and profound silence, made a body of evidence impossible to controvert and he accepted it without cavil.

But dead — no; he was only very, very ill. He had, withal, the invalid’s apathy and did not greatly concern himself about the uncommon fate that had been allotted to him. No philosopher was he — just a plain, commonplace person gifted, for the time being, with a pathological indifference: the organ that he feared consequences with was torpid. So, with no particular apprehension for his immediate future, he fell asleep and all was peace with Henry Armstrong.

But something was going on overhead. It was a dark summer night, shot through with infrequent shimmers of lightning silently firing a cloud lying low in the west and portending a storm. These brief, stammering illuminations brought out with ghastly distinctness the monuments and headstones of the cemetery and seemed to set them dancing. It was not a night in which any credible witness was likely to be straying about a cemetery, so the three men who were there, digging into the grave of Henry Armstrong, felt reasonably secure.

Two of them were young students from a medical college a few miles away; the third was a gigantic negro known as Jess. For many years Jess had been employed about the cemetery as a man-of-all-work and it was his favourite pleasantry that he knew ‘every soul in the place.’ From the nature of what he was now doing it was inferable that the place was not so populous as its register may have shown it to be.

Outside the wall, at the part of the grounds farthest from the public road, were a horse and a light wagon, waiting.

The work of excavation was not difficult: the earth with which the grave had been loosely filled a few hours before offered little resistance and was soon thrown out. Removal of the casket from its box was less easy, but it was taken out, for it was a perquisite of Jess, who carefully unscrewed the cover and laid it aside, exposing the body in black trousers and white shirt. At that instant the air sprang to flame, a cracking shock of thunder shook the stunned world and Henry Armstrong tranquilly sat up. With inarticulate cries the men fled in terror, each in a different direction. For nothing on earth could two of them have been persuaded to return. But Jess was of another breed.

In the grey of the morning the two students, pallid and haggard from anxiety and with the terror of their adventure still beating tumultuously in their blood, met at the medical college.

‘You saw it?’ cried one.

‘God! yes — what are we to do?’

They went around to the rear of the building, where they saw a horse, attached to a light wagon, hitched to a gatepost near the door of the dissecting-room. Mechanically they entered the room. On a bench in the obscurity sat the negro Jess. He rose, grinning, all eyes and teeth.

‘I’m waiting for my pay,’ he said.

Stretched naked on a long table lay the body of Henry Armstrong, the head defiled with blood and clay from a blow with a spade.

THE TERRIBLE OLD MAN

It was the design of Angelo Ricci and Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva to call on the Terrible Old Man. This old man dwells all alone in a very ancient house on Water Street near the sea, and is reputed to be both exceedingly rich and exceedingly feeble; which forms a situation very attractive to men of the profession of Messrs. Ricci, Czanek, and Silva, for that profession was nothing less dignified than robbery.

The inhabitants of Kingsport say and think many things about the Terrible Old Man which generally keep him safe from the attention of gentlemen like Mr. Ricci and his colleagues, despite the almost certain fact that he hides a fortune of indefinite magnitude somewhere about his musty and venerable abode. He is, in truth, a very strange person, believed to have been a captain of East India clipper ships in his day; so old that no one can remember when he was young, and so taciturn that few know his real name. Among the gnarled trees in the front yard of his aged and neglected place he maintains a strange collection of large stones, oddly grouped and painted so that they resemble the idols in some obscure Eastern temple. This collection frightens away most of the small boys who love to taunt the Terrible Old Man about his long white hair and beard, or to break the small-paned windows of his dwelling with wicked missiles; but there are other things which frighten the older and more curious folk who sometimes steal up to the house to peer in through the dusty panes. These folk say that on a table in a bare room on the ground floor are many peculiar bottles, in each a small piece of lead suspended pendulum-wise from a string. And they say that the Terrible Old Man talks to these bottles, addressing them by such names as Jack, Scar-Face, Long Tom, Spanish Joe, Peters, and Mate Ellis, and that whenever he speaks to a bottle the little lead pendulum within makes certain definite vibrations as if in answer.

Those who have watched the tall, lean, Terrible Old Man in these peculiar conversations, do not watch him again. But Angelo Ricci and Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva were not of Kingsport blood; they were of that new and heterogeneous alien stock which lies outside the charmed circle of New England life and traditions, and they saw in the Terrible Old Man merely a tottering, almost helpless grey-beard, who could not walk without the aid of his knotted cane, and whose thin, weak hands shook pitifully. They were really quite sorry in their way for the lonely, unpopular old fellow, whom everybody shunned, and at whom all the dogs barked singularly. But business is business, and to a robber whose soul is in his profession, there is a lure and a challenge about a very old and very feeble man who has no account at the bank, and who pays for his few necessities at the village store with Spanish gold and silver minted two centuries ago.

Messrs. Ricci, Czanek, and Silva selected the night of April 11th for their call. Mr. Ricci and Mr. Silva were to interview the poor old gentleman, whilst Mr. Czanek waited for them and their presumable metallic burden with a covered motor-car in Ship Street, by the gate in the tall rear wall of their hosts grounds. Desire to avoid needless explanations in case of unexpected police intrusions prompted these plans for a quiet and unostentatious departure.

As prearranged, the three adventurers started out separately in order to prevent any evil-minded suspicions afterward. Messrs. Ricci and Silva met in Water Street by the old man’s front gate, and although they did not like the way the moon shone down upon the painted stones through the budding branches of the gnarled trees, they had more important things to think about than mere idle superstition. They feared it might be unpleasant work making the Terrible Old Man loquacious concerning his hoarded gold and silver, for aged sea-captains are notably stubborn and perverse. Still, he was very old and very feeble, and there were two visitors. Messrs. Ricci and Silva were experienced in the art of making unwilling persons voluble, and the screams of a weak and exceptionally venerable man can be easily muffled. So they moved up to the one lighted window and heard the Terrible Old Man talking childishly to his bottles with pendulums. Then they donned masks and knocked politely at the weather-stained oaken door.

Waiting seemed very long to Mr. Czanek as he fidgeted restlessly in the covered motor-car by the Terrible Old Man’s back gate in Ship Street. He was more than ordinarily tender-hearted, and he did not like the hideous screams he had heard in the ancient house just after the hour appointed for the deed. Had he not told his colleagues to be as gentle as possible with the pathetic old sea-captain? Very nervously he watched that narrow oaken gate in the high and ivy-clad stone wall. Frequently he consulted his watch, and wondered at the delay. Had the old man died before revealing where his treasure was hidden, and had a thorough search become necessary? Mr. Czanek did not like to wait so long in the dark in such a place. Then he sensed a soft tread or tapping on the walk inside the gate, heard a gentle fumbling at the rusty latch, and saw the narrow, heavy door swing inward. And in the pallid glow of the single dim street-lamp he strained his eyes to see what his colleagues had brought out of that sinister house which loomed so close behind. But when he looked, he did not see what he had expected; for his colleagues were not there at all, but only the Terrible Old Man leaning quietly on his knotted cane and smiling hideously. Mr. Czanek had never before noticed the colour of that mans eyes; now he saw that they were yellow.

Little things make considerable excitement in little towns, which is the reason that Kingsport people talked all that spring and summer about the three unidentifiable bodies, horribly slashed as with many cutlasses, and horribly mangled as by the tread of many cruel boot-heels, which the tide washed in. And some people even spoke of things as trivial as the deserted motor-car found in Ship Street, or certain especially inhuman cries, probably of a stray animal or migratory bird, heard in the night by wakeful citizens. But in this idle village gossip the Terrible Old Man took no interest at all. He was by nature reserved, and when one is aged and feeble, one’s reserve is doubly strong. Besides, so ancient a sea-captain must have witnessed scores of things much more stirring in the far-off days of his unremembered youth.

THE STORY OF AN HOUR

Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.

It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing. Her husband’s friend Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been in the newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was received, with Brently Mallard’s name leading the list of “killed.” He had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message.

She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.

There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.

She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which someone was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.

There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window.

She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.

She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength. But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.

There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.

Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will–as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been. When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under the breath: “free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.

She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial. She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.

There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.

And yet she had loved him–sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!

“Free! Body and soul free!” she kept whispering.

Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for admission. “Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door–you will make yourself ill. What are you doing, Louise? For heaven’s sake open the door.”

“Go away. I am not making myself ill.” No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window.

Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.

She arose at length and opened the door to her sister’s importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister’s waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the bottom.

Someone was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the scene of the accident, and did not even know there had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine’s piercing cry; at Richards’ quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife.

When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease–of the joy that kills.

SUBHA: SHORT STORY BY RABINDRANATH TAGORE

When the newborn girl was named Subhashini, who knew that she would turn out to be speech-impaired, or simply, dumb? Her elder sisters had been named Sukeshini (One with Lots of Hair) and Su-hasini (One with a Nice Smile). To rhyme with those names, this one was named Su-bhashini (One Who Can Speak Well or, Eloquent).Now everyone called her Su-bha for short.

The two elder sisters had been duly married off. But Subha was unmarried as yet, a silent load weighing upon her parent’s minds.

People do not generally remember that even when someone cannot speak, they can nevertheless hear and feel. So people openly expressed their worries about her, and discussed her right in front of her. From her very childhood Subha had come to understand that her birth was a curse upon her family. As a result she always tried to keep herself hidden from public view. It would be a relief if people forgot about me, she used to think. But she was always there in her parents thought – as a painful problem.

Subha’s mother was generally a little irritated with her, as though in some way she reflected some shortcoming or herself as a mother. But Subha’s father Banikanttha had a soft corner for her.

Subha had no power of speech, but she had two large, dark eyes with long lashes and lips that trembled at the slightest twinge of emotion. Dark eyes have their own power of expression.

The village in which Subha lived was named Chandipur. It was on the bank of a small river and Banikanttha’s house was right by the riverside. It was a prosperous household, with cowshed and mango grove, bamboo fencing and haystack.

Whenever Subha found the time, she used to come and sit by the riverside. Nature used to make up for her lack of speech. Nature spoke for her – in terms of the gurgle of the waves, the songs of the birds, the murmur of trees, the footfall and talk of people all around. All of it seemed in some way to be the speech that Subha could not make.

At mid-day when the boatmen had their meals, householders took their nap, and even birds fell silent, Subha used to sit under the trees and watch the world through her large, long-lashed eyes. Nature and Subha would be alone in each other’s mute company.

It is not as though Subha did not have a few friends of her own. There were two cows Sarvashi and Panguli who knew her very footsteps and responded lovingly to the way she folded her arms around them and rubbed her cheeks against their ears. Gazing at her affectionately, they licked her body. Every now and then Subha would go to the cowshed. The days she heard some bitter comment or reproach, she used to go there. Sensing something, they would come closer and rub their horns against her arms, as if to comfort her.

There was a goat and a kitten as well, which she petted. Then there was a creature of a higher order – Pratap – the youngest of the family of the Gosains. His main activity was fishing. One can spend a lot of time sitting by the waters with one’s fishing rod. That is what Pratap did, and that is how Subha and he often came to meet. Pratap felt good in people’s company. But for someone who is fishing, a silent friend is the best. So Pratap came to value Subha’s silent companionship. He began to call her ‘Su’ rather than Subha – the name by which everybody else called her.

Subha used to sit under the Tamarind tree and Pratap used to sit with his fishing rod. A paan was Pratap’s everyday quota and Subha made this betel-nut preparation herself and brought it along for him. She wished that Pratap would ask her for some special help. She wished for Pratap to see that she too could be of some use to the world.

But Pratap needed no help and never asked her to do anything for him. Then Subha used to pray to God for some magic powers that would give Pratap a big surprise and make him exclaim: “I never knew Subha had such abilities!”

Suppose, for instance, that Subha was a mermaid, coming up from the river’s depths, and leaving a jewel on the riverbank. Pratap then would dive in search for more, and come upon an underwater palace. Subha let her imagination go further. Pratap, she imagined, he would come upon the princess of that land under the river, and then find that it was none other than Subha!

But nothing so fantastic happened, and gradually Subha grew into a young woman as distinct from a girl. She felt the tide of youth flood her body. When it was full moon, she would often find herself open the door of her room and timidly step out. The moonlit night stretched silently before and Subha stood silently gazing at it.

Meanwhile Subha’s parents had realized that it was high time for their daughter to get married. Village people were gossiping. In fact, they were thinking of making Banikanttha a social outcast because he had not married off his daughter even though she had grown-up.

Banikanttha and his wife discussed the matter at length. Banikanttha was away from the village for a while. Then he came back and asked his family to go to Kolkata with him. Preparations for the journey began. Subha’s heart filled with a vague dread. Like a dumb animal she stayed by her parents’ side. Looking into their faces with her large eyes, she tried to understand something. But they never explained anything to her.

One afternoon, however, Pratap looked up from his fishing and said with a smile: “Subha, I heard that a match has been found for you and you are going away to get married. Don’t forget us, though!” Then he looked away again and concentrated on his fishing.

Subha looked at him like a stricken deer looking at the hunter. Silently she seemed to say: ‘What wrong did I do to you?’ She did not sit under the tree anymore. She went up and sat down at her father’s feet. Banikanttha had had his nap and was having a smoke. Subha looked into his face and began to cry. Banikanttha tried to comfort her but tears came to his own eyes as well.

The day of departure was fixed. Subha went to the cowshed to take leave of her childhood friends. She fed Sarvashi and Panguli herself, put her arms around their necks and gazed into their eyes with eyes full of unspoken words. Tears fell from her long-lashed eyes.

That night Subha left her room and went out to the moon washed river-bank. She fell upon the ground under the trees. Clutching at the earth, she tried to pray to Mother Nature not to let her go, but stretch out her hand like herself and clutch her to her breast.

On going to Kolkata, Banikanttha took up a temporary accommodation and presented Subha before a possible match for her.

His wife tied up Subha’s hair in golden ribbons, covered her up with ornaments, and obliterated her natural beauty as much as she could. Tears coursed down Subha’s cheeks. Her mother scolded her because that would make her eyes get swollen and ugly. But scolding could not make the tears stop.

The bridegroom himself, along with a friend, came to interview Subha. Subha kept on crying. But this enhanced her value to the bridegroom. It made him think: “The girl has a soft heart and one day that may of use to me.” After looking at Subha for a long time, he pronounced: “Not bad”. A suitable day was determined according to astrological calculations. Depositing their dumb daughter to an alien household, the parents went back to their village. They had met the requirements of social traditions.

The bridegroom was employed at a distance from Kolkata, in the central provinces. Immediately after the wedding, he took his bride there.

Within a week everyone got to understand that the newly wedded bride was speech-impaired, dumb. Nobody understood that it was not her fault. She had not deceived anyone. Her eyes had said everything but nobody had been able to understand it. Subha looked here and there. Wherever she looked, she found no one who could understand the language of the dumb. She could not see the familiar faces she had known since her birth. In the silent heart of the young girl, there rang out an inarticulate cry that no one but God could hear.

This time her husband used both his ears and eyes and chose a bride endowed with the power of speech.