…It was full of warmth that the morning embraced its new son, for he had exchanged his home for the street, or better to say, made the street his home.
Umar felt the weight of the coat being laid unto his shoulders. He always admired his friend Shavkat for that coat, its blueness, its vividly coloured inside layer. The early autumn night didn’t afford wearing a coat. But Umar knew he looked as if needing one, pale, feeling the night’s breeze on his sweat-covered face.
Shavkat’s eyes were resting on him, a worried expression in them, Umar could tell even when not looking up. “I’ll be going to help them set up the camp”, Umar heard his friend’s voice. He nodded slowly, closing his eyes. When he opened them again Shavkat was gone.
The streets were empty and tranquil now. Only from the caravanserai came a low hum of human voices and beasts’ cries. The moonlight gave the portal of the caravanserai a cold gleam. Not more than three hours ago he had sat in right this spot, looking over to the portal from which the guard had driven him away. Unlike Shavkat, who was working inside, he couldn’t just enter easily. Silently he had cursed the guards, together with the merchants, their camels and goods, even Shavkat. How he despised the commotion that was made every time a sizable group of merchants arrived. “Why sitting there with such a gloomy look?” he had heard a mild female voice all of a sudden. Surprised he looked up. It was the pari who was standing before him.
The pari. She was not like the other women. Not respectable like them. She had had a husband once, as he had heard the barber tell, but he vanished. Not so unusual, Umar thought. People came with the caravans all of the time and disappeared again. There had also been a son, a confident lad that was well-liked by everybody. When he fell sick from a strange disease and died within a short time the pari’s face changed. It became blank. She started buying the venom from the traders who came from the East. She didn’t seem to be in this world anymore. Anahita, the always-gossiping girl from the hamam, liked to tell people about the pari’s fate, whether they wanted to hear or not. There was this incident, a friend of Anahita’s mother remembered precisely, that gave a clue to the mysterious death of the pari’s son. One day in her youth the pari had been by the river, taking a bath, when she caught the attention of a horse-headed demon that dwelled in the river. He attempted to rape her, but she got away. From that day onwards her eyes had that blue colour, giving her a slightly otherworldly air. It was the demon’s retribution for her rejecting him, Anahita would assure, that had called the pari’s son to his ancestors.
The woman let her hand move through his hair, seeming absent-minded. Then she turned and went her way. And Umar – why was he doing so? – got up and followed her.
On the upper floor of a grand family-home the pari had her room. It wasn’t big, but full of furniture and beautiful objects from foreign empires. There were dragons and birds, sliced from a greenish-white stone, which appeared to be so full of life, they might vault themselves into the air any minute. Umar knelt before them, captivated.
The pari had returned from the landlord with a jug of milk and some biscuits, which she placed on the small table. Hungrily, Umar snatched for a biscuit. Two crystal-glasses – real glasses, not cups – were filled with milk, the pari seemed delighted to have a guest. For a while they just sat there, sipping from the glasses. Then, as the pari grew uneasy, she produced a tiny porcelain flask from her dress and uncorked it. ‘The snake’s venom’, it shot through Umar’s head. She had probably just bought it from one of the merchants. A small amount only was poured into the glass before her and curiously it didn’t mix with the white liquid slowly, but rather darted through it like black lightning. Emptying the glass, the pari went over to rest on the divan. Umar knew what poison was. He had seen the merchants smoking opium in the caravanserai, when they sat around the fire and relaxed. The small and soft mass was stuffed into a pipe, lit and then melted, issuing a lovely-sweet smell.
Never had he taken poison. But then he was fifteen, almost grown-up. So he reached for the flask, letting a little bit trickle into his glass, watching the chemical reaction with fascination. Without hesitation he swallowed his milk. An acidic heat burned through his throat and spread warmth in his stomach. There was a feeling of golden cosiness. The shadows in the room’s corners seemed to become deeper, as if the blackness of the venom had also spread around him. Simultaneously, the stone-objects began to move. Not fast, and not when Umar was fixing his eyes on them, but when not looking at them directly he could see them twisting. Were they trying to throw off their skin and feathers? Funnily, a moment later Umar found himself on the floor next to the divan. How did he come here? His head weighed too much to hold it upright. Not wanting to sink to the ground he turned to the pari’s legs for support. He noticed that she was talking – quite possibly for a long time already – staring up to the ceiling or into nowhere. Every single word he understood perfectly, but put together they just didn’t make sense to him. The sentences were too long. At the end of one of them he had forgotten the beginning already.
Umar noticed how he shoved his shoulder forward, causing the pari’s dress to slide up, exposing her legs. What was he doing? Normally, he wouldn’t even dare to look at a woman. This was different. He expected the pari to slap him any second, but it would do him wrong; in this he didn’t have responsibility. He didn’t move. He was moved.
Closer and closer he brought himself, opening up her legs. She was still speaking, the words resonating in her flesh. His arms around her waist, he lay there in perfect peace. She also fell silent. They were absorbed in an inner dialogue.
Something changed. Coming from the curling objects, a motion waved through the air. It captured him, sending a convulsion through his body. He wanted to shake his physical form off in order to be closer. Moving, always moving, he pushed closer. A stifled gasp came from the mouth of the woman. It all happened automatically now. Although his eyes were closed he saw the sun rising, a sun inside of him, glowing, the colour of melting stone, shining within his eternal darkness. Blood, that was blood on her skin. His nose had started bleeding, apparently. She raised her head to meet his eyes. And then a terrifying manifestation took place on her face. Gradually, the pari’s face filled with life. He hadn’t seen her like this ever. A laugh emanated from her – or was it the call of the muezzin that entered through the window? –; he saw nothing except her eyes, diving into the blueness of them. And there, on the surface, he found his own face, awfully distorted: It looked animal-like, long, with protruding teeth and thick hair on the back of his head and neck.
Umar felt better. It was early morning, the sun still behind the horizon, yet the sky already clear blue and its hem yellowish. The sounds from the caravanserai had subsided. Shavkat looked tired. Slowly the two of them walked past the clay-walls of peoples’ homes, through empty alleys, to reach their home. It was only in this one spot that you could climb the wall surrounding the city without taking the stairs. Up here was their place of retreat. No shelter that would protect from rain, but the weather was going to stay fine for some more weeks and to lie next to the city-wall kept you out of the sun’s heat. At this time of the day the desert always reminded Umar more of a sea, cool and fresh. Also, it was usually in these hours that he missed his mother most. Where she was now, he had no idea. Most probably in a place where everybody with the desire and means could be tasting her flesh. “Get some sleep. You don’t want to be ill tomorrow”, said Shavkat. Umar let himself fall unto the mat. He was so exhausted he wanted to smile for being able to finally rest. His friend’s coat was still with him, so – using it as a blanket – he pulled it up to his nose. It smelled of Shavkat’s essence, the smell of survival. And the inside layer was so soft on his skin.
Text by Jesko Schmoller