Before starting to understand the world he considered Salima as own native mother. But hearing that his parents have died in traffic accident, a mysterious curtain appeared between them, and he immediately grew cold towards his stepmother – as if, this woman was guilty in his orphanage. “How could I consider as mother a virgin spinster for so long time?” He couldn’t even sit opposite to Salima and discuss this issue with her. He considered her to be guilty in hiding this secret from him. He felt the coldness of the word “orphan” in own vessels and marrows. But now, when his friends make hint regarding his orphanage he does not feel hurt. Because, immediately after being aware of the reality, he addressed to granny Sona and acquired sufficient information from her. Granny Sona was his friend Faradj’s grandmother. He always felt her sincere care and kindness. Sona cooked all meals in mourning and wedding parties of neighbors and could cook pilaf and bozbash very skillfully. She always called him and her grandson and fed them with pilaf and bozbash. At that time Turgay was not aware of own orphanage yet...
While growing, he dreamt of native parents and sudden questions appeared in his mind: “I wonder whether my mother loved me?”, “Will I suffer from orphanage a lot?”, “Why is Salima not tired of bringing me up as native child?”... Sometimes he thought the fate of a child born in Africa is hunger and a child born in Afghanistan is war, and his destiny is to be an orphan. But growing older, he got sorry for his life.
Salima also felt that Turgay had changed. Any case, there was nothing to keep secret – “He would learn everything any way”. Seeing that Turgay was often looking at the family photos she brought to him the picture suspended on the wall of her room. It was a wonderful portrait painted with oil. Turgay was only two or three years old in this picture. A splendid woman – it was amazing that this woman was not his mother but “a housemaid” painted in traditional style – was bathing him in a wooden tub. His father was sitting on an old chair drinking something and looking at the woman’s naked arms and unbuttoned chest. Everything in the picture was antique including the carpet, the wooden tub, the ladle and basin, the window, the people’s clothes, hairstyles, the colours and the woman’s kerchief. Only Turgay’s and his father’s faces were vivid. He heard from Salima that the painter drawing this picture upon order died long ago. Often, looking into his father’s eyes he tried to catch the spirit of his mind but could not go beyond his pupils. He thought: “A father is an abstract image like the God”. Though a child does not know the names of flowers but he can vary them owing to the smell. He also knew the meaning of the word “father” but could not determine whether it is fragrant or thorny. So, he was keeping silence hearing somebody’s speaking about his parents. Hearing the words “Father is wonderful”, he often shrugged his shoulders. His parents left neither a smell nor voice nor a testament – only the inanimate photos and the picture reflecting his father’s live and mysterious gaze .Although his father’s sights were vivid, the dead and sphacelated sights could not shake his heart: “You are under the ground on which you used to walk and carry me in my childhood , but I am still on it. You are looking at me from under the ground but I am still alive and, it is my preference” – as if, he tried to irritate father. He felt guilty in being born because of his father’s death: “I am glad that you died before me and I am not guilty in your death. Don’t look at me such, you should not have died too early! You were bored of fatherhood and ran to the world beyond as a coward. I do not care if you had problems with anybody. I have no uncles and it is wonderful, it is freedom. Now I report only to the God and possibly, in the future I will bother him, too – you both agreed to leave me in the world as orphan. I am proud of my orphanage. Maybe, I became orphan because of my kindness. Maybe, if you were alive you would make me a slave and considered your property. I am glad that you are absent, otherwise, I would owe you. The father hiding under the ground is not able to plant any seeds for me. I belong to Salima more than you and mother and, she is entitled to consider me as own child more than my native parents. I don’t know that angel housemaid washing my face but as soon as I saw her picture I fell in love with her. I wish she were instead of Salima, I would marry her with great pleasure”.
Finishing the secondary school Turgay discovered the letter “T” barely seen in his father’s one pupil. It was a secret signature impossible for avoiding by any painter. He even found a magnifier for discovering the secret of this pupil. He carefully investigated each millimeter in the picture but did not find another cypher there. “What are you looking for?” – Salima asked. “Are you aware of the existence of the letter “T” in my father’s pupil?” “No,” – she answered. “What could it be, I wonder?” – he thought and Salima said: “I don’t think that it is the sign of your name. Maybe, it is the first letter of Tahir, your father’s name? Or the painter’s signature…?” – and she passed to the kitchen. Usually, when they succeeded to intercourse Turgay tried to prolong this discussion but the woman evidently avoided it. Once he asked: “Was my father as handsome as in the picture?” She briefly answered: “He was very handsome!” – and did not leave the kitchen for couple of hours avoiding continuation of negotiation. Turgay felt that the woman was avoiding the questions regarding his family and trying to hide.
Turgay was in the habit of shuttering , and the woman was gently smiling when he shuttered in speech. He joked with his friend: “I stutter because I stopped sucking milk very early.” He neither allowed anybody’s hinting at his orphanage nor demonstrated a grief of it. “Why should people feel sorry for own orphanage?”. He could speak to Faradj on any topic. Once Faradj asked him: “Is orphanage hard?”. He answered: “Orphanage is happiness. It is very strange that somebody lives as orphan and other people feel sorry for his life. I’m satisfied with my status. You should not be sorry for me. Am I different from you, is orphanage a different feeling? I cannot understand it because if my parents were alive I would understand the first question. But I cannot feel orphanage thanks to Salima.” However, so many people had discussed his parents’ death that he was bored and, subsequently, he simply admitted their death as an accident. One of the witnesses of this accident said: “Before the car’s sliding into the abyss the woman was beating the driver with her bag”. These words meant that the parents’ relations were bad. Later he tried to unveil this secret: “Why should my mother beat father in the car? Maybe, she wanted to separate because of betrayal?” – Granny Sona said nothing about it and he didn’t insist. “Everything is in the past, nothing will change now...” Being in a bad mood, he used to look at the picture on the wall and ask “How are you, dad? I’m better than you because I’m alive! – he was teasing his father””
Salima had never let him to feel orphanage. They loved and were afraid of each other at the same time. Looking at her Turgay often thought a mother should be a beautiful and terrible creature.” The only thing she knew about Salima is that she was his father’s distant relative; her family remained under ruins as result of an earthquake and, she had to terminate education and return home; she was brought to them as a housemaid upon his parents’ unilateral decision. He would always hear people talking around “This woman is his stepmother”. They both had no obligations before each other – they both were free. Turgay told Faradj: “She lives in my house and I live in her expense till being employed. It doesn’t matter that I used to love her considering as my mother. Now I feel nothing to her.” – he said. However, he admitted being completely dependent on Salima – he lived in her expense, wore the clothes bought by her and avoided speaking to her. Remembering that while his was falling asleep, the woman used to cover him with blanket saying: “You are my treasure, you are my honey” he thought: “If I had a skill able to amaze her I’d make her happier a bit”. Looking at smart but serious face of this thin woman of forty-five years old he thought: “Being honey is enough for me, we would better not to remove the curtain between us. I wonder how my being maintained by Salima, differ from Shakir maintaining a dog? At least, dogs are kind and faithful, but a human being is ungrateful. I am a burden for this woman. I would be better to offer her to marry anybody because she should not waste her life because of me doing me a favor. If a man exists at home, I would learn being a man from him. But in my case, I am the only man in her sights. As my father is dead, I am the head of this house and I should take care of this woman, as the only member of my family”.
In the period of inclination towards guilts he tried to learn Salima’s intimate secrets. However, he had seen neither her underware nor her bathing in the bath-room. Everytime, entering her own room she locked the door. Besides, Turgay was afraid of the woman’s reproach which he had never witnessed – she considered him as own prophet… Human purity is a deific miracle preventing a man from sinking into sins. In Turgay’s sights Salima was an innocent phenomenon.
Salima worked for fifteen years in the “Children’s School of Art” No.3 as a cleaner. Her workplace was next to the residence. She succeeded to maintain Turgay with own little salary overcoming all challenges. She clearly remembered how she appeared in this family as being shot by the fate’s forked stick. After Turgay’s growth they were living under the same roof as if, they were guilty before each other. Only worrying or, trying to explain something to Turgay she muttered. For instance, seeing that Turgay had thrown the rubbish not into but out of dustbin she chattered after him complaining that flies would gather in neighbors’ homes and they will damn him.
Salima did not consider her life as wasted; simply, her fate was unhappy like Turgay’s. Two unhappy persons were obliged to live together. She has brought up Turgay as own child since he was two years old. She was always sure that being alone is better than becoming a widow. She was loved, but decided to devote her life to Turgay, the last memory of the family. “Nobody can deprive me of him. Besides, there is nobody able to take me away from him. I have never committed a sin for being shy before him”. She fulfilled all requests with great pleasure and Turgay’s wishes were like prophet’s one for her. Thus, the woman wasn’t tired of serving him as a zealous bee.
* * *
He often thought about making Salima happy. “ I will become a real orphan if Salima abandons me,” – he was afraid of it. He was afraid of losing her due to own cold treatment and decided to remove the mysterious curtain existing between them. “Maybe, I wouldn’t stand my mother’s death, that is why she died early. But she is dead and I don’t remember her. Now I should protect the woman living with me”.
Once, granny Sona brought a meal and Turgay saw Salima crying in her room. He harkened to the door – she was chattering. He only heard: “Your son looks like you”. Firstly, he though that she accepted granny Sona’s meal as handout. However, nobody except granny Sona had sent a meal to them; if anybody does, Salima would reject – her pride would not allow feeding her child with handout. “Without Salima, probably, I would accept handouts…” – he felt pain in his body. “Rich men do not understand that helping to poor people is their obligation and they should not fulfill own obligation as handout”. He ate some part of meal and left the rest for Salima.
Once awaking Turgay found breakfast on the table and saw that the lamp in the woman’s room is lighting. He pushed the door – it was opened. Salima was sick, her face reddened. She had no strength for leaving the bed. She put her kerchief in order and tried to half-rise but Turgay didn’t allow. “Don’t worry...” – he said and coming closer, took the woman’s hand into own palm. She had a fever. “I think, I have caught cold washing floors with cold water,” – she said. Turgay gave her a drug and tea with cornel jam and leaving the room heard her whisper: “I would be your sacrifice”... He brought the second cup of tea and put onto the stool near her bed. However, feling ashamed of staying with her in the bedroom, he returned to own bed and laid face down. “She is ill – it is warning of death. I will not live if she leaves me…” – he bitterly hiccupped. “I have to appreciate her love to this home, to me and my family, and love her. Losing her means my death, my real orphanage!” A bit later, desiring to hear these greetings again, he poured a tea and putting jam, took it to Salima’s room. But she didn’t drink the previous cup of tea completely. “I’m better, don’t worry” – she said with smile, – “Just warn Mayis that I’m ill and cannot go to work today.”– Turgay humbly left the room.
* * *
Salima had gone to work before the dawn. During last days she returned home tired but her efforts didn’t enfeeble. However, she became forgetful. Once Turgay, having breakfast saw that she had forgotten to take her key. He went to Salima’s work for giving the key. She was standing in front of the room with the door open, leaning her chin against the swab and listening to the painter’s angry words to his apprentice. “Crazy Mayis” got furious and reproached his apprentice as if he was quarreling with Picasso:
– Your hand works accurately but your head does not! The picture seems beautiful from outside, but looking attentively, it has no meaning. You should draw not the appearance of the river but its murmur. Everybody can draw the cloud and sky – you should draw the birds’ twittering in the sky. You should draw the happiness on the child’s face but not only his smile! You should draw not with hand but heart! How many times should I repeat it to you?
The girl was miserably staying and trying to understand him. “Damn the parent sending his child to crazy Mayis. How can this foolish man teach anything? How can he be considered as “a talented painter” of “a skillful teacher?” “A person should be an humankind first of all, for teaching something”, – Turgay thought about the teacher.
Salima, wiping the floor, was listening to the angry painter and getting perplexed: “Are you really crazy? She is a child, how can she know the God’s appearance?” – she chattered as usual. Seeing Turgay she tried to hide the swab as if being shy of her work. Turgay gave her the key without greeting and left the corridor.
... Salima did not come home that night. Turgay fell asleep and was not aware of the woman’s absence. Awaking in the morning he did not see the meals he accustomed to see on the table every morning. “Didn’t she spend the night at home?!”. Haphazardly wearing the trousers he ran to the Salima’s workplace. He felt anxiety in heart and begged the God: “Oh my God, don’t deprive me of Salima, let me see her alive” ...
The door of the school was open, and the swap was leant against the door. He entered the room of “Crazy Mayis” and could not believe his eyes...
* * *
Salima put her head onto arms on Mayis’ table and sleept tired groaning in the dream. Turgay got calmed. Her kerchief fell down; her hair, forehead, the sleeve of the gown and hands were soiled in paint. He felt that she had fallen asleep a short time ago. Turgay tiptoeing entered the room. The easel was staying in the middle of the room. The blue light of the table lamp illuminated the picture on the easel. This picture was speaking under the blue light. It contained everything including murmur of rivers, a quiet blue sky, carelessly flying birds, flowers covered by the Mist of Happiness, the careless children playing with butterflies . It was interesting that everything was placed into an Eye. The eye’s pupil was the Earth; it had a shining sun and the moon illuminating the darkness as well as stars shining in the tear. The darkness joined the light in this picture. All colors were shining in the light; the picture had a smell of the morning dew and fresh air after rain. This picture was the kind of God’s eye seeing the Earth and Heaven together.
Turgay carefully touched the picture with the tip of the finger – the color was still wet. He smiled: “She fell asleep waiting for color’s drying” and looked at Salima. He saw her plaits and hair on her head for the first time. He felt a desire to stroke her hair – it was the very time of breaking ice between them – but his hand hung on the air. He silently damned own pride.
Mayis’ rat-tat temple steps were heard in the corridor. Hearing these steps Salima started and seeing Turgay she stood motionless forgetting even own kerchief. Everything was already unveiled, Turgay had seen her hair. Presently everything was depending on Turgay’s decision. She took off the gown and threw into wardrobe, put the kerchief in order and wiped the color from face. Then, she ran towards easel but Turgay took the picture and hid behind himself. Their sights collided. Turgay was smiling but Salima, feeling guilty, tried to hide her eyes. She only said: “Don’t let him know...” Ice covering Turgay melted in a moment. That was the first time Salima begged him something. He felt a volcanic heat inside, and embracing Salima’s neck, smelled her hair and kissed...
“Crazy Mayis” was already in the room. Seeing Turgay he cried: “O-o-o.., you, loafer, nice to meet you! You would never wake up so early, how could you come?” – and pulled his arm towards him. But suddenly seeing the picture, he bowed in front of it and cried: “Wonderful! That’s super! That’s genial!” He was ready to get inside the picture and have fun together with the children playing in the shadow of trees. He took the picture and put towards the window: “Who painted it?” – he asked. Turgay embraced Salima again and said: “My mother! My angel mother did!” – and kissed her cheek. Suddenly he saw something and taking the picture from Mayis put it back on the easel. He took the big magnifier from the shelf and started to observe the little eye pupil reflecting the black hole in the middle of the Earth. But could not find what he looked for. Salima laughed and asked: “What are you looking for?”. Turgay answered – “The letter T”.
– You cannot find it. I hid it in a place that you will not find it, - she smiled and embraced Turgay’s neck.
– I will not calm down until I find “T” – Turgay said. – Where did you hide it?
– In the deepest place of the picture – inside the heart.
– Where is the heart? What does “T” mean?
– “T” means essence of my life, and light of my eyes – “Turgay”– Salima wiped her tears.
The mother and son embraced each other. “Crazy Mayis” was looking at them and the picture and stood motionless. “Blue light of lamp... Why could I not realize it before?”... – he thought.