To One Million Five Hundred Thousand,
and countless more.
by Manuel Buen-Abad (2015)
Come here, my child, and sit on my lap; hush now my sweet babe, don’t you cry, don’t spoil that bright face of yours. Let me tell you a story, a nice little story of a pretty girl just like you.
She had olive skin and the deepest green eyes, and a hair like wild ravens—a hundred, so dark and fierce it was; the wind used to stroke it so gently and whisper stories in her ear when she rested on the branches of the apple trees.
Her name… doesn’t matter anymore—it has long been forgotten by those that brought her into this world, and by herself. They call her Tarçın now, for her scent is fire and those who taste her cannot let her go.
She lived in a village at the feet of a mountain, a giant of sacred white hair that once, long ago, held in his arms Noah’s mythical ark.
You see—my dove, my sweet little dove—she had a happy life with her siblings, in a small wooden house; in the hot days of summer they’d bathe in the waters of the Araks and her mother would feed them honey and milk.
This girl liked to dance and to sing in the forest, and chase the fairies that there lived. But one day, a treacherous fog came down from the west and she went lost, having wandered too far into the wild. Terrible cries rose from the village and a fire was blazing below. When she finally arrived, lo and behold! Her family was slain on the ground.
Her siblings beheaded, a frightening sight; her mother in pieces and scattered about; and the little girl knelt on the dirt and cried. But then a neigh pierced the night and before she could hide a terrible man had appeared. He took her by the arm and pulled her up and sat her on the saddle.
“A precious young girl,” the beast said out loud, “and a gift, one most fine, for the khan“.
And so it came to be, my sweet little dove, that this pretty girl—of olive skin and sad green eyes and sorrowful, perfumed dark hair—her home had to leave and was carried away to a land of strange people and name.
She wasn’t even ten yet, and still, when brought before the khan, she could feel undressed by his eyes. But he didn’t take her—she was young and still pure—, for she was to be the Sultan’s.
And so, ten years have passed, and she’s made a new life for herself. She sings, and she dances, like those years of old, but for others’ lustful delight. She’s clever and smart, she writes poems and reads them out loud, yet she’s trapped in a cave like a dove. She was flat-chested, but now her breasts are full, and she’s a woman, beautiful and proud.
For ten years she’s been the favorite of the Sultan, but in the darkest of nights, when the others are sleeping, she gazes through the window and longs for the Araks.
And then three apples fell from heaven: one for she who tells the story, one for she who listens, and one for he who understands.
Because now you’re here, my dove, my sweet little dove, and you’re also flat-chested: a child. Fear not, my love, my sweet love, for no one will be to you unkind.
See, here comes Ayub Kızlarağası with that bright smile of his, so handsome and tall. Look how black he is, and graceful. Not a single hair on that face of his.
What is this? More tears? No, my sweet love, my little white dove, Ayub will do you no harm. Don’t hide behind the curtain, don’t be foolish, he’s here to take care of us. He’s an eunuch, you see; aren’t you, Ayub?
Do you know—my dove, my sweet little dove—what an eunuch is?
You should hear him sing.
Come, Ayub, bring us that tray, we’re hungry for having spoken for so long. Bring us the fruit, Ayub, and that bejewelled steel knife, I’ll feed the dove little slices of apple. Three apples for us, Ayub.
Look, my dove, my sweet little dove, it is dark now. The sun is gone. Everyone sleeps, and Ayub guards the door.
Don’t cry, my child, my sweet little child, and finish your apple; nothing will hurt you.
No one will hurt you.
Hush, my dove, my little dove. Feel the first and last kiss you’ll ever feel, cold and sharp, nibbling on your neck.
Sleep now, sweet child, I’ll give the Sultan, the Refuge of the World, your goodbye, little dove, and I’ll give him an apple and make him understand, and I’ll kiss him cold, my child, I’ll kiss him with steel, my dove, my little dove, and I’ll kiss myself, I’ll kiss my breasts and my neck, my love, and we’ll be home you and I, at the feet of mount Ararat, and we’ll bathe ourselves in the waters of the Araks.