The Branded Hand (The Nowhere Stories Book 1)

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Are people really capable of such things?! How could you go on living after all that? Women put on their light dresses… It was so beautiful all around us, and yet, there was so much terror! Do you understand? Look at what a cute little girl she is. His parents were against it — categorically against it!

But everything had to be done according to custom, according to the traditions… Azerbaijani traditions are beautiful, I love them. The first time the groomsmen come, they are heard out and sent away, and only on the second try do they get an agreement or rejection. And it has to be on a sunny day… because you have to convince happiness to stay, you have to ward off the forces of darkness. The bride accepts the gifts and thanks the groom, kissing him in front of everyone.

She wears a white shawl over her shoulders, a symbol of her purity. On the wedding day, the couple is brought gifts by both sides of the family, they receive a mountain of gifts that are placed on large trays and tied with red ribbons. I love her more than life itself. They threw small change and rice at us, for happiness and wealth.

And he agreed to that, too, anything just to be with me. But I… At that moment, I decided that I would have his baby anyway. Even if it meant that I would die, the child would live.

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There were no doors in the entrances, the spaces where the doors had been were covered in cellophane…. Where had they found them in the city? She lay on the ground not making a sound. Where was the police? The police had disappeared… I would go days without seeing a single policeman. At home, Abulfaz was nauseated. He was a kind man, very kind. But where had those other people come from, the ones out on the street? A man covered in blood came running towards us… His coat, his hands all covered in blood… He was clutching a long kitchen knife, the kind people use to cut herbs.

None of them! Anyone could come up to you and demand to see your passport. The younger Russians had already left, abandoning their apartments and nice furniture. Only the old women remained, those kind-hearted Russian grandmas…. The bloodbath in Baku went on for several weeks. My Azerbaijani friend hid me, she had a husband and two kids.

One day… I swear! At night, I would come down from the attic for an hour or two… We spoke in whispers, but I absolutely had to be talked to. I remember our conversations very well.

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Afterwards, I would spend all day up in the attic going over them in my head. I was alone… All I saw was a thin ribbon of sky through a crack…. By the time they found his passport, he was already seriously injured.

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I love his work, he painted portraits of women and still lifes. Burn them to hell! We thought that good would triumph over evil — nothing of the kind! Walking among us. All I knew was how to cry and how to wipe my tears… For a long time, I had believed that I lived in the best country in the world, among the very best people.

He was terribly upset, it was all incredibly hard on him. He ended up having a stroke and becoming paralyzed… [ She stops. I could go home Many people died in those days, a lot of good people. The streets filled with Russian troops. Military equipment. Russian soldiers, just boys… what they saw made them faint…. I was eight months pregnant.

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My due date was coming up. Nowhere and no way, simply no way.

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My mother found an old midwife, a Russian woman, one who had helped her give birth a long, long time ago… She found her living in a small village on the edge of town. We went to the village where Anna lived, to the hospital where she worked part-time.

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To supplement her pension. She had been waiting for us; they put me on the table immediately. I was in labour for a long time, seven hours… There were two of us giving birth that night: me and an Azerbaijani woman. They only had one pillow, and they gave it to her, so my head was very low the whole time, in a painful and uncomfortable position… My mother stood in the doorway.

What if they tried to steal the baby… What if? Anything could have happened… In those days, anything was possible. They let the other mothers, all Azerbaijani, breastfeed their babies, but not me. I waited for two days. And then… along the wall, clinging onto it for support… I crept to the room where they kept the newborns. It was completely empty except for my little girl, the doors and windows were all shut. I felt her temperature, she was burning up, all hot. My daughter was sick for a long time.

An old doctor, long retired, treated her. A Jew. He went around helping Armenian families. He was very, very old. We named our daughter Ira… Irinka… We decided that she should have a Russian name, it might protect her. The first time Abulfaz held her, he cried. He wept with joy… There was joy in those days, as well. Our joy!

Around then, his mother got sick… He started going to see his family all the time. Of course, I was scared. There were tons of refugees flooding the city, Azerbaijani families fleeing Armenia.

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  • They showed up empty-handed, without anything, exactly the same way Armenians fled Baku. And they told the same stories. Oh, it was all identical. They spoke about Khodjali, where there had been a pogrom on Azerbaijanis. We just had to! Run… run to forget… and if I had stayed, I would have died. My mother left first… After her, it was my father with his second family. Then me and my daughter. When we got on the aeroplane, there were more cases of fruit and cardboard boxes of flowers than passengers.

    Business was booming. In front of us, there were these young Azerbaijanis who drank wine the whole way there. Silent people get sick. It took him seven years. My daughter saved me. For her sake, I held on with all my strength. In order to survive, you need to find at least the thinnest thread… In order to survive waiting that long… It was morning, just another morning… He stepped into our apartment and embraced us.

    Then he just stood there. One minute he was standing there, in the entrance and the next, I was watching him collapse in slow motion. Moments later, he was lying on the floor, still in his coat and hat.