by Afaq Masud (born 1957)
A Short Story
Translated by Aynur
Hajiyeva and edited by Betty Blair.
When Mastan said: "My back
hurts," everybody in the building, replied: "Jan".1
When Mastan sneezed, everybody in the building said: "Be
healthy!" Mastan coughed, everybody in the building brought
medicine. Mastan's wife cooked a dish. Everybody in the building
praised it, whether they liked it or not. Mastan's wife bought
a pair of shoes. Everybody in the building said: "Mubarak"!2
Mastan's child fell down in the yard, everybody in the building
sighed. Such was the building where Mastan lived. It always seemed
to Mastan that he was not living in a house, but in the street
or in the middle of the courtyard. He was afraid to act freely
at home. Whatever he wanted to say, he would think about it 30
times before saying it. It was as if Mastan's apartment had ears.
If he sneezed twice, there would be a big confusion among his
neighbors, and they would call him all day long to ask how he
was. That's why Mastan, his wife and child always behaved very
cautiously. They were talking to one another, using the polite
forms of "yes," "no," 3 "Here you are," 4
and "You're welcome." 5
Mastan wore a tie at home. Several times a day, he would check
to see that it was straight and that he was neatly groomed. And
at night when everyone in the building was sleeping, Mastan couldn't
even be comfortable in bed. His wife would turn this way and
that way in the bed and look at herself, checking hair in the
mirror, opposite the bed. Neither of them dared to sleep without
the blanket, even on the hottest summer nights.
It was as if there was a big camera in Mastan's house, which
was recording everything that they were saying and doing from
morning until night, and it was transmitting everything directly
from Mastan's apartment into the courtyard for everyone to see.
Of course, it wasn't only Mastan's family. All the tenants of
the building - all 150 families-felt the same way. Maybe, that
was the reason why no accident had ever happened up to that time
in any of those 150 apartments.
The only place where Mastan could feel comfortable was in his
study. Every day when he arrived at his office, he would lock
the door from the inside, sit in his chair, look around and enjoy
the strange loneliness of his study. His study was the only place
that provided any solace for Mastan. Sometimes, he would look
around his study and his heart would start to beat because he
was afraid that this loneliness could disappear one day. Then
he would chase away these frightening thoughts and be proud of
his small refuge. He would think: "Four walls, the ceiling,
the floor and me." This small room was turning into such
a sweet and charming place for him that if no one would have
criticized him, he would have brought his bed to his study and
Mastan's apartment had three rooms. Each of those rooms was twice
as spacious and full of light as his study. In addition, there
was beautiful furniture, comfortable, soft couches and carpets
in his apartment. In spite of all these things, he found comfort
only in his small study and this situation made Mastan feel very
Maybe the reason was that Mastan could sit as he liked in his
study. If he wanted to, he could even put his feet up on his
desk. He could snap his fingers for two hours, write poems and
take off his clothes. Nobody saw Mastan there. Nobody expressed
any opinion about his behavior there or asked additional things.
And this was worth the entire world to him.
This study where Mastan was happily breathing every day was the
manager's office of the dormitory of a technical school. And
Mastan was the "owner" of this office; that is, he
was the manager of the dormitory. He did his job very well. Sometimes,
he would even write poems.
At home, Mastan never dared to write a poem because, once, on
a day off while he was sitting on the sofa, Mastan had drawn
a picture just for fun and this caused great trouble. Two hours
later, all the building had learned about it. The phone calls
started. One was congratulating him, another was making fun of
his new hobby, and others were asking what he had drawn.
Afterwards Mastan was very careful about such things. Now whenever
Mastan wanted to draw a picture or read a book, he would go to
the bathroom. Even there, he couldn't sit for a long time. All
the building would say to each other: "What happened to
Mastan?" "Is he having a stomach ache?" "Maybe
he caught cold?"
Mastan had moved into this building the day he married. They
had been living under the same roof for 16 years already. They
had a son who was 15. But still they were treating each other
very modestly just like when they got engaged. They couldn't
tell each other what was really in their hearts; they even had
to hide their anger inside. It wasn't a joke, they were living
together with 400 people, and they couldn't say and do what was
on their minds.
During those 16 years, Mastan had never joked with his wife the
way he wanted to. Sometimes when Mastan was in a very good mood,
he wanted to jump with joy, to hit his head against the wall.
Or sometimes he would shake and become green with anger, but
he could never share his anger or his happiness with his wife.
Their balcony was adjacent to the neighbor's and just like all
the other apartments; their balconies were separated from each
other only with a board that substituted for a door. Therefore,
in the middle of the day or night, Mastan would see the neighbor's
child across from their balcony coming to get a drink of water
in the kitchen. Or see someone hanging clothes out to dry on
the balcony or rinsing them in the bathroom.
So, during all these 16 years, Mastan's anger and joy had accumulated
like a heavy stone inside him, and the anger and fury of 16 years
had accumulated like venom in his heart. That's why Mastan felt
alone exactly like he had when he was young and not married.
He would drink a glass of water when he got angry, and go to
the bathroom and bite his finger when he got happy; after all,
a grown man couldn't jump up and down like a ball in the midst
of 400 people. The entire building would have shaken with laughter
and, God knows, maybe, the building might have collapsed.
Lately, he neither had time nor needed to talk to his wife and
son about anything. His wife would share all her problems with
the women in the neighborhood, learn from them what she wanted
to learn and say what she wanted to say. And his son would spend
time with the boys living in their building and rarely be at
The neighbors would flow like a river with its many branches
here and there across Mastan's rooms, not leaving the slightest
chance for Mastan and his family to even talk or look at each
As the years passed, Mastan got used to this world of his.
Even when the lights would go out at night, Mastan would sense
that everyone in the whole building was sleeping with him in
his own bed. Even in his dreams, Mastan wouldn't lose his control
In fact there was no difference at all between Mastan's work
and home. They both seemed like a dormitory to him. The only
difference between the dormitory of the technical school and
this one was that the tenants of that dormitory were temporary,
but these were permanent.
Sometimes, especially at nights when Mastan was thinking about
this, he would become horrified. He arrived at the conclusion
after thinking a lot that he would have to live in this damned
dormitory for the rest of his life, having a great desire for
freedom and independence. When thinking like this, Mastan's hair
would stand on end. The most frustrating moments were related
to thinking about the end of his life for even when dying, he
would be together with his neighbors.
It was impossible for him to imagine that he would be allowed
to lie alone in some cemetery, far from his neighbors, and that
his neighbors would live quietly in their houses as if nothing
happened. Mastan's building really resembled a dormitory. It
just didn't have a manager.
The exteriors and interiors of all the apartments were the same.
Most of the furniture in the apartments was the same too; even
the interior design of the apartments was alike. Why were they
the same? Because 400 people were appreciating and giving their
suggestions to the interior design of every apartment. All apartments
had a glass buffet with expensive dishware, including, at least
four or five pieces of crystal and a china tea set. Such buffets
were the norm in this building. To decorate one's living room
in a different way would have either been viewed as indecent
or illegal. It was as though it had never occurred to anyone
that maybe the room could have a different interior design; for
example, even without a buffet. The strange thing was that nobody
was getting tired of these buffets. It was as if they had taken
the buffets over from the government just like a wall of the
Then everybody definitely had to have a color TV. Why? Because
400 people couldn't fit into one or two apartments. And in Mastan's
building, one couldn't watch color while someone watched a black-and-white
TV. First of all, nobody would have wanted to watch a color TV
if his neighbor was watching a black-and-white one. Everybody
had to be the same. Everybody had to have the same lot of everything.
Everybody had to get happy and enjoy something, get sad and cry
the same amount.
Mastan was feeling sick because of this fountain of mutual sensitivity
- love and care. What was the reason of this kindness?! Why did
they need such an illness like care?! Didn't everything have
Mastan would quietly think about this only when sitting in the
office of his small study. Sometimes, he would provide such answers
to his own questions that he would get frustrated and nervous,
pound the folders on his desk, leave his study, calm himself
down by smoking a cigarette as he wandered in the semi-dark corridors
of the dormitory. But it wouldn't last long and he would get
afraid that the watchful "projectors" that lit up his
apartment's interior would do the same with his brain, enabling
the neighbors to see everything in his head as clearly as they
saw everything in his house.It was as if this disease - like
solicitude and kindness of Mastan's building was increasing,
day by day, instead of becoming less. It seemed to Mastan that
the building was trembling with kindness from the neighbors,
the apartments, balconies and garages were coming closer and
turning into a single large area, melting the walls between them.
The kindness of the building even affected the dogs and cats
as well. These street animals, which were usually chasing after
each other, started licking one another all day long.
And when the summer came Mastan's trouble would only become more
serious, it was as though a rock as big as the building of the
dormitory was falling on Mastan's head from the sky. During the
summer time, the dormitory would empty out and Mastan could not
find any work there so he would have to spend most of his time
among his kind neighbors.
After thinking a lot on one such summer day, Mastan decided to
move to his sister's dacha (country house) in order to get away
from this confusion for at least 10 to 15 days, to breath freely
and to have a sense of peace.
The dacha thing worked. All the building came to say good-bye
to them. The neighbors kissed them and cried. The following day
they moved to the dacha.
When he entered the dacha, it seemed to Mastan that he had arrived
at the most native place. What a dachasilence, spaciousness.
Even the birds were singing.
The moment he got inside, the first thing that Mastan did was
to take off his clothes. It had been a long time since the curly
black hair on Mastan's body, chest and back had seen the open
air and sun.
He rolled up his trousers to his knees and took off his socks.
It had been a long time since Mastan's big feet - his crooked
toes that sweated in his boots and socks all winter and summer
long and which were covered with corns - had felt the fresh air
After taking off his clothes, he flew to the garden as if he
were jumping into a cold swimming pool. He started whistling
freely, walking barefoot among the trees.
Nobody could ask anything of him now. Nobody could ask why he
was whistling and smiling like an idiot. Nobody could ask why
he was walking barefoot. Nobody could give their tactless and
So he cheered up and started to sing.
"They won't let you get married to me, aman [pronounced
ah-MAHN], yellow bride,
Aman, yellow bride, aman, yellow bride."6
Suddenly Mastan's wife saw that Mastan had climbed to the highest
limb of the tree like a bird and his voice could be heard all
over the place. No matter how loud she yelled, no matter how
hard she shook the tree, Mastan didn't hear a thing. Mastan's
eyes became glazed over from singing. They became as big as plums.
Mastan's face became swollen from singing. Swollen and ruddy-colored
like fresh bread. His chest expanded like a lion's.
While singing, Mastan was feeling that something was slowly happening.
Something was draining out of his body, his innards and marrow.
Mastan was becoming relieved and comfortable as he was singing.
That day Mastan sang until he lost his voice. He came down after
his voice got hoarse, and he became breathless and his heart
started beating faster.
That very day Mastan's wife said a lot of nasty things to him.
She said everything that she had wanted to say for the past 16
years that she had kept in her heart until now.
And Mastan, even though he wasn't itching anywhere, confused,
first started scratching his stomach and then his head. Then
he rubbed his hands nervously together. It wasn't a joke. During
16 years this was the first time that Mastan was seeing his wife
- her red face and bulging eyes. It was the first time in his
life that Mastan realized that his wife's mouth was really big.
When she was angry, her nostrils expanded like walnuts and she
had the face of dragon from some horror movie.
It was as if that evening Mastan saw his wife for the first time.
It was as though Mastan had lived with a different person - a
quiet, warm and young woman up until then. As if even her face
and voice were different.
The following day Mastan's son tied two cats together by their
tails and rubbed their backs with something. This was the same
son who was always getting top grades at school and whose photo
never was omitted from the honor boards of his school for studying
and good behavior.
Suddenly, the screams of the cats were heard all over the dacha.
A day later, his son drowned someone's hen in the pool.
Mastan was really confused and lost. Every day either his wife
or son was doing something crazy. Things were getting worse,
day after day. His wife had turned into a witch and his son into
a mad goat. They were turning everything upside down at the dacha.
His wife was wearing anything she could get hold of, and she
was wearing it the way she liked and walking in the streets of
the village that way, disgracing him. And her clothes were so
dirty. She would go for days without changing her clothes and
combing her hair.
Once Mastan noticed that his wife's manner of walking and posture
had changed as well. Her manner of laughing was scaring Mastan
for some reason now. She was stirring up the dust in the air
when she walked. His son was climbing the walls. He was biting
into the trees like a wolf and saying nasty things to his parents.
There was not a single dog or cat left in the dacha because of
him. They had all run away and hidden in some corner.
Mastan had really lost himself. What was going on? Was this a
dream? Why were they acting like this? Was this what they called
a quiet and independent life?
When his son again started to gnaw on the trees like a mad goat,
Mastan got really angry and lost his temper. He was repairing
the handle of the door that his wife had broken when slamming
the door. And the heat was burning his back.
That moment a clamor rose from the depth of the dacha, and Mastan
understood what was going on. He found himself grabbing his son
by the ears and lifting him up and screaming and yelling as loud
as he could.
He didn't realize himself what he was doing. He couldn't pull
himself together or stop his hands from shaking. He was biting
his son's arms, twisting his ears, pinching his cheeks and kicking
No matter how much his wife tried, she couldn't calm Mastan down.
Mastan himself tried, but couldn't calm down. He was trying to
stop, to cool down, but his hands and legs were not obeying him.
His son's voice was heard all over the dacha:
"Daddy, I'm dying. Dad, please, don't beat me"
But Mastan couldn't stop. When he got tired of beating up on
his son and needed to rest his tired hands, he climbed up on
his son's back. He was biting his son's ears and screaming as
loud as he could until his eyes became bloodshot. His hands were
pinching and twisting whatever they could get a hold of.
At last, his wife called the neighbors for help:
"Hey everybody, he's killing him, don't let him do that.
My husband has gone crazy, please stop him!"
Mastan's wife had completely lost herself. During those 16 years,
her husband had never slapped their child. Now all of a sudden,
she was lost because of her husband's strange behavior.
Mastan was going around the garden riding on the back of his
son who didn't know where to run. He was just trying to escape
from his father who was screaming and yelling and making his
body black and blue from pain. Now he was remembering the cats
that he tied together with their tails. Mastan was confused by
his own behavior. It was as if a big unreasonable, cruel monster
that had got bigger, little by little, for 16 years inside him
had finally awakened. It was as if Mastan had fed the monster
with all his problems up to then. And the monster had become
bigger and fatter, thriving on all those poisons.
By the time the neighbor men came to help, Mastan's son was lying
on the ground, moaning. And Mastan was out of breath, sitting
on his son's back.
Mastan's wife was leaning against a mulberry tree, crying. It
seems she was more afraid that her husband was going crazy than
for her son.
That night neither Mastan, nor his wife, nor his son could manage
to fall sleep until morning. His son's ears and nose had become
blue and swollen. He couldn't move his arms or head because of
pain. He tossed back and forth, and kept moaning until morning.
Mastan's wife was also tossing from side to side. She couldn't
understand how things had turned out like this. Everything had
been so good. Up until then, there had never been any problems
at home. Why were they having such a hard time since they had
moved to the dacha?
But Mastan was worse off than the others. On the one hand, he
was ashamed of what he had done; on the other hand, he felt sorry
for his son. He was terrified to realize that the independent
life he had been wishing for up until then, and the 10 to 15
days that he had wanted to have for himself and his family had
turned out to be so dangerous. How had things turned out to be
Mastan thought a lot and decided that they should return home
in the morning.
So they did.
As soon as they got home, the whole building came out to greet
them. Everybody was interested in the black and blue ears of
Mastan's son. They said that he had got into a fight with some
kids. Then the whole building said: "Jan". Then for
a whole week they kept bringing medicine, delicious dishes and
fruits for his son. His son's mad goat phase passed. The kid
became the well-bred, shy boy just as he had been before. He
felt embarrassed and shy with everyone that he saw. His wife's
face became happy again, her mouth became smaller. She started
responding to him, using the polite forms of "yes"
and "you're welcome."
After everybody cooled down and recovered, Mastan went out to
the balcony and took a deep breath. He looked out over the city.
From here - from Mastan's house - the buildings looked very small.
After thinking about it, Mastan arrived at the conclusion that,
for sure, this is how things were supposed to be. In fact, this
was better. It was as if you were standing on 50 or 100 feet,
not just your own two. As if you are thinking with 100 brains,
not just your own. As if you were seeing with a thousand eyes,
not just with your own.
It was as though Mastan saw the city for the first time, despite
that he had been looking at it for a long time. All of a sudden
it seemed to him that all the gray buildings in the city were
big dormitories in good condition just like his own building.
And in those buildings everybody was eating, getting up and going
to bed at the same time.
He didn't know whether he thought these things just to console
himself, or whether it just occurred to him
People say, "Jan", to show that they care and are worried
and concerned. "Jan" literally means "soul".
The word, "Mubarak" is used to congratulate someone
for something new.
"Yes" (bali) and "No" (kheyr) are used in
formal speech; "ha" and "yokh" are informal
"Here you are" (buyurun) is the polite way to request
someone to do something.
"You're welcome" (daymaz) is the polite way to say,
"Yellow Bride" is a well-known Azerbaijani folk song.
Back to - Afaq
Azeri | Learn
Azeri | Arabic
Script | Contact us
International. Copyright since 2003. All rights reserved.