Answer to Gray Donkey's Letter (1999)
by Elchin Huseinbeyli (born 1961)

From Azerbaijan International, Spring 2004 (AI 12.1)
Magazine can be ordered at - AI STORE

A Short Story

Translated by Aynura Huseinova and edited by Betty Blair.

· · ·

I thought a lot about it. I tried, but couldn't fulfill the wishes of our donkey to bray. The more I tried, the worse (I mean, the more human) my voice sounded. I think it's best for everybody to bray in his own language. I answered my donkey and told him that there was no point in his braying because nobody hears us refugees either. No matter how loud we scream, the world doesn't hear us. Well, you shouldn't confuse the world with our Karkhulu village1 where you could hear the sound of voices from Mahmudlu, a few kilometers away.

In short, I decided to answer our donkey because not replying to his letter would have been very rude. On the other hand, there are some things that donkeys understand better than human beings and there are some notions that our donkeys should definitely learn in order to develop their way of thinking. Here's what I wrote:

Honorable Master Donkey,

I received your letter and became disappointed. I'm really sorry for what happened to you. Your galloping off to the center of the village like a mad sheep and your braying without end reminded me of when I was an infant and lost sight of my mother right in the middle of the yard. I started to cry and broke into tears, and wanted to take comfort and nurse at her breast. I understood your situation.

I felt sorry for the mulberry tree. I recalled our village, the narrow crooked lanes, its various sections, its center, the bridge and Bilal's willow.

I was deeply moved when I saw the shirt that was sent to refugee Mammad, our neighbor, both in the village and in the city. It came from Europe as humanitarian aid and had the writing "LEUBOR" (labor) on it.

To be honest, that shirt really was quite good. It was so colorful. Poor guy put it on and started to prance back and forth in front of the mirror. Since there was no way that he would be able to show up on the bridge, he got upset. You probably remember how our people used to show off their new clothes either on the bridge or riding on a donkey.

Let me describe, in general, what our daily life is like. I'll tell you the story from the very beginning of how we arrived in Baku. One day my brother woke me up to say that our brave soldiers had left their arms, cannons, and their positions and had retreated. Since they were running away, their guns were a pain in the neck for them to carry. And I think they were right in leaving their guns all over the place. So it meant we had no choice but to flee as well.

Anyway, we took a car and followed our soldiers, and went towards the place where light was coming.

My brother's youngest son, to whom you were presented as a gift when you were born by his grandfather, was crying his heart out. Even he scratched his mother's face for leaving you behind. And my brother swore that as soon as everything got quiet, he would come and fetch you. Also, he said that we didn't need to worry because he had untied you. I have told you before but just want to confirm that it is obvious that our villagers love your folk very much. The ones who forgot to untie their dogs and donkeys have such deep regrets and cry when we gather together. The only person who is proud of himself is my brother because he untied you in time.

So, after crying awhile, my brother's son fell asleep in his mother's arms and we started off. We left with the hope of returning to the village very soon.

Honorable Master Donkey, the most dangerous thing happened in middle of our trip. My sister's family was ahead of us. Suddenly, my brother-in-law stopped the car. Everybody tore out of the car and scattered in different directions and lay down on the ground on their stomachs. We got so frightened that we stopped, too. Our brother-in-law yelled at us that we should lie down, too. We followed his order.

After lying on the ground for a while, my brother asked our brother-in-law why we were doing this. My sister, who had studied for four years, said that a bomb had exploded in the car.

But I think if a bomb has already exploded, there would be no point in being afraid. That's why my brother got up, approached the car and opened its trunk. It turned out not to be a bomb at all, but a jar of pickled tomatoes. While fleeing, my sister didn't want to leave the jar behind so she stashed it in the trunk of the car. My poor sister! How could she have known that the tomatoes had become rotten? Had she known, she wouldn't have brought it along.
Honorable Master Donkey, we hid our gun under a pile of straw - the one that grandfather had used to shoot Kandkhuda
2 Mammadali in the eye, and as a result, no thief had dared to come close to our house out of fear. We did the right thing because we had not lubricated it for a long time and it had already become rusty. Furthermore, if the police had discovered us with a gun, they would definitely have taken it away. So now that we're on the run, we talk about our heroism and become deeply moved.

Let me tell you something before I forget it. Now we have settled into a building that was used as a kindergarten. And the number of children increased. They say that the reason is because the rooms are so small. All of the people sleep on the floor in a row, and according to Muslim tradition, the husband doesn't sleep separate from his wife. This rule is followed very strictly: "Where the husband is, the wife is there, too".

That's why, when a wife or husband turns over, he or she sees the other half. So it's impossible to stop producing children.

Let me tell you about our new home. Baku is a large village. The only difference is that since the city is so large, the donkeys and men are usually confused. The other day I saw a cartoon in the Molla Nasraddin magazine
3. I'll describe it to you now and everything will be clear to you. In that caricature, the donkeys ride the people. And the caption read: "Everyday observations." You might have heard about Molla Nasraddin because your grandparents were his best friends.
I'll write you often not so that you won't feel lonely. But I have one request. Honorable Master Donkey. Don't bray from now on. Anyway, nobody will hear you. Either people have become dumb, or they've stuffed their ears with cotton. When you feel lonely, just write a letter

End Notes:

1 Karkhulu village is located in Nagorno-Karabakh. It has been under military occupation by Armenians since early autumn 1993.

2 Khandkhuda means "the head of the village".

3 Molla Nasraddin was a magazine published in the early years of the 20th century, famous for its satire on social, political and religious issues.

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