The Broken Doll: Chapters Five and Six.

by | Jun 30, 2023 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

He took the curved blade from its bejewelled scabbard and handed it to the girl.

Chapter Five

The tiny classroom on the third floor of the Denjan home had two occupants. The old sage was hunched over his desk at the front scribing elegant letters into a large book. His charge sat below him, tongue poking out of her small plump lips in an image of concentration.

Shahid placed his pen carefully in its holder and dabbed the pages with a blotter. Soraya looked up eagerly, grateful for the break.

“You are so young Azizam but I need you to understand this. There is more to our existence than the life we lead here.” Shahid said, placing his withered hands on his chest. “This body is a mere vessel to carry us through our time in this world. A mere blink of the eye compared to eternity.”

“You have taught me   well Shahid- Jan. I knew there was more to life than this. What  I struggle with is what you told me yesterday. Why me? Why choose me?” Her voice had a mature calmness that elevated an octave towards the end, causing the old man to swallow the rising emotion in his throat.

“You were chosen long ago, before your birth. When Our Lord Zoroaster brought the branch here to Kashmar. The branch that formed the great tree.” The words bore a heavy, stickiness, struggling to leave his trembling mouth.

“There is something you don’t know, old man. Something that happened today. At the ceremony, the tree spoke to me.” Soraya replied, looking up at her teacher.

“I do know Azizam. I know everything,” Shahid confirmed, clearing his throat.

“What if I don’t want this? What if I say no? I’ll kill myself. That would end this.” The girl leaped up and rushed to the old man placing her head on his shoulder. Shahid stroked her golden mane, holding back his tears.

“Let me show you something, child.” He took the curved blade from its bejewelled scabbard and handed it to the girl. “Be my guest, do it. End it now.”

Soraya snatched the blade from Shahid, “Goodbye old man.” She moved to cut the wrist of her left hand. The blade stopped close to her skin. She pushed hard, using a sawing motion, but the blade evaded her wrist and pierced the top of the desk. She attempted to pull it out but it was stuck fast. Shahid removed the blade with ease and replaced in his scabbard.

“Stop now,  child.  It is futile. I am so sorry to see you like this. I wish we had more time.” It was his turn to let the tears fall. He hid them by taking the child in his arms, burying his dampened face in her yellow locks.

A sudden look of calm contentment transformed her panic-stricken face into its former glory. She touched the hole made by the blade.

“Take me to the Governor but first I need to see Baba,” The girl whispered in his ear.

“As you wish my child,” Shahid replied, wiping his face on a sleeve.

***

The solitary oil lamp still burned in the room where Hussein was hunched over a large leather-bound book. The door opened and Soraya poked her head around it.

“Baba, may I come in? It is dark in here, your eyes!” Without waiting for a reply, she entered and approached her father, lighting two further lamps as she did.

Hussein shielded his eyes from the extra light.

“Please, So-Jan, I have a headache,” he groaned, bowing his head.

“Let me Baba,” the girl whispered moving behind the man. She gently lifted his head and began to massage his temples.

“You do this better than your mother. You have a magic touch.” Hussein closed his eyes and relaxed into her contact.

“I am magic, Baba. Shahid-Jan said so. That is why I have to go to Herat. To save the tree and the future of our world.” Her father tensed and turned towards her.

“No. Child, no! What did I say? This talk is forbidden. It is blasphemy!”  He grabbed his daughter’s hands and looked into her eyes. His anger evaporated in her sapphire gaze. Soraya broke eye contact.

“Please Baba! You know this is the only chance. Two years is not long. You can come and visit me. I will make His Excellency agree.” She turned away and lowered her head. They hesitated in this shared grip for a few seconds. Soraya lifted her head to address Hussein. Rage surged through the man and he acted on instinct. He raised his hand and slapped his daughter across the face.

“I forbid it! You are my daughter, not Shahid’s. Or the Governor’s for that matter,” he raged.

Soraya recoiled in shock at her father’s action. She pulled away, a perplexed look descending over her perfect visage. She drew in her chin and froze on the spot. Slowly pulling her arms from Hussein’s grip, she backed away.

“Goodbye Baba, forgive me.” As she left the room, Hussein looked at the offending hand and rubbed it on his tunic. “Soraya. So-Jan!” He slammed the same hand on the table, lay his head on it, and wept.

Chapter Six

Twin veils of darkness and anticipation drew over the town of Kashmar. The residents were hidden in muted existentialism and the only activity came from the interlopers. Outside the walls, preparation was being made for the felling of the tree, punctuated by coughs and groans of the camels and cracks of their handler’s whips. While, inside, the entourage of the Governor of Khorasan hurriedly prepared to depart.

Shahid approached the carriage which was guarded by the colossal Turk. The giant barred the way until he saw the diminutive figure wrapped in a leather cloak, behind the old man.

“I have come to see the Governor and I bring the girl,” Shahid bellowed as loud as his paper lungs could muster. The guard ignored the sage and ushered the tiny bundle into the carriage, a faint smile creasing his swarthy features. Shahid turned away, as she disappeared through the doorway, his shoulders heaving in grief.

The girl entered the chamber which was lit by several oil lamps. Intricate tapestries and silk adorned the walls and a rich carpet decorated the floor. The Governor reclined on several large cushions at the far side of the room. Patting one of the cushions, he addressed Soraya.

“Come in my child. This is an unexpected surprise,” he purred, “come and sit by me.”

“Yes, my Lord. I am coming with you.” Soraya approached and knelt at Tahir’s feet,

“No, child. Here, by me. What about your father? What made him change his mind?” He ushered the girl onto the red silk cushion near him, which was covered in letters she recognised but didn’t understand. Tahir saw her perplexing look and clarified.

“This is the tale of our great victory against the infidels at Kufah, do you know it?” He stroked the pillow, deliberately leaving his hand there as she sat on it. Soraya jumped up in shock at the contact with the Governor. He pulled his hand away and laughed heartily. “ Don’t worry Habibi, you’ll get used to it. I expect you haven’t felt a man’s touch before.” The words sent a shiver through her soul.

“No, Your Excellency. I know nothing about your, erm, faith.” Soraya trembled, ignoring the last comment.

“Ah, don’t worry child. We’ll also teach you our ways and those of the prophet, peace be upon him.” He stroked her head and she froze, trying to mask her trepidation. Soraya summoned up courage from deep inside, from a place she never knew existed.

“The tree is more important than him,” she uttered, tempering her voice as sharp as a sword.

“Very admirable Habibi, the dedication you show to your superstition is charming.” Tahir’s grip tightened on the girl’s hair so that her head jerked with each stroke.

Soraya’s temper got the better of her and she addressed the big man.

“It is not a superstition, it is the way. This is why I am here with you now,” she snapped. His grip tightened further and he pulled her towards him. His face almost touched hers and she could smell his hot, spicy breath.

“Watch your tongue, Jamila. You may be special but you are not immortal.” His words, although threatening gave her strange comfort as she recalled Shahid’s words.

“Forgive me, Lord. I forgot myself and where I am. May Allah be with you.” She crossed the fingers of both hands behind her back and closed her eyes as the Governor loosened his grip. Tahir clapped his hands and two young women appeared from behind a curtain.

“Take the child away and have her prepared. We will do it on the journey home before we leave Kashmar province.” He bellowed to the two waifs, who trembled at his words. Soraya’s heart stopped and she held her breath. She didn’t want either to start again.

“Excuse me Habibi. I need to save your tree from my rabble. That’s how special you are.” Tahir clapped his hands twice and the giant guard was there with the speed and grace of a tiger. “Call off the felling Mustafa, we’re all going home.”

The guard turned on his heels and swept out of the room. Shouting could be heard outside, followed by cheering and singing. It seemed that the whole town had come to life. Soraya left with the two women, her thoughts swirling like a sandstorm, not for the last time.

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