Kuyulu Said Najjari

Kuyulu Said Najjari was born in 1973 in the city of Fuman in Gilan Province, Iran. His family is originally from the city of Kuyu in the Azerbaijani district of Khalkhal and moved back there when Said Najjari was five. He received his primary and secondary education in Kuyu. He started to write poetry in his early years at school and graduated in English language and literature from Allameh Tabataba’i University in Tehran. He is the author of poetry and stories in Azerbaijani Turkish, Persian and English, but in recent years he has written only in Azerbaijani Turkish. He has translated Chinghiz Aitmatov’s ‘Jamila’ and John Steinbeck’s ‘The Pearl’ into Azerbaijani Turkish.


The sun was setting. He no longer expected anyone to come and rescue him today. Around three hours had passed since the earthquake. In the distance he could hear commotion – shouting and crying. From time to time he could hear sheep bleating as they looked for their owners.

The world had turned upside down in a moment. He had never felt the earth shake like that. The beams of the house had danced, the ceilings had shuddered and the house had caved in on itself. Thick dust had risen in clouds; everything had disappeared in dust before his eyes.

His mother had been putting bread into the tandoor oven. The boy had arrived in the village four or five hours ago. Only his mother had been at home, his father had gone to the next village to see his aunt. Every month his father went to see one of his sisters. The boy hadn’t seen his sisters. They were each in their own homes. He would go and see them. The earthquake had not allowed him to see the villagers. He would rest for a little while, then go outside, but if things went on like this there would be no going outside. There was no sound from his mother at all. How many times had he shouted “Mother, mother, if you can hear me, say something,” but no answer came.

The boy’s nose twitched as wind blew smoke from the tandoor oven towards him. Above him was a pile of beams, plaster and bricks. He couldn’t move his legs at all, his left leg really hurt. By chance the thick beam of the house had fallen onto a stool, it hadn’t fallen entirely onto the floor. The boy had fallen onto his back and his head and shoulders were in the gap between the floor and the beam.

He had taken several of his mother’s loaves from the kitchen into the living room, as he was partial to fresh bread with creamy yoghurt in the afternoons.

“I love the smell of fresh baked bread. I’ve really missed your bread,” he had told his mother.

“If it’s what you fancy son, take some and tuck in. There’s creamy yoghurt in the living room. Take the bread and eat it there.”

He had taken several of the round, flat loaves into the living room. Bread in hand, he had been looking for the yoghurt when the sky fell in. He never did find the yoghurt. He and the bread were thrown to the ground. The house crashed onto his head.

The house was slightly set apart from the other houses in the village. There were 20 houses in the village. A lot of the villagers had moved to the city and visited the village from time to time. A long time ago there had been 100 houses in the village, but gradually the number of people in the village had fallen. One by one the houses became empty and fell to rack and ruin. Now the remaining houses had been flattened by the earthquake.

A din rose from the village, but no-one made their way towards these houses. They had forgotten that there were houses at this end of the village. It might take a day or two for rescue workers to reach this mountain village. It was mostly old people, women and children left there. The young people had gone off to the cities looking for work. So had the boy. Many of those who had left visited the village just once a year, some, like the boy, came once every few months, while others didn’t come at all.

He couldn’t believe that the house had collapsed in the blink of an eye. He was still tired from the journey. After a rest, he would go round the village, visit his sisters’ houses. Two months ago his older sister’s child had said when he arrived, “Welcome to the village, uncle.”

At first he thought he had died. His eyes clouded over. To start with his arms and legs had gone numb, but then little by little they had begun to ache and throb. Gradually the pain took over his whole body. He had never felt such pain: it was a sharp, hopeless, endless pain.

He wanted to lift his head, but pain shot from his neck to his head and he felt dizzy. He tried to look himself over, but couldn’t see below his chest. More than half his body was underneath the rubble. He didn’t know what had hit him. In the distance he could hear the crash of collapsing houses, then shouting, crying, incomprehensible noise. He had heard about earthquakes from a distance, seen them on TV, read about them in the papers, but he had no direct experience of one. It had never occurred to him how frightening they were, how terrible.

Again he smelt smoke from the fire that was going out. It was the fire his mother had lit. “Mother, mother, can you hear me?” he shouted loudly. No answer came. Again he shouted and again no answer came. He called his mother five times, ten times, then he became hoarse and lost his voice. He tried to call but no sound came. It was like trying to shout in a dream and not being able to. He thought maybe he was dreaming and was glad. “What a relief that all this was a dream,” he said to himself. He felt a bit stronger and wanted to get up, but at that moment some of the plaster on top of him shifted, sending dust and earth onto his right arm, and the pain returned to his left leg. He knew this was no dream. It was very real. As though from the bottom of a well, he called his mother again but no sound could be heard. He waited for a voice, a noise close by. For the first time in his life he thought how encouraging another person’s voice could be.

He had left Tehran the previous evening. He had got in the car at 11.00 pm, it had been a bit late leaving Tehran looking for more passengers. Despite the displeasure of the passengers already in the car, the driver continued looking. He found several passengers and dropped them off in Qazvin and Zanjan. The car broke down on the road and they had to wait for more than an hour. He reached the city at around 10.00am and had things to do in the city. By the time he had sorted everything out and bought a few things for home, it was midday. He grabbed something to ease his hunger, then went to the stop for cars to the village. It took about an hour to find a car. Then as they climbed higher, another car blocked them on the road. It took more than an hour to reach the village.

Usually he telephoned to say that he was coming, but this time he had wanted to surprise them. He thought his parents and sisters would be even happier. And he was right – when his mother saw him, she flew over.

He stared up as he could see outside through the chimney above his head. It was already dusk and would soon be dark and cold. The scent of the wandering sheep and hens would attract wolves and jackals to the village. He remembered from his childhood how cold the village could be on summer nights. And as for winter! As God is my witness, everything froze, snow blocked the roads and cut off the villages. It took the roads department two or three days to clear the snow.

He heard dogs barking. A tragedy was unfolding before his eyes. He called his mother’s name, but no answer came. He didn’t know what had happened to his father, his sisters, his brothers-in-law. He didn’t know if they were alive or dead.

The shouts and cries that he had heard not long ago were dying down, but could still be heard. As though people were tired of crying, as though the boy’s ears were overburdened. Hunger hollowed out his stomach but was smothered by fear.

The ground shook again. It was terrifying but not as bad as before. The beams and bricks above him juddered. Some earth ran down onto his neck and throat. His body was even more tightly jammed in. He turned even paler.

“What’s happened? Why can’t I get up?” he asked himself. He couldn’t do anything. “So am I to be buried here tonight?” he said, looking up above his head to the outside world. It had gone completely dark. The sky was black. He rolled his eyes but couldn’t see anything. Then his eyes closed of their own accord. The night gradually got colder and the boy began to shiver. He couldn’t tell if his body was aching or had gone numb. His mouth and throat were parched. As night fell, fatigue and hopelessness swept over the boy. The expected cold slowly took hold. His head spun and his eyes were dark…

As he opened his eyes, he could hear howling and barking. The sound of bleating added to the clamour. At first he couldn’t make out what had happened. Then he realised that wolves must have attacked the scattered sheep and lambs and the dogs must be fighting the wolves. It was around half way through the night. The sound of the fight nearby got louder. Sounds were confused; the boy thought his time was up. Five or ten minutes later the bleating and howling died down, only the barking continued. But gradually that died down too. He didn’t know where the fighting was or if the wolves and dogs were still there. A distant whine could be heard again. The recent noise from the animals drowned out any human groans. Faint wisps of smoke from the tandoor fire now tickled his nose. Vapour came out of the boy’s mouth.

The earth shook again, the plaster and beams crunched, cracked, a semi-collapsed wall crashed to the ground. Fragments of brick poured onto the boy. His head felt heavy, his eyes darkened from the pain, the weakness, from being covered in rubble. The night dragged on with groans and cries...

“Is there anyone here? Can anyone hear me?”

The boy didn’t know if he was asleep or unconscious. He opened and closed his eyes. Another voice could be heard.
“Brother Qudrat, sister Telli, can you hear me?”

The boy summoned all his strength. “I’m here,” he shouted.

Though his voice wasn’t all that strong, one of the listeners heard him.

“Over there. There was a voice from the rubble. There’s someone there.”

“There’s someone here,” one of the people shouted.

“I’m here in the room,” said the boy, his voice shaking.

The sun had not yet risen, but stars shed a pale light. There was no sign of the cocks crowing, maybe they were asleep; maybe the jackals had eaten them all. There was no sound from the sheep and lambs; maybe they had lost the night’s fight.

“Let us know where you are,” one of the men shouted. Two people at least had come to rescue the boy.

“I’m here, in the room. Mother’s in the kitchen, get her out first,” he cried.

“Go to the kitchen, I’ll get the one out of the room,” one of the men said.

“Let me hear where you are!” shouted a voice approaching the room.

“I’m here, near the window,” the boy cried.

One voice grew a bit more distant.

“Hey, sister Telli! Telli, say something,” the more distant voice said.

The boy strained towards the kitchen, waiting to hear his mother. He had no idea how things were. He was in a hurry to get out.

“Don’t be afraid, I’ll get you out,” said the voice nearby.

“I’m not afraid, look for my mother,” said the boy.

“Don’t worry, my partner will get your mother out now,” the rescuer said, encouraging the boy. He couldn’t cry. All the accumulated exhaustion and fear stayed inside him. He was more afraid of what he would see when he got out. The fear of remaining beneath the rubble had abated. Its place had been taken by fear of what was outside. His body grew cold, he had forgotten all the pain, his heart pounded.

He could hear the breathing of the man working above him. The sound of his breath gradually got louder. The boy could feel the load above him getting lighter. It took almost half an hour before he could see the person. His rescuer was a middle-aged man. The boy didn’t know him.

“My mother, how’s my mother?” he said as soon as he saw the man. “Have you got her out?”

“Don’t rush, my partner is getting her out,” the rescuer said as he took a black beam from on top of the boy.

The man’s thick moustache and eyebrows were striking. He took the boy beneath the armpits and slowly pulled him from under the rubble. The light of the rising sun was dazzling. The boy closed his eyes, then opened them again. The man dragged him into the middle of the yard. The boy raised his head to look at his legs. He wanted to move his legs, but he couldn’t move the left one. The previous night’s pain in his leg was even stronger. He winced from the pain.

The man saw it. “Don’t move, don’t move. I think you’ve broken your left leg,” he said.

The boy turned and looked towards the kitchen. The man there had laid a woman on the ground. The man was crouching, motionless.

“My mother, what’s happened to my mother?” the boy shouted.

When he heard the voice, the man in the kitchen turned and looked towards the yard. The boy recognised him.

“Uncle Tariverdi,” he called. It was his childhood friend’s father, Uncle Tariverdi.

When the man in the kitchen heard this, he got up and went over to the boy.

“Is that you, Ismayil? What are you doing here? When did you come?” he asked as he came up to the boy.

He took the boy’s arm and kissed his forehead. On the verge of tears, the boy asked Uncle Tariverdi about his mother again. Uncle Tariverdi bowed his head. Tears brimmed and fell to the ground. The boy’s eyes darkened all over again, there was a strange roaring in his ears, things started to spin in front of his eyes… When he opened his eyes, he could see he was on a stretcher. Four men dressed in white and red were carrying him. His left leg was in splints. He raised his head to look around. “Don’t’ move,” said one of the stretcher-bearers, pushing his head back down onto the stretcher. As he was moving, the tears started to flow. He looked out and saw the dismembered bodies of several sheep on the side of the road.

They put him in the back of a Vanetin 170. He saw Uncle Tariverdi near the Vanetin.
“Do you know what’s happened to my father and sisters?” the boy asked.