Ian Peart, born in Wolverhampton, UK, moved to Azerbaijan in 2000 as a teacher of English. He is now editor of the magazine Visions of Azerbaijan.
Over 13 years Saadat and Ian have together translated many books, articles, plays, film scripts, catalogues, album notes and other writings, as well as writing articles for various magazines and newspapers. They have travelled extensively within Azerbaijan and beyond and are frequently to be seen at concerts and festivals of classical, mugham, ashiq and jazz music and at art exhibitions and galleries for the excellent sculpture, painting and carpets on display.
The Nuptial Bath of Baladadash
by Elchin (Ilyas oghlu Efendiyev)
(Translated by Saadat Ibrahimova and Ian Peart)
Little by little, the teahouse filled up.
Amirgulu observed Silver Malik from a distance, thinking how a thin person is never treated with the respect that a fat person always commands; respect went to Silver Malik but not to Amirgulu. The important thing was that there was no difference between them: if you were like Silver Malik you used silver dishes and silver cutlery to improve your digestion while if you were like Amirgulu you didn’t have a brass gapik in your pocket – earning just enough to pay for a glass of red wine – still, they were equal in one respect: neither Silver Malik nor Amirgulu would stay in this world forever.
As the effect of his two glasses of wine began to wear off, Amirgulu’s thoughts turned morose.
It was at this point that Baladadash entered the teahouse.
Baladadash, of course, was completely unaware of Amirgulu’s train of thought as he patted the seat of his pants, greeted all and sundry and went to sit opposite him. The strange thing was that Baladadash was also thinking about the world and the people in it.
A little earlier he had brought a load of stones from Baku to the sanatorium at the top end of the village and, while driving past the airport at Bina, he’d watched planes landing and taking off and cars speeding along the Absheron roads; he had thought about all these people who were not where they wanted to be and all those who were not where they should be: always hurrying from here to there. Obviously, Baladadash had seen many planes landing and taking off and had spent his life among cars (his father Agababa was also a driver) but now he saw those planes in a new light, although he didn’t quite understand why.
Baladadash lifted the back of his aerodrome cap with his thumb and scratched his head.
A year before he had been hurrying back to his village on this Absheron shore. He closed his eyes and saw himself driving along those roads; he tasted the salt of the Caspian waters. He had been doing his military service in the Amur region and, throughout the two years of service and a three month driving course, not one cold winter’s night had passed without visions of swimming in the Caspian and barefoot
walks along sand burning under the Absheron sun; in Amur’s snowy landscape Baladadash dreamed of plucking grapes and figs in the Absheron heat, sucking the juice of a crushed pomegranate; every single day he saw before him his six sisters:
Naile, Firuza, Kamala, Amala, Dilshad and Boyuk-khanim; his brothers Agagul and Nuhbala; his parents Agababa and Agabaji – in fact the whole village, even Amirgulu.
Amirgulu, now facing Baladadash and drinking his tea, could never have imagined this guy opposite him being in the army in Amur and dreaming of being just here.
It had been a year since he had returned to the village – for most of that year he had driven a brand new truck along the Absheron roads for the No.3 Building Department. The world, however, works in mysterious ways; now, from time to time, Baladadash thought of the vast expanses of the Amur region and sometimes he struggled to re-adjust to Absheron’s triangular confines.
He took a sip of his tea, replaced the glass on the saucer and lifted the back of his aerodrome with his thumb to scratch his head.
– “Hey, you boy, come over here!” said Silver Malik, looking over at Baladadash.
At first Baladadash didn’t believe his ears, then his expression darkened; chaychi Gazanfer noticed and thought, ‘Bloody hell, not a fight – evening, with the place full of customers and everything going well! Officer Safar’s here every evening to drink tea, but now – the awkward so and so’s nowhere to be seen!’
Baladadash was one of the most respected young men in the village and this was no way to speak to him in company; you did not talk down to Baladadash.
– “What’s up, eh? Aren’t I talking to you?” said Silver Malik.
– “What?” Baladadash was barely able to speak.
– “Is your truck ok?” asked Silver Malik.
– “What are you talking about?”
– “Get your truck over to our place, we have some fish there; take it to my daughter’s in Baku.”
The previous year, Silver Malik’s daughter had graduated from the Conservatoire, she played the piano; she was married and living in Baku, her husband was a composer and Silver Malik looked after them. He thought of them especially when he had had a bit to drink; sometimes he went over there and took the Conservatoire professors, competition organisers and jurors to the kebab house, occasionally visiting them at home; he did all he could for them. Silver Malik heaved his hand into his pocket and pulled out a twenty-five rouble note:
– “Look, I’ll nail this to your forehead!” he said.
Chaychi Gazanfer realised that things were taking a turn for the worse.
The whole teahouse fell silent.