My homework for the MA creative writing course
The tainted tree (Ramin Tork week 2)
I had played underneath the tainted tree many times, but that was two years ago. I no longer played games, no not me. A thirteen-year-old girl in our village must behave like a lady if she wants to have a husband.
Although I didn’t pick whom I would marry I had my dreams. In a letter I declared how much I loved Peshad and as my cousin Azar instructed me, I poured ink on the letter so it was black and only the spirits could read it and hung it on the tainted tree alongside all the other wishes and prayers. I stood back and looked at this ancient oak tree, black and white with the thousand secret wishes all wrapped in neat strings and beautiful ribbons torn from the owner’s old cloth and waving as the wind brushed the leaves.
When I was seven, I had asked my mother why the tree was called tainted, and why do the spirits gather there? She refused to tell me, but last night my cousin Azar told me. She said you are old enough to know. She said it was the village secret and if anyone retells the secret when they shouldn’t she and anyone who had told her would be cursed. I begged her to tell me, and she finally did. Marjan, she said, you must swear a solemn oath not to tell anyone the story. I said I swear, I swear.
“Many young girls are buried under the tree. Girls whose lives were unfulfilled and died young, they specially take sympathy on living young girls who are in love”.
I rushed home; my heart was pounding, fearing someone, somehow could read my darkened letter but feared most my father would see me underneath the tainted tree.
On my way I saw my Babu. Grandfather walked slowly with a prayer book wrapped in a cloth in one hand and his walking stick in the other.
He shouted: “Child, take this book home for me”. I approached and kissed his leathery hands. He asked, “Where I had been” and I said I was on my way from my cousins, took the book and rushed home.
Everyday Babu looked older since his accident. I recall when I was five he would lift me like a small sack of hay and throw me in the air and catch me, and then kiss my cheeks and I would kiss his white beard.
He stood so tall, taller than my father the tallest in the village. Babu had been the village chieftain for many years. Renowned for his integrity, he was left in charge of people’s will and their property. If they wanted to form a bond and borrow money Babu was their witness. My cousin told me that when he was young he had fought five strangers with his machete when they tried to rob his barn.
One day the son of a man who had left the village forty years earlier appeared from nowhere. The father had been forced to leave the village in disgrace but he left his piece of land in Babu’s care and now he had died. When the son came to visit, not only Babu gave back the son his father’s piece of land but also gave him a lot of money for selling the wheat that was cultivated, and every cattle, and offspring of cattle that the man had. He did this even though the son knew nothing of the land.
Babu was a great hunter and his horse was a saffron coloured horse that he named Attash (fire). He had bought Attash from the prize money when he won the game of Buzkashi against ten other villages.
He loved that horse, and would not allow anyone groom it yet ride it. Then last spring, in the next village a careless hunter had not marked his trap. Babu, galloping across the bushy forest, riding Attash fell into a bear-trap. Attash broke his leg and his body pierced with a pike, collapsed but he lifted himself so that he would not injure his rider. Babu broke his hip and fractured two ribs and was left unconscious. When he came round, he saw Attash in pain and he shot his beloved Attash in the head.
A search party found Babu, but after that accident, he was no longer the same man again. He now walks with a stick, and his body is coiled. The pain has made him short tempered and the fear of death more religious.
I went home, but broke my promise to Azar. I told my younger sister the secret of the tree even though she is too young to understand. Perhaps it was because of this that the curse passed to Azar.
A few days after telling my sister, Azar on her way to school, passing an alleyway, saw a few kittens in a box next to an open door. She had waited but no one had come. All of the sudden someone with a dampened cloth had grabbed her from behind. She had struggled but something on the cloth had made her faint.
She was missing for two days, and when she would come round she had found herself naked on a dirty bed, and the strange men made her unconscious again. The neighbour’s wife had become suspicious of noises from next door and the men ran away.
Azar was brought home, and she was very badly bruised. She was bleeding none stop, and shaking with a fever.
Her mother was tearing her hair out. Her eyes had become black with tears. When they brought Azar home, and we saw her in that state we all cried.
The men were known but had escaped. They were men from the next village who had come to trade cattle.
Babu was furious. He murmured “the shame of it. The shame. How can we live with such a shame? She has been tainted we must now clear our village of this taint”.
The village elders gathered in our house. Babu looked very stern and his hand was shaking squeezing his stick more than ever.
They spoke for two hours, and I sneaked by the window to find out about the fate of my dear cousin.
Led by Babu, the elders had decided. Babu deepened his voice and declared: “The girl has been tainted, it is a dishonour for our village to have a tainted girl living among us. We cannot let her live, but her father must clean the stain. A tainted girl is like a rotten apple. It would infest the whole cart. She cannot bare healthy fruit nor can she warm the bed of a husband, she is the fruit that has been spoiled and so she must be destroyed”.
I held my mouth and gasped in fear and my body was shaking. I loved Azar more like a sister than a cousin; she was the dearest friend to me. Azar was innocent. She had been violated. How could they punish the victim? My Grandfather was commanding the execution of my dear Azar, his own grandchild how could he do such a thing.
They were going to kill her; yes they really were going to kill her for old stale, crooked honour.
Azar’s father was summoned and was told the verdict. When he left the room he was shaking, but he had no choice he had to save his honour. He had to conduct this act as the head of his family.
Babu’s word had to be obeyed. The village elders had spoken and Azar was to be killed. “My dear cousin, forgive me, it was me who broke my promise and passed the curse to you” I thought. I wanted to save her but I was paralysed with fear. If I defied Babu, I could have the same fate. Azar disappeared, and no one dares to speak her name anymore and I am still mourning her loss. When picking crop, I quietly stand in the wind and call her name. From what I heard, she was hit with a bat on the back of her head, and then her body was burnt and buried underneath the tainted tree. I want to take flowers for her and lay them by the tree, but I no longer dare to visit that place.