This is the second half of a two-part post. The first post can be found here.
By Janis Hutchinson
The sun dipped low at the end of the day and the sky turned a smoky, purplish-orange. They started out again as a cool breeze came in on the tail of the blanketing dusk. Nusha was draped over his shoulder, asleep. She barely cried at all anymore except on brief occasions which was a relief.
By late evening, he spied the dim lights of Diyarbakir in the distance. Within two hours, he reached the black, basalt megaliths that formed its city wall and began looking for Mardin, one of the five gates. It was the one he and his father used, as had caravan travelers of old.
Nusha stirred and began crying.
“Shhh . . . we are almost there,” he said. He shifted her onto his other shoulder, straddling her legs on his hip. Nusha, sobbing softly, laid her head back down upon his shoulder and closed her eyes.
Tomar soon found the gate and fearfully crept through the shadowy entranceway. Thoughts of the regime’s powerful hatred against Kurds made him extra cautious that no one see him. His heart nearly hammered its way out of his chest.
He hesitated for a few seconds. Swallowing dryly, he ran his tongue over his cracked lips. Nevertheless, his face remained resolute. There can be no change of plans. Allah excused transgressions of children; but now it was different—he was a man. He must follow through on his first duty or a sin would be charged against him.
Moving through the moonlit streets, he passed the domed mausoleums, tile-covered mosques, and the familiar market place with its awning-covered fruit stands. He was certain he was headed in the right direction and that he would recognize the place. His father pointed it out to him once when showing him around the city. He had stopped in front of it long enough to explain to him its purpose, emphasizing that their family was fortunate.
He paused at a familiar corner and hesitantly peered around the corner of a building. He started down the dim alleyway and soon stopped in front of a wooden building.
A quiver ran down his back and his knees went spongy as he stared at the arched doorway that marked his journey’s end.
A yellow glow shined from the crack beneath the door, spilled down the three wooden steps and spread out across the narrow alleyway. His throat constricted as he looked up at the small, weather-beaten sign that hung over the entranceway . . . Children’s Home. His arms tightened around Nusha and his heart beat like the wings of frightened birds.
“Wake up . . . little . . . sister,” his voice quavered. “We are . . . here.” Nusha drowsily opened her eyes.
He nervously glanced up and down the darkened street and then placed her on the ground. Nusha looked up at him with sleep-filled eyes.
“You must look nice,” he said, managing to speak in a matter-of-fact tone. He knelt down in front of her and smoothed out the wrinkles in her dress, pausing to examine a rip.
Nusha looked down at it and her chin quivered. Tomar smiled and quickly took her hand.
“Do not worry about the rip now. They will love you anyway, for you are a good little sister.”
He licked his fingers and smoothed her short, black hair. Nusha smiled at him, raised her arm, and with her small hand patted her hair. Tears came to Tomar’s eyes but he brushed them away.
Pulling his pencil and tablet from his pocket, he tore off a sheet. He moved up the creaky steps and slowly began writing in the dim light spilling from beneath the crack.
Please take care of my sister. Our parents are dead many
weeks. I am twelve, and can no longer find food for this
small sister. To my ears came news of your house, so I
bring Nusha to you.
He reread the note twice, came back down the steps and knelt down pressing it into her tiny hand. Nusha glanced at the paper, puzzled.
“You must stand here . . . in front of the door,” he said, firmly resting his hands on her shoulders. Then, standing he started to move back up the steps toward the door. Nusha instinctively bolted forward. Tomar pried loose the tiny arms that clung about his legs and squatted down in front of her. He kissed her cheek.
“Little Nusha . . . In there,” he pointed at the door, “they will give you food so you won’t be hungry and put shoes on your sore feet. You will have a bed with warm covers and will no longer cry at night when you go to sleep.
“These honorable people will send you to live with a family where you can play with their happy children. And do you know why they are happy? Because their mothers can mend tears in dresses, fix warm bowls of rice and sing the lullaby.”
He sadly shook his head. “I cannot do these things.” He felt a cold fist close over his heart.
Nusha, her eyes fixed on him, listened intently.
“Oh, little sister, you do not know what I am saying and . . . his face locked with pain . . . “you will not remember me.” Tomar quickly blinked his tears away.
“May you . . . gaze up to much happiness, Nusha.” He felt his heart breaking into so many pieces they were rising up and plugging his throat so he could no longer speak.
Moving up the wooden steps, he grabbed the slender rope that hung to the side of the door and gave it a tug. The tinkling of a bell sounded inside the building. Turning, he returned to where Nusha stood watching him.
“Stay right here,” he said, pointing his finger to the spot where she stood. Then, turning away, he slowly moved down the street a few steps at a time, the knot in his stomach twisting harder. He glanced back at her over his shoulder.
Nusha, her eyes wide, let out a cry and started after him. Tomar whirled around and rushed forward.
“No, no, little sister!” He spoke sharply, pushing her back. “You cannot come. I will just be a few minutes. Wait for me here . . . and . . . I will return.”
The last word caught in his throat—he had disgraced his parents with this lie. He only hoped that Allah would some day forgive him. He pointed up the steps.
“Look, someone will open the door soon. Give them the paper!” Nusha, her chin trembling, turned back and stared at the door.
Those few seconds were all Tomar needed. He ran a few yards and ducked within the shadows of a small moon gate.
Peering from his hiding place, he watched breathlessly. The door opened, letting the yellow light from inside fall upon Nusha. Tomar swallowed hard as he watched her look up into the faces of two women.
One of them stepped out, knelt in front of Nusha and tenderly put her arms around her. She spoke softly, and Tomar thought he saw Nusha smile in return. He smiled too . . . a little.
Nusha held out the note. Tomar stopped breathing. When the lady finished reading it she gently gathered Nusha into her arms and reentered the building.
The door swung shut . . . the street was quiet.
Tomar slowly sank to the ground. He leaned back against a large barrel and sat motionless for a few minutes. Turning his head, he stared down the alley where he last saw Nusha. Would he ever see her again?
Glancing down at his shirt, he pressed it together where a button was gone. Then he tightened his sash and brushed an imaginary speck from his trousers.
He looked up at the sky. The silver river of heaven was fading. Hints of dawn now touched the sky and soft rays of light were slowly poking their slender beams between the wooden buildings.
Rising to his feet he took a few uncertain steps, paused and took one last glance over his shoulder.
Then, he moved down the street with slow, hesitant steps, pushing a small rock with his foot.
He was glad the lady put her arms around Nusha. He hoped she could sing the lullaby.
Note: The story’s ending and the note that Tomar wrote, is a copy of an actual note by a twelve-year-old boy when he left his two-year-old sister, Su Ying, in an alley behind the Babies’ Home in Taichung, Formosa. I simply incorporated it into this story. Su Ying’s touching picture below was published in the Saturday Evening Post in a “Save the Children” ad for Christian Children’s Fund, Inc., in 1967.
About The Author
Janis Hutchinson is an award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction, graduated Summa Cum Laude with B.th and M.A. degrees in Theology, and was awarded “Writer of the Year” (2008) by the American Christian Writers Association. A former (very active), member of the mainline Mormon Church for 35 years and 2 years in Mormon Fundamentalist organizations, she is in demand as a speaker on Christian radio and TV, and lives near Seattle, Washington.