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FIRST THERE WAS LOVE

SADAGAT ALIYEVA

 
 
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FIRST THERE WAS LOVE. And love was everything.  

Waters washed the surface of the land, kissing each grain of sand. Sunrays gently caressed the little waves while spreading their warmth. Tree branches held nests tenderly, watching baby birds patiently, saving them from harm to grow and fly. Flying from flower to flower, butterflies spread love for creation. Moonbeams peeked through tiny windows on quiet nights to deliver magical dreams to little sleepy heads.  

In this time, a baby girl was born into the soft and warm arms of Mother. Mother cuddled the child, sharing love with all her heart.  

Girl awoke each morning to the sounds of birds singing on the branches near her window. As she grew, she ran with the wind, flew with the butterflies, sang with the birds, and jumped with the waves all day long. Mother brushed her hair tenderly, made her dresses as beautiful as colorful wildflowers, fed her with love, and told her story after story about ancient knights and faraway kingdoms, hags and clever princesses.  

At night, when all lively beings were going to sleep, Girl lay in tender, motherly arms, closed her eyes, and melted away into a sweet lullaby: 

 

 

I’ll sing a lullaby to bring you sleep

 May a rose’s petals take you in

 And inside those rose’s petals

 May you find a sweet dream

 Lullaby, my little flower, lullaby

 My sweet child, lullaby 

Laylay dedim yatasan

Qızıl gülə batasan

Qızıl gülün içində  

Şirin yuxu tapasan

Laylay gülüm a laylay  

Şirin dillim a laylay  

 

  

Love spread its arms everywhere. Time passed as a sweet dream, and the child grew joyfully within the love of her mother. When the time came, Mother sent Girl to school. Walking her to the door to say goodbye, Mother told Girl she would miss her and would wait impatiently for her return while making the most delicious food, her favorites, dolma, dovga, or pilov, for she would be hungry.  

As soon as Girl arrived home, she devoured the food right from the pots and pans. And she talked and talked all about her day, her friends, her challenges and achievements. Mother listened to every word with smiling eyes and a proud heart.  

Time ran as a river, but they did not feel it, as every day was lovelier than the day before. Girl grew and grew each day as Mother became smaller and smaller.  

One day Girl decided she was big enough to go explore the world on her own. She shared her thoughts with Mother. Mother smiled. “Perhaps Girl was joking,” she thought. “How can she go away when she is only a child?”  

Ready for an adventure, Girl packed her bag. Mother cried and pleaded with her to stay, but Girl had made up her mind, and she was older now. She had her own dreams and desires. She wanted more than the little house could offer. Girl left with the birds and butterflies, with the wind and raindrops, with the river and the rising sun. She left.  

The house became an empty nest for Mother, void as if nothing had ever been there. Every morning Mother arose early as usual. She cooked and cleaned, washed Girl’s clothes, dried them, then washed them again. Mother waited for Girl to return any minute, hoped she was just joking, hiding somewhere as she did when they used to play hide and seek. The food grew old, spoiled, and was thrown away. And starting again the next day . . . same and same . . . 

Days passed, then months, then years. Mother waited and waited. She grew tired and old. Finally, her patience bowl overflowed, and she decided to search for her child. Mother put on stone shoes, chose a thick tree branch for a cane, locked the door, and left. She walked through days and nights, becoming tired and thirsty. Just as the sun was rising, she arrived at a meadow. She asked the green meadow, “Oh, beautiful, open meadow, have you seen my child with eyes darker than the night, a smile sweeter than honey, and a voice softer than a feather?” The meadow did not answer.  

When a breeze brushed the tall grass and passed on, Mother kept going. 

Before the sun was tall, she arrived at running river. She asked as a beggar, “Oh, tumultuous river, have you seen my child with eyes darker than the night, a smile sweeter than honey, and a voice softer than a feather?” The river did not answer, only growled away with all its might. 

Mother washed her hands and face with icy cold water and rested a bit. “Traveler has to get going,” she then said to herself and continued walking.  

In the distance, Mother saw a mountain, its snowy top fading into the clouds. “Oh, mighty mountain,” she said, “have you seen my child, with eyes darker than the night, a smile sweeter than honey, and a voice softer than a feather?”  

The ancient, gray-headed mountain shrugged heavily, shattering into rocks, dropping down and hiding himself in the dust he made.  

Mother had no choice but to keep walking. The night settled down and she sheltered under an old mulberry tree. The moon slowly rose, and bright stars emerged from night’s womb. Mother raised her tired head to the sky and spoke slowly, for she was exhausted from the long days of hunger and thirst and constant worry. “Oh, you beautiful night sky, you ancient moon, and dearly shining stars, you are up high, you can see all around. Please tell me, have you seen my child with eyes darker than the night, a smile sweeter than honey, and a voice softer than a feather?”  

The moon slowly closed her eyes, for she was ashamed that she had no answer for Mother, and the stars nervously giggled, shooting away. 

After months of searching and asking, walking through high and low, rough and slow, the stone shoes were worn out and the cane was but a stub. Mother knew it was time to go back to her empty little home. 

The house was colder and quieter than ever. Mother made a fire, boiled water for tea, and baked some bread, but nothing felt right. As the days passed, Mother’s eyes began failing. Her legs slowed, her figure became stooped, and she lost her passion for life, her hope that her child would return. The house settled crookedly and dust gathered in every corner, but Mother didn’t care, for she didn’t want a house without her child. Mother became grouchy, complaining ceaselessly about everything, about how the food was tasteless, the house was cold, the days were long, and she was old. She complained and complained. Then she simply gave up, just sat there and waited for death to come and take her.  

One morning the old, broken door creaked slowly open. When Mother turned her nearly blinded eyes to greet her death, there stood a beautiful young woman with eyes darker than night and a smile sweeter than honey. The woman spoke with voice softer than a feather.  

“Hello, Mother,” the woman said. Seeing the condition of her mother and the house, her heart sank and she rushed for a hug.  

At first, Mother did not recognize the beautiful woman, but as she came closer, Mother’s heart trembled. This was her child; she had returned, finally.  

Mother opened her arms wide, but suddenly she recalled Girl’s betrayal, leaving her mother for so long. Mother remembered searching for her, all those long days and nights, lonely and tiresome years. She became angry and pushed her away.  

Mother spoke bitterly, “I don’t need you anymore, I’m fine without you. I waited so long for you.” She grumbled, complained, cried, judged, blamed . . . then she quieted. 

The young woman said nothing; she waited for Mother to pour out the troubles of her heart. When silence filled the room, she slowly rose from the floor and hugged her mother. After a brief silence, Mother raised her eyes and looked at her; this was the same child with eyes darker than the night, a smile sweeter than honey, and a voice softer than a feather. Now Mother hugged her back. 

It was as if time had not passed, as if nothing had happened. Mother and Girl both felt it; they both knew. First there was love, and love was always there. 

 

Sadagat Aliyeva was born and raised in Turkan, a suburb of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, during the Soviet Era of Stagnation. Her burning desire for freedom brought her to the United States, where she settled in Des Moines, Iowa.