Baby Born in the Field



Translated from the Turkish by Talât Sait Halman


IN THE COTTON FIELD which stretched as far as the eye could see, farm hands, fifteen or twenty in a row, worked steadily at the weeds around the seedlings.

The temperature soared to a hundred and forty-nine in the sun. No bird flew in the shimmering, dust-gray sky. The sun seemed to sway. The peasants, soaked with sweat, pushed and pulled their hoes in a steady rhythm. The sharp edges of the hoes chopped the parched soil with a "thrush, thrush, thrush" sound. The song the farm hands sang in unison to the measured beat of their hoes was swallowed up in the sun's scorching heat:

Into what is left back they sow millet

They sow it they reap it and they wrap it

My darling sent me pear and pomegranate


Ferho Uzeyir wiped the sweat off his swollen hands on his baggy black trousers and turned his bloodshot eyes on his wife swinging her hoe beside him. He spoke in Kurdish, "Wha? Whatsda matter?"

Gulizar was a broad-shouldered husky woman. Her dried up face, glittering with sweat, was contorted with deep lines and grimaces of intense pain.

She did not answer. Angered, Ferho Uzeyir jabbed his elbow into her side: "What's up wid yo' woman?"

Gulizar gave her husband a weary glance. Her eyes had sunk with fright into their sockets. Her hoe suddenly slipped from her hands to the ground. Pressing her huge belly with her hands, she bent over, then fell to her knees on the red earth everywhere cracked by the blistering sun.

The foreman, who stood under his big black umbrella, called out: "Gulizar! Is dat it? Quit workin'! G'on, quit!"

She was writhing with pain. She stuck her shriveled yet strong fingers into a crack of the soil, squeezing them tensely. With an almost superhuman effort, she struggled to control herself. Pitch black blotches fluttered before her eyes. Suddenly she groaned, "Uggghhh!" It was a shame—a disgrace— for a woman in labor to be heard by strange men. Ferho Uzeyir cursed and swung a mighty kick into his wife's side.

The woman crouched meekly on the ground. She knew her husband would never forgive her for this. As she struggled to rise on hands pressed against the hot earth, the foreman repeated: "Gulizar! Quit, sister, quit! G'on now, quit!"

Her pains suddenly stopped, but she felt they would come back—this time more sharply. She headed for the ditch, the farm's boundary, about a thousand feet away.

Ferho Uzeyir growled after his wife, then called to his nine-year-old daughter standing barefoot beside the foreman: "Take yo' mom's place!"

The girl knew this was coming. She picked up the hoe that was as tall as she and whose handle was still covered with the sweat of her mother's hand, and fell into line.

All this was a common affair. The hoeing continued to the beat of the song sung in unison.

The sun fell full on the ditch with its slabs of dung. Green lizards glided over the red earth. Gulizar stood erect in the ditch, looked all around her, listening intently through the scorching heat. There was no one in sight. The radiant void, echoing a shrike's shrieks, stretched endlessly.

She emptied the pockets of her baggy black pants, put down a few items she had gathered when she knew her time was due: two long pieces of thread wrapped around a bit of pasteboard, a rusty razor blade, several pieces of cloth in different colors, rags, salt and a dried-up lemon. She had found these in the farm's garbage can. She would squeeze the lemon into the baby's eyes and rub the baby with salt.

She stripped below the waist, folded the baby pants under a big piece of rock, spread the rags on the ground, unraveled the thread and cut the lemon in two. About to kneel, she heard something move behind her. She covered herself below the waist, turned around. It was a huge dog! She picked up a stone and flung it. Frightened, the dog fled, but did not disappear. It waited, sniffing the air with its wet nose.

Gulizar was worried. What if she delivered the baby right now and fainted—the dog might tear her child to pieces! She remembered Ferice, the Kurdish girl. Ferice too had given birth in a ditch like this and, after placing the baby beside her, had fainted. When she came to, she had looked around—the baby was gone. She had searched high and low. ... At last, far away beneath a shrub, she had found her baby being torn to pieces by a huge dog!

Gulizar took another look at the dog, studying it closely. The dog stared back at her—it had a strange look. . . .

"Saffron," she said, "Dat look o' yo's ain't no good, Saffron." She wondered how she might call her daughter who was about a thousand feet away. "G'on, beat it! Yo' goddam dirty dog!"

Reluctantly, the dog backed away about thirty feet, stopped, sat on its haunches and, with a blue gleam in its eyes, waited.

At that moment Gulizar felt another pang, the sharpest yet. Groaning, she fell to her naked knees, resting her body on her hands gripping the ground. The vein on her neck, thick as a finger, throbbed. Now came pain after pain, each sharper than the one before. Suddenly a gush of warm blood.

… Her face took on a terrified expression. The whole world collapsed before her eyes.

"Ferho, man," the foreman said. "Go take a look at dat dame. . . . She may die or somepin'."

Ferho Uzeyir glanced in the direction of the ditch where his wife was in labor, shook his head, cursed and went on working. Anger at his wife swelled inside. Cold sweat poured from his forehead, trickling through his thick bushy eyebrows.

"Look here, son," the foreman repeated. "Go see whatsa what wid dat dame. Yo' never can tell!"

Ferho Uzeyir threw his hoe aside and walked over. He would give her a kick and another kick. . . . He just couldn't get over the way that good-for-nothing woman had made a monkey of him.

He stopped by the ditch, stared down. Gulizar had fallen on the ground sideways. In the midst of blood-stained rags, the baby—purple all over—was twitching and a huge dog was pulling at it.

He jumped into the ditch. The dog leaped away, licking its blood-covered mouth. Ferho Uzeyir brushed away the green-winged flies gathered on his baby's face. The infant, its eyes closed, kept making motions. Ferho opened the pieces of cloth. The baby was a boy!

A boy]

Ferho changed instantly. He lifted his head to the sky. A smile filled his harsh face. He picked the baby and the bloody rags from the ground.

"Ma son!" he shouted.

He was nearly insane with joy. After four girls—a boy!

Gulizar, sensing the presence of her man beside her, opened her eyes and, in spite of her condition, tried to get up.

"Good fo' yo'," Ferho Uzeyir said. "Good fo' yo', woman!"

He dashed out of the ditch with his boy in his arms. The foreman saw him coming across the cracked red soil. "Dere, dere . . ." he said, "dat's Ferho comin' dis-a-way!"

Hoeing stopped. The farm hands, leaning on their hoes, stared. Ferho came up panting, out of breath, shouting: "Ma son! Ah gat me a son!"

He pressed his baby, still purple all over inside the blood-drenched rags, to his bosom.

"Hey, careful, man," the foreman said. "Take care, man! Quit pressin' like dat—yo gonna choke 'im. . . . Now get down to de farm-house. Tell de cook Ah sends yo'. Tell 'im he oughta give yo' some oil and molasses. Let's make 'er drink some. G'on!"

Ferho Uzeyir no longer felt tired, the heat no longer bothered him. Now he was as young as a twenty-year-old boy, as light as a bird.

He headed for the farm's mud-baked huts whose thatched roofs loomed ahead.