Baby Born in the Field
Translated from the Turkish by Talât Sait Halman
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
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:
what is left back they sow millet
sow it they reap it and they wrap it
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
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.
foreman, who stood under his big black umbrella, called out: "Gulizar!
Is dat it? Quit workin'! G'on, quit!"
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.
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
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
Ferho Uzeyir growled after his wife, then called to his nine-year-old
daughter standing barefoot beside the foreman: "Take yo' mom's place!"
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.
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
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.
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.
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
… 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.
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.
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!
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.
son!" he shouted.
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!"
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!"
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.
headed for the farm's mud-baked huts whose thatched roofs loomed ahead.