Safa of the Spring

People are hard of heart and death is their game


Safa of the Spring
by Azadeh Azad

They walk along a dirt path to visit Auntie Sareh. It is one cool, sunny day and Safa remembers the old woman’s gentle face that was like cracked marble. She remembers her blue eyes and the tiny lines radiating from the corners of her smiling mouth. Last time she visited her with Father every thing about her was in white. Her long magical white hair, combed straight down her white silk dressing-gown. She was lying in her white bed, head resting on a pile of white pillows, on the far side of a white room, ready to die. Father whispered to Safa that they had come to say their last goodbye.

Safa is holding Mother’s hand while the wind rustles in a row of eucalyptus trees as they pass by them. She doesn’t like the pressure of Mother’s fingers, but is afraid of complaining or freeing herself from her clutch. She makes a wish to be without her for a while. Further along, the wonder-winged Safa finds herself walking ahead of Mother, under a blue sky, in an expanse of dry dirt that spreads as far as her eyes can see. Her body and fluffy hair are outlined by afternoon light and thin golden dust.

She sees a few dark clusters of seated people peppered across that barren land where she is walking. They are sobbing or murmuring while vendors meandering among them. She loves this cool sunny isolation and she loves walking on its quiet pulse.

Mother’s huge shadow falls on Safa from behind, her hand taps on her shoulder and her finger points at a free-standing building. The girl looks up and her eyes linger on a small single room on top of a few brick steps. Mother says Auntie Sareh is buried there. They enter into the empty room and Mother crouches over a marble rectangle in the middle of the floor and touches the writings on it. How did Auntie come to be buried here, Safa wonders in her usual silence.

A while later, nearby, Safa is standing beside her mother in a crowd of giant grown-ups, gazing at a disheveled woman screaming on the other side of a ditch. There are two men, hollow-eyed and wide-chested, holding her arms tightly, trying to push her down into the ditch. Her loud voice spatters the air with crying vowels of despair. She does not want to be buried alive. She pulls backward, but is pushed forward again, and Safa witnesses crowd’s drooping eyes and whispering tongues, praying for something, indifferent to the woman’s fate.

Despair descends onto the little girl like a toxic cloud. Her mind and guts begin churning. Her mouth feels as if it were staring and her eyes gaping; everything seems curved and crushed. Shock and chagrin, invisible thieves, peel away the placid afternoon. She wants to cry. This is so unfair. It seems that when people get to a certain age, they should be buried. But at what age? How old should they be? This poor woman is not really old; she does not even have gray hair.

A mysterious flare floats between Safa and the wailing woman, introducing them to each other. Safa is alive and safe in that grief-struck air that sharpens her understanding of the world. This is not a savage nightmare; she is not dreaming, nor is she imagining, as when she imagines flying like a bird or pretends to be a bride when playing with her neighbours. She is looking directly at the ugly face of life and death and she cannot bear it. Yes, this is where they brought Auntie Sareh and this is what they did to her: pushing her into a ditch against her will, while she was shedding tears from those lovely blue eyes.

The crying woman’s face is as red as a pomegranate and the two men, apathetic to her pain and plight, keep pushing her down and the woman keeps resisting death. Safa cannot bear the sight. She turns her head and hides behind her mother, pressing her body against Mother’s pleated black skirt. She has already mastered solitude, lives in an estranged intensity where her mind forages alone and doesn’t know limits. She doesn’t want to grow up to fit her human doom.

When she detaches herself from her mother's darkness and glances around, she sees the ditch filled with fresh soil, reddish earth that is now smothering the poor woman. It is so quiet. The unmoved crowd has now moved away. A huge lump forms in her throat . Her head flashes headache and her ears hear nothing but her erratic heartbeat. The world becomes a riddle and a discovery at the same time.

People are hard of heart and death is their game. She now knows where Auntie Sareh is: underneath that lonely room over there on her left. She must let out this numbing nervous apprehension, this wild fear from seeing the horror of being human. Stranded in existence, in this theatre of tears, she needs to cry, to discharge her sorrow like a collapsing seawall, but not in Mother’s presence. Safa’s light movement towards Auntie’s resting room happens without Mother noticing it.

The girl trusts no one and cannot take the world as it is given. She reaches the burial chamber, walks up three steps, gives the door a push and enters. Sitting cross-legged on the grave, she begins weeping. In this darkest state, nothing reaches her. Everything is lost, crumbled and grey. The desire for non-existence aches and grows in her belly, in her brain, inside her eyelids and underneath her skin. She cries harder, caves in and lets despondence win. If only she had someone to calm her frenzy. At an unfathomable moment, something changes in her, something new comes forth. Not only her eyes, but all the pores of her skin and all the cells of her body begin shedding tears. Tears melting away her pain, dreaming river, making her body disappear down to the threshold of existence. Tears as trails of a vanishing body. She is on the way to collapse upon herself, to drown into herself, to turn dead silent as time.

Safa has gradually become a flow of crystal-clear water covering the grave, running out of the chamber, trickling down the steps into the sun-soaked ground. A rivulet finds its way across the thirsty land and beyond. But that is not her confine. Although all her body parts are melting and vanishing, her pulse remains, turning her saline tears and her flesh and blood into fresh sweet water. Ripples from Safa’s undying pulse incessantly release water. The pulse becomes a spring, an endless source of fresh water in the middle of the burial chamber.

Crowd gathers around the small building and Mother looks for Safa. The little girl can not be found. Mother runs in all directions, pleading everyone for help, for her daughter, for a slender, light-haired girl in polka dotted blue dress. A few people approach the panicked woman with concerned expressions on their faces.

"Where did you see her last? What were you doing exactly around the time she disappeared?" a man in black tie asks her as he makes her drink from a flask.

"I was watching this woman," Mother says with a lost gaze in her eyes, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "She was howling for her dead teenage daughter who was laid down into her grave, about to be buried. The poor woman didn’t want to let go of her daughter, wanted to throw herself on her body. Two men were trying hard to pull her back and calm her down, but she was completely spaced out and everyone was crying for her. The burial was getting prolonged and late. At some point I felt my daughter’s presence behind me. She was pushing her head to the back of my thighs and I was glad she was not watching the scene. That was the last time I remember her presence. Ah, where did she go?"

Under the mocking eyes of truth, the man comforts Mother who is now collapsed on her knees, then cranes his neck in the direction of the calls of "Miracle, Miracle" coming from the cheering crowd around the little mausoleum.


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by Nilofar Shidmehr (not verified) on

Dear Azadeh,
With words, you paint a poignant and sensual picture. Well done.

Flying Solo


by Flying Solo on


Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

Fascinating narrative. The child's surreal view of the events was about to comfortably yield to the mundane rational for me. But then what I thought was a metaphor turned out to be the magical world where the story lives. Is the tale based on a myth?