For Nineveh Press’s readers and followers, we are publishing a series of selected extracts from the book ‘Bloodied, but Unbowed: A Memoir of the Ashur & Arshaluys Yousuf Family’, by Alice Nazarian. The second extract, published here below, is the chapter “A Brute’s Disappointment” from the book (pp. 38–42). __________________A BRUTE’S DISAPPOINTMENT With my mother’s departure, the mood at home once again turned gloomy. It had been days since she had left, and there was no news of her. We didn’t even know which village she had gone to. Though some kind neighbors occasionally visited and heartened us, we plunged into our chilling thoughts as soon as we were alone again. Our terror-stricken young minds were unable to protect themselves with words of hope. We were constantly tormented by the fear that my mother would fall victim to the ruthless sword of the enemy, just like my father had. Could optimism and courage be expected of us when the peal of death still rang in our ears? But then, all of a sudden, my mother appeared at our doorstep, like an angel from heaven! I threw myself into her loving arms, hugged and kissed her insatiably. I refused to be separated from her, dreading the thought that she could be snatched away from me once again. My mother embraced us one by one. She planted the last kiss on little Mary, who innocently slept in her cradle. We all had tears of joy in our eyes. As my mother’s warm kisses calmed me down, I noticed that her face had turned pallid. I also could hear waves of restrained gasps emanating from her chest. I wondered what was wrong with her. Was she sad or just tired? Then I had a distinct feeling that she had experienced something terrible while she was away. I was impatient to find out the reason behind her sadness. “Why were you gone so long?” I asked. “I wanted to come back as soon as possible, but I was faced with an unsavory incident,” she began. “We missed you very much!” “And I missed you!” “We were afraid that you were gone like dad and weren’t coming back.” I noticed that she could barely hold her tears back. “Don’t be afraid, my darlings,” she said. “Death has left our house, although grief and suffering have replaced it.” Perhaps my mother’s reply would have immersed us in childish analyses had not a neighbor, Atlaghents Anna Khatun, come in at that moment and asked in a strange tone, “Where have you been, my precious neighbor? You got us very worried.” “Maybe what worried you was your premonition,” my mother told her. “It was only through the help of Providence that I made it home safe and sound. I escaped a dreadful danger, and for this I give God a thousand thanks.” My curiosity intensified. Clearly my mother had a shocking story to tell. I took a deep breath and focused my attention on her. As impatiently, Anna Khatun said, “All right, let’s hear it.” After a deep sigh, my mother began her story. “As you know,” she said, “I gathered some old belongings from around the house to sell them. I picked up my aunt from near Mezire and together we went to the village of Ertmnek, where within two days we exchanged our wares for food supplies. As it was almost evening when we were done, we thought it would be wise to spend the night in the village. We left the next day, before dawn. We had taken barely 20 steps when a couple of burly Kurdish women caught up with us. We greeted one another and introduced ourselves, then walked together, engaged in an interesting conversation. Some time later, we took a respite on the suggestion of the Kurdish women. That’s when we told them about the purpose of our journey. They were very sorry to hear about our troubles. They said they wished they had met us back in the village and made sure we got a better deal on our barters. They also said the next time we visited the village, we should stay at their home, otherwise they would be cross with us. “Well, it’s not easy for malicious and deceitful thoughts to creep into innocent hearts… Encouraged by the Kurdish women’s lavish expressions of empathy, we were even naïve enough to tell them about the atrocities which the Turks had committed against us. Suddenly we noticed that time had slipped by and we needed to rush off before darkness had fallen. At once we jumped to our feet and continued on, until we reached a crossroads where my aunt was to separate from us in order to return to Mezire. She gave me a concerned look since she knew I needed to walk another hour to reach the Euphrates College hill. But the burlier Kurdish woman put my aunt’s mind at ease when she said she would gladly accompany me to the city, where, she added, she had to take care of some things anyway. So my aunt and I went our separate ways, each of us accompanied by one of the Kurdish women. “I had a strange sense of foreboding. The Kurdish woman and I crossed quite a distance without exchanging a single word. I continued to be gripped by a sad premonition, and my heart was beating faster. I was at a loss as to the source of my trepidation. I wanted to chalk it up to my separation from my aunt, but, no matter how hard I tried, couldn’t get to the bottom of it. All I knew was that the presence of that Kurdish woman made me feel extremely uncomfortable. At last she broke the heavy silence by suggesting we take a little break by a roadside rock. “I was worn out—due not so much to physical exhaustion as the puzzling dread which consumed me. At once I consented to my companion’s suggestion of taking a respite. Just then, I heard a panicked voice, as though emerging from the depths of nature, calling my name. I pricked up my ears in utter amazement. No, I wasn’t wrong: in fact, someone was calling out to me, telling me to stop in my tracks. Was it my aunt? Did she need my help? Or was it someone else? The eerie silence that followed distorted reality once more, and I convinced myself to ascribe the echo of that seemingly imaginary call to my stormy emotional state. “But then I heard the scream once again. I turned toward the direction it came from. This time there could be no question that it was my aunt’s voice… I had no answers to the whys that darted through my mind at that moment, until I noticed my aunt in the far distance behind, running breathlessly toward us, waving a handkerchief in her raised hand, and imploring me to stop. Well, obviously, something was seriously wrong here. In order to spare my aunt the trouble of running the last stretch to reach us, I quickly took leave of my companion to rush back. Before I did this, however, I was startled by the savage stare the Kurdish woman gave me. I was stunned by the sheer hostility in her eyes… But I regained my composure, picked my stuff up, and hastened toward my aunt, eager to be rid of the Kurdish woman’s presence as soon as possible. “As I drew closer to my aunt and noticed the fluster on her face, I wanted to believe it was due to her heaving tiredness. But when I reached her and heard her offer prayers and words of gratitude, I knew for certain that there was a very good reason behind her panic. “It is wrong to think that the human conscience can be bribed all too easily. It can well rebel when the mind that governs it is not quite resigned to evil. Even the conscience of a monstrous criminal can have moments of reconsideration. “So here’s what had happened. No sooner had my aunt and I separated near Mezire, her Kurdish companion had asked her about our relationship. And as soon as she had found out that we were relatives, she had revealed the monstrous plan hatched by the woman who had been walking with me. The plan, simply enough, was to drown me in a river in order to steal my food supplies. This blood-curdling confession had terrified my aunt. And despite her gargantuan effort to run to me in order to save my life, the fear of not making it on time had weakened her knees and caused her eyesight to falter. Yet God is merciful toward those who kneel before Him with absolute faith. My aunt’s impassioned supplications had been heard. As though by a miracle, her floundering knees had regained their strength and she had been able to catch up with me. “Yet her panic had so shaken her hope of finding me that she actually mistrusted her eyes when we were reunited. We hugged and kissed one another in immeasurable gratitude, as if we had both risen from the grave—although I was still in the dark as to why she had run after me with such urgency. “A chill went down my spine when she told me about my brush with death. I recalled the Kurdish woman’s murderous stare just before we had parted. With that savage fury in her eyes, she had looked like a venom-breathing hunter who has failed to kill a prey.” I listened to my mother’s account in such a state of nervousness, and with such a sobering realization that she could have easily died, that had a psychiatrist observed me in those moments, he would have been able to determine the exact depth of my emotions. And were a musician to convey the precise tenor of those emotions, his strings would have sounded the burning melody of visceral horror. Anna Khatun roused me with her “Glory be to God.” Then, with a tone of authority, she told my mother, “Don’t you dare go to those villages again! You should find a safer way to feed your kids.” A smile of satisfaction sprung from my lips. Anna Khatun had spoken to my heart. I gave her a happy glance, by way of conveying my gratitude. As for the expression on my mother’s face, it was markedly different than mine: it took fierce issue with Anna Khatun for having issued her order so offhandedly. Today, in retrospect, I fully agree with that expression of annoyance in my mother’s gaze. In those oppressive days of hunger, when death was everywhere around us, she didn’t have many options to ensure the survival of her children—especially since everyone in our community was in the same boat and not even an iota of help could be expected of anyone. __________________ Order your copy of ‘Bloodied, but Unbowed: A Memoir of the Ashur & Arshaluys Yousuf Family‘, by Alice Nazarian here.