BROTHER OF THE WIND

BROTHER OF THE WIND by Manuel Lourenzo González

Khaled is an Iraqi boy, a member of the Koblai tribe, growing up in the village of Qhissa Hanni in the mountains of north Iraq. He has left school to look after his family’s flock of sheep, but his father and the local schoolteacher think he has the makings of a writer, so they give him a notebook in which he records his aspirations, events in the village, the life of his family, his wish to own a horse which he will call ‘Ahu al-Rih’ or ‘Brother of the Wind’, his secret engagement to the mayor’s daughter, Amrah, so secret that even she doesn’t know about it, the time when he and a friend go frog hunting and slip a couple of frogs into the midwife’s bag, causing havoc when the midwife is due to assist in the birth of Ilaisha’s son… The book is presented as a series of letters which Khaled writes to the son of a European archaeologist, Dr Meira, nicknamed ‘Al-Galego’, who has taken up residence in the village in order to pursue his archaeological studies and because he has grown fond of the Iraqi way of life. But the invasion of the country in 2003 by the United States and its allies casts a heavy shadow over this remote village and its inhabitants, who struggle to come to terms with the issues that are at stake and who will have to draw on all their reserves of courage and strength if they are to survive. The war will bring tragedy to the village and will force Khaled to undertake a journey he has never imagined before, to the heart of the country’s capital, Baghdad. This is a journey of principle, of courage over fear, of faith and friendship, of self-sacrifice, that will change Khaled’s expectations forever.

1

My friend Alberte, assalam alaykum:

First day of October 2002 according to your calendar, 24th of Rajab according to the Muslim calendar. This is the first letter I am writing to you, dear Alberte. My father has just given me this lined, hardback notebook and a dark blue biro. My teacher Mir Ashduf thinks I should practise my writing, apparently I have a knack for telling stories, and he wants to turn me into a katib – that is a writer of books. Your father shares his opinion. I’m not so sure – I think what they want is to save me from digging in the fields or going to the mountain for firewood. Between them, they have persuaded my father that it’s best for me only to graze the sheep – that way I’ll have enough time to write down the things that occur to me. I’m grateful – the truth is a shepherd’s life is much more comfortable. You spend morning to night in the Orm valley or on the higher slopes of Lemikush, playing with your friends, who’ve taken their flocks as well. You can do whatever you like without being told off, you can read. I take the books I’m into and spend the time reading. At the moment, I have the stories of Yusuf Amin al-Sayf, which talk about enigmatic cities that appear and disappear. I don’t even have to worry about the animals – the mastiffs make sure they don’t wander off and frighten away any wild beasts. We have twenty-four sheep – a mixture of ewes, rams and lambs. We also have horses – four thoroughbred mares and an old stallion called Zorto. Of course, I don’t always go to the valley – my father doesn’t want me to be away from home so long. Other times, my aunts Dulaah or Tsarha go, or Eimel, the son of my aunt Ednal and my late uncle Pensha, who died in the war eleven years ago. When the work in the field becomes too much, what we do is combine the flocks of the whole family – our own and those of Uncle Abdul and Uncle Onagro, who also live in Qhissa Hanni – and take it in turns to watch over them.

Wow, I think I’ve managed to introduce the whole of my family. No, my father is missing. His name is Sayiam ben Hadras, and for me he’s the most important person in the world. Ever since my mother died, he’s been a father and a mother to me. Now I’m no longer a child, and I know what that means. I feel very close to him, as he does to me. An Arab’s family is the most valuable thing there is.

I’m also very fond of Eimel, my cousin and playmate. And of our other cousins – Abdul and Onagro’s sons and daughters – though I don’t spend so much time with them. Eimel is two years older than me – I’m fifteen, he’s seventeen – but you’d think he was younger because he doesn’t have so much sense – at least that’s what they say at home. Almost always when I take the flocks to graze, even though he doesn’t have to, he comes with me. He says it’s so he can look after me, although that isn’t necessary. He didn’t come today because he had to go with my father to take a consignment of cheese to Tal Afar – when it’s cold, the buyers take longer to visit Qhissa Hanni. So I’m on my own.

Right now, I’m in a little valley, along which the Wada Ur flows calmly. I sat down on a rock and started this notebook, without being really sure what to do with it. I suppose I’ll use it to tell you everyday things – what we do around here, our customs, which are probably very different from your own, I may even come up with a story. I like inventing stories and hope I can write them down as well, so I’m not a disappointment to my teacher Mir Ashduf or to your father, Dr Meira, whom I value so much. By the way, round here we all call him ‘Al-Galego’ – I don’t know if he’s told you this – because of the way he goes on about his country. It’s meant in a kind way. Your father’s a real hakim, and no one would ever be rude to him. Hakim is the same as calling someone ‘wise’. I have to say, if half of what he says is true, Galicia must be a really beautiful place. But I bet it’s not as beautiful as Lemikush! Let me tell you the truth: your father’s a really great person, and I can see how much he loves you whenever he talks about you.

I have the impression I’ll write a little each day, since I don’t have a lot of free time. As I make my way through the pages, I’ll tear them out and give them to your father, so he can send them to you along with his letters. Or I may keep them and give them to you all at once, when I’ve finished the notebook, that way I won’t destroy it and I won’t bother the doctor quite so much, he’s always so busy with his rocks. Of course, he’ll have to undertake the task of translating them into your language so you can understand what they say. I hope he has enough patience for this. And I hope the translation isn’t too difficult, since I understand your language is a bit strange. Apparently you have two kinds of letters – vowels and consonants – which means it must be pretty complicated. And you write back to front, from left to right. Your father has taught me some words, like ‘cloud’, ‘road’, ‘peach’, ‘milk’, ‘good day’, ‘storybook’, ‘horse’. There’s no way I could ever learn such a difficult language. I shall ask him to be free and creative in his translation, so my literary failings won’t be so obvious.

What story can I tell you? Well, I could tell you the story of Abdel Ar Zufid, a great caliph of Baghdad in the early period. I don’t know the city of Baghdad, I’ve only heard about it. But I can imagine what it’s like, with its broad streets full of people and cars, its markets, minarets, vast palaces, libraries, universities, gardens cascading like waterfalls down to the Tigris River. What would the Baghdad of the imperial era have been like, when caliphs and sultans crowned its fortresses with gold cupolas and hundreds of elephants lined the parks and citizens of every country came to buy the unusual products that arrived in caravans each day?

In short, here is the story.

 

It is told by men of good faith, although only Allah is wise and merciful and omnipresent, that many centuries ago this country was governed by the caliph Abdel Ar Zufid, the descendant of a long dynasty of nobles related to the first Arab emperors in the history of Mesopotamia.

The caliph was not much loved by his subjects. He was mean, greedy and despotic, and was not afraid to impose more taxes just for the pleasure of seeing gold pile up in his coffers. Towards his enemies, he was arrogant, inflexible, and some even say he was cruel. Knowing that Mesopotamia was a country coveted by princes both at home and abroad, Abdel Ar Zufid directed his government with a firm hand and the collaboration of a submissive council of ministers, a disciplined army and, as he himself said, the blessing of Allah the magnanimous, the eternal. It is also true that his rough-and-ready attitude served to keep the empire at peace, free of the disturbances experienced by kings before and afterwards.

Abdel Ar Zufid had a daughter by the name of Sadhua, the fairest of the fair, endowed with an energy and determination that astounded everybody, including her father, with whom she took it upon herself to discuss matters of state, her father being powerless to prevent this. Sadhua was not his only child. His seven wives had given him a total of eighteen descendants, who were his joy and his suffering in private life, contrary to the steely disposition he showed whenever he was outside his chambers.

In the royal palace, among the hundreds of servants, lived a stable boy by the name of Raid. Barely fifteen years old, Raid looked after the caliph’s favourite horses. His father was an officer in the guard, his mother a senior cupbearer. Their family was much esteemed by the royal household, although this didn’t entail any special privileges, since lots of workers’ families were highly valued in the palace.

What happened, however, was that the groom fell deeply in love with Princess Sadhua. He would watch her walking in the rhododendron garden in the morning, catch her scent whenever he delivered her horse for rides in the afternoon, hear her sing in the evening, accompanied by a harp behind the grille, dream of her at night, imbuing her with grace and elegance. He loved her and wanted her to be his wife.

The news of this infatuation was not well received by Raid’s parents, who feared the worst should the news ever get out, for they were quite sure that the daughter of a caliph would never marry a lowly stable boy. They told him this and, although it hurt him to do so, the boy accepted his parents’ advice, endeavouring to ignore the beating of his heart whenever he caught sight of Sadhua.

 

Now, my friend, you’ll have to forgive me, but my feet are freezing. The weather is cold, up in the mountain the winter can be really icy, so, while I’m well wrapped up, I can’t spend all the time sitting still. Also, it looks as though there’s a wind coming. When the wind blows in Lemikush, it feels as if we’re all going to be swept off our feet. I hope that happens one day. Tomorrow, if I can, I’ll carry on with my story. I hope you like classic tales. I know modern stories as well, with cars instead of horses, pistols instead of swords and prime ministers instead of kings. I kind of like them both. If I finish this one quickly, then maybe I’ll start another that’s more up to date. Wow, considering this is my first letter, I’ve managed to write it all in one go.

By the way, it will be my father’s wedding in three weeks. His second wedding, he used to be married to my mother. At home, everybody’s going crazy – my aunts, Zubdalah, Grandpa Hadras, Uncle Onagro, the neighbours, the bride’s relatives. I’m also waiting anxiously for the time to come, since that means I should see Amrah. And who is Amrah, you ask? Well, I’m not going to tell you right away, I have to move or I’ll end up going rigid. Allah be with you, my friend.

 

Translated from Galician by Jonathan Dunne

Additional Info

  • purchase text:

    BROTHER OF THE WIND by Manuel Lourenzo González, the eleventh title in the series Galician Wave devoted to the best of Galician young adult fiction in English, is available for purchase through your local or online bookshop

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    ISBN: 978-954-384-074-8

    Publication Date: 19 October 2017

    Language: English

    Paperback: 180 pages

    Dimensions: 203 x 133 mm