Painting by artist, Naz Ali Awla

Let Me Hear Your Breath

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By Shadan Ahmad

Translated by Naz Senan


-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10…

-Shato, when you were a kid you always thought the stars were beautiful. Do you still feel the same way?

Do they still make you feel dizzy?

Do you still think that the sky is wide?

Does the autumn breeze still tickle you?


-Bring your head under the blanket


Shadan Ahmad

-I want to hear your breath. Put your cheek against mine, your heart over mine.

-Do you love me?

-My love for you is as vast as the universe.

-Should I believe you?

-Put your lips on mine. I miss the smell of your breath. I thought of you each night you were distant from me. I miss our childhood, our games, our Thursday showers, the smell of laurel leaf soup, the hot water. Shato, where are you?

-Under the blanket. I remember our last game, which was ruined. I still don’t know how my mother had so much strength just after giving birth.

-How did your mother know that we were playing bride and groom? We were at the end of our game when she came. Where did she get all that strength from? She grabbed you by your hair without saying a word. I was so scared that day. I had never been so lonely in my entire life. I was alone until it got dark, when my grandmother finally came and took me to her house.

-Turn your face towards me. Let me tell you how my mother knew.


-Do you remember Aunt Fatimah? She used to be our neighbor. She lived in the house right next to ours. She was the third wife of the paralyzed man. They had Maolood1 every year, and she used to bring us food on a big tray, rice and broth. We used to swarm around her like bees.


-She was a new bride at that time. She was doing laundry. That’s how she saw us playing. We were not aware of anything. She was shocked and left her laundry on the floor and ran downstairs. Her fellow wife saw her, and she grabbed a cloak and ran after her saying, “Fata do not scandalize us! Here woman cannot go out in Kurdish clothes! Half your back is exposed!”

Fata arrived to our house breathless and her fellow wife was after her.

-The orphan you have in your house is doing inappropriate things with your daughter.

Maryam arrived at that moment, and she grabbed Fatimah by her hair and said, “I have always told you not to slander others.”

Maryam just wanted to get her revenge on Fatimah, but Fatimah also attacked Maryam by tearing her clothes. Maryam could not stop her because she was so old, and the sorrow of not having a boy had aged her even more. So, Maryam did the same by attacking Fatimah and tearing off her clothes. My mother could not stop them, and because they were yelling, all the neighbors gathered in our house, and finally they were able to separate them.

-We were just engaged at that moment hahaha. You were under me. Wasn’t Fatimah like 14 years old at that time?

-Yes, her chest had barely grown.

-Did she have breast milk yet?

-At that night I heard my mother saying, “Fatimah looked so perfect when she was naked, her length, tight chest, small waist, and pink skin.” How did that old paralyzed man manage to get this little girl? My father said, “They brought her and her sister from Pshdar distract to the security department. The security out there began touching her. One day, Sarok had to go to that department and he saw her in the security officers’ hands and brought her home with him saying he was ‘Saving the honor of the Kurds’ and he took her as his third wife.” My mother said, “Damn him for marrying another woman over Mariam because she has only seven girls and no boys! He had five boys from his second wife. Why the hell did he marry Fatimah?” My father said, “She used to work as a house servant, so he said that he was rescuing her from that. He has money, and the government is taking from them. One the other hand, I have been after them for ten years and there is no response.”

-Shato, you say a lot. Continue….

-The neighbors arrived. They separated Mariam and Fatimah, gave them their clothes, and sent them home with bruises around their eyes. They asked them about why they fought, and Fatimah said “I came here to tell Aunt Nazif to rescue her daughter before she turns into a bitch.” That’s why my mother got so angry and came upstairs with all that strength, and that’s how she brought me downstairs and threw me out in the yard, by grabbing my hair. She called your grandmother using the neighbor’s phone telling her: “Come and take this dishonored nephew you have, I don’t care if she is my niece.”


– Dear Frmisk I’m sorry, did my words hurt you?

– No, you spoke the truth. Now I finally know what happened. I have been thinking of the reason for seven years. At that age we both were kids. I was eight and you were seven years old, but even at that age, I always knew I wanted you. Come closer to me…

-Oh, your hands!

-Do not say that. Let my hands run all over your beautiful body. Come closer and give me your lips, feel me, get so close that I forget how far you were from me!

-You are tickling me!

-It is not tickling, it is just a pleasant feeling.

-Do not take off my clothes, my mother will come, she will notice that we have not fixed the bed yet!

-No, they are watching the new Kurdish drama, the one with the girl who likes the boy haha. Are you aware of the city’s silence? It is because of our love. Come closer, let our chests touch, let me touch them, let my legs in between your legs, come closer, let me taste you more…

-You are hurting me!

-This is not pain, it is how real pleasure should be, you will get used to it, give me your lips!

-Oh, I am dying, I do not know what you are doing!

– It’s good to feel your fluids come over my legs. I will taste it. I have been with so many girls, but you are the only one who came that fast!

Shato pushes Frmisk angrily.

-You bitch! You are a cheater. You said that I was the only one on your mind. I do not need you under these blankets and don’t talk about the sky and do not count the stars for me. You are ugly and boyish. No one but me ever wanted you! I wish we were not cousins (crying). I wish you never came into my life. I suffered a lot of pain in my childhood because of you. My dad used to burn my hands every night after that day for a whole week to teach me how honor is valued. How could you do this? How could you give yourself to other girls while I was enduring all that pain at a very young age!

– Please Shato, listen to me and do not get that angry. I have never loved anyone else. Let me explain. The day I left your house, I started living at my grandma’s house. My uncle Sarwar and I used to go to Hawler sometimes for some private things, or let me say, illegal things that I used to help him with. He used to spend nights at the boy’s dorm and send me with his girlfriends to the girl’s dorm. The girls loved me so much and always gave me candy. Each night, I slept in a different girl’s lap. They used to tell me, “You are so beautiful, you look like a boy.” They used to force me to suck their lips and nipples, and they masturbated the whole time. I was only twelve. I did not know what to do. They taught me how to be with them. They did not let me sleep. I got really tired and looked like a drunk person the next day. One day, my uncle took me to the hospital to know the reason I got sick in Hawler.

-Put your head on my shoulder. We had a very hard childhood apart from each other.

-You were not the only one who suffered, that day when your mother took you downstairs. I was so alone and scared. I knew what real loneliness felt like. I did not move until my grandma took me to her place.

I grew up in your house, I was used to your way of living, your family, neighbors, and the Bazar noises. Life was different in grandma’s house, full of loneliness, sorrow, and secrets. The house had two rooms, which were built over a terrace. One of the rooms was full of books that belonged to my uncle Sarwar. The other room had a big closet that was full of traditional Kurdish clothes. The terrace had bamboo chairs for the guests. The house was dark, and the terrace was covered with plastic. The only beautiful place was the yard, which had a basin that had some small fish in it. I used to sit there and watch the moon’s broken reflection for hours during summer nights. It was a very beautiful world. I saw you in that reflection. I used to talk to it about my life. You were always on my mind.

-You speak so nicely. When I am with you, I never think of my sorrows, even that one time when my parents did not let me finish my education after the 6th grade, saying that the school was too far away. All my friends completed their education. I was the only one who had to take care of my younger siblings. It was so hard to be the older one. I have to stay on this surface my whole life, which is the only pleasure I have.


– Yes dear

-When I left, did you ever think of me?

-When you first left, I did not dare think of you, but when I turned 12 I decided to think of you in everything.

-Even boys?


– What?


-Do you think I am ignorant and have not gone through any difficulties? I have gone through a lot. I just came to the surface when I saw a boy on the other side. He was holding a book. He was moving his head around, his hair was long and he looked like a rooster. I promise I will go see him tomorrow and put a knife in his stomach. I will wait a life time in jail for that, it is driving me crazy. You do not have to wait until you are a grown-up.

– Relax, I have never talked to him. One day he sent me a hand-written message with his younger sister. He has a very bad handwriting. I did not understand anything. The only 2 sentences I understood were “I am either yours or I will die”, and “We are both far from each other, let our tears tide us up to create a stream.” Hahaha.

– Womanizer, if I saw him, I would hit with a Damachakan (a piece of wood that has a nail in) on his neck to teach him how to write a love message.

– Frmisk, why are you so tough? Sometimes you are soft and sometimes so tough.

– Life taught me to be myself, to be a turbulent dog. You are the only thing that makes me soft.

-I forgot all of my pain when I was preparing myself and waiting for your father to come and pick me up. I was thinking about you the whole time, asking myself how old you got, if you were tall now, hoping that you did not look as ugly and hideous as me.

– And what was your opinion when you saw me?

-My heart was beating so fast that I thought it would jump out of my chest when I opened the door. My hands were sweaty, my legs were shaking, and I was breathing hard. I am sure your dad felt strange about me. I felt that everything had changed in the house. It did not look like our old childhood house. It was so silent. I was so afraid that you would not be home, but when you appeared wearing that red home dress with that glass of water, my mouth became wet. You broke my thirst. My body was sweaty. I was crazy about your height and small waist, your beautiful lips and eyes and soft skin. That is why I poured water all over myself and behaved like a fool in front of your father.

– Hahaha

– Even after 1000 years, I will never get enough of your beauty. You are mine. I am only waiting to turn 18 so I can sell grandma’s house. I will take the money, hold your hands and go very far. We will go to Baghdad. The Iraq-Iran war has stopped. Life will be better. They say everything will change in the year 2000. So we will disappear and live our lives.

– Please do not say this, I am so afraid of men.

– Men? They are the biggest cowards. Women’s weakness gives power to men. If you are not afraid of him, he will be afraid of you.

– You made me remember my life. If you were not here, I would be washing dishes until night. Plenty of guests come to our house, and I do all the work. And my mother is like a chicken who keeps on giving birth. I wish all of my siblings would disappear so I could be alone in this life.

– Please Shato, never says this, please.

– What happened dear? I did not mean anything by it. What I meant to say is how I have to work like a servant the whole day.

– You do not know what happened to me, the day I was kicked out of your house and went to my grandma’s. She treated me like an enemy. The only good thing was my uncle who used to teach me or read poetry for me. But I lost him. That day when security forces came and took him, my grandma said “Frmisk go after your uncle.” It was the first time she had ever said my name in 6 years. They did not take us, though. What would they do with an old lady and an ugly thin person like me?

– Please Frmisk do not say this, you are so beautiful.

– My grandma ran so poorly after my uncle, yelling and crying. The neighbors heard us, and my grandma fainted. I was with her the whole night and the next morning. On an empty stomach, we went to the security station, my grandma begged the officers and said, “Kill me if you want, and put each part of me in a different place, but please do not take my only child from me.” My grandma slept on my lap for a whole week. She told me many secrets about my mother’s family. I never thought I would know such things. You know what, forget about it, life is just so hard, I will not talk about it.

– Please tell me.

– She said, “When your grandpa left and never came back, I had your mother in my hands and was pregnant with your uncle.” Strangers started gossiping. Some said he was killed because of his Kurdish nationality, others said he was in prison. Anyways, you know how Kurds like to talk about each other. I was not even 18 years old yet, but I was a widow who wore black. I chose to live alone in the city and never went to my relatives in the countryside. When your uncle was born, I promised myself that I would never get married again. I would never let any man touch me. I worked at the bazaar just like a man. I never needed anyone in my life. I worked until both of my children grew up well. Sarwar was old enough when I started worrying about him getting involved in politics. I bought these two rooms with my own money so they could both go to school. Your idiot mother was 15 when she fell in love with your father and wanted to get married. I told her not to. I told her to finish her education. I told your uncle to beat her and control her, and he told me that she was his older sister and that he respected her. Why he was so soft and not a real man, I do not know. Anyways, I could not control her. Your mother got married and went to her husband’s house. After a year, she was pregnant. She used to visit me and I noticed bruises near her eyes. Each time, she used to give me a different excuse. Once, she said she fell. Another time she said that a can fell on her. Until a day came when they called saying, “Your son in law burned your daughter.” They punished your father by sending him to jail for a lifetime. After that, the curfew came. A lot of people ran out. I thanked God a million times that I had my son Sarwar near me. I took you to your bastard father’s family, who did not come out of prison until they took out his dead body. I did not like you. I always thought of you as the reason why my daughter was killed. Please forgive me. May God protect your uncle Majid, who took good care of you. At that time they did not have kids, but now they have a bunch of them.” My head hurts, I talked too much…

– No, please keep talking.

-After one week, a man from the military came by and asked for my grandma and told me to give her some sort of paper. The paper was in Arabic, so we asked our neighbors to read it. It said that we had to pay 50 dinars to take her son’s dead body from the mortuary. The body arrived in the afternoon. He looked so cold and blue. There was a watch on his wrist. I took it and still have it in a closet. They took him to a mosque to wash him, and then they brought him home and took him to the cemetery. My grandma ran after him wearing her black veil. The women in our area helped us with the ceremony for 7 days. There was a lot of crying and wailing. For three months, our house was always full of people, but after that everyone went back to their own homes. Then we were alone. My grandma seemed to age 20 years in one year. She got so old and lost the ability to speak. She always sat in the yard. I read my uncle’s books. I gave up on school. I used to feed my grandma and then go to my room. I learned Arabic, and that was all that I did during that time. A week ago, my grandma didn’t move from her place the entire day. I called her several times and there was no answer, so I brought our neighbor to check on her, and she told me that she had been dead since yesterday. She was so cold. Shato, I am in so much pain (crying), everything hurts, I have no purpose in life.

– Please do not cry. I am here. You are not alone (wiping her tears.)

– I was looking for you at my grandma’s ceremony. You were not there, but I knew I would be with you again.

-Put your hand on my neck. Let’s live our dreams. Please stop crying. Let’s count the stars instead!

-Shato let our cheeks touch. Come inside me with your soul and body. Come closer, and stay here until death do us part.

There was a complete silence. There were butterflies everywhere. Suddenly, there was a man’s voice, and someone came up the stairs, making much noise with each step. He removed the blankets over the girls. They looked like two sleeping angels. One of the them was sleeping on her face, the other was turned on her side. Shato’s mother gave him a blanket, and he left. They finally slept after a long night spent chatting.


1 Traditional commemoration of the birth of prophet Muhammad


Naz Senan: Is a freelance translator, majoring in English Literature and Language. She was born in Baghdad.