Mother Had Grown Old
A Short Story
newspaper reporter is interviewing a famous Azerbaijani chemist.
The interview isn't going very well, as the surly chemist is
not very talkative. His manner changes dramatically, however,
when a swath of indigo-colored fabric falls out from among his
papers. The piece of material reminds him of a story he does
want to share, the story of his childhood in Ganja and the sacrifices
his mother made during the war for the sake of her children.
of World War II at the Dedication to the Memorial at Shahidlar
Khiyabani (October 1998) in Baku.
on the bank of Ganjachay. I spent my childhood and teenage years
there. My mother was a math teacher and my father was an army
There were three of us children. My brother was a year and a
half younger, and my sister, two years older. They were both
cute-neither of them looked like me. My father was a tall man.
Under his nose, there was a pinch of black mustache like Charlie
Chaplin's. Father was very handsome. He walked tall. But Mother
was even more beautiful. I have never seen such a beauty in any
of the cities of the world that I have traveled to so far. Father's
division was often located in Hajikand (near Ganja). When he
would come home, Mother would dress us up in clean clothes and
take us out for evening strolls.
Myself - I liked to play in the sand. When it came time to go
out, I often begged Mother to let me stay home. It surprised
both her and my father. There was another reason besides playing
in the sand which kept me at home. I looked very ugly dressed
in cute clothes with a red tie around my neck. It seemed to me
as if pretty clothes just emphasized my defects. Sometimes my
pitiful pleas made them agree to let me stay home. Then, with
dirty hands and dusty clothes, I would run into our street where
the sidewalk was paved with asphalt.
When the sun was about to set and cast its red shadows across
the sky, when the sweet odor of white acacias spread throughout
the neighborhood, that was when my mother, father, brother and
sister left home. For some reason I always wanted Mother to wear
her suit made of this "indigo" fabric.
As her black, bright curls spread neatly across her shoulders,
they enhanced her beauty a thousand times. It seemed as if she
became taller, her face acquired more brightness, her large eyes
became more vivid and excited, her thin eyebrows looked more
The war ended.
Father didn't return.
We stopped waiting, although Mother is still waiting.
When I saw my mother in her suit walking side by side with Father,
Sister and Brother, I wanted everything to remain exactly as
it was. What is the greatest desire of any child? To grow up
as soon as possible. But I wanted to remain a child and see my
father and mother stay young forever. I wished that they could
always hold the hands of my sister and brother as they took them
out for a walk to our famous park, down our Sabir Street full
of gentle memories, to the bank of Ganjachay. I wanted time to
stop. I wanted the hands of all the clocks in the world to stop
on seven-the time when Father, Mother, Sister and Brother went
for a walk.
But the hands of the clocks plunged ahead with such a surge that
even kids grew old-and war began [World War II].
Father left. Then letters came, triangular letters.1 Mother's responsibilities
increased. She began collecting copper pots, woolen socks, warm
gloves and empty bottles for the front. I also collected them.
We didn't have as much food as before. We could survive, but
my brother and sister became very weak. Mother was especially
worried about my sister. She had been very ill once during childhood.
Mother used to serve the largest portion to my sister, then to
my brother and finally, to me. Herself, she was always the last
to eat. Sometimes she didn't take anything at all, saying, "I've
already had food." She used to look at my plate and then
into my eyes. I knew what her kind eyes wanted to say. They wanted
to say, "Aren't you offended that you are left with the
I tried to tell her with my eyes, "No, Mom, absolutely not.
If you want, you can give all the food to them because I'm a
The boys in our street used to tease me by calling me 'Kaloghlan.'
Once I had a fight with one of them-he ended up with a bloody
nose. When Mother scolded me for that, I asked her, "Why
do they call me Kaloghlan? I'll beat up anybody who calls me
"Why should you beat them, Kaloghlan? You are like a buffalo,
you will be a strapping young fellow, like a wrestler."
As soon as she told me that, "Kaloghlan" sounded like
an enchanted word to me. It was the greatest gift to me.
I wanted to be called Kaloghlan everywhere by everybody. I even
wished I was registered under this name at school. Unlike today,
I was very strong back then. Before the war, I had eaten very
well and could lift dumbbells weighing 16 kilos. Everybody used
to say, "Kaloghlan will grow up to be a wrestler."
Looks like my mother was counting on that.
Mother's teaching hours increased and she worked at several schools.
At night she graded papers. I realized she was worried about
us. She worked hard to provide us with food.
Once, three men came to our house and took away our cupboard
made of walnut. In the evening, I saw a sack of flour and a bottle
of sunflower oil in the house. The sack was in place of the cupboard.
The dishes from the cupboard were stacked on the windowsill.
For some reason, I couldn't take my eyes off the place where
the cupboard used to be. Mother sensed that and said, "Don't
worry, Kaloghlan. After the war is over, we'll get a cupboard
that's even better."
"Let me go find a job, Mom. I'm strong and I'm already 13
"No, sweetheart, I can't take you away from school. I have
a feeling that you will make a good engineer and build houses.
As long as I live, you must study."
When the second flour sack arrived, the Turkeman carpet that
hung on the wall as part of Mother's dowry disappeared. And with
the third sack, the wall clock disappeared.
Next, Mother took her scarf out of the chest and looked at me,
"I don't wear it anyhow."
Every time Mother opened and closed the chest, either flour,
potatoes or oil arrived in our house. At last the chest, too,
Mother used to say, "Don't worry, Kaloghlan. When the war
is over, we'll buy everything."
In the winter it was difficult to get firewood. There was hardly
anyone to chop it and hardly any vehicles to carry it from the
forest. But I had found a way to get firewood. Those involved
in cutting the wood were elderly. They needed to catch their
breath every ten minutes. I used to help two old people after
classes. They sawed while I chopped with an ax. The old people
said "bravo," admiring me.
Once I remember my mother sitting in a cold room, looking at
my sister with anxious and concerned eyes. "If we can just
heat the house, everything will be fine. This year the winter
will be very severe."
days later, I brought the firewood that I had earned for helping
out the old people.
When Mother returned from work, she found the house warm and
wanted to kiss me. I hugged her arms and hid my head in her chest.
Right: Film about World War
II. Children who found a loaf of bread share it with each other.
Courtesy: Azerbaijan Cinema Archives.
For some reason, even in early childhood, I avoided her when
she wanted to kiss and fondle me. But when she was asleep I used
to rub my face against the heels of her feet. When she was not
at home, I used to smell her clothes and look at her indigo suit.
The suit smelled like the pleasant years before the war. After
Father left, Mother never wore it again. Each time I opened the
closet, I imagined that the war had ended, and Father had returned,
and Mother wore that suit and took my sister and brother out
for a walk when the sky was filled with a copper hue and acacias
spread their sweet fragrance.
Once after the chest had been taken away, I opened the closet
and found that Mother's turquoise sweater had disappeared. "Probably
it has gone for tonight's potatoes and oil," I thought.
It shocked me.
"Please, Mother, let me find a job. I can work in five places.
I'm almost 15."
"Don't worry, Son. Study hard, very hard. I have a feeling
that you will make a great scientist."
Next, Mother's dark-blue dress disappeared. Then she made a dress
for my sister out of her "Boston" suit. Sister had
turned 16. Mother tried so hard to make sure that my sister was
dressed well. We are not in a position to understand relationships
between mothers and daughters. Mothers want their daughters to
look beautiful. They suffer deprivations for the sake of their
Fewer and fewer clothes were left. I was horrified each time.
Once I hugged and kissed Mother's hands. "At least keep
the indigo suit, Mom," I begged.
"I don't know, Mom, but please, don't give it away."
I couldn't explain my desires. "If you sell it, I'll be
"OK, Kaloghlan, don't worry."
Somehow, it seemed to me that if that suit disappeared, everything
would be finished, everything would lose its significance and
none of my wishes would come true. Besides the suit, Mother only
had two old dresses left. One was black and made of wool. The
other was blue.
It looked like the war was coming to an end, as if it was just
waiting for spring to come. It looked like the suit would survive
the war. There was an atmosphere of peace. The streetlights were
once again allowed to be turned on at night.
Suddenly my sister became very ill. They said it was pneumonia.
Mother watched over her bed at night. Sister had a very high
fever. Mother's eyes were red. She was sleepless. Also, perhaps,
she cried after she went to bed. At last Sister's temperature
dropped. But she had become very weak and had to stay in bed.
The doctor advised us to take good care of her. Once when I came
home from school, I saw a lot of butter-yellow butter with such
a pleasant aroma-on the table. There was also cream and honey
in jars. Then I noticed a leg of mutton on the windowsill. Mother
was plucking a chicken. She was in a very good mood. Seeing me,
she said in a loud voice, "Kaloghlan, my hands are dirty,
mix the honey with the cream. There is also some 'tandir' bread."
I couldn't understand what was going on. Mother seemed to be
hiding something with her joyous voice. But what was she hiding?
I put my school bag near the bookshelf and reached for the bread.
Suddenly I felt as if my hand had frozen and my heart stopped.
I carefully went up to the closet and opened the door. It was
closed. It was the first time the closet door had been closed
in our house. I heard Mother's voice, "Why aren't you eating,
"I'm not hungry," I told her.
I waited for Mother to go down to the yard. Then I found the
key in her jacket pocket. My hands were trembling. "I hope
it's still there."
When I opened the closet, I didn't dare lift my eyes for a while.
Then I heard Mother's footsteps on the stairs and I opened my
eyes. The closet was like a dark cave. I closed the door and
"Where are you going, Kaloghlan?"
I didn't say anything.
"Where are you going? Aren't you going to have some food?"
I didn't answer. For the first time in my life, I was offended
by my mother.
I went downstairs and started to run away as she called, "Don't
go, Kaloghlan, please come back." Her voice trembled. "Do
you hear me? Come back."
I walked out into the street. It was as if I had lost my sense
of direction. I didn't know where I was going or why. I was just
going. After a while I found myself in the Baghbanlar section
of town. Then I reversed my direction and found myself in the
quarter of Shahseven. I was going. That's all. As if all the
pain in my body was gathering in my feet. It seemed to me that
if I stopped, all my strained nerves would break.
By late afternoon, I had arrived at Sabir Street. Then I realized
that I was tired. I sat on one of the benches in the park and
looked at the dried-up trees along the Ganjachay. If there hadn't
been a strong wind, God knows how long I would have sat there.
Sometimes you even lose your sense of judgment. I was angry with
my sister because she had fallen ill, because she hadn't taken
care of herself before the war ended. It was a strange logic,
wasn't it? Or was it a total lack of logic?
I arrived back home late. Mother hugged and kissed me. With her
long, thin candle-like fingers, she wiped away the tears that
couldn't help welling up in my eyes.
"Look at you. I thought you were a grown man. The suit didn't
buy us, we bought it. As soon as the war ends and Father returns,
we'll buy a better one."
The war ended. Father didn't return. We stopped waiting, although
Mother is still waiting. My sister grew very healthy. Mother
had saved her from the grasp of the war. She graduated from a
medical college, worked two years, then got married.
My weaker brother became a lightweight wrestler. Now he is a
My student years began. I had saved some money from my stipend
to buy a suit. But I couldn't find that "indigo" material
anywhere, and nobody could tell me where to find it. People said
they didn't make indigo any more and that maybe I could find
it quite by accident at a garage sale. I often went to Guba Square.
Once a week, there was a big bazaar held there.
I often dreamed of Mother's suit. I kept this piece of fabric
in my briefcase after the suit was made. Later on when I traveled,
I took it with me to search for the identical material. I often
couldn't concentrate in class, as my mind was filled with images
of the copper red sky, Mother in her indigo suit, Father with
his Charlie Chaplin mustache-I could even smell the acacias.
It seemed to me that if I could only find that material I would
be able to return everything to the way it used to be and even
bring Father back.
I don't know why it was so easy for me to master chemistry. I
didn't become a wrestler, I became a chemist. I wrote my master's
and doctorate dissertations one after the other. You know the
rest of the story. I married and had children. But still I couldn't
forget that indigo suit. I traveled a lot on business. Wherever
I traveled, I would stop by stores with that sample of material
in hand. Three years ago, I found three meters of it quite by
chance in Moscow. I was so happy that I almost wanted to leave
the city in the middle of the session. On my return, I didn't
go directly to Baku. I went to Ganja via Tbilisi.
"I've found it, Mother," I said. "Have it made
into a suit quickly."
"What have you found?" she looked at me in surprise.
"The fabric of your suit. Do it quickly. Find a good tailor.
I want to see it on you next time I come."
"OK, don't worry," she looked at me admiringly. She
didn't call me Kaloghlan. Probably, formal names and titles affect
relationships between mothers and sons, but I wanted her to call
me Kaloghlan with that magic voice of hers.
"I'll be back in one or two months."
"Have it made up in the same style as your old one."
I returned to Baku. Some time later my wife and children went
to visit Mother in Ganja. A few days later when they returned,
I saw that my younger daughter was wearing a jacket made of that
"Perhaps an extra piece was left, and Mother had a jacket
made for her granddaughter," I thought. In the evening my
wife showed me her new indigo suit.
"Do you like it? I've had it made up from the material that
Mother gave me."
I didn't say anything. She looked at me in surprise. I think
I offended her.
A year later, I saw the identical material in a store in Riga.
I bought a piece and took it to Mother.
"Mother, I want you to take it to the tailor's right now,
in front of my eyes."
What do you think happened? I saw that material appear on my
sister. I didn't say anything. How could I have reprimanded Mother?
Just recently I found that material again. "No, Mother.
I won't give it to you the way I did the last time." I knew
Mother's size, so I found one of the best tailors in town and
somehow I managed to describe the style. To tell you the truth,
they did a great job. I was so happy. I returned to Baku and
took my children and we left for Ganja. I wanted my children
to see Mother's youth. My sister and other relatives in Ganja
came to see us.
Mother thanked me.
"Put it on right now."
"I'll do it later," she said, trying to postpone it.
"No, right now. This very second."
She went into the other room. I waited. It seemed to me that
I had gotten hold of the past years and that I would return them
just now. It seemed to me that Mother would come with her black
hair on her shoulders and would bring that copper-red sky, Father,
the childhood of my sister and brother and the smell of acacias
with her. It seemed to me that everybody would stop to watch
I thought I would become that little Kaloghlan again and watch
this scene-that suit and Mother's black hair-me with dusty clothes
on, washing my hands in the ditch.
Mother came in. Everybody congratulated her. My dear, precious
Mother looked at me shyly. She felt uncomfortable.
I could hardly restrain myself. "Where is your black luminous
hair, Mother?" The color of her gray hair was overpowered
by the color of the suit. The brightness of the material only
emphasized the wrinkles on her face.
The indigo no longer suited Mother. Mother had grown old.
1 Triangular letters - refers to letters that were
sent during the war to announce the death of a serviceman. Up
means a buffalo; 'oghlan' refers to a young boy. The name implies
by Jala Garibova
(7.1) Spring 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.
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