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Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – Winner: ‘Magic Bus’ By Mary Darroch

Magic Bus

 

By Mary Darroch

 

 

My first thought was that he was lying. No one could possibly be wearing those teeth unless it was for a joke.

          ‘Aye right, Mick! Ye got them at Tam’s Joke Shop, didn’t ye?’

          He pulled his mask back up real quick-like before I could reach the teeth to give them a pull just to check.

          ‘Naw, Ah didnae!’ He was doing that annoying laugh that sounded like a donkey hee-hawing. ‘Ah telt ye, ma dentist gave me them! He said he would put them through on the NHS so Ah wouldnae need tae pay, so there ye go! No’ too bad, are they?’

          He was obviously dead pleased with them and I wasn’t about to burst his bubble. He didn’t get many moments of joy in his life and he was my pal and I wanted nice things to happen to him. Actually, what I really wanted was for him to lay off the gear a bit and maybe get a job and make something of himself. Not much chance of that, right enough, but never say die, as my old Da used to say.  

          ‘Yeah, they’re fine, Mick. They look good.’ From the movement behind his mask I could tell that his wee capuchin monkey face was cracking a toothy grin. It never took much. He was the happiest person I knew and he was always the same, whenever you met him, except for those bad times when he was heavy using again, because then he would look a bit out of it but in the main he was always just ma mate Mick, always grinning and always looking on the bright side.

          ‘Anyway, Shona, how ye doin’, pal?’ As usual, he didn’t wait for an answer but battered right on to talk about himself. ‘Did Ah tell you Ah’m gettin’ a job on the buses?’

          ‘Aye right, Mick, is this another of yer daft stories?’

          ‘Naw! Whit makes ye think that?’

          ‘Cos Ah know ye, Mick! Yer always at it!  Mind that time ye were gonnae open a magic shop and that was all ye talked about for weeks and then the next thing yer training to be a stand-up comedian? You and yer daft ideas!’

          I thought that would maybe take some of the wind out of his sails. But no. Not a bit of it.

          ‘Oh, ye of little faith!’’ he asseverated in a ridiculous sepulchral tone. I knew he was channeling Mr Micawber right there. It was a perennial favourite of his because  Mick, for all his shortcomings, was surprisingly well-read and Dickens was his favourite. . ‘Just you wait an’ see!’ He gestured with a dramatic flourish towards his chest. ‘Yer man here has not yet reached his prime!’

More Big Ideas on the way, then. He must have noticed my exasperation because he dropped his voice to a more conspiratorial pitch.  ‘Ah’ve got an interview the morra morning! Jist a ‘preliminary assessment’, like, but at least Ah’ve got a foot in the door …’  

Reaching inside his hoodie, he brought out a folded-up bit of paper. ‘An’ there’s the letter, tellin’ me where to go an’ that.’

I inspected the grubby, dog-eared thing  It was from the Jobcentre right enough. 

          ‘That’s brilliant, Mick! Well done! Ah’m so chuffed for ye! But … whit ye gonnae wear? Have ye got a nice clean hoodie ye can put on?’

          ‘Hoodie? You’ve got tae be kiddin’ me! Ah cannae turn up for an interview  in a hoodie!’ He looked genuinely affronted at the idea. ‘Actually, Shona, I was kinda hopin’ like, that ye’d come tae the shoppin’ centre wi’ me an’ see aboot gettin’ me a jaiket tae wear the morra …’

          ‘But, Mick … Ah’ve no’ got any money right now. And neither have you. It’s no’ yer pay day.’

          ‘Ach, nae worries, Shona! We don’t need money!’ He was grinning under his mask again.  ‘Have you forgot aboot oor special skill sets?’ Nothing ever daunted Mick. He always had a plan.

 

 

 

 

On the bus over to the shopping centre, I was aware that Mick was buttering me up. This could only mean one thing – he was planning for me to do the dirty work today while he ‘kept edgy’. He would be the lookout. He usually was. Maybe that was his special skill set, then. Well, play to your strengths – that was another thing my Da used to say. 

‘Aw, it’ll be great, Shona! Jis’ think, Ah’ll be able to take ye on a wee bus run tae the seaside. Mibbe Saltcoats, even! Ye like Saltcoats, don’t ye?’

‘Mick, see this job – is it like coach trips an’ that?  No’ like jist drivin’ folk intae the toon?’

‘Aye! It’s coaches, an’ they dae trips tae the seaside – Saltcoats, an’ … beaches an’ castles an’ that.’

‘Oh, Mick, that sounds magic! Ah really hope ye get it!’

‘Aye so dae ah. Ah’m gettin’ a bit fed up wi’ never goin’ anywhere nice except mibbe the wee park across the road fae ma hoose. Ah mean it’s a nice park but ye jist stoat’ aroon’ the place wi’ the auld coffin-dodgers and their designer dugs! Aye, It’ll be great to go somewhere different. Jist think – the wide open spaces where we can take in aw that fresh air …’

The rest of the bus journey was spent in quiet reflection – Mick breathing deeply through his blue mask and his ridiculous teeth as he practised taking in the fresh air while sounding like an emphysemic old coffin-dodger himself and me, looking out the filthy bus window on to the dismal grey streets and imagining blue skies and sparkling water and eating ice cream on the promenade.

         

 

Debenham’s was closed. Permanently.  Debenham’s –  our favourite place to pick up a few luxury items. Gone. This was a disaster.

          ‘Aw naw man, what’re we gonnae dae?’ Poor Mick looked a bit distraught. I thought he might start greetin’ in a minute. 

          ‘’Well, there’s Next, an’ H&M, and there’s TK Maxx and maybe Tesco would be worth a go  …’

          ‘But they’re all CCTV-ed up tae the gills! An’ the security guys there are total wideos, man! Huckle ye as soon as look at ye! We huvnae a hope in hell!’ His despair was making his voice increasingly screechy and he was starting to draw looks of suspicion and downright contempt from disdainful passing shoppers.

          ‘Mick, just shut it, will ye! Stop actin’ like a wean.  Where’s yer fightin’ spirit, eh?  We’re no’ beat yet!’ I said these words to pacify Mick but inside I was panicking, too. Mick absolutely had to have decent clothes for his interview or he wouldn’t get that job and I wouldn’t get to the seaside.

But it wasn’t just that.. In some strange way I felt responsible for Mick and for everything that happened to him. He was the closest thing I had to family now and despite all his own problems with the smack and the relentless stream of Big Ideas, I knew that Mick was always looking out for me, too. 

I looked around in the hope of seeing something that could help us. Anything. I started walking and Mick followed, neither of us knowing where we were going, really. 

 ‘Over here, Mick.’

Up ahead, almost at Tesco, I saw our way out. Cash Converters. I touched the small diamond at my neck.  It would only be for a wee while.

Mick stopped. He saw where I was heading. ‘Naw, Shona, no’ the necklace. You love that necklace. Ah’m no’ lettin’ ye dae that.’

‘Aye well, try stoppin’ me! You need that money. Mick, yer like a wee brother tae me, an’ this came from ma Da, so in a way it’s yours, too.  Anyway, Ah’ll buy it back as soon as ma ESA comes in!’

Mick was torn, I could see that, but in the end the thought of the new jaiket won the day. He helped me take off the necklace and even gave it a wee shine and polish on the sleeve of his grimy hoodie.

‘Shona,’ he announced, handing the necklace to me with a flourish, ‘my dear friend, I am deeply indebted to you for what you are doing as I know how  much …’

‘Jist give it a rest, Mick, will ye?’ I tried to sound irritated but couldn’t help smiling at his overblown display of gratitude. 

 

 

 

A guy with owlish specs and a tiny light clipped to his forehead  was offering us quite a lot of cash, more than I had expected, to be honest. Apparently, it was a quality South African diamond set in 22 carat gold. I nodded and tried to look nonchalant as he dictated the details to his colleague who noted it all down.

          ‘I can give you a good price on this.’

Relief. I looked at Mick. He was going to get his new jaiket and I was going straight from here to Tesco to buy a bucket and spade and maybe a wee bikini for the seaside.

          ‘First, I need some details. Do you have some ID?’

          ‘Some ..?’

          ‘Passport? Driver’s licence? We need to see some ID before we can make you an offer. Fraud Initiative and all that.’

‘Um …well, actually …’ I knew there was nothing in my tiny crossbody bag except  my fags, my phone, my purse and my Rimmel Highland Mist lippy. I didn’t own a passport or a driver’s licence – never had a need for either. I looked at Mick. He was standing there, staring straight ahead. ‘What about your driver’s licence, Mick? We can show him that, can’t we?’ No response.  ‘Mick?’

          Suddenly, he seemed to snap into life.  ‘Look, jist forget it,’ he said to the owl guy. ‘Shona, get yer necklace back an’ Ah’ll meet ye outside.’

         

 

 

We were sitting at Costa – one coffee between us.   

‘Mick, Ah think we would’ve got a good price for that necklace.’ I looked at my dirty, bitten nails and pondered. ‘There might even have been enough left to get mysel’ a wee manicure …’

Mick sat back a bit in his chair.

          ‘Nah, Shona, ye’re right. Me and ma big ideas …’

I stopped looking at my nails and looked instead at his wee face, unmasked now in order to drink his share of the coffee. He looked sad.

‘ Ah was lyin’, Shona. No’ aboot the interview – that was legit – but aboot me. Ah would never have got that job. Ah’ve no’ got a driver’s licence. Never even had a lesson. Ah never had the money, to be honest.’

          ‘Then … what was aw’ that aboot? Yer interview?  The bus runs tae the seaside?’

I didn’t really need to ask because I knew what it was about: a few moments of shared happiness, of shared dreams. It was what Mick did best. I understood.

          ‘But jist so ye know, ah would never really have let ye sell yer necklace. Ah know what it means to ye, bein’ the last thing yer Da ever gave  ye …  No, Ah wouldnae have let ye. I’m a better man than that.’ He looked thoughtfully at the table, quite impressed with himself I think.  Then he sighed. ‘And yer Da, he sounds like a good man, too. The best. May he rest in peace,’ he added, respectfully.

          I nodded. Let him bask in his delusions.

Of course he would have let me sell the necklace.  But I couldn’t, because neither of us had any means of proving our existence. Makes you think, that.

It wouldn’t have mattered, though. The necklace had value, but it had no meaning. My Da had brought it home one night with a bag of stuff he’d got from a ‘house clearance’ as he called it,  and I’d nicked it from the stash under his bed before the cops found it and  took it, and him, away. One day I’ll tell Mick, but not today. I don’t want to spoil his dream.

 

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Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – Runner Up: ‘Smelly Cat’ By Chiara Bullen

Smelly Cat

By Chiara Bullen

 

You know that feeling you get when you’re watching something on TV – or watching a film, or reading a book you love – and something big is going to happen? And I mean, change the story big. But you already know what’s going to happen. The story isn’t new to you. It’s the second, third, fourth-and-beyond time you’ve consumed it.

Just as the moment is about to arrive on the screen, on the page or through your headphones, you recognise the steps and plot points that will put this action into motion and you plead to the fictional entity about to do something catastrophic: please don’t!

Please don’t listen to Scar, Simba!

Please don’t kill Dumbledore, Snape!

Please don’t follow that noise into your garden shed, Will Byers!

Of course, if these things don’t happen then the inevitable outcomes and climaxes of the story you love so much would not come to be. The character development needed to make certain characters become the one you’re absolutely obsessed with rely on these moments. So, it’s worth it in the end.

Still. It would have been nice if Kylo Ren hadn’t done that in The Force Awakens.

Anyway. That squirmy, clenching, anxious feeling has me in its grip right now. On my bed, in my room, in my dad’s flat in Glasgow. I know something is about to happen on the show I’m watching and I really, really wish it wouldn’t.

But we aren’t watching anything epic. Nothing scary. Nothing twisty, nothing turn-y.

We’re watching Friends.

My scratched, chunky iPad I got from CEX is propped up on the top of my washed-out looking bookshelf, the sounds jarring from the small speaker on its right side. Eleanor is lying on the floor, arms propped up on a pillow as she lazily scrolls through Twitter. Olivia is on the bed with me, her legs crossed tightly, up at the top end against the wooden headboard covered in old stickers. She’s engrossed by the events unfolding on the 9.7” screen (she’s never seen Friends before – she’s only just got Netflix). I’m leaning on the pink wall my bed is shoved up against, one leg stretched out whilst the other is still on the duvet, my toes digging anxiously into the soft sheet.

It’s a lazy Sunday. A ‘Sunday Funday’. I know this because it said so on several Instagram stories. I’m tapping my screen now, flipping through the stories so fast I only get a glimpse of faces, gym gear, steaming cups of tea and books arranged so beautifully it makes me sad I never really took care of mine.

I barely register the weekend life of my friends and mutuals. My eyes flick back towards the iPad screen, squinting a bit at the distance. I can’t remember the last time I got my eyes tested, but I’ve watched this episode so many times I don’t really need them. Phoebe Buffay is picking up her guitar. My relationship with her is more than a little bit complicated, and within the next few minutes it will be strained, once again, to its limit.

The episode is called ‘The One After the Super Bowl’, but it should be called ‘The One with Phoebe’s Biphobia’, if you ask me. Which I suppose nobody did, least of all the creators of a show who wrote the lines well before I was born.

The knot in my stomach tightens, and I can only imagine it resembles what my white earphones look like inside my jacket pocket. All twisted and chaotic, so tight that my stubby, bitten nails will never be able to pry them free with ease.

I suppose it’s my own fault for loving this show. Members of Gen Z aren’t supposed to like Friends. I read an article about it on Teen Vogue. Plus, my eighteen-year-old cousin said Friends is ‘problematic’ on Twitter, and she’s about to study journalism. So, I know she’s right. Then, amidst the claims of us being another snowflake generation, the article I read pointed out all the issues with the sitcom that my progressive generation is sure to find problematic.

And I agreed with them. There are plenty of reasons why this show is problematic – and I don’t feel this way because I’m as ‘soft as a snowflake’ (I try to be as sharp as an icicle, personally).

There’s racism. Sexism. Fatphobia. Homophobia. Double-standards, and some really shoddy editing work for something so embedded in my sister’s (a die-hard 90s’ kid) pop-culture.

So, I get why people my age aren’t supposed to like Friends. I really do. I’ve always known this. Our generation is the hope for change, tolerance and acceptance – I read that on Tumblr. I felt the slow burning of the beginning of hope and ambition. But, Joey Tribbiani from Friends’ hurtful stance on dating fat women is the same as my pal Craig McKenzie’s views on it, too – and these opinions are at least fifteen years apart.

Then there’s the improbable, frustrating, irresistible case of Phoebe Buffay.

She’s still on the screen and almost ready to sing now.

Right.

Now.

Her blonde hair is in an impossibly high ponytail, a scrunchie thicker than the iPhone in my hand keeping it firmly in place. She’s about to perform her song to the chic café she’s always in, which makes me wish I had a Starbucks in hand even though I don’t like coffee.

I feel the clamminess in my palms and put my phone down on the bed. I know what’s coming next, I know what will make me feel the sting of hurt and the forced feelings of shame and embarrassment her words elicit, as they have done every time I’ve re-watched the show over the past three years.

And to make it worse, my friends are here watching, too.

“So, Oliva, who’s your favourite Friend?” El asks, twisting awkwardly to look up at us on the bed. There’s no room for three of us up here, and only barely room for two people on the floor. It makes for awkward sleepover arrangements. I hope student halls are bigger, if I get into university.

“I donno yet,” Olivia replies. “Rachel. No! Joey. Uh… It’s too hard! Who’s yours, El?”

“I think Ross is hot. What about you, Lauren?”

“Oh, Phoebe, probably,” I reply a little too quickly, not taking my eyes off the screen.

The sound of real laughter – not fake, blaring, audience laughter – drags me back into my room away from my impending doom. El is looking up at me with an eyebrow raised, and Olivia is giggling.

“What?” I ask, snapping a little.

“She’s your favourite, or you find her hot?” El asks, teasing.

“Um…”

“Both?” Oliva suggests, her right eyebrow raising to match El’s, before they both relapse into a fit of giggles.

“Em, yeah!” I respond, trying hard to make it sounds like a joke and laughing a tad too loudly at myself as they both turn their attention back to the show.

I haven’t ever told them properly that I’m bisexual. I was just sort of hoping they’d figure it out.

That happens, right?

I didn’t even tell myself I was bisexual until recently. When I was younger, I started to get crushes on women around me and female celebrities. Keira Knightley in Bend it like Beckham had me slayed. Then she did the same in Pirates of the Caribbean.  Convinced at first I was a lesbian, I spent many a night on Google searching how I would know if I were gay. It was only after I realised that I fancied both Lupin and Tonks from Harry Potter that I altered my search terms slightly, and found what I was looking for.

Bisexual.

‘Bisexual’ fitted me like my snuggest knitted jumper. I know not everyone is happy with labels, but I leapt into the arms of mine.

I practised saying the word over and over, enjoying how it felt slipping from my tongue and imaging how I’d tell the people I loved most in my life. I knew it was scary, but I thought; doesn’t everyone in the LGBTQA+ community say, “It gets better”?

But then, as I was taking time to gain the courage to tell people, I was sitting in registration class and heard Jess Wallace joke that bisexuals were only good for threesomes.

At a sleepover, Amy Barrie told me, fearfully, that she thought her sister might be bisexual, and her sister’s boyfriend was terrified that he’d be cheated on because of this.

She was never invited to mine again after that. It was the only small stand I could take.

I couldn’t share the hurt with anyone in school, or my family. They didn’t know I was bisexual in the first place. I didn’t even want to find people online to talk about it.

And so, my knitted jumper became impossibly tight, the neckline stealing and squeezing the breath from me so that it would be impossible to utter those defining words comfortably.

Phoebe Buffay begins to sing.

            “Sometimes men love women…”

It isn’t fair.

            “Sometimes men love men…”

Without warning, I feel the sting of hot tears as she strums the lullaby-like melody to her audience. Each word sang with such authority that for a while, I believed them. I wonder if a tiny part of me still does.

            “And then there are bisexuals…”

            Please, don’t!

            “Though some just say they’re kidding themselves…!”

The laughter of the studio audience is a deafening roar, each guttural sound a punch to my stomach, a personal insult thrown my way. Sometimes I wonder if I’m overreacting. Isn’t it OK to joke around sometimes?

But if those jokes hurt, shouldn’t people listen to how I feel?

The sound stops.

I look up towards the small screen, and an even smaller pop-up has appeared. “Are you still watching Friends?” Netflix asks.

If Netflix was a person, I would kiss them. Passionately. Has there ever been a time when anyone actually wants that message to pop up? It gives me a second to compose myself, get ‘over’ myself as my friends would probably say.

“Lauren, can you start it again?” asks El, even though being on the floor, she is closer to the iPad on my bookcase than I am. I nod in response to her plea, grinning slightly as she continues scrolling through her Twitter feed.

            I stand up to tiptoe over to her, and end up standing crushed against the wooden shelves, the top one just level with my shoulders. Before I tap the screen to continue, a rush of bravery floods through me.

“You know, I think that’s one of Phoebe’s worst songs,” I say lightly, restarting the programme and turning the volume down a bit. Adrenaline makes me light headed and I have to be careful not to stumble and step on El as I gingerly edge back towards the bed.

What am I doing?

            “Hmm? Why?” asks Oliva, the Friends novice who cannot yet recite every single one of Phoebe’s songs off by heart.

            Please… don’t?

“It’s just not funny,” I reply, twirling a strand of my loose hair lightly as I take my seat on the bed. I can hear my heartbeat thundering in my ears, drowning out the rest of the episode. “I mean, I’m bisexual, and I know I’m not ‘kidding’ myself.”

Silence. I can feel Olivia’s surprised stare, catch her mouth forming a small ‘o’ in the corner of my vision. My heart is livid at my mouth’s betrayal.

I am furious at myself. Furious. I’ve potentially just ruined two friendships. I know what everyone thinks about bisexuals and I’ve just—!

“We know, Lauren,” El replies, obliviously smashing into my downwards spiral like a juggernaut, not looking up from her phone.

I don’t reply, don’t dare let the hope that has ballooned inside me carry me away.

“And,” she continues, “I know ‘Smelly Cat’ is your favourite Friends song anyway.”

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Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – Third Place: ‘Exit The Shaitan’ By Ali Azar

Exit The Shaitan

By Ali Azar

 

The fists landed on the door, pounding on its old wooden frame. Inji jolted from her sleep.

‘Who is it at this time of night,’ she shouted from her bed, but the door continued to be knocked without pausing.

‘Coming! Stop it before the door comes off the hinge.’ She took her cane, plummeted toward the door. Her joints started aching once she was out of her warm bed.

It was two fellows, a man wearing a wool hat and a boy.

‘Mrs Seyid, my daughter had gone mad.’ The man voice was shaking.

‘If a Shaitan has gone to her skin, the rock of misery has dropped on my head. You are my only hope. Save her, and I shall be your servant for the rest of my life.’

‘Go and fetch my chador. It hung on the hanger beside my bed,’ Inji said to the boy.

The man took from one arm of Inji and his young boy from another, they helped her to walked down the uneven stair steeps which opened to the street. She couldn’t remember the last time she got out of the house. Her knees didn’t allow her to walk more than a few steps. She had become a prison for her own house. Though she couldn’t see anything in dark, the earthy smell of clay walls was telling her that she was now in her beloved neighbourhood, where she once sat in front of her house, the whole the women gathered around her.

The two dazzling headlights of Land Rover lit up once the man started the car.

‘How am I going to get in this car? It was hard when I was younger and lighter, let alone now that I am old and well above hundred-kilogram. God, you help me,’ Inji said.

The man held Inji’s hand from the driver’s side, pulling her toward himself. Using the boy’s head as a handrail, Inji climbed on the car, landed with velocity on the leather chair.

The man moved the car, quickly shifted the gear to four, put the pedal to the metal.

‘Where are we going,’ Inji said once breathing allowed her to talk.

‘Jilodarli’s summer quarter.’ The man, hunched over the wheel, was scanning the road.

‘The one below Mount Savalan?’

‘Yes, Mrs Seyid.’

‘That is far. Slow down man if you want me reaching there alive.’ Inji said, grabbing the dashboard firmly.

‘I will be your servant forever if you just help my little girl. My quiet harmless Leyla has now turned into a monster, hitting, screaming, swearing.

Exited the town, the car entered the realm of nature, split fiercely the utter darkness of the surround with its glaring light.

‘Shaitan must have gone to her skin, her voice has changed, her eyes turn white. I don’t even know the meaning of some of her swearing.’ The man broke down, hitting his lap, his shoulders were bouncing. ‘The rock of misery has landed on my head.’

‘Come to yourself, man. You are scaring the boy.’ Inji rested her hand on man’s shoulder.

The car turned into bumpy off-road. Inji large body was jolting up and down while the boy was floating between the chairs and the roof in the back. Glowing lights appeared over yonder, tents came into sight, fiercely barking dogs welcomed the car. They were running, inch away, along the approaching metal monster. Unlike their village counterparts which just stood further away and barked and growled, nomad dogs, being on the constant threat of tactician wolves, attacked savagely to any unknown object entering in their territories. They dispersed once the car reached the yurt where the gathering crowd were awaiting them. A woman ran to the car when it stopped, opened the door of passenger side.

‘Mrs Seyid, thanks god you have come. My girl is perishing in front of my eyes.’

‘Where is she, ‘Inji said, rested her hands on the woman’s shoulder, got up from her seat. Other men approached to help her to step on the ground.

‘Bring me a chair, my heart is going to burst,’ sweating Inji said, wheezing in and out, once she reached the tent of the driver. A folding chair was bought for her, which could hardly accommodate her big bottom.

The man came in, dragging the girl. Her dishevelled hair had covered her face. The father was holding her delicate wrists firmly-not an easy task to get away from the pilers-like hands of a nomad man. Leyla looked at Inji with resentment, gowned her teeth. The mother was whimpering, hitting her laps, and the boy was staring at his sister.

‘What are you looking at me you nosy people. Apart from the girl’s family, everyone else march home. Yallah!’ She threw her cane toward the tent entryway. The people quietly left the tent.

‘Have her sit in front of me,’ Inji said.

With help of his heavyweight, the man pushed Leyla to her knees.

‘Leave me alone with her.’

‘But, Mrs Seyid, she may hurt you.’

‘She won’t. Everyone out.’

The man let her girl loose with caution. The curse breaker and the cursed were left alone. The girl was staring at the red kilim thrown in the middle of the tent. Two lanterns stood in two opposite corners aiming to do the futile task of brightening the spacious tent, a gratefully brewing Samovar, a few cushions rested against the wall, a pile of neatly folded duvets and mattresses on the corner were all the family had.

‘Is that ayran?’ Inji saw pitcher containing white fluid. ‘It must be made from ewes’ milk. My mouth’s as dry as a parched well, my dear girl, pour me a glass of it.’

Girl looked at the old woman for sometimes, then rose with hesitation, grabbed a glass, poured ayran and gave it to Inji, who emptied the glass with one gulp; it was rich, viscous, creamy and sour.

‘Shahseven nomad’s ayran tastes something else. So, your name is Leyla. It is a beautiful name.’

The girl didn’t say anything.

‘I don’t think you have gone crazy, but you have a problem, and I want to help you.’

She stood in front of Inji, her head sunk into her neck.

‘You see here.’ Inji tapped her chest a few times. ‘It is full of secrets, scandals and untold stories. I have kept them in here and will take them to the grave with myself. May god be my witness. Now tell me what is bothering you?’ Inji said in a lower tone.

The girl still stood unmoving.

‘Now, you have two options: one is to tell me your problem, and we can find a way out, or you continue playing your daft game, and I promise you that your dad will then take you to Tabriz, to a mad house, and there even if you’re not crazy, you will become one. You decide.’ Inji straightened her back, rested her hands on the cane.

Leyla burst into cry, held her mouth with her palms to suffocate her outcry.

‘Cry my girl, you are safe here with me. I am on your side,’ Inji whispered.

‘No one can help me?’ Leyla said half cried and half whispered.

‘What is troubling you my girl?’

‘Can’t tell, can’t even tell myself. I have committed the most grievous sin.’

‘Have you fallen in love?

The girl triggered another mighty sob.

‘More than that?’

‘I am done. There is no way out.’

‘What did he exactly do to you?’

‘My own fault. I am a fool.’ She punched her head a few times.’

‘Where is he? We can make you married to him. I know a very good mullah who can help. Convincing your parents on me. Just tell where the hell he is?’

Leyla swung her head.’

‘Doesn’t he want to get married? It is not up to him. Tell me where he is, and I will have him dragged here to your feet, then marriage will be proceeded.

‘He has run away.’

‘Son of a dog. Where has he escaped?’

‘Hell,’ she wailed.

In her mind, Inji went through the similar cases she had encountered in the past to find a way out, but this case was hard to solve.

‘Pour me another glass,’ she said.

Girl, whimpering, brought her another glass of Ayran, then sat beside Inji, looking at her quietly.

‘Are you pregnant?’

‘I would have killed myself if I was. I waited till I made sure I didn’t carry the child of that pig.’

‘Don’t be silly. I may have found a way to get you out of this trouble, but I need your complete cooperation.’

Leyla nodded firmly. Inji could see her face completely for the first time. She hardly looked like a grown-up woman; she was small and thin; her breasts have hardly developed.

Inji called out Leyla’s parent. They instantly entered the tent. She asked the mother to take Leyla out of the tent. She kissed her daughter’s head, then they went outside. While following her mother, Leyla was looking back worryingly at Inji. She looked more like she has lost her doll than her virginity Inji thought.

‘Shaitan has gone inside her body indeed but I will expel him.’

‘God bless you Seyid Inji, I shall be your servant for the rest of my life.’

‘But the procedure that I am going to carry out will not be done without a consequence.’

‘What consequence?’

‘Shaitan exit will cost her virginity.’

The man who sat on his knee froze, his gaze fixed at the floor, grabbed his trouser, pressed hard.

‘And of course, I won’t do it without your permission.’

The man still couldn’t utter a word. His fuming face soon sunk, became sad and desperate.

‘My son, it is not up to me to tell you what to do, but something has to be done.’

‘No man will marry her.’ He sighed bitterly. ‘Better off be a sound minded spinster than be a lunatic!’

‘Who says she can’t get married. When a suiter found, send him to me, and I will confirm she hasn’t done any wrong.’

‘Whatever you approve, Mrs Seyid.’

‘Bring the girl inside.’

Leyla was brought in, and they were left alone again. Inji said to her to eat well as she looked like a resurrected dead, not to get out of her bed for a couple days, and after that, behave normal.

‘Now, take, this agate ring. It is blessed from Karbala.’

Leyla took the ring with face of a rich-brown agate.

‘Now, my dumb girl, gather your wisdom from your heel to head. Since now, be careful of every step you take. Life is unforgiven.’

Girl’s face shone, a shy smile appeared on her face (youth gets sad easily, happy easily). Inji stroked her head, then call out her father to come in.

‘How did it go Mrs Seyid?’ he said. Inji could see the gathering crowd outside of the tent.

‘The girl needs rest. I will tell you in the car. Take me home now.’

The Land Rover ambled away from the tents, and in no rush, headed toward the town. Gaynarja spring had to be somewhere close to here Inji thought. She wished to have her ill feeble body bathed in its therapeutic hot water coming from the heart of Mount Savalan, whose silvery shoulder dimly shone in the dark.

‘The procedure went well, and with might of Allah, your girl will recover.’

The man profusely thanked him, promised he would pay in cash when his lambs were old enough to sell.

‘I don’t want your money, just look after your girl.’

The glowing lights of Meshgin appeared. Inji was thinking what she was going to do once arrived at home: to eat a couple of halva’s slides that one of her neighbours had brought, then take her red pill, and best of all, lay on her bed and have the sweetest sleep.