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.