Haifa

by Florentina  Crăciun Fabiola [Romania]

translated by Graham Mummery & Dorina Burcea [MTTLC student]

pentru versiunea română click aici

 

Hayfa was a beautiful half-Turkish, half-Romanian girl. Being an orphan at a young age, her mother, Samira, had been adopted by a Romanian family. She was given a good education but unfortunately she lost them too, much too early. Living off her allowance and welfare she had managed to graduate from high school. She then gave birth to Hayfa and many of the plans she had made for the future had to be shelved. Now, the greatest richness of her life, is of course Hayfa, which is why she always anticipates her returning full of concern and even fear. Hayfa goes out many times and is often seen staring at the sea for hours. Samira never asks her why she does this; maybe it is calling out to her. But she would like to know why Hayfa feels this strange attraction towards the sea.

‘Hayfa, what makes you go out like that every night?’ Samira asked her in a gentle voice.

After a long silence she answered shyly.

‘I don’t know, mother. I’m waiting for something to happen, but don’t ask me what, because I wouldn’t know how to answer you. I think, feel, that my life is going to change.’

Her mother usually believed everything Hayfa said. When she gave birth to her, an old woman from a near by village was brought in. They called her ‘the Turk’s wife’ because both she and her husband were Turks. But they were peaceable and got along with everybody. Immediately after birth she took Hayfa in her arms and her voice seemed to come from another world when she said: ‘You’ll be the fairest in these lands and you’ll sing like a nightingale. There’ll be nobody like you.’ She paused for what seemed an eternity and then continued ‘But luck will always be further than you need it to be.’ She then took Hayfa to another room. Hayfa was also named after that old woman. Her mother liked the name so kept it.

Seventeen years had passed and Hayfa become ever more beautiful and when she sang one could not help but feel melancholy. There was no other voice like hers in those parts, or many believed, anywhere else in the world. She liked to sing so much that she wished for nothing else. On the beach, there was a big hotel with a nice restaurant. The owner was a Turk. Somehow, he had set his heart on Hayfa and followed her everywhere. She was paying no attention to him but without knowing why, she felt attracted to him. He was rich for sure but she knew that was not the reason. One evening, as she was going home, walking down her brightly lit street, she heard someone call out to her. She turned her head and saw a car parked next to the pavement. Omar was stepping out of the car. She waited for him as he had already started towards her. She did not understand very well what was happening to her but felt as if she were floating and realized it did not matter in the least that he was fifteen years older than her. She could not take her eyes off of him; he was good looking, tall, with a fine figure and such manners that it was impossible not to answer him. She offered her hand; he took it to his lips and kissed it gently. His eyes glistened like diamonds.

‘How are you Hayfa?’ he whispered. ‘I’ve wanted to talk to you for while.’

‘What about? Please tell me, I’m listening.’ He lowered his gaze as if asking forgiveness.

‘You are so beautiful that I get nervous when I look at you. Firstly, I’d like to ask you to sing in the hotel restaurant; one recital only. You’ll be very well paid. I’ve a hall next to the hotel. I usually rent it out to theatre companies that tour our town. But if you agree, I can open it just for you. You can perform there every night. Also, please tell your mother I want to ask her permission for your hand in marriage. I want us to marry as soon as possible, of course provided that is also what you would like and that you like me. If I have to wait, I will; though it’ll be difficult.‘

Hayfa was speechless. Under the light of the electric bulbs she looked like a fairy of the night. She was tall, with black-bluish long curled hair and eyebrows that resembled the restless wings of a swallow. Her lashes, heavy and curled gave her eyes an astonishing shape. Her clean dark complexion, her oval face, had divine beauty in them. Dimples in her cheeks made her face irresistibly charming. And the final perfect and astonishing sign of beauty was her eyes with an unreal shade of sparkling green. This was what everyone could see when she walked down the street, in the market place or when she took the two goats to graze on the roadside. Hayfa listened to Omar; she was silent and embarrassed but in the end answered:

‘Alright, I’ll tell mother to receive your visit.’

‘And you, what can you tell me, Hayfa?’

‘Nothing, for now, but I’ll leet you know tomorrow. I’ll come by the hotel and do a recording. If you like how I sing I’ll do it.’

Omar was not sure he had understood her; was Hayfa really saying that she would come?

‘Hayfa, did you say that you agree to singing at the hotel?’

‘Yes, wasn’t that what you asked me? But we have to make a recording, don’t we?’

‘Whatever you say!’ Omar began worrying but he did not add anything more. He said goodbye to Haifa and went to his car. He had waited for a long time for a chance to talk to her, he could wait a few more hours! The thought that she might not come or would not agree to sing at the hotel, saddened him. Hayfa used that night to think things over. She thought a lot about how her life might be from then on; and not only her life, but her mother’s too.

The next day, she did the recording as she had agreed. The audition was a great success. Omar excused himself for a few minutes and Hayfa did not know what to believe. But in his loneliness he understood the nature of his fear. Hayfa’s beauty troubled him deeply. Still, he had nothing to be afraid of. Hayfa was already in love with him, only the feeling had not taken shape. Omar returned to the recording studio. He thanked her for her effort and for keeping her word by coming there. Of course, the most difficult part was yet to come. In the evening she had to sing in front of an audience. Omar called the receptionist and sent her out to buy the most beautiful and elegant dresses and accessories for Hayfa’s recital that evening. When she was ready Hayfa looked like the queen of Sheba – a mythical kingdom that was said to have been located somewhere between Ethiopia and Yemen. It is important to remember that the restaurant was always crowded. Nevertheless, Hazy was very confident. The white marble staircase awaited her steps. Drawn in by her picture displayed in the show windows outside and by various posters throughout the town, people had taken the place by storm. There was nowhere to sit or stand. Loud ovations greeted Hayfa as she appeared. Her gown was spectacular. The long green dress of shining atlas faithfully outlined her sculptured body. It matched her earrings perfectly but even more her large deep-green eyes. The green buttons on the black nubuck shoes were made of the same material as the dress. It all spoke of perfection and unequalled beauty.

When she started down the stairs towards the hall, the public stood up in waves. She was astonished but continued with great elegance, preserving noble poise. When notes announced her entrance, Hayfa built up the suspense with a moment of silence and then all of a sudden burst into song. Her strong, ample voice in perfect harmony with the acoustics of the hall made the crowd go wild. People were ecstatic and unable to control themselves. It was decided that Hayfa should leave the stage. As if to order, a ladder came down from the dome. As for security reasons, Hayfa could not return to the stage right away, the bars were immediately opened so people could buy sweets and mineral water. Back in her dressing room, Hayfa decided to change her outfit. An equally beautiful white lace dress, tight and long, with shining rhinestones and a deep cut that stopped above her knee replaced the green dress. White high-heeled shoes were the finishing touch to Hayfa’s outfit. Her long black hair coming down to her waist added charm to this most perfect creature a man had ever seen. Nevertheless, time was passing and Hayfa could still not return to the stage as the situation might have degenerated into something worse.

After an hour applause, screams and even some fainting, Omar appeared on the stage and announced that because of the audiences somewhat inappropriate behaviour, Hayfa was feeling unwell. He asked that the show to be rescheduled for the next day, at the same time. It was difficult to make the public understand and accept this. Nevertheless, though some had difficulty in getting out, it did not take long for the hall to be emptied. And with that, Hayfa’s first recital ended.

Samira, Hayfa’s mother, had been waiting for hours next to the gate.

‘What are you doing here, mother? Shall we go in?’

‘I was anxious, my darling. How did it go…?’

‘Bad!’

‘Oh’

‘No, mother, please don’t worry. It’d have been great if people had kept calm, but they didn’t. It’s so difficult to calm a crowd down when they’re already agitated. Omar has had to postpone my recital until tomorrow. It’s generally accepted that I’ll not sing in the great hall every night. There’s no way I’ll sing in the Venetian mirrors hall or in the performance hall – that’s yet to be arraigned. And there you have to dress up, buy a ticket and pay extra which includes food menu. Unable to understand, Samira looked at Hayfa for a few moments and then asked her if she would always be singing in in two different places.

No, mother, I’ll only sing in one place, in the Venetian mirrors hall or the performance hall, which is owned by Omar and which he rents for the moment. If I sing there, the hall will be permanently open and in this way there’ll be scheduled shows. In the great hall, where everybody has access, I’ll only sing tomorrow, does that make it clearer?’

‘I think so. There are two halls, right?’

‘Yes, plus the performance hall. It’s almost certain that that’s where I will sing.’

Samira did not ask anything else. She knew Hayfa was tired and she would have liked to see her go to sleep. She left the room silently.  She sat down on the couch in the living room. Memories swept her away. She had met George when she was Hayfa’s age. They had fallen in love immediately and married in secret, going against his family’s wishes. George had just graduated from the Civilian Marine Institute. They hid from his parents for a long time but some things are just meant to happen and so one day had bumped into them in the market place. Both were hard people who refused to return smiles, even to a child.

George’s mother came straight towards them and looking at George with a cold look she pointed towards Samira and asked:

‘George, who’s this person?’

‘Mother, this person, as you call her, is my Mrs. Petrescu. My wife.’

Mrs. Eleonora Petrescu’s eyes opened wide, bulging outward, she turned pale and fainted on the pavement that had been sprinkled a few moments before.

‘Mother, stop the drama, please. We know each other too well. You faint every time there’s something you don’t agree with. Please stop trying to blackmail me. I’ll be there for you and the family, if that’s what you want. If not, until you realize that this is the only way, you’ll be alone; just you and dad who you’ve been blackmailing all your life. The only difference is that he accepts being blackmailed willingly while I’m not taking anymore. Good bye.’

George returned to Samira, protectively placing his arm round her shoulders and they left together to look at other stalls. He did not look back. He was sure that his mother was fine. That was how she had done everything in life. Every now and then, Samira looked back to see if George’s parents were still in the marketplace but she could not see them anymore.

At one o’clock in the night the phone started ringing and ringing. Samira answered; it was George’s father. He was crying. Samira could not understand a thing he was saying.

‘I can’t hear you very well, Mr. Petrescu, please speak up.’

‘My dear, your mother-in-law, Eleonora, has just died in the hospital from a heart attack. Please tell George, will you?’

He hung up. Samira started trembling with no reason and though their bed was by the window she started rummaging away in a wardrobe drawer, crying as she told George to get there quickly.

‘My dear, would you be kind enough as to turn off all the lights except one of the reading lamps on the nightstands so I can get some sleep? Please.’

‘George, you can’t sleep anymore.’

‘Why, is it already morning?’

‘No, Eleonora suffered a heart attack, I mean she died, what I mean… is that…’

‘Samira, I know that my mother is somewhat harsh, I don’t like that about her either, but please, let’s go to bed and we’ll be laughing tomorrow, even about her.’

‘No, George, get up. Your mother really died a few minutes ago in the hospital.’

At that moment instant George sprang out of bed without a word and went straight to the bathroom, returning dressed. He kissed her and said:

‘Don’t worry, nothing’s going to happen. It’s nobody’s fault. Neither your’s or mine.’

As she heard him, she began doubting if he had any serious feelings for his mother. The he said something amazing to her:

‘You should know that I loved her very much!’

She believed him. That was George, trustworthy. When he returned from the hospital he told her that they had already taken his mother home and that the required Christian rites had to be performed in order to bury her two days later. George did not cry but she noticed his face only showed indifference. She believed his guilt had only lasted for the few minutes of their discussion. Samira fell asleep remembering these important moments from her life with George, who she had loved more than anything in this world.

As dawn broke, Hayfa woke up. She could not sleep anymore so she decided to get up and prepare breakfast. Samira was still asleep but Hayfa knew she was worried and tired so she let her sleep on. That is why she was dreaming about a bright future, when she would fulfil all her mother’s wishes. They had never had more that they needed but never lacked anything either. For as long as she could remember, Samira had worked an operator in a big vegetable preservation factory. The wages were good or better, it was enough to ensure Hayfa and she made a decent living. The big white house with its front steps and massive doors was incredibly beautiful. In front of it, was a beautiful flower garden with walkways and different types of fruit trees. After the death of her foster parents, Samira never neglected the house. They always took pride in it. The two goats were yeanlings from when a woman from a village a few kilometres away had brought them to sell them in the market place. But for completely unknown reasons the woman had never came back for them. so the goats stayed with them, which made Hayfa very happy. For the past three years she has been taking care of them, taking them grazing, and though she had asked around about their owner, no one came back.

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