When the harsh reality of war struck, the simple dreams of school children were turned to dust.

·The sun was ready to set and the horizon blushed peacefully as the sun edged its way down. The voices of people rushing home from work and of city residents on their evening walk melded together in a strangely harmonious melody. Some were rushing around on various errands; others were just taking carefree walks.

Akhmad kishi (an expression used to address an elderly male person in Azerbaijan) was also blankly hurrying home. He was running late. He had walked the same road to work and back home for years. His entire life had been the same way, with the exception of course of his youth. He liked his present life in Baku, and the Khazri and Gilavar winds of this town on the shore of the Caspian Sea pleased him deeply. Nevertheless, he did not belong here.He came here after leaving the childhood memories of the flowery mountains in his motherland. Sometimes he missed those blooming years of his childhood.

His father was a victim of the war. Conflict had covered Akhmad’s colourful dreams with layers of black. Why did his memory suddenly take him back to those sad days? No, it seemed like he had never forgotten his past. It was not only a memory. The past was sparkling like stars in the sky even in his dreams while he slept. He remembered well. At the entrance of the Jabrail region, near the TV tower, there were a number of villages – one part of them belonged to Jabrail, while the rest were in the region of Fizuli (all of these regions stood between Karabakh and the Iranian border). Near the TV tower, the residents of these villages would meet and happily greet each other, chatting about life in their villages and then going along their ways.

This region, on the Gayan plain in the southeast of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, had rich crop fields. People cultivated the fields and irrigated them using the canals flowing from the left bank of the Araz River. They had big houses with beautiful gardens in the village of Boyuk Marjanli. Generally, the village was a place where a neighbour was a person who held the same value as that of a family member. If something bad happened, the villagers immediately ran for help to the house next door; if something good happened, they got together to share their happiness with each other.

Akhmad kishi yearned deeply for his childhood. The war had started when he had just begun to perceive the shifting beauty of the village in each season. He could still vividly remember the last days there. While people in neighbouring Karabakh were starting to kill each other, Akhmad had committed a mass slaughter of tortoises with his best friend Ravik. They were 13 or 14 years old and their moustaches had just started to appear. Both of them were interested in physics and biology, and they used the tortoise shells to build a water mill. By installing that watermill on one of the tributaries of the river, they believed themselves celebrities, famous for inventing natural power.

When he came home to tell his family about this great success, Akhmad was punished instead of rewarded. He did not fully understand this back then, but Ravik was Armenian and the days of Azerbaijani-Armenian friendships were over. He never saw Ravik again, and the only memory of their invention was the shells they had pulled off. Some time later, the war reached Jabrail and Akhmad’s family had to leave the flowery gardens behind in the village and cross over the Araz to another shore.

And then, only a few years ago, the conflict suddenly ended. Relations between the two sides were gradually recovering. Akhmad kishi’s granddaughter Samira participated in a student exchange; she was an intern at the Karabakh Centre for Autism in Shusha. Her parents had initially been against her departure to Karabakh, where she would also work with Armenian autistic children. But Akhmad kishi had intervened, telling them that throughout history, after wars full of savagery ended, the conflicting nations began to live together again. They would find common ground eventually. He smiled to himself and wondered if Samira would call tonight, as she often did, to tell him about the mountains in Karabakh that he could see as a child from his village in Jabrail. Something told him that he should go back now that there was peace. Maybe he would visit Samira in summer and take her there.

“How quickly I arrived!” he thought to himself when he arrived at his house. “How a flight of imagination can turn a human being into a slave of time. You think about your past, while the path takes you home.” Akhmad pulled the iron door handle towards himself. His wife Sevila came outside and told him excitedly:

“Where have you been? The child has been calling from Shusha, she wanted to tell you something important.”

Akhmad kishi grew excited. What could be so important that she called at such an unusually early time of the day? It was a quarter to nine. Sevila had prepared dinner for him. He was too excited and drank big sips of hot tea absently.

He blanched from the sudden ringing heard from the inner room. He said, “Stop, dear. Let me,” and rushed to the room. “Hello? Hello! Yes, darling, it’s me!”

“How are you doing, Grandpa? I’m fine. Grandpa, I am going to pass the receiver to a person, try to guess who he is.”

“Alo, Akhmad, jan.”

He recognised the voice, but could not believe it. No! It was impossible! Too many years had passed… From the other side of the receiver, he heard that familiar voice again.
“What happened, didn’t you recognise me? It’s me, Ravik. Shell Ravik.”

“Yes. Yes, Ravik. I can’t believe this. How are you doing? What are you doing there? How did you find me?”

“I brought my grandson to the the Centre for Autism and when I talked to the friendly girl here and heard her story, I realised she must be your granddaughter. Do you still have our tortoise shells?”·

Aynur, 29, is an orientalist, social activist and teacher. She creates theatre plays, makes short films and teaches children and teenagers to develop their creativity.

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