I wish to inaugurate this initiative with a story of my own entitled "Suskè", the ‘’term of endearment" my mother often used to call me, which I greatly appreciate, but which, when used with bad intentions to emphasize an inferiority of race, is not only regrettable, but can cause immense pain.
Suské is a sort of black insect. This Persian word, of undetermined gender, has an affectionate appeal.
Khale Suskè, Aunt Suskè, is a fairy tale figure.
Story translated by Hayden Weiler
Her mother emptied the last spoonful of rice onto her plate. The only sound was that of plates and cutlery, and of people eating. She kept her head down, and didn’t raise it when the noises had become fainter. When her gaze met her mother’s eyes, she was a little surprised when asked: – Why aren’t you eating?
Her sister glanced at her: “She doesn’t have a spoon!”
– Why didn’t you tell me right away? her mother asked, laughing.
She neither smiled, nor said a word. She just didn’t feel hungry anymore.
She wanted her mother to buy her a clay doll, make her a good ball of cloth, and when she went grocery shopping, to not forget the wild plums and rhubarb. She wanted her father to take her on the rides, and to the Armenian cemetery in the morning. Or, if only, at least every once in a while, he would buy her that flame-like lollipop in the shape of a rooster.
She didn’t remember exactly when she realized what color she was. Nor did she know if they called her Suské because she was so black, or if she had become so black because they called her Suské. She was only sure that, growing up, her skin would become tighter, and therefore whiter.
Suské grew; her skin tightened; but it did not change color. And this became such a concern for her, that little by little it turned into a nagging desire. She wanted to be like the others, neither more nor less, just the same.
Her sister, who had perhaps noticed her dilemma, one day whispered in her ear: – If you put yogurt on your face, you will turn white. Since then, every day, after lunch, they went to the fountain: with care her sister spread the yogurt on her face, waited for the sun to dry it, and then washed it off. But not even after all this did her color change.
One day Suské, while leaving school, noticed a beautiful pebble. She kicked it with the tip of her toe, and it sprang a few feet away. She liked it. Then she began kicking it around and chasing it, until she realized that day had become night. Frightened, she began running towards home. On the way she concocted many a lie in order to reply to the inevitable question: – Why are you late? -. But against all odds, she realized that no one had noticed her absence. She thought to herself: “If it’s the same whether I am here or not, then why am I here?” And from that day two questions occupied her thoughts: – Why do I exist? And Why am I black?
One night she slipped into bed next to her sister, and slowly said to her: – If I ask you something, will you answer me?
– How do you get it into your head, at this time of night, to ask questions!?
– Because my patience is gone.
– Ok then … let’s hear it.
– Why are we alive? In the sense … where does our existence come from?
– Well, it’s clear! … We were created by God.
– And who created God?
– God? … Nobody! He has always existed.
– How is it possible that someone has always existed without anyone having created him?
– Yet it is possible.
– If no one created him, how could he have thought to create us? Who taught him?
– He does not need to learn things from someone. His nature is omnipotent and omniscient. Suské thought and then said: – What do you mean by omnipotent and omniscient?
– You mean he always knows everything. He can do anything and knows everything.
– Everything everything?
– Everything, absolutely everything.
– And for example, now you and I know what we’re talking about?
– He knows and He sees it.
– And is he good? Does he love us? I mean, is he a good person to us?
– Firstly, He is infinitely exalted above all people; secondly, He is the highest form of goodness and generosity – answered her sister with conviction.
– If so, why did he not create us all the same?
– We are all equal! We all have two eyes, two ears, two feet …
Suské interrupted her: – I didn’t mean that. I wanted to say why, are some beautiful and
others ugly, some white and others black …
Her sister interjected: – In His eyes we are all the same.
– But we suffer for these differences!
– Because of our poor intelligence.
– So he could make us a little smarter! You said he was omnipotent …
– I guess He did not consider it opportune.
– However, if he is as good as you say, how can he allow us to suffer so much because of an extra grain of intelligence that he has denied us?
– Because He wants to test our faith.
“He could have not created us at all if he wanted to test our faith.
“These things do not concern us!” her sister said emphatically.
Suské thought about it: – Even if we continue like this until tomorrow, we won’t conclude anything. Just tell me one more thing: this God, if we ask him for something, does he give it to us?
“If it’s right, yes,” said her sister.
– Anyway, does he have the power to grant it?
– If He wants.
– And what can you do to make him want it?
– We must pray from the bottom of our hearts.
– Well, this is easy.
– If you say so!
– It’s easy for me. Just tell me how it’s done.
– Hmm, I don’t know! In any way the person realizes, and feels, that it is from the bottom of the heart.
– And if he doesn’t get anything?
Her sister had lost patience. “Then he didn’t pray from the bottom of his heart, or He didn’t think it would be right to acquiesce to his request.”
She turned away and fell asleep.
But Suské, full of emotions, wasn’t able to sleep. Besides having learned many things, she had also found a radical solution. But when and how do you send your request to God? She thought about it for a while and came to the conclusion that the best time was in the morning at dawn, for two reasons: the first was that everyone is asleep, and God is less busy. The second, that getting up at dawn requires sacrifice, and sacrifice is proof of faith and love. The ‘how’ then, was clear: from the bottom of the heart. But how many times? Once seemed too little. Numbers, with their shapes, paraded before her eyes. Nine seemed the most beautiful; and not too high, in order not to bore God. When Suské re-emerged from her thoughts it was already day.
Suské arose before sunrise every day for nine days, did her ablutions, turned towards the Qiblih, and repeated nine times from the bottom of her heart: – O God, you are the best, you are omniscient and omnipotent. I implore you: allow me to become the same color as the others.
After the nine days, fear and hope filled her days with new meaning. She felt alive as never before. She thought that it was necessary to give Him time, to God that is. She repeated to herself: “If only it would come true!”, Or: “When it comes true …”; but she didn’t dare to think: “If it doesn’t come true”. Her changing moods rushed her back and forth from the height of hope into the abyss of despair. Her soul was uneasy: she didn’t want to be shaken by words such as “Maybe”, by “When”, by “If”.
Eventually, Suské became an adult. Much time had passed since the days of her prayers. Every day, in the morning, as soon as the sky lit up, she observed her hands and legs, and from their black brilliance she understood that nothing had changed. With regret, she recalled the time when fear and hope struggled against each other. And she remembered the pleasure of those moments when hope was stronger, when she was still a dreamer. Dreams of rainbows, of endless horizons, blue spirals and sparrows in love. She asked herself: “Will I ever experience that feeling again?”
Suské struggled for a long time, in every way, to drive the words out of her mind, to do something tangible, to move on with her life. It was with such thoughts that one day she went to the bookbinder, where her sister worked: from behind the window she stopped to watch. She saw her sister’s hands, that with perfect mastery and skill glued together tattered and scattered pieces of paper, and arranged them into the form of a usable book.
She looked down at her own hands: they were weak and powerless; nothing had been accomplished by them. She stared into the eyes of her reflection in the glass. Her image told her: – Instead of reinvigorating your hands, you entrusted yourself to the words, and you remained a prisoner of the “Maybe”, the “When”, and the “If”. Hey black Suské, you are insignificant! You were too fragile to improve your life; you’ve tried to hide your incapacity behind the pretext of a fight with destiny.
Her image might have continued to reproach her for eternity, if a veil of tears had not covered her face. Suské continued on telling herself: – If I had only known before! If someone had guided me, maybe today … But what nerve! The lollipop in the shape of a rooster …! The clay doll …! Miracles…! No, for there to be miracles, there must be faith, but the sign of faith is to accept one’s color. I should have accepted myself and just be a parasite, created to end up crushed underfoot, without being anything to anyone. Millions of other beetles, some even blacker than me, have accepted their destiny: they feel useful and are happy; or, at least so they believe.
From that moment on, despair dominated Suské’s existence: despair that not only had made her days darker than the darkest nights, but without mercy, pierced her very heart and soul. And she, in order to escape them, hid in the alleyways. The words did not leave her either; and they beat against her temples until they entered her bloodstream. And she, feeling dizzy, staggered around through those narrow dark alleys, the walls scraping her body.
One night, tearing through the heart of darkness, she dragged her ulcerated, feverish body to the cemetery. There she prostrated herself on the ground and wept, praying, crying, denying her faith. Again she fell down and repented. Finally she cried out: – Death where are you? You dispense salvation. You are the best and the most generous. Take me away with you and free me from the nightmare of existence. I have borne the weight of my life – every day has felt like an entire, sad life, burdening my being, my heart, my soul – in order to deserve your favors. You come, and I will not be anymore.
Then she fixed her gaze, full of desire, on the graves and exclaimed: – O lucky ones among the creatures! Accept me among yourselves, help me, that I may find escape from the torment of speech and the burning of the whip; that insignificance and defeat, separation and injury will afflict me no longer; no more desire to be useful; no more thirst for miracles, creating their mirages. Make me feel at home, to share in your perpetual stillness, and from my blackness I will be free at last.
She stopped; and this time sighed a disconsolate sigh: – What can I say! That you dead understand differences of color! Did the shroud not make you all the same color? How easily the shroud makes you all the same! What a miracle the color white is! … Linen … miracle … -. She ran to the bookbinding shop.
When she appeared before her sister, gasping for air, she hoped she would not ask for an explanation; nor did the sister want one. She simply embraced her with her understanding look and asked her: – Do you need anything? –
Glue – answered Suské.
She cut the linen into bands and carefully glued them all over her body. It seemed to her that the darkness of her eyes and hair acquired particular prominence against the white linen. Even the mirror smiled at her and said, “Now you’ve become like the others; Indeed, better than the others. Do not you feel light? Look at the words as they are coming out, and how they adorn your garments with red flowers!
“While there is still time,” said the girl, “I have to run to the bookbinder; my sister must see my beautiful dress! She too, had long awaited this day.
The mirror gave her a shout: “Aren’t you forgetting something?
The girl, rushing quickly through the alleys and gardens, ran to the bookbinder. For the first time she advanced proudly and with her head held high, without looking away from the people. Then … she saw the rainbows, the endless horizons, the blue delights, and heard the song of the sparrows in love. Scents of violets caressed her nostrils. And it was only then that she understood the mirror’s words. She raised her head to the sky: – O God, I thank you for allowing me to attain my heart’s desire.
Then she gathered all the strength she could muster and added: “Even at the price of my own blood.
Parvin Soleimani Ardakani
*Bacarozzetta. The Persian word, indeterminate as far as gender, has however an affectionate connotation.
Khale Suské, Aunt Bacarozza, is a fairy tale character.