Aziz is now thirty years old, my old friend, I keep thinking about the story he once told me, the story of how he got his name. “My grandmother was not yet thirty when she and my grandfather firmly decided that to continue to stay in Urumchi for them was a tantamount to death and the only solution for them was to move to the Soviet Union. At that time they already had three children, two five-year-old daughters, twins -my aunts- and a thirteen-year-old son, my uncle, Aziz.
Grandfather was part of the national army. In the Union he had some connections, in Kazan and Alma-Ata. In Kazan he had friends from the Polytechnic Institute, and some of his relatives were in Alma-Ata. As a child I remember always inquiring my grandma of how she got here, she would always look somewhere to the distance and say that she sailed to Almaty on a steamboat, that would always surprised me and I did not believe. How do you come to a landlocked Alma-Ata on a steamboat? But then it turned out that there was a real shipping link across the Ili River.
The East Turkestan Republic was nearly abolished, but the bursts of fighting were still ongoing. Waiting for the necessary documents, grandmother with her children was in one of the villages near Ghulja. The river port was nearby. One of the summer days, the package arrived with documents and a letter from grandfather, where he said that they should immediately be floated on the first ferry without waiting for him. So they did. Only women and children were on the ferry, even the captain was a young girl in her early twenties. Of the male, the oldest were Aziz and a few other twelve and thirteen year olds.
It was night, tranquil. The summer heat was restraining. Almost everyone was silent, and those who spoke would say it only in a whisper. Even babies in the arms of their mothers were quietly snuffed; maybe they tried to spread calm. To reduce growing amount of uneasiness on board. The ferry went without the lights on, the girl captain was an excellent helmsman, and she felt every curl of this river. Swiftly cutting through the spread around burnt steppe was the stellar canvas with the newborn moon flickering in the silence of the water, it was framed by the peaks of the great mountains hanging so close in this dark night, that made a ferry seem standing still, and the land pass by.
The captain at the helm was serious, focused. Equipped with a skillful gaze. On her fragile shoulders, the lives of the entire passenger body. Many of the children gathered all around observing her every movement with reverent enthusiasm.
Suddenly, breaking the established calm, distant gunshots were heard, the captain slowed down the ship. Then a boat appeared ahead. The boat peacefully approached the ferry, it was a reconnaissance patrol boat that was supposed to sail continually ahead and give a signal in case of any danger. There should have been two in the boat, this time it was empty, the boat slowly sailed past, and behind her, her crew, one by one. Serenity was written on their faces, the sky embraced their bodies. The girl captain did not move, only her eyelids flinched a little. No one saw, and even she herself did not notice with what incredible force she squeezed the steering wheel. One of the dead was her sister. There was rustling and alarmed whispers from within the ferry. No one was asleep anymore. Everyone clearly understood what was going on.
Here, on the bridge, they decided to act. There were no extra questions, and there were no long speeches. No tears, no goodbyes, no hugs. And there was no place for doubt here. They just formed together a team. The captain and teenage boys. A team of only seven. The captain, opening the old rusty iron chest, took out a shabby leather bag, in it wrapped in a charred blue cloth was an old hatchet, with a dozen daggers, the work of old Yangisar masters. The weapon was alive; it kept the memory of previous fights. She picked up a hatchet, it seemed to glow from the inside, there was an inscription honed in an Old Uyghur letter on it, the rest of the weapons distributed among the young warriors.
The waves of the river were softly murmuring while having moored the boat, the group landed near the rocky shore. In a chain, repeating the movement of the waves, they moved forward, steel of daggers gleaming in their hands. There was only one goal ahead. Provide a safe transition. Destroy the enemy. To protect their loved ones. They moved silently. Like a pack of young wolves.
Although they were armed to the teeth, Chinese soldiers were not ready for the guerrilla attack. Without a sound, a sentry’s blood sprinkled the coastal steppe highlands. Ahead clearly appeared silhouettes of unsuspecting soldiers scattered next to mounted on a hill machine gun designed for immigrants.
Meanwhile, a baby cried on the ferry. A young mother lulling him quietly sang a strange lullaby.
Seni kütüp turimen
From somewhere behind the mountains, came running crooked feathers of clouds, gust of a light wind blew a scarf from someone’s head and it gently flew along the river.
Yuzüngi kömgendek boldim
Daggers against the soldiers with their swift, cold-blooded movements.
Dutarning avazini tingşiğandek boliwatimen
Mindless bursts of machine guns sparked in the distraught faces.
Unutalmaydu, közliriningdin aqqan yashlar
“These are children, these are just the children!”
One of the soldiers managed to turn the spotlight in the opposite direction.
Bir kun kelseng mening oyimg
Seni kutup turmen
At that moment, a dashing bullet extinguished the searchlight, but during this time the young warriors managed to get its share of lead. Time stopped, time has become viscous as honey. Thirteen-year-old Aziz saw one of the Chinese turning a machine gun at him he saw how he started shooting; he saw yellow sparks illuminate the soldier’s face.
The young face of a soldier whose stunned eyes seemed dutifully meeting death and how at the same moment the hatchet smashed his forehead and blood spilled in gusts around with purple sparks. This Chinese lad, a second before death, when he saw the captain girl, he realized something, which until now his mind and soul never dared to touch. In that second, it seemed to him that he was seeing a dance. Once when he was a first time in Uyghur lands, he saw a similar dance. The movements of this girl with a hatchet in one hand and a dagger in the other made him utterly vulnerable, since nothing before made him feel that way. His mind evoking the sounds of an instrument whose name he could not recall.
It seemed to him that in this mist of whipping blood and firing shots one of the boys the one he just aimed at and shot got this musical instrument and started playing a very strange but a melody that fascinated him. This is definitely a dance. And the blood lit by sparks was the patterns of her dress. And these whirling teenagers around showed how beautiful it is, it looks as the picture which he once caught a glimpse of in the city of Turpan. The captain girl pulled out the hatchet, stopping the dying visions a young Chinese soldier, then she looked around, the Chinese soldiers destroyed. But not without loss of the seven, only four stood on their own feet.
The bullet managed to crush the chest of Aziz.
Now I’m much older than the man that I am named after ever was.”