As it passes from owner to owner, Ashoan's Rug tells the story of how the work of art is not in the creating, but in how the artwork changes lives. A literary magic carpet ride!
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|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Carrie's non-fiction book, The Last Childhood: A Family Story of Alzheimer's, Three Rivers Press 2000, has been noted as one of the top 100 books written about Alzheimer's. Her first novel, Lillian's Garden, was published by Roundfire Books in 2013. Carrie and her husband, Jeff Leiter, live in Raleigh, North Carolina. They have three children.
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By Carrie Jane Knowles
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2013 Carrie Jane Knowles
All rights reserved.
1894 THE RUG
"Seda," Lala sobbed, curling her body into a tight ball as the next contraction ripped across her stomach, "something is wrong. My baby has been quiet now for two days."
Seda stroked the back of the girl's head with her right hand and placed her left hand flat on the side of the girl's big stomach.
"The moon was resting," Seda said. "The baby was resting too."
Seda pressed her hand hard against the girl's side to see if the baby would move. "Breathe with me," Seda commanded while she pushed and kneaded the tight belly. "Together we will wake this baby and help it travel into this world."
Three moons ago, Seda had held two stillborn babies and sung the death song to them, touching their tiny closed eyelids in order to give them messages to carry to their ancestors in the next world. They were twin girls who would not have made it even if they had managed to fall screaming from their mother's loins. They were just too small to survive.
This baby, however, was big. Seda could feel the broad sole of its foot push against her hand as she tried to wake it in its mother's womb. She felt certain it would live, as long as Lala didn't panic and its journey here could be ridden on the loving songs of the women waiting to catch it, not the screams of its anxious mother.
"Is your rug almost finished?" Seda asked Lala. Yesterday she had seen the girl sitting with the women weaving and had noticed her shoulders slumped uncomfortably around her big stomach as she worked slowly over the pattern of her rug.
"I have the skirt to weave yet, and to tie it off."
"Ashoan will finish it for you," Seda said. She placed her hands on either side of the girl's belly so she could massage its tight expanse. As she worked her fingers she could feel the soft curl of the baby's back along the dark hairline down Lala's stomach and the large crown of the baby's head pushing down into the girl's small hips. The baby was turned and ready but there was no longer any room for it to move.
"This baby is big. He wants to get out and we must help him."
"Too big?" Lala wailed. "So big he will split me open like a melon the way Hasad did his mother?"
Seda closed her eyes so she could concentrate on her hands. Lala had always been a silly girl and now Seda feared she would be an equally silly mother.
"I will call upon our ancestors. We will need their help. It is a big job to go from one world to the next. The baby is resting now. He is preparing himself to come. You must prepare yourself also. Ashoan," Seda called out to her daughter, "it is Lala's time. Gather the women for me."
Ashoan poked her head into her mother's tent. Ashoan was a season older than Lala, but no one had claimed her for his bride. Her hands were not as quick as the other girls' at weaving, and her right eye and cheek were blemished with a deep purple mark, like the welt a hand might leave on a face if someone slapped it. Ashoan quickly turned her marked cheek away when Lala looked at her.
"I shall tell them," Ashoan said obediently.
"And, Ashoan," her mother added, "once the women have drawn the water and the fire is built for the night, you must go and finish Lala's weaving. Be swift. The rug should be cut from the loom before the baby's first cry."
Seda knew the omens were not good when babies came on unfinished business. Ashoan had come in the middle of a rug, and Seda had no desire to tempt the Fates so soon after the stillborn twins. It was unclear to Seda whether Ashoan had rushed to come before the rug was finished and that is what marked her face and slowed her hands, or if Seda's own slowness to finish her rug had damaged her baby. These were not questions any of them could answer.
"It will be done," Ashoan swore to her mother, and she left the tent.
While she wove on Lala's rug by the firelight, Ashoan could hear the women singing through Lala's screams. As the fearful wailing of Lala rose, the singing of the women climbed as well. Higher and higher the younger women's voices ascended while the older ones hummed a low droning call like waves rolling out to sea then crashing against a ragged shore. Ashoan closed her tired eyes and let the music carry her slow fingers across Lala's dull little rug.
"If this were my rug," Ashoan sang softly as she worked, "I would weave into it the red of fire. If this were my rug, the stitches would be tight and straight. If this were my rug it would be beautiful."
Although she was nearly fifteen and more than old enough, Ashoan had not yet been given her own rug to weave. Her hands had been slower than the other girls' at learning the knots, but now her knots were strong and sure. She had proven herself on her mother's loom. Several months ago her mother had promised her a rug to weave. But, after the stillborn twins had come, her mother had said they must wait until the smell of death had left their camp and the wind blew fresh again.
As Ashoan worked she listened carefully to the singing of the women. Their voices were growing louder, and the pounding, droning cadence shook the earth like a wild galloping horse. The sound, Ashoan knew, was the baby straining to push its way into this world. Ashoan begged her hands to move faster, the fine threads of the rug skirt rolling in her fingers, wrapping and knotting their way across the warp on the loom. She knew the baby must not come before the rug was cut free from the loom.
"If this were my rug," she sang as she worked her hands from knot to knot, "my husband would not sell it. He would praise me for its beauty. When I cut it from the loom, the weaving women would take hold of its long silken fringe and dance around the fire."
The droning pulsed through the chilled night air. "Al-lah, Al-lah, Al-lah," it seemed to call out beckoning for help to bring the baby home.
Ashoan worked faster.
"Al-lah, Al-lah," the voices of the old women pulsed and pushed the baby forward. She could hear Lala scream.
"My rug will be beautiful," Ashoan sang to herself, letting her own voice rise a little as she took her sharp knife and twisted each knotted fringe in order to cut it free in one clean stroke. Twist, cut, twist, cut, her fingers worked their way from one end of the loom to the other.
"Al-lah, Al-lah," came the drone.
When she finished with the bottom fringe, Ashoan stood to cut the rug free from the other end of the loom.
"My rugs will bring me riches," she sang, her body swaying to the music of the women in the birthing tent. "My husband will be proud."
"EEEEEE-yah!" came the sharp deafening cry from Seda.
"A son!" Ashoan heard her mother call out to the men waiting in the shadows. "Lala, the good wife, gives her husband a son. Hear him cry."
Seda dipped the newborn boy's heels in a pan of cold water and he cried out, and as he did, Seda quickly cut the cord binding him to his mother and the other world. The women who had been holding Lala's shaking legs began massaging her belly to bring the afterbirth.
Before Seda had finished her song of life to the baby and wrapped him in a shawl and pushed his searching mouth to Lala's small breast, Ashoan was standing at the door of the tent with the rug rolled in her arms.
"It was cut before he cried," she said, her face beaming.
Seda examined the fine tight knots her daughter had made in Lala's poorly woven rug.
"You brought luck to Lala's baby on his journey here and beauty to her rug. Good work, my daughter."
"The smell of death has been swept from our camp," Ashoan said boldly.
"The baby cried out strong. He will live."
"The wind blows fresh."
"The wind blows fresh," Seda replied, touching her daughter's darkened cheek. "Come and sit by the fire with me and let us dream," she said, taking Ashoan's hands. "We have worked hard tonight, the two of us, to bring this baby safely here. We are tired, but not so tired we cannot dream a fine rug for you."
"It must be more than the tiny saddle-blanket Lala has woven for her son."
"A good rug."
"A beautiful rug," Ashoan sang out as she danced towards the fire.
"A beautiful rug," her mother answered. "Come sit."
Obediently, Ashoan sat next to her mother and waited. Her mother pulled her shawl from her shoulders and brought it up over her head like a tent. She crossed her arms over her chest, letting the shawl nearly cover her face.
Ashoan closed her eyes and let the embers of the night fire warm her tired hands and bare feet.
Her mother began to rock and hum. It was not like the pulsing humming of the drones, but instead it was a quiet hum like a far off flapping of great wings. As Seda hummed she let her mind fly over the life of her daughter. She opened her heart to the whispers of the spirits. She kept her face covered because she knew what she saw would bring tears to her eyes. She knew she would not see a tall strong husband for Ashoan like Lala's. Just as her daughter's face was marked, her life was marked as well.
Ashoan was getting older. Seda had long since given up hoping some strong young man would come for Ashoan. For Ashoan, it would be an old stooped widower who wished for warmth at night and a woman who could weave for him and spin wool into gold.
Seda brought her forehead close to her knees as she hummed and rocked her body into a tight ball. Seda feared the mark on Ashoan's face would make her husband cruel. She was also aware her daughter's fingers would be sure but slow on the loom and her husband might become impatient with her. Her daughter's life would surely be harsh. Seda's heart ached for Ashoan's simple spirit and her trusting eyes.
Ashoan waited patiently. She knew not to touch her mother or to try to wake her from her song. She too could hear the spirits whispering in the cool night air.
Ashoan got up twice to bring more dung for the fire. She could hear the women singing softly in the tent for Lala's new son. She could hear them weave their story about how strong her baby was, how quick to find the tit to nurse, how handsome the baby was, just like his father. She knew they were working while they sang, braiding Lala's freshly washed hair. The men on the other side of the fire huddled around Lala's husband, slapping him on the back telling him how lucky he was to marry a beautiful woman such as Lala who could so soon after his wedding night bring him a strong screaming son.
Seda hugged her knees as her mind flew. She could see the old man who would come to take Ashoan from their tribe. His face was not disfigured, but it held no kindness. He would not look at Ashoan when he took his pleasure. He would trade her rugs without touching them, or without ever singing of their beauty. Only Ashoan would sing for them. Only Ashoan would touch them with love and care.
The dusky smoke of the dung fire clung to Seda's shawl and stung her covered eyes. She could also see Ashoan's rug. She reached out, scooped up a handful of sand, brought it to her lips and kissed it in thanks to the spirit who had come to help her. She threw the sand into the hissing fire. Sparks flew.
Seda quietly lifted her shawl away from her face and let it fall to her shoulders.
"I see a fine rectangular rug with a tight weave. You must weave it with a hatchlu, a cross within its center to draw the spirits close to you wherever you make your home. This rug should be big enough to be a door for your tent and keep your home warm. But, not so big that you cannot easily roll it up and tie it to your camel."
"Yes," Ashoan said, closing her eyes and imagining the wonderful rug, "I must weave a hatchlu design. A good omen."
Seda smoothed the small patch of sand between her daughter and herself and drew a neat oblong shape in it with her finger.
"A hatchlu with two strong columns of birds flying on either side, their wings spread like this."
Seda drew a series of wide opened Vs with her fingers down the two sides of the rug.
"These wings will carry you over your troubles."
"Troubles cannot harm you if you are carried over them with wings so beautiful," Ashoan proudly announced, her fingers touching the fine lines her mother had drawn.
"Along the straight line of the hatchlu marking the entrance to your tent there will be two lines of camels to carry your load."
"Yes," Ashoan whispered, "camels to carry my husband's tent and my loom with me wherever we go."
"And here, you will weave a small mahrib. Not so big as anyone would notice, but a fine delicate design. A secret you will weave into the rug. A place for you to rest your head and pray so Allah can hear your every whispered prayer. You will not have to shout. Allah will hear you. On either side, weave flowers for your hands. These will soothe your tired fingers at night and bring peace to your heart on your journeys."
Seda took another handful of sand in thanks for the lovely design, kissed it, and threw it on the fire. It was like music to hear the grains of sand pop and hiss in the quiet of the night. Seda began to rock and hum to the dancing snap of the sparks.
"Where will I go?" Ashoan asked, knowing her mother's song had opened her heart and eyes so she could see into the future.
"The road is not straight, but bends like this," Seda said, her finger drawing a twisting line around the border of the broad hatchlu design, "but as you travel, I will be with you."
Ashoan touched the sand where her mother had drawn the design and breathed in the power of the strong double hatch-mark sign her mother had given her to weave into her rugs.
"I will give you my sign to weave, and my mother's as well," Seda said drawing a border of double facing keys along the outside of the columns of flying Vs. "Put our signs in all your rugs and we will always be with you."
"And my sign?" Ashoan asked, anxious to know what her mother saw in her.
Seda folded her arms around her knees once more, closed her eyes, and rocked for a moment in silence. The power she had to see made her heart break, for she knew the Fates were not always good or fair. If they were, they would not have given beauty and a fine husband to a silly girl like Lala and marked the likes of her kind daughter.
Seda spit into the fire. It was clear to her the Fates were blind. She rocked some more and sang to herself in the ancient tongue she kept secret for her dreaming songs. Her voice rose higher as she cursed the evil Fates because they could not see Ashoan deserved a fine husband like Lala's. She cursed them again because they could not see she would be a brave mother and bring her babies easily into this world. And again, she cursed them a third time because they could not see Ashoan would be an obedient and grateful wife or how, in time, Ashoan's fingers would get faster and she would be honored among the weavers for her beautiful work.
The Fates were dumb and blind. They had cursed Ashoan and made her ugly so the men turned their heads away from her when she walked by and the women did not share their secrets with her.
"Your sign is like a tree," Seda said, when her bitter song had finished. She put her finger in the sand and drew a stocky tree with two upraised arms reaching to the sky. "Put your trees here inside the four boxes of the hatchlu cross. They are like orchards. They will bring you shade for weaving and sweet fruit to feed your family. Weave the trunks strong and straight so they will be sure of the ground and the upraised arms sure of the sky. You are like the tree: slow yet steadfast. You are anchored deep to this earth, yet always reaching to the heavens. That is your strength. That is your sign. You must never forget."
"And my husband?" Ashoan stared with wonder at the marvelous design her mother had cast for her rug.
"He will come soon," Seda told her truthfully.
"I must begin preparing the wool."
"I have saved a bit of deep red dye. It is my gift to you for helping to bring Lala's baby safely home. You must put it here," Seda said, pointing to the broad spread wings of Vs she had first drawn.
"To help carry me over my troubles?"
"Yes, my beautiful daughter," Seda whispered, "yes."
1910 THE MERCHANT
Akmed was sick of the smell of rotting fruit, excrement, sweating bodies, and the burnt nauseating aroma of roasting coffee beans swirling all around him like flies in the blasted heat of Istanbul. This had not been a good buying trip, and it had not been a good day. The late afternoon temperatures had steadily risen faster than his small stack of rugs, forcing him to remember once again how much he hated the bazaar and why he came there only because he had to. He always prayed his business would not take long. Even one day was too long to spend in the heat and dust of the stinking bazaar. He'd already been in Istanbul two weeks and had little to show for his efforts.
Excerpted from Ashoan's Rug by Carrie Jane Knowles. Copyright © 2013 Carrie Jane Knowles. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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