This is the kind of Friend
You are –
Without making me realise
My soul’s anguished history,
You slip into my house at night,
And while I am sleeping,
You silently carry off
All my suffering and sordid past
In Your beautiful
Yusuf had the largest hands of any man in the entire Hatay province. Even bigger, rumor had it, than Munah-the-Fisherman who had once wrestled a giant squid from out of the blue sea. Even grander some folk said than Coskun-the-Generous, who could hold eight ice creams in both his hand without crushing a single cone.
His hands had been revered since he was a small child. The Holy Man, in particular, had watched them with great interest.
‘He has Keeper’s hands,’ he had gushed. ‘Our village has not had a Keeper for over two hundred years. Yusuf is a blessing. He is a blessing to all of us.’
Yusuf’s mama had politely nodded. Yusuf was indeed a blessing. Her ninth such blessing in as many years.
As a child Yusuf was made to sleep in goatskin gloves and forbidden to play anything but Tavla and cards. It embarrassed him deeply to have such beautifully kept hands. The other boys had wild stories etched upon their skin; scars from fist fights and pide burns, brazen scratches from climbing trees. But Yusuf’s hands were soft and supple. They smelt of sweet rose oil.
‘You have Keeper’s hands,’ his mama said whenever he complained. ‘They do not belong to you my child. They belong to all of us.’
But Yusuf did not want Keeper’s hands; he wanted Skinner’s hands instead. Skinners made good money he’d heard, especially those with big hands like his.
Now when he was sixteen Yusuf was taken from his mama. Led away by the Holy Man up to Jebel Aqra.
‘Don’t despair,’ the Holy Man said as they walked the mountain’s ragged slopes. ‘Once you have become a Keeper you can come back home to us.’
He then left the boy on the bare limestone peak and returned back to the village.
Yusuf was gone for exactly ten years – one for each digit that spanned his great hands. At first he had stubbornly resisted becoming a Keeper at all, arguing petulantly with the gods that he would make a better Skinner. But as time passed, and his temperament slowly mellowed, his dreams of such menial work gradually ebbed away too and he began studying the Keeper’s Edict, carefully learning every word.
A Keeper is a chosen vessel whose hands are not his own. His only purpose is to hold the burdens he is given throughout his life. In the day he should keep them in his open hands but at night he may let them sleep in the crook of his arm. He should listen whenever they speak to him but never answer what they ask.
Remember you can never break what has been truly broken!
When Yusuf eventually returned to the village only the Holy Man and his mama could recognise his face. Gone was the boy with the unruly tongue and the frown of a put-upon. Instead was a man with black untamed curls who used his eyes to speak. Such beautiful eyes too; the colour of ripening almonds – with long, blinking lashes that fluttered like small wings.
Yusuf’s mama begged him to remain in the village but the years on Jebel Aqra had made him humble so he lived up among the mountains nearby. A cave not far beyond the village walls where the evening sky cast lavender shadows across his rock-strewn home.