The Imam of the village was still there, not leaving. Unlike him, Imams from nearby villages used to leave before the rest of the emigrants from their communities. Imam Hassan had a different vision of religious obligations. He was educated and broad-minded. During the period of the Yugoslav Kingdom he served as an imam in the military. For the first couple of years of his service the garrison’s priest engaged in an attitude of superiority, even offending the Imam on occasion. However, it didn’t last for long. In a very short period of time Imam Hassan proved that he did not deserve such behavior. He used to read a lot. In order to fulfill his duties properly he increased his religious knowledge daily; he even used to read a lot of books on Christianity. So from the beginning he showed that he could stand side by side with the garrison’s priest in fulfilling his duties. For that reason the Muslim soldiers, serving in his garrison, were very proud of their Imam. Especially after every Friday prayer, they listened with great love and attention to his speeches. Even long after they had finished their military service the young soldiers where happy to see their Imam at their homes as a dear guest.
After the Second World War Imam Hassan faced a great problem. The old Yugoslav Kingdom’s army was dismissed. The new conquerors, the Bulgarians, didn’t want any Muslim soldiers in their service, therefore leaving the Imam unemployed. In order for his family and him to survive, he accepted a duty in a village far away from the place he used to live. It was a small village. He quickly got accustomed to life in the village, and the people who lived there soon accepted him into their community and loved him dearly. He was a clever, capable, pleasant and modest man. Imam Hassan was not only an Imam for them, but rather somebody who was always ready to help them in many different ways.
Imam Hassan had never mentioned anything about leaving the village, though it was obvious he would. He couldn’t have possibly stayed there by himself, all alone. He was always saying that he would, like a brave captain who would always leave the sinking ship last, be the last one to leave the village as well.
Hashim Aga had great respect towards Imam Hassan. His son, Veli, had read his first verses of the Quran with Imam Hassan. Imam Hassan was always there in the family’s happiest moments, like when his son had the circumcision and his son’s wedding day. He was the one who always prayed for the health and happiness for Hashim Aga’s family.
While Hashim Aga was thinking about this, he remembered an event that had happened at the time the first emigrations had started.
In the days when his fellow villagers were in search for customers, to whom they would sell their properties, Hashim Aga started to build a fountain on the road leading to the big town nearby.
Imam Hassan, who was passing by, said, “Hashim Aga, you are just like our old rulers, the pashas and the governors. Even though they knew it was the end of their rule here and very soon they would have to leave these areas, every now and then in various parts of Rumeli, they built new schools, hospitals and post offices; as if they wanted to show that they had no intention of leaving these places. You as well, although you know very well, you’ll have to leave and say farewell to this village, you’re building a new fountain. What for Aga?”
Hashim Aga answered, “I am building this fountain to the ones that are coming after us, Imam Hassan. For the ones who are coming… after we leave this village there will be others coming for whom this fountain will provide drinking water. “
“Hashim what are you talking about? None of our fellow villagers was able to sell their houses and lands. Who would like to come to this far away, small village? Haven’t you still realized, not a single soul is coming here after we leave?”
“They will come Imam Hassan. They will come. When we all leave our village they will occupy our lands and houses. This is a very nice place to live in. They all know that we are determined to leave, that is why they are not buying our houses. Once we leave they will all come. Then, when they come, they will knock down the Mosque. Even if they don’t, because no one will take care of it, the mosque will soon be in ruins. But the fountain, nobody will knock down because they will need it. Who knows maybe they even might name it after me – Hashim Aga’s Fountain. That is why, Imam, I want this fountain to be salaam for the ones that are coming after us. It is in our nature, it is an old custom we have inherited from our grandparents. We always want to leave something behind us. We are a nation who wants to do good things!”
Imam Hassan just answered, “Well you certainly know what you are doing!”
Hashim Aga was sitting next to the fireplace with three of his friends who came to say farewell to him. There was a deep silence in the room interrupted by Hanimsha’s, his wife’s voice.
“Our daughter in law is asking whether she can take the cradle,” she asked.
Hashim Aga was staring at his wife in a stupor not able to say yes or no. Hanimsha was patiently standing in front of him, waiting for an answer. For a while they were just silently looking at each other.
At first his wife’s question angered him. They were leaving the house, the land owned by his grandfathers, and she was asking whether they could take the cradle! At the moment he was ready to tell her all these things he would have regretted saying later, but then he remembered that this was the very cradle his grandfather had made from an old walnut tree. He, his children and his grandchildren had all been raised in that cradle. That is why he said, “Let her take it. At least we will have something to remind us of our childhood. “
His wife left to pack the last belongings before they leave. Hashim Aga, again, fell deeply into grave, gloomy thoughts. The fact that he was leaving this place was breaking his heart; he just couldn’t accept it. He, who was the grandson of major-domo on Zulfikar Bey’s estate, Adam Aga, had to leave the land of his grandfathers. It hurt his pride and dignity. Moreover, a heavy burden of guilt lay upon him. He thought that by leaving this place he was betraying his ancestors. That is why he wanted to leave last. There were even times when he very much wanted to tell Imam Hassan, “Go Imam Hassan, you also leave this place, so I will be the last one to abandon it!” Occupied by his gloomy thoughts he fell asleep he by the fireplace.
Dawn was breaking when he felt his wife’s hand on his shoulder. “Wake up! Suleyman`s carriage is in front of our house,” she said.
Hashim Aga, maybe because he fell asleep by the fireplace or maybe because of his grief, was soaking wet. While he was wiping the sweat from his forehead he said, “Good you woke me up. I was having a nightmare. I dreamt about our son we had lost long ago. With his hands stretched out towards me he was begging me not to leave him alone here, to take him with us. “
“Inshallah this bad dream is for some good. Go now put our luggage on the carriage. I’ll go and wake up the children, “ said Hanimsha with moist eyes.
The children woke up. Their entire luggage was loaded on the carriage. Hashim Aga first made a place for their grandchildren; he put the youngest one in the cradle, and the eldest one was already peacefully sleeping in one corner of the carriage. He tried to appear very calm. Then it was not very difficult to notice that his son and daughter in law were in a state of panic. His son, Veli, was going in and out of the house always bringing things he had not taken with him and he desperately wanted to. Then when he would realize that there was no more place in the carriage he would take them back to the house.
Suleyman realizing that his neighbors were in a desperate condition said, “Don’t worry, calm down. There is plenty of time to the train’s departure. We will make it on time; and the weather is just fine. “
Hanimshah and Hashim Aga were the last to leave the house. She wanted to turn the lamp off.
“Don’t put it off, let it burn. Once it is out of gas it will go off by itself,” Hashim Aga said.
They put the lock on the gate’s rings but they didn’t lock it. Whoever came could have entered the house and even live there.
From that day on, just like other emigrants houses, Hashim Aga`s house would be empty. There would be nobody to look after it, and very soon the birds and the mice would make their nests there. He knew this very well. Than there was nothing he could do about it. Emigrations that had started with the Balkan Wars finally knocked at his door. He was paying his part of the five hundred-year-old bill of history.
Hashim set next to Suleyman. While turning his head to check on his family his house caught his attention. He noticed that the two poplar trees in front of the house had grown up so tall. Hashim planted them when his children had been born. When his daughter was getting married he wanted to sell them and buy her a proper dovery. Then the crop was so good that year that there was no need to cut the trees and sell them. These memories filled his eyes with tears. Hashim didn’t want anybody from his family to notice his tears and him being routed so he just said, “Let’s go Suleyman. “ His voice was hoarse; his soul was on fire. They started the journey. Just few mounts ago Hashim Aga himself was seeing of his friend, Kucuk Yousef to the train station. At the time Kucuk Yousef said, “Ah, Hashim Aga this departure has no return. “
Hashim Aga remembered these words. Kucuk Yousef was right. Hundreds, thousands times this road led him to the big town nearby. Each time he had left the village he came back bringing sweets and chocolates to the joy of his children and grandchildren. This time he was going and not coming back again. Going and not coming back. He remembered that Kucuk Yousef was much stronger than he was when he was leaving the village. There were no tears in his eyes, only and old song on his lips,”
“Mountains, mountains, ruined mountains.
My face is smiling, my heart is crying
Go and ask why is it crying…”
Hashim Aga`s eyes were still moist, his jaws metal clamp. Everybody on the carriage was silent. For a while his youngest grandson, disturbed from the swinging of the carriage, woke up and cried. Very soon he fell asleep again.
In Imam Hassan`s house the lamp went on. He was preparing for the Morning Prayer. That morning Hashim Aga will not attend the Morning Prayer. The mosque community had lost one member more. Day by day the praying row was getting smaller. Imam Hassan was very much aware of that. That morning as he had done that for each soul who left the village, he would pray for Hashim Aga and his family as well. He would ask Allah to give them happiness, health and piece wherever they go.
The village roosters started to crow. On the east the down was breaking up.