Pilgrimage for Pregnancy

Two long years have already passed since Sumaya, a beautiful dark- haired junior journalist from Dushanbe came to the city of Osh in a cold December. Ever since her wedding, Sumaya has been anxiously waiting for that day to fulfill her marriage by conceiving a child.

Sumaya being completely healthy and capable of bearing a child, doctors were unable to find out a specific reason for her infertility.  Reasons for her inexplicable infertility were numerous. It could be due to the lingering depression rising from political and economical worries that cloud her already darkened marriage. Or due to the constant pressure which burdens any married woman who fails to become pregnant as soon as getting married.  Or it could be due to rare sexual intercourse with the husband, or even the Allah’s punishment for her sinful soul.  Hence, reasons could be many but the wish remains one and only; pregnancy.

Fifteen years senior to Sumaya, her husband continues to object his parents’ hardened desire to divorce his wife.  Neither his love for her, nor his pity for her tortured soul; is not sufficient enough to resist traditions for long … A family should continue by an offspring and sooner or later.

Throughout the initial forty days of marriage the husband was well- behaved to Sumaya as the customs require… Gradually, this changed when she failed to grant him a child.  Intercourses became less frequent and in best cases turned into more of a ritual of ten minutes in the dark under the snores of the parents-in-law. The same classical pose, routine movements, heavy breath void of kisses, caresses or verbal communication.  The anticipated act of consummation almost always consisted of the same pace, and ended up with her waiting to get away from the fat mass weighing down on her. Then she waits a few weeks hoping for a miracle.

She was certain that local doctors could not help her. She could get neither permission nor money for seeking treatment abroad. She was even not absolutely certain whether the non-pregnancy was because of her or the husband.

Hence, her last hope was the pilgrimage to the Holy Shrine of the Prophet Sulayman. A place known all across Asia for miracles of curing women and granting infertile couples their long- awaited offspring. A highly religious relative recommended visiting this holly site, and her mother-in-law embarked on the idea since the journey to the shrine was affordable and praying definitely for free.

Relics of the Prophet Sulayman, mentioned in Qur’an, are interred here making the mountain pilgrimage destination for millions of Muslims turning the place into the “Mecca” of Central Asia. The Sulayman Mountain rises with all its triumph in the Fergana Valley, at the center of the city. From the bird’s-eye view, the four hills forming the mountain resemble a laying glorified man. It is not assured, whether Sulayman is the same renowned Biblical king Solomon, and no one can explain how his remains ended up resting two thousand kilometers far from Israel.

However, this obscurity is so diminutive compared to the glory and holiness of the Sulayman Mountain that it does not overshadow the grandeur of the place.

In the east top side of the mountain is the Sulayman’s tomb; a small headstone merged into the rocks, surrounded by trees and bushes draped with numerous remains of scarves, handkerchiefs and other pieces of cloths reminiscent of the pilgrims prayers.  To reach the holy place one shall walk a stone narrow path of a kilometer wriggling the hills. Beneath the path, there is a medieval cemetery where a few worthy individuals have found their final resting place right underneath Sulayman’s feet.

A small mosque can be seen near the Shrine where a few can sit on rugs to pray for Allah. Here, light can only pass through the door which is covered by tick canvas in order to provide complete serenity and isolation for the pilgrims. There pilgrims offer their utmost faith and devotion to the Holy, detaching themselves from all mundane distractions.

It was noon when Sumaya and her husband arrived at a hostel located at the bottom of the hills. The trip took almost twenty hours of driving through harsh mountainous roads. She took a shower while the husband had some tea, followed by a humble lunch to dust off their exhaustion. They were both tired and needed to rest, but there was no time… They had to leave the next morning although walking to the top of the mounting late at night could be very difficult.

Therefore, husband and wife started hiking to the shrine right after lunch. It was very difficult to walk even for a short distance after such a long trip with the cold air hitting their faces, food in their stomach and the burden of the unexpected. Moving up the mountain the urge to quit and return grew stronger… Despite all these, they continued, after all they had a pilgrimage to pursue.

Finally, the first hill was behind them, and they could see how the stone path wriggled toward the holy place.  At this pace they could reach there in an hour. Nobody could be seen in these harsh, cold weather conditions. The chilling, humid air started to get through their clothes. The husband halted.

— Sumaya, I can’t move on any more. My legs are disobeying, and I hardly keep my eyes open. Even if I make it to the holy shrine, I will not be able to come back. You are much younger than I, you can reach easily and return back. Moreover, it is you who ought to pray on the prophet’s shrine. My efforts so far have been more than sufficient.

The husbands took a deeper breath and went on:

— See, the hostel is just below; you will undoubtedly find it, just follow the path. You go to pray to the prophet, I do sincerely hope that He will grant us a son, and I returning to get some relax. When you are back, wake me up so that we can go for dinner together. People said here we can enjoy good plov, as well as, the best “samtsie” (burritos) prepared in Kyrgyzstan.

Sumaya eyed her husband with deep sorrow. Then she looked at the empty path toward the shrine she and the old graves at the bottom of the hills. When her eyes returned back to the husband, he mildly smiled, gently touched his wife’s shoulder, quickly turned and moved down, so the wife could not find time to complain or protest.

The husband was pacing fast down the path as if he had been energized. He did not look back. Sumaya sat down on a nearby stone; the whole city was right on her palm, an ordinary, unattractive, soviet style urban area with smog- covered buildings. There was a growing lump in her throat and the urge to cry brought tears to her eyes. The whole mountain started crying with her.

She thought she could cry here for a few hours and return to the hostel. She could tell the husband that she reached the holy grave, prayed to the prophet asking for a son. However, she had not embarked on this journey to shed tears all alone and return…  Soon, her husband will give in his parents’ wishes and divorce her. This was the least any woman would ever want. A divorced woman is a degraded person in the traditional society and a dishonor to her whole family. She has two younger sisters who could lose all hopes for marriage if she is divorced.

Perhaps, her prayers could not be answered by the prophet Sulayman, and maybe Allah would have mercy on her. She did not travel six hundred kilometers to surrender upon the last kilometer. She summoned her strength, rose to her feet and looked for her husband.  He could not be seen in the distance. Most probably he was already resting in bed. The path to the shrine had been empty, surrounded by utter silence.

The feeling of exhaustion was behind her.  The path seemed to her much more enjoyable and shorter than before. She was at the grave.

She knelt down and gently kissed the tombstone, then wiped away her tears with a white handkerchief. A handkerchief she kept since her wedding. She pressed it against her lips then hung it from the nearest bush. The wind played with the white handkerchief just as shivers passed down through her spine and heart. Her heart was trembling as well.

Her entire body was breathing with such an ease that the chilling wind of December was no longer unpleasant. She took her shoes off and entered the prayer room. There was not a soul in that barely lit chamber. She knelt down, closed her eyes and prayed silently.

Lost in time praying to prophet Sulayman she felt a gentle touch of light on her closed eyes and the wind moving through her hair. Felt like someone knelt next to her. That wonderful feeling and the healing presence of the prophet could disappear into thin air once she opens her eyes.

The mysterious person’s presence felt closer and closer. She felt a hand caressing her hair. She felt a warm and humid breath on her neck. The kiss on her lips shook her body like it was being poked by hundreds of needles, but she didn’t open her eyes. The heavenly being wrapped her and gently laid her down on the ground overwhelming every single cell of her body and soul.

A gentle stroke of light caressed her eyes and the wind passed through the strands of her hair…  She got back from a miraculous timeless euphoria of a feeling and eventually opened her eyes.

She slowly picked herself up, got up from the ground with difficulty and walked out of the chamber. There was no one out there. She hugged the prophet’s tombstone with immense joy and covered it with kisses. The handkerchief was still swinging on the bush. In the distance, the city seemed to be dissolved in thick smoke. She had to rush back in order to arrive before night falls.

She arrived at the hotel to find the husband snoring heavily just as expected. Let him rest… She pondered. After all, it’s only seven o’clock in the evening. She can wake him up in an hour to enjoy the famous pilaf and samtsie of Osh.  After all food is all that matters now…

It is inevitable that a child will be born. Her pilgrimage will be fulfilled.  A brilliant boy named Sulayman perceived by a miracle. From now on she will pray to Allah five times a day as the rule dictates… In her prayers she will praise prophet Sulayman.  And every year on the tenth of December she and her son will both pay a visit of gratitude to the prophet’s tomb…

Gnel Khachatryan
31.08.2016

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