The Heptateuch of Eve - Part 6
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Blagaj Tekija, Bosnia & Herzegovina
August 2019

In a high room overlooking the Buna spring, two figures sit quietly drinking coffee. The thick carpet at their feet flourishes with geometric designs in emerald green and wine red; stylised flowers and leaves framing a central field of intersecting diamonds. They sit on low, cushioned benches that span the length of each wall, grateful to rest after their morning walk to the Tekija.

Centuries before, the place had been built by the Ottomans as a guest house for wandering Sufi mystics, although these days it has become more popular with secular tourists. Occasionally, pilgrims can still be heard reciting sacred chants in the adjoining prayer room, or else sitting about the grounds in silent contemplation.

Beyond the tall windows of the room, a summer haze blurs the face of the noonday sun; water vapour from the nearby spring cooling the air. A clear pool of turquoise water reflects the surrounding cliffs, its source a low cave at their base. The glasslike surface of the pool shimmers and splinters into streaks of white as it descends over a broad weir, narrowing into a stream and winding its way towards the town of Blagaj.

Two cups of coffee are placed on a pair of small octagonal tables before the figures , each with its own copper tray, decanter, and bowl of cube sugar. Under medallions of white and red lace, burnished traces of wear on the furniture suggest years of useful service.

“You should come here in the Springtime, when it’s not so hot,” one of the figures remarks, her ageing bow furrowed with deep lines. Short, sandy brown hair, peppered with fine streaks of grey, emerges from beneath her loose black headscarf. Her dress stands out starkly against the bright room, only her pale hands and stockinged feet interrupting the silhouette. In spite of the heat, she lifts a tiny steaming cup and takes a sip. "My bones ache in this weather," she murmurs in accented English.

Po neznam,1 it’s not so bad, Baka.”2 The young man adds patches of Bosnian congenially when speaking with his grandmother, although he's sure his accent is even more pronounced than hers. “The humidity is far worse in Vancouver.”

Waiting for his own cup to cool a while, he stares politely at the ceiling, where a wooden latticework of stained trusses entwine amongst yellow stars and crescent moons. “Besides, this way I can visit the rest of the family while I’m on break. I’ve become such a recluse lately.”

A light breeze billows the thin white curtains, bearing the scent of jasmine and mountain thorn into the room. The woman shivers, wary of her private superstition that drafts such as these foretell the imminent onset of illness and misfortune. But the windows are all tightly closed, and the white fabric soon flattens to stillness once more.

“You must be so busy with your studies, drago.3 Not so busy that you can’t visit your Baka once in a while, of course. Drink your kahvu;4 it’s good for the heat.” She adjusts the scarf on her head, right hand inadvertently beginning to make the sign of the cross, before she catches herself and retracts it to her chest. She whispers an apology to the empty room, “Ajme, oprosti.”5

Her grandson dutifully sips on his own coffee. “You’re right, it is good. I’m glad we came here; it’s so peaceful.”

He leans back against the embroidered cushions, appreciating the soft afternoon light slanting across an internal wall. Subtle traces of the plasterer’s hand are visible in the angled sunlight. His grandmother finishes the last of her coffee.

“You know,” she confides, “Even before the Ottomans came to Bosnia, we used to be Muslims too.”

The grandson rolls his eyes so dramatically. “Baka. What on earth are you talking about? You’re Catholic.”

The older woman upturns her palm, gesturing forward, “Yes, of course. But originally, people who live here today came from Persia. It was during the Middle Ages, you know. Why? Maybe war, maybe famine. Maybe just for adventure. Who knows? And when they arrived, they adopted the new language and accepted the new religion. Because they had no choice."

She lowers her voice as a group of tourists enters the room, snapping photos of the exotic decor and offering apologetic smiles. "Still, we visit all the old holy places, and pay our respects.”

The youth murmurs back, distracted by the other tourists. “Hmm. That’s an interesting story.”

He thinks back to the graffiti he noticed during their walk here, sprayed on the side of a bridge. The fascist symbol had burned like a crude reminder of simmering resentments disturbing the tranquility of an otherwise perfect summer day. When he pointed it out to his grandmother, she had only scowled and quickened her pace.

“If you don’t believe me, fine.”

“I don’t know. I’m not a historian, Baka.” He stares at the intricate trails of coffee grains caught on the inside of his cup. “I realise it's a common stereotype, but I've noticed everyone here seems obsessed with how different they are from their neighbours. Little things, like how a certain word, or a particular facial feature or whatever, is used to prove some ancient, insurmountable difference.”

He drains the last of his coffee and returns it to its place alongside its copper džezva, the distinctive long-handled coffee pot so ubiquitous throughout the region. “I'm not saying it's any better in Canada. It's just that whenever I hear some origin myth that exaggerates a supposed natural difference, or even oversimplifies a similarity, I hear a deep need for of belonging. Myths can be used to exclude people, too.”

“Maybe you’re right, drago. It’s just a story from my village, after all.” Her eyes soften as she laughs to herself, “Still, nothing makes me feel more at home than sitting somewhere quiet like this, enjoying some kahva, and some company. Don’t you agree?”

“Sure,” The young man shrugs, “and afterwards, we open a bottle of rakija and you tell me some more crazy stories.” This time, they laugh together.

Dobro, you can spend some more time with your baka. We have some really good rakija; I can promise you plenty of really crazy stories.”

“I'll hold you to that. But we’d better leave soon, or else we’ll miss the bus to Dubrovnik.”

She rises to her feet, brushing nonexistent dust from the dark folds of her dress. “Redu onda, hajde vidi.6

Together, they descend the staircase to the entrance terrace by the sacred pool, where the air is fresh with moisture. Beside them, a marble plaque hangs on an exterior wall. Translations in four languages surround a cartouche containing Arabic calligraphy.

“We made every living thing from water. Al-Enbiya: 30”

Begin transcript:


Adam Welcomes the People Born of a Fallen Star, Whereupon Cain Draws Abel Into the Reflecting Pool

Now it came to pass in the Garden of Eden, the new land so beloved of the wanderers, that a star fell from heaven.

Brighter than the warden’s torch it was seen by the watchers in the temple, ringed with dazzling light as it drew a path across the sky, and scattering from its tail a multitude of burning jewels across the land. Where the star fell it struck the Mountain of Muhaz, and of an instant made of it a field of broken diamonds.

And from each fragment of the shattered star there grew a flower, each alike to a star in form and radiance. To which the people of Eden turned in wonder at the sight, reading omens of great import by this occurrence.

The anger of Mount Muhaz mixed fire with earth and jewel with flame, until each flower bloomed forth with one thousand petals of light, and under this light walked a people of burning aspect. And their brows shone with fire also, and their eyes were as ornaments of topaz.

Then Adam, the holy eunuch of the Temple, made welcome the people therein, being consecrated by Eve to the protection of its children. So it was that Adam had taught the names of all the beasts, and marked in song the division of the seasons, and was envoy to the stately dance of the heavens.

Yet Adam was content without progeny, for that he was so destined in abstinence, not by design but by the spirit. And thereby nature had provided Eden with a different kind of progeny in Word and Song, as Adam was its scribe and singer.

And in plaintive tones did Adam sing in welcome to these people, and to peaceful repose did bend the angel’s fire.

Firstly he sang of the waters, and the darkness that moved upon the waters. And from the meeting of water and earth there came fire, and from fire came the world of life. Then he named the spirits of the air and the plain, and their brothers in the sea, nigh until all were so appointed their story in Eden.

Progeny untold by Bel, sages forgotten since the fragrant empires of North and South alike, records since lost in the smoke of ages were retold by Adam then, and by his singing did the people of light enter Eden.

And though they walked among the people there, still they were alike to hungry shades, whereupon Eve did nourish them with the fruits of gold and silver. Lo, did the sisters of Eve bathe their burning limbs in holy water, and cool the flames in their eyes that they may see the new day.

As the morning dew upon the plain they were, as wild herbs growing after the first rain, and innocent as babes in the flush of their struggle. For on earth was made them a span of years in place of the brilliant wheeling of stars. And here too there was death, who greets all at journey’s end.

Therefore these people were fledgling in the ways of earth, and still learning to walk in beauty. For there were two and forty born of that star. Then from the people of Eden there came wardens at the instruction of Adam, until each great house of Aeshu and Eve bore council to the people of light.

Yea, the wardens took them into their own houses to shelter from the storms in heaven. Yet of all the forty that did rise upon that morning and walk in the company of Eden, there were two who arose upon the field where wild beasts were oft to sport. So it was that one child was nursed by the she-goat, and the other by the lambing ewe.

He who walked with the curious she-goat was named Abel, for he was always seeking for new things. And Cain was named his brother of the lambing ewe, for his wont was the Canaan pasture to while away in contemplation.

Both were alike in their wild habits, yet differing in no small kind: that Abel to the town did go, and Cain unto the field. All Eden took pleasure in the company of Abel, who provoked the elders with many curious things that made the youth laugh and speculate, so that they whispered at the lonely wanderings of Cain who never spoke a word among the people, and whose company was deferred for discourse with the wind alone. So they reckoned him a born mute, and paid him little mind.

In time Cain grew fearful in his heart, that being born from a fallen star, he was yet to pass this mortal life without speech or congress, and leave this earthly sphere unremembered. So he did grow ashamed of his aspect and hateful of the people in equal measure, those common fools that laughed with his brother the goatherd, and he scorned also the tall tales that Abel spun for their pleasure.

To the wild parts of Eden where still waters abounded did Cain remove himself, and to flee all talk of people once and always. So his loneliness was complete in that wild land of reflecting pools, with only the curlew’s mournful cry for comfort.

Therein the pool did Cain look, and Lo! did he exclaim at the face he saw there. For his beard was still but a tuft of down, though he carried the burden of an old man’s sorrow. And as yet in his eyes shone the soft lanterns of youth, though as it were he saw them through thick clouds of grief. And from his lips broke the breath of words as he spoke his own name, "Cain."

Wherein he shouted for joy at this wonder, calling across the water that would hear him, until far away Abel caught his words on the wind as it blew into the town. And though the people of Eden heard only half-murmurings from afar, Abel knew at once the source, and was fixed like a roused ibex to the wind as if by the power of a great enchantment.

No more could he truck and gossip with the people, as the voice on the wind did trouble him with its familiarity. And the whole evening did Abel spend in anxious thought. For he missed his brother Cain, and took the wind's counsel as a warning that some misfortune had befallen him. So Abel waited for the dawn, until he was determined in his course of action: to search for his brother in the wild lands beyond Eden, if he could.

That day he so departed Eden, heading East unto the land of Bel. For a night and a day, and another night thereafter, Abel followed the flight of the curlew across numerous mountains whose peaks touched the lower heavens, and were shaded by cloak of everlasting night. Here there was little fare to sustain him, save some wild herbs that grew along the high mountain pass, and below him lay a river that rushed with cold water. And over the sound of the rushing water, Abel could still discern the curlew's lamentation.

So Abel did follow the course of that river until he reached a darkened valley, and therein he came unto a wider space where the cold waters flowed down into a reflecting pool. And the voice of Cain echoed there also, alike to a curlew calling in the still waters of the marsh. And Abel cried out in the night, saying, “Where is my brother, that once was a mute lamb, and now makes the wind his servant to summon me?”

“I am here brother, in the shade of the still water. Come under the moon, so that you may see my face.”

Then Abel walked unto the water’s edge, and was dazzled by the moonlight therein.

Whereupon he slipped and fell beneath the water, and there his brow fell hard upon a sharp stone below the waters, so that darkness engulfed him.

And though Cain dived down after him, and desperately sought his brother in the darkness and the deep, he could not find him. Nay, only the hem of his garment could he regain. So Cain fled thither in his shame to the lands East of Eden, a fugitive.

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