Capable

blue scarf

Hoshang was born with long fingers. As a boy they had been delicate. His people had teased him for his weak hands, those quivering blades at the end of white palms, like the undersides of leaves. He would never be a farmer, sailor, hunter, nor a soldier. Nothing useful could be done with hands like these, they said.

What they said was not so important to Hoshang, who was just a boy. But his father’s face increasingly set like a loaf of lined brown bread kept long in the oven, when he heard people call his son incapable. His strong shoulders turned away a little, whenever he spoke to Hoshang. And so a dark space appeared in Hoshang’s heart.

Had he been born with a pinpoint of dark? Perhaps everyone is. But this point at the centre of him widened into a cloudy-edged, twig-wide hole. How deep this space was, he didn’t dare to fathom. He just worked hard to grow a lot of muscle tissue around it – a reputation for capability among his people. He didn’t know what else to do.

Time passed. Hoshang grew into a young man. It mattered little to his father that his long hands at the end of lean, muscular arms, could actually wrench a wooden wheel out of a deep rut in a muddy road, perhaps better than many others, the palms callused with labour, by now.

When he was 30, tall, fine-boned Hoshang married a farmer’s daughter from the same village. She was a big girl, with capable-looking hands, wide of hip and shoulder. A sturdy woman to work beside, a woman to have children by.

She loved him. But when people sometimes joked about his hands, with their soiled, torn fingernails, yet still so delicate-looking, the end of her mouth would lift in a smirk. It was the slightest movement, like the tail of a snake disappearing around the corner of a bush, but he felt the dark in his heart grow. Wide enough, now, to press a hard glass marble through.

Hoshang had a cousin sister who lived at the other end of the village. They had played together in their childhood. She, of all his family, was the only other who had such long, fair fingers. People might have pointed these out, said with rancor that she too was not capable… but as a woman, her delicacy was somewhat better accepted. Her name was Hiran.

One afternoon late into his 37th year, Hoshang went to meet her. It had been more than four months since he had visited her, and since he was in her part of the village to meet someone, he thought of stopping in to see her. It was a humid day and quite a long walk to her house which was on a small farm quite far from the market. He reached there, out of breath and thirsty.

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Instead of knocking at the front door, he walked around to the back. The place was quiet. Her husband and children did not seem to be about. Then he heard faint cries and calls coming from the direction of the stream. The thought of them splashing in the cold water made him feel even more thirsty.

He looked for her through a side window in her kitchen. There she was. Not cutting, cleaning or stirring, but instead, sitting alone and almost completely still. Only her hands moved in her lap. The light coming in from the western window lit them to a whiteness he almost had to shield his eyes against.

But more dazzling were the needles she held and what she seemed to be making. The silver pointed things held yarn of indigo and light blue. They lifted and tucked, and with her fingers, she gently twirled and yanked threads into a pattern she seemed to know by heart.

This was not knitting, Hoshang realised. That used heavier, duller-shaded yarn. Women in each household knitted sweaters and shawls for the family, to protect them against the biting cold of winter.  This was a lighter, less useful thing. Her hands, almost exactly like his, dug, weeded, scrubbed and cooked. Like his own wife, Hiran worked at hard, menial tasks all the year round. And her seemingly-delicate hands, like Hoshang’s, were capable ones.

She worked silently. He did not know how long he watched her, except that the light moved across the kitchen floor in that time. Her head of thick brown hair streaked with grey, was bent intently to it.  Along her inner wrists, narrow like his, a fine vein throbbed as her hands deftly repeated their dance.

Draped across her knee, but mostly along the dusty wood floor was the thing she was making. It was two metres long – a scarf like a snake. Not slipping around the bush, but instead sunning itself, indigo and pale blue, dotted with tiny yellow flowers, or faraway stars.

“Hiran,” Hoshang called from the fading light of the square window. She didn’t hear him. Her mouth moved inaudibly, counting stitches. He was aware of how his sweat was cool and hot at once, his throat like sandpaper. The wind in the trees and the rush of the stream nearby were caught and threaded by the delicate click of his cousin’s needles, into the soundscape of their truth…

His own hands, dirt-edged nails on cracked and blackened fingers, had proved him a farmer and a hunter. These hands could even belong to a sailor or soldier, so hard did he work them. And he knew – with certainty – that he would be able to make what Hiran was making. That he would even be willing to sit, like her, for hours at it, unlike other men and women who’d have thought this a waste of time… Time better spent at the pub or playing cards or dancing. He knew that this could weave the clammy, clumsy strands of dark within him, into a pattern of wholeness.

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Not wanting to disturb Hiran, he turned and walked back the way he’d come. Another day he would ask her to show him how.

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