Yusuf

Yusuf leans against the alleyway wall to watch the bulldozer. Though he focuses on the machine, he allows himself a moment to wipe the sweat off his weathered forehead. His fingers briefly linger on the deep wrinkles etched on his face, outlines that tell the world his lifelong preference for both squinting and frowning. He places the handkerchief back into the pocket of his blue, woolen jacket and returns to his head the green and white embroidered doppa, a skullcap worn by the Uyghur minority of China. Yusuf looks back to the machine. The bulldozer seems out of place, anachronistic, and awkwardly large in the compact alleyways of Kashgar’s ancient Old City district. The contrasts are heavy. The sleek, metallic hull opposing the layered, mud-brick walls. The rugged off-road wheels weighing down on the neat hexagonal-tiled street. The bright yellow paint mismatched against the polished tan walls and rust-red doors. The overbearing noise of the engine drowning out the subtle strings of a nearby dutar. The smell of smoke, gasoline, and disturbed dust fighting the aroma of baking garlic naan. A machine that represents city planning in a district characterized by its labyrinthine streets. The bulldozer was alien to his city. In his soul, Yusuf feels Kashgar’s violent rejection of its presence. He closes his eyes. He hopes the city would act on its feelings and purge the bulldozer, as an organism purges a virus from its system. He opens his eyes. The bulldozer remains. He sighs. Yusuf watches the bulldozer’s every movement. The blade travels to the ground, reorients itself, then scoops up a pile of rubble and lifts it high into the air. To Yusuf, the Han Chinese operator is hoisting the remnants of his neighborhood Mosque similarly to how a warrior joyfully displays the standard of a defeated enemy following an engagement. He wants to call out to the operator, to tell him the sanctity of the place he is destroying, what the ruins mean to him. But the operator knows no Uyghur, and Yusuf no Mandarin. "Did Alexander know the language of the Afghan tribes?" ponders Yusuf. As the bulldozer drops the debris, Yusuf sees a bright blue piece of mosaic tile. He fixes his eyes on it, and a tremendous weakness washes over him. The mihrab, the qibla wall, was his son’s favorite part of the Mosque. "Then he came forth to his people from the sanctuary," his son, Abdul, would say every Friday, reading the Qu’ranic inscription on the mihrab. "Does it really face Mecca, father?" Abdul once asked. "Of course," Yusuf would say, patting his son on the head. His grandson has never seen the mosaic. The recent government ban prevents children to attend prayer. Yusuf walks over to the rubble, timing his movement for when the bulldozer was busy elsewhere. He grabs the tile. "So bright," thinks Yusuf, "as if the whole experience of religion was fused into this one piece of mosaic." Yusuf places the tile into his coat pocket and returns to his section of wall. Watching the bulldozer and rubbing the tile in his pocket, Yusuf remembers an American who visited the Mosque many years ago. "I’m interested in your culture," said the American, "but I’m curious, how does the government treat you?" Yusuf remembers what he wanted to say. He wanted to tell the American that he saw the alleyways of Kashgar’s Old City maintain Uyghur culture as arteries maintain blood in the body. As his government destroys its walls, so do they destroy the integrity of the arteries, and let its blood seep out onto the ground until it dissipates. The soul gone, but the carcass intact. Blood-stained, but whole enough to be viewed from the lenses of Canon cameras for the candid photographs of eager Han tourists. Though he mouths the words now, he did not say it then. He could not voice his true thoughts, not in Xinjiang, not in China. Instead, Yusuf looked at the American and posed to him a question, "Does your father love you?" The American, confused, nodded in reply. Yusuf whispered, "Mine does not." Yusuf sighs heavily. His thoughts exhaust him. He was helpless in this battle. All he can do, he thinks, is watch. He places his hand back in his pocket, brief anxiety fading away as he rubs the mosaic. Yusuf leans against the alleyway wall to watch the bulldozer.

comments button 0 report button