Under the Canopy of the Queen
"Tell me about our home, Muhktar." Aliya looked up at the queen, the mother tree of the apple forest.
"We will not live in a tent. You will not stoop over a metal tub to clean the dishes or wash the clothes or wash your children."
Alilya giggled, but Muhktar took her hand and kissed it, all the while he stared at the canopy of the forest.
"You will not hang your clothes on a stoop or your rags on a string. No, Aliya." Mukhtar circled around the large trunk and never looked at her. Aliyah looked up and did not know what he saw in the sky.
"We will have a house someday. A real one, like the ones in town. Perhaps we will have make it out of mud bricks like the old ones but one day. Someday. We will have a proper house made out of wood. With steps and wooden floors. They will creak when you walk on them." He stopped and held her in his strong arms. Aliya melted in them and took in his fragrance of earth and dirt and smell of outdoors. His wool coat was beginning to unravel at a seam and she played with the thread. Tomorrow morning she would mend it while she had a chance.
"I will miss you." She felt his head lay on top of hers. "I will remember this moment always."
For several minutes they stood without words. The birds called to each other and landed indecisively on upper branches. They could not make up their minds and flew away; their song, though farther away, lingered with the dappled sun. A cool breeze blew through the summer leaves and joined the bird's chorus. It sounded soft and gentle under the shade of the queen.
"What time will you leave for University?" Aliya tugged at the loose thread on his jacket. The hole was in the shoulder and would be easily mended.
"Tomorrow morning, before midday." Mukhtar tightened his embrace.
"Midday, Mukhtar? It doesn't leave much time. I must mend your jacket right away." Aliya pulled back. They kissed.
"Aliya, I will be wearing a new jacket. My uncle bought me one for my trip. I cannot wear this one to the city." He took her hand and they walked leisurely away from the large tree. "They will already know that I am a farmer from a small village. They will see me as backward. They will--" He stopped and looked down.
"Mukhtar, you will be the smartest one there. And you will return to me and you will put all your ideas into place." Aliyah's round cheeks glowed as she smiled. Mukhtar looked straight ahead even as she kissed him.
"I will give you electricity, out here. We will have the wires come right to the house, Aliyah. And you will have cold and hot running water in your house. For your children." He tripped a little over a small root which stuck out of the ground.
"The shade is nice in the forest. They say that the forest is being cut down and pretty soon it won't be here anymore."
"Nonsense. Look how it goes on and on. This apple forest goes on for miles. How can we use it all up? Aliyah, push those thoughts aside. Dr. Dzangaliev, he is a Russian and an alarmist. What can possibly happen? Besides, we need to grow and to expand. I want you to have wooden floors, Aliyah. I want you to have hot and cold running water. I want you to have electricity. I am going to the university but I will be back to build you that house."
They walked their well worn path under the uplifted arms of many fruited trees. They stopped under a familiar one and took as many apples as they could carry in their pockets. Aliyah spread out her apron to carry some for their parents. Mukhtar polished one on his shirt and took a bite. He stood a little taller and his jaw looked a little harder and straighter.
"Midday. Tomorrow." Aliyah stared at the clearing ahead of them. The heat of the day was looming before them, without shade, without the canopy and away from the queen.
"We are young, Aliyah. We have the future. We must have progress. The world awaits."
Aliyah leaned back a little to hold the weight of the apples as Mukhtar strode ahead.
For more information about the apple forests of Kazakhstan, click here to visit Orion Magazine.
A little information about the people who live in the area can be found here.