In the mountains of Gjirokaster, the Fati hold the world like little snow globes in their hands, doling out curses and blessings, newborn by newborn, striking balance in the universe. Sometimes they shapeshift into snakes, sometimes into birds. Other times, they roam freely as beautiful women until their time comes to shadow a human – to press themselves against one like a fingerprint – their presence no more detectable than a sudden chill caught in the air.
The baby comes after a long and arduous labor, just as his mother lets out a cry of relief with the final push; just as a bird lands on the windowsill in the middle of the night; just as its beak taps three times against the glass.
The baby seems perplexed, overwhelmed to exist in this wide chasm of space. At the sound of his mother’s cries, he, too, cries, momentarily stunned at the sound escaping his tiny, wrinkled body. His arrival isn’t ceremonious until he is proclaimed to be a boy, to which the mother finally smiles, her lips a rush of blood against a pale, round face.
A boy in any household is a blessing.
Outside, a slight wind picks up, gently rattling the shutters against the panes, a quiet round of applause to the mother for a job well done. A shift in the air, like a sudden electric charge hinting at a storm, goes undetected in the late-night hours as the rest of the city sleeps.
The baby’s eyes catch a feathered tail perched in the corner.
A chill creeps up the mother’s spine and settles on her neck like a cold hand pressing its fingers into her soft, slick flesh. The anxiousness stifles her, and she thinks: Is this the mother’s curse?
“Where is the pin,” she asks the midwife, her hand an open claw in the dim room, waiting to receive. There is something suddenly wild about the woman, like a wounded animal grasping for survival that hinges on an old piece of jewelry – a talisman shrouded in superstition.
Humans, like animals, act strangely in moments of big seismic shifts, and what is a birth if not a new ripple breaking the calm surface of any glassy lake?
To slowly chip away at glaciers.
To morph into waves that topple over ships and sink continents.
He’s a beautiful boy, the mother thinks proudly before the coldness clamps down even tighter.
Outside, the bird waits.
Inside, the baby coos. He is all flesh and dew now, but his namesake foretells his place in the world, how he’ll expand from this little southern corner of the country and blow in like a relentless storm with no eye in the center for reprieve.
His father wanted a strong name. A strong name for a strong legacy.
A strong legacy to overshadow all other legacies.
A strong name that sits at the forefront of people’s consciousness like a deadly storm they wish they didn’t remember.
He chose the name Enver, after the Ottoman military officer, Enver Pasha, who had just led the Young Turk Revolution of 1908. The shoes were almost too big to fill, streaked and stained with the blood of Greeks and Armenians and Assyrians.
Almost too big, as if the universe hovered above the snow globe, waiting for a challenge. And while most ghost stories begin with death, this one begins with life.
All dew and mother’s scent and the slickness of the darkness that came before life; the veneer of innocence slips off after mother and baby are separated; then, all bets are off.
From a small silk kerchief buried in a heap of old family jewelry, the midwife plucks a tiny blue and white evil eye pin. She senses the mother’s anxiousness, and it’s silly to be this apprehensive during such a momentous occasion, the midwife knows this, but they say a woman’s sixth sense awakens when she becomes a mother. Who is the midwife to tell the woman that her fear is misguided?
While pregnant, the mother read stories of animals who inexplicably eat their young. In Greek mythology, Rhea was cruelly tricked by her husband into eating hers. The thought makes the mother shudder but also, admittedly, intrigues her. Could she do it if she had to?
There is a local story of a woman whose complicated pregnancy ended in the birth of a misshapen baby she abandoned in the crib until it finally cried itself to death. This one, more than the idea of eating one’s young, breaks the mother. It seems that if anyone searches long enough for perverse examples of a souring motherhood – of toxic womanhood – the stories are boundless. It seems to the mother that sometimes talismans are needed to ward off the known just as much as the unknown.
She bends down and kisses the soft wetness on the crown of her baby’s head, her mind a complicated mess of intrusive thoughts and unwavering love.
The midwife hands her the pin and it sits unblinking in the mother’s palm like a seed waiting to be planted to keep ominous energy at bay. Before she can pin it to her baby’s blanket, it pricks her thumb. The blood springs to the surface like another tiny, monstrous eye that stares up at her in judgement before she puts the thumb in her mouth and sucks.
“I cannot get this forsaken thing on him,” she mutters around her finger.
As the night inches closer to dawn, the candlelight’s halo around them fades, making the darkness in the room feel cavernous. Outside, the bird sits like a quiet shadow.
The mother holds her baby close, the evil eye clutched in her hand like an untethered lifeline that disappears into some corner of the room.