“Take me to the baby cemetery,” I told him. “Lonely Planet calls it the only sight in town.” A graveyard full of children on the Sumqayit outskirts, dead from violence, pollution, disease. He gave no answer, so I used the dictionary. “Детское клáдбище?” “Qabaristan bebe?” The taxicar hissed on the asphalt, and quietly, in slow English, he responded, “There’s doubt about the place. Maybe it’s gone, or built over. Made up, or never was. Maybe just a traveler’s story.” Then the engine leaped, and we raced through Sumqayit, speeding north to picnic by the Qudiyalçay river, where teenage boys roughhoused in a muddy summer bed. I took tea and cookies at Yanar Dağ hill, the old wall of oil fires burning my eyes. From the five-fingered rock to the caravan temple, I joined ancient pilgrims and wax zoroastrians worshipping flame that shrine attendants charged to light. Past tree-high stanchions and fuel-pipe casings, we drove to his home in a bricked-in yard, dirt square on dirt vista, his wife and daughters silent across the coir, his two daughters with silver trays, candies on doilies, warm tea in cozies, and a stuffed horse sprawled on a canvas couch. For $80, he chauffeured me to fire, to stones, to the north and back south, diverting a man with scene after scene on broken roads in a dusk swollen ochre with flame. This was how fascination grew, in holy heat and fire, missing the babies, all the dead children belonging to no one, to me least of all, a failed voyeur, the children lying somewhere in oil, buried underground, and he missed them, he abandoned them, and whenever will I get another chance? Maybe they were never there, maybe they were still alive, and maybe I was just a boy digging in the hot land, searching for something to see.
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