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The Moon Outside My Window. Part 1

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  • Аннотация:
    Haldor Volcano The Moon Outside My Window (Satirical Novel) Translated from the Russian by Alec Vagapov


Fantastic Reality

     
     
   Haldor Volcano (Abdusalomov Haldor Usmanovich) was born in Maslakhat village, Altinkulsk District, Andizhan Region, the Republic of Uzbekistan in 1959. In 1975 he finished school. In 1976-1978 he worked as an artist and designer in different institutions. For two years, from 1978 to 1980, he served in the army. Since 1975 he has been writing poetry and prose under the pen-name of Volkano in two languages, Uzbek and Russian. In 1996 he graduated from Tashkent State University. Since 1999 he has been a member the Union of Writers of Uzbekistan. He is the author of three collections of poems, 5 books of stories and 2 novels. He is married and has 5 children. At present Haldor Volkano lives in Canada.
     
      Vladimir Mayakovsky said in his autobiography that he was a poet, and that was what made him an interesting man. Haldor Volkano is a poet and a writer, and that is what makes him an interesting personality. We will leave it to historians to tell the world who, in fact, Haldor Volkano is, what his political views are, what outstanding people he rubs shoulders with, what his honors and awards are and so on. We have his books at hand and we have the lucky chance to read them, that"s all.
      We will open his novel "The Poplars in the Haze", start reading it and will be unable to tear off our eyes from the book. We"ll read it on and on nonstop wondering what will happen next for so exciting is the story, so interesting the episode that we, subconsciously, will get involved in it, be part of it and start talking with the characters of the book, joining them in the laugh, shedding tears with them, advising them what to do, judging them when they do something wrong and rejoicing when they do something right.
      Al Kizim, the main character of the book, is of special interest to us because, as the main character of the novel he finds himself in all the situations and circumstances described in it: life and death, war and peace, love and marriage, divorce and reconciliation, crime and punishment, good luck and bad fortune and what not.
      The book is written in the first person, and we might expect Al Kizim to be a real hero, a positive character against the background of the other characters with their flaws and faults, inadequate behavior and such. Ironically, he happens to be one of them, a man with strong points and week points, acting right and not quite right, in fact, he is just a man of common sense taken by the author from real life.
      The scene is laid in Uzbekistan, a country in Central Asia, with its customs, traditions, beliefs, the way of life and so on, and one may expect the description of some sophisticated people beyond European and American understanding. As we read the book our precautions vanish into thin air from the very first pages. We see an amazing unity of human"s nature regardless of where one lives: in the East, West, South or North. We are all humans and must treat one another as such. It"s a dominant and recurring theme of Haldor Volkano"s novel which can be plainly seen from the behavior and mutual relationship of his novel"s personages: Uzbeks, Russians, Georgians, Armenians and others. There is, of course, some national touch and coloration of Usbek people"s way of life but it should not be exaggerated which, incidentally, none of the characters of the novel do. It doesn"t even occur to them to make it a problem.
      While we read the book we cannot but fall in love with its female characters: Babat and Salima. Love for the husband, care for the children and the family, weakness and strength of the heart, chastity and purity, dignity and honesty, all this combined with open heart and physical charm makes them amazingly attractive women for the reader who will excitedly read every line of the chapters devoted to them. It"s not for nothing that Al Kizim loves both of them dearly and even keeps his promise when he tells Salima that he will follow her if she passes away.
      As we mentioned before, the author resorts to imaginative creation of episodes and scenes putting his characters in all possible and impossible situations, real and unreal, and he does it to show his characters" true nature for one can only be understood in full when others see his or her behavior in non-standard and non-typical circumstances. We will see Al Kizim flying in a balloon, fishing, gambling, doing business, fighting, falling in love, leaving the family and coming back, burying his friends, and what not. The same goes for other characters such as Adalatov, Ramazanov and others who find themselves in most extraordinary situations and show their true nature in action, which, as the saying goes, speak louder than words.
      Al Kizim is a believer, a Muslim. He says his prayers regularly and he fears Allah. But he is far from being a man of chasity, nor is he an exceedingly righteous man. He will commit a sin, regret it, say his prayer and try not to do wrong again. The most important thing about him is that he is tolerant of other people"s beliefs. When Kalankhan Adalatov, feeling that he is about to breathe his last, asks Al Kizim to bury him in the Christian Cemetery Al Kizim promises that he will do it and keeps his promise. Even the Imam of the local Mosque Zainutdin Ibn Gainutdin attends Adalatov"s funeral saying all people on earth are the children of Adam Allaikhissalam.
      In another episode Ramazanov, a Muslem and Adalatov, a Christian, when taken aback by some danger threatening their lives take turns in praying: "Ramazanov started praying. When he finished his prayer Kalankhan Adalatov, being an Orthodox Christian, crossed himself and started singing a psalm from the Bible".
      Religius tolerance is inherent to other characers of the novel as well. The author"s latent ideа is that belief is a personal thing, and one recognizes another man"s or woman"s right to believe in whatever he or she wants. And it"s not the author"s dream or fantasy. It"s reality observed and very well depicted by the wrter in his novel.
      Haldor Volkano narrates his story full of adventurous scenes and exciting episodes without making judgements and taking sides. He gives true pictures of life leaving it to the reader to form his or her own opinion of the events and characters described in this exciting book.
     
     "The Moon Outside My Window" is a novel in 2 Parts. The second part is to be fiished and released shortly.
     
      Alec Vagapov
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

Haldor Volcano

The Moon Outside My Window

(Satirical Novel)

Translated from the Russian by Alec Vagapov

(1) The Dream

     
     
     
      I am a participant of the war which broke out between my neighbor and me. I nearly died in that heroic war. I can"t forget it up to now.
      It was spring. A thaw had set in. The dung was belching out steam. Birds were chirping, hens were cackling. Up in the sky white clouds floated tenderly showing their magnificent elastic breasts or some other parts of the body. I stared at them in admiration. My wife was a jealous woman. And that"s why we quarreled. I thought I"d better go out before I strangled her, like Desdemona.
      I called my neighbor, I mean, Ramazanov, a boon companion of mine. We sat down on a bench in a shady place with huge tall poplars wavering in the wide waft of the wind. Taking the floor I made an opening speech:
      - You know, Ramazanov, in Europe civilization has reached such a high level! Imagine, you use a public toilet, equipped with computers, and - God forbid! - you forget to let the water out, the door will automatically shut before your nose.
      Instead of admiring the story, Ramazanov smiled wryly and said:
      - You call that a toilet? I don"t think it"s a toilet; it"s a trap for the poor that come to visit the city from villages. It"s humiliation! The best toilets in the world are ours! In the open air, with no roof! There"s no door, but there"s a curtain instead. You can sit and watch the endless sky, if you wish. You can say good bye, with a sigh, to the caravan of cranes flying over the willow grove where silence reigns and leaves fall quietly and sadly. Particularly at night. You sit with the moon shining right over your head. Far away, over the wood, you can see the sky swarming with innumerable stars and hear the croaking of frogs and the monotonous singing of crickets. Besides, this toilet can in no time be turned into an observation post which allows you to see what your neighbors are doing. When you watch people from a crack in the toilet, like from embrasure, nobody can see you. You can quietly gather information about what has been brought and what has been taken away and things like that. You can even overhear conversations, the way ninja, the mediaeval mercenary agents did. Sitting here you can even have a smoke. Should an unpleasant smell waft to your nose, the wind will quickly carry it away. The most important thing is that this toilet is never clogged up! You don"t have to call to the municipal economy in search of a plumber. It means there will be no additional costs! And you keep praising this backward Europe. Pooh! I scorn you and the whole of Europe!
      With these words Ramaznov left. After a while I, too, made my way home. I was in a hell of a bad mood.
      I was thinking about my neighbor"s argument. His angry words pierced my heart like arrows of Tamerlane"s warriors who were known to smear the arrow heads with the deadly venom of rattlesnakes, leaving no chance for the enemy to survive.
      Nervously, I walked to and fro, working out the plan of retaliation.
      When my plan was ready, I took out a crow bar and started breaching the wall adjoining my neighbor"s toilet. With a powerful blow I managed to make a breach. Then I stuck a stove pipe into the hole I had made and started waiting for the historic moment.
      Suddenly I heard someone enter the toilet. Taking my chance, I took a bucket of cold water and poured it into the pipe. There came a loud shriek. Apparently, my neighbor had rushed out of the toilet, a toilet in the open air, with no roof, where one can sit and smoke admiring the moon that shined softly and sadly with innumerous stars flickering over the black woods and listening to the croaking of frogs and the monotonous crackling of crickets resounding far away near the swamps with canes rustling like Chinese ancient silk. My neighbor, a well ground axe in hand, looking like an Indian armed with a tomahawk getting on a fierce fight with a pale face, hoping to scalp me, jumped, without a pole, over the fence and said angrily:
      - Well, come on, come on! Come closer, I will cut off your cupola filled with shit, well, well, come here!
     I grasped the pitchfork and stood on the defensive.
     - Well, come up to your daddy - I said - come, if you are sick and tired of living.
      Terribly scared, my wife seized me by the sleeve and started begging in a trembling voice:
     - Please, don"t, dear! He will kill you!
      I put her hand aside and said:
      - Go away, don"t hold me, woman! We are on the right, and we shall win! I will make shish-kebab out of this fat monster!
     My neighbor kept twisting around throwing his axe from hand to hand and waiting for a chance to deal a shuttering blow upon me. His axe, ready to smash me to pieces, was spinning in his hands like an aircraft propeller. We were waltzing round like Roman gladiators. Our house turned into an amphitheatre. A crowd of spectators could now be seen their heads sticking out from behind the fences.
     Like Spartacus, raising high my glittering pitchfork, I dashed to my neighbor with a war-cry. But I missed. The shrewd neighbor managed to jump back. My pitchfork pierced the tree. While I was trying to pull it out my neighbor had time to deliver a blow to my leg. Zap! My foot crunched and was broken. The pain was so severe that I felt as if a black curtain had fallen covering all before my eyes.
      I regained consciousness in a somber room. It was the hospital morgue. The detectives and the doctors must have thought that I was dead, so they had brought me here.
     I was scared at first. But then I pulled myself together and climbed out of the plastic bag. Then, moaning and groaning, leaning against the wall, I slowly made my way to the iron door. As I came up to it I peeped out into the corridor through the keyhole. Oh my! My entire near and dear are there! My wife, stroking our sons Arabboy and Sharabboy, is weeping. The kids, too, cry bitterly sobbing and shedding tears.
     I could no longer bear watching the tragic scene, so I started knocking on the iron door of the morgue with shouts:
     - Don"t cry, dear! I am alive! Open the door, I am cold! Babat! Arabboy, Sharabboy, sonny! Do you recognize my voice?
     Deathly scared, my dear ones stopped crying. First they fixed their eyes on the door of the morgue, and then, suddenly, all of them got up and ran headlong, without a backward glance, down the long corridor.
     A few minutes later they came back accompanied by people in white smocks. When they opened the door I came out with open arms. We hugged and cried for joy, the way participants of the KVN fun club contest do when racking their brains over the rivals" question. The men and women in white smocks stared at me in amazement and shouted in chorus: "Terminator!"
      My wife and the kids now cried, now laughed through the tears glistening on their cheeks like diamonds.
      After that the docs put me in the ward where patients with a fracture are treated. I was laid up for quite a while but, alas, I was not cured. My foot remained crippled. When I walked it would dangle like a plough hitched to a tractor that furrows the fields in spring, with skylarks flapping their wings and flying up and down and swallows following the tractor in the hope of finding some delicious insects. As I walked, I would hear the little children laughing behind my back:
      - Tractor! Look, that man is a tractor!
      I would throw stones at them but they would follow me all the way to the bus stop shouting and teasing me like a pack of loud monkeys.
     When I arrived at Matarak, the village where I at one time came into this mad, mad world, when they had cut my navel string with a rusty knife, I made my way straight to the house where Kimsanbai lives, the man who was the initiator of the united military alliance in the village, the institution where we paid our membership dues every month.
      I entered the headquarters and, addressing Kimsanbai, said straight:
     - May I ask you, Your Highness, why do we pay the membership dues, if your alliance has been unable to render us military assistance in this crisis?! When the sacred war broke out between my neighbor and me you did not help me, and, as a result, my family suffered heavy losses.
     Trying to find an excuse, Kimsanbai said:
     - It"s a lie. On that critical day when the war broke out between you and your neighbor, we immediately sent out peace keeping forces to the battle-ground, and namely, infantry units armed with awls, pitchforks, screwdrivers and sharp-cut nails. Then, on tire inner tubes, we ferried across the river a detachment of land forces, or, to be more exact, a platoon of women, also armed to the teeth with pans, pokers and oven forks. It wasn"t easy to do because we had no pumps and had to inflate the tubes orally. But while the peace keeping forces were on their way the war was over, and you were put to hospital. Thank God, we didn"t send out our air-born troops... But, anyway, you will have to pay a big fine.
      When I heard this I got dumbfounded and said:
      - No-oo, I will no longer be a member of this military alliance which skins the clients alive.
      - All right - said Kimsanbai - we will let you go. But you have to pay the fine first, then you
     can hand in a discharge application.
      I said I was not going to pay any fine and went home. When I came back to my near and dear family I was in good spirits again.
      In the evening my younger son Sharabboy came up to me and said:
      - Daddy, my teacher gave me this homework, I have to write a composition on the subject of
     "My Father"s Dream". Do you have a dream?
      - Yes, of course, - I said. It can"t be otherwise. A human being is born with a dream and dies with a dream. I, too, had my dreams. When a child, I wanted to be a tractor driver. In those days an ox-eyed, black-bearded midget with a big head and a big mouth used to come, on a cart, to our village. The small man was smart at selling kerosene. He would shout at the top of his voice:
      - Keldi pinor yak, keldi pinor yak! - Lamp oil has come, lamp oil has come!
      On hearing the familiar shrilly scream people would come out with flasks and jerry-cans to buy kerosene. There was no electricity in those days. People used oil lamps to illuminate the house. By the lamp light they would talk, eat, drink, read and write.
      Like all other people we, too, had a flask which was crumpled and black from dirt. It looked as if the stoker of a boiler-house had hurled it with all his might from hell and it fell down into our yard.
      Our father was an honest tractor driver; he never stole diesel oil for his tractor. Like any one else he would buy kerosene. Every day I would open the flask to look at my reflection and, spreading my nostrils wide, inhale the smell of the kerosene. I don"t know why but I like the smell of it. That"s where my love of machinery comes from.
      Late in the autumn days, crossing the farm lands, I would carry supper to my father. At cold autumn nights, far in the distance I would see my dad"s rattling tractor cut the darkness with red and yellow lights. I would hear the echo coming from the rattling engine that broke the night silence with its rhythmical trembling sound. Walking against the cold wind I would make my way towards the field where my father was plowing the land. I would come up to the tractor from the illuminated side, with the front lights on, so that my father might see me, and give him a sign that I had brought him his supper. He would stop the tractor and jumping off the seat come up to me. Then, stroking my head, he would ask:
      - Have you brought the supper?
      I would say "yes", and he would reply:
      - Barakalle! - Good boy!!
      While father spruced himself up shaking the dust off his clothes I would quickly gather dry cotton branches, known as "guzopaya", and make a little fire by which father would warm himself up and eat. I would throw branches into the fire watching him have his supper. By the fire light our shadows would change shape, now shortening, now elongating. We looked like two genies sitting by the fire. Like the tongue of a dragon, the flame was flickering in the cold wind with the crackling sparkles flying up into the star-spangled sky. I sat thinking that when I grow up I would be a tractor driver, like father. But my dream never came true.
      One day father fell asleep while plowing the field at night and fell into a deep ditch, along with the tractor. So those autumn nights took my dad to the undiscovered world from whose bourn no traveler returns.
      A year later my mother followed him. I was now alone with my granny. After she passed away the fellow-villagers sent me to a boarding school where orphans were fostered.
      Years went by. I finished school, and as if there were no other occupations, I became a store-keeper.
     
     
     
     
     (2) Kalankhan Adalatov
     
     
     
     
     On my way home from hospital I met Zainuddin Ibn Gainuddin, the imam of our Matarak village, a mullah. We greeted each other, and as we started talking he said in an accented tone:
      - Reverend Al Kazim, God told us to respect one another and be in good relations with our neighbors. For he said: "I forgive a man his offences if he can forgive the offenses of the man who offended him". So if you are a true Muslim you should forgive Ramazanov".
     I was God fearing by nature, therefore I forgave Ramazanov. We began to live peacefully as before in our village of Matarak.
     Our village has a strange name. Up to now nobody knows what it means. One scholar, a topographer, had been long looking for the clue but couldn"t find it He even fell ill but never learnt the secret of the word.
      But people appreciated his endeavors and presented him with a shirt on his birthday. But the shirt"s sleeves were a bit too long. So the attendants of the "mental teem" would bind the sleeves tight because the scholar had the habit of striking himself on the head.
     From then on both the villagers and topographers stopped trying to find the etymology of the word.
     In Matarak there is a cotton waste refinery. The waste is called "uvada", that"s why the villagers call the refinery "Uvada Factory". The cotton that people grew and harvested was taken out, as for us we only got the waste. People used it for sewing mattresses, caftans, pillows and other basic necessities.
     It was ten years since I had been working at the refinery as a stockman.
     
     My wife"s nickname was Babat. Her real name was Mukhabbat. When she was a little girl her parents called her Babat, and we still call her Babat. The poor one was so accustomed to her nickname that she only got to know her real name when receiving her passport.
     When I was young I fell in love with her, and we got married. We had two children, Arabboy and Sharabboy. The manager of the Refinery was our neighbor whose house was beyond the house of the Ramazanovs. The latter was his driver. The director"s name was Kalankhan Adalatov where Kalankhan was his first name. He was a man almost without a neck, his head as round as a ball and his nose resembled the moon surface with red and violet craters. He had one tea-pot with a broken handle and one piala with a crack. He drank coffee from this piala.
      When he wanted to shave he used this same bowl to whip shaving foam. When the director smoked he used it as an ashtray. At supper, treating the inspector, Adalatov poured vodka into this bowl.
     He was not much of a drinker but he did drink occasionally. Some time ago a worker from the winding shop invited people he worked with to his wedding party.
     We sat at the party eating, drinking, and listening to music. I looked at Kalankhan and saw that he had had a drop too much. It was obvious that he was dizzy. Now he told me:
      - Pour some vodka!
      I filled his glass. He drank it and didn"t have a snack to kill the taste. Then he turned to me and said:
     - Tell me, when was Karl Max born?
      Frankly, I did not expect such a question. I was scared to death; my heart sank. In a trembling voice I said:
      - I don"t know, Kalankhan Adalatovitch.
      Then, wiping his lips with a napkin, he rose from the table, and showing his big, firm, gorilla-like teeth, got hold of my collar and starting strangling me:
      - Politically blind man, you! You have no right to live in this world! You don"t know when Karl Marx was born!
      It"s good that during the row some nice people interfered and released my throat from the strong fingers of the director. I nearly died at the wedding party from the hands of my own manager.
      I now sit and drink water to soothe my heart thinking feverishly that from now on, without delay, I will start learning by heart the dates of birth of all famous personalities including Napoleon, Kutuzov, Adolf Hitler and, of course, Kalankhan Adalatov.
      Meanwhile the director started shouting:
      - Hey you, Master of Ceremony, where are you looking? We"ve run short of vodka!
     Why don"t they bring some? Who treats the guests that way? What? No more vodka? Well, let them pay back the money we chipped in and donated as a wedding gift!
     The director kept shouting while the guests stared at us reproachfully. We were ashamed. Everybody turned red in confusion. And when Kalakhan Adalatov hanged his head dropping his face into the cake there came a group of burly guys in dark eyeglasses, their skinheads looking like peeled eggs, and tried to help the director to get up and go. But doing this they only provoked a shaky situation letting the genie out of the bottle.
      The angry director started putting up resistance to the police volunteers.
      - Let me go! Hand off Vietnam! I want to drink! - he shouted, and, to prevent the Volunteers from pulling him away, he seized the edge of the table. But the guys in dark glasses were strong enough to pull Kalankhan Adalatov like a sack of grain. Our director did not want to give up either. This time he got hold of the table-cloth, like a drowning man that catches at a straw. The costly chinaware, the crystal vases, glasses and goblets were all smashed to pieces. A fight broke out. Somebody punched Kalankhan Adalatov in the face. He staggered but did not fall down. Only his hat flew away like an unidentified flying object.
      I tried to defend him but he shouted at me:
      - That"s all, don"t hold me, Al Kazim! Give him a sheet of paper and a pencil, let him write his will. For he only has a short while left to live in this world. In the name of God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!
      With these words Kalankhan Adalatov struck a blow in the groin of a monstrous skinhead, but missed his aim, and the blow fell on another guy. The fight was going on all through the night. In the morning the guests, like beaten dogs, with scratches, bruises and black eyes, turned away.
     I came home and went straight to bed. I was sleeping like a log the whole day. In the evening I went on sleeping.
     My wife was scared thinking that I was dead. In the morning I woke up, thank God. I washed my face, had breakfast and went to work. I came to my working place and saw Kalankhan Adalatovich there. He wasn"t drunk. We exchanged greetings, and as I opened my mouth to say something, the director interrupted me saying:
     We need a supra. We are taking on a novice.
     Supra is a thick table-cloth used when making dough for bread. It has been, from ancient times, a sacred thing with Uzbek people.
     Each time Kalankhan Adalatovich provided someone with work he insisted that the new employee should swear over supra in front of the Charter of Uvada Factory.
     The Charter read as follows:
     "I, such person, hereby, joining the ranks of workers of Uvada Factory solemnly swear before the present Charter to hold sacred the secrets of Uvada Factory and never get involved in political activities, nor participate in unapproved meetings even if I do not get my salary for months and years. Should I break this solemn vow, may the severe penalty of the Charter and contempt of Administration befall me! May I be thrown, with my hands and feet bound with ropes, into the barrel where wastes are decomposed".
     My Manager"s task was a law for me!
     I brought a supra and we solemnly took on a new worker. Then Adalatov gave me an envelope with the words "Top Secret" written on it.
     I took the envelope and went out to take it to town. I had to hand in the confidential letter to a secret receiver.
     I got on a bus., took a seat and looked around. A man in a striped mattress-like shirt, about forty years of age, with a triangle head and big dragon-fly eyes, took the seat next to me. He kept chewing a gum, like a cow, that lies in the shades of conifer tees of Holland, languidly frightening away the annoying flies and digesting the grass in a sultry summer.
     There was a girl standing right in front of me. She looked out of the window watching the scene of landscapes floating by. She stared at all that caught her sight.
     I looked and saw a white thread on her skirt.
     - I will do a good turn - I thought - if I put that thread away insensibly.
     I touched the thread but it was sewn-on. Then I twisted the thread round my finger and pulled it wishing to tear it off. What a mishap! The girl"s skirt snapped at full length up to the waist. The passengers fixed their eyes on the girl"s snow-white panties with a delicate lace and burst out laughing.
     I turned pale. Some passengers were looking at me reproachfully, others were staring in surprise.
     - That"s the end - I thought - she will now kick up a row, and the crowd will make a pizza or omelet out of me and then deliver me to our near and dear militia.
      So I said:
      - Sorry, girl, pardon me please, I only wanted... I mean... I just wanted to remove the thread from your skirt...
      But the girl didn"t even notice that her skirt was torn in two. She turned round, looked at her skirt and said to my amazement and contrary to my expectations:
      - How nice! Thank you. You have helped me a lot. I was just going to drop in at the atelier to have my skirt cut. Skirts with a long cut are in fashion nowadays. I don"t know how to thank you.
      I was puzzled with what the girl had said and wondered whether it was a dream or reality.
     Maybe, it was just hallucination, a false distorted perception of things? I thought, perhaps, it was time to see the doctor. I must have fallen ill. Now the man, in a striped mattress-like shirt, about forty years of age, with a triangle head and big dragon-fly eyes, chewing a gum, suddenly interfered:
      - Oh yes! Bravo! Bravo! I am delighted! You are a juggler! I suppose, you are a pick pocket and an experienced one at that! What you have shown now is just great! Wonderful! Superb! It"s a great skill! You have easily cut the skirt, like a surgeon with forty years of experience that transplants human organs in remote India where delinquents on rainy days, an umbrella in hand, sing:
     
      Ya gardishma-a -a asmanehe-otan -tara hoooo -ooo
      Avarahoo- ooooo-ooo
      Avarahoo- ooooo-ooo
     
      I understand, I understand. It"s hard times! Life is hard both for thieves and common people.
     For thieves, in particular. Only the poor use busses and their purses are as thin as the owners themselves. The state doesn"t care for them. Life is getting harder and harder with every passing day, and that affects all layers of society, including you, I mean thieves. Misery reigns all around, and the wages are extremely low. There"s no use to pinch an empty purse. It"s deadly for a young talent. Art and skilful hands are dying out. That"s the reason why so many crooks join the militia. They now work as prosecutors, judges, governors and the like. Some swindlers have even become deputies and senators. There will be a time, and very soon, when they start running for presidency. Am I right, my colleague?
      With these words the man in a striped mattress-like shirt, about forty years of age, with a triangle head and big dragon-fly eyes, chewing a gum, fixed his eyes on me.
      I flew into a range on hearing what he said, and shouted to him:
      - Think what you"re saying, comrade. How can I be a thief? I am a simple, ordinary law abiding citizen of my country! I am not a colleague of yours!
      Suddenly, the man in a striped mattress-like shirt, about forty years of age, with a triangle head and big dragon-fly eyes, vanished in the haze.
      The passengers, too, seemed to be riding in the haze. The bus turned into the sweating room of a Finnish bath-house. Me, too, I was sitting on the bank of the Thames river where in the thick fog ghosts in checked caps, with their collars up, were walking on wet cobblestones across Trafalgar Square smoking pipes, like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
      Suddenly the driver let out a shriek:
      - Dear passengers! We are burning! The bus will explode now! Run for your life, if you can! Stand from under!!!
      - The driver, having given us the warning, jumped out of the bus. The deadly scared passengers dashed to the door like one.
      The bus had only one door which was wooden. There arose congestion. The women cried, the men wrangled with one another, some swore like troopers. As ill luck would have it, my pocket caught hold of the nail sticking out of the door. Off it flew and I was free.
      - Thank God - I said - oh my Lord!
      I looked and saw people laughing and congratulating one another on successful evacuation. The driver, too, climbed out of the ditch. Then he came up to the bus, got out the axe, the hack-saw and some nails and started fixing the wooden door made of rough planks. Presently, I came up to the girl who had her skirt torn and with a big hug, staring into her eyes, started congratulating her. The girl whispered in my ear a poem in some language unknown to me, which resounded like a rustle of green canes in the autumn wind on the banks of the Nile. The rhymes went like this:
      Et l'amour est lЮ, et l'amour s'en va,
     Tu pars avec lui, il meurt avec moi,
     On a beau prier, on a beau crier,
     L'amour nous oublie, comment l'oublier,
     
      Though I didn"t understand a single word I didn"t want to leave these amazingly tender lines unanswered.
      I buried my head in her fine, soft hair producing a heavenly pleasant odor and whispered in her ear, like a distant echo of waves:
      - Merci, Madame, comment vous appelez-vous? Je m"appele Al Kizim. -
      Vous parlez franГais dИjЮ tres bien! Au revoir!
     
     
     
     
     (3) Marriage
     
     
     
      If I tell you my marriage story you will roll with laughter.
      In her youth Babat, i.e. my better half, was the most beautiful girl of Matarak. Her father worked as a laboratory assistant at the cotton-cleaning plant. And though he was an ordinary laboratory worker my would-be father-in-law made Napoleonic pans, wishing to marry his daughter off to a man from a wealthy family so as to be related to a big official. His wife was at one with him. I went out of my way trying to win Babat"s heart and marry her at any cost.
      One day I sent her a letter making an appointment for her. The letter ran, roughly, as follows:
      "Dear Mukhabbat! I am sorry for taking your precious time with this silly letter. Unfortunately, I have no other way and, probably, will not have any. I want to see you and pour out my heart filled to the brim with wishful yearning. I will be waiting for you at 6 pm in the willow grove by the river side where the abandoned tractor lies about without wheels. If you don"t come out, I will hang myself in the old tree where you and I once listened to the knocking of a woodpecker.
     With a written kiss,
     Yours ever,
     -Al Kizim
     
      As soon as I had sent off the letter I washed myself carefully with a laundry soap, put on a patterned Ukrainian shirt with a sash, riding-breeches and box-calf boots, went up to the mirror, a bunch of flowers in hand, and started rehearsing, the scenario I hat written myself. Now laughing, now frowning I made grimaces training the muscles of my face. My stepparents, who had adopted me, looked at me in surprise. The stepfather said:
      -What"s the matter with you sonny, are you not well?
     - No, I just want to be an actor. When I finish school I will go to Hollywood. The trumpet is calling!
      They looked at me thinking that I had gone mad. The amazed stepfather opened his mouth like the hollow of the old willow in which I had wanted to hang myself, should my sweetheart break the appointment.
      The rehearsal took a long time. At half past five I made my way straight to the west, towards the Willow Grove where I was to meet Babat. On my way to the grove I repeated the words I would say and the poems I would recite, training the muscles of my face.
      I arrived at the place of appointment and waited. I waited and waited hoping to see my incomparable girl Babat. But somehow she was late. When the watch showed 5:10 pm I fidgeted walking to and fro and getting nervous.
      I looked now at the path where Babat was to appear, now at the sky, praying to God to bring her here as soon as possible. God was either not willing to make Babat come or just wanted to put me to test.
      In other words, he sent the laboratory assistant to me, instead of Babat. The man attacked me shouting angrily, like a beast. His attack bewildered me, I lost balance and fell down. The laboratory assistant started kicking me in the belly and the face shouting out abusive words.
      - There! Take it, you dirty jackal! Who gave you the right to send love letters to my daughter?!
      He went on walloping me unmercifully until he got tired. Before leaving he warned me:
      - If you dare write another letter, that will be the end! I"ll kill you! I"ll wrap your guts around your head, like a turban. You got it, you lousy dog?!
      I was unable to answer his question.
      Spitting nervously, the laboratory assistant quickly walked away towards the wood.
      I staggered up, like a drunk man. I had a big bump on my forehead with my lips like the duck"s beaks, my new Ukrainian shirt torn to pieces, my hair tousled like a stork"s nest, my nose smashed. I looked like a clown, upon my word! I hardly managed to bend down and wash my face in the irrigation ditch, and as I looked into the reflection I saw I had a bruise growing like a horn. I stared at my reflection for a while then I got up and walked home with a limp.
      When my stepparents saw me they started asking me what had happened, why I was looking that way and who had "painted" my face. Stepfather said:
      Oh my God! What"s the matter with you? Who has beaten you? The producer, eh? Oh sh-sh- sugar! How can it be, a young actor and such a treatment? Is that the way of teaching actors? Tell me where he lives, sonny. I will cut his throat! I will burn down the theatre building!
      I kept silent while stepmother was smudging my battle wounds with the brilliant green. Each time she touched the injury on my face with a piece of gauze wetted with the brilliant green I breathed in deeply through my nose and grimaced. She had painted me to such an extend that I looked like a man infected with the horrible plague. I looked at myself in the mirror and nearly burst out crying. Like a bird of prey spanning its wings anger woke up in my heart.
      The days went by. I suffered from insomnia at night. I couldn"t sleep at night for thirst of retaliation. One fine day an extraordinary idea came to my mind.
      In the evening, when dusk fell, I imperceptibly climbed onto the roof where the laboratory assistant"s family lived.
      Wishing to carry out my top secret plan I jumped in the chimney and fell straight into the oven which looked like a fire-place. My clothes, my face, my hands and my hair were all in soot. On hearing the crash and seeing me the laboratory assistant got frightened like crazy. He was the first to run in his white underpants out into the street.
      Babat and her mom followed him. They were trembling and crying for fear calling people for help. In a few moments I, too, went out. I purposely walked slowly so that they could apprehend me.
      When he regained consciousness Babat" father took a spade and attacked me. But people responding to my calls for help stopped him. The laboratory assistant vowed to kill me. But the villagers promised that they would bar him from taking the law into his own hands and called the militia. A group of detention officers arrived. They brought me to the militia station wishing to neutralize me. They started interrogating me. One of the militia men asked me a funny question:
     - Comrade, why did you jump into your neighbor"s chimney?
     - Well, you see..it just happened - I answered - I fell into the chimney by chance for I had fallen asleep.
     - That"s funny. I wonder why you fell asleep on somebody else"s roof. Are you sick? A
     sleep-walker? Why do you sleep on the roof? After all, you are not Carlson who lives on the roof.
      - No I am not Carlson nor am I a sleep-walker. You see it"s like this... The point is that I am in love with Babat, that is this laboratory assistant"s daughter. The latter threatens that if I date with Babat he will kill me. But I cannot do without her, upon my word. An unbearable urge made me do that, risking my life. Well, Comrade Militiaman, have you ever been in love? Please, have mercy on me...
     One of the cops interfred:
      - Ah you, Majnun , Don Juan! We could have mercy but there is law. You cannot escape punishment...
      - To make a long story short, they sentenced me to 15 days of imprisonment. They cut my hair a la Fantomas, and I served my term in full from start to finish
      After I was discharged from prison I came home bold headed. My head glittered like glass with sun rays playing on it. Son of Lumiere! I see that my parents did not recognize me.
      Stepfather then said:
      Al Kazim is out. He is in Prison. Serving a jail term.
      I said:
      -Why, what"s the matter with you, dad? Mom, it"s me, Al Kazim! Your sunny. Upon my word!
      After that I started singing prison songs that I used to hear from senior students at the boarding school where we were fostered:
     Cabman, dear, take me away,
     I am free as the wind to-day...
     Northen wind! The Central Prison,
     The prosecutor died this season.
     
      Stepmother recognised me and burst out crying. Wishing to console her I said:
      - Stop crying, mother. After all, I am back from prison. I am safe and sound.
      Stepfather, who was happy to see me, said:
      - Sorry, I did not recognize you, sonny. So you will be a rich man.
      I washed myself and dressed, and then we had supper together. After supper we had a long talk and went to bed well after midnight.
      Days, months went by. After the Chimney story matchmakers stopped visiting laboratory assistant"s house.
      One day Babat"s mother dropped in at our place and told me as follows:
      - I wish you were dead, you damned wretch, you demon! It"s entirely your fault! After you had jumped into our chimney people stopped coming to us to ask in marriage. You have made my daughter grieved and distressed. Now you shall marry her!
      I didn"t say anything in reply. She went away scolding and cursing me.
      In the morning the laboratory assistant came to talk to us. With one hand he took me by the color, and in his other hand he had a big knife. As if wetting it he licked the blade of his knife to make it easier to cut my throat and started shouting:
     - You lousy brute, are you going to marry my daughter or not? Tell me now! Or else you will become a headless horseman!
     - Yes, I will , but not now - I said looking at the blade glittering in the morning sunlight.
     - Why not now? Answer, you brute! -shouted the laboratory assistant.
     - To marry now I haven"t got enough money - I said.
      Don"t shirk, you bloody youngster! All the costs will be on me! But mind, if you don"t treat her right, I will bury alive!
     - Agreed! - said I.
     The laboratory assistant put the knife aside and released my throat.
     - I made a sign of relief. The man sheathed the knife and left. A week later the laboratory
     assistant came to see me and we celebrated the wedding. That"s the way I married Babat, the most beautiful girl of Matarak.
     
     
     
     (4) Gardkam
     
     
     
      One always wants to have good food and good clothes, a luxurious villa and a self made car, a Rolls-Royce, to kill the time in brothels with lovely prostitutes where they drink cocktail on ice and charming strip teasers slowly take off their underclothes as they dance. But an empty purse and a hole in the pocket did not allow that. I could not sell the uvada which I got instead of my wage.
      As I was walking down the street one day, looking a frightening figure, unshaved, I dropped in at the barber"s to refresh myself . The barber was Usta Garib, a thick man of about fifty years of age, gray- haired, with a round swarthy face and a twisted mustache.
     His booth was located in the center of Matarak by the side of a swift aryk with big poplars rustling above it. Next to the booth, under the weeping willow, by the side of aryk there was a water-wheel known locally as "Charhpolak". It"s an old mill revolving on its axis and drawing water from aryk to irrigate he little kitchen garden where Usta Garib grows tomatoes and cucumbers.
      As I entered the room I saw Usta Garib sit reading the satirical magazine "Mushtum". When he saw me he put the magazine aside and rose to greet me.
      - Yes, yes, Mullah Al Kazim, welcome. Fancy meeting you here!
      We shook hands and I said:
      - You see the bristly hairs on my face? I want to have it shaved. I feel ill it is, you know. My mug looks like an ant hill after rain.
      - You are always welcome - said the barber. I will shave you so that you will look spick-and span. When you come home your own children will not recognize you. Your wife may even call the militia, and it will be hard to prove that it"s you, Al Kizim. DNA, blood test and all that. It will be a fancy ball sort of. Then they will claim that you"ve undergone a plastic surgery to hide your villainous crimes against mankind.
     -Yes, - I said. - They will get to you, too. Like a surgeon who has done a plastic surgery on a dangerous criminal you will be thrown to prison along with me.
      Usta Garib smiled slyly and pointed to the chair inviting me to sit down in the torn rolling chair. I obeyed. Usta Garib put a napkin on me tightening its ends as if putting a noose around my neck the way they do it with dictators, carrying out the death sentence of the Hague tribunal. Then he started whipping the shaving foam using a piece of soap. His hand was working the foam while looking at me through the mirror said:
      - I was kidding, Al Kizim. How are you anyway?
      -Too bad , - I said, - My wage is so small. I am a participant of the tragedy at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station. They call us "liquidators of consequences". When the Chernobyl liquidators receive their miserable pension they feel happy. We call our pension "CherNobel prize". You think it"s funny. But we don"t feel like laughing. We risked our lives, so to say. Many of us got 6-7 roentgen of radiation exposure. The money we get is not enough to buy even half a sack of flour. Just half an hour ago I got my pension. I am afraid of spending it. I want to consult my wife. She is thrifty. Maybe, I"d better invest it? What do you think?
      -I advise you, my dear Al Kizim, not to consult your wife, never. A woman is a tool in the hands of Satan. Say, our forefather Adam followed Eve"s advice. The result was that they were driven away from the Garden of Eden. And now we children of Adam, forced by Satan, are ready to gnaw one another"s throat. We must think better of it and help one another. There is always a way out, in any situation. In other words, your pension can be settled in no time, do you believe me?
      I thought for a minute and then said:
     -Oh really? What do you mean? How can it be?
     -Well you have to go to Klondike for that.
     - Klondike? What is it?
     -You don"t know what a Klondike is? You are in charge of a store-house, aren"t you? You should know! It"s Kumarkhona, an underground casino!
     -Well, where is it?
     - You"d better make up your mind first. If you do, I will tell you.
     I agreed.
     -That"s another pair of shoes, - Usta Garib said, and, sharpening the blade on the belt
     hanging down from the mirror, started shaving me. His hands were shaking. Who knows? Just one motion and -zap!-my throat will be cut. I knew that Usta Garib was a heavy drinker. I wondered where this Parkinson of his was from.
     At last he had finished shaving me. When he was applying a compress with burning,
     badly smelling eau-de-Cologne I nearly kicked the bucket from suffocation.
     - Well, there you are! I have shaved you. You may go now. Tonight the game will take
     place in the old stable of Mirzakalandra. Mount!..
     Usta Garib took the money for the work done, took off his apron and switched off the
     light. We went out. Then he hanged the lock on the door, and we went our way to the place where gambling was going on with a swing.
     The dark velvet of the cool evening was slowly descending, and the early stars were
     twinkling up in the sky. Night lights appeared in the windows of small shacks of Matarak.
     We walked down the road with tall poplars buzzing like huge organ-pipes in the spring wind above us. Beyond the ruins of the old pigsty the moon was rising. On our way to the casino I told Usta Garib that I didn"t know the rules of the dice.
     -Don"t worry - he said - You are a gifted man. You will learn fast. Casino is a tough
     school. But the school leavers can do all except for reading and writing. Just roll the dice and grab your money by the sacks. Unless you go flop, of course. Casino is an eternal Klondike. Alaska! Muruntav!
      -Yes, I hope so.
     - You shouldn"t hope. You should be confident. Why hope when hope dies first whereas
     man dies after. We die with a tormenting pain at heart, we die in misery and despair, hopeless and lonely. Nobody will need you then. Not even your own children.
      He spoke walking with a measured step. I followed him like a dog that went out for a walk with its owner. When we arrived at the casino we saw a stout man with a swarthy face and a big mustache standing outside the stable. Like a custom"s officer he collected money from the visitors to the casino. I had to pay for the entrance from my own pocket. Usta Garim gave the money to the custom"s officer and said contemptuously:
     - Na, teshib cheksin, - which meant "may this money pierce through your throat".
     At last we entered the underground casino. It was a small stable with a mud floor and a
     low ceiling. The squeaking door of the stable, looking like a lonely fleapit hut in a thick wood, with a green oak-tree growing outside, closed with difficulty. The stable was illuminated with a little portable electric bulb. There was a smell of vodka, sweat and tobacco smoke all around. It was hard to breathe. The high-rollers could hardly see one another in the dim light. There were about twenty people including the onlookers and Mirzakalandar, the owner of the stable who sat on the shelf collecting "chital" i.e. money for the rent of space.
     Usta Garib and I went up to the game site with a chalked line for throwing dice. Beyond
     the line there were cramped banknotes looking like leaves fallen from the autumn chestnut-trees in the quiet alleys where the wind was riding on the swing up above.
     At last we, too, joined the game. Adil, a venturesome gambler, had the bones now. He
     had great prestige among the gamesters. He set the bones right and said:
     -Who is the next one?
     The players stood motionless.
     - Adiljan , we have a new player. Let him tempt his fortune - said Usta Garib pointing at me.
      Adil turned to me. His face was grave like a granite mask.
     -You bet - he said.
      I looked at Usta Garib. He winked slyly and told me to venture. I pulled out my pension out of my pocket which I had just received standing in a long line patiently, and threw half of my money as a stake.
      Throwing the dice, like gamblers do, Adil cried out:
     - Gardkam!
      I looked at the bones. I did not understand. I was just ignorant. Kumar is a good lesson for me. I looked at Usta Garib and saw that he was looking down in confusion.
      -You have lost -Adil said calmly.
     Then he raked up the money which I had got as my pension for the liquidation work done
     at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station. I sat motionless like a frozen polar explorer on the glacier of the northern hemisphere. The players and the onlookers looked like penguins, while Usta Garib, appeared to be sliding on ice like a walrus in the thick, gray fog of tobacco.
     To redeem his sin he turned to Adil with the request:
     -Adiljan, please, roll dice once more for this poor man. His hands never touched bones.
     Please, I beg you, do it for the love of fellow-men.
     -All right- said Adil - Let him stake.
      A was grateful to Adil for giving me another chance and , with trembling hands took out the remaining part of my pension.. After I staked it Adil threw the dice with a shout:
     -Gardkam
     Then he said:
     -Oh my Lord! I have won! My life is an endless swamp!
     His words scolded me like boiling water. Yes, indeed, life is really an endless swamp. We
     tramp across it in fear and tremble, a stick in hand, so as not to fall down. If you drown, that will be the end, Auf Wiedersehen! There is not a soul around. Nobody can help you. Uttering the letter "A" out loud , the first letter of the alphabet which you learnt at school, you will go to the bottom, leaving slush and seaweed behind and letting out the bubbles of the last portions of oxygen. Like a drowning man I asked Adil for help:
     -Adiljan, throw it once more for the sake of King Zhamshid , the Guardian of gamblers
     of all times . Adil replied calmly:
     - " ер курсин" which means "may the earth see your money"
     I begged:
     - Adiljan, my money is gone. I have lost all up to a coin. Please, throw it once on credit. If I lose, I will bring the money tomorrow, by all means.
     - No - he said - we don"t play on credit, and turned to other players.
     I stood stock-still, really. My hands were hanging down loosely like chain frankfurters. I looked miserable.
      Meanwhile Usta Garib encouraged me tapping me on the shoulder:
     -Don"t worry, brother. There is a price to be paid for art. Cheer up! Don"t lose heart. If a
     gambler is a looser to-day, he will be the king tomorrow! With these words he turned to the other players.
      I turned black from grief. I clenched my teeth to prevent myself from howling like a wolf. I wanted to have a smoke. I had no money to buy cigarettes. I looked down and saw a but. I picked it up, on the sly, and struck a match to light it. I felt some relief. Suddenly Usta Garib called me. I ran up to him. He gave me the bones and said: "suna". If we decode the word it will mean "a gift to a player from his partner who respects him from the bottom of his heart". I was happy again. The sun rose again, and the icebergs melted in the Northern latitudes where I lay as a polar explorer. I livened up, so did the dogs. I imagined riding in a sleigh pulled by sled dogs at a high speed cheerfully encouraging them and coming back come after covering boundless expanses of the polar circle. The gamblers sitting in smoke as if in an icecap, that is the smoke of the stable, came out to greet me. Addressing them, I declared solemnly:
     - Everybody is invited to stake!
     Then I said the long prayer which I had learnt from my granny. I prayed blowing on the
     bones. Kuf-kuf - these are not my hands they are the hands of the great sultan Zhamsid! Lord, help your slave who was left an orphan so long ago. Gardkam!
      I cast the dice and looked at Usta Garib. He turned pale. Like a ballet dancer, he slowly
     tiptoed towards the door. But he was held back by Adil"s accomplices. I happened to have lost big money. Adil stared at me like a hangman his eyes as cold as the ice of Antarctica. Then he said:
     - It"s ten minutes past nine now. I give time till morning. Should you fail to bring me all
     the money you"ve lost by morning we shall bury your friend, the barber, alive, along with burnt limestone so that the cops might not identify him... If you squeal on us then you are done for. My fellows will find you at any cost. That"s all. You may go. Get out before I change my mind.
      After that my sun sank below the clouds, and again I turned into a huge piece of ice blown by the wind of the Arctic Ocean where the hungry polar bears were sniffing around in search of food.
      I went out and made my way home. Where else could I go?
      When I got home my wife came out and said:
     -Oh, dadasi (father of my sons) where have you been? I am worried and have been
     waiting for you, and you never come. You look so pale, what"s the matter? Are you not
     feeling well?
      By intuition she felt that something had happened to me. I told her the whole story. What"s the use of hiding it from her? For it is said that all that is hidden shall be disclosed. On hearing what I had done poor Babat nearly fainted. She grieved and cried and then looking into my empty eyes, as if she was looking into a well, she said:
      -What shall we do now, dadasi?
      Silently, I looked into the sky where stars were twinkling far away, and the moon was shining like a thirsty vampire.
      Looking at the pale moon I said:
      - I don"t know, Babat, pardon me, please, if you can. It"s the devil"s work. What can I do? I really don"t know. The sands are running out.
      Babat looked at me pitifully and burst out crying in silence. Then she said:
     - Don"t worry, dadasi, there is always a way out of the difficulty. Give them our sheep
     and our cow. What do we need them for if your life is in danger?
      To pay off my huge debt I turned out our nine sheep and one cow. Adil"s bodyguards, the skin headed men with severe death mask faces, met me outside the house of Mirzakalandar, where the game of chance had been going on. Five minutes later Adil came out to count the sheep plus the cow and said:
     - That"s not enough.
      He ordered the bodyguards to bring the pliers. When they brought them he told them to hold me tight by the hands and legs. After the men had done that Adil came up to me and, pliers in hand, and said:
      -Will you please open your mouth, puppy...
      I strained myself in anxiety.
      -Why? I haven"t got a toothache. And I don"t need the services of a dentist...
      Then Adil opened my mouth by force and grimly started pulling the golden coronas off my teeth, with the dirty pliers. I screamed for horrible pain. Usta Garib, not wishing to see the dramatic scene, turned his face to the wall and closed his ears with his fingers. He was apparently a very nervous man. Adil, in cool blood, like a hangman, was pulling out my golden coronas. At last the infernal operation was over. He had taken out all the coronas, along with my teeth.
      The pain was so unbearable, that I couldn"t close my mouth, keeping screaming. I looked like a vampire that had just sucked out the victim"s blood at moonlit night and had his mouth full of dribbling blood and saliva. After the treatment Adil let us go and said at parting:
     -Come to see us again.
      I cursed him like hell but instead of words only air came out of my toothless mouth making me resemble an aborigine who has his front teeth knocked out with a stone, for appearance.
      From then on I started speaking with a whistle, like a seven year old boy who has his teeth fallen out.
     
     
     
     
     (5) The Snow-clad fields
     
     
     
     On the eastern bank of the Karadarya River, over a deep ditch, there is an office called
     "Enlistment Office". During World War II it was the commandant's office of the Red Army. It was the place amid the impassable woods rustling in the outer winds with canes and bushes where young people were given recruit training. The original building of he "Enlistment Office" is now in ruins. The canes and bushes have been turned into cotton fields with a big camp in the middle and big old willows around it. A man by the name of Tukhumbey lives with his son in this camp. He is a man of middle size, with the voice of a duck and the face reminding of a macaque. He was toothless because of heavy drinking, and his wife was as thin as a smoked fish with a horse"s face, a long neck, green eyes, thin lips and a big mouth.
      When Tukhumbey closes his toothless mouth the lips of his lower jaw touches his nose, hence his nickname kampir, i.e. granny.
      He is the kind of man than cannot live a minute without telling a lie. All his life is made out of lies. When there were no people left in Matarak whom he hadn"t deceived he had to tour other places where they didn"t know him.
      One day he left for the steppe where honest people worked developing a virgin land. When he arrived at the center of the state farm Tukhumbey was provided with lodging and money for the basic necessities. Naturally, he had drunk the money away and started looking for the way of procuring easy money. He had, as the saying goes, a black gift for that. He went straight to the director"s office. The director rose from the table to greet him with a smile. But his smile faded for Tukhumbey was crying on his threadbare chequered handkerchief.
     -What"s the matter? - asked the director. Tukhumbey went on howling. Then he folded
     the director in his arms:
     - Oh, Comrade Director, I am in trouble! Just about half an hour ago I was told the terrible
     news. Oh, my poor mother! How shall live without you?!... My mother is dead!
      The director was at a loss. He started setting Tukhumbey at rest and gave him a glass of water.
     -There! Have a drink, Tukhunbei! It"s God"s will. I present my condolences to you. God
     rest her soul...
      Slaking his thirst, Tukhmbei was gulping the water greedily. For the past three days he had been drinking vodka non stop. He"d been "on the booze", so to say. His head was as heavy as a pig iron weight. When he came round a little, he continued with his role, saying the monologue like a great tragic actor, his eyes full of tears:
      -Oh, mother! Pardon me for not being by your side at the sunset of your life. Pardon me for being unable to earn money for your treatment. Now I don"t know what I am supposed to do. We even haven"t got money for the funeral! What shall we wrap your body in?
      - With these words, Tukhumbey turned his face to the director, went down on his knees and started begging money he needed for the funeral. The words touched the director like magic, arousing in him compassion and pity to such an extent that he, too, burst out crying.
     Then he called the chief accountant and the cashier and ordered that they should allot a considerable sum of money for the funeral of Tukhumbey"s deceased mother.
      Having received the money Tukhumbey left for his village pleased and contented. But he didn"t know that by his action he had made a big mistake for he didn"t take into account the fact that the Uzbeks, like other nations, attend the relatives of the deceased.
      The director of the state farm gathered a big group of workers and sent them by bus to the village where Tukhumbey lived, the man whose mother had passed away. When they arrived at the village to express their condolences, they didn"t see any indication of the funeral in the street, outside Tukhumbey"s house. In fact, there was nobody there. Then the director said in a low voice:
     - Poor Tukhumbey, he"s probably all alone, with no relatives at all. With these words,
     he and the accountant slowly tiptoed to the gate a peeped inside. There was an elderly woman there. She was scared but then asked in surprise:
     - Who on earth are you? Why do you look inside our yard? What do you need?
     - Hello, aunt. Pardon us please. Does Tukhumbey live here? - asked the director.
     -Yes, why? - the woman answered with a question.
     - You know... you see... I don"t know how to put it... They told us that Tukhumbey"s mother had passed away... We are here to express our condolences - the director of the state farm said.
      - What? What did you say, you scoundrel? How dare you!.. I am Tukhumbey"s mother! Who told you that I had died? Damn! A living man has been turned into a dead body!
      On hearing that, the director stood chapfallen. He took off his glasses, and then put them on again. Then he looked at the accountant. The latter, too, was at a loss. He didn"t know if he should laugh or get angry. When all the people, waiting in the bus, learnt that they burst out laughing. Some roared with laughter others shook their heads. Some threatened to kill Tukhumbey for meanly deceiving people by saying that his mother had died when, in reality, she was alive. That"s the kind of swindler Tukhumbey was, a man ready to sell his mother for peanuts.
      After she really died Tukhumbey gambled away the house he had inherited from his deceased mother. Then he had to move to the campsite, where the game was to take place that night. When I told my friend about it he was glad. To describe him, roughly speaking, he looked like this: a short thick man, slant-eyed, snub-nosed like a boxer, with big ears and broad shoulders. His appearance had a touch of ancient features of soldiers of. Genghis Khan. If one takes a good look at him, he will even hear the neigh and clatter of horses' hoofs of the Khaganate"s throat-cutters,
     the clank of swords, the whistle of darts and bow strings, the gurgling of blood in the throats of decapitated warriors, and the distant howling of hungry wolves at moonlit night in Mongolian as well as Russian steppes such as Suzdal and Vladimir.
      On hearing the news about the gambling session, Matash rejoiced but I warned him right off that my hands were as empty as drums. To help me try my hand, he, like a donor institution, rendered me financial assistance. When darkness fell Matash and I set out towards the campsite.
      It was snowing, with cold wind blowing from the east. Wrapped up in our long sheepskin coats we walked across the snow-covered fields against the wind, with the ear-flaps of our winter caps pulled down. The crazy snow flakes were whirling like a big swarm of white butterflies increasingly covering the trees, fields and little huts. The wind was ironing the snowy plains looking like clean bed-sheets at five star hotels on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, where comfort reigns, and outside the windows a solitary fisher on a canoe is catching fish by the moonlight, with the moon rising over the tropic woods along the distant shores. We walked and walked, stumbling in the snow, across the Kirghizkhadzinsky fields. At last we arrived at the camp, and shaking off the snow from our overcoats, entered the corridor. Then we made our way to the main room where the gambling game was on. The room was filled with smell of tobacco, vodka and the sweat coming from the players" feet.
      I could hardly see Usta Garib"s ghostly profile. He had the dice in his hands. There were crumpled notes of money on the floor. It was plain to see that Usta Garib had been draining the players before we came. Tukhumbey sat in a broken chair collecting "chutal" (money levied as if "for the rent of space"). Off and on he would bawl:
      - Hey, you winners, remember to pay chutal on time! Mirzakalandar, don"t pull my leg by saying "not now", "not now". Look and see how much Kayum Karvalan has deposited in chutal.
      We joined the players. Raking the money he had won, Usta Garib addressed the entrants:
      -Who"s going to bet?
      - I"ll do it - Adil said. Usta Garib threw the dice shouting:
      -Gardkam!
      Up flew the dice. To see the result of the roll, the players watched the dice"s trajectory like an eagle-owl watches the field mouse. Suddenly, the district militia officer Bozarvey, a short, swarthy, slant-eyed man rushed into the room, pistol in hand, and shouted:
      -Hands up! Hands up, you-oo-o, sons of bitches! Face the wall! Quick!
      All those in the room raised their hands hurriedly. All of a sudden, Bozarvey kicked one of the players on the backside drooping like a rucksack, and shouted:
      - You, old kangaroo, so many times you have sworn you won"t play dice! Why don"t you keep your promise? Are you a man or a woman in a man"s suit? Maybe, you are really a mustached female?
      Then he went up to Mirzakhalandar and said:
      -Now, come on, you ass, turn your face to me.
      Mirzakhalandar did as he was told and, dropping his eyes, started picking his nose, like a weak pupil at school who has failed to do his homework. He tried to avoid meeting Bozarvey"s intent and severe eyes. With a deceitful motion of his hand, Bozarvey frightened Mirzakhalandar off. The latter covered his head with his hands, so the powerful punch fell on Adil"s kidney. With a wry grimace on his face, Adil cowered down. Seeing this, Ulyas, the player from the neighboring village, quickly ran away. But the cop, the shorty, ran him down and, preventing him from jumping out through the window, seized him by the legs.
      - Ah, you are a novice, aren"t you? You wanted to escape?
      Asking these questions, Bozarvey hit Ulmas a couple of times on the crown, i.e. on the head. The latter shuddered like a drunken man after having a drop too much of booze and fell down.
      Like an old woman, Tukhumbey started sobbing with fear.
      -Why are you crying, you coward? I haven"t beaten you yet, swine. Tell me now, who gave you, wretched beggar, the right to set up here Los-Angeles, sort of?! You should be shot, and that will be too minor a punishment for you! I wouldn"t spare the bullet! You are not worth the lead. You ought to be killed with a spade like a mad dog and buried so that people might get rid of you once and for ever because you are not even worth the paper we use to write the statement of the case!
      With these words, Bozarvey swung his arm wishing to hit Tukhumbey but the blow fell on another man. It was Matash. From the flash-like blow Matash had his skull-cap flown off his head, while he himself fell flat, like an inexperienced boxer that has got a knock-out punch.
      Tukhumbey was still crying.
      By that time Matash had regained consciousness and got up. Bozarvey gathered all the crumpled banknotes lying on the floor, which would serve the experts as material evidence, and put them in a plastic bag which he had brought.
      Then he told us to go to the exit one by one. Obeying him humbly, we went out into the street.
      Outside, the snow storm cried whirling the snowflakes around. Bazarvey shouted:
      - Run towards the village! Don"t lag behind! Run! One, two, one, two, three! Faster!
      We ran trying to keep up with one another. The worst thing was the fact that Bazarvey made us run along the streets of Matarak.
      When my sons saw me outside the school I felt ashamed. It so happened that we were running by the school right during the interval, and schoolchildren, as well as their teachers, on seeing us, roared with laughter.
      We ran in fear of being suddenly kicked by the undersized militiaman. After a two hour scamper our feet started stumbling and our tongues, sticking out, dangled like those of frontier guard dogs running after an infiltree breaking through the state borders of our Motherland.
      At last Bozarvey stopped us outside his office. Then he pushed us all into the room to conduct a long interrogation.
      I made a vow never to set foot on the casino and hardly got home.
      Suddenly, I felt like eating some snow to quench my thirst. I saw a handful of clean snow on the iron grid nearby and licked it. Gosh, my tongue got stuck to the grid of the bridge. I got scared. Oh my lord, what what"s the matter? I tried to pull my tongue in somehow, but it hurt. Then I cried out in panic:
      -Ah -a-a-a-a-a!
      I could only shout uttering long vowels such as "Ah", "E", "O" and "U", with the accent on "u-u-u". But these are not the sounds to call people for help. If I start shouting something like meow or cuckoo, people will only laugh.
      Suddenly I saw a crowd of people coming straghit towards me. They were, probably, coming home after the evening namaz in the mosque.
      -Oh, Allah! Forbid me! Maybe, Allah has punished me for having played in the casino.
      When the crowd approached me, Zainutdin Ibn Gainutdin, the Imam of the Mosque, looked at me in surprise and said:
      -Assalamu Aleikum, Esteemed Mullah Al Kazim, What are you doing here? What is the matter with you? Are you not feeling well? Why are you silent?
      "That is an interesting question" - I thought. How can I answer when my tongue is stuck to the iron grid. To hide the trouble I was in, I bent to pretend that I was doing a bodily exercise.
      ""Ah- E - O -U", "Ah- E - O -U"...
      The men were still more surprised now. Some of them thought I was not all there and said:
      "Oh Allah, Astah firullah"
      At this point, thank God, my wife Babat, came out to sweep off the snow. While she was sweeping the road she saw me. She started walking aroud not knowing what to do. I showed her with a gesture that I wanted some hot water. She got me at ot once and ran to the house. A few minutes later she brought the water and poured it over my tongue. So I was now free from the confinement of the ice.
      - What a magnet!-I said.
      Part of the crowd still stood waiting to see the outcome. I said:
      - Why are staring in such a way? Don"t you see I am working? I am testing my tongue to see how firm it is. In other words, I"m tempering it.
      The men gripped their colors in amazement.
      Babat and I went home.When she asked me why I had been absent I lied. I said I had been on duty at work. She believed me. After breakfast I fell asleep like a dead man. I woke up at lunch time, washed myself and went to work. As I came to my work place I saw the director, gloomy as ever, sitting in the watch-box. Then, all at once he gave me a sheet of paper and said:
      - Write a discharge application at request.
      - Why? - I exclaimed in surprise.
      Then the director silently stretched me one more sheet of paper. I recognized it at once. It was a copy of my explanation note, which I had written at the militia station of Bozarwey.
     
     
     
     (6) The New Job
     
     
     
      After I had quit work at Uvada Factory I got a job as a motor-scooter driver in the "Almatras" firm which was involved in wool processing. The director of the firm was
     Saidnazar Sariksimaskalov, the man resembling Kalankhan Adalatov, except that he was red haired and with a red beard. He was bald, had little ears and green eyes. When I had passed his strenuous test he publicly handed me in the key to the scooter. My mission was to purchase wool from people at lowest price.
      I drove the scooter in a crash helmet. The scooter"s booth was made of veneer by the local carpenter, like that of the vehicles that during World War II used to carry shells to the front lines. I rode singing songs as if sitting on a window frame, with the road and the blue expanse stretching along...
      Outside the window frame I could see poplars, weeping willows and cotton fields; in short, it was a boiling and smoking bowl of the valley. I rode noisily scaring off frightened hens, ducks and geese.
      One fine morning I set out to a mountain village to gather wool and dropped in at the next
     yard. A woman of about forty, plump, with a fair face and a big backside, came out to see what I wanted.
      - What do you want? - she asked.
      -Well, you see, I am buying wool. Do you have any?
      -Of course, I have - she said. Nut much though, but I will give you some. Come along!
      I followed her, and we went into the house. As we walked along the corridor, God knows why, we entered the bed-room, where comfort and peace reigned, like in five star hotel rooms on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The bed was covered a with white silk quilt, and the white soft pillows looked like clouds.
      I nearly got drunk from the sweet odor of the French perfume, while the plump woman with a big backside shut the door quickly and locked it, and for some reason threw the key outside, through the opening in the window. Then she started pulling down her tender breeches made of satin and said passionately:
      -Here is my wool, soft and tender. Ten grams. Do you like it? Oh, my handsome man, come closer, comes, my dear.
      Frankly, I did not expect that. I resisted, of course, but the plump woman, pulled me to herself forcibly, like an elephant. I protested:
      -What are you doing? Let me go now! Do you hear? Ah-a-a-a! Help!
      But the woman"s arms held me tight unwilling to set me free.
      -Don"t shout, sweetie. I"ve been waiting for you so many years! At last!... Don"t reject me, please. My howitzer has become rusty. Where is your shell? Oh...please, do it a couple of times... At least, once. Please, come here... come, honey...
      -And what if your husband comes, what shall we do? - I said swallowing the saliva with my tongue getting dry from excitement. He won"t come. My husband...
      I could" stop now... It was shaitan"s work again. In other words, I had committed a sin. Forgive me, my Lord!
      After the ablution, wiping myself with a towel, I asked her:
      -And where does your husband work?
      He is the director of the Almatras firm. On hearing this, I turned to stone.
      After this happening I couldn"t come round for a long time. I was conscience-stricken. I couldn"t look into my wife"s eyes. I felt shame thinking about God.
      To avoid the occasion of sin, I quit the new work. I was lying now on the torn sofa without a leg, an invalid, so to say. I couldn"t sleep because the cockroaches gave me no rest. They were running on the wall like crazy as if competing in speed and mocking me. When I raised my head they would disappear at once. The minute I lay down they would turn up again, moving their feelers. Then I slowly and imperceptibly stretched my hand gripping the top of Babat"s high boots. Then, choosing the right time, I prepared to attack the troublesome insects. When a huge swarm of them had crowded on the wall I hurled the boot, like a rocket launcher. But, unfortunately, I missed for once. The boots hit the black and white TV set which we would turn on and off using pliers for lack of the hub. The screen exploded and turned into a broken box. My wife and the kids were offended.
      -What shall we watch now? - they wondered.
      -What if we make an aquarium out of it? - I suggested.
      My wife didn"t agree and said:
      - No, we"d rather use it as a bred-basket.
      Then I used the broken TV set to make a nice bred-basket with a lid closing hermetically to prevent the disgusting cockroaches from getting into our repository and stealing our stocks of bread.
      I lay on the sofa, pleased and contented, leafing through a magazine and from time to time glancing at the crazy throng of hungry cockroaches. Suddenly, I saw an enigmatic headline: "A Cockroach Firm". Greedily, I started devouring the article written by a cockroach investigator from the USA. He was describing the technique of breeding pedigree cockroaches.
      You will not believe me, but I had read the article through, from beginning to end and from end to beginning. I had read it ten times, and I almost learnt it by heart. Frankly, I could say with certainty that the article had inspired me to set up my own cockroach firm. I started feeding them by daily ration. It was exciting. I was the manager of the firm. The elder son Arabboy was the accountant, the younger one, Sharabboy, was the animal technician and my wife worked as the unpaid charwoman.
      In the magazine where I read the article about cockroach science I saw another thing. It said, for instance, that speedy cockroaches were in high demand, particularly with tourists, and sold at a high price. I learnt that they arranged competitions where cockroaches ran competing in speed, running along the race-track. And, naturally, heated spectators staked such big sums of money that you couldn"t even dream of.
      This kind of competition spread so far away that I even came across a club of cockroach fans in the outskirts of the city. Gradually, like the other members of the club, I found friends abroad and started exchanging letters with them.
      One of my pen pals wrote me about the world cockroach running contest which was to take place in Bangladesh under the slogan "Cockroaches are our friends". Most pedigreed cockroaches, irrespective of color, no matter black or brown, red or gray, would compete for the cup named "The Golden Bit". The participants of the insect contest would be provided with free air tickets. The sponsor of the contest was the "Cockroach International Company".
      I, too, flew to Bangladesh along with my cockroach by the name of "Satiboldy" which I carried along in a mach-box. In the Olympic village I got acquainted with a woman who also came from Russia to take part in the contest.
      As we walked down the street in Bangladesh one day she started talking with her cockroach:
      -Marusya, baby, dear, oh, chop-chop-chop...
      I asked her in surprise:
      Excuse me, Madam-mademoiselle-seigneurita-khanum , why do you call your cockroach Marusya? Is your cockroach a girl, I wonder?
      - Yes, - the woman said - of course.
      She took a small magnifying glass, a loupe, out of her bag and said:
      -There! You see? If a cockroach has got that organ then, it"s a girl. Will you show me your little cockroach? We shall see if it it"s a girl or a boy.
      - I was excited and did as she told me withdrawing the match-box from my pocket and taking out my Cockroach.
      -Well, come out now, Satiboldy, the aunty will examine you.
      The woman started examining the insect, as if she was a doctor examining a patient.
      -Well, my little one, come to your mommy, don"t be afraid. Satiboldy, will you show it to us... Oh, your cockroach happens to be a boy!
      - Really? - I said in surprise. -That-a-boy! So I was right when giving you a male name- I said addressing my cockroach admiringly.
      The woman put her cockroach into the match-box, shut it and started telling me stories. I learnt that there is a tribe in Africa that catch cockroaches to fry them in a pan and eat.
      With this story we got on a bus. It was crowded and cramped.
      We hardly got to the Olympic village and jumped off. I looked at the woman and saw that she was crying. It so happened that her cockroach had been crushed in the crowded bus. I hugged her and conveyed my condolences.
      At home she mourned and mourned over her deceased cockroach. She was particularly mournful when it was buried in the green lawn of the boulevard. She was sobbing hysterically.
      - God rest his soul, may he rest in peace! - I said wiping the bitter tears off the lady"s face. To soothe her, I gave her my cockroach and flew off not even willing to participate in the race.
      I returned home.
      I was now lying on the same old torn, three legged sofa. It had bricks to support it, instead of the missing leg. I was reposing, sad and dejected. Suddenly, - oh my! - I saw Sotiboldy looking at me out of my jacket"s sleeve. I cheered up. But then my joy somehow changed into an unbearable agony. I lay curled up like a dog, howling with pain.
      When Babat, that is my wife, learnt what had happed to me she wanted to cal the First Aid and ran to the Uvada Factory where they had a telephone. She called the "first aid" but the ambulance didn"t come. Thanks to my friend Matash, who brought the wheelbarrow which he used to carry rubbish. My sons wrapped me carefully in a military overcoat, which I had brought from the army when I served in Leningrad Military Circuit. Then we set out towards the hospital which was located in the center of Altinkul District.
      Matash wheeled the barrow and, by pure accident, dropped me out. It so happened that my sleeves got caught and wound round the wheel. I lay in the dirt grunting and writhing. Matash, with the help of my sons, loaded me back into the barrow and we moved on. When we reached the militia check point, a state auto inspector told us to stop. Unfortunately, Matash was a little drunk, and, not willing to lose his driver"s license, off he wheeled the barrow where I sat, as fast as he could.
      Matash speeded on, while I lay moaning and gasping from a horrible pain. The inspector pursued us keeping pace with the barrow. His boots, cleaned with shoe-polish or fuel oil, pawed the ground emitting the clattering sound: "plod-plod!", "plod-plod!", "plod-plod!".
      The race went on and on until the state auto inspector started limping. He limped and limped and then fell down. We didn"t pay attention to him for we had no time to lose. So we wheeled on. We were in a hurry.
      In the morning Matash delivered me to hospital all right. I was examined, and the case was diagnosed as "appendicitis". I was taken to the surgical ward for an operation. The surgeon turned out to be a woman. First she stripped me naked, examined me carefully and then said:
      - You know, comrade, if a patient is badly off we carry out the operation without anesthetics.
      I stared at the knife in the surgeon"s hand which looked like a chisel with an insulated handle. The insulation was of blue color which made the knife, a sort of scalpel, look still more horrific. The surgeon raised the knife stretching it forward, like a fencer. Then, putting her legs apart, she flourished the knife, like a sword.
      -What are you doing? - I asked her
      - I am limbering up before the operation - she answered.
      Then she clapped her hands, like a Padishah that calls an executioner to the block where a condemned man is decapitated.
      On hearing this, musicians entered the room. When the surgeon put on the gloves full of holes, one of the musicians, as thin as a dragon-fly, asked:
      - What music shall we play?
      - Well, Maestro, we"ll sing "Kalin - my-cocain -my- cocain - my cocain" - the short, fat musician with a drum said.
      - No-oo, it"s music for a heart operation - the musician with a saxophone objected.
      For appendicitis we usually play, let me see, something like this:
     
     Lasciatemi cantare, perchИ ne sono fiero
     Sono l'italiano l'italiano vero.
     
      - Don"t confuse the guy, we use this music when repairing a hernia! - the surgeon said reproaching the musicians who accompanied operations by music. Remember, last time, by confusing the tune, you sent the patient up there?.. - she pointed at the ceiling.
      - Sent where? - I asked
      - There - the surgeon said pointing at the ceiling. The country no one ever returns from. They probably like it there. If they didn"t, they would have come back right off. They must be living in luxury there.
      When I heard these words my throat got dry.
      - Let"s sing the song "My heart will go on" from the film "Titanic" - the surgeon said - because this operation will last long.
      - The musicians started singing. The surgeon touched my abdomen with the knife looking like a chisel and burst out laughing. Her hand was shaking as she laughed. I looked at the chisel in fear and said:
      - Ah, be careful! What are you laughing at? How can you laugh in such a serious situation? Pull yourself together!
      The surgeon went on laughin. She just couldn"t help it.
      Oh, my Lord, the moment I recall that patient whom we operated on yesterday I start laughing. He, too, had appendicitis. I looked at his feet and saw that his socks were worn through, full of holes. He kept scratching his toes. He told us his friends had given him as a birthday present a little rake with along handle so that he could scratch the spots difficult of access. I feel sorry for the guy, for when my hand suddenly shook I cut his vital organ and he passed away.
      On hearing this I started praying to God, while the surgeon began to operate on me to the tune "My heart will go on" which went like this:
     Every night in my dreams
     I see you, I feel you,
     That is how I know you go on.
     
     Far across the distance
     And spaces between us
     You have come to show you go on,
     Near, far, wherever you are
     I believe that the heart does go on...
     
      I don"t know the rest of the song. Listening to the magic tune I somehow fell asleep. I regained consciousness in the ward. My wife and our kids were by my side. I smiled to them feebly. They were happy. Especially, Babat. I looked at the pillow and saw my cockroach Satiboldi running up to me. He, too, came to see
     me.
     
     
     
     (7) The Swine-herd
     
     
     
     
      When I came home from hospital Babat said it was time to shut up our cockroach breeding firm. On the one hand, the goods do not sell well, that is cockroaches are not much in demand with tourists. On the other hand, the neighbors laugh at them. And thirdly, the state refuses to give credits on such a doubtful line of business fearing that it is either our collaboration with the West or we have both gone mad.
      During the next session of our Family Parliament my wife"s proposal found approval by a majority vote and we shut down our cockroach breeding firm.
      As soon as our cockroaches had received independence, in order to subsist somehow, they left for the neighboring house because we ourselves had nothing to eat. To prevent our refrigerator from turning into a hungerrator we had to find a job and work.
      I got the job of a swine herd at a swine-breeding firm on the bank of the Karadarya River. The total number of pigs at the firm amounted to two hundred and fifty. I was grazing them on the swamp from morning till night driving them in the pigpen at sunset. Herding 250 pigs was not an easy task, of course. I was assisted by a dog by the name of Muravyed (anteater). The name matched her perfectly for she had a long muzzle, shaggy wool and a bushy tail. My cockroach Satiboldy, too, turned out to be a faithful and inseparable friend. It lived with us in the watch-box, and ran about the walls like crazy at night. In the day time it slept somewhere in a cool pace.
      We lived in harmony, in peace and friendship. Occasionally, I would speak to them as if they were humans. They were silent. But they understood me. My children never visited this place. "I feel ashamed - Sharabboy explained - people laugh at us calling us swine-herds". Babat, a real attorney and a defender of mine, justified me. But she wasn"t my frequent visitor either. She would come to see me at the pigsty twice a week. Sometimes I would ask Matash to keep an eye on the pigs, and leave for home.
      One day I met our local imam Zainuddin Ibn Gainuddin. Showing my respect, I stretched my hand to him for a handshake, but, instead of greeting me, he covered his face with the sleeves of his chapan , and walked away hastily. As I learnt later here is what he sad publicly:
      - Muslims, if you meet with the swine-herd Al Kazim, do not even greet him. Should his fingertips touch your clothes, you must wash them right away and dry them for forty days. Or cut off and burn the spot of your clothes which his fingers have touched! Or else you will be eternally burning in the flame of hell.
      Of course, I realized that Zainuddin Ibn Gainuddin envied me. It was all black envy. I did not pay attention to that.
      The day before they delivered combined feed to the farm.
      At night Matash secretly sold one part of the feed to clients and with the money he got from them he bought 3 bottles of vodka. Then we stabbed a young pig, fried it for the snack and arranged a feast.
      We sat by the fire drinking, eating and chatting. There were stars twinkling in the sky and the moon shined illuminating the Kirguizkhadjin fields. Such a romance!
      Matash had drained his piala and taking a snack started speaking:
      -Yes, life is a great thing! But it"s too short! The most terrible thing is that sooner or later one dies. You die and that"s the end, you will never come back. Never, do you hear? Say, you believe in God. Tell me please, do the invalids feel their lost leg? No, of course, not! Why do you think I am sure of that? It"s because I have asked many invalids that question. They say they don"t feel their lost leg, they just don"t sense it. That"s what makes it so frightening, Al Kizim! Hence my conclusion that once invalids do not feel their lost leg they will not feel the loss of the other parts of the body. It means that when a human being dies he turns into nothing. Therefore I do not believe in life after death.
      On hearing this I got frightened and said:
      - Matash, ask God to pardon you now! God will severely punish you for saying such things!
      My words had no effect on him and he continued:
      - Common you, theologian! To tell you the truth, you have no right to talk about God. Because you a swine-herd. You eat pork and drink vodka, and you dare make speeches about God. All right. Now tell me honestly, what appeared first, the hen or the egg?
      I puzzled. Matash smiled:
      - That"s it! Think, Plato, you won"t find the answer anyway.
      -All right I - said. I will give you the answer. Just tell me honestly, who was the first to be born, you or your father?
      -Of course, it was my father - Matash answered.
      - Then the answer is obvious. It was neither the hen nor the egg, it was the rooster that came first.
      Flipping his eye-lids Matash stretched his neck and frowned:
      -What are you driving at? What do you men by that?
      - I mean to say that all the living and nonliving in this world exist in pairs: good- bad, long - short, dark - light, god - evil, man - woman and so on. Thus we can draw the conclusion that the world we are living in has its antipode. And that is the world where all the deceased go. To put it more plainly, the picture appears to be as follows: you know well that there is such a word as "Naught" And once there is the word "Naught" it means there is such a thing as "Naught". In fact, "Naught" means "Hollow". Once there is such a notion as "Hollow" then, in a certain sense, it does exist. Let us assume that we are asleep at home. Our home is in Matarak. The latter is in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is in the World. The World is in Space. If there is no Hollow, then where is Space? After all, by logic, the space we are living in should, like apples in the fridge, have its place somewhere...
      At this point Matash interrupted me:
      - All right then, tell me, where is the Hollow containing our world, like apples in the fridge? After all, Hollow, if it does really exist, should be somewhere, like apples in the fridge, right? You confirmed by saying that everything existing in this world has its match, that is something nonexistent. You think I am not a believer, don"t you? No, my friend, I believe in nonexistence. Therefore, I am a believer, just like you. My belief is unbelief. It means, I am not a "kafir". One that has no belief is called "kafir". I say it again: my belief is unbelief! Once there is the word "Naught" it means it exists in the form of Hollow. All that human beings have seen and experienced - is illusion, a mirage, like a dream against the background of the Hollow.
      - Well, then let me give you a primitive example. Here is a glass vessel which we call a bottle. All things in this World have names, and they are existent. Once the notion of "Naught" has a name it is existent, like a bottle or an apple. In other words, if you believe in the notion of nonexistence named "Naught", then it turns out that you believe in something that exists. Considering this, you believe in the nonexistence, which exists under the name of "The other w4orld" where the deceased depart.
      After I said this Matash seized me by the color, and we started fighting. We fought for a long time until Matash had his head hurt badly.
      When I had calmed down Marash was lying, with his head crushed, like a water-melon which someone has dropped after seeing the woman he loved in his remote youth. I gave him first aid having bandaged his wounded head with a wrap.
      Presently, the moon was shining over the canes far away where the croaking of frogs resounded in the air. It seemed that the moon was fading. Looking at the moon we realized how meaningless all the bloodsheds and wars in the world were. We thought that our dispute was one of the reasons. As it appeared, we needed sports but not a war of words. Disputes divide whereas sport unites all people of the world irrespective of their belief, nationality and race.
     
     (8) Shaitan"s Coach
     
      Many times I have seen on TV people riding in a sleigh pulled by sled dogs in the tundra and on the Arctic glaciers of the world. I secretly envied them, in the finest sense of the word, and dreamed about riding in such sleighs some day.
      Now, to realize my dreams, I made a wooden sleigh with wheels from a motorcycle and
     harnessed pigs instead of dogs.
      The pigs did not like my invention, the colors, in particular. Like a lion-tamer, I had been
     working hard to tame the pigs. I would sit down in the carriage and spur them whipping the knout. They would disperse in fear; the sleigh would fall down to children"s laughter.
      Once it so happened that my pigs pulled me, along with the upturned sleigh, towards the swamp.
      At last I thought up a clever device fastening a head of cabbage on a stick and putting it up as a lure that would make the pigs run ahead. The device worked, and I started riding in this sleigh about the streets of Matarak.
      One day the Head of the collective farm stopped me and said:
      - We have a harvest festival tomorrow. You should decorate your carriage with balloons of all colors and bells, and, remember to hang a stripe of red cloth with a slogan on the side of your sleigh. Ask our artist, he will help you. When the carriage is ready, go to Khasan Aby Dovud"s corn field where we plan to arrange the festival. Take care not to be late for very important people will be there.
      I walked to the club where the Artist Khasan Aby was working all day long and asked him to decorate my carriage. He even attached to it the portrait of Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, an untiring fighter for the cause of Communism, a three times hero of the Soviet Union, an esteemed follower of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the Leader of the World Proletariat.
      That night the feeling of responsibility before my Motherland gave me no rest. Early in the morning I rode in my carriage to Khasan Aby Dovud"s the corn field. When I arrived at the field there were already militiamen there, walking around, .and some officials of the collective farm. The corn field was mowed down, and the counters of movable field shops had already been set in a row. There was a fire smoldering in the hearth with a big bowl hanged up, for making pilau . A man, bending down over the samovar, started building a fire. While I was servicing my carriage musicians with a brass band arrived. They started rehearsing at the eminent platform from which high rank officials were to make speeches.
      At 9 a.m. the big officials arrived and the meeting began.
      After greeting the people the officials came down to shake hands and chat with them. The band began to play and the singers from the Palace of Culture started singing songs.
      People were elated. The dancers were waltzing, hopping and jigging. The horsemen began to play the national game "Kupkari". Sitting in the saddles of pedigree horses, some wearing a fur cap others a tanker"s helmet or a turban, they were racing in chase of a stuffed goat called "Ulak". One of the riders dashed ahead as fast as the wind, holding the whip, like an arrow, between his teeth.
      - The wind! The man is the wind! The lucky one! - I thought. Unlike me, the tractor of a man. It"s a pity I haven"t got a horse. I cannot catch up with them in my carriage, can I?
      I looked up and saw that they were calling me. I wheeled towards them. The head of the collective farm felicitated me on the festival and whispered in my ear that the VIPs, wishing to cheer people up, wanted to take a ride in my carriage.
      The VIPs included Kalankhan Adalatov, Director of Uvada Fctory, Kaipnazar Durmanovich Kaimanov, Chief of Environment Protection Department and Gulyamkadir Khaltayevich Baltayev, Director of the Oil Refinery.
      I moved up to the platform and the big men got on my carriage. The moment they got on I felt a strong smell of alcohol.
      - Get going, coachman! - Kalankhan Adalatov said.
      The officials burst out laughing. I raised my whip and set off. Ringing the bells, the three pigs harnessed abreast dashed along.
      There was hue and cry and laughter all around. Off and on the officials waved their hands to people, the way Yury Gagarin, the space conqueror did. Kaipnazar Durmanovich Kaimanov waved his hat occasionally.
      Suddenly an accident or a "State of Emergency" occurred. I don"t know who had frightened them but the pigs went out of control. They went mad scattering in all direction and upset the cart with the esteemed passengers.
      -Stop the carriage, you fool - the bosses yelled in chorus.
      The pigs would not listen to me. They carried us along with the carriage to the place where the wastes of the oil refinery had formed a man made bog. Dragging the carriage along with the officials the pigs carried them there. The stinking and boiling bog began to sucking in the troika and the people.
      Kalankhan Adalatov swam in the bog trying to get hold of a pig"s ears. I sat in the drowning carriage as if on board the Titanic, calling for help. The Chief of the Regional Department of Environmental Protection seized at the portrait of Comrade Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, an untiring fighter for the cause of Communism, a three times hero of the Soviet Union while Baltayev Gulyamkul Khaltayevich the Director of the Oil Refinery, now disappearing now coming out, kept crying: "Mama! Mammy! He-e-elp! Luckily, some peasants had responded on time, and, armed with beams, saved the drowning men i.e. us, like a rescue team on a beach where slant eyed sharks furrow the azure waters of distant warm seas.
     
     
     (9) The Death of Anteater
     
      My faithful friend Muravyed (Anteater) had suddenly fallen ill and lost flesh. Somebody must have given her a needle with food. She stopped eating. Yet, shaking from giddiness, she did her dog"s duty to the end standing guard over the pigsty. She even tried to help me in the day time.
      - Please, don"t, Myravyed, - I would tell her - Lie at rest. I can cope with my task. Eat something...
      A begged her to have at least some food, but the poor one, sticking her nose to me and wagging her tail, would long keep looking somewhere into the distance. And she kept silent. I called the animal technician Yegitnabigulla. He examined Muravyed and said in a high female voice:
      - Oh, my dear brother, your dog is seriously ill, and it"s incurable.
      - Isn"t there any hope- I asked?
      - Yegitnabigulla, smiling cunningly like a prostitute and stroking his thin mustache with his little finger, said looking at me askance:
      - Well, if you give me some money to pay for my lunch, your dog can be cured.
      Giving him all the money I had about me I said:
      -Take it.
      - Yegitnabigulla promised to came back and bring the necessary medication but never came.
      My dog disappeared. Calling her, I looked for her everywhere. But she did not respond, as if she had vanished into thin air.
      The next day I found her dead beyond Khasan Abu Dovud"s cotton fields. The poor dog had run away not willing to cause me pain and died there. She must have walked around until she died.
      I stood over her body involuntary tears running from my eyes. Her hair was waving like grass in the meadow. I went down on my knees and started crying:
      - Muravyed, my dear, Murik, pardon me, please, my friend... Pardon me for not being able to help you during the hard times... Sorry if I hurt you unintentionally. I have learnt a lot from you. You would suffer but you never complain. I am not capable of that. I see now that I was attached to you. I will never forget you.
      With these words I stroked her and wrapping her in my jacket made my way to the pig farm.
      My friend Matash was there. On seeing Myravyed"s body he, too, started crying. I left him the key to the watch-house and left for home. While I walked it was getting dusky. When my wife and the kids saw Muravyed"s dead body they hanged their heads in tears. Sobbing bitterly, Babat, said recalling our dog:
      - Poor Muravyed, she was a holy animal. She loved our children. She never had a grudge against anybody. She would forgive the one who had offended her. She pardoned me even when I beat her with a broom...
      In such a bad state of mood we buried her in the honorary place of our yard. We buried her like a human.
      In the morning Kalankhan Adalatov called round to convey his condolences. As a sign of mourning he took off his hat which he bought after he had lost his famous leatherette hat at the wedding party where the fight took place. After a minute of silence Kalankhan Adalatov began to speak:
      -You know , Al Kazim, your dog was a human being in the make-up of a dog. She respected me. When I was passing by she would get up wagging her tail. As for you, sorry for telling you that, but I have to say it, you are a dog in the make-up of a man. If you had fed her well she wouldn"t have died.
      Adalatov furtively wiped his tears. Taking my chance, I said:
      - Comrade Kalankhan Adalatov, I have given it all up. I mean, I have given up my bad habits, and I am sick and tired of being a swine-herd. May I go back to my former job?
      He stopped at the door, reflecting on my words. Then, turning abruptly his face to me, he said:
      -All right. But don"t be late.
      Smiling through my tears, I thanked him.
     
     
     (10) Cinema
     
      Buribai Ramazanov who broke my leg when we had a fight paid me a small fine, then he did time languishing in prison for six month, returned home and got fixed up in the same job. In other words, he got the job of the driver of the " Zaporozhets " car driven by Kalankhan Adalatov.
      Ramazanov was a big boaster. Once he stopped his jalopy on the roadside and came out. Then he walked towards the tea-room where the projectionists had hung up on the big maple tree a big portable screen, looking like a sail.
      Two men rolled the aluminum reels rewinding the film. Coming up to them Ramazanov asked:
      - What is the name of the movie, eh?
      - "Sangam" - the projectionists answered.
      - Sangam? Aw, - Ramazanov sneered - Do you call it a film? There used to be films in the past, let me see, what is it? Tarzan! Yeah, that"s the real film! It"s about a monkey-like man who lived in trees. The way he shouted jumping from tree to tree! The whole generation of people aped him jumping up and down the trees! So many people had broken legs and arms! Eh-eh-eeeiii! Many have become invalids for life, like Al Kazim, for example. And this FantТmas? It"s a masterpiece, I declare! He looked so horrible! Terrific! Bold, with no mustache, no beard, no eyebrows, no eyelashes. His eyes were smoldering like a couple of flames.
      One day FantТmas came and kidnapped these officials, you know, the bribe-takers, who steal people"s money. He took them into his cellar. Then he interrogated them beating and kicking them in the ass. So many state figures and offenders had he reclaimed! We were particularly excited at his laughter! Hah-hah-hah-hah!
      I don"t understand why the film was banned.
      The projectionists continued rewinding the film, sneering on the sly. When night fell they started rolling the movie.
      Killing mosquitoes, the spectators sat in the open air, some on the grass, others on bricks.
     The huge screen showed the bank of the River Ganges, or Jamna, I don"t remember it precisely.
     Leaving her clothes on the bank a pretty girl was swimming in the river in a bathing suit. Canes were rustling in the wind. A young man, resembling Adolph Hitler sat in a huge tree, playing the Scottish bagpipe. Seeing him the girl said : "divana", i.e. "madman".
      The young man said:
      -Even Krishna played the flute sitting on the bank of the river.
      Then the young man began to sing:
     Ar mere manhe Gamno
     Ar here manhe Jamna-a-a
     Ar pole Radha pole Sangam
     Buga tene h-i-i
     Ar pole Radha pole Sandgam
     Buga tene h-i-i...
     
      At this moment the film snapped. People started shouting from darkness:
      - Tinker! Hey, tinker! Patch the film now!
      The projectionists lighted up the projector and started mending the torn film. They were bothering about for a long time. At last they had fixed it and resumed rolling the movie.
      The young man, whose name was Sundr, turned out to be very poor. But he loved the girl by the name of Radha. who was now swimming alone by the bank of the river.
      As for Radha, she loved another man, a wealthy one, whose name was Gopal. The latter was Sundr"s friend. After Radha had rejected Sundr"s love he took to drink, boozing up and crying with grief. He walked around unshaved, like a vagrant alcoholic. Then, against a contract, he set out for war. He flew on board an Air Force aircraft admiring Radha"s photo when suddenly his plane was shot down by the enemy"s artillery. The plane was on fire. Poor Sundr didn"t know what to do. Suddenly, off went the hatch and down was dropped the secret load of the Indian Army, meant for the soldiers who had run short of ammunitions. The dripping plane, all aflame, was buzzing towards the mountain rocks.
      Now the spectators snuggled up together in fear, and some women closed their eyes with their hands. Ramazanov, too, rose from his seat and shouted:
      Hey, Sundr, jump! Do you hear? Dear Sundr! The plane will explode now! Sundr, good boy! Jump, I tell you! Well, come on! Oh-oo!..
      The plane hit the rocks and exploded. At this exciting point the film snapped again.
      Now a woman cried out from the darkness:
      - Help! He-e-e-e-lp!
      Somebody directed his flashlight to the place where the woman cried and asked:
      - What"s the matter? Who"s there? What has happened?
      - The ants! I"ve got ants in my clothes! Oh, my Lord! I seem to have sat down on an ant hill! - the woman cried shaking her dress.
      People were looking at her reproachfully, and some even cursed! Somebody burst out laughing...
      Lighting up the projector, the men, like watch makers, started mending the torn film again.
      One woman began to cry. A man asked her:
      - What"s the matter, Bazargul? Why are you crying? Has somebody hurt you?
      - I am sorry for the young man. The poor one... He loved the girl so! It"s entirely her fault. It"s because of her that he went to the war. I pray to God, may his soul rest in peace in Paradise. Ahmin-Allah-Akbar! - said the woman.
      At last the projectionists had fixed the projector and the film went on.
      When he saw Sundr coming back home from hospital after treatment Ramazanov cried:
      - There he is! He is alive, you see? He had time to parachute from the plane! I had warned him, hadn"t I? Dear Sundr owes me half a liter of vodka. Had I not warned him, he would have burnt alive! Yes, he would!
      Meanwhile, Sundr dropped in at his aunt"s. He learnt from her that his beloved girl, thinking that he had died, married Gopal.
      Sundr sat down at the piano and started playing and singing the sad song about the unfaithful girl-friend:
      Dosti dostna raha,
      Pyar pyarna raha.
      Zinsegi - i tume sra,
      Eе-ее - etabarna raha...
     
      To check his tears, Sundr sang looking at the ceiling. The villagers watching the movie joined him in crying.
      Suddenly, a strong wind had risen, gradually turning into a storm. People got up in panic and, covering their faces and eyes with their hands from the sand and the dust raised by the sandstorm, began to disperse. The screen which had been spread on the tall maple tree broke in two. The projectionist"s hat was blown off his head and flew away, god knows where.
     
     (12) Buried Alive
     
      At last I returned to my former job. Precisely on that day all men of Uvada Factory went out for a picnic to the recreation zone known as "Shirmanbulak" which was located near the Suleiman Tog Mountains. We put up at the house of Ashuraly Klychev, the battery attendant. He not only fixed batteries but also played musical instruments, sang and told jokes better than the actors of Comedy Satire Theatre, and, to cap it all, he loved and appreciated poetry.
      -If you want, you can climb the mountainside walking along that path over there - Ashuraly Klichev said.
      - Leaving Usta Churan, the factory"s watchman, at the camp to prepare supper for us we made our way up the path which the battery attendant had shown us.
      Gathering tulips and admiring the mountain scenery, we walked around the mountainside until late in the evening. When we returned to the camp the supper was ready. We washed, had supper and thanked Usta Churan for the good meal.
      Usta Churan was a short man, as swarthy as pig-iron, and with a mustache. His gray hair stuck out of his skull-cap like a hedgehog"s needles. His eyes were exceedingly slanted. I involuntarily wandered how on earth he could see through such narrow slits.
      But he could see by far better than other people. His ears were also as good as those of a dog. Owing to these traits he had won the contest and got the job of the watchman at the factory.
      After supper Usta Churan made a pause and then gave us a sign to keep silent. Then he lay down on the ground by the table and pricked up his ears. He was listening to the ground like an Indian that can hear the clatter of enemy"s horses' hoofs coming from afar. He said he could hear people crying under the ground. We looked at one another in silence, and then we joined Usta Churan. We lay down and listened. Yes, indeed. There was a low sound of cry coming from under the ground. Frankly speaking, I was scared.
      - Those are people whom we have buried alive. They are asking us for help -
     Ramazanov said.
      - Maybe, they are evil spirits? They are displeased with our coming here. We"d better leave this place before they do us harm - I said.
      At this point, to set those buried at ease, Ramazanov started praying. When he finished his prayer Kalankhan Adalatov, being an Orthodox Christian, crossed himself and started singing a psalm from the Bible. But their prayers didn"t help.
      - Once the prayers have had no effect upon them they are alive. Maybe, the earth has really swallowed them up and they cannot get out? Maybe, they are miners, and there was an explosion of methane in the pit? We should help them immediately. Go and find some excavation tools - Kalankhan Adalatov said.
      Supporting the suggestion of our wise Director, we brought spades, a pick, a crow-bar and a pneumatic chipper from the barn of battery attendant. Ashuraly. As the ground was rocky, we had to toil at it pretty hard. When the hole was one meter deep we could distinctly hear voices coming from under the ground.
      Suddenly, we all fell into the ground, along with Usta Churanov. Shouting with fear, we tumbled onto the solid ground.
      When the dust had cleared away we could discern peple sitting as if on a picnic. We were the first to recognize Ashurali Klichev, the battery attendant and the host of the house. He turned out to be in the wine cellar treating his friends to the wine he brew at home.
      Now Kalakhan Adalatov, sticking his head through the hole we had fallen in, shouted:
      - Al Kazim! Churanbai! Where are you? Are you alive?
      - Yes, Kalankhan Adalatovich, we are safe and sound! It happens to be Ashuraly Klichev"s cellar! Come down!
      The men sitting at table stared at us, and Ashuraly Klichev, drunken-eyed, came up to us saying:
      - What"s the matter? There"s a door here, and you burst in like beasts... You guests, may you be cursed.
      At this moment Kalankhan Adalatov and Ramazanov, like huge spiders, came down by means of a rope. Kalankhan Adalatov introduced us to his friends: Tapal Zhalal, a journalist, Afarin, a poet, and the local human rights fighter Kaitmas Kambar.
      For a start, we drank to our acquaintance, then we raised glasses to our friendship, then to our charming ladies, and so on. I looked in fear at the director"s eyes. It was an open secret that his eyes were like a barometer for me. I saw that he was now cast in the eye, like a rabbit. Well, I thought , that"s the end. Right then Ashuraly Klichev, adjusting his glasses, said:
      - My dear pirate friends! Before our "Titanic", so to say, has drowned in the ocean of vodka, she will take course to latitude 30 West and longitude 96 East. We will sail towards the "Mororua" Atoll coral reef where our dentist Kelsinbaiy lives and have a drink of strong rum from a black bottle with him.
      - We are unanimous! - said poet Afarin.
      Ashurali Klichev, like a ship captain, uttered triumphantly:
      - Cast off! Let go the anchor!
      - Aye-aye! Cast off, let go the anchor! - Tapil Zhelal screamed.
      Like pirates that embarked in the open sea, we set out shaking from side to side. Meanwhile the poet Afarin, began to dance singing a merry song. We applauded him shouting joyfully and clapping our hands. We went on, like pirates in the deep of joy, crying and whistling.
      The houses looked like icebergs. We sailed on and on until Tapyl Zhelal cried out:
      - Mr. Captain, land is ahead!. It must be the Mororua Atoll coral reef where Kelsinbay lives! - he shouted
      Ashurali Kalychev also shouted in reply. It felt like powerful waves of the sea were roaring around.
      - Starboard! Cast off and clew down! Cast anchor!
      - Aye-aye, clew down! - Tapyl Zhelal cried.
      At last we came to the gate of the house where the dentist Kesinbay lived. As I pressed the button installed by the gate there came exciting sounds like "ding-dong, ding-dong". A few moments later we heard the trampling of heavy boots and Kelsinbay himself came out.
      He was a thick man with a swollen belly. Judging by his appearance, he made up a hundred kilograms by weight, if not more. One couldn"t see any hair on his physiognomy except for eyebrows and eye-lashes. His muzzle was as smooth as Mongolian plain. When he smiled his slanted eyes sort of disappeared.
      He greeted us in a roaring voice and invited us into his house. We went in. Then, passing through the corridor, we proceeded to the sitting-room and sat down at the table. Ashurali took out a small jug of homebrew which he had brought along and put it on the table. Kelsinbay brought a light snack, and we began, clinking the pialas, to drink wine. Kelsinbay made his apology:
      - I beg your pardon, comrade patients, that is, my dear friends, for the frugal dastarkhan. I have eaten all I had in the fridge. I like to eat and sleep well, as the saying goes... It"s good for my health.
      I work nonstop from early morning till late at night pulling out my patients" teeth like carpenters pull out rusty nails from old boards and planks. If I piled up all the teeth that I have extracted then new mountains would be formed on the geographic map of the world. Having worked along this line for many years I have lost the feeling of compassion. As a matter of fact, I have got used to this profession. Even when I talk to people I have the wish to pull their teeth out. The cries and screams of my patients are like the music of Frеdеric Franзois Chopin to me. The mouths of my patients, widely open for fear of the dental drill, inspire me. Well, how shall I explain it to you... I should say... It"s poetry! I have got accustomed to it like a desperate drug-addict. I am the victim of my profession! Sometimes, walking about the room at home, I have the temptation to take the pliers and pull the teeth of my better half. At night I have particularly violent fits. There... It starts again! Where are the pliers? Oh, here they are... Will you open your mouth!... Say "Ah-ah-ah"... I want ...
      With these words Kelsinbay went up to Kalankhan Adalatov. The latter, terribly frightened, tried to escape but the dentist, pliers in hand, attacked him. Then Kalankhan Adalatov jumped out of the window. From the powerful blow, the window got smashed into pieces. We ran out of the house through the front door left the yard. Then we helped Kalankhan Adalatov to get up and
     went out into the street.
      Presently, the moon shined illuminating the empty streets of the mountain village Shirmanbulak. By the moonlight we could see blood glistening on Kalankhan Adalatov"s cheeks.
     The wound was rather deep and bleeding non-stop. The hospital was far away. So we decided to turn to people for help.
      I long knocked at the iron gate until an old woman came out, flash-light in hand.
      -Good evening, granny I said hurriedly.
      - V-alleikum assalam - the woman answered. Then she shouted:
      -What do you want? Fiddling about at night like a ghost! You give no rest to people at night...
      - Excuse us, granny. Help us, please. Give us a needle thread please...
      - And what do you need a needle and thread for, I wonder? Have you got your trousers torn, or what? You"ve been fighting, haven"t you? You shouldn"t drink so much...
      - No-o-o, granny, that"s not the point. You see, our esteemed Director fell down by chance and had his face injured. You see the wound is bleeding. We must stop it. We should sew up the wound, as the surgeons put it.
      The woman went up to Kalakhan Adalatov, raised the flash-light and examined the bleeding wound of our wise Director. She pondered a while and then said:
      - It"s a woman"s job. You may do it the wrong way. Bring him here. I will sew it up myself. Oh, my Lord...Jesus, forgive our sins.
      She kept muttering opening the gate as we went into the yard. We entered the house. The woman brought a needle and thread and told us to put the wounded man down on the floor. We did as she said and started holding Kalakhan Adalatov by his arms and feet. The woman began the operation.
      Kalakhan Adalatov clenched his teeth, moaning and groaning for pain. The operation lasted a long time. At last she completed it and said:
      -That"s all. You see, the wound is no longer bleeding. So don"t worry, sonny. As the saying goes, "a scar embellishes a man".
      Then the woman glanced at the Director and suggested:
      -Your eyes have turned red, sonny. They should also be treated before it"s too late.
      The woman rose and went up to the cupboard and began to scour about the shelves in search of the medicine she wanted to use. In a few minutes she returned, holding a small bottle in her hand. I looked at the bottle and saw "Iodine" written on it. While the woman was opening the bottle I asked her:
      -Granny, what are you going to do?
      - The woman did not reply. Suddenly she poured all the content of the bottle into Adalatov"s left eye. Something like smoke or steam came out with a hissing sound -"sh-sh-sh"- out of the eye-socket of our wise Director. With a terrible scream, Kalakhan Adalatov got up and ran out into the street. We followed him.
      So this nightmare marked the end of our picnic.
      From then on Kalakhan Adalatov"s left eye looked like a white stone sticking out of a crack. Our Director was now wearing a black rubber band, like a pirate that at one time led a band of robbers and killers in the open ocean off the shores of remote Canada
     .
     (12) The Japanese Rooster
     
     My mother-in-law came to see us. She brought a rooster as a gift for her grandchildren.
     Actually, I shouldn"t call him a full-fledged rooster for he was too little. But I shouldn"t call him a chicken either. Judging from his appearance, the rooster was old. In short, he was a mysterious bird. Babat was particularly happy about him.
      - Mommy presented us with a rooster. She takes care about us night and day always thinking about us - Babat said stroking tenderly the little rooster, red as fire.
      - Ye-e-e-s, Arabboy said - such a small beautiful rooster! We can even keep him in a cage, like a parrot, that frightens off the guests repeating again and again primitive nasty words.
      - Japanese - I said - are very calculating people. Everything they do and have is "super-"
     and "hypo-". Their poetry is one example. Japanese poets place whole poems in a rhyme of three lines, a stanza called "haiku". With us it"s quite the contrary. Our poets whose message can fit in three lines write long poems. Ironically, Japanese poets write "Haiku" and "Tanka" to economize on paper, time and ink. Their houses, too, are compact. The door, the windows and partly the walls in them are made of rice paper. The Japanese tea drinking tradition is also unique. Very much unlike ours - we just boil water, put green tea in it and gulp!
      Drinking tea is a real theatre performance there. Before making tea they long bow to one another. Then the take a shaving-brush and mix the tea in the boiling water with it carefully. When the tea is ready they slowly pour it into cups with a special ladle. After that, moving the cup around in the hand, they start drinking slowly, taking their time, sipping, and bowing to one another and enjoying it immensely.
      They also have vodka. It"s called "sake". They also make it of rice. When they give you some of this sake you involuntarily think they want you to rinse your glass. But that"s not true because sake is so strong that one only needs to drink three or four drops to find oneself in the seventh heaven.
      Now look at this rooster. Three or four grains will be enough to feed this bird. Keeping such roosters and hens, the Japanese save hundreds upon hundreds of millions of tons of grain annually.
      In the meantime, to let him adapt himself, we should lock him up in the hen-house.
      Arabboy and Sharabboy took the rooster, and, unbinding his legs, locked him in the coop.
      As soon as the rooster was locked in he started squalling nonstop:
      - Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo!
      Meanwhile, night was falling. But the Japanese rooster was still crying. The neighbors started looking curiously through the fences into the yard. Kalakhan Adalatov, dressed in a pajama, climbed up onto the roof of his house and yelled:
      - Hey, Al Kazim, what are you doing there? Shut this rooster up! I have an allergy to birds. Do you want to send me to the better world before time? Shut him up, I tell you! Or else I"ll go out and decapitate the bloody rooster and you, too, along with him.
      I apologized to the Director:
      - Kalakhan Adalatovich, I will silence him now. He was brought by my mother-in-law! You know, since I jumped into the chimney she"s hated me.
      And, covering his mother-in-law, he ordered his sons:
      - Arabbboy! Sharabboy! Take the rooster and kill him now!
      - All right! -Arabboy said opening the door of the hen-house. Sharabboy got inside to take the Japanese rooster. The latter, like a coded computer, kept crying continuously:
      - Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo!
      Sharabboy wanted to catch him but, flying from corner to corner, kicking and pecking the boy, the rooster jumped out of his hand. Suddenly, he flew out of the hen-house and ran away. We chased him. Babat, Arabboy and Sharabboy managed to block him and began to gradually tighten the ring. The Japanese rooster broke the encirclement and, like a partridge, flew off and landed about fifteen meters away from us. We had blocked the rooster several times, but all was in vain. Each time he would slip off our hands.
     Then we had to use a stratagem. To lure the rooster, Babat strewed some grain and called him:
      - Chuck-chuck, chuck-chuck, chuck-chuck!
      Meanwhile, I sneaked up to the rooster from behind and jumped at him like a "Pakhtakor" goal keeper. The jet-propelled animal jumped away again. I pursued him. Unfortunately, I had my feet entangled in the polyethylene film which we used to cover the
     hotbed and fell into a ditch with fertilizer, that is manure. When I pulled through I got up and ran after the rooster again. The latter got into the tandoor where Babat baked flat bread once a weak. Tandoor, a clay oven looking like a big jug, was placed on a big platform. It only has the entrance with no exit. Getting into the tandoor the Japanese rooster made a grave historic blunder.
      -Well, that"s the end! I"ve got you, scoundrel! - I said stepping cautiously, like a leopard
     that treads slowly and quietly before attacking his victim. At last I managed to cover the entrance of tandoor with my torso. To catch the ill-fated bird I scoured about inside the oven and, luckily, I managed to catch him in the end.
      -You should see how happy I was having caught him! The damned rooster wasn"t very happy about it. Ht had pecked my hands through and through and went on crying even in my hands:
      - Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo!
      Then I said:
      - Arabboy, brings a knife, will you? We"ll slaughter this shouter!
      -Please, don"t father. He"s got more wastes than meat.
      Babat started defending the rooster"s poultry rights:
      - Oh no, dadasi, how can you? Don"t kill him! Mom will be offended. You know, she brought him as a gift for the grandchildren!
      - Well, then, let the kids take him back to granny.
      -Dadasi, are you crazy? It"s not good to return a gift.
      The rooster, as if approving Babat" words, started crying at the top of his voice again. The curious neighbors, unconsciously jumping over the fence, found themselves in the yard. The damned rooster was still crowing.
      Kalankhan Adalatov, standing on the roof, cursed me using unprintable words.
      I stood like a hunter that chases hares with the help of an eagle and then said to my spouse:
      - Well, let Arabboy and Sharabboy go to the market and sell the rooster or give him away to somebody!
      Babat agreed. The children put the rooster into a sack and set out to the market in the western part of the town where goods were bought and sold day and night.
      - I went out into the street to inform Kalankhan Adalatov that the rooster was no more and that my sons had left for the market to sell the bird. As I went out -oh my! - I saw an ambulance car outside Kalankhan Adalatov"s house.
      Аwhole team of medics in white, cases in hand, came out of he car. Accompanied by Falankhan, that is Adalatov"s son, they went towards the house. It turned out that due the negative impact of the clamorous rooster upon Kalankhan Adalatov he had a heart attack and fell down from the roof into the pond where dirty duck swam from morning till night champing the dirty slush in search of worms.
      A few hours later, the medics, lifting the stretcher with our wise Director Kalagkhan Adalatov reclining on it, came back.
      I had twinges of conscience that day. The next morning I took a saucepan of hot food and went to the district center Altinkul to see the Director at hospital.
      He was laid up in the cardiological department. As I entered the ward Kalankhan Adalatov turned away from me.
      - Pardon me, master - I said - I didn"t mean to hurt you. The rooster is gone. My sons have sold him at the market.
      - Yes, he said turning his face to me and sighed:
      - Thank God
      He crossed.
      Suddenly, the piercing cry of a rooster resounded right from beyond the fence in the house adjoining the hospital.. I recognized the satanic crow at once. It was the very rooster that was responsible for Kalankhan Adalatov"s heart attack... It so happened that my sons had sold him to the man who lived in the house from which the crow reached us. I looked at Kalankhan Adalatov and saw his only eye widen from heart attack. I got frightened and called the doctors. They took him to the resuscitation department. in a hearse.
     
     
     
     (13) Grief
     
      It was six month since I had given up plying gambling games. Sometimes I played cards but not for money. Just for pleasure. I liked the game of cards called "Durak" . When I played it Usta Garib happened to be my constant and unfortunate rival. He lost each time, becoming a fool. Winning the game I would leave two cards of six and put them on his shoulders saying:
      - These are shoulder loops for you. You are a legendary marshal of fools.
      I remember once we sat by the widely open windows of his barber"s shop playing the game. Making a psychological attack, I said:
      - Usta, have you ever read Osip Mandelstam"s poems? You see, there"s such a poet, Osip Mandelstam by name..
      -No, Usta replied looking at the newspaper "Yosh Leninchi" spread on the table with a pack of cards on it..
      - And who on earth is that, Osip Mandilistap?...
      - Mandelstam, not Mandilistap - I corrected him throwing a trump card.
      - Mandilstap or Mandulstamp... what difference does it make? - Usta mumbled fixing his eyes on the cards.
      .-The point is that the poet once wrote rhymes about you.
      -Oh really? - Usta Garib said collecting all the cards lying on the newspaper "Yosh Leninchi" for lack of a tramp card in his hand - And what are the rhymes about? - he asked setting the cards right.
      - This is what he wrote:
      Authority is disgusting
      Like the hands of a barba.
     
      - Barba is the Latin word for barber or hairdresser - I explained - He meant to say that power in the country is just as ghastly as the hands of a barber.
      - Pooh, sh-shugar! - cursed Usta Garib - did he really write that? Well, well! And
     why on earth does he write such rhymes about me? What have I done to him? Dash! I serve people doing it from the bottom of my heart, cutting their hair, and there you are! Ungrateful clients...What editorial office does he work at, this what do you call him...Moldingstuff?
      - He hasn"t been working for quite a long time -I said - He was shot during the reprisals under Stalin.
      - Oh, really? - Usta Garib said - I thought he was our contemporary poet. Anyway, Stalin was right having shot him. Just think, why should he write such bad poems? He might as well have written, say, about flowers or something... Women... Love... Or about wine and vodka, the way Omar Hayam did, eh? And this poet, what do you call him, takes a pen and scribbles a poem about barbers whose hands he describes as ghastly.
      Looking at his hands, Usta Garib meditated for a moment. Then he asked:
      - Was Stalin also a barber, I wonder?
      Looking at Usta Garib in surprise, I answered:
      - Yes, he was a great barber. With a big razor in his hand he shaved all that was growing around.
      - Good for him! So he was a colleague of mine. Well, I just didn"t know it - Usta said admiringly. He must have had many clients.
      - Yes he had millions of clients, millions.. He had shaved them all - I said finishing off the game, and then added triumphantly:
     : - Here are two cards of six for you to sew them up on your shoulders.
      - Al Kizim, how do you manage to win the game all the time? Shaitan himself must be prompting you - Usta Garib said collecting the cards - Shall we play another game?
      - No, thank you - I refused - I think I should be going. And you look into the mirror and go on playing cards with your reflection. I believe that you will win by all means.
      Usta Garib did not respond to what I said. No, he was looking through the widely open windows out into the street where his house stood with a truck resembling a meat carrier. Two men were unloading something like furniture. Watching the scene, Ysta Garib said in surprise:
      - Dash! What are they unloading? Perchance, Adil has sent me his debt in goods. My wife is scolding them. Poor Adil! He should have paid me in cash. It"s against the thievish law. I shall not let it pass. I will go and talk to the deal settlers without delay and let them know. I"ll be damned if I don"t! I swear on my sacred noskavok .
      - Well, Al Kiziv, come along! I will send his furniture back to him. Let him pay in cash. What do I need this furniture for? I can do without it. I am not a city man, after all.
      We ran to the car. When we approached it we saw an officer and four soldiers there. With Kalashnikov submachine guns hanging down their shoulders the soldiers, bending their heads, were standing, caps off, by a zinc coffin. Usta Garib"s wife, hugging the coffin, was crying bitterly. On seeing this, Usta Garib grew pale in the face and lips.
      The officer, taking his cap off, came up to Usta Garib and, pointing to the address and, conveying his condolences, handed him in a letter from the Command.
      -Oh no-oo-oo! No that! Oh my Go-oo-od!! Allayar-ja-aa-aan! Sonny! My only one! No-oo! Alla-ya-aar! It"s entirely my fault! Allah has punished me for playing the gambling game! Pardon me, sonny!
      On hearing the noise, the neighbors came out, and a crowd of people gathered round. Usta Garib"s wife writhed in hysterics, tearing her hair, and, dashing against the pole, badly hurt her forehead. She fainted. The wound was bleeding. Her head turned red from blood. The women took her up trying her bring her round. To stop the blood, some one brought soot from the boiler. Then they put the soot on the wound and dressed it.
      Usta Garib was still whining. I, too, shed my tears sincerely because Allayar was the nicest boy in Matarak. Usta Garib kept sobbing. The soldiers, whipping their tears with their helmets, were also crying.
      Usta Garib cried so loudly and bitterly that he lost his voice and became hoarse.
      Meanwhile the soldiers carried the coffin into the house. By lunch time all the relatives had gathered there. There were sympathetic people outside as well. They stood feeling with Usta Garib and talking in a whisper.
      Finally, Sheikh Zainutdin Ibn Gainutdin, the imam of the mosque, arrived to utter the mourning prayer for the soul of the deceased.
      He told people what to do:
      - Mullah Salim, you go to the grave digger and dig the grave with him.Mullah Churan, you run to Gassalam. Tell him to come and wash the deceased. Mullah Buribay, you go on your car and bring the welder Irgashbay Ibn Rahimjan, so that he might open the lid of the zinc coffin.
      After his words had been translated the officer came up to him and started speaking. I translated him. He said as follows:
      - I forbid you to open the lid of the coffin and demand that you abide by the laws of the USSR. For according to the Constitution all people, young and old alike, are equal before the law.
     Here is the official paper which says that opening the lid of the coffin is strictly forbidden. If you don"t want an epidemic to spread you had better stop.
      But Sheikh Zainutdin Ibn Gainutdin interruptd him:
      - Yes, you are right. But the Soviet laws and the State Constitution are not for the dead,
     so you have no right to mpose a ban on us. After one dies one becomes independent of the laws passed by humans. We just have to open the coffin to perform the act of ablution оf the deceased who is a convinced Muslim belonging to Islam, and we should wrap him in a shroud and bury him according to the laws of Sharia , that is the laws of Allah.
      Then the officer said:
      -All right, Comrade Mullah, but in that case you will have to hand in a written refusal so that I might give my account to my commanders.
      - Agreed - said Sheikh Zainutdin Ibn Gainutdin and wrote an explanation note on the paper given to him by the officer.
     
      Now Buribay Ramazanov had brought the welder Irgash ibn Rahimjan who lived near Usta garib"s house. They quickly filled up the welding unit with carbide and got down to work cutting the lid of the coffin. When they had finished Ramazanov opened the lid and for a moment stood stock-still in puzzlement, like a bronze statue. All those present who dared to look into the coffin also stood petrified. The one lying in the coffin was not Allayar but another young man, red haired, with his throat cut. Little yellow centipedes ran about his face.
      Ramazanov vomited throwing it up on the lid of the coffin. Usta Garib stood staring, now into the coffin, now at the officer. Then, pulling his knife out of the sheath, he dashed toward the officer and the soldiers. He shouted like mad.
      - I will kill you! I"ll be damned, if I don"t stab you! What an outrage! Where"s my son? Answer, you jackal! Where"s Allayar! Tell me now, you brute! Why are you silent, you swine?!
      Usta Karib was foaming at the mouth, like a mad dog. The frightened officer withdrew the pistol from the holster aiming at Usta Garib. Zainutdin Ibn Gainutdin started soothing Usta Garib:
      - Mullah Garib, pull yourself together. Your son is probably safe and sound, in praise of Allah. You should be grateful to God Almighty for He loves the gratifying...
      Seizing at the opportunity, the frightened officer told the soldiers to load the coffin with the body of a young soldier of the Soviet Army back into the catafalque. The soldiers did as the officer ordered, and they left the scene quickly.
      . The citizens were at a loss. Zainutdin Ibn Gainutdin started beating a retreat to the grave diggers and other organizers and addressing to Usta Garib said:
      - Compose yourself, Mullah Garib. It"s good that we opened the coffin. It turned out to be a big misunderstandg. But that soldier, too, deserves compassion. Somewhere in remote plces his parents are waiting for him. . God rest his soul! All people, regardless of belief and race, are children of Adam and Eve. All people are equal before God. The damned war! War is a Satan"s creation! Let us pray for peace in the world so that young men might not die. Let us pray for the safe and sound return of Usta Garib"s son. Amen, Allah Akbar! May God bless us!
     We prayed for the soldier of the whole world and for Allayar. Then we all went home.
     
     (14) The Stunt Man"s "Chrysler"
     
      The chief accountant of Uvada Factory Kunzhibay and I set out on Ramazanov"s car "Zaporozhets" to fulfill the task set by Kalankhan Adalatov. The doors of the car closed with difficulty. Once you opened them they wouldn"t close. Kunzhibay was a thin man and sharp-sighted like a mantis. He was about two meters tall. Talking about himself he would say with self criticism:
     : - I am tall but my mind is quite the contrary.
      - He was a liar by nature. That was the reason why the employers of Uvada Factrory had nicknamed him "Munchhausen". As he was tall Kunzhibay he sat in the car bending down and praising Ramazanov"s dilapidated car.
      - Yes, Buribai-aka , you"re a brave stunt man.! Your car is not a "Zaparozhets", it"s a "Chrysler". Propping up the torn mattress of his seat with his backside and turning to Kuzhinbai he said:
      - You think so? Well, thank you for appreciating my talent. The evil tongues call you Munchhausen. But you are right for once. Indeed, the stunt men are, in fact, suck men compared with me. For you to know, I am driving drunk at a speed now. Before we set out I had gulped a whole bottle of vodka. No problem, I am driving. Incidentally, one of the wheels of this "Zappi" is rolling on just one bolt. The rest of the bolts fell off as far back as last year. If you want to get some adrenalin I can show you with pleasure some dangerous tricks like driving on two wheels on the side. Look...
      Out of fear, I had my heart swollen, like a balloon.
      - Stop the car - I said. I have to relieve myself.
      Oh really? - he said - No problem. You"re always welcome.
      He stepped on the brake. But the car didn"t stop. He pedaled again and again. But the brake didn"t work. I thought he was kidding. But the brake really broke down.
      - That"s all! - Ramazanov said - you are done for! The break doesn"t work.
      Seized with panic, I started praying. "Zaporozhets" is not a bicycle. You cannot stop it by putting a stick in the wheel.
      -Why don"t you signal? - I asked Ramazanov.
      - How can I signal when I"ve got none? Istead of teaching me, you"d better lean out of the window and shout for people too hear:
      - Keep off the road, the brake doesn"t operate! Keep off the road, the brake doesn"t operate!
      Then Ramazanov turned to Kunzhibay:
      - Why are you crying? We should face death with dignity and with a smile!
      Hearing this Kunzhibay started crying more intensively. And I kept shouting:
      - Keep off the road, the brake is broken! Keep off the road, the brake is broken!
      - I don"t care now - Ramazanov suddenly said.
      -Why?
      - Because I have to catapult.
      - How come? Have you got such a launcher?
      - Of course, I have. Look, I will push this button and a hatch will open up there. Then I will take off, along with my seat, and make a parachute landing. The parachute is the best thing, for me anyway. As for your seat, it has no such a function.
      Just in case, I shouted again:
      - Keep off the road, the brake doesn"t operate! Keep off the road, the brake doesn"t operate!
      Ramazanov, steering the car, went on:
      So before I take off you can tell me whatever you want. I think you"d better put it in writing. Write down! I think it"s the best way. You know, women are mysterious creatures. Your wives may not believe me. And if I have it in written form I can use it as an indisputable proof in court. After all, your wives, too, will want to get a certain amount of money from the National Insurance. It won"t give you a coin without a document.
      On hearing that Kunzhibay started howling. I shouted:
      - Keep of the road, the brake doesn"t operate! Keep of the road, the brake doesn"t operate!
      Ramazanof kept on talking:
      - And men? They will not believe it when your wives tell them that you have really died in a car crash. They will need a confiding letter.
      - And what do they need it for? - asked Kunzhibay checking his tears for a moment.
      - What a question! Your wives are not going to remain widows for the rest their lives, are they? -Ramazanov answered.
      - I looked at Kunzhinbay and saw that after these words he stopped crying. He was smiling now. But, obviously, it was a smile without reason. Both his eyes and his smile were meaningless. Our dilapidated car was tearing at full speed along the rough road.
      - Well, - said Ramazanov - if you don"t want to make up your will, then "good bye, my friend, good bye", as they say. Farewell. I am flying off!
      He looked at the red button of the catapult, like an officer on duty sitting in a pit and looking at the push-button of a nuclear bomb with a mounted intercontinental ballistic missile. Then, closing his eyes he pushed the button. But, alas, the catapult failed to function. He pushed the button again but it jammed. To remove the defect, Ramazanov started pulling and punching the steering wheel. Now the wheel got torn off and our jalopy went totally out of control. I started shouting like crazy:
      - Keep off the road, the brake doesn"t operate! Keep off the road, the brake doesn"t operate! There"s no signal and no steering wheel!
      Meanwhile Kunzhibay kept smiling not responding to anything. At this point our uncontrollable car hit something and we took off like Yury Gagarin in his "Vostok" spaceship. The windows of our jalopy reminded me of a porthole and, as we were flying, I remembered the popular tune:
     The planet in the porthole,
     The planet in the porthole,
     The planet in the porthole, we can see!
     Like son misses his mother,
     Like son misses his mother,
     With our dear planet we always want to be!
     
     And though the stars are closer,
     And though the stars are closer,
     Yet they"re just as chilly all along the span.
     We"re waiting for the light,
     We"re waiting for the light,
     Like one awaits the eclipse of the sun
     
     It"s not the launching site we dream about
     And not the space of blue, as cold as ice,
     But in our dreams we see grass by our house,
     The green, green, grass of home before our eyes.
     
      While in flight, looking out of the "portholes", I saw women and children, working in cotton fields. Flying over he brook towards the mowed field, with autumn poplars and willows rustling above in the wistful winds, we bumped into a haystack.
      We had long sat in the "jet car" before we came round. As the doors wouldn"t open we climbed out through the "portholes". When our feet touched the ground the chief accountant of Uvada Factory was still smiling, and Ramazanov was still holding the steering wheel in his hands. As for me, I was crying:
      - Keep off the road, the brake doesn"t operate! Keep off the road, the brake doesn"t operate!
      The huge poplars and the willows rustled in the autumn wind, quietly and wistfully dropping their crimson leaves.
     
     
     (15) The Small Laborer
     
     
     
      In autumn our hens started disappearing from the coop. One day, after another incident, I saw footprints near the hen-house. They appeared to belong to a boy of sixteen or younger. I was eager to capture the thief and spit upon the face of his father who hadn"t brought him up properly.
     At last, recalling the old technique of our primeval ancestors, I thought up a unique method of capture. I dug up a deep ditch by the hen-house and covered it with brushwood and earth.
      One night I woke up from a rattling noise and rushed out into the yard. It was foggy. I ran up to the trap I had made. As I was running up to it I saw a man"s dark contour which climbed over the fence and vanished like a ghost. I had no time to lose, so I, too, jumping over the fence, ran after him following the thief"s footprints. I had been running for a long time until I bumped into a pole. Like the guard dog of detectives, I lost the trace. At first, I thought it was alvasti, i.e. a monster like a genie or a shaitan. But it turned to be an ordinary boy. I learnt it when I had found a hurdjun . I took it home and read the letter by the flash-light:
     
     The Sinner"s Will
      "I am writing these lines with bitter tears in my eyes. If somebody meets this boy, help him. He is an orphan. I wanted to adopt him, but I can"t possibly do it. It seems that God has punished me for the wrong I have done.
      Once I built a country-house out of town. To build a foundation pit for the toilet I needed some man power. So I went to the labor market, where I could find cheap labor force. When I got there the laborers swooped down on me like a flock of hungry birds of prey.
      I asked:
      - Is there a craftsman here that can dig a toilet pit for me?
      -Yes, there is - they shouted in chorus.
      A humpback of about forty years of age came up to me, a digging spade in hand, and said:
      - I am the leading expert in this line. In fact, I am a grave-digger. I have dug all kinds of graves. Mostly graves for poor people. They died more often. But sometimes officials, too, would die. I remember once a big official kicked the bucket, a man that had been stealing people"s money. He was a bribe taker, in other words, he was a scoundrel. So his relatives ordered a three-room grave. Well... I didn"t care as long as they paid me. To begin with, I had gulped two bottles of wine with a pickled cucumber, took a spick and, spitting on my palms, began, you know, to dig the grave. Having painted the walls, I had no problems with excavation work except that I found a two meter long snake, dozens of scorpions, a giant lizard, three turtles, two hedgehogs, a few worms, beetles, centipedes and toads. By the evening, having painted the wall and the ceiling beige ( it was fashionable in those days) with water paint I finished the decoration work. Biting a pickled cucumber I gulped two more bottles of wine and turned over my duties ahead of schedule.
      Then I cracked two more bottles of wine and finally received the money from the relatives of the deceased man who had robbed people all his life and respected no one but himself. I took the money, you know, and went home. When I got home I gave the money to my wife who carefully examined the banknotes and threw them at my face. The money turned out to be false. So there should be no problem here, brother. It"s true that I am a tippler and a rogue, insulting people morally and physically, hitting everybody with the digging spade which I had brought from the army. But the authorities somehow do not put me to prison. Maybe, they fear that I may dig up a tunnel or escape from penal colony along with political prisoners that can stage a striped revolution, when freed...
      I asked the humpback:
      - How much do I have to pay for the three meter foundation pit which I ask you to dig out?
      He told me his price. I was not a fool, and offered half of his price. He stared at me the way communist stares at a bourgeois and said:
      - Wha-a-t? Don"t give me any of that trash! Go and see the doc! You need a treatment. Who"s going to accept that money, really? Well, well... you"ve jacked it up indeed...
      Now a boy of about fifteen came up to me and started begging me to take him on:
      - Mister, I accept the price you offered. Take me. I am an orphan. My name is Hasan. My twin brother is hospital, at the isolation department. He"s fallen ill with jaundice. The doctors say that he urgently needs blood transfusion. I have found plasma but I cannot afford to buy it. I am ashamed of begging. That"s why I am here. I am ready to accept any job to save my twin brother. He"s got no one except me!
      I was sorry for the boy. I took him along, and we set out. When we arrived home the boy started digging the pit. I helped him. When the hole became deep he would pull out the bucket by means of a rope, empty it up on the ground and then pull it down by means of a self made winch we had mounted above the hole.
      Hasan was working without a break. When the hole was three meters deep he shouted:
      -Master, maybe, this is enough? Bring the ladder. The time has come! I have to go to the doctor! If I am late, he will give the plasma to somebody else.
      I shouted back:
      - Hasanbbai, we still have time! Dig out half a meter more, and that will be enough! We"ll wind up!
      Hasan agreed and resumed digging. I looked and saw the sand in the bucket was getting wet. Half an hour later the depth of the pit had reached three and a half meters. Hasan shouted:
      - Master, what time is it? I may be late! Let me go!
      - I"ll go and see the time now - I said and walked towards the verandah, to look at the clock. When I came back to the hole and started talking with him, suddenly a terrible thing happened. I heard a rattling noise and the boy"s loud cry. The ground slipped into the pit covering the boy. The poor boy was now under the heap of earth. When I came round I was at a loss. I couldn"t even shout. Since I didn"t have neighbors yet, nobody could see this terrible nightmare.
      It all happened within seconds. It was self-burial. I looked around and saw the boy"s jacket hanging on the ladder. I searched the pockets and found a recipe proscribed by the doctor. Although I was in a state of shock I had enough strength to go to the district center where I could buy the plasma. Then I went to the isolation hospital and asked the way to the infectious department where Hasan"s brother was laid up. The nurse on duty told me he was in Ward 13 , and that he was feeling bad.
      -What a merciless father! It"s a few days now that the boy hasn"t been eating anything. He urgently needs plasma transfusion...
      - Sorry, I am not his father. I am a distant relative of his. I have brought the plasma... Here you are...
      - The nurse took the plasmа and quickly walked to the procedure unit. I couldn"t wait till she came back. I pulled out my head through the window opening trying to hear the good news upon her return. From then on I started visiting the boy at hospital every day. Each time I would bring him food and medication. Husein was gradually recovering. It soothed my pain which had been tormenting me night and day.
      At last Husein was discharged from hospital. I took him to my home. He kept asking me about his twin brother Hasan. He cried as he asked.
      - Where is Hasan?.. I want to see him...
      - I avoided the answer. Poor boy, he didn"t inquire about his parents. Hasan was his only relative. He was all for Husein. But there is such a notion as "getting used to something". It cures all from incurable wounds. Husein, too, was getting used to the new conditions.
      - Days, weeks, months went by... Husein even started smiling. But my wife gave me no rest because of Husein. She thought Husein was my son from the second marriage. Therefore she would kick up a row every day, insisting that I should turn the boy away from our home. Gradually, it came to a big breach between my wife and me, and our family was breaking up. My wife started trying to get even with me, in other words, she made up her mind to revenge herself upon me.
      One day I came home in the evening and saw my wife lying in bed with another man, making love. I am a jealous man by nature. Right off, I got cracked up, so to say. I took out a kitchen knife and, bursting into the room, I stabbed both of them. I cut them to tatters. They had shouted for pain and fear but nobody responded. After that I long sat on the threshold of the opened door, looking at the moon. My clothes were all covered with blood. I wept. Then, coming round a little, I got up. I changed my clothes, washed and entered the room where Husein was sleeping. I realized perfectly well that the guards of the law would arrest me and my wife"s relatives would kill the innocent boy. So I put this note into the bag along with food and made up my mind to take the boy to the railway junction and put him on a train. If somebody meets the boy and reads this note, please, for God"s sake, help him, so that he might not die the way his twin brother did".
      I read the note and fell into a reverie sitting by the window and watching the gardens, wet from rain, with clouds of fog floating about. I didn"t sleep all night. In the morning I went out in search of Husein. I had been looking for him or three days running and finally found his traces. Some boys told me they had seen him near the corn field of the farm where the watchman by the name of Ilyas Mergen captured him. I made my way to the wine yard. But Ilyas was not there.
      His son Arslan, who was sitting on the top of a tent made of willow branches, said that his father had gone to Abdumukhtar"s wedding.
      I went to the house where the wedding was taking place and found Ilyas Mergen there . When I started talking about the boy he jumped up as if stricken by electric current:
      - Goodness gracious! I"m such a fool! I have left him in the old mill! It has slipped my mind! Well...it is no fun getting old! To prevent him from stealing corn I bound him to a pole in the old mill. Poor boy! Come along, Al Kizim! We must free him right away!
      Ilyas Mergen and I ran towards the river bank where the old mill towered above the river. When we arrived at the place we saw a crowd of people at the entrance. We entered the mill and saw a horrible scene. It so happened that the bound boy had been eaten up by rats. On seeing this picture I felt as if the whole world had suddenly turned black. Involuntarily, I seized Ilyas Mergen by the collar and smashed him in the face. He fell down and fainted.
     
      (16) The Duel
     
      There is a magic correlation between silence and snowfall. There is solitude medially, which I am fond of. I don"t know why. Perchance, it"s because solitude has some sweetness about it, that is, the fine feeling of recollection where our bygone days, our youth and childhood, have flown, like autumn cranes. It"s the most beautiful endless land where one sooner or later departs for. Particularly, when one is persecuted by authorities and suppressed, as if by mother-in-law, by the epoch one lives in, and in that case one has a chance to live falling into recollections. Nobody can deport him from there.
      Recollection is not an official institution, and it doesn"t belong to the state. One is absolutely free and independent there. That"s why I love solitude.
     . Thinking about it and drinking hot sweet tea, watching through the window frame the night snowfall, I sat by the window in silence.
      My wife and the children were sleeping around the sandal. Since there was no gas supply in Matarak we set up a "sandal", a primitive means of protection from frosts. A sandal is a kind of a table, but lower than a table. Beneath the sandal there is a hole where we put little pieces of burning charcoal. The table is covered with a blanket called "korpa". We protect ourselves from cold under this korpa.
      I long sat watching the snow falling now strait, now slantwise. The innumerable snowflakes, like a mad swarm of white flies, where whirling by the street-lamps light.
      I had been sitting by the window for a long time before I went to bed under the sandal blanket towards morning when my Babat got up to say her "bamdad" prayer. I lay in twilight listening to the hissing of my wife who painstakingly prayed to God reading the Holy
     Suras of the Koran.
      Hoping to learn the prayer I repeated the words. But listening to the prayer and the quiet voice of my wife I fell asleep again. When I woke up my wife was clearing the yard from snow, laying out a path to the toilet which had a curtain instead of the door. I went out into the yard and seeing the fabulous landscape pronounced:
      - Hey-hey-he-e-e-ey!
      I uttered these sounds with puffs of steam coming out of my mouth. My wife, leaning against the spade made of veneer, stared at me setting right her hair sticking out of her downy kerchief, and beamed with a smile.
      The tall poplars and huge willows of Matarak, the roofs of houses, fences and gardens, as if covered with a white blanket, were sleeping in delicious dreams. A flock of crows flew past croaking over my head. The winter was staring at me with huge eyes in all its splendor. Like a huge anaconda, a thick gray smoke smelling of rubber, was coming out into the cold sky that stuck out of the chimney of Ramazanov"s house. He evidently heated his house burning the old tires of his "Zaporozhets".
      Admiring the winter landscape, and slightly limping, I made my way to the toilet. As I got out I washed my face and hands with snow, like a tempered soldier that had to serve in the depth of Siberian forests, guarding the camp fences wrapped in barbed wire from prisoners whose piercing voices, would, like frightened birds, fly through the grids of window openings into the thick darkness at frosty nights:
      - Mo-o-o- mmy! I want to go ho-o-o-me!
      I washed myself with snow throwing snowballs at my wife. Babbat responded paying back in my own coin. The morning silence answered our laughter. What purity! All is white!! It"s like the soul of a good person...
      I entered my study which was beyond compare in size. The only bad thing about it was that it was strictly forbidden to heat it with electric heaters and ovens! . Since there were tons of
     inflammable cotton wastes, i.e. uvada, fire could break out any time there.
      So I sat in my spacious room, shaking from cold and blowing my reddened hands to warm them up. Suddenly, a loud stream of invectives from Usta Churan directed against the Kalankhan Adalatov resounded from Uvada Factory.
      When I went out a fight broke out between the director and the watchman. When I saw Usta Chran taking out a knife from top of his tarpaulin boot I rushed there to do something to prevent the fight from turning into knifing. Calling them to come to reason I pulled them apart.
      The reason for the fight was Kalankhan Adalatov"s joke which Usta Churan took seriously. Then it was cleared out that when Usta Churan started coughing because of the cold he had caught, Kalankhan Adalatov, as if he were an otolaryngologist, advised him that he wanted to get rid of the cough, he should eat a handful of snow with ice every day before lunch. Usta Churan ate a handful of snow, which only intensified the cough. Therefore he started abusing the director like anything. Consequently, Kalankhan Adalatov challenged him to a duel. He even had written the historic document, sounding like an invitation, which he named a "Duelnome".
     
     Duelnome
     
      "For insulting my personal honor and dignity, I herewith challenge Kuldashev Churan Yuldashevich to a duel which is to take place by the side of the Karadarya River, outside the pigsty, at 5 p.m. on December 31st of this year. The duelist shall arrive on time, along with his second. The weapons to be used in the duel shall be stones, 500 grams each. The distance between the duelists shall be 25, 5 meters.
      May the Truth and Justice triumph in the whole world!
      - Monsieur Duke don Antonio de Charle el Kalakhanos Adalatos
     Signature Seal Stamp of Uvada Factory
     
      When, as a witness, I got a copy of this document Kalankhan Adalatov said:
      - Al Kizim, you have the great honor to be my second in the duel. I don"t know about Churan but I have thought everything over, every little thing. The duel will be arranged like in good old times, with the duelists wearing tail-coats and top hats. I looked at the director in surprise and said:
      - Pardon me, Kalankhan Adalatovich, but where shall we get the 19th century suits, I wonder? Incidentally, making such suits is not our business. Besides, it takes much time to have them made. If we place an order at the fashion house with their couturiers and modelers, the time fixed for the "duel" will sink into oblivion, and the future generations will laugh at us.
      - Don"t worry, Al Kizim, haven"t I told you that I have thought everything over? I have a friend by the name of Manna Sundal, who is a theatre producer and lives with his family at the Theater of Comedy and Satire. We have signed a bilateral agreement with him on the lease of suits. Under this agreement, Kunzhibay has already remitted the money to their bank account.
     They"ve got everything: wigs, white pants, gloves, box-calf boots, pocket watches, walking sticks and other things. You will put the stones, wrapped in paper, in the case which you have kept since you graduated from the Evening Department of the Literary Institute named after Alexey Gorky.
      - I have some reservations about the stones you want to be used in the duel - I said, and added: by tradition we must use revolvers, well, at least hunting guns. Otherwise it doesn"t appear to be serious.
      - No -Adalatov said - setting right his black piratical frontlet. We should stick to the old traditions of our ancestors that lived in the Stone Age. Say, Dante and Pushkin used revolvers, and Pushkin misfired. As a result the world lost a great poet. As for stones, they never misfire, unless you take a good aim, of course.
      - Well, well...- I said admiring the wise Director"s argument. You are the greatest thinker of the 20th century!
      - Excessive praise is derision - the director said and continued: so you"d better go, and may God help you, Al Kizim. On your way, drop in at our house. Tarzana Nikolayevna will give you the case which I have kept since I graduated from the Evening Department of the Literary Institute named after Alexey Gorky. Find some stones 500 grams each. Weigh them carefully and put them in the case, which helped me graduate from the institute, and bring them here.
      - All right - I said and walked out of Kalankhan Adalatov"s study.
      Outside, cold wind was whistling, and it snowed. Wrapping myself up in the sheepskin coat I made my way home. On my way I dropped in at Kalankhan Adalatov"w house, took the worn out case from Tarzana Nikolayevna and went to look for stones.
      On the bank of the river, in the cold wind, I long messed around picking stones. I came home late in the evening, hungry, tired and cold. I was all blue, shivering like the skeleton of a hanged man whose flesh had been eaten up by crows. I wrapped myself up warmly in the blanket and lay down thinking about how nice it was to have a house to live in with a heater helping some peoples go through the cold winter. The rulers of these peoples, trying to keep power, destroy the natural resources and send to other countries the free gas deposits which do not belong to them, whereas people spend winters sleeping in sandals, i.e. home-made heating beds, like I do.
      I felt myself comfortable in the sandal, so that I fell asleep without even having supper. In the morning I got up, washed myself and shaved, had breakfast, and taking my shabby case packed with stones and walked home, limping. At the gate of Uvada Factory I greeted Usta Churan who was clearing the road from snow.
      I went straight to the Director"s office. He was happy to see me, and, like a one-eyed Cyclops, stared at my shabby case. When I opened it he took a couple of stones and weighing them in his hands said admiringly:
      -Good for you! Very nice stones! - Kalankhan Adalatov said aiming at me as if training. Then he put the stones back into the case and showed me the 19th century suits which his friend, the theatre producer Manna Sundal, had brought.
      At 4 p.m., dressed in old suits, we went across the field of Khasan Abu Doud towards the pigsty, were the duel was to take place.
      By that time the snow had considerably intensified covering the fields, trees and roofs of Matarack"s shacks with big whirling snowflakes.
     
      Stumbling in the snow we finally reached the site. Measuring the distance with my feet, I determined the firing lines. Then I marked them with flags. Kalankhan Adalatov, dressed in a tail-coat and top hat, was proudly standing over the deep ravine of the Karadarya River. His artificial hair and side-whiskers, were sticking out like caracul of his hat. He stood leaning against the walking stick. When the watch showed 5 p.m. a man appeared against the background of the snow covered fields. It was usta Churan. Half an hour later, he, too, was at the appointed place.
      Turning to me Kalankhan Adalatov said:
      - Ask him why he has come without a suit on and without his second?
      I asked him:
      - Comrade Kuldashev, why have you come without a suit on and without your second?
      He answered coolly, like a hangman:
      - Tell your Director, that if he wants to fight with me, I can do it without a suit on and without a second.
      Kalankhan Adalatov looked at me with his only eye and flopping his eye-lashes gave a sign as if to say: "Go!"
      I asked Usta Churan to come close. When he did as I said I asked him:
      - Comrade Kuldashev, it"s your choice: heads or tails?
      - Heads - he answered. I tossed up the coin and caught it. The duelists stared at the coin in my hand.
      - Tails -I said.
      - No objections - Usta Churan muttered.
      - You will be the first to hurl a stone, Sir - I said addressing Kalankhan Adalatov and added:
      - Please, take your stands.
      The duelists did as I told them. Standing on the firing line and sneering maliciously, Kalankhan Adalatov said to Usta Churan:
      - Have some snow for you"ve got very little time left to live. You"ll go to the other world and work there as the hell"s guard.
      Then he said his prayer and uttered blowing at the stone: "Kuf-suf!" Aftеr that, he aimed at Usta Churan"s head. The latter took off his hat and threw it down on the snow.
      Kalankhan Adalatov had hurled the stone before I waved my hand with the stop-watch. But-alas- he missed!
      It was now Usta Churan"s turn to throw a stone. He hurled it without even taking aim, and, with a mathematical accuracy, hit Adalatov right in the head. He staggered and fell down on the spot like a sewed tree. He got a craniocerebral trauma.
      Usta Churan picked up his cap, put it on carelessly and with great strides set out for Matarak, like a Komsomol member that gave out land to peasants, measuring the plot with his feet, during the revolution times.
      Having brought Kalankhan Adalatov round I put him on the spread suit and dragged him to Matarak.
      It was getting dusky, and it was still snowing.
     
     
  

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