Вулкан: другие произведения.

Haldor Volcano. "The Moon Outside My Window" (Satirical Novel)

Журнал "Самиздат": [Регистрация] [Найти] [Рейтинги] [Обсуждения] [Новинки] [Обзоры] [Помощь]
Peклaмa:
Литературные конкурсы на Litnet. Переходи и читай!
Конкурсы романов на Author.Today

Создай свою аудиокнигу за 3 000 р и заработай на ней
📕 Книги и стихи Surgebook на Android
Peклaмa
 Ваша оценка:

  
  
  
  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 là, 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 français déjà 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, perché 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 Fantômas? 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 Fantômas 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.
  
  
  (17) The Return of the Dead Man
  
   Three months ago the secretary of Uvada Factory Zubeida was put under arrest. She was accused of killing her husband Sultan Savdagar. His body was found in the flood-lands of the Karadarya River. It was hard to identify it. Sultan"s relatives recognized him from the tattoo in the shape of a snake on his right arm. His mother wept, now and then fainting. When she heard the terrible news Zubeida, too, came running. The brothers of the deceased, accusing her of Sultan"s death, gave a thrashing to Zubeida.
   The militia arrested her as a suspect. She cried rejecting all the accusations. Sultan"s body was taken to the morgue. The crowd demanded execution without due process of law. They wanted to make her "tashbaran", i.e. by old tradition they wanted to kill her with stones. Bu the militia did all they could to prevent lynching. At parting Zubeida cried:
   - People, I did not kill him! Don"t you believe me? It"s malicious calumny!.. I didn"t kill him...
   She shed tears, but it didn"t help. She was taken away all the same. The investigation lasted long. A month later she was brought to trial. She pleaded guilty under pressure. After long whispering the court passed the verdict. She was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment and sent to a penal colony. After that there appeared a number of newspaper articles devoted to the case. The TV showed alleged details of Zubeida"s horrible crime. The whole country cursed her in chorus. The investigator Khurramov was given the rank of a major for the disclosure of the crime.
   Days and months went by. Suddenly, to the general amazement Sultan Savdogar turned up in Matarak. He entered the house and, finding no one there, he asked the neighbors:
   - Where is my family?
   On seeing him alive the neighbors shrank back. Then they rejoiced. But the elation soon faded. People started hiding their eyes. They didn"t know what to say. They kept silent. The women started crying. Then an aged woman said:
   - Where have you been gadding, you devil?
   Sultan Savdagar got angry:
   - Why are you scolding me? After all, I didn"t go to Tumen to dance around, but to earn my living. What"s wrong about it? Where are my children? Where"s my wife?
   The old woman continued:
   - Oh sunny, your home is in trouble. Your wife is in prison!
   - What? - said Sultan in surprise- How come? Why? Why in prison? .
   The woman answered:
   - For murder! She was sentenced for murder!
   - For murder? Whom on earth has she murdered? - asked Savdagar.
   -You!- said the woman.
   Sultan Savdagar got frightened and then said:
   - I don"t understand, really. That can"t be! I am safe and sound, and they put my wife to prison accusing her of having murdered me? Are they crazy?
   - Yes, that"s it, sonny! It was misunderstanding. Three months ago the body of a dead man was found on the bank of the river, and they saw a tattoo on the left arm, which looked like yours. The clothes too looked like yours. But the head was disfigureв to such an extent that the militia was unable to identify the body, and they confused it with you. Haven"t you heard about it yet? - the woman asked.
   -No, I came right here
   - Look here - the woman said - Go to the militia station and tell them the whole truth. Tell them to free Zubeida.
   Sultan Savdagar ran to catch a cab to go to the prison. Kalankhan Adalatov and I joined him. When the prison manager saw Sultan Savdagar he came to a standstill. And, shocking all those present, passed over the news to higher officials.
   The prosecutor"s office got down to business and after filling some forms Zubeida was rehabilitated and freed.
   Kalankhan Adalatov, assisted by an attorney, demanded an indemnity for the moral damage she had suffered. He prosecutor apologized to Zubeida on behalf of his office and promised to indemnify her for the losses and punish the culprits.
   - Pardon me, - Sultan Savdogar said hugging his wife on their way home.
   She looked at her husband wistfully and said:
   - Why should I? You are not to blame, after all. Thank God, we are back at home. I am happy now.
   Two months later Zubeida died from heart attack.
  
  (18) The Dputy"s Double
  
   In the morning, as soon as I came to work, I was told that the director had asked about me. I entered the waiting room and greeting the secretary asked her why the director needed me.
   - I don"t know -she said.
   Looking into the mirror and setting my skull-cap right I half opened the Director"s room and asked:
   - May I come in?
   - Aa-aa, there you are -Adalatov said. I greeted him, and he pointed to the chair:
   - Sit down.
   As I sat down Kalankhan Adalatov went on:
   - I have a special mission for you.
   - It"s my pleasure - I said - what is it?
   - The task is not so simple, of course, - the Director went on - but I think you will cope with it. Do you remember my friend Tofik Tulagenich from Itpalkhan?
   I thought a little and then said:
   - Why, yes of course, I remember him. He is a shoemaker, isn"t he? The one who wounded his old father with a hammer, in a state of drunkenness. He then served a term of imprisonment.
   - Yeah, that very man, - said the director, - a friend of mine with a false diploma. Last year he nominated for election to the Chamber of Deputies, and he made it. He is a big man now. We met at the party committee the other day and he said: "We need a reliable man. There"s an important thing for him. We guarantee a big salary. He will have many things to do. Business trips abroad, negotiations and all. In short, you will travel on public transport instead of him.
   I opened my mouth wide in surprise:
   - How can travel instead of him? People that voted for him will not take me for his personality.
   - Don"t worry, - Adalatov said -everything has been well thought over. You"ll put on a mask, and everything will be ok, as they say. You will be traveling on a bus, going to work by metro and by tram so that people might see and say: "Our Deputy Tofic Tulegenich is a modest man. Look, he is traveling by tram along with common people". To make a long story short, I am your commander, and you are a soldier of Uvada Factory. From now on you are on a business trip. Go home. Uvada Factory and the proletariat of all lands are behind you. Go. Here is his address.
   I said good bye to the Director and left his office. I went home to consult my wife. She didn"t agree with me, of course.
   - Don"t go there, dadasi, - she said - it"s dangerous.
   I didn"t listen to her. I packed my things in a sack and made my way to the address I had been given.
   I found Tofik Tulegenich playing golf in his country house, a real villa. A pack of donkey size dogs with golden collars attacked me. I stood stock still. If it were not for the guards who stopped them, they would have torn me to pieces.
   - Who are you? - the guards asked - What do you want?
   I explained.
   They put me into the car that looked like a lawn mower going up and down a smooth clean asphalted road. When we arrived at the golf course Tofik Tulegenich stood there smoking a cigarette, club in hand, and a baseball cap on, with the peak turned back,. He didn"t even look at me, actually. The guards went up to him and told him the whole of my story.
   Tofik Tulegenich hit the ball with the club, and it flew up the lawn towards the little flag. When the ball rolled into the hole Tofik Tulegenich raised his head and said:
   Take him to the instructor. Let him learn for a couple of weeks. We shall see then.
   The guards put me into the car again and we set out towards a two-storied building with black-out windows. I got acquainted with my instructor who gave me all I needed for study. From then on I resided in the villa learning things. Within the two weeks I had learnt all the habits and patterns of behavior of Tofik Tulegenich.
   When I had finished the course I passed all the exams successfully, and they gave me a certificate with Deputy"s credentials, congratulated me, provided me with shoes and clothes and made me put on a mask.
   I picked my bag, went out and I took a bus to go to town. As was riding on the bus I noticed that people were stealthily casting glances at me. In particular, one burly man looking like a shark, with fishy eyes, stared at me as if I had killed his father or something. Then he came up to me and said:
   - Ah-aa a, you scoundrel, there you are! Where are you electoral promises? You took a vow that you would carry out people"s mandates! You promised to fix the roads, equip houses with modern amenities, improve the living conditions in town and all. You sad: "Vote for me, in six months you will get vodka in shops for free. Where is the free vodka? Answer, you jackal!"
   The shark started strangling me, like a python.
   I choked and uttered:
   - When did I make those promises? I have never promised anything to anybody! My instructor didn"t tell me anything about it!
   My words enraged the shark driving him out of his wits. He opened his eyes wide like a
  bull on a corrida public spectacle. The whites of his eyes looked like pieces of cotton from a torn mattress. He shouted:
   - Gosh! He doesn"t even remember what he promised! We must knock on his chump to remind him of that! Instead of keeping his promises, he has built a luxurious villa out of town! Thrash him!
   They started walloping me from all sides. I was a living sack for them. I used my hands and arms as defensive tools to defend against their attacks. They hit me on the head, some with a rucksack, others with a balalaika.
  . When I regained consciousness I was lying on the ground at the bus stop, more dead than alive. The moon was sadly rambling about the night sky. Setting myself against the pole, I got up staggering like a drunkard, stopped a taxi and went to Tofik Tulegeniche"s villa. I paid the taxi driver for the lift, and he left. The skinhead guards in dark eye-glasses came out and asked:
   - What"s the matter with you, boss? Why are you limping?
   I could hardly answer their questions. They put me into the car and took me to the cottage where Tofik Tulegeniche lived with his wife. The latter met me at the entrance. She hugged me warmly and asked:
   - Wow, Tofik, what"s the matter with you? Who"s hurt you? Oh, my God!
   Then she shouted to the guards:
   - Why are you staring, you spongers?! What do we pay you for? Get lost! I don"t want to see you!
   I wanted to say that I was not Tofik Tulegenich but his double. But she wouldn"t let me speak.
   - You"d better keep silent - she said. Speaking is bad for your health. Let us gо, darling. I will put you to bed. We will take a bath, and then I will call a doctor. Oh, Tofik, dear, so many times I have told you not to walk alone without a bodyguard. That"s the result. God forbid, they will kill you, darling. How can I live without you? You should be careful, dear!
   Saying that, she took me to a gorgeous hall with a warm massaging bath. She undressed and washed me and lay me down on the hydraulic sofa in the bed-room with candles burning around and a tiger-skin from Ussuryisk hanging on the wall.
   Not willing to be disclosed I refused to see the doctor. Tofic"s wife stripped naked and lay down by my side. She cuddled up to me and started kissing me passionately. Again, unwilling to be disclosed, I couldn"t say "no" to a woman. "Come what may! - I thought - I have been suffering so long. I might as well enjoy myself a little".
   We didn"t sleep till morning. Acting like mad in bed, she nearly tore me to pieces. At last she spread her white and smooth arms on the bed-sheet and closing her eyes said:
   - Well, well, Tofik! You have cheated me, really! Cunning man you!
   - Why?
   - You have always avoided doing it, haven"t you? You said you were impotent. You joker! You happen to be a real man! I am proud of you. You didn"t let me sleep till morning, my dear cowboy. Now we are going to have a baby. I feel it with all my heart. We will have an heir now! Do you hear? Oh, Tofik, I am so happy! And again she started kissing me all over.
   After a nice breakfast I dressed and with the help of the guards went downtown. As we got to the place I sent them back and dropped in at an office. In the toilet of that office I took off the mask, tidied myself up and went out into the street. Then I went home. The following day I went to work and reported to the director on a successful accomplishment of the secret mission. Kalankhan Adalatov shook my hand and announced gratitude.
   I serve Uvada Factory! - I said.
  
  (19) The Soldier
  
   Following the incidence with the coffin Usta Garib had long been going to town to see the leadership of the Enlistment Office to find out the whereabouts of his son. The officers reassured him that the search work had begun.
   At last Allayar had been found. Looking up at the sky Usta Garib said:
   - God be praised! Tank God, I haven"t lost my only child! You are really gracious and merciful, like the clergyman say!
   I congratulated Usta Garib. Presently, Ramazanov turned up at the door and announced the good news:
   .- Usta Garib, give me a hundred roubles for vodka. Your son has returned from the Army!
   - Stop kidding -Usta Garib said.
   - Run home, you fool - Ramazanov cried.
   - Oh, good for you! What a joy! Oh my God, I thank you once again!
   Usta Garib gave Ramazanov the money and ran home. As he was running by my side he said:
   -Come on, Al Kizim, you will help me slaughter a sheep. We will arrange a toi
  to-day!
   We ran headlong, and when we came to the house we saw Usta Garib"s wife stand in yard crying. Taking his breath, Usta Garib said:
   -Well, congratulations! Didn"t I tell you that he was safe and sound?! And you kept crying. Go and call your son. Where is our soldier boy? Usta Garib"s wife went on crying:
   - Oh, them rascals! May their houses burn to the ground! Damnation! What have they done to my son! May you be consigned to hell for ever!
   -Stop it! What are you talking about, you crazy woman! - Usta Garib said.
   Now Allayar himself came onto the porch. Usta went up to him with open arms saying:
   - Well, hello, sonny! How are you?
   Allayar hugging his dad said:
   Zauri, bizho, genazvali! Gamarzhoba! Is that you Zauri? You"re alive? Haven"t you been stabbed in Kandagar? No, no, you are not Zauri. You are arruvakh! Be gone! Be gone!
   Opening his eyes wide Allayar glanced at his father and pushed him. Usta Garib stepped back and said:
   - What"s the matter with you, sonny? Don"t frighten me. Are you kidding?
   Allayar walked up to the oven and taking the spade lying there gave it to his mother.
   - Karalanyan, Norik, here"s the grenade cup discharge, take it. Why are you standing like that? There"s an enemy sniper beyond the rock, do you see? Fire! The dushmans are there!
   Usta Garib"s wife, holding the spade in her hands, kept crying. Allayar went up to the grate with a fire burning in it, took a burning log out and, turning to me abruptly, cried:
   - Death to dushmans!
   He threw the log at me. I ran out into street and shut the gate behind me. The log hit the gate. I was standing outside the house, in a state of confusion. After some time I left. I walked home cursing war that had taken millions of innocent soldiers and turned beautiful cities to ruins and billions of peaceful people to refugees.
  
  
  
  
  (20) The Secret Agents
  
   It happened on Sunday. Kalankhan Adalatov and I were walking around the market and I said:
   - Master, it has nearly slipped my mind. I, too, have to buy something.
   -What is it precisely? - Kalankhan Adalatov asked.
   - Birdseed. You see, our hens have stopped laying eggs - I answered.
   -We"ll take it for free. At least it will be dirt cheap for us. Your hens will be happy - the Director said.
   - Is it possible?- I asked in surprise.
   - Why not?
   -Well, if it is cheap we will buy a big quantity - I said.
   Adalatov took me to the seed and corn counter. We walked around as if picking and choosing the best seeds at a good price. Suddenly Adalatov stopped before a bearded man selling corn. Before bargaining Adalatov turned to me winking slyly. Then he withdrew his trade union membership card and showing it to the bearded man cried:
   - Don"t move! I am a secret criminal investigation agent! No use to resist! The market is encircled!
   On hearing that the bearded man turned pale, his hands hanging down like those of a cotton doll. Then, suddenly, he picked a plastic bucket, hit Kalankhan Adalatov bump on his head ran towards the gate stumbling and hitting on passers by. Kalankhan Adalatovich took the bucket off his head and shouted:
   - Stop him!
   We chased the bearded man running headlong like hunting dogs after hares. The distance shortened. When were about to get hold of him he suddenly threw his caftan down, and we fell down on the heap of tomatoes turning it to juice. The woman who was selling the tomatoes shouted attacking us with a flour-sack. She hit us a couple of times, so we turned white: our hair, eye-brows, eye-lashes, faces, clothes and all. The way we looked, even our own children wouldn"t recognise us.
   - Thanks for nothing! - I thought. It"s good that there were no bricks or cobbles in the sack.
   Looking at the free performance of ours the saleswomen roared with laughter. We looked like circus harlequins. We stopped to apologize to the woman selling tomatoes. Instead of pardoning us, she wanted to hit us with the sack again but presently Kalankhan Adalatov showed her his certificate and said:
   -We are secret agents of CID chasing a dangerous criminal.
   The woman gave us way in fear. We ran after the criminal again. There were voices coming from all around:
   - What"s going on here? Are they cinema produces, sort of? They must be shooting some comedy! What a place to shoot a film at, idiots!
   - We ran on and on and then the militiamen joined us in the chase. Suddenly the fugitive took a pistol out of his pocket and shot at one of the militiamen who fell down. The runaway had hit him in the leg. It caused panic at the market. People ran scattering in all directions with cries, shouts and curses resounding all around. Some thought something serious was happening. Someone shouted:
   - They are not shooting a comedy, it"s an action movie! They are not militiamen, they are actors! They must be pretending! Good boys! They are acting naturally! It will be a nice movie. That"s another pair of shoes! From now on the whole world will be watching Uzbek movies. It appears, we, too, have good actors and tough producers that do not waste people"s riches!
   Presently the criminal took the red faced taxman hostage putting the pistol to the poor man"s head. The latter got scared and, like a little boy, burst into tears. A few minutes later the barking of guard dogs resounded at the market. The special forces of militia have encircled the market.
   One of the officers, a loudspeaker in hand, started negotiating with the bandit. The latter put forward his conditions. He demanded two hundred thousand US dollars and a military helicopter. Otherwise, he threatened to kill the taxman. If in half an hour, he said, his conditions
  were not fulfilled the taxman would be collecting taxes in hell.
   То save the taxman"s life, the authorities agreed to pay the money and let him have a military helicopter as he had demanded.
   When the detectives had left to fetch the money, a mullah from the local mosque called the bandit for reason telling him not to commit a sin. The pirate wouldn"t listen. He said:
   - Don"t try to push me into the sack and hand me over to the cops, you traitor! You venal mullahs always serve the disgusting rulers by your stupid preaches and by pushing people into sacks.
   The mullah raised his hands to the sky and cursed the pirate
   At last the money had been delivered. The helicopter was also there. The detectives in flak jackets and helmets opened the case and showed the money to the bandit. Then they closed the case and pushed it to his feet. Sliding along the asphalt the case stopped at the bandit"s feet. The latter, holding the pistol against the taxman"s head, ordered:
   - Take the case!
   The taxman took the case with the trembling hand, and the bandit holding the taxman and sneering, made his way to the helicopter.
   At this point there came an audible discharge of gas from behind the taxman.
   Grimacing from the choking vapor the bandit muttered:
   - Uu-uu-gh! You brute! Ugh-ugh! You damned taxman!
   With these words the bandit fell down to the taxman"s feet. Seizing at the opportunity, the cops dashed off to the bandit and handcuffed him.
   Then we returned home.
   For three days I didn"t go out. Then I learnt that the state had awarded Kalankhan Adalatov with the medal "For Courage". As for me I was given a diploma.
   That"s not all - Adalatov said. He showed me a letter written in English. It was from the Secret Agency Bureau. They thanked me for the capture of the dangerous international terrorist who was under crime detection.
  
  (21) The Free Press
   Tornado Buran, a journalist, arrived at out factory anв offered us his services of setting up a free press at the factory, i.e. releasing a small newspaper.
   We believed in the prosperity of our business. Kalamkhan Adalatove told the journalist:
   - I believe in you, and you, for one, should know the limits.
   Tornado Buran thanked the director for trust, and we started releasing the newspaper "Uvada". We published satirical articles, caricatures, poems, short stories and, of course, advertising blocks. People took to the newspaper at once. Tornado Buran placed my poem in the paper. It was published under the name of "The Love of the Store Keeper". I dedicated it to Kalankhan Adalatov"s secretary Zubeida.
   One day, as I was walking along the path towards the lavatory I saw her cutting roses for the vase standing in the Director"s office. That was the moment when I had my poem generated in my mind... Sitting in the toilet I wrote the poems right on the toilet paper. These lines of poetry will go down in world literature as masterpieces of all times. Here they are for the reader to see that it is true:
  
   The Love of the Store Keeper
  (dedicated to secretary Zubeida)
  I was watching from the bushes,
  Like a hedgehog in the morning,
  And I saw you walk in silence
  Knife in hand, and not in mourning.
  
  Like a cutthroat, with no mercy,
  You were cutting charming roses,
  While the fresh winds in the garden
  Were swinging sweet mimosas.
  
  Adalatov"s cut off roses
  Were like Robespiere"s and Razin"s bodies.
  Are the flowers really guilty?
  Killing roses, what a pity!
  
  Cut off roses you amaze
  When you see them in the vase.
  Al Kizim, store keeper, says:
  You will pay me with caress!
  
   When the poem appeared in the newspaper I overnight.became а famous man in Matarak
   I was looked upon with ill-disposed envy. In particular, women fell in love with me sighing and making a wry face.
   Fame appears to be a bad thing. To avoid the evil eye and curious looks, I would walk around with a welder"s face shield on. But they would recognize me anyway. I even made up my mind to undergo a plastic operation, like Michael Jackson did. On coming home I would reread the poem "The Love of the Store Keeper" again and again and couldn"t stop.
   As for Tornado Buran, he was very disparaging. Sitting under Pegasus" wing and using the trident of criticism he pierced managers of collective farms and bankers who tended to skin the farmers alive. They didn"t thank Tornado Buran for that, of course. On the contrary, they started taking revenge on him.
   The chief censor arrived from the regional center and started checking the release which Tornado Buran had prepared for the make-up. In the evening we had dinner along with the censor who said addressing Torando Buran:
   - Comrade Editor, don"t forget for a minute that you don"t live in America, nor in Canada. Before you criticize someone be sure to consult us. In your feuilleton entitled "Amanov Spitting upon the Sky" you lay structures on Alexander Arkadyevich Amanov, an innocent and honest man. As a conscientious banker he gives credits to people raising their standards of living. I repeat, you do not live in Kirgizia where democracy prospers!
   Tornado Buran only smiled saying nothing in reply.
   The censor had a drop too much and, taking his clothes off, lay down on the sofa, in Tornado Buran"s office. We wished him good night and left for Usta Churan"s watch-box.
   We long sat making up the next release of the newspaper. It was drizzling. Then a snow-storm arose, and the light went out. We suddenly heard the sounds of knocking, shouting and swearing. Someone was calling for help. It was the censor who was sleeping in the editor"s office. We ran there and saw three masked men who were making the censor eat the newspaper. The latter begged not to beat him and not to make him eat the Uvada paper. He said:
   I am a censor, not the editor.
   - One of the intruders asked another one:
   - What on earth is a censor?
   The other one answered: it must be a pseudonym. He"s the one who has written the article about our team leader. Give him a thrashing! Beat him!
   They started walloping the editor.
   - There you are! Here"s one for the feuilleton and for the criticizing Alexander Arkadyevich, you scabby journalist!
   So having walloped the censor they left, pleased and content.
   A week later the newspaper was shut down, the censor died and Tornado Buran was arrested.
  
  (22) Kalankhan Adalatov"s Secret Life
  
   A work collective without the director is like an orphan. It had been a few days now that our sage and indispensable Director hadn"t turned up at his office. I went to see him and find out why he was shirking work. Kalankhan Adalatov"s wife Tarzana Nikolayevna met me with tears in her eyes.
   - You see, Al Kizim-aka , your brother (she meant Kalankhan Adalatov) must be examined by the doctors. He is off his feed and has lost weight - she complained.
   . - Don"t worry - I said trying to console her - everything will be all right. After all, a man is not made of iron. Sometimes he can fall ill. It"s natural. Illness is only a guest. It comes and goes.
   - God grant, God grant, Al Kizim-aka... Come into the sitting-room. Your brother is there, lying on the sofa - Tarzana Nikolayevna said.
   I thanked her and entered the room where the sick Director Kalankhan Adalatov was lying. Seeing me he wanted to get up but I stopped him:
   - No, no, you shouldn"t get up, stay in bed.
   I greeted him, and asked him how he felt.
   - Nice to see you here - Adalatov said - I"ve got something to tell you. But you should promise not to tell anybody the secret.
   I gave him my word to keep the secret.
   - Then listen -said Adalatov.
  . - When you had quit work at the factory and went to work as a swine-herd we won the socialist emulation having exceeded the production plan. As an award to our work collective, the state allotted us a health resort voucher, and, in the interest of justice, I held a lottery. So I ordered the cook of the Factory that he should made pancakes and put a screw-nut inside one of the pancakes which would fall to the lot of the lucky owner of the voucher. I ate the pancake, you know, and nearly had my tooth broken by the screw-nut. I took it out carefully and suddenly a terrible thing happened: the screw-nut slipped and rolled down into my stomach, like a coin into a slot-machine of the 60ties. As a result, I was taken ill with ulcer and have been suffering from pain ever since, like a pregnant woman in childbirth. I am done for, Al Kizim.
   - Don"t be a pessimist, Kalankhan Adalatovich, - I said - everything will be all right. Nowadays the surgeons perform such operations with their eyes closed. I myself have read about it in a newspaper. In the West some surgeons had even managed to solder a man"s cut off head to his body and brought him back to life. If you are afraid of surgeons then go to see tabibs, i.e. witch-doctors. They treat patients without performing an operation. There are also wizards and sorcerers that treat the sick with the help of genies. And you talk about some secrets...
   - I havened opened the secret yet - Adalatov went on - listen, the point is that I am living in two different phases, in reality and in a dream. It all started when I was thirty years old. One day I saw in my dream beautiful valleys and big rivers flowing down the emerald mountain tops with the crystal clear waters glittering like glass in the sun among the fir-woods and green meadows with innumerable white wildflowers blooming all around. I walked across the meadows through century-old fir-woods, and stopped by the mountain tops where powerful streams were boiling up beneath the high granite rocks. I saw a suspension bridge over the mountain river. A solitary eagle was hovering up in the sky. I crossed the bridge and saw a rustling apricot grove. The ripe yellow pink-tinted fruits were glistening in the sun like the first-rate gold of Bukhara . An old man with a white beard and in white clothes and a white turban was sitting on a carpet there. We greeted each other, and then the man said:
   - Have a taste of the ripe apricots. If you like them, take some home for your children.
   I thanked him and, picking some ripe fruits from the tree, washed them in the ditch water and ate one or two. The apricots were as sweet as the honey of wild bees. I gathered some apricots into my skull-cap and, saying good bye to the old man, walked back through the fir-woods across the shallow rivers that glittered like silver in the sun amidst the meadows with blooming wild flowers. Suddenly a mounted detachment of the Red Army came out of the fir-wood. The soldiers were in red army helmets and armed with rifles.
   The commander saw me and shouted:
   There he is, one of those daring fellows of kurbashi Kurshembat! Kill him, comrades! They are enemies of the world proletariat and socialism! Forward, to the victory of Marxism and Leninism! Asia shall not be governed by bourgeois!
   Encouraged by the "hurrah" war-cry and waving the swords and shooting from bayoneted rifles the Red Army cavalrymen directed their horses towards me. Pressing my turban to my chest so as not to lose my apricots I ran across the meadow. Shooting from their rifles the Komsomol members were approaching me. Bullets were flying right over my head. One bullet pierced through my pajama. I kept running anyway. Then I reached the wood and hid myself in the bushes.
   The Red Army men stopped at the border line for the bushes were impassable for the horsemen. Leaving their horses they the pursued me running.
   Gasping for breath I kept running. Suddenly the ground under my feet collapsed and I fell down the slope rolling like a torn off wheel. I only stopped when I stumbled against a girl washing the linen by the river side. She jumped up in fear and stepped back. When I got up and apologized to her she started beating me with the wet bed sheet.
   - Stop it! Stop - I said - what are you doing? It was unintentional! I am a stranger here. They are chasing me!
   After these words she stopped looking at me in surprise.
   Why are you standing like that? Hide me quick! Or else they will come and kill me and you, too!
   Presently, we could now hear the voices of the Red Army soldiers, coming from above. The shouted:
   - He is somewhere here! Maybe, he"s slid down!
   Then the girl took me by the hand and led me, as if I was a little boy, into the thick bushes. We disappeared. The reds lost our tracks and went away. I thanked my savior. She was so beautiful that I fell in love with her at first sight. Her thick tender hair was waving in the wind, like precious black silk. The whites of her eyes were as clear as snow. Her teeth glistened like white pearls. Her lips reminded of the petals of roses. Her face, neck, arms and feet were like ivory. It all drove me mad. We got acquainted. She said:
   - My name is Shakhzoda Gizhduvanaskaya. I was born in Gizhduvan, near Bukhara. Ironically, all our family had moved to the world of dreams. We now live in a dream.
   - I am Kalankhan My surname is Adalatov. I live in reality. I am Director of Uvada Factory.
  . - You are a good, kind and handsome man. Pardon me for beating you with the wet cloth. - she apologized.
   - Never mind - I said - They once beat me on the head with a sack of flour. Thank God, there was nothing heavy in the sack
   Shakhzoda Gizhduvanskaya smiled.
   - You are a joker- she said -are you going to stay in a dream?
  . - No- I answered. I have to go home before my wife gets up.
   - It"s a pity - she said.
   - But I will coma back, by all means, Shakhzoda!
   - Take care! Be on your guard - she cautioned me. And saying good-bye to me she added:
   - The reds are walking around there.
   All of a sudden I found myself by my wife"s side. Lying in bed like a huge cow-elephant Tarzana started scolding me:
   - What"s up? Are you drunk again? Your hair looks like black karakul, all dirty and bristling up. Oh, what"s the matter with your pyjamas? What sort of hole is this? You"ve burnt it with a cigarette, eh? Oh, my lord! What have you got in your turban? They are grapes, aren"t they?
  . - Yes - I answered - I have brought them for you, taste them. You see, I"ve been in a dream. Just fancy, I walk across the meadow and suddenly I see a mounted unit of the Red Army. Shooting from rifles they chase me. One of them pierces my pyjamas with a bullet.
   She didn"t believe me. But having tasted an apricot she said:
   - Impossible! Is it true? I cannot believe it! What an apricot! I have never tasted anything like that! It"s like honey! Why did you bring so little? You should have taken more. Tomorrow I will give you a cardboard box so that you may bring more. We"ll make jam for the winter - Tarzana said with a woman"s greed.
   - No, we needn"t. There are many reds there. It"s dangerous.
   A day passed. When I came home from work my wife made me put on the uniform which I had brought from the army, and before I went to bed she gave me a carton. I fell asleep, and again I saw in my dream the paradise gardens. Again passing the shallow streams and walking through fir-woods I stopped at the food of the mountain tops where the powerful flow of water was boiling and whirlpools foaming beneath the high granite rocks.
   Over the mountain river there was a suspension bridge tightened with wire cables. I crossed that creaking and swinging bridge. And again I saw an apricot grove rustling beyond the river and a solitary eagle hovering up in the sky. The old man with a white beard, in white clothes and with a white turban on sat on the carpet saying his prayer. Not wishing to disturb him I made my way back to the suspension bridge where the river was boiling with powerful flows beneath the high granite mountain tops. As I approached the meadow with wild flowers swaying in the wind I saw a mounted unit of Kurshermat"s National Liberation Army. The bearded militants in striped gowns were armed with machine-guns, Mousers and Turkish cavalry swords with a one-edged, slightly curved blade.
   The warriors in striped clothes and with hairy chests spurred their fast horses dashing towards me. One of them shouted:
   - Allahu Akbar! Allahu akbar! Kill the red commissar! The impious Bolshevik! Sheikh Ibrahim Abd As Salam himself has declared a gazat, i.e. a total war, against the unfaithful! We shall cut his throat and donate it to Sheikh .
   I ran as fast as I could. Why not? It"s frightful, after all. The carton full of apricots in my arms, you know.
   Suddenly, a stray bullet whistled, piercing the carton through. I kept running all the same. I thought it was good that I hadn"t taken my wife along. Seeing a woman without a paranja on they would have gone totally mad. Besides, my wife is Russian. They would have cut me to pieces with their bent swords.
   The bearded horsemen were still chasing me. But when I reached the woods and ran through the bushes they, too, like the Russians the other day, stopped the horses at the border line and went on pursuing me. I now knew the way well and used the slope like a children"s ski-jump in kindergarten.
   I slid down in sitting position holding tight the carton filled with apricots. The girl wasn"t there, so I hid myself in the thick bushes like I had done the previous time. Now safe, I went out from the bushes and made my way to the place where Shakhzoda and I had parted. I looked around in search of the girl but there was nobody there. Suddenly two men in militia uniform and one in plain clothes came up to me, and one of them said:
   - I"m security officer Sergeant Gadoyev. Your documents, please.
   Taken aback, I didn"t know what to do. Then I said:
   I have no documents about me, Comrade Sergeant. I am here in the world of dreams as a guest from reality.
   - How come? - the sergeant asked in surprise. A person without a document is like an animal. Do you understand? At least we think so.
  
   - Then - I said - does it mean that your ancestors who lived a long time ago and didn"t have documents were animals? Had the animals been...
   The sergeant interrupted me:
   - Are you a philosopher?
   Then he turned to the man in civilian clothes. The latter threw the cigarette down and stamped it with his foot thinking about the answer. Then he said:
   - Where are you from?
   - From the real world.
   - Well now, what have you got in your pockets? Don"t try to hide anything for it"s useless. You will be searched at the militia station anyway and find what they want even between your legs. They will even tear off your boot soles, if need be. So if you"ve got money, give it now! Or else you will have to go to the militia station.
   - Officer - I said- I"ve got neither foreign currency nor valuables. Or rather I"ve left them at home.
   - And what have you got in the carton? - the officer asked.
   - Apricots.
   - Will you put it here? We"ll check it.
   I put the carton down and opened it. The officer and the two sergeants bent over the box and examined it carefully. The other militiaman, also a sergeant, stood up straight and said:
   - Look what I have found, commander!
   The officer in civilian clothes turned to him and looked at his hands. The sergeant had a plastic bag in his hands, and all of them said in chorus:
   - It"s heroin! Wow!
   I stood dumbfounded.
   - How come? - I said.
   - That"s how! You may taste it. You dare pretend! What"s your name? Sergeant, run for the witnesses, quick! - the officer in plain clothes said.
   - Yes, Comrade! - said the sergeant and ran towards the village.
  
  . While the sergeant was away the officer wrote down my name in his pad. Then he
  opened his file and started filling in some forms. A few moments later the sergeant had brought along a few men. One of them was wearing a tracksuit. The senior officer told them:
   - So, people, be witnesses of the fact that a man calling himself a tourist was carrying a dangerous load with him, and namely, smuggled drugs i.e. narcotics, heroin, to be exact!
   - Sign it here - said the senior officer pointing to the signature place in the pad with the form he himself had filled in.
   The man in the tracksuit suit said:
   - That"s fine, but may I see your documents first?
   The sergeants and the senior officer exchanged glances. Then the man in the tracksuit showed them his identification card, and when they saw it they suddenly turned pale. The man in the tracksuit was a lieutenant-colonel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Dreamland. He was on leave with his mother there.
   The heroin which Gadoyev "had found" turned out to be lime.
   While the case was being discussed a crowd of people gathered around. I saw Shakhzoda among them.
   When I was freed I took my carton and made my way to Shakhzoda. She invited me to see her at her place and be her guest. I agreed and stayed with her overnight. In the morning she saw me off.
   Suddenly I found myself lying next to my wife. She was laying spread on the bed like a crocodile in the tropical swamps of the Amazon River.
   When she saw the torn carton with the apricots she was very happy. Tough she reproached me for having spoilt the carton.
   So I began to live in a dream. Years went by. In my dream I married Shakhzoda. We had children. By that time we had had grandchildren as well. But you shouldn"t tell anybody about it. Tarzana doesn"t know that I have a wife there. In our dream we are better off than in reality. It"s a pity; you haven"t been to the world of dreams. The life I am living here, in reality, is not life but a parody. I"ve been parodying, you see?
   When he finished his story he fell silent. I looked at him contemplating.
  
  (23) The Medication
  
   Kalankhan Adalatov"s illness was aggravating with every passing day. Since he was afraid of the operation we had to turn to the local medic Khabib-Tabib for help. He had long examined Kalankhan Adalatov and finally said:
   - Nothing terrifying. It"s just your problem with indigestion. There"s no ulcer. I will give achiktash which you will take three times a day after lunch. It will decompose the food which is hard for your stomach to digest.
   Kalankhan Adalatov sighed with relief:
   - Oh, really? Are you sure? Well, doctor, you have really made me happy. Thank you ever so much. We"ve got achiktash at home. Thank you for the diagnosis.
   - Kalankhan Adalatov thanked Khabib-Tabib, and we returned home. We had scarcely entered the room when Adalatov cried:
   - Tarzana!
   She came out running and said:
   - What is it?
   - Go into the sitting-room and see if there a little a pouch on the upper shelf of the cupboard. Bring it to me.
   Tarzana Nikolayevna went to fetch the remedy while Kalankhan Adalatov turned to me saying:
   - Al Kizim, you go and bring some water.
   I ran to fetch the water. Tarzana Nikolayevna brought the pouch and gave it to Adalatov. He opened it and took the medicine. I gave him the water.
   Before taking the medicine Adalatov uttered: "Ba niyati shifo". The words meant "may I recover from illness".
   Opening his mouth wide he put achiktash under his tongue and drank the water I had brought. When he drank it there came a fizzy steam and a sparkling sound like that of gas water. Adalatov gripped his hands round his throat and muttered widening his eyes:
   - Ukh -Ukh! Al Kizim, I"m feeling bad! I am all burning inside! Help! It feels as if I have swallowed a flame! Water! Water! Give me water!
   - Taken aback and all at a loss, I ran to bring some water and brought a whole bucket of it. But it didn"t help.
   We carried him in our arms to the mattress and put him on it gingerly.
   He was getting worse and worse. Tarzana Nikolayevna tried to encourage her husband:
   - Come on, don"t worry! You are like a little boy! Have patience! It will pass.
   Presently, Adalatov was foaming at the mouth. He called me, and I came up to him.
   - Call Falankhan - he said.
   I did as he said, and we came up to him. Adalatov said:
   - Al Kizim, Falankhan, if I die, bury me in the Christian grave-yard. You promise?
   We started crying.
   - You shouldn"t say that, master - I said - it will pass.
   - No - he said confidently, and added with a hissing sound - that"s the end. I am done for.
   Tarzana Nikoayevna burst out sobbing, ran out into the porch and called in an ambulance.
   Adalatov said :
   - Al Kizim, do promise me that I will be buried in the Christian Cemetery.
   I wept as I nodded meaning to say "yes".
   Now we saw Adalatov"s belly swelling badly. It looked like a hippopotamus"s swollen paunch. We covered it with a blanket, and then suddenly - bang! - it burst under the cover. Taken aback, we jumped off our seats while Kalankhan cried like mad:
   - Father! Mamma! Mom!
   Tarzana Nikolayevna came up running. On seeing the terrible scene she fainted and fell down. I took her up. The neighbors, too, came to see what the fuss was all about. Then the ambulance car arrived. The doctors examining the case were brooding over it. Presently, Tarzana Nikolayevna came round. The doctor with the stethoscope asked:
   - What has the patient eaten of late?
   - Achiktash - Tarzana answered and went out to bring the pouch.
   The doctor opened it and taking a piece out examined it carefully. Then he said:
   - It"s carbide used by gas welders.
   All those present stood struck dumb with astonishment for a moment. Then, as if awoken, all shouted like one:
   - Oh, my Lord!
  
  (24) The Funeral
  
   Adalatov died a true Christian. He had dreamed about erecting, near Uvada Factory, a big church with golden crosses on the cupolas and a belfry whose bells would ring inviting people of Matarak to attend the service in the morning when the yellow clouds stretch along the skyline in the rising sun, and in the evening when the vermilion of the sun sadly fades in the horizon. But Adalatov"s dreams were, however, not destined to come true. The civil funeral was attended by all the fellow-villagers, friends and acquaintances of the Director. When the Imam of the local Mosque Zainutdin Ibn Gainutdin arrived all like one burst out crying.
   We were all amazed at his tolerance of other people's beliefs. He said all people on earth were the children of Adam Allaikhissalam.
   Adalatov"s friend Yegumy Alexandrovich Kopilov was at the head of the service.
   By Christian tradition Kalankhan Adalatov had been dressed, brushed, and put in the coffin on a soft cotton bed-sheet. Meanwhile some one spoke:
   - Kalankhan Adalatov"s personality was really historical. Therefore I suggest that we should take his death-mask so that the future generations might not damn and curse us!
   - That"s right! - said Adalatov"s friend, producer Manna Sundal, the man who lived along with his family in the Theater of Comedy and Satire - we should immediately find the sculptor who can take Kalankhan"s death mask!
   - Then Kunzhibay and Ramazanov left and an hour later came back with the artist Akhunjan. The latter put alabaster into the bucket filled it with water and started mixing the grout. When all was set Akhunjan poured the plaster on Adalatov"s face.
   We all watched his work with great interest. At last the plaster had thickened, and Akhunjan pulled Adalatov"s death mask up. But it came up along with the head of the deceased Director. Akhunjan tried to remove the mask but couldn"t tear it off. Then he took a hammer and a piercer and started knocking along the edge of the mask. But the mask was too hard, so Akhumjan"s face broke out in sweat, whether from hard work or from shame. Meanwhile, Kalankhan Adalatov lay under the mask like Tutankhamun"s mummy. Suddenly Ramazanov shouted to the artist:
   - Get out, you good-for-nothing sculptor! Who do you think you are, Tsereteli ? Is that the way of making a death mask? Get lost, you lousy stone-cutter!
   He rolled up his sleeves and spit into his palms. Adalatov was lying in the coffin like the mummy of Pharaoh Ramesses II. Ramazanov pulled the death mask to himself with all might and managed to tear it off. But mechanically he jumped back and fell down. As a result, Adalatov"s death mask broke into pices like a litle glass toy that falls off a New Year's tree.
   - Ok, we can do without a mask! - said Usta Churan.
   The conductor waved his baton and the band began to play rumbling. It was the funeral march of Frederic Chopin. Several men lifted the coffin of Kalankhan Adalatov adorned with garlands and wreaths and carried it, shifting from shoulder to shoulder, like a boat without ores over the black waves of the sea of people.
   They put the coffin with Kalankhan Adalatov on a tractor drawn carriage looking like a gun-carriage and we made our way toward the cemetery. The carriage was slow as if feeling the loss and the mourning. The near and dear of the deceased one sat around the coffin shedding tears. I, too, was among them, and I also wept. As we approached the cemetery the cotton waste carrier stopped because the road had been dug up by the road rebuilt service. So the men had to carry the coffin on their shoulders. At last we had arrived at the burial place.
   By tradition people had to say good bye to the deceased man. The priest Yegumy Alexandrovich said:
   -Open the face of the deceased one.
   I went up to the coffin and opened the lid. Goodness gracious! Adalatov was not there!
   - My goodness!, what"s that?- I said
   - Well, what"s the matter? - the preist asked.
   - The coffin is empty! - I said.
   There came voices from all sides: "Oh, God Almighty! Oh. mamma mia!" Tarzana Nikolayevna, embracing her son, was howling like a wolf in the snow-clad wood under the full moon.. The priest Yegumy Kopylov crossed several times looking into the sky and said:
   - A miracle has happened! The deceased man, like Jesus Christ,. has ascended to God"s altar. Adalatov was, indeed, an angel in the make-up of a man! Oh, Lord, receive the soul and body of the deceased man! Receive and bless him! In the name of the Father and of Son and of Holy Spirit, Amen!
   When he finished the prayer Adalatov"s near and dear burst out crying again. My soul became emtty. I had lost my good old friend, an honest boon companion of mine, my dear neighbor and teacher. Leaving me he has risen to heaven.
   - We didn"t appreciate him properly when he was alive - Ramazanov said sobbing. Yegumy Alexandrovich told us to lift the empty coffin and go back. I looked and saw that the boards were turned over. We exchanged glances and ran down the street.
  . It so happened that they had dropped the Director"s body on the way to the cemetry and didn"t notice(it. The upturned body was lying in the ditch by the road. We picked him up, put him in the coffin and went back. After the ceremony we buried him again, our wise Director Kalankhan Adalatov. The band still dinned playing the funeral march of Frederic Chopin. The grave diggers set up a cross on Adalatov"s grave, and then, putting on our head-dresses, we all dispersed.
  
  (25) Political Prisoners
  
   The authorities looked upon Kalankhan Adalatov"s funeral disapprovingly. I mean, the name of the deceased was not highlighted in the pres, nor on TV nor radio, except for the Factory"s wall newspaper "The Red Uvada" which released a small obituary written in soft-tin pen. As it was unusual and unique I copied it into my note-book. It read as follows:
  
  Obituary
   Kalankhan Adalatovich Adalatov has passed away following a long and serious illness . He was the founder of Uvada party, an ardent patriot of his Motherland, the father of local democracy, a great expert of waste utilization science, the permanent and wise leader of Uvada Factory. As he was a Crimean Tartar by nationality his father was arrested during Stalin"s reprisals and taken to Lubyanka . His mother and her baby were deported to Uzbekistan.
   His childhood was very hard. They had left their house, a cow and a calf in the Crimea... Before being deported women and children had been driven into a church and kept there like cattle. The armed guard did not allow the adults to leave the church. Kalankhan"s mother told her son to go home and feed the cow and the calf. When the little boy entered the house and went up to the cow and the calf he saw them shedding tears as if saying silently: "Where have you gone leaving us?" Kalankhan fed the cow and the calf and gave them water, and when he scratched them lovingly the cow cuddled up to him like a little child cuddles up his dad. Then Kalankhan hugged her enfolding round the neck and also started crying. When he went out he saw some trucks and heard the voices of crying women.
   The armed men were entrucking women and children to deport them. Kalakhan"s mother was also forcibly caused to get on the truck, but each time she would get off, holding her child, that is, Kalaghan"s daughter, in her arms, crying bitterly:
   - Sonny! My son has fallen behind! I shall not go anywhere without him! Kalankha-a-an! So-oo- ny!
   On hearing his mother"s voice and seeing her Kalankhan ran to her as fast as he could crying:
   - Mom, I am here!
   When he ran up to her she hugged him with tears in her eyes. Then they were loaded to the trucks, and they left their homeland for ever. At the railway station they put them in the train and carried away. On the way Kalankhan"s sister fell ill and died. Kalankhan"s mother was in despair. She cried fastening her teeth silently lest the armed men should see her deceased daughter and take her away.
   The girl"s body started decaying and evolving smell. When the train stopped in a steppe the armed men made Kalankhan"s mother and him get off and bury the deceased daughter right in the sand. They were crying so bitterly, oh, lord!
   Years went by. Kalankhan"s father was freed from the Stalinist prisons and arrived in Uzbekistan. So they had found one another at last! After that Kalankhan never let his dad"s hands go for a minute so that he might not lose him again.
   Now, comrades, let us take off our headgears bending our desolate heads in memory of Kalankhan Adalatov.
   So may he rest in peace!.. Ugh! Ugh!..U-u-gh.. Damn, I"ve got a cold! Ugh!..U-u-gh!
   Excuse me. Just a minute. I had a pill somewhere here. Ah, there it is. I"ll take an aspirin tablet and one for the flu. There"s water at hand.. Just a moment...Gurgle-gurgle-gurgle. There! I"ve had it. Ugh! Disgusting! Pha!.. Excuse me once again. Well, where did we stop? Ah yea, Kalankhan Adalatov will live for ages in the hearts of his friends and of course, in the hearts of his enemies who are happy about his death...Hey you! Why don"t you take off your scull-cap? Doesn"t the obituary concern you? What a stupid man! What a barbarian! Neanderthal man, you! Well, I should say...Ok, I"ve got an idea. Comrades, let us commemorate our late Director with eternal silence.
   Administration
  
   Next to the wall newspaper in a small plastic case with a black fillet there was a portrait of Kalankhan Adalatov painted a canvas by the farmer"s artist Athenian.
   - I have paid the artist a pretty sum of money from the funds of Uvada Factory for this portrait - said proudly the chef accountant Kujinbay.
   - Really? - I said - then we must cherish it like the apple our eye. To prevent it from stealing we should install a powerful signaling system and an observation camera.
   At this point the charwoman Rukhfasa started cleaning the dear deceased Director"s portrait and suddenly cried out: "Aa-aah!"
   On seeing her in a state of stupor we thought she was stung by a scorpion or something, but then...
   As we looked carefully at the precious portrait of Kalankhan Adalatov we saw that the portrait was half wiped out The Factory employees were looking at Rukhfasa as if she had committed a satanic act of vandalism. The terrible thing about it was that beneath that hack-work which Akhunjan had done we saw a sullen, flaxen-haired old man in a jacket and a neck-tie. It was Comrade Chernenko, Member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Secretary of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.
   It so happened that according to the Trade Agreement the artist Akhunjan was to paint a little portrait in oil, but cheating Kunjibay, the artist had painted it in gouache. We found out that among the employees there was an informer who, cooperating with the Committee for State Security, reported on people. So on that day secret agents, twisting his arms and handcuffing him, took Kunjibay, along with the portrait of the General Secretary, to meet Akhunjan face to face.
   Shortly afterwards they were tried on political grounds and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. The interesting thing about it was that Kunkinbay had sent a letter to his relations from prison calling them to urgently commit a crime and go to prison. He said life in prison was much better than in freedom.
   On hearing that, many Matarakaners started committing a crime hoping to be sent to jail. Some applied to court asking for life imprisonment on frame-up.
   According to prison scholars the movement was to become a mass phenomenon, and prosecutors had fixed the bribe for which innocent people would be put to prison on frame-up accusations.
  
  (26) Away from Home
   We had an election the other day. I mean an election in our family. It was on an alternative basis.
   My wife stood for the election along with me. She was a candidate from the "Free Women" party. I saw that our sheep was also voting for my wife, so I said:
   - It"s not fair. The sheep"s voice doesn"t sound right. "Ba-ba! Ba-a-ba! - says the sheep. One sound is lacking here and namely the sound "t", and the letter "T", accordingly. "Baba" doesn"t mean "Babat". So I would ask the Election Committee not to count that voice in favor of my rival.
   The Committee did as I said. I had won and became head of the family again. My sons became oppositionists and went underground. Using my catapult, I started persecuting the birds
  which every night flew together in the huge maple-tree outside our house to discuss some secret matters. I would shout to them:
   - You, silly birds, get out, quick, will ye? Who gave you the right to hold an unendorsed meeting?! We are not against meetings as such. But if you are in opposition, then, please, hold your meetings indoors, say, in a club or somewhere.
   The silly birds took offence at my words of wisdom and flew away without dropping in at the nearby club.
   - Well, you may fly away, if you wish - I said - fly, you wretched migrants! Traitors of Motherland! We have no time for politics and meetings now. From now on very stringent laws, which I have written myself, will reign in our family. That"s the way it is. If some citizens don"t like our laws they may fly wherever they want. Let them die safely abroad if the want! Coalitions and negotiations are out of question!
   The birds had flown away. Our orchard and kitchen-garden were desolate now. Consequent-ly, the leaves in the trees as well as melons and gourds were all eaten up by hordes of locusts. The family economy was in a complete failure. I started looking for some other ways of recove-ring the economy of our family.
   In autumn I went to the local winery and bought a carriage of grapes for wine production. I brought them home, put them in a vessel and shut the lid hermetically. A month later I opened the lid and saw the grapes bubbling and smoking like a swamp. Well, I thought, that must be all. After that I started working on my self-made woodworker day and night and, at odd moments, making underground wine. I had made fifty boxes of it and hiding them in the cellar went to look for buyers. My buyer was a thirty two years old guy by the name of Khalim Khazori Khalty. He was about two meters tall, as thin as shaitan, fair-haired, with big rabbit"s front teeth and brown eyes. He bought my wine for his younger brother"s wedding party. On the wedding day the guests drank that wine and started running to WC. After the wedding all the victims gathered round and knocked Khalim Khazori Khalty"s front teeth. He split and betrayed me. They started pursuing me. I had to hide myself under an assumed name and using a beard and moustache glued to my face. As the victims had vowed to make short work of me I always came home late at night. As I was sick and tired of living in hiding I left home following my nose.
   I now lived in Kashkirkishlak at the baker"s by the name of Zhavatokhun. I worked at his bakery. Apart from Zhavatokhun there were two ice cheerful guys there. One was thin and tall, the other was the other way around, thick and short. The thin one"s name was Sunnat, the thick one had the name of Ummat. The baker Zhavatokhun-aka was a good man. He was fond of quails. When they sang in the cages made of pumpkins he would rejoice like a little child. The quails sang to please him: "Pick-per awick! Pick-per awick! Pick-per awick!"
   He wore a green skull-cap. It was green from grass. He used that cap to kill insects in the meadows for his quails. He also gathered seeds of wild hashish and fed the birds with them. The quails would peck them, get tipsy and sing songs falling into a reverie.
   Now and then Uncle Karavan, a friend of Zhavatokhun, would drop in at our bakery. The old man, too, loved quails, their fights, in particular. He wore a gown called yaktag which is similar to the Japanese kimono, and would always have a fighting quail up his sleeve, feeding him with little pieces of meat and a boiled egg. The fighting quails" name was Spartacus. He named him after the legendary gladiator of ancient Rome.
   I was lucky to attend a quail fight one day. There were fans around. In a small of circle of people two little birds stood staring at each other with burning flames in their eyes. The referee threw them a handful of seeds, and the fight began. People staked on the outcome of the fight. There were shouts all around: "Aha, knock it! Put its eyes out! Eat it! Strangle it! Get hold of its throat!"
   The game-birds, all bleeding, kept fighting, and it lasted rather long. Getting tired, they would cling to one another, with their bills open, like boxers do in a free fight. After a while, having a little rest, they would resume fighting to the delight of the spectators. In the end one of the two fighters would give up, and the fight would be over.
   The quail fans would long tell one another stories about the fights. There were quails that would not even be exchanged for a car.
   They caught quails in cotton and rye fields. One of the methods is called "tuzak" which is a loop made from horsehair and fixed with clay.
   The tuzaks were set on the ground in places where quails walked around in search of food. Unable to lift the clay load they would get into a loop as they walked. The bird-hunters would then pick them and sort them out selecting the singing and fighting ones and frying for food or selling the rest to gourmets.
   Another method involved using a net.
   Early in the morning they would set nets in a grass plot. Near the net they would hang up a cage with a female quail which sang at dawn attracting mail quails. Then the hunters would go towards the net from the opposite side raising a noise by stirring the grass with sticks.
   The ordinary quails could not fly far and high, so they would get into a net. The hunters would have their trousers all wet from the morning dew. But they were indelibly impressed. when a quail flew up from under the feet and got into the net
   When I came to settle there I learnt a lot of things. My main task at the bakery was to prepare the dough by the time the master arrived.
   Early in the morning I would make the dough and go to give the quails fresh water and feed them taking the cages out to the open air and hanging them on the branches of weeping willows outside the bakery. Zhavatukhan usually came to work after the morning service in the mosque when recited the Bamdad prayer (morning prayer) at 6 a.m.
   He would bless me with his prayers and we would get down to work. Sunnat and Ummat would come at 7 a.m. I would switch on the tape recorder and we would, to the sound of classical music, bake bread in the form of flat round cakes looking like sun disks.
   It"s really pleasant and encouraging to have such bread with sour cream for breakfast early in the morning. After work we would make some delicious dish, and after supper we would sit around chatting.
   I had written a story about bread which went like this.
   The main character of the story was a man by the name of Turdikul who went to a big city on business. He made up his mind to buy a piece of flat bread for lunch. He saw an old woman selling bread near a shashlik-house . Turdikul bought a piece of bread and dropped in at the cheap dining-room to eat it with shashlik. The bread was extraordinarily tasty. The following day he came to the same place and saw the same woman selling bread. Again he bought bread from her and went to the dining-room to eat it with spaghetti. He was amazed at the wonderful taste of her bread and decided to ask the woman for the recipe for making such good bread. But the old woman was not there.
   Turdikul was preparing to go home. The following day he came to the place again but the woman was not there. He didn"t see her till the day of his departure. At the end of his business trip he went to see the woman for the last time. He suddenly saw the woman, but she was not selling bread. He greeted her and said:
   - Granny, where have you been all this time? I used to come here to buy bread every day but didn"t find you. I should say, your bread is amazingly tasty. I wanted to ask you for the recipe. Why don"t you sell bread any more?
   - Oh, sonny, - the woman said with a sigh - my husband has passed away...
   - Sorry, I didn"t know. May he rest in peace. Was he the one who made that bread? - asked Turdikul
   - No- the woman answered - you see, sonny, my poor hubby had ulcer on his neck, and some liquid was dripping out of his wound all the time. The sorcerer advised me to put flour on the wound, which I did. But the wet flour, turning into dough, was gradually accumulating. I did not throw away the dough though, why should I? That was the dough I used to make the bread which you bought and ate...
   On hearing this, the main character of my book fell down moaning "Ah-oh-ah" and died on the spot. Militia men arrived and started interrogating the woman.
   - I was kidding - she said - these people, they don"t see a joke. They have no sense of humor.
   I think I have opened new horizons in world literature by writing this story. I read it to my fellow-villagers in Matarak. Up to now they cannot shake off the acute feeling of fascination from the story which I myself have written.
  (27) The Punishment
   After lunch at the bakery I was alone. Zhavatokhun-aka, Sunnat and Ummat had left to town to buy flour. I was preparing half finished flat cakes using the dough that had remained in stock, when suddenly the man of about sixty by the name of Karabay came in.
   - Assalyam aleikum - he said.
   - Valeikum assalyam, Karabai-ata - I greeted him.
   He entered the room and sitting down on a stool said:
   - Ahmin, may there always be peace in the whole world, Allahu akbar!
   Then he asked:
   - Well, how are you?
   - Very, well - I said stretching him a piala of tea - have some hot tea.
   He thanked me sipping slowly the green tea, which is very good for a thirsty man in hot weather in Central Asia. Drinking it and lending his ear to the music he said:
   - Will you make it louder, this tapuerkoda of yours?
   I turned up the volume of the tape recorder. It was the song of didactic sort called "Don"t offend the weak".
   Not wishing to be in the way I started kneading dough. When the song ended I was paralyzed with wonder. Karabay-ata was crying. His beard grew wet with his bitter tears.
   - What"s the matter with you, granny? - I asked.
   He wiped his tears with the sleeve of his overcoat and said:
   - Oh, sonny, I am deeply moved by this song. It has really touched my heart... You see, I used to work as a butcher at one time. I was a strong and tough young man. Once I was selling meat in a state of intoxication, knife in hand. It was a long sharp knife which I whetted with a knife-sharpener off and on. I had that habit, you know.
   One day a very old man by the name of Mukhammad Ismail came up to me and stretching me the money said:
   - Assalamu Aleikum, Mullah Karib, will you give me a kilo of mutton, please.
   I wrapped a kilo of mutton in a piece of paper and gave it to him. He unwrapped the package and said:
   - Excuse me, Mulla Karabay, will you give me some mutton fat, instead of the bones?
   I got furious and walked out of the counter. I started walloping the old man, i.e. Mulla Mukhamad Ismail. He fell down.
  
   I said:
   - Ah, you damned aging brain! And whom shall I sell the bones? Tell me...To your granny, eh?
   I beat him for quite a while, and when I stopped the old man got up and hardly found his cap. And you know what he said? Oh my! The words are still breaking my heart!.. He burst out crying again and said putting his cap on and shaking his head:
   - Sorry, Mulla Karabay, it"s no fun getting old. I have grown thin of late. Did your fists hurt when you hit me in the ribs?
   Saying this he kissed my hand which had just beaten him. He kissed my hand, do you understand?
   Karabay-aka raised his hands which had once beaten Mulla Mukhammad Ismail and said contemptuously:
   - I sometimes want to cut off my hands which hurt Mulla Mukhammad Ismail! Do you hear? The words Mulla Mukhammad Ismail said pursue me up to this day giving me no rest!
   Old Karabay wept like a child, without feeling embarrassment. I started consoling him:
   - Don"t cry, Karabay-ata. You"d better pray for him. He will surely forgive you.
   Without saying good bye, old Karabay went out into the street wiping the tears off his face.
   He walked crying bitterly. It was cold, and it was raining. .
   I looked to see where the former butcher was going and sighed with grief.
   - What a punishment! - I thought. They are right when they say that old sins have long legs.
  
  (28) The Second Love
   In Kashkirkishlak there was a lovely widow by the name of Salima who was engaged in selling milk.
   One day, early in the morning, as I was hanging up the cages with quails nicknamed as "torkovok" (having a narrow forehead) onto the branches of weeping willows, she passed by the bakery announcing:
  . - Milk! Who wants milk? Fresh milk!
   I stopped the woman and greeted her. She came up to me and said with a charming smile:
   - How many liters do you want?
   - One... no, two. Two liters, please - I said.
   Still smiling, she took a two liter glass jar with milk and gave it to me. As I was taking it our hands met unintentionally.
   When I felt the touch of her hands I lost my head. I just cannot describe what I felt when our hands met. My heart went pi-a pat and melted like the icicles that melt from the warm wind of the spring morning.
   When I returned her the empty jar she said:
   - Al Kizim, it"s nice that I have met you. The point is that my son Genghiskhan has recently bought a new tandoor, and we cannot mount it. Maybe, you can do it? You are an expert in such things, after all. As the saying goes, even a sparrow must be slaughtered by a butcher... Well, are you coming? Please...
   And she smiled exuding charm and splendour.
   - Yes, by all means - I said - tell your son to prepare clay and straw. I will come after lunch.
   She was happy to hear it.
   - Thank you, Al Kizim-aka- she said - I"ll be waiting for you. I"ll prepare pilau with mutton fat especially for you.
   - All right - I said smiling.
   She left.
   After lunch I got Zhavatakhun"s excuse from work and, as I had promised, made my way to Salima"s place. She was happy to see me, like a little girl, and invited me to table with soft kurpachas ( mattresses to sit on) and with the table on short legs to sit at and eat comfortably.
   I sat down on kurpacha and, as a common practice, recited a short prayer for the good fortune of the family. I looked out and saw, beyond the flower-bed, a boy preparing clay mixing it with straw. His face was smudged with clay from diligence.
   - Genghiskhan, greet the tandoor expert - said Salima. The boy gave me a hostile look and spitting through clenched teeth went on working in silence.
   I want into the barn, changed my clothes and joine the boy in the work. Salima helped me passing me ove guvalas. The latter are oval bricks without facets. I laid them on the foundation of the tandoor. On guvalas I put clay which Genghiskhan had silently brought in two battered buckets. So the foundation was gradually taking shape. When Genghiskhan went to fetch clay I said to Salima, turning around on the sly in a low voice:
   - You son does really look like Genghi Kkhan.
   Salima smiled:
   - The spit of one's father. He, too, was a jealous man.
   - Why "was"? Is he dead?- I asked.
   - No - she replied - he left us. God only knows where he is roamong about. For all I know, he is doing time in Karaulbazar Prison under Bukhara...
   Presently, Genghiskhan brought the next portion of clay and we had to break our conver-sation.
   I took the buckets with the clay he had brought and poured in the gradually growing foundation. Taking the empty buckets Genghiskhan walked away salima and went on laying guvalas, and I resumed sizing up Salima"s soul:
   - He left you, did you say? Pardon me fo asking you an indescreet question: what are your plans for the future?
   What do you mean? - she asked?
   - I mean what I said. Your wish to start a new life... Do you want to get married?
   -No, I don"t - Salima answered passing her hand across her throat which meant she was fed up to the neck living with my husbund .
   - Don"t you feel lonely at night? - I asked.
   -No - she said - I"ve got used to it. I don"t even think about it.
   - As for me, I worry about my loneliness - I sighed.
   -Yes, I heard that you haven"t a wife - she said.
   Not wishing to let this woman slip through my fingers I lied:
   I came here to become a baker. My wife and I are incompatible, as the saying goes.
   - What about children? How many of them do you have? - asked Salima.
   - I have two sons - I said - the senior one is Arabboy, the junior"s name is Sharabboy.
   At this pint the clay carrier arrived and streched me with enmity the dirty buckets. He must have heard what we were talking about.
   Half an hour later the foundation was ready. We lifted the tandor oven carefully and put it on the foundation. Then we started claying it, mixing it with straws. When the tondoor was set up I told Salima to put some dry brushwood inside the oven and kindle it. She did as I told her. The fire generated steam over the oven. Far away beyond the horizon the day was fading, and it was getting dusky. We first filled the oven with chips and splinters and then put some logs and gradually increased the furnace. The oven looked like the huge head of a fire breathing dragon in the dark starry sky.
   - That"s all - I said - don"t put logs any more. It will have dried up by morning.
   Having finished the work we washed and ate tasty plau with mutton fat which Salima prepared as she had promised. Genghiskhan didn"t utter a word eating his supper like dumb. But I wasn"t offended. Salima wanted to give me money for the work done but I didn"t take it. After supper I said good bye to Salima and went out into the street.
  
  
  (30) The Love lake
  
   The thunder of love had sruck me so strongly that I became like contused. Withot Salima my dayes were filled with melancholy, like autumn. I was thinking about her day and night. I thought and though, and then, with the shakin hand, wrote her a letter choosing the most sentimental words that were capable of arousing compassion. I made two copies of the letter as a istoricl document and put them in different pockets searatele so that I might give one of them to Salima at the first opportunity.
   I had that opportunity at last. I gave it her and as she wanted to open the envelope I said :
   - Don"rt read it now. You will read it at home.
   Salima blushed and went home. Like a wolf on a cage I was anxiously walking to and fro.
   The leter read as follows:
   Salom , Salimabonu,
   Hello, dear Salima!
   Sorry for intruding into your life. I can"t help it. I will tell you straight, I have fallen in love with you! Or should I say, I love you! What difference does it make?... That"s all, I"ve had enough! I cannot live without you. To make a long story short, I will be waiting for you by Palvankyol Lake from 12 to p.m. I"ve got something to tell you. If you don"t keep the appointment, this letter will turn into my death certificate. After 1 p.m. I will drown myself in the lake hanging a tractor"s ploughshare on my neck.
   Looking forward to hearing from you soon,
   Yours faithfully,
   Al Kizim
   And, like a wolf in a cage, I was walking to and fro.
   Then I saw Salima going somewhere and I thought:
   - What if she doesn"t turn up? What then? How can I live then? A man should drown himself? What a fool I am! I shouldn"t have given her that letter! Silly me! I have sentenced myself to death. Well, maybe, she will turn up, who knows...
   Contemplating about this I started writing the scenario of our tomorrow"s date. I fel asleep at dawn.
   When I got up in the morning Zhavatakhun said:
  
   - You shouted "Salima! Salima!" at night. What"s the matter with you? Are you not feeling well?
   I was embarrassed.
   - No I said - I am all right. Maybe, it"s because I"m tired.
   Zhavatakhun tapped me on the shoulder and said:
   - Then you"d better go and have a rest. I will tell the guys.
   - Thank you, Master.
   When Zhavatakhun had left sitting astride his donkey, I had breakfast and worked till lunch time and then began to play the scenario I had made up the day before. Having worked it through, I hurried to the lake on my bicycle.
   I now sat by the lake looking at the road and listening to the green rustling canes growing in the estuary.
   In expectation of Salima I sat down beneath the tall maples fixing my eyes on the road. Suddenly, I heard the sound of a motor and saw a cloud of dust swirling on the road. Somebody was riding on a motor-bike along the dusty road. He rode passed the lake and up the stony road, but Salima couldn"t be seen.
   Looking at the sky I whispered like canes in the free wind: "Oh Lord, if you are really up there, please send my Salima here!"
   Presently, I heard a donkey bray in the rice field where two men were working with their bodies bent..
   - That"s the end- I thought - It"s time to kill myself. I knew that the donkey brayed each day at 1 p.m., like a German watch, always on time.
   I went up to the open space at the shore, took off my skull-cap and threw it into the water.
   - Come what may! Once I have given my word I must kill myself! I will die somewhere some day anyway. One is born to die. It"s better to die with dignity than to leave this world in disgrace.
   So I went to look for the load I wanted to hang on my neck and legs. I had the ropes in the luggage rack of my bike which I had put in the shade beneath the willow. I had searched for the proper stone and finally found one. Suddenly, I heard a woman crying. I put the stone on the ground and ran to the shore. There on the bank of the lake in the open space without canes Salima stood crying and staring at my skull-cap floating by.
  - Oh, Al Kizim-aka, what have you done? Couldn"t you wait a little longer? I loved you
  so! I had never loved anybody like that! Have I done anything wrong to you? Oh, my God! Why have you taken away from me the good fortune I had found! Look, oh my Lord! Do you see his forlorn bicycle? How can I live without him now? - cried Salima.
   On hearing her cry the two men in white underpants working in the rice field ran up to her. One of them said:
   - What"s the matter with you, sister? Why are you crying?
   - Oh, please help him! Rescue him! The man has drowned!..
   The two men in white underpants, looking in confusion at the water where my skull-cap was floating, jumped there like frogs and, after diving in the water for a while, came out like divers do when after remaining in the water for some time emerge on the surface, with aquatic plants hanging down their ears.
   Taking the air they dived again and again. I could no longer wait and shouted:
   - Salima! I"m alive!
   She jumped back in fear.
   Then she blushed with shame. I ran up to her, and she threw her arms round my shoulders. I started consoling her as we hugged.
   Presently, the two so called rescuers of the life-guard appeared, for lack of H2O, on the surface with aquatic plants hanging down their ears. Opening their mouths wide to take the air they were about to dive again but I stopped them:
   - Brothers, I am here! Alive! It"s all over! All clear! You have really shown heroism. I have the honor!
   They came out of the water and looked at me in confusion, and one of them even with contempt.
   - I know that hearty tanks can"t buy you butter and bread - I said. So I owe you half a liter.
   - Half of liter of what? - asked one of them removing the aquatic plants from his ears.
   - Are you crazy? - I said - Half a liter of vodka! There is such liquid, burning liquid...
   Then the second one said:
   - We don"t drink alcohol. Our belief doesn"t permit it. We recite our prayers five times a day, you see? Silly you!
   - Well, as you like - I said - We have democracy, so to say. So I will not push you, I myself will drink to your health.
   The two men (as if) from the life-guard, in white underpants, all wet, went away shaking their heads discontentedly.
   I took my beloved Salima on my bicycle, and we rode home.
  
  (30) Brute Lee
  
  So I had won another heart without a war and without losses. I set up my banner of love
  in Salima"s heart. I set up a great power of love from Babat to Salima and from Matarak to Kashkirkishlak. To preserve this empire I was prepared to compromise even with Genghiskhan because being Salima"s son he disliked me.
   It had been a week since the local Mullah Ikrom Khodzhi married us, and I began a genuine life with Salima.
   Genghiskhan, for one, started leaving home without saying a word and returning drunk late in the evening.
   As the father, I made up my mind to correct the fellow.
   One fine evening I went to look for him asking young men about his whereabouts. They told me that he could be found in the district center near the restaurant with a cellar bar in the basement. I went to the district center and having found the bar went down the spiral stairs. On the walls of the bar there were pictures of naked women, dull-eyed vampires and hieroglyphic formulas painted in aerosol oil. A roaring sound of music came from the counter where the bartender was selling alcohol. Young people, wrapped in a shroud of smoke, were dancing in the pavilion. The air was saturated with the smell of alcohol, tobacco and perfume. I found Genghiskhan behind the bar where tables were set. He was sitting with a woman whose face was all in paint and putty. Her tits where the size of a man"s head. I walked up to them with a greeting but Ghengiskhan didn"t even look at me.
   - Get up - I said - let"s go home.
   Ghenghiskhan first stared at me in surprise and then burst out laughing with acidity:
   "What"s up, man? Are you crazy? Why are you calling me? I"m not your son. You are not all there, are ye? Get out of here before you get killed. You want to be my father, I see.
   - All right, you are not my son - I said - But have pity on your mom. She is worried about you. Come on, Ghenghiskhan, get up. Let"s go.
   Presently, the woman with big tits interfered:
   - What"s the matter, man? Why do you offend my boy-friend?
   - Don"t pry, you slut - I said angrily.
   All over sudden she got hold on my color with a loud cry.
   - What did you say? Repeat it, did you say slut?!
   I struck her with all my might. She rolled back and fell down and entangling in the table-cloth hit herself against the table.
   Those in the bar rose from the tables while the cooks and the waiters were watching the scene from the kitchen. The musicians, too, cast glances at her but went on playing. The girl with big tits got up and threatened:
   - Your days are counted now. If you are a real man, stay here. I will bring Bruce Lee! He will make cutlets from you.
   - Go, go and bring your Brute Lee! You might as well bring along Schwarzenegger or Chuck Norris for that matter. I am not afraid - I said, so as not to appear faint-hearted in the eyes of Ghenghiskhan. But I shivered as I said it.
   The woman with big tits disappeared. Ghengizkhan, shaking his head and laughing, said:
   - Aren"t you sick and tired of this? Go away before too long. If you fall into the hands of
  Bruce Lee, that will be the end of you! He is a Master of Sport in Kon Fu . Do you know what a Kon Fu is? It"s a bone breaking machine! A mill that grinds human bones into flour!
   - We"ll go together, come on, get up - I said stubbornly, lifting him by his armpits.
   He shook off my hands and shouted:
   - Don"t touch me!
   Then he started crying for some reason:
   - I don"t need a father. Do you understand? Leave me alone! I have a father. He will come and stab you!
   Then I told him:
   - Come, come, don"t cry. Why are you crying like a girl? All right, when we get home I will leave the house for ever. Get up, will you? Let"s go home.
   As I said this Genghiskhan stopped crying and looked at me as if I had come from another planet. But it was too late for he woman with big tits had brought Bruce Lee, a man with an Asian look, slant eyed and two meters tall. The woman said pointing at me:
   - There"s the scoundrel. He"s insulted me!
   The alleged Bruce Lee came up to me, lifted his leg, beat the air and started limbering up. The woman with huge tits continued setting her idol on me:
   - Teach him a lesson, Bruce! Bang him on the pate! Show him what you can do! Hit the lame dog!
   The false Bruce took off his kimono, girded himself with a belt and went on limbering up.
  I was sure he would knock me down at a blow. And though I was scared, yet I could challenge my rival:
   - Perhaps, we"d better go out? - I said calmly.
   - Why not? - answered the false Bruce Lee just as calmly.
   He stared at me, quite composed, like a butcher stares at the bull, or like an executioner stares at the man sentenced to death on the guillotine. His look made my blood run cold. We went out. People followed me looking at me with compassion. The musicians, keeping their eyes fixed on me, went on playing.
   I started praying to God, like I had done back on the lake, secretly glancing over the sky:
   "God, oh my God, do you hear me, please do me a favor. Help me once again. I have my young wife and my children at home, they are waiting for me".
   I looked and saw the false Bruce Lee limber up again. Without stopping it he said:
   - Say your prayer. In a few minutes you will go to heaven.
   - Oh yeah - I answered.
   He stopped limbering up and started waltzing around me and, like a mad gorilla, looking at me frowningly.
   I thought I heard the heavenly singing of angels in the distance.
   Suddenly, the false Bruce Lee slipped down on a water melon rind and, losing his balance, fell down striking his head against the concrete. I saw him lie motionless. I felt his pulse. He was alive. I thought he"d got а cranial trauma.
   I thanked God, of course, and made my way back to the bar. I went downstairs and entered the hall. People were standing motionless there. The music slowed down and then faded. The musicians, instruments in hand, were looking at me. All guests, cooks and waiters also stood staring at me. The woman with tits as big as balls was struck. Genghiskhan was also staring at me with eyes wide open, unaware if it was a dream or reality.
   I went up to him and said:
   - Well, get up now and let"s go home. Genghiskhan took his raincoat and followed me. When we went out into the street we saw an ambulance car and medics loading Bruce Lee putting him on the stretcher. My rival"s servants also went to hospital. We took a taxi and went home. On the way Genghiskhan asked me:
   - You"re a good fighter, man. Do you do karate? Where did you learn it?
   - At Uvada Factory I answered.
   He looked at me enviously and said:
   - I should say I didn"t expect it. You should be sent to fight without rules! To knock out such a burly man within 10 minutes - incredible!
   I smiled confusedly. Genghiskhan went on:
   - Listen, will you teach me to fight?
   - Yes, I replied -but you will have to give up drinking.
   Genghiskhan agreed.
  
  (31) The Dangerous Laboratory Assistant
  
   I passed over to Genghiskhan all I knew about the oriental martial arts and the history of ninja . He was so keen on karate that he even gave up drinking and smoking.
   A made a load which he hanged up to his feet and ran in the morning and in the evening. After running he beat the sack filled with sand. He started calling me Master and, as a sign of respect, he now used the polite form of address ("you" instead of "thee").
   So we had made friends. Salima was overjoyed. We were happy that we had managed to prevent the ne'er-do-well son from going astray.
   But one day our joy was overshadowed again. Genghiskhan took to the bottle again. He had broken loose, so to say. We asked him about the reason but he wouldn"t answer. "It"s useless" - he said.
   But I found out. He happened to have fallen in love with the daughter of the filling station attendant Bairam who sold petrol at Pump 3 in the district center. When the attendant saw his daughter with Genghiskhan he got angry and said:
   - If I see you with my daughter again I will teach you a lesson, you son of a bitch.
   Genghiskhan hit Bairam for the abusive words But the former"s bodyguards beat Genghiskhan black and blue.
   I took that act as a challenge. I was so angry that I nearly went mad. I took my bike with an imported handle bar and the empty tires and, settling myself on the saddle like a knight on a jade, I said:
   - Farewell! I am gone! The trumpets are calling! If by morning I do not come back, remember me kindly! Remember to attend my grave every spring on Memorial Day. It will be a pity if my burial pace, remains sad and solitary, dug up by hedgehogs from all sides, while other graves will be attended by the near and dear of the departed person, and if my grave doesn"t have any greenery, not even nettle or thorns, while other graves will be covered with tulips and roses. I will show Bairam how to abuse the honor of my Salima! I shall take revenge! And you, Genghiskhan, continue my cause! Salamu aleikum!
   I finished my farewell speech, and rattling with the wheels of my bicycle without tires, like an ancient Egyptian archer in a chariot, I made my way towards the district center where Bairam sold gasoline.
   On seeing me Bairam started kidding:
   -Welcome to our gas station, Mr. Azhnaby! I am sorry, what petroleum suits your imported car- 93 or 76?
   I answered:
   - Oh thank you very much. We will first check the petroleum, ok?
   - And who on earth are you to do the checking? - Bairam asked.
   - I am a laboratory assistant!
   -Ah -a-a, laboratory assistant, are you? That"s interesting... And how are you going to check your wretched domain? Maybe, you"ll smell it? Or gulp a glass? Don"t be ashamed, we have a good brand. It makes one feel dizzy!
   - Ye-e-s, ok! - I said.
   Our conversation made the drivers roar with laughter. Some of them held their bellies like people suffering from stomach ulcer. As if continuing the comedy Bairam called one of his attendants.
   Urman, bring two liters of gasoline. A laboratory assistant has come to us from the USA. Let him check it. He brought the gasoline in two dirty buckets and passing them over to me said:
   - Drink it, Mr. Laboratory Assistant, gurgle-gurgle. Whisky with soda! Oh, sorry, it has slipped my mind. You Americans, too, drink it on ice. Just a minute. Excuse me. There you are.
   The drivers were laughing, tears in their eyes. Baron went on scoffing at me.
  . . - I should have known, you westerners, drink sipping, in a civilized manner, using a straw. I will correct my error quickly. For once, instead of a sipping straw, he put a hose into the bucket. I took off my shirt and put it into the bucket, to moisten it. Then I took the shirt and walked up to the pumps. I threw down my shirt, withdrew a cigarette lighter and raised it over my head. Out of fear, Bairam turned pale and shrieked:
   - Hey you, what are you doing?! Don"t you see I am kidding? .
   The drivers, fearing there would be an explosion, stood motionless, like dummies made of cardboard.
   - Hey, Bairam, little boy - I said - will you bring that bucket here? Be quick! I am serious! I am a kamikaze! .
   - You should have said it at once. I thought you were an Uzbek man. Gamarjuba, Genozwali! You have a nice name - Kamikaze. I have a friend. He, too, is a Georgian. His name is Marmelaze. By the way, is he a relative of yours?
   - What are you talking about you, stupid fool? Kamikaze is a bomb and a man. He explodes a certain site and dies in that explosion. Don"t pretend. Go and bring the bucket with the gasoline - I shouted.
   Bairam"s comedy turned into a tragedy. He stood like a tragic actor. The drivers" faces looked- like burnt out bulbs.
   I was ordering about like a film producer. At last our tragic actor took a bucket and came up to me. He was so scared that his hands and legs were shaking. I told him:
   - Now drink the gasoline! We"ll see how strong it is. You may drink it without ice! You are a taster to-day. Be quick! Do you hear? Drain it!
   Bairam took a mouthful of the burning liquid, and his face was distorted with disgust. I shouted:
   - Well, how is it? Tasty? Do you want some more? Why did you offend my son and insult my wife?
   - Bairam went down on his knees and started begging my pardon. Now somebody must have called the militia and the operative force officials from the oil-station arrived. They started negotiating with me. Bairam offered me $1000 US in exchange for reconciliation. I refused and said:
   - Who do you take me for? I am an honest laboratory assistant. I don"t take bribes, I"ll be dammed!
   At this point there came a loud voice from the group of militiamen and oil-station officials:
   - Stop it, laboratory assistant! Let us sit down and discuss all the questions on the spot!
   Now some figures in black camouflage flashed. As far as I could see that it was an attachment of Emergency Force of Militia. I lit the cigarette lighter. Everybody stood motionless staring at the burning lighter. I shouted:
   - Take away the Emergency Force, or else I"ll explode the pump! I"ve got nothing to lose!
  There came a command for the Emergency Force to withdraw.
  I went on crying:
   - All I want is justice! The gasoline refiller has insulted my spouse and hurt my son! I want Bairam to quit work at the oil-station.
   - We give you the word of honor that he will be fired and never work along this line! - the voice from the loud speaker said.
   Bairam crawled up to me on all fours and started kissing my boots.
   - Pardon me, please, for goodness sake! Forgive me, Mr. Laboratory Assistant!
   At this point something incredible happened, and the men of the Emergency Force fell on upon me. I jumped back and said:
   - Is that what you want? Now get it!
   I threw the burning cigarette-lighter down on the ground where my shirt soaked with gasoline lay. On seeing that, the Emergency Force men dashed towards the cash desk. There came a voice from the place where the drivers, officials and operative militiamen were standing:
   - Lie down!
   All those standing on the site and beyond jumped into the ditch filled with water, hoping for rescue. Bairam, too, ran and jumped into the dirty water. I looked around and saw that my cigarette-lighter was still burning but my shirt was not. I picked the lighter and placed it against the shirt to make it take fire. But it suddenly went out. I tried to do it several times but alas, each time it died out. A few minutes" later people started raising their heads in surprise seeing that the gasoline was not burning. It turned out that Bairam had mixed the gasoline with water or something. Those lying on the ground got up with a sigh of relief. The men from the Emergency Militia Force arrested me and put me into the car, handcuffed. As we started, I thought:
   - That"s all. They will sentence me to life imprisonment. But it appears that there is justice on earth. Subsequently, they thanked me for the disclosure of the crime committed by Bairam and freed me with apologies.
   I was free now. Salima and Genghiskhan came to meet me. I tapped Genghiskhan on the shoulder and sang the following lines from a popular prison song:
  
  Cabman, dear, take me away,
  I am free as the wind to-day...
  Northern wind! The Central Prison,
  The attorney died this season.
  
  (32) Fishing
  
   Sunday morning after breakfast Genghiskhan and I dug up in the garden some worms for the bait and took the fishing rods in the barn. Then we went fishing to Palvankul Lake. Like a surgeon in a white smock, the morning was cutting with the scalpel the huge hernia of the sky in the horizon. Some birds were making a noise in the elm tree, while the voices of other birds could be heard up in the fresh quiet air. We were in high spirits.
   Looking at the can which Genghiskhan was carrying like the lamp of Aladdin I said:
  - Worms look very simple but in fact they are very mysterious. They eat the earth cultivating the soil. If there were no worms, all tools and even machines would break during the tillage: spades, hoes, mattocks and even most powerful tractors. There would be no trees, no flowers, and no life on earth. There are huge terrible worms in this world. It"s us human beings. We, too, dig up the soil and build pits for winged rockets. We test nuclear bombs exploding them underground. We bury nuclear wastes away from ourselves and close to our brethren that receive the overdose of radioactive emanation and live without suspecting the presence of contaminated substance. We are horrible worms for, cheating the fish, we pin them alive on hooks using them as baits forgetting that worms do useful work digging the soil.
   - Ye-a-ah - said Genghiskhan.
   - One night - I continued - we went by taxi through high Kirghiz mountain passes covered with eternal snow with the moon floating up in the cold sky. Looking at the mountain rocks and primeval forests with snow-clad tall green fir-trees, pines and cedars standing motionless, like bewitched, I asked the driver Mavlyan:
   - Baike, I"ve been told that once upon a time two people were driving along this road just like we are driving now, and as they were going up, their car broke. The driver told the passenger to go out and put a stone under the wheel. He went out and as he tried to do as he was told he was attacked by a pack of hungry wolves which tore the man into pieces and ate him up.
   Mavlyan laughed merrily and said:
   - God forbid! Deliver us from breakage!
   - Never fear! It was a long time ago. Wolves are afraid of man nowadays. For if we catch one we are sure to fry it on fire and eat it. They say the wolf"s meat is very good for health.
   Genghiskhan laughed. We crossed a cotton field and came out into the open space of Palvokul Lake. The fresh winds were stirring its greenish azure waters. White sea-gulls flew around looking down in search of fish and crying like one all together.
   We went along the narrow path down to the shore of the lake where green two meter long canes were rustling in the thick brushwood. We heard frogs croaking in the canes.
  . We put our rucksacks on a dry place. Then we set our fishing rods, dressed the hooks with worms and cast the lines up into the air. The hooks with the sinks and the buzzing lines dropped into the blue water of the lake. We now watched the floats, sitting in silence so as not to frighten the fish. The water reflected the blue sky with white clouds.
   Suddenly I and saw a red dragonfly settle on my float. Genghiskhan was staring at me. Smiling to each other, we watched the blue eyed red dragon fly riding the float. I thought:
   - It"s not for nothing that the doctors advise people with heart trouble to go fishing. It really sets one"s heart and mind at rest and restores one"s nerve cells. There is no noise, no hubbub. Peace and quiet remove tension.
   I knew many anglers. They loved solitude and silence. It turned into a habit, and they would become as silent as fish. Now the dragon-fly flew away breaking my contemplation. Suddenly my float splashed and disappeared. I was at a loss.
   - It"s biting! - Genghiskhan said.
   - I see - I replied and taking the road in my hand I started rolling the reel.
   When I raised the rod I saw a small fish hang and the hook glistening with silver red
  scales in the bright rays of the sun
   I took the fish off the hook. For lack of oxygen it writhed taking the air in with its mouth
  and quills which it uses for breathing and pumping water. To relieve it from torments, I put it in a small pool where it started floating showing its back in the shallow water. Now Genghiskhan , too, had his line tightened and his float disappeared. When he started rolling the reel I said:
  - Be careful, sonny. It looks like a big fish has fallen for the bait. Don"t pull it sharply for
  for it may break off the line.
  He did as I told him and pulled out the fish, now tightening, now loosening the line.
  The fishing gave us a lot of pleasure and joy.
  Suddenly three men appeared over the ravine. They turned out to be Sadik Nenash, who
  had served his prison sentence for stealing people"s money, the tractor driver Satim Pati and the stock-keeper of the local school Shakhrukh Shaitan.
  With the inflatable rubber dinghy on his shoulders Sadik Nenash came down the path
  leaving behind his boon companions.
   Satim Pati had some heavy unit in his hand, Shakhrukh Shaitan had a flask and a sack. When they approached us we saw that the unit was a compact machine that converted mechanical energy to electrical energy generating the current of rather high tension.
   Shakhrukh Shaitan and Satim Pati examined the fish we had caught and sneered wryly. The former said:
   - Do you call it a catch? We will now catch fish using sacks within six seconds. Look and learn. It"s not baking bread for you.
   - We shall see - said Genghiskhan.
   Shakhrukh Shaitan poured gasoline into the generator"s tank and closed the lid. Then he
  turned to Genghiskhan and said:
  - Hey, man, have you ever eaten game?
  - No, why? - replied Genghiskhan.
  - You will taste it now - Shakhrukh Shaitan said.
   He took the flask and poured out the rest of the gasoline onto the last year"s dry canes
  and struck the match. We hadn"t been able to stop him. The cane took fire raising a huge crackling puff of smoke. The alarmed waterfowl left their nests quacking and leaving their eggs and their helpless hatched birds on their own. There was not a moment to lose.
   - We must extinguish the fire - I said to Genghishan
   - Yes, but how? - he asked in surprise.
   I tried to put the fire out but it was too late. The fire was expanding with every second. I felt an urge to hit and break the hands of Shakhrukh Shaitan who had set fire to the cane. But he already sat in the boat drinking vodka with his boon companions. The generator was rattling. They must have switched it on.
   Then Satim Pati told Sadik Nenash to put the leads into the water. The latter did as he was told. As a result both small and big fish came to the surface with their stomachs up. Opening his womanlike toothless mouth wide with excitement Shakhrukh shaitan shouted :
  - Hey you! Do you see? That"s the way you should fish! Learn it from us!
  Shouting out this Shakhrukh Shaitan stretched his hands to the fish and grabbed one,
  shouting happily. Then for some reason he fell into the water. Now Sadik Nenash cried out:
   - Satim Pati, switch off the generator!
   The tractor driver saw Shakhrukh Shaitan fall and quickly switched the unit off.
  It so happened that when Shakhrukh Shaitan had seized the fish with both hands he was
  struck by the current. Satim Pati cried to us:
   -Help!
  Sadick Nenash, who had made water out of fear, was crying in a low voice. Genghiskhan
  was the first to jump into the water. I followed him. We had long searched for Shakhrukh Shaitan and finally found him. When we got him out of the water he was dead.
  
  (33) Santa Claus
  
   From then on Salima, Genghiskhan and I started living in friendship and harmony. Days and months went by, and now we were on the threshold of New Year"s Day!
   It was New Years Eve. We set up a plastic Christmas tree adorning it with multicolored toys and flickering lights. We laid the table. Salima had prepared a tasty shurpa and roast meat with potatoes. We were in a festive mood. I went up to Salima and hugging her from behind started kissing her. She tried to free herself from my hugs whispering:
   - What are you doing? Let me go, Genghis is there. Shame on you..
   She slipped away and raising the wooden ladle attacked me like a fencer. I took the lid of the
  saucepan to defend myself. Then I walked up to the door where Genghiskhan stood encouraging
  his mom:
   - That"s it! Strike him! On the head, hit him on the head!
   Salima started striking me furiously. I ran out into the street. It was dark, and it wassnowing
  heavily. The wistful trees were covered with snow which seemed to illuminate the night. I heard
  the sound of happy laughter and the shout of a drunken man in the distance.
   I was still defending myself. Then "combat support" came to Salima. It was Genghiskhan
  who suddenly pushed me back. I slipped and losing my balance fell down. They threw snow at
  me. I shouted and laughed. Then I looked and saw them sit and pant laughing. I picked a handful
  of snow, made a ball and stuck it in Genghiskhan"s bosom and ran to the house. They ran after
  me. As we entered the house we couldn"t stop laughing. Breathing heavily we went into the
  sitting-room. Salima went to the kitchen. Half an hour later we sat down at the table to have
  breakfast. We sat eating, drinking and chatting without taking account of time. Time flew. When
  the clock struck 12 I opened a bottle of champagne and poured it out When we raised the glasses
  Santa Claus has suddenly come in. Frankly speaking, it was quite unexpected. We were so
  Happy! We greeted him and invited him to table. I poured him a glass of champagne, and we all
  drank. Then we sat together eating and making merry. "It"s such a joy to sit at table with genuine
  Santa Claus at Christmas party" - I thought - One might as well die from such happiness!"
  - I say, Jack Frost, I have never received a gift from Granny Frosts - I explained - your
  arrival is a big gift for me.
   Wiping his greasy lips with a napkin Jack Frost said:
  - I have brought gifts for all of you. You will have one as well. Let me give them to you
  before I get drunk. Come on, let"s get up quickly.
   We rose from the table..
   - Can you recite poems? - Granny Frost asked me.
   - Yes- I answered.
   - Then come up close to the Christmas tree and read.
   I went up to the adorned tree and started reciting the poem:
  
  O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!
  How are thy leaves so verdant!
  O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
  How are thy leaves so verdant!
  
  Not only in the summertime,
  But even in winter is thy prime.
  O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
  How are thy leaves so verdant!
  
   Granny Frost clapped his hands:
   - Good for you. Will you close your eyes?
   As I closed my eyes he said:
   - Now lift your foot and stand like a stork
   I did as he said and stood waiting for the gift. Now all of a sudden I literally flew off from a powerful blow in the face, crushing the Christmas-tree, while Jack Frost continued walloping me
  scolding me like anything.
  - Why, what"s the matter, Granny Frost, are you crazy? Why are you beating me? What
  have I done to you? Don"t hurt me! I"m a war invalid!
   But he didn"t stop. I had to defend myself until he had totally crippled me. As he came close to me I hit the angry Granny Frost in the groin with my good foot. He bent down and fell. I got up. Then, taking him by the collar, I hit him again in his muzzle. Jack Frost bashed his head against the sideboard crushing the crystal vases and the quaint chinaware. He was lying amidst the splinters, without his glued mustache and beard. Closing her face with her hands Salima cried out. Genghiskhan bent down, put his hands round his neck and shouted:
   - Father! Daddy! At la-a-ast! You have come back, eh? Sorry, dear, we didn"t know!
   I realized at once that it was Geghiskhan"s father Hasil who had been doing time in Karaulbazar prison under Bukhara. I felt ill at ease. I was at a loss not knowing what to do. Thank God, the neighbors called the militia and they arrived. They drew up the report, and I was taken to - gosh! - the sobering-up station, one of the worst places I had ever been to!
   Caught like stray dogs the boozers slept snarling. Some were raving, others were letting the air out that resounded like the distant wistful hooter of an atomic vessel breaking the ice in Arctic Ocean.
   There were stinking feet and worn through socks scattered around like badly smelling chemical weapons of mass destruction.
   There were no windows in the cell. The door was thick and iron-shod.
   I could hardly hold out till morning. In the morning the iron door opened and I, like a centaur, started greedily breathing in the fresh air. I looked around and behind the bar saw militiamen filling in some forms. Then a militiaman, as thick as a hog, with no neck, entered the cell, a bundle of belts in his hands. He threw the belts down to our feet. Everybody chose a belt to his liking. I found a cheap belt with a crocodile"s picture on it. As I adjusted the belt to my trousers a militiaman called me:
   - Hey you, Satan, the one who beat Jack Frost, what is your name?
   I told him my name, and he put it down. Another militiaman fixed his malicious eyes on me and said:
   - What a rascal! What an ungrateful jackal! Granny Frost had brought him gifts, and he walloped him! The brute! If the law permitted I would strangle you with my own hands!
  I did not respond. Then he made a roll-call. Then they started giving the boozers over to
  their relatives who had paid the fine.
   I waited thinking: "What a disgrace! Nobody is going to come and take me out of here. I have no relatives left. Nor do I have money to pay the fine".
  Suddenly, the militiaman who had scolded me called me again:
   - Hey you, lame man, go over there!
   I did as he said and saw Javatokhun standing there. I dropped my eyes. I was ashamed of
  the Master. He squeezed my shoulders and said smiling:
   - You are not to blame. I heard everything. Never mind, don"t worry. Everything will be all right. Don"t go there any more. Sunnatillo will bring your things. You will be living with me again.
   On hearing that, I felt as if I had a blackout before my eyes.
  
  
  (34) Sorrow
  
   Winter night. Thick fogs. Silence. Like huge eyes with no pupils and lashes, solitude had fixed its eyes upon me. My patience gave way.
   I put my coat and shoes on and went out. In the thick fog I could easily get off the road and fall down into a ditch or bump into a tree. Waking carefully on the crunching snow, I made my way to Salima"s house.
   I had liked fogs and winter nights since my childhood. I remembered when I was a boy my school friend Uktam would drop at my place in his tiger skin-like striped caftan and a worn out cap with ear-flaps. We would go to school together. Leaving the first footsteps on the morning snow and, hardly struggling forward, we would advance admiring the high silver mountains where a snow-slip hanged by a thread. We would kick the tall maple-trees and look up to see the clouds of snow with silver coating come down on us, like snow- slips. We would feel a joyful and pleasant dread for the moment. In other words, we would get a big portion of hormone secreted by the adrenal medulla. When it was over we would laugh noisily shaking off with our caps the snow from our striped caftans.
   In winter, when it snowed, I often recalled that friend of mine. He was gone. He had died from a heart attack.
   Thinking about that I insensibly came up to the house where Salima and I had lived together. I entered the yard. The dim yellow light coming from the dear windows was illuminating the porch.
   Stepping quietly, trying not to make the snow crunch, I went up to the windows like a ninja spy intrudes into the emperor"s residence attempting to crush him with his sword. Looking inside through the window I saw the Granny Frost Hasil who was sitting on the sofa, with his legs crossed. Judging by the way he looked and moved he was obviously drunk. He was talking to Genghiskhan:
   - You thought I was dead didn"t you? No-oo-o, Genghis, I am Koschei the Deathless.
  Even if they throw me into the barrel of the mill, binding my hands and feet, I will get out safe and sound with a sack of flour on my shoulders. You got it? Having a father like I am, you hired some other father? And your mom? She has trampled down the honor of our family. She told me you needed father"s hand to bring you up. Nonsense! She didn"t need his hand but some other part of him.
   Salima cried:
   - Shame on you! How can you say such things in the presence of your son?!
   - What? - the Jack Frost Hasi jumped up from his seat - Shame on me did you say? You bitch! And you? Aren"t you ashamed, you bloody whore, to bring your lovers to the holy bed? Well, did you like New Year gift? That"s it! I will come from where you don"t expect me! Ye-ee-s, Genghiskhan"s stepfather liked the gift.
   Genghiskhan said:
   - Father, don"t say that! He is not my father!
   - Why did you let him enter our house? - Granny Frost Hasil shouted - Are you a man or a woman? Why didn"t you pierce his throat with a pitchfork? Why didn"t cut him into pieces with an axe?
   He opened his eyes wide like Othello. Then he started beating himself:
   - Disgrace! Oh, what a disgrace! Why didn"t I stab him? No-o-o, I won"t let it pass! I will make him toe the line! I"ll make him eat shit! I"ll bring an action against him! I will tell the court: "Gentlemen, do your laws defend people or are they on the side of beasts that take the lawful spouses of from honest men by force? It"s rape, that"s what it is! I believe in the state and in the court of justice!" That"s precisely what I am going to say! Then he will be sent to a strict-security camp under the most severe article. The prisoners hate such men. They regard them as girls. Men will take turns in marrying him.
   Saying this Granny Frost Hasil poured out vodka and gave one of pialas to Genghiskhan:
   - Drink it!
   - I don"t drink - said Genghiskhan.
   - How can you? - Salima interfered - instead of...
   - Don"t pry, you bitch, you whore, you slut! - Granny Frost Hasil shouted. Then he went on:
   - We are cheating Genghiskhan"s new father.
   Hasil still had the piala with vodka in his hand. He started screaming again:
   - Take it! Don"t disobey your father! Or else I will damn you!.. If only my father could rise from the dead and come out of the grave, if only he gave me a cup of vodka telling me to drink it! I would drain it! Oh my, I"ve lost such a father! I was his boon companion. Before leaving for school he would take out a bottle of vodka and pour some for me. Then we would exchange toasts, clink the cups and drain them like intimate friends do. We would drink without having a snack. I would drink two hundred or two hundred and fifty grams and walk slightly staggering to school. All my cell mates... dash!... all my classmates envied me. My teachers did not praise me for that, of course. On the contrary, they would sometimes put me to guardroom, well, you know, punishment cell sort of, the so called zindan , that is a deep trench.
   And you should see the way we dressed! Our school was a specialized one, and our uniform was in line with it. Well, how should I explain it to you... We had a striped uniform, you see? And we had numbers on them. They were designed to make it easier to catch those schoolboys who tried to break away. Outside, behind the bars, fierce dogs were barking, and the guards armed with hunting rifles watched the school campus fenced with barbed wire. The school was equipped with a powerful signaling system and a searchlight. The windows had grates on them. From time to time they would search the cells. The teachers conducted lessons shield in hand and wore body armor and a protective helmet. My father would always help me out and free me from zindan by bribing the headmaster Gemalayev Dogmat Doratkagazovich. Come on, sonny, take the cup and let us drink to the bright memory of my father, that is to your grandfather. May he rest in peace!
  Genghiskhan took the cup and drained it in one gulp.
   - That"s a good boy! That"s another pair of shoes! Go ahead, have a snack now - Granny Frost Hasil said stretching him a pickle.
   Looking at Granny Frost with contempt Salima cried:
   - Why are you staring in such a way, you damned wretch! - he shouted. Shall I pour you some vodka? Have a drink, you"ll be better...
   Then he got up and went up to the door. I hid myself in the larder. Hasim went out and, without putting his shoes on made his way to the toilet. When he closed the door behind him, I went out of the larder, looked around and saw a brick near the hen-house. I picked it and hurled it with all might towards the toilet. Hitting the door the brick pieces dispersed like shell fragments. Like a ninja agent, I disappeared in the thick fog and started watching the scene. Granny Frost Hasil went out of the toilet looking around in fear and dashed headlong to the house. His trousers were wet. He must have let half of the water out in the wrong direction.
   I didn"t go up to the windows any more. I hated to hurt the woman who found herself in an
  awkward situation. I realized that my actions were illegal. But I hadn"t forced he to marry me for I knew that love was above the law. I found out that love was a misery. A physicist by the name of Karim Ibn Tolib cited the following proverb: "Why should we love and suffer if all roads lead to bed". If love ended in bed I wouldn"t have suffered so badly. I wouldn"t have been attached to Salima so strongly. Now I will go and never come back...
   Stumbling in the snow I walked in the thick quiet fog. Tears came to my eyes. I wept through clenched teeth in silence.
   I had liked thick fogs since my childhood. For in the fog you don"t see anybody, and nobody can see your tears.
  
  (35) Mukhametdin"s Diary
  
   After the death of unle Mukhametdin, the old war participant, who had lived a long life and died in his old age, we found his shabby diary in leather binding.
   He was one of the most respectable men in Kashkirkishlak village. As I was engaged in creative work murdashui Gaipnazar gave me that diary asking me not to lose it. After the funeral I brought the diary home.
   I started reading it and couldn"t stop. The events described in the diary were so exciting, that I couldn"t tear my eyes off the pages day and night.
  Prologue
   I knew perfectly well that the diary could be an occasion for the marshal court to sentence me to death penalty by hanging. Therefore I started writing it after Stalin"s death during Khrushchev"s period of thaw. I wrote what I had seen in my life and what you couldn"t even see in your dreams.
  The War
   In 1942 I was drafted into the army. We were trained under Krasnodar, and after the training we were sent to the Ukrainian Front, along with the horses.
   Either due to the lack ammunitions or because of mistrust they didn"t give us anything except for spades. We were bombed by the enemy" planes under Rostov-on-Don. As a result, the train came off the rails and the carriages blazed up. So many people died then, it was horrible!
   After the bombing the fascists took us prisoners. As a faithful soldier of my Motherland, I should have killed myself but I couldn"t. The infantrymen had no other weapons but for spades. We were driven like cattle God knows where. We walked under escort the whole day. They didn"t feed us and didn"t let us rest. We walked staggering like drunken. The fascists shot dead on the spot those lagging behind and falling down. It was not until late in the evening that we were allowed to have a rest. Many people fell ill that night. At midnight they roused us and made us walk ahead. Half asleep, we walked in the cold rain along the dirt road. The fascists escort soldiers and officers had raincoats on, and before setting out they had had a good supper. In the morning we arrived at the destination. It was a concentration camp for Soviet war prisoners.
   They searched us and taking our clothes away gave out striped pajamas and offered some food which, in fact, couldn"t be called food at all. The broth had neither meat nor oil in it, just pieces of rotten cabbages. The next day the fascists cut the meat of a dead horse into pieces in a pointed manner and fed us like chicken with birdseeds, sort of. Pushing one another, the hungry prisoners rushed to the meat of a dead horse and began to eat it greedily, like a pack if beasts. Presently, a heavy fire was opened at the place from which the food had been thrown to us. The whistling bullets flew over our heads. Fearing the stray bullets, the prisoners like one lay down on the ground. Watching the scene the fascists roared with laughter. Then they threw us some more of that so called meat. The prisoners got up and were about to run to the pieces of raw meat when the fascists opened fire again, and again we had to lie down to make the fascists laugh.
   It was late autumn. The frosts were getting stronger and stronger with each passing day. The fascists started sorting people out in the camp. The Jews were beaten severely. The fascists set the guard dogs on them. One Jewish prisoner was eaten up alive by dogs. Another tried to flee and was shot dead, like a partridge.
   Since I was a folk healer I treated prisoners in the barrack at night. I had my own method of treating the prisoners thrashed by fascists. In the past I had mainly used the song and poem therapy trying to influence the patients" mental process and behavior.
   Being unable to treat people in the camp with the help of songs I started using the poem therapy. When I read a poem by heart the wounded prisoners would be hypnotized and fall into a trance. After the treatment they would be relieved from pain and feel good.
   I could of course hypnotize the fascists as well, but I was afraid that in case of failure I would be killed on the spot. It would be like committing suicide. Seeing my prisoners recover after my treatment I felt happy. It was really great!
   But there were informers among us who reported the fascists about my medical practice. The
  result was that one night the fascists burst into the barrack and took me away.
   It was cold outside. The barbed wire fence and the creaking lights on the lamp posts swayed and whistled in the fierce wind. The powerful searchlights illuminated the camp, and the dogs barked at me nervously.
  They brought me to the camp commander. When we entered his room he stood by the window smoking. He was a tall red haired man, thin and with protruding eyes like those of a smoked fish. There was an officer by his side, a thick man in the fascist"s uniform, with a big scar on his face. As they opened the door the officer and the escort men straightened at attention raising their right hand and greeting their boss with the exclamation: "Heil Hitler!"
  - "Heil" - said the camp boss. The thick assistant with a scar on his face joined him. Then
  the boss told the officer to leave the room along with escort. When they left the room the camp manager started interrogating me. The thick assistant was translating my words from Russian into German.
  - Are you a communist?
  - No, I don"t belong to any party.
  - You are a doctor, aren"t you?
  - Not really.
  - What do you mean by saying "not really"?
  - I am a folk healer. I mean I am a Talib. Talib is...
  - What are your methods of treatment?
  - Sometimes I treat singing songs... I mean I mostly use the song and poetry method.
   Is it possible to treat the sick in that way?
  -Yes it is.
  - What is your nationality? Are Jewish?
  - No. I am Uzbek. There was such a republic in the Soviet Union.
  - Uspakistan? Pakistan, is it?
  - No. Uzbekistan. Uzbek, Uzbik, Uzbyuk. Well, Samarkand, Bukhara...
   - Oh yeah, Samarkand, Bukhara. Tamerlane? Do you come from the Tamerlane nation?
  - Ye-e-es, yes.
  - Then why do you treat Jews?
  - To me sick people are just patients, regardless of their nationality and their belief. I just
  have to help those in need of my support. That"s what my father taught me.
   The boss fell silent contemplating. Making a pause he asked:
   - Can you treat a child suffering from phobia?
   - I will try - I said.
   The camp boss silently crushed the cigarette in the ashtray.
   - Who is the child? Where is he? - I asked.
   - It"s my son - the camp boss answered.
  - Your son? - I asked in surprise.
   - Yes, even doctors and academicians were unable to cure him. So think. I will give you a chance. If you cure him, I will let you live. If not, you will die a terrible death for Otto is my only child.
   - Excuse me, what does you son complain of? - I asked.
   - He always says that there someone standing behind the door or behind the wall. We know there"s nobody there. To make him see, we open all doors before him and even turn everything over n the house. But he insists stubbornly:
  - There he is, cant"s you see? A thin black hairy man, with a little head. Turn him out, I am
  scared - he says. But we don"t know what to do.
   - Don"t worry - I said encouragingly - Everything will be all right.
  - You will see my son tomorrow - said the camp boss.
  - OK, I replied.
   The camp boss gave a sign with his eyes, and the aide pushed the button to call the escort. They entered the room and took me back to the barrack.
   It was still and cold outside with the wind swaying the squeaking lanterns on the lampposts.
  The walls of the barracks echoed the barking of the guard dogs. I watched the snow flakes sadly whirling in the light of the hanging lanterns and falling quietly like the feathers of shot down birds. Wrapping myself up in my striped clothes I walked shivering with cold.
   At last I was locked up in the cold barrack where prisoners lay sleeping. I thanked God for saving me from being shot by the fascists. I lay down on the straw mattress and answering the questions of my brother-soldiers in a low voice I gradually fell asleep.
   I had a terrible dream. I saw that I had been brought to the chamber of torture with huge bowls of water. There were armed guards standing, sticks in hand, by both sides of the bowls. There were prisoners in the bowls filled with cold water. As they come out from under the water the guards struck them without remorse on their heads, and they dove in again. The guards asked me:
   - What is your nationality?
   - Uzbek - I answered.
   - Ah, Uzbek. Then take off your clothes and go down into that bowl. There are Uzbeks in it. There are many of them though you cannot see them all. Many of them must have died for lack of air.
   - Really? - I said, and then I added:
   - Excuse me, why aren"t there guards there with big sticks in hand who strike the prisoners on the head when they come out to take the air?
   - The point is that you do not need guards. You will not let one another breathe drowning your brethren.
   - The guard did not finish for suddenly a long thin arm with a tattooed word "Mamarayim" on it came out of the water and seizing my leg started pulling me into the bowl. I drowned and started
  gasping for breath.
   At this point up I woke. "What a terrible dream" - I mumbled thanking God for making this nightmare occur in a dream and not in reality.
   In the morning the officer with the escort came again and I was taken away. When we entered the office of the camp manager the officer and escort soldiers raised their hands and exclaimed in chorus:
  - Heil Hitler!
   - Sieg Heil - answered the boss. His aide and interpreter joined them.
   The boss was now talking to me in a milder tone. He explained to me that before going to see the patient I had to take a bath for hygiene.
   I took a bath and changed my clothes for the suit the officer gave me. Then I had a good meal, and putting me in a car they took me away. We drove through the wood along the bumpy road. It was lightly snowing.
   At last we arrive at a gorgeous villa where the boss lived with his family. The guard met us greeting with a fascist salutation. We entered the house. A lovely blue-eyed woman came out to meet us. The camp boss led me to the room where his sick son was sitting.
   - Put him to bed - I said.
  The boy was put to bed.
   And what is the title of the song? - the manager of the concentration camp asked.
   "Lazgi - The Roads of Khorezm" - I answered and began to sing:
  
  Omoneeeeeey omooooon!
  High mountain top stretch one by one,
  Some have snow caps, others have none.
  If a young man"s head is wise and bright
  His wife and wealth will be all right!
  
  Omo - o - o - n !
  R - a - an !
  Randada - dida - dandada !
  Dindada dandada - dindada !
  
  Drawn in pencil are your brows,
  Black as pitch they make me burn!
  Like two pythons your eyebrows,
  Make me long for you and yearn!
  
  Tell me please, my pretty girl,
  Whom does your heart belong to, warm?
  Lovely tulip, can you tell
  What flower-bed do you come from?
  
  Do you come from Hutan steppe?
  You"re as slender as gazelle!
  Black-eyed beauty, take a step,
  Come to me, my pretty girl!
  
  Black-eyed beauty my bu - u - uu - u - ty !
  My pretty girl, my bu - u - uu - u - ty !
  !
  
  
  When I changed the note from the low octave raising it to the note "do" the child started
  writhing and crying noisily. He opened his eyes wide in fear. I continued singing giving the sign to the parents to hold the child"s hands and feet. They did as I said. Singing the song I rose from my seat and began to dance "Lazgi". The escort men joined in. We danced on and on sweating our guts out, so to say. Now the child suddenly came round and smiled.
   Thus I had cured Otto, the sick son of the manager of the concentration camp. After that the fascists called my method of treatment a new discovery in the horizon of world medicine, that is a miracle of medicine, and started taking me now to the clinic, now to the field hospital where fascist soldiers were taking treatment.
   I didn"t mind. All sick people, regardless of their nationality and origin, were just patients to me. I treated them with all my heart.
   One day I held a treatment session at the field hospital, singing "Lazgi". After the session the bandaged officers and soldiers rose from their beds and started dancing around on crutches. The doctors and nurses also danced. After this session the fascists sent me to a distant island in the Pacific Ocean where German scientists were carrying out scientific experiments.
   Before my departure the fascists had warned me that it was a dangerous place. The point was that the islanders disliked doctors. I thanked them for the warning and set out for the journey. We first traveled by train, then flew to the Ocean shore and then sailed off from the port on board a small ship. It had been a long journey across the Pacific before we reached the shores of the island of mutants and nits.
   When the fascist officers had put me on a boat and left me alone it was dark with stars twinkling over the ocean. The fascists went back, and I was all on my own on the island shore with the serf roaring and swaying the boat on the huge ocean waves.
  
  (36) The Island of Mutants
   Sailing close to the shore I took all I needed and pulled the boat out onto the sand. I hid it in the thick bushes of the exotic forest.
   There were monkeys crying, and up in the night sky large bats flew around flashing with burning green eyes.
   I gathered some brushwood and made a fire on the sandy shore. I had supper by the fire and, fearing the unexpected attacks of wild animals, could not fall asleep till morning.
   But in the end I somehow did fall asleep, and my fire went out. When I woke up I saw a man of about 35 years of age. He was tall and broad-shouldered, black-haired and snub-nosed, with thick lips and slant eyes. He had striped clothes on and had a harpoon with a sharp head in his hand.
   Apprehending the danger, I got up. But speaking in Russian he set me at ease:
  - Don"t be afraid. I won"t do wrong to you.
   - Are you Russian? - I asked in surprise
   - No, - he said - we speak Russian but we are not Russians. My name is Ibn Yamin.
   He stretched his hand to me to get acquainted.
  - I am Mukhameddin - I said shaking his hand.
  - Nice to meet you
  - Nice to meet you, too, I said smiling.
   We continued our conversation in a friendly atmosphere. When I told him briefly about myself and my occupation Ibn Yamin warned me that I should by no means tell the islanders about it. The matter was that by the decree of Boshmutant, the ruler of the island of mutants and nits, medicine was forbidden on the island. He who dared cure mutants and nits would be executed, without investigation and trial, with a bat, to spare a bullet. For being healthy for the mutants and nits was a disgrace and equaled to genocide. Should a mutant recover, he or she would be sentenced to death and tied to a tree of shame with ropes, smeared with pitch and burnt alive.
   Ibn Yamin turned out to be a nice man. We made friends very quickly. I helped him drive fish in the lagoon where my new friend usually caught it with his sharp harpoon. After lunch we went to the village where Ibn Yamin lived. He told me many interesting things, and later I wrote everything down in my diary.
   Ibn Yamin"s ancestors at one time arrived at this island in search of peace, fleeing from persecution on the part of Kargarangs. It was an exotic island where the ocean waves ground the coastal rocks licking them with their huge tongues, where hundreds of thousands of birds left their nests flying in the wet wind and crying altogether, where green tropical forests perpetually rustled with soft fluttering or crackling sounds, where flocks of yellow and green parrots settled snugly and comfortably in their nests, where the noise of tropical rain and cries of monkeys resounded in the air coming from distant woods, where wild bananas grew and where Ibn Yamin"s ancestors had lived a long time building roads and houses, hunting wild animals and fishing by the Ocean shores. But one day hordes of mutants and nits arrived at the island shores on ships.
   Heroically defending the island from the invaders Ibn Yamin"s ancestors had lost many courageous warriors.
   In an unequal battle the mutants and nits had won a victory over the healthy people and besieged the island declaring it "an island mutants and nips". They gave it the name of "Zhimland". Its capital was the village of Lattakhoch. The ruler of the island was the Monarch by the name of Boshmutant, the chief mutant with his chief executioner Shishmutant. The Monarch"s wife was Yoshmutant, which meant young mutant. The astounding thing about it was the fact that some healthy people wanted to become mutants or at least nits. To win the favor of the Monarch Boshmutant they married off their young and healthy daughters to aged mutants and nits. Some people had even undergone a plastic surgery in order to look like mutants and nits. But the security services disclosed the trick accusing them of violating the law of Zhimland. The pseudo-mutants were arrested on the same day and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
   The mutants and nits worshiped the idol Grekhbatta The leader of that religious group was Brigbattal Blokholov. Every night, opening his book of perversion in the shrine "Cakes Brothel", the sinful Father prayed his confession, beginning with the name of the idol. That"s what he said in particular:
   "My dear stray children, our book of perversion says that every member of our faith should commit at least one sin a day. Then he will go to the paradise Durman located on the ocean shore where dirty prostitutes, souteneurs, homosexuals, androgynes, alcoholics and drug addicts render their intimated services to parishioners. There are a sauna with a swimming pool and a casino for gambling there. And he who does anybody good is in for it. He will right off get to hell which is under the residence of His Majesty Boshmutant.
   Ibn Yamin met Brigbattal Blokholov when his father Kukhikan, defending the oppressed healthy people, had broken the rules and had to go the Cakes Brothel Shrine where he was marked with Satan"s hot star and given absolution from the good he"d done. But it didn"t help anyway. Six months later Ibn Yakhim Kukhikan" father had exceeded the bounds of the law again criticizing strongly the police of Boshmutant and was arrested and convicted of a crime. The criminal case was taken to the Supreme Court. The hearing had lasted a long time, and finally the court passed the sentence on his attempt to overthrow the constitutional regime and condemned him to death. To see with his own eyes that he had got rid of his main opponent, Boshmutant attended the the execution ceremony near Garbage Mountain.
   As Garbage Mountain was a sightseeing of Zhimland big ceremonies were arranged there such as executions. Ibn Yamin was not allowed to see his father. Rattling with shackles and chains the latter proudly went up to the scaffold. They took the shackles off his hands and feet and put him on the scaffold placing his right foot into a wooden casing witch they filled with concrete. While the judge was reading the verdict the concrete of the highest quality hardened and dried up. Then, by Boshmutant"s order, Ibn Yamin"s father was thrown into the ocean to be eaten up by sharks. The mutants and nits made merry while the healthy people cried in silence. Ibn Yamin, too, shed tears, cursing angrily Boshmutant"s regime. He clenched his fists so strongly that one could hear his bones crunch.
   After the tragic death of his father Ibn yamin was left alone. His mother married the middle school teacher of Dog"s Language and Literature by the name of Kamish Leila Kunji Mol Sulak. It was still a mystery to him why on earth Ibn Yamin should have married that man and what she had found in that thin creature, with a long neck and a bird"s head. But that was his mom"s right, so to say.
   Thus the teacher of Dog"s Language and Literature with a strange name became Ibn Ymin"s father in law.
   To forget it all, Ibn Ymin was looking at the dark window of the wooden house which his father and he had built from logs some time before.
   It was dark outside, and it was raining heavily. Ibn Yamin was engrossed in thought again listening to the sound of rain. Like other people, he loved his father. He was not only his father but also a friend of his. They used to go fishing in the opens sea together rowing amidst the autumn clouds of fog. When father cast the net with all his might like a Texas cowboy throws a lasso on a wild horse" neck, it flew up so beautifully! A spectacular sight it was indeed! Particularly when they pulled out the net out of water with fish Ibn Yamin would forget about the world around for a while. His heart would be filled with such a joy, a joy beyond compare!
   And now his dear and near father was probably lying on the bottom of the ocean. His body might have already been eaten up by sharks...
  . What a good man his father was! Could he ever forget how he and father cut big trees with a sharp axe in the wood, how splinters dispersed flying in all directions and how nice the bark and the wet dust of trees smelled in the wood! How the trees fell frightening the parrots whose multicolored feathers glittered in the sun!
   Up to that day the rattle of fallen trees and the cries of parrots lingered in his memory.
   Sipping coffee, Ibn Yamin wistfully looked out of the window. It was raining cats and dogs in darkness.
   Suddenly somebody knocked at the door frightening Ibn Ibn Yamin. There was another knock. He got up cautiously without tearing his eyes off the window. He raised the lantern and went up to the window. He saw the contour of a man with a pale face flash in the window. When he heard a voice from outside the window he felt a nervous tremor in his backbone. It was a voice very similar to his father"s.
   - Sunny, open the door. I am your father. I am back. Don"t be afraid. I will explain it to you now. You see, I never told you and never showed it to you. My foot which the mutants had concreted was artificial, that is plastic. You see.. Well... how should I explain it...
   Now my fear had disappeared turning into joy. Ibn Yamin nearly dropped his lantern for joy. Leaving the lantern on the table he opened the window quickly and stretched his hand to his father. The latter climbed into the house through he window, and hugging each other they cried and laughed happily. Then Ibn Yamid helped his father to take change his clothes. When his father had warmed himself up with a cup of coffee wrapping himself in the blanket Ibn Yamin put his arms round his shoulders and said:
   - Thank God, you are alive. When you, like a ghost, looked into the window I got terribly scared. Oh, my Lord, how could you walk with your plastic foot all this time? I didn"t know it was artificial. What had happened to it?
  - Well, sunny, there was in incident.
  He looked at his bad foot which he had made a month before. Then he told his story:
   One day Boshmutant arranged a bloody competition, a shark fight, at the main amphitheatre of Zhimland. An artificial water reservoir had been built on that occasion on the ocean shore at the foot of the high rocks. The pool was filled with blue ocean water mixed with blood to attract sharks, and the bloody show began. Hundreds of gladiators became preys of the blood-thirsty sharks. But they fought to the end dying with dignity. May they rest in peace. The mutants and nits, with Boshmutant at the head, enjoyed these dramatic scenes.
   Now it was my turn to fight. I jumped into the water where sharks swam around furrowing the surface with their dorsal fins. Taking the harpoon in my hands I attacked the sharks. I killed one very quickly. But it took rather a long time to fight the next one. It bit off my right foot. Despite the burning pain I continued fighting the shark. Taking my chance, I hit it with all my might piercing its belly. It tossed about for a while and then turned over with it its belly up. So I had won. But this victory cost me much. When the gangrene had begun the newcomer from the Island of Durdabon Monsieur Lord Mr. Baron de Chanell amputated my foot. The mutants later killed him for treating the children of mutants and nits.
   -Well, well, - said Ibn Yamin looking proudly at his father. The latter fell silent. Then he asked:
   - Sunny, what about your mom? Where is she?
  Instead of giving the answer, Ibn Yahim frowned hanging his head.
   -Why don"t you answer? Where is she? In hospital, is she? Why do you keep silent? Is she ill? That"s what I thought. Poor creature, she was worrying about me. I thought she had left for your granny"s. Tell me, is she in hospital? It was entirely my fault. She loves me more than life. Do you hear? We should tell her as quickly as possible about my arrival from the other world before she committed suicide in despair...
   - She is gone - Ibn Yamin said interrupting his father.
   - Gone? Where to?
  - Just gone.
  - How come? That can"t be. Maybe, someone had hurt her? Was she hurt?
  - You see, father, it"s I am embarrassed to tell you about it. Well, you know, she got married.
  On hearing that Ibn Yamin"s father opened his mouth like a fish having a feed in an aquarium.
  - Come on! What are you talking about? - he said getting up.
  - Yes, father, it"s true. She married the teacher if Dog"s Language and Literature. His name is Kamish Leila Kunji Mol Sulak.
  - Really? - said the father standing like a statue in a cemetery.
  - Yes - said Ibn Yamin. To console his father, he hugged him saying:
   - Don"t worry. The main thing is that you are safe and sound. To be honest, she is not to blame, after all. Maybe she married that idiot to forget about your death.
   The father sat down in the armchair and lit a cigarette letting the smoke out through the wide nostrils of his nose looking like a red pepper. Then he turned sharply to his son:
  - And you looked at it through your fingers?
  - You see, father, she is not a sister of mine, after all, how could I tell mom what to do? I did tell her that it was not good to marry after father"s recent execution. She wouldn"t listen to me. What was I supposed to do in that situation?
   - There was no reply to Ibn Yamin"s question. Father and son were looking out into the night window. They could hear the noise of the tropical heavy shower still coming from outside.
  
  (37) The Bubble Newspaper "Khandun"
  
   When Ibn Yamin awoke his father had been gone. He must have left taking offence with Ibn Yamin"s mom for marrying the teacher of Dog"s Language and Literature Kamish Leila Kunji Mol Sulak. Ibn Yamin"s heart sank. He dressed quickly and made his way to Garbage Mountain. The road was slippery after the night rain. The morning was cold. Some distance away from the ocean islands with canes rustling in the wide winds there were flocks of pelicans flying around. On the way to the Brothel Cakes Shrine he encounted Brigbattal Blokholov. "May you fall ill, as often as possible, Your Damnation" - Ibn Yahim said greeting him in a mutant"s way..
   - Oh, my stray son, I curse you for ever and a day - Brigbattal Blokholov replied. Then he went on:
   - You have stopped attending our shrine of late. Maybe, you have a good reason for that? But in that case you should have called me on my burial phone. My phone number is easy to remember: it"s 666.
   By all means, Your Damnation! I will call you. - said Ibn Yamin.
   I said good bye to Brigbattal and made my way down the street to the place where the poet by the name of Hurdranjahjotshanfajzkarmahkvarabidzhanlmashur lived. He, too, thought Ibn Yamin to be his faithful friend. The poet was not in. The friends went out into the street to look for Ibn Yamin"s father. But he wasn"t to be found anywhere. Ibn Yahim was upset. Hurdranjahjotshanfajzkarmahkvarabidzhanlmashur tried to console him:
   - Don"t worry. Be happy that your father is alive. He will come back in the evening.
   When they saw a donkey coming up to them they greeted him. Otherwise they would be done for, because donkeys were sacred animals and in good favor on the island. Beating or abusing them was a serious crime. He who abused a donkey or a pig faced a torturous death by suffocation with a plastic bag put on his head. The donkey and pigs had even office cars and drivers. And though they did nothing but harm to healthy people the state allocated huge sums of money for them from the state budget. In other words, they got a big salary, plus free clothes and food. The animals wearing a black suit, a hat and a tie had also accord inviolability. If a donkey kicked a healthy person the latter was to accept it as "a mother"s kiss". If a pig trampled one"s garden it was regarded as a sign of a good harvest in the coming year. The donkey"s excrements were dried in special drying chambers and then granulated, packed and sold at the market as tea. It was in high demand with mutants and nits. The donkey"s urine was a raw material for producing perfume for ladies and eau-de-Cologne for men.
   After long anthropological research work the scientists of Zhimland were convinced that all mutants had descended from donkeys and pigs and not from monkeys. Occasionally, a pig would get into a hall of the conservatoire and let out a loud badly smelling gas. Those sitting in the hall applauded throwing flowers and rosebuds to the pig and crying delightfully, tears in their eyes:
   - Bravo, Maestro! Bravo!
   Then they stood applauding for a long time. One mutant woman got up on the stage and kissed the pig. A crowd of mutants rushed to the pig and pushing one another started asking it for an autograph. The pig was not willing to give autographs, while Ibn Yamin and Hurdranjahjotshanfajzkarmahkvarabidzhanlmashur, standing aside watched the donkey go away. The animal made its way to Garbage Mountain where a sanatorium for animals had been built. There came a mutant boy selling bubble newspapers printed on air-balloons. To read the paper one had to puff it up, so that the small letters and pictures would enlarge and could be read. Hurdranjahjotshanfajzkarmahkvarabidzhanlmashur bought one copy of it and started inflating it. When the balloon paper had grown big enough he started reading it. The paper had nothing in it except for a small announcement. Hurdranjahjotshanfajzkarmahkvarabidzhanlmashur read it aloud.
  
  ANNOUNCEMENT
   "A big puff up competition in inflating the government newspaper Khadun is to take place at the Central Stadium today. The newspaper will be printed on condoms. The competition will be attended by His Damnation Boshmutant, his wife Yoshmutant and their son Miralay. The prizes will be presented personally by the esteemed Monarch".
   The friends looked at one another, thought a little and made up their minds to go and watch the unusual competition. When they arrived at the stadium there were no vacant seats there.
   Boshmutant sat in a high throne, smiling like a shark. He was guarded by men in civilian clothes armed with catapults with telescopic sights. Their pockets, filled with cut and poisoned
   When Boshmutant waved his hand the band stopped playing, and the competition began. A thick deputy with a big backside came out to the ring. He was presented with a copy of condom newspaper which he was to blow. Before getting down to work the deputy carefully massaged his lips. Then he bowed to Boshmutant, kissed the flag of Zhimland made of foot-rag and started puffing up the condom newspaper. The newspaper carrying Bosh mutant"s photograph was growing second by second along with the article praising him to the skies. For lack of air and due to tension the deputy turned red in the face. The jury watched him carefully. It took the deputy an hour to blow the newspaper. It was expanding along with Boshmutant"s photograph and an article of appraisal. It seemed that the deputy would fly off any minute. Boshmunant opened his mouth with surprise. Suddenly, an extraordinary thing happened, quite unexpectedly. The deputy let the condom-newspaper Khandun out of his mouth. Releasing the gas, the newspaper flew at a high speed over the people, hit Boshmutant"s mouth and got stuck in his throat.
  
  (38) The Elixir of Life
  
   As the saying goes "troubles never come alone". After the funny story that had happened at the Central Stadium Boshmutant"s son Muraley fell ill. He constantly gritted his teeth clenching them strongly. To prevent him from chewing his tongue, the royal footmen stuck into his mouth all sorts of rags, towels, bed-sheets and curtains. Cutting them to pieces, Prince Miralay was continuously chewing mattresses, mats and slippers emptying the court wardrobes. Boshmutant had nothing to do but sign an odd decree on a new tax which said that all healthy citizens of Zhimland were to hand over to the state their clothes, carpets (if they had them), mattresses, bed-clothes, curtains, socks, mosquito nets and all.
   After the decree had been released the citizens of Zhimland started delivering all sorts of thing indicated in it. The Royal servants would untiringly put all those things into Prince Miralay"s mouth. Like a grinding machine, he would day and night crush all the rags and things like swimming trunks, knickers and socks of healthy people. But it was impossible to save Prince Miralay"s life in that way. Considering the worsening state of health of his son Boshmutant declared the state of emergency on the whole territory of Zhimland.
   The Parliament had set up a special Commission and worked out a plan on Miralay"s salvation. Soon afterwards, another decree was issued by Boshmutant. It said that to prepare the elixir of life for Price Miralay from people"s tears every citizen of Zhimland was to hand over tears of grief and suffering to the state.
   The tears of joy and happiness had a poisonous effect, therefore the men at the reception point only accepted tears of grief and sorrow. The decree did not apply to mutants, nits and hogs.
   The accumulated tears of healthy people were to be frozen and kept in underground store-houses. The ice was to be used for making lollipops and ice-cream.
   On the first day when the tears had been accumulated Boshmutants"s scientists prepared the elixir of life and presented it cautiously to the Monarch. Before giving it to his son the latter told the Health Minister to take a gulp of it to test it. Holding the bottle in his hand, the Minister stirred it up and drank. He smacked his lips to show how good the elixir was. Seeing that, Prince Miralay grabbed the bottle off the Minister"s hand and emptied it at once. After that Prince Miralay"s state of health began to improve.
   Boshmutant was beyond himself with joy. In a burst of generosity he signed and announced another decree. The "historic document" ran as follows:
   1. Each drop of bitter tears shall be taken under control, and everything should be done to prevent the tears, that is the strategic material the country needs, from being smuggled abroad. The tears shall be taken to the state warehouse in refrigerators guarded by snipers.
   2. The vicious plans of the people"s enemies shall be nipped in the bud, and to prevent Prince Miralay"s elixir from being spoilt by them, they should not be given a chance to add the tears of joy and happiness to the tears of grief and sorrow.
   Humorists shall be the first to be drowned in the ocean, leaving alone the jokers. Secondly, a tough censorship shall be imposed, so that poets and writers might only write sentimental works and composers only funeral marches. The singers, too, shall sing songs arousing compassion. The sculptors and artists shall create pieces of art on beggars and stray orphans living in cellars swarming with rats. Film producers shall not be allowed to shoot comedies. In their documentaries about people taken ill with aids, fowl plague and schizophrenia they shall only show tragic scenes of life.
   Right after the release of the decree all humorists of Zhimland were arrested and drowned in the ocean with their hands and feet bound and with heavy stones hung up to their necks. By Boshmutant"s order the funniest humorist Zhibai Zhibai was hanged by the neck on the mast of an abandoned ship. When Zhibai Zhibai"s body started decomposing flocks of birds of pray covered the sky over Zhimland.
   I hate to describe the way the birds picked the eyes of the humorist before healthy people"s eyes and tore out his skin and guts along with pieces of his clothes turning him within half an hour into a white bare skeleton.
   His body was now hanging like a souvenir on the mast in the blowing wind. His bare scull was looking at the people as if he were laughing with his mouth wide open.
  
  (39) The Man with a Heavy Suitcase
  
   After supper Ibn Yamin switched on the TV set. The TV station in Zhimland had only one channel called "The Paradise News". It showed the TV address of the mutant journalist Gabigay Nairang. Before speaking he bowed low to Bushmant"s portrait and said:
   - To begin with, I"d like to say: Glory to my dear wise Mister Boshmutant! Secondly, I do not agree with the decisions of the administration of The Guinness Book of Records. They hate our achievements. That"s why they never enter our record-holders in their book of records. For example, they ignore Mansur Kashe Katnet Bugaz, the son of our nit deputy Rizan Kazzab. He was head of the collective farm growing bananas for Boshmutant and his family. Mansur Kashe Katnet Bugaz was unable to move, eat and use the toilet without someone to support him. Yet he managed the farm. As a full-fledged nit he dreamed about glorifying his father and himself among mutants, donkeys and pigs. To achieve the high result poor Mansur Kashe Katnet Bugaz every day attended a massage session where a whole team of masseurs rubbed down his backside. He wanted to set a world record in the nomination of "The Nit with the Biggest Ass in the World". He would have his ass massaged even on the coldest winter days. When getting into the car part of his body, for lack of space, it would always stick out of the window. The result was that he had fallen ill and taken to hospital. And...
   Gabigay Nairang took out his lady"s handkerchief and began to cry:
  -Sorry, but when I start talking about our great record holder Mansur Kashe Katnet Bugaz
  I cannot help shedding bitter tears...
   - Oh what a big ass he had! - he continued. It hung down his back like a rucksack. You should see his wide trousers! When they put them on him and make him sit down in a soft armchair his pants would bulde at the seams. After he had died a heroic death his big ass became the issue of controversy among various institutions. Some wanted to have him embalmed, others suggested that he should be kept in the vacuum of a mausoleum under glass, still others wanted to mummy him and sell to the colonial museum of Amsterdam. The funeral procedure was, of course, extravagant as well. The ablution required two hundred and eighty nine and a half liters of water. The most extraordinary incident occurred outside the cemetery. During the burial the Mansur Kashe Katnet Bugaz"s heavy coffin was accidentally dropped. You should see the dust it had raised then!
   The peasants who saw the dust from afar thought with fear that it was a nuclear bomb explosion and or something. The greatest difficulties occurred during the burial of the corpse. When the coffin was being lowered into the grave with a crane the big bum of the departed man showing itself from the coffin got stuck. The grave diggers didn"t take that into account, and the corpse remained hanging in the air for two hours. Suddenly, the steel rope broke off, and the coffin fell down from height making a huge hole in the ground.
   As a result many people were late for work, and showed displeasure. Some healthy people were happy. They buried quickly our famous record holder as a national hero.
   His big bum formed a hill in the middle of a cotton field.
   The measures to be taken for perpetuating the memory of Mansur Kashe Katnet Bugaz were also at a deadlock. One artist, a nit, for example, began to paint the picture in memory of Mansur Kashe Katnet Bugaz but, unfortunately, he was unable to fit in the most strategic part of the late man"s body, that is, his huge backside. The artist explained to the mutant journalists that in order to paint the portrait in full he needed a lot of money to buy a canvas, oil-paints, a fillet and a tablet. The most tragic thing occurred when mounting the memorial monument which the sculptors had made of bronze. It so happened that the sculptors had miscalculated the weight of the large tonnage of the hero"s backside, and, as a consequence, the monument fell down bump on our editor"s bike which was bound to the foundation with a chain, to prevent it from being stolen by delinquents. The bike had been taken on lease by the shortish editor from his neighbor, a souteneur. Since the editor"s legs were too short he could only ride some bicycles. The editor"s driver Nigmat grieved most over the case because he had usually taken the editor on that bicycle and used it to earn some money on the side.
   Now the editor has to go to work on foot. But we realize that art requires sacrifice. So on behalf of all mutants and nits I demand that the administration of The Guinness Book of Records should enter in the book the name of our fellow countryman Mansur Kashe Katnet Bugaz in the nomination of "The Nit with the Biggest Backside".
   As he was finishing the letter Gabigay Nairang began to cry again. Ibn Yamin switched off the TV set.
  
  
  (40) The Gamayun Birds
  
   In the western part of Zhimland by the ocean shores they had found a mysterious egg weighing one kilogram. The ornithologists had recently started carrying out research there. Nobody knew what animal or bird the egg belonged to. Some said it was the egg of an ostrich. Others vigorously denied it because ostriches didn"t live on the island of mutants. To find out the truth the scientists sent the egg to the village of Lattakhoch, the capital of Zhimland. Boshmutant himself was interested in the egg.
   The ornithologists set up a camp on the ocean shore and joined the scientist in research work taking under control the place where the mysterious egg had been found. They redoubled their vigilance over the part of the sky from where the bird could fly in and lay the egg. The ornithologists vowed solemnly that when they caught the bird they would give it as a gift to Boshmutant on the occasion of Independence Day. They resided on the ocean shore in disguised tents and continued their observation. A month had passed, and now an egg was hatched in the specially made incubator. When he saw it Boshmutant was happy like nobody else. The chicken of the size of a partridge, with a long neck, and looking like a peacock, was the object of universal attention. The scientists unanimously concluded that it was the chicken of Phoenix that is the bird of happiness Gamayun . It was a good sign they said, that life in Zhimland would now prosper like never before.
   The next day Boshmutant got the good about the arrival of two birds, possibly Gamayuns, up in the sky which had been kept under observation by ornithologists.
   Boshmutant ordered all branches of power to build observation posts for him and his family in all the places where the birds had been seen. The authorities did as they had been told. Then Boshmutant and his family attended the unforeseen Festival of Ornithologists. Boshmuant, armed with white binoculars, watched the flight of the birds. The birds of happiness had beautiful feathers and long tails which rustled in flight. A crowd of people gathered on the square. Protecting their eyes from the sharp rays of the sun they watched the flight of the unique
  legendary birds. Presently, two more birds appeared in the horizon. Wishing to set up a firm under the name of "Happiness" Boshmutant shouted to the ornithologists to catch those Gamayuns. They explained that to entrap the birds they needed a chicken. Boshmutant gave his consent.
   The ornithologists placed Gamayun"s bound chicken on the pasture. The discontented little Gamayun resisted picking the hands of the researchers, opening its mouth wide, pulling out its tongue and croaking. On hearing its cry, the long tailed birds flying over the people responded. They started flying low, like crazy, at a high speed. Now "fresh forces" had arrived, and the whole sky was covered with long tailed birds, raising the wind behind. There were so many gamayuns up there that people lost balance from giddiness. It was dark now. Against a dark background the birds" eyes were sparkling red and yellow. Then the birds got angry and started bombarding the people with their droppings and picking their eyes. Boshmutant"s head and his clothes were all white from bird"s excrements. The umbrella, which Bushmutant"s footmen had set up to protect the boss, bent and broke off. People dispersed in panic. But sliding on the birds" excrements they slid like on skates and fell down. Boshmutant"s guard, armed with catapults, did their best to protect their boss who cried:
   - Shoo! Shoo! Help! These are birds of Misfortune! Arrest all ornithologists immediately! Oh-oo-oh! He now fell down, now got up, his clothes, his hair, his face and hands were covered with chicken manure, and he looked as if he"d dropped his head into a cake. His guards could hardly take him away. People ran home. With their eyes bleeding, the long tailed gamayuns chased them all the way. They were flying around all night till the following morning. When it had quieted down people went out groaning and gasping. The whole of Zhimland was littered with poultry droppings five inches thick. It looked as if snow had fallen. People were cleaning the streets and roofs as if from snow.
  
  
  
  ($!) The Crumpled Letter
  
   At the following session of Parliament many mutant deputies spoke praising Boshmutant and proposed an amendment to the Constitution granting a life term of power to Boshmutant. Then they nominated Marshal Cats, the adopted son of Boshmutant, for the Commander of Telepathic Communication. Before the voting the deputies gave the floor to Marshal Cats who said as follows, in particular:
   - Esteemed mutants and nits! It is common knowledge that I am Sir Boshmutant"s adopted son. Nobody knows who my parents actually are! But it doesn"t matter. I definitely know that I am a pure-blooded descendant of donkeys. If somebody doubts it, I can prove it.
   Saying this Marshal Cats stretched out his neck and closing his eyes started braying like an ass. Then he continued:
   - According to the witnesses, when I was born my parents wrapped me in a red rag with the slogan "Children are our future!" written on it (incidentally, this slogan is still kept at the local museum of Zhimland). So they wrapped me up and threw me into a garbage can. At that moment a she-dog was walking around in search of food. It licked me all over and instinctively I found her nipples. She breast-fed me and took me to her place where she had six puppies. I lived with them in a haystack along with my half-blooded brethren. It"s true that sometimes we would gnaw at one another for the nipples. Then a writer, or a journalist, wrote a thick novel about me entitled "Son of a Bitch". So I became a sort of a little hero arousing compassion among the public. The rumors about me reached the ears of Boshmutant who took me on and became my adoptive father. He gave me the name of Cats which can be decoded as Commander of Amazing Telepathic System. You see how enterprising and far-sighted our Boshmutant is! What a prophecy! Even that Frenchman, what do you call him... Adam de Michel Nostradamus could not foresee it!
   The mutants sitting in the hall stood up like one applauding him: "Bravo! Bravo! Viva, Commandant!
   After a long storm of applause the mutants and nits sat down, and Marshal Cats continued:
   As a direct ancestor of great donkeys, a pure-blooded mutant and son of a bitch, I am grateful to you for appointing me to this high position. My mission and the task of my army consist primarily in building prisons in the air where the thoughts of healthy people will be decaying. The second task is to fix transmitter-chips into the skulls of new-born healthy babies so that we might be able to constantly read their minds.
   To collect taxes for the roads that the healthy people use, we must install speedometers on their feet.
   The fourth task is to install counters in the respiratory tract of healthy people so that we could see how many cubic meters of air they consume for breathing. I think that working along this line we will win your confidence which we now receive on credit.
   Ibn Yamin did not want to watch that comedy, so he switched off the TV set and went out into the street. It was gloomy outside. A cold ocean wind was blowing from the North. The drizzling rain was knocking on his open umbrella. He walked down the street jumping over the pools which reflected the shadows of wistful trees and houses. Near the brown house with overshadowed windows where the authorities try healthy people he encountered Brigbattal Blokholov.
   - Bad Afternoon, Your Damnation, - said Inb Yamin.
   - Ah, yeah, may you be cursed! Damn you, my prodigal son! Where are you off to on this rainy day?
   - I am going to work, Your Damnation! Where else can I go?
   - Really? May you catch an HIV, my prodigal son! Do you remember that we are having a Boshmutant election? Whom you are going to vote for, I wonder?
   - Well, well, I declare, Your Damnation! Whom else can I vote for if there is no other nominee except Boshmutant?
   - Ye-ee-s, yes, you are right my prodigal son. Ok , bye!
   - Bye! - replied Ibn Yamin and walked on down the side-walk.
   When he reached the prison a stone wrapped in paper flew by. He looked to see where the paper had flown from and saw a man standing beyond a barbed wire fence and holding on to the
  window bars. Dressed in a uniform, he was pale and thin. Ibn Yamin understood what it was and picked up the paper which had fallen down with a stone near him. He hid the paper and walked on. It was still raining. When he arrived at the fish-factory he dropped in at the smoking-room where workers smoked self-made cigarettes, that is, tobacco rolled in paper.
   He sat down on a bench and began to read the prisoner"s letter. The latter turned out to be Gabigay Nairang, a journalist and reporter of the bubble newspaper Khandun which was printed on condoms. The journalist had changed in prison to such an extent that even Ibn Yahim did not recognize him. He skipped through the letter:
   "I ask the man that picks up this letter not to throw it away. I want the whole wide world to know that I am suffering.
   I used to be Bushmutant"s favorite journalist. But some misunderstanding occurred. It was like this. When my esteemed Boshmutant visited the unfriendly state of Kargarangs he took me along with him, as a newspaper reporter. After the plane had landed at the airport he gave an interview to journalists while I stood by his side putting everything down. I kept writing while Boshmutant spoke nonstop. In exclusive interviews and at press conferences Boshmutant was always the only one to speak while other just listened. I was untiringly writing down all he said. Once I stopped writing to give my fingers some relief. Suddenly Boshmutant looked at me in such a way that my heart went pit-a-pat. I resumed writing. I didn"t know what I was writing, but I kept writing with my hands trembling like those of an alcoholic holding a glass of vodka. Well, how do you like it? I had used up my note-book. But it was forbidden to stop writing. Then I started writing on the cover of the note-book Alas! Everything comes to an end in this world! The cover was also used up now. I told myself to take an extraordinary measure, that is, to begin to write on my shirt, my vest, then on my face, my hands, my chest and my belly. But our Boshmutant kept on talking.
   After the press-conference I said that I was ill and left for home. When I arrived home my own children did not recognize me. My daughter said:
   - Who are you, uncle? Father is not in. He and Boshmutant left for distant lands by plane.
   - What are you talking about, daughter, - I said - It"s me, your dad and journalist Gabigay Nairang!
   My daughter ran away. Soon my wife came out, pan in hand.
   - Help! People, help! - she cried - they want to kill us!
   - Why are you crying, Sapangul? - I said - It"s me, you husband Gabigay!
   But she wouldn"t listen. She called the militia.
   - Hello? Is it militia? Come quickly! A maniac has intruded into my house! He has all his body tattooed! Yes, yes! Put down: 666 Satanic Street, Apt. 13. Be quick!
   I was at a loss. Now the operative group arrived as if they had been waiting for me.
   I said:
   - Comrade militiamen, I am Boshmutant"s favourite journalist. Don"t you recognize me? Please, let me go!
   But they twisted my arms putting plastic handcuffs on me, and one of them said to my wife:
   - Well, thank you for cooperation, sister. You have helped us a lot. We"ve been in quest for him. At last we have caught him. He is a dangerous criminal under the nickname of "journalist" who escaped from a high security prison camp. Thank you again.
   - Not at all - my wife said - come into the sitting-room. I will treat you to tea.
   - No, thank you - one of the cops said - we have many things to do. We"ll come to see you some other time, ok?
   They stuck me into the car and left.
   And now I am here doing time. Only healthy people are kept here. They don"t like mutants and nits. As for Boshmutant, they just hate him. Last night a negotiator came to the cell. My cellmates acquainted me with the facts. At clarifying the case it became clear that I was not the dangerous criminal under the nickname of "journalist" that had escaped from prison.
   They had pushed me into the corner and said: "from now on your place will be there near the lavatory". So, please, take this letter to the editorial office of the bubble newspaper "Khandun", printed on condoms, before these disgusting healthy people killed me".
   When I had finished reading the letter I was lost in thought. Then I threw the letter into the garbage can by the puddle and went away.
  (42) The Odd Election
  
  . The election campaign began on the island. The healthy part of the population of Zhimland hoped that the election would be democratic for once, that is, representatives of healthy people would also be nominated for presidency. But that didn"t happen. Speaking on TV Boshmutant said that the people of Zhimland were not yet prepared for democracy, and for that reason, with the help of a referendum, he had prolonged his mutant leader"s credentials for the 150th time. And, in spite of that, he told the newspaper reporters that when agreeing to nominate again, he had made up his mind to sacrifice himself.
   After his speech an old man with a white beard said as follows:
   - Dear mutants and nits, I want Boshmutant to be our lifelong president in the better world as well. I want him to rule our country eternally, for ever!
   The old man cried standing for he was in the grip of deep emotion. Suddenly, he made a sharp gesture, and his glued beard came off. He turned out to be a young actor from "Latta Khoch Theatre of Comedy and Satire.
   The next day the Central Election Committee spread strange voting ballots all over Zhimland. On seeing them the healthy part of the population got surprised. The ballots were printed on toilet paper. Moreover, they had to be thrown into W.C. pans instead of voting- boxes.
   Early in the morning, before TV cameras and fake journalists, Boshmutant and his wife Yoshmutant entered the voting room, i.e. the main toilet of Lattakhoch District and dropped the ballots in a pointed manner into the toilet pan. After that all people of Zhimland entered the toilets and dropped their voting ballots into WC pans. Due to the clogging up of the cloacae the disgusting medley (I beg your pardon) came up to the surface. Half an hour later all that stinking muck (I beg your pardon again) flooded all flats and started leaking out of windows.
   For shortage of pure oxygen people began to put on gas-masks meant to be used during the war. It was slippery in the streets. People didn"t run but slid on the muck, as if on ice. When the level of the liquid dung rose sharply people began to swim in it. Ibn Yahim, too, swam in the dirt. Hoping to save their skin cows and dogs also swam around. Free swimming was out of question. It was obstructed with sofas, cupboards, lockers, mattresses that were also floating around in the streets.
   Some active people walked on stilts like storks walking around in search of food. Towards noon Brigbattal Blokholov had arrived to Ibn Yamin"s side on a small couch, rowing with a piece of board. He stretched his hand to Ibn Yahim and said
   - Give me your hand, my prodigal son.
   Ibn Yahim took Brigbattal"s hand and got out of the muck.
   - Well, damn you, Mr. Brigbattal - he said cleaning his clothes from the dirt with a stick.
   - Those were elections, really, my prodigal son! - Brigbattal Blokholov smiled.
   - Well, I never! - Ibn Yamin replied as he went on cleaning his clothes with a stick.
   After that they sailed on sitting on the sofa. On that day many electors had drowned in the muck.
   Speaking on TV after the election Boshmutant, addressing the audience, said:
   - I have told a thousand times that our people are not yet ready for democracy. There"s the result. You have made certain now what consequences democracy involves. Well, look how many people have died! What are they guilty of? Who will be responsible for their death? It"s an irreplaceable loss for us. It"s the bourgeois who have thought up democracy in order to occupy our country without waging a war and suffering losses. I assure you, my dear fellow countrymen, that we have proper ways and means to defend you from democracy. For once I will be a life long President! It"s my patriotic duty before our Motherland.
   Saying this Boshmutant kissed the flag of Zhimland made of foot-rag and, winking cunningly, finished his speech.
  
  (43) The Iron People
  
   When I woke up I realized that after the long reading of uncle Mukhiddin"s diary I had fallen asleep sitting on the chair with my hand on the table.
   I had a strange dream. I saw myself swim through the thick fog in a wooden boat, across the endless ocean, splashing the water with the oars. I had rowed a long time, before I reached a fabulous island. I bound my boat to a palm tree growing on the sandy shore. It was quiet there, not counting the hue and cry of birds and the sound of the ocean surf.
   Admiring the island"s landscapes I walked along the sandy shore and suddenly saw an iron man with his nose broken. I stopped. The iron man stared at me in surprise with his eyes blinking and casting a green light. Then he turned round and ran off rattling like a tin plate which the peasants strike with a stick during the solar eclipse. The sound gradually faded. I climbed a tree to see where the iron man had gone. He was running back now along with other robots. There were many of them. A whole gang. Hoping to hide from them I jumped down. But it was too late. They ran up close to me. The one with a broken nose cried:
   - There he is, our God Almighty! He must have heard our prayers and arrived.
   The robots bowed submissively and lay down on the ground.
   - Pardon us, oh Lord! - shouted they in chorus.
   Now oneof them raised his head and said:
   - Oh God, you have arrived at last. We"ve been waiting for you for such a long time! We knew you would come!
   I stood in fear and trembling not knowing what to do. Then, pulling myself together, I said:
   - What are you talking about? I am not in the least a god! Are you crazy? I am an ordinary man! A human cannot be God. Don"t worship a human being. It"s a big sin!
   - No, - said the robot - we know well that we were created by man, hence he is our God. Don"t reject us! When you left us our power unit broke. We are short of oil and spare parts. To make things still worse, the epidemic "rust" has broken out. So many robots have died from this plague. You see, we are all rusty. God, help us, for pity's sake! I am leader of the robot tribe here.
   - I understand you. But I will say it again, I am not God! I am an ordinary man! Here is my passport which says that I am really a man, and my name is Al Kizim. My surname is Kashak. There you are, look and see, if you don"t believe me.
   I showed them my pass.
   - Oh lord, don"t say that - the tribe leader said - what I told you about the suffering of our community is only part of the trouble! Due to lack of energy our army has lost its defensive capacity. The aliens have broken our army"s resistance, and now and then they kidnap our fellow countrymen as metal waste and compress them with a press-machine. They have captured thousands of robots, and this outrage is going on up to now! Kargarangs deceitfully make us work for them in mines. We work from morning till night extracting uranium for 6-12 volts of energy. What can we do? We want to live, after all. God, have mercy upon us! Give us your blessing!
   I thought a little and then said:
   - All right, I will help you fix your power supply unit. But don"t call me God.
   - Agreed! Oh Lord! - they shouted.
   I raise my hand to quiet the excited crowd. When the noise ceased I said:
   - After I restore the power supply unit you will be independent and stop working in pits. The radioactive uranium is bad for your health! If you don"t stop worshipping man, if you don"t get rid of the nasty habit of bootlicking and if you don"t learn how to control the power supply there will be no democracy in your community!
   At this point someone in the crowd raised his hand and asked in a loud voice:
   - Oh, our Lord, may I ask you a question?
   - Yes, please but don"t call me "our lord", ok?
   - OK and what is democracy, if it is not a secret?
   - Ah, that"s a delicate question - I answered. Democracy, how should I explain it to you... It"s a society where robots live like one friendly family regardless of economy and production, no matter if it is made of pig-iron or tin. In a democratic society all robots are equal. Democracy is...
   No sooner had I said it than a robot with a cubic head shouted from the crowd:
   - Don"t listen to him! He is lying! Corrosion is not because of uranium, it"s because we have to wash ourselves! Our enemy number one is water! We shouldn"t wash! I am sure he will start building bath-houses on our island tomorrow so that all our generation may die from corrosion! That"s entirely his fault! Had he made us of a more solid metal we wouldn"t have suffered so much! He has deliberately made us of tin having saved silver and gold! It"s humiliation, and mockery, brothers! Don"t believe this crook! We shall work in pits extracting uranium in excess of the plan and helping our friendly people of Kargarang! My dear fellow countrymen, beat this god! Kill him!
   - That"s right! Beat him! Kill the god! - cried another robot with a round ball-shaped head.
   I cried in panic:
   - Don"t beat me! I am not God!
   Presently, one robot attacked me. I assumed a fighting stance like a karate fighter and started moving with light bounding skips. Then I shouted "ki -ya-a-a" and kicked the one who had attacked me. His tin backside rattled as he fell down. His head sparkled. It was a short circuit, I figured. I looked and saw his eyes fuse like a pair of burnt out electric light bulbs. On seeing this one of the robots said:
   - Our vicious god has kicked Talarsus Tongatar in the backside killing him. Poor Tongatar!
  We will avenge you! Beat him! Beat this god!
   The angry crowd of robots attacked me like an assault squadron. At this point, thank God, I woke up and couldn"t come round for a long time. I looked at the watch. It was 24:00. The moon was shining outside my window.
  
  
  
  (44) The Balloon Flight
  
   Before opening his bakery our master Zhavatokhun-aka had long worked as a design engineer and flew on dirigibles, balloons and hang-gliders. In spring on his initiative we made a huge air-balloon and prepared for the flight. Zhavatokhun-aka was the commander of the expedition, Sunnatillo and Ummatillo were appointed navigators and I was the flight engineer.
   At last the take-off hour had come, and exchanging our good-byes with those who had come to see us off we got into the basket of the balloon. The master gave orders to unhook the balloon from the anchor. The balloon took off carrying the basket where we had settled ourselves. The basked was swaying from side to side. We looked like little kittens in a bag. At first we were a little afraid. Then we gradually recovered. We even started looking down. It was beautiful! The people standing on the ground looked like ants, and the houses appeared as small as little boxes. The roads were floating by like white snakes sunk in greenery. The green hills and fields now looked like a square, now like a parallelepiped, now like some other figures of divine Geometry. It was a lovely view! We flew all day long admiring the bird's eye view of the scenery. Although it was the summer time the air had become ice cold by evening, so we had to put on warm clothes. At night the earth was no longer visible, and the sky was covered with twinkling stars that glistened like the diamonds of Great Genghis Khan"s treasure which for centuries mankind has been vainly trying to find in the deserts of Mongolia. The moon had not yet risen. When it did rise I felt like sleeping for I was tired. I dreamed that Babat and I went to see our eldest son who served in the army. When we arrived at the garrison and asked the commander about the whereabouts of our son, private Sunnatov, the officer said:
   - Your son is presently at the village of Duraley where an auction is held.
  When we arrived there the auction was in full swing. It was an unusual auction. The inhabitants who needed man power were offered soldiers for sale. A bold officer, with an ash-gray mustache was conducting the auction. His assistant was a squint-eyed lieutenant without eye-lashes. The bold officer stood next to a swarthy undersized soldier. As we looked carefully we recognized our son, poor Arabboy!
   - Look, Ladies and Gentlemen, what remarkable muscles he has! It"s a machine not a human! He can do anything; even dig, within an hour, a foundation ditch for toilets up to four- three meters deep. In other words, come people, it"s very simple! The starting price is 2 roubles! Two rubles, 1... Two rubles, 2! Aha, there you are! The price is rising very fast! Three rubles...To exploit the soldier for one day and night the price is, I believe, very reasonable, Ladies and Gentlemen! 3 rubles and a half!...
   - I couldn"t bare it any longer and shouted:
  . - I say, officer, I give 5 rubles!
   When he heard it the officer had his face flashed like an electric light, and he announced proudly:
   That"s all, Ladies and Gentlemen, the soldier is sold! It"s gone by auction for five rubles! Congratulations, mister winner!
   He said it hammering the ploughshare hanging from the mulberry tree.
   I paid the money and we took our son away. Arabboy ran towards us crying:
   - Mom! Daddy!
   He wept wiping his tears with his helmet. Babat, too was crying. We hugged our son and made our way to the dried up trees, near a lonely small shanty, to rent a flat for the night, so that we could be with our son, see him as much as we wanted and give him a treat.
   We went up to the house standing amidst the dried up trees and called the owner. After a while the door made of decaying boards opened, and a short man of about sixty years of age came out. He was thin, stooping and with long arms like those of an orangutan. Looking like a turtle in the face, he had a pallid skin, large bulging eyes with no lashes, and his head, covered with fiery hair, was much too small.
   As I greeted him I said:
   - Sorry for troubling you. You see, our son is in the army now. We came to see him. He was given a day"s leave. Could you please provide us with a room for the night? We"ll pay the rent...
   Without saying a word, the ash-gray haired man with a little head showed us the room for us to stay. As we walked to the room I noticed that this man with a pale face and pallid lips had bony sharp nailed fingers resembling bamboo.
   Without paying attention to him any more we had supper and sat chatting until we got tired. At midnight our son fell asleep. Babat sat by his side stroking his hair.
   I went out into the yard. The moon was now slowly rising from the East, like the shield of an antique warrior that had fallen like a hero in a fierce battle for the freedom of his Motherland. It shined illuminating quietly the lonely small shanty with the yard overgrown with wilted blackthorn. It was dumb all around. I saw the man with a little head and a big moth sitting under a dried up tree. The long shadows of the branches tinted the gloomy landscape with a depressing tone.
   I walked up to the master and sat down next to him in silence. His face appeared still more livid by the moon light. He sat mutely, looking at the moon. I asked him with caution:
   - Pardon me for asking, what is your name?
   The man answered without tearing away from the moon:
   - Mirzajallad Mirza-Executioner in Russian or just Mirza the Killer in English. On hearing such a name I got scared.
   -Oh, sorry, for goodness sake! - he said.
   - You reside alone here, don"t you? Aren"t you afraid of living all on your own in such a place?
   - Well, I get on all right. I don"t complain. I do the farming. In spring I sow two hectares of land, and autumn is the harvest time. I gather 45 centner from a hectare.
   - Do you grow cotton?
   - No-oo-o, noting of the kind.
   - Oh, I see. It"s wheat that you are growing, isn"t it?
   - No, I am growing hashish and poppy. There is a little mill with a laboratory in the cellar. I make opium, heroin and marihuana for that matter. Besides, I do some small craftwork. I have orders. The customers bring photos along with the money. As a matter of fact, I kill people for money. I"ve got a fixed schedule. I kill all indiscriminately, and I don"t care, as long as they pay me. I have several bank accounts. So I can do the killing even by cashless settlement. I have killed one man by agreement based on bartering. To avoid miscalculation, I save the cut off ears of my victims. I kill a man, you know, and cut his ear. Then I dry it up carefully stringing them like a garland. The dried-up ears crackle like mushrooms being fried in a pan.
   Last year I lost one ear. I could hardly find it. It"s good that it has not been eaten up by the rats living in the attic and in the cellar. If you want to see that garland, I will show it to you with pleasure. Wait, please...He was about to get up.
   - No, you needn"t...I believe you...
   - Well, as you wish. You know funny stories, too, occur in these places. I remember well, I once I was going to work in the pouring rain with wind howling. Such nasty weather, you know, is the best time for burglars. First, it"s because the streets are empty, with people staying in. Secondly, nobody can hear your footsteps, except for dogs. Walking on long stilts with big steps I stepped over a high fence, like Jonathan Swift"s Gulliver, to get into the villa where my victim resided. A pack of fierce dogs were running around, but I didn"t care a fig for my legs where up there, too high for them to get hold of.
   I calmly walked up to the two-storied house where my victim was asleep. I left the stilts on the balcony and entered the bed-room. The poor man did not see me walk up to the soft bed he was sleeping in. I threw the thin but firm rope -zap!- around his neck , and twisting it with a little wooden stick, began to strangle him. The poor man"s eyes bulged like the lamp if a flashlight, his tongue suck out like that of a bird of prey gasping for a drink, his neck became as thin as a thumb, but he was still alive, coughing and gasping. It was really funny... I couldn"t stop laughing. His hands were shaking. To make a long story short, he was dancing. There"s such a choreographic performance called "Dance of Death".
   Meanwhile I kept tightening the rope round is neck. I twisted the rope tighter and tighter, but he was alive. He turned out to be extremely enduring. To be frank, I was tired. "A smoke break" - I said.
   Then we sat chatting, drinking tea, eating pilaf in mutton fat and watching a horror film on TV. I looked at the watch and saw it was 3 a.m.
   - The time is up - I said - thank you for the bread and salt. I think I"ll go.
   - Thank you for coming to see me - the victim said - I hope to see you again. .
   We said out good-byes, and I went out into the balcony, fastened the stilts to my feet and walked home striding like Jonathan Swift"s Gulliver. When I returned home I returned the money to the customers...
   At this point Mirzakiller interrupted himself and began to scraping himself with his dirty bony nails and fingers looking like bamboo. Looking at the moon he scratched himself like crazy.
   - That"s the start!- he said.
   Suddenly his bulging eyes became drawn into the sockets with the pupils flashing like silver coins. In a few minutes he was all skin and bones. He turned into a mummy. In fear and trembling I jumped from my seat and ran to the house where my wife and son were sleeping. The mummy ran after me, letting bloody saliva out of his mouth. He was now turning into an octopus. His arms and legs became tentacles. Digging these tentacles in the ground he smoothly crawled after me at a high speed. I ran calling my near and dear:
   - Ba- -baa-at! Ara-aa-bo-oo-oy! Run! It" a monster! A monster is after me! Run away!
   - I ran into the room like lightening and bolted the door. Arabboy was sleeping like a log. Babbat was crying in fear. To prevent the octopus from breaking in I started building a barricade at the door. Trying to open the door the octopus stuck his tentacles into every little hole. I looked around and saw an axe on the floor. I took it and started cutting off the monster"s tentacles. It pulled them back with a whistle, all bleeding. The it went mad and started shaking the door along with the post. Then it crushed the door with tremendous power making a breach in it. With its good tentacle it got hold on my throat and started strangling me. I gasped and screamed.
   At this point I woke up. I looked and saw Zhavatokhun-aka reassuring me. I was lying in the basket with the navigators laughing. It was dark and windy. Zhavatokhun-aka said:
   - What"s the matter, Mullah Al Kizim, have you had a bad dream? You nearly fell off the basket.
   - Ye-ee-es, - I said- I had a terrible dream. Whenever I see a terrible dream something bad is sure to happen.
   - Don"t say that - the Master said. You should always hope for the best.
   - All right - I said.
   Then he turned to Sunnatilla pointing to the radio:
   - Please turn down the volume a little, Sunnat.
   Zhavatokhun-aka, following the holy ritual "Tayannun", started reciting the "Khuftan" prayer, right in the basket.
   It is customary to read out "Azan" before reciting a prayer. At this point Sunnnattilla called me. When I came up to him he pointed to the radio. I gave it my ear. I heard frontier guards" voices:
   - Comrade Commander, there is an object in the radar. The altitude is 300 meters! There are people on board. They probably have radio equipment. I hear voices coming in. They are reciting a prayer from the Qur"an ! I presume, they are either drug dealers from Afghanistan or spies. Maybe, they are terrorists! I am waiting for your order...
   When the frontier guard finished his report the radio began to hiss. Then the Commander contacted. He ordered:
   - Shoot it down immediately!
   Sunnatilla and I stared at each other. Ummatilla was preparing tea. Zhavatakhun-aka had finished the prayer. No sooner had he got up than we heard a few whistles, and our balloon began to dip. We were seized with panic. Joining our hands we shouted: "Ah-aa-aa-a-a!"
   Zhavatakhun-aka was praying to God. The wind became stronger turning to a blizzard. We now felt that were not just falling down but flowing God knows where.
   We had been flowing a long time. All I could remember was the fact that my head bumped against something. When I came round I found myself lying in a stack of dried cotton branches. Since these branches, known as "guzapaya", happen to be an indispensable fuel like gas, with Uzbek people, it can be well called "gaspaya". Lying in the stack I looked around and saw Zhavatakhun by my side. Next to him were Sunnatilla and Umatilla. They had also regained consciousness and looking at me they began to laugh. Seeing their funny faces I, too, burst out laughing.
   It so happened that the night wind storm had painted putting make-up on us. Our hair dishevelled, our faces covered with mud, we looked like clowns, Zhavatakhun, in particular. His beard looked like a broom; the moustache stuck out like that of Miguel de Cervantes"s legendary hidalgo Don Quixote.
   Suddenly we heard voices resounding from below. I looked own and saw a crowd of people. A man cried:
   - They must be little green men! Look, there"s a flying saucer in the tree!..
   I looked and saw our legendary balloon hang swinging in the wind. The huge apricot-tree was blossoming like sakura . I looked around and saw that the places reminded me of something. Then I recognized our toilet which I once had built from unhewn boards, which had no roof and from which I could see the endless sky, when using it.
   I turned to the people that stood beneath watching us. Suddenly I saw my wife standing at the front. Involuntarily, I grimaced, tears in my eyes, my lip trembling. I shouted:
   - Babat, dear! I am back! It"s me, Al Kizim Kashak!
   On hearing me Babat fainted. The women standing by lifted her and took her home. I was still crying. Then I saw Matash, a friend of mine, in the crowd, and I shouted to him:
   - Matash, my dear friend! It"s me Al Kizim Kashak! Wait, I am coming down!
   As I rose from my seat, Matash ran away leaving the crowd behind. I went down. People ran away in fear. I ran after them shouting:
   - What"s the matter, really?! It"s me, Al Kizim Kashak, your village fellow! Don"t be afraid!..
   Suddenly the crowd stopped looking at me intently. It so happened that I had wiped the dirt off my face and they recognized me.
   Matash came up to me cautiously and hugging me said:
   - Well, you are back, by gosh! It"s been so many years, eh? My dear friend!
   We hugged weeping like children, without being ashamed. The crowd, too, wept. Then I saw my children coming up to me. I hugged them, kissed them on the cheeks and, stroking their heads, asked them to pardon me:
   -Sorry, children, for having been away so long. Pardon the runaway...
   I couldn"t speak. I felt as if I had a lump stuck in my throat.
   - Look, your sons have grown. They are big gallant gentlemen now, - Matash said.
   The navigators and the commander had also descended. The washed their faces in the river behind the tree, and when they came up I introduced them to the people. Then we walked towards my house where my dear Babat lay in bed. I went down on my knees by her side. She had grown so old, poor Babat. Stroking her gray hair, I asked her to forgive me. She smiled through her tears. Hearing the news about my return Zainutdin Ibn Gainutdin, the Imam of the Mosque, came to see me in the evening. When leaving he said:
   - So you are back at home. You"ve done the right thing, Mulla Al Kizim. I think you"ve learnt your lesson in distant lands. Have a rest a week or two and come to majid, the daily fivefold public prayer. It"s time to think about the eternal life in Paradise.
   Seeing him to the door I thanked him.
   The following day my friends said their goodbyes and left for Kashkirkishlak.
  
  (45) Separation
  
   It was winter again. For the people of Matarak it was not a very joyful time, with gusty winds, snowfalls and severe frosts. Why not joyful? The matter was that there was no gas supply in Matarak. The gas-men had collected money from the poor villagers several times for the installation and disappeared.
   The people of Matarak had waited a long time but the gas-men never came. The result was that the people"s dream about gas supply never came true. Those who had paid for gas installation complained to the "District-Gas" Manager who responded as follows:
   - Who said there was no gas? Drop in at the shop, there"s a lot of it there! And the price is quite reasonable! Buy and use it! What"s the problem?
   The people were surprised to hear that. Had their prayer really reached God Almighty, and they started selling gas in shops? The scientist must have invented some new energy source, something like a battery. When the Manager clicked his finger on his throat the people were still more surprised. They realized now that when talking about gas he meant vodka.
   We were lucky to have coal in stock. But we only had one oven. Since we had recently married off our son we gave one oven to him for it was not good for the newly wedded couple to spend the honey moon in a cold barrack. Their honey moon would have turned into an ice moon. Our younger son Sharabboy, too, lives separately. He said he could do without an oven because he was a tempered man.
   Babat and I built a sandal. If you have read the book from the beginning you should know what it is all about. It"s a life oven! Spending the winter time with a sandal is the cheapest way of surviving under severe winter conditions.
   It snowed heavily at night. I lay wrapped in a blanket looking out into the low window and watching the falling snow. Sitting on a prayer rag called "sazhada" Babat sadly whispered the holy suras from the Qur"an and recited the evening prayer Khuftan.
   I watched the snowflakes falling gently and quietly, gladening my heart and setting my mind at rest, like a payer. I could hear the barking of dogs far away. The falling snowflakes reminded me of moths that flow round the electric light or candle at night in May, burning their wings and falling down. Involuntarily, I remembered a line from Alisher Navoiy"s poem about a candle. "The candle stretched out its tongue craving for the blood of moths" - he wrote. In this line, without using paints and canvass, Alisher Navoiyi depicted a terrible picture. Even Alfred Hitchcock could not imagine such a scene. The moths are fond of light and fly around a candle happily, unaware of danger, and get burt alive.
   These lines can be interpreted in different ways. For example, some people try to approach rulers and dictators moving in their circles like moths, with a view of making a fortune, and consequently, perish physically and morally. I thought, perhaps, it would be good to die turning around the candle of justice. It was different. And if we read this line from the pint of view of Astronomy we would see a more terrible picture, I mean, all the planets turning around the sun would sooner or later perish like moths described by Alisher Navoiy. Now think about what Alisher Navoiy wrote in his other poems and rhymes if he could depict such enormous pictures in just one line...
   Thinking about it I insensibly fell asleep. I had a terrible dream. I saw the tremendous head of the Great Khagan Genghis Khan. He had his body hidden in the sand, with the tips of his red and brown mustache and beard turned up waving in the wind, his two little pupils were burning like lights in the eye sockets, with his mouth wide open and his red toungue glittening it. The most horrible thing was that his tongue was hairy. There was a big black horse nearby. It looked firm but was actually about to fall, bending its head to the ground. There was alaso a man of Mongolian appearience standing by Genghis Khan"s head. He turnded to me saying:
   - I am Genghis Khan"s grandson. But you should,"t speak. Just keep mum.
   I nodded in agreement. Then, staring at me intently and sternly, the big head of Genghis Khan began to speak:
   - Do you see my horse falling down? And that"s not the end yet. There is a little stallion over there, you see?
   Before I had time to look there I saw a long tall branch of vine lying in zigzag on the ground, like an anaconda. It was bleeding. Then up in the distance, beyond the tall vine branches, I saw the little stallion and... woke up. Babat was asleep. I was surprised because she generally got up early. I touched her trying to wake her up:
   - Babat, dear, get up...
   She didn"t wake up. I looked carefully and saw her open eyes faded and her pupils look like two gray plastic buttons. Hoping to revive her, I lifted her head but her jaw fell. She was dead. With her head wrapped in the bed-spread she died insensibly from the carbon monoxide. Since we didn"t have an alternative fuel we had put pieces of burning coal in the sandal...
   - Poor Babat! Babat! - I howled beating myself on the chest like a mad gorilla - oh my dear Babat? Why have you left me? You were my only candle lighting up my path. Like a blind man I am all alone now. Oh my poor good woman! I had caused you so much pain. Pardon me please, if you can! You had always pardoned me!...
   I sobbed kissing her callous bony hands:
   - You have left me without saying good-bye! I didn"t value you like I should have done! You were so good! You never complained and never asked me for new clothes, jewelry or necklace. Silly me, I never presented you with tulips or roses, not even plants like cacti or something for Women"s D
  ay!
   On hearing the noise my sons entered the room.
   - What"s the matter, father? Why are you crying? - Arabboy asked.
   I got up and threw my arms around my son"s shoulders:
   - Sonny, your mom has left us!.. For ever...
   - What? - my sons shouted like one.
   - Yes- I said- Mom is gone...
   Not believing me, the boys dashed to their mother. When they saw that she was really dead Arabboy was the first to roar like a lion. The younger son, poor boy, took mom by the hand and, kissing it, wept speaking in Russian.
   He had gone to a boarding school where orphans were fostered. Many children were Russian speaking there, and the teachers were for the most part Russian. Sharabboy kept crying:
   - Mom, dear mom. Why should it have happened? My only one...
  The boys cried themselves hoarse. When the neighbors came and the relatives gathered round the boys had totally lost their voices.
   During the funeral the boys wept moving their lips like dumb.
  
  (46) The Road of the Dervish
  
   As the saying goes "old sins have long shadows". The shadows of my sins started pursuing me. In my declining years I began to pay for the sins I had committed in the past. The fate, which knows no compassion, started leafing through the dark pages of my life.
  
   After Babat"s funeral our younger son Sharabboy took to the bottle. Day in, day out he would come home drunk and hurt me with bitter words. He would also sing the song he had learnt at the kindergarten:
  A girl is on top of the mountain,
  She"s standing up there in the haze
  A girl is on top of the mountain,
  And this is what little girl says:
  
  Haze, haze, silver haze,
  Oh bring back my mommy to me, to me.
  Haze, haze, silver haze,
  Why don"t you bring mommy to me?
  
   That day Shirabboy came home drunk again. Standing in the doorway he sang the song about the girl whose mother had died. I begged him:
   - Stop singing, sonny... Instead of praying for mom you drink and sing songs. It"s a sin, do you understand? No sooner had the earth covered your mom"s white shroud than you took to the bottle. Her soul will bear suffering in heaven. You drink vodka night and day, but mind, it will not help you...
   Sharabboy fell silent hanging his head. Then he said speaking in a venomous tongue:
   - Father it"s entirely your fault. You have killed her! Leaving her with two children you were wandering about God knows where. I remember she woke me up one morning and started praising the boarding school where orphans were fostered. Then she asked me if I wanted to go to that school. I realized that it was hard for her to feed us. She wanted me to go to the school where children were fed freely at the expense of the state. I gave my consent. She was glad about it, and having packed my things she took me to the boarding school on that very day. When leaving me she hugged me, tears in her eyes. Then she said:
   - Don"t take offence, sunny. I will be coming to see you every month.
   She turned away, and I saw her wipe the tears streaming down her cheeks. I had long watched her walking away until she disappeared round the corner. Day in, day out, I would sit by the window looking at the road and count the days waiting for you and mom. She was as good as her word, and every month she came to see me at school. She would bring me food, sweets and fruits. Poor mom, she would give me a peeled boiled egg and insist that I should eat it.
   - Eat the egg, sonny, - she would say - maybe, you are not fed well here. Never mind, dear, when father comes back we will take you home, ok?
   He would stoke my head watching me eat.
   - Mommy, I want to go home - I would say.
   She would hug me holding me tight in her arms and start crying again.
   I needed the warmth of mom and you badly. But you were not with us. You were traveling in a balloon around the world. It was more important for you. Had you not gambled our sheep and cows we would not have suffered so much. Now that you have grown old you came back. You killed mom to marry a young woman again. You are a horrible man! You are a killer! And you talk about sins...
   Sharabboy went to the garage to start the motorcycle. I ran after him praying not ride because he was drunk. He wouldn"t listen to me. As he took the motorcycle out and saddled it I seized at the sidecar pleading:
   - Collect yourself, sonny! You"re drunk! You can bump into something! It"s cold, you"ll catch a chill! It"s slippery it"s dangerous to ride! I won"t let you go!
   - Let me go! That"s precisely what I want! I want to go to mom! -Sharabboy mumbled.
   - Then we"ll go together! I, too, will go to Babat - I said jumping into the sidecar on the move.
   - As you wish, - Sharabboy said plugging in the key. He stepped on the gas and, pressing the accelerator pedal, gradually picked up speed. The motorcycle tore along the slippery road. I shivered in the wind with cold clattering my teeth.
   There were lots of lookers on in the street. I looked like a submachine gunner of the German fascist army that used to ride in the sidecar along country roads in the woods of the Ukraine where Soviet partisans were hidden. When we reached the main road Sharabboy stepped on the brake, and the motorcycle swung round lifting the sidecar in which I was sitting. I wanted tell my son something, but he picked up speed again stepping on it. When we reached Usta Garib"s house he repeated the dangerous trick, turning round and lifting and dropping the sidecar where I was sitting. He stepped on it again, and again we rode on at full speed. I grew numb with cold. My hands shivered. It was hard to breathe. There were more lookers on in the street now. Sharabboy was now riding along the main road. It was dark. The speed was high. Suddenly my son switched off the lights and we rode in darkness. To make things still worse Sharabboy tore his hands off the handle bar, put them up and started singing:
  
  A girl is on top of the mountain,
  She"s standing up there in the haze
  A girl is on top of the mountain,
  And this is what little girl says:
  
  Haze, haze, silver haze,
  Oh bring back my mommy to me, to me.
  Haze, haze, silver haze,
  Why don"t you bring mommy to me?
   I shouted to him:
   - Careful, sonny, Switch on the lights! Or else we will bump into something! Stop the motorcycle, for goodness sake!
   Sharabboy sang at the top of his voice as we drove on. Suddenly our motorcycle slid off the road and we bumped into something.
   When I regained consciousness the first thing I saw was the upset motorcycle. Though it was dark I could discern the things around. I saw Sharabboy lying nearby. I lifted him but he fell down. It so happened that I had hurt his good leg. He suddenly got up and made his way towards the village. I was glad he was alive and calmed down. After a while he stopped and then walked up to me. He lifted me and carried me away. On our way home he said:
   - You left us at the time of trouble. But we don"t leave our near and dear.
   I was coughing and shivering with cold. Walking past the line of onlookers we came home. My daughter-in-law took me to the small house where Babat and I had lived and put me to sandal-bed. I lay coughing under the blanket. My daughter-in-law brought me hot tea with the dish called "non-kaurma". I coughed thanking her and said that I was not hungry.
   Half an hour later my elder son Arabboy dropped in and, instead of asking about my state of health, he started reproaching me:
   - Father, tell me, please, when shall we get rid of your circus tricks? You have been a clown all your life, is that not enough? You"ve been fighting like a kid, drinking, gambling, riding pigs, vanishing in the haze! You even returned home in a peculiar way, like nobody else. You arrived on a balloon, like Jules Arden! I am ashamed of you, do you understand? Why don"t you stay at home and don"t go to mosque, like other elderly people do, and don"t present your children with a car?
   - Sunny - I said coughing...
   But he wouldn"t listen. He went out kicking the door open.
   I began to cry. The daughter in law came in and said she had brought me pills for cold. I coughed and said:
   - Thank you, daughter, I wish you happiness and a long life. Please leave me alone. I am sleepy.
   She went out submissively.
   I was running a temperature. I had lain a long time before it became calm outside. The pain in my leg had subsided by now. When my sons fell asleep, I packed my things, switched off the light and went out into the street. Then, crunching with my boots on the fresh snow, I opened the gate.
   It was snowing outside. I walked through the snowflakes whirling in the cold wind, and I didn"t care which way to go. Wrapping myself in the caftan and coughing into my fist, I walked on and on. The snow was crunching under my feet, and hearing it, the dogs barked nervously in the yards I was passing by. Off and on, flashing with their lights, cars went by. I tried to hitch a lift. But the cars wouldn"t stop. I crossed the bridge and tried to stop the car coming up. It stopped. I got in and closed the door behind me.
   - Where to? -asked the driver.
   - To the railway station- I replied.
   The car started off. As we rode my cough had intensified.
   - I"ve caught a cold- I said.
   The driver did not pay any attention. Now it was time to think about the payment. I had no money about me. I was contemplating. Then I found a solution. I remembered the illusionist Wolf Messing. The Father of the Nation Josef Stalin himself respected him. He was once traveling on a train with neither a ticket nor money about him. On seeing the inspector he picked up the piece of paper lying on the floor and showed it as it were his ticket. The inspector thought it was really his ticket, and Wolf Messing was saved.
   I, too, wanted to use the same method, and taking a piece of paper I concentrated on the idea. First, I assured myself that it was not a piece of paper but a US 10$ bill.
   By that time the car had turned towards the Railway Station, and then we finally arrived at my destination.
   - We have arrived - said the driver.
   I thanked him and said:
   - Here are 10 US dollars. The driver looked at the banknote and sat motionless. Then he said:
   - I cannot give you the change. I"ve got no dollars. Wait a minute, I will give you the change in rubles in accordance with the rate of exchange.
   And he did. I took the change and thanked him for the lift. I got off and closed the door behind me. The car left. I went to the waiting-room. At that moment the car which had given me a lift turned round the square and stopped near me. The driver opened the door and said :
   - I say, uncle, do you have enough money for the train ticket? If you don"t, I can give you more. Or, perhaps, you want to hypnotize the conductors as well? Shame on you, uncle. Don"t do that again.
   The driver closed the door and left. I stood stock-still like a statue. Then I saw a man of about 35 years of age, thin and tall, dressed in railway uniform. He came up to me and said:
   - Where are you going to, uncle? To Tashkent?
   - Yes - I said coughing.
   -There is a cheap seat, the upper berth - said the conductor.
   - In a compartment car?
   - No, just a reserved seat - conductor said lighting a cigarette.
   - How much do I pay? - I asked.
   He told me his price. I thought a little and said:
   - I haven"t got such astronomic amount of money.
   - Ok, how much can you give me? - he went on haggling.
   I offered him half of the price he had quoted.
   - With that money - he said - you can only travel on the third berth .
   I agreed to travel on the third shelf.
   - Settled - the conductor said.
   We went to the carriage, and I got in. It was warm inside. As I as tired and not feeling well
   I climbed onto the shelf and, using my basket as a pillow, tried to sleep. But I couldn"t do it. Passengers started crowding in, and it was growing stuffy in the carriage. It was noisy with children crying and such. At last the time had come for the train to start off.
   I looked out of the window. It was snowing heavily. The yard master announced the departure, the engine whistled and the train was off. It was gradually picking up speed. I looked down and saw four people sitting on the lower births. Among them there was a young man in Muslim clothing, with a short black beard and looking serious. The other three appeared to be lay people. Two of them seemed to be functionaries. They were talking. The conversation gradually changed to an argument. One of the functionaries said:
   - I hate ungrateful people. I would strangle them with my own hands... But these are just emotions. In the past, during the red empire, nobody was allowed to go to mosque and pray. Atheism forbade it. It was a society of unbelievers. They negated God. They firmly believed that there was no God. So did we.. But the downright unbelievers also had their idols such as the great inspirers Karl Marx and Lenin and the holy book "Capital". They were prophets and leaders. It was them who forbade believers to go to churches, synagogues and mosques. And nobody resisted for people were afraid. As soon as freedom was granted they started making a stir. There appeared all sorts of sects and trends, and there were calls for a holy war. It"s ungratefulness, really. We do not discriminate them nor do we forbid them to go to church. We do not negate the Holy Writ. Look, there are posters in the streets, with quotations from Prophet Mohammed Пророк Мухаммед narrations such as, for example "To Love of Motherland from Firm Belief in Mohammed". Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah (may Allah bless and welcome him) was right. We must love our Motherland and defend it from all sorts of radical Mazhkhabs , extremists, separatists and terrorists". Is that right Mullah-aka?
   He turned to the bearded man who lingered with the answer. He was thinking. Then he began to speak:
   - Bismi-llāhi ar-rahmāni ar-rahīmi . First, calling one separate country, for example, France, Germany, Australia or New Zealand, Motherland would not be correct. When our esteemed Prophet Mohammad ibn Abdullah (May Allah bless and welcome Him) talked about Motherland he meant Paradise. For God had created our Forefather Adam Alakhissalam and the Original Mother in Paradise. Therefore the real Motherland of mankind is Paradise. That"s the way we should regard the notion of Motherland. Such an approach unites all mankind, and all the funny things like "state border", "barbed wire", "war", "arms race", "terrorism", "investigation agency" which serve the human"s egoism become insignificant and ridiculous. Neither a separate state nor even the whole planet can be regarded as the real Motherland of mankind. Our Forefather and our Original Mother had been sent to earth by the Angels of God Almighty. Therefore they are not native earth dwellers but newcomers. If we indulge in fantasy, it will be clear that belief is above all policies. Belief is the love of God. And divine love should not serve politicians and it should not kill and shed the blood of a human being. To kill a human is to kill our forefather Adam. My conviction is that pursuing a policy with the help of Belief is a sin. Nor should Belief be confused with policies for it"s also a sin. Belieа and policy are incompatible.
   Mullah spoke for a long time. I fell asleep without listening to his monologue to the end. When I woke up I saw the conductor who said:
   - Get up, uncle. We have almost arrived. The next station is Tashkent.
   I got up and inquired:
   Where are yesterday"s people? There were some functionaries and a Mullah here.
   - Mullah was arrested. The people sitting next to him had handcuffed him and got out at Almalyk Station.
   When I arrived in Tashkent I started arguing with the conductor about the payment. Since I realized that our argument might change to a quarrel and consequently to a fight I preferred to solve the problem by holding negotiations. So I entered the small compartment where he was sitting and said:
   - Mr. Conductor, give me my ticket, please. I have to hand it in to the accountant at my office.
   On hearing my words the conductor replied staring at me in surprise:
   - What are you talking about, uncle? I have made your travel cheap for you. Is hat the way you thank me? We had agreed, hadn"t we?
   - All right, - I said - write down that we had agreed so that I might show your note to the accountant, instead of the ticket.
   The conductor got angry:
   - Well, uncle, don"t make me lose my temper. I am like a genie in the bottle. I am a hard man. And I used to be a boxer.
   - OK - I said - put down that you are a genie in the bottle and that you a hard man. And you work at the railroad having a bad temper. Besides, you are a great boxer. Don"t forget to write down your qualification in boxing. Who is your coach? What medals have you got? Whom have you knocked out?
   The conductor kept silent for a moment. Then, swallowing saliva, he said:
   - Well, come on, uncle. You are like that wolf from a fairy tale. There was such a tale. An old man was working in the field, and suddenly a wolf ran up to him and said gasping:
   - Hey, listen, there are hunters chasing me, please hide me.
   The old man hid the wolf. The hunters came and asked the old man if there was a wolf around, a gray wolf suffering from pneumonia.
   - No, - said the old man.
   The hunters went away. Then the wolf came out of the bag and said:
   - Have you got ketchup and parsley?
  - Yes, why?
   - You know, I want to eat you. It will be tastier with ketchup, I think.
   - That"s it - I said - put it down. The old man hid the wolf... Don"t make mistakes... Write distinctly and in good handwriting, for our accountant has graduated from the Faculty of Philology of Teachers Training College. It will be interesting with the fairy tale. Go on... The wolf asked if the old man had ketchup, parsley and mayonnaise.
   The conductor took off his tie relieving the collar. He was probably suffocating. Then he said:
   - Do you understand the good language? Haven"t I told you that I am ill-tempered? I have friends, the bad guys...They can...
   - Well, why are you standing like that? Go ahead! Write down! Every word you write is alfalfa. They will make the criminal case record thicker and thicker every second, I mean the action that the public prosecutor will bring against you. Every word you say will be used against you. They will cut your hair and send you to a work camp right away.
  . When I said it the conductor nearly fainted. He took some pills out of his pocket and put them into his mouth. Then he poured some cold tea into a piala and drank it. He made a pause and then said:
   - Uncle, I have five children. Last year I had a heart attack. I am registered. Ok, you may not pay the money we agreed on. Have mercy on me, for my children"s sake. God is above us, I don"t want to tell a lie. It"s true, I"ve got five "farmers" traveling with me. It isn"t worth working here without them. We take them so as to earn some money on the side. Well, five to ten boxes of tomatoes and three-four sacks of sugar. What else can we do? The Station Manager Geyrat Gulamovich demands his criminal share. To make things still worse, the racketeers stick in my throat. There are also inspectors and the team leader. They too want their share. It"s good that we have "farmers". Otherwise... sometimes we forget our own names and home addresses. We conductors are like milking cows. They milk us. I see, you are a nice man, uncle. You know, both the good and the evil produce an echo. Let"s be good to people. I am sorry, but you are the very image of my dad! You see, he was taken ill with cancer...
   The conductor burst out crying. Then he hugged me and said:
   - From now on you may think me to be your son. You are my father. I will acquaint you with mom. You will be an honorary passenger of Carriage 13. You have a free ticket for life. This place over here is reserved for you. If you say "lie down", we will lie down, if you say "get up" we will get up. And here is the tip. It"s gratis, like mother"s milk. Take it.
   The conductor put the money into my pocket. Then he saw me to the subway.
  
  (47) The Wifosaur
   Walking about the city in search of work I got acquainted with a guy by the name of Gappar. He advised me to turn to the water supply enterprise "Vodokanal" where he had recently worked and quit. I went there.
   I entered the reception room. There was a young woman smelling a rose there. I said:
   - Sorry, Lady, could you tell me where... I mean...
   - A toilet? - she asked.
   - Oh no, - the Manager"s office
   - Ah yeah, there it is.
   I went where she pointed with her short fingers and her nails looking like those of a hen. I didn"t know where to knock. There was a curtain instead of the door. Somehow, on the instant, I remembered Alexander Pushkin:
  There is an oak-tree by the ocean
  With a suspended golden chain,
  A cat perpetually in motion
  Is always there shine or rain.
  
  As it walks right a song it"s singing,
  As it walks left a story tells.
  It"s wonderland with goblins screaming,
  A charming mermaid casting spells.
  
  And on mysteries approaches
  Are traces of unknown beasts,
  A wooden house with no porches,
  No doors and windows, in the mists.
  
   Then I moved the curtain apart, making no bones about it, and entered the room. I saw a man of about sixty years of age. He talked on the phone smoking an improvised cigarette, i.e. tobacco rolled in a piece of newspaper. I waited till he finished speaking but it lasted a long time. I stood listening to what he was saying:
   - In short, I am tired of them. Everybody complains. An elderly woman came up to me and said: "we have no water in our house. The pipeline is broken. We have the cellar full of water. The sanitary technicians say they are afraid of entering the cellar because of the rats. They claim there may be mutants there as well". "We need divers with a bathyscaphe" - she says. "But where can get them for you?" - I say - chip in and buy a ticket for "American Airways", and let someone fly to America and Hollywood where they make movies. There are real film producers
  there. Tell them we have a cellar where they can shoot horror films. That"s all there"s to it. When they arrive, sign a contract with them, and you will earn a pretty good sum of money to pay for the renewal of the pipeline".
   The granny was offended and went away.
   But that"s nothing. Then two men came and said: "we have a big heap of rubbish in the neighborhood. It takes time to pass the rubbish hill, hence we are late for work".
   - Silly you - I said. Once you have a hill formed why pass it over? You can work there developing tourism and mountaineering. Let mountain climbers arrive from all over the world and climb the rubbish mountain tops breaking records and entering the "The Guinness Book of World Records". Spending the money they have saved, people travel to distant lands to have a rest. You should be grateful to God that you have Rubbish Mountains close to you. Live along merging with nature.
   They objected:
   - How can you call them mountains when there are no animals and trees?
   To which I replied:
   - Don"t hurry. Everything will be arranged. Once there is a rubbish hill there should be the body of a dead sheep. By logic, there will be wolves as well that will come feeling the smell of dead sheep. The sky will grow dark from birds of prey with their shadows floating on the ground. Who knows, maybe, there are birds" legs scattered around there. That will attract foxes. That"s flora and fauna for you! All you have to do is to open a hunting season for tourist hunters that would visit your place on package tours.
   Hardly had I got rid of them when a young lady from "Bustan" came and said:
   - Our neighborhood looks like the moon surface. The trees are dried up. There are jerboas and kangaroos running around on hind legs. They have dug up the whole vicinity. We are afraid the houses will soon collapse. But that"s only part of the trouble. Last night I looked at the curtain and saw a big lizard on it. I could hardly chase it away, and could not sleep all night, a stick in hand. The next morning I called the Zoology teacher on the phone asking him to come. He said it was a monitor lizard, the crocodile of a desert. They attack people, particularly women, to eat them up, but you shouldn"t worry because I will spend the night here lying by your side till morning.
   - My dear Lady, - I said- such being the case, I can tell you that God himself has awarded you. You should immediately build a terrarium and grow rattlesnakes, scorpions, all sorts of poisonous spiders including tarantulas. Do you know how much poison costs on the black market? You don"t? Well, you ought to know it... Poison, my dear, is a good thing to smuggle! You can earn a pretty sum of money in hard currency on it. With the money you make you can not only fix the water-pipe but also build luxurious singing fountains, like those in Canada..."
   The boss had been talking a long time. I got tired of his gabble, and I left. I walked thinking that it was not for nothing that Gappar had quit work there.
   When I turned round the corner making a short-cut to the main street I heard a woman"s voice:
   - Help! He-ee-lp!
   I pricked up my ears and ran to the woman. The cry came from the yard behind the clay fence. When I entered the yard I saw a big woman, or rather a female dinosaur. Seeing her one might think she would explode any minute. A thin big-eyed spectacled man sat hanging his head by her side. The woman looked at me, stopped crying for a minute and said:
   - Oh Mullah-aka, good morning! It"s such a misfortune! I had such grand plans and romantic dreams! My father, it"s his entire fault! He cheated me! He said the young man was a perfect match for me: a drug addict, boozer, thief and lecher! He had done time in prison for five years from start to finish. I believed him, silly me. He happens to be a teacher! He has studied at the university for five years! He only looks like a drunkard. He doesn"t beat me, nor does he go gambling, nor is he unfaithful to me, nor is involved in robbery. What sort of husband is he? He is not a husband but a serpent! Tell me, Mullah-aka, why does a woman get married? A woman gets married to be walloped by her husband! I dreamed about a husband with lots of scars on his face, like daring pirates have. I wanted him to go unshaved. But the wretched teacher shaves himself twice a week! I beg him on my bended knees asking him to beat me. But he says:
   - I cannot beat you. I just can"t bring myself to do it.
   I tell mom:
   - I cannot live with such a good man.
   - No, my dear, just be patient. You will see he will start walloping you sooner or later. My mother"s heart tells me that.
   She kept asking me to wait. I have waited for a long time, and I am still waiting. But he doesn"t" wallop me. He says he hasn"t got the nerve. Oh my, I envy my sister so! Her husband drinks alcohol like water. And he smokes like a vacuum cleaner. He is a gas welder. So he always carries a big adjustable spanner in his bootleg. He beats my sister three times a week with that spanner. That"s a man indeed! - the wifosaur said and continued:
   - You shouldn"t be surprised, Mullah-aka. Never mind. I cry every day. I use hundreds of sand cloth handkerchiefs a day wetting them with my tears.
   I looked at her in puzzlement and encouraged her before saying good bye:
   - Don"t scourge yourself, lady. If your husband doesn"t beat you, God will do it for sure, by all means..
   - Really? - said the dinosaur of a woman rejoicing. You have made me happy. She thanked me and saw me to the gate.
  
  (48) The Retirement Home
  
   With the money which the conductor had given me I reached the Beshagach district and rent a flat. Then I found a job through the Labor Registry Office.
   I started working at the old people's home. I liked working there. My health had improved. It was warm in my booth which was both my home and my office. I would get up early in the morning, wash myself and pray. Then I"d weep the campus. At night I would keep watch over the house and sit at the table writing.
   The director of the Retirement Home Abdulkasym Kakharovich was a tall broad-shouldered man with a Japanese face, curly caracole-like hair, serious and sociable.
   Humanitarian aid came from all kinds of relief funds the world over. The house received clothes, medicines, disposable syringes, food and all. They were kept in the store-house managed by a man of about thirty five by the name of Pukhtiyerkhan. By appearance, he was the spitting image of an orangutan, and by disposition and temper he was very much like the zoo technician Yiguit Nagybulla.
   Pukhtiyerkhan had his clients. They would come at night and take away medication and other things delivered from world charity institutions, for free. He sold those things for double price, making money. Besides, he took home meat, rice and other food from the kitchen. If you see the people among the retired people at the Retirement Home you will laugh, or want to cry.
   There was a queer cheerful man named Matvey Zakharych. He wore a cap and box calf boots, played balalaika and sang Russian limerick-like rhymes. It was his daughter who settled him in the Retirement Home.
   Now and then he took tobacco from his little pouch to roll a cigarette. Then his smile faded as he smoked sitting like a lonely bird on a branch at a frosty night in December. I was sorry for him. Sometimes I would come up to him and say jokingly to cheer him up:
   - Well, Matvey Zakharich, will you teach me to play the balalaika?
   He would smile sadly. The elderly people residing at the Retirement Home were like children. They were touchy and sensible. There were all kinds of personalities there, some cheerful, others sentimental. There was an elderly Georgian, snub-nosed, big-eyed and always unshaved. He would sadly recall his remote Georgia where he had spent his childhood, his relatives and school-mates.
   Every morning he would greet us in Georgian:
   - Gamarjoba, genazvaly.
   - Gamarjoba - we would reply.
   Georgy told us about his homeland with its mountain tops and cellars with the excellent wine Tsinandali. He explained to us that kvivra was a ceramic vessel used for keeping wine in the cellars. He who drank the flavored wine Tsinandali grew many years younger. The wine had healing power. Georgy, that was the man"s name, never had children. Perchance, he was not fated to have any.
   He would often say hopefully:
   - My relatives will come soon to take me out of here.
   He was like a foster child who always looked at the road waiting for his relatives to come. Sometimes he talked to Aunt Tamara in Georgian. Although the woman had always lived in Tashkent she knew her mother tongue very well. Her husband had died in a plane crash. Her only daughter had also died, and Aunt Tamara was left alone. She, too, like a foster child that likes to watch TV, always looked out into the window as if it was a TV-set. I wrote a poem about her, and it went like this:
   Our TV-set
  Our TV-set is old
  But it is as good as gold...
  
  My old woman hasn"t cleaned
  For a year the TV screen.
  
  Our screen is very clean
  For there isn"t any screen.
  
  Here I lie in bed, that is
  I have got paralysis.
  
  Though bedridden, I"m OK
  Looking at the screen all day.
  
  My old granny, too, has been
  All day staring at the screen.
  
  Our screen is good because
  We don"t see deceptive shows.
  
  Our programs are all right
  Everything is clear and bright.
  
  Very bright. Two years ago
  We saw an amazing show:
  
  A drunk actor threw a stone
  Fracturing my cranium bone.
  
  I lost consciousness but I
  Fortunately didn"t die.
  
  We"ve got kids more than enough,
  I should say, they"re all well off.
  
  They have got their own cars,
  But they do not visit us.
  
  We would like so much to see
  Our kids on our TV.
  
  What we want is their faces
   To be shown in good graces...
  
  God grant them lots of joys and health,
  Many years of life and wealth.
  
  Now an action film is on,
  Dad is walloped by his son.
  
  Granny got out of bed
  To turn off the TV-set.
  
  She took a cushion from the bed
  and closed with it the window dead.
  
   When I finished reading the poem I saw tears in the eyes of the elderly people. A little later I had it placed in the wall newspaper called "The Sad Moon". Matvey Zakhrych had even composed music based on the poem and sang it to the accompaniment of balalaika. Thus we had a song dedicated to lonely elderly people. The song became the anthem of our Retirement Home.
  
  (49) The Entrepreneur
  
   In the morning the Director and I were sitting in my booth when the store-house keeper Pukhtiyerkhan came running and, sat down on the chair by the oven and began to warm himself up.
   - Oh my Lord, it"s been so cold these days! - he said in a high feminine voice.
   I poured a cup of tea and stretched it to him. He grasped it with his four fingers with his little finger remaining unbent and stared sipping the tea softly.
   Then he said addressing the Director:
   - Abulkhasym Kakharovich, before signing the Agreement with the TV Studio I had worked out the enrichment plan for our establishment. They promised to shoot a film about our Retirement Home and show it several times to advertise it. When people see the film they will know that our living conditions are very good and will bring their parents to us. The more patients we have the better. We will receive more humanitarian aid from abroad.
   - What are you talking about? - said Abulkhasym Kakharovich - you are so naïve, as far as I can see! It"s impossible to do without fraud in a capitalist society. As for the living conditions we needn"t bother about it. I will draw the whole picture. It"s no good to sit on one"s hands when the state arranges favorable conditions for entrepreneurs. It"s enough to show the film twice, and legions of patients will pour on us like a wave. We will set up a farm, lease a plot of land from the state and make all these elderly spongers work. They are as strong as donkeys. Let them earn their daily bread. Work is good for their health. For one thing, they will not be bored, for another, it will be a good bodily exercise for them. Time is like a river. Only fools swim against the stream. We will teach him to swim right.
   The Director frowned interrupting Pukhtiyerkhan:
   - Why don"t you consult us before taking a decision? Last year when Aunt Serafima died she was buried by Christian tradition. Everybody knows that after the funeral they have a commemoration repast for the departed person. And that"s the end of all costs. And you made up the estimate of expenditure on the funeral by Muslim tradition showing that you had allegedly spent additional sums of money on Muslim commemoration repast on the third, fourth, seventh twentieth, fortieth day and on the first anniversary. Under this pretext you had drawn out extra money from the account and illegally embezzled it.
   Pukhtiyerkhan answered with resentment:
   - Why do you treat me like an offender as if I were a downright criminal? I only care for our Retirement Home. The money I have saved is under lock and key at home. I will bring it. I have saved it for a rainy day.
   - You needn"t bring it. I only want you to be honest. And don"t do that again - the Director said.
   Pukhtiyerkhan got up saying:
   - I understand. You want me to quit work, don"t you? You"d better tell me openly that you want me to submit resignation because you intend to take on someone else. I will submit my resignation.
   He walked to the door and left.
  
  (50) The Hungry Ghosts
   When the Director left for Tashkent the TV men came to make an advertising film. After breakfast the cameramen started shooting it according to the script written by Pukhtiyerkhan.
   Before the shooting began he had warned the elderly people to behave well and not to touch the fruits. If they asked them question about food they should say that they were fed four times a day and had bananas, pineapples, coconuts, tangerines, apples, lemons and grapes for dessert.
   When the shooting began the bearded producer in a baseball cap, took the tin funnel of the loudspeaker and began ordering people about. The clapper, a red haired girl, who was already in front of the camera with the clapperboard in hand, looking like a checkerboard stripe of a taxicab, slapped it shut and called "marker!"
   The cameraman began to walk around the elderly people who had their faces made up for the occasion.
   Pukhtiyerkhan started giving an interview to reporters:
   - As you can see, everything is well organized, and things are going on like clockwork. Our aged people live comfortably here. They have hot water and are fed five times a day. The medical service is free. They are examined by highly qualified doctors in consulting rooms equipped with modern medical facilities. Our dear grannies make themselves at home here. They are better off here than at home. We do cultural work for them arranging concerts, discos, excursions and meetings with outstanding poets who read poems about our wise General Secretary.
   With this optimistic note in his voice Pukhtiyerkhan finished his speech. The producers, newspaper reporters and cameramen took a business lunch and had a drink or two. Then, picking their teeth, they started shooting the elderly people sitting at table and eating. Matvey Zakharich, wishing to look like a bourgeois, grasped a pineapple and bit into it. At this point something extraordinary happened. His teeth clutched at the ill-fated fruit, and he couldn"t pull them off. They had to call in an ambulance. The ambulance men arrived with a dentist. The latter had long messed about with it and finally saved Matvey Zakharich from the fruit. From then on he felt fear whenever someone offered him a pine-apple. He would stare at it as if it was a bomb or something. The point was that fruits were made of paraffin. It was Pukhtiyerkhan who had brought the plaster cast fruits from the Museum of Nature.
  
  (51) The Spoilt Time
  
   The long-awaited sprig had come at last. Like the teeth of a young dolphin, buds appeared on tree branches. I sat by the window of my watch-box looking out into the darkness, with street lights shining out, and listening to the croaking of frogs and the chorus of crickets. Those sounds reminded me of my distant youth which I had once ruined. The silent lightening seemed to be illuminating my recollections of the past where my old friends had gone. I whispered their names. The spontaneous tears made my eyes grow dim.
   I was sitting a long time, and then I imperceptibly fell asleep. In my dream I saw Kalankhan Adalatov. He was wearing a black coverall. We hugged greeting each other and weeping. The he asked me about my relatives and things and, of course, about the Uvada Factory.
   - I don"t know- I said - it so happened that after you had passed away I, too, had to leave my hometown Matarak. I was in exile. God, whenever I had wandered about! I now live in a Retirement Home for elderly people which are located in Domrabat under Tashkent. I work as a watchman. And how are you? Where do you live? Where do you work? What do you do for a living?
  - I work at the ceramic factory over here - he answered:. It"s a floating factory. We mainly produce time.
  -Good Gracious, is it possible to produce time? - I asked in surprise.
   - Yes - he explained. We produce time and deliver it down to you that is to this world, where people are pressed for it. I work as a shop superintendent here. I earn about ten kingles a month. The kingle is a monetary unit here. We exchange them for "battals" which is hard currency. 10 kingles equal one battal and a half, which is the cost of living. A kuns of light costs half a kingle on the market. One can live three days on one kuns. Maybe, more. There are different kinds of light: weak, medium, strong and super powerful. Weak light is only used by the poor. The rich, who eat in cosmic restaurants, live on super powerful laser beams which are thought to be delicacies. His words made Kalankhan Adalatov"s mouth water.
   I was surprise to hear it
   - Oh my, can one really eat light? - I asked.
   - Why not? - he replied lifting the edge of his shirt. I stepped back in fear. Adalatov had no entrails under his shirt. Here and there he had silver wires and little plates with microchips.
   Pointing to the metal organ looking like a sea-shell he said:
   - Here is my stomach. The beam that I eat gets in here. Everything is digested and gets further into the liver where it"s carefully purified and proceeds to the heart through the silver veins. The heart distributes all the light to the hole body. We have light in our veins, not blood. Do you get me, you silly man?
   - Yes, yes - I said
   - To make a long story short, dear Al Kizim -Kalankhan Adalatov continued - what you need is time, but not light. People on earth are pressed for time for there is a shortage of it. The need of time has reached the level when earth dwellers cannot measure time and grant some of it to their parents. They save time because it"s valuable. The light that God had granted them the human beings exchange for time. The earthlings will sooner or later go bankrupt and live in darkness. I will show how light is generated if you want.
   - Yes, it"s interesting.- I said
   Kalankhan Adalatov took me along the corridor to the shop.
   - Pardon me, I asked him on our way - and what raw material do you use to obtain light?
   - It"s a commercial secret - answered Adalatov.
   When we entered the shop he introduced me to the the workers:
   - This is Al Kizim Kashak, a journalist from the Planet Earth. He is the reporter of the Uvada Newspaper.
   I smiled bowing to the workers low, in a Japanese manner. The workers bowed in return. Then Adalatov led me to the warehouse where light was kept. The stock keeper came out to meet us, and Adalatov introduced him to me. His name was Sharbash Wimbledon which sounded sporty to me. He said:
   - Welcome, dear baraka topkur. Our time is kept in these barrels. You may taste it.
   - How can I taste it when I have no photon stomach like you have? - I said.
   - You put some quantity of time in a plastic bag and show it to him - Adalatove told the stock keeper. Sharbash Wimbledon opened the barrel, took a pece of time, put it into a bag and gave to me. I looked into the bag and saw all kinds of worms biting one another.
   - No, thank you, such time is not to my liking - I said - sorry, Sharbash Wimbledon, the time you keep in this barrel has got badly tainted. It represents a danger to the people living on earth. Your time will kill suffocating whole nations.
   The stock keeper got offended and said:
   - Why don"t you like our time, I wonder? The earthlings always praise it. There are favorable reviews in newspapers, TV, radio and everywhere. Talk to our farmers and they will tell you how they like our time. We sell our time cheaper than other time producers of our galaxy. We can show you our raging generosity now. We can give 15,5 years of time gratis if you wish. We are not greedy.
   Though I resisted Sharbash Wimbledon gave me 15 years. At this shocking point I woke up.
  
  (51) Commissar Sakharchuk
  
   After the TV advertising clip of our Retirement Home two young men brought their father to us. The newcomer"s name was Sarinsak. He lived the life of a detective. He would raise the collar of his jacket and, pulling his hat down to his ears, he would walk to and fro. One day he came up to me and said without looking at me:
   - There is a secret letter inside the cigarette. It"s a task for you to carry out.
   Then he walked away towards the pergola.
   I took the cigarette and entered my watch-box. I tore the cigarette open and found the hidden letter written in small hand. I read it promptly:
   "When the White Guard fall asleep you should jump out of the window and ride on horseback across the forest to the Bolsheviks. A Red Army soldier by the name of Peter will be waiting for you. He will take you to Vasily Ivanovich. Tell him that the situation at the Eastern Front is serious. We need a combat support. Let them send us two squadrons to provide assistance.
   Should they take you prisoner, bite the poison sewn up in your collar killing yourself.
   Commander of the Eastern Front,
   Commissar Sakharchuk".
   I read the secret letter and thought a little. Then I burst out laughing. I found it amusing. I made up my mind to answer the letter. I sat down and wrote:
   "Comrade Commissar, the task has been fulfilled. Two squadrons with machine-gun carts are on the way to you for help. - Soldier of Red Army, Pavel".
  . I rolled the letter carefully, put on my skull-cap, raised the collar of my jacket and made my way to the hostel. I found uncle Sarimsak and, looking around, gave him the letter cautiously. He took the letter without looking at me.
   I walked out. Half an hour later he turned up outside the watch-box again. He pretended to be smoking and went away leaving the crumpled pack of cigarettes there. When he left I took the pack and saw a message written upon it:
   "In the name of the Revolution! Top secret!
   When the White Guard fall asleep you jump over the window and ride to the Bolsheviks. Ride across the forest to the Cossack"s village on the bank of the River Don. The Red Army soldier Comrade Prokhorov will be waiting for you there. He will give a boat for you to cross the river. You will see a church beyond the river and a farmstead further along. There are Cossacks of Ataman Dutovs there. You take the job of a footman and serve them. When the Cossacks start feasting, you go down into the wine cellar and put soporific into the vessel. When Ataman Dutovs"s battalion fall asleep, you climb on top of the chapel and with the lantern send the message that the Cossacks are asleep. After this signal the cavalry of Budeny will seize the farmstead by storm and destroy the gang of Ataman Dutov.
   Commissar Sakharchuk,
   Commander of the Eastern Front".
  
   My reply to Commissar"s letter ran as follows:
   "Good morning, Comrade Commissar! Your task has been fulfilled successfully. Ataman Dutov"s gang has been destroyed!
   Pavel,
   Red Army soldier"
  
   Soon the commissar received another letter:
   "Comrade Pavel,
   On behalf of the Bolshevik Party and the Revolutionary Power I express gratitude to you for the heroism you have shown in the struggle against the enemies of the proletariat and for the destruction of the gang of Ataman Dutov. I herewith also inform you that a train with military ammunition and armament is leaving for Turkestan. On behalf of the Revolutionary Committee I order you to go to Turkestan by that troop train. You have a mission of extreme importance, and namely, to commit a number of provocative acts with the aim of setting people at the Commander of the Resistance Amy Kurshermat. Don"t forget to glue a beard on your face and put on a kaftan and a turban.
   Commissar Sakharchuk,
   Chief of Stuff of the Eastern Front".
  
   I was about to write the answer to the Commissar when Pukhtierkhan"s voice resounded in the air:
   - I wish you were dead, you scoundrel! He happens to be Sakharchuk, and not Sarimsak! And he has the rank of a Commissar! Pavel, Prokhr, Peter, Vasily.. what is it? ... Ivanovich Chapayev... A whole gang of them! Hello! Militia? Good afternoon! We are calling... I mean... from Dombrabat. From the Retirement Home for elderly people. Come quick! We have detained a spy. . Yes, yes! A real spy! He has been brought in here recently. It so happened that we had admitted him by mistake. We have seized his spy notes. Yes, yes. Come immediately! Dangerous, ve-ee-ry dangerous! Yes!
   Pukhterian put down the receiver. I began to burn all the secret messages I had. Ten minutes later the capture group "Gamma" arrived and arrested Uncle Sarimsak. They handcuffed him and put him in the car. Before leaving he winked me with one eye. He was taken away.
   He didn"t betray me.
  
  (52) Homecoming
  
   It was Sunday. I sat in the reading-room of our library reading Karl Marx"s "Capital". At this moment Robia, Abdulkasym Kakharovich"s secretary, came up to me and said that the Director wanted to see me.
   I went to the Director"s office.
   -May I come in? - I said standing the doorway - Did you want to see me?
   -Yes - said the Director pointing to the chair.
  . -Sit down.
   As I took my seat the director lit a cigarette staring at me intently. I felt ill at ease. After a minute of silence he said:
   - Uncle Al Kizim , we like you and respect you and want you to be happy. There is good news for you. It seems that your suffering has come to an end. To make a long story short, your wife has come to take you away from here.
   - I took these words as an insult and said angrily:
   - What have I done to you? Why are you turning me away? I don"t want to go home. If they are here, tell them that I am dead. I don"t want to see them. They shouldn"t have come. I shall never forgive them. If you insist on my leaving along with them, I can tell you, this will never happen. I"ll run away following my nose from these rascals.
   - All right. It"s up to you. But bear in mind, we have never turned away anyone, all the more you. You are a nice man and a good guard. I just want you... Well, let us not talk about it. I told you the main thing. Now I want to introduce you to the woman, ok?
   I agreed.
   The director pushed the button and the bell rang "ding-dong". The secretary Robia peeped into the room.
   - What is it, Abdulkasym Kakharovich? - she asked.
   - Please invite that woman here - said the Director.
   The secretary went out. Five minutes later a woman entered the room. When I saw her I nearly went mad. It was Salima. She was smiling through her tears. I stood sock-still for a moment. .
   - Salima! - I said and somehow wanted to cry. I burst into tears. When we hugged the director went out.
   Salima threw her arms around my shoulders. We kissed, and it was a long kiss of love and
  affection.
   - How on earth have you found me? - I asked kissing her.
   - Well, I couldn"t bear my husband"s beating and arrogant behavior - she said. I ran away from home. I took your home address from Mulla Zhavatakhun and went to Matarak. But I didn"t find you there. Your sons and your daughter-in-law gave me a welcome and didn"t turn me out. I told them the whole truth. Arabboy and Sharabboy realized their guilt. They were sorry for having hurt you. They said:
   - You are our mother now. And you will live with us. Then we will look for father. We"ll find him and ask him to pardon us for everything. And we will all get along happily together.
  He will forgive us...
   I beg you for God"s sake, forgive them. The are nice and kind men. If you love me, you should forgive them. Do you promise?
   - Yes, I forgive all now. It"s such a joy you have come to see me. I am happy. Thank you.. god, you have given me what I asked for! Saying this I kept kissing Salima.
   Then she said:
   Ok, that"s enough. They are waiting for us outside. Let me go.
  - No, - I said - I don"t want to let you go. I have been missing you so! I can"t...
  - Compose yourself, dear. Later, at home... she said.
  We went out. There were two elderly men in the corridor. Matvey Zahkarich, balalaika in hand as ever, and Georgy Gulitashvily whose lips were trembling.
  He said:
  - Congratulations, Al kizim. We are glad they are taking you out of here. The elderly people were looking at me enviously.
  I told them:
  - O.K., don"t trouble. You, too, will be taken out of here soon. Don"t be upset.
   - God grant, let"s hope so - they said
   We all went out into the yard. My sons were there. When they saw me they dashed towards me. As I hugged them they began to ask me to forgive them, and I did. We cried for joy. Then I saw a little girl and asked:
   - Who is this girl? Is it your daughter, Arabbboy?
   He smiled through his tears and looked at Salima. She blushed..
   - It"s your daughter - she said
   - Oh, really? Oh my Lord, is she really my daughter? - I uttered gasping.
   - Yes - Salima said turning to the girl and continued:
   - Come up to your daddy, Mukhabbat, hug him and never let him go, or else he will run away somewhere or fly away in a balloon.
   Everybody laughed. But I wept. I cried for happiness. I took my daughter and raising her high I looked at her as if I was looking at the sun. I kissed her on the cheeks and the forehead. She touched my hair with her little hands and said: "hedgehog". Everybody laughed. She had given the precise description of her unshaved father.
   I thanked everybody for everything and said good-bye to the Director and all those standing around. Saying good-bye I promised to come to see them in future. Finally, the elderly people sang the anthem of the Retirement Home. Then we got into the car and left for home. On the way
  I asked them:
   - How did you find me? After all, you didn"t have any information about my whereabouts. The boys laughed, and Salima said:
   - Your daughter-in-law and I once were watching TV, and I suddenly saw you. I nearly went mad. I couldn"t believe my eyes. Meanwhile they showed the Retirement Home several times giving the telephone numbers. We put down the address, and that"s the way it was.
   Telling this Salima put hear head on my shoulder.
   - Well, thank those who have invented advertising - I said.
   Everybody smiled.
  
  (53) The Bath-House
  
   I went to the bath-house to take a steam bath. It was in the center of our village. It was built in oriental style right after the war. In spring the cupolas of this bank was covered with green grass with scarlet poppies blooming all around. From afar it looks like the villa of an Indian raja. A gray smoke was coming from the chimney.
   When I opened the creaking door a ball of steam came out which wafted to the open window like in luxury suites of the Bourgeois Hotel in Dubai where the rich pay a million dollars a night.
   It was damp in the cloak-room. The air was smelly. People were dressing and undressing in the thick fog.
   I closed the door behind me and went up to the attendant Abu Zhibron de Turvelle Gasan ibn Abdelvakhab. I greeted him, and he gave me a torn towel, a piece of soap and showed me to the dressing-room. I undressed and taking the bowl entered the shower room. Here, too, people were washing in the thick fog. Further along people sat breathing heavily on concrete benches. Some were lying like dead bodies, with their eyes closed and their hands on their chests. Bowels and buckets were rattling here and there. The voices echoed like in deep caves where drops ring forming whimsical stalagmite and stalactite ornaments.
   The door of the steam-room was too small, and I had to go in slightly bending my head. I looked around and saw my neighbor Ramazanov, red from heat. We exchanged greetings.
   - How are you, Al Kizim? - he asked.
   - I am all right, thank God - I said sitting down next to him.
   We talked for a minute and fell silent. Then Ramazanov began to whistle.
   - Don"t whistle, you won"t get money - I said. He stopped whistling and began to speak.
   - Ah, there"s the rub... I always think why my money disastrously vanishes overnight instead of accumulating. I will never whistle any more. Indigence has stuck to my feet like Scotch tape. My elder son will be thirty soon. It"s time to marry off both him and my daughter. But where can I get the money, I wonder? I"ve been afraid to return home of late. As I come home my wife starts poisoning me with malicious words. She won"t stop until I punch her in the face. Then she starts crying.
   - Where can get the money from, you silly woman? - I tell her. I haven"t got a printing machine to make money. Even dogs have a rest off and on whereas I don"t. I work day and night like a robot toiling at Uvada Factory. What can we do when there is no chance of selling the waste that they give us instead of money?
   - Ah, you haven"t got money you say but you come home drunk every day! I wish you were dead, you wretched boozer. Mind, I"ll find a little gasoline and burn myself alive! - she screams.
   I say:
   Don"t shout, you fool, there are enemies around! The neighbors may hear you. If you don"t shut up I"ll take a rope and hang myself!..
   In short, I am sick and tired of all this. I have a unique idea. If you want, Al Kizim, we can take on credit some fruits and vegetables from our neighbors and go to Russia.
   I contemplated a moment and then said:
   - Well. It"s a good idea. It would be good to earn a big sum money, buy a car and present it to my sons. They would be very happy. I agree.
   Ramazanov though a while and said:
   - Al Kizim, you are a nice man. I look at you, and I am conscience-stricken. I blame myself, and I cannot forgive myself the fact that I broke your leg by striking cutting it with an axe. I am sorry for you.
   - Never mind. That happens. It must have been fated. I don"t bear a grudge against you. On the contrary, I am proud to be a cripple. The Great Tamerlane, too, was lame in one leg, and he didn"t complain. In spite of that he had conquered vast areas of the world from Europe to Hindustan. He had also founded the Empire of Timurids.
   - Yes - Ramazanov said and continued - indeed, you are a good man, Al Kizim. Thank you for existing in this world. The world is held up on people like you. You are a Saint! I am sure, after you pass away you will get to Paradise right off. You will live there with Paradise girls known as Khurami and Guilmanams. As for me, I will have to work off my sins in hell. Upon my word!
   - Don"t say that. Only God knows who is sinful and who is a Saint - I said.
   - You are right Ramazanov agreed and took a pail of cold water. He poured water over the heated stones. There came steam rising from the stones. He repeated this several times. It became stuffy and hot in the room. I began to gasp.
   - Wait, wait, the bath-house is going to explode now, enough! - I said.
   - What? - sneered Ramasanov - do you call it heat? It"s below zero compared with the Russian bath! Yes, indeed! Those were the days when we steamed with friends in the Russian bath-house in Gorelovo village, Krasnoselsky District, Leningrad Region. That was a bath-house indeed! Having cracked a bottle of vodka each we sat in the heat steaming. It was winter! -40 C outside! Off and on we would go out into the frost , rubbing ourselves with snow and swimming in the ice-hole by the river Ligovka. Our bodies would keep warm for a whole a day afterwards. You should hear the songs we sang, oh my!
   Patting himself now on the chest now on the toe Ramazanov started singing:
  
   Ah, yeah, oh yeah
   Russian bath, sweating-room
   There"s nothing like it, I presume!
  
   Gasping from heat I couldn"t sit there any more and went out into the shower-room which wasn"t so hot as the steam-room. I washed myself carefully and began to dress. Then I went up to the locker where I had left my clothes and saw that my things were not there, not even the torn towel which the attendant Abu Zhibron de Turvelle Gasan ibn Abdelvakhab had given me. My heart sank. Well, I thought, "the end of the world must be coming. What nasty people! The brutes! The scoundrels!.. How shall I get home now? If it were summer it would be different. But it"s severe winter outside! The snow-storm itself is crying for cold. I flew into a rage and shouted:
   - Hey, you bloody scoundrel, come here! What"s this? What a rotten thing!
   The attendant Abu Zhibron de Turvelle Gasan ibn Abdelvakhab came up to me and asked:
   -What"s up?
   - Where are my things? -I shouted - where are you looking anyway, you pig?! Don"t you know who I am? I am a freelance reporter of the Uvada newspaper! Just wait, I"ll scribble an article, and that will be the end of you. Do you want that?
   He stared at me in surprise and then opened one of the lockers saying:
   There are your clothes.
   I looked and saw that the clothes were right where I had left them. It so happened that I confused the lockers. The attendant went away looking displeased. I was at a loss... Then, before going out, I apologized to the attendant. Abu Zhibron de Turvelle Gasan ibn Abdelvakhab pardoned me without hesitation.
   I left the bath-house and walked home.
  
  (54) The road
  
   In spite of the resistance on the part of my wife and my sons I made up my mind to go to Russia with Ramazanov anyway. He brought the long-distance truck driver by the name of Peter from Shamalsoy.
   The driver was a man of medium size, red haired, with blue eyes, an oval face and a little nose and a mustache looking like a horseshoe. He had a scorpion tattooed on his left arm.
   Peter arrived on his "Kamaz " truck and stopped at the place where we were piling cases with fruits and vegetables. We were loading the cases the whole day until midnight. Some local boozers whom we had hired helped us with the loading.
   On the same night having said our goodbyes to our near and dear we headed along the empty road in darkness. We rode night and day making stops to toilet, take the air and admire the picturesque landscape of the vicinity. Sometimes we would stop at a shop to buy food and soft drinks. Ramazanov would not forget to but vodka as well.
   In that way we had spent many days and nights sitting in the huge truck"s cab.
   When riding across Kazakhstan the steppes seemed endless to us. We saw packs of wolves and saiga antelopes. Such exotic scenes attract man like the quick sands entrapping the victim with a pitiful female cry. He who comes closer to the sands the ground will suddenly go from under his feet, and he will drown in the crater without being able to get out. The sand craters are dangerous because every step the victim makes will work against him, that is the victim"s motions hasten his death. He drowns in the sand. To stop moving on the road is just as dangerous because you may suddenly be attacked by pirates hiding in the sand. Therefore we drove at a high speed trying not to stop.
   Pointing to the picture of a girl there in the cab Ramazanov asked Pete:
   -Who is this girl? Your beloved one, is she?
   - Yes, you are right -Pete answered smiling.
   - I, too, was a tough guy when I was young - said Ramazanov. One day I went to the city circus to relax at the expense of the Trade Union Organization of Uvada Factory. I got acquainted with a girl by the name of Zukhra. She worked as a cleaner in the park. She was about forty five years of age, or younger, a cheerful woman with a freckled face and a big alligator"s mouth, you see. She bump fell in love with me at first sight. And I gave her my address without thinking about the consequences. I was a watchman at the Factory then, do you remember, Al Kizim?
   - Yes - I said nodding.
   - I was once sitting in the watch-box during the night shift - Ramazanov went on - when someone knocked at the door. I opened it, and she came in. I was at a loss. Suddenly she burst out crying and started kissing me all over.
   - Come on Zukhra, don"t do that - I begged her.
  . -Yes, my handsome one, I will- she said, kissing me passionately. Shivering with desire, she bolted the door, switched off the light and drew the curtain. Then we long weltered in pleasure with the bed creaking under us. She nearly tore me into pieces. Then we lay talking in darkness.
   - Zukhra - I said - you are much older than I, and, besides, you have a family, your husband and your children. I am only 18. Collect yourself, open your eyes before you have ruined your family.
   - Darling, - she said:- how can I open my eyes! I am blind from the radiant sun of love! I don"t love my husband! I only love you! If you turn down my love, I will get a flask of gasoline, pour it out on my clothes and strike a match burning myself alive. I"ll leave a note saying that I love you madly.
   I kept silent staring at her. I didn"t know what I was supposed to do...
   Then she started telling me about her past: "I was a pretty girl in my youth. My friends and I worked in cotton fields. It so happened that once a young man, a tractor driver by the name of Madamin, fell in love with me. I didn"t love him. I rejected his declaration of love and tore the letter which he had written. He begged me to have pity on him. On Women"s Day he presented me with a bunch of beautiful flowers and an expensive fabric which was in fashion then.
   Naturally, I didn"t accept his gifts. Then Madamin put the gifts down on the ground, took a box of matches out of his pocket and set fire to the gifts.
   - I swear by the name of God to love you all my life and not to get married until I breathe my last. Farewell, Zukhar-khon.
   Saying this he went away across the field. I follow him with my eyes until he disappeared beyond the horizon. I felt sorry for the guy. I cried. I thought he might come back. No, he never returned. With time the feeling of compassion I felt turned into love. I began to miss him. I tormented myself about it. I wanted to see Madamin badly. But he couldn"t be found. I asked many people hoping to find him. One man said he had left for Aravan leaving everything behind. Aravan is in the neighboring republic. I would have gone to him but unfortunately I didn"t know his address. Then some match makers came to our house, and my parents married me off. I had resisted of course. Before the wedding they introduced me to my bridegroom. I saw that he was a normal young man, so I gave my consent. My father blessed me before the esteemed people of our village. I was taken to the Registry Office where I nearly fainted. I saw that the gentleman whom I had met looked very different. He had a nylon shirt and a worn skull-cap on and was wearing box calf boots with high bootlegs.
   I didn"t know how I should act. There was no way back. My father was an angry man. Fearing my father"s indignation I did not dare stop the wedding. I had nothing else to do but follow my fate.
   We got along and had four children. I worked day and night to feed the family. My husband did not work. He had chronic hepatitis. I remember my husband and I once lay in bed sleeping. I woke up to my husband"s sobbing.
   He was crying in darkness. I got frightened and asked him :
   - What"s the matter with you? Why are you crying? Is your kidney aching again? I will bring the pills now. My husband said:
   - No you needn"t. It"s not my kidney that is out of order, it"s my soul. I saw my first wife Mavzhudakhon in my dream.
   When I heard that I got petrified. It turned out that he had been married before and had two children. He never told me about it. To make things still worse, he loved her and couldn"t forget her. What a scoundrel, I thought. I couldn"t fall asleep till morning.
   Years went by. Ironically, I couldn"t forget Madamin who loved me heart and soul.
   Last year a group of young people came to have a rest to the park where I was working. As we talked I learnt that they had arrived from Aravan. When I heard that I had a lump in my throat. When I came round I asked them if they knew the tractor driver Madamin. I even gave them the verbal description of him so that they might recall who he was.
   - Yes - they said - we know him very well.
   - Oh really? - I said overjoyed - and how is he?
   The Aravaners exchanged glances and then said:
   He died recently from heart attack. He was a rich man. But somehow he had never got married. He died in solitude, poor man.
   - Oh yes? - I said dropping the broom...
   Zukhra burst into tears finishing her story. I consoled her stroking her hair.
   She left in the morning.
   Day went by. I began to feel what is known to be a yearning. Zukhra and I started dating every time I had a night shift. One such night Zukhra came to me with a big package and her children. I was surprised.
   - Now your dreams have come true - she said - I have come to you for ever. We will be together from now on, my dear. Nobody will be able to separate us.
   On hearing that, I stepped back in fear. Then I said:
   - Zukhra, please, understand me, if my father hears this, he will bury me alive, you see? We can live together as before but never get married, never!.. My relatives will kill me.
   On hearing this Zukhra sat down on the stool crying:
   - Where shall I go now? I have divorced my husband, silly me. What will happen to me? Oh, my Lord...
   -An hour later she left. Days and months went by. I did not see her for nearly six months.
   At last I got married. During the honey moon my wife suggested that we should go to town to take a walk and have our photo taken. I agreed. We walked about the town and had our picture taken. After lunch my wife wished to take a ride on the carousel. We went to the park, and there your are! - I saw Zukhra. With mittens on she was sweeping the fallen leaves. When she saw us she stood stock-still, a broom in hand, like an old witch from a Russian fairy tale. I greeted her and introduced her to my wife.
   - Congratulations - she said.
   My wife and I walked away. When we got up high on the carousel I looked down and saw Zukhra stand there watching us. When we got down she was not there. The next time when I was in town I somehow wanted to drop in at the park to see her. But the park employees said she had gone. It so happened that she had left out of town. I took her address and went to the "Ming Chinar" State Farm where she had settled. There I heard the terrible news that she had burnt herself and died in the ambulance car on the way to hospital.
   When Ramazanov finished his sad story we fell silent contemplating.
   - Well, well, it"s a sad story. She really loved you and could not live without you, poor thing - Pete said shaking his head.
   Meanwhile the truck was tearing down the smooth road, rocking us to sleep like a cradle.
  
   (56) The Generous People
  
   Driving along the Russian motorways is much better that along those of Kazakhstan. As you drive along the roads through the tick woods you have the impression that crowds of trees welcome you like people waving with green flags when they meet and see off the esteemed foreign guests. Particularly at night when the woods darken and the sky is covered with stars. The moon kept pace with the truck, now and then disappearing behind the thick branches of age- old fir-trees and pines. I shall never forget the wonderful moments of these moonlit nights.
   Once when we made a stop to relieve ourselves I saw a fabulous landscape. The tall Siberian pine-trees appeared to be sleeping under the moon. The warbling of the nightingales resounded so loud and lonely in the forest... We smiled listening to the divine melody that a human being will never be bored with. These unearthly sounds purify the human"s spirit and soul. We long stood there listening to the song of the nightingale. Then we got on the truck and drove on.
   By morning the clouds had grown dense and heavy drops of rain began to knock on the wind-screen. After some time the drizzling turned into a pouring rain. Quacking like a duck, the wiper worked rhythmically.
   Peter drove with care trying to avoid the truck being skidded. We drove a long time. It was raining nonstop till morning.
   In the morning we arrived at a residential area where officers of the State Auto Inspection stopped us. Ramazanov greased an officer"s palm, and they let us go.We were about to start when a Russian guy asked us to give him a lift to Gorelovo. Peter agreed and told him to get in. Rejoicing, he settled pressing us in the cab. The guy whose name was Igor turned out to be a cheerful fellow, and he told us many funny stories and jokes. We laughed and made friends very soon. He offered his assistance in selling our fruits and vegetables. He happened to have ties with well known authorities in the criminal world that were influential in all biggest business centers of Russia. He promised to give us a reliable shelter and protection at the market of the small town of Gorelovo.
   - We can go straight to the market if you want- he said - I will acquaint you with a guy who will introduce you to Swede. That"s his nickname. He"s a big authority. He will give you a shelter. Swede has done time in Central Asian prison camps.
   - Really? -said Ramazanov -I, too, served a term of imprisonment for hooliganism.
   - Then you may rest assured that everything will be all right.
   - Thank you, Igor, dear, I said.
   - Don"t mention it - Igor said lighting a cigarette.
   So we made our way straight to the market. When we arrived there Igor disappeared. We couldn"t wait till he came. At last he turned up with a man by the name of Gulakhmed. .
   - I"m Azerbaijani - he said greeting us - we have no language barrier, so we will understand one another easily, and we just have to help one another. Let"s go to Swede.
   Armed men of athletic build guarded Swede"s horde. The guard showed us to the boss"s residence.
   Swede was in the warm massaging bath along with his masseurs. Wiping himself with the towel he came up to us in a bathrobe. He looked at us lighting a cigarette. Then he suddenly said addressing Ramazan:
   - Chimpanzee, is that really you? I can"t believe my eyes. I haven"t seen you for ages. I"ll be damned!
   Ramazanov and I exchanged glances. He was at a loss. Swede came and hugged him.
   - Hey, you buds! This is my cellmate Chimpanzee. We used to do time in prison!
   He led us to the sitting-room where tables were laid. We sat eating and drinking. Well, I thought, that"s human"s destiny. Imperceptibly I asked Ramazanov if he had really been Swede"s cellmate to which he answered:
   - Al Kazim, you sit and keep mum. I am from prison camp. I know what to do.
   We were speaking Uzbek so no one of those present understood us.
   Then Swede, who was sitting next to Ramazanov, got up and raising the glass of cognac proposed a toast. We drank to our guys, i.e. to all those who were languishing in jail.
   Now music began to play. A bard sang prison hits and cabaret songs. After the feast we got up and wanted to leave, but Swede did not let us go. He said we were his guests and he had to take care about us. There was a sauna, with chicks to any taste. He also said that the sitting-room was at our disposal and he wanted us to make ourselves at home.
   - Chimpanzee, do you remember the way we steamed in the prison bath? I remember how you opened the elephant"s hernia and eviscerated him when he attacked me. The way he kicked the bucket! Then you were sent to the "Gagra" prison camp. I still keep the peg you gave me. Remember, I told you that I am not the ungrateful kind? The world is small, brother. It"s good that we have met.
   -Yes - Ramazanov said
   Wishing us a joyful night in the company of beautiful girls he left for his harem.
   We didn"t sleep till morning enjoying the company of young girls. The next morning at breakfast Swede asked Ramazanov what his business line was. The latter explained. Swede said that it was not thief"s business. A thief should steal and pilfer. Then he told his footmen to bring some cabbages. They brought a briefcase. Swede opened it and, taking ten packs of hundred dollar banknotes, gave them to Ramazanov:
   - Here you are. Ten pieces. It"s for saving my life then - Swede said calmly lighting a cigarette.
   When we saw such a huge sum of money we nearly went mad.
   - Thank you, Swede, - Ramazanov said packing the money.
   After lunch when we were left alone Peter asked us to give him his share.
   - Ramazanovgave him ten thousand dollars and said:
   - Here it is. Leave your dilapidated truck to us and get out following your nose.
   Peter took the money and looking around with caution hid it in his pocket. Then he said:
   - But how can I get out of here? Your friend will not let me go like that.
  
   - I have a wonderful idea - Ramazanov said in a whisper, winking slyly - We"ll go out for a walk, and vanish.
   We looked at him as if he"d gone mad.
   - What if we get caught, what shall we do then? - I asked alarmed
   -Nothing venture nothing have, Al Kizim. If you don"t want to steal away, we will not keep you. You may stay here for the rest of your life! We"ll disappear before they take the money away from us. God forbid, they will ask for the query from the prison camp where I had served time. That would be the end. We have to go before too late.
   - You are a terrible man - I said to Ramazanov to which he sneered like a beast of pray.
   After dinner he asked Swede if we could take a walk in the wood. He said:
   - All right, the guys will give you a ride on the jalopy.
   Ramazanov rejected the guards, in fear:
   - No, Swede, I want to stretch a leg with my mates.
   - Well, as you wish... Go ahead, there are rats and swine around.
   After lunch we went out into the street and walked on through the wood. On our way we came across a small Russian settlement called Gorelovo. We hurriedly parted with Peter there and then took a cab telling the driver to take us to the airport. The driver agreed and we started. We kept silent as if sitting on a volcano. When we were half way through Ramazanov gave the driver a hundred dollar banknote saying:
   - Here you are, I want to pay you right off. I see you are not a well off man. You don"t have to give me the change.
   The driver took the money thanking the generous client. Then, turning it round, looked at us in surprise.
   - What"s this, guys? Are you kidding? Are you clowns or what? Me, I am a serious man. I have been a boxer for nine years.
   He stopped the car on the side of the road.
   - Why, aren"t they American dollars? - Ramazanov asked in confusion.
   The driver got angry:
   - Well, do you call this piece of paper American dollars? I will make an enema out of your banknote and stick it into your ass-hole.
   - Why, what have I done to you? - Romazanov asked in surprise.
   The driver flung with all his might the one hundred dollar bill in his face.
   - There! Stick it in your asshole, you brute!
   Ramazanov took the bill in his hand and examining it carefully turned pale. The bill was false. The other side of it was totally blank. He took out all the packs and examining them started vigorously tearing them off. All the dollars were false. Then Ramazanov cried out in despair like a savage:
   - Ah-aa-a, them crooks! They have cheated us! Damn them, scoundrels!
   I saw that the driver got out of the car in anger. Wishing to reassure him, I took the situation under control.
   - No problem, I will pay - I said felling in my pockets. Then I took Russian rubles and paid him according to the meter. The driver took the money, and we went out of the car. The driver left at a high speed.
   We were exhausted. We sat down on the grass but Ramazanov felt ill at ease, unable to sit long. He got up and started walking nervously to and fro on the side of the rod.
  
  (57) The Fellow Travelers and Companions
  
   When the taxi had left we stood on the side of the road watching the false money whirl in the breeze like leaves falling from trees against the background of the sky with cranes trains flying over, calling sadly and breaking the hearts of the peasants that worked in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan staring at their flight with a sigh.
   With his hands deep in his pockets and slightly bent, like a ruffian of the 60-ties, Ramazanov was walking nervously from side to side like a pole bear in the Zoo, gasping from heat.
   - Well, what shall we do now, Your Honor? - I asked him.
   Ramazanov stopped for a moment and, without saying a word, began to walk to and fro again. After a while I myself answered my own question:
   - I tell you what, Your Honour. Well, Sir, we should go to your cell-mates right off, without delay, and tell them to return our legitimate goods. We shall tell them frankly that the money they had given us turned out to be false!
   On hearing this Ramazanov stopped again, looked at me with a grin as I if had gone mad and started laughing silently.
   - Buriby, why are you laughing instead of shedding bloody tears - I asked him.
   - Poor Al Kizim! You are an old youngster. What legitimate things are you talking about? Money and pleasure are the only legitimate things to those brutes! They have nothing to do with the thievish laws. Because the trash that they stuck to us in the criminal world is called scumbag! It"s a gang of crooks who spit upon the law the more so upon our thievish law! If you tell them that the money they gave us is false, you will be done for. They will tell you right off that the money was real, and you, like an ungrateful jackal, after consulting your accomplices, substituted the real banknotes for false ones. By this you will sign your own death sentence, and they will bump you off. Do you want that?
   - Looking at Ramazan I stood stock-still for a moment. Then I said:
   - God damn you, Buriby! God damn the day when I agreed to come here with you! How can we go home, and what shall we tell our villagers who gave us the fruits and vegetables on credit? What shall we tell God on the Judgment Day? What a wretched man you are, Ramazanov!.. He who murders you will get to Paradise - I said clenching my teeth.
   - And he who murders you will get to Hell - Ramazanov retorted spitting trough his teeth..
   I was about to attack Ramazanov with the shout of a savage when suddenly a tractor with a trailer appeared in the horizon. I raised my hand to stop it. Then Ramazanov looking at me in astonishment said:
   - Do you really want to ride on this jalopy?
   Casting a glance at him hurriedly I said:
   - And you are expecting a limousine, aren"t you? Yes, I want to go as soon as I can from you on this dilapidated vehicle.
   Ramazanov thought a little and then said.
   - I see-ee-e! So you are deserting your countryman in trouble, eh? That"s what I thought. When a man has money you praise him to the sky, and when he is in trouble you desert him with damnation, right? Al Kizim, you are not a man but a foul jackal.
   Now the tractor had approached us and stopped near me. A man in a checked shirtsleeve was sitting in the cabin. He was bearded, with emerald eyes and red curly hair. He opened the door and shouted like a fisherman standing on the seashore where one can hear the noise of the break beating against the rocks.
   - Which way are you going? - I asked him pointing to the road. He gestured me into the cab.
  I climbed in while Ramazanof got into the trailer. So we drove ahead. The driver asked me in a loud voice where we were going, and told him about our adventures. Thus we got acquainted. His name was Dima. His full name was Pakhomov Dmitry Stepanovich.
   Without tearing his eyes from the road he uttered:
   - Ye-ee-s, people have really gone mad these days. It wasn"t like that in the past. But you shouldn"t worry, everything will be all right! I will help you. I am a farmer. I have a small farm. There"s a little house where you can stay until you find a job.
   I thanked him for the kind attention, and we drove on.
  
  
  
  (58) The Herdsman
  
   Dmitry Pakhomov"s cattle breeding farm was located at the edge of a wood with the little river Ligovka flowing by. It was a quiet solitary place without the city bustle and hubbub where lots of birds twitter in fir and pine groves in the morning. Far away, the knocking sound of the woodpecker echoed in the coniferous forest, and at moonlit nights, somewhere beyond the river, nightingales filled the air with their warbling songs.
   When we arrived at the farm Dmitry called his friend, also a farmer, living in the neighboring district, to tell him about our problems. He also asked him if there was some vacancy for us. Without breaking the conversation he turned to us saying that there was a job for us.
   - What job? - we inquired
   - He needs a tractor driver. Can you drive a tractor?
   - Yes, of course we can -Ramazanov said quickly and went on - I don"t know about Al Kizim, but for me driving a tractor is a trifling thing! I have a license to drive both a car and a
  tractor. I have worked as a tractor driver at Uvada Factory for some time then I carried uvada, that is cotton waste to our Factory which made mattresses for hospitals and prisons. If need be, I can steer a helicopter, a plane and even those space ships, what are they, yes, the American space shuttle or the Russian "Buran" spacecraft . To make a long story short, I am a gifted man and a heaven-born stunt.
   Dmitry Staepanovich took it as a joke and burst out laughing. Then he told his friend that one of us could drive a tractor.
   The next day Dmitry"s friend took Ramazanov to his farm, while I stayed at Dmitry"s and started working as a herdsman.
   In his farm Dmitry had cows, oxen and calves, in fact, 150 heads of cattle all in all. He also had a few pigs, a goat, a horse and a dog by the name of Marshal. The dog"s hair was as white as snow. She got accustomed to me and, like my late dog Muravyed, helped me tend the herd.
   Sometimes I would go to make hay sitting in a cart harnessed by horses that knew the way to the meadow and back to the farm. Marshal followed the cart. At the meadow I cut hay, a sickle in my hands, looking like the image of death. The grass would fall like intrepid warriors defending their Motherland against the invaders. Now and then, wishing to have a rest, I would sit on the grass beneath the shady fir-trees watching the sky where the clouds were floating by, looking like uvada i.e. cotton wastes that we receive instead of our wages. The endless sky and the white clouds reminded me of my Motherland where apricot trees blossomed in spring with their blooming flowers looking like the snow-white clouds that had fallen down from above. I was looking at the sky, and it seemed that the sky, too, was staring at me with its big eyes without lashes and pupils.
   On hearing the squealing sound of the electric saw and the taps of axes and seeing the fallen trees I involuntarily thought that there were no closer friends to us in the whole wide world than trees.
   I wish we would at least follow one example, the way the inhale carbonate and anhydride providing us with fresh oxygen, without which we cannot live a minute in this world! And in token of gratitude we human beings cut them with an axe and saw them to beams and logs and burn them to enjoy the heat they emit. Thinking about it I got up, loaded the cart and returned home.
   Once when I was loading the cart a man came up to me, a bottle hand. He was wearing torn trousers, a dirty shirt and a crumpled hat with uncombed hair sticking out from it like a bottle of hay. In short, he resembled a scarecrow set up in a kitchen garden. His unshaved face, his toadstoollike red nose and his shoes made him look still more miserable. He suddenly cried:
   - Live! Live! Livatallu-la-lu-laaaa! Then, drinking the wine from the bottleneck he walked away.
   When Dmitry Stapanovich came I asked him who that man was. He smiled and told me the story:
   - His name is Gregory Pavlovich, and he used to be a well off man working as an inspector. He accepted bribes from farm managers stealing people"s money in that way. Apart from a rich flat he had a luxurious country house and expensive cars. He had another object of wealth which he cherished like the apple of his eye, and that was his young wife by the name of Marusya. Gregory was exceedingly jealous. He never trusted her to anybody, and in particular, to his driver Sergey. Gregory kept a vigilant watch on every step of hers, so to say, burning slowly in the hell of doubts.
   When leaving home for work he would lock the door of the house and the gate. He carried the keys in his pocket, like a prison warden. The only one whom he trusted was his wife"s girl friend Ludmila. She was the only one who had the key and had access to Gregory Pavlovich"s house.
   Ludmila was Marusya"s inseparable friend and came to her place every day, sometimes staying for the night. One day Gregory Pavlovich came home earlier than usual, and, letting the driver go, entered the house. Then, out of curiosity, he cautiously went up to the door of the bed-room to peep into the keyhole and listen to what his wife was talking about with her girl-friend. When he saw the scene like an image in a photo he stood motionless. The girl-friends were making love. No, they weren"t by far lesbians. Ludmila turned out to be a tranny, that is a woman with a man"s genital organ. Gregory rushed into the kitchen and took a knife. Then, shouting like a special task force officer, he ran into the room. On seeing him the girls shrilled and tried to hide their faces for shame. Ludmila covered her face with a porn magazine while the rest of her body was open. In fear and tremble the girls started begging Gregory Petrovich for mercy. As if making an excuse, Ludmila cried:
   - I am not to blame! Your wife wanted me to... It"s all her fault! I told her it wasn"t good. But she told me that she didn"t love you and that you were ...what is it... yes, an impotent. For goodness" sake, don"t kill me! I beg you, do you hear?
   - Ok, I will let you live. But give me the key to the house.
   - Thank you, Gregory Pavlovich, just a minute...With her trembling hands she took the key out of her bag and gave it to Gregory. He left the room, locked the door behind him and went out into the veranda to take the pail of white paint and the brush. Then he went back into the bed-room. Still trembling with fear, the girl-friends were sitting wrapped in the white silk bed-sheet.
   - Ok - said Gregory - if you don"t want me to kill you and cut you to pieces, put the bed-sheet aside and come here.
   The girls came up to him in fear. Gregory gave Ludmila the brush and told her to paint Marusya all over, from top to toe. She started painting Marusya while the latter, not wishing to be murdered, did not resist standing like the statue of a woman on a boulevard in Paris. Then he took the pillows on which he had lain with Marusya and cut them open with the knife. Shaking the pillows he poured out the feathers all over Marusya"s painted body. She now looked a horrible creature. Then he told Ludmila that she could go. She picked her things and ran out into the street. It was getting dark outside. Gregory Petrovich took his dissolute wife out into the yard. Then he opened the gate, kicked Marusya out and locked it.
   Running for her life, Gregory"s painted wife made her way along the path in the wood across the old cemetery. She went to the house where her sister lived with her family. When she came up to the house she pushed the ring button on the gate. Marusya"s sister came up to the gate and asked:
   - Who"s there?
   - It"s me, Marusya, please, open the gate quick.
   Olga recognized her sister"s voice and opened the gate. When she saw Marusya she fainted on the spot. After a while her husband came out and saw the horrible creature which stood bending over his wife. He was at a loss, and, mechanically, he took a brick from the ground and hurled it at Marusya hitting her right in the head. In other words, he murdered Marusya throwing a brick at her. He was tried for murder and sentenced for a long term of imprisonment. Gregory Pavlovich got off the hook by greasing the palms of prosecutors and judges. Gregory himself told me about it. With time, however, he ruined himself by drinking having lost prestige among the influential people. He lost his job. One day he had his house robbed by burglars who stole all his valuables. Wishing to do away with the sufferer they beat him black and blue, and left quietly thinking that he was dead. Since then on Gregory Pavlovich became the kind of man you saw. It was probably God"s retribution for the sins he had committed and for having robbed people.
   Finishing his story Dmitry Stepanovich mused looking at the horizon where the yellow clouds reflected the beams of the rising sun. The clouds were flowing north like multitudinous islands in the boundless ocean. I got up and went to drive the herd into the pen.
  
  (59) The Wolf
  
   With a heavy heart I was looking through the window into the darkness with the storm whining and the snow growing thicker and thicker and covering the roads and paths along which we used to go to the wood to pick mushrooms in spring. The falling snow was heavy and beautiful. Dmitry Stepanovich was cleaning his double-barrel hunting gun made in Tula which he had used to kill Marchal when he went mad. We shot him dead to avoid infectious disease and pouring it with gasoline burnt him down. We were sorry for him, of course. But we couldn"t help it. We had to shoot him dead and burn him. To make it up for him Dmitry Stepanovich bought a puppy of Turkmanian Alapay breed. When he brought it home he seized it by the tips of its ears like a spinning toy and turned it round. The puppy fell whining down on ground. The tips of its ears remained in Dmity"s hands. Thus he had cut the puppy"s ears without a knife. Its tail was short by nature. It ran about the farm and played with me; sometimes he would growl biting at my tarpaulin boots. In the evening we would lock it in a cage which was in the cow-shed.
   Time flew at a bullet"s speed. It flowed like the water of a boundless river which nobody can turn back. It went by, and, maybe, it grew, who knows?
   It had been seven months since we arrived at the farm. Now winter had come. Dmitry Stepanovich turned out to be an honest man, and he paid me honestly for the work I had done within these months. Like an ordinary herdsman he worked on his farm with me day and night. Sometimes his wife Zinaida Sergeyevna and his sons Pavel and Vasily came to the farm to help him. Like Dmitry Stepanovich they were just as good-humored, never haughty. Zinaida Sergeyevna was a book-keeper. She mainly worked at home.
  . One day Dmitry Stepanovich and I were cleaning the cow-shed and our boots were all covered with manure. Now a newspaper reporter arrived at the farm and inquired who the farm manager was. Dmitry Stepanobich put the spade aside and went up to the reporter to introduce himself. The journalist stood stock-still in surprise thinking that the herdsman who had introduced himself as the manager was kidding. When he found out that Dmitry Stepanovich was really the manager of the farm the reporter began to show more respect for him. He took Dmitry"s picture, and the next day the local newspaper carried an article about Dmitry Stepanovich, along with his photo. It reminded me of the bygone time when by Kalakhan Adalatov"s permission they released the Uvada newspaper whose editor was the great journalist Bakhadur Buran who was later put to prison.
   Dmitry Stepnovich, just like Kalankhan Adalatov, was a good-humored man, and he always invigorated me, particularly when I was upset. I couldn"t send home the money he gave me for the work done. Fearing the persecution of militia in Matarak I was even afraid of sending a letter to my relatives knowing that if the villagers who had given us fruits and vegetables on credit found out my whereabouts they would right away inform the militia about it. The prosecutor"s office might then raise an action against us. They might even put us on the wanting list. Should they start the investigation procedure the Russian Prosecutor"s Office, in accordance with the International Law, might issue an arrest warrant, and that would put the lid on us, as the saying goes.
   I kept looking out of the window into the night where a huge swarm of white snowflakes was whirling round.
   Dmitry Stepanovich interrupted my thoughts:
   - Alec, you and I will go hunting tomorrow. In the morning we shall leave right after Pavlik comes.
   -Oh really? Well, thank you, Dmitry Stepanovich - I said overjoyed - I am fond of hunting. Dmitry Stapanovich wanted to say something else but before he had time to open his mouth we heard a wolf"s howl outside the window. We pricked our ears looking out into the dark window.
   - A wolf - I said.
   Dmitry Stepanovich listened to to the sound of the snow storm and said:
   - No-oo-o, that can"t be. There are no wolves in our woods.
   Presently, the wolf started howling again.
   - Well, I'll be darned! - exclaimed Dmitry Stepanovich in surprise.
   - There must be a whole pack of them - I said looking out in fear.
   As if by battle alarm, we quickly put on our sheepskin coats and felt boots. Dmitry Stepanovich loaded his gun while I mechanically took an axe, and, cautiously opening the creaking door of the shanty, we went out into the yard. We saw a man crying in a loud voice which resounded through the whirling snowflakes and the branches of the huge pine-tree by the low window. The man was standing on the skis. It was Ramazanov. I made my way towards him while he, roared with laughter taking off his mittens with his teeth.
   - Well, you"ve lost your guts, haven"t you?
   Walking on the crunching snow I went up to him, and we hugged greeting each other. Then Ramazanov greeted Dmitry Stepanovich. Laughing joyfully we entered the house and shut the door.
   - Now take of your wolf"s skin - said Dmitry Stepanovich jokingly.
   Ramazanov took off his pea-jacket, his scarf and his hat and hanged them on the clothes-rack. While we were taking off our coats he went up to the stove and putting his hands on the pipe began to warm himself up. Enjoying the warmth he said:
   - Wow, this is real good! There"s nothing like warmth and comfort!
   - Well, what do you thin about the stove? Tashkent weather, isn"t it? - said Dmitry Stepanovich.
   Yes, indeed - Ramazanov said - Russia is the greatest fridge in the world! It"s good that I had cracked a bottle of vodka before setting out for the road. Otherwise I would have frozen some of my organs and...
   We roared with laughter at Ramazanov"s remark.
   - Fancy meeting you here, Buriby! Whatever has brought you to this place? - I asked.
   - Well, you see, I wanted to ski around a little and, - how do you like it!- I got lost in the wood. I haven"t got a compass. I was not very good at Geography at school. I don"t know where the North and the South are, damn it! I moved at random rambling around a long time. Then suddenly the day began to draw its black curtain, like in a Shakespeare"s tragedy. Well, I thought, that"s the end. The wolves will gobble me up for dinner. And though I am not much of a believer but somehow I wanted God"s assistance. Help me, God, I begged. I"ll requite like for like. I"ll give up drinking in return, I'll be bound!.. I stopped and lingered for a while, and then I walked on. Then suddenly I saw a little river and this house. The place seemed familiar to me. Then I remembered. I went up to the window and started howling like a wolf. That"s all. A fairy tale with happy ending, so to say.
   - You are welcome, dear guest. They say, God sends us a guest to check if we are hospitable or not. We"ll share our heaven sent food and drinks - Dmitry Stepanovich said and began to lay the table.
   - Thank you - said Ramazanov.
   While Dmitry Stepanovich was rummaging about among the plates on the shelves Ramazanov and I had a chat in Uzbek.
   - Well, how are you getting on there? - I asked him - Is it hard to work as a tractor driver? I guess, you send home messages along with money? Have you called anyone at Matarak?
   Ramazanov looked at me as if I had gone mad and said:
   -Have you gone off your head? Why send a message? Don"t you know, you silly man, they"ll pounce on us right off?
   Dmitry Stepanovich interrupted us again. He invited us to table. We got up and went there to take our seats. Dmitry Stepanovich poured out the samogon from a long necked bottle. Proposing a toast he suggested drinking to nice people and friendship. He clinked glasses with Ramazanov and drank the liquid at one gulp. While Dmitry was having a bite Ramazanov, too, had drained his glass. Tasting the food he made a gesture giving Dmitry a sign that he should pour a glass for me, too.
   - No-oo-o, no, I will not drink - I said and showed with a gesture that I was saying my prayers and could not drink. .
   - Our Alec is a Muslim, and he must not drink. Allah forbids it - Dmitry Stepanovich said.
   -Ye-e-s, I said.
   Dmitry Stepanovich set the glasses right, took the bottle and began to fill them again. Ramazanov didn"t resist. .
   - What shall we drink to now? - he asked Ramazanov. The latter thought a little and then answered:
   - Well, let"s drink to the wolves. To free and unyielding wolves!
   - Yes, let"s - Dmitry Stepanovich said smiling. They drank again. Dmitry Stepanovich continued:
   - The wolf is a voracious beast of prey, and it can noiselessly steal up to the sheep-fold. He will even eat earth when it"s hungry. The exciting thing about it is that it cannot bend its neck. It turns with all its body. When a man meets a wolf he grows dumb. Such a man turns into a wolf and starts walking on all fours. Like a wolf he cries for the moon. Then he leaves home and disappears in search of victim. If you meet such a beast in the wood at night, you are vanquished! You are a good wolf. It"s good that you howled like a wolf. I, too, was a little scared. I thought could it be...
   - You know, I myself got frightened of my own howl. - Ramazanov said interrupting Dmitry Stepanovich. The latter laughed. Then he began to fill the empty glasses.
   We long sat telling stories about wolves. When Dmitry Stepanovich went out to WC Ramazanov started speaking Uzbek again:
   Well, how are things with you, Mullah Al Kizim? Are you still toiling for this Russian like a slave? Or does he pay a little for your backbreaking work? I imagine he has taken your passport to prevent you from running away. As for me I am more enterprising than you. I have hidden my passport to be on the safe side. I advise you to hide your pass before he has taken it away from you, for we cannot leave this place without our passports.
   I listened to him in silence. Then I rose from he table and went up to the cupboard without doors. I took a box where I kept my passport and the money wrapped in a plastic bag. I put the bag on the table and said:
   - Here is my pass. Here is the money which Dmitry Stepanovich paid me as my wage.
   Ramazanov stared at the thick pack of money, and from envy there appeared a blue and violet circle on his skin around his mouth.
   Presently, Dmitry Stepanovich entered the room and said jokingly:
   - Oh, I see you are going to play poker, and you are staking already?
   He took his wallet out of his inside pocket, gave me money and said:
   - You know what, Alec, you have a special task. Get ready the sledge and go to the village right off. Bring some drinks. You, know we have run short of potion. Put on warm clothes and take the gun for the road, just in case. Don"t be afraid of wolves, for the pack leader is sitting here with us.
   - Is that right, comrade wolf? - he said turning to Ramazanov.
   The latter responded with a howl:
   - Auuuuuuuu-oooo-uuu!
   We laughed.
   I dressed as warmly as possible, took the lantern and the gun and went out into the yard. It was still snowing, and the storm was still wailing. The snow crunched under my felt boots as I walked to the stable. I opened the door, put the collar on the horse and got the sledge ready. I got on and giving the horse the bridle set it going. The horse started, and I rode towards the village along the snow-clad road through the wood. I was thinking if serving people engaged in things forbidden by God was a sin. I must have looked like Santa Klaus who, wrapped in a ship skin coat, was carrying gifts for children from the remote region of Lapland on magical Christmas nights. In the wood big pines and birches were dozing under the white snow bedspread presented by mother winter.
  
  (60) The Prisoner
   When I came back the storm was still raging and the frost was hard and biting. Trying to get the samogon to Dmitry Stepanovich as soon as possible I rushed leaving the horse outside in the frost. I walked hurriedly holding the bag with samogon in one hand and the gun in the other. As I crossed the threshold I opened my mouth in astonishment. Things were literally turned upside down. Broken plates, forks and spoons were scattered around on the floor. All was in a mess as if an earthquake had taken place. Behind the upset table at which we had sat recently I saw Dmitry Stepanovich lying on floor motionless with his head bleeding. I threw down the gun and went up to him and felt the pulse. He was still alive but unconscious. I took the tablecloth lying on the floor and tearing it to pieces bound his wounds. I don"t know why I picked the gun and ran out into the street looking for Ramazanov. But he was not there. Stumbling in the snow I walked towards the wood calling Ramazanov. But, unfortunately, there was no reply. I thought thinking why I had gone to the village. That was the result. My fellow countryman came to see me, but the robbers kidnapped him. Maybe, they were skinheads and nationalists... or, maybe, criminal recidivists that had fled from prison.
   I had long looked for Ramazanov, and then went back to the house not to get lost in the wood and wishing to help Dmitry Stepanovich. He was still lying unconscious. It occurred to me to call "First Aid" and began to look for Dmitry"s cell phone. But it couldn"t be found. The celophane bag with my money and passport had also disappeared. The burglars must have taken them as well. At last I made up my mind to dress Dmitry Stepanovich, carry him to the sledge and take him to hospital as soon as possible. And I did so. When all was set I rode towards the village again where there was a hospital. It took a long time to ride. The physicians on duty received Dmitry Stepanovich, examined his wounds and put him to the Surgery Department. While he was being operated on by the surgeon on duty I sat in the corridor praying to God to save Dmitry Stapanovich from death. The surgeon said the operation was successful. I thanked God for saving Dmitry Stepanovich"s life.
   The next morning the district militia officer came and asking me question to me put everything down. He had been writing for a long time and then gave me the paper to sign. I signed it. Then he took me to the militia station where I was locked in a cell.
   The investigation began.
   I was provided with an attorney. He was a tartar by nationality by the name of Khabibulin Faizurkhan Talgatovich. The investigator was Sobolev Anatoly Mikhailovich. In the course of inquest I told the investigator the whole story and denied all guilt. But the investigator claimed that in accordance with the decisions of experts all evidence including the opinion of specialists on crime detection proved my direct connection with that criminal case. The most striking thing about it was that they never asked me anything about Ramazanov. I didn"t know whether I should or shouldn"t tell them about him. If I told them about his visit and subsequent disappearance they would put him on the wanted list and raise an action against him. It would be a betrayal on my part. In other words, I would betray my fellow countryman who had come to see me with good intention. On the other hand, hiding the truth from the prosecutor was not good either. Who knows, maybe, he was taken away by bandits as a hostage and was now suffering somewhere? Or, maybe, Ramazanov himself had made the whole mess and absconded. Judging by the kind of man he was one could expect anything from him. But as the saying goes "one is innocent until proven guilty". To call someone a criminal without proving his or her guilt is also a sin. I had thought everything over and made up my mind not to tell anything about Ramazanov either to the investigator or the attorney. But I told them to ask Dmitry Stepanovich about what had happened. The investigator said that Dmitry Stepanovich lay in bed unconscious and could not speak.
   They confronted me with Dnitry Stepanovich"s relatives.
   I entered the room under escort and handcuffed. Suddenly Dmitry Stapanovich"s son Pavel attacked me. But they held him back and calmed him down. Dmitry Stapanovich"s wife wept cursing me. Their younger son Vasily was soothing his mother. The relatives all like one blamed me of burglary and of inflicting injuries on Dmitry Stepanovich. After a long and tiring interrogation they took me back to the cell. Then I performed my ablutions, and, showing my devotion, I prayed to God. I cried talking to God in a quiet whisper:
   - Oh my God, I know that you are testing me. And I know that you love me. You are merciful and gracious. Forgive me for my sins, oh Lord, and make them set me free.
   But, evidently, God did not even want to listen to me.
   A few weeks later I was tried and sentenced to ten years of imprisonment. They sent me to a high- security penal colony, a camp for inveterate robbers and throat cutters. I recall, one of the convicts came up to me and said:
   - I know who you are, where you are from and what you"ve been jailed for. Don"t be afraid. I am Uzbek, like you. I am from Kashkadarya Region. You are here to mind your broom...
   I did not understand what he said and asked him:
   - Mind my broom? What broom? Where is it?
   As if commenting on his words he said:
   - It means, you know, to keep mum and not to speak too much.
   Then I realized that the spoken language or tongue was called a "broom" there. He meant to say that I had to mind my tongue. That was a prison lesson indeed, I thought.
   I thanked my countryman for support
  
  (61) Prison
  
   A human"s fate is like an ancient weapon hurling huge stones at the enemy"s fortress. It hits the spots of the body and soul that one has never even dreamed about.
   Doing time in prison I wondered why on earth I was so unfortunate. Now, for instance, I was in jail... It wouldn"t be so vexing if I had really committed the crime for which they put me to prison. After all, I respected Dmitry Stepanovich more than anybody else. The investigator and the attorney shifted somebody else"s sin, i.e. crime I had never committed, on me. The attorney had kept prattling but was unable to do anything for me. Isn"t there justice in this world? Like a wounded snake I was tormented by these thoughts.
   But then I got frightened. If I kept thinking that way I might soon go mad. I was glad to meet my fellow countryman whose name was Kuralmirza. The way his name sounded, they gave him the nickname Karl Marx.
   Unlike the other jailbirds Karl Marx knew the laws well. Some men that did not belong to the circle of tough guys turned to him for help asking him to write an appeal or a letter to the Prosecutor General with a request to review their case in court. Marx helped everybody except for the "wives" whom the convicts dishonored for their "sins".
   The wives did all the dirty works in the cell and slept either by the lavatory pan or under the rack, i.e. a prisoner"s bed.
   Thanks to Karl Marx I was learning the prison laws more and more each day. He had taught me a lot and helped me when I needed his advice.
   I learnt that the prison broth was called "skilly". When the prisoners said there was no "sparrow" they meant there was no meat in the soup. The word "box" meant the train. The "louse drive" denoted a tool used to drive away louses from the hair i.e. a hairbrush. The shoes were called "wheels", the "blabber" was an attorney, a "unit" meant a car. I had learnt some other words such as a "mate" (a friend), a "hassle" ( a row, a dispute), a "cabin" ( home or house), a "container" ( a wallet), a "small" ( a hip- pocket). He who swore using the dirty language would be done for! It was not allowed to touch the personal belongings of the "wives" or sit where they sat. The things touched by the "wives" were thought to be "contacted", i.e. immoral and disgusting. If a tough guy touched a thing belonging to a "wife" his authority would be critically undermined. Therefore one had to be very cautious.
   Karl Marx and I often talked about our remote homeland Uzbekistan where we were born, grew up and spent our childhood and youth. We would recall our relatives, tell amusing stories and laugh.
   One day Karl Marx told me the story about the convict by the name of Isman. He had stabbed with an axe a scoundrel who raped the daughters of common people and escaped punishment getting off the hook, so to say. To make things still worth, he mocked at his victims who lodged complaints to legal institutions against him hoping to win their support. He would sneer arrogantly saying:
   - Well, have you achieved anything? That"s it! Write your complaints day and night, and you won"t find justice anyway. We have enough money to buy all your prosecutors and judges!
   One day, feeling it unbearable, Isman sharpened the axe and killing that rascal went home to say good-bye to his wife and his little son. On hearing what Isman had done his wife burst into tears. Trying to soothe her, he read Konstantin Simonov"s poem for her:
  
  Wait for me and I will come,
  Wait with might and main
  When the drizzle makes me glum,
  Yellow autumn rain.
  
  Wait when snowfall makes me bate,
  When the hot sun shines,
  Wait when others do not wait
  Letting slip their minds.
  
  Wait for me when you don"t get
  Letters from your friends.
  Wait when all those waiting get
  Tired of suspense.
  
  Wait for me, I won"t delay,
  And I tell you what:
   Don"t wish well to those who say:
   "It"s high time you forgot".
  
  Let my mother and my son
  Think I am no more.
  Let my friends get tired, like one,
  Sitting in a row.
  
  Let them drink a glass of wine
  To my poor soul.
  Wait. Don"t drink, just take your time,
  I"m not gone for all.
  
  Wait for me, and you will see
  I"m not the mortal one.
  He who didn"t wait for me
  Will say: - "Lucky man..."
  
   The cutthroat Isman said good-bye to his wife and their little son, wrapped the bleeding axe in a piece of cloth and went to the cop to voluntarily give up so that he might be tried and punished for the crime he had committed.
   The rich man who was the father of the one Isman had killed had bribed the prosecutors and judges insisted that Isman should be sentenced to death. Considering the statements put forward by the prosecutor"s office the judge had to condemn the killer Isman to a long term of
  imprisonment, and not to death. He was sent to remote places where the temperature reaches -50 C in winter. The prisoners, chained and handcuffed, were made to carry huge rocks there day and night. Their feet were also chained. Their handcuffs were fixed to a steel rope, and they had to walk along this rope carrying a heavy load on their backs. The rope stretched along the path, about 2 km long, winding like a snake over a deep ditch. The prisoners were foxed to the steel rope not to prevent them from fleeing but from being blown off by the wind. If they didn"t move in such weather they would be frozen to death by the cold wind
   In spite of weariness and illnesses, the convicts had to move along like watchdogs guarding the manor-houses. If someone, fainting and loosing his balance, fell down the armed escort would free him from the rope and throw him down into the ditch where hungry wolves were scouring about.
   Having spent ten years in prison camp the killer Isman had finally returned home. It was a miracle! When he arrived at Shakhrisabz he took a taxi and, as he had planned, went further to his home village.
   It was late in the day. The taxi cab was moving along the empty road lighting up the summer night with the headlights. The driver turned out to be a cheerful lot, and on the way he asked Isman without turning his eyes from the road:
   - Are you coming back from Russia, brother?
   - Yes - the killer Isman said.
   Like an investigator, the driver asked again:
   -And what did you do there, if it is not a secret? Did you take fruits and vegetables for sale there? Well, have you sold them out? I imagine, you have made the pot boil. I see you have put poor clothes on to disguise yourself, am I right? You"ve got big money about you, as far as I can see.
   - No, not really. Nothing of the kind! I am coming home from Russa. I"ve been away for ten years.
   Before Isman had finished the driver interrupted him:
   - Well, then, even more so... Then you have earned more money than I thought. I am glad to have rich clients.
   - I am not rich - said Isman - I am coming back from prison. I have done time for ten years from start to finish.
   - What? You don"t say so! What did they put you to prison for? Oh, I see. You had committed an economic crime, hadn"t you?
   - No, I had done away with a guy. How should I explain it to you? Well, in short, it was slaying case.
   - And what case was it?
   - I murdered a rascal... I killed him with an axe...
   On hearing that, the driver forgot about the steering wheel and nearly slipped off the road. He was now driving in silence, off and on looking in fear in the mirror at Isman. When we arrived at the center of the village the driver stopped the car and said:
   I cannot drive on because the petrol meter shows red. Please do not take offence for asking you silly questions. You don"t have to pay for the lift. I won"t take the money.
   - No, brother, here you are. Isman said giving him the amount of money indicated by the meter. The driver took the money and drove away.
   The killer Isman went home down the empty moonlit road. There were bats flying around up in the sky and crickets singing their songs.
   When Isman came up to the house which he had left ten years before he touched the gate he himself had made from boards and painted.
   He didn"t know how to open the gate. He stuck his hand in the hole and moved the bolt. He quietly entered the yard and closed the gate behind him.
   There was a chorpoya in the yard, where all the family lay sleeping. He went up to it and among the faces beneath the mosquito net made of gauze, he recognized his wife. There was a man lying by her side.
   Isman"s eyes became bloodshot out of anger and, clenching his teeth, he looked around. He saw a sharp axe near the heap of logs and the hearth. He jumped onto the chorpoya and tearing
  the net off his wife"s face shouted:
   - Ah, you bitch! I believed in you, and you!..
   His wife woke up and cried in fear:
   - Wake up, sonny, he wants to kill us!
   On hearing this Isman stood motionless holding the axe high over his head. The man lying next to his wife turned out to be his son who had had grown up while he had been away. Realizing what had happened, his wife burst out crying and hugged her husband. She said sobbing:
   - Sonny, your daddy has returned from prison! Thank God! - Isman said crying.
   - His wife and their son also cried for joy sitting on chorpoya.
   Karl Marx, i.e. Kuralmurza, finished his story and smiled sadly. He was a gifted story teller indeed. I couldn"t come round after such an exciting story.
  
  (62) Happiness
  
   To-day I nearly had my heart broken for happiness. As a man not belonging to the circle of tough guys I had the privilege to work in the industrial zone and try to "hatch out", i. e. be released from prison. By the thievish law it wasn"t considered to be treacherous. The work in the industrial zone distracted the convict from bad thoughts and he got additional amount of sunrays needed for his health.
   Along with other convicts I was reloading a railway carriage with gravel for the Concrete Product Plant. There were armed escort men all around who kept an eye on the convicts that worked tooth and nail. The angry guard dogs, as large as donkeys, seemed to slip the leash any minute. They were ready to tear us to pieces. .
   To relax a little, I stopped to stand on the gravel and stare at the birch and pine woods. I watched the bird that sat on the barbed wire singing freely. At the bottom of my heart I was envious of the little bird. "It"s happy, I thought. - for it"s free to fly wherever it wants, without an escort. It can fly to Africa, Hindustan or Uzbekistan. It will fly on and on, and nobody will detain it. It needs neither a passport nor a visa. It can cross state borders, and nobody will accuse it of espionage. It can fly over meadows, deep ditches, green fields and coniferous woods. And it doesn"t need to carry fruits and vegetables on a Kamaz truck to remote places for sale. What does it need fruits and vegetables for, after all? It doesn"t need money, false dollars, in particular. Ye-e-s, we should learn from birds. Though they have little heads they are cleverer than we humans. Oh, how I wish I was a bird! I would have wings and I would fly to my near and dear ones, to Salima, to my sons and to my little daughter Mukhabbat...
   Now an officer came up to the escort soldier who was guarding the zone and told him something which I did not catch. The soldier saluted him and holding the submachine-gun at the ready ordered me:
   - Come down!
   I jumped down in surprise. The soldier shouted:
   - Hands on your head!
  I did as he said. Then he gestured me with the barrel to move ahead which I did.
   I walked thinking:
   - Oh my God, what has happened? Can it be deportation? Do they really want to deport me? My heart sank. Uncertainty is always frightful. Or, maybe, they are taking me to be shot?
  Before I realized what was actually going on they put me in the petrol wagon and took me away.
  They took me to the prison office.
   I was still more surprised when I saw how polite prison clerks were talking to me. I was frightened because Karl Marx told me once that prisoners were treated kindly before being shot.
  When the attendant told me to take a bath my heart went pit-a-pat. "Well, - I thought, that"s the end! While I am taking a bath they will put some acid in the water, and I will leave this world through the hole in the bath, turning into liquid".
   But, thank God, everything turned out to be well. After I had taken the bath they fed me and gave me a clean garment. Then they led me along the corridor to a room with an iron door. When we entered the room I saw the attorney Khabibulin Faizurakhman Talgatovich there. He rose from the table and came up to me. I was not handcuffed. The attendant left the room leaving two escort soldiers. The attorney asked me to sit down pointing to the chair. Then he began to speak:
   - Mr. Sunnatov, Dmitry Stepanovich came to consciousness the other day, and he told us the whole truth. You are absolutely guiltless. We found out that when you had left for the village to fetch vodka your country fellow and friend who had come to see you started a fight. During the fight he hit Dmitry Stepanovich on the head with a hammer, and the latter lost consciousness. The offender took all valuables he had found in the house and left. For certain reasons the law enforcement organs had lost much time. Yet criminal has now been put on the wanting list, and I hope he will be found soon. You, for one, did not tell the investigator that the scoundrel had come to see you on that day. I understand, defending him you sacrificed yourself. But, according to the law, it"s also a crime. Yet Dmitry Stepanovich and I insist that the law enforcement institutions should release you from prison right away. I have gathered all the documents pertaining to your pre-term release and brought a suit against them demanding that they should reimburse you the moral and physical damage. You will be set free shortly.
   On hearing this I burst out crying. The attorney gave me a glass of water to calm me down.
   - Don"t cry - he said - everything will be all right. Have some water. - This is not all. The investigator brought the matter into court without examining it carefully. So the prosecutor and the judge sentenced you to a long term of imprisonment on framed-up charges. They had broken the law of the Russian Federation and will have to be discharged from office.
   I drank some water and coming round a little said:
   - No, let them.. What do you call them...investigators work as before. They have their families and children, after all. The main thing is that Dmitry Stepanovich has regained consciousness. And I thank you for trying to get me released.
   - Don"t mention it - said the attorney - it"s my professional duty..
   We had talked for a long time, and two hours later I was taken away.
  (63) Freedom
  
   At last I was freed and received a considerable sum of money as a compensation for the moral damage. In order to come round and adjust to life in freedom I had spent two weeks at Dmitry Stepanovich"s place. He said that after the incident his sons moved to the farm and working there continued the cause of their father. Dmitry Stepanovich and his wife apologized to me for what had happened.
   - Why, it"s not your fault, really. It was just misunderstanding. It"s I who must ask your pardon for it all happened because of me. Had I not been on the farm that scoundrel would not have come to see me.
   - No, Alec, you are not to blame - said Dmitry Stepanovich - I shouldn"t have sent you to fetch vodka.
   -Well, no. Don"t say that, Dmitry Stepanovich - I said - The main thing is that you are safe and sound. Nothing else matters. Now I have a chance to pay my debts to people in Matarakch who gane us fruits and vegetables on credit. I was given a temporary identification card for the road, instead of a passport. Now I will go home to see my relatives and give out all my debts. Then I"ll get a new passport and come back to go on working on your farm. We"ll work together.
   - Ye-e-s, you are a good man indeed, Alec -said.
   That evening Dmitry Stepanovich and I had long talked drinking tea with sugar and lemon and only went to bed at around midnight. In the morning I packed my things, said good-bye to Dmitry Stepanovich and his wife and accompanied by their sons left for the airport to fly to my dear homeland Uzbekistan.
   The plane landed at Tashkent airport. Wishing to present my daughter with a nice gift, I bought a big fluffy Teddy Bear, a panda, at the airport.. Then I went to the railway station by taxi, and to save a little money, I decided to travel by the second class.
   I like to travel by train. It"s nice to look through the carriage window at the people, trees and houses moving away. Particularly at night. You watch the darkening steppe and the moon which pursues the train keeping pace with it. You can see stars shining somewhere beyond the night plain. Then again, stretching like a ribbon in an old news-reel, trees, empty streets, the starry sky, solitary stations and dreary drowsy street lights begin to flow by.
   I sat as usual looking out of the window when suddenly the conductor turned up. He asked the passengers to show him the tickets. I recognized the man who was a boxer, a bad-tempered man and had bad friends. When he saw me he blushed like a turkey and having checked the tickets walked away quickly. I smiled following him with my eyes because there was someone sleeping on the third shelf meant for baggage. I watched the night landscape again flashing outside and didn"t notice how I fell asleep. I woke up from a crashing sound. I looked and saw a man who fell down from the third shelf meant for baggage.
   - Did you hurt yourself? - I asked. He turned to me and burst out laughing. All passengers also laughed. Somehow we all cheered up.
  . Two hours later we arrived in Andijan . Again I took a cab to go home. When the cab reached the center of Matarak I saw a friend of mine and asked the driver to stop. I took my things, payed the driver and went out. I called my friend:
   - Matash!
   He turned back and stood dumb like a statue with a bicycle. I left my things on the roadside and walked towards him with my arms open.
   - Hello, buddy!
   For some reason Matash stepped back with his bicycle. I was surprised.
   - Why, don"t you recognize me? - I said - it"s me, Al Kizim, a friend of yours.
   Then he stopped and, flapping with his eyelashes, kept silent for a moment and then said:
   - Oh my God! I can"t believe my eyes! Is it really you, Al Kizim? We thought you...No-oo-o,, this must be some misunderstanding.
   Then he threw down his bicycle and hugged me. We exchanged greetings, and I asked:
   - Do explain plainly to me. They were going to kill me, or what? Don"t worry, I will pay all the debts today. As I said it I suddenly shuddered and asked him hurriedly:
   - Or maybe, some of my relatives...Oh my God! Why do you keep silent? Speak!
   - No, your relatives are all right. And nobody was going to kill you. How should I explain it to you... In short, you were born under a lucky star. Thank God, you are alive. The point is that we have buried you.
   - What are you saying? Stop kidding, will you?
   - Upon my my word! - Matash went on - We got the terrible news that you had died, and you were found in the wood with your skis on. Now it"s clear that it was someone else"s body. But how come he had your passport in his pocket? It"s beyond me.
   - On hearing these words I squatted feeling giddy. Trying to set my mind at rest Matash said:
   - Then your sons went to Saint Petersburg to bring your body which was I the morgue. When they brought it we buried him that is you, next to the Kalankhan Adalatov. Your sons have even set up a marble headstone on your grave with your photo and your poem "The Love of the Store Keeper" on it. You had that poem published in the Uvada Newspaper, remember?.. Yeah, that"s a pretty kettle of fish! Don"t cry, buddy, come on, get up, will you?
   Now Usta Garib and Mirzakalandar turned up. Then a crowd of people quickly gathered round. Some were looking at me as if I was a heavenly creature others made a noise wishing to greet me. Hugging me, Usta Garib said:
   Well, Al Kizim you are Koschei the Deathless. You have come back from the better world. Or, perhaps, you are not Al Kzim, eh? Maybe, you have just put on a mask? Well, let me see...
   - No-oo. It doesn"t look like a mask. It"s Al Kizim!
   He started shaking my hand and greeting me.
   Presently I heard a familiar voice. I looked around and saw my sons running up to me.
   - Daddy, dear! Are you alive? God be praised!
   It was my elder son Arabbai. He joyfully threw his arms round my neck, while my younger son Sharabboy also threw himself upon me crying happily like a Pakhtakor football player that hugs his teammate who has scored a goal:
   - Father! Good gracious! Daddy!
   I nearly fell down trying to keep the balance. The three of us stood embracing one another like a team of KVN players trying to answer the question of their rivals.
   I walked towards my house along the corridor of onlookers.
   As I was about to turn round the corner Ramazanov"s wife caught up with me looking like Jean-Claude Van Damme"s fan wishing to get his autograph. She must have been running fast, for she was breathing heavily. She greeted me and asked me where here husband was. I didn"t know what say, so I told her a lie:
   - We parted after we had been cheated by crooks. Then we met nice people. One of them offered him a job so he went away with that employer. After that I didn"t see him again. I didn"t know where he was working because I was put to prison. Ramazanov"s wife thanked me and walked aside.
   Meanwhile I saw Salima running fast towards me. She was limping. Now all of a sudden she fell down on the ground. She must have lost consciousness. I ran up and lifted her.
   - Salima! Come round, dear! What"s the matter with you? - I cried.
   But she didn"t reply. My sons ran to call the ambulance. Holding my wife in my arms I walked dragging my bad leg. The crowd of onlookers was getting bigger. They ran pushing one another like western reporters recording a fresh sensational scene on a video camera.
  
  
  
  (64) The Tired Man
  
   My daughter and I were sitting in the waiting room of the Resuscitation Department. I felt a deeper and deeper aversion for myself. Yes, all the grieves and sufferings that had fallen on our family were through my fault. Hadn"t I agreed to make a trip to Russia we would have avoided all the troubles, and my Salima wouldn"t have had a heart attack. And Ramazanov wouldn"t have died either.
   When I was freed from prison I was elated! I made such big plans! And how is it all going to be now? What if Salima dies? God forbid!.. Our daughter, poor girl! She calls mom crying bitterly. I don"t know how to console her. My sons also sit by her side day and night. In the morning I nearly turned them away so that they might go home and have a little rest.
   I sat thinking and then asked the nurse through the the window opening if my wife had come round. She smiled sadly and nodded: "Yes!". I was so happy to hear that! Holding my daughter tight I shouted :"Hurrah!". Then I begged the nurses to let me and my daughter see Salima. One of the nurses went to talk to the doctor. Half an hour later she opened the door. I put on a white gown and walked with my daughter along the corridor into Salima"s ward. On seeing her mom the girl ran up to her hugged her and cried.
   - I"ve been missing you so, mom! - she said.
   Poor Salima stroke softly our daughter"s hair looking at me. She had tears in her eyes.
   I came up to her and taking her hand kissed it.
   - Salima, I am sorry for what happened.
   I couldn"t speak, for I felt as if I had a lump in my throat.
   - No, you should, apologize. It"s not your fault. It has just fallen to my lot. The main thing is that you have come back safe and sound. I only ask you, should I pass away, please look after Mukhabbat, and please bury me next to Mukhabbat-opa, that is your first wife. I am glad to have met you in my life. I have lived a happy, joyful and interesting life with you. Dadasi, I know that when my son Genghiskhan hears about my death he will turn up by all means.. Show him my grave. And there is another thing that I"d like to know... Have you paid all your debts to those people?
   - Yes, I have, Salima.- I said setting her mind at rest - I have paid for their products, and I have no debts now.
   - That"s good - she said - Debt is the worst thing in the world. And there is one final thing that I want to ask you about. Forty years after my departure find a good woman and marry her. I don"t want you to be alone after me.
   - Salima, don"t say such things. First, you will not die. Second... even if... even then you may rest assured that I will not get married again. I belong to you and only to you... so don"t hurry to abandon me. If you go, I will follow you... I cannot imagine my life without you - I said kissing her hands, tears in my eyes.
   - No, she said breathing heavily - you must live for the sake of Arabboy, Sharabbay and Mukhabbat. You must bring them up, you see?
   Presently the doctor and the nurse came in. They told us to leave Salima and give her rest. Mukhabbat and I had to go, and saying our good-byes we left. Sitting in the bus on the way home I wept without restricting myself.
   Before we had reached home I heard the terrible news. My Salima had died. On hearing that, I lost my balance and fell down like a cut down tree from a rock. I hugged my daughter crying:
   - If only I knew that it would end up like that! I would have never come back! Why did I come here? I should have rather decayed in prison!
   I howled like a wolf while Mukhabbat wept quietly.
   My neighbors tried to console me but they couldn"t help it.
   At this point one of the women took my daughter away from me. I looked like a werewolf
  capable of assuming the form of a terrible beast that howls at moonlit night:
   - Oh my Go-oo-d! Why did you give me such a strong heart! I want it to burst breaking me into pieces! I don"t want to live any more! I am tired, oh my Lord!
  
  (65) The Square Sky
  
   Thus having buried my second wife I was alone again. My poor unfortunate daughter was now left an orphan.
   As she had requested we buried Salima alongside of Babbat"s grave. Every morning we all went to the cemetery to see the burial places of my wives. We Uzbek people have the tradition to attend the graves of the departed ones right after sunrise.
   That morning at the break of day, following the tradition of ancestors, we went to the cemetery again. The empty street was quiet. We hurried rustling with our caftans. Our footsteps echoed over the whitewashed fences.
   A lonely homeless dog was roaming at the entrance outside the cemetery. Right behind the fence the bristles of grass waved like the hair of a warrior fallen in action.
   We walked in a rank along the narrow path, and coming up to my wives" graves we went down on our knees. I recited a sura from the Koran praying to God to set Salima"s soul at rest. Then we sat in silence weeping and sobbing. Adjusting the fresh ground on Salima"s grave and touching softly Babbat"s headstone set up on her tomb I uttered:
   - Please forgive me, my dear wives. It was through my fault that you departed prematurely. You were nice and beautiful, and I loved you madly. Although I was an experienced fool you honestly catered to my every need like bondmaids. I did not appreciate your kindness and generosity duly. Only now I begin to realize that you were angels without wings. You always pardoned me. I ask you both for the last time, please forgive me... Believe me, I always tried to be a good man, but somehow nothing came of it. In fact, I am not the way I look. I am not a bad man, after all. But.. I should have said all this before. No use to say it now. Yet I ask you to pardon me. Thank you for everything.
   My voice trembled and became hoarse. Involuntary, tears rolled down my cheeks dropping on Salima"s grave. Arabboy put his hands on my shoulder and said softly:
   - Let"s go, father.
   I got up, and we walked back in a rank along the narrow path.
   When getting out of the cemetery and closing the gate I saw a man that stood like a ghost beneath the huge elm tree in the spectral twilight. Suddenly he budged towards us. When he came closer I recognized him It was Genghiskhan. Dragging my lame leg I walked up to him.
   - Genghiskhan, dear, where have you been all this time? Your mom has left us! She was waiting for you! Poor creature, she loved you so! Sonny...
   Opening my arms, I wanted to hug my adopted son. Genghiskhan stopped and said contempuously:
   - Don"t approach me, you lame demon! You killed my mom and ruined our family. You cannot get away without being punished. I"ll avenge my mother!
   He took out a gun, loaded it quickly and pulled the trigger. There was a shot. I felt an acute pain in my stomach and put my hands on the wound. There was blood leaking through my fingers. I bent down moaning. My sons rushed to attack Genghiskhan, but the latter managed to fire another shot. Sharabboy fell down groaning. Arabboy snatched the gun from Genghiskhan and punched him in his face. Genghiskhan fell down. Arabboy started beating and kicking him. I felt giddy and fainted. I came round in hospital. The first things I saw were lots of pipes and a medicine dropper. By my side I saw doctors in white garments and masks which made them look like ninja warriors at the foot of Khagbinz mount along the moonlit paths in bamboo bushes. One of them said turning to me:
   You mustn"t move. You haven"t come round yet. Don"t worry, your younger son is also alive. Your elder son and his sister come to hospital every day asking to let them see you. If you behave well, we will allow them to visit you the day after tomorrow. So be patient.
   I nodded flapping with my eye-lashes. I had my belly bandaged. I looked at the ceiling which was gradually turning into the sky. The clouds flowing by in the square sky looked like uvada, which we had processed at Uvada Factory and sold to people. I saw Kalankhan Adalatov who sat on one of the clouds chewing something and looking like an orangutan nibbling sunflower seeds in the Zoo..
   - Assalyam Aleikum, Kalankhan Adalatovich - I shouted - what are you doing there? Still lying in bed? As for me, I"m waiting for Ramazanov. He"s also here. He works as a driver. He drives a time machine. We drive from one space to another every day. Come on, jump in here. We"ll take a ride in our time machine. Oh, there he is...
   I looked and saw a flying object with Ramazanov sitting in the cabin. He opened the movable window and shouted to me:
   - Al Kizim, I beg your pardon, but it just happed! Come on! Jump in! I will give you a ride. We are on the way to Eternity. Have you ever been to Eternity? No? Well, then you have missed a lot! Why are you lying there like that? Comу on, let"s fly off!
   - No-o-o, I have flown once with you. I have many things to do, and I have no time now!.
   - No time? - KalankhanAdalatov cried getting on the vehicle- and where did you get the 15 years given to you by Sharbash Wimbledon? Well, well, Al Kizim, you are also giving out a hundred and fifty volts! You cannot save time! Well, all right!
   He took a plastic bag and hurling it to me cried:
   - There you are! Good time! Free of charge!
   I caught the bag and thanked him. Ramazanov closed the movable door, started the engine and drove off towards Eternity. The square sky turned blank.
  
   May 30th, 2008, 10-08 p.m.,
   Toronto, Canada.
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
 Ваша оценка:

Популярное на LitNet.com А.Ефремов "История Бессмертного-4. Конец эпохи"(ЛитРПГ) И.Головань "Десять тысяч стилей. Книга вторая"(Уся (Wuxia)) А.Найт "Наперегонки со смертью"(Боевик) Л.Джонсон "Колдунья"(Боевое фэнтези) Т.Май "Светлая для тёмного"(Любовное фэнтези) А.Кутищев "Мультикласс "Турнир""(ЛитРПГ) К.Воронова "Апокалиптические рассказы"(Антиутопия) Д.Сугралинов "Дисгардиум 2. Инициал Спящих"(ЛитРПГ) В.Коломеец "Колонизация"(Боевик) Ю.Резник "Семь"(Киберпанк)
Связаться с программистом сайта.

Новые книги авторов СИ, вышедшие из печати:
Э.Бланк "Колечко для наследницы", Т.Пикулина, С.Пикулина "Семь миров.Импульс", С.Лысак "Наследник Барбароссы"

Как попасть в этoт список
Сайт - "Художники" .. || .. Доска об'явлений "Книги"