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The Moon Outside My Window. Part 3

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  • Аннотация:
    Haldor Volcano The Moon Outside My Window Satirical Novel (Real Fantasy) Part 3 Translated by Alec Vagapov


Haldor Volcano

The Moon Outside My Window

(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-ll?hi ar-rahm?ni ar-rah?mi . 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 naОve, 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.
  

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Популярное на LitNet.com Л.Джейн "Чертоги разума. Книга 1. Изгнанник "(Антиутопия) Д.Маш "Золушка и демон"(Любовное фэнтези) Д.Дэвлин, "Особенности содержания небожителей"(Уся (Wuxia)) Д.Сугралинов "Дисгардиум 2. Инициал Спящих"(ЛитРПГ) А.Чарская "В плену его демонов"(Боевое фэнтези) М.Атаманов "Искажающие Реальность-7"(ЛитРПГ) А.Завадская "Архи-Vr"(Киберпанк) Н.Любимка "Черный феникс. Академия Хилт"(Любовное фэнтези) К.Федоров "Имперское наследство. Забытый осколок"(Боевая фантастика) В.Свободина "Эра андроидов"(Научная фантастика)
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