If my memory serves me right, 14-15 years ago in the guesthouse of bai Karzhas, fussy hodja Mazhit was teaching children, including twelve-year-old bumpkins, how to read and write.
Those years – years of reign of Nicholas II – were fiery, fatal. They seemed to continue forever…
And suddenly they fell into oblivion, not a trace has remained from the flame of those years, well… you won’t even find the grave of Tsar Nicholas.
Yes, and Mazhit-hodja, once menacingly bellowing with his ice-coated camel over the heads of students, is now lying in fever, saying goodbye to the light spheres of life. Pai-pai-pai! Hodja the thunderer – oh! Admit it, dear hodja, in a fit of temper you were often wrong! Of course, many things may upset a righteous man, even a prayer: at times it would not echo kindly, as expected, within your soul, but stir up conscience with a pang from the very Saint Fatima, but why would you wreak your anger on your pupils, oh!
Not to talk on and about this, we’ll say it in short: violent was our hodja in the field of education. Let him alone… our story is not about him, anyway… he’s just somehow come to my mind… At the time, there were more than enough of such hodjas-teachers.
Among the kids, closer to the threshold, on a worn-through piece of horse-skin a boy of about eleven or twelve sat hunched up and sniffing; he would look at the planed stick in the hodja’s hand and hide his face in a thin pile of paper in front of him. The sleeves are filthy, one cheek is dirty, and he could at least rub his eyes… Sitting, staring at hodja, wrinkling his nose, he’s a scatterbrain, a shy simpleton, one of those who cannot take what belongs to them either by spirit, or by belly. At his age a child should be well-groomed, chubby and sweet, and here he is. And his name is not very smooth: Kartkozha… It’s an old-man nickname, unfit for a young fellow, even a hint of holiness doesn’t make it sound better. Why should a good, God-loved child be named like this?
Other schoolboys quickly discovered Kartkozha’s meek nature and jeered at him however they wanted – threw chewed-up paper balls in his face or pointed to the sky, “Look!”, and then snatched him at his nose or slapped on the back of the head! They teased him. A complaisant sheep is meant for shearing. Kartkozha tries to avoid them, and if someone is following him, he will just say, “Stop, are you crazy or what?” and will continue staring into his notebook. Other kids get tired of studying, they scribble letters anyhow in a hurry and start fidgeting, falsely whimpering: we’re tired, they say, they lie and play pranks, and Kartkozha, oblivious to the noise and ugly fancies, buries himself in his notes and starting with “Kul aguzu” moves on to the sura “Al-A’raf”, and then in two or three days he learns by heart “Uasuas al Khanas”. After school, he goes to his uncle’s house and eats a bowl of soup. In the afternoon he returns to school. And in the evening, with his ABC-book under one arm, he goes back to his aul – one and a half versts away. Several autumns and winters passed this way, he even learnt to read Kazakh books. And he didn’t even notice how he grew up into a young man of marriageable age!
Zhuman’s family wasn’t large in number and didn’t have any noble ancestors. Why are we talking about Zhuman? Well, he is the father of our Kartkozha. Always meek, he never avoided people, yet never fawned upon anyone; routinely he would do salah five times a day and after each prayer he’d mutter, “Oh God, I am so grateful for what you have given us”, he was always satisfied with what he had and bore difficulties without reproach. In winter and in summer he would tend – look after his several cows and horses, patch up leaky walls of his shed – all by himself. He never had an eye on things belonging to other people, and when the world split up into two uncompromising parties, he wasn’t tempted by freeload – he didn’t take a penny or a cow for his vote from bai party members. He followed the people from the aul, but with caution. He didn’t possess astounding knowledge, but one couldn’t call him an ignoramus: an ordinary Kazakh – not smarter, yet not stupider than his neighbors, he avoided hustle and bustle and never made a rumpus. To pull the wool over his ears was no trouble at all, they would clean him out, rob him blind, and he would just console himself, “If God grants, we’ll make some more”. So ignorant was he, but he’d never hurt a living soul. He’d live and pray to God. He found a particular comfort in the beginning of the fast, a little consolation, but still… And he found joy, nourishment to his quiet soul in his four children: three boys and a daughter – a naughty child. He married off his daughter into a good family. He thought in advance about the future of his second child – each year he would sell one or two heads of cattle from his little herd, thus he managed to save up for his education. And, you see, Kartkozha studies well! As for the youngest, he is still in his crib.
And Kartokozha’s mother can’t be reckoned among bright ladies, she was an unremarkable, simple-minded woman. All her days she spent taking care of the household, laundering and darning. And to everyone, the little ones and the great ones, she said, “Darling, dear!” – that’s all about her; and yes, she was always ready to treat anyone who called on them, and there is nothing more to say about her. Maybe she, like other women from the aul, likes gossiping or curses her unhappy woman’s lot? No, never. There was no question of something like that! On the contrary, when she heard some rogue lashing out at her husband, she would immediately leave the place, amazed, “Oh, what a nasty tongue this poor thing has!”.
In every aul, in every house there was their own cauldron of quarrels, with cracks, with dents, with broth of quarrels. Look under any roof, everywhere – either because of the inheritance, or because of the dress, or simply because of the food – whole battles with swearing and offences unfold, when they don’t even hear each other. But Zhuman’s family is different. God saves him from such merrymaking. Sometimes, of course, Zhuman would get really angry with his wife and say, “Should I hit you on the head?”, and sternly, as it is appropriate for the man, he would take offence. But it is nothing, not only on the head – never did he beat his wife even on the back. And she, knowing well that he won’t hit her and won’t stop loving her, is still hurt in her own way, “Stop it… don’t talk like that”. And if he keeps being stubborn and angry, “No, I need to beat you, for sure…”, then his better half will ironically say, “Well then, hit me and take me back to my parents, and leave me there, that’s it!”. And just to be on the safe side, the kids will come running, spinning between them – who knows, maybe this time their father and mother will really argue – Dad! Stop it! And all at once they will burst out laughing, and that’s the end of it.
As Kartkozha was growing up, he realized and felt more acutely how unfair the world is. How many times did his age-mates offend and tease him, mock at his poor head. Once Karzhas’s son – a well-known prankster – took his pencil and didn’t give it back. He asked him and begged him to give it back, but he never did. And he made him so angry, that Kartkozha snatched papers out of the hand of the bai’s son, tore them in pieces and threw them around. The rich favorite with his two pals threw themselves at him, knocked him down, beat him and hit him on the nose so hard that it started bleeding. Kartkozha came home in tears and went to his father. Zhuman felt offended, he jumped on his horse and galloped to the other boy’s father. And he told bai everything roughly as it was and demanded that the offender be punished and that he give the pencil back to his son. And the bai, without turning an eyelash, said that he was telling lies about his son. What can I do? Zhuman was extremely upset, and went back home. And so he comforted his child, “Your pencil is lost, but don’t worry, I will buy you a new one from the vendor”.
Once, several mischief-makers attacked a boy from Kartkozha’s aul, he decided to stick up for him, but they pushed him so hard that he fell and scratched his hand till it bled. And was it just that? How many times in winter children would overturn him from his saddle bull-calf into a snowdrift, shove snow in his bosom, throw his books around, and tear his fur coat… And it’s a hard task to catch the terrified bull-calf, so he had to drag his feet home, up to the waist in snow. What can I say... they jeered at him to their hearts’ content!
More than once thoughts of such hardships disturbed Kartkozha, his heart simmered with anger, “Eh, poor me, oh! Or... am I worse than them, I am not stupider, am I? Maybe they are more gifted than I am? No, even if they managed to excel me, then only in the number of heads of cattle. Such a world, oh! Will there be a day when I make them all terribly – terribly sorry for what they did?" Well, let it be. Is he the only one suffering? His father’s life is also hard. The son-in-law’s father of the district head, richer than Zhuman, took away their bull for some small debt, and no matter how hard they struggled to get it back – all in vain. How can his father compete with the district head’s relatives! Who can he complain to? There are no such defenders in the world. In winter, for example, a courier in the full-dress uniform said that some interpreter needed a horse to go here and there, and so he took away his father’s only bay trotter, which they used to get to the town and to shepherd sheep. The horse never returned, only its skin. And the aul head is on the spot that very moment: and why didn’t you pay tax for your bay horse?! And he started yelling and lashing at his father. Kartkozha had to listen to it all. The bai from the neighboring aul appropriated his father’s hayfield, he went everywhere trying to complain, but nobody would get involved with even this crude judge. Kartkozha knew it. And his heart was bleeding at the thought. Kartkozha saw them all – the district head, the interpreter, the courier, the aul head and all the rest – as tyrants, robbers, and murderers.
Kartkozha, after studying as of old, became a sort of pious mullah. And after listening to the melodies of maqams at his brother-in-law’s, he quickly got the hand of singing prayers; he would start reading surahs from the Koran, and not simply read, but melodiously, sitting on his legs tucked up tightly beneath him and with his eyes shut. In the mournful hour he could advise the right way, according to sharia laws, to carry out the deceased, to bathe the newlyweds before the wedding ceremony, who is supposed to receive charity, he would always say , and a lot of other things, you never know! However, for all his help and work neither he, nor his father had a cent from those who received their help. In despair, Kartkozha would set hopes upon the grace of God and pray with all possible diligence; in case God doesn’t hear his requests, he would ask for help from the prophets, saints, Sufis and learned theologians of old times. I can assume that all of the above mentioned highly respected individuals turned out to be deaf – nobody heard the young mullah’s prayers, nobody helped him. And how would they do it! Not a trace is left after them – only dust.
Kartkozha heard that in every volost there are schools, and students not of noble birth may study there, in two or three years they learn the Russian language and are ready to work as interpreters. Last year he saw such an interpreter with the Russian master. Oh, what looks did he have! He is white, chubby, and the buttons are gold! With a town haircut. In high boots, like a monarch. As he began translating the speech of the master, our jaws dropped – so smoothly and importantly he talked! And when he began talking to a policeman in Russian, the latter had nowhere to turn to! (Everyone knows: the winner is always the one who can say more Russian words). Kartkozha really liked the way the interpreter tired out that police constable. He was surprised: think of it, even among the Kazakhs there are such experts who know the foreign language as their mother tongue, oh! And the way the volost head received the interpreter! On the seat of honor a blanket was spread for him, a downy pillow – placed under his elbow; he lay softly on his side smoking a cigarette, and then tea was served – as if in a fairy tale! On his finger there was a ring, the name of which Kartkozha couldn’t even think of, a silver watch chain heaved on his white waistcoat, a clever comb and some other queer thing peeped out of his breast pocket – this picture Kartkozha would never forget. If we take a local interpreter? Throughout the district you will not find a Kazakh who wouldn’t fear him, who would come to him without respect. And such a writer! When he starts scribbling with his pen, it seems to Kartkozha that the interpreter’s line is as important as the line which he has learned by heart “In the name of Allah, the Merciful, and the Compassionate” – for centuries! There is no such person that can evade the translator’s stroke of the pen. However, this was before, Kartkozha rated the local interpreter and the volost head as the supreme power, now he has realized that the interpreter is the most powerful person in this sublunary world.
The discovery that there are schools teaching Russian language and that there is an opportunity to talk to ladies and gentlemen who know Russian provoked new fantasies in Kartkozha’s head. He came up with such ideas, “Holy, ah! Eh, I should have studied in Russian! Eh, I would have become a dashing fellow as that interpreter… All their dreams must have come true… what else can one dream of?” And he keeps thinking about it. No matter what he is doing – going to visit his grandmother who lives couple of versts away, calling upon his elder sister in the other aul, shepherding a calf, gathering bricks of dry dung for the fire – his thoughts are the same. He even began to see dreams about the local interpreter: he stands arguing fiercely in Russian with a Russian and outargues him. And he saw himself strolling freely along the town street among Russians. He woke up, and then it became clear: he is the same Kartkozha, an owner of a shabby fox fur cap, down-at-heel Kazakh high boots, a caftan which came through hard times, and an old tumar is hanging on his neck with a prayer in praise of God put into it. He’d better take a short rest from these thoughts, yet he keeps thinking about interpreting and seeing wonderful dreams. But he wakes up – and nothing is there.
Kartkozha’s aul is near the Black well. People are on the summer pastures, the father is not at home. And an elder brother is somewhere there, in the hovel, on the far pasturing. The sun is shining brightly. Mother tells him, “Go! The cows have come to drink water”. So he had to drag along with them to the well.
He thought he would water his cows quickly, but it did not work out – the cattle of the whole aul gathered beside the water. No way could he squeeze through. He started driving them off. Not likely! Cows cannot keep order, they won’t stand in a queue for the drinking bowl as decent cattle is supposed to do. They are pushing, mooing, stretching their muzzles to the water, striving to hook horns! A cussed cow from the junior house did not let his short-tailed cow drink, pushed it aside. Kartkozha poked it in the side with his fist, driving it away, “Oh, you worthless creature, you beast!” The cow shook its head in reproach, and humbly went away. The rest of the cows wouldn’t listen to his warnings, they kept pressing and pushing. Those who got to the drinking bowl, drank excitedly, with their eyes wide open and slobbers drooling in the water, and most importantly – for a very long time. A bit of water was left on the bottom of the drinking bowl. The second problem was the leaky leather bucket – you would pull it out of the well, and there isn’t enough water even to wash your face. “Only parasites live here! Why couldn’t they patch up the bucket!”, Kartkozha was indignant, he would pull one bucket after another from the well, and each time there was only a cup of water. He is exhausted, dead tired, dripping with sweat, and the owners of the cows look at him from afar: come on, lad, not all of our cows are watered, hurry up, we have always trusted you. “And I’ll throw everything to spite you!” simmers Kartkozha. He is angry and thinking, “You might believe that it is beyond my powers to fill the bowl? No, I’m not a wimp!”.
He decided not to give up. One could say – a matter of honor. The cows stopped pushing, Kartkozha paused for breath and tore his eyes away from the well.
Two riders were coming from the Big Aul. One of them was dressed all in black, as if he had nothing else to wear, even his Tatar fur cap couldn’t make him look better. Everything in him said: I am not a Kazakh! – so awkwardly, lop-sidedly he sat in the saddle, rubbing his knees against the horse’s sides, trying to put his feet under the horse’s belly, and this dangling whip which he could hardly hold in his hand... Next to him rode the guy from the Big Aul – Saduali. They splashed past the well and came to the aul head’s house, where they got off their horses. “I should learn who they are,” wondered Kartkozha, and as soon as he watered the cows, he hurried after them. You bet, after meeting the translator-interpreter, he couldn't indifferently pass by a man dressed in the Russian manner, he was drawn to come closer, as if the man in the uniform was smeared with honey. Well, he found out that the fellow dressed not like a Kazakh was a student from Ufa, triumphantly coming back to his family hearth.
The owner of the house – the aul head, was bombarding the guest with questions. It should be noted that he was trying to wring, rather than just get, answers from him. When did you leave town Karatau? Which Russian news from taiga don’t we know? Which family do you come from? How many years did you study? Do you have parents? How many relatives do you have? Are you married? As if he was choosing a fiancé for his daughter. The student answered briefly and curtly. For a while the aul head was silent, and then he asked, “Have you already paid the bride-price?” – “No”, was the student’s answer. Hearing a straight answer, the head seemed to satisfy his curiosity, or maybe he was disappointed in the guest as a potential bridegroom, considering him too rude for his daughter. At least, he left him alone. An impudent manner of the aul head to carry on a conversation, his unshakable belief that he has a right to know everything about his company, even the things he wouldn’t like to share, surprised Kartkozha and filled him with indignation. The last question seemed the most indiscreet to him. “God, the Almighty,” he thought, “Can’t he talk with the guest about something else? Oh!”. Well, he would, for example, ask about the school, how and what they teach there, or about the town, at least. It would be much more decent.
However, he remained silent, thinking that it would be inconvenient to interfere in the conversation started by the man much older than him. And the head had his own concerns – he was obliged by the state service to provide horses and accompany the passing-by important people. Saduali, who had galloped enough, reminded him, “Mister student, I think, is not going to stay too long, it's probably time to prepare the horses”. The head answered, “Yeah, they will be prepared”, while sitting and thinking, “One horse is there, and what about the second one? I would order the bay mare to be saddled. But it went after camels… If I give him the grey mare, then this rider, sitting like a cockerel, will break its spine… maybe the one with a grey mane? No, I’ve sent her to have a little rest, and the black horse has an ulcer on the back, no way I’m sending it… so which horse should I pick to be easy in my mind?”.
These thoughts burdened the aul head. And then he came with a great idea, and said at once, “Kartkozha, don’t waste your time sitting here, saddle your mare and accompany mister student to his father’s aul as is right and proper.”
What has Kartkozha to do with it and why is it right and proper? The head didn’t explain that to Kartkozha, and he didn’t care, he agreed at once, “Okay,” as he wanted so much to talk to the student privately, and he completely forgot that it would be difficult for his three-year-old mare.
Pleased with his resourcefulness, the aul head smiled under his moustache, “That’s how I am!” and hurriedly showed the door to everyone, “Wife, give our guest some koumiss before he leaves. And you, Kartkozha, don’t merely sit. Quick, drink some koumiss, and let’s go,” and pleased with himself, he went preparing the student’s horse.
Draining his drinking bowl in one gulp, Kartkozha hurried off to his house, took out his stallion and started saddling it. He went home, told his mother about his important mission, put on a belt, took a whip and went out. He untied the bridle from the clip, and when he mounted the horse, his elder brother appeared in the yard, in rubbers on bare feet – it seemed he had just got out of his warm marriage bed – and, violently scratching his thigh, asked, “Where are you going?”
Kartkozha answered in two words, and slightly whipping the horse’s croup went away, soon he caught up with the student, awkwardly sitting on a dock-tailed bay horse, only suitable for dragging along after camels. “Such a pig!,” thought Kartkozha about the aul head. “You see, which horse he picked for the student. He’s not afraid of God!”. But what can one do about it?
Just having left the aul, they started talking. The student was clearly offended by the fact that he was palmed off with a ragged sickly horse. He asked what kind of person this aul head was, Kartkozha answered as best as he could, and the meaning of his answer lay in these words: even the grave cannot change such a dishonest man. Then he began to ask questions, of course, about the city school.
The student began telling him about the city in the most sublime colors. And he described three-storied buildings, his school, steamers, locomotives, cars, and theaters so colorfully that it took Kartkozha’s breath away! He praised it so highly as if he had built this city by himself, and when he hinted at what he had seen there (all the wonders in the world, you’d think), you could hear faint notes of superiority in his voice. And why should he feel shy before this bumpkin hanging on his every word, who has never even seen the city before?., he cannot cut him short, “It’s a lie”, and so the student got carried away telling the things that had never crossed his mind before. And the other listens to him open-mouthed, round-eyed with astonishment. And fantastic pictures arise in front of him where the school is letting off steam like a locomotive, and an automobile is galloping like a winged camel, Kartkozha has learnt so many new things – you wouldn’t believe it!
When he was a boy, Kartkozha read two magic stories: “Abu Ghali sina” and “Abulkarys”. Now it seemed to him that every miracle described in them could be definitely found in the city. And how can he study in the city? Why not, he can, just pay at least 40 rubles a year and study at madrasa. Where can Kartkozha find so much money? And then, Kartkozha doesn’t want to study as a Muslim again, he’d like to learn to be an interpreter. The institution with a mullah didn’t attract Kartkozha. He asked, and how can get into the Russian school? The school is simply organized – you can’t tell a lot of tales about it, and the student confined himself to only one phrase, “You need to pay there too”. Kartkozha wouldn’t leave him alone, “And do they take overage students, like me?” It turned out that they do not accept such children. Yes, this is a problem.
However, there was no stopping Kartkozha. And, seeing that the boy was really enthusiastic about school, the student advised him not to give up, “Anyway, go studying – you’ll become a man”. And Kartkozha decided not to give up. The student gave him a small book as a going-away present. Kartkozha tucked it inside his shirt carefully, said good-bye and went back.
There is nothing more joyful in the world for a traveler lost in the steppe at night than to see some light ahead; and Kartkozha saw a ray of light today, invisible to ignorant folk. He’s riding and rejoicing. Couldn’t help it – took out a book. Opened it and started reading, but the saddle was shaking, so he couldn’t get carried away by the book. And yet, by the way his eyes lit up from the first lines he had read, you could tell that he was fascinated by the book.
He stopped his balky stallion, hobbled it, tethered the dock-tailed bay horse, and set on the grass reading. The title of the book was “Tumysh”.
A boundless open steppe, calm weather. It is sunny. Snow-white cotton-like clouds, light as the koumiss froth, are floating across the sky. It seems that the time itself is exciting and stirring his mind. It is silent... you can only hear a gadfly fussing in the thick grass, dragonflies chirring with their transparent wings and mosquitoes buzzing uneasily. The air is filled with midges, swarming all over horses’ eyes – the stallion and the dock-tailed bay mare are shaking their heads, sticking out their lips, t-r-r.; suddenly a skylark rang and fell silent again… silence is reigning throughout the steppes, and neither rustling of bird feathers, nor of horse manes is disturbing the stillness.
Kartkozha has taken off his caftan and cap, and is lying in the silent steppe on his side, crushing down the grass, in his shirt – drops of sweat are standing out on his dark forehead, he’s reading a book.
He forgot about everything – so deeply absorbed in reading was he that he didn’t know whether he was still breathing, only at times would he sniff. They could have stolen his horses sticking beside him, he wouldn’t notice. Where is the aul? Where are the people? And is there still life on earth? He’s forgotten everything, he’s devouring page after page, his lips are moving, at one moment he’s knitting his brows, at another – he’s breaking into a smile… Finally he finished the book. Without standing up and taking his eyes away from the book, he shook his head in amazement and got deep in thought. He turned over the pages carefully and raised his head. He sees that horses are hidden behind the spreading shroud of midges and gadflies. Not a soul was there. He dressed quickly and hurried to the poor animals. He got into the saddle and continued going. Kartkozha couldn’t think of anything else, but studying. He even vowed to himself that he would study by all means. But how? Where? And where will he get enough money? He couldn’t think of anything, but he knew that he would study, no matter what, no matter how tight the knot, he would find a way.
Zhuman fasted and prayed not more zealously than others, but always diligently. However, if God decides to punish, he won’t ask – he’ll take away what he sees fit (these are the sayings among people). Since they seized Zhuman’s horse to give it to the interpreter, the things haven’t been moving, everything in his life has gone wrong, only obstacles and trips of fate. Each year his farm fell into deeper decay and went into ruin.
One mare, they say, will give you water like a spring, two mares will feed you. That summer the only Zhuman’s mare was unwell. No matter how hard he treated it: he would boil salt for it and feed it with chitin of a black beetle and powder it with chloride – all in vain, the horse staggered for a day and a half and dropped dead.
However, the mare’s lifetime wasn’t useless. It brought several foals, if he left them graze, he would have a whole herd running through the steppes. But one needs to eat, and dress, and have some things, so he had to sell or kill horses for meat in winter. Was there another way? No.
Happiness doesn’t depend on numbers. They had only one mare, and the whole family’s wellbeing was held up by it. It died, and as if the soul departed from the family. The rest of the cattle died as if from pestilence. He took the foal left from the mare to the neighboring aul, a colt of the bai’s mare died, and Zhuman hoped that his foal would be saved with its help, no, wolves tore it to pieces.
The yearling foal’s throat swelled up, it is unknown why – maybe glanders, or tuberculosis, or croup, or some other infection – no matter what the illness was, it never recovered, and died soon. And the saddle three-year-old stallion was stolen by horse rustlers. A red dairy cow had a black boil on its neck; it grew, swelled up, until its udder dried out.
In autumn they had to put a pregnant camel into a buck-rake and drag hay for a week; it was too hard for it, so it ended in miscarriage. Then it went down in fever and never recovered.
Kartkozha had twice seen his father crying, completely helpless, like a child. First time, when the interpreter and the volost head killed his horse before his very eyes; the poor beast was dying in agony, pulling in its stomach, and the father stooped his head and moaned, “You’ve cut veins on our legs and arms!” Then Kartkozha didn’t understand whom he said this to: the interpreter or the volost head, or maybe the Almighty God? When it stopped breathing, he stepped away from the mare with the swollen liver, uttered, “It just wanted to have one more breath…”, and began weeping and sobbing uncontrollably. Then his mother started crying. Kartkozha went behind the corner of the house and also began weeping.
The life of workman Zhuman turned out this way for him. Seeing how upset his parents were, Kartkozha didn’t dare talk to them about his dream, his tongue grew numb, his mind was in a dark haze, his heart burned, and his mood couldn’t be worse. “What have I done wrong, O Lord? How did I deserve such misfortunes? You’d better put me in the grave than that!.. Will we be happy some day? Or no?”
And still he didn’t give up hope of going to school one day, because in his dreams he was already studying there.
Summertime ended. And after summer came autumn, painting grass yellow, shedding leaves, blowing cold wind, driving people into bustle and motion. And then winter stole up, howling, with little razor-sharp pieces of ice.
This winter was severe, deadly, with slashing snowfalls. November hoarfrost was covered by January snow. Blizzards were continuously coming down from heaven, whirling in white smoke. After blizzards came hard frost, dank and chilling to the marrow. Snow lay down only near the rocky hills. Then it got a little warmer, and cold rain began pouring. The land was frozen, covered with ice; it cut feet until they bled. The sun, like a maltreated daughter-in-law feared to look out of dull clouds. But from the west, night after night, a fatal star is crawling out onto the dome of the sky, clutching at the star iron stake and shining with a threatening, deadly light.
What, what does the jute promise?
Since summer witch doctors have predicted a countless winter loss of cattle this year. Everything was the evidence of this prediction: the grass that sprouted in spring was bad, dry and twisted, couch grass lay in layers, feather grass had grown enormously. Mice collected their supplies too fussily, leaving their burrows bare. The tops of anthills were filled with craters. Cows wouldn’t spend nights in the steppe, mooing they dragged themselves to the auls under the sheds, into the barns.
Horses stopped tumbling on the sandy ground. And, in general, Kazakhs didn’t like the way the temper of their animals had changed, too furiously they ate every blade of grass; it usually happens with a person marked by death – he starts eating like a trooper. And migratory birds flew away too early.
Witch doctors, aksakals, and shepherds that lived a long life and tired out their eyes looking after flocks of sheep, were finding new and indisputable signs of the gathering monstrous misfortune; dream-readers unanimously repeated the same things to the curious folk. In addition, everyone knew that it was the year of the Rabbit.
And still, not a single Kazakh concerned himself with stacking more hay, saving more grain, flour. Whole summer they spent sipping koumiss to their hearts’ content, lying on one side; besides, the party affairs kept them busy. Looks like they thought that God would protect even those who sat with their bare bottoms on live coals, but when it started hailing and everyone was hit by a hailstone on the forehead, they regained their senses.
Yes... it was a tough winter. The steppe was frozen over. Pastures lay underneath, and there were haystacks for only a few weeks left. Jute doesn’t recognize ranks, doesn’t single out the learned ones – everyone went hungry. You have many relative? So what? Nothing! The fuel ran out, stoves began to die out. The world fell apart. People were taken aback, shrank – look at any aul, only fear and confusion everywhere.
Every day Kartkozha and his brother went to Karaoshak ravines to collect forage for a cow and a calf. The cow itself was covered with pieces of thick felt from the jurt, sewn together like a horsecloth.
They would cover the cow from frost like that, take spades and go to the ravines to dig the frozen snow. While they gather a bundle of dried up leaves, they would get their noses and cheeks frostbitten, strain themselves to breaking point, and day in, day out like that – rummaging in snow in cold and pitiless wind.
At home they would gulp down soup with sinewy meat and fall asleep at once. If they weren’t so persistent, they would have been dead long ago. It should also be said that their poor mother, God knows how, saved up a fatty mutton breast cut, and every time her sons went to the ravines in frost, she melted a spoon of fat from it, “Swallow down, or you’ll break off you hearts”. And the father spent long hours in the shed, taking out snow brought in by snowstorms, trying to make the cow and the calf comfortable and warm, and making them look well-groomed. Once they sat eating dinner, and their mother said suddenly:
- Oh, I wish He did something already, so that I didn’t know if this kettle of pottage is the last or not…
Zhuman exclaimed as if afraid, - Oh, are we running out of flour?!
Mother told him that there were three or four handfuls left.
She didn’t dare to say that earlier, such was her nature… But, as the saying goes, how can you hide death, if you have to dig a grave… she had to say.
Unbearable anguish nestled in their house. It was so quiet as if they all went deaf at once. Zhuman got to his bed, lay down, curled up on it and sighed heavily. The children went away and as if hid themselves.
Zhuman’s thoughts are lost in thick darkness. People don’t die before cattle… but what are they to do? The meat of the only cow left won’t taste good… And there is no one who he can borrow some flour or grain from, what shall he do now? All night long Zhuman tossed and turned, never closing his eyes.
The next morning he walked the whole aul through in search of food. He only managed to find out that there was someone called Baibek, who sold the bag of flour for a year-old calf, but he lived thirty versts away. So Zhuman went to his house, taking a bag with him.
Did you see a Kazakh wandering through the snow-covered steppe with bootlegs filled with snow, moustache and beard covered with hoarfrost, with a chest barely protected from a biting wind, with watering eyes and a running nose? This was Zhuman. And there were a lot of people like Zhuman. Having spent one night on the road, he got to the rich man.
He had hardly taken a breath, warmed himself a little bit, and started talking at once.
Baibek, who had become rich by usury and selling products to such poor devils as Zhuman, turned out to be a really vile character. He refused, “I don’t have any supplies”, no matter how hard Zhuman tried to persuade him till morning.
He was coming back completely depressed, but God sent him a man who appeared to have some food supplies left. He kept them for his family, but he could share. One calf – one bag of flour. But Zhuman had to fatten the calf during the year. Zhuman was happy – he would agree to anything. He hoisted a pack onto his back and lugged it home.
He passed a few versts, his lungs shot up to his throat – it took his breath away, and he couldn’t make another step, so he sat down on the ground. He used to have a slight cough before, but now he couldn’t stop coughing. What’s more – he was dripping with sweat, his back went cold, his whole body cramped up, blood began dribbling down his nostrils, and his head was spinning. Coughing, moaning, wiping sweat from his face, he got up and by evening dragged himself with difficulty to aul Arbabai. This aul was also in need. The people were hungry. They supped boiling water with oats. The houses weren’t heated.
Zhuman got into some smelly, dirty, wet hole and lay there all night, he was going hot and cold all over, blinding bright spots were flickering in his eyes.
No one knows how he kept his soul on earth, but in the morning he got up, shouldered the pack and dragged his feet further. Four more days he trudged along the cold white space, on the fifth day, when he could barely move his lips, he finally saw a bluish smoke rising over his aul, perishing in snowdrifts.
He couldn’t remember how he got to the threshold, he lost consciousness at once. He was delirious for two or three days. On the fourth day his eyes sank deeply, his body grew soft, and his lips turned grey. Kartkozha glanced at him and grew cold with terror. Zhuman moved his eyelids a bit and beckoned his wife and children with a hardly visible hand waving. They took him by the hands, and he began saying his goodbyes, barely moving his tongue, “First of all… from what I’ve brought… everything came true… old woman… your eyes… bury on the side… goodbye… forgive me…” At the hour of sunset he sighed for his very last time and closed his eyes forever.
Has a year passed since that sad say?
...A mother sheep – with a nose like a crescent, on thin long legs, in a short fur coat – is going to the shelter, bleating pitifully. A dense carpet of grass is spread around, a black camel is plodding its way, the God knows where, and is signing in a long and sad recitative, “Goh – goh…” A dashing maned stallion has approached an attractive mare, and sniffing its neck, is pushing it a bit and is growling tenderly. And the mare moves away from it, presses its ears as if saying, “Leave me alone! Why are you doing this? aren’t there enough mares for you? Not for you am I strolling here, don’t bother me…” A white-tailed sparrow has hidden in the mane, as a little boy, “Can you find me?”, but it can’t wait, it chirps in a thin voice and strikes its tail, “I’m not here!”.
A herd is scattering off into an early morning mist. In the steppe, away from the houses, the awake auls folk sit down relieving themselves.
Behind the winter cabin, huts are set, made from three jurt grids. A few women are fussing in front of them with copper washing jugs and towels in hands. Apparently, the old woman of Alimbai has finally decided to say goodbye to this life. And, yes, the women are preparing to wash her body and dress it in white robes.
And here come the men, dragging a bull-calf and sheep with sacrificial scarlet ribbons around their necks to the cauldrons. Grey-bearded mullahs are pacing gravely to the hut. Few underclad people are going to them from the sheds. A young mullah in rough leather pants is trudging after them. Why is he so reluctant? What upsets his spirit? Maybe, the dead old woman is the reason. What is he thinking about?
Don’t break you head over it – this is a local mullah. And he thinks, pacing, about this. About self-sacrifice. He must now, with a prayer on his lips, take the sins of the dead eighty-year-old person on himself. If, of course, God accepts his sacrifice.
Whether He will accept it or not, he needs to take care of this old woman. And who is this old woman, what is so remarkable about her? Nothing, but the reputation of the meanest old hag. Saints, oh! And he must answer for the sins of this witch? She has more sins than there is hair on his head, and he’s still a young boy, how can that be? If you do such a noble action, you’ll go straight to hell!
No, Kazakhs are evil in their rituals, oh! They are actually pushing him into the infernal fire! At the Last Judgment he will be asked, ”Why have you loaded yourself with so many sins?” What can he answer? Oh, to hell with this “self-sacrifice”!
Maybe he can somehow evade it, find an excuse? If he only tries, he’ll be scolded at home.
Cursed need, ah! If they weren’t in such a need, he wouldn’t so much as pass by this old woman, and would never touch her sins! These thoughts are tormenting him, yet his feet keep going.
He should have thought about it earlier, since he agreed, there’s no turning back. No matter what, it’s time to go to the deceased.
The young mullah came into the hut. In its very center a stretched-out dead decrepit body is lying on the ground, on the shroud, with the feet towards the door. Beside the head of the deceased a grey-bearded mullah is sitting in a prayerful pose. The son of the deceased, two or three hodjas and some old woman are sitting there too.
When he saw the corpse, the young mullah got scared for good, and so he sat as far as he could, leaning on the hut grid with his back. He would have been hiding in the corner, if the old mullah hadn’t asked him to come and sit on his right. He had to obey. He was staring at the yellowed relics, unable to tear his eyes, rounded with fear, away.
His heart slipped and began sliding down. And how cold this dead body is! Terrible.
After completing the beginning of the sad ceremony, the grey mullah took out his rosary, his face hardened, and he started silently saying a prayer “Talel”. He had a red thread in his right hand. Completing the prayer, he said loudly the name of the deceased, her father’s name, and then added,
- “Fulfilling your duty and showing patience, do you undertake, strengthening your heart, to answer for her?” And he held out the woolen thread to the young mullah. And the young mullah froze miserably, not knowing what to do, should he take the thread or not? Someone was already pushing him and telling him insistently,
- “Say – I undertake!”. The young man took the thread dumbstruck and said, “I undertake, undertake” The others repeated after him. Not less than a thousand times, “Undertake, undertake”, repeated themselves the words in the young mullah’s head.
And the thread was being passed from hand to hand – try to count, eighty – that’s how many years the old woman lived. It seemed like an eternity. “When will it finally end?!”.
Finally, the ceremony was over. Everyone went out. The young mullah felt as if he had been in a bathhouse, sweat was streaming down his forehead and his back, and he rushed away into the steppe. Only there, in the vast steppes, he recovered his breath and came to.
I wonder if the readers have recognized him. If you can’t remember, I’ll tell you – it’s Kartkozha.
There is July. The lake is stretching like a seagull, the shore – like a yoke, the auls are situated nicely around it, the sky is shining like a golden samovar, but there the summer red sun has declined and is looking inquisitively from the edge of the earth.
A herd of horses with a guttural roar has rushed in clouds of dust to the water. Flocks of sheep are bleating, cows are moving slowly, a bull has bellowed, boys are playing and clamoring, women are calling to one another… roaring, laughter – sounds are blending into a stirring rumble, rising over the aul together with the chimney smoke, and a whitish mist is coming over from the lake. Here and there a whirlpool of people starts twisting, then breaks up, and people are rushing somewhere one by one again; do they themselves realize where and why they are going?
It’s a nice summer, everything will get right. There, people are getting sleepy. Minds started swimming, everyone was intoxicated with summer air. Well, what shall we do among drowsy crowds? We might also fall asleep and oversleep until a headache. We’d better take the reader into the open, on top of the hill and there we will breathe lungsful. So, we climbed up the high hill of Shakshan and saw two boys sitting there. One of them is poor Kartkozha. The other one is dressed like a Russian: in a coat, a hat on the head, shoes on the feet. Looks like he is studying at city Russian school. There’s no doubt about it – he’s a student, although his face might mislead you: black moustache has just shown and sparse hairs on the chin remind vaguely of a potential beard. Kartkozha holds a book in his hands; he must be taking lessons from the city learned man. And the other is bored, he has groped for a stone and is throwing it, aiming at a white piece of broken crockery. He turned to Kartkozha, ‘Well, I’ve taught you Russian letters. Now I’ll teach you to read short stories and translate them.’
‘It would be good to read this book before going to the city.’ In summer, coming back from the city to the steppe, the student teaches children of the local bai for a fee.
‘This book? If you read it, you’ll be speaking Russian in a few weeks. You’re still dark as a grave… you need good hands.’
‘How am I to blame? I’m constantly thinking of how I can get to school, day and night… Oh, life…’ and he sighed.
‘I’d also had a hard time like you. But then an interpreter taught me to read in Russian, and I started translating and understood everything myself. Everyone at home was against me, but I didn’t listen to them and ran away to the city to study. In one year I finished two departments. And you will do it.’
‘As the Lord God…’
The student lay back looking at the sky. He turned his head to the sunset, then fixed his eyes on the aul. He watched women moving off to the steppe in their white skirts, never tearing his eyes from them he asked Kartkozha, pondering and drawling, ‘What did you say?’
‘There are plenty of girls in your aul, why do you need ours?’ – he answered laughing. – ‘And I said, it’s just… Of course, God helps those who help themselves – there’s no denying it.’
And the city boy turned the conversation to his favorite subject again, for the fifth time, and asked Kartkozha, ‘How do you think, are there any more beautiful girls here by the lake?’
‘Uh, no, maybe...’
‘When she asked where I was, what did you tell her?’
‘I said that you’d lost sleep since you’d seen her, that you were constantly thinking about her.’
‘That was nice of you to say so, clever!’ –exclaimed the student happily and laughed.
‘And then? Did you say that I admired her?’
‘I said that many girls thought about you, but you were dreaming only about her, because you thought she knew of honor.’
‘And what did she say? What did she say?’ – smiled the city scribe.
‘She was happy. But we couldn’t talk longer. She wanted to say something, but her aunt came, and she changed the subject.’
‘When you come back, will you see her?’
‘I’ll find her.’
The boys talked for some time until it finally got dark, and left.
Summer pasture by the lake was fortunate for Kartokozha – he began taking Russian lessons. He thought he’d learn some Russian words in autumn, and then he’d definitely go to the city. His teacher also had his head screwed on right – he started sending his charge with notes and greetings to one beauty bypassing her watchful relatives. However, the student really felt sympathy to Kartkozha. He had already helped several such poor devils manage to go to the city and study. Kartkozha is walking on air – his old dream has filled with real significance – mudda, as Persians say. And for now, twice a day, when there is time, he teaches children in the aul of his mother’s brother Korpebai. As they need money to eat. And if guests call on, he will set the samovar to boil and clean up the rooms. And if there is no one to do it, he will milk the mare. His uncle is pleased. And Kartkozha is happy. And although, as a young mullah, he still has to be present at funerals, he is patient about it. Only two or three months are left. And then he will go to the city. There he will enter school, study in Russian and get a high rank. This is how he consoles himself.
Several days passed. It’s a summer night, nothing special. Stars are shining like iridescent diamonds in the black velvet sky. The crescent moon is bathing in the lake like a swan. No mouse is rustling, no blade of grass is moving, and it seems that if someone whispers ten hills away from you, you will hear it, the auls are sleeping. Leaving Zhunis hiding in the ravine on the shore, Kartkozha sneaked bending down to the yurt of the student’s pretty girl. There came and died down a roar of watchdogs. Then bitches started barking like city streets dames. Suddenly, from the Upper aul, girls were heard singing. In the dark some woman clearly said, ‘Oh, that’s how… ay, that’s it!’. Right next to him, a teenager got out of bed with his eyes closed and went round like a Sufi in a dhikr, panting and moving his arms, as if trying to emerge from sleep, ‘And I’m not sleeping’. Small and horned cattle are turning and breathing noisily in the sheds. Unaware at which felted wing of the yurt the girl was sleeping, he put his arm until the elbow through a big hole. It turned out she wasn’t sleeping, she gasped barely audibly and touched his fingers. Kartkozha whispered, ‘It’s me’ and put his face through. A gentle girl’s breath burned his cheek. He shuddered and trembled all over, as if struck by lightning. ‘Come on out’, muttered Kartkozha, and like a child that fears to step on a spider he went aside raising his legs. There he climbed into an empty shepherds’ kosh, covered himself with a felt curtain and cowered. Not making him wait, the pretty girl opened the door carefully and slipped out of the yurt, wrapping herself in a chapan. She stood, staring into the darkness, listening whether her guards were sleeping, then went hesitatingly forward. Soon courage left her, and she knelt down and froze. Kartkozha also sat motionless watching the girl with one eye and the door – with the other. The girl looked back at the yurts. No, nobody is there. ‘And what if they are watching? What if Father woke up? What if Aunt sniffed it out and went after her?’ her heart is pounding in her chest. And in the ravine, the student is stirring, thinking impatiently, ‘Well, where is she? Will she come or not?’ and his heart is thumping against his ribs.
Kartkozha is sitting under the grey thick felt and is worrying about the sweethearts, ‘Help them, O Lord.’ The girl stood up and started sliding towards the lake again.
No matter how hard their hearts were breaking, no matter how scary and shameful it was, delights of love were so much longed-for that there was no way they could stop. Finally, the pretty girl got to the ravine, and the student is already reaching out for her – he raised the girl a little and put her down… The surface of the lake is still like a glass. But the handsome crescent moon in the sky is stirring the lake with its rays, and the water is nervous, confused, a wave is rising after wave, and it seems that the lake is running away from the eyes of the lamps of night, and then calms down drained of all strength. A black swan swam out majestically like a commissioner’s wife from the office. Geese turned to it at once, clamoring, calling for something, complaining like the women. Heart-rending cries were heard coming from the Big aul. Only single words and phrases were audible, but in the night air they rang clearly and disturbingly. Kartkozha listened, ‘The Tsar wished’. – ‘From nineteen to thirty-one’. – ‘Black days for Kazakhs, no doubt’. – ‘Oh, Allah, ah!’ – ‘What a nightmare!’ Voices grew stronger. They turned into a wasps’ buzzing in the sunny heat. Then they began to die down. And gradually the silence enveloped everything again. Kartkozha couldn’t understand anything. He realized only that bad news fell upon people.
Kartkozha woke up late. The sun had long risen over the skyline. The horses came back from pastures. But no one came out to meet the mares. And the cows were pushing one another stupidly near the pen fence. And the shepherd with his perpetual stick at the back is nowhere to be seen. The neighbors have spilled the milk, and the others, instead of churning koumiss, are hanging out sleepily on the edge of the aul. No screams and howls of wild cats are heard. Well, stray cats, good with them! Not a child is heard, no crying, no weeping, no laughing. And men and boys got up – some with poles, others with whips – and are standing motionless as if tied up, as if caught in a net.
Kartkozha got dressed and went out of his hut, heading to the yurt of uncle Korpebai. And he stands leaning forward on his staff and pressing his shoulder against the doorpost. Kartkozha did not dare to speak and passed by him. He saw a cart, and in it – the family of the student’s secret chosen one. In the corner of the cart the bai’s son was sitting lopsidedly. Kartkozha approached him. He did not raise his head, and sighed heavily. Kartkozha tried to talk with him, but the conversation did not get on. His mother was sitting right next to her son, she looked gloomy. There the night beauty is sitting, smelling of fragrant soap. Her hair, used to be combed smoothly, is plaited in a slapdash way. And she is depressed too, she has lowered her face, which has suddenly become unattractive, and is cleaning her nails with a straw. Kartkozha thought anxiously, ‘Holy, ay! Can her night dates have come out?’ Just in case, he is not looking at her as if he didn't know her at all. But everything was so fortunate, because he clearly remembers that when the beauty came home, her father and mother were fast asleep snoring. ‘Or maybe their relative has died, and they have gathered for the funeral?’ If someone died, there would be people sticking around, for certain. But there was no one with condolences. Overcome by curiosity, he fell on the guy in the cart with questions again,
‘What? Bad news?’
‘Haven’t you heard?’ ‘No!’
‘The Lord hasn’t saved us…’
‘Kazakhs will be taken into the army.’
‘Hey, stop it!’
‘Whether stop, or start.’
‘In the morning, I heard screams…’
‘Yes, you heard right.’
‘And who will they take?’
‘Everyone. From nineteen to thirty-one.’
‘Saints, ah! Saints, ah! Ah!.. And when?’
‘Hey, my God, ah! This is… terrible!’ Kartkozha was terrified, and he squatted down in despair. Here you have the reason why the aul people behaved as if it was the end of the world, as if thick darkness had come down from the sky, bringing the flood to the earth; everyone was already imagining faces covered with blood, and ugly, cruelly disemboweled bodies. And there was an unseen forest of gibbets, and a rope of the tsar’s decree was hanging above everyone’s neck – hearts are growing cold with terror, one cannot but start howling. Kartkozha thought in despair, ‘If they take the most hardworking, the most well-built boys and men, what will become of the children, the elderly people, the women? They will be doomed to die.’ But he didn’t develop this thought further; first of all, he had to think carefully about his own fate. He dragged himself to his hut, slipped a chapan over his shoulders and lay down to the opened grating to think it over. In the sun, drops of sweat are standing out on his prominent forehead, he is picking earth with his fingers as if trying to clutch at it. Thinking, ’19 and 31… I turned eighteen this year. They will probably not take me. Or, maybe they will, after all? What if they do not wish to know how old I am, really? What did the scribe write in that book? Can they change my year of birth? No, this is impossible, everything will be messed up, you won’t be able to tell who is young and who is old. And if they start asking everyone, everyone will choose the age he wants. They will use the census. Yes, that’s for sure. Nobody has the right to change the census unless, of course, the volost head or the interpreter does not rewrite it… Let’s count again how old I am, I was eighteen… there is a whole year before I turn nineteen! And if they make a mistake and add me a year? Then I am gone, ay! Well, why am I thinking only about myself? My elder brother… he’s already twenty-five. He will definitely go to war, and if they take him, what will become of us? His wife is nasty, and she has three children – one smaller than the other. Father died… our elder brother was the only hope, if they take him to the army, the house will be left without its owner! Mother is already old, younger brother is too small. If they take our elder brother, everything will be left on me, ay!.. How will I feed them all… if only we had cattle… Everything we have are three cows with calves, a three-year old heifer, two two-year old heifers, a bay and a grey mares… and that’s it. Three kids of ten dairy goats died, one goat was killed by wolves. The red young ewe was lost by shepherds. Will little what they have last for long? Half of it will go for meat… autumn is ahead, and winter supplies are needed, and money – for cereals, flour, clothes, it means they will have to sell one or two heads, and how will they pay their debts? How will I manage without my brother? And what if snowstorms come? How will I bring the hay, how will I organize pastures in winter, how will I drive cattle home in a blizzard? I won’t make it. I can only earn what people will give me. I can’t even repair holes in sheds, fix shoes or clean out the chimney as it should be. The elder brother kept his wife under his thumb, didn’t let her talk back to Mother, made her do what she was told to. He would just box her ears. And how can I raise my voice at her if I have to? If the elder brother goes to the front, our house will lose ground, if he doesn’t – God will protect us. Saints, ay, oh, it will be bad without him… Suddenly everything crashed down when I just started learning how to read and write in Russian, was hoping to go to the city school, ay! Last time when I was going to study, things happened to Father which cannot be set right. Now everything is going topsy-turvy again. No, I am an unlucky fellow… I won’t be able to study, if they take our elder brother. And maybe I shouldn’t care a straw about anything, and should just go to the city alone? Stop it… shame on you! I can’t step over Mother. And I won’t make the elder brother’s children left without father complete orphans… no, never, forget about school.
So what? Has he as little chance of seeing the city school as of seeing his own ears? Kartkozha, afraid that he wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation of studying, as if he was sitting in a dark prison cell, told himself not to dream about studying in the city. However, not everyone dies in the war. If he survives, when will he come back? And if everything terrible that I’ve been thinking about will come true? No, his elder brother cannot die! He is strong. No, he can’t die. God, ah, save him and protect him! I won’t be thinking about the bad anymore. Black thoughts squeezed Kartkozha’s head so hard that he felt pain in his temples. Just the thought, ‘What if my elder brother dies!’, depressed him so much that he wanted to run away from this world. No, he doesn’t agree. He shook his head, and it kind of brightened, he looked around. Some people started to saddle horses, and one man was already galloping towards the Big aul. And there, one rider had almost disappeared from the road. Kartkozha couldn’t sit idly by, so he hurried to his uncle.
‘Uncle, I’d like to go to the Big aul.’
‘Go then,’ permitted Korpebai.
‘And on what?’
‘Saddle the mare. Don’t ride it hard. When you come back, let it cool down, and then send it to the herd.’
‘Ok,’ he said, and went to the horses.
The first confrontation
In the Big aul – the center of the volost – there were crowds of riders, pedestrians had nowhere to force their way through. Kartkozha tethered the mare to the rail on the outskirts of the aul and went to the volost head on foot.
‘What? Have they already hung out the lists?’ he asked a boy of the same age who was standing by the porch.
‘Will they show them?’
‘We don’t know, the interpreter hasn’t showed up yet.’
Kartkozha went to the men sitting in a tight circle. A lean boy with the nude chest stood in front of them, waving a kamcha and gleaming with his wolfish eyes, saying, ‘If they don’t want to show it, let them sit on it, we will lash them and tear the lists out! Yes, we should rush at them like birds and tear them out!’
‘That’s right! There is only one death after all!’ the dzhigit supported him, squatting on his heels, and stroke his fist on the ground.
‘We’ll check them anyway, whatever the cost!’
‘God is behind us!’
‘They won’t show a shit to you…’ some were doubtful.
Kartkozha’s heart fluttered. He liked the words of the guys with evil eyes, ready to fight then and there, they would roll up their sleeves and go straight on. With such heroes, any enemy is not be afraid of.
‘So what, all at once!?’ the guy with wolfish eyes exclaimed.
‘Together, at once!’ they yelled violently from every corner, and lashes flashed in the air.
And at that time important people came out of the volost head’s house and stepped imposingly and slowly to the boiling-up people: a tall judge with a broad and thick beard, and potbellied and not so much bais with him. These, simpler ones, were unfamiliar to Kartkozha. Torn treuhspressing to the edge of the crowd hurried to reach out their hands to greet the biys and murzas condescended to them. And the boys, crowded together with Kartkozha, were turning back to look at the dzhigit with wolfish eyes and an even more implacable face, they stood stock-still not willing to greet the important people. The volost judge stood close to the crowd and said,
‘Fellow countrymen, how is your life?’
Some moved their lips, saying hello, the others just threw their heads back.
‘The authorities have something to say to you. Come on, make the way. Sit in a semicircle.’
Those who stood closer to the authorities, agreed immediately, ‘Let them speak, make the way… Let’s listen…’
The Kazakhs gave way, came together, sat as they felt comfortable and proper, and freed a visible place for the speakers. They felt silent. Seeing that the crowd obeyed, the judge put on airs more than ever, and the rest of the grey and graying beards followed his example.
‘Oh, young people!’ said one of the speakers condescended from the heights of power. ‘I see how sad your faces are, how deep despair penetrated your hearts. The light of my eyes, do not be sad, do not be discouraged! Do not let the evil come into your hearts! As they say, anger is a stranger, reason is a Friend. An embittered man is beside himself…’
Everybody listens without interrupting.
‘Almighty God possesses eighteen thousand worlds. In the whole universe only God has the power. After God, the power on earth is in the hands of the tsar. No one dares to do against his will. What can we say about us, if khans, biys and batyrs of the past couldn’t oppose him? Everyone has his limit, bearing in mind that the lion that jumped to the moon only broke its legs, we, being prudent, submitted and vowed fidelity to him. Many things arise from this. Civic duty is heavy. All of you, like blooming greens, like ripening fruit, are joy for our eyes, our children, our brothers. If you go to the front, what shall become of us? We will hunch up, whither… But what can we do, is there a nation that has escaped from this fate? Do not disgrace us, grey-bearded aqsaqals, who lived to honor. Otherwise, what kind of people will we be?..’ and he would have continued in the same vein, but the same lean dzhigit with a wolfish look interrupted him. He waved his bright kamcha and said ’Your sweet songs do not cost a bean here!’
‘Where is the book with the census? Where are the lists? Give them here!’ yelled the crowd back, standing up.
‘Let them give us the book!’
And the crowd buzzed, moved like a thirsty flock. The old aqsaqals were also forced to get up. How could they not get up, if they were already pressed back by the boys playing with their whips.
‘Why won’t you show the book?’
‘Why is the age of bais’ sons lowered?’
‘We will also make it smaller, we will rewrite it ourselves.’
‘Where is the volost head? First, we need to cut his head off!’
‘Give the book to us! Let us see! We will burn it!..’ everyone was screaming and shouting.
The voices of the important, powerful, grey beards sank in this uproar, ‘Dear, ay! Nobody corrected anything in the book!’
‘The volost head stakes his life on it!’
‘What can he do?’
‘Don’t talk nonsense! Be reasonable!’
But there was no stopping the dzhigits, ‘Unless you want bloodshed, give us the book! We will cut everyone, to the last man!’
‘Yes!.. and the mouth of your father!..’
‘Are they taking the sons of the judges?’
‘And why is the son of the volost head not going to the front?’
How and what can he answer? The volost judge moved his Adam’s apple, but his throat was dry as if somebody had poured sand into it.
‘Hold on! We will inform the volost head! We will do everything as you want,’ screamed the important people and hurried back to the house of the volost head.
And the crowd is rushing like a wind, rising like waves, ooh – ooh! boom – bang! They didn’t even give them a chance to take a breath. The translator had to go out onto the porch. The guys, foaming with anger, nearly tore him into pieces. The translator turned grey, his hands were shaking, he barely raised one hand asking for attention, ‘I will give it now… wait a little bit, make the way a bit…’ and he slid into the council building behind the house of the volost head. And after him, sweeping away everything in their path, the rebels burst into. The translator opened a big drawer and pulled out a huge book.
‘Well, let’s go!’
The men rushed for a book as for a kid carcass at the goat-tearing. Driven back, Kartkozha miraculously found his mare and hurried on it after the rest. He was worrying, ‘Where is the book? Who has the book?’, the book which determined the fate of every one of them. They are running, riding, clouds of dust are hanging over the road, shouting, ‘Darmen has it’.
Once the dust settled, all the rebelling inhabitants of steppes turned out to be on a yellow hillock, to the west of the Big aul, and everyone was thinking about himself and his dear ones. Kartkozha, beating the mare’s sides with his heels, also got there. He looked – everyone came together to have a council. The census book was in the hands of the man with wolfish eyes, he was Darmen, and he was waiting for everyone to gather around. He waited, and then asked loudly, ‘Can anyone read in Russian?’. The gathered men looked at each other. Nobody dared to answer.
‘What shall we do now?’
‘I can read a little bit,’ said Kartkozha.
‘Come on, then!’
Kartkozha was dragged into the center of the living circle and given the book. It was thick like a Koran. Kartkozha got all tensed, in a few minutes, poking his finger in the cover, he read, ‘List of families’. The impatient were already shouting at him,
‘Don’t read the cover, read what is inside! Is there my name? Look for my name!’
Kartkozha opened the book and stared at its pages. He began with the line that caught his eye, ‘Zhylkaidar Malbagarop…’
‘Is there a Zhylkaidar? Zhylkaidar…’ they shouted, nobody answered. Kartkozha read further, ‘Wife… Kun… Zhamal…’
‘Is there Kunzhamal?’
‘It’s a woman’s name!’
‘Stop it! Stop reading women’s names, read the names of the men!’
The guys were angry, they began hurrying the half-scholar. But Kartkozha couldn’t read faster. He was dragging syllable after syllable, sweat pouring from his forehead. He read some names of the guys in the crowd, but the names of their fathers or their years of birth were wrong. Plenty of time passed. The people were showing an increasing displeasure, some even began insulting him,
‘No, this fool can’t read at all.’
‘He should’ve sat quietly, scratching his butt, no, he came out, ‘I can read!’ Will he keep picking letter after letter?!
‘And I thought, why would Zhuman’s son read like a wise man!’
‘What does he know!’
Kartkozha received the final sentence – and Darmen took the book, and lifted it over his head,
‘Dzhigits, the boy couldn’t cope with it. What shall we do with the book?’
Voices were heard,
‘We need to find a knowledgeable person.’
‘The main thing, we need to correct our age.’
‘In this book we are like naked, we need to destroy it!’
Darmen thought that the last suggestion was good.
‘We’d better burn it. If there is no book, everything will be alright. They won’t be able to do anything with us, if they don’t know how old we are. What do you think?’
Most agreed with that, ‘That’s right! A good decision! A great idea! Your tongue is like honey! Come on, let’s make a fire! Now, we’ll burn it, right in front of everyone!’
Immediately they rushed to gather dry twigs and bricks of dry dung, made a whole heap of them and burned it. The fire blazed up crackling. Pleased with themselves and their leader, they put tobacco behind the cheek and sat clapping each other on the shoulder with approval. And when the fire flamed up, as it should, Darmen stood over it with a book.
‘I throw this book into the fire, let Tsar Nicholas, who decided to drive us to our graves, burn like this book!’
‘Let him burn, unfaithful, let him die! Not a trace should be left of him!’
‘Let all misfortunes disappear! Let it always be like this! Let it all calm down! Pah – pah!’ and they started spitting with disgust all together.
The fire consumed the pages of the swollen book quickly and devoured it. The fire is blazing, the crowd is raving, ‘Away, bad luck, off! Can we have seen you? We haven’t seen you! Disappear, ragged black tail!’ They were quite satisfied: the book was in the right state.
‘Well, let’s go back to our auls!’
Noise and uproar, clatter of horses’ hoofs. And dust went whirling up to heavens again. Everyone went home.
Even more drearily
...So the son of aged Korpebai was obliged to go to the war, and it became insufferably dreary in the uncle’s house. And Kartkozha decided to return to his family aul, to his mother. Well, he couldn’t do anything else. It happened that in some lists he was registered as a nineteen-year old. The aul head confirmed it. And the volost head assured that it was written correctly. How can’t you believe what is written? From that moment even the most delicious dish had lost its sweetness for Kartkozha and his mother. In recent days the most incredible rumors appeared and started running around the steppe. They said, ‘It was not the tsar who ordered to take Kazakhs to the army, it was someone from local authorities. They want to kill people, and thus appropriate all their flocks and herds. Yes, it can be seen from all the grimaces and winking of the volost authorities. No, first there was the tsar’s direction, but then, being afraid of the saints from Egypt, he recalled his order’.
Empty words! Because there was a secret meaning to taking Kazaks to the front. Germans felt sorry for mowing down Russians all the time, so they decided to put the nations, which no one cared for, to the battlefront. That burned book was useless, old. And the book with new lists remained in the hands of the volost head, and he used it to pull out boys to the war. As to those dzhigits that had destroyed the book, as it comes, the volost head marked them in the protocol, and ordered to arrest them.
Reputable people put children of poor peasants instead of their sons. And others free their sons with bribes to volost authorities and translators, they pay with cattle and banknotes, and their sons become registered as sick or crippled. A telegram came from the tsar – to stop mobilization for six months. Volost authorities gave the lists to the heads of auls. Soon mobilization will begin again. Dzhigits from Aidabol grabbed these lists. They even wanted to kill their volost head, but he managed to escape somehow. Lame, blind, bold men, men with ulcers and asthma won’t be called up. There were such clever fathers that managed to pass these crippled boys for their sons. Kartkozha’s head was spinning – he couldn’t understand who was telling the truth and who was telling lies. And not only Kartkozha, the whole world went numb from confusion and fixed nonsense. Everyone is oohing and aahing, well, as if everyone went mad. They started seeing bad omens in everything. If girls, daughters-in-law begin to laugh because of a young man’s joke or just without cause, it doesn’t matter, the old will scold them at once, ‘Are you laughing to bring us bad luck?!’ We must remember that there were such families that were spared by war so far, and no matter how deep they sympathized with their neighbors whose sons and sons-in-law were doomed, they still dined with gusto under their shanyraks. But the rest thought that these lucky families were even if not gloating, then definitely mocking at them, and every chuckle, every smile was hurting them deeply. Kartkozha thought and worried a lot. If he and his elder brother Tungyshbai leave together, the women and children won’t be able to survive. The fire in their family hearth will die out. Even if somebody survives, it will be unbearable. And how to survive here? He has no idea. These are his thoughts. The elder brother is silent. His cheeks are sunken, hair is tangled, he looks like a fatal case. He leaves early in the morning, comes back late. Nobody knows where he goes and what he does.
One evening, when mother sighed sadly and started crying, Kartkozha gave way and said everything he had been thinking lately, ‘Mother, don’t cry anymore, please! We will get out somehow. If they take me and brother together, we will pay, though we have few cattle, but we will ask some relative to look after the farm. And if elder brother leaves, and I stay after all, then, with God’s help, I will cope with it.’
‘Do you think it will be easier if any of you leaves? How can I tear away my own child from me?’
Kartkozha tried to lull the anxiety of his old mother.
‘If we stick together, it will be easier to stand this misfortune. We are not the only ones, look, our neighbors lost their only son Kusain. Somehow, we will be safe together…’
‘Oh, you poor, dear, deprived of everything from the cradle… And if?... Who knows… if you get some disease or illness?’
‘Mom, ay! Why be frightened like that if we haven’t even stepped over the threshold? Boys like me have been to the other side of the earth, where even the sun doesn’t call in, have studied there and come back just as if nothing had happened. Guys like me go to the city on a steamboat every year, and nothing happens to them… On the contrary, they return hardened with tin corns…’
‘And what about… need, dear! And the mother will always miss her child, and how… And the unhappier the child, the harder it is for the mother, how can I stand it – how can I wait?’
They learned that they would be taking boys to the army after 15 days, so how can the son not speak, how can the mother not cry? In the morning Tungyshbai went to the aul to get more reliable news. It was getting dark. Kartkozha went out of the aul, climbed up the hill, for it was easier to see a man from there. No, no one is in sight. At the well there is a horse blowing onto the water. A little bit aside cows stand chewing grass. Restless stallions are running around, prancing, trying to bite each other on the mane. A well-built foal is making circles at breakneck speed, with his tail lifted up, around its staid mother with an immense croup. Why wouldn’t it be gamboling, making whoopee, if its mother is here standing, full of milk for its child! Let it play! A foal is luckier than me in this life, ay! Look, like it’s jumping, wigging its tail… Lovely sight! Soon, soon we will be in the foreign land ,missing such pictures, and missing so much! – these were Kartkozha’s thoughts. The herd moved slowly to the night pasture. And the cows, on the contrary, paced slowly to the aul, to their owners. Kartkozha spotted their calf and drove it home. It is pitch-dark. Near the pen sheep stand wobbling. Cows are rubbing against the bullock cart, touching it with their horns. People are boiling evening milk on the summer hearths. Kartkozha sits by the door leaning his elbows on the camel chair, examining the aul. And it seems to him that there is nothing warmer, nothing more beautiful than this bunch of yurts, buildings made of unwrought stone and low sheds. And there’s no doubt that there is nothing more homey, closer to his heart. He even likes that the neighbors’ crazy heifer is about to knock down the fence, and that two wethers are fighting dully with their horns in the pen. What surprisingly strong foreheads they have! What if we send them to the war? That’s where they’ll need some impenetrable bone! And he smiled to himself. Our lonely hero sat like this, fantasizing, for hours. He, perhaps, forgot that honest people sleep at home. And he would have sat there for a long time, if his brother hadn’t come to him and said, ‘Come on, let’s go, let’s drink some milk!’
The moon is subdued, it’s cloudy. On a night like this sentries sleep well – you curl up with your chapped hands in the sleeves – perfect. Kartkozha is also snoring, with his head under the old blanket.
‘Is Kartkozha here? Come out!’ a sharp voice in the dark called him in his very ear.
As if hit by a stick, Kartkozha didn’t even notice how he stood up.
‘Here I am!’
‘Get dressed, quick! Horses are already here! Get on! And take a club!’
‘We’ll tell you later!’ was the answer in the dark, and they went to the next house.
Kartkozha was completely puzzled. He couldn’t understand anything. What was going on. But he knew one of the guys – Imankan. He wouldn’t wake him up at night for nothing. At full speed he started putting his clothes on.
‘What is going on, ay! Where are you going?!’ mother stood up screaming. And the brother’s wife is bothering him with questions, ‘Who was it?’.
‘Imankan. He didn’t explain anything. He just woke me up’ answered Kartkozha, puffing and pulling on his boots hurriedly. Uproar and noise has raised over the aul. Clatter of horses’ hoofs, snorting. It’s heard from every corner, ‘Run! Get on a horse! Bridle, give me a bridle!’ Kartkozha grabbed the bridle and went out. Horses are neighing and straining outside the aul, in the aul people are fussing and running about. Bustle, shouting. Everyone is whipping the horses on. The guy sitting in the saddle, who gave signs where to drive horses, was turning around, like crazy, he lost his voice already. It’s only heard, ‘Bridle it, bridle!’ The horses huddled together in a herd. Impossible to come up to them. Two or three men didn’t let the herd break up, shouting, ‘Oh-oh!’ They lassoed a mare and cried to Kartkozha, ‘Give me a bridle!’ Kartkozha rushed to them. They leant all their weight on the mare, pressed its muzzle to the ground, and managed to bridle it. The herd, looking sideways at the bridled horse, thought better of breaking away. And Kartkozha was already taking his horse by the bridle reins.
‘Mom! Give me a saddle!’
‘Here it is! God save you! What is going on! Have you found out?’
‘Not yet… Give it to me! Such a nasty creature, if you don’t hold it by the bridle, it won’t let you saddle it.’
Mother took the reins, held the horse’s mare by her hand and began reining it in,
‘Calm down, dear! Hey, you beast!’
The horse was big. Kartkozha threw a piece of thick felt on its back instead of a girth and tried to put down the saddle. He couldn’t do it – if you pull at the felt, the saddle slides to the side, if you put the saddle right, the felt goes to the side.
‘I thought so, ay! What shall I do now? Mom, do we have a good girth?’
‘Where? A good girth is under your brother’s saddle. And when will he come back? No, you won’t fix the saddle on this felt. Let me give you more garter.’
‘Give it, quick, or I’ll fall behind.’
They made woolen bands from the yurt gratings, and didn’t leave the felt, put the saddle onto the horse’s spine and tightened it. Under the neighbor’s bullock cart they found a weighty pole – it would pass for a club. That’s all. He got on his horse and left, finally.
‘Be careful, my dear. Don’t let it throw you down,’ wished him mother good-bye, suffering from the thought that her son might have fallen down into the summer hearth, stumbling on level ground, such a clumsy calf!
‘Well, let’s go,’ Kartkozha heard a loud order when he left the aul. And at once five riders separated from the dark wall of people and horses and went in a row deep into the steppe. Another five riders went after them, then the rest. Kartkozha joined them breaking the line. Everyone is armed – one has a weighty club, another one – a pole or a stick; one has pulled a fur trueh and tied it up under his chin, in case of a fight, others, on the contrary, are dressed lightly, like fighters, - the forehead is tightly bound with a kerchief, and one sleeve of the chapan, tied up with the belt, is taken off of the shoulder so that it was easier to hit with all one’s might; the knees are pulled up, the chest is thrown out, well, they are ready to fight right now if you like!
‘Ah’, thought Kartkozha, ‘I also need to tie up a malakhai.’ Meanwhile, the loosened horse lost its step. And here a real batyr galloped by with a club – he hits you once, and you’re ready! On his clean-shaven head he had a tubeteika with an eagle-owl feather, a strong fast horse was under his saddle. Kartkozha’s mare started from such bravery and went more briskly. No, such an ambler is under this guy! Kartkozha has never seen such horses before – it flies lightly, barely touching the ground with its hoofs, its hair is smooth and shining, its tail is up, its mane is like a wave, hair to hair. ‘Some horses are so beautiful, ay!’ Kartkozha was delighted.
He jumped into the saddle and his soul went forward! The night anxiety, saddling the horses, walking shoulder to shoulder with armed dzhigits raised Kartkozha’s spirits, excited him. And he couldn’t figure out – where they are going, why? He even wanted to rush racing with the guy riding next to him. So he hit the mare’s sides with his worn-out boots, it started galloping faster. The rider, falling immediately behind, stroke his horse with a kamcha, as if waiting for such a challenge, and outran Kartkozha at once, ‘Look what a nice ambler I have!’ And he gained speed so quickly that Kartkozha was left behind watching the ear-flaps of the dashing rider’s malakhai trembling in the wind.
They came, scaring away dogs with clatter of hundreds of hoofs, to the outskirts of an aul. Stopped. Two riders separated from the detachment – either to check local dzhigits, or to come by chewing tobacco – no way to tell. Kartkozha didn’t understand either why those two went to the aul. He even thought, maybe they missed the warmth of the aul? Well, it wasn’t clear, but he didn’t ask anyone. A short while passed – you won’t even have time to milk a mare dry – when a bunch of riders rushed along the aul, and the others rushed towards them, and shouts, ‘Uh, oh, what?’
‘Turn around, turn around!’
‘They went away.’
‘When? What time?’
‘As soon as it got dark, apparently.’
‘And where are the patrol men?’
‘Why! What patrol men!’
‘They gathered at the aul head’s house to eat meat, made a bit of a noise and went away!’
‘Let the Black Death kill them!’
‘Yes! Like hell!’
‘Ooh, blast you!..’
‘They gathered not to eat ram, but to gorge us!’ everyone was shouting.
‘Has anyone rushed after them?’
‘Yes, maybe five, maybe more, Darmen was there. But I think, they won’t catch up with them, they were late.’
‘What a pity! Oh, give them hell!’ and he hit himself on a thigh with this hand.
‘Where do we go from here?’
‘We’ll wait in the aul until dawn, then we’ll see if they managed to run them down.’
The dzhigits noised around and broke up, went to the aul. Yet, Kartkozha managed to ask one of them what had just happened there. It turned out that the volost head and the translator had stayed in this aul and that they were heading to the city with the lists of men called for the army. They were going to take these lists, but the others managed to escape, and now there was a chase after them.
In the hottest hours, leaving behind a long and uneasy road, two riders were moving along the hollow in the direction of the Motley Mountains. One is on the horse with firm fat sides, the other – on the big mare. They are in a hurry, riding nervously, one of them is Kartkozha, the other is Imankan.
‘Is there a man on the rock or a stone?’ asks Kartkozha.
‘It’s our patrol man,’ answers Imankan.
‘But who is he looking out here for?’
‘As experienced men say, if there is no wolf, a lamb will manage to sneak by.’
‘But who will come here in this heat?’
‘As they say, don’t wait, keep watch!’
Kartkozha kept silent for a while and then remarked again,
‘Yes, but why… we’d better hide here somehow, wait and that’s it.’
‘Yes, we’ll outwait, outsit – so lucky we are, but then there’ll come a day and we will answer for everything, everyone – to the last man.’
So they went talking until suddenly four riders appeared in front them, descending from a desert hill. An armed guy was ahead of them, the last one was sitting in the saddle in a sportily cocked cap. The third one was in the middle, whipping three fat sheep. The face of the armed man showed that he was watchful, as if only enemies were around him, and he was ready to rush at anyone, even if it meant jumping out his own skin. He looked at Imankan’s face, which was clearly familiar to him, relaxed a little bit, put his kamcha under one knee and placed his hands on his hips.
‘Who are they?’ Kartkozha asked Imankan quietly.
‘Our breadwinners!’ he answered and looked at their new fellow travelers with sympathy. ‘Eh, have you made another poor fellow weep?’
The men took the time to answer.
‘Who did you squeeze?’
‘How do you think? The one who had it!’
‘Well, the grey mare was his.’
‘He must’ve been sobbing violently.’
‘Can this dog give anything without crying? Or maybe he simply gave it to you?’
‘Of course! He would never give anything just like that. We simply came and lassoed it.’
‘And then this dog came up screaming, whining, ‘I’ve prepared this horse for the winter…’, couldn’t calm down. So I said to the guys, ‘Take it away!’ That’s nothing, this dog has a lot of fat stores left! There will be no harm in squeezing this bai one more time, if he’s still alive, of course…’
‘This dog has over five hundred woolly rams. He’s living and eating on white thick felt.’
‘He’s lying on one side, belching heartily!’
‘And why such dogs have so many cattle! He can’t eat them, he can’t count them. He doesn’t have children, brothers or nephews. And everything is in the hands of dogs like him.’
‘How was batyr Baizhan addressing his fellows with words of encouragement before the raid?’
‘I’ll tell you now…’
Save us, oh God,
from the fate of missing our time,
when voices of the humiliated and the insulted
are calling out to us for vengeance.
Do not let us oversleep and become bloated,
when over this whole world
a greedy hand is hanging of those,
who do not remember prayers
in praise of God, and all the saints.
Save us from cowardice and indifference!
Save us from life of idleness!
And add compassion to our souls
for orphans and cripples!
‘That’s right! These rich men have long been asking for some squeezing!’ the armed dzhigit exclaimed, hearing words about a greedy hand. Then, everyone, as if for the first time, saw Kartkozha and asked Imankan, ‘Eh, where are you taking this one?’
‘He’s our guy. I want him to join our fraternity of Muslims,’ Imankan explained.
‘Is this his first pilgrimage?’
‘So, the holy cloister of the Wild onion will have one more lay brother!’
‘Will have, won’t have, we’ll see.’
Kartkozha was looking open-mouthed at one, then at the other, ‘What are they talking about?’
‘Look, don’t make him take a vow like that wild horse herd wrangler. Novitiates differ.’
‘Why should I? For him, I think, our novitiate will be above his head!’ the guys laughed at Kartkozha.
So, with jokes and rhymes they didn’t notice how they came to a large mountain gorge. To the left and right there were high cliffs, and in front of them – a stone wall. There was a passageway only from one end of the gorge. One hillside was overgrown with scrubby dwarf pea trees and wild leek, and a brook was streaming from the deep spring there. The other was a sheer cliff hanging over stony glades. In the gorge there really was some sort of a cloister, but definitely not holy. There are lots of people and horses. Over there the dzhigits have gathered in a circle and are fighting, over here men are playing cards, and in the bushes bottoms are showing up white of the guys easing nature. Some have taken off their shirts to search for fleas. Some are watering horses at the spring.
Noise, uproar, neighing, screaming, setting on fighters. Trickles of smoke coming from the fires with cauldrons are stretching to the sky, and mouths are dragging to the fires. Metal clanging is heard from the depths of the canyon, where a field furnace is burning. Who is there, what is going on there – are they forging blades, shoeing horses? You can see guys collecting brushwood on the hills, you can barely see guys sleeping wrapped up in chapans. Two or three merry fellows are dragging themselves staggering from somewhere, one of them has dombra and he’s playing and singing to himself.
You look and think – you can eat here, you can sleep here. Maybe, some light-hearted friends have gathered here for a pleasant rest in the mountains? Seeing this, Kartkozha instantly forgot about all his troubles and worries. He imagined that he had got into a completely new and unknown world for him, so seductive that it took away his memory altogether. Together with Imankan he tethered his horse to a skinny tree branch, and they went up to one of the welcoming fires. Imankan pointed his kamcha at a shabby, soiled wineskin and asked, ‘Is there anything left?’
A dark-complexioned boy sitting next to the wineskin tore his eyes away from the saddle girth he was stitching and said, looking at Imankan,
‘Why? Empty since yesterday.’
‘Ah, devil, ah! Can’t there be at least a sip, ay!’
‘Well, you are a one – coming from the aul to have a sip of koumiss!’
‘There’s no koumiss left in the auls… It’s been all taken here! Come on, give me the wineskin, maybe there is a little bit left on the bottom.’
‘No, there is nothing. If you want to drink, go to the string, there’s plenty of water.’
‘Damn it! Oh hell!..’ Imankan swore and turned away.
Kartkozha wandered around the cloister and stopped beside the guys playing draughts recklessly.
‘You’ve played? Won’t you regret it?’ a narrow-eyed player asked, staring slyly at the snub-nosed bumpkin with freckles all over his face.
The snub-nosed, never taking his shaking fingers of the draught, pressed hard the narrow-eyed.
‘Well, count that I’ve played, and how will you play?’
‘Take your hand off, if you’ve played! Don’t chicken out!’ the narrow-eyed was getting excited.
‘Nygman, if you’ve put the draught, take your hand off!’ the guys standing next to them shouted.
‘Oh, come what may, I’ve played!’ exclaimed Nygman and put the draught on the square he had chosen.
The narrow-eyed player straightened his moustache, smiled and said, drawling,
‘Well, make farewells! We’ll make your father regret that he has given birth to you…’ and he hovered above the draught-board.
‘Oh, you! What are you doing?..’
‘We’ll play like this, yeah, let’s play like this…’ repeated the narrow-eyed, and with his elbows spread wide he put his draught carefully at risk, as if saying, ‘Here, eat it!’
‘Uh-oh, something is wrong here! He went to the market to trade rice… and returned with nothing…’ the guys watching the game cried out. ‘Stop! What’s he up to?’
Nygman, perplexed, snatched the draught which he had just shifted.
‘Don’t touch it! You can’t replay!’
‘No… I’m not replaying, I’m not replaying…’ mumbled Nygman and left the draught alone.
‘Come on, Koshen, go over his draughts!’ the guys on the right incited the wining player.
Koshen screwed up his narrow eyes till they became like threads, laughed and agreed,
‘Well, I might as well take a walk!’
‘But what is he up to, eh?!’ exclaimed Nygman, sweating.
‘Eat! Eat it! Snub-nosed brat! You are a shame to your father!..’
‘Have you thought this move over?’
And he made him take the sacrificed draught, which let him gladly ‘eat’ two draughts of the enemy. Here he got caught. Snub-nosed Koshen, taking three draughts of his opponent of the board, crowned one of his draughts. The dzhigits cried out together, ‘Ooh!’ And Nygman clasped his head and coughed out,
‘Ah, damn you! To hell with you! And pretended to be a simpleton!’ Koshen, in turn, demanded,
‘Where’s the snuffbox? Give me the snuffbox!’
And at once he was offered a black-glassed Nygman’s horn with tobacco nasvay. Losing nasvay, Nygman sat down sadly. Following Koshen, the guys started pouring the free nasvay on their hands and put it behind their cheeks with pleasure.
‘Tut-tut! Leave something for me too!’ Nygman began to beg his tobacco from the lads.
But would they leave? No, Nygman will certainly be left with an empty horn. While the guys were dividing the nasvay, Kartkozha went away to look at the wrestlers. The draughts players went after him, discussing the game loudly.
A tall white lad with a wide waist, which could hardly be measured, came out to the wrestlers’ circle. He pulled out a wisp of grass and ground it to powder, threw his chekmen off of one shoulder and tied the empty sleeve up to his belt. A thickset swarthy bumpkin stepped out, swaying, towards him. They approached each other so that even a felt mat could not be put between them, and then, they threw themselves at each other like a snow leopard attacking another snow leopard. Their arms interlaced and whirled catching each other’s belt. For a minute, or maybe a little bit longer, strong slaps on the naked forearms were heard. The white guy managed to grab hold of the ‘black’ lad’s elbow and pulled it towards himself. The black boy was also nobody’s fool – he beat him off and grabbed him on the elbow in his turn. Seeing that it did not work, the ‘white’ guy squatted and seized the ‘black’ lad’s shin. At a moment’s notice he was toppled over, lying on the ground. The crowd roared.
The black boy, covered in dust up to his eyelashes, rose to his feet with effort and hobbled off to his friends. And a man came out from the crowd of exultant people and said, ‘Hey, dzhigits, our Shakiman has already knocked down six of your men. Now give us Nygman! He won’t wrestle with anybody else.’
The defeated party started fussing and jostling, and then pushed Nygman forward. He, however, was in no hurry to join the fight.
‘Who do I need to fight with?’
‘I’m not going to soil my hands with Shakiman.’
‘Stop showing off, he won’t give you a chance to dirty your hands, he will simply break them!’
‘I will fight only with Darmen himself.’
The guys that knew Darmen roared with laughter; they found their idol and casting looks at him started pointing their fingers at the presumptuous draughts player,
‘Now, how do you like his appetite?’
Darmen laughed and said calmly,
‘If he defeats Shakiman, I will fight him.’
Kartkozha examined the luckless draughts player more thoroughly. He was a very big guy: he had thick legs like a camel, and a three-layered nape. Seeing that he couldn’t escape the fight with the winner, Nygman braced himself; he turned grey as if his heart had pulled in all the blood in his body – his chest swelled out. And not a single trace of emotion or fear was seen on his face – he walked into the center of the circle, calm as always. Shakiman, who knocked down a whole lot of men, was about to seize Nygman in his usual way, but it did not work out. And Nygman used it to his advantage – he squeezed Shakiman’s arm and didn’t let him break loose. He stood still, as if petrified – there was no way to move him or push him away. He stood like that for a moment, and then shot his arms forward with lightning speed and caught his adversary by the belt, lifted him up a little and threw him over himself. The white-faced batyr who was radiating power, like the sun in the sky, just a minute ago, fell on the dusty ground. The guys standing behind Nygman started screaming at once,
‘Give us Darmen!’ they were boiling up, leaning forward heavily.
Heated by the fight, Darmen, not waiting for the defeated wrestler to stand up, took off his dandy kaftan, girded himself tightly and stepped into the circle!
Kartkozha had remembered Darmen from the day when he seized the census book in the volost head’s aul. And how couldn’t he remember him when everybody talked about him as of a true batyr? So he wished him victory and started supporting him. And there were only a few men who wished otherwise. In anticipation of the decisive fight the men’s hearts began to thump like crazy, nobody could stand or sit still as if in a moment they all would close with the enemy in their last battle. Everyone stared at Darmen. He behaved differently from other wrestlers – he didn’t take his guard, didn’t spit on his palms, didn’t try to browbeat his adversary. He just went up to Nygman and said quietly, ‘I see that you are a smart lad, go first!’ and he let him get a grip of himself first.
And this move of his seemed unusual to Kartkozha. Nygman, however, didn’t begin to press him hard, he was on his guard. But then there were shouts on all sides,
‘Grasp him, seize him!’ The fighting wrestlers didn’t keep silent either, ‘Get a move on!’
‘Get on with it yourself!’
Nygman tried to overturn Darmen, but he couldn’t even move him. He wanted to throw him over, but he couldn’t even lift him up a bit. So he gave up his attempts to knock Darmen down.
‘Well, have you finished?’ asked Darmen.
‘Well!’ answered Nygman.
And then Darmen grabbed Nygman’s shoulder and bent him down, crying out, ‘Auyp!’. The crowd started screaming, ‘He broke him! Broke him!’
Darmen took Nygman by the belt, lifted him up, turned him round in the air and threw him on the ground like a ball.
‘That’s it! Our apologies!’ yelled the happy guys.
Everyone started leaving, shouting excitedly. What else was there to see after such a fight? Discussing loudly Darmen’s fighting moves, the dzhigits went to their camp hearths.
Disappearance of the mare
As soon as everyone started leaving, Kartkozha went to look at his mare, quite sure that it was still tethered to the bent tree.
The shadows of the western ridges of the Motley Mountains, becoming longer and more intricate, began to compete in perfection with crimson rays of the declining sun. The smoke coming from the fires started interweaving with crowns of the trees. And the smell of cooking meat, boiling oil and scorched mutton heads was roaming with it in the mountain air. An evening breeze was bracing and urging the camp into the fuss and trouble. Someone was forcing his way to sit closer to the cauldron, someone was quarreling over tobacco. And there, the guys had lined up in ranks and were practicing commands, like soldiers, then there were about two dozens of men fighting with spears, and near them some lads were fighting the Kalmyk way, unceasingly, dashingly, willingly.
Kartkozha came to the place where he had left his mare, but his horse wasn’t there, only the horse of Imankan. He had tied it tightly, tightened a firm knot, the bridle couldn’t have got loose. Maybe, someone has taken it, but isn’t it strange that the choice fell upon his mare, although not far away there stood much more well-built horses. He was standing, perplexed. But there was no particular anxiety in his heart, he thought that someone probably needed a horse urgently – for a while, and it meant that they would return it soon. An unkind glance will certainly fall onto the cattle, left gullibly behind. A poor man’s livestock will definitely attract an eye of a tramp who won’t shun the most wretched jade. No big deal, someone just decided to go for a ride, why should the horse stand to no purpose. There are such dogs among Kazakhs that are always ready to make use of somebody else’s horse, such is their nature… But why didn’t he saddle his own horse, why did he need mine? As it should be watered now good and proper, taken to the herd to graze, and they will ride it long enough, tire the poor beast out and leave it anywhere, ay! With that in mind, reproaching himself for carelessness, Kartkozha walked to the lowland where the herd of the whole militia was grazing. There, the men sat on the boulders watching the horses. Looking around, Kartkozha headed to them. He passed by a guy lying on his side and eating half-done offal that he had taken out of the boiling cauldron. Kartkozha’s mouth watered from the sight of the fat, running down his lips, splashing from the bitten-through fatty intestine. Another guy ran up to the glutton, and pointing at the disappearing intestine yelled, ‘Have you tended to it?!’ The eater was surprised, he moved the intestine away from his mouth a little bit as if to make sure that he was eating the right thing. That was enough for the shouter to pull it out from his hands with a yell, ‘…a poor Zhandybai’s sheep? How dare you!’ and jump back. The eating guy tried to protest, but his mouth was full, so he just rushed after the snatcher whose dexterity surprised and amazed Kartkozha. And then there were two men supping soup from the cauldron. More than that, he had to behold a lucky lad tearing meat from the ram clavicle with his teeth. Five guys stood boasting about their spears, ‘Look at the edge of my blade – it’s sharp, and yours is a bit curved, and his is somehow unfinished…’
A whole bunch of militiamen stirred in a tight swarm behind the back of the soldier who was sharpening his spear, forged by a true master. Voices came from there, ‘And now the fatty tail. Here you are!’ It looked like a real competition for gluttons was taking place there. Kartkozha was right in his guessing, a yell of some poor devil was heard – he was incapable of swallowing another piece, ‘What are you shoving me?! Why are you cutting meat above the knife blade?!’
Kartkozha went to the spring without stopping. Two dzhigits stood in the willow thicket talking. A dandy with trimmed moustache was telling his friend, ‘… Disappointment is over, it’s time to try to move the grating again tonight…’ Kartkozha remembered at once how most recently he had moved the grating of the yurt to help his city friend’s sweetheart get out; he remembered the lake and the seagulls... He also remembered the angry words of the student, ‘It’s unfair when young girls and women live in the yurts together with vigilant old women, always ready to set dogs on you!’ Kartkozha thought that this moustached dandy must be one of those guys who had seen the fondest door close in front of them, and the key to that door was spending the night in some old hag’s bosom. Having passed by these busy dzhigits, Kartkozha got to the water and asked the man who was watering his horse there,
‘Have you seen anyone on a bay mare?’
‘If you mean the dock-tailed mare with a low croup, then look there,’ he answered and pointed behind the brook.
Kartkozha looked happily,
‘Well, it’s my mare! Good Lord, ah, how wonderful! And I thought it had broken loose and galloped off to the aul. How did you manage to see it?’
‘If you watched over the herds for some time, you would see even more.’
‘And where can I cross?’ asked Kartkozha, peering at the deep riverbed.
‘And where are you going?’
‘To take my mare.’
‘Where will it go? You’ll have it back. Someone must have just borrowed it to bring back his own horse.’
‘Then I’ll wait.’
‘And which aul are you from?’
‘We are from the aul Shiderbai.’
‘And when did you get here?’
‘You should keep an eye on your mare… Where did you get it?’
‘Hey, kid, ah! Where have you seen guys riding their own horses? Why haven’t you saddled the bai’s horse?’
‘Would the bai give away his horse?’
‘Would he not? And who would lead his own horse to the death in the battle? And anyway, who would ask bais now?’
‘But how can you take without asking?’
‘If you are so afraid of sins, why have you come here? Why do you care about our detachment?’
‘Well, everyone went, and I went, and then… I was afraid that they would take me…’
‘Well, then forget about sins. And are bais allowed to sin? They have written down their sons as little babies, and have added years to the poor men’s children and are giving them in to the authorities.’
‘It’s true, I’m also not old enough, but they have written me instead of the bai’s son.’
‘Well, then let them go stuff themselves! You have full right to sit not only onto their horses, but onto any of these gentlemen and urge them on. You cannot do without a good horse, it’s like having a friend’s soul without the body, isn’t it, brother? Anything can happen, there might come such terrible times when only horse can save you. Stop being a child, you’d better look for a more solid horse for yourself…’ concluded his admonitions the latter-day moralist and bombarded Kartkozha with another heap of his judgments.
Such a resolute speech caused a whole revolution in Kartkozha’s heart that used to avoid sins and crave for repentance. And a flaming fighting spirit blazed up in him. Here came the thief, who had stolen his mare, in a torn treuh but with a sharp, well-trimmed beard.
‘You’re sitting on my horse,’ Kartkozha said to the impudent rider. ‘Let me see, maybe it’s already sweating. I wanted to wash it and let it go grazing…’
‘Why would it be sweating? I only took it to drive my horse from over there. If it’s yours, take it,’ answered the bearded man and jumped off the mare.
Kartkozha was overjoyed as if the man hadn't returned his horse, but had presented it to him. He spent a long time with it at the spring stream, pouring water on its back and wiping it dry.
Kartkozha took the mare to the grazing herd and with the saddle on his shoulder came back, and the guys there were already eating, sitting on the trodden grass. Imankan looked back at him and exclaimed,
‘Where have you been? Come, take a seat here!’ and he moved a little bit.
Kartkozha stood on one knee next to him and reached out for the plate with meat. Their jaws were all shaking heavily, there were no knifes – they were just tearing meat with their teeth like wolves. They put in their mouths everything that came to their hands. Kartkozha tried to grasp a piece of meat several times, but couldn’t. He would see a piece – reach out for it – and then someone would snatch it from under his fingers and put it in their mouths. But at least he managed to nip off a bit from the rib, offered to him by Imankan in a friendly manner.
A handsome man with thin lips, sitting opposite Kartkozha, was holding in his hands a splendid very fat pelvic bone like a golden eagle in its claws. He would cut a thin slice from it and put it on the plate, and would cut the rest of the meat in small pieces, like camelthorn leaves, and put them quickly and neatly on his tongue. While Kartkozha was staring at him, another rather big and meaty bone swam past him. The dodger that took it was more gnawing at it himself than cutting meat from it for his table companions. Imankan could not contain himself and shouted at him, ‘Cut meat for people, stop shoving it to your mouth!’
‘I’m cutting, cutting…’ he smiled radiantly and threw a slice of meat to Imankan, and then the second piece, though with difficulty, he shoved into his mouth.
The guys protested noisily, so he had to chop meat more to the common plate, as if saying, ‘Here! Why, I hope you choke on it! For you the whole carcass will be just one bite. There’s no point in feeding you.’ But whatever the case, he chopped some meat for his friends. Certainly, the guys were thrashing their jaws. Then they started gnawing at the bones. Kartkozha, unpretentious about food, was contenting himself with a slice of meat from the clavicle.
The brotherhood, that stuffed themselves with nothing more than sand even during peace time, ate a bellyful and started joking and jibing at each other. A broad-shouldered lad suddenly recovered his wits and asked a guy pouring out broth,
‘Uh-oh, is there any meat left for the herdsmen?’
The whole gang burst into laughing.
‘Ah, you remember them when you’ve filled your own belly… Ah, you are so thoughtful! Ah, why the hell? Oh, you, the gluttonous animal! You yourself have gnawed the fatty tailbone that was put aside for them..
‘Put aside? And you would let anything be put aside?’
‘So why are you grieving and tormenting yourself?’
‘Well, look at them, you’ve eaten everything, and now you’re blaming me.’
‘Well, there’s no greater glutton than you are!’ They were pleasantly bellyful and in a cheerful mood – they joked, twaddled, now there came time to think about their long-maned friends, how were they grazing? And here there came a cry,
‘Hold the horses!’
Everyone snatched their bridles and rushed to the herd. They bridled their horses looking around in anxiety, stroked their spines, spat on their manes to protect them from the evil eye, and some even raised their tails and looked at the rumps of their horses. And that was it. The alarm turned out to be false. What else should they do? It often happens that a couple of acquaintances are loitering about and then run into each other by chance again and ask each other as if they hadn’t seen each other that day, ‘Oh! I see you are alive and kicking! Well, how are you?’, and they don’t have anything else to talk about, so they wander around separately for some time and then again, ‘Oh! It’s you! How are you?’ And this looking under the horses’ tails reminds somehow of the ritual described above. However, perchance, looking under the tail is really the most reliable and necessary ritual, goodness knows.
Everyone took their horses from the herd, and tethered them beside themselves. Some guys started putting sweat clothes and saddles on their horses. Some of them, not finding their girths, were swearing rudely, ‘Damn it! What the hell!.. If you took it, then put it back!', shouting to the entire universe, ‘Who has seen my sweat cloth?’
Kartkozha asked Imankan, who was busy with his horse,
‘Where are these guys going?’
‘Some – to the night watch, others – to their auls. How else would they go if not on horseback?’
‘I have a business in Korpebai’s aul. I think I’ll go there, after all.’
‘And what should I do?’
‘What to do? Stay here.’
‘And what will those do that stay here?’
‘What will they do? Sleepyheads will fall asleep, others will belt out songs, organize fancies.’
While they were standing and talking like that, one of the riders ran three horses past them, slapping himself on the thigh with a kamcha.
‘The guys have got going, it’s time I set out too,’ uttered Imankan and finished saddling his ambler.
Kartkozha went to his mare.
When he returned, Kartkozha saw that the guys had gathered around a singer, who was singing loudly. Tethering his mare beside other horses, he went to them.
It’s a tender golden summer evening. A white spot is still hanging in the sky, transparent like a tear.
Darmen lies leaning his elbows against the ground. His friend is beside him, with his head on Darmen’s leg. And everyone is lying like that – in peace, close to each other, like brothers, as if they had one father – Adam himself.
Kartkozha didn’t move away from them either. He lay down next to some lad. The boy immediately put his arm around his neck and uttered sincerely, ‘What a wonderful day!’ Kartkozha, not knowing what to reply, said, ‘Yes, it’s a good day’.
The singer was supported on both sides by first-rate flatterers who exclaimed from time to time, ‘Sing from the bottom of your heart! More compassionate!’ He sang. And an enthusiastic voice cried out, ‘Well done! That was amazing!’ Though, there was nothing particularly admirable about the song. You could hear it often at men’s gatherings, sung in honor of a newborn in the house of a newly-made father,
A raisin river ran past the merchant.
Who can define the taste of raisins?
For a mullah the taste of temptation is the same.
In one house a maid
was lying alone…
The poem drops certain hints, of course, but the singing is trailing without any feelings like an ungreased bullock cart across the dreary desert.
There are fans of such songs, and those who don’t like them are indulgent too, as if saying, ‘Sing as much as you want, we don’t care.’ The singer takes the flattering at its surface value and continues singing obscenities without any restraint.
A file is a good tool, it strips off everything it touches, and the jeweler with a sensitive hand can’t do without it. This guy was a file without any fine feelings. He was stripping and stripping, until somebody said, ‘Listen, dear, why won’t you shut up?’ He stopped singing. A bit later someone said,
‘You’d better sing Birzhan’s song, if you know it!’
‘But I don’t know any of his songs, except perhaps ‘Warm Time’, answered the singer.
‘Eh, anyway, sing it – we are bored.’
He fulfilled the request, and heard in response,
‘You took a wrong note in one place, ay! And there was another chord. Give dombra to Darmen! Let him play!’
Darmen got up reluctantly, ‘What are you up to? I’m not in the mood… But you won’t leave me alone, will you?’ he said and took the dombra. Everyone livened up and started saying,
‘That’s it! Let’s listen to something sensible, at last, and not to the labored mooing of this poor devil!’
Darmen tuned the dombra and started singing the ‘Warm Time’, running his fingers over the strings. And he sang completely different. At first he played a moving prelude, and when it seemed that its sounds stated everything they possibly could, the singer’s throat started moving and the voice burst from the depths of his chest. A soft and soulful voice. Darmen was singing with his head slightly bent to one shoulder, intoning every word clearly and wistfully. No wonder, the guys began to ask Darmen to sing more and more. And he got carried away himself, he was singing with pleasure, making no excuses. He sang the famous ‘Mustapha’ by Burkitbai, ‘Rifle’ by Zharylgap, and other songs by well-known composers. Blood boiled up in veins from the melodious words of ‘Mustapha’, full of half sorrow, half whims, from the broad as the steppe ‘Sara-Arka’, from the melody, high as the mountain peaks and swift as the winged horse, of the ‘Rifle’; the singer’s voice, piercing as the cry of the epic bogatyr, flew up to the skies, and the rocks, the spring and the underbrush – the whole huge ravine echoed back to him. Darmen’s vocal cords stretched like strings, droned, roared, beads of sweat came out to his forehead. He opened his chest and started saying simple words about the things that worried him.
‘You think, I'm going to insist that you see in front of you a real musician and a poet? That his is gifted with a high art? No, just listen how he, agitating two strings, is signing as if God Himself gave him that song and made him sing.
And he remembered the glorious era of the centuries long gone by, known for the love of freedom and honor of the Kazakhs, and he glorified the fates of former great batyrs and silver-tongued judges. He told in a recitative about former exploits, about unity, about sacrifice for the benefit of the nation and about nobleness of our ancestors, he mourned over the fallen heroes. And then – about the near past when differences appeared between us, when we became smaller and knuckled under the Russians, and they sat down on our lands, impudent migrants, and we were left with no pastures or other grounds – with no place to put our feet on! He also mentioned the Kazakhs that studied European sciences and wore Russian uniforms, and who sold their fathers’ land for bribes and ranks, who betrayed their nation. And there was no life, and there was nothing to soothe the soul. But, at the same time, he didn’t forget to recall his dreams, his goals, expressed, perhaps, in a simple way, but clearly,
‘A horse and a beauty –
and the man is satisfied,
I grew up as a free Bactrian camel,
rushing into the battle.
Black tea and pungent tobacco –
are a man’s joy,
And without these four things,
it’s bad, oh-oh!’
Even the smallest thing becomes important if it is honored with human soul, and every man is important if honor is sacred for him. That’s what his song was about. And he didn’t forget to speak about his friends in battle. He mentioned Imanzhusip from Akmola, Borankul and Ratai from Karkarala, tobyktinets Tauken and Maigara. He glorified their exploits in the confrontation with the throne, he sang of how they led the best sons of their nation into the battle, not sparing themselves, defending every piece of their motherland. And with desperation in his voice, he remarked that times were different now – Kazakhs were disconnected, confused by figures of the officials, exhausted and, like him, didn’t know what would become of the golden steppe. And there were tears in the eyes of the dzhigits who listened to him, and they balled their hands into fists so that their knuckles crunched and whitened. Darmen put the dombra aside, jumped to his feet and walked away, stooping. And the guys were left to sit there with their heads lowered, pecking at the ground dejectedly.
Kartkozha burst into tears; he couldn’t understand why he suddenly became so sick at heart. Near him a sad sigh or a convulsive sob was heard every now and then. And besides that, not a single sound was heard, except for a horse snoring or an indistinct conversation of people settled far off. And at that moment a dark bird, which appeared suddenly, shouted terribly over their heads, ‘Oh!’ In this cry the Kazakh ear could hear ‘Ok!’ – the same as ‘Bullet!’ for the Russian ear. Kartkozha shivered all over, twisted his head round and saw a crimson-red, like blood, moon rise above the mountain range.
After the moonrise the guys started talking about trifle things. Someone began to tell about how he grazed herds at night, someone about how he went to the city, the third one said that nights had become colder, the fourth one noticed that he was afraid, and there was one too vulnerable fellow who started telling that it was a shame to live like that… It is evident that any idle men talk soon boils down to discussing women.
‘In the whole world there is no woman more beautiful than my fiancée,’ assured one dzhigit and waved his hand with admiration.
‘Oh, you don’t say so! No!’ another admirer of the fair sex began to argue with him. ‘You are talking nonsense! You will never find a girl more beautiful than the daughter of old man Khali!’
A guy who was lying motionless on his back said competently,
‘The most beautiful girl is not the one that is beautiful, but the one that is loved. And… everyone is boasting about his sweetheart.’
‘It’s amazing how the beauty of women can gladden the eye! And I’ve seen the most beautiful star among all stars! Yes, Darmen knows her too,’ said another admirer of delicate forms.
‘And whom have you seen?!’ Darmen cast a look at him.
‘Why, three years ago I went to the Altai to visit my uncle, my mother’s brother. And I had to spend the night at one house. It was a rich house. Well, the daughter-in-law in that house… well! she’s the moon and the sun, all in one, all you need! And her husband is a worthless individual. We exchanged a few words, she asked me where I came from, and then said that she knew our Darmen.’
‘Holy God, ay! It’s Batish!’
‘Yes indeed. She has endured a great deal, poor darling! She could tell me only a few things. Well, let Darmen tell everything himself.’
And the guys started pressing Darmen,
‘Tell us! Tell us!’
‘Why tell something that has all gone for good?’ Darmen started refusing.
They had to persuade him, he tried to leave again, but saw that there was no escape from them, so he started speaking,
‘That year, dangerous pranks were played between the families of Suyindik, Naiman and Karakesek. Everyone was searching for something better and sweeter, and mostly at nights, everyone forgot completely that nights were meant for sleep. …They would just jump into the saddle and go! Yes, such were the times...’ Darmen sighed and continued. ‘Once my friend Rahim got caught in the Altai, so I went to help him out of trouble. I am on my lean like raisins horse, Belogubyi, a torsyk with koumiss and a saddlebag sre strapped to the saddle. Whoever I meet, I say I’m going to the Altai to visit my relatives. It’s hot as it can only be in August. Impossible to ride in the daytime. One night I waded across the Yesil. A bright star is shining in the sky. A barely noticeable thread of the dawn appeared on the horizon. I rode quickly to the edge of some field. Some kind of wheat was growing there, and near the furrow brow, among the stems something was showing black, then it moved. What is it? An animal? It can’t be! It is sitting as if squatting or something. I thought, maybe it’s a bird, no, it’s too big. A spirit maybe? An angel? Or a devil? Why would a man be sitting like that, writhing, God knows where, at night, all alone? Well, I thought, ok, I’ll come up to it anyway, just see what it is, if some werewolf, I’ll catch and kick it. And if it’s a man, then all the more so – I’m strong enough to cope with one man, there is no need to hide in my way, so I went there. I drove up to it, and see – plaits! Then they heaved! A moment and I’ll see what it is, and then she gets up. A girl – in a strange, long, off-size dress. I don’t know how, but I said,
‘Who are you – a girl or a fairy?’
She answered in a barely audible, dying voice,
‘I’m just a wretched girl… don’t be afraid of me…’
The dawn was breaking, rays of light splashed into the sky. The sun peeped out. Birds started rustling in the grass, larks flew up into the sky ringing. Not a stem of wheat was stirring.
I see – a moon-faced beauty with a star on her forehead is standing before me! I have seen a lot in this world, but I’ve never seen such a beautiful girl. It looked like my horse also liked her – the beauty we’d found – it reached out its lips to her and snorted. I jumped off the saddle, took Belogubyi by the bridle and came up to her. She lowered her eyes shyly and smiled tenderly – the dawn could never be compared with her beauty. But before she did, I looked into her eyes – and I was dazzled then and there! Believe it or not, I thought I met a heavenly bride.
‘My dear, who are you?!’ I exclaimed and took her by her slender arm.
‘Let’s sit down and talk.’
We sat down side by side. She told me everything, but you don’t need it all, so I’ll tell you briefly. She turned out to be the daughter of some bai who proposed her as a wife to the son of another bai. Her fiancé grew up a freak. But the marriage vow remained strong. When she saw him, she was so frightened that she decided it was better to die, so she escaped from the wedding. She ran from the aul through the pastures and right up to the wheat fields. And she hid there.’
The guys, hearing such a weepy story, opened their mouths, started oohing and slapping their hands on their thighs,
‘Oh, I would listen to her!’
‘Hey, what a story!’
‘And then what?’
Darmen took his time putting some tobacco from the horn on his palm, then put it behind one cheek and continued speaking,
‘The girl says to me, ‘Looks like God has sent you to bring me luck or misfortune, I don’t know. But I see that you are one of the best men in Alash’s horde. And I’m falling right at your feet.’
The dzhigits approved of her confession,
‘Well, what else could she have done? She did the right thing by confessing it all.’
‘Yeah, wait a minute, let him tell it!’
‘So we vowed fidelity to each other, and went.’
‘And you didn’t lie on the meadow even for a minute?’ an excited voice exclaimed.
‘Why, can’t you wait?! Keep silent!’ and the guy was pushed in the side.
‘While the sun was still rising and it wasn’t really crowded, we decided to go as far as possible. I let her sit in front of me. Belogubyi was now responsible for us. It was running carefully like a deer, with caution, but often I let it run as fast as it could.’
‘It was very hot when we reached an abandoned shack on the bank of the Yesil. Batish was very tired.’
‘So it was Batish?!’
‘I let her drink from my torsyk. I unsaddled the horse and tethered it in the shade. We went to the river for a swim. She took off only her dress shyly. But it was not enough for me… I mean, for swimming. I took all her clothes off. You can’t even imagine how beautiful her naked body is! Very white like foremilk, her buttocks are rounded and in graceful curves they turn into her hips, and her neck is elegant like a cast lamp, and a stream of black hair flows down to her snowy skin… And she murmured, ‘How embarrassing, how shameful, ay!’ and tried to cover herself with silk grass… and when she stood up, a bit confused, trying to cover herself with hands… oh I wanted to swallow her whole! Like a twig with full buds, perfect! She jumped up and ran into the Yesil’s white-laced waves, like an arrow!
The man who first sees Batish swimming won’t understand right away who is in front of him – an angel or a white swan. Is it a dream or reality? I was looking at her and I couldn’t believe my eyes. And now I think, maybe, after all, she was just a dream.
Darmen sighed sadly.
‘And then, what happened then?’
‘I lost her…’
‘How could you lose her?!’
‘After three days my Belogubyi started running off his legs. And I was tired too. So one night I came to my relatives to change the horse. I left her there for some time. I couldn’t leave her in the steppe, right? And she was afraid to hide there, even in the ravine. If we found horses, we would be safe. So I left her, I thought, ‘God is merciful, He will help us’, and off I went, alone.
At that time, horses were often stolen, almost every day, so they were looked after vigilantly. For a few days I couldn’t find any herd left without care, finally, I caught up with a herd of horses and started luring – no way would they get themselves bridled. They would just neigh and gallop away, only their hoofs would dart past. And then, suddenly, somebody started shouting, ‘A raid!’ They were shouting from above the sky and from under the ground. I hardly managed to escape. No sooner had I wiped the sweat off of my face, than they came from one side and stroke me at once. I dodged a blow, snatched the cudgel from the man’s hands and rushed forward. My horse was already wheezing but holding on. And they, two or three of them, were right in front of me. I managed to throw off two of them from their saddles, they came off like bits of fluff. And then the third one smacked me with a pole… But I broke away. My Belogubyi carried me away. I was galloping not seeing where I was going, and I could fall down anytime. Ravines! I hit my horse with a kamcha – it jumped over. And then another ravine – wider this time. So I fell down head over heels. I thought that was it. But somehow, I survived, broke a few bones. They caught me and put into a hole. I spent a month there, don’t know myself how I managed to escape.
‘And what happened to Batish?’
‘They found Batish. A little bird told them where she was hiding. Her fiancé’s men came, showered my relatives with gifts and took her away.’
‘Poor thing, ah! So unlucky!’
‘Oh, what a story!’
‘That’s how life is under heavens!..’ Darmen sighed wistfully and put more tobacco behind his cheek.
The first night in the militia. Kartkozha is lying awake. Mountains covered in sunbeams and the wide-open steppe are rising before his eyes, he can hear Darmen’s songs and stories ringing through ravine slopes and excited voices of men by the spring – it’s a whole new real magnetic and mysterious world in front of him.
He thought, no enemy will conquer Kazakhs as long as there are such heroes like Darmen, as long as there are such mountains like the Anabas and while the steppe is blooming and spreading out in plush, and while there are hundreds and thousands of young tramps standing firmly on it. But he remembered that Russians had guns, trains, steamers, telegraph and telephone; with what weapons can Kazakhs withstand all that power, if Russians strike Kazakhs with their guns? Why, we’ll go up in smoke and burn like cane… So he started hoping – maybe, it’s just some sort of a godsent test, and the mortal iron is destined to only alert Kazakhs, make them think of their sins, wake them up from the eternal sleep… and they will understand that it is the will of Heaven, and they will tame their passions in prayers to Lord in the Highest, reject phrase-mongering and avidity, and with fetters around their necks and tears of repentance in their eyes turn back to Him…, maybe then things will settle one way or another. So he decided not to let himself even imagine that all those people that cherished the yellow steppe with all their hearts and souls could perish from bullets; he defied and rejected death. They will not die, will not disappear into nothingness; they will have to suffer a little and then they will definitely be saved! God knows – everything will change for the better and a miracle will be granted by the Heavens, tsar Nickolas will meet his justice; and so he fell asleep with the thought that the tsar, who had agitated their people so suddenly and who had made them cry and suffer, would be punished. He sleeps and sees a wonderful dream.
As if he was in the city. The city is an inconceivable conglomeration of brickwork. Huge buildings, towers, holding the sky, people are stirring beneath them, like smoked worms. And Kartkozha is strolling among them. But not the Kartkozha we know so well. He is different now. He wears an official suit and shoes, his hair is cut and done, he looks like an interpreter. And he speaks Russian fluently, when he meets Russians, he says neatly, ‘Good day!’, and they nod their heads to him like he was their friend.
He’s walking along an empty street, Kazakh guys are catching up with him. All of them are his students. Kartkozha asks them,
‘Where are you going?’
‘To the river. And aren’t you going to look at the ice drifting?’
‘Oh, I am…’ said Kartkozha and went after them.
Crowds of people have gathered on the steep river bank. The guys are standing next to him.
Here’s the Irtysh. It’s carrying and destroying furiously the gigantic blue ice floes, trying to drown them in its black waters, gnawing at them, splashing frenzied foam over its quick waves. One ice block is rearing, tearing away from the river rapid. Another wild ice floe is raising its grinning dark muzzle from the water and then breaks in two with a thunder.
And here a crystal giant appears, it is turning round for a moment or two as if looking around, and then all of a sudden throws itself on the ice wall and breaks through it with a loud crash. What can resist the anger of this bogatyr? Big blocks and little, like butterflies, pieces of ice fly away from it, afraid of being squashed and scattered in white dust. The Irtysh is running away from the heavy shower and hail, like a snow leopard through cane and rush, only crunches and squeaks are heard.
There is a wet cold coming from the Irtysh. In a dark billow, spring flood is drawing near to the pier, the island is already flooded. Only the unsightly trees are seen everywhere. They are bowing with their shivering tops as if crying for salvation, ‘Ward off this misfortune!’ Only the trees with mighty roots and trunks are still holding the sky, unbending and arrogant as before. Yet, the ice drift pulls out its victims, over there thick bark-stripped logs are swimming, their long masks are swollen with wrinkles and they have no strength to breathe out their farewell, ‘Allah…’. Hares have settled on them, shivering, not knowing if they are going to make it or not… God’s creatures don’t know what the fate has in store for them: whether salvation or, rather, pitiless death is lying ahead of them.
On the opposite bank, in the thick willow shrubs, Kazakh housings flattened against the ground. He thought, ‘And if a quite large ice block moves there, it will crush everything, ay! Though, if water doesn’t rise further, maybe, it will turn out well. The shrubs haven’t been flooded yet.’
Reflecting on that thought he saw suddenly an ice block as large as a mountain, no less, emerge from the riverhead like a thundercloud. Its stern, hanging over the waves, was approaching headlong. The onlookers, standing on the steep bank next to Kartkozha, started noising around and pushing one another nervously. An impossibly huge ice block crashed into the steep slope, bringing it down into the Irtysh’s waters together with the people that had been standing there.
Kartkozha was about to say goodbye to his life when he noticed a branch, white as a bone, in his hand. Clinging onto it, he managed to get out of the water. He got out – it was dry all round, blooming greenery. He walked about a little bit and met his friends from the aul. He was happy as at the feast,
‘How are things in the aul?’
‘Good. And what are you doing here?’
‘I’m studying in the city.’
‘We could hardly recognize you, your clothes are all new.’
‘We study, good man, at the expenses of the state.’
‘And is your city far away? Show us!’
‘It’s close, come, I’ll show you!’
And they began to walk willingly, talking with each other merrily. They were going through an open steppe and then, all of a sudden, found themselves in the woods. Sky-high trees, webs of branches are all around them. And the farther they go, the thicker the woods. And Kartkozha is leading them through this virgin forest.
He turned round at some point and saw that most of the guys had fallen hopelessly behind. And there was a woman. His elder brother’s wife. She grabbed him firmly by the boot. He said to her strictly,
‘And where are you going, what are you doing here? Have you left the children alone? They must be crying.’
‘Mother stayed at home. And I won’t leave you.’
And it’s night already. It’s pitch dark in the forest. Kartkozha has lost his courage; he remembered that there could be bears and lynxes in the forest. He’s walking along the path, groping his way – he can’t see a foot before his nose. He can’t see his brother’s wife. He only feels that someone is dragging behind him, clinging onto the top of his boot.
Soft sounds are coming from his left. He listened. As he walks, the sounds become clearer. It’s a beast howling, or a wader wheezing, or a man moaning. Well, all in all, sighs and sobs. Here, now he hears them distinctly. It’s a man moaning. But why?! Is he lost, hurt? Or has the bear attacked him and ripped all over? Whatever it was, the man was suffering from pain.
Kartkozha thought that he should go and see, and if he could, help the suffering man. So he turned left. But hardly had he made a step, when his sister-in-law started yelling,
‘Don’t go, brother,’ and she is holding him.
But Kartkozha goes, no matter what.
‘Brother, don’t go! You’ll get killed!..’ she was dragging behind him, holding him back so that he couldn’t move.
While they were fussing about like that, a beautiful melody, played by a reed pipe, rang out to their right. They listened to it. Sound after sound, the melody was getting louder. It was ringing, twittering, and clicking. And a voice, no less strident than Darmen’s, was heard singing in time with it. It was singing in every possible way, flooding the whole forest. The unknown, strange song frightened and surprised Karkozha, yet extended pleasantly to his very soul.
His brother’s wife says to him, ‘Let’s go and listen!’ But Kartkozha couldn’t forget the groaning man, so he did not move. While they were standing, the sun pierced through the tree tops. And the singing seemed to be closer. He looked back and saw schoolboys. In their hands they had yellow pipes made of ram horns, they were marching in a formation, like soldiers, it turned out – it was them who were singing. Their faces were shining. Kartkozha thought, it must be some celebration. One of the schoolboys pulled Kartkozha’s arm and said, ‘And why are you standing?’ and woke him up.
It has been two weeks since Kartkozha joined the militia and eventually he became friends with them. He stood on guard, looked after the herd. He complied with any order, no matter who gave it. Industrious, cheerful.
However, one thing was frustrating him. He didn’t have a horse, worthy of the member of the militia. The guys had great horses, they could compete in goat-tearing or take part in races if they wanted to, on such horses it was easy to pick up a silver coin or knock down an adversary at full gallop. And what is the use of the mare in the battle?! Its bottom is too wide – you can’t race it, it is dragging with difficulty. You are no man’s match on such a horse – either in the game, or at war. So he walks and dreams, ‘Oh, if I had a good horse, ah!’ If he had a good horse, he would be no worse than all others.
Naturally, everyone saw that he was suffering without a decent maned friend. The guys, seeing the mare crouching under Kartkozha’s kamcha, twitching its tail hopelessly, said to each other, ‘Yes, the poor lad needs a good horse.’ But nobody expressed any particular desire to search for a fast horse for their companion. They would just chat and forget about it.
Some guys found Kartkozha’s trick riding amusing. They would look at him jumping up, slipping down the mare’s spine, and laugh sympathetically, ‘And how does he manage to stay alive on that mare?!’And why wouldn’t they make fun of him, when they are alright themselves. Of course, there were guys who truly sympathized with him, but they preferred to stay with the others: why should they stick out? besides, everyone has his own cares.
Kartkozha didn’t have the heart and resourcefulness to get a horse himself. He was used to trusting in others.
And the guys didn’t care about his trouble. ‘Someone… somehow… sometime will help,’ and that’s it. ‘Everyone thinks about himself,’ Kartkozha was grieving. ‘Such guys as Imankan won’t dig the earth for me, they’ll never give me a ragged sheepskin to sit on, let alone, a saddle…’
One day Kartkozha came back from the herd with his mare, completely exhausted: its all four legs were shaking, and Kartkozha couldn’t stand firmly on his two.
‘How are the horses?’
‘Oh, the devil take them! I’d kill the damned mare,’ answered Kartkozha.
Imankan looked at him, sat on his horse and said – conscience must have been worrying him, after all,
‘All right, I’ll get you a decent horse, whatever it may cost me,’ and added with a reproach, ‘well, you’re such a botcher! You can’t even cope with your mare. Where have you grown?’
As if he didn’t see that he was doing his best. Kartkozha felt hurt.
‘What do you want from me? I would look at you, if you rode it yourself…’
While they were arguing like that, spiteful shouts and threats were heard in the distance. They turned around and saw that a desperate fight started there. They ran up to them.
‘Go to hell!..’
‘Hey, let go of my hand!..’
‘Oh, bai, ah!.. you hurt me, oh!..’
Noise, swearing. The chest wide open… The fist. The bleeding nose. Bam-bam! You can’t understand who is fighting and who is pulling the fighters apart. More swearing, and battle cries – blood splashing!
The peacekeepers got their share and gave back as good as they could. Batyrs – all of them! Everyone tried to hit another. Kartkozha tried to reconcile them, ‘Stop it, enough!’ And then a hefty fist punched him in the ear. He fell together with his cap and went away, staggering and rubbing his head.
Skulls are cracking, teeth are flying out, blood is gushing from the nostrils, eyes are swelling crimson, and fists are itching even more desperately. They gave each other a good thrashing, supped enough of their own blood and, finally, decided to find out who was to blame.
They began to judge who was the first to strike, who swore first and who started the whole fight. Darmen came in the head of the dispute, ‘What is it?’
‘Well, they bastards!’
‘You started it!’
‘We have nothing to do with it…’
Nobody was admitting their guilt. But it was a piece of cake for Darmen to clear it up. It turned out that they started fighting over a sheepskin. One Sluggard was warming it under his belly, and the other – a red-haired grasping fellow – filched it. The Sluggard kept saying, ‘I cut this ram, it means the skin is mine!’, and the red-haired was yelling, ‘And who found the ram? Me! It means the skin is mine!’ Those who skinned the carcass were the sluggard’s witnesses, and those who dragged the ram from the bai were witnesses of the red-haired.
Darmen told them to sort it further and left one trustworthy man on each side, and the rest were told to break up. They scattered, but didn’t forget their offence or their offenders. Vindictive pieces of coal were blazing up here and there, the men were looking sideways at their adversaries, spitting blood in their steps.
The guys that only an hour ago gathered with one purpose, with similar feelings, now split into two uncompromising camps, remembering from which aul or family everyone came, trying to find something to nag at. They were heating their hatred, ready to fight over a marrowbone, like hungry dogs.
Imankan, as promised, brought a decent horse. But at once, new owners came to claim their rights, ‘Where did you get that horse? From the herd of our bai. Which right do you have for it? What? Does your aul have no bais with herds?’ Imankan went to Darmen to complain. He immediately brought the aul patriots to reason, ‘Stop standing up for your bais, and your ancestors and their pride have nothing to do with it, all this only hinders us. Dzhigits need horses. Bais are helping their sons evade the army, and you are worrying about their herds, at such a critical point. What do we have to do with them? If we don’t stop acting like that, we will not succeed, stop it!’
Some were smart enough to listen to him, others were not. And there were such narrow-minded fellows that hurried to say,
‘Well, Darmen is nothing to us. We will easily find a guy like Darmen among our own. He’s a thief himself, why should we listen to him?’
After these squabbles, Kartkozha, who, not so long ago, was proud of the unity of the brotherhood of the poor men’s children, was now feeling blue and indifferent. Soon, the auls learnt about the discord among the militiamen. The outlaws could now steal only wind or fleas from the bais and other wealthy men. And it took a whole scandal to get a sheep or a bag of koumiss for their thirsty bellies.
The older guys tried to extinguish the flaring-up flames of the young tribe’s rebellion, threatening them with terrible curses, persuading them to accept the situation, and not to misjudge everything. Above all, they had to straighten the trunk, the branches would follow.
At the very least, they had to knock some sense into their heads: the mills of God grind slowly, but...
While Kartkozha was thinking what to do now, his uncle came and took him home.
It is a hot day. Under the white sky, white clouds are floating – some like fluff, others like lather. The air is filled with the sound of buzzing flies and chirring grasshoppers. The cape of the lake is covered with a flock, white like chalk, pasturing at the strong grass with bare rhizomes. Having separated two dozens of sheep, shepherd Birgebai is milking every one until the very last drop of milk.
In the marram-grass thickets, a bridled mare is hiding, lowering its big head and twitching its ears of annoying flies, thinking, ‘Stand here, still, or this Birgebai will get you, look at him! He’s ready to milk you dry, till the last sniffles.’
The shepherd is wearing a shabby, filthy, stiff fur coat and dirty underpants. His carbon-black sun-scorched neck is stiff as a belt, his fingers, like prickles, are dug into the sheep nipples, from time to time he is pushing its udder with all his strength. And I must say, the shepherd’s zeal was of certain benefit to the capricious quivering sheep. It gave more than it could: making added efforts, it squeezed out even rolls. The milker would fish out a handful of black rolls out of the milk with his hooked fingers and exclaim with vexation, ‘Ah, you, bastard!’ and would keep milking it twice as hard. But if the animal is milked dry, it means it’s dry.
And there is no need to raise his eyes to the sky, no prayers will help him. Well, Birgebai! Even the pious milkers, who never fail to read namaz early in the morning, have only sheep rolls for a second helping. However, what sin, what harm can there be from a couple of balls of clean sheep in fresh milk?
After finishing milking the sheep, Birgebai went to the pile of dry dung he had gathered. He began to beat out a spark with the flint stone, which he had begged from the lord’s wife, and kindled the fire. Quickly, as if at the wave of a magic wand, the dry dung caught fire. And when the fire flared up, he put a couple of stones in it to get them hot. And, finally, he could warm up his waist and lie on one side, looking at the mirror-like surface of the lake, skimming its shores.
And suddenly he sees a rider coming towards him, whipping on his horse with a kamcha as if someone were pursuing him. He thought, ‘What if this bastard wants to take my milk,’ and he covered his full vessel, different people are wandering around… ‘And this one is definitely some tramp,’ and he put another piece of dung into the fire.
The shepherd pretended to be hard of hearing and, bending to the fire, only once glanced at the rider with one eye, and said reluctantly,
‘Who are you, boy?’
Hearing a complete answer, the shepherd just said, ‘Eh.’
‘Sir, whose flock is it?’
‘This one? And how do you think?’
‘How should I know?’
‘Well, who can have such sheep?’
‘Probably, hodja Ybrai.’
‘Good Lord… Why are you blaming hodja without reason?’
The shepherd examined the knowit-all with even greater displeasure and said,
‘And who are you to ask? Have you passed the lord’s aul?’
‘A-ah… this aul? That’s right!’
The shepherd forced a resentful sound of his lungs, and puffed up like a cock.
‘Sir, did the volost head leave the district?’
‘Did you hear what he said?’
‘Why not – I have ears.’
‘And what did he say in the end?’
‘And what did he have to say? Like others… said… Ah, young people, aren’t you fed up with crappy days? Can you argue with the lords? Not all the rebels have been sent to Siberia, have they?’
The rider tried to ask him about other matters, but the shepherd didn’t answer plainly any of his questions. He turned out to be as swaggering as his sheep, and if he opened his mouth, it was not a word that came out of it, but a bubble.
He thought, ‘I gathered a bag of dry dung, it’s time to go, ay!’ and he started talking about the matters that the shepherd couldn’t evade,
‘I see, you’re going to boil milk, think of it, I’m just in time. I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to eat again, the traveler will find no greater joy in the steppes than fresh boiled-up milk.’
The shepherd began to dip the hot stones into the wooden vessel with milk, and soon it started boiling, gurgling.
‘If you want to try it, get off your horse.’
He dismounted. And realized that he should have done it at once, with due respect, then, maybe, the shepherd wouldn’t be sulky with him and would leave him alone, without interrogating,
‘Who are you?’
‘And they take you?’
‘You are too young, it seems.’
‘Well, who looks at that? In the book I am not old enough, so it should be.’
The shepherd, pretending to be aware of the book, said,
‘Eh, in the book?’ and, hesitating for a moment, he took out Kazakh boots with high tops from his belongings and gave them to Kartkozha.
Kartkozha drank his fill of the hot thickened milk and sighed deeply. The shepherd, standing silently aside, let him drink all the scums. Kartkozha thanked the shepherd for the boots, gave him the only footwear he had, and, asking about the way to the district aul, set off on his way.
At the Volost Head’s
The white huge seven-folded yurt is choked up with people. Aksakals are sitting on the seats of honor, with their beards like spades, goatees, headed by a pitted hodja in a white turban, who is squinting his eyes and rattling the beater in the tub. Everyone is listening to him with respect – the aul judges, foremen and influential men: fat, lean, squabs, lanky, bearded, shaven, with snake-like eyes and with toad-like bulging eyes, everyone…
And at the very doors, there are poor people in short raw leather pants, sticking to their bottoms.
On the blanket, spread out over the fluffy carpet, a man lies leaning his elbows on the downy pillow, in a grey suit, tight from his body folds, thin-lipped, his hair is sleek, his nose is like a small button.
At his feet, a white-faced long-nosed young woman sits like a bell, frothing koumiss with a ladle, her little finger is sticking out, her eyebrows are like arrows.
Behind the gathered important people, blowing their nose every now and then with relish, a young lad is walking, like a cat, picking up empty red china drinking bowls. ‘Hey, you! Quicker, pour the fresh mare’s milk into the wineskins and beat it up unceasingly!’ And they are trying hard, sweating all over, breathing heavily – the beater is going fast in the huge greasy wineskin, as if saying, ‘Here’s how you should beat up koumiss for the volost head’. The wineskin is clattering like a drum – it has scared away all the birds from the lake.
The hodja threw open the flaps of his dressing gown, like an eagle opens his wings, and loosened the belt on his pants. He waved his hand to those who treated him and drained one more bowl in a gulp. At such a soft and pleasing minute, the treasurer, who was leaving the yurt, pushed and nearly overturned Kartkozha, standing timidly in the doorway, on his back.
He was embarrassed to have attracted attention of the higher people, and, sat down hurriedly near the torn malakhais. His haste was useless – nobody even looked at him as if he were an ordinary thing. Thing or no thing, he entered, didn’t he?
Yes, he did, and his heart was wrung with shyness immediately. He was amazed by the grandeur of the volost head sitting on the astonishing carpets and silks, amazed by the unexampled braids and patterns on the wide belts, the shining silver and china, rings and necklaces…
God forbid him to accidentally touch, stain, overturn or desecrate any of these splendid things – he grew stiff and held his breath.
An aging Kazakh with a goatee, who stood beside him, felt guilty for such an ungracious welcome of a new guest or maybe it was just his habit, anyway, he greeted him,
‘How are you?’
Kartkozha answered him sheepishly, but he was already listening attentively to the hodja, who was retelling, using various gestures, an instructive parable of Prophet Muhammad,
‘And then Khazret Ali Razi said, ‘To Allah Gankhi…’.
The aksakals and the torn treuhs were nodding their approval.
The hodja concluded his story, clearing his throat loudly, by admonitions,
‘And it was said, ‘Uakadare khayrikhi, uasharrikhi minallakhi tagala’. Whatever the pursuit, whatever the hostility, what are they in comparison with the patience of Allah? Every person’s step is written in the Heavenly Tablets. Isn’t it so, aksakal?’ and he turned his eyes on the old man with a goatee.
‘It is true,’ he replied and struck himself three times with his lean fist in the chest.
The hodja decided to make sure once again that the truth he had uttered was clear, so he tapped the old man on the knee and asked,
‘What did you say?’
‘You are right, I agree with You,’ and the goatee-bearded man struck himself in the chest again.
‘That’s it!’ exclaimed the hodja, cleared his throat again and turned to the volost head,
‘Dear friend, the divine grace came down on your ancestors, you are blessed with good fortune and power. Their prayers have given you determination. No enemy can defeat you. And your relatives are anointed with greatness and selectness. Our Prophet has one hadith…’ Kartkozha couldn’t hear the rest of the hodja’s words because of the two treuhs, sitting next to him near the doorway, that had argued over a bowl of koumiss. A few minutes later he was again able to hear the hodja talking about God’s laws.
‘The man that receives message from the Very Almighty Allah must not fear fires of hell – neither sword, nor arrow will harm him, so says the Prophet!’
The listeners opened their mouths, astonished by this statement. The volost head said, ‘Well, I don’t think we deserve Allah’s message!’ and he giggled through his clenched teeth with a short belly laugh. And Kartkozha thought, ‘I would look at you, at the war, laughing like that at the holy messages!’
Yes, Kartkozha was simple as a sufi. He was incapable of understanding the subtle games of sophisticated minds.
The meeting of the honorable men was taking its course, while Kartkozha sat sniffling and sweating. No one offered him a drink of koumiss, the bowls just kept floating past him. However, having had a drink of the shepherd’s milk the day before, he wasn’t particularly thirsty. But still, he was upset that they treated him as a stray orphan. Someone inside said to him, ‘Listen, you are a man too. You have arms, legs, eyes that can see, warm blood and a heart. Then why are they so disdainful of you?’
And a daring phrase, like a restless bird, was trying to break away out of him, ‘I am a man,’ it was thrashing its wings, struggling and then calmed down. He crushed it, tightened it up in a noose. But then again it fluttered, dying to be free, screaming, ‘Damn you, fat noblemen! You don’t have a drop of compassion or sympathy for the degraded and ill-fated, for all those who gaze at his world in sorrow!’ The only person that had greeted him, noticing another bowl approaching, said,
‘This kid has got nothing,’ and he pointed at Kartkozha.
But Kartkozha didn’t stretch out his hand, he pouted like a child displeased by a milk skin, his heart ached, ‘You can bring me nectar from the paradise spring, I won’t drink it, not for anything, I’d better die!’ Meanwhile, the tenderhearted Kazakh was given a look of bewilderment, ‘Who is he talking about?’ And not a word to Kartkozha, not a gesture to his side.
Finally, he was given a bowl of koumiss, tiny as a pupil of the eye. Kartkozha decided to refuse it and walk away proudly. But it seemed inconvenient. So there was nothing for it but to swallow.
A Mean Heart
Behind the guest yurt, sedge is growing densely, a little away from the scrub, a large group of people has gathered. The most important of them is the volost head in a city cap. All the heads are leaning towards him, from time to time they are looking around and then start whispering again, as if discussing some dangerous issues.
Well, so many secrets! Maybe, Kartkozha knows what they are discussing? Unlikely, or else we would certainly know it too, it looks like these secrets are not meant for our ears.
If a more resourceful writer described these events, I am sure, he would definitely tell the reader why the volost head went to the city and what news he brought back with him. And we are not experts at reading other people’s thoughts from a distance. And what a perfect brain should a man have to understand all the golden wisdom of these noblemen! It is over our heads to understand which thoughts burden their minds: maybe, filled with their people’s sorrow, they are stuck trying to find salvation, or perhaps, having learned some good news from the tsar, they are considering ways of presenting this news to the people. Of course, we hear some news too, but, as we don’t want to be reputed to spread different rumors, we will beware of wasting our breath.
Don’t take us for impolite snobs, however, apparently, we can’t escape this lot, even if speak more eagerly. And I must admit, we are brimming over… well, you are, probably, aware of the inexhaustible torrents of words Kazakh can produce.
If we keep silent for another moment, we will burst, I’m afraid! And who would want to die in such a terrible way, eh? And what is the point of keeping quiet: if you don’t hear it from us, others will tell you. Besides, we are quite sure that we are capable of recounting everything we have learnt about the secrets of the volost head in a proper way. And it would be wrong to leave our sad Kartkozha in the dark, we are friends with him, I think. So, show a little more patience, first of all, let’s find Kartkozha.
After drinking koumiss, the respectable society broke up, but hardly had the samovar boiled up, when the men started bunching in packs, discussing something among themselves. Kartkozha wandered for some time, and, not knowing where to go, returned to the guest yurt. He was hoping to see the interpreter there and talk to him. He entered, his head bowed, through the low door, and saw that there was no one but the hodja, who was preparing painstakingly for his prayers, washing his feet.
In desperation he turned to the man, sticking around the yurt, ‘Have you seen the interpreter?’
‘He hasn’t returned from the gathering yet.’
Disappointed, Kartkozha didn’t leave the man alone and tried to voice his resentment.
‘You tell that to the volost head.’
‘Why will he be talking to me?’
‘Who knows… If he is in the mood, he will.’
Kartkozha spotted the volost head in the distance and began to stare at him. And he sat silently in the shade picking the ground with a twig and looking at Kartkozha’s mare every now and then. Kartkozha didn’t dare to approach him. Yet, he didn’t want to leave with nothing either. At this time, a boy climbed up his mare and started going heaven knows where. Kartkozha rushed after him, ‘Hey, where are you going?’
The boy did not stop the horse, on the contrary – he kicked it on both sides with his heels. Kartkozha, shouting ‘Help!’, ran after him, but then the volost head’s servant emerged before him and stopped him saying, ‘What are you doing? Are you mad?’
‘And why did he take my mare? Can’t he have found another horse?’
‘I allowed him to take it, why do you care?’
‘And what right do you have to allow him something like that?’
‘Stop talking nonsense, go away. See, impudent fool!..’ and he pushed him in the chest.
Kartkozha was confused. His heart rose and started pounding in his throat, his whole body tensed. If he starts a fight, he will definitely lose. And then, who can he start a fight with the volost head’s man? He was so angry, his blood was about to boil. He thought: even dogs are crazy in this aul, the devil knows what they think of themselves! And with nothing for his pains, he decided to go out of harm’s way. They took his mare right before his very face, how can they do that? He didn’t know himself how and why, yet he went to the yurt for the select few again. At this moment, with his hands in his pants pockets, the volost head waddled to the yurt. Without thinking, Kartkozha started walking beside him. The volost head seemed not to care about who was walking next to him… Realizing that no one was going to pay any attention to him, Karkozha, embarrassed and stammering, said,
‘Sir… if I could…’ The volost head asked him without stopping, ‘With complaint?’
‘I wanted to know my age, recorded in the book…’
‘To see if I am old enough for the army…’
‘Get lost… I’m fed up with you!’ and he disappeared in the yurt.
Kartkozha stayed before the threshold. Seeing the boy return on his mare, he began to pull him off the saddle, ‘What a rascal! You might have ridden it to death!’
After going for half a mile, Kartkozha saw a carriage raising dust along the steppe tracks, coming from the district aul. And, as if intending to catch up with it, he started riding his mare hard, looking around.
He rides thinking, ‘If there is a real skunk in this world, it must be the volost head. And Darmen told us! He knew. There can be no leniency for this dog.’ And then a thought came to his mind, ‘I should kill him’. He used to be afraid of even thinking about murder. ‘But someone needs to pass a death penalty for the volost head. Of course, the poor dzhigits. But they don’t know that he is here now. I must tell them. Let them come and kill him,’ - and so he rode his mare to the Motley Mountains, without further thinking.
If there is God…
The aul of hodja Ydyrys was on his way. A rich aul. A whole nesting ground of auls. Before coming to the white central yurts, Kartkozha decided to drop in at some black poor yurt on the edge of the aul and drink a bit of ayran.
From a distance the aul seemed to be enveloped in flames – so much black smoke was coming from its yurts. He climbed up a hill hurriedly and looked – a great number of men, women and children were running about, fussing back and forth around a dozen of streaming-up smokes.
He came closer – three auls were making extraordinary sacrifices near the hearths deepened into the ground. Puddles of blood, skinned animals, smell of burning fat eating into the nostrils. Kartkozha was hungry, he wanted to plunge his teeth into the ram rump. Smoke. Cauldron. Dog.Child. Everything got mixed up, confused.
If there is God…
The aul of khoja Ydyrys was on his way. A rich aul. A whole nesting ground of auls. Before coming to the white central yurts, Kartkozha decided to drop in at some black poor yurt on the edge of the aul and drink a bit of ayran.
From a distance, the aul seemed to be enveloped in flames – so much black smoke was coming from its yurts. He climbed up a hill hurriedly and looked – a great number of men, women and children were running about, fussing back and forth around a dozen of streaming-up smokes.
He came closer – three auls were making extraordinary sacrifices near the hearths deepened into the ground. Puddles of blood, skinned animals, smell of burning fat eating into the nostrils. Kartkozha was hungry, he wanted to plunge his teeth into the ram rump. Smoke. Cauldron. Dog. Child. Everything got mixed up, confused.
The gluttons, like crows, had flocked together, crowded for a free feast: a khoja, a mullah, self-satisfied old men of every stripe and color with most unpleasant faces. The people had gathered to implore, to beg the Almighty God to stand up for their sons, and the flock of ravens and crows with their fat bellies ahead of them had come to take, to tear away some fresh-skinned ram pelt. The Mullah hadn’t yet finished his prayer, blessing the treats for God, when someone brought a whole roll of pelts and asked,
‘Khoja, where shall I take them?’
The bearer of Muslim traditions, available only to him, jumped to his feet immediately, asking, ‘Well, show me, how many? Have you taken pelts from Myltykbai?’
‘And from Maktai?’
The khoja started counting the pelts. The mullah couldn’t bear it any longer, ‘Oh, Allah! Someone would intercept my pelts,’ and he went to the place where the rams were killed.
One of the bystanders noticed,
‘How could Kazakhs call them holy servants of God?’ His remark was caught by the glutton with a flabby lip.
‘What holy servants? Where can you find holy people these days? Everyone is lying, indulging in debauchery, and stealing. They would sell their souls for an extra head of cattle. And the fact that they are preaching and praying for Allah, well, we can do that too. The sufferers would better give their presents to us, than to them. At least, we would have something to cover the holes in our pants,’ and he slapped himself on the thigh.
The worshippers of the saints began to protest,
‘Why are you saying that? It is known that the khoja’s grandfather was once blessed by Saint Atai. I just wish that their prayers were heard.’
But the thick-lipped stuck to his guns,
‘Then why don’t they pray for themselves? Maybe they would, if it were paid? The bald-headed khoja doesn’t have children at all, and the bai’s son is either a bit insane, or plain stupid and weak, see, and the lame mullah’s mother is always taking a good beating from him. If they are blessed, then why does their holiness bring them no good?’
‘Yes, if you look inside us, we will be much better arranged than they are,’ said a fat stammerer. —
‘Your insides will definitely be better, if you are talking about fat…’ one of the aksakals noted.
The thick-lipped said, ‘If the khoja and mullah don’t get enough to eat, we may as well sacrifice something for them, let’s say, our chapans?’
A young man butted in.
‘These khoja and mullah, they don’t understand anything about the laws of Sharia. Last year I wanted to make a sacrifice, but I couldn’t choose between an old sheep and a six-month-old fat ewe. So I asked the mullah. And he said, ‘Kill the one that has softer and fatter meat!’ And he ate it, and took the pelt. I understand, an old sheep’s meat is sinewy, hard to bite, but in the neighboring aul the same mullah said in my presence that it wasn’t good to kill young animals, and demanded to kill a fatter sheep. They twist the laws of Sharia as they see fit, I realized that then. The table companions burst out laughing, ‘Oh, if we could do so!’ And they spent their time with such a lively conversation until pieces of meat on whole bones were taken out of the boiling cauldrons and piled onto the plates as large as military shields. The aksakals and gluttons took their knives. And as they were moving the plates towards them and stretching out their hands for the meat, there came a scream that split the heavens and the earth,
‘Drop everything! Get up!.. On the horses!.. Come on!’
‘What? What happened?’ everyone jumped up.
‘The war… the troops… They are wiping off everything and everyone…’ the sense of alarming words started getting to them.
There was a big commotion. ‘Where are the horses?.. Run for your lives!.. Ride on!..’ everyone was rushing about, scampering, running at breakneck speed. Kartkozha couldn’t find his mare. He released it to graze, and now he couldn’t see it anywhere. It must have freed from horse locks and galloped off beyond the hills following other frightened horses.
Meanwhile, the plates of meat – Kartkozha noticed it from the corner of his eye – were ruled over by businesslike gluttons. Two of them, smeared with fat from head to foot, were carrying and loading boiled meat onto the cart, without forgetting to fill their mouths, while trying to say, ‘Take those from there too!’, but instead of words, only some mumbling forced its way through their noses. The khoja and the mullah were quick too; they put away their pelts and shares of meat. And the others – dogs, crippled old women, orphans, beggars – were kicked out away from the meat by the gluttons – if they had horns, they would gore them to death.
Kartkozha couldn’t help thinking about that and other matters. ‘Here they are – tears of blood of the Kazakhs. This is the true mask of the honorable men – they are crows and ravens. And thousands, millions of ordinary young men are sent to their deaths. And a swarm of mosquitoes is hanging over their heads, with only one concern – how to eat and drink at the expense of others. And knowing this, we have to sacrifice our lives while their sons are hiding behind our backs. Why? For which services? And where’s justice, where’s humanity, where’s the freedom of choice? Or are they just empty words? And who is responsible for them? And in general, whose idea was all that is happening right now? A man’s? or God’s? If it is God’s will…’ here Kartkozha stopped short, frightened by the heretical thought, and repented in a hurry.
To the Slaughter
When the sun barely touched the peak of the mountain Yesekkyrgan, a half-verst military column – two horsemen in line – stretched along its slope and headed to the dilapidated Kanai’s mausoleum.
Hardly had the larks finished their songs, hardly had the dawn broken red, when a drumroll was heard and three horsemen appeared over the ruins, near the top of the mountain. They glanced down on the enemy and disappeared in a flash, like marmots, among the rocks. Rays of the sun glided along the hillsides and lit up everything around. Kartkozha was going along the ravine. Those scouts rode past him to the Motley Mountains, heatedly exchanging words with each other.
When Kartkozha got to the camp, all the militiamen were already in the saddles, gathered round a huge boulder with commanders standing on top of it. Some men had already had a taste of their kamchas and reproaches,
‘You are repeating everything after the bais…’
But the debate was not over. Some guys were jumping all over, hitting themselves in the chest with their fists, yelling,
‘We will fight…’
‘It doesn’t matter, we will die here…’
‘But first, we will tear off the head of the volost foreman!’
‘Yes, let him have a taste of our misfortunes!’
Others were clutching their heads, doing a great deal of thinking, some were losing heart, some were starting fights, but they all came to nothing. Respectable men, timid lads, bais’ hangers-on ready to serve their enemies, and the secretly sent spies were repeating over and over again that it was unreasonable to confront the tsar’s army.
Restless hearts, fiery souls, proud men, bullies, dare-devils, and horse rustlers were yelling, ‘Fight!’
Bleating here, growling there. It wasn’t clear who had superior numbers. Darmen tied up a white kerchief to the kamcha and raised it over his head,
‘Those who are willing to fight, come with me!’ and he led the dzhigits to the rocks.
Cowards and cautious men moved away. The militia fell apart. Half-hearted guys, not knowing what to undertake, were rushing back and forth until they finally perched themselves with the crowd greater in number. Those who didn’t care whether to fight or to surrender did the same thing. The most desperate fighters, unable to put up with it, started yelling, swinging their lashes, ‘Let’s take horses from these cowards! Let’s beat them! If you don’t want to fight, there is no place for you among the militia!’ and they attacked them. Having tasted a bit of kamcha, the renegades changed their minds again. The militia was restored and ready for the war.
But what is the right way of fighting?
They considered several ways. Some were saying, ‘Let’s hide in the Motley Mountains, hold the line, and put the archers higher, among the rocks.’ Others were excited, ‘We must attack them! Let’s fight with them and smash them with our cudgels, let’s fall on them and turn them over!’ Still others suggested, ‘Let’s select perky dzhigits – they will attack them frontally, and the rest will take in the rear and strike the enemy in the back.’ – Some advised, ‘Let’s take them unawares and attack at night.’ There were also some slyboots that suggested, ‘Let’s send a negotiator and cheat them.’ There were lots of ideas, but no volunteers to rush to the attack, they urged each other on, but nobody would go, so they decided to attack together at once – and let things take their own course.
Later in the afternoon the militia in lines flew down from the mountain pass and headed to Kanai’s grave, past the rocks and through the hillside.
They are running and bumping into each other. Their lips are clenched. Their faces are pale. Fur treuhs are pulled over their foreheads, their heads are pulled into the shoulders, their knees press down stakes, cudgels, spears, war axes. Some guys have handguns and muskets of their grandfathers.
They are saddled on pure-bred fast horses, barely trained stallions, and plain horses. Some are riding at a trot, some are striving to start galloping. Five versts away from Kapai, the militia gathered and stopped behind the steep hill. Three dzhigits climbed to the top to keep guard. Soon, they came back, bending down. The militia swayed. The men tightened the girths, put tobacco behind their cheeks, took up arms and left the hill with care.
The space that opens over the hill is astounding: the man stands and his eyes are involuntarily becoming rounded. Stone walls of Kanai are situated on the lakeshore.
The militia couldn’t turn around in two wings, so they galloped out of concord. The dzhigits, who kept with Darmen, got off with a jerk, all at once and swiftly, and the rest started a bit late, stretching out in a jittery tail. A few versts were left till the stone graves when rifle volleys rang out. A gunpowder smoke began to stretch out. The dzhigits pressed themselves to the manes, some climbed off the saddles to one side. Two dozens of horsemen attacked Kartkozha at the front, he rushed back muttering, ‘Oh, holy, ah!’ One lad fell down to earth, then another…
Bullets were flying densely, like pellets. Here, near the smoke screen, a red butterfly quivered on another guy, then on another… The advancing men started scattering. Two or three had already turned their horses back, others followed them. The clatter of horses’ hoofs was blending with the thunder of gunshots. The numerous host was running at a breakneck speed, trying to escape the bullets, flying densely after it. There was no salvation – only death all round, the remains of the militia rushed away blindly and managed to escape, to ride away from death. They were running away hurriedly for a long time, most of them scattered to the auls, and Kartkozha went home.
Clouds Became Thicker
An overhanging huge black cloud, coming from the west, sucked in all the wind, growling and rumbling.
Steppe animals ran away: the skylark – to its nest, the mouse – to its hole…
And the aul is bustling. People are sorting out and lifting poles and wall gratings of the yurts, hammering in stakes for the tension wires, tightening the bullock carts – the aul is rising from the chaos of things and felt mats… Women are crying as if they were battling with an invisible enemy, though, is it shouting, or disputing?
Dogs hid under the carts, as far and safely as possible. Stallions are rushing God knows where, throwing their hoofs, trembling with their thin necks and whisking their tails. Mares-mothers are jerking up their heads, keeping vigil, uneasily. Calves have disappeared from sight, lambs have scattered.
Suddenly, the swallowed wind broke out from the hanging darkness, began to whirl in the sky, the dust from the aul shot up to the heavens in a tornado. The rain sneaked up… dripped a little at first, and then came down in a heavy shower. Lightnings flashed, and not somewhere far away, but right over their heads. Women rushed to cover samovars, basins and iron buckets. Fathers were trying to manage their children, ‘Stop! Get away from the door! Sit down!’ After a minute or two furious gusts of wind came down on the yurts fasteners, mowed them down and carried away. People rushed to catch ropes, feltings, gratings. The whirlwind became stronger. And the hurricane blew off black felt hovels, standing on the outskirts of the aul. How could these structures, composed from only three or four gratings, withstand such a wind? Well, they are hovels! But even huge yurts were heaving with trepidation, like shawls on sleeping women.
Clearly, Kartkozha’s yurt couldn’t keep from falling. And the rain was beating down unceasingly. The fallen-down gratings pressed his mother against the ground. No matter how hard Kartkozha tried to rescue her himself, he couldn’t manage it. So he had to call his brother’s wife for help, who was chasing her shawl, torn off by the wind. His little brother was running after the calves. What’s worse: his brother’s little one was floundering, gasping for breath, in his overturned cradle.
Dogs were licking off puddles of spilled ayran, poking their mouths into the slightly torn wineskins with butter. Here his elder brother came running. Wet from head to foot, he jumped off the saddle and lifted the cradle, helped their mother out.
Their house was ruined, their farm – destroyed. Mother was moaning, pressing her hand to her clavicle. The pouring rain began to calm down.
‘God was angry with us today,’ said Tungyshbai and added, speaking to Kartkozha. ‘Your spotty heifer was stolen.’
‘Who stole it?’
‘The people of the volost head. Because you were part of the militia.’
‘And what our heifer was to do with it?’
‘Well, it’s just an animal! You’d better think about yourself,’ his mother said.
‘They take away cattle from those who were in the militia. They took Tolebai’s only horse. The volost head is traveling with a band of Kazakhs and robbing everyone.’
‘Oh, God the Creator! I told you, don’t go! And what now? No, you followed this Imankan…’
As the rain stopped, the aulspeople lifted up their yurts and collected their things. Everyone calmed down and started discussing the rumors,
‘Well, you only lost your heifer, it’s nothing. They are arresting guys, they say. They caught Nygman, Shakiman. Ybrai managed to escape. They must have taken his bull.’
‘And where’s Darmen?’ asked Kartkozha.
‘Darmen acted like a man. He said that he didn’t want anyone to suffer because of him, so he gave himself up to the authorities.’
‘And what about the arrested guys?’
‘They must have sent them to prison.’
‘Imankan was trying to escape, and thus jeopardized his entire big family.’
‘It’s no use running. How will you survive, being outlawed and in hiding?’
‘Everyone thinks about himself. And why should you be responsible for someone else? Imankan did a very foolish thing. His fault caused great harm to the whole aul,’ concluded one of their neighbors.
And another aul petty proprietor stood up and said, speaking to the young, ‘Don’t even think of running, if they come for you, don’t disgrace our aul. Or else we will catch you and hand you in to them.’
These words got to the very guts of Kartkozha. Here is how they speak – their relatives, their aulspeople. And what is he to do now, where should he go? He looked around and saw how cold and impenetrable the aulsfolk’s faces had become, how all their good traits disappeared in a blink, how their shoulders drew back from each other, oh, Kazakhs! Can everyone be thinking only about themselves without wanting or daring to lend you a helping hand, to save you in this dark and disastrous winter night?
Everything that he was believing firmly in, everything that he had hoped for collapsed and vanished into thin air, and he was disarmed and dumbfounded as if he suddenly found himself in a foreign land alone and naked.
The aulspeople started settling their yurts, talking with each other about trifles, pulling some things, gossiping, carrying and stacking something… As if turned to stone, Kartkozha sat looking at his hunched-up mother wiping her tears and stroking her severely injured shoulder.
Autumn shearing was over. Cranes flew around the auls, giving out guttural goodbye shrieks, and disappeared over the horizon.
Cold weather was coming. Grass faded, leaves turned yellow, people started driving off their cattle for the winter. An order was issued stating that mobilization had to be finished within 15 days. People were idling about, confused.
Some hurried to hire themselves to drive cattle, some went to coal and salt mines, there were even those who managed to get a job at the post – everyone was looking for any chance to save themselves.
In a wailing country, only kids and dogs could freely play and have fun. At such times, only the lame, blind, bald, dumb and humpbacked weren’t threatened by the fate of sprinkling ground with their blood. However, others were hunted for to take their place in the military ranks, so there were lots of people who simply disappeared over China border.
They agreed with one bald guy that for a cow he would present himself as Kartkozha’s elder brother. However, on the appointed day the bald guy didn’t come for the cattle. They got anxious. Kartkozha had to go to him again.
‘Oh, holy, ah, what has happened to that dog? He must be here by now… If he changed his mind, we will go together with brother! Two women with kids won’t be able to survive! Who will help them? Uncle hardly walks… Holy, ah, can they take the elder brother too? No, they won’t take him. The bald guy will take his place. If he doesn’t agree, we will give him another cattle besides the cow. Can’t we find someone else besides this bald lad, another cripple? Can’t we find any way out?’
As if on the scales, despair and hope took turns to outweigh each other in his heart, he was exhausted; suddenly he took it in his head that everything would turn out well, if he went to the aul Asheter. And this idea stuck in his head like a nail, nothing else came to his mind.
‘The situation is as bad in Zeken’s aul Asheter. I will go to him and see how he gets out of scrapes.’
Approaching, he heard heart-rending sounds from afar: was it a child sobbing violently, a dog whining, or a sick man moaning? As he came closer, the harrowing sounds grew into wailing. His heart started thumping in terror. Howling was coming from the house, which Kartkozha was heading to. People from all over the aul were running there too.
He came in – the house was full of people. Zeken was moaning and whimpering. Women were kissing him on the forehead, men were holding his arm. Blood was gushing from it.
‘Bring some ashes!... Set fire to a piece of thick felt. What is it? Can you take off his boots? Has anyone run to bring the mullah?’ everyone was chattering perplexedly, bustling, not knowing how to stop the bleeding.
It turned out that he had cut off his finger himself. He, the only son, wasn’t supposed to go to war, but some clerk bribed the right man and wrote Zeken instead of his son in the enlistment paper.
Pity for him, disgust, and fear mixed in Kartkozha’s heart. He got into the saddle hurriedly and rode away as quickly as he could.
All sorts of different, useless thoughts burdened his mind as he rode to the bald’s guy aul. And visions of Zeken’s bloody hand without the finger appeared before his eyes. When he came, the bald guy wasn’t at home.
‘Where did he go?’
‘To Bukabai’s aul,’ answered the bald guy’s mother.
‘And what about the promise he gave us?’
‘We don’t know. I only know that he has agreed with someone else.’
‘Oh, Allah! How can he be so mean?’ cried Kartkozha in despair, sighed heavily and left.
Tears spurted from his eyes. The world narrowed as if darkness had come over. There was no sunray, no patch of light. His head sunk in his shoulders and fell to his chest, his whole body trembled. He was unable to think where and why he was going go. Then suddenly someone caught up with him and said, ‘How are you?’
He startled, turned around, raised his head and looked up – he knew this guy. He was taking a humpbacked poor man with him. He started boasting that he had hired the hunchback for little money. Well, of course, he hired him, but he was still concerned that that trick wouldn’t work, but there was nothing else to do, at least he could hope. There is no reason to live without hope.
But here, I think, hope is very similar to the one with which poor hard workers, seeing that somebody in their families starts lying low and doing nothing, look at the lazybones and rejoice, ‘Well, it seems things are improving.’ Kartkozha entered the wooded mountain gorge. A narrow passageway was lying ahead. His heart skipped a beat: if someone sprang out, he would die. He would freeze and hide, freeze and hide. So with caution, carefully, Kartkozha was moving forward when suddenly right in front of him a dock-tailed, saddled horse got out of the sedge. Whose horse is it? Where’s the rider? Kartkozha went step-by-step 20-
His head went dizzy. The axe, he had put in his belt, stuck painfully into his side. He stood up, forced himself to climb on the boulder and looked down. A hanged man was dangling in a coarse lasso on the pine branch. His neck was narrow in the loop, the head slanted, the arms were hanging along the body as if glued to it. His face seemed familiar. He must have met him in the militia not long ago.
Kartkozha did not dare to go further into the gorge, crouching, he turned back. He didn’t make out the hanged man’s face properly or its expression. He nearly went crazy, his lips were pale and trembling, he was sniffing like a wet rag under the feet.
He left the gorge and went to the lowlands, and for a long time he was driving on his horse and looking back cautiously at the pine tops drifting away. He was riding at a breakneck speed and didn’t even notice how he had got round the mountain area. But where was he going? Why?
You will hear it.
Kartkozha, unconsciously wishing to get lost, had to spend the night in the steppe. In the morning, coming round, he rushed searching the auls for a hunchback; he found one. On his knees he was persuading him, crying, promising to give him a cow and a calf – he hardly managed to talk him into coming with him. He was taking him like a bit of fluff in his palm, praying to his hump as to an idol, save perhaps rocking him to sleep like a baby. And at home he was greeted as prophet of light Khyzr, everyone was unspeakably happy.
‘Mom, that’s it! Don’t worry now!’
‘I hid a very fat intestine, I’ll treat him. And I will also give him a bit of sweet irimshik.’
‘I just wish he would enjoy it! Imagine it, he’s a very capricious person.’
They treated the hunchback to all dainty viands they could find at home. Horse blindgut fat alone was worth like gold! But the hunchback put on airs – he didn’t even try it. And he wouldn’t yield to any persuasion. His fastidiousness became clear the next day when he claimed the best cow. Among the three cows-providers, it was the most milking, the most complaisant, the most fertile. And he was encroaching on it as if unwillingly, fully aware of his right, he jeered at them to his heart’s content.
The auls were trembling. Up to ten guys from every aul were sent to war, the best, loved, dear sons – their parents hadn’t slept a wink at nights over every one of them, had put their whole souls in them… Everyone – from nineteen to thirty-one year old… And among them, there weren’t any bais’ sons or other guys of solid class, and even if someone like that turned out there, he was immediately rescued. Any chance was used to help their sons, the right hard-fisted defenders were searched for.
A lot was given, and a lot was taken, though it seems, nothing extra could be taken from the poor man, except herpes… be it as it may, they succeeded. Every nestling has its own destiny: one is fated to fall out the nest, the other – to fly wherever it wants.
Kartkozha was preparing for the campaign: he soled his boots, darned his clothes; he would put all the necessary things into the korzhyn, and then sort them out again and again. And with the family he would talk mostly about such things as,
‘Should I take supplies? What will I sleep on? Maybe, I should cut a piece of rug? And how do others do? Do we have a good blanket? Can I go without money? Still, I need to have some change. And how are you going to live now?’
Events were unfolding as before. No will was left for disorders. They were plodding along to the slaughter, as a flock of sad bleating sheep. Apparently, such was their fate assigned from above, they could only wish each other health, as incurable patients to terminally ill ones.
The next day was hidden in a dark mist, and life today was clutching at the one thing left – the soul.
A lot of terrible things happened to the men called up to the war. They would cut off their fingers, cut their veins with razors, leave their wounds to rot, burn their arms and legs, rub salt and lime into their eyes to become blind, hang themselves, jump off the rocks and trees in the hope to break their bones, eat half-done meat infected with anthrax, and wander around the steppes, drooling like madmen… a lot of things.
Indeed, some of them fell ill for the rest of their lives, others became disabled, and there were those who just died. But most of them did not tempt fate, and with the words, ‘I’ve seen the world – I’ve had a good time!’, ‘You can’t die before death comes!’ were ready to go cheerfully wherever they had to.
It’s nothing for a true dzhigit to jump into the saddle and go wherever his horse happens to take him!
Hubbub and turmoil are reigning in the auls. There is no one to feed, water and graze the cattle; everyone is sticking around the wells, noisily discussing the sad news. A bull-calf, harnessed to the bullock cart, is mooing, a dog is howling before the threshold… There were fuss and confusion everywhere.
Everyone is dragging themselves God knows where – hurrying and twitching men, bitterly moaning and sighing old men and women, aunts, sisters, howling children left by their mothers. Guys are packing carts with supplies and beddings, cramming and tying bundles.
Finally, everything was ready for the long journey, and the aul started shouting and yelling, ran under the cart wheels. Everyone set off. Some fell behind, others started roaming between three yurts.
‘Women shall stay, please, stay!’ they shouted two or three times.
It was no use: almost every woman kept going, clutching at her son, without leaving. Kartkozha was trying to persuade his mother,
‘Mom, stay, you’ll get tired…’
And she wants to stop, but can’t turn her eyes away from him, tears are falling from them as if from the fathomless sea. She has no strength to say anything, her jaw is just shaking.
Near the Big cemetery, the men moved away from their carts and women, headed with measured steps to the ancient graves, and, standing beside them with their heads lowered, started listening to the mullah’s sermons. The mullah, having read several surahs from the Koran and prayed for the dead, stood up and said,
‘Those who haven’t performed their ablutions – do it now! Let’s do it right, and by reading the prayer twice, genuflecting, let’s ask the spirits of our ancestors for protection and God – for His divine grace.’
For absence of water they washed their hands with sand, incessantly praying to Allah. They stood in several lines.
The sky darkened and hid the sun behind the gray clouds. The mausoleums with crashed domes and gaping graves in them started droning like empty barrels, in tune with the whistling of the autumn wind.
As if from under the ground, the mullah’s voice was heard, ‘Allah akbar!’ Their eyes were turned to their bent chests, their hearts were directed to the Almighty Allah. They knelt before God and before their ill fates, and nearly hugged the earth and the graves of their ancestors.
Kartkozha’s body went limp, his every vein, every piece was seized with trembling. And how could he stand up to it when his mother was weeping near the cart, the men were crying near the graves, the spirits raised from the graves were moaning, the cattle in the steppe was howling – he was not the only one drowned in tears – all Kazakhs, huge in numbers – the whole Sary-Arka dissolved in tears.
‘Amen!’ the palms rose asking for blessings. And a crying voice,
‘Yes, spirits!.. Yes, ancestors!.. Are you ready to faithfully protect your descendants? We are turning to you, the Almighty! Yes, our hearts are pure!.. Accept our sacrifice!.. Protect our sons… save them from all the adversities, from the terrible death!..’
‘Farewell, take care!’
Dear readers! I believe that Kartkozha’s endless misfortunes have produced quite a dispiriting impression on you. That is why we will avoid the long story about how in the city he was beat up by soldiers for his reluctance to bare his private parts before the army medical officer, rather indulgent to those who approached him with bank notes; or how he was shaved off and locked in a small barracks room with nine more poor devils like him, how he caught cold when they took him, in his underwear, to the streets with their cold autumn winds. No, we will meet him right at the front.
Trenches along the forest. Slit trenches that make you disappear. At daybreak dzhigits set out to dig endless trenches and ditches. At noon they are fed. Rolls of artillery pieces are heard. Cars are going by with rhythmic crackles. Aircrafts are sweeping over their heads. From time to time a command is heard, ‘Down!’. And the guys go down like ninepins.
Kartkozha got used to words like ‘trench’, ‘airplane’, ‘car’, ‘train’, ‘bomb’, ‘grenade’, 'machinegun' as to the names of aul things and livestock. But he couldn’t understand the way they moved, flew and exploded. Of course, he knew that the power of cars and engines lay in steam, gasoline and alcohol. The fact that steam had the power to move things was clear to him, but what force does gasoline have? And is it the force really? Maybe, it’s more than just force, it’s something else. But what is it, this ‘something’? Magic? Witchcraft? Spirit? Or God’s will? He couldn’t understand. And what magic or witchcraft can it be when some cars are moving other cars which are controlled by most ordinary people? By the same as Kazakhs, fair-haired Russians, with the same noses, save perhaps that their eyes are blue. Kartkozha began to bother literate Russians and Tatars with questions. They explained that everything worked thanks to technology and science. Some tried to explain everything in detail. Certainly, Kartkozha couldn’t understand anything. Yet, he got added evidence that everything could be achieved by studying, and he was sure to study.
Kartkozha is a sotnik. He is usually free. He looks at the sky, where airplanes are flying in circles like skylarks, dreaming. I am flying up and through all the clouds beneath the sun! And underneath me there are tiny-tiny people, I will come flying to them, to the aul, like a black eagle, my airplane is roaring, rumbling, the Kazakhs will surely get frightened and rush to kill rams, pray and make sacrifices, and I will eat their gifts, no, I won’t, I will bring them knowledge and skills and explain why and how airplanes fly, I will put them in my airplane and fly them up to the sky, and darkness, ignorance will come off the people, and Kazakhs will stop being afraid of airplanes, and they will themselves rise these winged machines into the heavens… but they will remember who has opened their eyes… and his imagination is drawing even more wonderful pictures for him. And he is delighted with his visions, for hours he stands still dreaming. ‘Hey, it’s time to move!’ there comes a scream, and his dream world collapses, Kartkozha finds himself back on sinful earth. Digging, again. Black labor. And bondage again, and many more versts on foot, he’s falling off his feet, pain in the muscles is crushing him, quarrels, swearing, tiredness, bad dreams – but he overcomes, he lives. An airplane is high in the sky, there is no escape.
At first, as he heard a rifle shot, Kartkozha would fall like a stone with his knees pressed to his stomach, and every time he would feel a bullet piercing into him. He would lie without stirring and imagine himself bleeding to death.
However, he wasn’t shot, he would examine himself – safe and sound. Then he got used to it, and now, hearing shots he just looks if his arms and legs are not hurt. Legs are important, thereby hangs a tale. When he first saw a tram and a train, he was very afraid that their huge iron wheels could chop off his legs. But it was alright, a few times he stood aside the rails, and then he learnt to spring in the tram just like aul boys jump onto the backs of balky stallions.
Apart from the rails, Kartkozha didn’t see anything in the cities he had to pass by, soldiers from the guard held them locked in the goods vans on the rails, only names remained in his memory: Samara, Makaryev, Moscow, St. Petersburg. As they came to the front, they got a little bit more freedom. They even went to Riga with one Tatar. The streets there are smooth, everything is neat and slick. You lift your eyes to look at the upper floors – your cap falls down, the buildings are beautiful. Shops windows shine in the sun, and huge lions sit in front of them. Kartkozha even thought they were alive. No, they are just stone.
And one more unusual thing that struck him were gardens where different animals and birds were kept - zoological gardens. Everything was there – a forest and a lake, rocks and lawns. A cage made of hammered iron rods is raised above the lake, as a domed tent. Various birds are swimming and flying under this lattice tent – a golden eagle and a hawk, and even a black kite. They managed to gather all living creatures that inhabit every known and unknown land: bears, tigers, leopards, foxes, beavers, deer, antelopes, cobras, wild rams, Siberian stags, monkeys, wolves, zebras… Kartkozha even had a chance to see an elephant.
‘Holy, ah, and how did they manage to catch them all? And how do they keep them, feed them? All creatures from all corners of the world are gathered here! Think of it! And who came up with such an idea?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, to collect animals.’
‘The Germans, probably. They are people of culture.’
‘Clever people, you see!’
‘Well! The Germans… yes, they are!’
‘And who are stronger: the Germans or the Russians?’
‘A Russian is nothing compared to a German.’
‘Then why did they dare to fight with the Germans?’
‘It’s the tsar. What can you say to him?’
‘And the tsar – what does he want?’
‘And he does what merchants and other rich people want.’
‘Then why don’t merchants fight themselves?’
‘And why should they fight? There is power, there is an army. And merchants will fill their bellies and are happy… clear?’
‘And are soldiers paid for the war? For they can die.’
‘Why the hell should they be paid? They are ignorant. If they weren’t ignorant, would Kazakhs and Sarts die for other people’s sins?’
Whenever possible, Kartkozha tried to talk on such topics. And surprisingly, it always turned out that at the root of every technical miracle or mortal operation lay either great sums of money, or scientific discoveries. Perhaps, something bad and wrong settled in Kartkozha’s mind – he wouldn’t deny it, nevertheless, our hero realized that in the whole universe there were only two important things: money and science.
From Darkness to Light
Who would doubt it, Kartkozha was naïve, gullible and slow-witted. And it was a piece of cake for the soldiers from his sotnia to clean out his pockets and take the money he was saving from his salary. He was offended. They say, ‘Scums are often met in foreign lands.’ Well, it’s evident. But for them it was not enough: the guys that were digging ground with him, day in day out, and feeding front-line lice, defying honor entrusted by their fathers, flouting all the best that connected them, rebelled against him, carried on an unthinkable intrigue. There were some guys that tried to rob him of his sotnik rank, yet, there were those who stood by him. And then there came a chance to go home on leave. Kartkozha had already got ready to go when his own men stripped him off this lucky chance. He was upset. And then it got even worse: some dzhigits from his suyindik kin came up to him and said that his brother Tungyshbai was dead. This misfortune was the last straw – Kartkozha was wandering about, hopeless, he lost flesh, and then all of a sudden a shrapnel shell went through his leg, and he was sent to infirmary.
The infirmary was choked up with the wounded with amputated arms and legs, and cut off noses, without eyes. What was his wound in comparison to theirs? Just a scratch. God spared him.
And still, Kartkozha felt as if this wound had turned him inside out. And a painful anguish came over him. Where is he, where are his family? Not a trace seemed to be left of him on earth. If he dies, no one will even pray for him. He had an elder brother, but he died. There was no refuge, no holy graves of his ancestors to turn to. Depriving himself of everything, he saved up money in the hope to raise their farm and house, but no, it was stolen from him. He reproached himself with carelessness, he was devastated. He even grumbled at God, ‘Why haven’t you killed me at once? I’m blinder than the blind, I can’t understand anything, and I only suffer. And look at others: they are smart, lucky, and their women are squeaky clean, they can crack a joke or play a trick. Even death keeps clear of them. They are never lost, never taken aback. Certainly, they don’t care a straw! Why shouldn’t they kid around?’
He was walking up and down, bored, until he met one Bashkir. At first the Bashkir language seemed strange to him, but then he got used to it and even started talking in it. The Bashkir asked him mostly about his life and family. And he told about his life. It turned out that Bashkirs were almost like Kazakhs. They studied like Kartkozha, and their songs were similar, they differed, however, in that that they grew wheat, planted vegetable gardens and kept apiaries. They were called up for military service as soldiers, they looked well-built and brave. Kartkozha had even a chance to see himself how courageous his Bashkir friend was.
One day they were resting under the wall of the infirmary. And near them, a Kazakh lowered his pants and sat down to ease nature. The eyes of the Kazakhs from the guard popped out of their sockets at this sight. They rushed to him, seized him by the collar and gave it to him good and proper. The Kazakh was trying to put on his pants with one hand and to cover his nape with the other; he fell down unable to understand anything. The Bashkir rushed to the guard, caught his hand and dragged him away. Before doctors came, the Kazakh received a good beating and battering.
‘Well, he’s stupid! Why hit him for that? No, they can’t forget their vicious ways,’ said Bashkir, returning.
‘Yes, but he’s wrong too. Why? Couldn’t he find another place, a little farther on and more secluded?’
‘He has grown up in the steppe, where can he find anything?’
Well, it wasn’t the only time when Kazakhs got it in the neck, and on the jaw. But he had never seen anyone step in so desperately. He admired the Bashkir’s gutsy spirit.
Being friends with the Bashkir, Kartkozha met one Russian soldier.
His name was Andrei. He spoke the Kazakh language as if it were his mother language. When he was young, somewhere in Siberia he became friends with dashing Kazakhs, together with them he ran into the steppe and lived there, among Kazakhs, for five years in perfect amity. And he never forgot all the good they did to him.
Andrei began to slowly put some sense into Kartkozha. He was well-read and he opened Kartkozha’s eyes to many things. He spoke of Kazakhs with praise, ‘Kazakhs are reasonable, hospitable, they grasp everything quickly and are quite skillful. Your music is remarkable, rich, and your literature: I like your poetry and different stories. Kazakhs need to study. If they study, they will rise very quickly. And the tsar is bad. He doesn’t think of Kazakhs as of people. And our people are ignorant too. They don’t like those who are not Russians. While the tsar sits on the throne, there will be no good life for Kazakhs or for our men.’ He would often start such conversations. Kartkozha wasn’t sure whether to believe him or not. But how could he not believe, if it sounded like the truth – there was no other way but to believe. And it seemed that rays of light started penetrating into his dark head. And Kartkozha, who used to measure the boundaries of the universe starting from the outskirts of Bayanaul, began to listen attentively: here’s what the world is like! Loads of sorrow filled him, nothing compared to simple melancholy! Surely, he had realized a lot of things! Anyway, he had seen many lands and cities, spoken to literate Tatars and educated Bashkirs, well-read Russians and Kazakhs that had finished their studies, they all knew what they were talking about, they lived among those who toiled in the sweat of their brows, and they got to know hard work themselves too.
In general, he started thinking in the right way, but sometimes a strange thought crossed Kartkozha’s mind: he wondered, if tsar Nicholas hadn’t turned out Kazakhs against their will to work at the front, would he, Kartkozha, have opened his eyes and learnt everything that he had seen and learnt?! And he came to the conclusion that the front, in some measure, didn’t contradict the meaning of his life. And how could he know that tsar Nicholas would never see in the most fantastic dream of his that he had somehow helped a guy named Kartkozha…
Days dragged on in a dreary chain, and then Anrei told Kartkozha, it would seem, a cheerful piece of news,
‘Well, now everything will be fine!’
‘What does it mean?’
‘The tsar was thrown off. Now there will be freedom and equality.’
‘And who threw him off?’
Andrei told him about political parties, politics, and proletariat. Kartkozha did not understand clearly what these political parties were, but the fact that the tsar was thrown off and that now freedom would come he grasped correctly. And who could imagine the tsar’s downfall? At least, they weren’t even assuming such turn of events. Be it as it may, Kartkozha realized that this was a happy event, and he was in a good mood.
‘And what will be with us? Will they send us back home?’ he started asking.
‘Yes, they will, what war can there be without the tsar!’
And he rejoiced.
Two days in a row they heard humming and ringing over the trenches, ‘Revolution! Freedom! End of the tsar!’ Andrei was right. Kartkozha raised the red flag and together with his comrades joined the masses – they all went to hold a rally.
On the Way
Spring grew bolder with its hot days, wastefully spilling rays of sun onto the frozen ground, and the dzhigits heartened up. It often happens, when horses, beaten by a long winter campaign, become free from saddles, they rush kicking up their hooves into the green glades and fall down tumbling on the warmed-up ground, so did our front-line soldiers, exhausted by anguish for their native Sary-Arka – they rushed screaming – freedom! They rushed, almost flying up like wild-geese, to the trains going east. To their homeland, to their families. Come along! And what would you expect?
All the carriages were cram-full – if only they could go safely to their auls! What can be more exciting than coming home? Laughter, bawdy jokes, cards, long thoughts, screams, songs; there came mountains, forest, river, bridge, steamer…
And cities, cities, cities. He would walk through the city streets. Why did Russians rise in rebellion?! How could they spread like that, fill everything around! By what miracle did Kazakhs manage to survive under them? They say that there are many Kazakhs. But there is no Kazakh to be seen… where are they?
A rifle is in his hands, you won’t now dare to call him ‘horde’, ‘Kirghiz’, - well, try it, hit him with your shoulder, strike him in the chest – we are now a free flock, we fly wherever we want! And now we want to walk down the street, well, try and stop us.
And those who gaped, fell behind! What do we care about them! The rails are extended, the locomotive is puffing, tickets let you pass. Kartkozha doesn’t need to ask the way, he knows all the cities. And a locomotive became a usual machine for Kartkozha, like a bullock! But trains, unlike draught cattle, run according to timetable. The engine driver hooted three times and they started moving: you are not allowed to jump on or off when the train is moving, if we are passing a bridge, please, don’t lean out of the window, you can’t hang about on the platform, and when at stations, you can’t use the toilet in the carriage. Kartkozha liked the order. And now he didn’t feel alienation from Russians: though their language was different, their thoughts and hearts were the same as his. For example, Andrei was no worse than any Kazakh. And, maybe, even better. At least, Kartkozha had never met a Kazakh who could explain politics better than Andrei.
It took ten days for the dzhigits from the suyindik kin to get to Omsk. They tumbled out of the heated goods vans with their hats cooked, clattered down the cobblestone pavement with round and swarthy faces, dragging mattresses from the carriages – you’d better move away or they’ll weigh you down, clamor and enthusiastic yells all around.
They stepped over to the railway square, and there, a young lad, dressed like a Russian, was speechifying before the crowd. And the crowd was listening to him.
And he was talking about the same things again – how damned tsar Nicholas oppressed his people, drank their blood, how he stripped Kazakhs of their best lands, and populated their fertile pastures with Russian migrants, and how, encroaching on their language and religion, he sent Kazakhs to the war, to work at the front, and now the tsar was thrown off – freedom! And so on, and all the same, the speakers spared no words. They would spout catchy slogans, blue in the face.
The front-line soldiers stopped, greeted the lad politely and kindly and asked him,
‘From which family are you?’
‘I am from the suyindik kin.’
‘Then, you must be our brother… our relative, one can say…’
‘Yes, I felt that you were ours, I even wanted to talk to you myself…’
‘Well, how are our people?’
‘People? They’re alright. There were no losses. Winter was nice, everything turned out well.’
There were some bores, they couldn’t calm down,
‘And our aul, how is it there?’
‘Your aul is alright, and yours too…’ he answered everyone.
So they talked, what else could they ask? The front-liners rushed down the city streets to the pier.
The pier has its own laws: they kicked up a row, engaged in pointless debates, but what’s the point? They managed to get on the deck of the steamer only after three days. There were Kazakhs among stokers and seamen. Even some from their own suyindik kin were there, they were glad to talk about their own, family matters.
In the evening, the accordion was heard on the upper deck, Kartkozha went upstairs. A Russian lad was playing the accordion and singing. And the audience – Russians and Kazakhs alike – were listening to him attentively. And, what was interesting, Russian melodies seemed like their own, they made their hearts better, not like before. Two banks of the Irtysh are covered in green woods, bushes are stretching their green branches to the water. If you look up a bit, you’ll see Kazakh auls and herds. A bunch of young girls and lads are watching for the steamer at the bank. You won’t even understand at once: what do they want? They offer you hunks of bread, hard-boiled eggs, milk in earthenware pots, and fried fish. Kazakh and Russian women sell goods together, all of them are their own, their family. Kartkozha’s heart skips a beat and then starts thumping again! And it seems that he can already smell the inimitable scents of his aul that can come only from his mother’s sooty cauldron…
Can a man who has never traveled outside his fatherland understand all the goodness of his native land?
We’ll agree that, perhaps, girls, married to men outside their country and alienated straight away from the goodness of their native land, know for certain what nostalgia is. Who can know it better that they do?
And can we not believe the student’s tears, draining his oily pupils, the student that has sought knowledge in a godforsaken kingdom, tired out by books and dust of the foreign land? Who can know it better than he does?
Who can know it better than the men that have seen lawlessness in foreign lands, where every piece of bread gets stuck in the throat, how can they not glorify their native land that fortifies their strength, heals like a spring, like a potion – oh, what’s the use of talking, it’s their everything!
And the food? Well, how can those, who languish under a low roof, eating a crust of brown bread with water, thinking of the gifts of their native land – kazy and karta rich in light fats, koumiss, which you can sip slowly with zolotniks of milk butter, how can they not call for God’s help?
How can we not understand the languor of the bureaucrat fed by the aul, as he is struggling in the narrow city streets and corridors of the city council, like a butterfly between the windowpanes, but what for – for the benefit of the society? In order to pine away and grumble like that?
Oh, miracle – the hot native land! How can you stand it, how can you wait, survive until you reach the threshold of your house? Who can you escape these justifiable feelings? What man doesn’t love their fatherland? A man cold to his native land is a creature without heart and mind, I don’t understand such people…
Kartkozha sorely missed his aul houses! And how could he not miss them when here he was lulled to sleep in his mother’s shawl, here he was called a nestling, and like a nestling, he remembered the smell of his nest. When he thought of his aul, his heart would start beating faster, his guts would be enveloped in flames. Ah, if only he had wings, he would fly up and land near his house. But he doesn’t have wings.
And yet, let’s hurry up together with Kartkozha. What are we waiting for? Dear reader, if you miss your native land too, let’s hurry up there where our dearest and nearest are waiting for us! Let’s run ahead of Kartkozha.
Here are our Bayan Mountains, rising like camel’s humps, on the slopes – pines are rocking their manes, the thicket is denser than the hair of the two-humped! And how much air and light is there! And how far they spread out! Look - over here mountain Ashin is stretching to the sky. Over there – lake Borikol, and then – lakes Bylymbai and Karasor. You see, Moiyldy can be seen in the distance. Well, isn’t it wonderful! What else can be so pleasing to the eye, so fresh to the soul, ah?!
And there, in the free pass, nomads’ camp is stretching, you see? These are auls of the suyindik kinsfolk! Wait, and whose aul is it exactly? If we judge by the abundance of flocks and excellent horses, we can say that it is certainly a rich aul! And over there, hunters for birds are moving slowly down the slope of Ashin. They set nets. The drums began to beat. Geese and ducks, nibbling grass, flapped their wings. I know they are trapped! Bird-catchers rake up everything without remainder.
And look at the boys! They have fallen behind a little and started racing with foals, yearlings. Caught up with the gray foal! No, stumbled over, fell down, and yet jumped up, ah, ran after, snatched at the mane, leapt onto the spine! Ride fast now, kids! Ah, what a pity! A herd of cows has bulged out right in front of them. They are going to fall now, ah! No, they stayed, they kept holding on! And shepherds have their own troubles. Will the cows go gracefully round the cart which has appeared on their road? No, they will most definitely come right into it, rascals, scratching their sides now and then. Look, they have pulled down the bullock cart, ah! And the red big cow, mostly responsible for this act, has already left the scene, wagging its tail in complete unconcern.
A whole herd of horses is heading straight to the hayland slope, can you see? The rich drive their cattle as they want to, without asking anyone! No, it seems, here are the horsemen that guard the land. Kartkozha, musing over the pictures he had seen, didn’t notice how he entered the rocky gorge. The nomads’ camp was left behind and well away…
Some time passed, and the outskirts of his aul opened up in front of him. When he was a child, Kartkozha used to gather wild leek among those boulders. And there, a big tree hollow came into sight – once he dropped off to sleep in it, being tired after searching for the lost calf. And a little bit further, as he remembers, in a year of famine, he used to dig out bunches of herbs with a spade from the ice-covered ground. And from that steep slope, their parti-colored cow fell down to death. Everything is so familiar, everything reminds him of the days gone by, making his heart bleed, reopening the old thoughts about his past life. He remembers his home and hearth, and his mother, and his aul neighbors. It feels as if he hadn’t left, as if he had stayed there with them. And the mountains around him, the hollows and the forest with the meadow – everywhere he looks, he sees his mother. Finally, the aul lay open before him like the palm of his hand, he looked closely and saw his mother.
‘How hard his mother’s heart will start thumping! And certainly, tears will come streaming down her face… Oh-bah, ah, and their father is dead!’
And tears came into his eyes. He couldn’t fight them back, and with water clouding his eyes like a mist shroud he went past the aul houses right to their house threshold.
His brother Kenzhetai, playing in the circle of boys, saw Kartkozha and exclaimed, ‘Brother! Brother!’ and rushed to him. His head went dizzy. His mother, suddenly appearing on the bullock cart, got down with some effort and went hobbling to her son who had unexpectedly returned home.
The poor woman, who had lost her firstborn and was left almost alone, had an awful lot to bear and suffered a lot, now, seeing her second son – her foal, was so happy, I can’t even tell you. She missed him so much that now her arms and legs went numb. All women gathered around. They went into the house, and his elder brother’s widow burst into terrible sobbing. Many Muslims gathered, started reading from the Koran, Kartkozha’s throat went into spasm, he could barely hold back his tears.
After Calming Down
Kartkozha came round a little, asked about the house and the farm, ordered reading from the Koran for the souls of their ancestors, and, finally, ventured to ask the widow about his elder brother’s death. It turned out that on a terribly cold day his brother went to bring back the heifer, stolen by Ashirbek, but it was all in vain, he came back, frozen through and through, and fell down on the bed, barely moving. For about ten days he lay burning with fever, and then closed his eyes forever.
‘Has anyone tried to bring back the heifer since then?’
‘We asked aksakals to stand up for us a couple of times. But I don’t know if they went there or not. But who will stand up for a widow, anyway?’
Having prayed once again for his dead brother, and thus as if asking for his permission, Kartkozha saddled his horse and went after their cattle.
First he went to see Ashirbek himself,
‘Where is our heifer?’
‘A three-year old dam. The one that fell into your hands by dishonest means.’
‘Even your father didn’t dare to speak to me like that, how dare you? Why do you think that I have stolen it? Are you too smart now? Why! You haven’t even let me take a seat.’
Grumbling, Kartkozha went to one person who was considered a ‘man’ in their aul – to hodja Zhanibek and stated his complaint.
He was indeed a polite man, he would never reproach or insult anyone. So he said, ‘The party is the heart of the people. The times are different now, no one can take away other people’s cattle. But Ashirbek is our man now, so have a little patience…’
Then he went to his opponent – to aksakal Aimanbai. The man started chewing, ‘It is somehow inconvenient, it’s not our business’. Kartkozha didn’t want to go to the volost head at all, as he was the same man that once turned his back on him, ‘Go away, stop bothering me!’
‘When tsar Nicholas was thrown off, they said that everything would be alright. Where is this ‘alright’ for us, poor devils? You ask them to help get back your cattle, and they talk about the party. A friend must always be ready to stand up for you, and here your closest are telling you over and over again that it is somehow inconvenient. A poor man, abandoned by everyone, has nothing left but to lie down and die! No, it mustn’t be like that. Even Nicholas the Bloody met with his justice. Workpeople, soldiers and poor folk managed to throw him off his throne. And who, at last, will deal with volost heads, Kazakh bais and enemies? And is there any salvation for poor Kazakh folk? Do we have our own soldiers and workers? And if we make soldiers from simple poor Kazakhs, what will they do? Why can’t those Kazakhs that have already been in the trenches step in?.. But, you say, they are connected by ties of kinship? They are all somebody’s brothers or sons-in-law? Then maybe I should talk to those who have fought shoulder to shoulder with me? We crossed foreign lands and no one left their companions in arms behind… yet we scattered, remembered the price of friendship only when we came back…’
Such were Kartkozha’s thoughts, and so he went to the aul of his wartime companion.
‘Is Zhandyrbai at home?’
‘Yes, he’s at home.’ He got off his saddle.
He told him about his misfortunes, that he couldn’t get anything.
‘Help me, Zhandyrbai…’
How nice it is to be alone with your friend and talk heart to heart. They forgot about everything in the world and were talking, recalling, discussing.
Kartkozha touched upon those bygone times when they went after the book with the lists, when they bunched into a group of rebels, killing bais’ cattle, when they were shot down during an attack, he talked about betrayals of their fellows, brothers – aulsfolk. And he finished by remembering the front, the news he heard from Andrei and other people that stood behind tsar Nicholas’s overthrow,
‘And what if we gather all our front-line guys together?’
‘How will you gather them?’
‘We can tell them about the oppressed…’
‘Ok, let’s say we have gathered them. What’s next? We’ll bunch into a group of volunteers, eat bais’ sheep without permission again and ride around on their horses?’
‘No, it can’t be like that anymore… I think, first, we need to agree on what we want and what we’ll do… We need to act in concert.’
‘If you have no power, what’s the use of your unity? Everyone needs to survive as best as he can. We are such people, we make some noise, and in the end we only manage to take a sip out of the bai’s cup. Have you forgotten what the result was the last time? Remember? Can these poor devils, once bitten, make plans together again? I think, boy, it’s like barking at the moon. Today, the man is right if he is considered ‘white’. And no one will listen to some upstart if you have no money and no name…’
Of course, Kartkozha had his say and he said the right things, as it seemed to him, but now, I must tell you, he was confused.
‘Sure, you’re right,’ he mounted his horse and rode away.
Realizing that he couldn’t get any sense out of the poor, Kartkozha started searching for another way.
‘I need to study, ah! If I become a learned man, no one will dare insult me! I’ve always wanted just to study… It seems I have seen different cities and everything that is going on here, in the steppes. But the cities are chock-a-block with guys like me. And what if I go and study now? There is no use in my staying at home in the aul, anyway, well I can't look after the cattle, just can’t… Day after day – what a useless waste of time. It’s enough, I am going to study! Should I ask advice of my Mom or not? I am the only one left, she would hardly support me leaving her.’ This way he was thinking all the way back to his aul.
No way would his mother or his elder brother’s widow let him go, should he even breathe a word ‘studying’. Therefore this time, Kartkozha tried not to open his mouth. That is why, without telling anyone that he wanted to go to the city and that he didn’t abandon his desire to study, he went towards Bayanaul.
Bayanaul is the best place on earth. Mountains, rocks, forests, berries, lakes, springs, swamps, fields of wheat, hay grass – in Bayanaul there is everything. On the sunny side of the ancient wrinkled rocks of Bayan, inside the necklace of marvelous stones, lake Sabyndykol found its place. A Cossack town is also here, of about two hundred houses. Cossack stanitsa is situated right on the eastern edge. If you come into Bayanaul from the east, you’ll see a small wooden mosque on the hill and a low church on the shore of the lake. A Kazakh-Russian school stands beside the church.
In Bayan decent Cossack houses press close to poor Kazakh hovels. No matter how poor the houses of ragamuffins are, they have their price. No matter how little is their number, they don’t let anyone forget about them.
Bayan with its gardens and buildings grew up thanks to Russian Cossacks. This town used to be just a winter camp of Argyn’s kinsfolk with a dozen buildings, and now it is a real monument to what Cossacks managed to put together…
Russian Cossacks of Bayan have forgotten their language, they speak like Kazakhs, and even excel Kazakhs in their sneakiness and awful obscenities. They are masters of the highest level in bribery, extortion and robbery. They are clever at fighting and idling away their time. But all of them are well-to-do, with pockets full of money. And their farms are held up by poor Kazakhs. Kazakhs make hay and build houses. And Cossacks’ lives are easy: drink vodka – no one will say a word. You can walk blind drunk or lie down for a while near a stone – do whatever you want. But the truth is – such Cossacks are in the minority. I must admit that in all ten volosts all police officers and sergeants, interpreters, lawyers and guards are Cossacks by birth. And the best men from all the ten volosts are their bosom friends or acquaintances, ten Kazakh volosts dance to the tune of two hundred Bayanaul robust houses. Kazakh poor folk make boots, do carpentry work, clean up houses, chop wood and work with stone, in short – they are hired workers, but they are always ready to kick up a rumpus, filch anything that lies handy and fight till they bleed. No one, neither Cossacks, nor Kazakhs take each other for strangers, however, it often happens that an evil Kazakh eye turns to Cossack lands, or their forest, or their spring, then any fellowship is forgotten somewhere… far away in the steppe.
Sounds of kobyz are heard under the shanyrak of the yurt. A celebration. Cossacks are certainly invited. Russian fighters have lost all the hand-to-hand fights, but still start free fights – one wall of fighters against the other.
Before the first snow, the fair starts in Bayanaul. Merchants from Omsk and Kyzylzhar, Akmola and Atbasar, Semirechye and Semipalatinsk come together. Here comes the main profit of the Cossacks: any officer or other official collect taxes from almost everything but the dust from the carts. They rent out flats, deal in connections… well, Bayanaul Cossacks grow rich from everything.
Bayan is the junction that connects all ten volosts, here you will find a head and a judge, doctors and politicians, if you want a congress – they can call it up.
The first Bayanaul land owners are Suyindik’s kinfolk. Some two or three kin hang about on the outskirts, like Kanzhygals or Kaksal and that’s it. The Suyindiks have a lot to be proud of: men of wisdom, judges Tolebai, Sobalai, bogatyrs Zhana, Yedige, Shon, Shorman, Boshtai and many others… And how many poets and storytellers came from the Suyindiks? Togzhan and Sakau, Kotesh and Zhayau Musa, Zhamshyrbai and Mustapha, Mashkhur Zhusip and Sultanmakhmut – all are true nights. And this strange Musa Shorman, who personally met the tsar? He and this proud as a goose Serkebai are also from the Suyindik kin. And such unmatched speakers as Kusayit and Tanta aren’t they from the Suyindiks? Let’s remember that Shon and Boshtai rule the roost of such honorable men as mad Kabyl, and Shorman is their financier. Joke lovers Aldebak and Kuan had flocks of sheep of up to twelve thousand heads, and herds of horses – of up to five thousand. Among such individuals the trace of Russian Bayanaul Cossacks, I must admit, is lost to view as a print of a horse’s hoof in the boundless steppe. Into this Cossack fortification came Kartkozha for knowledge.
It is a summer day. The harvest time. Any studies are out of question. Kartkozha wandered along the streets for a while and then hired himself out to Pashka. Pashka is a Russian well-to-do man, with a herd of up to one hundred heads. Kartkozha watered the cattle, cleaned the stalls from manure, heated the stove, sawed logs into boards. He didn’t have a minute to nestle down. For six months of work he would get a sheep and a foul. He ate what was left for the dogs in the kitchen. This is how it was, he had no other choice. And so his world closed up.
One day he went to water the horse and saw people gathered in the distance, discussing something with animation. He wanted to know very much what they were talking about. Kartkozha tethered the horse and went to find out what the matter was. Most of them were poor fellows, but I should say, smart poor fellows. The meeting didn’t get into the conversation, so, seeing their reluctance, a goggle-eyed, like a toad, lad, dressed in the city suit, began to speak. He said that the committees that had functioned before were no longer good at all, that now Kazakhs headed the peasant committees, and therefore now they had to elect new members of the district committee.
The people, hearing, ‘Nominate the worthy ones!’ got excited and started remembering those who were, indeed, worthy. There were nominees from bais, priests, aksakals and other honorable people. The list was so long that the recorder refused to write down new names. The volost head demanded that only one aspirant be named.
The man, who was to be elected, came late, got his bitters and went grieving to the stable.
A Chance to Study
Kartkozha came back to the horse and saw that it chewed up the last haystack, so he had to make more hay, and through the streets strode pupils with schoolbags, sewn by local craftsmen, under their arms. He saw them and got angry – steam was almost coming out of his nostrils. Well, he had no bigger dream – he wanted to study! He rushed to the pupils asking, ‘And can I start studying with you?’ They answered, ‘No place left, and you are too old.’ He listened to them, but went to the school, anyway. Indeed, there was no place for him.
During the whole winter only one piece of luck fell upon him: he met a teacher and sometimes took his books, poetry and newspapers to read.
When he had a free minute from work, he would pull the newspaper from his pocket and get lost in it. And its pages said that it was time for Kazakhs to start their autonomy, study by all means, establish their own zemstvo and assemble an army. There were articles about everything that was going on in the country. On the whole, they wrote a lot… Heaps of words. Kartkozha believed every newspaper line, and attached importance to them as to ayahs and surahs of the Koran. However, he didn’t like some articles. He went to the teacher, hoping that he would explain everything to him.
Newspapers opened Kartkozha’s eyes to many things. They were his entertainment, lessons and true friends, it was only a pity that they were so thin… In February, one guy came from his aul.
He sat in the kitchen telling him,
‘The relatives of your brother’s widow came and said that it was already a year since his death and that it was time to think what to do next, and they decided to take her with them…’
How can it be? The orphans will be left all alone, in poverty, his mother is old, see, she can’t do much, if his elder brother’s widow leaves, the house will be ruined. It all became pretty clear to Kartkozha. They obviously pushed him to marry his brother’s widow – such an inheritance. He started thinking, but he couldn’t cope with everything at once, so he decided, ‘I will go there in summer and settle everything.’
A foreboding of evil tormented him.
He couldn’t even imagine how he could marry a woman that had shared the bed with his own elder brother, marry a widow that he respected almost as his own mother, a woman that he highly esteemed as his elder aunt and listened to her all the time. Well, it’s just a shame! He is ashamed before his brother’s soul! Ah, if his elder brother were alive, Kartkozha wouldn’t suffer such agonizing torments. And who invented such laws that make you neglect the deceased? He tried to think of it as of some kind of mercy to the person that had remained alone. ‘No, it means I have no mercy to her children, to her motherly nature, to her widowhood. You may think, you are the first to be bound by tradition to marry your brother’s widow. If you don’t marry her, your mother won’t handle the house alone. And how will your abandoned nephews survive? Who will take care of them? After all, your brother’s blood flows in their veins. You want to study? If you study, who will feed your family? Isn’t it what you are supposed to do?..’ as if someone was telling him this. His head got numb after a few months of such thoughts. And he had no desire to go home. As if a trap was set there to catch him. If you get caught, your legs and arms will be cut off completely. Will the sun wait, indulging the night’s whims? Will the husband dance to his wife’s tune? And have you ever seen death make way for life when the time comes? No matter how stubborn Kartkozha was, ordinary life would break him. You cannot go against traditions, he resisted to the end, but they made him, anyway, harnessed him to a yoke.
Kartkozha was still a child. Of course he had seen such things that other people couldn’t even dream of. He had been at the edge of the world, had seen bloody gaping wounds of the soldiers. But in terms of women – here he was pure in mind and body. He believed that all plans with them led to sin.
The fateful moment came, it got dark, and Kartkozha bent over the lying woman. ‘The calf is bored on a leash, and the husband – in the woman’s part of the yurt’, Kartkozha felt miserable and disgusted. He was ashamed, as soon as he lay down next to his wife, he fancied he saw a ghost of his dead brother. He couldn’t even bring himself to call her his wife, for a long time he kept treating her like his elder brother’s wife.
He couldn’t sit at home. He would come up with some pretext and go to his friends. And when he came back, his wife would start swearing,
‘Where have you been? Isn’t it enough? What do you want?’ she grumbled.
He didn’t dare yell at her as if he had no right. It didn’t even occur to shy Karkozha that he could yell at the woman that had lived longer than him and her little children.
In autumn they had almost nothing left to eat, and Kartkozha went to Bayan to buy some food. He called on his friend teacher.
‘It’s good you came by!’
‘What is it?’
‘Training courses for teachers are opening up in Semey. The State covers all the expenses. They are taking guys that know how to read and write. They have sent us a letter with a request to send one person to them.’
‘It is amazing, ah!’
He asked him thoroughly when and where to go. The teacher took him to the district education committee, where he received a student assignment. Kartkozha was beside himself with joy and excitement. He bought the necessary things quickly and went back to the aul in a cheerful mood – with his hat cocked.
Into the room, where a barrel-bellied, good-natured teacher with a face, shining like a pancake, worked over an official letter to the district committee and his narrow-browed colleague with bristly moustache sat reading a newspaper, looking like a physically exhausted bull, a lad rushed cheerfully, with jokes that were just about to escape his lips. He put his bag on the table and greeted the two teachers hurriedly, ‘How is work?’
The fat man, feeling an exorbitant load of responsibility for the state education on his shoulders, answered reluctantly, ‘Very busy.’
The cheerful lad, standing behind the fat man, carefully read the document he was writing, protruded his lips, looked around merrily and asked,
‘What is this document?’ and he slapped the fat teacher on the back.
‘What’s wrong?’ the fat man began to worry, confused.
Frankly, he quailed before such bright colleagues, who knew Russian, and this cheerful lad had a higher position, which was also a fact of no small importance.
‘How can you translate ‘official diagnosis’ as ‘resmi sirkatibin’? Ohbah, ah, it would make even a fly laugh!’ the cheerful lad was surprised, he started laughing impetuously, bending over and clutching his stomach.
The fat man was taken aback and began to pant with annoyance. The emaciated teacher, burying himself in a newspaper, said,
‘The Turks write diagnosis of the disease as ‘sirkatip’. I think that as to terminology we should follow the Turkish vocabulary,’ and he stroked his moustache with a finger.
They started arguing. The education official insisted on his point of view, the teachers wouldn’t agree with him. They started comparing cultures of the Kazakhs and the Turks, the Europeans and the Arabs. In the midst of their search for a decent way of the Kazakh culture, a snub-nosed lad with a large forehead barged into the room, as if persecuted by a pack of dogs, he was dressed in down-at-heel soldier boots, a badly stitched fur coat with scraps of sheep wool sticking out through its holes and in a cap made of skins of small steppe animals.
The man of pedagogy knew a way to check such broken loose fellows.
‘What is it, dear?’ he said sharply and stood in front of him.
‘I came for an interview, I came to study.’
‘From which district?’ – ‘From Kereku.’
‘Do you have an assignment?’
‘I’m not really good at Russian, sir…’
‘Do you have any document? Who sent you?’
‘I have a paper…’ and he reached into his inside pocket, pulled out a rather dirty bundle, unfolded it and, pulling out a paper from it, with trembling fingers gave it to the strict teacher.
Kartkozha nodded and began to worry: what if some absurd things were written in the paper.
‘From Pavlodar all places are taken,’ the fat teacher said. ‘Can we take more?..’
‘Dear sirs… do something, please… I am an orphan, all is bad… And I want to study so much!’ Kartkozha started begging.
The cheerful teacher, looking at the fat one, said,
‘We can write him down as coming from Zaisan.’
‘Oh, let God help you! Let your children…’ Kartkozha got excited, feeling that good luck was turning its face to him.
The fat man smiled and interrupted him,
‘Well, enough of your good wishes, dear! Come tomorrow early in the morning.’
The teacher turned out to be a vigilant man, he saw at once what had been bothering Kartkozha’s soul
The next day Kartkozha was already sitting at the desk, together will the rest of the pupils. His heart was almost bursting with joy. Happiness lit up his face: he finally got to the paradise he had so long been waiting for.
There were some 70 pupils. It was a large classroom. A table is standing in front of the desks, and teachers are sitting behind it. Two more teachers entered, dressed like townsmen with briefcases in their hands. The teacher, who had protected Kartkozha the day before, gave the floor to his colleagues from the district committee for a welcoming speech.
A smart young lad stood up, with shoulder-length well-groomed hair and flat nose with glasses hanging on it.
And a remarkable speech began to flow: he talked about everything – that bright future was lying ahead of them, that they were the hope of their nation and many other things that touched everyone in the room to the very core. Kartkozha was so amazed by this nightingale song that he thought involuntarily, ‘Is it a man speaking, or maybe – an angel?’ He got intoxicated with his speech. His body went limp, his eyes filled with tears. A storm of applause followed the orator’s speech. Kartkozha didn’t even hear the speeches of other orators, he just knew that they were all good and that he agreed with all of them.
The lessons began immediately afterwards. The next day they received money for accommodation and food. He rented a room from a young Kazakh woman together with other guys from Kereku, and so completely joined the pupils.
They had five lessons every day. They taught them in Kazakh. Native language, arithmetic, geography, natural sciences, pedagogy, physical education and singing – all lessons were very interesting.
Kartkozha together with his new friends went around the city, stopped by each institution, went round each building. They went to the market. Rows of stalls at the market were filled with Kazakhs. And at the stationeries there were a lot of Kazakhs too. Trade, work, studies, koumiss, a boat… It is hot. All townspeople are a little bit drunk. Life is good. And Kartkozha’s heart is nearly singing!
Well-known Kazakhs established a zemstvo. Kartkozha did not understand what the zemstvo was. They said that bais and merchants took textiles, sugar and tea at the zemstvo and then sold them at the market. The square in front of the zemstvo was full of saddle horses, carriages and smart-dressed people. There was a bold lad among the pupils – Aben, he suggested they went to the zemstvo and asked for some cloth to sew them new clothes. He dragged Kartkozha along with him. But in front of the doors a guard met them, with a face of an ugly dog, ‘barked’ at them and kicked them out. As he did with all others in ragged malakhais. And the steppe nobility and city upper class passed freely. Aben, of course, couldn’t contain himself. He seized the guard by the collar, pushed him away and rushed into the building. Kartkozha ran after him. They got to some official who was kindly receiving some upper crust men and gladly signing the papers he was given. Aben contrived to give him his paper for signature too. The man frowned and said,
‘We don’t have any cloth.’
‘You have scholarships, money for an apartment, food. What else do you need? Stop cadging!’
‘You give it to others, then why we, poor pupils, can’t get it too?’
‘And to whom do we give it?’
‘Well, we see it every day, bais grow richer digging out stuff here. Aren’t they well-fixed on what is meant for the poor people?’
‘It’s none of your business. We don’t give anything to anyone. Yes, we grant some things to popular representatives…’
‘Nice representatives you have found for us! If bai Zharmukan, hodja Makym and Karaman are popular representatives, then the people will be dead soon.’
‘Are you going to argue with me? Get out of here… half-educated scum… ‘
‘I won’t go, it’s not your building, it belongs to all the Kazakhs.’
‘And are you a Kazakh? Well, just look at you!’
‘You look at yourself!’
Kartkozha was frightened. He was standing behind Aben, pulling him by the belt, trying to calm him down, but no such luck.
‘Well, you’re a fool… Take him out!’ and he began to call the guard.
‘It’s not a zemstvo, it’s boorishness,’ Aben left, protesting.
This was the first time Kartkozha met the zemstvo.
In autumn, when Kartkozha was finishing his courses and was about to go to the auls as a teacher, troops of Bolsheviks entered the city and slammed down the zemstvo. They organized a mass meating, Kazakhs began to join them. This was the first time Kartkozha met Bolsheviks.
On the left bank of the Irtysh, aul Karasholak is situated, of about sixty houses. You can’t call Karasholak folk either townsmen or citizens. There are no decent streets, no stone buildings. However, sheds and barns stand close to well-to-do houses.
The pastures around Karasholak are owned by Russian Cossacks. Without their permission no one dared think about haymaking. The poor men get by selling hay and brushwood. And well-to-do Karasholak people are busy with bigger purchases and sales. A smart fellow named Asembai managed to become acquainted with some powerful people, got to the zemstvo and there bought some things, then sold them, and now when he was standing firmly on his feet, he started worrying about Karasholak importance and appearance. He requested a teacher for Karasholak children, and they sent Kartkozha to him.
Don’t think that Karasholak children never studied. Once Karasholak used to be a sort of cultural center. A four-room izba was built by the aul head as a school building. Later, when the school was going through hard times, the plank floor and doors moved to the stoves of Karasholak folk, and the school stove disappeared God knows where, so now the school met its rare guests with dusty and dirty interior.
On the occasion of the teacher’s arrival, Karasholak people got together and held a meeting. On the agenda: first – school, second – where to settle the teacher. The decision making turned out to be rather difficult. Even sweat stood out on the foreheads of Karasholak people. Everyone was trying to make someone else responsible. Talkers, like cows with their eyes opened wide, wagged their tongues, not listening to each other, so that not a word could be heard. Well, a true flock of bleating sheep. In the end, they were so exhausted that couldn’t think of anything better than to club together and buy a house of Alpysbai, an old man coming from another kinfolk. And as to accommodation, the decision was simple. They resolved that the teacher would spend nights at school, and the parents of the pupils would bring him food, taking turns. The people, hard up for dwelling, tried to say that it wasn’t right for the teacher to live in an abandoned building, implying that the owners of Karasholak ‘palaces’ could shelter him, but the latter pleaded that there were young women in their houses and refused to help.
They left as soon as the resolution was passed, and Kartkozha went to see the public school. The school appeared before him as an adobe-brick building with two weak-sighted, like Alpysbai’s eyes, windows. The roof was built of sparsely laid pine planks, if you stood up upright, you would run the top of your head against the ceiling. The room was small, but you couldn’t say that there was no place for a piece of paper to be spread or for a grave to be dug, there was enough space: at least, you couldn’t touch two opposite walls at a time. Of course, here and there, the walls were covered with spittle and black velvety smoke from the hearth; the floor, naturally, was rather wet and squelched under the feet, but if you looked at it from the side, it was quite a decent house. One thing was bad: there were no chairs, tables or benches. And blankets were nowhere to be seen – nothing to lay on the floor to sit down. The well-to-do Karasholak people didn’t provide any furniture. Then they dragged some rickety table. And pupils took some rugs to sit on. For Kartkozha, who had seen city schools, the local school seemed miserable, but where could poor people find money? There was nothing left to do, he adapted, at least, it wasn’t worse than when he studied with hodja Mazhit.
When he went to courses, Kartkozha was especially fascinated by the school blackboard. How he, a certified teacher, was different from those retarded wiseacres hodjas, if in his classroom there was no blackboard? No, a teacher without a blackboard is like an old seamstress without a needle. That’s why he started persistently demanding such a necessary for him school equipment.
The townspeople began to move,
‘The school needs some board – a black one… And where have I seen such a board, who has one?’
‘Kazyben’s aunt closes her cauldron with a black wooden lid…’ some lad said.
‘That’s right, I’ve seen it in her house!’
It was easy to persuade the woman to sell them the blackened lid.
This ‘black board’, nailed to the school wall, amazed the uninitiated people by its absurdity and foolishness so much that they couldn’t believe their eyes, ‘What is it, goodness gracious?!’ It was something round, cracked in many places, with slightly burnt edges as if some ugly monster had sunk its teeth into it.
Kartkozha, realizing that he wouldn’t get any better school items, ignored the increasing disgust of Karasholak people at the black board and tried to open its higher meaning to them. He turned the more acceptable side of the lid towards the class, as if saying: the changes under the dilapidated roof of Alpysbai’s house weren’t obvious, but they were present and inevitable.
He tried to write on the blackboard with a piece of lime instead of chalk, but it crumbled to dust without leaving a single line.
‘If you want to draw a line, try to spit on your finger and pass it over the board,’ one know-it-all suggested.
To that, Kartkozha said, without deigning to look at him,
‘I would kindly ask you to stop joking,’ and he didn’t listen to his advice.
He persuaded a respectable man, who was going to the city, to bring him some chalk. And he sent an official letter to the address of the zemstvo, describing all the problems with school. And without waiting for the chalk, he began his lessons.
First, of course, he did everything he had seen at his first courses, that is: he organized a meeting of his pupils with the powerful people of Karasholak, he made a speech of welcome himself first, then he asked the honored guests to take the floor.
‘The teacher is right, why run in vain, wearing down your boots. You’d better sit quietly and study. Besides, he is just like you, a Kazakh lad…’ saying this, the elite left the school hurriedly.
He divided the children into two groups and placed them accordingly: to the left of him sat those who knew letters, to the right – absolutely illiterate kids. He started with aspects of the predicate and started spouting terms: shaksha, tutka, kus tumsyk, shai-nek… And due to the fact that there were no textbooks and none were expected, Kartkozha, without a second thought, chose one of the issues of the newspaper ‘Sary arka’ as his teaching aid.
With time and patience the leaf of mulberry becomes satin, doesn’t it? They got used to the smoked cauldron lid, and some chalk was found. But as for the discipline, it remained strict as before. This way, teaching his pupils rigorously, he managed, without easing off, to train thirty children to read and write.
The pupils, whose family’s turn it was to feed the teacher, ran after him willingly and invited him to dinner. Women, who had believed that it would be difficult to please the teacher with the food, realized that Kartkozha was a down-to-earth lad, the son of a common chaban, who was always grateful for any food, and so they started treating him with some sympathy.
On top of that, Kartkozha proved himself in the role of writer of complaints and requests for Karasholak people. And if they needed to consecrate flat cakes or read a prayer, he would be their mullah. Imposing men took him as their equal, respected him. Such a knowledgeable lad and jack-of-all-trades, why wouldn’t they like him? Local people, when meeting Kartkozha, started greeting him and stretching both their hands to him, as to a hodja. Gradually, he bought some decent clothes with his modest earnings and began to choose whose house to visit and whose not to.
In summer Kartkozha asked for permission to visit his aul. They let him go only when he said that it was his duty as a son to visit his old mother. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have allowed him to leave. How can Karasholak people know that he was constantly ashamed of his half-literate teaching?
Took to His Heels
The things that Kartkozha read in winter in the newspapers turned out to be true. From the beginning of March and till the end of April, the members of the party ‘Alash’, who had come to the city and stayed at their former apartments, were studying the zemstvo activities. He hurried off to the zemstvo and saw that no one, as it used to be before, came to it riding fat horses or driving in good carriages, and there were no crowds in front of the zemstvo doors, in its corridors and offices. He was surprised to see this metamorphosis: where was everyone? And he entered the building. There were no Kazakhs. Both the secretary, typing on the printing machine from the early morning till late in the evening, and the carrier of official documents and letters were Russian women. However now, it seems, they have no work, they sit talking idly.
Kartkozha ran to the institution of the Alashorda folk. Nobody was there. In the street he bumped into one of his group-mates and asked him where everyone had disappeared. He heard many interesting things in response. It turned out that Kazakh party members gathered a general congress and started discussing the political situation in the country and their plans of actions for the future. Here they split into two parties, one was in the majority, the other – in the minority. Since then they had been constantly arguing with each other.
A swarthy Kazakh of huge stature asked for the floor. They decided to vote, but Alashorda folk shouted everyone down and didn’t let him talk. The swarthy husky guy frowned, like a black cloud, and left the congress. After about ten minutes since the beginning of the congress a Bolshevik commissioner came with three or four soldiers. Alashorda people exchanged anxious glances. And the commissioner started speaking right in, ‘This congress was gathered by a bai and it doesn’t have the right to speak on behalf of the district authorities. Therefore, in the name of Soviets I dismiss this congress!’ Alashorda people tried to protest and demanded that their rights be explained, the Bolsheviks tried to reason with them, but seeing that they couldn’t outargue their opponents, they started speaking with their rifles into the ceiling. The congress lost its meaning, everyone left.
Kartkozha went back to ‘Alash’ committee.
At the courses the Kazakh language and music lessons were taught to them by a young lad, who had finished musical school, named Kasen. He organized an educational society ‘Zhanar’ and conducted meetings which were eagerly attended by school boys, and Kartkozha often visited him at home, asking him different questions. All boys, who had learned from aul mullahs and hodjas, despised their former outdated education and were ready to go everywhere, as soon as such teachers as Kasen led them, who shared their secret thoughts with them and listened to their schoolboys’ confessions. In the evening Kartkozha found this very Kasen.
Kasen had just returned from the party meeting and sat gloomy and annoyed. Kartkozha asked him hurriedly,
‘How was it? What was there?’
‘Things are getting worse. Bolsheviks have taken the lead. They dismissed the congress and arrested the leader of the socialist revolutionary party. Now Alashorda is being persecuted. We are going to fight, but look, don’t tell anybody a word of what you have heard from me.’
‘How? With whom?
‘Alashorda people have started negotiations with the Cossacks. Today, as it began to get dark, we, young people, gathered and swore to never give up… There is nothing left, if need be, we will die for the Kazakhs, it’s the best death you can dream of. One of our friends has already died – Kazi…’ and he started packing up documents and his notes into the suitcase.
He was going to disappear.
‘And how many of you are there?’
‘Thirty-forty young men.’
Kartkozha liked Kasen. He felt deeply sorry for him, he couldn’t watch his depressed friend, so, trying to hide his tears, he stretched his hand to him and said,
‘Good luck to you!’ and left.
He started looking for the delegates that had come to the congress and stayed in different apartments. He found out that several Bayanaul delegates were staying in one house. He came up to it, pushed the door. It was closed. He hurried to the window. Through the muddy window he could see somebody’s bottom moving in the opening to the cellar. Cries were heard from the house, ‘Kazakh! Kazakh!’ The bottom put its head out. It turned out that the bottom belonged to the volost head. Being afraid that Bolsheviks would arrest all bais and volost authorities, he tried to hide in the cellar. When he saw Kartkozha, he sighed with relief. Having greeted Kartkozha openheartedly, he said, ‘Don’t tell anyone that we are here, in the cellar!’ The most terrible rumors spread all over the city. They said there were runaways, stated, ‘They are shooting’, ‘They are searching for Alashorda folk’. As if everyone went crazy, bustle, panic…
Returning in the twilight to his shelter, situated on the outskirts of the city, Kartkozha saw a crowd running towards sand dunes, in front and in the middle there were Kazakhs, right behind them were Russians. One of them ran bouncing ridiculously. In his figure he recognized Aben that had once talked him into rushing into the zemstvo with a scandal.
In the morning the news spread that the Kazakhs connected to the politics rose in rebellion. Kartkozha rushed looking for Kasen, but he couldn’t find him either in his apartment, or at his relatives. On the street he met a man that knew Kasen, he said that Kasen was hiding somewhere in the suburbs, at his friends’ house and helped him find him.
We were thrown to face the bullets, and all the leaders escaped. We, about twenty guys, made an ambush in the Cossacks’ town council. If they had started shooting, we would have all died, as we had only blades. From Alashorda people, only Tuyaktan and batyr Usei didn’t leave us, they tried to take the gun warehouse, killed a security guard, but were caught immediately.
‘And what are you going to do now?’
‘We’ll try to hide in the steppe.’
‘Like the deputies, we have also decided to leave,’ said Kartkozha, waved goodbye and hurried away.
To See What They Have Heard Of
Having returned to his aul, Kartkozha tried to give his brothers, nephews and children of their relatives everything that he had been taught in three months of the teacher training courses, everything that he had later brought up himself, acquired by reading during his teaching time in Karasholak. However, even older guys started coming to his house.
In a month or two the expected news started coming from Semipalatinsk. Bolsheviks had fled, the Kazakh party members returned to the city and headed all the institutions once again. Life in Semey resumed its normal course… The news made Kartkozha want to take his brother and nephews in autumn to the city to study. And he wanted to study more too. Kartkozha hurriedly made hay and winter fuel for the stove, arranged the slaughter of cattle for winter and gathered other provisions, and talked to his mother cautiously about his decision. The mother listened to her son with undisguised dismay, but didn’t object to his trip. Of course, his words couldn’t but be heard by his wife stirring in the hall.
‘What are you thinking about! You won’t go to any school!’ she said right in.
And like an eagle-hen, she started covering her nestlings with her wings, hissing with her beak, showing her talons – there was no way to pass round her, no way to escape, the war of the spouses went for more than a week. Kartkozha didn’t give up his attempts to persuade his wife, but she was yelling even louder,
‘Go blind at once, if you dare leave! I am no maid for you to clean after you, wait for you breathlessly and get deeply touched by your pretended literacy! Just look at him, such a mullah!’
Under such circumstances how could his mother not take to her bed with a dangerous illness? Kartkozha’s nerves were worn out. Very few days were left before the beginning of studies, and he couldn’t leave. Kartkozha, it would seem, did everything about the house, cleaned everything, finished building, if only his mother got better… she seemed to recover a little, so he left to Bayan.
In Bayan, first of all, he asked the teachers, he was acquainted with, for the latest newspapers and magazines. He never got tired of asking who? where? why? During the time that Kartkozha spent in the aul, busy about the house and the farm, a lot of things happened on the political arena, not without somersaults, as a matter of fact.
In Semipalatinsk the interests of the parties and the army of the collapsed empire collided again. In Omsk Admiral Kolchak established his power. The Cossacks joined the white movement, grew stronger and began to sing the old songs. And in Semipalatinsk Alashorda people started creating their own national army. At the same time, ataman Annenkov went to Semipalatinsk with a large corps of Cossacks, smashed Alashorda folks and managed to arrest two leaders of their party. In Karkaralinsk he took five men. Semey was on the verge of collapse. Massacres, murders, and plain robberies didn’t frighten anyone anymore. Wanting to finish off the army of Alashorda government, Kolchak opened the front in Semirechye. The head of the Kazakh government Alikhan Bokeyhan, hoping to keep the autonomy, went to conduct negotiations with Kolchak. Bolsheviks had taken Russia completely and now they were advancing to Siberia. No news came from towns Torgai, Uralsk, Bokeiorda. Apparently, they were under Bolsheviks too.
The frightening news that befell on Kartkozha deprived him of any desire to go further, to Semipalatinsk. ‘Such terrible times, what else could there be!’ he thought. Kartkozha returned to his aul and spent the whole winter at home. But he couldn’t find peace here either. From Kereku some commission was heading to them for the horses, it simply confiscated the horses from many families, and broke into their houses, leaving dead bodies and raped women behind – such were terrible rumors that ran ahead of it.
Some said: Bolsheviks will soon rise above everyone; others said: someone from Uralsk will be ruling; some said: the Kazakhs will be given autonomy, and others answered them – yes, they will, the autonomy’s leader Alikhan will be put behind bars; and then again: Bolsheviks will definitely occupy Semey.
By mid-summer news were spreading over telegraph wires of the Kazakh steppe lands: Bolsheviks seized power in all known locations. They captured Kurgan. Took Petropavlovsk. Came to Omsk… Each new message made them feel even more frightened. What is it, what is happening there?! Yelling from all sides: the army of ataman Dutov and General Belov are retreating… right at us!
Kartkozha returned to his native aul. They were sitting quietly at home when all of a sudden,
‘Here, they are here!’ the neighbors’ kid rushed in screaming.
A white detachment is rushing about the steppe! Hundreds of riders, thousands! They destroy everything on their way… grabbing everyone and everything… horses, food, blankets, women! They will be here soon!
Women started wailing, crying, rushed to hide under the beds, in the stacks, in the reeds. Some jumped into the wells, others even managed to squeeze into barrels and trunks.
Aul was paralyzed as if from a bloody attack. Kartkozha, like a madman, was rushing to the house and away, to the horse and back, searching for a kamcha – he couldn’t find it. Finally, he coped with confusion, saddled his horse and galloped off God knows where.
He managed to ride for about five or six versts when he came across six soldiers on horses. They raised their rifles and shouted to him, ‘Stop!’ Kartkozha cried out, ‘Allah!’ and fell off the saddle. They came up to him, ‘Get up! Where’s aul? Do you have horses? Where were you riding?’ they started questioning him. His heart sank into his boots.
Kartkozha mumbled something inaudible, but they didn’t even listen to him, pushed him in front of them. And he took them to the aul, but not his native aul, another one.
They got to the aul, and it was already full of White Guards. Swearing, screams, groans. Some people were driven together, others were rushing headlong… Horses, carts, an iron stake, a rifle barrel – his nape, silent howling… stop whining, bitch! Carpets and felts are piled together, blankets and bedspreads are in their hands. Earrings, silver pendants, Russian speech, laughter ...
There, near the far yurt, a shot rang out. Kartkozha is barely standing on his feet, everything is blurry… a yoke, a shaft bow, ‘Look in the shed!’, under the open shed for hay three soldiers and a young woman between them… they take turns to rape her… horror!
Kartkozha was forced to be a carter.
The squad that came to this aul was just one link in the chain of Kolchak’s army running from Siberia through Kazakh steppes to China. They were leaving thoroughly, with carts loaded with all sorts of goods, machine guns, ammunition, food, warm clothing. Oxen were pulling cannons, drovers and carters were needed a lot! The chain was broken, but still dragging, link after link.
Having put Kartkozha to drive the main string of carts, the riders that had taken him here turned their horses and rushed into the boundless steppe space again.
A carriage swept past Kartkozha, drawn by two horses, in which beautiful Kazakh girls were sitting among golden shoulder-strapped stately officers. They looked at Kartkozha from under the wet eyelashes. Victims of the black force! Poor girls… What else the times have prepared for us?
After another looted aul, Kartkozha was left unexpectedly in the middle of the road. This was how he saw what he had heard of.
For the Better
It looked as if not crowds of White Guards and Kazakhs had swept across the country to its very border, but as if a monstrous tarantula had left its tracks.
As far as the eye could see, everywhere were dead shot bodies, robbed and humiliated families. One of the auls near Zheltau was entirely slaughtered. In Zharylkap all women and girls were taken by the soldiers, who enjoyed themselves a lot... Several carts with expensive things were taken out of Korzhac – everything was left in the bare steppe burning.
People preferred to endure it, they thought, ‘If such misfortunes have come like a bolt from the blue, there is nothing to be done about it.’ But such foolhardy guys, like Darmen, were fighting, avenging. They gathered into select detachments – as a rule, of fifteen riders, and didn’t get off their saddles for twenty four hours. They would crush and annihilate the platoon of soldiers that had been on a visit to Shashau in their own way, or kill seven White Guards over there, or slaughter four guards at the crossing and throw their corpses into the wells.
In Tobykty one Kazakh lodged twenty soldiers for the night in his house, lit the stove with damp bricks of dung, put something heavy against the door from the outside and covered the flue – everyone died of poisoning by charcoal fumes. The dzhigits from Karakesek kin organized a true hunt on soldiers that had got lost or fallen behind their regimental columns, they armed themselves with captured rifles, made an ambush in the mountains, and killed nearly three hundred White Guards in the gorge. The retreating White Guards and Kazakhs grew quiet and reduced their vicious energy. Kartkozha learnt it from the well-informed people he met.
Evil swirled over those who had been born Kazakhs. ‘And what is happening in Semey?’ Kartkozha thought more often. ‘How are the party members holding up there?’ Apparently, they had no idea who they were going to fight – the Red Army, which was relentlessly and quickly killing and driving from Siberia, from the Irtysh region this countless White Army that had shown its terrible disguise.
That year in Semipalatinsk, young poet Sultanmakhmut got seriously ill and decided to have some rest in his native aul near one of Bayanaul lakes. Kartkozha knew him. Sultanmakhmut was from the neediest, but noble and throb-hearted poetic tribe. He was known as a defender of the poor by his newspaper publications, articles about the injustice and tyranny reigning among Kazakhs. And young people of Semey were in raptures over Sultanmakhmut, copied and quoted his poems, and no wonder why they were so enthusiastic about him – he was unthinkably talented, incredibly honest, and humane.
No matter how eager Kartkozha was to come visit Sultanmakhmut, who was recovering in his father’s yurt, to support him, if possible, distract him from sad thoughts with a conversation, but the dragging days, filled with anxiety and grief, did not let him leave. Besides, Sultanmakhmut was the person who knew for sure what had happened and was happening in Semipalatinsk. He received newspapers, corresponded with his friends and fans. And when it calmed down a little bit, Kartkozha hurried to the aul of Toraigyr.
He found Makhmut at home. He was glad to see Kartkozha. He lost some flesh and a forced cough broke off his speech if he said more than three or four words at once. He shook hands with Kartkozha, ‘Eh, old chap! So we lived to see comrades, Bolsheviks!’ and laughed.
‘Where have you seen them?’
‘I visited Kereku – saw them there.’
‘When, dear friend?’
‘Yesterday, I came back in the evening.’
‘Light-handed, on horseback?’
‘Light-handed. Caught a cold on the way, in the wind. But I don’t regret it, I had to meet with some of my friends.’
‘And what? Did you meet?’
‘Yes, alright. If you want to know something, there is no use in waiting for the mountain to come to you. I called by a friend, just to say hello, and we talked for two hours…’ and he had a fit of bad coughing.
Suppressing the cough, he continued speaking gushingly,
‘Their idea is good – it is playing into the poor’s hands. And they strive for their goals resolutely. If Kazakhs want to get their statehood, they should join Bolsheviks. You shall see what you shall see. And I may not see it.’
‘Why are saying this?..’
‘Whatever anybody may say, these are interesting times! It can’t be helped, if I live out 10-15 years…’
Makhmut’s face darkened, and Kartkozha hurried to get him away from thoughts of death.
‘And what about Semey?’
‘Alashorda folk fled. Young people started applying for work. Some signed up for communists. They even issued a newspaper. Have you seen it?’
Makhmut pulled out several newspaper issues from under the pillow.
‘I see, young people are capable of something, after all. It’s not a bad newspaper. It’s good to know that our efforts haven’t been in vain: there are those for whom ‘people’ is not an empty word…’ and he handed the newspapers to Kartkozha.
He couldn’t speak more because of the racking cough. Kartkozha looked through a couple of issues of the newspaper ‘Kazakh tili’ and, quite pleased, said goodbye to Sultanmakhmut.
Since the beginning of summer it became absolutely unbearable to sit at home. He was crazy about Semey. But a trip to the city demanded money. He would sell cattle, but how can you sell what you don’t have? And he couldn’t borrow money from the neighbors, as the reason for the trip was rather unimportant. So he went to Bayan in the hope to make some money.
But he couldn’t find work in Bayan. So he began to do odd jobs: he would dig out a cellar here, and clean a cowshed there, light the stove.
They say, ‘a bai gets a lot, a hero gets nothing’. Our hero, however, working at other people’s houses and farms, bumped into – not money, no, but an old companion – Doga, who was knocking himself out for Khriplyi Ivan. Doga was a walking bag of the latest news, and, as you know, you can’t stuff a Kazakh, a Kazakh’s son, with talking, he will be always asking for more. So, here comes Doga to Kartkozha, who was picking manure in a shed with a spade, and says, ‘I hear a Kazakh has arrived from Semey – a commissioner and started cracking down on bais?’
‘No, I haven’t heard it.’
‘They say, the commissioner is young – named Kasen.’
‘Oh-bah, he’s my friend!’
‘Ah, it can’t be!’
Kartkozha quickly finished cleaning the shed and ran to look for Kasen. And he saw him, like angels of purgatory Munkir and Nankir, hovering menacingly over a dozen of former powerful people, scolding them. Among those receiving punishment, Kartkozha noticed their volost head too. Commissioner Kasen, seeing Kartkozha, jumped up from his seat immediately, rushed to him, hugged and kissed him, and let him sit next to him. The powerful people were shocked. And Kartkozha turned to be in good graces, right of the blue.
Kasen continued his commissioner’s proceedings with the local authorities. He took receipts from everyone and sent them back to Kereku. The goal of his arrival was definite and implacable: he came to conduct elections and remove all former rulers from their posts.
The Sky Lightened
It was a sultry July afternoon – brains were boiling.
Along the high road, smooth like a planed board, a tarantass was moving swiftly, yoked with two horses. Kasen and Kartkozha sat on the tarantass in unbuttoned shirts talking unceasingly, swinging their arms.
‘Were you there when the shooting started? You swore you’d die… When White Guards came into the city, they occupied all the main streets at once. Our city – the capital of Alash. They fired their rifles on all sides. Azim and Toktar talked with commanders of the Red Army and entered into the united revolutionary committee. Under a hail of bullets, with our consent, they went there. And we, taking all the weapons left from the White Guards, moved to the council building and took up defensive positions there. Everything was in turmoil – impossible to understand who was on whose side. Soldiers were coming on all sides. It was impossible to cross the street – you’d get shot at once. Death was waiting for us around every corner…’
‘Then Nymetolla and Galymzhan were killed?’
‘And who killed them? The Red ones?’
‘No, ohbah! The red didn’t care about them. The prisoners escaped from the destroyed prison, taking advantage of the turmoil, somehow got hold of weapons, pretended to be Bolsheviks and started robbing and killing everyone who got in their way. They had killed before too, as, you know, complete murderers had been there behind the bars. Makan, nicknamed Blind, Akyp, Zholdy and a couple of Tatars – Batkolla, Kalau… made a massacre.
‘And why would they kill teachers?’
‘I guess they had their reasons, my friend! Such people hate those who are well-educated, as knowledgeable people won’t let lawlessness rule, so robbers blame us in their arrests. It is more convenient for them to catch fish in dark, murky water. They are especially afraid of our generation. Imam Abdrakhman was a member of our party. This hypocrite was also against new methods of teaching. Well, it’s clear, if modern schools are introduced everywhere, they will be left out. All their prosperity and wellbeing are held up by ignorance. Just imagine, this imam, pretending to be a Bolshevik, became a leader of the escaped prisoners and pointed to those who were to be shot down.’
‘And what has become of them?’
‘They are arrested. It didn’t take a long time to chase them down. They brought a lot of harm to people. Got armed, gathered a White squad and rose in rebellion – killed people, robbed houses, behaved outrageously. In the end, they were tracked down, surrounded and crushed. The band leaders got to prison, and the rest fled at once. All of them were excluded from the party, and calmed down a little.
‘And what happened to mullah Abdrakhman?’
‘Well, he managed to survive. He’s rather smart. He acted on the sly – there isn’t enough material for a criminal case. What can you do with him? And he nearly killed teacher Marden.’
‘He, if you remember, is rather fat-bellied. They saw him, ‘Yeah, we got you, bourgeois’ and dragged him to the bank of the Irtysh. Marden was crying, ‘I’m no bai, I’m against them, as you are!’ And they said, ‘If you are against bais, then show us where they hide their belongings, show us their houses!’ The poor man dragged them along the city all night, showed them bais’ houses. He barely stayed alive… For three days he was coming to himself, went a bit crazy even. They held him at gunpoint all the time and released him only when they got tired and fell asleep.’
‘And what happened to the city’s bais?’
‘Nothing, they all fled. And their houses passed to the city treasury. Only bai Zhanibek stayed, he is so greedy that he couldn’t leave his house. And I can’t understand how this dog managed to stay alive. What did he do – maybe, he put on rags and pretended to be a beggar or a small trader of eggs and tobacco – who knows? Well, he managed to survive somehow. But, apparently, he got it good, and had to give a whole pile of bribes… You can’t destroy the likes of him…’
‘I also wanted to ask – where is Aleken?’
‘He ran away.’
‘And where is he now?’
‘He stays at Tobykty folk’s, I guess… After all, he owes it all to Tobykty kinsfolk – he sent his wife and children to them… Have you heard of Kysatay?’
‘Of course, he is a famous rich man.’
‘Well, he organized his own party. He was in most hostile relations with the Kazakh committee, as it was him who last year went over to Bolsheviks and began to urge them to kill everyone who had anything to do with ‘Alashorda’. And, when Bolsheviks fled from Semey, he was, obviously, pursued by Alashorda people, but he started issuing newspaper ‘Bolshevik’ using Kysytay’s money. Just imagine it, how could ‘Alash’ party put up with him publishing 500 newspapers? I think it was a shame for the party.’
‘Right, and then what?’
‘Well, I have to admit that Kysytay turned out to be a tough brave man. When they tried to take his family, Kysytay’s henchmen from Tobykty kinsfolk came forward, ‘We won’t give you out our guests. We don’t know what he’s done wrong, but his family has nothing to do with it!’ All these complaints of his wife and children were organized by Kysytay himself, so he managed to save them all.’
Thus, talking, Kartkozha and Kasen got to Kereku. Kasen decided to personally conduct the elections in Kereku and sent Kartkozha to Semey.
He was to deliver a letter to the address at which Kasen lived. Of course, Kartkozha tried as best as he could. But it turned out quite a difficult matter. Former Alashorda folk suddenly became law-abiding teachers of seminaries, gymnasiums and other schools. And what was interesting, there were a lot of Kazakhs at the places where they worked. And in front of other state institutions there were only two or three people. But anyway, you could see that young Kazakhs started moving: they were running, organizing different study groups, staging theatrical performances, even issuing their own newspaper – and everything in accordance with their written requests. Kartkozha, who wanted to continue his studies, went to the department of education. A Russian sat there – nothing came of it. Disappointed Kartkozha didn’t give up, he began to go to Kazakh office workers he was acquainted with.
Clearly, the circle of Kasen’s educated friends was wider, some of them were Russian teachers. Soon or not, but Kartkozha somehow managed to start studying among Russian pupils, and immediately got nicknames: Bull, Camel. He put up with it, but he didn’t like that pupils were studying negligently, letting things slide, they were lazy and used every opportunity to skip lessons.
In October, at last, the Kazakh institute was established. Naturally, Kartkozha hurried to transfer to that institute. Due to the fact that lots of Tatars fled from Russia that year, three faculties were opened at once, and some courses were read in the Tatar language. It was fun to study together with them. In winter they were left without firewood, and studies at the institute stopped. You’d freeze to hell, if you sat in cold classrooms. So they went to the Education Committee Department, where, naturally, no one was waiting for them, and they returned with nothing. Head of the province Brenskiy waved his hands at them and yelled, ‘Out, Kirgiz guys! Get out!’ ‘What and who is he talking about?’ Kartkozha couldn’t understand.
Wherever Kartkozha lived – in the shed or a decent house, the first thing he would do was sit down near the lamp and read books. And it did not matter for him if he was hungry and cold, or that his future didn’t promise anything good for him. A true romantic, but he had nowhere to live and nothing to eat, so he put up with it for a month and it was all he could bear.
Kazakh society started showing discontent. A new governor – Ivanov – was appointed from the Siberian revolutionary committee. At the same time only one or two Kazakhs were elected into the provincial committee. The Kazakhs that used to work in different institutions left for their native auls, as if on a leave without pay. Kasen was blunter now, recurring to his own forgotten words, ‘No, these people don’t think about the future of the Kazakh people, you can’t count on anything but harm from them.’
‘In the whole district… you won’t find the truth… only bribery is wildly flourishing, everything is rotting… Do you know Darmen?’
‘Yes, I know him. We are from the same aul. And what about him?’
‘He was shot by Barnakyp in Karkaralinsk.’
‘But how can it be… Darmen seemed to calm down… he even gave up stealing horses.’
‘So what that he gave it up? And Barnakyp began to do terrible things! He was humiliating people, extorting bribes, raping women, killing – and he always got away with it. He frightened everyone so much that no one dared utter a word of protest. Darmen was the only one who wrote a complaint against him and backed up his charges by evidence. But, you know the essence of Kazakhs, someone reported on him to Barnakyp.’
‘Well. He sent for Darmen, started questioning him, torturing, at night he took him to prison, but on the way there he just shot him.’
Kartkozha, as if not believing what he had just heard, shook his head and clicked his tongue dejectedly.
With the Relatives
Kartkozha returned home. There were changes in Kereku – a transport office ‘Motor’ was set, which common people in their own simple way dubbed ‘Tramotka’. If you want to travel, please, stand in line near the porch of ‘Tramotka’. Kartkozha also queued up, as a teacher that had a right for a passenger mandate. After waiting for three hours, he joined the list. In three days, please, go by transport called ‘Abbatilskiy’ if you need to get, for example, to town Kyzyl-shyrpy. Kartkozha decided that he needed to go there, and got into the office transport – a cart that was owned by some city man. They rode off for a couple of versts when his carter demanded, ‘Get off, quicker!’ They got to aul Zhiektegi, Kartkozha tried to find another transport, but couldn’t arrange for it, yet, he found his bag thrown to the side of the road. ‘Tramotka’ itself was long gone.
Think of it, how quickly people from suburban auls become callous: no one let him stay in their house, no one wanted to take him to his aul. So Kartkozha put his mandate deep into the pocket, threw the bag onto his shoulder, and became his own transport ‘Abbatilskiy’ – further he went on foot. Often he would see an aul ahead and hope that there he would definitely hire a cart, but alas, all horses had been taken by policemen, agents and instructors. And even if there were a horse in the stalls, it was already foamy, just unharnessed. He got lucky only on the way from Kyzyl-shyrpy to Bayan – a bullock cart went by, loaded with salt. This time Kartkozha clutched at it tightly. What was it? Oh, it was ‘Tramotka’! It ran from Bayan to nearby auls, chock-full with Kazakhs. Such was the office – ‘Tramotka’, you can learn the details from Kartkozha.
On his way home Kartkozha decided to visit his longtime friend. In winter he heard that Cossacks were severely ruined. However, he didn’t find his friend at home, only his wife and children. Kartkozha greeted them and asked, ‘And where is he?’
‘He left,’ his wife answered.
‘Haven’t you heard that Sybashyl communists killed all the Cossacks here? They shot nineteen Cossacks and sent fifteen men to prison…’
‘Why did they do this to them?’
‘White Guards recaptured Pavlodar. And maybe you heard of their ataman – Oske…’
‘Well, he gathered Cossacks, they were planning something. But there were some rotten people among them. Damned Petka Kurtuzov. He reported on the Cossacks to communists…’
‘They shouldn’t have made plans with the White Guards.’
‘Yes… they shouldn’t have… God save their souls! It turned out bad. I couldn’t eat a morsel…’
‘Yes, it’s very bad…’ said Kartkozha, sighing sadly and shaking his head dejectedly.
He couldn’t but sympathize with them, and he had only wanted to rest a bit there and drink some tea.
‘You think of it, Gimanov survived.’
‘They cleaned out his store, warehouses, and his house. But they didn’t touch him, though he was friends with Cossacks.’
‘How did he escape? Was he arrested?’
‘Yes, he was. His daughter pulled him out of jail. She kept company with commissioner Zharin. You see, daughters can sometimes be of help.’
Cossacks were in a really tight situation. They sat keeping a low profile, unlike they used to. And poor Kazakhs ran to sign up to the party and now took part in various party meetings. Yes, times were different, poor people were having free and easy life now. They were dividing lands and wells of Bayan, go fishing without asking anyone.
Kartkozha, returning to his aul and thinking of collecting money to pay the fees for his studies in winter, began to teach hodja Karibai’s children to read and write in Russian. Being among well-educated citizens – the powerful of this world, he understood the whole importance of modern education for children – you can’t hide cattle in your schoolbag, but you won’t be able to protect your cattle without education.
One day Kartkozha’s friend from Semipalatinsk, Babatai, came to visit him.
‘Well, how are you? What are you doing?’ Kartkozha hurried to ask him.
‘We are organizing a youth group.’
‘Good luck with that! And what is it about?’
‘Well, it’s obvious – we will relentlessly fight against bais and other enemies, and will nominate our candidatures for elections into the district committee.’
And during the last elections hodja Kakabai got his nephew into the committee and they ransacked the whole cooperation.
‘And what did you do to them?’
‘Wrote an article in the newspaper.’
‘And who do you want to put in his place?’
‘And are you going to study further?’
‘The studies will wait, we are too busy now. We must protect the poor, educate poor children and orphans.’
‘It’s a good idea!’ Kartkozha admired the goals of Babatai’s group.
‘And why won’t you take part?’
‘Well… I’m trying to make some money to study, if not for that, I’d be also…’
‘We’ll find other finances! If we succeed in electing a volost head, we can take all the money we need from the bais! What do you think?’
Kartkozha liked the plans about protecting the poor, and as to the second idea – he didn’t like it much. And so, thinking, he said evasively, ‘Continue your good work, we’ll see later.’
Babatai got into the carriage and left.
In a couple of weeks rumors spread, ‘A crowd of young people go from one aul to another and do terrible things…’ Kartkozha wanted to go to the city and tell them about the rumors, but all sorts of chores around the farm and the house absorbed him – there was too much work, more than he could handle.
One day Kartkozha sat under a canopy in front of the house conducting a lesson when hodja Karibai came calling,
‘Come on, come here!’
He came out to him, and the hodja started putting a newspaper into his hands with a terrible expression on his face.
‘Here, read this place!’
He read, ‘Confiscation of cattle from bais’, it turned out, the article said about surplus-appropriation system, ‘And they shouldn’t try to hide their cattle, it belongs to the state treasury.’
The rich hodja was like a cat on hot bricks, rushing here and there with his eyes popped out of their sockets, asking for advice. He couldn’t find a place to hide his flocks and herds. Other bais started running too, trying to hide their cattle in empty sheds and yards of the poor people.
A week or so passed. A detachment that confiscated bais’ cattle came. Wherever you went, everywhere was an aul head, or a commissioner, or a policeman. They gathered all the cattle, counted their heads, then drove them off somewhere. Kartkozha was always there, of course.
A pandemonium like at the trade fair. In the gigantic living whirlpool, whips, sticks, rifles are flashing now and then, the cattle are driven to the huge enclosure. At the gate of the enclosure, a guard is standing, in a black leather jacket, armed with a revolver and a rifle, belts with ammunition are hanging over his shoulders crosswise, his cheekbones emanate cold. He is taking stocks of cattle. Several reckless owners tried to yell, ‘It’s my cow… my horse, it got here by chance…’, got it in the necks, and jumped back briskly. Someone named Isakhan didn’t notice the guard and rushed after his bull, which had almost disappeared in the enclosure, he even managed to turn his black nose back. But the guard was strict and vigilant. The Kazakh started running away. The guard followed him. He ran him down and hit him with the rifle butt between the shoulder-blades, Isakhan collapsed on the ground. And here’s another example: notorious coward Ybrai was driving his cow away with a twig, and the guard in the black jacket noticed him, rushed him off his feet and beat him up with his boots. Ybrai, somehow, got home and hid under the women’s skirts – his heart was gurgling like a bubble with water. The guard tracked him down, pulled back into the light and began to beat him again. People were running around, howling, tearing their clothes in despair – and how could they no to, as there is a reason to say that animals and people are of the same kind – people felt sorry for their cattle. And Kazakhs were rushing under the sticks, then they began to shoot… Kartkozha was there also, wandering, searching for his aulsfolk, then all of a sudden a shot rang out from an old shed. The people scattered.
‘What happened? What is it?’
‘Aubakir was shot!’
So how could they not give away their cattle?
‘They took all my cattle…’
But there were enough of those who sighed with relief,:
‘We were spared, somehow…’ and they muttered, just in case, ‘Forgive us, God…’
Some people paid for the others, some were just lucky, as they had taken cattle that were in plain sight, and the hidden animals remained unharmed. Of course, the auls of influential people weren’t touched. Smart people also found a way to get out of this situation. Kartkozha finally found his relatives. It turned out that their cattle were safe. Only then he calmed down.
After the Tornado
About twenty men that had studied in Semipalatinsk clubbed together, hired good carriages and drove straight to the city. They scared people a lot, folks would see their string of carts and take them for a surplus-appropriation detachment. In panic they would rush to their flocks and herds, and drive them away quickly, hide them in the ravines, over the hills. And when they realized that they were simple students, they would hardly catch their breath.
All the families – Aidabol, Karzhas, Kozgan, and Kulyik kinsfolk – that lived near Bayan had less cattle than they used to, even without commissioners’ raids. In the richest families there were no more than 60 - 70 milk cows left. As the eye finds difficulty searching for beads scattered over the carpet, so difficult was it to find sheep on the pastures. There were no more sheep than hears in the plains; a flock of sheep for a shepherd is like stars for an astrologer – and there were only a few constellations left – enough to make you cry. And you could run into horned cattle only in the forests of Karakesek kinsfolk. On the lands of Aigyrzhal Naimans, flocks and herds were thinning out obscenely fast.
Other villages were almost deserted, desolation and disorder reigned everywhere, as in the sheds of a missing owner.
If you climbed on the hill and stuck out your neck opening your eyes wide, you wouldn’t see or hear the rich clatter of rushing herds of horses there where fat herds and flocks used to pasture.
An aul without cattle is like lips of a shaven man. The pastures that used to be thick with grass are now thin, the sown millet sprouts in thin ears, the mountains seem lower, the lakes are filled up with sand and rivers are shallow. Such poor bare ground suits good for a bustard, but it can’t feed a man.
And you wonder, ‘How can you live here and raise children? How can you survive? And how are people still surviving?’ It’s no secret that thousands of heads of cattle, owned by our bais of course, used to wander around these places. But, no matter whom these cattle belonged to, without them the steppe loses its beauty and you start blaming it unintentionally. Frankly, all Kazakh lands have become this unattractive…
Wise old men say, ‘In the old days winters were warm and there was no need in building houses with stoves. And cattle slept in the snow and still grew impossibly fat. Now it’s different, winters are becoming frostier’. Should we believe their words? Or perhaps, there are less cattle now, because the animals, locked in sheds, grow sickly and die? Or maybe Kazakhs, deprived of their grandfathers’ summer, honey yellow, mountain pastures, green meadows, and berry-full ponds, have contracted indifference to thoroughbred horses, particularly fattened camel humps and show less patience in treating sheep with colophony, and cows – with coniferous resin? Or is the reason lying in these countless parties with their endless elections, which keep swirling around kinsfolk, eating them away inexorably, as if they vowed to put an end to them once and for all? Or is this the end of happy golden centuries of Kazakhs?
Absorbed in such thoughts, Kartkozha tries to take a good look at the days to come. He is waiting for a ray of hope, a guiding star, or just a way out. Will the impoverished steppe rise from ashes, filled with living power? Will the horn of plenty spill again? Will there be new opportunities, which, like waves, will cover the dry bottom of our lives? No, they will not rise again. It means that he should do something himself. But what can he do? And what forces can he lean on? No matter how hard Kartkozha tried, he couldn’t make out anything good. Perhaps, he should settle, sow a field, go hunting? And what will it give him for real? Yes, we’ve seen it… Kartkozha is also acquainted with Kazakhs that have rooted themselves like peasants and with those who consider themselves city folk… well, for example in Belagashevskaya and Kaiyndykskaya volosts. Just look at these cities! They are just a stinking dirty ‘living cemetries’, among their plain walls people are rushing about with mad glitter in their eyes. It isn’t difficult to see that all this mass that has lost its cattle and hasn’t yet mastered the skills of tillage, trying to be builders or carters, is losing its morals, catching tuberculosis and becoming poorer, plunging into abject destitution. And so today, will you be able to find at least one optimist who will assure you that after settling down Kazakhs are growing stronger and richer? And then, where Kazakhs can find so many arable lands? For everyone? For dozens and dozens of thousands of Kazakhs from Suyindik, Karakesek, Naiman kins – for all ten volosts? Of course – who would deny it? – there are those who have settled down: 30 – 40 houses with ploughed fields, as large as a boot sole, meadows and strip farming lands. And all flood plains near rivers, rich black soils near lakes and on mountain slopes, and near forests with springs and streams have long been occupied by other nation, with special protection from the authorities. And how can Naiman ragamuffins get a place there? Where, anyway?.. That’s why people are sitting on the dry steppe patches like a flock of birds with undercut wings, like a herd of fetlocked horses, weak-willed and depressed. Most of them have settled in their miserable winter huts. But who would bring himself to call this way of living – settling down? Well, try to settle, planting corn with good harvest – on the rocks and sand. It is clear that the lands surrounding such winter camps are not suitable for either plowing, or gardening, and well, I should admit, the Kazakhs, forever bound to winter, are not familiar with gardening. What will become of them in several years?
A friend called to Kartkozha, who lay one side in a moving cart reflecting, ‘Hey, wake up! Shall we feed horses in this aul?’
‘We might as well feed them, why not?’ answered Kartkozha and looked around, sitting up.
Having entered the aul, some of Kartkozha’s companions decided to pretend to be important people to get out food, and maybe even fresh horses from the local folk.
What has happened to the Kazakhs, who used to be so anxious to feed their guests and simple travelers without any hints and requests from them? And what sort of people has now appeared, so closefisted as folk in this aul? Kartkozha doesn’t like it.
‘Stop it!’ he checked his companions. ‘What can they give us?! Isn’t it a sin to blame guilty for naught? One might think that we always set the samovar boiling for everyone who passes by? Friends, for whose sake are we going to study, having abandoned everything? Let us not forget it…’
Beautifully said. And to the point. One should be too shameless to argue with that. His companions thought it over and stopped grumbling and reproaching God knows who.
The nearer they got to Semipalatinsk, the rarer they saw well-groomed, fattened cattle and the more often – animals drained of all strength. They asked in surprise, ‘Who does it belong to?’ The answer was, ‘The State’. Dirty, all skin and bone, with lackluster watering eyes.
‘How do they care about the cattle? Autumn is almost here – they won’t have time to fatten them up,’ the travelers were surprised.
‘It will do for the state,’ the guards answered.
‘Why did the state collect the cattle? To feed the army. And is meat of a thin animal real meat?’
‘Russians don’t like fat meat.’
The guards’ words sounded like a joke. Kartkozha, as a person who had spoken with many knowledgeable people, explained the situation,
‘The state is interested in reports – the number of heads, and what is between the head and the hooves doesn’t bother anyone. And then the elections begin, the cattle are collected, when new heads have been chosen, they change their wretched cattle for fat and well-groomed animals. The number of cattle doesn’t change – reports are the same. And people are trying to shove the worst cattle to the state and hide the meaty animals.’
‘And if the state finds out about such dirty tricks, the wheeler-dealers will hit a bad patch…’
‘Well, how? They forge brands. And the state doesn’t know much about cattle – if they are young animals or skinny and sickly cattle. The main thing for the state is reporting. If an animal dies, you draw up a report, then present the skin – and nobody asks you any questions. And if it died or you ate it… nobody cares. Some people even manage to present last year’s skins, and there are plenty of those. It’s enough to have a seal on your report, and even the aul head will have nothing to say to you,’ explained Kartkozha.
It seemed clear, but Kartkozha’s heart was grieving: they know how to take away cattle, but are unable to competently use them. No good – either for the state, or for the people – the cattle are rotting in paper reports. But what can be done about it?
Absorbed in such serious thoughts, Kartkozha didn’t notice how their string of carts entered the streets of Semipalatinsk – the city had changed for the better, it was clean and order was everywhere. The trade had revived. On the facades of the institutions there were inscriptions in Kazakh. The chairman of the provincial committee was a Kazakh. And in general, there were more Kazakhs among the office workers. Kasen had become the head of the Education Department, which had made Kartkozha especially happy. How could he not use this chance and not put his younger brother by his friend’s order in an orphanage, where his bread would be buttered on both sides? He himself entered the institute. In his free time he conducted lessons at a Kazakh school – several such schools opened in the city.
Semipalatinsk Kazakhs were so carried away by their studies, search for a better job, setting their relatives on well-paid positions, that they didn’t already remember those recent times filled with disturbing uncertainties, depression and fears.
The studies absorbed him like never before. The lessons were conducted in Kazakh. There were no textbooks. The teachers would read their lectures and leave immediately. And some vague concepts started lining up in Kartkozha’s head. And only later, after several days they gradually acquired clearer shapes. There were only three hours of studying every day, but in the evening Kartkozha was ready to drop. He was very busy, he had to make it everywhere, talk to everyone – such an open person he was.
First, he needed to visit all office employees and dzhigits. And there were a lot of them: a Kazakh in the provincial committee, a Kazakh in the Land Department, the teachers and students, who went through hardships and succeeded like he did, - in the Education Department. Crowds of Kazakhs were storming through the courthouse. They penetrated the trade and food offices, where they couldn’t even dream of getting before. There were Kazakh office workers among responsible political, financial and industrial employees. And Kartkozha couldn’t help admiring them, as the mountain tops, as something so close, so vital.
All young guys were party members and members of various organizations, they were studying and issuing newspapers. The smartest and most sharp-tongued lads were ready to tear each other for any significant post. They were complaining, of course, but if you looked at them – they were all set up, their everyday life was well-tuned. Some were dealing in, some bought houses. And such clever guys, as Boranbai, Zhanakhmed, Gabdolla, who used to work for the state and the party as teachers, judges, heads of revolutionary committees (volost heads – according to the old regime), now, with the New Economic Policy, abandoned their positions and rushed to buy and sell, and became rich shopkeepers and merchants.
Those guys that had studied and left for their auls remained poor intellectuals, and those fellows that had stayed in the cities, together with their wives and lovers, became ‘supply agents’ and succeeded in enriching themselves.
Kartkozha felt rejection of these educated fellows who had forgotten their yesterday’s ideals and had become wheeler-dealers, he didn’t like them. But one day, hearing the story of one of these ‘shifters’, he thought, ‘Maybe, they have a point? Who knows?’ And an educated tradesman told him this,
‘Kazakhs will die, unless they learn how to trade. Everyday routine will get the better of them. People who don’t develop trade won’t survive in this merciless world. Capital controls the world, and those who stand up against capital, will be swallowed alive, crushed, and forced into slavery conditions. And trade is capital. Don’t even doubt it, if Kazakhs continue to despise trade, they will be left on the side road of the civilization. I am personally encouraged by the fact that here in Semey things have started moving, I am glad that even women began to engage in trade. Why? We shouldn’t pray for it, but we need to understand where we are going. We need to realize that times have changed and now work is inseparably connected with money, and, therefore, with trade, which, my friend, you despise so much.’
Kartkozha didn’t want to believe the tradesman’s words, but life every day and everywhere confirmed the correctness of his words. It was enough to remember the prices for the same things in the auls and in the city shops. You would understand at once, who and how was getting richer at the Kazakhs’ expense – certainly, not the Kazakhs. Kartkozha who couldn’t find the key to understanding the causes of the Kazakhs’ impoverishment, was now quite satisfied with the appearing explanation.
Kartkozha went to Kasen who had asked him to come and see him after classes. A usual visit for him. When he came, Tolegen was already there – he worked at the control institution then. They were talking about work.
‘How are things in town Zhokshi?’
‘Ah, how can it be? Everything is in ruins. Agents did a good job, stole everything. Today, when I got the materials, I put away two of them at once.
‘I wanted to tell you: a Kazakh – from Tobyktin kinsfolk –came recently, he wanted to get a paper which would give him the right to receive food. Well, they beat him up, and then demanded 25 millions for his release.’
‘Yes, there are lots of such cases! I’ve just got a message, for instance: at the market agents detained Kazakh tradesmen with their daily receipts and started extorting bribes. Their reports are absolutely confusing, you can’t understand when and where the citizen was arrested, when he was released, reasons for arrests are unmotivated. They have connections with the city bandits, we are checking this information now,’ said Tolegen in confidence.
When Tolegen had left, Kasen explained why he wanted to see Kartkozha,
‘Recently, there have been too many needy pupils. They have heaped me up with requests, every day they are sticking in the corridors with their petitions. Yesterday at the meeting, I was charged to discover the number of truly needy pupils. And I have to admit, I haven’t worked this matter thoroughly. I wanted you to tell me anything you know about it.
‘There are needy pupils, it’s true. But those who stick before your doors with requests aren’t needy at all. They just hear that somebody’s got something and rush to snatch something for themselves too. I am sure that most of them are just greedy dogs’.
‘You said that right. Kazakhs are such people – they only beg for things with tears in their eyes, wanting to get out everything free of charge. It makes me so furious sometimes! How do you think, how many truly needy pupils will there be?’
Kartkozha counted 8 – 9 people.
‘And what can you give them?’
‘There aren’t any sums in the budget provided for such matters. But I think, we can arrange a theatrical performance and give them money collected from the tickets.’
After a week at the club ‘Moon ball’ a theatrical premier of an amateur troupe took place. All tickets were sold out. Everyone played their parts perfectly – Akhmed, Smagul, Abdirasyl – no worse than Russian actors. The audience was delighted. And they collected enough money to give to the poor students. The following days brought news: Tolegen, who was inspecting the activities of the provincial criminal investigation department and had revealed criminal acts of five agents, arrested them together with the head of the department. You just think of it, such a reckless lad, he went into the department and standing before the agents said, ‘In the name of the Republic I arrest you!’, they were so shocked by his impudence that didn’t have time to put up resistance – they were disarmed in seconds.
A big lawsuit took place, and people, it seemed, started stealing less. Only in one volost, 60 thieves went up the steps. And the judges that took bribes and imagined themselves ‘blue blood’ also lost their positions. And the media were on the alert, every lawsuit was immediately covered by the press. Kartkozha couldn’t tear himself from the newspapers, he liked them so much.
And the newspapers wrote about hunger. He was frustrated, reading that two-thirds of the Kazakhs were starving. And this impossible anguish, with which all his friends talked about the hunger that had enveloped Kazakh lands, weighed him down. When summer came, latter-day citizens went to their auls in the hope to refresh themselves. Kartkozha and Kasen went too. Stepping off the carriage near the house of his friend-bai, Kasen asked Kartkozha,
‘Well, how do you like the Soviet regime? Do you think life is good now? Or would you prefer other regime?’
‘Oh-bah, let it stand as it is! Why are you asking?’
‘You didn’t like it before, did you?’
‘Well, if it falls, will it be better? There will be war again. And then, what will remain of our cattle?’
They bumped into a man, apparently, a poor man.
‘And what do you think?’
‘Why should we be against it? Now all the expenses are thrown on bais. We are now considered people, and we are free. They say, you know, a blind man dreams about eyes! Well, sometimes, it still can be rough, of course… but it always is, isn’t it? Sometimes the policemen or the aul authorities start pressuring you, jeering at you, but it’s nothing… At least, not as it is used to be.
The phrase ‘not as it is used to be’ made Kartkozha smile.
Kartkozha read all Kazakh books that fell into his hands to the last page, tried to understand every word, get answers to all the questions, but still, Kazakh education didn’t quench Kartkozha’s thirst for knowledge. In the field of education, he was like a puppy, chasing the shadows, poking his nose into every hole and crack, who got lost, after all, and came back to where he started from. Sometimes, passing by the Russian library or the Russian bookstore, he would stop and stare, like an always hungry mob in front of the closed iron-bound bai’s doors, almost eating the books with his eyes, yet, he couldn’t understand a thing. Ah, if only he knew the Russian language! He got more and more upset. He tried reading thin books published for commoners, wrote out and learnt unknown words, asked for their meaning, rummaged them in the dictionary, even tried speaking Russian – all for nothing. His tongue couldn’t pronounce the unfamiliar sounds, his ear couldn’t distinguish between intonations. You couldn’t name Kartkozha as wise as Solomon, but he had good memory, was quick-witted – well, he was an average guy. But most importantly, he believed in his abilities and talent. Without knowing the Russian language, I won’t be able to go up and won’t be of any value for other people. And Kartkozha vowed, I’ll die but I will learn Russian, whatever the cost, or I won’t be a true person.
And so, having set his house and farm straight, taken care of food for his family, in early winter he harness his last horse into the bullock cart, sat his younger brother in it with a bottle of salty butter, tied his only bull from behind of the cart, and together with his travel companions set off for Omsk; the road was long, and his bag was poor. They went slowly – barely moving. But the wheels were turning, and it was enough.
When they crossed the river Olenty on the ice – some new companions joined them, and their string comprised now a dozen of carts and sleighs. Among them were guys that wanted to study, men and women roaming about idly, going to visit their parents, hardworking people that hoped to find work in distant lands, and merchants that had sold their cheap goods and now were returning to the city to get a new batch of textiles and other small items. And all of them were driven by worries of the day.
Omsk is the center of the Earth. Try and get there. Not only people, but the carts will sweat too. And look at Kartkozha’s horse – it’s barely moving its hooves, like a pregnant woman. Driving on is out of question, the whip has already no effect on the animal. It is sticking out its bottom and rubbing its hooves against the cobblestone, Kartkozha is staring at its rising croup, rises its tail and looks under it, puzzled, ‘What’s wrong with the horse?!’ The horse’s eyes are bulging out, its legs are shaking slightly. His companions tell him, ‘You’ve driven it too hard, it won’t go further’. He looked at the bull tied to the cart. It seemed healthy. They went another 5 – 6 versts, and his horse stopped for good. He saw that he was falling behind the string, there was no time, he killed the horse and took off its skin. Kartkozha’s companions put his things into their carts, saying: you can’t leave things of the main carter on the ground. And Kartkozha had to leave his cart on the road. He took hard the death of his horse. Wicked fate was taunting him. And his wife didn’t forgive him for leaving them. And his mother was unhappy. He thought: can their obvious discontent have influenced the journey? Even so, he didn’t want to think of it anymore, as it was the last obstacle on his way! He must endure it all.
And he went to Omsk on foot, though his companions repeatedly said, ‘Come on, get in our cart!’ he wouldn’t agree. However, he sat his younger brother in one of carts, grateful.
As they got closer to Omsk, it grew much colder. Cold hoarfrost spread at night. And there were more thieves sitting along the road. They had to keep watch at night. Kartkozha would wrap his younger brother, who was falling asleep, into thick felt and sit looking around.
A young woman was riding together with Kartkozha with a daughter of 11 – 12 years old. Kartkozha looked after them. At halts the mother would send her daughter to fetch brushwood or water, and she fed her badly. And at night she made her girl keep watch instead of her. And the poor thing hadn’t even decent clothes on. Her hair was tangled, she was skinny, exhausted. Kartkozha felt sorry for the girl, his heart was aching. And it was somehow awkward to reprove the mother.
Once, Kartkozha was guarding the string and couldn’t contain himself, he went up to the girl and said,
‘Dear, why don’t you get some sleep? I will keep watch instead of you, go and sleep.’
‘She will beat me,’ the child said quietly.
‘Why would she beat you? Isn’t she you mother?’
‘And do you have a father?’
‘And where is she taking you?’
‘And who do you have in Omsk?’
‘No one. I don’t know anything. Perhaps, she will sell me to somebody.’
‘And how old are you?’
When they were approaching Omsk, Kartkozha talked to the woman. She was going to her relatives, and wanted to leave her stepdaughter in their care. And if there were a man who would like to marry her, she would gladly give her to him for a bride price, or maybe even for nothing, if only she could get rid of her.
‘Auntie, it’s not right,’ Kartkozha bothered the woman.
‘Who would now give cattle for a girl? You’d better give her to me…’ The woman refused at first, and then, after talking to her friend, agreed. Kartkozha was so happy as if his dock-tailed horse returned to life. And his companions started laughing at him.
‘Your horse died, your cart is gone. You yourself are going on foot. What will you do with this girl, ah, Hodja Nasyr?’
‘Don’t laugh! You laugh of ignorance. Maybe, one day, you’ll see how a beautiful person will grow out of this ugly duckling. God loves such orphans. What? They are the same people as we are. If everything turns out right, I will do anything to help her stand on her own feet,’ answered Kartkozha to his mockers and stroked the girl on the head.
When he got to Omsk, he rented a house on the outskirts of the city together with his friends.
The next day, leaving his brother and new sister there, he went to the market to sell the bull. Exhausted by the long journey, a thin bull with sunken eyes didn’t catch the buyer’s eye. But then he managed to have a deal: the price wasn’t that good, but still he got a tidy sum. He put the money in his pocket and went to examine the market rows of stalls – he saw a Kazakh hanging about with a big banknote, asking everyone he met,
‘Can anyone change it? Please. I can’t pay the seller.’
Kartkozha took pity on him.
‘Sir, how much do you need?’
‘Forty-five millions! Eh, dear! How lucky am I!.. Oh, well, have a nice day!..’
The banknote he got in exchange looked quite normal, Kartkozha even thought it was more convenient: it fitted freely into his old purse from rough leather. ‘Indeed, why should I hang out with lots of money in my pockets? You’ll begin to pay, and lose some.’
And then, there were some documents in his purse, now everything was in one place and he didn’t have to search for long. He decided to buy his ‘little sister’ some scented soap, so he got into the midst of the market. A true anthill – no way to pass or force your way through.
He chose a piece of soap he liked and started bargaining, but didn’t agree on the price. The price of the other merchant suited him, so he reached into his pocket for the money… A terrible thing! No purse, nothing! He started twitching and fumbling in his pockets, behind the belt, in the pants. Nothing. His eyes filled with tears.
And now what is he to do?! Not finding an answer, he went to the apartment.
Kartkozha lost all his money and very important documents, and he had no friends in Omsk. He went to his travel-companions, but in vain. Who would shelter an insolvent tenant? And Kartkozha together with the children and his belongings was turned out. He found himself on the street.
The streets in Omsk are endless, like roads. They stretch and stretch further. Kartkozha was hobbling, barely moving his feet, along the pavement. Sweat was rolling off his face in great drops. His ‘sister’ turned out to be so exhausted that she couldn’t walk. It was good that his brother was still strong. Kartkozha hung bags on him, threw up a bale of blankets and a felt mat on his shoulders, sat his ‘sister’ on top of them and went. He was like an overloaded donkey. He didn’t know where he was going. Well, then to the center of the city.
After three or four quarters his brother began to tire out. They sat down to rest under a fence. It became evident that he couldn’t go far with the exhausted children. Kartkozha started thinking. What is the use of going on? He should do something. He should ask someone for help. But where should he go? Whom should he ask? The mist clouded his thoughts. And he was hopelessly wondering in this mist. He was walking round in circles when he saw a shadowy figure ahead. Who is it? A Kazakh, one of those who came to Omsk with the only dearest goal – to study. And he will definitely help Kartkozha. But what is his name and where does he live? Remember, remember… There’s got to be someone in the city like a postmaster with salvational horses… Azimkhan… Alimkhan… no, not him. Salimkhan… no, not him, but with the name ending in ‘…khan’. Eh,Zhaidarkhan!.. Zhaidarkhan!
It dawned upon him, and Kartkozha jumped up. He left the children to watch over their things, and rushed to search for Zhaidarkhan, flying in leaps and bounds, blindly, like an eagle-owl by day. He was bumping into passers-by, asking everyone: where does Zhaidarkhan live? He ran through all the streets. And then, almost falling down, he found it, ah!
A light house of three rooms. However, the servant girl didn’t let him cross the threshold, ‘Zhaidarkhan has just finished his meal and is resting now.’ Two hours of waiting lasted like two years, utterly exhausted, he couldn’t stand it any longer. He went to the door and knocked again. The door opened, and there came an answer, ‘He has woken up.’ Kartkozha was happy as if a divine blessing fell upon him. However, while such a longed-for ‘khan’ was washing himself, dressing and combing his hair, it seemed a whole month passed.
And then the expected minute came, and Kartkozha was allowed to enter. A flat imperturbable face looked at him. He had a white collar, however even if he were dressed in the best three-piece suit, he would still look like an ordinary steppe second-rate tycoon. He went past swaggering and asked,
‘What is it?’
‘I came to study… from the steppe aul. And… I lost all my money and documents, I’m dying… Help me, please… The documents…’
‘Does anybody know you?’
‘Then how should I know who you are? Who will tell me? Maybe, you’re a thief…’
Kartkozha tried to explain him, he swore, begged, cried – useless. Gradually Kartkozha started to get angry, contradict himself, refer to someone, some resolutions. The man turned a deaf ear, and yelled,
Kartkozha, no longer hiding his strongest expressions, slammed the door and left. He didn’t understand what happened: whether he left with a cap, or got it in the neck. ‘And I had hoped for such a scoundrel, then damn it all!’ he said bitterly.
He could hardly find the children on the street. They were also confused and didn’t understand what was going on. His ‘sister’ dropped off. His brother sat on the bale looking round shyly and shivering. A policeman came and said sternly, ‘Get out of here!’. Then he came again, ‘Get out!’ – ‘And where should I go?’ The policeman just said, ‘You can’t spend the night on the street.’ So he went away dragging his things, staggering in the dark. They sat down in the first more or less suitable crack between the brick walls. No one was driving them away, so they decided to spend the night there. The children were hungry and thirsty, Kartkozha took a copper jug and went to search for water. He brought some, diluted dry pieces of sweetish cottage cheese in the water and fed the children. And he himself drank a whole jug of water. The thirst, it seemed, might have evaporated all the blood of him.
After eating, he recovered a little, and started pondering over their unenviable situation. He looked around at the houses towering above him and realized that if he hired himself to the local owners as a guard or a janitor, they would definitely find him some corner to stay at. The city is big: thousands of buildings, a million of people, and there isn’t any door set a bit ajar, ah! A well of knowledge and the best achievements of man. And where is humanity? Simple humanity? Or do well-educated people have stone hearts? Like these stone houses? Ready to crush you, wipe you out.
Ah, you, open-hearted Kazakh fool, ah! This is how they respect you… Andrei was right, it serves us good, Kazakhs!..
Until dawn he and his younger brother took turns to sleep and guard their things. First rays of sunlight gushed down. Kartkozha roused himself again, rushed to look for a job, any job to earn their bread. But he couldn’t find it. One man was about to take him, but then refused when he found out that Kartkozha had no documents. He went to every school. But without a paper with a seal everyone refused to listen to him. He met another literate Kazakh on the street. He was from Omsk. He was smart and spry, but he didn’t look at or listen to Kartkozha, and seeing a Russian woman from afar, started screaming,
‘Anna Nikolayevna! My pleasure,’ and rushed to her with a bow.
He had to sell the felt mat – three days they lived on it. He couldn’t sit without doing anything – he was walking, searching. He went to all asylums and offices – Russians were everywhere.
He was so desperate that he cried all night, and closed his eyes only just before dawn. His mother came to him in the dream, caressed him, kissed him on the forehead and said, ‘Dear, don’t be offended, don’t get angry, but go where you have been!’ He woke up in the same crack between the walls. The dawn was coming, inexorable and bright. And he heard clearly his mother’s words again. It was like finding a needle – he went where he had already been. The building of the provincial committee. But first he went to a knowledgeable person, you can say – a mullah at the faculty of young workers, and together they wrote a request. The chairman of the committee, of course, is not easy to find in the office. He sat in the waiting room for an hour, no less. And then a tall man with a fair beard, a suitcase under his arm and warm eyes appeared. He glanced at Kartkozha and invited him into his office. Kartkozha shuddered, as if awakened from a painful dream, and, holding a written sheet of paper in front of him, followed the man. The chairman shook his hand and pointed, ‘Have a seat.’
He was Russian, but he spoke Kazakh. He started asking about the news from the volost, the district, and then, ‘Who do you know from the Kazakhs that studied with you?’ Kartkozha said a few names. The chairman listened to him and wrote his resolution on Kartkozha’s request.
‘The secretary will issue a document for you. With it you will enter the institute.’
He was happy. The phrase, ‘will issue a document’ sounded like a big kiss on the forehead. He rushed and joined the faculty. The faculty of young workers. Tears of joy filled his eyes. He put his ‘sister’ and brother to the orphanage. The surname of the man who had taken interest in his fate was Poludub, he was known among the Kazakhs under the nickname ‘Kerekulyk’.
Who is that guy, sitting and trying to keep warm under the ragged chapan and wiping off drops of sweat from his forehead which come out due to mental strain, sitting under the roof covered with iron, in a two-story building with electric lights and familiarizing himself with Archimedes, Pythagoras, Newton, geologist Otto Torell, Bogdanov, Kautsky and geophysicist George Whipple?
Who is he?
Today he admonishes the children (a twelve-year old boy – his brother: ‘Study well! If you don’t understand anything, ask the teacher!’), and not only them, well then say the name of the mentor who is expressing such modern and clever ideas, and who only yesterday was hanging between heaven and earth, with no idea how to feed himself and those for whom he was responsible to God and destiny?
Who is this Kazakh that managed to lose all his money in an hour at the market and who for several days was dragging the children along the streets without a penny in his pocket?
Who is this smiling young man, who never forgets to send almost all the money he earns to the faraway aul so that his mother and nephews weren’t hungry?
Who, after all, is this swarthy guy, to whom a slender girl promises to be at home the day after tomorrow, the girl that was given by her stepmother just like that, for nothing, to the first man she chanced to meet, as she couldn’t sell her for cattle, the girl that is saying with delight to a man smiling at her in a sunlit lobby of a three-story building, ‘Uncle, I was accepted to the Pioneers!’, and hearing in response, ‘My dear, really? I am so gald!’??
Kartkozha, Kartkozha, Kartkozha…
Today he is different, he sees. He used to despise those ignorant people that had learnt how to read and write from mullahs and hodjas, and now he understands that he is one of them, except that he refused to content himself with such miserable knowledge. Not a trace is left from his former hopelessness and fears.
In summer he worked as a teacher in the aul near Omsk and fell in love with a girl, his student, named Gulsim, and in the late autumn he married her. When his elder brother’s widow, who was considered his wife, heard this news, she put up with it, ‘You can love whoever you want!’, and soon went to her relatives. And he won’t let anyone encroach on his happiness now, he brought his young wife to the students’ dormitory and said to all his friends, ‘Don’t dare lay a finger on her!’
Kartkozha is now a Marxist. He looks at the world with the eyes of the author of ‘Capital’, Carl Marx. But, alas, he can’t get rid of his belief in fate. Series of years and misfortunes flash before his eyes and he can’t change anything, no matter how terrible these days were. Yet, sometimes it seems to him that he managed to divine many events of his life. And still: you never know… But his belief: ‘if you seek, you will find’ never left him..
What you can’t take away from him is that Kartkozha loves Kazakhs and his kinsfolk. He loves everything connected with Kazakhs: lands, waters… His heart aches with pity and compassion for the disadvantaged poor people, and despises the rich bastards. If a Kazakh and a Russian fight, he, of course, blames it on the Russian. And, at the same time, he doesn’t forget the display of the best features of the Russians. He would trade a hundred of such disgusting fellows like Zhaidarkhan for one Poludub. If all Kazakhs and Russians faced hardships, fears and sufferings the he and Andrei had endured, they would, I’m sure, be much more sympathetic, tolerant and kinder to each other. But is it possible? Can the hearts of millions of people beat in one rhythm and answer as one? People are different. The belief that the god of evil will be always confronted by the god of good is a naïve dualism. Deliberate non-resistance to violence is a happy though of Lev Tolstoy. But who or what will stop bastards like Zhaidarkhan and Ashirbek? In the fight against evil people are united by common feelings, compassion. And people can become better not by idling about and day dreaming, but by working and expressing compassion.
And what did Marx write about it? Is his idea of universal justice realistic? And there is no one to turn to, you need to answer the question yourself, and Kartkozha starts reading books again.
Work for Your Nation
His studies in Omsk lasted for two years. He got married. His sister and brother lived happily. Work? He could apply for a good position right away. But still, something disturbed, troubled his soul – some unfulfilled dream beckoned him - look! He felt that the thing he longed for wasn’t in the city; he believed his search should be connected with auls.
Dear people, that in a year or two lost their native, most fertile lands with their pure springs and floodplains, were driven into the dry steppe by immigrants from Russian and Ukrainian provinces, dear people, what are you today? Where are your fat cattle, why are you hiding in winter camps where there are no grass, no leaves? Dear people, humiliated and oppressed by volost heads, interpreters, mullahs, beaten by Kazakh whips, how are you? What is happening with you? What air do you breathe, what food do you eat? Maybe, you’re a beast, a wild game that had been hunted down and is still being hunted for? Maybe, you’re just a mass of people, over which parties, thieves and scoundrels are hovering and tearing you into pieces? I want to know.
I want to see my family and friends again, understand the matters that trouble them, help them as best as I can, as best as I was taught to. Otherwise, why and for what have I been studying? If I care only about my own belly, live only by my desires and appreciate only my thoughts, what will I bring to people? Can I separate myself from them? What is the use of living only for yourself?
Why people start behaving like beasts? Because of the sweet and easy life.
It was a nice time when the bright green meadows start shining with crimson flowers of the meadowsweet, so fine: fly up, winged friends, drink the blue of the sky and the white of the clouds, fall down on grass, hairy friends, somersaulting in it – sheep and other living beings are joyous, and Kartkozha with his young wife preferred to go by steamer. They went down the river, having passed all their exams, to the native auls, a crowd of students with them – tickets for free. They took some food with them. Everyone is in good mood.
Last time Kartkozha climbed to the deck of the steamer twenty years ago. Now it was much more comfortable – less dirt, less confusion, and the timetable, if you please? Here you are! Perfect.
With each passing day, as the Irtysh was clearing of ice, it was growing much warmer. The piers are filled with Kazakhs, selling koumiss and milk. Kartkozha likes talking to them, asking about their life and work.
Cities are lined along the Irtysh, and in every city there is a courthouse. And all court employees are Kartkozha’s acquaintances. And with them – following the city fashion of wearing long cloaks and hats - Kartkozha meets at the bank. They are talking idly.
‘Well, how are you?’
‘And the sessions?’
‘Are conducted in Kazakh. They are getting used to laws.’
They offer to stay, but a steamboat whistle sounds, and banks of the Irtysh are floating past again.
And here’s a new meeting, Meszhan stands smiling and pressing a huge suitcase to his side.
‘How is it? Where do you work?’
‘The volost committee. In Kereuka, Kalimolda holds the power.’
‘Well, are they taking bribes in the executive committee?’
‘I don’t know for certain. If you come, you'll see.
‘Have a nice day!’
If you clap your hands in the mountains of Bayan, you will hear an echo.
 Bai – a rich landowner, cattle-breeder, and tradesman in
 Dhikr – an Islamic devotional act, a form of prayer in which the Muslim express their remembrance of God.
 Kosh – a felt summer dwelling, tent.
 Chapan or caftan – a coat worn over clothes.
 Kamcha – a whip, a lash (informal)
 Dzhigit – a skillful and brave equestrian in
 Treuh – a men’s warm cap with two ear flaps and a back flap
 Biy – foreman, noble man.
 Murza – a duniwassal, a member of feudal aristocracy
 Batyr – a historical honorific title, in origin a term for “hero” or “valiant warrior”.
 Aqsaqal – a male elder, the old and wise of the community.
 Goat-tearing (kozlodranie) – an equestrian game in
 Shanyrak – a circular top of the yurt
 Malakhai – a fur cap with large ear-flaps.
 Tubeteika – a Central Asian cap, bears resemblance to the yurt.
 Nasvay – is a moist, powdered tobacco snuff.
 Chekmen – a top man’s clothing, something between a bathrobe and a kaftan.
 Belogubyi – white-lipped (literally)
 Torsyk – a small leather container for koumiss
 Namaz – a canonical prayer, one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
 Hadith – a saying, approval, image, or action of Prophet Muhammad, the sum of which constitutes Sunnah – the way of life prescribed as normative for Muslims.
 Ayran – a Turkish cold beverage of yogurt mixed with cold water and sometimes salt.
 Ayran – a Turkish cold beverage of yogurt mixed with cold water and sometimes salt.
 Irimshik – hard cheese made of sheep’s milk
 Korzhyn – felted bag, usually for gifts
 Sotnik – commander of a small army division, a hundred of men.
 Sart – an old name for Turkic people of
 Sotnia – a military unit, initially consisting of one hundred men.
 Kazy – horse meat sausage.
 Karta – large horse intestine, turned inside out (fat inside), preserved by salting.
 Zolotnik – Russian pre-metric measure of weight, some 4.6 gr
 Stanitsa – a large Cossack village.
 Kobyz – Kazakh stringed bow instrument.
 Zemstvo – elective district council
 Ayah – a verse of the Koran marked with a number at the end.
 Izba – a wooden peasant house.