My father went off to war and died there and soon mother died of a disease. What kind of disease was that, I don’t know, I was too young at that time and didn't know good thing in medicine, but that disease was very mean, because it made me a full orphan. I cried, grieved and said to myself:
“Don’t cry, Zhantas, however you are not alone. You have grandmother Kara Kempir and young sister Bazargul.
I must say that Bazargul shouldn’t be counted at that time because she nearly learned walking on her weak legs and I thought about here more as a toy. She needs to be messed about with again and again, no way to speak a word. But grandmother Kara Kempir...
I was very surprised and offended at people when I first have found out that they call my grandma "Kara Kempir" that is "dark old woman". Why have they called her so I still can’t understand. May be because as any old thing her face became dark of time and consisted of wrinkles only as if wood cutting? In short it isn’t worth to guess. Let their own conscience would be the judge for these people. There is one thing that I know exactly: nobody else in the whole world has such a light and kind soul that was burning in dark dried body of grandma Kara Kempir. And it brought me an inenarrable joy when grandma told me touching with her hard and dry palm to my head:
“Ah, you, my dear…”
Her low throaty voice and tender touch took away all grief and worry out of my heart.
About that nickname that sharp-tongue people gave her my grandma thought with a kindly smile. Following her example I stopped be angry at offenders calling her Kara Kempir and it has already seemed to me that there is no more beautiful name because it was connected with our grandma - azhe.
And grandma Kara Kempir was doting on us restlessly. Telling in lofty language her care was laying as a soft carped on our way. She also was a safe shield and nobody of evil people couldn’t even touch us with Bazargul with hard wing not but to beat with a hard beak. In brief she was doing everything that her dear grandchildren had a normal childhood and then when they grew, she leave them out into the world being raised.
“What do you want to do for people? So that could bring them joy? grandmother asked Zhantas, that's me.
I liked to mould out of clay people's figures very much, I could spend hours with clay and that's why I answered to grandma Kara Kempir:
“I want to make sculptures for people. I'm going to be a sculptor."
“And what is that?” grandma asked.
I have shown her my figures from clay. One of them was like grandma Kara Kempir, same as she was – in net of cracks; I was afraid that grandma would take offence after she recognized herself.
"Good thing. You will be for people that...who did you call that...sulutur," grandma nodded looking underhand at her image.
And Zhatas, that’s me, went to Moscow and there entered an academy that also teaches people to be a sculptor.
“And what do you want to do for people?” grandma asked my sister Bazargul when her turn came: she graduated seven classes.
“To draw people," Bazargul said.
“I know what it is. Draw. Draw for people," grandma agreed and my sister went to an art school.
So we began studying knowing no worries. Because we still had our grandma Kara Kempir with her kind heard and light soul.
But what a man can do, that year I have again found out what a grief is. Less that a month of my study passed when from a far Kokchetav a black news flew: “Zhantas, your grandma Kara Kempir isn't there anymore."
As we, Kazakhs, say: “God is free to offend, man is free to mourn,” so did I, I took my hurt in tears in full. I cried again, grieved and told myself: “Well, Zhantas, you are not alone. You still have your nice sissy Bazargul.”
But wellaway, today I am sitting at wedding of my Bazargul and in my mind I tell my happy high-coloured sissy: "Poor me, what are you doing, Bazargul? Now I am really alone because since today I would have your own family, Bazargul, it’s your family that would receive all your cares. And your brother would never hear in the morning: “Koke, stand up! Kuimak is ready!” And this tasty kuimak – cakes – another man would eat them. It would be good if he would be dignified, it wouldn’t be so sad. No, every morning she would feed a dark maw of Abilkas. What are you doing, Bazargul, you have no idea!”
Then I shifted my gaze at a complacent face of Abilkas who is unpleasant for me now, at his crimson ear sticking out and ask him in mind too: “When could you, Abilkas, get into heart of my sissy Bazargul? How could you gain her clean soul? Poor me, Abilkas, when I opened doors of our home for you, though, great Heaven, I did it with reluctance; already than you nursed your evil plans."
I have hurly of feels, confusion, I still had no power to familiarize myself with that what’s happening. As if at bookkeeper abacus I lay aside past days one by one in my mind trying to find that fatal one of them when the first threat hang under my head. However one after another…
Death of grandma Kara Kempir brought Bazargul and me together. We could hardly live without letters and of course the first thing that we decided was to live together in one family after study helping each other. That’s what happened then. We moved together in a young city Mystau and got on lived in a perfect harmony.
Either we were so lucky inherently or something else, but what other search in heaven we found on earth. In the small and hospitable city we got two-room apartment and favorite job. By day I was busy in my studio and in evenings I went to the Palace of Culture and taught working youth with secrets of art. But the most important thing was that I had the best sister in the whole world. Try to find sissy that would be tender and true than my Bazargul – answer’s a lemon.
And besides she is very beautiful. Local dzhigits twine around her who would outdo. But my sister is a serious person. In our city she’s not so long, about a year, but almost everybody knows that Bazargul is a serous person. You can ask anybody and they would answer to you:
“Oh, Bazargul? Bazargul is the artist in your theater.”
Though everybody respects her, I am still elder brother for her and that means the main adviser. Take my word, I could tell her this and that, explain everything.
Though sometimes Bazargul had no patience listening to me and she sais out of pique then:
“How are you talking to me, koke. This clearly wouldn’t do?”
“I know that is my besetting sin,” I answer to Bazargul. But whom I could give advises than you? You are my sister and I am your elder brother. If I had one more sister, I would give halves of my advises for you both. But here you are the only to listen to it.”
“Koke, koke! You are a progressive intellectual and tells such things," sister wonders, "Of all people you should know that girls also have their own head on shoulders. And you shouldn't give advices about any nonsense."
And there I keep silence and think looking at her: “My sister Bazargul, you are still such a child.” And one day at the last moment of our harmless argument this child says to me as if joiking:
“That’s the time to fly apart, koke. I am going to marry. It’s time for bird to live without every-day lessons of her dear koke and to think with her own head.”
“Heigh,” I say. “Another country heard from. You haven’t gone to kindergarten yet, and already – marry!”
And we really didn’t go to kindergarten. Our grandma Kara Kempir brought as up, as you know… Then Bazargul became serious and sais:
Koke, my dear and unique koke, I am really going to marry.”
I felt a wave of cold.
“With whom? And who is he? What’s his name?” I cried awfully.
“Yes, Abilkas. What’s so strange? Why your sister Bazargul couldn’t fall in love with Abilkas?”
I seemed have taken dislike to this man at the first sight for a reason. My poor heart, it felt something. And that's not the case that our relations would be hallowed with unhappy circumstances forever. When a man dies, his relatives invite me to take a mask from the dear face because I am the only one sculptor in the city. And here is Abilkas in front of me, assistant of pathoanatomy chair. As if messenger of otherwordly power he gives me a sad call.
But as I have already said it wasn’t the reason. Abilkas is not guilty that people die. People leave this world themselves or with help of a stranger. And that our job, Abilkas’s and mine, that forces us to deal with people when they already need no help of anybody. And we got used to it.
And his big sticking out ears also have nothing to do with it. Just in his habits there was something unpleasant. Almost since the first days of our acquaintance he began wheedling me. He did it obtrusively but at that time it wasn't clear to me why that fox needed me. I only felt unpleasant that’s all. But he still banged on. And one day after work he hang bumbling behind me to the very house. I said good bye to him near the porch but he get a leg into the door almost under my leg and dragged upstairs. Then I said good bye to him in entry, stood back to him as if he wasn't there anymore and opened our apartment door. When I entered the hall and was going to bolt out the door, his head has already been sticking between the door and its jamb.
“Zhantas—ga, please, I still have some time. If you can find a cup of tea…” he stated as if I asked him with tears and finally he decided to descend and oblige.
First I staggered of such impudence and then said:
“Listen, Abilkas, I think we have no fresh brew. And the old one is right as slops. May be other time?”
“No big deal,” Abilkas answered back squeezing through the gap insistently, “I am not fussy. Glass of warm water would be enough for me."
You won’t push off in the neck a grown man and I let him into the apartment swearing to myself.
Bazargul left her room hearing voices and I introduced them. As if I pushed my sissy towards him by my own hands. He stayed till late night, we drew straws and he was still talking. Then Abilkas became our frequent visitor without any invitation. But at that time I had no doubts and only laughed at flap-eared dzhigit... And here such an awful news.
“And when is the wedding?” I asked muzzily.
“There is one week left. We have already brought our application to the registry,” my Bazargul told without any shame of her elder brother...
Well, marriage…all right, what I can do. As Merphy said: “What should happen would happen." And he was a smart guy, that Merphy. Sooner or later life friend would come to any girl, that's nature law. But it would be better if it wasn’t Abilkas. But it was the thing I told to myself.
So now I am sitting at the wedding of my sissy Bazargul.
There are lots of guests in our two rooms as if potatoes in a plump bag. You’d think that citizens of your city waited for nothing more than my sister’s wedding. Guests were well dressed and lively. But among all these bright faces there is one shining clock showing up – the one of Abilkas.
The groom lay himself out trying to look like calm and some indifferent to his destiny according to the old tradition. But he could hardly hide his complacence, his lips stretch to his ears as if Abilkas caught seven hares at one time.
In due order my sissy Bazargul looks down hiding her happiness. But flashes of happiness shine in her every look thrown on the quiet. Indeed how could you stay pout when your own wedding is celebrated.
And only her brother Zhantas, me, sits with Good Friday face.
“Listen, Zhantas, you could have some fun," I tell to him, in silence of course. “That's our own sissy’s wedding, it's not a usual thing.
Do you remember what Merphy said? And Merphy was a clever man. As if he meant right this case when he said: “What should happen would happen." Sooner or later life friend would come to any girl, that's nature law. That’s what Merphy meant. And it’s not appropriate for you to sit with drawn face when strange people are glad with happiness of your sister.”
So I lashed myself but still I couldn’t do anything being happy. Little by little my soul was covered by melancholy fog. But how could I know that it was exactly that day when events began that would leave an impact in my memory.
I would take my mind off by an informative talking by I couldn’t find any man at table whom I knew very well. And guests had no wish for clever talking. Everybody has an old Kazakh expression on mind: “Eat at friend's home as at enemy's one." And judging forms the sound of knives and forks clinking or bottles and plates becoming empty you can surely say: everybody who came at least that day decided to take young marrieds as their friends.
“Many years for you, Abilkas and Bazargul,” and there is no bottle of Stolichnaya.
“Abilkas and Bazargul, your health!" and the next bottle seemed as if it haven’t even existed.
I wish I had such an appetite. But even tender and sweet lamb meet sticks in my throat. As if somebody easy pressed my neck with fingers and says: “No, Zhantas, you wouldn’t swallow it. Aha, I got you, Zhantas!”
When I understood that I couldn't find any delight in food or vine, I abandoned myself to my favourite work and first of all I parted all guests' faces in my mind. In one pile there were eyes. In the other one there were noses, separately lips, chins and ears. Then I took somebody’s predatory nose, somebody's ironic grin and angry eyes and put them at a long horse face as if a frame. What a mug I received, a complete phantasmagoria. I couldn’t make myself joyful such a way. Then I selected the most beautiful eyes of a woman - they looked like small camel eyes, added to them dainty nose, small fresh lips, framed them with a fine oval taken from the face of that woman sitting catty-corner from myself. And here is it, what a wonderful head!.. Is it wonderful if it's not inspired with thoughts and feelings? Is it possible to sculpture a new Nefertiti mechanically setting strange lips ’nd nose to eyes and front of that woman?
"Zhantas, - I said to myself. - Isn't just a living man better what he is by his nature in reality? Just look at him more attentively and for sure you will find something interesting".
I sighed, squabbled the pretty head and returned the nose and the ears and the other parts of the body each whom it belonged to. And all this happened unnoticeable. Nobody of the guests didn't even suspect about that operation which I had subjected them to.
With the same raising as before they were emptying the table and now I was attentively watching them trying to understand that strange unknown for me world.
"I you have seen a face, don't turn your back on", - Kazakhs say. People say, it's not good to judge a human by his or her appearance about his or her private world. But does it always happen so? Can it perhaps be right only for the first impression? Isn't a human's private world really connected with his or her visage? Eh, don't say Zhantas "no". He won't believe you. He knows another saying too: "What you see in a shop window the same you will see in this shop!" An exact saying. Reflections of feelings that burn a person from within really flicker in his or her eyes and facial expression. But one should be able to read this. If you are not able to read people's faces it means that you are a bad sculptor.
A grey-haired man straight like a cane was solemnly sitting at the left from Bazargul here. This was professor Sherubai. Last year he had left the chair in Almaty and moved to our town by some secret reason. People spoke much about this but nobody knew anything clearly. Now he was a teacher and Abilkas' mentor. That's why professor Sherubai was sitting at the wedding table on that place of honour. And Abilkas personally was watching his plate. Now he put a huge helping of beshbarmak then added some kaza or shuzhik. He felt confused to do this because he had to stretch his head over Bazargul's plate but he was trying as he could.
So, let's busy ourselves with Sherubai!
He was about fifty. All his face was in wrinkles and his skin didn't almost have a drop of blood. His dark sharp eyes said about his brain. But my attention was attracted by his unbelievable leanness. He was lean so much that it seemed that his cheeks touched each other from within. They had hollowed so much. And I felt that no, not hunger or an illness were guilty in this - he was worn out because of inquietude. What monster was gnawing Sherubai? What fire was burning him out? What did Julius Caesar do? He preferred to keep aside from too lean people. He knew better, Caesar wasn't a fool - he could simultaneously read, write and listen to what one said. So I imagine him: in one hand he has a quill, in the other one - a book and at this he pricks up his ears too.
It turned out that I wasn't an only one whom the food stuck in the throat. Becoming exhausted Sherubai treated Abilkas. But that one didn't almost touch the food being undoubtedly busy with his dismal thoughts. And his face was also very gloomy because of gloomy thoughts. He was mechanically chewing the same lump of shuzhik and from time to time he fixed at somebody a long thoughtful look.
"Zhantas, who intrigues against him so much? - I asked to myself. - Can the clue be here, perhaps?"
Finally I was able to follow his look, I came across the woman's face and got to a light street as if from the darkness of a narrow room. I was blinded with the beams of the bright sun!
It was she who had eyes of a camel foal and in addition I paid my attention only now - a tender swan-neck. To the best of my knowledge and belief her name was Ulbosyn and she worked as a model in a local fashion house. This was all information that I knew about Ulbosyn.
Up to now I had seen her only in the streets of our small town. When she walked along the street many men turned their heads and followed her with their eyes as if unexpectedly and trying to observe the proprieties. And me too in spite of the fact that I wasn't seriously interested in her. But at this moment her finely-moulded figure dressed in good taste delighted the eye.
- This is Ulbosyn, - men said.
And they said in addition that she was married.
Now I could examine her very well. Her face was very close to me, just on the far side of the table. I was sidelong watching her and some power pulled me to Ulbosyn. Could the reason be in her mysterious smile, perhaps? The mysterious smile of La Gioconda... People heard, heard so many times about the mysterious smile of La Gioconda. But what to do if the young woman who was sitting opposite had such a smile. I could compare Ulbosyn with beautiful Kyz-Zhybek and Bayan-Slu, however, alack, nobody had seen their images.
Meanwhile, the corners of Ulbosyn's lips were lifted a bit. She was in the power of some unknown for me sweet dreams.
"Zhantas, - I asked to myself. - Is the art really immortal? The distance between Leonardo da Vinci and this woman is about five hundred years. But it seems that he has seen from there, from the time that Ulbosyn with such a mysterious smile will sit down at this table..."
I fixed my eyes on Ulbosyn and sank in a somnambulistic condition. My look already started becoming obtrusive. Somewhere I had overstepped the limits of good manners, but... but Ulbosyn didn't notice me. She gave somebody her attention and the mysterious smile and didn't care for others, that's all!
"Zhantas, come to life. - I shook myself. - Perhaps Ulbosyn and your sister are just friends. You haven't met Ulbosyn among the sister's friends. Why is she sitting at Bazargul's wedding? Haven't you thought about this? Just try to solve one more riddle".
Because of plenty of the riddles with which I had loaded my head by myself I felt dizzy.
I didn't have anything against to chatter. I had such an inoffensive weak point. And when I didn't have a worthy interlocutor near at hand I could fully manage with the company of myself.
And so, while I had to amuse my own self the wedding banquet was taking its normal course. Abilkas stood up over the table with his glass and devotedly stared at Sherubai, waiting for silence.
"One can think that not she but Sherubai is celebrating the wedding. In such a manner the husband of my Bazargul hangs around the professor, - I informed to myself. - But let's listen to what this macrotous one will bear. Ancient Pliny thought that people who have big ears are stupid".
Meanwhile there settled silence and Abilkas pronounced with a sonorous voice:
- Sherubai-aga, now we lift our glasses to a leading light in our medicine, to dear Aisulu Beisenova!
Aisulu Beisenova was sitting on the right from the bridegroom. It was enough to throw just one look at this woman for realizing that sometimes parents go off at half cock. It goes without saying, for parents there is nobody better than their dear child and while choosing the name for a child they try to do him justice. And it's well if at this important moment they retain a sense of proportion. But once they make a mistake and their child is destined for his or her all life to bear his or her name like a mockery. The same fate had, perhaps, that fat speckled woman who was sitting on the right from Abilkas. Because the name Aisulu means nothing else than "lunar beauty'.
But let's return to the toast of the bridegroom taking into account the fact that poor Aisulu Beisenova hadn't chosen her name by herself.
- So, to the health of dear Aisulu Beisenova! I wish she would decorate the dome of the sky of our medicine for many years long! - Abilkas informed holding the glass like a staff.
It means that old man Pliny has mistaken about people with big ears. Or they became skilled for the passed centuries and didn't waste their time. In any case the shot of our Abilkas had a far sight this Aisulu Beisenova was the director of the town hospital, it meant that she was his and Sherubai's chief.
I couldn't even restrain myself and flapped with the palm against the table with involuntary admiration. Just think, even a year didn't pass when that person with big ears and a narrow forehead had graduated from the institute. And now he arranged his affairs as if he knew such a business since his cradle.
Here our looks with Bazargul met and I shook my head condemning his Abilkas. She lowered her look and I began to wait for what would happen then.
And the following happened after the toast of the bridegroom: the fat laughing woman lifted the glass of wine making her bow and accepting all the wishes in advance. And somebody already started stretching to her pronouncing:
- I wish you would live one hundred years long, Aisulu-apai!
I was examining her with curiosity because I hadn't suspected up to now that she was a leading light in science in addition. Before people thought that Beisenova was just a honest administrator.
- And I drink to the bright star of the summer evening and this celebration, to Ulbosyn! - There heard a shrill voice.
Who dared to challenge Beisenova? It was Sherubai who had neglected the bridegroom's toast. Beisenova froze as if somebody had thrown water over her. Then she reddened and let down her glass. Perhaps not in vane I and Julius Caesar were rather afraid of bad people. One could wait only for a dirty trick from them.
Beisenova obtained what she deserved. In the future you should be shy because all are equal at a friendly table. I was struck by another thing: Sherubai had acted tactlessly with respect to my Bazargul. Only a bride can sparkle like the brightest star at her wedding whatever each thinks in the soul.
"People say that Sherubai is a talented doctor. But you, Zhantas, do right when you condemn the people who demand the right to humble people around after getting a talent from the nature. Zhantas, I approve you". - I declared to myself.
And pretty Ulbosyn fluently stood up as if she was demonstrating her yellow dress fitting close to her figure and said with some low voice after stretching the glass of cognac before her:
- Thank you for respect, Sherubai-aga! But I think with even more pleasure we will drink once more to our beautiful bride!
- As you see, it turned out that Ulbosyn was very just. Though... though each woman who has at least a grain of brain would do the same if she were her.
After drinking the cognac Ulbosyn sat down the same gracefully on the chair laughing silently at something and Sherubai frowned and fixed his eyes in the plate.
- Sherubai-aga, would you like a spoon of salad? With fresh cucumber, ah? Directly from a hotbed, - Abilkas couldn't grow quiet.
But Sherubai just shook his shoulders.
"It serves you right, a horned owl. - I declared Sherubai in my mind. - I just wish to stand up and add to this."
And really, I poured me some vodka as if somebody had done it instead of me and stood up with the glass in the hand.
- Keep silent. - People started hissing at the table. - Let's listen to the bride's brother.
But I wasn't lucky. As soon as I opened my mouth the phone rang and Sherubai was invited to the receiver. Sherubai went out to the hall and informed after returning looking at Aisulu Beisenova:
- I must go to the hospital. A wounded woman is brought there. I seem it's a heavy case.
He said good bye to everybody just with one negligent nod, stopped for a moment his inguiring look at Ulbosyn and went away. I seemed that it became more speciously in the room in this crowd. Though because of his leanness Sherubai didn't take much space at all. There was just one fewer bad person in the room.
- Well, what's up with you, Zhantas-aga? We are listening to you very attentively. - Abilkas said after seeing off the professor up to the door.
- Have I really wanted to say something? - I falsely surprised. - My small of the back has just gone numb.
Bazargul looked at me with a soft reproach. But I had already sat down and in my turn, I don't know why, looked victoriously at Ulbosyn. And she noticed me for the first time. She raised her thin eyebrows and her look was asking with surprise: "Who are you?"
To say the truth I was confused a bit with such a turn. I was a man of handsome presence and not one beautiful girl had lost her rest because of me in due time. That's why I decided to revenge Ulbosyn with absolute indifference. I wished just to look for one time how she looked now after Sherubai's going away. And it was a strange thing. The man who had held her attention went away but the mysterious smile of La Gioconda was still on her lips. Whom was it intended for now? However, I was tired of breaking my head over and I really forgot about beautiful Ulbosyn.
Sometime food and wine had to come to an end close and step by step the table became empty. After eating their fill the guests pulled it to the wall and their started dancing on the cleaned place.
As for me I found some comfortable place on the window-sill, put my feet on the heating battery and started sorting the crowd that was jumping under the sounds of foxtrot into long asthenics, square sanguine persons and slim choleric subjects. But Bazargul came up to me and invited for dance. I didn't want to get into the crowd very much but it was a crime to refuse my sister in such a day. Before to leave my observation post I looked for Abilkas with the eyes for some time. Now that one while coaxing Aisulu Beisenova was hanging around her and trying to entertain her in all possible ways.
Having sighed I climbed down from the window-sill and we started to mark time imitating a dance.
- Bazargul. - I pleadingly said. - I won't any more. You will hear no piece of advice. I wish everything would just remain as before. I don't like him.
- No, no, he is kind. - The sister answered in a hurry as if she was afraid to lose her faith. - He has many good features.
- What do you mean? - I asked pretending to be open-hearted.
- I don't even know how to express this with some words. - The sister confessed. - But I love him very much, koke!
We stepped in time of music. Somebody treaded on my foot in the crowd and having stuck out their tongues with eagerness an unknown dzhigit and his lady managed to dance twist to this music. They furiously turned their hips and pushed aside the other pairs.
Step by step the aged guests went home and except the hosts there remained two dzhigits with girls and Ulbosyn.
Having been tired we were sitting each in his or her corner as if a rushed by storm had thrown us right and left.
- Well, it is already dark and we haven't even noticed this. - The dzhigit said - a lover of twist, I don't know why, addressing to me.
Perhaps, he attached some special importance to his words.
- Of course, it's dark. Evening. - I said yes just in case trying to guess what he was aiming at.
The boy had a big head and a hard shaggy chevelure. "If to believe Sigo, a big head and a wide forehead are the marks of a genius", - I languidly thought.
I had read many books and liked to insert the scientific word "sigo" - this is a person who has divided people into groups according to their features.
"I don't know where from Sigo has taken it. If all such shaggy persons were geniuses what would happen with the world then?" - I finished trying to sting this young man at least in my mind.
It meant that it was already time for the newly married couple to go home. You should already say goodbye, Zhan-sister, - the shaggy boy continued ironically.
A-ah, so that's it! That moment came after which I would be lonely. Now this stranger with the sticking out ears will part me for ever with the only person in which vessels the same blood with me runs. Was it just?
I was looking at my Bazargul and her swarthy beautiful face. We were alike very much! Forgive me for my involuntary boasting. Especially as bitter tears were already welling in my eyes.
- Oh, koke! - The sister cried out. She was about to sob too.
- Never mind, Bazargul. - I said having taken myself in my hands. - You should go with your husband. It means, you love him... And you, see them off, please. - I finished addressing to the rest of the guests.
Not controlling myself I ran out from the flat and started walking along dark and lonely side streets in the company of some street dogs.
"Ah, grandma Kara Kempir, I wish you would only see this man. - I was saying abandoning myself to despair. - He has stolen our Bazargul and now I am absolutely alone.
Of course, I lied to myself a bit. My sister will disappear nowhere and tomorrow I will be able to see her again. I just seemed that henceforth former Bazargul who had cooked a tasty kuimak for me had disappeared somewhere and another one, absolutely strange Bazargul would appear on her place the next day.
Finally my legs became wobbly because I was tired. Having humbled I turned home and went out to the main street. There some street cleansing machines had driven shortly before me and now the wet asphalt was reflecting the lights of the lanterns and the light trunks of the birches that had been planted along the street. The smell of dampness hung in the air as if in a bank of a river.
I was going along the main street and the glow of the copper-smelting plant was soundlessly rising towards me over the roofs of the five-storey buildings. It was soothingly silent and but for the sound of my own steps it would be possible to think that I was walking in a scene of a silent film.
But here a busy clip-clop of somebody's heels added to the shuffling of my logged legs. A well-known figure appeared from round the corner. In such a way I met Ulbosyn face to face at midnight. Perhaps she was going home after seeing off the newly married couple.
In contrast to me Ulbosyn wasn't absolutely surprised.
- Ah, here you are. - She pronounced with a smile. - And I think where the only free dzhigit has disappeared. He has run away. And how do you think I should go home at this dark night?
She behaved as if we were old friends who had already eaten not one peck of salt together.
- And where is the rest of people? - I asked with profound concern incomprehensible even for me personally.
- Uh... They have stayed at the newly married couple's place. They are still celebrating.
- Why haven't you stayed too? It's dangerous to walk alone at night. Everything can happen...
- I am brave. And then, the times have changed. Alack, but dzhigits don't steal girls any more. Dzhigits have changed too. - She said being playfully sorry. But then after thinking a little she archly added: - But... but if you worry about the fate of the unprotected girl, see me off then...
I was glad that some time more I wouldn't be alone. As soon as I imagined my present empty home with the turned upside-down furniture and the other untidy things I was getting uneasy at once. And now I had an opportunity to delay my return for some time. According to the conditions of the game which had been proposed by Ulbosyn I hid my joy and asked pretending to be fastidious:
- Do you live far from here?
- It is far for that one who has a far soul. - The girl answered with a riddle. - But for a person who has a closer soul...
- Such a long way is closer too! - I took up in tune.
It turned out well and I didn't even notice when I started going hand in hand with Ulbosyn chattering about trifles.
"Zhantas, the world is really good. Do you think so, ah? To say the truth you have forgotten about this, a little coward. The starlit night is around and thousands of stars are watching how you are seeing off a beautiful girl". - I said to myself after catching a pause in our chatter.
And Ulbosyn coquettishly looked at me from time to time and said:
- It turns out that you are not just a sculptor but a poet in addition! Tell the truth!
Her low a bit but clean voice tickled my heart. From time to time my hand, by chance, by itself, touched Ulbosyn's hand and then I was burnt as if with fire. I lost the thread of our conversation and only some fragments from her careless monologue came home to me.
When your sister marries and is happy - I heard.
- Yes, yes! - I hotly exclaimed realizing nothing.
We were floating long through the whole town, such a
feeling I had. The tiredness disappeared in my legs and I felt cheerful and strong again.
- Well, I am already at home. I want to say "thank you" to my involuntary knight. - Ulbosyn said having stopped at a three-storey house and stretched me her narrow palm.
- Do you really think involuntary? - I contradicted trying to hold back longer her warm palm in my hand.
- I have led you far away. - Ulbosyn pronounced with laughing and this time one couldn't feel any naturalness in her voice. It sounded tensely.
We were really standing almost in the edge of the town. The steppe started somewhere behind the closest houses. It seemed that the dry air that hadn't got cold yet flew to us from there as if some night rustle reached our ears. Either a tumbleweed was rolling catching on hard alkali soil or an invisible animal was pursuing its prey.
But not this changed Ulbosyn's voice. It is ridiculous to worry because of the fact that a young man has wandered off to outskirts. Isn't it just a trifle for him to cross a small plant town from end to end once more? It meant that there was another cause. Very likely, that our plain game assumed a new aspect.
- What to do? I have to walk back. - I pronounced with a rock-ribbed voice as I seemed.
Our hands were connected as before as if they had grown numb.
- If you are tired, Zhantas... if you... I will find a bed for you. - Ulbosyn said removing her gaze.
- But is it proper? Your... - I started mumbling not believing in my luck yet.
- I live alone. - The girl answered and having turned she came into the doorway.
I caught up Ulbosyn and took her by the arm. In a hurry we were going upstairs as if somebody was pursuing us closely.
Up to now I cannot understand my feeling to Ulbosyn. I don't know how to call what happened between us. The only thing is clear: her relation to me wasn't so simple too.
But I know for sure: she helped me to understand a very important thing. Usually I tried to realize the meaning of my life and its true beauty through the great art. It was my main teacher.
Now I was slowly walking through the halls of the Hermitage in my mind.
Here was "Eternal spring" by Auguste Rodin: a young Frenchman- boy is kissing his girl-friend. She is trustfully sitting on his knees. Their bodies are bare and it is impossible to believe that it is the same marble which is called "cold". Hot blood, foaming is running under the skin of the young man and his beloved one. Their hearts are beating as if a metron which runs a fever from time to time.
And as for "Lying child" by Michelangelo - only a callous person will not be impressed by the image of this poor child! One cannot see the face and the figure but there is so much despair in each nerve and each muscle of the fallen down body that you unwillingly begin to suffer with the artist of genius together for his unhappy Italy.
But why wasn't I able to do the same? When I stood before my finished work I was caught with confusion. As if the thing which I wanted to express stayed fully in me and I didn't know those words with the help of which I could say about everything accumulated in my heart. It lay there like a heavy load and I mumbled and mumbled something and all these were not those words and nobody could understand anyhow what I needed in fact. They just shrugged. Didn't I really have any talent at all and everything created by me was just a fruitless vanity?
Half a year ago I had been sent on an assignment to Almaty for some purchases. Having been tired after running through the corridors of the Ministry of Culture I went to Abai's monument in the afternoon. I would like to put in order my nerves shattered in the office fights at the feet of my favourite poet. I was narrowly looking at Abai's face trying to read in his eyes and in the wrinkles of his lips those lines which had already gladdened me like a child for many times when I had been happy and cured my heart when it ached. The sculpture looked like Abai very much. He was holding a book in the hands how it was supposed to a poet. But as for the rest the monument remained just an impassive stone in spite of the fact that the author had spent very much material for his creature. With the same success I could warm myself at a fireplace in which fire wasn't made.
Didn't those ones who came to warm themselves at my fireplace feel the same bitter disappointment?
To say figuratively, I lived at those times when a sparrow built its nests in sheep's wool. I was surrounded by curious people. But here some noble man of our town was sitting at my performance and our things weren't taking a turn for the better. Posing he was straining every nerve to look like a kind of an eagle and I forced myself to get down to clay. It was constantly falling out of my hands because I didn't want to work so much. "What does it mean? - I thought. - To all appearances a person with a difficult contradictory world is before me and I myself am able to use my cutter not badly but some dead dull and humdrum comes from under my hand. Something like those featureless gypsum girls with oars or a boy with a tennis racket in the hand with what unscrupulous craftsmen usually flood the parks". But I could do nothing with my indifference. And a posing man was also far away from my torments. And each time we were separated with an invisible curtain and we stayed strange for each other - a hero and his singer.
But at that night Ulbosyn helped me find myself... However, let's return to the events...
Two stair flights were enough for Ulbosyn to recover control of her temper again. Opening the door with the key she was joking in the same spirit and her recent worrying absolutely disappeared.
- Now my dzhigit will get a cup of strong tea for his credit and service and will be put to a luxurious folding bed. - Ulbosyn was saying while inserting the key in the lock.
Listening to these words I already started to feel a slight disappointment. She looked at me as if she had guessed - her eyes were laughing.
"Be careful, Zhantas. - I said to myself. - You don't know what to wait for from this person. Everything can happen with her. I don't want she would bring out that luxurious folding bed here, onto the stair landing or so much the worse - onto the dusty garret".
We came into the one-room flat. After leading me into the room Ulbosyn went to the kitchen to make tea. I walked the floor listening to how the strange hostess of this flat clattered with a kettle and other plates and dishes behind the door and thought that sometimes an occurrence can organize for us such unbelievable tricks. And now it had brought together the people absolutely strange for one another at midnight. Now I will be drinking tea at the table with a person whose soul was like a darkness for me in fact, then I will go to bed in the unknown for me room between the strange walls. And this all happened today because I hadn't wanted to return to my empty home. And it was left for me just to speculate what had pushed Ulbosyn towards me.
I looked around and decided at once that a person with a good taste lived here. And in spite of the fact that the hostess was a real woman one couldn't find any unnecessary things in the room. The sofa and the chairs were of a polish garniture, the polished table and the shelves for books stood in several narrow rows - that was all the furniture. Jars and small bottles - accessory means of women - were placed before the mirror not anyhow but in a proper appropriateness. One could feel that each, taking into account even the smallest thing strictly stood on its place. Because of this a feeling of spaciousness appeared in this small room with a low ceiling. So looked like the dwelling-place in which the life of the far away from me person ran in due course and where I had to spend the rest of the night.
Clatter of cups and a fashionable song about a stock which Ulbosyn was crooning reached my ears. Then the hostess peeped into the room and playing the fool as if she were a dispassionate butler she informed that dinner had been served.
We drank tea in the kitchen and here Ulbosyn was taken much better. One couldn't feel that cold inaccessibility from her any more with which she usually passed by along the street before hundreds of men's eyes. And on the contrary: something appeared in her what suggested an idea about house and home, about a family who had friendly gathered at the table. And now it seemed to me that she was a pretty woman whom I knew already long ago and as if we had already sat at this table not for one time and the tea seemed me tastier than sherbet. When I thought so about Ulbosyn my heart started beating quickly and nosily all over the flat.
After the tea-drinking Ulbosyn took out the folding bed with aluminium legs from the wall cabinet and for several minutes she created a bed for me which was sparkling with the whiteness of the bed-sheet. Now and again my look returned to the sofa and perhaps it was noticeable from aside but Ulbosyn indifferently said after shaking up the snow-white pillow with the last deft movement:
- That's your bed, my hero. Have a good sleep. - And taking the dressing gown along she went to the bathroom.
I came up to the shelves and after rummaging in the books for a while I found an album of Rembrandt's reproductions. It was a pleasant surprise. That was Ulbosyn! It meant that everything he demonstrated on the staging of his studio wasn't just womanish rags but some kind of an art for her. Ulbosyn learned by the great experts of soul and body and the secret of her success was in this. I opened the album at random but cautiously closed it at once and put it back on its place. I don't know why but I felt as if somebody had caught me while an unworthy occupation when I happened upon naked Danae in the album. My eyes involuntary looked around by themselves in spite of the fact that I knew very well that except me and Ulbosyn there was nobody in the flat. At that moment Ulbosyn was taking a shower. The noise of water that was reaching my ears from there informed about this too.
It was especially ridiculous because the sculptor had his own opinion about the relations between art and traditional shyness.
Laughing at myself I took off my clothes and climbed under the blanket feeling the cold freshness of the bed linen with a great pleasure.
By this time the shower became silent and some time later Ulbosyn came in holding back the dressing gown on the breast and in a hurry I turned my back upon her.
Ulbosyn turned off the light having only left the night-lamp above the sofa and started rustling with the bed sheet.
I was lying across the room with the face to the open window and the dark glasses were honestly reflecting the semi-darkness of the room and of the place nearby the sofa where almost noiselessly Ulbosyn was preparing for sleep. The flaps of her dressing gown opened having naked her thick white legs over the knees. I was lying without a movement restraining myself because the whole dozen of devils had installed themselves in my body.
Then she came up to the wardrobe built in the wall , returned with a nightgown and hung it on the chair back. Then the beautiful hostess unbuttoned the dressing gown and took it off.
Well, well, many people can say, a man and a woman in one room at night - already long ago we know this vulgar picture from out the worst literary examples very well. And wouldn't it be better to omit it in my narration and start, for example, from the morning when the hero should already go to work. But however - about what happened then.
I realized that I behaved like a thief watching furtively the woman who suspected nothing and here I should close my eyes. And at those seconds when having called all my nobility for help I decided to do this my look met with Ulbosyn's eyes in the window and she showed me the tip of her tongue having funny wrinkled the nose.
And a strange thing, the wish that was eating me away disappeared somewhere. I was all eyes at Ulbosyn because not to see this would be a great lost because she had a perfect body!
Not for one time I had already sculptured a bare model. At times women with classic constitution had posed us in the specialized school. But they remained in my mind just training models. I honestly puffed over the material and it seemed to me that I exactly reproduced each line of the model. But my old teacher said with sigh:
- Well, you have perfectly created a visual aid for anatomy lessons. Tell the truth. Don't the models really create... eh... how to express it... no feelings? Such a pretty girl.
My teacher, sometimes I liked some of models very much. I saw them off home, we kissed in dark doorways swearing in love. Because of this my sculptures struck even more with their anatomic accuracy because now I knew even better the body of the model who I fell in love.
And then I compared my works with "Sleeping woman" by Aristide Maillol and scratched the back of my head being out of heart...
But now I had a hunch. The exciting image of the woman came into my heart. Oh no, the point wasn't that I had met my perfection and it had struck me to toe. It was impossible to measure Ulbosyn in such a manner. Her body had some defects with which fervent funs of classic wouldn't be able to humble. The pelvis and the legs of Ulbosyn were heavy a bit and her narrow waist was long a little. But all the same she was surprisingly beautiful.
Ulbosyn stood for some time letting her body get cold and took the nightshirt from the chair.
- Ulbosyn, wait for a minute! - I started begging having half-risen in the folding bed.
She lowered her hands and waited for looking at me with surprise. Her thin nostrils strained themselves. And I, as if a mad one, jumped out from the bed, ran up to my jacket and pulled out from the pocket a new soft-tip pen.
It seemed to me that if not to keep this moment at the very minute it would irretrievably leave me. As it usually happens after dream: in the morning you try to remember what about it was but your memory slides, it doesn't have anything to catch on and you know only one thing - the dream was wonderful.
- Now, now. - I mumbled and feverishly rushed about the room in my long pants made of staple.
Finally she realized what the matter was and said with a smile: - Zhantas, paper is on the lower shelf. I grasped the whole pack of post paper and started sketching having ensconced myself on the chair.
She sat down on the edge of the sofa and lowered her lithe arms along the body. And I was caught by unrestrainedness. I threw down on the floor a covered with drawings sheet and got with an clean one. Soon the floor was covered with sketches at my feet.
And Ulbosyn as if was afraid to frighten something away. As if frozen she was sitting and watching each movement of my hand with a smile in which both admiration and fright had mixed.
- Aren't you tired yet? - I asked Ulbosyn and even if she answered "yes" all the same I wouldn't let her interrupt our work.
In the same manner a street dog wants to make sure once again if people wish to take away its precious bone. But Ulbosyn opened widely her eyes and pronounced:
- Zhantas, have you ever stood under a paradise shower?.. You know such... a warm, sparkling like a crystal one...
No, I haven't. - I said trying to imagine such a paradise rain.
- Me too... Up to today's day. - Ulbosyn took up. - And now... now I have such a feeling... When you look at me I seem that I revel in the streams of such a rain. I feel good when you look at my body.
"My goodness!" - I thought and went headlong into the work again.
I was caught by a state of some happy drunkenness in which you seemed to yourself to be strong and wise. I don't know what time was on the clocks of the rest of the inhabitants in our town when I put aside the soft-tip pen and paper.
- That's all. - I said being absolutely spiritually bankrupt.
Ulbosyn was sitting cross-legged, supporting the cheek with the palm and thoughtfully looking at me. I stood up, came up to the sofa and sat down nearby Ulbosyn. She closed the eyes and rubbed her cheek over my shoulder...
The morning already came. There were squares, rectangles and rhombuses of the sun light on the floor divided by the casement of the window frame.
We were silently lying with Ulbosyn being patient, satisfied as if travelers after a long tiring way. Ulbosyn's head was on my arm. I wanted to smoke but for this I had to stand up from the bed and trouble Ulbosyn. But I was overfilled with tenderness to her and I seemed if to break her rest it would be a real sacrilege.
I was thankful to Ulbosyn for that joy which she had presented to me and for her sake I was ready for everything now. I want to say the truth: I had already had some relations with women but up to now I haven't felt anything similar what I felt with Ulbosyn that day. Religious person convinced me of the existence of paradise. If it were so I would hardly be able to compare life in paradise with that state of bliss in what I was sunk then.
"Ulbosyn, Ulbosyn". - I repeated in my mind in all sharps and flats as some lines of a poem.
What a wonderful name! Her parents had waited for a boy and that's why they had called her Ulbosyn what meant: "We wish a boy would be born!" I would lose much if the nature had fulfilled their wish. Who would swaddle me then with the mantle of happiness as Ulbosyn had done it that day, their daughter who hadn't justified the parents' confidence with her coming into being.
- Ulbosyn. - I said in a whisper. - Ulbosyn, I will create you in marble as I have seen you today.
- But you haven't seen me in my favourite dress yet. - She playfully replied.
- You haven't understood, Ulbosyn. I will sculpture you nude. I wish all people would see how wonderful you are, Ulbosyn.
- Will I be without a dress? Without... - It seemed that she was reasoning to herself.
- Yes, yes. You will be absolute nude! Aren't you against? You will give people pleasure, I tell you!
- Well, if really pleasure...
- Have no doubts, Ulbosyn. People will realize, they have light thoughts. I wish I would just manage it. Recently I believe in myself. - I said pronouncing this aloud for the first time.
- You are talented, Zhantas. You will manage everything you want. And I will be the most obedient model. - She kindly said. - I visited your exhibition and even wished to make the acquaintance with you. In short, you are a good sculptor.
Ulbosyn meant the exhibition of my works in the culture house. The exhibition had brought me some good comments, a local newspaper had printed a large review but I personally had stayed dissatisfied in my heart.
- Did you visit my exhibition? - I cried out with surprise. - Does it mean that you knew me before?
- You personally gave some explanations. And I liked so much how you spoke about the right of each person for happiness. I was standing nearby and even tried to ask something but you didn't pay any attention. And then I felt shy. And then Sherubai entreated Bazargul to invite me to her wedding. And I came only because of you. I wished very much to sit down nearby you because I wanted you to look after me, pour me vine and watch me not to be bored. But I had to pretend... Because Sherubai...
She said by force. Something hindered Ulbosyn to be frank.
- But what relation does Sherubai, this shrivelled mummy, have to you? - I asked some rudely because jealousy rushed to my head.
And Ulbosyn told me how she being a student of the medical institute had accepted professor's Sherubai's courting. She had been pleased by the attention of a well-known surgeon and a romance had started between them.
- It seemed to me that Sherubai was the picture of a real man. And his grey temples only gave him a tinge of generosity. Then he looked representatively. I say the truth, Zhantas. He could court in addition. - Ulbosyn said and added: - He asserted that he would marry me. He just couldn't leave the wife and his child. He was infinitely indebted to his wife and all that jazz.
The romance was over with the fact that Ulbosyn became pregnant. This event took her aback. Being shocked Ulbosyn hid her pregnancy from Sherubai and the parents and burning with shame took to flight to Karaganda to her cousin.
The tender-hearted sister led a doctor in the flat and he performed an abortion But all the same all ways back were cut off. It also turned out that the sister couldn't hold her tongue behind the teeth and the gossip reached her strict parents. Exactly then Ulbosyn moved to our Mystau.
- Sherubai found me and loaded me with letters and he personally appeared after the death of his wife. But I already calmed down and didn't feel any former love to him. - So Ulbosyn finished her confession.
- Now you will not be alone! You will be with me! We will marry! - I cried out as soon as she had finished. Ulbosyn smiled and pronounced:
- Thank you, Zhantas. But I don't just want it would be in the heat of the moment. Don't hurry, think for some time. And call me then.
- Ulbosyn! How can you say so? I love you and we will stay together for ever!
I said this but suddenly thought: "And really, why to hurry? Nobody drives me forward. I have still time. But then it will be late. Just try to retreat then. Just remember, Zhantas. - I said to myself. - For how many times it happened so that you seem to love this or that girl and apparently nearby her or not. But ten days or so passed by and you hardly greeted her. Of course, nobody has taken you yet so like Ulbosyn. But who knows, who knows, Zhantas. I think I should wait for some time'.
And I diplomatically said:
- You are right. We have the world before us, Ulbosyn. The whole life.
She smiled again but this time to something own. Did Ulbosyn really read my thoughts? Then I answered her in my heart: "Listen to me, Ulbosyn. People lie when they say that love can appear for twenty-four hours between a man and a woman. Only fairy tale Yenlik and Kebek could love each other for one night. But we with you are usual mortals. And I am not guilty in anything, Ulbosyn. I have blurted out in a hurry but it can happen with everybody".
After getting a telling argument I went over from the defence to the offensive. I was even a bit angry with Ulbosyn for the fact that because of her I was about to perform a rush deed. But Ulbosyn personally wasn't guilty in this and it was absolutely absurdly to be sulky with her.
... Ulbosyn was sleeping. Perhaps, it was already time for her to go to work but it was pity to awake her. She was sleeping so peacefully having curled up. I dressed trying not to make noise, gathered my sketches stepping on tiptoe and went out to the stair landing. Already in the street, after going a half a block of houses I remembered that I had forgotten my soft-tip pen and turned back. "Perhaps, she really has to go to work, I'd better to go and awake her". - I said to myself in addition.
Sherubai was crossing the street almost before my nose. He was making his way having become bent and looking under his feet. His soles were shuffling along the asphalt. Something mumbling under his nose Sherubai came into the doorway where Ulbosyn lived.
The blood rushed to my head and I ordered to myself:
"Zhantas, catch him up right now and say directly into his face:
"Listen to me, you, I wish you would never step over the threshold of this house any more, an old lady-killer!"
But the first impulse already passed by and I thought that, in general, Sherubai couldn't be an opponent for me. Is it possible to compare a ramshackle fright with a young dzhigit whose blood runs so hotly in veins? Then I thought for some time more and made the following conclusion: "Perhaps it is even good that Sherubai visits Ulbosyn". If I were the only one by her I would have to reason in the following way: "Zhantas, you are everything she has. She is fully on your conscience."
No, no, I was still sure that I loved Ulbosyn to distraction. I didn't just want to bind my hand and foot beforehand...
If anything crops up you will get rid of Sherubai in no time". - I said to myself and having cheered up turned back home.
And in a minute the thoughts about my opponent absolutely flew out from my head. I wished very much to settle down to new work. Ulbosyn's image that had appeared before me last night stood before my eyes. The idea that had dropped into my head forced out everything so much that even after finding Bazargul at home I quietly accepted this as if many years had passed by since the day of her marriage.
The sister was standing in the corridor with a pile of dirty dishes. - I decided to cover up after me. - She joked and held up the cheek for a kiss.
And I went to my writing table and perplexedly said:
- What a good girl!
I threw the sketches about the table with impatience of an alcoholic who had got a cherished bottle and looked though the sheets covered with drawings for several times.
The sister said something from the kitchen, perhaps I made irrelevant replies because she being thrilled by my behaviour came in the room.
- What's up with you? - She asked having appeared with a towel over the shoulder. - You have run away somewhere in the morning. Who knows where you have been.
But after looking over my shoulder on the played solitaire Bazargul realized everything and became more serious.
- Oh, I see! - She pronounced. - It can be interesting. You know, Zhantas-aga, when I saw Ulbosyn for the first time I thought: the whole world is in this woman and it is waiting for its artist.
- It's my main chance. Either - or. Either I am really a sculptor, Bazargul. Or I am just a craftsman. And wouldn't it simpler then to settle fully down to production of gypsum love affairs with the help of the straight-line flow method. For example, for the territory of a new rest house.
- You exaggerate a little but all the same sculptors are great people. - The sister replied. - But... but I see that something depresses you. And perhaps, really, to believe in your talent again you should create something especial!
- What a good girl! - I repeated this time being absolutely conscious.
And it was the first time during this day when I remembered that such a clever girl like my Bazargul was sharing blood with unworthy Abilkas.
Then I went to my workshop and found first of all the steward.
- My friend. - I said him. - I need some perfect clay. Of the first grade, do you understand? But not that sand that you brought last time. Otherwise, when you die I will make your mask and attach a long and crooked nose. And your descendants will think that their ancestor was a real devil.
The fat speckled steward burst into tiny laughter. Tears appeared in his narrow eyes that had turned into chinks as if he pressed out them by force.
- I am not afraid of you, comrade Beckov. - He replied after laughing. - You will receive such clay! - And he showed his thumb with a violet nail.
An unfinished sculpture of a tourist stood in the middle of my studio under a wet cloth. It was an order at what I was working now. But I wasn't able to work today. "Never mind, - I said to myself. - I have a good term ahead according to the labour agreement with the tourist centre. At first I will start working at Ulbosyn and then I'll finish this tourist too."
In an hour the head of the steward appeared in the doors.
- I have got some clay of the first grade. - The steward said although I was sure that he hadn't left the limits of the workshops. This skinflint just kept good clay for some case unknown even to him personally.
After wetting the clay the rest of the day and the whole next day I was bending the skeleton from wire. And in the evening I rushed to Ulbosyn's place not feeling my feet with joy.
Somebody called me on the half-way and I didn't even realize at once that it was her voice.
Ulbosyn went out from the public garden. He ran the last meters. I took her by the arm and we both started happily laughing. She grew red and became especially beautiful at those minutes. Her eyes were sparkling. She became fresh as if a flower after the rain.
- As if I knew that I will meet you now. - Ulbosyn informed. - I am going from my work and think: now the public garden will finish and there my Zhantas is walking along the street. Only once this happened with me: during the first months of our meeting with Sherubai.
An unknown man who was standing at a cast iron fence openly looked at Ulbosyn from top to toe, then he shifted his gaze to me and suddenly anger appeared in his eyes. Perhaps, he was angry with the fact that such a beautiful woman had met not with him but with another man.
- Has he visited you again, Sherubai? - I suddenly said without rhyme or reason.
- Yes. As soon as you went away. - She simply said the truth. But to be on the safe side I reproached her:
- You see. As soon as I went away and Sherubai went to your place!
- I said him that you had spent the night at my place and forbade to appear there again.
- Have you personally said him about this? - I anxiously asked again.
- Of course, yes. I don't want to lie you. I was about to feel some kind of annoyance having thought that now I wouldn't be able to avoid explanations with Sherubai.
- I was sleeping when you went away. - Ulbosyn went on. - Then I heard somebody's ring. I threw on my dressing gown and opened the door. I saw Sherubai was already there. As if he felt. At first I decided: I should pity him and say nothing - he is old and I don't think that he is guilty in the fact that he loves up to now. But Sherubai understood everything by himself. You forgot one sketch and he picked it up at once. In spite of the fact that the sheet was lying under the table Sherubai as if knew beforehand, rushed to it like a golden eagle as if it were his prey. He looked at and turned white. His hands started trembling. Then I told him about everything. Have I done right, Zhantas-zhan?
- It turned out not very good! Aw heck!
- I am not sorry. - She said short.
"Well, it is impossible to turn back water and make it pass by the same place again. We'll see what will happen then", - I said to myself.
- Wouldn't we go to the cinema, Zhantas-zhan? - Ulbosyn childly asked.
- Let's go to your place, Ulbosyn.
- I always envy the pairs who go to a cinema. And sit there nearby each other. Like nestlings. - Ulbosyn informed looking into my eyes.
I started laughing and said:
- It turns out that you are still silly, Ulbosyn. We will go to the cinema another time. I promise.
- Well. Let's go to my place. - She agreed but something died out in her eyes.
The today's day began with the visit to the hospital. A very important old man had died the day before and his relatives wished to remain for the family his death mask. It wasn't difficult to make such a mask. For all this art I needed not more than half an hour. A face of a dead person was covered with some gypsum and when the gypsum hardened it was possible to think that the form for the mask was ready and those were all the troubles. But this procedure acted sparingly for such impressive people like me. When for the first time I had been led to a morgue I was about to feel bad. Then I had got long accustomed until the making of a mask became for me an usual business.
"In three days a human can get accustom even to his or her grave", Kazakhs say.
Having opened the door of the operating-room I saw Abilkas and Sherubai. The point was that a died person got in my hands only after the post-mortem examination which was made by a surgeon-pathologist and his assistant.
- My brother-in-law has finally come! - Abilkas exclaimed smiling to something and flapped me on the shoulder.
After the marriage to my Bazargul he became unbearably unceremonious. On every comfortable occasion he tried to place emphasis on our family relations.
- Good morning! - I said making general low bows.
Sherubai mumbled something and went out from the operating-room. Perhaps, he had some affairs but it turned out as if he had gone out in a pointed manner.
- He is already an old man but cannot still calm down, ah? - Abilkas said me and gave me a conspiratorial wink.
This old fox already guessed about everything. It was impossible to hide something from his tenacious eye.
- I haven't seen Sherubai since our last meeting. He came to my place in a day after the unforgettable night. He came into my flat and went to my writing table and froze like a pole having buried his hands in the pockets.
- Do you love Ulbosyn? - Just say the truth, comrade Beckov. - He pronounced with a strange voice.
I had prepared to this conversation and it seemed to me that I had thought everything out up to a trifle. But all the same I was taken aback - perhaps I had such a character. At first I wanted to say in the following way: "Listen to me, Sherubai, it's not your business". Or more bitingly: "Don't thrust your sickle into another's corn".
All in all, something like this. But then I calmed down and thought that I didn't know about his intentions yet. And it was not good to aggress first. That's why I was about to equivocate "And what do you mean?.."
But then it came to my mind, be it as it may, I am not a coward but a real man and I replied:
- Yes, damn you! I love Ulbosyn.
- I see. - Sherubai smiled wryly. - But why do you dare such things then?
He pulled from the pocket a clod of paper, smoothed it out with the inflexible fingers and put it on the table where the sketches with Ulbosyn had recently been lying, the sheet forgotten by me.
Here I became bug eyed. Wasn't Sherubai mad? Didn't he go off his head because of his unlucky love? Or had I mistaken thinking that he was an intelligent person?
- I know you want to say: the Italian Renaissance... impressionists... - Sherubai took the lead. - But you have forgotten about one thing: our Kazakh traditions. For you and me a naked body is a kind of art. But the most part of Kazakhs will think that this is immorally and you had to think about Ulbosyn's reputation.
- Shake! - I pathetically said calling him in the most respectable manner. - Aren't we those persons, a sculptor and a doctor, who must fight for people consider a human's body not only as a sinful earth but as a container for thoughts and a soul. As a great creature of the nature at last! Ulbosyn realizes this!
- You have deceived Ulbosyn. You have turned her brain. - Sherubai rudely cut short.
- Perhaps, I am not a great artist. - I said. - But if at leas for a half I manage to show in stone the fact what I want to say about Ulbosyn people will understand what a pure and beautiful woman she is. And not one tongue will move to say something bad.
I started running around the room and speaking long and hotly and when I calmed down a little, Sherubai coldly said:
- You should not do this. I advise you to burn your sketches until it is late.
I began to object again but he went to the door, turned back at the exit and pronounced having lifted his thin long finger:
- Zhantas, don't you dare to do it! - Go away!
I don't know what he had said Ulbosyn but she went on to pose. She took off her clothes behind the curtain and already habitually sat down on the chair.
In several days the director of the Culture house came to me to the workshops at the end of the work day. I let Ulbosyn go to the atelier - she ran away by the beginning of new models demonstration, - and as for me I was putting thing in order in the studio. And while I was washing my hands he was beating about the work covered with some rags. He could hardly keep himself from raising a little the edge of the rags.
When we went away he laughed and pronounced:
- Do you undress women? Do you have bare women here?
- Not bare. Nude.
- What is the difference? You should do this somehow in secret, the whole town already discusses this.
"Let's think, not the whole town, but somebody has already gossiped you", - I objected in my mind.
- Have you ever been to a museum? - I asked him.
- Ah, leave it! You will say: Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael.
Picasso... - The director waved off. - As far as that goes, for that matter, you are my favourite sculptor. Why do you need this? We are Kazakhs, we have our own opinion. Dress her and sculpture to your pleasure. With an oar, if you want. Or with a throwing disk, for example. Otherwise people will begin to say: "What is our sculptor occupied with - debauchery? But he teaches youth!" Exactly this people will say to the director. What for to finish with this? Don't you understand by yourself?
Now it was clear for me by whose ear he started singing.
- All the best. Tomorrow I will fire. - I said having forgotten about my usual restrain in a fit of temper and having hastened my steps I turned the corner.
- What an odd fellow! He has taken offence. I am not officially. - He said after me.
- You shouldn't intervene in the affairs between me and Sherubai. - I said Abilkas now.
- How can it be? You are the brother of my dear Bazargul. How can I stay indifferent here? - The old fox found the words.
I covered the face of the diseased with some wet gypsum and went to him. My head was filled with the thoughts about Ulbosyn. She honestly posed during our seances but something changed in her relation to me.
As if she was closed with valves from me, her true joy with which Ulbosyn usually met me disappeared. Sometimes I caught at me her absolutely indifferent look. On recent days she could keep silent for some hours long having deepened in her own thoughts and forgotten about my presence. Sometimes I came at the set time but her flat kept silent as long as I could ring.
After our first intimacy I had promised Ulbosyn to marry her and then I waited in dismay for when she would start a conversation about this having understood my promise word for word. I liked Ulbosyn as before but such a person like me needed a wife of other mentality who had both feet on the floor. I realized that I would nurse with Ulbosyn all my life long. That's why I kept my eyes open at each our meeting. But it seemed that my promise had flown away from Ulbosyn's mind. At all events, she never started a conversation about our marriage. But now I had a feeling that Ulbosyn had been disappointed in me and I was depressed by this feeling.
Patients in flannelette pajamas faded because of often treatment by bleaching powder were walking behind the window among the benches and dusty bushes. Abilkas was briskly saying something to me but I paid no attention to his chattering and was looking forward to when the procedure would be over.
Finally the musk was ready. I packed my simple tools to my suitcase and went to the atelier.
In a small town new models were demonstrated not so often and for a local atelier it would be an improper luxury to keep its own models for such a rare event. That's why Ulbosyn sat in combination in the advance orders section interchanging the shifts with another woman.
When I came into the salon she was drawing up a bill to a slim woman of middle age. Some more clients were waiting for their turn at the table with some journals. I walked along the show-windows with cloths pretending as if I was looking for a proper suit-length.
Ulbosyn finished with the client and came up to me. She was dressed in a black gown with an emblem of the atelier and shod in soft low-heeled shoes.
- What's up?
- I have to speak to you.
- I think you are right: we have to speak. - Ulbosyn nodded.
- I want to do this now.
- Wait, I just ask somebody to change me. - She said. And I saw a good sign in the fact that she had agreed without any objections.
Former Ulbosyn was before me who obediently fulfilled each my wish.
She disappeared in the depth of the atelier and returned in her red dress made of jersey cloth.
- Everything is all right. They let me go for a half an hour. I understood that people liked Ulbosyn in the atelier and it was an evidence for this. On that far away day when Ulbosyn and I had had our first intimacy she had been late for the work and got off just with an oral reprimand.
As soon as we directed to the exit all waiting people raised their heads and followed us with curious looks. Inhabitants knew about everything in such a small town.
It turned out that it started drizzling outside and this drizzle was fine and cold. I took Ulbosyn by the arm and ran together with her to the nearest gateway.
- Winter will come soon. - Ulbosyn pronounced as if she had made this discovery only now.
- And we met each other at the end of spring. - I said trying to show that I remembered this moment and attached a great importance to it.
Perhaps, Ulbosyn realized my action and gloomily smiled. This urged me forward.
- Don't you like me any more, Ulbosyn? I should know what has happened. Don't you love me any more, Ulbosyn? You must say about this. And you loved sometime, yes, yes, I know, you are not one of those ones and you couldn't have done this without love. - I started confusedly saying. - Is my guilt perhaps here in the fact that you have to pose being naked? Perhaps, not in vain our people say: "My close people don't have any respect to me, they know very well what I am worth, my wife doesn't respect me too because she knows me as a man". But we have everything back to front. Ulbosyn, it is already old. But you just say, Ulbosyn.
If the point is in this... And besides, I have finished my work in clay. One of this days I am going to mould it in gypsum and then I will set to marble too.
- Is it the truth? Have you finished the sculpture? - She said with a noticeable relief.
- I say you. And you shouldn't pose any more! Now it is only my business.
- It means that now we can part.
- What do you say, Ulbosyn? I am not going to part with you.
I thought that here everything depended only on me and at first I didn't pay any attention to the affirmative tone of her voice. Exactly here she informed me:
- You haven't understood, Zhantas. I have decided by myself.
It happened some unexpectedly and I blurted out without thinking what I said:
- We will marry, you will see.
As if somebody made me talk. I was even afraid. Perhaps, all this was written on my face because Ulbosyn started involuntary laughing.
- Are we a real pair? We both are weak people. We both look for by whom to be guided by. - She objected, shook her head and added after noticing my protesting gesture: - Yes, yes. All your life long you have been looking for a support too. You don't just suspect about this now.
It was late to retreat, my self-respect was put at stake.
- I don't understand what you mean. But we will have a good family. And many children too! - I resolutely declared.
- I will never become a mother, Zhantas.
- What's up, Ulbosyn?
- When I was performed an abortion... Then, in Karaganda... In short, I became a cripple.
- How does Sherubai dare then? I will throw this old cynic out from a window.
- You shouldn't do this, Zhantas. Sherubai doesn't even suspect about this. He has nothing to do with it. He loved me then and loves me now too.
Her face was wet. "Yapyrmau... What is this?" - I thought supposing that these were tears and taking Ulbosyn by the arm pulled her slightly after me.
- Well, I tell you, let's go to the registry office. Right now, without any delay. Never mind, we will live somehow without children.
But I mistook when I had taken the drops of rain got on her face for tears.
- In general, you are a good man, Zhantas. You are just a little funny. How can I marry you? You will be unhappy.
"Perhaps, she is right. Ah, what a golden woman Ulbosyn is! But for this "no", if the life were undisturbed. There would be nobody better than Ulbosyn then", - I said to myself.
- Promise me then, we will meet with each other.
- Well, you see, I have already said: you are so funny. You want to make sure if I love you. You are right. I love you very much. And our intimacy is my best reminiscences. Thank you very much, Zhantas.
- You feel already easier, don't you?
And already for the thousandth time she genially laughed at me today.
- Promise me: we will meet again and again...
- Again and again. - She repeated as if to a little child. Then she looked at her watch and suddenly thought: - Oh, I am late for ten minutes, I will get beans.
And she ran through the street to her atelier under the drizzling rain.
- I will come tomorrow! In the evening, do you hear me? - I cried after her.
She turned back and said something illegibly. I also went from out the getway and directed to the workshops. Ulbosyn was right: I really felt more easily. The uncertainty which had troubled me disappeared and it seemed now that everything turned out as well as possible. The only thing that restrained my joy was pity to Ulbosyn. That fact that from now on she couldn't be happy as a mother.
"An old Don Juan. You, a feudal lord, a damned selfish person, just wait", - in such a way I addressed to Sherubai in my mind. But already in ten steps these emotions went aside and I was fully taken up by my work. I hadn't lied Ulbosyn. The work at her sculptural image was finished. Now it was possible to give it to a copyist and that one would set to marble. But I decided personally to work with marble.
But because of the next events the sculpture had time only to pass into its gypsum embodiment. It was written in the stars for marble to wait for an occasion when Ulbosyn's soul would pass into its dead flesh and revitalize it...
That evening I spent in the company of Bazargul and her husband who I hated. They came with their food suggesting quite within reason that my refrigerator was as bare as the palm of my hand and Bazargul cleaned my flat and was busy in the kitchen. Abilkas was pompous like a turkey and hinted now and again at some very important event. He was beating about the bush hoping that the worm would turn and I would ask him by myself. Having realized what the matter was each time I tried to lead the conversation into another direction as if I stressed my absolute indifference to his physiognomy that was shining with vanity. Finally Abilkas took offence and was sitting the rest of the evening having hidden his face in the glass of dry wine.
Not very often I made death masks. Even loving people rarely decided to keep such a hurting heart remembrance but next morning I was called to the hospital again.
A huge Russian fellow was walking at the door. His army uniform was greening from under the coat thrown on the shoulders. The fellow turned upon me his wide rough face from which tear of dismay hadn't disappeared yet.
- Are you the very sculptor? - He asked having looked at my suitcase.
- Are you a husband or a brother? - I asked in my turn.
- Her husband is at home. - He said being confused. - He is drinking vodka, considering that he has a pretext. And as for the mask, he does not need this mask. And when she was alive he didn't need her very much, Natasha.
- What for do you need the mask of the dead person? Isn't a picture better where this woman is living and joyful.
- I need the mask. - The man firmly said. - She died because of grief. And I want to remember her so.
- Wait here. - I asked touching the handle of the door.
"Why does he need this? - I thought opening slowly the door. - She is dead but he will still live. He is so huge. All the same it is impossible to return those ones who have left us. Now he will torment himself with the remembrances. Wouldn't it better just to try to forget? Eh, people, people."
A dead body of a woman was lying in the operating-room. Her red hair stuck out from under the sheet. Perhaps, Sherubai had already performed his jolly duties, at all events I found neither him nor Abilkas.
- The surgeon asked to come to his place when you are free. - The old nurse said who was boiling the tools.
In an hour I went out to the corridor and the army fellow rushed to me again.
- The nurse will give you the mask. - I said in passing.
- Thank you, comrade sculptor! - The young man cried out being glad not clearly to what.
Sherubai's office was on the second floor and while going upstairs I was filling with anger with each stair. The need to say this libertine everything he had deserved grew in my heart. But Abilkas, leaning back in an easy chair and being self-satisfied as before, was sitting in front of his table as if he hadn't got the lesson which I had taught him the day before yesterday. What had finally happened? Why did he look so pompously, the husband of my poor Bazargul? This time it was interesting to me.
- Congratulate Abilkas Daribasovich. - Sherubai said stretching solemnly the hand in the direction of Abilkas. - Now he is the director of our hospital.
It turned out well for him. He had remorselessly been very sweet in the presence of Aisulu Beisenova and now he occupied her post. Even I hadn't expected from him such a quickness.
Abilkas half-rose preparing to the hand shake. But I stayed at the door and didn't even move a finger. Then he coughed for hiding his confusion and walked around the office as if he had left his convenient armchair exactly for this.
- Listen to me, Zhake. - He said having put his hands behind the back. - We need new gypsum models.
And he listed the models of the organs which were ill for this or that disease. Some powerful faint notes rang in the voice of my sister's husband. Abilkas let me know that he would put things in order now.
- I cannot do this now. I have a lot of work. You'd better to order in Almaty. - I said with challenge as soon as he had finished.
- Then... then you should solve the problem personally with comrade Beckov. - Abilkas informed the surgeon and ran out from the office being angry with me.
- I am really loaded with orders. - I said and shrugged my shoulder: I didn't want them to consider my refusal as a childish trick.
- We don't hurry you up. - Sherubai explained. - You shall do it when you have free time. The former models are no good at all.
- Well, if it is really so... - I noticed and directed to the exit.
- Just a minute, comrade Beckov. - Sherubai called me. - I thought you would be glad for the husband of your sister. However, it is a big promotion. He is trusted such a responsible post.
- I don't like careerists. Even if they are husbands of my sister. - I indignantly cut short.
. - He really has such a feature. - Sherubai made a wry face. - But it is impossible not to admit that he is a talented doctor and an active organizer.
- If it is really so... why does he need all this miserable intrigues then? He should quietly make his business. A talented person will always be put on that place where he can bring the most use. Sooner or later.
- Perhaps, you are rather right. It leaves an unpleasant impression. But as for youth, heat... Then restrain will come too. Who of us didn't make a fool of him- or herself at the young age? - Sherubai mumbled.
- Of course, there are no hopeless people. - I said and directed to the door again.
The main thing followed exactly after this. The thing why so urgently Sherubai needed me.
- Zhantas, where is Ulbosyn? Where has she disappeared? - I heard Sherubai's voice.
It was a proper moment when I could say him everything I thought about him and discourage him for ever to visit Ulbosyn. But I had already realized the sense of his question. "Where is Ulbosyn? Where has she disappeared?" If he asked about this it meant that she wasn't in the town.
Or did he get anything wrong?
- Why do you think that Ulbosyn has disappeared somewhere? - I asked Sherubai.
She must be here in the town. - I went to her place. - Sherubai said looking away. - But she wasn't at home. I came for some more times and rang but she didn't open the door...
"It serves him right", - I thought with a great pleasure. But then I remembered that recently I had felt these tricks on my own back.
... The neighbour said that she had seen with her own eyes how Ulbosyn had come out with a suitcase and gone to the direction of the railway station. - Sherubai went on.
Here for the first time he looked into my eyes and finished being shocked:
- But I thought that you knew about this. For the time passed Ulbosyn and you...
He didn't finish. I also understood nothing.
- Or has anything happened between you? - And... he was able to hide his hope.
- Oh, don't say that: she and me! We are soul and soul together. - I immediately lied. - Perhaps, something else has happened here. Let's think... I...
I restrained myself in time having almost opened him that the main committer of her grief was exactly him, Sherubai. A temper! A monster!
- She is such a human being. She never does things by halves. If Ulbosyn has left the town it means that something serious is connected with this. - Sherubai mumbled.
Did Ulbosyn really know about her departure yesterday? And perhaps her words which she had pronounced while crossing the street and which I hadn't distinctly heard were exactly her last good-bye words!
- Where could Ulbosyn go away? - I asked Sherubai.
He contracted the brows thinking. For the short period of time they became allies. I pitied both me and him. He looked terribly. He made helpless gestures reasoning to himself.
- Perhaps, she went to Tashkent to her relatives. - Sherubai said.
- But aren't they in Almaty?
- They lived there before. Now they moved to Tashkent.
He knew absolutely everything about Ulbosyn.
My involuntary ally suddenly straightened his shoulders and pronounced with a dry and firm voice of previous Sherubai.
- I'll find her! I will find her by all means.
Perhaps, he added to himself: "It is not already for the first time when you, Ulbosyn, hide from me. But I found you then. And I'll find you now." And I realized that Sherubai remained my serious opponent.
For several days the sudden flight of Ulbosyn unsettled me but step by step I found the composure again. Well, it meant she had such a fate. Perhaps, Ulbosyn will finally find her happiness in some other town. We think not in vain that a person is finally an architect of his or her own fortunes - so was the tortuous train of my thought that brought me some calmness. And as for me I will pay Ulbosyn for all good she had done with my talent and whatever could happen with her she will stay live in stone which I will warm with my own warmth. And people will know about her short joys and great sufferings.
With such a resolution once I rushed into my workshop, threw off the blanket from the statue, ran in the farthest corner and looked from there at the creature of my hands. And at first sight I realized: I had created Ulbosyn exactly so I wanted. Now marble was waiting for her.
On one of the first days of my work at Ulbosyn's image I rejoiced like a child: it was my word in the art, though it wasn't loud-voiced but it didn't look like strange words. But it was difficult for me to win such a victory. On one of the first days of my work at Ulbosyn's image there came some kind of crisis and I was suddenly afraid of my intentions.
"What for do I need this? - The second, coward Zhantas who gave his mouth from time to time asked me. - Why to break the head over when the great masters have already beaten the ways? You are lucky without it: you have found a perfect model, what else do you need? Don't fancy yourself! Well, sculpture her then, for example, in the style of nymph decorated by a scorpion." Isn't Lorenzo Bartolini worthy of imitation? Oh, no, Zhantas, Lorenzo Bartolini is fully worthy of this and it isn't shameful to imitated him"
And it was well that the first Zhantas had been able to find some strength to repulse adequately this coward:
"Listen to me, Zhantas, of course, Lorenzo Bartolini was a famous sculptor. But all honour to him for the fact that he was the first and the only Lorenzo Bartolini but not the second and not the third Phidias. What for does the art need then one more dozen of Bartolini when it can be satisfied with the first one? I wish it would receive in return although not famous but real Zhantas Beckov". - Zhantas uttered so and in such a way he made Zhantas-the second run away...
And now Zhantas the first was very satisfied, he even said his twin with reproof:
"Why haven't you realized at once, Zhantas? A nymph has her own grief and own fate. And our Ulbosyn has other grief and other fate. Is it really possible to tell about different fates with the same words? Shame on you, a sheep's head!" And that, the second Zhantas had nothing to cover.
Then I went to the steward. Having seen me he started worrying and asked:
- Well, what else do you want from me? Do you want to wear me out? Take my soul, just leave me alone. Don't forget, I am the father of six children.
- Your six children will need your soul in the future. I don't need it. But if you don't get a lump of Carrara marble I will shape a sculpture which will be called "The main enemy of the soviet art" and it will be a close picture of you. Then I will exhibit it for public viewing.
- That's enough. - The steward interrupted me. - You should say this at once. I know: you need it for your naked woman. I will get marble for you, my dear.
- I thank you for marble in advance. But if you call so this woman even for one more time I will hit you with my chisel. Shame on you! You work nearby the art. - I said while going away.
The steward kept his promise and got only heaven knows where a big lump of perfect marble.
From now on almost all my time I spent in my studio. Once already at the end of the new spring when I was working at the shoulders of my sculpture trying to give them the softness of movements and the warmth of living Ulbosyn, Sherubai favoured me with his visit. We hadn't seen each other since autumn and in spite of the fact that Sherubai was dressed in a specious overcoat that gave a person some portliness it was evident that he had lost even more weight although it seemed that it was the limit for growing thin.
Although it looked funny but I felt confused in the presence of my opponent. The insatiable passion went on eating him out and I, instead to grieve over disappeared Ulbosyn, put on weight for five kilograms.
- Take off your overcoat. - I said trying to be above my emotions.
- I have found her tracks. - Sherubai informed me with challenge.
- Well. And where is she? What's happened with her? - I asked absolutely quietly to my surprise.
And I realized at once: now I was interested only in that Ulbosyn who became apparent in marble. Her prototype from flesh and blood had become an unreal and far away notion for me. And it was strange to hear that besides my marble Ulbosyn there existed another one, a close picture of her face and figure.
- She really lived for some time at her parents' in Tashkent. - The newly brought to light Sherlock Holmes informed me. - Then she went away from Tashkent too.
- Where from do you know this?
- I went to Tashkent. - Sherubai said shortly.
We kept silent for some time. Sherubai skewed at the sculpture. Then he decided for something, harrumphed and started:
- In Tashkent I learned that Ulbosyn is ill. You see, she had to have an abortion because of some rascal. - He pronounced this word with accent hinting perhaps at me. - She paid a big price for the abortion. In Tashkent Ulbosyn went to doctors and then I spoke to my colleagues whose consultations she had received. Her state is serious.
Sherubai looked into my eyes as a public prosecutor. He didn't suspect that that dangerous weapon which he had directed at me I could easily turn into his direction.
But I couldn't do this. Perhaps, because he loved Ulbosyn with the undying passion. And I had already calmed down and lost the right to be his judge.
- You will not be able to understand me, Zhantas. We are to different people. - He pronounced as if yielding. - At night I heard a honk of flying geese. Summer passed by... - He stopped speaking having interrupted the phrase.
He was standing in the overcoat as before. It was hot in the studio, he was bathed in sweat. But Sherubai didn't take off trying to stress with this that we were enemies for each other. And he came to my place only because I had some relation to Ulbosyn and he was not able to throw me away from his life. I had become a link which had been fast soldered-in into their chain. Willy-nilly but I remembered him about Ulbosyn.
- Yesterday a simple, in general, operation was about to finish with the death of the patient. - Sherubai pronounced. - It seems to me that I am tired from myself. Or the grief began to get the best over me... How can I cure other people when I am not able to cure myself?
- But why didn't you marry her then if you loved her since your first meeting? - I asked him.
- Just before this my wife bore me a son. We didn't have any children before. And it would look like a betrayal to leave her at that moment. - Sherubai guiltily said.
- But all the same you did it then! You left her!
- My wife and the child smashed up in an accident. A dump-body truck bumped into them. Four years ago.
Ulbosyn had told me about this. But all the same I tormented him. Having lost the right for revenge in the main thing I wanted to get it back with the help of some smaller stings. And perhaps I went too far.
- Find her. Perhaps, there are still grounds for hope. You know, each person is an architect of his or her own fortunes. - I said reconciliatory.
- You are!.. You are a demagogue! - Sherubai boiled over killing me with his look as if I was a kind of a vile insect which disgusted him. - I will find her even under the ground. The point isn't in this. - Sherubai got burning hot. - But as for the rest. How can I be an architect of my own fortunes if you have already squelched it. Who is Ulbosyn for you? Just a beautiful woman and that's all! A toy for amusement. For me Ulbosyn is the sun! And you have put it out with your dirty hands. And my life deepened in the darkness.
He went on laying himself out with colorful eastern expressions for a long time. In his imagination fairy tale devas looked like gentle lambs in the comparison with me. "Zhantas, he is so angry with you, just think", - I informed to myself.
He stopped talking and directed to the exit. His overcoat was hot like a stove.
He stopped at the sculpture and asked in everyday manner. Perhaps he was tired.
- Zhantas, will she really be bare below the belt?
I silently nodded. He perplexedly shook his head and carefully passed the palm over Ulbosyn's head. Then his hand crept along her cheek to the neck. Before Ulbosyn's breast he scaredly jerked back his hand.
- Zhantas, cannot you leave so? The naked breast and just stone then. Sometimes sculptors do so, I have personally seen in the museums and you, Zhantas, won't step aside from the truth. Ah, Zhantas? - Sherubai pronounced pleadingly.
- I cannot otherwise. Otherwise I won't manage. My heart has decided exactly so, Sherubai. - I gave him such a firm answer. Not for this already for so many months long I had been going around the stone, not for just to refuse my aim only because of the fact that the absurd old man demanded it.
He shook his head again and went out from the studio without saying good-bye. In a minute his severe sideview under the hat made of velours floated along the window.
Having lifted the small hammer I started hammering my chisel biting into the marble again. But some unclear anxiety hindered me to work. As if I had unclean conscience before somebody.
"Zhantas, does it mean that you don't love Ulbosyn any more? How can it be? Up to today's day you were still sure that after Bazargul she is the closest person for you. - I said to myself being puzzled. - It cannot happen so quickly in the life. It means you haven't loved Ulbosyn but just your wonderful idea. Ulbosyn-woman and Ulbosyn-idea... What a human being are you, Zhantas? You have fallen in love for so many times and each time everything turned out upside-down. Now it turns out that you don't love then you learn that your beloved one is absolutely indifferent to you... Oh, oh, oh! You are just good-for-nothing!"
In my youth I had constantly fallen in love. This was my usual condition. In such years of my life it was like a dance: you spin and twiddle, your heart is overfilled with feelings and admiration - you feel dizzy...
I remember, when I learnt in Moscow a very young model came to us. She was a Kazakh girl and her name was Umit. Her hair were black like a deep night and quiet bottomless lakes reflected in her eyes. Umit was awfully shy, hid the eyes when she met by chance with the looks of our experienced boys. She grew now red then white and was ready to fall under the floor at all. Perhaps, she needed some money very much if she came to pose for us.
Having seen during the first seance how Umit was shrinking under the looks of the student our teacher pitied her and let her pose as exception only for one person. Umit chose me. I was her fellow-countryman and that's why I seemed to be a less evil for her.
In such a way I sculptured a naked model for the first time in my life. Exactly from those times I had a firm belief in the fact that the most perfect creature of the nature-artist was a woman's body. And Umit's body differed with a special beauty so characteristic of her age. She had hardly overstepped the line which separated a little girl from a teenager. She had still awkward features of the body. Her breasts were full like ripe fruit, and looked forward with their sharp teats. We both were young and were worried to death at first being shy of one another. Having timidly stooped she was standing on a block. And I was working at a lump of clay with a double student's diligence not daring to look at Umit once again. And not one day had passed by before we didn't look down at once having met with out looks. Before I had looked at her as if on the quiet. And when I had to say her something I removed my eyes somewhere farther aside in advance. And our rare dialog was usually the following:
- Umit, raise your head a bit, please. - I said staring at the wall.
- Will it be enough so? - She asked looking at the floor.
- Thank you, Umit, that's enough. - I replied fixing my eyes at one point on the wall.
After a while I said staring at the door:
- Don't strain yourself, Umit. You should feel more easily. - I said realizing the ineptitude of my comment.
- Well, I'll try. - She replied looking at the wall.
- Well. It's perfect, Umit. Now everything is all right. - I praised her trying to cheer up both her and me and at this the door already started seeing double in my eyes.
Then we got accustomed and Umit began to behave more easy. She studied to be an economist and now during our sittings she jolly told me about students' tricks.
After our sittings we went together to the bus stop as two good friends. But step by step she began to fill my thoughts not at all at school hours, appear all of a sudden in my dreams and I found myself that my heart sweetly sank when she came in my dreams and that I was looking forward to our each next seance. At night before our meeting I pushed my trousers wetted with some water under the mattress, ironed creases with the help of my body, dressed a fresh shirt in the morning and hardly rubbed my boots up to holes furiously scrubbing them with a brush.
I was self-assured so much that I didn't have any doubts in my success. And now I fully charged to the account of my irresistible appearance the fact that she had agreed to pose exactly for my person. Everything could have become clear earlier if I had started with explanations at once. But being assured that Umit had fallen in love with me too I drew back this pleasant moment up to the last sitting.
And here it came. The study was finished, Umit dressed behind the curtain and we were already going along the usual road to the bus stop.
My heart was up to what the hell. Now it stopped bringing me almost to a state of apparent death then broke into a gallop. But Umit was chattering about something own.
- Umit. - I pompously pronounced but perhaps my voice sounded as if from a grave. - Umit, let's sit down on a bench. Still and all but we see each other for the last time. - I added with a hint trying to sober her as early as possible. According to my calculations some kind of a fright must appear on her face. Only now she will realize all the gravity of the situation. She will look at me in fear and... "It is impossible, Zhantas. I won't withstand it", - exactly this I hoped to hear from Umit. After what I will take Umit by the arm with an expressive smile and having firmly twined our fingers we will go into a happy life that, without doubts, is waiting for us.
But instead of this Umit said with joy:
- I am so happy that from now on I don't have to go somewhere to the world's end after my lessons. You don't even imagine, Zhantas, how it is uncomfortable to stand being absolutely naked before a strange man . In spite of the fact that I have got accustomed to you all the same I feel uncomfortable, however, you are a man, Zhantas... But in return my Muslim and I have some money for our wedding now. Him for a suit... me for a white dress... And for a tremendous lot of guests too!
She was chattering only heaven knows what and I was sitting as if I had been thunderstruck. And I thought: "My goodness!"
A talent of a person is hardened in misfortunes. Many people think so. A dream looks like a red fox. It appears indistinctly somewhere afar, beckons with its tail as if with a torch, they say. You rush to it but this sly one has already vanished into thin air. And when you, having despaired, started with some another thing the red fox is already here again. It both teases and calls... And the furious pursuit through grooves, ravines, streams again. Otherwise it is impossible. Then on the bed of death this uncaught fox will become for you a symbol of the unsuccessfully lived life. But now you hold it in the hands, it is obedient but you are already tired and worn out. In such a way, people assure, the best works are created by a human being.
And I, Zhantas, not a famous (still yet, of course) sculptor don't agree with this. To my mind, personal masterpieces of a human being, is he or she great or not, are created easily and without suffering, in the atmosphere of an inspired holiday. Something similar had happened with me too when I had been hammering and dressing the stone creating Ulbosyn. And this sculpture was the best creature of everything made by my hands. The sculpture was finished and I felt that I had put in it not only my skills but a part of my heart too.
So I was reasoning sitting in the front of marble Ulbosyn when Sherubai's ascetic sideview floated behind the window again. But this time - under a hat made of nylon because it was hot summer and this time it floated in the opposite direction because he was going to my place.
I threw my old blanket on the statue with which I covered myself when I spent nights in my studio and looked at the door.
- Come in. - I said after hearing the demanding knocking.
- Well, have you finished? Have you gained your point? And I warned you, Zhantas, and you remember very well about this. - Sherubai threateningly said while coming into the studio.
"He has smelt out, an old dog. I finished yesterday and on the next day he has already heard about this. He has such a feeling", - I thought with surprise.
Nobody else but Abilkas had said him about this. He and Bazargul, only they knew about the fact that I had finished my work. And here the husband of my sister wished to stir up Sherubai against me as soon as possible.
- And what are you going to do... with her? - Sherubai excitedly asked.
His look was running over the statue. He thought that it was a blasphemy to see it even covered.
- Well, I will show it in Almaty in the first exhibition. - I said pretending to be careless.
He thought about, chewed with the lips now knowing what to do and suddenly took me aback:
- Sell it me. I will buy it.
"Zhantas. - I said in my mind to myself. - Is this one really assured that I have been working for the sake of money? Now then! Teach him a lesson".
- One hundred thousand. - I shortly said.
- I hope you mean old money. - Sherubai said.
- Sherubai, do you live still by the old calculation? Much time has already passed after the reform. - I pronounced with reproof.
- But where will I get such sum of money? - Sherubai exclaimed. - I have just two thousand rubles. Step by step I put off some money for my old age. The rest I send to the parents of my wife. They have too small pension and without me they cannot make ends meet.
He seriously explained me. He didn't realize that I mocked at him.
- Take all my money. - Sherubai said.
- One hundred thousands and not a kopeck less. - I insisted. - You have estimated too cheap the Ulbosyn's image.
- I wish I would know... - He helplessly pronounced.
- This is yeoman's labor. - I showed him my overworked palms and added: - And finally, Ulbosyn is dear for me too. You have forgotten about this.
But he repeated his own:
- If I knew about this... - He slapped his hips in despair.
Was he really afraid so much that strangers would see the body of his beloved one? "Is it really possible to love so much?" - I thought in dismay.
- It is impossible to love a human being so much. You pretend, I see. Or is it a mania? It means that you are a psychotic. - I said to Sherubai.
His eyebrows started crawling up. He stared at me in surprise.
- I am sorry, what have you said? Pretense?.. A mania?
- As for pretense, perhaps, I have gone too far. But I don't think that your behaviour is normal.
- But who knows the exact limits of normality, Zhantas? But if to look at with your own eyes... Oh, yes: an old, worn man makes too much of his feelings.
- That's not the point, Sherubai Aibasovich. Love can ever last only in the literature. There one can find hard characters and feelings of unbelievable power. And some fuel of the highest grade is continuously added to the fire of love. Both jealousy and incidental unfaithfulnesses, and simply quarrelsome nature, and mental tiredness admix to this in life. They step by step people begin to exasperate one another. In short, a literary hero idealizes his beloved one in the same manner as she does him. And it is not surprising: if to believe the author they are the best people in the world. In life everything is in another way: We know that my beloved one is far not an ideal. And our Ulbosyn is a usual woman too. There are dozens, hundreds of such ones like her. And can a man with healthy state of mind really suffer long knowing that some time will pass and he will meet another one who will not be worse than that one. That's why I seem that you are a person in the grip of an obsession, Shereke. - I openly finished.
He closed the eyes and shook his head.
- Oh, oh, oh, Zhantas. How can a human being who has devoted himself to the art reason so? - Sherubai said. - I didn't think that you have a heartless soul. Just you haven't really loved yet. Perhaps, I am a maniac. But you mustn't judge. You are young. And I have lost my head. But usual subcelestials can also love each other very much. And I personally was a witness of the fact how one person had given his life for the sake of love.
- His name was Kozy-Korpesh, her name was Bayan-Slu. - I ironically noticed.
- His name was Asygat, her name was Karakos. They had these names, Zhantas. - Sherubai pompously corrected me.
His sudden self-restrain paralyzed my quickness and I was keeping silent for some time. And he sat down on a chair, perhaps, he wasn't going to yield.
- Asygat was a usual builder of roads and that's all. Karakos taught children at school. - Sherubai went on using the pause. - As you see they had professions not for an ancient epos. Though Karakos was absolutely worthy of a poet's song. She really had black eyes. Big black eyes. I am not a poet, Zhantas, but I remember her round rosy face that looked like a pale dawn. People are like migrating birds. Geese and swans who flew in spring begin to forget flying farther and farther away from the lake that place where they swam in winter but this all is for the time being. In the same manner you forget for some time about the people until something awakes your memory... He recalled this not for me.
It was more important for him to lull his aching heart and give it a rest for some time. And I decided: I wish he would go on.
- They were my neighbours when I, after graduating from the medical institute, came to Kzyl-Orda. And their wonderful son Berik was born soon after my coming. Even strange people noticed how well they lived, but Karakos was ill for leprosy. They reminded me fallen in love swans swimming over a mirror surface of a lake. Now he cleans her feathers, then she puts her beautiful head on him. You know, perhaps, I am a bad poet but I seemed so...
- Yes, you are a bad poet, Sherubai-aga. - I readily confirmed. - Swans - it is a cliche.
- But I seemed exactly so. - Sherubai replied. - However, there is nothing shorter than joy. There appeared an angry hunter in the canes - the lot. And it parted the loving pair. In short, Karakos was ill for leprosy. It was still just a spot but we sent her to the hospital for lepers on the islands Barsa-Kelmes. It was difficult for us but we could do nothing. Such is the law!
- Yapyrmai! It is really sadly. - I agreed and it as if urged Sherubai forward. He went on having cheered up.
- Yes, it was a tragedy. And a double one for Karakos. You see, the incurable disease and the parting with her dear man. And then Asygat shot Niagara.
Sherubai stopped speaking trying to find the words. I guessed what the idea was but I wished to hear it with my own ears.
- According to your theory, Zhantas, he had to grieve for one-two years or so for the sake of propriety and look for consolation of a new Karakos then. Amn't I right? - Sherubai asked with a smile.
This old donkey understood everything word for word. But I said nothing not hindering his story.
- In short, there was only one love for Asygat and Karakos. And each of them lived by the feelings of one another. Can you imagine a tree bent over life-giving water? So, for each of them exactly the feelings of one another were the very life-giving water. Now it is easy to guess what will happen with that tree if to part it with the source of life. Of course, it will dry up. Nobody will be able to save it. What would a typical literary hero do if he were Asygat? Without further ado he would kill both Karakos and himself, and even little Berik. But if to believe Sherubai Asygat had done everything their love to continue to live. He brought his son to his parents in Sozak and went then to island Barsa-Kelmes to the hospital for lepers.
- We tried to dissuade Asygat. Karakos didn't agree to accept him too. She didn't want to sacrifice the life of her dear man reasoning, perhaps, like you, Zhantas. But he stuck to his guns. And Karakos realized that the life for Asygat was their love. Even the medical commission gave him way because he was very persevering. So Asygat met his Karakos again.
- And what was then? What was their fate? - I asked being involuntary conquered by the unusual deed of Asygat.
Sherubai kept silent. He looked like a freezing mammoth in whose glassy glance the last viewings of the last day were slowly going out. And pain straightened its wings turned to stone for ever over his life that was approaching to the end.
- Sometimes I have such a feeling as if I have been living since the day of world creation. - Sherubai mumbled as if guessing my thoughts. - Both the earth and the sky seem to be shabby. The stars look like rub off coins. And the sky faded long ago and is worn out up to holes. And the world doesn't warm then as if a blanket with forty patches. Why do such minutes come, Zhantas? How do you think?
I shrugged my shoulders:
- Perhaps, because of tiredness.
- Can a human being really be tired to live? No, Zhantas, I am tired because of my powerlessness. There is not any despair any more when your dear human being is dying on your hands but you can help nohow at this time. And that's why each time you die with him or her together.
I had a double feeling to Sherubai. I believed in the fact that with the death of each his patient a part of his own life fell off in his heart. If to put together all the years that went away with died people, they will really make thousands of years. And here I sincerely sympathized with him. But on the other hand, exactly this man had made Ulbosyn grieve so much. And as soon as I remembered about this the old enmity to Sherubai rose from the death in my heart.
- At that time we were absolutely helpless before the terrible illness. And both Asygat and Karakos died after long suffering. But up to the last days their love was wonderful. The doctor from this hospital for lepers told me so. At first Karakos died and Asygat lived not for much time after her too. The death of his beloved quickened his disease. And in spite of the fact that to your mind, swans have become a cliche, all the same I want to repeat what Kazakhs say: a swan who has lost its pair will die from grief. - Sherubai pompously finished.
The story was impressive. - When you haven't thought it out for edification... All the same, there are just units of such ones like Asygat among us. He was a strong man, I can say! - I noticed not giving way very much. - As for me, I am not able for such a deed.
- Yes, you wouldn't be able. - He gloatingly said, stood up from the chair and repeated with delight: - You wouldn't be able, Zhantas.
The previous anger awoke in our hearts. We snarled like wolf-hounds. He thought that I was the cause of both his and Ulbosyn's misfortunes. But I personally knew who had ruined her.
He first came to life.
- Yes, yes! Zhantas, you wouldn't be able, that's it! - He declared for the third time and having thrown up his hands he left the studio like an actor going away behind the scenes at the end of the performance.
- Bravo! - I said with a grin.
So, Ulbosyn's sculpture was standing in the middle of my studio. The feeling that I had finally achieved something worth overfilled my heart with joy. Of course, I tried to be shy remembering that first of all shyness beautifies a humans being but sometimes it was written on my face and then somebody of my friends asked me:
- Zhantas, why are you smiling all the day today? If you have a holiday share your joy with us then.
- No, I have a usual day today. I am just in a good spirit, perhaps. It is hot out, the sun is shining. How can I help smiling here? That's why I am smiling.
Though I didn't realize in the depth of my heart: why is it shameful to boast for a human being? To boast a little, decently, why not to say:
- You know, my friends, I have really cut not a bad sculpture! Just look at my Ulbosyn. Well, say the truth: something is in her, isn't it?
But it is not a good thing to say in such a manner. Well, all the same I was in a good spirit. And the wonderful spring only heated me. It was as if a young mother who had embraced her just born child. The marks of revival were really on everything around. What to say here about the blossomed out nature - it is preordained to renew each spring - when the ancient stones that had been keeping silent for milliards of years were all over in the sparkles of the young light too. In short, the old world along streets of which I was walking now and almost hopping was drunk and jolly like a young man who had drunk too much wine for the first time in his life.
I loved everybody on such days: both unknown passersby in the streets and homeless dogs, and houses - in short, the whole town.
But... it is just time to tell about our Mystau too...
A wondering Kazakh realizes nothing in geology but all the same he gave the exact names for those places where he shepherded his sheep. Each land has its own colours, its marks but a Kazakh has just the experience of his far away ancestors - and that's all. He gave the names without further ado: Gold Vein, Cast Iron lake, Lead-Stone, Dzhezkazgan, where people extracted copper - and some integrated industrial plants that developed valuable ores were built here then. And do you really think that a steppe Kazakh had just the experience of his far away ancestors?
... And the deepest wisdom, I said and added that to my mind the wisest nation on the earth is we, Kazakhs. Perhaps, many people will not agree with me and somebody will even say me:
"Eh, Zhantas, each person thinks that exactly his or her nation is the wisest one. Is it numerous or not. Such is a human being, Zhantas. Take it into account".
We'll let it go at that. Most likely, it is really so. However, I liked the art of my nation very much. Only the Kazakh's fantasy who had fixed his look behind the blueish line of the horizon could give birth tor such deep philosophy heroes like Asan-Kaigy, Korkit or Ayazbi. And when I become old and wise I wanted to created from stone or bronze an image of my ancient motherland. You shouldn't think that I was such a fanatic admirer of antiquity. But I knew only one thing: there is not a child who can be born without a mother. Perhaps, with the years he or she doesn't always become a close picture of the mother but hidden from strangers' eyes in his or her vessels her kindred blood runs as before.
But I digressed again. So, a wandering Kazakh called copper one of the steppe places. And he didn't mistake. Our town Mystau what means a copper town was built here. That Kazakh didn't know only about one thing:
nearby copper tin and lead were lying under dusty grass that was grazed by his sheep.
The town was five years old. The first trees that had been planted in the year of its birth already gave shade. Children and his agemates ran along the streets: sometime they announced about their birth in the only maternity hospital of Mystau. Now they, like the town, were already grown up. They were five.
I was walking under the shadows of the first Mystau trees, among the joyful noise that had been raised by the agemates of the town - it was Sunday today and almost all of them came out in fresh air. I was walking without any aim where my eyes and feet were leading me. My dear sister Bazargul was going towards me with a tall swarthy girl by the arm on this bright hot day. My sharp eyesight noticed at once: both that Bazargul was in a perfect spirit and that her companion had two tight plaits up to the belt and spike heels shoes, and that she was slim and lithe.
- Hello, koke! Where are you hurrying so much? - Bazargul asked and exchanged looks with her companion. They conspiratorially giggled.
- I am just walking. I just breathe with fresh air. - I carefully said waiting for some dirty trick.
- Haven't you recognized her? - Bazargul asked smiling.
- Zhantas-aga has forgotten me at all. - The unknown girl informed and they giggled in the palms again.
- Oi, boi! Is it really you, Ayauzhan? - I exclaimed in surprise.
I had a presentiment that something would surely happen on such a day. And here this surprise: Ayauzhan in person.
Somebody could say me: it turns out, Zhantas, that you are a lady-killer. Here appeared one more girl.
That's true of course. I had already avowed myself that I was amorous. What to do, each heart beats in its own way. Each beat bears its own feeling. Each feeling bears its own song. But... But absolutely another story had happened with Ayauzhan.
The reminiscences of my early young years were connected with Ayauzhan. At those times we walked almost unseparably: me, Bazargul and Ayauzhan. And in spite of the fact that she had both the father and the step-mother Ayauzhan didn't have any closer people than we. As if according to a fairy tale, she had bad relations with her step-mother, the weak-willed father always took the side of the last one and Ayauzhan looked for consolation in our friendship. And in our turn Bazargul and I related to her like to our sister. In the eve of the holidays I painted some posters for the club and some district offices and if I earned at this some money Ayauzhan equally to Bazargul got some presents. Our kind grandma Kara Kempir called her grand-daughter too.
Of course, it was impossible to hide all this from the sharp eyes of the aul boys. Not straining their imagination very much they started to call us a bride and a bridegroom. It was a joke and not a very new one. That's why I took offences only for appearances and in spite of the fact that once I had beaten one too annoying boy it was pleasant for me in my heart to be Ayauzhan's bridegroom. And that one seriously took the boys' words and after the joker beaten by me but who, however, couldn't calm down cried her out: "Ayauzhan, when will you celebrate your wedding with Zhantas?" - she began to grow red only by my appearing. Either it was the result of the fact that they were agemates with Bazargul and, consequentially, she was younger than me. Or, not taking into account her age, some feelings of a grown-up person began to bear in the soul of this fifteen-years-old girl. At any case, our relations didn't overstep the specified line. We continued to consider each other as a brother and a sister.
Once on the last days of spring when our class was preparing to the final exams a neighbour boy ran up to me and said that Ayauzhan was waiting for me at the edge of the aul behind the storehouses. It was already getting dark and I was about to go to bed being going to get up some earlier in the morning and sit at my textbooks. I didn't want very much to put on my shirt and trousers again. Then I supposed that this all was just a trick of the aul boys and I decided to follow the boy and give a good hiding to the first one of the jokers whom I would meet on my way.
- Well, well, just show me where she is. - I repeated holding the boy by the elbow him not to run away like the only material evidence.
- Here she is! - The frightened boy cried out pointing onto the figure whitening in the darkness and as soon as I unclenched my fingers he darted away behind the closest corner.
Ayauzhan went out having only a thin dress on. The cold air was coming from the steppe and her teeth were chattering. However, it can be explained by excitement. Her face didn't almost differ from her white dress and I hadn't seen before that Ayauzhan had such big eyes.
- What's up, Ayauzhan? - I asked feeling something bad.
But some more time passed by before she took herself in the hands. Perhaps, she became nervous very much being face to face with herself there.
Then it turned out that Ayauzhan's parents were going to marry her according to the initiative of her step-mother. And now the matchmakers were sitting at home and drinking with her father who was afraid to disobey his wife.
- And, perhaps, they are looking for me now. They want to take me away today. - She finished shivering with whole her slim body.
- But you haven't finished the school yet! Why doesn't your step-mother think about this? - I indignantly pronounced.
- "You are already enough educated..." - she says exactly this. - Ayauzhan hopelessly said.
It was still possible to meet such stories in our lands. They weren't a wonder yet. And it wasn't easy to fight against the many-centuries-long traditions too. But I was ready to fight for my sister Ayauzhan.
- Listen to me. Let's go to the police! The times are not any more when one could marry a human being without his or her wish. - I resolutely said. - Let's go, Ayauzhan!
- But... But, Zhantas, the point is... the point is that... he is the youngest brother of the police chief. And everything is arranged with him... They said that I... am just shy, that's all. - Ayauzhan whispered.
Meanwhile there heard some voices among the closest clay-walled huts.
- She must be somewhere here. - A woman's voice pronounced. - Well. I wish she would just be caught, this bitch! Aya-uzhan! Where are you, a damned wretch?!
- We will find her now! She has nowhere to go! - A drunk man's voice replied.
- There are a lot of them, Zhantas-aga. Everything is over! - Ayauzhan shook her head.
- We must hide somewhere, Ayauzhan! I wish we would just wait up for the morning. And then the district committee will open and people will help you. - And having taken the girl by the hand I rushed to the steppe.
All night long we were hiding in the rose willow, in the hollow behind the school Then moisture added to the cold and we froze to the bone. Ayauzhan suffered much - she was in a thin summer dress. Being excited I didn't remember about my jacket at once.
- Forgive me, Ayauzhan. - I said being confused and stretched her my jacket.
- But you will freeze then. It's better only me. I am strong. - Ayauzhan joked hardly moving with the lips that had become disobedient because of cold.
- Do you really think that I will freeze? Don't say so! Don't think badly about me! - I started boasting throwing the jacket on Ayauzhan's cold shoulders.
And in five minutes I was already trembling. From cold. Everything vibrated and clanked inside me as in a tinned can filled with nails.
- Zhantas-aga! Would it be, perhaps, better if we cover together? - Ayauzhan shyly proposed having, perhaps, remembered the jokes of young men.
But I didn't reason. I got under the jacket and girdled her waist us to make more comfortable under one jacket. Step by step warmth came to me through cold. It was Ayauzhan's warmth. We were silently sitting having grown quiet. Then I felt pity and tenderness. I turned my head and carefully touched Ayauzhan's chilly cheek with my lips.
We were sitting so up to the dawn warming each other with the heat of our bodies. That was all. Only from time to time we the same carefully kissed one another. But kisses also differ. Perhaps, our kisses were brotherly. Be it as it may but it was the first time when I kissed a girl. And Ayauzhan was this girl.
In the morning we went to the district committee and the guilty persons had a good gruel. And already in the middle of the day I went headlong into the exams. The same second day came after it, and then the third and the fourth one. Time began to roll like a ball. One event was changed by another one and little Ayauzhan disappeared behind this palisade.
Then I went to learn to Moscow and Bazargul and Ayauzhan stayed in the aul. After the death of Kara Kempir and Bazargul's departure both the aul and Ayauzhan turned for me into far away reminiscences.
And now her appearing from the half-forgotten world was an absolute surprise. She changed so much, how much she changed! In my mind she remained a clumsy long-legged girl. And here such a beauty! And only something remained since those far away times in her look said me that this was the very Ayauzhan with whom I had been sitting the whole night shivering from cold in the rose willow behind the school.
And we had kissed.
- Where have you fallen down from, Ayauzhan? - I asked laughing easily and aimlessly.
- I have fallen down from there, from above where is very high. - Ayauzhan answered smiling and pointed with the eyes into the sky.
Realizing nothing yet I threw back my head and began to look for a satellite or a plane where from Ayauzhan could have come to our place.
- There it is! - Ah, koke, you are so muddle-headed. - Bazargul felt annoyed for fun.
Only now I noticed a building crane that was towering over the town. I mean, it was visible even from the windows of my flat but I didn't even suspect that Ayauzhan could have any relation to this machine soaring under the sky.
- I have come to your place from Temirtau and now I will work in this crane. - Ayauzhan proudly said.
- And how have you find Bazargul? And altogether, where from do you know that we live in this town? - I loaded her with the questions.
But the explanation was ridiculously simply. It turned out that the old friends had kept their relations. And after departing to the Komsomol building site Ayauzhan had written Bazargul from time to time.
- And when I decided to return to my motherland I thought where else if not to that town where my closest friends live. Bazargul has found a job for me. Exactly to my arrival. - Ayauzhan informed looking at the friend with the shining eyes.
I was about to read a lecture to Bazargul for the fact that she had never said about her correspondence with Ayauzhan. But then I thought that Bazargul wasn't guilty there. I wasn't just interested by myself. Where from did I have to know that Ayauzhan had become a very pretty girl? And I said nothing in time.
- Koke, we went to your place. Are you glad to the guests or not? Say the truth. - Bazargul said.
- And you ask in addition! - I was absolutely sincerely filled with indignation.
We peeped to the nearest grocery store, bought some sweets, a bottle of dry wine and went to my flat. The whole rest of the way I looked at Ayauzhan being shocked: "Well done, Ayauzhan! You have already grown up!" And I said to myself in addition:
"Zhantas, the girl who was your first love is walking nearby you now".
Yes, yes: I said exactly this and even believed at that minute that it had happened so in reality. I believed to myself, and you see, got excited a bit. I felt on the tip of my tongue the taste of that very first kiss: most likely, it was called by the excess of brotherly tenderness but now it seemed to me that it had been full of passion and the soft Ayauzhan's lips had been trembling a bit.
While I was hammering this into my head our appeared again friend was busily telling about herself.
- How could I go on learning after school? The step-mother didn't give me no space where I was. And I went to Temirtau on a Komsomol permit. There on the building site I got the specialty of a crane-operator. How do you think? The profession is good enough. As for my study now I am a student in my third year of the polytechnic institute. By correspondence, of course. I have to go to Tomen. In the evenings the girls go dancing and I, all right, for the book. But all the same, I will get a diploma of an engineer. Oh, you don't know yet how hard-working I am. - She said with confidence.
And her walk was easy too. She neatly clicked her heels. It was a real pleasure to look at her from aside. The person was walking nearby who firmly knew that she strongly held her fate in the hands.
I wish her to begin to ask me too how I lived and so on. But Ayauzhan didn't start speaking about this. She was chattering about everything but not about me. And it was left for me just to console myself with the fact that she had already known from Bazargul how I lived.
And here as if somebody made me talk. You know, sometimes it can be: you know that it is not good to speak about some specified thing, that it is tactlessly, everything could happen for several years
but your tongue doesn't obey you whatever you do. Sometimes it happened with me too if you have already paid your attention to this. And so, my tongue went out of control and I directly asked:
- Have you married, Ayauzhan?
The friends began to laugh and Bazargul playfully rebuked me:
- What business is it of yours, koke? Just look, what a lady-killer!
- Guess, Zhantas-aga. - Ayauzhan playfully said. Sometimes she called me officially "YOU". Perhaps, I remained in her memory as a grow-up independent man to whom he had run for help.
"However, as if I cared: got she married or not'. - I started to persuade myself. - "Perhaps, she brought together some demobilized soldier. Many men will set off even to the ends of the world after such a girl".
I decided so if I worried about the family status of Ayauzhan or if I felt absolutely indifferent to this but we found ourselves at the door of my flat and now I had to play the role of a hospitable host.
As usual the sister began to work about the house and I led Ayauzhan around my palace.
- Exactly this is my family castle. - I pompously said trying imperceptibly to push the dirty soaks under the sofa with the foot.
- But I see some cracks on these century-old plates. - Ayauzhan said in tune.
- Drying-up and spillage, your brother-builder assures up to now so.
It means that the most careless brother of our family has built this castle. And what is this? - Ayauzhan cried out.
She took from the writing table a photoreproduction of the Ulbosyn's statue. I had made several pictures and sent them to one known by me sculptor to Almaty. One of them had remained and now it was lying on the table.
- My last work. - I said pretending to be indifferent and I don't know why but I wished Ayauzhan to know nothing about my relations with Ulbosyn.
But Bazargul being attracted by the exclamation of the friend came into the room. The sister looked over Ayauzhan's shoulder and coldly pronounced:
- My congratulations, koke. You have learnt the private world of Ulbosyn very well. - She said and went back to the kitchen.
And I forgot for a minute about the guest and thought in surprise: "My goodness! What's happened with Bazargul? Wasn't it her who thought that Ulbosyn was a perfect model?.. Perhaps, she thought that all this would remain just a conversation. And now, when I... And if I hear this from a person who has graduated from the art school what do I have to expect from the people who can be infuriated even by a view over a knee ?.. What will, for example, Ayauzhan say? Well, well, let's listen too..."
And sarcastically smiling I stared at Ayauzhan being ready to everything.
- I congratulate you too. - Ayauzhan pronounced raising the look. - A very beautiful woman. And perhaps, I am mistaking but with a sad fate. I don't know why but I want to pity her, Zhantas-aga.
- Perhaps, you are right, Ayauzhan. As for me I don't know her very well. Sometime she lived in our town, then she disappeared somewhere. - I answered pretending to be indifferent.
In sight she is jolly and careless. - You know, Zhantas-aga! Such a well cared-for woman but she has a difficult life for some reason. I make sense in the art not very well. I make no sense at all, why to hide this fact but I think so, Zhantas-aga! - Ayauzhan went on reasoning still examining the picture.
It's possible, quite possible... - Well, I see you make some sense in the art. - I mumbled trying to own the picture again.
- Will you show me this sculpture? - Ayauzhan asked parting finally with the photo.
- Yes, of course, if it isn't sent to Almaty yet. - I promised her knowing in advance that I wouldn't fulfill it.
For some reason I thought that as soon as Ayauzhan saw the sculpture she would imbue her mind with all what for some reason I was trying to hide from her now. As if two women would meet, one of who knew too much about me. I had such a fear.
- You say, she was absolutely strange for you. - Ayauzhan said sighing. - And I seemed that she was for you... At all events this woman has inspired you, hasn't she, Zhantas-aga?
- Yes, of course, to some extent... It is impossible without inspiration... But only to some extent... In short, the idea has inspired. - I mumbled feeling that Ayauzhan was driving me into a corner not suspecting about this herself.
And could it be that she knew about everything? Could Bazargul really tell nothing about this? What woman is able to keep inside such things? Already Saady asserted that one of three persons surely knows the secret which is known only by one woman: her husband, her lover or her friend-confidante. Wasn't Bazargul really just a typical woman? She didn't have a lover and he wasn't foreseen in the nearest future, at all events, until she cracked her Abilkas to the end. Her husband learnt about everything earlier than her. And I was sure that she had learnt exactly from him about my romance with Ulbosyn. And after learning she could share with her friend Ayauzhan, couldn't she?
- And how many sculptures have you made for these two years? - Ayauzhan asked walking around the room. - Two years have already passed since you graduated the institute. And, perhaps, you have made so many... You will show me all of them, won't you?
It seemed to me that all the time Ayauzhan had been watching my fate.
- Well, directly to say... I have just Ulbosyn. -
I was noncommercial. I couldn't really show her what I was ashamed by myself. - The art doesn't obey a plan, remember this, Ayauzhan. - I instructively said.
- But... - Ayauzhan was about to start but at this time Bazargul called us from the kitchen and we went to the table.
I filled glasses and proposed to drink to Ayauzhan. - No, let's drink to our meeting at first. - Our guest replied.
We drank to the meeting and we had a lavish feast. The reminiscences went one after another. One could just hear:
- Do you remember?..
- No, and do you remember?..
We interrupted the teller. Each of us prepared his or her own story which he or she wished to remind the others. And of all things - both in our childhood and in the youth we had had many griefs but now we remembered only funny stories.
- I wonder, Ayauzhan, where have you stopped? At Bazargul's place? - I suddenly asked and as if by the way at the height of our chattering when the women had grown red because of drunk wine.
- What for to hamper Bazargul in any way? She persuaded me this way and that. And I have come not for a month. And an alone person will always find some place in a hostel. That's why I settled down in the hostel. - Ayauzhan answered and in such a way I learnt that she wasn't married.
But they cracked at once my simple trick and we began even more to enjoy ourselves. And I was laughing louder than others because I as if saw myself from aside.
- Oh, my sister Ayauzhan, be afraid of my koke. Oh, he is a cunning man. - Bazargul said laughing.
- What do you say, my sister Bazargul? - Ayauzhan answered throwing up her hands. - I am just a crane-operator and make no sense in the art in addition. And as for brother Zhantas, I see he is interested only in educated women, in some Candidates of Sciences.
- No, don't say so! I wish to marry only to a Doctor of Philosophy! - I cried making the fool.
The bottle was already almost empty when Abilkas came in.
- Here you are. - Abilkas said while coming in the door opened by me. - And the whole town is speaking only about one fact how Zhantas has gone along the streets with my wife and some beautiful girl. - Quickness disappeared in his movements. Now he kept himself grandly according to his official post. - I see your bottle is with holes. The wine has run somewhere out. Don't you know, where? - He tried to be witty examining it through the daylight.
He looked us round preparing to hear Homeric laughter but the women only smiled artificially. Ayauzhan politely as each well-mannered person and Bazargul didn't want to offend the husband. In short, nothing came of his joke - the stately behaviour hindered him. People say the truth: a rank cannot add brain but it makes seem necessarily clever.
- And how is Aisulu Beisenova, our famous doctor? - I asked because I wanted to bring him down a peg.
- Ah, what you say! Why do you think that she is a famous doctor? Why do you think so? She has just an obstetrics education and you say: "a famous doctor". I said at the meeting exactly about this: "No, comrade Beisenova doesn't correspond to her appointment". Yes, I stood up and said this. - Abilkas informed not having even moved with an eyebrows and added with a smile. - Now she is the director of the canteen.
- It's simply a disgrace! - Ayauzhan cried out suspecting nothing.
Bazargul grew red and beggarly looked at the husband: "Why do you do this?" Perhaps, she remembered very well too how Abilkas had been bustling before Beisenova at the wedding.
Abilkas decided that it was just time to revenge and after making some sips of tea he asked with a look of innocence:
- So, I have heard that you finished Ulbosyn's sculpture.
- Do you want to look at? - I asked with mockery.
- I make no sense in the art. - Abilkas replied noncommittally. - But one person is interested in this sculpture very much. - Why do you need it now? - He pronounced with accent. - Give it him, it is dearer for him than for you.
I looked at Ayauzhan: did she realize the Abilkas' hints? She was watching us with lively interest.
- If dearer... Why has he grudged one thousand then? - I asked with laugh revenging Sherubai at the same time too who, perhaps, hadn't been able to remain our conversation as fiduciary and meticulous Abilkas had found everything out.
- Does your sculpture really cost so much? - Ayauzhan was surprised still taking everything for a pure coin.
But here Bazargul interfered wishing to put out our duel very much the hidden sense of which she obviously realized.
- Zhantas has put in it much work. He has given a part of himself. It always happens when a human being works with all his or her heart. And do you really think that it is possible to estimate this all with money? - She softly said to Ayauzhan. - And by the way, my koke has just joked. Does he really agree to sell it? People usually force up such prices when they want to get rid of a buyer.
Ayauzhan looked at me with respect and I was thankful my sister very much for this, for her support. For his part Abilkas realized that Bazargul would stand up for me and turned sour. He was visibly tired in addition. Perhaps, the load which he had hurried to shoulder turned out not to be light.
He found room for himself at the wall and was sitting so blinking with the eyes which were red because of sleeplessness. And we, the other ones, were speaking up to darkness. Only now our reminiscences were sad. We remembered grandma Kara Kamir and Ayauzhan's weak-willed father who we pitied too.
Then we saw Ayauzhan off to the hostel. It was on the way of Abilkas and Bazargul and I was even glad to this. Otherwise I felt shy to see off Ayauzhan alone after the jokes of my sister.
After speaking to our hearts' desire we were silently walking now - I was between Ayauzhan and Bazargul. Abilkas was dragging behind yawning.
- Does this machine really obey you? - I asked Ayauzhan when we were passing nearby the dark vast object of the crane.
It covered the half of the sky and a red stop light was lit on its top a gaped pilot not to come across it during his night flight.
- Yes, it obeys. And there is nothing especial in this. - Ayauzhan shyly confessed. - Come to look if you want. At any time.
I looked at the sister with fair but she was keeping silent.
- Well, I'll come. - I carefully said.
I couldn't fall asleep long at that night. People say that a snake has a presentiment of an earthquake, a swallow - of a fire and a lark - of a hurricane. So, my heart felt the approaching of new heart storms. I tossed and counted up to one hundred but Ayauzhan loomed up before my eyes. "Well, let me alone, go away, I shall get up early. I had the girls who hadn't been worse than you in who I had fallen in love too", - I tried to admonish Ayauzhan's image. But she disappeared only at daybreak and I had to get out from my bed with humming head.
"Zhantas, - I said to myself sniffing under the cold shower. - Don't play the fool and go to the building site today. One-two minutes or so will pass and you will make sure that Ayauzhan doesn't have any special features. A usual pretty girl and besides you don't have anything even to speak to her about because she has a lower level of development than you. And yesterday you just imagined yourself what the hell under the effect of the moment. You are an emotional person, Zhantas, and the point is only in that."
But in the afternoon a member of the exhibition commission arrived from Almaty to look at Ulbosyn's sculpture and I had to present him several of my days. We went to collective farms, ate beshbarmak and drank kumis. Finally the guest was tired and returned to his place. That's why only at the end of the week I came to the building site where the Ayauzhan's crane rode over the rails between the town school and the new building house.
I was lucky - I came onto the site which was piled with concrete slabs at that moment when a tall man covered with cement dust from top to toe lifted his palm in a tarpaulin mitten and hoarsely cried out:
- Have a break, guys! In oars!
And at once the grey figures on the unfinished storey noticeably relaxed and a shaggy boy ran out like a cork from the dark hole of the doorway with two bottles from under kefir and directed somewhere like mad. Some more people went out after him and directed behind the gate speaking about something.
I looked here like a white crown being dressed in a new suit. Because of this I had to balance among the concrete slabs and the construction waste. My uncertain movements called joyful sparkles in the eyes of the workers.
A red girl in an overall went out with a dancing step from the doorway. She also glanced over me with an estimating look from top to toe and sniffed like a cat. I had only it at the tip of my tongue: "And you too! You'd better to look at your ass". The overall was about to bust on her splendid buttocks. It was unclear how he passed through a usual door.
The girl threw the head back and tiny called looking in the sky from under the peak of her palm.
- Ayauzhan, it's time to have lunch!
The crane-operator with a red kerchief on the head peeped out from the cabin like a bird from its nest.
- Just a minute, Altynai! - Ayauzhan cried out, then she noticed me and waved me with the hand.
Altynai perplexedly looked at me and I defiantly informed enjoying her confusion.
- Imagine yourself, I have come to Ayauzhan!
We were watching how Ayauzhan was approaching. She was going down with an adroitness of an experienced seaman. Her slim elastic body was visible even through the loose faded overalls. There was nothing luxury in Ayauzhan's appearance like in a young birch. I involuntary stared at the grace of her movements as a sculptor.
- Here I am! - Ayauzhan informed having jumped off on the ground. - Altynai, go and have lunch alone. As you see, I have a guest. He is a friend of my childhood.
I gave Altynai a wink on the quiet. She was angry with me and went out behind the gates.
- What can I offer you? - Ayauzhan asked contracting the forehead. - If you want I can show you how the crane works.
- But you will be tired to climb up and down. - I said with doubt.
- Oh, you don't know how strong I am. - And not waiting for my agreement she started quickly climbing up. I had to do nothing else but to follow her although, to say the truth, I didn't feel any especial enthusiasm. - A machine as a machine. What haven't you seen in it? Will you say - the height? I am sorry but I have flown by "Tu 104".
Ayauzhan was rushing before me like a squirrel along a tree trunk. I mended my pace after her at the top of my strength but where my quickness had disappeared. I had to take each stair by assault. I was awkward, a kind of a traveler who was dressed in a heavy fir coat and tried to catch up a fast rider while sitting on an old donkey.
In addition, in the middle of my way I looked down and felt dizzy. I had to stay for some time having grasped the handrails. But my hostess eagerly hurried me up.
- Well, what's up with you, Zhantas-aga?
In short, I barged into the cabin neither alive nor dead. I had hardly wiped the sweat when the hostess was already pulling me by the sleeve.
- Just look around!
And I saw the whole town before my eyes. Unstoppable bugs-cars were rushing along the asphalt. The plant was emitting sedately and powerfully smoke on the left. And roofs, roofs, roofs of houses. - Here and there you can see some building cranes like ours, the others are a bit smaller. Somewhere afar some hills were towering like blueish spirits. On the left one could see rocky piles of the Mystau mountains. And it was a wonderful thing: now I was looking down, into the wonderful abyss without feeling dizzy.
- It's great, am I right? - Ayauzhan pronounced shining with the eyes and being proud as if this world was her own property. And now she generously presented it to me. - When for the first time I saw like you this world I felt not to be myself. - I say the truth! Oh my god, I thought, it turns out that the world is so beautiful! And it seemed to me that I was so small with all my troubles, just like a small insect. I run, trouble about something... Only it wasn't here but there, in Temirtau. - And she waved in the direction of the hills.
"Oh, she is a real romantic. Now it is impossible simply to embrace her without rhyme or reason. Be more carefully, dzhigit, if you don't want to make a fool of yourself at once" - I said to myself.
Meanwhile Ayauzhan didn't stop speaking:
- Do you think this is a height? What did, for example, German Titov say when he had climbed at the level of eleven thousand meters? He said exactly this: "Fie, is it really a height?" And then he lifted for two hundred kilometers in the space and perhaps, he seemed that it wasn't enough too. It's always not enough for a human being, he needs everything!
- Ayauzhan, you are an unusual girl. To my mind you shall have some special ideals. - I said smiling but in such a way not to offend her very much.
- Why unusual? - She was confused. - I am absolutely a usual one. And as for my ideals... Each of us should have them like... well, like... like this world. Big and large...
Perhaps, Ayauzhan seemed to herself to be swollen and in the presence of such an educated man in addition how, of course, she thought about me. She stopped talking and said trying to turn the conversation into a safer direction.
- Now I will show you how the crane works.
She reserved the lever and we began to float over the building site.
- Eh, who is playing with the crane there? - A stentorian voice was heard at once.
At the door of the site office nailed together from some plywood an old man was standing with a lump of sausage in one hand and a piece of bread in the other one.
- Eh, whom I say!
Ayauzhan peeped out from the cabin and guiltily cried out:
- It's me, uncle Peter! I have a guest, a friend of my childhood.
- Ah, a new one! Just watch yourself! Don't be mischievous! - Uncle Peter cried already friendly and returned to the site office after biting a bit of the sausage.
- You will get it in the neck, Ayauzhan.
- Never mind, he is kind. He likes to growl but he is kind.
- Ayauzhan, you have said the an ideal should be great like this world. Well, usually how it usually happens. I suppose you have to think more about the operating schedule that is interesting almost for nobody than about space exploration. Am I right, Ayauzhan? - I asked looking into her face.
- Of course, yes. If to compare with the deeds of Zoia Kosmodemianskaia or Manshuck Mametova it seems funny: you sit and just reverse the levels... but... but... - She started looking with hesitation for some arguments and suddenly she found: - Have you ever seen how people move to a new flat? - She pompously asked. - Have you ever seen how they cry with joy when they come with an authorization to an apartment? Aha!
There wasn't a necessity to enlighten me in this fact. I knew by myself that people need even an insignificant profession. But each time when I thought about this other things began to worry me too.
- Ayauzhan, you say: "and I seemed to myself to be small with all my troubles". - You are right: first of all you should think about the fate of all humanity. But is it really wrong when a person worries about him- or herself too? Each of us has own troubles, Ayauzhan. For the rest of people they can look miserable. For example, love.
- Love cannot be miserable. It can be only real and big too. - Ayauzhan replied. And a small unreal love isn't worth to run after. I will have only a big love. And this "Ah, ah, girls! What a young man!" and tomorrow with another one - it's not about me. - Ayauzhan said.
We kept silent for some time looking into the dim trembling distance. Then my hostess suddenly thought:
- Oh, my god! The break is over. It will start now: "heave ho - lift". - Ayauzhan said. - I have to ask you to go away.
- Ayauzhan, I will be waiting for you down. - I carefully said being afraid to frighten her.
But she answered very quickly without any airs and graces:
- Well. But we finish only at four o'clock.
In my joy I was about to roll down passing by all the stairs and loafed about the neighbouring streets up to four o'clock. Who can say that I was walking alone at this time? My companion was a dream. Then I stamped for some time in my studio, peeped to my neighbouring artists making time pass and all these hours I was thinking about the future meeting and making the bravest plans. I fell in love again and was absolutely sure that Ayauzhan, in her turn, loved me very much too. One could
object me and say: "How can it be, Zhantas? Ayauzhan became a new human being and you have seen this other Ayauzhan about two times or so.
And there now, you have fallen in love again! Wasn't it you, Zhantas, who arguing with Sherubai affirmed that love at first sight is just an invention of a writer?"
"You are right, an invention. - I would answer. - But just look what Ayauzhan has become: both beautiful and clever, and kind, I think. And what about her character? I will be well protected nearby such a human being. Do you agree with me?.."
You would say: "She is not your equal. You are a sculptor, she is a crane-operator".
And what then? And I would ask: "How many brave crane-operators are there among Kazakh girls? And a real dzhigit can only be proud of such a brave girl-friend. And then, all the same Ayauzhan will graduate the institute. A girl with such will power will achieve what she wants".
Reasoning to myself I returned to the building site at four o'clock. Ayauzhan was standing at the gates and massive Altynai was looming up some aside throwing at me jealous looks.
- Good bye, Altynai! - Ayauzhan cried out and we cheerfully walked along the street.
- Only you have to wait for until I change my clothes. - My companion warned me.
Now we really represented a picturesque pair if to take into account my holiday suit sewn in Belgium and her experienced overall. That's why passersby raised their eyebrows trying to understand what our masquerade could mean.
When we came up to the hostel I was about to go to the doorway after Ayauzhan but she stopped and strictly pronounced:
- It would be better if you wait here. We don't have a second room where I could change my clothes. You will confuse the girls. They have come from the work too.
In short, she went upstairs to her room and I sat down on a bench in full view of the whole hostel.
A round-faced girl who had lazily looked before from out the window of the second storey suddenly cheered up and cried into the depth of the room:
- Girls, just look what a dzhigit! At once, as if after the command almost all the windows began to grow variegated with girls' heads and there raised some kind of sparrows' chattering:
- Oh, right, girls!
- Chi, what a dzhigit!
- Girls, whom he is waiting for, it's so interesting! These were the words that one could make out. Of course, I pretended as if I didn't pay any attention to it but in reality I tried to sit straight having straightened my shoulders and chest to make a good showing.
And by Ayauzhan's appearing my back already began to ache because of this inconvenient position.
- Well, has it fallen to your lot? - Ayauzhan said. - Our girls have sharp tongues, especially Altynai.
Ayauzhan was dressed in an overcoat and shod in shoes. Now we looked like a proper pair. And all passersby looked at us. And I thought looking at her: "Why not to marry Ayauzhan in reality? Well, isn't she a real bride? She will be a proper wife for me. I will live jolly and easy with her. Far from Ulbosyn. I have just to find a proper moment and say: "Ayauzhan, will you marry me? Be my wife and we will live carelessly and all people will envy us."
People say the truth, love isn't a harvest which waits after riping for mowing. It is eternal and pities nobody. That's why, don't hurry. If you frighten her she will fly away and won't return any more. But I was sure in Ayauzhan's feelings.
After discussing our tastes we agreed that we both didn't have anything against to go to the cinema and directed without delay to the best town cinema where a new film "Singing aul" was demonstrated.
About one hundred meters or so remained to the cinema when we met Ulbosyn. Yes, yes, it was her, beautiful Ulbosyn. The same scattering of the eyebrows and the same mysterious smile. Only unhealthy paleness on the face and sunk a bit cheeks differed her from previous Ulbosyn who I had known.
The meeting was sudden for all three of us.
Of course, Ayauzhan recognized in a moment the woman whose body was cut off in marble and after recognizing she pulled out at once her arm from under my elbow.
And to say the truth, I didn't know what to say. Perhaps, I froze with the open mouth. The conflicting emotions fought in my heart. I was glad that Ulbosyn was alive and healthy and at the same time I was afraid that this incongruous meeting could spoil my relations with Ayauzhan.
Ulbosyn came to the senses the first of us both.
- Hello. - She said smiling friendly both to me and to Ayauzhan. - I haven't seen you long, Zhantas. - She added shining.
- We were going to the cinema. - I informed her with the most stupid appearance.
- Then I will accompany you a bit. Do you let me? - She asked my companion.
- Don't say so! For god's sake! - Ayauzhan suddenly thought.
- We are old friends with Zhantas. And I think he was glad to see me. - Ulbosyn explained the girl.
- Of course, of course. I am very glad to see you, Ulbosyn. You disappeared so unexpectedly and then not a letter from you. - I said in a hurry.
- I'd rather go some quicker and queue up for tickets in the box-office. - Ayauzhan politely proposed.
She rushed forward and I came nearby Ulbosyn shoulder to shoulder.
- A good girl... I see, exactly thanks to her you weren't bored without my letters very much... - Ulbosyn thoughtfully pronounced looking after Ayauzhan.
- Don't say so, I often remembered you. - I hotly replied and felt falseness in my voice.
- Don't lie, Zhantas. At least because of the fact that we respect each other. - Ulbosyn softly asked.
- I'm sorry, Ulbosyn. I have really forgotten about you. You have become for me very far. - I said the truth and added in a flurry of repentance: - I am a rascal, of course.
- Don't humble yourself. - Ulbosyn interrupted me the same softly as before. - You are an honest man and have done everything you could. Do you really think that you are guilty in the fact that you weren't be able to give me everything I wished from you?
- I wasn't really able. - I helplessly confessed.
- I don't want to speak about the gone events. - Ulbosyn said and I cheered up.
- Have you returned for ever?
- I, rather by train... if it's possible to call it so. - She answered in some strange manner. - I wish to visit the dear for me places.
I was worried by her riddles. I heard some aloofness in her voice as if she spoke from behind a closed window. I felt that she had come to say good-bye to something more important for her than me and I tried to draw Ulbosyn away.
- Ulbosyn, you should look at my work. I have finished it. That one for which you posed me! - I said in a hurry.
- Well. - She nodded. - I will visit you tomorrow. Or better the day after tomorrow. And promise me not to offend Sherubai. Well, you are not opponents at all. For you it was just a strong passion but he loves seriously. I know you cannot give the sculpture. A part of your heart is already in it. And Sherubai realizes this. He is just able to do nothing with himself. Can I rely on you? Promise me that you will become friends. Promise me, Zhantas!
- I promise you, Ulbosyn. Everything will happen as you want. - I assured her being afraid. - Do you, perhaps, want to go with us to the cinema?
Ulbosyn thought a moment and shook her head:
- Thank you, Zhantas. But today I have many things to do. Thanks God, we came up to the box-offices of the cinema. Ayauzhan gave us signs from the queue.
- Be a gentleman, stand in the queue and I will entertain your girls during this time. Go, go then. Then you will feel confused. - Ulbosyn said pretending to be angry with me.
Standing in the queue I anxiously looked at Ayauzhan and Ulbosyn. They were quietly speaking about something. To say the truth, Ulbosyn was speaking more. Ayauzhan only nodded the head.
"What are they speaking about, Zhantas?" - I asked many times to myself.
And finally the tickets were bought and at a jump I found myself nearby my ladies.
- Well, good luck, Zhantas. And you, Ayauzhan, I wish you all the best. - Ulbosyn began to say good-bye.
- All the best, Ulbosyn. - We unanimously pronounced.
- Thank you. - Ulbosyn said being touched. - And you, Zhantas, don't worry. Ayauzhan won't be jealous of me.
- Don't say so, Ulbosyn! - Ayauzhan cried out with reproach.
But Ulbosyn sharply turned and quickly went away. Only now looking at her cramped back I realized that all this time she had taken a hold of herself as much as she could and not without self-satisfaction for which I kick myself up to now I thought that Ulbosyn loved me still.
"Well. - I said to myself. - We were dancers who could fall neither into step of one another nor in time to the music . If I don't mistake exactly this Isadora Duncan called a clumsy love."
- What a pretty woman. - Ayauzhan said and repeated Ulbosyn's words not suspecting about this. - Now I realize why you have chosen her for the sculpture.
"Zhantas, you haven't even asked where Ulbosyn goes away now. - I reminded to myself. - But you have still time. You will know when she comes. However, it doesn't matter now. That one who is nearby you on the earth now is better than a star in the sky..."
After the film we walked long along the evening streets. Our feelings were in the same frame of mind as if strings of a kobza and as soon as you touched one string the other one started singing too. And, perhaps, I will express my feelings too beautifully but these strings bore a song which would obviously touch even the most hard-hearted soul.
Then the streets became empty but we were still walking under the moon having pressed ourselves to one another. I embraced Ayauzhan's shoulders and we kissed at each corner.
- Do you remember, Ayauzhan, our fist kiss? - I asked being drunk.
- But then we were still children. - Ayauzhan replied.
- You think so. I personally kissed you like a man. And it means that you are my debtor. - I breezed something half-crazy and Ayauzhan herself touched my cheek with her lips as if she repaid me.
We were passing by the town garden hardly moving the logged legs.
And then after one of the kisses she said:
- But for Ulbosyn I wouldn't let you kiss me. But she told me what a good man you are, Zhantas. I was so glad for you and me. You see, since, well since that night I dreamt about you. But then we went each his or her own way and all this time I begged the god you to stay as before, the life not to break you. And can you imagine how much I am thankful to Ulbosyn? As if she has preserved my Zhantas.
"Thank you, Ulbosyn". - I mumbled in my mind.
- Let's marry, Ayauzhan. - I said in a hurry being afraid to change my mind.
- How can it be? Without rhyme or reason? - Ayauzhan was shocked.
Without rhyme or reason! Let's marry right now! Let's go and marry! Let's go to the registry office and awake the watchman. We will say: wake up, old friend. Call the staff right now here.
- But if not like mad? - Ayauzhan said smiling.
- If you come some other day being pompous and pale with excitement and say keeping external calmness: "I love you, Ayauzhan, be my wife". And I will silently stretch my hand and you, having understood everything, will kiss it as heroes do this in the books and it will be festively and light.
- Of course, if you think that it will be better so. - I mumbled being disappointed...
Ulbosyn came neither on the set day nor in a month. But I didn't think about this being carried away by the meetings with Ayauzhan.
We met almost each evening.
Once in the town garden, having found a proper moment when the people on the neighbouring benches were busy with their own affairs I thievishly stretched with my lips to the Ayauzhan's cheek but she turned her back upon me.
- What's up, Ayauzhan? - I asked with offence.
- It's not good, I don't want so. - She cut short.
- Well, I'll wait up to the wedding. - I mumbled having frowned.
A strange thing, I wasn't really angry with her. However, looking at my frowned appearance Ayauzhan began to laugh and took my hand.
- When will we celebrate our wedding, Ayauzhan? - I asked having seen a good sign in this.
- Well, if you insist... - Ayauzhan pretended that she hesitated but her eyes were playful.
- Ayauzhan! - I started shouting at the top of my throat having alarmed the whole town garden.
Next day we brought an application to the registry office without any delay.
- You will have the registration in two weeks at four o'clock. - An old woman in strict glasses informed us with a level voice.
- But why in two weeks? Why not now? - I was shocked in spite of the fact that I had heard about the orders of such a kind.
- Check your feelings for this time, young man.
We with Ayauzhan exchanged our looks and joyful sparkles began to play in her eyes.
- But why exactly in two weeks? And if everything is clear only on the sixteenth day? How then? - I asked with irony.
- I think you will keep within two weeks. It is the term checked by science. - The worker of the registry office indifferently cut short.
I argued with her very much but, perhaps, somewhere in the inmost recesses of my heart I had a vague hunch. That's why I didn't insist very much. And really, the next events pushed the momentous occasion of our registration for a long term.
Still in the eve of his day we with Ayauzhan were busy in my flat preparing it for the wedding feast. Bazargul with her intolerable husband helped us. To say the truth, she helped alone because Abilkas sat down on the sofa and limited with directives.
- You see, Zhantas, as if your flat is created for weddings. Last year ours, now yours. - If I were the town soviet I would move you into another flat and intent this one especially for weddings. - Abilkas was witty unsuccessfully as always. But today I forgave him everything. The happiness made me generous.
I was helping dispense plates and dishes when somebody rang in the door. Bazargul went to the door and we heard her exclamation:
- What's the matter with you, Shereke?
Sherubai came into the room. He looked awful.
- Ulbosyn died today. - Sherubai pronounced in one breath.
- What do you mean, she died? - I asked realizing nothing.
We all gathered around him. The perplexity made even Abilkas stand up.
- She... she died. She took a lethal dose of luminal. - Sherubai said.
I never thought that the grief could lead her so far. It was difficult for me to imagine blossoming Ulbosyn as a self-murderer.
To all appearances, Sherubai read this on my face because his next words were the following:
- Zhantas, she was ill for cancer, the results of the very unfortunate operation. And all the same her state was hopeless. That's why she decided to save herself of excessive suffering. As a doctor I must condemn such impulses. But as a human being... Perhaps, she is right. She left a letter for me and you, Zhantas. Read it then.
He carefully pulled out the envelope from the inset pocket of his jacket and stretched it to me:
- Kudai-ai! What a grief! - Bazargul pronounced as if only now she had realized the sense of the said words.
- People say, tomorrow you will marry, Zhantas. My congratulations. - Sherubai said looking at the tables pushed together.
- There it is, you see... - I guiltily answered.
- No, no! We will adjourn till some other day. - Ayauzhan hotly informed.
- You shouldn't do this. - Sherubai shook his head. - Ulbosyn would be very upset if she knew that her death hindered Zhantas' happiness.
- Sherubai-aga is right. It is impossible anything to return and let the life have its swing. - Abilkas noticed as a philosopher.
. - Why are you keeping silent, Zhantas? - Ayauzhan asked with reproach. - Or was Ulbosyn really a strange person for you?
- Don't say so, Ayauzhan! - I asked in despair.
- Does it mean that you will quietly eat and drink on that day when your dead friend isn't committed to earth yet? - Ayauzhan gained her point.
- Listen to me. We adjourn our wedding. And we will go to the registry office some other day. - I declared trying to look resolute.
- Thank you from Ulbosyn. - Sherubai said.
We were depressed and the conversation was flagging. After trampling for some time Sherubai went away.
Abilkas and Bazargul went together with him anyhow to carry him away from his heavy thoughts.
- Aren't you angry with me? - Ayauzhan asked having put the hands on my shoulders. - I wished you to look worthy before people.
- Thank you, Ayauzhan. - I pronounced absolutely sincerely.
If Ayauzhan hadn't interfered how would I look in the eyes of other people? And as for me I wouldn't be able to rejoice too. I will never forget as Ulbosyn helped find me myself and sometime was for me a little sun.
I cannot believe that our sun is just one of many stars, small and weak points that are absolutely useless. But it only seems to us. In fact, these stars warm other worlds. And isn't the same with people? Each has his or her own person who is plain for strangers but who lights somebody's way like the sun. Ulbosyn turned out to be such a sun for me. And now when it had set down I noticed how dull it had become personally for me.
And I began to kick myself in my mind for the fact that I had behaved like a pig relative to Ulbosyn. And although we had already had not very relations with Ulbosyn before her departure I seemed that our last meeting had quickened her death. It seemed to me as if Ulbosyn had come to me for consolation but having met her beloved dzhigit with another girl she hadn't been able to withstand this.
Ayauzhan not experienced in the wisdom of the life yet realized my condition with the help of some sixth feeling and let me along having said before going away:
- Think about Ulbosyn. And I wish you would feel bitter. It's good if you feel bitter.
After staying alone I opened Ulbosyn's letter.
"Dear Sherubai and Zhantas!
A human being comes to the world and leaves it in some specified period of time. The lived life is estimated not by the years but by the joys experienced by a human being. So, before to leave you I want to say that all the same I have lived a happy life.
There are people who dream about respect. They measure their actions with large scales. One tries to leave his or her name in science, another one - in literature or art. You both are the people of such a category. And I... The nature has deprived me of great aims. My world with all its joys just turns around my small heart. I felt well in this world. And now I leave it. Of course, it is not easy to say the world good-bye when you are just twenty-five. But what to do: the days remained for me would bring only suffering. I thank you for twenty-five years of my life which were presented me. That's why I part with them not crying but rejoicing.
As you see I blame nobody in my death. And I forgive everybody my offences. It's not good to hurt somebody's heart while going to my long rest. But then you will ask: "Why has she chosen for her aim the town in which we live? It looks like revenge." I decided to leave this letter exactly to avoid such an ambiguous situation.
Yes, I have chosen Mystau on purpose. I have spent here the best days of my life. Two men live here now too: one of them loved me and the second one was my beloved. I have to stay with them. I wish sometimes they would seem in a sunny day that I am going along the streets being light and happy. And I will be lying under a birch that Zhantas planted over me listening to birds and guessing what each of you is doing at this time.
Perhaps, I was cunning because I am a woman anyway but forgive me then. But now good bye!
At first it was possible to think: my goodness, as if from a sentimental novel. I will answer for this: of course, Ulbosyn was a sentimental woman. Are there really other sentimental people? And what shall a person do if he or she is born sentimental? And is everything sentimental really funny?
Most of all I was struck by the self-control of a person who was intending to leave the life. Ulbosyn looked rather like a traveler harrying to sett off a far away trip and being firmly assured in the fact that he would return to his friends. And that is why this traveler tries not to worry them with the minutes of saying good-bye.
And here I realized for the first time that in reality Ulbosyn had been a person of strong will. She had chosen the death as the way out from the situation and stayed calm at this. Perhaps from such people who have something more expensive than a usual physiological life such women as Jeanne d'Arc or Aliya Moldagulova come into being then. Perhaps, I extolled small unnoticeable Ulbosyn too much who had done that only thing - stopped her life when she had thought it necessary. What to say, the fact that didn't have any public meaning and it was generally the business only of her relatives and close people. But I was sure that if a great probation fell to her weak shoulders
Ulbosyn would withstand it. And just think, such a girl had loved me!
- I am so sorry... it's so pity that a human being died before the set time. - She said and added after thinking a while: - It's especially pity when it is a woman.
- Why do you pity women more? - I asked being offended a bit. - What does it matter: a man or a woman? The main thing that a human being died. That is where the misfortune is.
- But a woman's death is especially tragic. - She insisted. - Because a woman doesn't die alone. She takes away some other, failed lives along. Just imagine how many Pushkins and Newtons were not born because some women died before the set time.
I answered to myself on this approximately in the following way: "Does it mean that men are innocent at all?" But I seemed she was right: Can bread grow up without ground?
We had this half-forgotten discussion about four years ago when I went with my classmate Mariyka to the anatomic museum with some school task. We left if being under the impression of what we had seen and we were speaking about death all way back.
I remembered Mariyka's words in Ulbosyn's funerals. Her sister who hadn't known any maternity joys was going in the earth. And because of this her death was taken in like a blatant injustice. But we are still hopeless against the death. Socrates said not in vain that the first step of a child to life is his or her first step to death too. And how many steps separate us from our last step? Perhaps, everybody gathered at Ulbosyn's coffin thought about this.
Somewhere I heard that feeling approaching of his death Alexander the Great ordered his mother that only those people were invited for his funeral feast who had already lost a close person. In this company it will be easier for a mother to withstand her lost. So Alexander thought.
I looked at the present people and thought that, perhaps, each of us had already lost dear people not for one time. Step by step they go one after another as my grandma Kara Kempir and up to now we cannot get used to the idea that it must be exactly so.
But the pale face of Ulbosyn was quiet as if she was consoling us who stayed alive:
“Never mind, my friends. Everything has finished well. You see, I don’t worry”.
For some reason I always thought that Ulbosyn had been alone. But today there gathered a lot of people to follow her to her grave. Already going upstairs to Ulbosyn’s flat I saw on the stair landing the most unexpected people. Before I had met them at different meetings but an hour ago I hadn’t even thought that the honoured teacher Ivanova and this simple model what Ulbosyn had been could be something common. But it turned out that the deceased had had some other life unknown up to now for me. Could I really think looking at the delegation of the school-girls that Ulbosyn had run the circle of fancy work in the palace of pioneers?
We with Sherubai dissolved in the crowd of unknown people. Sometimes I saw his petrified face. My Ayauzhan was standing at the coffin in the room. Giving Ulbosyn the last tribute she was keeping aside from me during the whole ceremony. Her true companion-in-arms Altynai with frightened face was nearby her too.
And Ulbosyn was lying in the wooden coffin trimmed with some cloths. I couldn’t believe that these faded had sometime kissed me hungrily, that these closed brown eyes had coddled me and called at the hours of our intimacy. Will the reminiscences about our mutual pettings really disappear after Ulbosyn?
Now I looked at Ulbosyn then at Ayauzhan and I involuntary compared them. There was some connection between then. Perhaps, life and death are also connected so between one another.
In this combination Ayauzhan was symbol of life, Ulbosyn involuntary represented death. And looking at Ayauzhan I rejoiced the life in secret even from myself.
Here one could reproach me:
“Zhantas, shame on you! You think about Ayauzhan, about your future happiness at the coffin of Ulbosyn. Until it is late, follow Ayauzhan. Just look, how much tact she has”.
I would object for this in the following way:
“It’s very well that I and my girl are alive. It’s well that we have each other. I say about this because I know: the joy which is brought for us by the life must be higher than the death. Ulbosyn also thought so. Don’t let the death triumph over the life”. I wished Ulbosyn would say this. Was I right, Ulbosyn? It was pity that she couldn’t open the eyes even for a minute at least and approve my words…”
- It’s time to bring out. – A fat man said with whom I had sometime sat in the same voting commission to the District Soviets.
This fat man gave instructions most of all. He first took the coffin, I, Sherubai and someone from the people joined him. And we four brought Ulbosyn’s body to the special bus.
It was unbearably hot out. It was especially hot to those ones who had dressed black suits on the occasion of the mourning.
The sunny light wasn’t taken in. The sky seemed grey. As if the nature had covered our town with a thick blanket on the occasion of the very mourning.
The part of following people, including Sherubai got on the bus. The rest went on foot. It was about seven minutes of walk to the cemetery and I went with the rest. I felt still confused in the presence of Ulbosyn for my strong living body. That's why I wouldn't be able to think everything well in the presence of Ulbosyn. I needed very much to make sure in the fact that my conscience was clean before her if to say by and large.
In short, I was going being deeply in my thoughts and my Ayauzhan with Altynai together were walking somewhere nearby.
The cemetery was situated at the southern edge of the town. When I came up the coffin was already standing at the newly dug pit and the director of the fashion atelier, a Tatar woman was already pronouncing a valedictory speech. She was speaking about how everybody loved Ulbosyn because she had been a kind and honest person.
Then a worker of the cemetery went out from the crowd and started to nail the cover of the coffin. He boomingly hammered in the nails and the echo of each blow fell on our heads. All present people involuntary stooped under the hail of the blows.
Sherubai who had tried to restrain himself before didn't withstand the last test.
- Good bye, my Ulbosyn! - He said sobbing and was about to drop on his knees but the people who were standing nearby caught him under his arms. And he became soft in their hands.
It was the first time when I saw how an old man was crying. Separate tears, as big as a pea rolled over the dry cheeks of Sherubai. His lips were shivering when he wanted to pronounce something else. And we, the rest, were mercifully looking at him and waiting when he felt better and when he sobbed out his grief. And I felt confused before him for the fact that sometimes I had intentionally made him suffer.
Finally, when Sherubai recovered control of his temper again the coffin was lowered in the grave and covered with sod. Step by step the people went away and we remained with Sherubai alone. Only Ayauzhan with her true armour-bearer Altynai appeared indistinctly behind the nearest grave monuments.
I don't know why I stayed with Sherubai. Something pulled me to him as with a magnet. For some reason I seemed that Ulbosyn's death had united us with something indissoluble.
We were standing long and keeping silent. Then not looking at me Sherubai proposed:
- Well, let's go.
And we went away from the cemetery.
- Just thing, how suddenly this all has happened. Cancer - and our Ulbosyn died. And we have known nothing. - I pronounced breaking the silence.
- I have known. - Sherubai said. - You remember, when I went to her in Tashkent my colleagues told me that she was ill for cancer and her situation was hopeless. But I didn't tell you everything. I pitied you because I thought that you were guilty in everything. But it turned out that you were innocent as usual, a thoughtlessly flattering lucky man. I am guilty in everything. I am the cause of her misfortunes. It wasn't enough just this grief for me. Now I must suffer as her involuntary torturer in addition. - Sherubai said with detachment.
- Shereke. - I was about to start. But it seemed that he didn't hear me.
- Before I didn't simply like you, Zhantas. - Sherubai sadly interrupted me. - I didn't like you as an opponent and as lucky people in general who always win cheap victories. But now I hate you for everything has happened. Yes, yes, for the fact that I but not you have to suffer again.
He turned his back upon me and walked to the opposite side of the street. I didn't know those only words which people usually say on such minutes. Usual words didn't pass here because in spite of the fact that I was right something unsteady was in my position. I just looked after him and went away.
Ayauzhan was waiting for me at the corner. It seemed that armour-bearer Altynai had fallen under the ground by my appearing.
And by the evening the life already got into its usual groove. I saw off Ayauzhan to the hosted and was already about to prolong our parting under some pretext when she suddenly proposed to go to her room.
It was the first time when I was in Ayauzhan's room. To say the truth she had just a corner in the room - three more girls lived there besides Ayauzhan. Now they weren't in the room. But in return we found two dzhigits instead of girls.
One of them was sitting at the table and looking though a journal. The second one was standing bending over his shoulder. When we came in the sitting one pronounced:
- Hello, Ayauzhan.
And the second one friendly nodded and moved his lips greeting.
- Zhantas, acquaint. These are our boys: Asylkhan and Karipzhan. We exchanged strong hand shakes and then the dzhigits buried themselves in the journal again that turned out to be journal "Poland" and I went to Ayauzhan's corner and looked from time to time from there at the boys with curiosity. Ayauzhan knew them. They were sitting so simply in her room and, you understand, this intrigued me.
That one whose name was Karipzhan - he was sitting at the table - differed with a tall height, wide shoulders and with penetrating look from under the thick eyebrows. His childish thick hair stuck out like a brush. Everything in him said about a strong will. On all occasions, Abul Faradi personally thought that strong spring hair is a mark of self-control and stability. And I believed him because, for example, a lion and a wild boar have hard wool too in contrast to a lamb or a hare.
Asylkhan had soft curling hair and to all appearances he had a soft character too. When we acquainted his round light face reddened with confusion. Ibi-Sina told about such people that among them it is often possible to meet persons with kind and clean hearts.
- How are you, boys? - Ayauzhan asked digging in her bedside-table.
- I don't know. - Karipzhan said not leaving the journal.
- Why cannot you know how you are? - Ayauzhan was surprised.
- We have other fish to fry. - More sociable Asylkhan informed. - The end of the month. Here it is impossible to notice when you eat and when you sleep.
- It's really so, Asylkhan. - Ayauzhan sighed and explained me: - Building materials aren't brought in time. That's why we have to work much at the end of the month. We catch up the plan.
Then she said:
- Sit here. Here is the chair. And I will go to Altynai to the kitchen. Let's think something out for dinner.
I was quietly sitting aside. The boys forgot about me. So much they were carried away by the journal. ,
- Like Altynai. Each leg is just a rock. - Karipzhan pronounced with laugh examining the picture of a woman dressed in a swimsuit.
- Even sheep of Yedilbaiskiy breed is too far from her. - Asylkhan said friendly smiling. - West Europe has taught them - to walk with such an appearance.
People say they even have some special competitions. Girls go out in such an appearance and then the most beautiful one is voted by a secret ballot among them. - Karipzhan said either envying or condemning.
Altynai came into the room at this moment. She looked more pleasant in a skirt and a blouse. It seemed that she had a thin waist and a high breast. Kazakhs name tops of mountains as "girl's breast" perhaps, meaning Altynai's breast. And she personally as if guessing about the luxury with which the nature had gifted her walked carrying it before her as something delicate and valuable. And she had such a blouse that fitted tightly her breast in relief. As if having felt what the conversation was about she came up to the table and sniffed with condemn after looking at the picture.
- What men do we have now? When they gather they don't have any other subject. Only about what a figure a girl has - good or bad one.
- But the nature didn't offend you, Altynai. You can be quiet for yourself. - Karipzhan started laughing and Asylkhan reddened with confusion.
But it turned out that Altynai wasn't one of those who usually retreated.
- And what to do me then? - She was shocked. Shall I walk only at night? How can a girl hide from your shameless eyes what the god has given her?
- You are right. It is impossible to hide a camel under a bridge. - Karipzhan agreed.
- Well, bone will not go out of the flesh. - Altynai said going quickly aside. - Say better. What have the party committee said relative to our proposal.
Asylkhan sighed with relief and said in a hurry:
- Just don't be angry with Karipzhan. Such a tongue he has. And as for the party committee I will tell you everything.
I had already known from Ayauzhan what they were speaking about. At a general meeting the youth brigade in which she worked had proposed to set a star over the building site.
"Just imagine how this star will be lit over our building site each evening. And people will know that everything is all right and that we build a new house for them. You understand, it will be something like our report each evening", - Ayauzhan had explained me then.
"Well and when won't you catch up the plan?"
"Then nobody will dare to light the star. - Ayauzhan cut short. - And then I wish alcoholics and lazy bones would feel shameful before people. They come almost each day and ask with a hope: "When will we move to our house?" And we wish to build it as soon as possible. You know, in such a town like ours everybody knows one another. And if anything crops up some mother will say her child: "You see, here is going a woman. She is guilty that we live in a terrible closeness up to now because she works carelessly. Look at her well". And then our direction will feel ashamed if a worker gets a less salary and by their guilt in addition" - Ayauzhan had finished so...
And now they were speaking about this.
- The party committee allowed. - Asylkhan informed. - The rest depends on us. It will be shame if we don't fulfill the plan and the star stays to stick out not being lit. All the town will laugh at us. People will point the finger: "Just look at these odd fellows. They have run up by themselves."
- Why did you vote at the meeting if you don't believe? - Karipzhan strictly asked.
- Who doesn't believe? - Asylkhan was shocked. - I wanted just to say: it's enough just to chatter. It's time to get seriously down to business!
- Eh, if you have a ring in your finger you are powerful prophet Solomon, if you don't have you are just a helpless dwarf. - Karipzhan waved off.
Altynai didn't interfere into the men's discussion. She was tensely thinking about something own.
- Boys, hey, boys! What if we give two hundred per sent? What then? It won't be enough just one star.
- Well, we will set the second one. - Karipzhan archly noticed.
- Get away with you. - Altynai said. And suddenly he cried out: - Oi-boi, the kettle is boiled! - And she rushed to the door.
And then Ayauzhan came in. She carried a pen on which scrambled eggs were appetizingly hissing.
- Karipzhan! Asylkhan! Why really not to think about the second star? - She proposed.
- Earn the first one at first. - Karipzhan answered with a snarl.
- We'll earn it! - Altynai said short appearing with a kettle. Perhaps, she had prepared to the fight and now she had a fighting appearance.
We sat to have dinner and the discussion didn't stop between them but on the contrary, it flamed up with all its might. They hotted, even cold-blooded Karipzhan was boiling and only Ayauzhan, though she inserted her weighty word, was quietly sitting and managed in addition to add some tea into my bowl. From time to time she smiled me as if she said: "You see what hot-tempered friends I have. But don't blame them too strictly. They are good and true friends".
Unknown names and unknown terms were sounded at the table. That's why sometimes I didn't understand the sense of their discussion and step by step I deepened in my own thoughts.
"Am I really such a lucky person, one of those people who are born with a silver spoon?" - I asked to myself.
At first I had had amazing Ulbosyn but as soon as she had gone away from my life a kind and also beautiful in addition girl, Ayauzhan, took her place.
"Why not? Each human being must be lucky. And is it really bad that exactly I am lucky? And I am not absolutely guilty in the misfortunes of strange people". - I answered to myself.
No, I am not a bumblebee who gathers tribute from beautiful flowers. But how to call my feeling to Ulbosyn then?
I have read by one of eastern ancient writers that love gifts people several joys. One of them is the joy of a moment. It is presented by a blinding moment of enjoyment. This feeling is like a flare: it quickly burns out having brightly lit the life. The second one is the greatest joy which is presented for a human being by a real eternal love. And then as it is said by the poet:
They relate to love with the involvement of each other
They long for the beautiful each while
And feelings - a precious stone of happiness -
Don't leave a newly married couple on the way.
It was pity that some other poet but not I had written these lines.
So, if to take the reasoning of the above mentioned writer for the theoretical base, how was it possible to explain my feeling to Ulbosyn then? Most likely it looked like a blinding flare. Then it was left just a sparkle which went out soon too.
But here one could maliciously say me:
"Zhantas, and how to call your feeling to Ayauzhan then? Can it be also just a bright lightning? Some kind of a sparkled nothing?!"
And I looked at Ayauzhan's face again: no, no, I was caught by a deep feeling. The true evidence for this was the fact that everything was simply with her and I personally was in state that looked like inspiration. So a creator can be drunk with his or her song. And Ayauzhan answered me with the same. She raised at me the eyes of an early Siberian deer and her look was expressive. There was a long and tender call in it. Her love was like an alluring abyss depth of which nobody was able to measure, like such a top the height of which nobody was able to reach.
Exactly this I thought looking at Ayauzhan now. But to say the truth, I missed Ulbosyn too. I realized it when she had died. I thought about her and thought being not able to drive the thoughts away. I had Ayauzhan but I missed Ulbosyn too. Yes, everything can happen in the life!
Meanwhile the people calmed down at the table. I didn't even notice it and shivered when Karipzhan called my name.
- Zhantas-aga! Do you want to listen to the last story about Ayauzhan? She will tell by herself not for the world. Ah, Zhantas-aga?
Here and further poetic singer V. Savelieva.
- Yes, yes, of course. With a great pleasure. - I said being taken aback so much that it called the general laugh. Ayauzhan shook her head:
- Karipzhan, what for this? Well, it has happened and what then?
- Let me tell. - Altynai begged. I have seen it with my own eyes.
- Well. Let's give Altynai the word. - Karipzhan importantly allowed.
- So, we came to the meeting in the club. We had a ceremonial meeting. The flag was handed over. - She graciously explained especially for me. - Well, we came. We were late, of course. We had to change our clothes, this, that and the other. You see, it's not good in trousers. So, we came in but there was nobody in foyer yet. We just heard how people were applauding to somebody behind the door. We crept about on tiptoe and suddenly Ayauzhan froze on the place she was like a wild horse. "Who is this? - She asked pointing onto a big picture. "I seem it's you. It looks like you very much". - I said. "I didn't know that there is another girl with who we are like two drops of water". - Ayauzhan was surprised. "But it's you to my mind. - I said. There cannot be such a likeness. It is amazingly. And here is the legend. - I said. - "The proud of our building site, our young crane-operator Ayauzhan Donentaeva". You see, it is written in black and white". - I said. Here our Ayauzhan reddened like a poppy. She came up to the stand and took off the portrait fixed with some drawing-pins. "What to do with it? - She asked. - Perhaps, I shall to tear it into pieces. How do you think, Altynai? "Eh, - I said. - You shouldn't do this. Somebody is responsible for the stand and will be then reprimanded for no reason at all." "Yes, it's not good to tear it. I will let down my friends". - Ayauzhan agreed. Do you know what Ayauzhan did? She brought her portrait to the director of the club and put it on the table. To say the truth, there was nobody in the office at that time. But it was their luck! I wish you, Zhantas, would only look at Ayauzhan's face when she is very angry.
In such a hint to my address revengeful Altynai finished her story. But Karipzhan caught the baton at once.
- Everything is exactly she says. - Then some strict members of a public order squad came up to her having decided to haul her up. "It's not good, comrade Donentaeva. You have acted not good. You were conferred an honour and repaid for this with disturbance of public peace". - The commander of the squad with a new red bandage on the arm personally said her. Now listen to what Ayauzhan answered them.
- I will be angry with you, Karipzhan. - Reddened Ayauzhan informed. - I will really be angry with you.
She was confused by the fact that her friends involved me in this all. She was sitting having dropped the eyes and not daring to meet my look.
- You won't be angry with me, Ayauzhan. Because you are a just person. And in spite of the fact that we know you not so long we think that you are exactly such a person. - Karipzhan noticed.
“Right. You’re a fair man,” agreed Asylkhan.
“So, where were we?” said Karipzhan. “Ah, I remembered... And so spoke Ayauzhan to the worldly-wise brigade chief: ‘The official part now will be over, and in the doorway we shall see our old fellows, and how shall I look into their eyes, comrade-in-chief,’ said Ayauzhan. ‘They have been working here long since the foundation of the city, and they have been working well. And I got ahead only for some bit of per cent, maybe, because I am a novice and am too enthusiastic about my work’. ‘Take care it is the last time you do this”, the chief warned her.’ What else could he say?”
“What an odd woman Ayauzhan is. None would tell foul things to her”, said Altynay. “Still she says: ‘How are you worse than me? You all try to build a good house for people – you, and Karipzhan, and even Asylkhan”.
“Don’t you slander about me,” blushed Ayauzhan. “I didn’t say ‘and even Asylkhan.’”
“Of course you didn’t. That was my idea,” confessed Altynay, “It’s just that Asylkhan has been fond of me for a long time, though he keeps it from everybody, and even from himself. And I thought: ‘He would like to hear his name on my lips.’”
This unpretentious joke was met with a burst of laughter. And in my mind I told Ulbosyn:
“This is what you wanted, Ulbosyn, that even after your death each house was a place where a healthy life rejoices. And thus, my sorrow for you is light. And I swear to love Ayauzhan forever.”
Indeed, I loved Ayauzhan more than anything in this world, and at these moments, I was ready to jump into the fire or be drown in the water because of her.
I secretly admired Ayauzhan, recalling my old student dream to make a stone carving sculpture of the fair Kyz-Zhybek. At first I even looked for the proper model among good-looking Kazakh women. Each was charming in her own way, but none of them has anything to do with the image of Kyz-Zhybek created by my imagination.
There was a moment when I saw Kyz-Zhybek in my Ulbosyn. It happened at the beginning of our acquaintance. But my dazzling state passed very quickly, and I realized that impetuous and sensual Ulbosyn, with her passion written all over her face, was a complete contradiction to gentle and calm on the surface Kyz-Zhybek. For that matter, I would compare Ulbosyn’s nature with hot wind filling the summer rain. Then Kyz-Zhybek’s soul reminded me the soothing coolness of the evening.
At that time, I didn’t know that the reason for Ulbosyn’s high sensuality was her disease. This woman was counting off the last days of her life. Frantically trying to quench her thirst as much as possible, she was eager to burn both herself and others with her withering fire. Therefore, I took her inner turmoil for a fiery temper, refusing to unite Ulbosyn and Kyz-Zhybek in one image...
And as I looked at unsuspecting Ayauzhan, the image of Kyz-Zhybek was getting clearer in my mind. Until now, it was elusive, scattered as a sunlight, but the time of the insight came, and I saw that Kyz-Zhybek was almost a twin to Ayauzhan. The same gentle and strong passion, hidden behind her self-control, and her willingness to lay down her life for her reputation.
“So, Ulbosyn,” I thought, “at last I found my Kyz-Zhybek...”
The day after the funeral, I went to the Vital Statistics Department. The same elderly worker on duty met me at the table. To my surprise, she recognized me and asked with a note of triumph:
“Well, I told you! Have you changed your mind, young man? In my practice, I have seen this many times. You know, the laws justify themselves.”
“Maybe, it is for the rest. Our case is an exception. The circumstances prevented us. So we would like you to make an appointment for the second time,” I told her with dignity.
“Hum,” chuckled the lady. “Then, be so kind to wait another two weeks. If this time no circumstances prevent you, you are welcome. We will carry out the registration.”
“It’s scandalous! We’ve already given one another a try!” I cried in resentment.
“You know what, young man, I’ve got a song of your age. So, he divorced on the tenth day after the wedding. He spoiled his own life and the life of another half-dozen of good people. I think, it’s enough,” retorted old lady in a cold voice.
I could refer to the death of Ulbosyn, but for some reason I considered it tactless to disturb her peaceful spirit for the sake of another spare days of my happy life. I retreated in the face of the official citadel.
For the first time in my life, I got a calendar. Every morning I was counting off the days, and in the evening reported to Ayauzhan:
“So-and-so-much days are left! Hold on, Ayauzhan!” I said playfully.
“Oh, it cannot be!” Ayauzhan pretended to be scared. So it was today. We met at the bookstore. I made a terrible face and snarled:
“Ha, Ayauzhan! You have only five days left! Beware!”
“Time truly wears on!” said Ayauzhan, abandoning our tradition.
She took me at my arm, and we leisurely strolled along the main street.
This evening was unusually sultry.
“Finally, it will rain. I’ll say! A heavy shower!” said an old man, standing at the showcase of the shoe store, when we passed by.
“Go on waiting. It’s already a second sultry week. Drought is drought,” said his companion.
The city tired from the heat has long been waiting for the rain, but we didn’t notice it. Voices seemed to come to us from the world that was strange to us. Each of us was parting with his or her previous life, a tempting lovely uncertainty was waiting for us in the future. It excited us, and we went, agitated, up hill and down dale, and missed the overture preceding the strong rain.
We didn’t notice, how the wind blew and pulled the dark dense cloud from behind the horizon, throwing it over the city with one rapid motion. We came round just after the first huge drops fell down on the grey pavement at our feet.
The thunderblast roared as if trying to return the young and strong voice to the world hoarse of thirst. It came again and again, and the shocked world trembled. Someone powerful and invisible was trying his first power, planning to make hay of sky and earth.
“This is Khazret Gali! Do you remember, Zhantas?” asked excited Ayauzhan.
How could I forget? When we were kids, the oldest men in aul assured us that the sky was roaring and trembling because the legendary Khazret Gali was riding his winged horse Duldul and chasing evil demons.
Now the sky was roaring at the hooves of the mythical Argamak horse, as a giant tin roof. Then the flush of water fell on our heads. And I cried with the poet’s words:
Let the sky and the earth frown and tremble!
Let high birch-tree be struck by the storm!
But the roaring storm dampened my voice, and I even couldn’t hear what I was crying. Ayauzhan was asking me something in this dense mirk of rain. Water was pouring into our mouths. We were snorting, as if swimming.
The street was empty, people crowded in gateways and entrance halls. And we, left alone, were enjoying the rain, as in our childhood.
After another thunderblast, the sheeting rain started moving along the street, first slowly, then more and more quickly, going with the wind. The water was pulling us in the chest, and bending young birch-trees, not strong enough to resist. Slender trees were struggling, sweeping the pavement with wet leaves.
New flushed of cold rain-shower calmed our ardor. And when the sky threw prickly hailstones on us, our joy was washed away. We joined hands and ran down the street, the wind attempting to strike us down.
It was a real storm. As a furious shaman, it was howling as a wolf, throwing hot arrows, scattering sinister sparks. Its volcanic breath seemed to penetrat even the most secluded corners, and nobody could escape it. That’s why we were running farther and farther along the street, bypassing wary entrance halls. The houses, as locks, were shut at the sight of a numerous and wild enemy.
“Hold on, hold on. Soon it will be over and we shall be all-right,” I said, gushing in the storm.
Suddenly Ayauzhan stopped, as if hitting the obstacle invisible for me.
“Ayauzhan! What’s up?!” I cried in fear. She said something of which I could figure out only this:
And rushed back, as a hare, dodging between deep puddles. Before I could blink, she disappeared in the roaring chaos.
“Yapyrmay , what crane you are talking about? What have she taken into her head?” I thought, following her.
My legs slid apart in the slush, I fell down and immediately got angry, spreading repulsive sticky clay over my clothing, and thought: “What are these whims, Ayauzhan?”
I had a stich in my side, as I was running very quickly. However, my strivings seemed more like running on the spot as the gusts of the furious wind were pushing me back
“Ayauzhan!” I cried without a sound, rushing about the streets, drenched to the bone.
At last, Ayauzhan’s bright dress came into my view in the haze. Ah, but she hurried towards the construction site.
“What does she want to do with the crane in such a weather?!” I thought getting angrier with Ayauzhan, but still I stepped up.
However, I could not manage to stop her. When I ran through the gate, Ayauzhan was climbing up the iron ladder. The wind was striving to throw her off the ladder this way and that, and then she was desperately pressing herself to the reinforcement. It seemed like I physically felt the slippery wet ladder rods under her hands.
Fie shame! Who could know Ayauzhan is such a foolish girl.
“Ayauzhan! Get back now!” I cried stamping my foot.
“Can’t stop her. A plucky lass, wants to take her crane aside, that’s it,” said a voice above my ear.
What do you know: a moment ago, it seemed Ayauzhan and I were all alone in this city, but once she got up to it, and the first gawkers came out from nowhere.
“The crane may fall. Onto the school,” said another voice.
It was only now that my mind grasped the whole picture, and I saw the crane from top to base – it was badly shuddering under the blows of the wind, ready to yield to the storm onslaught and to tumble its huge load down the school building. The helpless unsuspecting school building was shining with electric lights. Round heads of children who stayed at school after classes were seen behind the windows.
“Does the school know?” asked a voice from the involuntary audience.
“They ran there. But they cannot do it at once. While you get all the kids, the crane will spank down.”
“Yapyrmay, what a bravery,” said a voice nearby. “I wish it doesn’t end badly for her.”
“Ayauzhan, wait! I’m coming!” I cried and rushed to the ladder, but somebody kept me by the sleeve.
“Don’t, Zhantas! You are not a crane driver, you'll just be a mess,” said an old man who seemed unknown to me. “It’s a pity, we cannot help now. I think I shall call an ambulance. Just in case,” and he vanished in the flushes of rain.
“Ayauzhan... Ayauzhan,” I mumbled in confusion, my fingers trembling nervously.
Ayauzhan successfully climbed up the ladder and plunged into the cab. After the oppressive pause, the wheels clanked and the crane slowly bowled along the rails away from school.
“It’s all-right, Ayauzhan, it’s o’key. Now, get down,” I whispered feverishly.
However, it was not enough for Ayauzhan. The crane stood still and its jib started turning like a giant compass leg.
“Bah, attagirl!” cried somebody both in wonder and in admiration. “She turns the jib windward, and then no storm is a big problem. Now it blows just into the squinch, you go on withstand it.”
An old man came running from somewhere. His thin hair spread about his head. I hardly recognized him as a foreman Uncle Petya.
“Get down now, daught! To hell with this crane! – Ah!” yelled he with a wild eye.
But the jib continued its careful movement, circumscribing a smooth arc. Meter by meter, and it seemed to pass the most dangerous zone. Besides, the wind calmed down, realizing its defeat.
“Strands! Get the strands!” cried the foreman to the workers who came as if from nowhere, among which I saw Asylkhan and Karipzhan.
But the calm was deceptive. Storm rested for a while and pounced upon us with double strength. My ears heard the plaintive crack of the black sheets torn away from some roofs, and then I was knocked down. Falling, I saw how reluctantly the awkward body of the crane tumbles sideways, and closed my eyes.
“Could it really end so absurdly? Only five days were left,” I thought with terror and objected myself: “Or, maybe, four days?”
The noise of the tumbling crane somehow escaped my perception. I got up and with a secret hope once again looked at the place where the crane was rising. I hoped to find this tower in the same position with the precious driver at the top. But the rails seemed unusually bare. Only the wheels were awkwardly sticking up next to them. And nearby, at the distance of the driver’s cab above the earth, I saw people crowding.
“Give me a way! Please, let me get by,” I said, elbowing.
Obviously, I had everything written on my face, because people, looking back, gave me a way without a question. I passed to the center of the circle, with the figures in white coats doting. My Ayauzhan was lying in front of them too peacefully. Only her face was unusually pale and her eyelashes were down... as if she was tired and asleep.
“Ah, what an absurd, what an absurd”, I told myself over and over again.
“She is alive, she’s alive, God willing, she’ll survive at last,” told me somebody.
“Oh my, what an absurd”, I repeated for the third time.
“It’s good she jumped out at the last gasp,” said people behind my back.
“She may be alive, but even if she survives, she’ll be disabled for the rest of her life.”
“What an absurd,” I repeated for the fourth time. “How can it be such an absurd?”
The doctor made an injection, and at his sign the attendants picked up the litter with Ayauzhan lying on it, and carried it to their car. I tagged behind and then climbed into the attendants’ car.
“You must not, young man, I told you, you mustn’t,” warned me one of them and tried to shut a door. But not understanding anything, I was blankly climbing into the car.
“Take him,” said someone from the crowd, putting a word for me.
“All right, get in, but don’t you fart around,” said the attendant.
I don’t remember how we got to the hospital. All this time I was looking at Ayauzhan’s face, and start believing that all this was just someone’s stupid joke. And that now Ayauzhan shall open her eyes and shall smile with her sweet smile:
“Smart prank, Zhantas, isn’t it?”
My hope was alive till I got to the surgery room. I followed the litter and babbled to the attendant:
“Well, it’s just a trivial thing, isn’t it? Please, say that it’s not a big deal.”
“Of course, it’s not,” answered the attendant with a false cheerfulness, and that moment I needed such a reply.
But when the doors of the surgery room separated me from Ayauzhan, I saw the terrible reality and was disappointed to the very roots of my being. As if somebody played me a dishonest trick.
Ayauzhan, of course, had nothing to do with it. The thing she did was inevitable. Any decent person would act the same way. That’s why I was looking for the third party, who was guilty in our problems.
“Sit here for a while, come sit,” said an old nurse with compassion, giving me a chair.
“But somebody should, of course, have fixed that damned crane with the ropes, right? How do you know what there can happen. And who should have thought about it? Whose idiotic cabbage-head should have foreseen it?” I told the old nurse and frantically knocked myself at the top of the head.
“Sure, sure,” said the nurse, trying to calm me down.
“Why should it backfire on Ayauzhan and me? Why should we suffer from somebody’s criminal negligence?” I said happy to find a person who could understand my state.
“Come, sit here. It will be all right,” said the nurse, but suddenly she was called to another chamber.
“I’m gonna find this man, I’ll show him what’s what,” I shook a fist at the empty hall and got a little bit better. “How is she there – my Ayauzhan?”
I could not imagine Ayauzhan helpless and miserable – even in those long gone days when she often had hard times with her stepmother she remained rebellious preserving her independence.
My thoughts were interrupted by hurried steps. Sherubai was hurrying through the corridor while putting on his white coat with difficulty; he was all but running. He cast a glance at me with odd curiosity and disappeared behind the door of the operating room.
Then the duty doctor came out of the operating room and said:
‘Zhantas-aga, the patient has been given first aid. We are preparing her for an operation now. But this is a time-consuming and difficult process. Unfortunately, you can’t help us in any way. That’s why you should go home and get some rest. You look like a ghost’.
She was actually right, so I went down the corridor with my head down. I think a person who has not lived through hell must not be admitted to heaven. Because one can always start in heaven and end up in hell. Unfortunate is the first-timer who has experienced nothing but joy – like I had. ‘Ayauzhan, Ayauzhan, what have you done to me?’, I repeated as I dragged myself down the corridor.
When I approached the chief’s office, the door went open letting Abilkas and the district committee secretary Muhamedzhanov dressed in a white coat way too short for him out into the corridor.
‘… the girl has put her life at stake for our children’s sake. Now it’s our turn to do everything within our power for her’, I heard the district committee secretary’s words.
‘Comrade Muhamedzhanov, let me assure you that out team and I will do our best’, Abilkas replied pompously.
They were blocking the way, so I slowed down my pace unwillingly.
‘We are counting on you’, the district committee secretary said holding out his hand to Abilkas before leaving.
The man was about to grasp it with his both hinds, only common sense forced him to retain his dignity and respond with an ordinary handshake.
‘Don’t accompany me. Go and see Donentayeva’, Muhamedzhanov said and headed to the entrance door thus having unblocked the way.
I tried to use the chance and sneak past Abilkas. I wasn’t lucky though.
‘Oh boy, what a tragedy’, Abilkas said and joined me walking through the corridor having taken me by the arm. ‘It’s a heroic deed, but at what cost!’
I looked him in the eye trying to take him by surprise and expose him lying, but Abilkas’s face wore the expression of the most sincere sorrow. He accompanied me to the staircase leading to the entrance and tapped me on the shoulder before leaving.
‘We will do everything, Zhantas, and we will save your Ayauzhan. Our Sherubai can work magic with his hands, and you will finally invite us to your wedding’.
In the lobby downstairs I found myself surrounded by a crowd of people who started throwing questions like peas at me:
‘What’s going on there?’
‘How is Ayauzhan?’
‘Is she alive?’
Altynai’s, Karipzhan’s, the foreman Uncle Petya’s faces started flashing before my eyes. There was also Asylkhan waiting for my answer silently but with emotion on his face.
They say, if you are lucky in love as if in a game of cards it is hard to realize the cost of a loss afterwards. It may have been this way for me with Ulbosyn. But now I was fully aware of what Ayauzhan meant for me.
‘It’s over, over! I have lost my Ayauzhan’, I said shaking my head.
‘Why are you saying this? You might, but we haven’t lost her’, Altynai hissed as a snake; her eyes were red, and her round face was covered with tear streaks.
‘Hold your tongue, Altynai. Can’t you see he is not quite himself?’ Karipzhan told her sharply.
‘Listen, we’re making noise here, and some people are sick, others are working. Besides, it’s already late, almost ten. You’d better go home, and I’ll stay here and find out everything’, the foreman Uncle Petya said.
‘See, pangs of guilty conscience’, I thought with painful malicious joy. ‘He’s the one to blame, Zhantas. He is the one to take care of the cables. But you see, he didn’t care a bit. He didn’t care that my fiancée Ayauzhan was in the booth above’.
We went outside and only then I noticed that the day was almost over. The hurricane had rushed past further, but strong wind gusts were still swirling through the street and the cold spray of water was thrown into our faces. I used this to disappear from the others, crossed the street and went into the entrance of a house on the opposite side.
‘Where is Zhantas?’ I heard.
‘Zhantas-aga! Hey, Zhantas-aga!’, Asylkhan’s voice called.
Then I heard Altynai snort with irritation and say something about me. As if I was the one who had not secured the crane with cables in case of s storm.
‘There you go again’, Karipzhan told her sharply. ‘Leave him alone at last. He has other concerns besides us now. Let’s go, folks’.
The dark mass on the opposite side of the street started moving and dissolved in the darkness. A minute, maybe two – and the voices ceased to be heard and I stayed alone in front of the municipal hospital where Ayauzhan’s and my fate hang in the balance now.
The windows opposite showed pictures from somebody else’s lives. Nurses or attendants on duty appeared there as if on a mute movie screen, walking patients came to replace them. Then the lights in the windows started fading one after another – hospital wards drifted into sleep – and I realized how long I had been standing in the stuffy entrance filled with a wet dog smell.
But my waiting was rewarded. First, a couple of doctors familiar to me came out of the hospital entrance and headed downtown discussing something vividly. I could only make out one thing:
‘we hardly found Sherubai… he said, “I’m sick, I’m not feeling well, let someone stand in for me…”’
They were followed by Abilkas and the foreman Uncle Petya. Abilkas stood for a while breathing in the cold damp air, the foreman fidgeting in front of him on the lower step first flinging his arms about and then pressing his hands to his chest. Abilkas nodded self-importantly and walked along the hospital fence. Uncle Petya followed him still gesticulating with his arms.
Then the hospital door remained still for a long while. The windows had gone dark one by one long ago – the lights were on only in the duty nurses’ rooms; the one I had been waiting for still did not leave the hospital. There was a significant disadvantage in my position. The opposite part of the building where the operating room was located was completely out of sight. And I could not leave my observation point for a minute to rush to the hospital yard and take a quick look at the windows of the operating room because the person I needed could have left the building at this very moment. Suddenly, the lights went on in one of the rooms, and I guessed that Ayauzhan had just been brought there. Half an hour later the entrance door of the hospital went open letting out a surgical nurse. Some time later, Sherubai came outside. He gave a shiver with cold, raised the collar of his coat and started slowly walking down the street.
I left my shelter and headed in the same direction. For a while we walked this way in the dark – with him walking on one side of the street, and me on the other one. We moved as if along parallel lines which are destined to cross at some point in the eternity, if one relies on mathematical laws. A stranger would have taken it all for a scene from a detective novel. But I knew that Sherubai would cross to my side of the street sooner or later. Sherubai’s uncertain silhouette slowly floated past dimly lit buildings. At times both the buildings and he disappeared in the dark and then I heard only the shuffle of his feet. Finally, Sherubai turned off the sidewalk and went in my direction. I stopped; I was waiting.
‘Good evening’, I said though today’s evening could not possibly be called good in any way.
But I had to start this conversation and said what is conventional to say when you meet someone in the evening.
‘Oh, it’s you’, Sherubai muttered stepping on the sidewalk. We walked our way next to each other keeping silent. I tried to find appropriate words.
‘So what do you want?’ Sherubai asked stopping.
‘You see, a misfortune has happened to me…’ I started.
But Sherubai interrupted me rudely,
‘A misfortune has happened to her… What do you have to do with this?.. Or do you love this girl, too?’
‘We were supposed to get married one of these days’.
‘And what can I do about it?’
‘I just wanted to ask you… I understand that you and I have had certain issues…’
‘Why bring up the past?.. You know perfectly well what a doctor’s duty is. It dismisses any personal dislikes’.
‘Thank you, doctor’, I said with relief.
‘Can you call a coward’s ability to hide from the enemy heroic? Or is what you are telling me humane?’ Sherubai asked with a bitter smile.
But I let it go past me. There was only one thing I wanted to know, the most important one.
‘Tell me please, doctor, will she… live?’
It seems nothing but an ordinary word. But how hard it becomes for your tongue to pronounce when it acquires specific meaning.
‘I think we have saved her life’, Sherubai said apparently hiding something from me.
But I was concentrated on one thing: the life of my Ayauzhan. She will return to me – this was the most important thing. And I loved Sherubai for this news at the moment.
‘Shereke…’ this was the most I could articulate.
‘Sleep, sleep. In a week you can come and visit Donentayeva. I will give you my permission’, Sherubai grunted and went to his place even without saying goodbye.
I would never have thought that I would approach him first after what he had said to me on the day of Ulbosyn’s funeral. But, it seems the world is designed so that a man cannot do without other people. And I cannot do without Sherubai.
He still hated me, but it did not seem to be of any significance now. ‘It’s nothing, it’s alright’, I repeated to myself. ‘Ayauzhan is alive, and everything will be fine soon’.
I was still behind the door when I heard the telephone ringing restlessly inside my apartment. I managed to answer the call while someone was still calling. It was Bazargul. She told me sobbing all the time that Abilkas had phoned her. She was about to rush to the hospital but Abilkas assured her there was no point in staying in the hospital lobby, visitors would be admitted to Ayauzhan’s ward not earlier than tomorrow and only in case if she felt well enough, so she was uneasy and couldn’t sleep.
I did what I could to comfort my sister and tried to fall asleep myself, but nightmares kept plaguing me all night. I dreamt of the falling crane and Ayauzhan and myself inside the booth. I dropped out of the booth and started falling not on the ground, as logic would suggest, but hell knows where, space I guess. Ayauzhan lying on the ground was calling me reaching out for me… I forced myself to wake up and leapt out of my bed, I started circling around the room like a lion in a cage. More specifically, the lion was lashing inside me scratching my heart with its claws. I tried everything to tame it. But doubt was nagging me. Whatever I tried to tell myself, I could only calm down on seeing with my own eyes that Ayauzhan was alive. Perhaps this happens when the soul is torn out of the body. And you cannot do a thing about it.
The dawn started breaking soon as if an autumn leaf that has started turning yellow. A flock of black larks sitting in the tree in front of my window sang their first song. They were celebrating the rising sun, they did not care a bit about my frustration. The sun was shining, and that was it. I washed my face, hurriedly ate day-old cutlets for breakfast and ran along the street to the elevation.
I was admitted into the hospital without any difficulty, because they must have thought I was there on business. I sneaked like a hunter through the corridor following the nurse distributing the morning medication. When the nurse left one ward and disappeared in the next one I peeked inside the room trying to find Ayauzhan.
‘Zhantas Bekovich! You are like a child’, an old lady’s voice reproached me. ‘It’s too early, the doctor has not permitted this’, she said.
‘If I could only look at her for a second. Please understand, I haven’t seen her since then’, I begged trying to touch the deepest strings of her heart.
‘I’ll have serious trouble because of this. Fine, come with me, I’ll show you the door. But please promise me that you’ll leave at once’. She slightly opened the door of the corner room. ‘There she is, all white. By the window’.
Ayauzhan, all covered with plaster, was lying there as if in a space suit. Only her face was seen amongst bandages and bore a shade of pain. She was asleep, as only a living person can be! The rest of it – plaster and bandages – was insignificant now. This was a hospital after all. Apparently it seems natural to us that if a person is in hospital, then he or she should have fever, or be wrapped in bandages or cast in plaster.
‘Ayauzhan!’ I called her in a low voice.
‘Are you out of your mind?’, the old woman went angry and shut the door. ‘You must leave now! Now!’
I ran out of the hospital filled with glee. I wanted to cry out loud for my voice to carry throughout the whole town, ‘Can you hear me?! Ayauzhan is alive! I’ve seen her with my own eyes!’
But, frankly speaking, I took the fact that Ayauzhan was alive for granted. Perhaps there was faith somewhere deep inside my soul that my fiancée could not die. This faith was only for a second blurred by the fear of losing Ayauzhan.
But Ayauzhan stayed alive because she was my intended. Her connection to Zhantas had saved her.
I bought a bundle of fresh newspapers in the nearest kiosk and went to my workshop. My way was through the ill-fated construction site. My first urge was to evade the place reminding of the tragedy that had happened the previous day but I was attracted by the noise of working engines that came from there. I could not withstand the temptation, turned and went through the gate.
Tractors were crawling across the site like gigantic bugs. Roaring with strain, they pulled the cables attached to the crane. Wheels of the blocks were rotating. A group of workers rushed about between the crane and the machines trying to outshout the roar of the engines. The foreman Uncle Petya was in charge. ‘Where are you going? Where?.. Come on! Again!.. Again!..’ he screamed turning purple with strain. The crane was going up like a contused person who could barely stand and finally got fitted onto the trackage. And again there was a red flag at the top of it.
The foreman noticed me only then and came up to me wiping away sweat.
‘It is possible to work magic with machines today. If only it was as easy to help Ayauzhan get on her feet again’, Uncle Petya said.
‘She’ll get on her feet again for sure’, I said with certainty. ‘She is alive, that’s the most important thing’.
‘Yes, this is the most important’, the foreman agreed and I forgave him his fault – that he had not thought of the storm in advance.
I came to my workshop and unfolded the local newspaper first thing. Ayauzhan was looking at me from the front page. This may have been the same portrait that she had once removed from the club stand in a fit of temper. Her heroic act was described in great detail right below the portrait. The newspaper writer presented it as a first-hand report. He took the liberty to describe the feelings overwhelming Ayauzhan when as she had been going up to the top of the crane. In fact I knew what she had been thinking then. She had feared for the kids and feared that she would not be able to get to the booth. And perhaps, as true woman, she had worried a little about her new white dress.
First I laughed at the zealous correspondent, then I thought it was a good thing that he had pictured the situation that way. Let people admire my Ayauzhan even more. She is indeed an extraordinary girl. I was filled with boundless pride for Ayauzhan at that moment myself, telling myself, ‘Zhantas, this is your fiancée, she will be your wife soon’. It was quite hard to find a dzhigit in our town who would have such an outstanding girl.
‘I should buy several more issues’, the thought flashed in my head and then I was asked to take a call. I went out into the corridor and picked up the receiver.
‘Hello, Zhantas? You owe me suyunshi! The operation has been successful!’ Abilkas screamed, who appeared to have developed a habit of undeserved boasting his participation in somebody else’s achievements lately. ‘Though the case was quite complicated. I can confess now that we were pessimistic about her chances. Sherubai and I even called his friend in Moscow, you see?’
In a word, everything seemed to suggest that the crisis was over and now it cost me enormous efforts to wait before I could see Ayauzhan again. I simply did not know how I could pass the days of waiting. About two times a day I brought her some things and then hanged around my acquaintances’ places spending my time.
But at that moment I came across an invitation from the exhibition committee, and I took the sculpture of Ulbosyn to Alma-Ata having told Bazargul to take good care of the patient while I was away.
Somehow the news about my fiancée’s feat had already reached the Union of Artists, I was asked about Ayauzhan’s health, she was spoken about with admiration, and it filled me with joy and pride for her. It made me proud that she was famous around the whole republic. One of the administrative secretaries told me, ‘Drop a line if there is a necessity, we will help you’.
Having returned to Mystau I dropped my things at my place and rushed to the hospital with a box of especially delicious chocolates that my former fellow student, now a renowned sculptor, had managed to find for me in the capital. Fame had opened the service entrance door of the shop for him. So he had come by two boxes. One was for his beloved woman, the other was especially for Ayauzhan.
‘Give her this present from me. Let her eat chocolates and recover as soon as possible. I wish I had a chance to meet such a courageous girl. Tell her my exact words’, my famous fellow student said having refused to take any money.
A pleasant surprise was awaiting me in the hospital. It was already afternoon, and I headed directly to the duty doctor preparing myself for a fight because I had to see Ayauzhan that very day, at any cost. But the duty doctor said with a sly smile, having guessed why I looked so decisive:
‘What’s the matter, Zhantas Bekovich? Ayauzhan can’t wait to see you. She keeps asking every day. Here’s doctor’s orders, go and see her immediately, off you go!’
I needed no further explanations and rushed to the corner ward walking on air.
Everything was so white in the ward. And Ayauzhan was lying there as if she had been covered with snow. Only her sorrowful eyes stood out as two dark spots. ‘Ayauzhan, where has your high tinkle of laughter gone?.. Come on, Ayauzhan, show me your temper!.. You look like a white flower torn by the storm, so still and quiet!..’ – this was what I was eager to shout as soon as I found myself in that room. But I was standing in the doorway and looking at Ayauzhan. Her eyes shone up – she called me.
‘Hello, my Ayauzhan’, someone inside my body said in a numb voice, and I came up to Ayauzhan’s bed struggling to move my stiff feet. ‘So we are on a date again. The setting isn’t very good though. But that’s alright, a day or two from now we’ll go and see some movie’, I joked trying to raise her spirits.
My attempt was successful to an extent. Ayauzhan replied with a smile:
‘Why are you standing? Take a seat beside me. Make yourself at home’.
It might have sounded as gallows humor if we had not considered both the plaster and the hospital ward temporary occurrences in our lives. I explained this to Ayauzhan:
‘You’ll leave the hospital soon All this will be the long-forgotten past. You’ll laugh remembering yourself covered with plaster, you’ll say, oh my, what a matryoshka I was’.
‘If only I had gone up the crane in time…’ she suddenly started excusing herself.
‘You have done the right thing. You’ve done a great job! Ayauzhan. Everybody says so. I say so. Newspapers keep writing about what you have done. And girls say in class, “I would like to be like Ayauzhan Donentayeva”’, I finished with a small white lie. First of all, I was convinced there were a lot of girls in Kazakhstan then who wanted to be like Ayauzhan. You could go to the nearest school to make sure it was true. Moreover, I wanted to cheer her up. She had to become the Ayauzhan that she had been before, and as soon as possible. I had missed this so much. So I started joking without a stop, dropping one anecdote after another. The other patients must have heard nothing but: ‘And here’s another anecdote about a donkey… So you don’t know it? It goes like this…’
Ayauzhan was smiling all the time, she had to check her laughter, because laughing was still painful for her.
Then the duty nurse came and said:
‘Let’s call it a day. You have another day tomorrow. And now a new visitor would like to talk to the patient’.
‘Just a minute, doctor. Just let me finish one hilarious story’, I asked the doctor.
But she had to return more than once before she finally managed to kick me out of the ward.
‘See you tomorrow, Ayauzhan’, I said having squeezed her weakened palm.
‘See you tomorrow, Zhantas’, she whispered responding with a hardly noticeable handshake.
In the corridor I ran into Bazargul. She was wearing a white coat and had a packet with apples in her hands.
‘So you are the love wrecker!’ I pretended to be ferocious.
‘Poor Ayauzhan’, Bazargul sighed and covered her eyes with her hand.
‘What are you saying?!’, now I was really resentful. ‘She is still the same Ayauzhan. Just look at her as she is laughing! As if nothing has happened. You’ll see, she’ll be with us soon!’
‘If only’, the wayward Bazargul sighed again and entered the ward.
What can one do about women, most of them are feeble creatures. Unlike my Ayauzhan.
And so I developed a pattern. In the morning I worked on my commissions in the workshop and in the afternoon I went to see Ayauzhan. and we made plans for the future and talked about different things until I was made to leave by evening. I went out of my way to entertain Ayauzhan. Her body gradually got rid of the plaster, and that was another confirmation for the fact that our hopes for the perfect future were to come true soon. Sometimes we shared our simple entertainment with Bazargul or Ayauzhan’s fellow brigade members. I made friends with the latter, and only Altynai had built an invisible wall between herself and me. Stubborn as she was, she took a dislike to me at first sight and it was beyond my power to overcome her resentment. I tried this and that, gave her chocolates and perfumes, considering her relationship with Ayauzhan. But I could not do a thing about her.
We spent this way almost the whole summer.
Once I cracked jokes, as I usually did, sitting by Ayauzhan’s bed, but nothing seemed to work this time. My fiancée’s eyes were full of sorrow, though I dropped one joke after another.
‘What’s the matter, Ayauzhan? Perhaps you have caught a cold?’ I asked, as I had not paid much attention to Ayauzhan’s blues.
‘Zhantas’, Ayauzhan said with an effort. ‘We shouldn’t see each other anymore. Don’t come to see me, forget about me’.
I knew she was not one of those people who speak for dramatic effect and so I was worried.
‘What are you saying?’ I asked, petrified. She looked at me with a suffering in her look.
‘Remember you said you loved spring?’ Ayauzhan whispered.
‘Of course’, I said trying to regain my composure. ‘I also said that love takes root in spring. It is far from being original, of course. But what can I do, it’s true’.
‘But a man faces a new spring every year’.
‘That’s enough, Ayauzhan. I have one enduring spring. It’s you’, I objected passionately.
‘Thank you, Zhantas’, she said with emotion in her voice. ‘I believe you. But what will you do if the blossoming season of this spring is already over? Then your spring will be cold and damp like autumn. No, I don’t want to see you unhappy, Zhantas. It will devastate me…’
‘What does this mean after all? Can you explain properly?’ I went angry losing my patience and it made Ayauzhan smile.
‘There’s something wrong with my backbone. I will never… walk again’, she suddenly said and blushed shyly.
‘Who has told you this nonsense?’ I yelled flying into rage completely and springing to my feet.
‘Professor Sherubai’, Ayauzhan whispered guiltily. ‘I mean, he didn’t say it was completely…’
‘I’ll go and find out’, I said menacingly and rushed out of the ward hurling thunderbolts around.
I hit the door of his office with my hand and went in without waiting for his answer.
Sherubai was writing something sitting at his desk. Seeing me he pulled a wry face as if from a pang of toothache.
‘How long does she have to stay in bed? Answer me!’ I asked without beating about the bush.
‘Who do you mean?’ Sherubai asked with irritation.
‘Ayauzhan Donentayeva, you know it perfectly well!’
‘Oh, yes’, Sherubai mumbled. ‘But what do you have to do with her?’
‘Ayauzhan is my fiancée!’
‘I see’, Sherubai said dispassionately. ‘If you are the fiancé… Donentayeva’s backbone has been injured. She will have to stay in bed for a very long time. Probably all her life. I must admit the injury is quite serious…’
‘Never is a long word. Why did you tell her this? I wish you hadn’t. Now she is ready to lose heart’.
‘I don’t think so. She’s a strong person. Besides, we can’t hide such things from our patients for a long time. We’ve been treating her too long and without any significant progress, she is no child and realizes herself that such tragic events are likely to have serious consequences’.
‘Listen to me, doctor. Let her come with me. She’ll feel better with me’.
‘No doubt’, Sherubai agreed. ‘The hospital setting is depressing, and she doesn’t require doctor’s daily control anymore… But you must be unaware of the responsibility that this step implies’
‘Sure I do!’ I said dismissing his idea. Sherubai stood up and walked across the room with his hand behind his back.
‘So what do you say? When can I take her with me? Can I do it today?’ I asked Sherubai.
He walked to and fro about the room with monotonicity of a pendulum. Abul-Faradi believes that an atrocious lion is hidden inside such people waiting for its moment to come. I wonder if Abul-Faradi’s words were true. I succumbed to my habit of indulging in philosophizing and unwillingly pictured to myself what would happen if there was a real lion inside Sherubai, with claws as sharp as daggers… There it is, opening its eyes idly…
But at this moment Sherubai stopped in front of me. He seemed surprised by his patience. Instead of just throwing the person he hated out of the room.
‘Do you think happiness is exactly where you are? What on earth makes you think so? Don’t you set too much store by yourself?’ he asked with an explorer’s curiosity.
‘She loves me, Ayauzhan’, I replied confusedly.
‘It’s true, they told me… both the attending doctor and Bazargul’, Sherubai mumbled. ‘How about you? Do you love her yourself?’ he asked, distrust in his voice.
‘God!’ I exclaimed. ‘Would I be standing in front of you? She is my life!”
My simple answer calmed down Sherubai, and I decided to use the chance and asked for a third time:
‘So what do you say? Can I take Ayauzhan home?’
‘Life is a more valuable thing than we tend to think at times’, Sherubai grunted. ‘Fruit which is too red may overripen. Do you understand that you undertake the responsibility for another person’s fate? Will you be there if you have to spend your life at someone else’s bed? And if you are not strong enough, do you understand what will happen to that girl? Isn’t is more merciful to leave her now?’
‘No! Never!’ I screamed. ‘I will die without Ayauzhan!’
I believed myself at this moment that my heart would stop beating at the moment when I lost Ayauzhan Besides, deep in my heart I thought Sherubai was trying to scare me, that my fiancée’s condition was not so bad as he was saying.
‘How should I know?’ Sherubai sighed. You, men of art, often let your feelings blind your reason. You really believe it’s true. And then, emotions fade and leave…’
‘You don’t seem to know me well’, I objected feeling hurt, as I understood he was referring to the past.
‘I hope’, Sherubai sneered with a crooked smile. ‘Anyway. Donentayeva should stay in hospital for a couple of weeks, and then you can take her home. But keep in mind that ninety-nine patients out of a hundred in her condition never get to their feet again.
‘We’ll see, we’ll see’, I told myself. ‘ My Ayauzhan will be the one, one out of a hundred. This is meant to be’.
‘Thank you, doctor’, I said joyfully.
He did not answer and went back to his desk. However, I was not annoyed by this at all. I went into the corridor, pleased with myself. And I saw Ayauzhan’s behavior differently from this angle now.
‘It’s all clear, Zhantas’, I told myself. ‘A girl like Ayauzhan could never act otherwise. Because she is a noble person. Because she is my fiancée’.
Summer finished its course and soon a clear early autumn came to take its place. Trees and the sky burnt by the summer heat cheered up, the green leaves seem to have shaken themselves free from dust. Colors acquired a bright tinge. But I noticed all of this barely looking, as I rushed about the town during the two weeks that were left. I had to buy a ton of necessary things for Ayauzhan and I ran off my legs.
Our friends actively participated in all preparations. Bazargul took a lot of responsibilities upon herself. Even Karipzhan and Asylkhan who were terribly ignorant in all aspects of practical life meddled with their advice. Only Altynai kept grumbling. The news that Ayauzhan was going to live at my place with me made her particularly mad.
Once I came to the residence hall to take some of Ayauzhan’s things and heard by chance Altynai picking me to pieces. I had to squat to take my fianceé’s suitcase from under her bed and Altynai who entered the room had not noticed me at once.
‘This Zhantas has completely messed about my poor friend. Our unfortunate Ayauzhan is just a toy for him’, she told other girls.
‘But not every dzhigit has the courage to marry a crippled girl. You should admit this, Altynai’, one of the girls retorted, casting embarrassed glances at me.
‘It’s true’, I thought, squatting before the bed. ‘No false modesty, a rare young man would agree to do this’.
But Altynai kept grumbling, as if an angry bumblebee had got into her mouth.
‘You can say what you want. Some hero, your Zhantas. You’ll see, he’ll get sick and tired of all these problems and leave her’, she said with her hands on her powerful sides.
Overhearing was in a way inappropriate, so I drew myself straight. Altynai blushed to the top of her ears and disappeared behind the door having mumbled something.
‘Please don’t have hard feelings about Altynai. She is a kind girl and loves your Ayauzhan very much. She has just has it fixed in her head that she always knows better’, the girl who had just stood up for me said in Altynai’s defense.
I had a suspicion myself that Altynai was a kind girl. This was the reason why I wanted to establish a contact with her.
‘Alright, Zhantas. She will see soon what kind of person you really are, and things will change’, I consoled myself.
And so, the day had come that we had been waiting for so long. I came to the hospital ina taxi and found there the inseparable friends Karipzhan and Asylkhan.
‘Where is Altynai?’ I asked through the car window.
‘She’s afraid of you. She wouldn’t come anywhere near you. After one incident’, Karipzhan winked surreptitiously. ‘So you can live in peace now, Zhantas’.
‘Are you out of your mind? Can you imagine how much this will upset Ayauzhan?’ I was terrified. ‘Oh, there’s nothing to talk about. Driver, hurry to the constructors’ residence hall!’ I screamed to the driver.
‘Why not’, the driver said having shrugged his shoulders.
I stormed into Altynai’s room as she was plucking her extremely broad eyebrows with very modest success.
‘Ah!’ Altynai squealed and dropped the tweezers.
‘You’re a looker the way you are!.. Couldn’t you find a more important task for yourself? Your best friend is being discharged from hospital, and she’s doing hell knows what here. You’re coming with me!’ I shouted at her, grabbed the embarrassed Altynai by the hand and dragged her out of the room, then along the corridor and downstairs to the car.
Overall, we welcomed Ayauzhan altogether. Bazargul wasn’t there, but she was busy at my apartment at the moment cooking the holiday dinner.
Ayauzhan was brought outside on a litter, like a princess. Almost the whole hospital came out with her, headed by Abilkas. Abilkas was shining as if his face had been greased for celebration. The doctors and nurses were all smiles. The elderly attendants who were deeply moved wiped their eyes with their coat sleeves. Even the taxi driver intrigued by the fuss left came out of his shell and entered the hospital lobby. I looked for Sherubai but he was nowhere to be seen. However, I was not concentrating on the fact because today I was the happiest man in the world – me, Zhantas.
‘Come on, Ayauzhan, let’s get you inside the car now’, I said and moved to take the litter.
‘Hey, you great minds, how are we supposed to get her inside the car?’ the taxi driver said calmly.
‘Young man!’ Abilkas articulated arrogantly though the driver was approximately 5 years his senior. ‘Young man, do you really think that our establishment does not show enough care about our patients?’ Then he turned to the duty doctor with dignity and asked, ‘Haven’t you arranged a car?’
‘Abilkas Daribayevich’, the female doctor said with reproach in her voice.
Indeed, there was a beautiful minibus outside with red crosses on it. There were two strong men dressed in white coats waiting next to it ready to grab the litter with my Ayauzhan in it at a word and take her to the end of the world. In a word, the hospital arranged such a farewell as if they were to marry off their beloved daughter.
Abilkas couldn’t resist the temptation and gave a short speech. The attendants skillfully put Ayauzhan who was excited and happy into the bus. I sat down beside her on a bench, the other members of our company managed to crowd into the taxi, Abilkas took of his coat, got into an administrative use Volga, and our solemn cortege started moving through the town.
Abilkas’s car was the first one, like a beacon showing the way, in the middle of our little procession was the taxi carrying Ayauzhan’s friends singing at the top of their voices. and we, heroes of the day, were the last. Passers-by slowed their pace and looked at our colorful, strangely arranged cavalcade with their mouths open.
I held Ayauzhan’s hand in mine, and I couldn’t help smiling. Nothing in the world could make me press my lips into a flat serious line. I had not suspected before how big my mouth was, it could reach my ears. My Ayauzhan was smiling looking at me.
‘Can I have seen you both before?’ one of the attendants said, considering something. ‘I guess I took you somewhere once, didn’t I? Was it the hospital?’
But all of it was so long ago in the past, and this ride was so different from the previous one that I didn’t even want to answer the attendant. And he was bothering his head until the end of the journey.
When Ayauzhan was being brought into the house she dug in feet again
‘Perhaps I should go to the residence hall, Zhantas? Before it’s too late?’ Ayauzhan whispered.
Silly girl, couldn’t she understand that I needed her like the air that I breathed? Besides, even if I had changed my mind, there was no way for me to withdraw my first decision in front of all these people.
‘Don’t talk nonsense’, Altynai snapped at her and hurried the attendants, ‘Why are you standing there? Hurry up!’
The attendants obeyed and moved upstairs like tamed stallions.
Ayauzhan was brought into the apartment, and joyful fuss filled all the rooms. Ayauzhan was picking a place for her bed, and we, the men, were moving her future bed about the whole apartment causing great noise.
‘Ayauzhan, look through the window! See, it’s your crane!’ Altynai squeaked.
‘You are right, Altynai! Boys, bring the bed here… No, there! That’s a better place!’ Ayauzhan was screaming from her litter, and the bed moving fuss started over again.
‘My crane is the highest!’ Ayauzhan was excited as a child when she was finally put onto her bed. She wouldn’t stop looking through the window.
‘Who has replaced me?’ she asked with jealousy in her voice.
‘Don’t worry, the girl’s great’, Altynai said with her thumb up. ‘Her name is Bubesh… But we’ll talk about this, about work, later. Deal?’
‘Way to go, Ayauzhan. Duty above all’, Abilkas expressed his official approval.
‘It’s nothing’, Ayauzhan was embarrassed.
“I wonder”, I thought, “does he ever speak a normal language?”
‘Attention!’ the voice of Bazargul was heard. She appeared in the kitchen with a big bottle of champagne. Karipzhan and Asylkhan brought glasses and snacks after her, like pageboys.
‘Gentlemen, who could open the champagne?’ Bazargul asked.
‘Me, of course’, Abilkas looked even surprised.
He demonstrated unexpected skillfulness, and the screw shot into the ceiling accompanied by women shrieking. Then Abilkas filled the glasses with accuracy that would be appropriate in a drug store.
‘A toast for the happiness of Ayauzhan Donentayeva and Zhantas Bekov’, Abilkas announced raising his glass.
‘Hurray!’ Karipzhan and Asypkhan roared, and we emptied our glasses. Even Ayauzhan allowed herself to take a small sip.
‘Being together with your beloved means the same as opening the heaven’s door’, Bazargul said when the glasses were full again. ‘What can you say to us and your Ayauzhan, koke?”
I must admit, all my thoughts were so confused in my head now. I had not prepared a single word beforehand. But, perhaps, it’s true what they say that blind eyes cry as well, and I expressed all the feelings that filled my heart.
‘My friends! My dear friends!’ I started raising my glass. ’I think you could compare life with a diary in color. Each person fills it with what he or she has lived through. A poet uses rhymes, a composer – songs. An artist uses his paints to tell the story of the joys and sorrow that he has faced. Ayauzhan and I have opened a new page of our diary today…’
‘Beautifully said’, Abilkas supported me.
I was about to continue my speech when a long ring at the door interrupted me, and Asylkhan who went to the door. He returned with a loud crowd of boys and girls. Judging from the faces of some of them that I had seen in the residence hall, they were Ayauzhan’s friends. The girls rushed to Ayauzhan screaming, and complete mess started. Bazargul went to the kitchen to fetch more dishes.
‘They are so disorganized’, Abilkas observed and winced with disapproval.
Finally, Karipzhan and Asylkhan as old-timers managed to put things in order.
‘Quiet, folks!’ Karipzhan barked. ‘Fiancé, take the floor! Let him finish at last!’
The new guests simmered down in embarrassment.
‘And so, my friends!’ I said with elation in my voice. But I was interrupted by yet another ring at the door. This time Asylkhan returned together with my neighbor Zulfia. Zulfia’s seven-year old son Yerkezhan was holding her hand tightly, looking frowningly, and there were two more children behind him, each of them younger than the other.
‘Good day, good day’, Zulfia sang. ‘These kids won’t leave me alone, they keep saying, “Show us the new lady”. What can you do about these stubborn kids’.
‘Kids are kids’, Abilkas observed because he could not stay away from the center of attention for a long time.
‘Right, right. That is true!’ Zulfia agreed and bent over her children. ‘Children, this is the same lady who fell off the crane. Will you help her?’
‘Yes, we will!’, the kids answered.
‘Thank you, kids,’ Ayauzhan said, moved by their words. ‘How can I repay you?.. Except with chocolates’.
‘Come on, come up to the lady. She will give you some chocolates’, Zulfia gave the kids, who felt uneasy, a slight push. ‘Go, kids, show your manners’. She herself went to the table, and the guests arranged a glass of wine for her at once.
‘Speak, Zhantas. You haven’t finished your toast yet’, Karipzhan reminded me.
‘Friends!’ I said, completely confused by this time. ‘In a word, soon… Well, Ayauzhan will soon raise to her feet, and we’ll have a great.. Well, a great feast, a feast of feasts.
‘Oh, I wish it was sooner, I don’t want to wait’, Ayauzhan sighed, having put her hand on Yerkezhan’s disheveled hair
‘Ayauzhan, shame on you’, her friends hissed at her.
‘It’s alright, lady, you and I will soon be playing hide-and-seek’, Yerkezhan promised timidly.
‘We could play hide-and-seek now. I’ll hide under the blanket, and you’ll never find me’, Ayauzhan laughed.
‘Poor, poor girl’, Zulfia shook her head having emptied her glass. ‘And what if she stays this way, poor little thing. Just think that she has fallen off a crane… Even if it wasn’t a crane… In my aul, there was a girl who just fell off a pacing horse, no big deal. But she stayed hunched for her whole life. Who’d need a girl like that, hah?’
She looked at me and shook her head again as if saying, ‘An unfortunate man you are yourself, too, poor man’.
There was an awkward silence in the room. I thought with annoyance, “Apai, what a stupid woman you are! What a wicked twist of fate has brought you to our celebration?”
‘Apai, milk is boiling at your place’, Altynai intervened.
‘Milk?’ Zulfia was surprised. ‘Did I put milk on the cooker? Ah, then I should go now. Kids, kids, follow me!’ She gathered all her children and left our apartment, pushing them in front of herself.
You can imagine my joy as I locked the door behind this chatterbox of a woman.
‘I’ll drop in one day’, Zulfia promised already from the landing.
Her departure made us all sign with relief. The guests looked as if they had got rid of a great burden, the atmosphere became more vivid, they started talking different things. Champagne was fizzing again.
Zulfia had left, but a strange feeling kept nagging me the rest of the day, as if an annoying mosquito was hovering at my ear, buzzing and irritating, not letting me speak and think. You try to chase it away, but it won’t stop buzzing. It just flies away at a distance and returns again.
“Zhantas, forget what the pretty zhengei was croaking here”, I persuaded myself. “What can you do about a silly woman... Up to this moment things have been great for you”.
Zulfia’s sad prophecy lingered above my horizon as a black cloud. The sky was crystal clear, and it was still there before my eyes, somewhere aside, like a speck of dust in my eye.
The next day I woke up early. Hardly had I opened my eyes when a thought stung me, “You sleepyhead, you are sleeping, and Ayauzhan needs your help!”
The springs in my sofa compressed and shot me out of the bed. I dressed myself quickly and peeked inside the room where Ayauzhan’s bed was. Ayauzhan was lying with her eyes open, whispering something under her breath. Having heard that I was awake she turned her head and smiled broadly.
‘Oh, I’m sorry, Ayauzhan’, I begged entering the room. ‘I have overslept, and you may need something. You keep calling me, and Zhantas is sleeping, this rascal of a man’.
‘Good morning, Zhantas. I don’t need anything so far. I’m just lying here and humming a song to myself’, Ayauzhan said.
I was already rushing around, taking care of Ayauzhan. She was shy and repeated:
‘This is so awkward, Zhantas. Really, I’m so sorry’.
‘It’s nothing. When you are fine again, you’ll have to work really hard for me’, I answered vigorously.
I liked taking care of Ayauzhan. I hadn’t taken care of anyone before, and the novelty of this care was absorbing to me. Besides, it could not last for a long time. It had to continue only until Ayauzhan was fine again. And I was sure she would soon recover. After breakfast I gave Ayauzhan books and hurried to the Registry Office.
‘This time you are alone. I see, you have changed your mind again’, the same woman working there gave me an acrid sneer.
‘If Mohammad won’t come to the mountain, not for anything, the mountain, having tamed its pride, will go to Mohammad after all. You will have to follow the mountain’s example’, I told her striking aside her blow, and told her the whole story of what had happened by way of a counter-blow.
‘So it’s you? The whole town is talking about you’, the woman said looking at me with amazement. ‘I must confess I thought you were quite a light-minded person. You know, I guess men of art are for the most part light-minded. But you seem to be an exception’.
We have made arrangements with her as to everything – well, when the officers from the Registry Office were to come to our apartment – and rushed to Community Center.*
I liked classes in the studio, it was fascinating to work with young promising talents. It’s such a rare joy to see a person grow before your eyes. But I had to postpone the classes, at least until we had things settled. No matter what, the classes are time-consuming, too.
We discussed everything with the director, too, and when I was about to leave and continue my errands, the director took me by the button and said:
‘Zhantas, we are all friends here’, his hand drew a circle including the movie technician present there, me, and himself. ‘Why are you doing this?’, the director asked soulfully.
‘What do you mean?’, I really did not understand.
‘We are all friends here’, the director repeated. ‘People say you share a home with a woman you aren’t married to. People will keep talking. Why are you doing this?’
‘It’s Ayauzhan Donentayeva!’ the movie technician exclaimed with disapproval.
‘Is it? Her?’ the director asked. ‘Then it’s the right thing to do. She is a hero, and all that. But marrying a cripple…’
‘You are too late with your advice!’ I shouted without anger, because I was in a great mood, and ran my way…
In those days I also started working on the composition “A Girl in a Tiger’s Clutch”. This idea was inspired by Isa Bayzakov’s poem. Remember, the helpless beauty Kuralai, like a swan on a glassy lake… Zholbars, merciless like the ruthless fate… Vulnerability and fierce power! Kindness and hate!.. A struggle between life and death!... I wanted to create a philosophical symbol of an eternal fight. And this urge grew even stronger after the accident that had happened to my Ayauzhan.
But what kind of work was it if all my thoughts were focused on Ayauzhan at the time. After an hour of pointless struggle I threw a piece of clay into the big roll lying on the stand, sighed and asked the young sitter something like:
‘Gayni, have you seen cream in any shop today?’
‘I guess I’ve seen cream in Auezov street today. Do you know this small food store “Gastronom”? And there is good mutton in a shop near the Executive committee building’, the insightful Gayni added.
And I rushed through the route: Auezov street – Dzhambul lane – the market – the Executive committee building…
The exhibition in Alma-Ata was over, and my Ulbosyn was given an honorable mention. If so, the jury invited me to the closing ceremony in a special letter.
I read the letter and thought that it was for Ayauzhan to decide. After all, nothing would happen if Bazargul looked after my wife while I was away. I was certain that my sister would not refuse her beloved brother, that’s in her character. I had no doubt as to Ayauzhan’s decision either. But formality is formality, and I entered my wife’s room with the letter in my hand.
‘Just look how this Bubesh carries the cargo. Can one move it so abruptly? One should move it smoothly, like a baby’s cradle’, Ayauzhan said with annoyance. ‘No one can explain it to her properly. You’ll see, the star will not shine for them today. You just wait, they only have to come near me. I’ll show them then”.
I promised to call Bubesh and give her a telling-off together with Ayauzhan and then gave her the letter. My wife quickly read the text and said firmly returning it to me:
‘You should go! Can you have any second thoughts? I’m so happy for you, you can’t even imagine!’
‘And how about you? How can I leave you?’ I objected to ease my conscience.
‘In case I need something Bazargul will help me. Besides, Altynai comes almost every evening, you know it yourself. You should go, don’t bother yourself with this’.
‘Alright, I’ll go then’, I said. ‘But I’ll be back before you even notice, like an arrow’.
‘You could use a plane of a train’, Ayauzhan gave me a mother-like smile; she must have understood my awkward pretense.
Bazargul agreed willingly, she had taken to Ayauzhan even more over these recent times. And though Abilkas grunted something expressing his disapproval, she packed the necessary things and I took her to our apartment.
‘At least your wife and I will get a chance to take a break from men’, my sister said jokingly.
The next day I was walking along the main street of Alma-Ata forgetting my troubles for a while. My eyes shifted unconcernedly from one passer-by to another and suddenly became fixed on a women walking in front of me. What can I say, my eyes seem to be attracted by pretty women: she had a beautiful figure with smooth lines of shoulders, arms and thighs. Wearing her colorful dress she looked to me like fancy fish dancing inside its aquarium.
Nevertheless, something else claimed my attention. There are many beautiful women on this planet and it’s pointless to stare at each of them. But the woman walking in front of me awakened the feeling that you get when you encounter something long-forgotten and very familiar in my subconsciousness. It was as if I had once known each line of this beautiful body. I knew it like only a doctor or a sculptor can know it who have studied it thoroughly and meticulously. In the same way a singer subconsciously remembers individual words and fragments of the tune that he sang once long ago.
Intrigued by this feeling I quickened my pace. Soon I was close enough to see her heavy hair dyed dark red and fastened into a bun moving idly up and down before my nose. Then I saw the soft oval of her face. The face was opening to me gradually, like the moon going through its phases. The woman looked at me and suddenly slowed down.
‘Good God, Umit!’ I exclaimed, astonished.
‘Zhantas?’ she was as amazed as I was.
Yes, it was her, my first sitter Umit. An angular teenage girl became a beautiful adult woman. But her body had preserved something intimate, unique, which could not be found in any other body, and it seemed I had not been an absolutely inept student if I had managed to see this unique something that Umit had.
‘What brings you here?’ I asked, filled with joy.
‘And you?’ she asked in her turn and smiled. I recognized you at once. You’ve become so mature since then, just look at you!’
She regarded me without any shyness, without trying to hide it, and I saw how different this Umit was. The girl who was almost crying with embarrassment because she had to take off her dress before an artist, was long gone. She is aware now that the human body is a generous gift. Maturity had taught her to appreciate pleasure, feel glad about it. “Why be surprised by this”, I told myself, “she was supposed to grow up sooner or later, I have changed too, haven’t I?”
‘Where are you now, Umit?’
‘Here. I live in Alma-Ata, work in a project bureau. My, so much time has passed! I’m sorry, I have to hurry up… Still, come and visit me. Then we’ll have enough time to talk. I have many things to tell you’.
I put down her address and we didn’t see each other until that evening. And in the evening, after the closing ceremony, I snuck away from my colleagues and found Umit’s house.
Umit opened the door herself.
‘Don’t be afraid. I’m here alone’, she laughed when she saw my alert look.
‘It means that a jealous husband will show up and shoot poor Zhantas dead’, I replied with a hackneyed witticism entering the room.
‘The husband stayed in Moscow. I mean, my former husband. And I came back to my mom’, Umit said sitting down on the sofa.
‘What happened? I think it’s been quite a short while since your wedding’, I said sinking into an arm-chair. ‘You seemed so much in love, and now you are telling me this’.
‘It all seemed perfect to me, too. But we had hardly lived together a year. We broke up. Do you know why?’ Umit smiled sadly.
I could not possibly know the reason so I made a helpless gesture.
‘He found out I had been a sitter’.
‘Oh, did he? Were you hiding this from him?’
‘I felt awkward. I told him I sewed some things for our girls and they paid me some money… Zhantas, but the truth is, I didn’t do anything wrong, did i? It is so, tell me!’ she asked emotionally.
‘Of course you didn’t. Calm down, Umit. For me personally you did a good thing. I became a sculptor thanks to you, Umit… Perhaps you shouldn’t have lied to him… And still, if he didn’t understand you he didn’t love you enough!’ I claimed resolutely.
‘Who knows’, Umit sighed. ‘Sometimes I feel this way, too… but who knows…’
Then she shook the burden of recollections off herself.
‘My, I have a guest sitting in front of me and I have nothing to treat him to’, Umit became alarmed. ‘I must confess I didn’t think you’d come. We knew each other long ago… Mom went to see my sister, and there is absolutely nothing to eat at home. I don’t actually cook for myself… Except… I have tea?’
‘I could have some tea’, I said feeling uneasy because I hadn’t been in fact waited for, but I still came.
‘No, believe me, I’m glad to see you. You can’t even imagine how glad I am. I just really didn’t believe you’d be here. I mean, who am I to you?’ Umit startled as if having read my mind.
In about five minutes we were already drinking sweet-smelling tea in the same room. I moved the coffee table and my chair to the sofa, and Umit put cups and cookies on it.
‘You do mean something to me. After all, I broke up with my husband because of this. Though indirectly, but you played your role in it’, she said continuing our conversation.
Her voice took on a playful tone. She was wearing a short skirt that revealed her legs. Umit’s knees unconsciously attracted my attention like two magnets. She felt my look but pretended not to see it. She only shifted her position crossing her legs, as if teasing me.
I looked at her calm face and remembered I had been in love with this woman once. Then, she had seemed dear and close to me. And now she was sitting there next to me, a complete stranger who was in perfect control of her gift. What should I consider this to be – a woman’s unconscious urge to conquer men, an instinct inherited from great-grandmothers, or a harlot’s intention?
‘We would have drifted apart sooner or later’, Umit told me. ‘He had no wings. Sleeping and eating – these were the most important things to him. What I wanted from our life was different. In fact I’d seen it all even before the wedding…’
‘Who made you do this then?’
‘Lack of experience. Something we call love’, Umit said with contempt. ‘Don’t we make mistakes here and there when we are young, not knowing what makes the sense of life. It appears, it’s something else. For example, finding a man like you…’
It was flattering for me, what can I say, Still, I didn’t like her tone.
‘… and living a joyful life. Without trouble and sorrow’, Umit finished her though nonchalantly.
Her bold cynicism made me feel cold. I would rather not believe what I had heard. My God, they say God moves in mysterious ways, but where could these ways take a person! Could I really have heard all these things from Umit who had been a pure clear-eyed girl? Maybe, she was trying me, eager to find out what kind of man Zhantas had become. I was reluctant to believe that the gem named Umit came to be tainted with something dirty.
‘Has Umit changed?’ she asked, suddenly sad. ‘I’m not serious, of course. Nevermind. I said stupid things. There is true love, but things turn out different with different people. It was my fault. I didn’t love Muslim very much, I just made it fixed in my head: I love him, I do. I liked you too, by the way. Who knows what would have happened if you had tried to charm me’.
This was a revelation for me. But it did not matter a thing now. I had had Ulbosyn then and I had Ayauzhan now.
“I must go to her, to Ayauzhan, I may still catch today’s train”, the thought flashed in my head.
We talked a bit more. I said my good bye and was already leaving when I let Umit’s warm palm stay in my hand for a while, absolutely unconsciously. She did not try to free her palm, she liked the feeling of her hand in mine. She even moved her finger once implying – she liked it. I realized, of course, that I had made a mistake, but it was too awkward to reject this blameless palm at once.
‘Zhantas, drop in if you happen to be in Alma-Ata, will you? Or you could come here’, Umit whispered without taking her hand away.
‘Sure I will’, I promised, knowing that this was a polite lie, and quit hold of her hand.
I was going downstairs, and Umit was still standing in the doorway waving her hand. “Come on, forget it”, I told myself. “You have Ayauzhan! The best wife in the world – Zhantas Bekov’s wife”.
‘Zhantas, I guess it’s hopeless. I’ll stay in bed for the rest of my life. And I’m torturing you’, Ayauzhan once said as I gave her medication.
She drank the powder reluctantly and added:
‘When I look through the window, the star above the construction site is there at times, and sometimes it’s not. It feels like it’s my fault too that it’s not there’.
‘There, don’t lose heart. I don’t like you saying this!’ I raised my voice to my wife, putting on a brave face.
But the confidence in the favorable outcome had almost left me. Weeks, months were passed by, doctors from the hospital would come to our place, even Sherubai himself came once, nurses would prick my wife with syringes, so there was not a single piece of her body that was intact, Ayauzhan would take kilograms and liters of medicines, but there was no progress.
“What if love turns the other side? Sorrow instead of joy?” I thought with anxiety.
I knew even from classical literature that love is actually such a thing where joy and sorrow fight with each other if one happens to find it. One of them always wants to torture it, the other does everything to help it flourish, blossom like a beautiful flower. Everything depends on who wins in the end. I had never given much thought to it as I believed that literature was one thing and could not do without a tragedy, whereas life was something completely different. Besides, I had never thought that something like this could happen to me. I could admit that such things might happen to someone else, but not me, this was impossible.
I had been sure of it not long ago. Nevertheless, I still trusted my lucky star. But nothing seemed to change, things remained the same, and I had already lost faith that I was strong enough though did my best to cheer myself up.
‘Don’t lose hope, darling!’ I exclaimed and went away from her bed, having put a kiss on her cheek.
I started feeling sorry for Ayauzhan and myself.
Nothing seemed to work the way I wanted. I wanted to distract myself with work, but failed here, too. Clay would not yield to my hands anymore. Once I looked at my sitter Gayni and thought to my own surprise, “Zhantas you must have lost your mind if you thought that there is any similarity between the lazy and silly Gayni and Kuralai with her sophisticated and aristocratic feelings. Just look at her – she is taking a nap in the corner, waiting for special words instead of taking her place”. I had to invent a convincing excuse to dismiss her.
‘You see, they gave the directions to mould Kuralai in lighter clay yeaterday. You are dark-skinned, Gayni, so I can’t possibly use you for light clay’, I lied to this silly girl.
‘I’m not so dark-skinned, big deal’, Gayni snorted and left having shrugged her shoulders.
Now I had to start over again, but I had no appropriate sitter in mind. Overwhelmed with anger I took all the clay from the stand and took it to the spelter bath where the main stock was soaked.
‘Stay here’, I told the clay, ‘until I think of a better use for you’.
“They say, a man’s fate is in his hands. I used to say this to other people myself. But how do misfortunes fit here?” I contemplated on my way home. “It appears that a man makes schemes against himself. He means evil for himself, he is so eager to bring a misfortune upon himself. In future, the man will hold his fate in his hands, it’s clear, but now he is too weak to fight some things. Just think of Ayauzhan, if everything depended on her only, she would have overcome all her difficulties long ago. But circumstances are against her, and she is not strong enough… circumstances, evil spirits… That’s the thing. And I feel sorry for my Ayauzhan”.
And my wife, in her turn, felt sorry for me. I started noticing it in her eyes. She felt that my faith in our happiness was fading and she felt sorry for me. So sorry that she tried to use my services as seldom as possible. She would suffer from thirst instead of asking to bring her some water because she felt guilty.
Our love was more like mutual pity now.
I dropped at a shop to get some butter and the women standing in line all stared at me. Hardly had I turned my back to them heading to the cashdesk when voices whispered in line:
‘He’s the one?’
“Yes, he’s the man, neighbors. The martyr!..’
‘Married a cripple…’
“They say she can’t move a toe. Just lies there’.
‘Sacrificed his life…’
‘Just think, he’s so young…’
They insisted on me taking what I had bought without standing in line.
‘Thank you’, I said wryly and ran out of the shop avoiding their eyes full of pity.
“What if they are right? If we are doomed to spend our lives like this”, I shuddered at the thought.
Near our house there was Altynai measuring the width of the pavement with her steps.
‘I want to talk to you’, she said, metal in her voice.
‘But why won’t you come up? Let’s go to our place’, I suggested, feeling something unpleasant coming.
‘I can’t do it there. I want to talk eye to eye… You know what, let’s take Ayauzhan to our place’, she blurted unexpectedly.
‘She is my wife, and what if…’ I said confusedly.
‘It’s hard for you. It’s a lot of trouble. And there are four of us in the room’, she explained trying to soften the impression.
I must admit what she was offering was a good way out. It would relieve both me and Ayauzhan to an extent. No, of course I would not even consider the idea of parting with my wife. I would visit her there every day. And then, when she is healthy again, we would live happily ever after.
But there was something hostile about Alatynai’s care for her. Her cold, piercing eyes gave her away.
‘No way! We’ll forget this talk, and I don’t want to hear anything like this in future’, I said firmly.
‘I meant well. Both to you and her’, she snorted looking down.
‘We are both happy’ Both Ayauzhan and I! Especially I’.
She looked at me suspiciously.
‘Don’t be silly, Altynai. Let’s go home. Ayauzhan is waiting for us’.
‘I’ll go and fetch some laundry soap. I’ll do some washing for you’, she said, still doubting my words.
When I entered the apartment, I heard a piercing scream of the boy Yerkezhan living next door:
‘Aunt Ayauzhan, try to find me now!’
Yerkezhan was hiding under the table, where only a blind person could not see him, and was laughing, terribly pleased with himself.
‘You are in the wardrobe’, Ayauzhan pretended to guess lying on her back.
‘Wrong guess!’ the boy was excited.
‘Then you must be behind the mirror’
Yerkezhan screamed with laughter.
‘Wrong guess! You didn’t find me! Nope, you didn’t!’ he screamed clapping his hands.
‘Good God, where can this cunning child be?’, Ayauzhan said pretending to be amazed beyond words.
I couldn’t but laugh, though my mood was completely ruined by the conversation with Altynai. Having heard my laughter, Ayauzhan turned her head. Her eyes sparkled for a moment and then these sparkles died again. And Yerkezhan emerged from under the table realizing the game was over for the day.
‘Have a good night’s sleep, Ayauzhan-apai’, he said and headed to the door.
‘The same to you, Yerkezhan…’
I let the boy outside and locked the door.
‘A good night’s sleep… that’s a good wish and seemingly impossible’, Ayauzhan sighed.
‘It is if you lose heart… Sweetheart, you must have faith in yourself, in us and medicine’, I said trying to sound as heartfelt as possible.
‘Like I’m not struggling’, Ayauzhan murmured, then frowned and added, ‘Come take a seat beside me. We need to talk’.
“What’s happened to all of them today? All willing to talk’, I thought with annoyance but sat down at the edge of the bed.
‘What about? I’m all ears’.
‘About events in Africa… About the bigfoot… What if I want to talk about flowers, about love…’ she did not finish, as if tears choked her.
‘I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to hurt you’, I said regretfully. Ayauzhan forced a smile.
‘But I really wanted to talk to you, you know, love talk, as they call it’, she said as if excusing herself.
I did my best to conceal my amazement. But apparently I failed to hide it completely.
‘This must be really ridiculous. Talks of love in my situation’, Ayauzhan smiled quietly. ‘ But what can I do if it troubles old people and cripples, too. I’m thinking of you all the time’.
‘And I’m thinking of you, Ayauzhan! I will love you until my last breath!’
I wasn’t lying, but something inside me had changed my intonation and my own voice sounded strange to me.
‘I have read somewhere that true feelings avoid high-sounding words’, my wife said thoughtfully.
Then I started to go out of my way to convince her of my deep feelings.
‘I didn’t mean you. I just remembered the phrase’, Ayauzhan smiled. ‘I believe you… otherwise I wouldn’t have married you. But we’ve been so unlucky…’
‘Just have some patience, you’ll be fine again soon. Doctors will find a new medicine. The progress is rapid these days’, I assured her and myself.
‘Thank you for believing in it, sweetheart. And what if this is forever? Will we be strong enough?’
‘Strong enough? Of course’, I said, but probably with less certainty in my voice than I meant.
‘Thank you, sweetheart’, she repeated. ‘I know you are a man with a big kind heart. But with time passing, even volcanoes die. A man is only flesh and bones, and his heart is like the light of a candle in comparison with a volcano. Just blow a little harder and it will go out… Now take me to the residence hall’, she finished firmly.
‘Take your medicine and get some sleep’, I said rudely.
‘But you are unhappy! You are miserable!’ she retorted.
‘Yes I am happy’, I insisted.
‘No you aren’t. I can see it’.
‘No way. You can’t see a thing’.
‘Zhantas, if she insists on it so much… Your conscience will be clean. You’ll say you had to…” this was the other Zhantas interrupting. But the first Zhantas had never acted as a low person before.
‘Take yourself in hand and get some sleep’, I finished stopping the conversation.
Ayauzhan turned her face to the wall. Absolute silence filled the room around us. But a moment later a door banged beyond the wall and our neighbor Zulfia started singing:
‘My soul like a bird is taking a flight, my heart is exhausted, it’s beating inside…’
Her voice was powerful and strong. However, Zulfia appeared to be completely tone-deaf. But she did not to care very much about it. Having finished the first verse, she started the refrain:
‘A-a-a-ah, my love is back, A-a-a-a-h, it’s back again!’
Zulfia was singing as if she was trying to seduce a man we could not see. She mentioned her ‘love’ in every line, particularly savoring the word. And whereas the word normally worked as a key opening for me a pure and clear space, now it caused dull and barely tolerable irritation. Another person felt happy because of something that made me sad. Of course, having noticed that I didn’t like this conversation, Zulfia tried to change the subject, she said:
‘And here’s something to eat with vodka… herring, pickles’.
‘Fine, I’ll drink one shot’, I agreed I didn’t know myself why. I just wanted to relax or something.
‘Way to go’, the woman said with approval. ‘The pickles are spicy, so crispy’.
She got me a chair in no time, put the snacks on the table and sat opposite me.
‘Cheers’, - I said and drank the shot.
‘If you live you have to enjoy your life in every possible way’. This was the phrase that Zulfia used to celebrate my first shot. ‘A young dzhigit must live an easy and joyous life’, she kept elucidating.
‘How can it be easy and joyous if you have a sick wife?’, I couldn’t help it.
‘The one who is sick remains sick. You have nothing to do with it’, Zulfia shook her head.
‘Then it’s not love anymore. True love is different’.
‘Who knows what kind of love is true?’ Zulfia asked with a smile. ‘There’s a reason why people sing, “If you want to spend your time joyfully spend it with a woman of your age, she is no worse than your beloved”, she snag a line from a funny song.
Her eyes went dim, she looked like a hare waiting for an eagle to save it.
It seemed to me that a completely different person was sitting there instead of me. It was as if Zhantas Bekov had never existed since the day the earth was created. Like all of it had been nothing but a dream: careless study in Moscow, Ulbosyn caressing me, then her death, and fights with Sherubai. What is he doing now, my former rival? I wish he would just storm into this room now and splashed a good dose of his venom, like in good old times. No, there was only one person now who could put back again the pieces of my shattered soul. It was Grandma Kara Kempir. She would come in, her back hunched and her old tired eyes squinted, she would put her stiff hand on the top of my head and say,
But Grandma Kara Kempir had gone long ago…
“Why have I got stuck in all this philosophy here? Should I drink another shot before leaving?” I asked myself and decided to drink it. “One or two, it makes no difference”.
The second shot was followed by a third one. That’s why vodka can speak for itself, “Show me the way with one shot, I’ll find the way then”.
‘Perhaps you should try my infusion of lemon peel? I always have some in store’, Zulfia boasted.
Disregarding my weak protests she walked across the whole room to the cupboard. Zulfia was showing off, swaying her voluptuous hips. I don’t know if this was the result of the shots I had drunk or it was really so, in a word, her figure looked attractive to me. She was not quite slender, she was rather thick-set and strong-built, but there was that appeal of the feminine power in her which was probably the reason why men were attracted to Zulfia.
‘That’s enough for me’, I informed her, moving the shot glass and the carafe with infusion inside away from myself.
‘Come on, drink. Such a dzhigit… it would be only fair for you to enjoy your life’, she said switching to the first-name basis. She seemed to echo my thoughts, and still there was something in her words which I could not agree with.
‘I’d rather we talk about you. Where’s your husband?.. What do you do?..’ I asked with a challenge.
‘What can be interesting about me in comparison with you? A simple shop assistant, that’s all’, she retorted flirtingly and tried to pour some infusion into my shot glass.
“What is there about her that I don’t like?” I asked myself. “I think it’s something filthy. I feel it but can’t define. Anyway, Zhantas, you should remember that a good horse would not drink from a muddy spring”, and I moved aside the shot glass with determination.
‘Are you a good sculptor?’ Zulfia suddenly asked.
‘It’s hard to judge yourself’, I was taken aback by her straight-forwardness.
‘What do people say?’
‘Different things… a decent one I guess’.
‘Do you want me to undress myself then?’
‘Zulfia, I’m a sculptor, not a libertine’, I said in a mentor’s tone.
‘But I heard, you look at a naked woman, then you make a sculpture and then they put it in a museum. I want to be put in a museum, too’, she explained simply.
‘Zulfia, it’s a different thing. It’s something that, so to say, takes away the peace of your mind. And only if you can’t keep it inside anymore you touch clay’.
She did not understand a thing.
‘Well, you don’t know me yet. I’ll show you now’, her hands moved to unbutton her dress.
I can’t stand shameless women, so I sprang to my feet, overthrowing my chair and dropping it to the floor with a deafening rumble and screamed hurriedly,
‘Please don’t, Zulfia, you shouldn’t do this. And think of your kids!’
‘Go now. Go to your Ayauzhan. Put her in a museum. That’s the way to do it’, she hissed angrily.
Since that moment Zulfia started playing nasty little trick by way of revenge. First thing, she forbade Yerkezhan to play with my wife. And in the evening she would belt out her favorite songs teasing Ayauzhan.
However, Zulfia had touched off something desperate inside me. Her ideals caused nothing but contempt but thoughts of women of my age occurred to me unwillingly from time to time. And the first thing I remembered was the beautiful Umit’s invitation. I found seemingly appropriate reasons to justify my interest in Umit.
“Zhantas,” the other Zhantas would tell his twin brother. “There is a simple explanation. Umit is in a way your long gone dream that never came true. There is nothing wrong with the fact that you have become attracted to her. It is the call of your youth, so to say. You have a special relationship with her. She said herself she had had feelings for you. You see, it’s simple. If this isn’t enough for your conscience, tell her you’d like to look at Umit and see if there is any resemblance to Kuralai. Indeed, she looks exactly as Kuraslai, don’t you see?”
And the first Zhantas started thinking that there was some similarity between Umit and Kuralai.
Having finally found a compromise with my conscience I said to Ayauzhan: Ayauzhan, my Ulbosyn is still in Alma-Ata. Perhaps it’s time for me to go and bring her home? Of course, nothing will happen to her, but still you feel better if your sculpture is in your workshop. I really worried about the sculpture, to the excuse that I used was quite plausible. But I didn’t have to persuade my wife for a long time.
‘You should have done it long ago. You can’t be so light-minded, Zhantas. Thank God you have thought better now. You should go soon, don’t put it off”, she continued. “Altynai will look after me. Her vacation started yesterday, so she has plenty of time. Don’t worry, Altynai will do everything’.
You can imagine how fast I rushed to the railway station. The thought alone that I would manage to take a break from all these vials, drugs and other cares for at least a couple of days gave me wings.
But my conscience backpedalled as I was in the car, I felt its claws clenching my heart. I tried to calm it. “It’s betrayal”, it grunted. “There is nothing lower than betraying a sick person. She lies there without any movement, she trusts you and worries for you, you creep. I wish Asygat whose wife had leprosy, saw you now, or have you forgotten this story?”
“I remember Sherubai telling this story. What does it have to do with me? I haven’t betrayed anyone yet, if you please. Not once”, I retorted firmly. “And I love my wife, too, you know it. Perhaps not like Asygat, but I love her”.
“So it is appropriate to love your wife but succumb to temptation? Is that how you see it? Does it mean you agree with Zulfia?”
“Don’t compare me with Zulfia, she’s a wicked woman”.
“That’s correct”, my conscience agreed. “A serious man is distinguished by consistency. His thoughts are like snow-white clouds at the top”.
“But it happens that… Your heart is like a poorly tamed Argamak horse, it can get scared easily and take you somewhere up hill and down dale, ignoring the headrope. How can you stop it? Where can you get the leash, the noose?”
“Kazakhs say”, it interrupted, “no lake without fish, no soil without herbs, no girl without honor and no dzhigit without will power are worth respect”.. For example, Asygat…”
“Leave me alone with your Asygat! Do you think I am going to cheat on Ayauzhan?”
“But what’s driving you to Alma-Ata then? Have you left there anything?”
“I’m going to take my sculpture and bring it home”.
“To be frank, there is no need to worry. You have always lost your interest in a finished project”.
“Not this one. Not Ulbosyn’s image”.
“Yes, this work is especially dear to you. And still you know that nothing will change for the next month or two and nothing will happen to it… So what urges you to go to Alma-Ata?”
“”You are so stubborn. Alright, I’ll repeat again… I’m not going to cheat on my wife… And Umit… Umit is nothing but Kuralai to me. Do you understand? I will start working on this girl in a tiger’s clutch, and Ayauzhan and I will feel better”.
After I had not found Umit in, I headed to the administration of the Union of Artists. My Ulbosyn had spent some time traveling about auls among other exhibits of the traveling exposition and now the Artistic Foundation wanted to purchase it. The offer was quite flattering but I turned it down, overwhelmed by mixed feelings. I had a feeling that I would betray Ulbosyn and myself and someone else it I give her away to some strangers. I refused and asked for a car for the following morning, having arranged this with the driver I hurried to Umit’s place again.
This time I was lucky.
‘Zhantas’, she only said having opened the door. I had to confess Umit looked prettier with each of our meetings. I sighed and told myself without much certainty, “Hold on”.
‘Oh, my place is a mess!’ Umit got worried, setting her dress right.
“Is your mom at your sister’s again?’ I asked trying to protect myself with irony.
‘Right. How do you know?’ Umit got surprised, catching my bullet without any noticeable damage.
‘They have announced it in the weather forecast’, I muttered.
She hastily cleared the mess in the room, grasping one thing and then rushing to another one. I tried not to stand in her way, but she would brush against me with her shoulder or her elbow every now and then. Not wishing to press my luck I informed her:
‘Umit, I need a sitter’.
She froze there with a piece of cloth in her hand.
‘You have come to tell me this?’
‘No, not at all!.. But frankly speaking… Umit it’s very important to me…
‘You have come in vain, Zhantas’, Umit said and pressed her lips.
It took me by surprise. Perhaps Umit was playing some secret game?
‘Why, Umit?’ You used to sit for me. Ot was long ago, but still. What has changed since then? We are the same Umit and Zhantas”.
‘Everything has changed. We have, first of all. Can’t you see it? That we are not the same?’ Umit wondered. ‘We were children then. Children are not ashamed of being naked. I’m a woman now. How easy can it be for a woman to stand before a man naked? Like Eve in the Garden of Eden? Though, she didn’t know what clothes were then, so it is justifiable for her. A primordial woman, what can you do about her?’ Umit finished with a smile; such a smile appears on the lips of respectable ladies who have had the courage to tell an embarrassing anecdote in a company.
‘Umit! Is it really you?’ I exclaimed, astonished. ‘Now you speak like your former husband!’
‘It was a different time, a different Umit, a different Zhantas’, she insisted.
‘Umit, I’m a sculptor! Do I have to repeat the truths that the other, the young Umit used to know?’
Umit did not say anything. Her features became sharper reflecting her firm decision to fight against the logic.
But I took a chance and tried, eloquence emanating from me. I guess the stubborn Umit was the first person whom I confided so much concerning my plans as to Kuralai. Even Ayauzhan knew some individual facts , nothing specific indeed. But I failed to make Umit interested in my idea. Umit’s heart remained indifferent to those poetic pictures that I was drawing before her polite and calm eyes.
Then I started speaking incoherently about what a woman’s shame really was and other universal truths.
‘Do you think Rembrandt’s wife had no shame? Oh, she must have blushed more than you can imagine. But when her husband was painting his Danae she sat for him with no hesitation. This made her co-author of the great art. She is Rembrandt’s co-author, do you realize it?’, I was proving to her ardently waving my hands.
‘It was easier for her, she is a Western woman’, Umit replied and then repeated, ‘A woman who has failed to preserve her intimacy before another person loses her self-respect’.
If another Kazakh woman told me this I would have stopped arguing long ago. Before exposing her body to another person’s eye, a Kazakh woman must cross the magical circle drawn by ancient customs of the East. But Umit!.. Umit who had transgressed its bounds long ago!.. Umit was wearing an old dress made of faded, once blue sateen, which was a tight fit to her heat figure. It was so much adjusted to her body that it repeated every curve.
Umit must have thought I was looking at her with the eyes of a powerless old man standing in front of “Amusing Kinds of Man” executed by Picasso. She unconsciously pulled down her short dress hem to cover her knees.
In a word, this time I was sitting next to the Umit from those old days when we tried to avoid each other’s eyes before the sitting session.
‘This all must be silly’, she said without looking up. ‘I feel embarrassed sitting here before you now. Otherwise I would say myself, “Do what you want to me. Paint, burn. You are my master, my shame belongs to you”. But I dare not do this’.
It was all turning quite awkward. I mumbled something about Adam and Eve whom Jacopo della Quercia had put in the portal of the Basilica of San Petronio in the Middle Ages, so it was absurd to be ashamed of an artist in the twentieth century.
‘So be it… If you can’t do without me’, Umit agreed suddenly, looking down at her feet. ‘When do you want to start? Today?’
‘There’s no hurry’, I became angry, still not daring to believe in success. ‘You should choose the time for your vacation and come to see me in Mystau. You can stay at our place or at a hotel. Anywhere you feel comfortable. Deal?’
‘Deal’, Umit said humbly.
‘You know what? We shouldn’t postpone it. Why waste precious time? You see, I need to start working on this sculpture right away. I have come to this now, Umit. I should immerse myself in work. What do you think of it, Umit? Could we make several studies today?’
‘Whay not’, Umit said and left the room having taken her dressing-gown from the back of the chair.
I opened my brief-case, humming a tune and feeling excited as if I had gained some unthinkable victory, and got my sketchbook and pencils. Then my moves suddenly slowed down, lost their decisiveness, and I asked myself, “Zhantas, do you actually have a clear picture of what Kuralai should look like? Gayni has disappointed you, but are you sure that Umit is what you need? Aren’t you rushing things? Perhaps, you are not ready for this work yourself?” I put the sketchbook and a pencil on the table before myself and, when Umit had returned, I suggested,
‘Umit, how about taking a walk together instead? To hell with work on a day like this! We could go to the movies and wander about the park. You have a good park here. What would you say? I guess that’s what we shoul do’.
‘But what about your idea?’ Umit asked, holding the hems of her dressing gown together with her hand at her chest.
‘Frankly speaking, I feel lost now. I don’t know what I should do’.
‘It’s your decision’, Umit said with more cheer in her voice.
She opened the wardrobe, chose a suitable dress and left the room again. And I felt relieved, as if I had made an important choice intuitively. I guess this is what a person feels at the crossroads of his or her life. There are multiple roads before you and you have not a single idea where they might take you. You cannot go back because life cannot be reversed. And so, you choose one of the roads and take the first step, then another one, and you are overwhelmed by the feeling that this has been the best choice you could make. You are still in the dark as to where you will find yourself in the end, but this way seems the right one.
Umit fluttered into the room, as bright as a butterfly. I rose to my feet and ut my things back into the brief-case.
‘Leave it here. Why bring about such a heavy thing’, Umit said.
‘Thank you, but it’s very light, almost empty’.
We went outside and headed to the park. Umit who looked completely different now chattered without a stop. I felt a little hurt that she was so thrilled because of this delay. We rose up to a café terrace, ordered some ice-cream, and I couldn’t but make a reproach to Umit jokingly,
‘Serving the art must be a terrible burden, Umit. It would look like the evil magician Zhantas has a mind to turn you into stone’.
‘Not at all, Zhantas! Listen to what I have to say to you. I must be intoxicated by all this’, her slender hand moved, wriggling like a snake, showing the curved line of the trees surrounding the terrace.
According to the calendar, late autumn was about to start, the park was indeed covered with a thick carpet of yellow leaves, but the days were clear and sunny. The air was warm and tender.
‘I had lived almost a year with Muslim, and I have not had a single man since then. Yes, you can trust me, none’, Umit said, eating her ice-cream neatly with a tea spoon. ‘All these dates and affairs are not for me. My former husband used to be a primitive man. To him, to love meant to make love, and I think all men are the same. Well, not all of them but the majority. This may sound old-fashioned, but I would like to belong to one man who’d be everything in the world to me. The sky would be dull without him around… But where is he? Who is he? You are a good man, Zhantas, but you aren’t the one for me, either…’
I cast a quick glance at my watch. It was time for Ayauzhan to take her medicine. This became habitual for me as well. I was supposed to give her her powders and a glass of mineral water. But today, Altynay did that instead of me. And I thought, would Altynai remember to do everything in due time? When two women open their mouths, the world stops spinning. Or Altynai might meet an acquaintance on her way, and my wife would lie there alone waiting for someone to help her. I felt so sorry for Ayauzhan as if I had been hurt myself.
“Don’t worry, Zhantas, Altynai is a serious person. She can’t check herself at times, but she is earnest. Besides, there is also Bazargul. She would never leave her friend in trouble”, I told myself mentally.
‘… I liked you then. But today I have realized it is an easy feeling. A cute boy with an interesting specialty’, Umit continued her thought. ‘Otherwise I wouldn’t agree to sit for you. And then I thought and understood that you aren’t actually the one I’m waiting for, and that nothing terrible happens if I help you once again, like I did back in Moscow. This is what friends do…’
‘It would seem, it has to be the other way around – you don’t feel ashamed of a person who is close to you’, I said, pondering over a completely different question.
‘You men don’t know a thing about a woman’s soul. You only think you are experts’, Umit claimed, compassion in her voice. ‘The presence of the person you love can embarrass you like nobody else’s. This is my opinion…’
“Altynai will cope with it. I will return tomorrow and check everything. That is the first thing I will do when I return home”, I convinced myself.
‘But why won’t he still come to me, Zhantas? Just look at me – don’t I deserve that he should find me? My hair is as darks as the night…’
‘It’s red now, you have dyed it with henna. Why would you do such a thing? How can he recognize you if signs don’t match?’ I said probably lacking tact, but she ignored my remark.
‘Zhantas, you have seen yourself – my body is glowing like a swan’s wing. I would be so thrilled to give it all to him… You see, I’m really drunk’, and Umit laughed, proving her words.
“As soon as I get off the train I’ll rush there to see how well they take care of Ayauzhan”, I told myself. “I will only take Ulbosyn to the workshop on my way… And what if I come in, and Ayauzhan is gone?.. Don’t torture yourself. Where can she possibly leave? Nowhere! She won’t leave you… Heh, you never know what you should expect from this Altynai. She can be such a witch if she has something fixed in her head… Besides, Ayauzhan has already brought this up…”
I was slightly concerned about such a development, but then I mentally gave up: so be it. My life would become easier after all.
But my soul has already turned upside down. At the moment when I imagined Ayauzhan’s bed without her on it, my stomach leapt up. This had happened to me once as I was flying on a plane from Moscow and the plane had got into an air pocket. In a word, my life seemed so empty to me now, as if there was nothing left in it.
‘Umit, I want to know your opinion…’
And I told her the whole story of our relationship with Ayauzhan, filled with anxiety. When I was describing the unforgettable procession taking Ayauzhan to my apartment, Umit interrupted me exclaiming,
‘Oh my, it appears you are a wonderful person! I have never suspected. Lucky Ayauzhan! What does health matter if such a man belongs to her?’
‘Wait, Umit. I haven’t finished’, I retorted bitterly and told her everything about the doubt that was nagging me now.
Umit frowned, trying to concentrate and collect all her thoughts.
‘I don’t know how I could console you. Anything can happen to a woman. You have dropped seeds of uncertainty in Ayauzhan’s heart. It must be still harder for her when you are around’, Umit claimed having thought it over thoroughly.
We ordered several more servings of ice-cream. Trying to calm down I talked this and that , and Umit did her best to maintain this conversation, but it still did not feel natural. We just wandered through park alleys silently for some time and were both glad when it had got dark and the city streets had become less crowded.
‘I won’t offer you to stay at my place for the night because decency is as valuable to you as it is for me’ Umit said when we came up to her house. ‘I understand nothing wrong would happen between us. But this way it is more decent towards Ayauzhan’.
‘Yes, Umit, it’s a good thing that we are parting like this. It is a beautiful good-bye’, I said absolutely sincerely.
‘But we’ll meet again, won’t we? Do you remember Kuralai?’ Umit was surprised.
‘No, this is our last good-bye, Umit. As for Kuralai… I think I have not figured Kuralai yet. That’s it!’
‘If you say so… May your love with Ayauzhan shine like the morning start Venus’, Umit wished like a pure woman of the East.
‘I wish it was so…’ I sighed.
‘This is a lesson that you men should learn… Anyway, I wish you luck’, Umit laughed unwillingly.
‘And I wish luck to you. May the one you are waiting for find you. As soon as possible!’
Having tried to put up at several hotels with no vacant rooms I had to sleep in the Kolkhoznik Center if the word sleep can be referred to the state of tossing and turning on a bed wishing the night was over. And the night seems endless, you feel as if morning will never come, and you tumble from one side to the other listening to the chorus of snoring voices. Strangers snore carelessly, and each of them plays a solo in this orchestra brought together by chance.
My mind exhausted by insomnia demonstrated me pictures of various misfortunes plaguing the lonely Ayauzhan. I waited for the morning as salvation but the neverending night tortured me with persistence of a sadist. However, I had a short period of oblivious sleep before dawn. But even as I was half-asleep my imagination showed me a mailman with savage moustache. He had brought s telegram which said, “I’m already in Vladivostok. Ayauzhan”.
Completely exhausted by my mad fancy I swallowed day-old sandwiches from the local café for breakfast and hurried to the administration of the Union. An old Volga was purring like a cat in the yard, a sleepy driver, feeling uncomfortable because of the morning cold, tapped his feet on the balloons He must have been scolding himself for being too kind the previous day and agreeing to this early trip.
‘Good morning’, I said in the most unctuous voice.
He said something gruffly by way of an answer, his whole look being a silent protest, helped put my marble Ulbosyn on the rear seat. After that we left the city and went along an empty highway, leaving clouds of dust behind us.
“Hurry up, you old tortoise. Speed up”, I rushed the car mentally and scolded the nonchalant driver in my thought. But now and then something came over me that made me want to delay my return. I became obsessed with some coward afraid of finding Ayauzhan’s bed empty.
In the afternoon our ark rattled into Mystau and came to a halt before my house.
‘I’ll be right back… Give me a second’, I said and ran upstairs with my mouth filled with dust.
Here is the key… Damn thing, it won’t get inside, it never does in such cases… a turn, another one… the door flying open…
‘Zhantas, is that you?’ I heard Ayauzhan’s voice and I could hardly keep from bursting into tears.
I had never been so happy as at the moment when I finally heard Ayauzhan’s voice.
I will never forget this kiss. That day it lit the fire inside my soul that will die out only when my own life is over. Kissing my wife’s hot and dry lips I felt her pain and hope.
“How could I… how…” I thought, filled with terror, as if I had been going to betray something sacred and had just realized it.
‘My God, you are so dirty, you must have collected all the dust on the way from Alma-Ata to Mystau’, Ayauzhan laughed, almost crying, too. ‘Altynai, just look at him. He is as white-faced as a European man’.
‘Oh yes…’ Altynai murmured.
She had had a definite opinion about me, and now there was something new about my behavior which took her by surprise.
An automobile signaled outside like a blast of a knight’s horn. The phlegmatic driver of the Volga was calling his passenger. Not finding one portion of signals satisfactory, he gave another blast half a minute later.
‘Ayauzhan, I’ll be back soon!’ I cried running out of the apartment.
The driver was impassively watching children playing hopscotch and even my return did not distract him from this activity.
‘You see, my wife…’ I said joyfully, I was eager to talk to someone about my wife.
‘I see’, the driver mumbled.
‘Down the street… straight forward, please’, I asked, realizing that I could not find a worse person to talk to.
The driver nodded and started the car.
“Well, something new, something great has begun in my life”, I thought blissfully leaning against the back of the seat.
The past day had shown me how much I cared about Ayauzhan in reality. It appeared I was ready to withstand any suffering as long as my Ayauzhan was with me. There was something to ponder over here.
It appeared, a soul which is free from suffering is incapable of grasping the full value of true happiness. Only our mutual suffering had helped me understand how much Ayauzhan meant for me in my life. I think I have already said that if you are as lucky in love as in a game of cards, you become accustomed to success, and your satiated taste gradually loses the ability to feel the subtlest shades of feeling. Could this be the reason why I had once failed to unravel Ulbosyn’s mystery?
“Zhantas, love is like a pearl, it also makes people plunge into the depth of the sea”, Zhantas-the-first told Zhantas-the-second instructively. The latter said, “It is common knowledge”. “True”, the former said. “Everyone knows this, but no one applies the rule to themselves. They think, it applies to others”.
‘Listen’, the driver said. ‘We have been moving forward like as you said, but there’s only steppe ahead. What do we do now?’
‘Turn right’, I asked, popping out of the temple of my high thoughts for a moment.
‘Listen’, the driver said a little later. ‘We have already traveled about the whole town. All around. This won’t do, comrade Bekov. You should tell me your destination and I’ll find the way myself’.
I looked round nad realized we were two blocks away from Sherubai’s house.
‘Turn left please. Pull over next to that entrance. That’ s right, thank you’.
I got out of the car, took my marble Ulbosyn wrapped in sacking and carried it to the entrance. The driver intrigued by something followed me and lingered on the landing downstairs.
‘Ring the doorbell please, I have my hands full’, I demanded.
He climbed the stairs, pressed the button with his oil-stained finger and looked at me quizzically.
‘That’ll do’, I said and the driver released the button. The door was opened by an elderly woman wearing a kerchief and an apron. She was Sherubai’s housemaid.
‘Is shereke home?’
‘He’s out’, the woman reported clearly, in a military manner.
‘Then give him my present’, I said and wanted to take the sculpture inside the apartment. But easier said than done. The housemaid blocked my way.
‘You can’t. You will have to wait for the master to return… Who knows what you have there’, the woman said.
The housekeeper looked at the driver, then at me again, as if comparing us. And my driver failed the test, he seemed more suspicious to her than I.
‘Fine, leave it in the hall’, she said, having cast a challenging glance at the driver. ‘What should I tell the master?’ she asked as I had carefully arranged the sculpture in an old chair standing in the hall and said good bye to Ulbosyn.
‘Tell him there is a present for him… he will understand the rest’.
When we came outside I held out my hand to the driver.
‘Thank you for everything. Now go home. I’ll take a walk. It’s very near.
‘No, this won’t do’, the driver protested, rejecting my hand. ‘Do you want me to miss the ending? Get into the car, if you please’.
‘As you can see nothing is happening. A man has simply returned home’, I said getting out of the car at the entrance of my house.
‘I had to make sure’, the grumpy driver snorted. His sleepy face suddenly was lit with a kind-hearted smile. He waved his hand to me and drove off hurrying to join his own family.
My urge to see Ayauzhan as soon as possible took me up the stairs as if I was as light as a feather. I felt weightless myself because my torture was over. The choice had been made, and it filled me with lightness. How tiny and insignificant all of my previous involvements seemed to me now. They came one after the other. The soul on fire quickly grew tired of one shade and it was replaced by another one deceitfully promising new coolness. A third one beckoned later… And Zhantas would have been doomed to running in circles like a horse in circus.
Having returned home I let Altynai go. She was still dumbfounded, she left shocked. Ayauzhan and I stayed alone, and I started taking care of my wife. My moves must have changed, acquiring a new meaning – I was no longer Ayauzhan’s nurse, I was her defender.
Having realized that she was absolutely safe with me around Ayauzhan admitted she was little and helpless and gave me grateful glances when I gave her something or simply plumped her pillow. It felt like my hands and torso grew stronger. Inexhaustible energy seemed to fill my chest. I wanted to move, act for the woman I loved.
‘I will save you!’ I assured my wife passionately, and at that minute she trusted me and smiled at me with hope.
Do not think that we only had had happy days since that moment. From time to time Ayauzhan gave way to despair, my nerves failed me too, and I succumbed to despondence, too. But I could not give up, it was the luxury I could not afford because I was the one who helped Ayauzhan carry on. That is why I had to collect the tiny pieces of my courage together and start another fight for Ayauzhan, radiating optimism.
Already on the next day I tamed my pride and went to see Abilkas. After all, Bazargul’s husband was in charge of the municipal hospital and I did not abandon hope that doctors had created a new miraculous cure over the past year and only something incidental prevents them from using it. Abilkas came to answer himself. It would be more precise to say that it was the new Abilkas. I had never seen him dressed up like this before. He was dressed in an excellent black suit and a white nylon shirt. For some reason he was also wearing sunglasses. And the fact that he was wearing a formal suit and sunglasses even at home I figured that Bazargul’s husband had moved up to a higher rung of the so-called career ladder.
This time my visit embarrassed Abilkas who was normally overconfident. It appeared I had come at the wrong time.
‘Comrade Bekov?’ he articulated in confusion not knowing if he should let me in or shut the door before my face.
But I was very determined and got into the corridor having squeezed through the door and the pane.
‘Come inside, come. I have read about you, comrade Bekov. A newspaper article. My congratulations on the award. Well done’, he said trying to conceal his discomfiture.
This was amusing. Why on earth would a Kazakh dzhigit talk to his wife’s brother in such a way? But Abilkas pretended that nothing extraordinary had happened and gestured to his study.
Hardly had we entered the study when the phone rang which was standing on a desk as spacious as a billiards table. Abilkas reached out for the phone loftily, picked up the receiver and slowly carried it to his ear, as broad as a trumpet bell. A respectable Aqsaqal, none the less. To think that he has such ways at his age! You think you know his as the palm of your hand, and he keeps surprising you.
‘Daribasov, Head of Municipal Health Service Department is speaking’, Abilkas sang savoring each word. I must have second sight: Abilkas had been promoted indeed. But what kind of nonsense he was talking!
‘Oh, it’s you’, Abilkas said with disappointment; it appeared as if he had been expecting s call from a more important person.
He has a talent for this. I had witnessed him make a meteoric career from a skillful bootlicker to an arrogant pen-pusher demonstrating miraculous transformations ta every stage.
It seems my imprudent brother-in-law is likely to have hard times when he comes by a hard nut to crack and falls off the career ladder counting each rung with his hard head. I am quite sure this time is to come sooner or later. Well, there is a reason why wise people say: a young goat would not butt if it knew in advance that it was to lose its horns. I am only sorry for my little sister Bazargul. She will have to share Abilkas’s unenviable lot with him, though one cannot blame her for anything.
Abilkas gave directions as to some mattresses and put down the receiver.
‘They can’t solve even such a small problem without me. Asking to help with this and that’, he said.
He worked hard to justify his position. His colleagues claimed that he was capable and industrious. If only he gave his directions without fuss, not pushing away his fellows with elbows, and people would appreciate Abilkas giving him his due. This is what I wanted to tell him, and I will do it once not long from now.
‘How is Bazargul?’ I asked thinking of a way to get to the point.
‘Bazargul?.. Bazargul is fine’.
A trace of embarrassment appeared on Abilkas’s face again. He peered at me with suspicion. I understood at once that something had happened between my sister and him and he was willing to conceal this from me. If it was some other time, I would have yielded to the temptation and poked my nose into their family secrets but I had something else to discuss then.
‘My congratulations on your new position’, I said observing the traditional eastern politeness.
‘What can I say… we only obey people’s will’, Abilkas uttered trying to look humbly down with no success.
I would give a lot for a chance to see how this modest fellow would react if people sent him to sweep the street. But to hell with him! At least so far.
‘Is this why you have dressed yourself up?’ I couldn’t help it though it could ruin the purpose of my visit.
‘It’s a big day for me in general’, Abilkas announced not wounded by my acrid remark at all. He sank into a massive armchair carefully trying not to mess his jacket.
‘A successful operation? An extraordinary case?’ I asked intending to forgive Abilkas.
‘Saving people is our daily duty’, he said in a mentor’s tone. ‘But I have a personal reason to be happy. My brother has got married!’
One can’t but agree, this is a big event and perhaps Abilkas was not so hard-hearted if his brother’s marriage filled him with such joy.
‘I’m glad for you and especially for your brother’, I said sincerely.
‘Thank you… Why won’t you sit down? Make yourself at home. Take a seat, for example, here’, he pointed to the chair which was standing before the desk like in an office.
I sat down on the chair and found myself performing the role of his subordinate or some strange suppliant.
‘You see, my little brother had bad luck for a long time. He graduated from an institute long ago. He had a higher education and all that, abut could not find an appropriate wife. So he remained single. He kept looking, but to no effect, you see?’ Abilkas asked me rapping the table with his fingers with excitement.
‘I see. But things have changed now, haven’t they? And the wife seems to be a good match as he has been so picky. She must be quite a beauty then?’
‘I don’t know this. I haven’t seen her yet. But what difference does it make? I don’t care for her looks. The point is that she is a great match, a perfect match. The wife a man needs most’, Abilkas explained and raised his index finger. ‘His wife is a daughter, do you understand?’
‘Daughter?’ I repeated totally confused.
‘A minister’s daughter!’ Abilkas declared. ‘And leave beauty to poets’, he concluded, pleased with his joke.
‘So you’ve caught a camel, haven’t you? And some benefits from your brother’s father-in-law will come your way, too?’ I mumbled; I was so surprised that I even didn’t managed to get mad.
‘You can say what you want, but I must confess that I’m a fish that is too big for such a small pond as Mystau, so I will sort out new things here and will go to Alma-Ata. I’ll talk to someone’, he informed me simply.
‘How come you’ve messed up with your marriage? Frankly speaking, you seem to have made a bad bargain marrying my sister. Such a mistake’, I made an acrid remark, challenge in my voice.
But he only gave a sigh and said,
‘Well, not every minister has a daughter. And not every minister’s daughter is single. Such fiancées are rare birds. As for Bazargul – it’s a different thing, it’s about feelings. However, I’ll make sure that Bazargul will become people’s artist. Married to a people’s artist. You must admit it sounds quite good, doesn’t it?
‘I love Bazargul. She is a good woman and a good stage designer besides her other virtues. But she is far from being a people’s artist yet. She is not so talented, Abilkas, You know it very well. It won’t work out, Abilkas!’ I said teasing him.
‘If one really wants it, one can set snow on fire’, he retorted impassively. ‘I only need Bazargul to let me do this. Explain it to her, she’ll listen to you’.
So this was the matter! I was proud of Bazargul. We must have gone out of his way to persuade her, but she wouldn’t give in. Bravo, sister! Kind and honest as you are, you know that a distinction that you have bargained has less value than a bad coin. And this rascal was trying to change my sister and make her in his image and likeness! What a scoundrel!
Abilkas was no fool and guessed what I was thinking.
‘You must be convinced that I am a low person, an animal who is incapable of grasping the true value of joys of life. A rational-minded machine, a career-obsessed man and so on?’ he said smiling sarcastically. ‘It’s your call. You may think whatever you want! Unfortunately, I can’t forbid you. But I certainly have the right to say that I am not so primitive. Everyone has their own life philosophy. And there are people who share mine… “Love!”, that is what you keep saying. To me, it means mutual support. Man and wife should always help each other… After all, Bazargul will help me achieve my goal. Remember my words, dear Zhantas!’
I believed him: Abilkas would do anything to get what he wanted, and it was beyond my power to help my sister if she didn’t figure out her precious Abilkas herself.
“It’s a lost cause no, there is no point in letting cynical nonsense torture my mind. I have had enough. I don’t want to build out happiness with Abilkas’s sticky fingers”, I made it clear for myself.
‘What can I say, Abilkas. When a person is trying to achieve his goal, you wish him or her good luck. I guess this is what people do. Unfortunately, I can’t do this. My conscience won’t let me.
‘Why put it so rudely?’ Abilkas sneered crookedly from his deep chair as if from a lair. ‘We are no strangers to each other’.
‘That’s the way I am. Good or bad, I always spill it all out. By the way, is Bazargul home?’
He made a pause and muttered reluctantly,
‘She is in her room’.
How interesting indeed, my sister in the next room! I thought she was out, otherwise why would not she show up having heard her beloved brother’s voice? And still, she preferred to stay there, hidden by the wall, though her brother’s voice carried in her apartment like a sound of thunder. My visit was not the reason why she remained in her room not revealing her presence. She loved me, I had no doubt about it, so I could stake my life on it. It appeared… However, it was easy to check…
I entered Bazargul’s room
‘Can I come in? Am I interrupting you?’
‘Koke!’ she exclaimed, and her face lit with tenderness.
I was right – my sister’s sincere joy was the most confirming proof. After all, why would her feelings for her only brother change, challenging as he was, as I suspected now.
‘I didn’t hear you come’, Bazargul lied and blushed immediately looking down.
Why would she lie, this pure and innocent soul? I could not help laughing and she realized her little lie was exposed.
‘I just got absorbed in work. The gala is coming’, she said, afraid to look up, and blushed even more.
Her sketches were neatly arranged on her sofa and on the floor – her considerable and still not sufficiently strong arguments. They might of course make a person’s eyes and mind busy, but not his or her ears.
‘Koke, it’s so good that you are here! Be kind, help your talentless sister with your advice. You are an awardee in a way after all now. And I can’t put it all together, no matter how I try’, Bazargul said. ‘I just can’t nail it down with these Kipchaks’.
There were sketches of possible versions of stage settings and costumes drawn on pieces of Watman paper meant for the future production of the play “Koblandy-batyr”. The author was desperately struggling through searches of the right solution.
‘You just want to fill the stage with objects from everyday life of Kipchaks. If you could you would arrange a whole museum of regional studies on the stage. It’s a stage, not an antique shop. You just get lost surrounded by this chaos, no wonder your characters are indiscernible among these countless things’, I said having quickly looked through the sketches.
‘I think I’m just incapable, that’s it’, Bazargul gave a weak smile.
‘No, don’t lose heart! Otherwise you will let down your fellows. They must have started rehearsing long ago, so how much time and how many hopes will be wasted! It must be challenging to rehearse after work’.
‘Koke, you are right’, Bazargul sighed. ‘I can’t let them down’.
‘Great! I can finally hear a real artist speaking’.
I was about to add the word ”people’s” jokingly but held my frivolous tongue in time.
‘Abilkas and I have had a talk. We have been talking about you’, I remarked casually and watched my sister closely. I had just put out feelers. But Bazargul suddenly demonstrated character which was not typical of her.
‘Abilkas and I are still husband and wife’, she said elusively.
This was a polite way to tell me to mind my own business. Bazargul intended to solve the problem by herself.
‘Did you return yesterday? I came to your place in the morning and wanted to drop in by evening, but… How is Ayauzhan?’ she asked.
‘She does her best. But she loses heart sometimes. Bazargul, I have to help her! I must do this! There must be a remedy on this earth that can help Ayauzhan! What do you think, Bazargul? It can’t be that it doesn’t exist! It’s simply impossible!’
‘There must be one for sure!’ Bazargul conformed.
‘Are you still here?’ I heard Abilkas’s voice.
We were standing with our backs to the door and had no idea how long Abilkas had been there, if he had just come in and had been standing there for a while listening to our every word.
‘It’s great you haven’t left yet’, Abilkas continued. ‘ You must have come on business, probably you wanted something. We just talked away and you forgot. I thought about it just now and remembered it, as you can see’.
‘Thank you, Abilkas, I just dropped in for no reason. I thought I could check on my dear relatives’, I said firmly.
‘And how is our beautiful Ayauzhan doing?’ Abilkas wouldn’t stop talking.
‘Thank you, she is doing well. She laughs, she sings’.
‘Zhantas only came to check on us, it’s true’, Bazargul said coolly.
Abilkas lingered there for a while and said, nodding his head in my direction,
‘Zhake, we don’t have the time for polite shuffling. The hospital needs a sculptor. Bazargul, could you agree to take the job? It is both a respectable and well-paid job’.
He must have meant to take the heat off and cracked a joke which could hardly be less appropriate. This was the worst of all his jokes if I remembered correctly. Bazargul did not even bother to respond.
“So that is what Bazargul is like?!”, I thought with surprise. “If someone else told me I would never believe my sister was a woman of character. Way to go, Bazargul She appeared to be a woman who could not be easily held in leash. Who did she take it from? Grandma Kara Kempir, mother, father?”
But I only had a dim recollection of my parents and decided that these new features had been inherited from Grandma Kara Kempir. I also thought that the twentieth century had something to do with it. This age seemed to have broken a lot of ridiculous traditions. But there is a reason why Kazakhs say, “You cannot go to your grave until you have seen everything you were meant to see”, I decided and started saying my good-byes.
‘Some tea perhaps?’ Abilkas suggested seeking my approval. ‘We could spread a new dastarkhan. One respectable man has brought a new dastarkhan for me from Alma-Ata. Hey, wife, show the new dastarkhan to your dear brother’.
‘Thank you but I have to hurry’.
‘Koke has no time’, Bazargul said. ‘He must go home’.
But Abilkas kept fussing around seeing me to the door. My independence frightened him, he didn’t like the fact that I did not ask for anything and therefore did not set much store by his patronage.
This unsuccessful visit did not diminish my resoluteness. If someone offered me to carry Mystau the way it was beyond the horizon I would not hesitate to roll up my sleeves and get down to work. What a scream it would be for a looker-on! And still I would tame my awful self-esteem, spit on my palms, take hold of the corner of the nearest building and work strenuously until my last breath. However, nobody offered me this, so I wandered down the street and rallied my thoughts trying to see other solutions. Having mixed together the available information which included pieces of events, fragmented word parts and individual numbers, my mind flashed one word on its screen: “She-ru-bai”.
“Of course, who else but him, the great Sherubai”, I thought, lightening up, but cooled myself down at once. “Can he have forgiven me?.. What is more, would he think that I had palmed off that sculpture on him by way of a bribe if I came to him with a request the very next day? He wouldn’t believe any of my explanations. Nothing can be done, I can’t go to Sherubai so far, not yet”.
I had hardly concluded this short monologue when Sherubai emerged in front of me, having turned the corner like jack-in-the-box. Speak of the devil!
‘Ah, Zhantas!’ he exclaimed blocking my way. ‘I am shocked by your present, but I must returned it to you. Unfortunately, I have no right to keep it. I must be a quarrelsome person, please forget what you heard then. I was beyond myself with grief and did not know what I was doing”.
‘No way!’ I got concerned. ‘You did love Ulbosyn, and your right to Ulbosyn’s memory is much greater than mine. I wish I had realized it earlier. If you only knew how sorry I am for everything that happened in the past’.
‘Thank you, Zhantas’, he said with emotion in his voice. ‘Thank you! But I really can’t take away your creation from you. It is Ulbosyn’s image to me, but to you it is a n outcome of hard work and artistic endeavor. You are a man of art, it is your job. Please don’t argue. I am really grateful to you for your good will and don’t want to make use of it, Zhantas’.
‘Shereke, I have a plaster replica. This is enough for me. As for the marble version, it will be safer for Ulbosyn to stay with you. She will feel at home at your place, as if she was alive. For that matter, we don’t cast bronze or cut stone for ourselves, truth be told!
‘Well, if you really have a plaster replica’, Sherubai uttered, he still dared not hope.
‘It is one of the stages of work, Shereke. Shereke, don’t you know this as well as I do? Each sculptor having concluded his work in clay first executes it in plaster and only then in stone or metal’.
‘I didn’t realize indeed. I have no time to deal with such details, Zhantas, with my work taking up all the time’, Sherubai said and laughed happily. He took my arm and we walked together without any hurry like old friends. This was why I told him everything. No, I did not ask him for help as I had planned before. I just told my old friend about my firm decision to share my life and fate with Ayauzhan.
‘You have turned out to be a man of courage, Zhantas. As a doctor I will tell you frankly: your wife stands almost no chance of getting to her feet ever again. What we did was more like an attempt to make her keep faith in a good outcome’, Sherubai said shaking his head.
‘You said almost!’, I cried, grasping his hand taking him at his word. ‘There is a possibility then? We should keep trying, shouldn’t we? Should we?!’
We stopped, attracting the attention of passers-by who seemed to be lacking in good manners.
‘That’s right, Zhantas, you have to keep trying, even if there is no faith in success. I am a quarrelsome person, I must be rancorous as well. I have an extraordinary profession, do you understand me, Zhantas? I save lives. As a doctor I did all I could’, Sherubai said softly.
‘Forgive me’, I mumbled, filled with shame. ‘ I never meant to hurt you. Somewhere deep inside I trusted you’.
‘This was not what I was thinking’, Sherubai couldn’t but smile. ‘I just wanted you to know what kind of life you were choosing. I meant, you had to be fully aware of the consequences’.
I must admit, I had shivers going down my spine on hearing this. But someone, ignoring my will, most probably Zhantas-the-first, ignoring the will of Zhantas-the-second, started saying poignantly:
‘Needless to say, the prospects are optimistic! But let me be frank, too, Sherubai-aga… If I say that I am happy nonetheless it will probably be too much and you won’t believe me, I won’t believe it myself. It’s a stance, nothing else! I would rather put it this way: I don’t regret falling in love with Ayauzhan. I don’t know a name for this. But if I could start it all over again I would choose the same lot. I mean it, Sherubai-aga.
‘I believe you’, Sherubai said and invited me to continue the way with a gesture.
We went our way, disappointing the lookers-on.
‘The matter is, Zhantas, that nobody knows for sure what happiness is’, Sherubai said thoughtfully. ‘Do you remember the story of Asygat ond Karakoz?’
‘If I remember it correctly, Asygat is the man who followed his leprous Karakoz to the leprosarium. Am I right?’
‘Yes, Asygat did it’, Sherubai nodded, pleased. ‘I remember that you did not seem to trust the story too much… I mean you believed it. But thought it was extraordinary. A heroic deed. But as you can see there is something similar between Asygat’s feat and your story. I guess this was the word that you used to describe Asygat’s behavior’.
‘It was a feat. He died after all’.
‘But does it have to end tragically every time?’
‘Still! Just think about it, there is nothing heroic about me. Asygat was a giant. Me? Nothing remarkable’, I protested feeling embarrassed.
‘That is right, nothing remarkable’, Sherubai agreed quite easily. ‘But there is nothing heroic about Asygat as well. Nothing extraordinary. He was happy and remained happy despite the sad ending… That’s the matter. Who can say for sure what happiness is?’ Sherubai repeated.
I accompanied Sherubai to his house and for the first time we said good bye to each other as good friends.
‘Please remember that I wish you all the best’, Sherubai asked me. ‘I want you to be happy, especially Ayauzhan. For some reason I feel that I understand her like I understand myself.
We exchanged firm handshakes.
Since that day Sherubai had become our friend. He would often drop in to spend an hour or two with us. At times the company gathering at our place was quite noisy, as Karipzhan and Asylkhan stormed in followed by a crowd of joyful dzhigits and girls and turned everything upside down. First I worried about Sherubai uncertain as to how he, a person tired of his life, would feel, surrounded by the wild youth. But, to my utter astonishment, Sherubai fitted in with the company immediately and took active part in the wildest undertakings. I should never have thought that my former enemy was such a hilarious person. He had such a free and infectious laughter that nobody but Ayauzhan could rival him. They became hand in glove very soon and the person who they selected to be the target for their sharp tongues was sure to have a hard time.
Only now and then a shade of blues came over Sherubai’s face. Apparently he heard the laughter of Ulbosyn, joyful and full of life, in our chatter.
The first time he joined us everyone would talk about Sherubai when he had left. The town is not big, and almost everyone knew his story.
‘What a love story! What extraordinary loyalty! What a man’, Altynai sighed.
I was grateful Altynai for her loyalty for Ayauzhan. She loved my wife and she must have known each beat of her heart better than any doctor.
She was still standing in the doorway asking Ayauzhan,
‘My dear friend, why are you sad today? Don’t think about silly things. Just listen what this successor of yours, Bubesh, has done. This daydreamer…’
Five minutes later my Ayauzhan could not stop laughing. Perhaps Altynai was so good at this because doctors normally use a phonendoscope to listen to a person’s heart. She could cope with the task having only such an unsophisticated tool as a simple human soul.
“Sherubai-aga is an honorable man. He deserves great respect’, Asylkhan said who normally preferred to keep silent. ‘But it doesn’t mean that some other man can’t love like Sherubai does’.
‘Do you mean yourself, Asylkhan?’ Altynai laughed.
‘I think he is in love with you, Altynai’, Karipzhan joked. ‘He sighs all night long. Anytime you wake up he is there, sighing again’, and Karipzhan showed Asylkhan sighing.
It was funny. And that looked very much like Asylkhan. If he really sighed suffering because of a girl it would look exactly as Karipzhan had just demonstrated.
‘Oh, now I see!’ Altynai threw her hands up. ‘And I thought, why would Asylkhan ask me every day after work, “Where are you going, Altynai?” I say, “To have lunch, of course”. Can you imagine, he follows me. I look around and he’s there behind my back, pretending that he can’t see me and I have nothing to do with this’.
Asylkhan was embarrassed and blushed, his ears becoming ruby-red. He said,
‘Get off! Altynai is not my type at all’.
‘That is great. Otherwise you’d have to suffer because you are not my type at all’, Altynai announced. ‘Asylkhan is great man and a good friend. But I like older men, clever, sensible, strict and with grey temples. Like Arbenin from the film “Masquerade”. Or, for example, Sherubai-aga’.
She would rattle away until morning, but Asylkhan obviously felt uneasy because of her words. And most likely, only two people noticed it: Ayauzhan and I. Even his best friend Karipzhan kept cracking jokes, unaware of it. We exchanged understanding glances, and Ayauzhan said,
‘Leave the boy alone. But keep one thing in mind: he has a heart of gold. And the girl he will fall in love with will be the happiest girl on the world’.
‘The happiest, right’, Asylkhan mumbled, but he looked at Ayauzhan with gratitude in his eyes.
‘By the way, Karipzhan, Altynai, what has happened to your star?’
‘Can’t you see it?’ I asked helping Ayauzhan.
‘You see..’ Karipzhan started, having cleared his throat as if something inside it didn’t let him speak.
‘Oh, yes, I have already asked. Now he’ll say that all of the bulbs have burned out. All of them at once’, Ayauzhan said ironically.
‘Why? Do you think it is impossible? They just burn out, and that’s it. And if the foreman has not a single spare bulb? He’s a foreman, not a shop’, Karipzhan said with passion, though he tried to look away.
‘Come on, you can say it, they have not fulfilled the plan’, Altynai sighed. Some people just can’t wait. The whole family confined to one room, and there’s no apartment on the horizon’.
‘They’ll survive, no big deal. There’s only some decoration work left, that’s all’, the boy who had come together with Karpzhan said with challenge. This boy had impudent, a little bulging eyes, and his face was glossy with self-righteousness, but Ayauzhan gave him a long look full of sorrow, wiping away the gloss from the boy’s face.
It was already quite late and the guests started saying good bye to each other before leaving. Only Altynai was showing in every possible way that it was still too early for her. Having given an excuse which could hardly be called reasonable she sat down on Ayauzhan’s bed with a conspiratorial look and by the look of it she meant to stay there for a long time. I decided to take a walk together with Asylkhan and Karipzhan.
But hardly had we come outside when Asylkhan left us. Looking away he complained about some mysterious affairs he had to deal with without delay and disappeared around the corner.
‘He won’t come down’, Karipzhan observed. We stood there for a while enjoying the pure air and walked along the street.
‘I like people like this’, Karipzhan uttered as if continuing some internal monologue he had been developing in his head for some time.
‘Like what? Who do you mean?’
‘Like your Ayauzhan. You see, I adore hard workers who keep doing something all the time. They have to do this and that. They want to make the world better. These things are hard to notice. Big deal, just nailing a plank! But people are like ants, the next moment you look at them they have already changed the planet together. Your wife is one of such people. Too bad this has happened to her. It’s so unfair. I’m still such a mess. It seems, I like working, but I’m so disorganized. I’ve been thinking for a long time about going to evening school, I’m not a child and I know that education is everything, but I still haven’t made up my mind. It’s all so complicated, so difficult.
I used to take him for a careless person, viewed him as a jolly fellow, and he appeared to have been torturing himself.
‘You have to do something constructive, it’s all about being constructive’, he said, annoyed at something. ‘Less speaking, more constructive steps… And your wife is a real person. Forget that she is not healthy. She’s a real wife – if I could I’d marry someone like her, I mean it. Do you believe me? I’d marry her and never leave her. But I will leave anyway. As soon as we finish the house, get the people settled, adjust all these waterways and sewages, you know, to make it all work fine, I’ll leave to do some other construction. Besides, I’ll see the world’.
I had walked enough, so I shook Karipzhan’s hard hand, as it cut from stone, and went back home. When I was coming up to my entrance of the house I saw some dark figure across the road who looked very much like Asylkhan. Having noticed me the man hid behind a thin truck of a birch-tree; I still could see the odd man very well but I decided not to disturb him as he apparently wanted to stay unnoticed. When I returned to the room, the female ensemble was arranged in a bit different way – Altynai had changed her position and was at the window now.
‘I’ll stay a bit longer, until Asylkhan leaves. He’s still hiding behind the tree’, Altynai informed me. ‘I’m fed up with this. He keeps following me, looking at me with those dog eyes. He’s outside even now. Waiting for me!’
‘I can understand him. It’s the most important thing for him now – to wait for you’, Ayauzhan smiled.
‘And what should I do? Fall in love with him out of pity? Lie to him that I’m in love? This is unfair!’, Altynai got angry, splashed out her irritation and became quiet. Then she added, ‘I know it’s not his fault. I’ve been in his shoes. You know it, Ayauzhan’.
‘Altynai! You’ve been in love?’ I exclaimed almost saying, “I’d never believe it!”.
‘No, I am incapable of it’, Altynai snapped.
‘Zhantas, hold your tongue’, Ayauzhan asked me. And the friends started whispering something to each other making it clear that their talk was not meant for the men’s ears. When we stayed alone Ayauzhan told me,
‘I’m sorry, darling, it just happened that way. Altynai has really had a difficult time in her life. She used to love one man, and he was a complete scoundrel, but Altynai couldn’t help it. It cost her a lot of tears and pain until she managed to cope with it’.
‘How odd life is. He loves her, she has affection for someone else, who suffers because of a fourth person, as ill luck would have it’, I uttered, impressed by Altynai’s story I had been just unexpectedly confided to.
‘This must be how it happens: soulmates wander about the world, looking for each other. Sometimes they are lucky, but then it appears that this person you have found needs not you but someone else’, Ayauzhan said. ‘But if the soulmates do find each other, nothing can separate them. Is that right, Zhantas?’
‘It is, Ayauzhan! They only need to meet in time. If the moment is lost, nothing can help anymore…’
I remembered what a misfortune had happened to one of my fellow students named Zhakyp. This was what he had told me as we had been returning to our dormitory after our friend’s name day celebration by night.
“Everyone knows that a young dzhigit is no imam reading namaz. He is young and if beautiful instances rush past him, dzhigit becomes all ears, holds his moustache by the wind and heads after them as if after butterflies”, I guess this is how Zhakyp had started his story, swaying on his feet a little. “I went to Karaganda to prepare my diploma work… So, I came, looked around, judged my spare time and how I could spend it. I turned my head and was almost blinded: I saw such a girl near our drawing room… Her name was Tory. I remembered her name forever, you can’t beat it out of my head even with a kachma, I’d rather die. You could wake me up at night, drunk or sober, and I’ll tell you at once, “Her name is Tory”.
…Where were we? I look at her and see that she looks at me every now and then. You know me, I’m such a man that everything gets turned upside down anywhere I show up. So she couldn’t but get interested, she must have thought, “Who is this dzhigit, who has made everything get upside down when he showed up?” I keep thinking, great, I have caught her eye, so we’ll get along well soon. I made some inquiries in the public inquiry office and it appeared she was no young girl. She was married, with twin kinds. “That’s even better”, I decide, “if she wants an affair, there will be less trouble!”
I ironed my trousers, honed down my shoes and tried to get near her the next day. It seems as if she doesn’t mind, looks me shyly in the eye and smiles nicely. I start dropping hints about going on a date, you know, like maybe we should go to the local theater, and here she cuts it all off. I have a keen eye. “Hey”, I tell myself. “It seems you’ve got the wrong girl”. She is one of those virtuous women who just have to look at you raising their eyebrows in surprise and ask, “What do you think you are doing, agai?” – and you are so ashamed that you want the ground to swallow you at once. In such cases experienced men try to avoid such women. But I was too slow, I must have missed the necessary moment and got into the area of powerful gravity. I couldn’t resist Tory.
It appeared I could watch her looking into my eyes shyly and smiling nicely forever. This was the beginning. When she didn’t show up at work two days later I was so depressed as if she had been my sun and air. This sulky weather lasted for about a week. But then the sun showed up again.
Hardly had Tory crossed the threshold when she looked in my direction checking if Zhakyp was there. I was there and was staring at her holiday jersey dress wondering why she would dress up like this. Then it occurred to me: this is for you, Zhakyp.
It flashed across my mind as a lightening: my, it’s all serious between us here, like those things that happen once in a lifetime if you are so lucky!
Tory kept dressing up for me. Tory spoke for me even if she talked to someone else. Tory laughed for me if someone else made her laugh. Each move of her head, each gesture and her light step – they were all for me. If the expression of quiet sorrow appeared on her face – I had to do with it, I knew it for sure.
I longed to be with her forgetting that there was a part of her life that was concealed from me because it belonged to other people who were strange to me. Tory lived her life, filled with everyday problems, before my eyes, nine tenths of her life being hidden from me like an iceberg. And still, Zhantas, there was this tenth part of Tory which was meant for me, and it’s so much for a mortal man. Nevertheless, she tried to avoid me, Zhantas. And though I kept telling myself, “We just have to stay heart to heart, and everything will be alright”, I never managed to talk to her seriously without anybody around. Every time we met occasionally at a café table or in the corridor she managed to arrange things in such a way that there was one of our colleagues next to us.
Once I found out that Tory hadn’t seen the film “Anna Karenina” yet, so I decided to take the bull by its horns and bought to tickets.
‘You can’t step back now, Tory. Otherwise you’ll make a person swamped in his debts lose his money. He has sacrificed a ruble for high ideas and you have no right to disappoint him’, I said to her putting the ticket in front of her when something impossible had happened and there was no one five meters around us.
‘And still I’ll have to disappoint him’, she said. ‘I can’t possibly see this film. Just think of it, a married woman loses her senses because of a single dzhigit’. She tried to joke but her smile appeared to be forced and pale. I was about to cry out loud, “Tory, leave it all! We are in love with each other – there’s nothing more important than this – and it means that nothing else matters! Tory, I’ll take you with me, I’ll do everything you want! I could take a horse! A plane! An intercity taxi!”
But we were interrupted by a secretary who came up to us and told Tory that the bosses wanted to see her.
Two days later when other workers had already left home, I stayed late in the drawing room, the chairman of the local committee came up to me with the following words,
‘You see, Zhakyp, something has come up. I’ve got a call from the municipal union committee. They say they need the records of our last meeting and they need it tomorrow, see? Tory has those records, so could you drop in at Tory’s place on your way home? Tell her to take those records with her tomorrow. You are a young fellow, you have strong legs’.
The thought that I had a chance to see Tory at her home almost set me off dancing. I made a face pretending dissatisfied, because you only have to yield once and you will never stop running errands, but promised to see Tory.
But I didn’t find her in.
‘She hasn’t come back from work yet. I guess she does shopping. You can stay and wait for her’, I was offered by a man who opened the door; he had an open and warm-hearted smile.
He showed me to the room and I sat down on a chair, beyond myself with excitement. Little by little my mind adjusted to the situation and regained the ability to perceive things clearly and individually. I saw the man who laughed happily, who was rolling on the sofa playing with the funny round-faced twins who climbing him her and there.
‘What little rogues!’ the man told me sharing his happiness with me.
I nodded and smiled stupidly.
It was all clear now. I rose to my feet, excused myself saying I was in a hurry, asked the man to tell Tory what the trade union officer had asked and rushed outside. I knew what Tory would say to all my ideas with a horse, taxi or at least a postal train. “It’s too late, Zhakyp. We met each other too late”, this is what Tory will say even if I promise to get a magic carpet.
I left in the morning and failed at the defense of my diploma, of course.
You know Zhakyp. He is no lazy person, and he can’t be called talentless. But this time, there was something bigger in his way than love of art…” – Zhakyp had concluded his story when we had been standing swaying in front of the dormitory entrance door.
‘I’m lucky anyway. Sherubai is right. I still have my luck as I have found you’, I told Ayauzhan sitting down on the edge of her bed.
‘And I’m just the luckiest one’, my wife replied covering my hand with her hot dry hand. ‘I lie here suffering, but I’m still happy. And probably there’s no one happier than me’.
‘You haven’t worked much lately, Zhantas. I must take up a lot of time?’ Ayauzhan asked me bitterly.
‘Not at all! Forget this nonsense. I’m fine. I don’t spend much time in the workshop because I don’t have substantial commissions’, I started comforting here, filled with concern.
I did have commissions, and they were coming one after the other as they had before – do something for this person and do another thing for somebody else, so I had to lie a bit. But this work required skill and craft rather than inspiration. I developed the skill very well and finished commissions very quickly. Such an attitude is normally viewed as sloppiness, and sometimes I felt awkward before my commissioners. But they liked both the promptness of work and the fact that oarsmen and discus throwers that I executed for them were exactly the same as the ones found in parks and recreation houses. They considered it to be a direct confirmation of my talent and commitment.
‘But wasn’t “A Girl in a Tiger’s Clutch” your first consideration? You talked so much about it’, Ayauzhan said.
‘It won’t come out’, I confessed frankly. ‘And it has nothing to do with you’.
‘I wish I could help you’, my wife said before she could stop.
The sunlit top of art lures every artist. I seems so close that you could reach out and touch it. You set out to chase it hoping for quick success. But what’s going on – you keep going, your feet are sore; but the top has not become a bit closer. And the brighter it shines at a distance, the greater is your desire to get there. This appears to be right. Because talent always chooses unattainable heights and the victory that has not cost you the greatest effort brings no true satisfaction. This may be the reason why the success of the sculpture of Ulbosyn had left bad taste in my mouth, though it had pleased my vanity first. It was the achievement of Ulbosyn herself, she was the one who had inspired me and showed me the way, I had only done what in fact any able hand could do. Ulbosyn’s immortal soul and her body had won the hearts of art connoisseurs who had not suspected anything, and they had put the laurel wreath on the head of a simple hand.
I was pulled further by the weight of the victory, and I tried to base my endeavor on the life model again without even noticing it. But the circumstances were different now. Then, Ulbosyn’s feeling and body had given me the concept of the sculpture. Now the concept was formed completely in my head and I tried to find sitters who would be able to embody this concept. But Gayni and Umit lived their own lives, neither of them bore any similarity to my Kuralai. This was the reason why it wouldn’t work out.
They say that an artist draws his power from challenges. If this was true I was one step away from success because I had faced a whole lot of challenges over the recent times. But what confused me here was the opposite opinion. According to this perspective, troubles are weights burdening the artist not letting his soul to take off. Only time can show which of the two beliefs is true. I was only certain that one can’t draw joy from grief…
But I did not share all this with Ayauzhan, of course.
‘Still, you must finish it’, my wife said strictly. ‘You’ll get down to work tomorrow’.
My naïve Ayauzhan did not suspect that there was no schedule for inspiration. But there was something sensible in her words.
‘Don’t worry, Ayauzhan. Things are going along the right way. I’ve had good luck for a long time and a person who has always enjoyed the smiles of fortune finds it hard to get used to the fact that creativity can be hard work, not only entertainment. I’ve always known it, but when you don’t have to make much effort you don’t seem to believe it too much… And now… now I’m trying to get used to the thought. Well, things can be complicated. It’s not so easy to tell somebody else’s story… Though little by little, but I’m getting used to it, Ayauzhan’.
I also added,
‘Don’t despair, Ayauzhan! You can’t even imagine how much you’ve done for me. You have helped me so much.
‘You are saying this to comfort me like a child’, Ayau8zhan smiled.
‘I mean it, darling’.
This was true indeed.
Once I found Altynai at my wife’s bed when I returned home. They were discussing something in low voices, I only heard them hissing and sassing. Well, you could say the women found a way to communicate. I thought so myself having looked at my wife’s room and was about to go to the kitchen with the groceries I had bought on my way home when I suddenly caught Ayauzhan’s look. I saw fear and joy in her eyes. Such a mixture of feelings can be found in a child offered to take a living bird. Both fear and excitement at something new and promising something good share the space in his or her little heart.
There was a newspaper unfolded in front of the girls and they leaned oner it as if commanders over a battle map.
‘Zhantas! Just take a look at what it says!’ Ayauzhan exclaimed pointing her finger at the paper. ‘Altynai, tell us once more’.
Altynai nodded and rattled off,
‘I stand in line, they sell patterned stockings at the department store. I just keep standing there, listen to what people say around. An one woman in line says, “They told in the newspaper today that physical exercise is so good for your health… well, there was one paralyzed man, so he started doing exercise in the morning and then he walked”. Her neighbor told her. I think to myself, to hell with those stockings, I can survive without them, they won’t have enough anyway”. I thought so and hurried to the kiosk. And the papers have already been sold out, so I ran to the newspaper office, and they say to me, “We don’t sell retail here” You see what they are saying? Well, I made such a scene, they will never forget it, and so I have brought the paper’.
She looked victorious, our kind and quarrelsome Altynai.
‘It does say so. Just listen’, Ayauzhan said with excitement and started reading a paragraph from one of the articles, “The benefits of physical exercise can be illustrated by the following case which took place in Penza. A.P. Ivanov had suffered from paralysis of his both legs for ten years. Following the advice of an instructor working at the Voluntary Sports Society “Trud” in a supernumerary capacity, he started doing morning exercises, and his commitment had yielded miraculous results. After some time, A.P. Ivanov could walk again”.
‘He can walk now. I will do morning exercises, too. I’ll start today!’, Ayauzhan announced firmly.
‘We should write a letter to this Ivanov, tell him the situation’, I suggested, also becoming filled with excitement.
‘I wonder how we could get his address!’, Ayauzhan said holding the paper.
‘Pshaw!’, Altynai snorted. ‘The author knows the address, sure thing. Who’s the author? Find it in the paper’.
‘Here it is, it says “S.B. Beimbetov, teacher of physical education at secondary school number two”, Ayauzhan read and repeated it again looking at the name with particularly ardent hope, as if trying to see the wise image of her savior behind the black typeface.
The selfless Altynai offered her help with this, too. But I undertook this responsibility myself and I must admit it was not an unpleasant one, and announced that I would meet Beimbetov the next day.
I went to my room to change, and the girls kept chatting for a while, impressed by the wonderful news. My thoughts came to be focused on the story of this A.P. Ivanov. Then I heard the door bang behind Altynai and went to my wife’s room intending to ask her if she needed anything. I froze in the doorway.
Lying on her back, Ayauzhan was trying to lift her right leg. With her head raised slightly, she watched her progress closely. Her face went pale from the enormous strain, perspiration covering her forehead, but her leg remained still on the sheet, as if a beautiful sculpture made from heavy stone.
‘I can’t’, she groaned, dropping her head back on the pillow powerlessly.
I rushed to her bed and took her hot weakened hand.
‘Sweetheart, don’t rush things. Don’t try to do it too fast. I guess it should be done little by little. Did it hurt, Ayauzhan?’
‘It did’, she sighed, our glances met and I saw her pain.
But she tried two more times the same night. I tried to convince her that she shouldn’t expose herself to such strain, that there was sure to exist a special approach, but it was to no effect. She was too tired of lying still in her bed, she was willing to start fighting the illness immediately. I understood her and gave up.
I managed to catch Beimbetov five minutes before his class.
‘I can’t talk now, dear comrade, I’ll be late’, the advocate of morning exercises became worried and tried to escape from me by jumping over the leather horse, but I jumped and flew over the horse, too, and it made him soften towards me.
‘Great, only keep your back arched when you jump. Clear, friend?’ he said approvingly.
‘Clear! Next time for sure… And now I need A.P. Ivanov’s address’.
‘A.P. Ivanov? I don’t know him. Try asking at the inquiry office’, Beimbetov said looking at me with his clear eyes.
‘Don’t pretend, Comrade Beimbetov! You know him very well. A.P. Ivanov lives in Penza. We know it for sure’, I insisted.
‘Oh, A.P!’ Beimbetov said hitting himself on the forehead. ‘Right, A.P. Ivanov. But your information is not correct. There is no A.P. Ivanov in Penza!’
‘But where is he?’
Like I had little trouble without this simple case becoming a complicated detective story.
‘Nowhere! There’s no such man’, Beimbetov said dismissively.
‘But haven’t you mentioned him? The paper says clearly, A.P. Ivanov… paralyzed… and so on!’
At this point Beimbetov started turning red disastrously as if someone was pouring red ink into his body, color going up from his feet to the top of his head.
‘I made him up… as an illustration… to convince people’, Beimbetov mumbled dropping his eyes.
‘So it never happened?! It’s nothing but your irresponsible imagination?!’ I screamed, profoundly shocked.
‘Not really. I think something like this happened. I heard it somewhere’, the frustrated Beimbetov whispered.
I went outside not knowing where to go. I could not go home. My tongue would stick to my throat before I could tell Ayauzhan that the news which had put so much faith in her was nothing but fiction created by a young and stupid man. An intricate curve brought me to the municipal hospital. Avoiding Abilkas I went to the medical director’s office. Fortunately, Sherubai was there and I told him how my wife had regained hope and how this hope was meant to be ruined quite soon.
When I concluded my short but quite colorful story, Sherubai pressed his temples with his hands and got absorbed in thinking for a long while.
‘There is an element of truth in the unsavvy P.E. teacher’s words’, he uttered after a torturing pause. ‘There were cases when paralysis went away thanks to a simple fever. The patient started shivering like a rock drill – and here you are, a positive outcome. This happened. But it is not a tendency, and moreover it was observed in less serious cases. Your wife’s case…’ he used a special term which I cannot quote here only because it slipped my memory like a soap leftover two instances later. ‘You wife’s case is more complicated, and it would be too easy if such conditions could be cured with simple exercise’, Sherubai said rallying his thoughts in his head. ‘But it won’t harm her. Let Ayauzhan keep exercising’.
‘Shereke!’ I exclaimed with reproach. ‘But this lie will come out one day, and what happens then? She will be devastated. No, not, please find another solution!’
‘Your wife is a courageous person’, Sherubai said strictly. ‘If you wish I strongly recommend her therapeutic exercises… and later… we’ll see. I have some other considerations’, Sherubai said.
And so Ayauzhan started doing therapeutic exercises in the morning. It cost her much effort, but she clenched her teeth and did them persistently. Watching her trying very hard I realized I misjudged Kuralai’s character. The tender and fragile Kuralai not only makes us feel compassion, she fights against the merciless tiger with all her power. And Kuralai’s spirit lives in every Kazakh woman, but she is free like as bird in one woman’s soul and spends her life in a cage in another one’s. I failed to make out a Kuralai of her own inside the unsophisticated, modest Gayni.
Gayni was quite surprised when I came to her place, apologized and offered to continue our sessions. But apparently it’s in women’s nature that you can’t really surprise them because they are convinced that all miracles of the world are meant for them only, in one way or another. This was the case with Gayni, too. Having sulked for five minutes she had a change of heart, quite pleased that I could not do without her.
She came back to my workshop soon, I took the clay and started moulding a new Kuralai.
And the most important thing occurred yesterday. It all started with Sherubai’s visit. He would often come to see us, we had got used to his visits and thought of him as a friend of our family – he feels quite comfortable at our place, reads a newspaper or drinks tea in the kitchen. But this time his visit claimed out attention as anything that stands out from the usual routine. Sherubai had an unkempt look like a rooster ready to fight.
‘Now, let’s hold a military council, dear friends’, he said entering the hall.
He rushed into my wife’s room, grabbed a chair and sat down near the bed. I sat at the foot of Ayauzhan’s bed and we exchanged concerned looks, Ayauzhan’s fine eyebrows rose up and hung like black jackdows.
‘Wondering why I’ve come?’ Sherubai asked. ‘You’d never guess… Fine… So what do you want to do? Lie here without movement? No, dear ones, I won’t let you’, Sherubai announced and slapped himself on his knee.
‘Shereke?’ both of us pronounced simultaneously.
‘That’s Shereke’s decision: we’ll hold another operation’, Sherubai said. ‘It’s a risky surgery – I’m warning you in advance. I can’t guarantee unconditional success. In case if it doesn’t work you’ll go back to bed, and this time it will be for a lifetime’. He mentioned some special term again, ‘a very capricious organ. Risk is risk, dear. But we have to do something, you can’t just lie and wait’.
‘Shereke, there’s no point in this operation’, Ayauzhan laughed. ‘I exercise every morning. And one more time during the day. It starts working, Shereke. I can move my toe. Well, maybe it’s only my impression and I can’t move it. But it will be fine soon, very-very soon, Shereke. And then we’ll receive a letter from Penza. Have you read about this person, Shereke?’
She looked at our faces and her voice dropped. Intuition revealed the ugly truth to her almost immediately. A depressing silence hung in the room. It seemed the ceiling and the walls were going to smash us.
‘So what do we do, dear?’ Sherubai repeated rising to his feet.
Walking about the room he gave us an extensive lecture. He went back to the history of antique medicine and threw the names of Hippocrates, Heraclitus, Empedocles and other ancient healers at us every now and then. Sherubai gradually climbed the stairway of history, approaching our age. I had a suspicion that he was actually talking to himself trying to dispel his doubts.
‘You are right, doctor’, Ayauzhan said. ‘Waiting is pointless. I agree to the operation’.
‘Ayauzhan, think it over. You have to consider everything’, I begged, feeling cold fear crawling into my heart.
‘I agree’, Ayauzhan repeated. ‘When?..’
“We’ll come to get you in the morning’, Sherubai said as if apologizing for something.
I sat at my wife’s bed for a long while last night. We mostly kept silent. If we exchanged any words, it was something insignificant. An even when Zulfia started her old song again, it did not matter to us.
“A-a-ah, my soul, a-a-ah, my love!” Zulfia sang, whereas Ayauzhan and I thought of love so pure that our miserable rancorous neighbor had no idea about.
Then it grew dark and the star shone above the construction site. It meant that Karipzhan, Asylkhan, Altynai and Uncle Petya were all doing their job, and they would not have to feel ashamed meeting people’s eyes on their way to work.
This morning they came to take my wife. We took the litter with Ayauzhan outside, and our familiar attendant said,
‘Fortune must smile upon you after all. A person can’t have only bad luck his or her whole life. Perhaps the third ride will turn out lucky for you. They say, third time lucky’.
The litter was put inside the car, and Ayauzhan said quietly when I bent over her, only for me to hear,
‘I’m still the luckiest’.
‘Me too… The luckiest ever’, I said, put a kiss on her forehead and jumped off the car.
They haves taken Ayauzhan away. And I am still home. I am trying to pretend I am having breakfast. Then I will go to the workshop. Kuralai – Gayni, a funny lazy girl, is waiting for me there.
I am moving my jaws chewing a bite of cold meat. I’m thinking if I really am the luckiest person. Does it not look like an anecdote: my wife is in hospital, I am fit for nothing, food won’t go down my throat? And still, I am the luckiest person because I have Ayauzhan. And the outcome of the operation does not matter, I know it for sure: I do have Ayauzhan. She will always be there for me.