Small and thin autumn rain fell without a break. Nobody wanted to leave the railway station building and to get wet outside, waiting for a train, which was delayed for about three hours. Only Atymtay was brave enough to leave the station building’s shelter for several minutes, as he got away to the empty, deserted platform, all in cold puddles. Hobbling along to the edge of the platform, he stopped, leaning on a crutch, and looked in the direction, where the shape of the semaphore was seen through the wall of rain and gray twilight. Cold rain drops were streaming along his thin face with the peaked cheekbones, and then soaked under the collar of his service jacket. Atymtay didn’t even notice it…
His wife never asked him any questions when he came back from the wet platform. She glanced shortly at Atymtay, who was grim and annoyed with the train’s delay, and then she turned her head to another side and embraced her little son Hassan, kissing tenderly his pink soft cheeks, his round clear forehead and his eyes, looking at her perplexedly and even a little bit scared from time to time. Not only this little child, but Atymtay as well felt strangely uncomfortable, when he looked at these headlong and rampant public mothering and fondling…
Atymtay went back to the empty platform with the hard and uneasy feeling.
Atymtay spent four years at the front and became a troop leader as the war was finally over. Bullets and shrapnel spared him. But then, right before an end of war and victory, he suddenly appeared in the field hospital and was discharged only in September. The doctors assured him that his injured leg will heal and begin to live with time. They said that maybe light lameness will remain, but it shouldn’t be so important for Atymtay. He wasn’t an artist, a dancer or some kind of a circus performer though… That was what they told him at moment of their parting. And here he was, leaning on a crutch and with the two lines of medals and orders all over his chest, coming back home after long war. He didn’t go directly to the mines where he worked as a foreman before he was sent to the front, but decided to visit and take with him his wife and little son, who moved to the town after he left to the front. The mines were here near at hand.
Atymtay decided to take his wife and his son with him, but what did he know about them?.. His beautiful black-eyed wife Bibigaysha used to regularly and often write him the letters during the first two years of war. But although Atymtay felt really uneasy and he was always sick at heart, reading her complaints about life burdens and hardships she and her little child were forced to face, Atymtay started to really worry when the letters ceased to come from her. Though, his friends wrote to him. They wrote about different things and issues, including Bibigaysha. Just among the other things. They wrote to him that Bibigaysha worked at some big and serious office as an accountant, and that her life was generally not bad, so that he, a combat soldier, had nothing to worry about concerning her life and conditions there. In addition to that, chairman of that office himself worried about and looked after the combat soldier’s family… Some of his friends even gave him his name: Alshinbek Aydungaliyev.
Atymtay felt something felt a rat, reading these letters over again and again, as these letters were full of some hidden hints and inklings. It would be better for this chairman to worry about and to look after Atymtay’s family less, of course, Atymtay thought to himself, rereading these letters. It would be better if this chairman wouldn’t be such a careful and attentive man!
It seemed that the best and most right thing would be for him to simply forget about Bibigaysha. But he couldn’t do that… And he couldn’t also forget and stop thinking about his little child, his first-born, whom Bibigaysha gave him ten days after he was sent to the front and whom she named Hassan, just as Atymtay wanted it…
He found a house and a room where she lived. And then he entered this room, silent and without knocking at the door. She pried herself away from the mirror she was looking at, turned around, saw him and called out in bewilderment. What scared Bibigaysha that much? Was it him who scared her? Or maybe was it his new crutch, creaking lightly? It seemed that she was going to go out somewhere, as she was dressed nicely, in a dressy black gown, and her hair, washed recently and very good, fell like a black silken wave over her shoulders. He loved this hair of hers, so long and thick and so soft. Her hair was still the same… Her eyes were the same as well: big and black like a dark night… They looked even bigger than usually now, now, when fear was suddenly hidden deep in the pupils of her eyes…
Atymtay searched with a glance a place to sit in the room and sat on the stool, which stood here, to the right from the doorstep.
“Hello, Bibigaysha,” he said after being silent for some time. “Here I am, I came back home,” he tried to smile. “But I was close to losing my leg, unfortunately… But that’s nonsense, that’s nothing. Many people lost their lives there. And I am alive,” he tried to joke, but this joke appeared to be heavy and clumsy.
“Yes, many people lost their lives there,” Bibigaysha replied without knowing what to say as she was totally lost and confused.
He kept silent for a while and then he started to talk in a husky voice, without looking at Bibigaysha:
“What can I say? You know yourself how strong I always loved you. You loved me too... Before… But I’m talking not about it now. I came here for you and for our son. I came here to take you with me,” Atymtay noticed a little baby cot in the corner of the room. “Where is he?”
“Hassan will come back from the kindergarten soon…”
“Oh,” Atymtay’s voice became suddenly strong and stiff. “So,” he went on to say, “I came here to take you both with me. If you agree, get ready and collect your things. We will go to the mines tomorrow. If you disagree, just give me my son…”
Bibigaysha saw how constrainedly these words, thought over and prepared before, troubled him. She was waiting for severe accusations, reproaches, blames and rebukes… But Atymtay said not a single word anymore and remained silent. She suddenly felt that she wanted to throw herself at his feet, to sob and cry and to muzzle with her face to his military boots, covered in mud. She felt she wanted to cry and beg for his pardon now… She hardly held herself.
“Tomorrow, Atymtay,” she said, “tomorrow you will get an answer”.
“All right,” he replied.
The door opened wide noisily at this moment, and a swarthy little boy with a funny twirl on his head rushed to the room towards his mother.
“Mommy! Mommy!” he exclaimed and ran to Bibigaysha, hurrying to tell her something, and then he stopped and tailed away, when he saw a stranger in a military uniform and with the crutches.
“Do you know who is it, Hassan-jan? Do you know who came to us?” Bibigaysha said, referring to her child. “It’s your father, my darling, he finally came back home from the front. Come closer to him”.
“Who is it?” Hassan stared in bewilderment and amazement at Atymtay. He looked closely and attentively into his face for some time, as if he tried to guess or understand something in it. Then his glance slid down and stopped at Atymtay’s chest, covered with the medals and orders, shining lightly. Hassan’s eyes suddenly shone bright. He stepped towards Atymtay, stretched him his hand and said: “Hello…”
He made it all in a very respectable and smart way and very worthily. He said “Hello!” and he stretched his hand for handshaking, he did everything required in the situation like that, he just made a little mistake, as he stretched to Atymtay his left hand instead of his right one. Atymtay laughed happily and embraced his son. Bibigaysha’s heart ached, and she turned back in attempt to hide her tears.
It was obvious that a little boy was still shy of Atymtay. He tried to free himself from his father’s embracement. Atymtay didn’t try to hold him longer and put him down on the ground. But the boy didn’t escape, he remained standing in front of this stranger, who was actually his father, and examined him with curiosity, as if he was comparing him to someone.
“You have a crutch, while mister Alshinbek doesn’t have one…” he said pensive.
Atymtay paled a little bit.
“Mister Alshinbek is also taller than you and he wears a black coat…” a boy went on saying.
But it seemed that all these discoveries, that Hassan just made, made him a little bit sad and disappointed a boy, because he exclaimed immediately in triumph:
“But you have so many orders and medals! Nobody has so many orders and medals like you! Are you a hero? Did you kill the fascists during the war?”
Atymtay smiled. But the boy’s words “Mister Alshinbek” stuck in his mind.
“I will come tomorrow at the same time,” he said to Bibigaysha cold and dull. “Take a decision, but only for yourself. Hassan will go with me anyway”.
He left the room without saying good-bye.
Bibigayha said on the next day that she agrees to go together with Atymtay to the mines settlement.
Now they sat at the railway station, waiting for the train. His wife and his son were together with him, and he was taking them away. Everything was happening just as he wanted and planned it. But anxiety, disturbance and forebode of a hard and inevitable disaster penetrated Atymtay’s soul deeper and deeper, like a snake, crawling in the cold night silently and noiseless into the warm yourt , farther and deeper with every minute.
The train arrived at last, and the boarding was announced. Atymtay toddled in front of his family, carrying the bags, as Bibigaysha and Hassan followed him. Atymtay didn’t see her face, but he felt that she was crying and sobbing. “If we will start our new life with the tears, what will be next then?” he thought to himself. He wanted to turn around and to shout in her face: “Stay here if you don’t want to go! Stay here in the city, if it’s such a big and hard decision for you!”. But they were in the train already, and the departure had to be announced very soon. Somebody helped Atymtay with the bags and assisted him in carrying them to the wagon.
Atymtay placed the bags on the bottom shelves and recovered his breath. Then he took off his overcoat, wet because of the heavy rain and sweating. Bibigaysha stayed on the entrance to the wagon department, holding Hassan in her arms.
“Come in,” Atymtay said to her, “here are our places”.
“One moment, please,” she replied and embraced her son strongly and tenderly. Then she kissed the boy soft and handed him to Atymtay. “Hold him for some minutes, please,” she said. “I need to go out for some time. It seems, somebody brought me something…” Bibigaysha didn’t finish her speech and ran to the exit.
Atymtay saw a car waiting outside. It was parked behind the railway station fence, right at the gates bearing the legend “Entrance and Exit”. Back door of the car opened wide in front of Bibigaysha. Bibigaysha got in and slapped the door.
The station bell rang dull. As a response, it started to rain stronger again; rain beat the train windows, the platform, the puddles and the roof of the black car.
Atymtay hoped and waited till the last moment, till the last second. And even when the train shook and then started to move slowly, unwillingly, as if it was ready to stop any moment, and when the platform edge started to move in the train’s windows, Atymtay still hoped and believed that the doors of the black car will open now at the last moment, and Bibigaysha will jump out of the car, running to the train through the big puddles and trying to catch it… But the doors of the car never opened and didn’t let Bibigaysha out. The last and the only one thing Atymtay saw was a little white scarf of Bibigaysha. She waved it shortly and lightly through the window of the car; it appeared for several seconds and then disappeared again. The car made a curve, its motor roared, light blue smoke appeared in the air, and the car rushed from the railway station in the direction of the city.
Hassan followed with excitement the movements of the buildings and houses, flashing and gleaming frequently behind the window of a moving train. Several minutes passed like that, and then Hassan suddenly asked Atymtay, worrying:
“Where is mommy? Where is she?” and he started fidgeting and slipping, sitting in Atymtay’s lap. “Where is mommy? Mommy! Mommy!”
“I am everything for you now: your mother and your father at the same time,” Atymtay thought to himself, looking at little Hassan.
The boy started to cry.
Atymtay caressed tenderly and softly his head and his soft hair. The he knocked with his fingernail on the glass of the window.
“Look, there is a shunt locomotive there, don you see it?” he said to the little boy.
Hassan cried more and more and louder. Atymtay was lost and puzzled; he didn’t know what to do and how to behave in this situation. Being a father was something unknown and new for him, and he still didn’t know what it meant and what he had to do.
Dear Yesil River, you are dear to a Kazakh since long ago…
It seems that my tears are your blue waves…
Green steppe is flowering now around you,
Though my heart is still full of sorrow…
Yesil, Yesil!.. How many songs were written and sung about this beautiful and wide river since long ago! The words were sad and bitter, the music was sorrowful, the same as the people’s fate and life. But Yesil River was running and streaming along its green banks, covered with the flowers and herbs, shining in the sun with its blue and transparent waves, like a little blue belt, left by someone on the bank. The people’s hearts and souls became light and merry as they were looking the streaming waters of the river, and one could think: everything what troubles and makes sad will pass and will be forgotten, all the sorrows, burdens and misfortunes…
And the spring! The spring was unbelievably beautiful on the banks of Yesil River!..
Thick and solid banks of snow, sinking closer to the ground, still didn’t melt; muddy water still was streaming in its ravines, while the young green and thin grass started to appear on the river’s banks, straining towards the light. Two or three warm and clear spring days were enough here for the vast steppe meadows to flower with many colors. Birds of passage started to come back home from the Southern lands, where they spent long and cold winter, and the high blue sky was full of their clear ringing voices and songs. And what was happening at the lakes and on the banks of the Yesil River?.. It seemed that all the ducks, geese and white-winged swans that existed in the entire world were heading here, to the freedom of the steppe, and babbled with each other every day from the sunrise till the late evening twilight. Scents of herbs and flowers: snowdrops, violets, tulips – dizzied and intoxicated.
Beautiful and unbelievable spring came always on your banks, Yesil River!..
There are thought different times now and different springs as well. Yesil River changed and became different too… As far as the eyes can see were black and hazy freshly ploughed fields. Little lakes and backwaters looked as if they were boiling and ready to break their banks: so many poultry were there. Wind blew above the vast steppe, and constant and loud roaring of the working motors could be heard in this wind, and it didn’t really matter from which direction it blew…
Everything changed here, everything became completely different… Even the spring was different in these places now…
This year’s spring was completely different as well.
This spring was excessively early and hot. Sowing season has started in the middle of April, and the first early standings and young crops appeared in the fields two weeks later. The bushes of the white-horn burst into leaves along the roadsides and the streets of the settlement Altyn-Aray, the sprouts of wormwood rushed exuberant up. The trees sprouts in the birch woods and in the thickets of osier-bed, growing in the valleys of the rivers and in the overflow lands, burst long before May came and exploded with the young tenderly green springs.
Wheat, trees, grass, flowers – everything started to grow fast and vigorous.
It made the people happy and glad, but it also worried them at the same time. The fields of the virgin lands of Altyn-Aray sovkhoz were located in the area, unprotected from the steppe hot wind and drought…
Tillage was ongoing on the Aksengir lot. A huge tractor – a dully roaring monster – seemed to swim along the big black ocean, bearing lead lightly the ploughs. Thick and fat, wet black soil spread behind the tractor.
A young sovkhoz agronomist Hassan rode a horse and tore around and in front of the working tractor, crossing its way and preventing it from working normally. His horse refused to listen to his commands, rushed to the sides, but the tractor continued its movement forth, stubbornly and without decelerating. Hassan felt his double impotence and powerlessness, and his long and thin swarthy face, looking like a face of a Red Indian, was screwed up with nuisance and rage.
“Kareke! What are you doing, Kareke?” he shouted to the tractor driver. “It was said clearly: don’t furrow with the oval ploughs!”
“I don’t care!” Karabay shouted from the cabin of the tractor without even looking at Hassan.
“Kareke!” Hassan went on to say. “Kareke, I repeat it for the last time!..”
“Hey, get out of my way!” Karabay replied angrily, and his little and deep-set eyes turned on his rage. “Get out or I will run over you! I didn’t earn anything with this your beardless plowing!” he shouted and then turned the wheel of the tractor sharply and led his tractor right on the Hassan’s horse.
“In this case, let Ugryumov talk to you!” Hassan said and turned his horse towards the settlement, biting his lips and giving a flogging to his horse.
The tractor continued to move further in the same direction, plowing the black soil with its sharp plowshares.
The machinery operators usually had rest after dinner. Some of them smoked, relaxing their bodies, tired after long working days, close to the campfires, some others took a nap, putting their sweaters and sweatshirts under their heads. Plowing time often continued till the sunrise of the next day, all night long, and as there were not enough people to change the workers, they had to find the way and to make some short pauses for having some rest and restoring powers for the next round of work.
Gubanov was the last with his dinner. People around the campfire hustled and crowded, freeing some space for the brigadier. He sat down, took his tobacco pouch out of his pocket (everybody in the sovkhoz knew very well that Porfiriy Mykhaylovich doesn’t like and refuses to recognize cigarettes), then he made a roll-up cigarette for himself and had a puff from the little dry stem of the steppe grass. He wasn’t an old or even elderly man; anyway, he was sure about that, and nobody even dared or tried to argue with him regarding this issue, looking at his short stubby and strong figure, which didn’t know round shoulders. Although many tractor drivers and operators, not even mentioning some young boys working in the sovkhoz, were young enough to be his sons, he was deeply respected here not only for his open and direct temper and nature, not only for his great working and life experience and knowledge, but also for his age. He felt it very well and glanced from time to time with some sadness at some young faces around him.
“So, boys,” he said, smoking with delight and relaxing his body close to the campfire, “It seems that our Anatoliy have dropped dead?”
“Not at all!” a young white-haired guy, having rest a little bit farther from the campfire and laying on the piece of canvas, responded to Gubanov. “There is though Ramazan who lies without breathing now. And we are still having a lot of plans. I mean me and Mykolka”.
“Really? What about Mykolka’s norm, by the way?” Gubanov asked.
“Nothing special, I think he will make one and half norm till the dinner time…”
“Well, in this case you can take some rest later…”
“He is lying though!” Mykola, who sat next to Gubanov, exclaimed vexedly. “Porfiriy Mykhaylovich, why do you listen to him?.. How is it possible to take rest now if there is still that much work to do! We must plow and plow and plow! We must go on plowing until there is enough water in the soil! And the only one thing he is thinking about is to relax and to have some rest!”
“That’s right,” Gubanov agreed and tapped on the guy’s shoulder. “People say that a spring day feeds the whole year. As for our virgin lands, it applies to the night as well…”
“The soil is good as well,” the third tractor driver joined the conversation, adding the firebrands to the campfire. “You take it in your hand, and this soil is just like butter! And there is so much here! If it would be possible to relocate to Estonia the lot our brigade is responsible for, my entire kolkhoz could be located on it! I often think to myself: what did Kazakhs do with this land long ago? How did they use it?”
Gubanov kept silent for some time, smoking his cigarette.
“I don’t really know what to answer you, Johann?” he replied. “What did they do with this land? Nothing special, I suppose, they managed to cultivate it somehow. The Kazakhs prefer to ranch rather than to till. They were breeders and cattle farmers since long ago, and cattle needs freedom and a lot of free space. The land was untouched, the grass reached the chest level, and there, in the ravine, a big Kazakh aul was located. There were really many cattle here, and as for the horses, one couldn’t even count their numbers! They used to drive in the cattle and the horses for watering to the river, and there was always more than thousands of heads. And all the horses were of the same race and the same color: black, with the shining silken fur…”
“I can’t believe it!” somebody exclaimed in amazement. “Where are they now? Where are these people, their cattle and their horses? Where is this aul? Did we scare them away, or what?”
Gubanov replied after a pause.
“I suppose, you are right,” he said. “They were scared away, I think… It’s not a joke though! They brought here to the virgin steppe ten or maybe even twenty thousand of the tractors! And all of it happened so fast! The soil here trembled and moaned, not to mention the simple little auls…”
“What about the Kazakhs who used to live here? How did they accept it all?..”
Gubanov fell silent again.
“Sooner or later, but all the people finally understand their happiness,” he replied. “It’s not only about the tractors, if to think about it more and look at the things closer. We could say that it was actually the second revolution coming to the Kazakh steppe! The people… Of course, the people felt from the very beginning what these virgin lands brought them… But, of course, there were some other people as well…”
“Some other people? What kind of people was it? Were there some displeased people?..”
“Of course, there were some displeased people. I’m telling you, it’s not only about the tractors though! There were too many people arriving, and they all came all of a sudden, without warning, and of course it was totally unexpected for the local people. I hope you understand me. There were different people, speaking different languages, having and preserving different traditions and customs… It wasn’t that easy for the local Kazakhs!”
“How is it, Porfiriy Mykhaylovich? The people though are all the same, Soviet people, aren’t they?.. And you are talking now something about the language, customs and habits… But it is all being made for the common good, for all the people of our country!” several voices were heard around the campfire.
“Am I arguing with you?” Gubanov laughed friendly. “But you should pay attention to one important thing. The Kazakhs used to live here, in these lands, for many years and centuries, just like the Slavic people lived for centuries on the banks of a great Dnipro River. They fought the foreign invaders and struggled for their land and their people. Everything here is dear to them, everything is important for them, their grandfathers and ancestors are buried here. Once I saw an old man, who was crying and sobbing just like a little child, when we destroyed with our tractors the mazar , where his father was buried. But what could we do? It was the narrowest place on the river; you simply couldn’t find the better place for the new bridge. That’s why we had to do that… But this old man was right too… So, here how it is usually happens: you cannot build something new without destroying the old things and the old rules. But it’s always hard and painful to destroy something… It’s same here, in these virgin lands. People used to live here for ages, pasturing and tending their cattle and roaming in the steppe, and then suddenly everything changed, as some new and strange people came, and these locals were forced to plow the soil and to live not like they used to live…”
“But it was just at the beginning. What happened next?.. How was it then?..”
“What happened next?.. Nothing really special, everything just came back to normal with time. We made billions of kilograms of harvest! How is it, what do you think? I suppose, every bawler and poulter will simply keep silent after it! Bread was more expensive than gold in all the times…”
“Yes, that’s truth, Porfiriy Mykhaylovich,” Johann agreed thoughtfully. “People say: man does not live by bread alone. I think it was really hard to part with the old and well known, dear things and to leave everything you were accustomed to… Kazakhs have really so many songs about the horses, the fields, about freedom of the steppe, and what is now? Plowing, sowing, tractors… One cannot ride a tractor coming for his bride! .. A human being needs not only purpose but also the beauty, if you know what I mean…”
“Of course, nobody argues about that! But the field with the crops looks not worse than a vast steppe, covered with the herbs and flowers! There is another thing here which is really very important: we cannot and have no right to destroy and kill the beauty without any important purpose!.. You know, many different things happened before…”
“What things happened before, Porfiriy Mykhaylovich?..” somebody asked.
“Many things happened,” Gubanov repeated and fell silent again for some time. Gubanov didn’t reply immediately, as it happened often with him, but sat silent for some time, pondering and thinking his future answer over. It seemed that he was thinking: is it worth it to remember all of these old things and memories and to bring them back to live, sharing these memories and experience with his companions? These memories were though not among the pleasant ones, and maybe it wouldn’t be better to simply forget about them once and for all?..But this conversation turned really serious now, every word of him was being caught by his listeners and companions, people crowded and clustered closer and closer to him, listening carefully and eagerly, trying not to lose anything important he could say. Gubanov finally felt he was determined to start his story and his speech.
“There were very many people who arrived here,” he started to talk. “There were many good people, many laborious people, but there were also some grabbers, job-hoppers and sometimes even real criminals and outlaws among them! We had such a story too… We have Kachan, if it wouldn’t be him… I really don’t know what could happen! I think there would be really enough shame for us for many years…”
“What Kachan are you talking about?” somebody asked. “Is it that fat man who is responsible for the pig farm?..”
“Yes, that’s him. That’s the one I’m talking about now”.
“I couldn’t even imagine something like this looking at him!” somebody exclaimed and laughed.
“It doesn’t really matter is it possible to imagine something like this regarding him or not, but there was a real story long ago…”
So, Gubanov told them the story, which happened in the Altyn-Aray sovkhoz during the first years of clearing. This story was partially forgotten already and some of its details were also partially known only by Gubanov himself and only from the one side, as Kachan kept silent about the rest of the story and its details. And there was an understandable reason for that…
This story though was remarkable for the entire sovkhoz settlement and it was following.
Ignat Frolovich Kachan was a manager of a recently created pig-farm. Despite a late hour, he was still awake and didn’t go to sleep. His wife worked in the field and stayed there that night, at the brigade camp. Ignat Frolovich decided to use this possibility to be alone for some time, enjoying silence, and he counted with the abacus, estimating incomes and expenditures.
Somebody knocked at his door.
Ignat Frolovich stopped to count and listened carefully. He had no idea who it could be. It was really late and he didn’t expect anyone to come…
Somebody behind the door knocked again.
Kachan rose from his seat at his table and went slowly to the door. The floor-boards squeaked under his weight, as Ignat Frolovich was a very tall and strong man.
“Who is it?” he asked, approaching the door.
“It’s a friend! Open the door, don’t be scared!” the voice was heard from behind the door.
“What does it mean: friend? Who are you? What’s your name?” Ignat Frolovich asked strictly and even took a hatchet from behind the furnace. You never know what could happen!
“That’s a friend, I’m telling you! You invited me to visit you last autumn!” a man behind the door replied. “Or maybe you have already forgotten how I helped you with those boar bulks at the market?”
“Oh, here who you are!” Ignat Frolovich started to remember. He really remembered now a thin and red-haired guy with a raddled face, whom he knew accidentally at the urban market last autumn. He gave that guy twenty five rubles then and said him as a good-bye: come to us, to our sovkhoz, as there is always enough work for the good hands at the virgin fields, and good workers are always needed and appreciated. And then he gave this guy his address. Thus, it looked credible: he called this guy to come and invited him, and here he was, right at his door. But why did he come in the middle of the night? That was really strange for Ignat Frolovich.
“You could come at daytime, not late in the night!” he said to the late guest. “You could come directly to the pig-farm where I work or to the office, it would be even easier and more comfortable to talk about our affairs there…”
“I was planning to visit you at daytime, but unfortunately I didn’t make it!”
Kachan hesitated for some time at the doorstep, then waved with his hand and removed the locker of the door, opening it.
His last year friend, tall and thin red-haired young man entered the room, but he was not alone. There were four other men together with him, and Ignat Frolovich didn’t know them at all and saw them for the first time in his life. All of them were dressed in the workers’ overalls and held in their hands self-made wooden boxes, looking like those wooden boxes where the carpenters usually carry their instruments.
“Hey, old man, I think you should better put this hatchet back,” a red-haired guy smirked. “This hatchet won’t help either you or us. You better feed us and help us to get some fuel, if you know where to find it. We traveled a lot, and our way was long, so we are really starving and terribly tired now. Don’t be scared, my friend!” he added, tapping of Kachan’s shoulder, as Kachan’s face became more and more pale with every minute. “We are also laboring people and workers, the only one difference is that we think not of the state only but of ourselves as well. Put it in a nutshell, we are carpenters. We work though according to the contract, in order to get our money immediately…”
But there were really a lot of people “working” like this in the neighborhood and in the virgin lands those days. Kachan almost calmed down, but then suddenly thought: “If he tells me the truth, then why didn’t he tell from the beginning that he was not alone? Why did he name only himself? Why didn’t he tell that there were other people as well behind the door?..” No, there was definitely something wrong here…
Kachan put his hatchet on the bench at the furnace and decided to keep it closer to himself in case he will need to use it. He thought and estimated that he could reach this hatchet easily at any moment it will be needed. But the red-haired guy took the hatchet in his hands immediately, examined it, turned it over in his hands, as if he was playing with it, and then he handed it to one of his friends.
“Is it the way respectable people receive their guests?” he asked, giving a wink. “Well then, fetch us something to eat now…”
Ignat Frolovich went to the door, going to go to the yard, but the red-haired guy crossed his path and stood on his way right at the doorstep, acting as if he did it accidentally.
“Don’t bother yourself too much,” his unexpected and unwelcomed guests said. “We will be happy with the things you already have at home”.
Kachan had no doubts already what kind of guests visited him tonight. Thus, he decided not to argue. He took a pot with the cold and jellied mush out of the furnace and placed it in the middle of the table. Then he served also a circle of a smoked sausage, bread, a big piece of lard, sliced off, and some onion. Then he dragged a bag from under the bed and took a couple of vodka bottles out of them. Vodka appeared on the table as well.
The men’s eyes started to shine when they saw vodka and the food on the table.
“That’s your sort!” a red-haired guy exclaimed and rubbed his hands. “I knew it before that you aren’t a greedy man and that you will find how to feed me and my dear friends. I think you have plenty of money and supplies as well, so we will hardly eat everything out of your house and home,” he smiled.
Kachan poured vodka into the glasses, trying not to spill it on the table.
“Welcome! Please, have a seat!” Ignat Frolovich said, inviting the men to the table, and once they drank the first glass, he said to them incidentally:
“What do you mean by “plenty of money”? Do you really think we have it a lot here?.. It’s not that easy to grow rich with the sovkhoz money… But of course, there are some people here, who have really a lot of money, saving them in their trunks and chests…”
He just touched a drop of the first glass and then of the second glass as well, saying: “Cheers, Mykyta!”, and he didn’t drink his glass till the end, despite the fact that he clung glasses with everybody at the table.
“I’m telling: cheers!” he said to the red-haired guy again. “I want to drink for you and for your good health, my dear friend! You’ve helped me a lot that time, really. Our director was very thankful and commended me for earnings that time!”
“Don’t try to distract us with smooth talk, man,” one of the men interrupted him sharply. He had black hair and a tattoo on his hand. “Mykyta told us that these boars belonged to you, not to the sovkhoz. I think you didn’t forget to bring something for the fair as well, am I right?” he smiled unfriendly.
“I am responsible for the pig-farm, what should I do?” Kachan replied. “I used to sell some of the pigs not so legal, but I’ve always paid this money to the cash office! Everything, till the last cent! In addition to that, do you think the boar’s meat can bring really a lot of money?.. Karabay is completely different issue…”
It seemed that he was almost totally drunk already.
“I swear you, cross my heart!” he muttered. “I was giving all my earnings to the office, unlike Karabay…”
“Wait a second!” a red-haired guy shook his shoulder. “What are you talking about? Who is Karabay? Talk clearly!”
“Karabay is one of the tractor drivers,” Kachan muttered in a drunken voice as a reply. “He earned so much money during the period of sowing season harvesting! You would never believe! And all of his money is hidden in a safe place, in the trunk. If you will enter his room, you will find this trunk at the right, in the corner… His wife and his children are starving, as if their family was a family of beggars, but he has plenty of money, which he saves and collects. And what do I have? Almost nothing! If somebody is somehow a drinker, money won’t stay for long in his pocket!.. My wealth and all I have is in this vodka I drink!” he concluded and poured some more vodka, filling the glasses.
Whispers went around that Karabay’s father was a mullah. Maybe that was the reason of Karabay’s behavior, but he really tried to turn the local Kazakhs hostile towards the pigs-farm. “Why does the sovkhoz need it?” he said often. “It only takes land and damages it!” It was the reason of a fight between Kachan and Karabay one time. And now Ignat Frolovich tried to save himself and to use Karabay as the fall guy.
“Where did you say his house is?” a red-haired guy asked.
“It’s next to the road, right on the entrance to the settlement,” Kachan replied with readiness. “You might have noticed it when you turned to me, I suppose. This house stands alone, on the outskirts”.
“Is there a dog in the yard?”
“He doesn’t have a dog, he has a cat only…”
Kachan suddenly sunk his head on his arms, sitting at the table, and started to snore loud.
The black-haired tattooed guy raised from the table the first of them and commanded the company:
“What should we do with this guy?” one of the companions asked, pointing at sleeping Kachan. “Should we slit his throat as a good-bye?”
“I think we shouldn’t,” a red-haired guy replied. “When he will wake up we will be far away from here, and nobody will be able to find us anymore”.
The door closed behind the “guests”. Kachan raised his head and looked around, hardly believing that he finally got rid of those people and saved himself from this danger. But Kachan’s merriment lasted not for a long time. “What if somebody saw these people entering my house and then leaving it?” he suddenly thought to himself. “And what if they will really go right to the Karabay’s house and somebody saw it?” If something will happen and the case will be opened, the investigator will understand everything very fast, and Ignat Frolovich will risk getting at least a serious prison term in this case…
Ignat Frolovich left his house carefully, looking all the time around and trying to understand did the unwelcomed “guests” really leave and could anybody see them. He closed the wicket door, trying not to make any noise, and then ran fast to Gubanov’s house, knowing that Gubanov and his working brigade were going to move for hay-harvest to the steppe early in the morning.
Porfiriy Mykhaylovich was already awake and was preparing to leave for the hay-harvest, when Kachan approached his house and started to knock at his door and at his windows.
“Porfiriy Mykhaylovich! Porfiriy Mykhaylovich!” he spoke rapidly and agitated. “Come on, fast! Wake up your guys, there’s emergency! Some strange people broke into my house, demanded vodka and food and then asked me information about Karabay and his house! They are looking for his house! I wish nothing bad will happen…”
“Who are they?” Gubanov asked.
“I don’t know them!” Kachan replied. “They all are armed with the knives and I saw that one of them has a gun as well”.
“When did they leave?” Gubanov went on asking.
“They just left, several minutes ago,” Kachan said. “Once they left, I ran to you immediately!”
Gubanov asked no more questions. He just gathered the guys from his brigade; they prepared fast and ran to the Karabay’s house.
It was silent and calm at Karabay’s house and at the yard, the doors were closed and even locked. The drunk bandits didn’t manage to find his house that fast, so nearly ten minutes passed when they finally appeared close to it.
Waving his scythe as if it was a sword, Gubanov rushed first towards them. Shouts, exclaims and swearing were heard in the darkness, there was a shot, and the bullet whistled right at the ear of Porfiriy Mykhaylovich.
“Be careful, guys!” he shouted to his brigade. “Beware the bullets! Let’s take a round about the house! Anyway, they won’t be able to escape far, the night is almost over, and sunrise is close!..”
But the bandits left. The motor roared and the headlights flashed in the direction, where their voices and heavy stamping died away. They came with the car. They escaped the sovkhoz settlement before anybody knew or noticed something.
A beat officer arrived in the morning at the scene. He reported about the incident to the district department, the district department reported to the region internal affairs directorate. Put it shortly, the bandits managed to escape and disappear, when the local police started the search, investigation and preliminary trials. The rumors said that they were finally captured several months later beyond the borders of republic.
Remembering this story, Porfiriy Mykhaylovich concluded grimly:
“Of course, I can easily understand it. Who wants to risk his life and to get the chance to be killed by the bandits’ bullet? Of course, nobody does. There was no choice. But it’s not only about Karabay, actually. In case this terrible crime would be committed then, there would be terrible disaster and shame for our entire sovkhoz! Of course, some people would appear who would tell everywhere and spread the rumors that Russians came to the Kazakh villages and kill the Kazakh people”.
“What Russians?.. What are you saying?.. What are you talking about, Porfiriy Mykhaylovich?..” Grisha, who kept silent all this time, suddenly exclaimed and even jumped on his seat from agitation. Grisha was a very young guy. “If they were Russians and we are Russians as well, does it mean that we should be responsible for every bad deed or crime they will commit?.. Just because we are also Russians?.. That’s nonsense!..”
“Of course, it’s nonsense,” Gubanov agreed, “but if people want they can catch up this nonsense and spread it everywhere, adding some other new details, embellishing and changing everything, like it happens usually with all the rumors, you know. And then suddenly there will be not a story of a bandit who attacked a good and respectable man, but the story of one nation attacking another one, one folk attacking another one… Here is how it happens sometimes, my dear friend…”
Everybody was silent for some time.
“That’s interesting, Porfiriy Mykhaylovich,” someone said, “why did these bandits came to this Kachan from the very beginning? That’s pretty strange though…”
“Who knows why?” Gubanov responded. “Nobody of us thought about this issue then. We all were happy and very glad that Kachan told us about these bandits in time and that we rescued life of a man… Let Karabay himself remember how it was…”
Porfiriy Mykhaylovich turned to the tractor driver who sat here at the campfire and listened grimly to the conversation, without interfering or adding a word, despite the fact that this conversation concerned him more than anybody else.
He started to talk only after he perceived Gubanov’s glance at him. And he started to talk the way nobody expected from him.
“They rescued me! They rescued me, of course! It would be maybe better if you wouldn’t rescue me at all!” he exclaimed in a thin and loud voice.
“What does it mean: it would be better if we wouldn’t rescue?” Gubanov wondered. “Are you mad or what, Karabay?..”
“It means what I said!” Karabay went on shouting. “I’m fed up with it!” his face turned purple, reflecting the shadows of the campfire. “First everybody thinks of you one thing, then suddenly everything changes, and they think of you something completely different! I cannot even get used to it! And everybody is an advisor and a superior, everybody wants to give an advice, to teach how to live and to point with their fingers at me!.. And who thinks of our earnings?.. I’m fed up with it, I’m telling you!”
“Hey, stop it, Karabay!” Gubanov objected calmly. “I could believe if it would be someone else who would complain now, but you, my dear Karabay, shouldn’t complain about your earnings, I suppose!”
“I haven’t complained when there were some earnings, Porfiriy Mykhaylovich, you know it yourself,” Karabay went on speaking. “And what do we have now? Subsurface tillage, subsurface and sweep cultivators instead of the ploughs, that’s what we have now! And what kind of coupling do those subsurface cultivators have?.. You work during one hour only, and then you just fix the broken mechanisms all day long!.. How is it possible to get some earnings then?..”
“Karabay, Karabay, you like to complain and to muddy the waters!” Gubanov replied. “You are talking as if we had not the same subsurface cultivators and not the same couplings!..” Gubanov sighed. “But you know very well that our brigade was sent to the experimental lot. Can you understand it? And you, clever head, found a way: to attach a plough instead of the subsurface cultivator! And you even had an argument with an agronomist regarding this issue!.. As for the earnings, you know it very well that our earnings aren’t lower, we earn not less. You can easily check the norms. The only one thing we started to forget about is that the soil requires a right approach. When the time comes, we should start our work wisely and in a right way. And you keep repeating and insisting: earnings, earnings, earnings…”
“Don’t teach me how to be a master, Porfiriy Mykhaylovich!” Karabay replied aggressively. “That’s my land, and I will manage it the way I like!..”
“That’s not me who teaches, that’s science teaches, my dear friend, that’s agronomy,” Gubanov responded calmly and composedly. “If we will not impose the grass rotation system and if we will not switch to the subsurface tillage, then there will be nothing to do for us here soon, I’m afraid. The soil will die; the erosion will totally destroy it… The soil will be lost…”
“The soil will be lost? Why is it?” Karabay said. “It stood though for centuries like that and nothing happened to it, and now you are telling us that it will be destroyed and that it will perish and be lost! It didn’t perish without us, so why should it perish now, with us? Why did we arrive here then? Why did we break the ground here? The soil knew its master and everything was fine!..”
Gubanov rose and threw the cigarette stump into the fire. Everybody waited for what he will say, what he will reply to Karabay, and he felt it. Porfiriy Mykhaylovich could say to Karabay many, really very many things, but anyway Karabay wouldn’t even try to understand him and all these issues…
The silence was long and depressing, only the crackle of the dry sticks in the fire and drear squeaking of some night bird were heard in the night silence. It was cold in the steppe and it started to be cold around as well, but nobody wanted to stand up and to add some dry branches to the campfire. Karabay’s words pressed everybody like a heavy stone. Everybody knew and understood what he meant. And it was the same Karabay, whom they considered being their friend and comrade and a laborious and simple man, maybe just a little bit withdrawn and secretive. And here was real Karabay, in front of them, as he revealed his real nature!..
“There is no wish to even start to work and to get on tractor again after such a conversation,” Mykola broke the silence. There was the same Mykola who was talking about going to have some rest just several minutes ago.
“You see how it is…”
“He’s a self-seeker!” Ramazan flushed with indignation.
Karabay’s trick was especially unpleasant for him. What if his friends will think and decide that he could think the same way?..
A young tractor driver, usually calm and confident man, floundered, trying to find and chose the right words.
“You are a self-seeker!” Ramazan went on speaking, referring to Karabay. “Soil, soil! But he doesn’t need soil! He needs earnings and the only one thing he always thinks of is money and these earnings! Look at him, he started to talk about the soil!.. His soil is where the easy money is! There is his nature! Shit!” he shouted, stepping him up closer and closer. “You’re shit, did you get me?.. And why did the people risk to be killed with a bandits’ bullet for the sake of such a shit like you?!.. That was a mistake, Porfiriy Mykhaylovich, you shouldn’t have done it!..”
People hardly calmed Ramazan down, sat him on the warm blanket and gave him a cigarette to his trembling hands.
“I don’t know,” Gubanov spoke, giving some light to Ramazan to have a puff of his cigarette. “I don’t know, Karabay, you seemed to be a good fellow till now… Maybe you were just too emotional now and said it all without thinking it over, in temper… But maybe you had these ideas and feelings since long ago, keeping them in your mind and soul, hiding them deep and gathering them… But it’s not the matter. Remember, Karabay, we all live under the same sky and the soil is one and the same for all of us. It doesn’t matter where you are from, from Ukraine, Moldova, Belorus, Russia, Estonia or any other country. And if you are a good and fair man, you will feel yourself at home everywhere, as our Soviet land is your true home. I think you’ve heard these words: “The one who cultivates the land owns it”. Of course you’ve heard these words, but maybe you just didn’t understand them… But it would be better if you’d understand them, Karabay…”
“Let him leave our brigade and go away, we’ll manage our work without him!” Ramazan exclaimed, glancing angrily with his eyes.
“Okay, guys, it’s time to set about work at last!” Gubanov said, rising from his seat. “That was enough talking…”
The rest of the brigade went to their tractors as well, following Gubanov.
It was clearer in the steppe now. A big and shining moon emerged on the horizon.
Karabay stayed alone at the descending fire.
Maybe it was something new after many years of urban life, or maybe this morning was really so beautiful, but Fyodor Ivanovich Ugryumov walked along the main street of the sovkhoz settlement there and back with a special pleasure and delight. The settlement was still sleepy in these early hours. Then Ugryumov left the settlement and found himself in the field.
He liked to wake up early in the morning, together with the rising sun. He liked this thick and wet air, coming in waves from the sleeping steppe. He liked these beautiful and incredible colors of the steppe, which were so light and clear at this hour: high and a little bit greenish morning sky; Yesil River, looking as if it was covered with the thin ice and shining in the beams of a rising sun; low and stringy fog, crawling above the new-ploughed field… And there was such a beautiful and undisturbed silence around, that it seemed: nobody could break it…
Today this silence seized the morning field, steppe and the settlement as well. It was almost over with the sowing season, and a short break finally came, when people could afford themselves to sleep longer and not to wake up at the crack of dawn. Walking through the wide streets with the bushes on the roadside, Fyodor Ivanovich met no one, not a single person. But he was happy and glad that he didn’t change his habit today. If he overslept and missed the dawn time, he had a strange feeling all day long then, as if he has lost and missed something very important.
“Spring!” Fyodor Ivanovich thought, walking calm and without haste along the field. “You can feel it only here! It’s not like in Moscow… Really, it’s not like in Moscow, where you just wear a storm coat, change your winter hat on the spring cap, open the windows, and here is your spring. Of course, people wait for the spring there as well, but not like here, of course… Of course, because spring is completely different here! All your plans for the next year, all your hopes, wishes, expectations, joys and sorrows, everything depends on spring! What will this spring bring us?..”
He squatted, took a handful of soil in his hand and started to rub it soft between his fingers.
“Tell me, mother-earth, what are you?” he said silently, remembering that long ago, when he was just a little boy, his father used to say the same words. Of course, it was not here, at the virgin fields, but in Orloff province… And maybe his father heard these words from his father before… “Tell me,” Fyodor Ivanovich went on talking to the soil, looking with a soft smile at the soft, crumby and black lumps of soil on his palm. “Tell me, mother-earth, what are you?” and it was pleasant for him that he was repeating these words.
Kazybay Tleukabakov noticed from afar a huge shape of their Party organizer, standing on the hill. He himself hardly sat on the back of his horse, as he was so terribly tired. His eyes turned red and watered after long and sleepless night. He approached Ugryumov slowly and then dismounted. When Fyodor Ivanovich saw a sovkhoz director in front of him, Fyodor Ivanovich blew off carefully the lumps of soil from his palm and rose.
“Congratulate me, Fyodor Ivanovich!” Tleukabakov said with a smile, giving his coarse and rough hand. “We’ve finally finished the seeding time and sowed the last hectares on the most distant lots”.
“Congratulations!” Ugryumov said. “But you just look at yourself! What a sight!”
“That’s nothing,” Tleukabakov waved aside. “I just didn’t sleep normally during two days, that’s why I look not so good. But now I will have a chance to get enough sleep!”
“What about the tractor drivers, how are they? You’ve been by Gubanov’s brigade, right?”
“I came there almost in the small hours. They had some troubles too…” Tleukabakov waved his hand again and added in the same tone as before: “That’s nothing, they will catch up on some sleep!”
“They will,” Ugryumov agreed. “But what did you need there? Or you don’t trust Gubanov enough?..”
“Why? I trust him enough,” Tleukabakov replied. “But we cannot do it another way. What will the people think of the director then? If they sleep, should he sleep as well?”
Sun rose above the steppe already. It seemed that the earth was breathing: light and clear gaze, pierced with the sun beams, trembled and flickered above it.
“Look how beautiful it is around!” Ugryumov exclaimed enthusiastically and waved with his hand showing the beauty of the nature. He was in his fifties and maybe even elder, if to judge his age by the deep wrinkles on his face. But now he was smiling happily and wide and looked just like a young boy.
Tleukabakov turned his head, following with his eyes the gesture of Ugryumov, and blinked with his heavy eyelids. Nothing reflected on his tired face. He lived all his life here in the Kazakh steppe and saw so much sunrises and sunsets that they didn’t wake any feelings and emotions in his soul anymore.
“I didn’t know that you are so romantic,” Tleukabakov sneered. “I am romantic too… But it happens only when I see the newly ploughed lands or the ripe spikes… Or even grains in the sacks, that’s even better…”
Urgyumov didn’t respond.
He arrived in Altyn-Aray four months ago, at the beginning of January. As the first step he examined the commercial dairy farm and was totally satisfied with its conditions. He liked everything there: a long building of a cowshed with the bleached walls, pen divisions and clean, scraped out floors; a clean and light-filled premises of a calf-shed, where he saw the white-sided well-fed calves with the huge and wondered eyes. There were also clean and well organized buildings of the dairy, feed processing room and hennery there. Examining of a new stock of tractors, workshops and garages satisfied a new Party Organizer as well. Whichever way he turned he saw everywhere order and well approved household. Everything was well with the last year’s production and financial plan of the sovkhoz too. Labor costs, facilities and resources costs, terms of the field and shift works, maintenance task cards for each culture – everything was recorded and documented, signed and sealed. Everything was well estimated, planned and delivered to every member of the sovkhoz and every worker.
But, despite all these positive moments, this sovkhoz fell behind in one very important issue. Forty thousands of hectares of cropland, designated for this sovkhoz, were mastered and developed long ago, while the gross grain harvest decreased significantly every year and its productivity and yield decreased as well. It had its reasons. First of all, natural conditions played their important role. The main massifs of the sovkhoz lands were located in the zone of the steppe drought and hot winds. The soil was subjected to the wind erosion, and its best and most fertile part was floated away with the winds, and the seeds and crops appeared to be covered with the sand. Early tillage and early terms of sowing season during the dry years led to the yield losses. The wheat, which was sowed in haste in April, was burnt due to the June heat and drought.
Ugryumov visited and examined all the sovkhoz fields together with the young local agronomist. Then they spent together many days, sitting at the cabinet and discussing the issue, trying to find the best solution. Hassan Atymtayev showed the new Party Organizer his notes, demonstrated him the maps with the different types of soils, represented in the area, where specific of each lot and each hectare of the sovkhoz land was mentioned with the smallest details. They studied these materials and these maps during very long time, trying to understand the principles better and to chose the best lot, and it was really not so easy: there was too much nitrogen here, while there was too little phosphorus there, there was too high amount of potassium in the soil of the third lot, but there was lack of other minerals and elements in it… Finally they decided to choose the Aksengir lot. They decided to conduct sowing there with the usage of the new agricultural technique. Soil composition there was moderate, without any dismissals either to the better or to the worse sides. It was just a typical field, which was a moderate one according to all the showings and indicators. The meaning and the main point of the new agricultural technique, being used in this sovkhoz for the first time, was in appliance of subsurface tillage, when a ground layer, parallel to the soil surface, was cut with the special plough or, if to be more precisely, with the subsurface cultivator. The depth of the cut layer was not more than twenty centimeters. The stubble filed was preserved by usage of this method. And it was the most important moment: this method didn’t destroy or disturb the soil structure, the plant matters and residues bend it, saving it from the wind erosion and aeolation. These subsurface cultivators had to be used also for the cultivation of fallow lands. The clean and clear vapors played an important role for water collection and protection from weeds under the conditions of virgin lands droughts.
Such a field couldn’t be threatened with the wind erosion. It was proved in the studies of an Agricultural Institute in Shortandy, near the city of Tselinograd. But an Institute with its model lots with all the necessary conditions is one story, while the fields of an ordinary sovkhoz somewhere in the steppe are another story… This experiment was conducted in Altyn-Aray for the first time.
It was a difficult thing to do and it required not only knowledge but also risks. Ugryumov understood it very well. In addition to that he was a new person in Altyn-Aray, he didn’t pitch the first pegs in the ground and didn’t erect the first tents, when the sovkhoz just emerged in the vast steppe, he just arrived here later, when everything was almost ready. His further work in the sovkhoz authorities depended also on success of this experiment. But Ugryumov used to risk often in his life, and despite the fact that he wasn’t actually a very lucky person, he had some achievements in his life and work. He also didn’t like to look for easy ways.
Kazybay Tleukabakov didn’t look for easy ways and easy decisions as well. Kazybay arrived here, in this sovkhoz, in February 1954, when the roaring of motors just burst into the vast Kazakh steppe. Kazybay was thirty-five years old then. He was a communist and a former front soldier, who graduated from an agricultural technical school just before the war started, and he arrived here together with the forward echelon. His hands pitched the first stake into the stiff frozen ground. This stake marked the place where the main sovkhoz farm was built later. Kazybay was appointed the sovkhoz director. And many years later, when he walked down the Street of Peace, Street of Friendship or a Communist Street (people in the sovkhoz settlement liked the names like this), when he answered the usual questions of the journalists and reporters, when he delivered his speeches in front of the children and pioneers, telling the stories about that memorable winter, he himself hardly believed that it all happened. He really couldn’t believe that here, on this little hill, where a local school was located nowadays, the column of their tractor factory stopped and started to built this sovkhoz… Young guys and girls, who were frozen and chilled to the marrow, jumped out from the trucks, grabbed the shovels and the pries and started to work, despite the frost, snow and uncomfortable and awkward for work heavy winter clothes… He delivered a short but emotional speech in front of them, standing on a little ground, cleared from the snow. He was even not speaking then, but screaming, as a strong winter wind floated his words away…
There was so many times spoken and written about it that he himself sometimes started to have some doubts: did it everything really exist? Did it really happen? Yes, of course, it really existed and it really happened!.. Neither frost nor heat, neither weariness and fatigue nor simple human nature couldn’t stop him, as he led his people forward, to achieve their goals, he commanded, he demanded people to work hard and worked hard as well, not sparing himself. He was always among the people and together with his people, he shared with them all the common joys and sorrows, and people believed him, people followed him. There was the story of building and developing of Altyn-Aray sovkhoz, and a story of a personal development of its director Kazybay Tleukabakov. Though the times changed, and the new goals and tasks appeared. Kazybay worked hard, like in a spin cycle, in order to keep pace and fulfill all his obligations. Were forage crops needed? He participated in a program of the forage crops. Would the complex management and housekeeping be useful? He was among the first ones who tried to impose it. Was it about mechanization of the labor-intensive processes at the farms? Altyn-Aray would use it as well!..
The problem was not about these campaigns. Every campaign had its goals and purposes and a rational kernel, its useful and timely meaning. The problem was that one campaign outstripped and superseded another one. Kazybay was always in haste as he wanted to catch and to do everything. That’s why he didn’t study the issue deep and properly, he didn’t get the hang on it and took the specious side by resolving the problems and taking decisions. The years passed, and he himself didn’t even notice how he turned with time into an elderly man with the thick gray hair and a heavy and tired glance of his eyes, which used to be always gay, shining and energetic.
The time was running and running… The golden period of the sovkhoz, when everything was mostly about the highest rates and tempos (“Plough, sow, take in the harvest!”), passed as well. Agriculture and farming required now a strict and perfectly planned system of measures and steps, based on the modern experience and science. The most important was also careful and delicate handling of soil.
Times changed, but Kazybay, an unchangeable director of Altyn-Aray sovkhoz, remained the same Kazybay as he always used to be, right at the beginning of clearing. Will his knowledge and experience be enough to handle a matter on the new principles? Will he be able to go into the question and to understand the issues of herbicides, tilling and cultivating, chemicals, planting dates for the beans, peas and different vegetables, of changing the cultures and many other important things?.. Everything had got all mixed up in his head. In the reality, he knew very well and for sure only one thing: to storm and to take a fortress by assault. It was enough long ago, but not now…
Kazybay started to worry. Confounded look and grim discontent appeared more frequently on his thin face with the hollow cheeks. Straight and open character of Kazybay Tleukabakov changed significantly in a plain view. He became hard, suspicious, unfriendly and peevish.
Anxiety seized Kazybay’s heart and soul, and in order to famish this affection, he preferred to spend more time in the fields during these spring days, riding his horse, traveling from one brigade to another one, examining the area and the working process, but it didn’t bring him relief. He watched closely the surface of the ploughed warm soil, getting dried a little bit in the light steppe wind, he gathered the soil in the handfuls, rubbing it in his hands, and it appeared to him sometimes that it was not this usual and familiar, soft, solid, tried and true soil in his palms, but a small and treacherous dust, which waited only for the drought and sandy winds to come to run away and to fly up to the sky with the first flow of wind, dusting the air and disappearing forever.
Kazybay felt the threat and danger impending over their sovkhoz fields… And he wasn’t unfortunately mistaken in it…
They stood like this for some time, exchanging some phrases: a Party Organizer and a director of the sovkhoz. But the conversation didn’t work this time. Looking at Tleukabakov, Fyodor Ivanovich suddenly felt himself somehow guilty. He felt really uncomfortable because of his youth impulsion: Kazybay spent almost two days in the saddle, he might be terribly tired, so it was hard to imagine that he could be so delighted, enjoying beauty of local nature… In addition to that, he saw that Tleukabakov was sad and irritated because of something, and Fyodor Ivanovich was not that kind of people who like to bother others with too many questions. When the time will come, he will tell everything himself, Ugryumov thought. But what could happen in the brigade of Gubanov that made Tleukabakov that sad and disappointed?..
Tleukabakov in his turn was really sad, disappointed and irritated with the things he heard in Gubanov’s brigade. And he wanted to talk about it with Ugryumov, but Kazybay felt something like shyness and confusion, some discomfort, and it prevented him from starting a conversation about this matter. But this conversation was inevitable and, actually, natural enough for the Party Organizer and a sovkhoz’ director. Though, Kazybay decided to wait a little bit and to postpone this conversation, until his own feelings and emotions will settle down.
They parted and agreed to meet later at the office. Kazybay mounted his horse, waved to Ugryumov with his hand and rushed to the sovkhoz settlement. But on his way to the settlement and even later at home, in the night, he still remembered Gubanov, with whom they’ve worked long time ago in the freezing steppe, cleaning the snow and developing the sovkhoz. There was a school on that place now…
Porfiriy Mykhaylovich Gubanov arrived in the virgin fields from Saratov province. There, in the Bolshye Zaprudy village, a big Gubanovs’ family lived since long time ago. Nobody knew how this village’s name appeared and why it was called like this, as there were no lakes or dams or even something close to it there. There was even no little river close in the neighborhood.
Porfiriy’s father, Mykhail Gubanov, went to the front since the first day of the war. In 1943 his family received a death notification and condolences: sergeant Gubanov died at Stalingrad, defending his Fatherland. It was not even so far from here… Since that day, when a lame lady aunt Dunya, who was a village letter carrier, appeared on the doorstep of their house, hiding her eyes and handing them the letter, all the burdens of a hard adult life and taking care of a sick mother and little brothers and sisters laid on the thin and fragile shoulders of fifteen years old Porfiriy.
During the war time the teenage boys like him were considered being the real men in the kolkhozes, consisted only from women and old people. An old kolkhoz tractor “Kharkiv” became his first tractor. He worked with this tractor till the end of the war. Then he learned to work with the cater-pillar tractor, and then later he also learned how to handle a combine harvester. He remained to be a mechanizer and machinery operator for his entire life.
Porfiriy Gubanov knew since his childhood what the bread is and what it means. He knew how hard it is to work in the fields. The district where his village was located suffered from the droughts very often. When it was just a very dry summer in the neighboring places, the fields there stood simply black and burnt with the sun and hot winds. But if the spring was warm and wet, the winter was snowy, and if there were enough rains during the summer time, the soil wasn’t too dry, and the fields were heavy with the ripe spikes.
Though, this land gave a good harvest even in a torrid summer, if there were large and richly snows during the winter months. The kolkhoz fields were crossed with the tree-planting zones, in accordance with the strict order, after every four-five hundred meters. They decreased power of winds and held the snows on the fields. But when the rainless summer was the continuation of a dry spring and snowless winter, the fields stood empty and dead, and the kolkhoz suffered hardships. But it’s worth mentioning that the state didn’t leave people alone with their burdens in the times like this, and the government helped with the bread and seeds, but when the summer was torrid and harvestless all over the country, Zaprudy also suffered a lot.
So, Profiriy knew not from the books and articles about the real and deep meaning of the phrase “grain problem”. That’s why he didn’t have any illusions and didn’t expect to get an easy and smooth life when he was going to go to the virgin lands to participate in the sovkhoz work. He was almost thirty years old, he was married and had two children: two twin-boys of three years old. A couple of other families and households decided to move together with him and to relocate to Kazakhstan, leaving their native places.
No, he wasn’t looking for an easy life and easy money. He had enough knowledge and skills to earn enough money in any situation, in any place and under any circumstances. Like many others, he was attracted here by newness and the enormity of the tasks. Thus, he was seized and captured by the impulsion that seized the entire country: impulsion and strong wish of changes. When he first saw these great spaces and scopes of the steppe fields, spread wide to the horizon and even far beyond it, he started to have some doubts at the beginning: “I can’t believe this land can give a good harvest!” But later, after the first furrow, he believed in this land. And it seemed to him that he was still looking for the career of his life before, but now it was no need to continue this search anymore, as this career was finally found. And it was really extremely important for him!
Everything happened here during his work: joys and sorrows, successes and failures. The first harvest, the first virgin land’s end piece of bread, crisping and crimping in the teeth… Who could forget it? And then it was the first virgin lands billion of harvest. Gubanov was unbelievably happy and celebrated it together with all the people of the sovkhoz. He was really proud with his work and the results of it and with the work of these beautiful laborious people. When it was hard and difficult, he never complained and asked for help, he never intended to gather his belongings and to leave this place, coming back home. But should he? And where to?.. Should he escape his own land if something doesn’t work and goes not according to the plan?.. This land was his land, it was really dear to him, and he was bond to it. How could it be different? He spent so much time here and worked so hard in order to develop and to cultivate it. And wasn’t it the land his father died for?.. It was the land where the salty drops of Porfiriy’s sweat used to fall in winter, spring, summer and autumn… He could never imagine that he could leave and abandon this land one day.
He also couldn’t imagine and never thought to hear from someone that this land could be strange to him, and he could be not welcomed here… Karabay’s words really hurt him today…
Early in the morning, when Gubanov had to finish the last drift, director of the sovkhoz arrived in the brigade’s camp.
“Here is a restless and uneasy man!” Gubanov thought and smiled to himself. He got out of the tractor and went towards Kazybay, who has already dismounted.
Tleukabakov was satisfied and merry. When Gubanov told him about the matters stand in the brigade, he became even happier: the terms and deadlines, set for the entire sovkhoz, were met, and the spring works were at their end.
Gubanov hesitated a little bit.
“Kazeke,” he said, referring to Kazybay, “I’ve got a question to you. Maybe it’s not the time now…”
“You can ask me not one, but even ten questions now, I will answer them all!” Tleukabakov joked.
“What do the Kazakhs think about the virgin lands and developing the new lands?” he asked.
“What do you mean by asking this question?..” Kazybay didn’t get him.
“I don’t really know how to say it…” Gubanov hesitated, choosing the words carefully. “Every folk has… How to express it better?.. Every folk has its own customs, traditions, habits and temper… But development of the new lands and sovkhoz changed really many things. Some of them will never be the same again. People from all over the country surged to the steppe, and these are different people, and there are millions of them, not even tens or hundreds of thousands…”
“How long do you think these issues over, Porfiriy Mykhaylovich?” Tleukabakov laughed, looking in amazement at Gubanov.
“I didn’t think a lot about it before, there was too much work always,” Gubanov replied. “But I am serious, Kazeke…”
“Okay then, if you are really serious and it is really somehow important for you, I will try to answer your question,” Kazybay said. “Development of the new lands means technique. That’s the first. Development of the new lands means also a new culture. That’s the second thing. Development of the new lands means the house instead of the yourt and gas instead of pressed dung, it’s also clothes like in the city, hairdressing saloon like in the city, it’s a Palace of Culture for two million rubles, and you will hardly find it in some other cities… Why are you pulling my leg now, if you might know yourself what is development of the new lands!..” he smiled.
“I’m talking not about this, Kazeke…” Gubanov replied. “I am talking about the people, about the different folks and nations, and they are mingled all together on these virgin lands… In addition to that, many new people came here… I mean: maybe the local Kazakh people, who are actually indigenous people here, feel themselves kind of deprived?.. Maybe, they don’t like it all?..”
“Oh, here is what you are talking about…” Kazybay fell silent for some time.
He kept silent for long time, thinking his possible answer over.
“I will tell you something, Porfiriy Mykhaylovich,” he finally said. “When I was at the war and carried out an attack, I didn’t pay any particular attention to the fact who is the one who stands now next to me: is he Ukrainian, Kazakh, Belarusian or Russian. The only one thing was important for us at that moment: to defeat and destroy an enemy, and we had a common enemy for all of us. Did you get me?.. And now we have one and the same common case and we also carry out an attack, but it’s another kind of an attack… Do you understand what I want and try to say now?.. And if you understand me, then tell me openly and directly, why did you start to ask me such questions? What happened?” Tleukabakov asked and looked suspiciously in Gubanov’s face.
“That’s nothing special in this,” Gubanov replied in haste. “I just asked, and that’s all. I just wanted to know your opinion about this issue”.
And he broke off the conversation.
And then he saw that once Ramazan noticed a director here, he rushed to him and started to talk to him about something. He was talking loud and emotionally and also very fast, and he was speaking Kazakh language, pointing all the time in the direction, where Karabay’s tractor worked and its motor roared.
Gubanov swore under his breath.
“Who asked you to do that?” Gubanov thought. “Who asked you to do that, Ramazan?..”
He knew Kazybay’s wild temper, as he couldn’t hold himself and said everything straight from the shoulder when he was angered.
Gubanov was right.
Tleukabakov waited until all the tractors’ engines will be shut down and ordered to gather all the members of the brigade. Though, he didn’t storm and overreact, as he used to do when he was very young, and Gubanov noticed and mentioned it. On the contrary, Kazybay seemed to be totally calm, and his voice didn’t tremble and was clear and flat, when he called Karabay to come closer and to have a seat next to him.
“You are neither by brother, nor my relative,” Kazybay said, and his face darkened. “You are not my friend. You are not my son. You are not my son-in-law. You are even not my distant relative. But why do I feel ashamed because of you today, Karabay? Tell me! Why do I feel ashamed and uncomfortable, looking in the faces and into the eyes of these people?.. I am ashamed though, Karabay, I am. I feel ashamed in front of Johann. I feel ashamed in front of Mykolka… I feel ashamed in front of everybody! And what about Gubanov Porfiriy Mykhaylovich? How do I suppose to look into his eyes now?.. But why should I be ashamed, Karabay, tell me, please?.. Are you silent?.. Don’t you have anything to say?.. In this case, I will tell you, Karabay. There is no place for the likes of you in our sovkhoz, Karabay. I’m afraid I will find only one word for the one like you…”
And Kazybay pronounced this word loud and clearly and on Kazakh language, and something seethed in his throat: “Ket!..”
Little Hassan cried long and desperately that distant day, that brought him father and took his mother away from him forever.
“Mommy, mommy, where are you?” he shouted and cried trying to rush somewhere, but he didn’t even know where to. He still thought that his beloved mother decided to make a little joke and to play with him, that it’s all just a trick, and she just hid somewhere, like it happened often when they used to play together at home. He waited that she will appear suddenly, peeping out of her hidden place, that then she will rush to him, hug and embrace him and shower him with the tender kisses, telling to him softly: “My little silly boy, are you scared? Why are you scared? Everything is fine! Did you really think I will escape somewhere and leave you alone?..” But it didn’t happen. Hassan finally fell asleep on his father’s lap, tired and weak by crying and sobbing.
Atymtay laid his son carefully on the bed in their department, covered him with his overcoat and fell deep into his thoughts.
He was going to go to the mines settlement he lived and worked before, but how will he appear now in front of his friends and comrades?.. A husband left by his wife. Of course, nobody will tell him anything directly in his face, but what kind of a man are you after your wife has just left you?.. And what could be said about a mother who leaves her child?.. According to the Kazakh customs, it’s not a woman at all, it’s a real beast! But despite all these things, Atymtay felt that he still loved Bibigaysha and he didn’t want to dishonor her in front of people…
He could come back to his native aul, where he was born and where his childhood and youth have passed. But his parents were dead already, while his brothers and sisters maybe forgot about him. Who will be glad to see him there and who will welcome him?.. Too much time passed since that day, when a young dzhigit left those lands with a little sack behind his back, looking for his happiness in the new places. And isn’t it a bigger shame to come back there after all of it, without a wife, but with a child?..
Finally Atymtay took a decision to go south, to the aul, where father of Bibigaysha lived. Long time ago, when an old Ondasyn, Bibigaysha’s father, married his only one daughter off, he said to Atymyay, according to an old Kazakh custom: “If you will have a boy, you should bring him here, to me. He will be instead of Bibi for me, I will raise this child. And he will never leave me alone, as Bibi did…” He smiled, and his last words sounded more like a joke, but a bitter taunt could be heard in them as well. An old man was seventy years old that time, although he didn’t look like an ancient man and he still had a quick mind. Bibigaysha’s father was intelligent and even wise and he was a philosopher, an akyn at the same time, and in general he was just a man who has experienced and seen many things in his life. Ondasyn was also very strict to himself and to the people around him, and people respected him and appreciated his opinion. People had a wholesome respect to him, but they were a little bit afraid of him and tried to avoid him sometimes… His proud though prevented him from looking for friends among those who avoided him. That’s why he lived in his aul on the outskirts, as if he was a hermit.
Atymtay woke up his son, when the train was close to the big terminal station. He told his little son that they will go to visit his grandfather and that his mother might be there, waiting for them. Hassan revived and started to help his father quickly with the things and bags. They bought a ticket for another train at the station. That train went to the South. Hassan didn’t cry and sob anymore, he just asked all the time:
“Will we arrive soon?.. Is mommy there already?.. How is my grandfather?.. How does he look like?.. Is he like a Santa Klaus in the childhood?..”
And there were many other questions like those. Atymtay couldn’t stand lie, but he was forced to do something and to dodge somehow, answering his son’s questions. But what could he do?.. The child believed him and trusted him, the child was happy and merry, imagining the upcoming meeting with his grandfather and his beloved mother…
The train delivered them to the little city, and they reached the grandfather’s aul with the passing cart.
Grandfather was so happy because of his grandson’s arrival that he didn’t even ask about his daughter at the beginning. He took the child to his hands, then sat him on his shoulders, while Hassan laughed happily, pressing the old man’s neck with his little childish legs, trying to keep the balance, pulled his gray beard, put it on his little fingers and then even bit the tip of it and tried what was the taste of a beard… Then grandfather made him come closer to the little colt, brought by his mare, and told that this colt was real and alive, with the mane and a tail and with the trembling warm nostrils, and that it will belong to him, to Hassan now!.. He helped his grandchild to get on the back of the horse, supporting him, sitting on the narrow back of the young colt, then helped to grab the horse’s withers, and Hassan appeared suddenly taller than his father and his grandfather! He was taller than anybody here!
An old man and a little boy – that was really a nice and touching picture! Atymtay thought to himself and smiled. Hassan suddenly caught his father’s smile and turned uneasy and worried, turning his head to the sides and looking weary around.
“Where is my mommy?” he asked his grandfather.
Ondasyn remembered about his daughter just now. He looked at Atymtay perplexedly and questioningly.
Atymtay answered for the old Ondasyn:
“Soon, my dear son, soon your mother will arrive! Go and play a little bit now, here are the new friends, they are waiting for you!..”
It was true: two little boys stood at the doorstep, hesitating and not daring to enter, and looked with curiosity inside. They were also black-eyed, just like Hassan, and had wide cheekbones. It was obvious that they were extremely interested in a new guest and wanted to become friends with him as soon as possible.
“Let’s go with us, Hassan!” one of the boys exclaimed merrily and friendly, referring to Hassan. “Let’s go, we will show you the little puppies of our Boribars! They’ve just opened their eyes yesterday and they crawl so funny!”
How could Hassan resist it?.. Hassan rushed rapidly to watch the puppies together with his new friends.
They stayed together, Atymtay and old Ondasyn. The time came to answer a question about Bibigaysha, despite the fact that an old man still didn’t ask it, and this question remained to be expressed with his silent glance.
“It didn’t work properly with us,” Atymtay finally said in a sad and grim voice. “Our ways parted…”
“Who did it?” an old man asked.
Atymtay gave an answer not immediately.
“The war…” he said then pensive and sadly. And then he repeated again, but this time his voice sounded clear and confident: “The war. The war parted us and our ways…”
“When did it happen?”
“I really don’t know… Something like two years ago, I suppose… Two years ago I stopped to receive her letters, she never wrote to me since that time…”
Both of them kept silent for some time.
“Does it mean that your wound is healed already?..” an old man asked again.
“While it was war, I didn’t have enough time to think a lot of this wound,” Atymtay replied. “But it really hurts me strongly and painfully now…”
Ondasyn sat, casting down his gray-haired head. His fingers buried themselves in his gray beard and trembled from time to time. He was trying to find some words and couldn’t find them…
“What do you think to do next?” he finally asked. “How do you think to live further?..”
“I was thinking of joining the geologists…” Atymtay replied. “Maybe I will be able to work with them… But it would be better for Hassan to live for some time with you, until I will arrange and settle everything, I suppose…”
“That’s right,” an old man muttered. “You are doing everything right… When two souls cannot unite into one, there will be no happiness and no common path in this life… It’s like to lie to yourself, when you live together but look to the different directions… And I think you should leave your son here with me now. I didn’t manage to raise my daughter properly and to teach her to be free; I didn’t teach her heart to be strong… She grew up without a mother, and it seems that nobody can replace a mother for a girl… But I am sure that I will manage to make my grandson a real dzhigit! He will be a respectable and honorable man and a real Kazakh!..”
Atymtay couldn’t hold his smile.
“Don’t you believe me?” an old man went on to say. “Are you laughing and smiling now? Are you laughing at my words that I am going to make a real Kazakh and dzhigit of him?.. Don’t laugh. A good Kazakh is a Kazakh who dearly loves his land, fields, grasses, herbs and flowers, meadows, lakes, rivers and cattle… And he should love his relatives and beloved ones too. In this case he will walk the right path and will never change and leave it…”
“Okay,” Atymtay said. “I will leave Hassan with you now, and we will see later what will be next”.
They both sat silent for a while.
“If a human being behaves bad and commits some bad and wrong deeds, God punishes this person sooner or later, anyway,” Ondasyn said. “I think it was really hard for her to part with Hassan… She is his mother though!.. It’s the first punishment for her…”
Their conversation ended with these words.
Atymtay left three days later. He found out during these days that a geologist expedition was working close to the aul, where Ondasyn lived. The geologists were looking for the phosphate.
Thus, Hassan actually appeared to be alone, without mother and without father.
But his grandfather was always with him! And he was so kind and so good! Hassan thought before that you can meet the grandfathers like this only in the songs and fairy-tales, but not in the real life, and of course he could never ever imagine that his own grandfather will appear to be such a great person. It was true: old Ondasyn, who was always very strict with himself and with other people as well, changed completely since the time he started to live together with his little grandson. His grim wrinkles on his old face smoothed and his eyes, dull and covered with the ashes, started to shine happily again. He was always dreaming of a son, all his life long, and here his dreams finally came true, as God heard his prayers and sent him a boy at the end of his life.
His grandson also appeared to be very active, clever and adroit. He fixed affections upon his kind grandfather very fast, despite the fact that his grandfather pampered and indulged him just a little bit and always thought him sense. When Hassan was seven years old, he could easily distinguish a peach shrub and other trees and plants as well. He could also distinguish a smell of wormwood from the smell of thyme. When he was ten years old, he could hear the things other people couldn’t hear at all: in the birds’ songs, in the dash of the waves, in the whistling of a wind. Here, far from the noise and turmoil of the big cities, he started to understand how different and rich the life of the grasses, plants, flowers, trees and animals was. It was easy for him to guess where and in what thickets a duck made its nest, he knew also on which slope it was possible to find a wild onion… He could ride great the horse, given to him by his grandfather, when he was only seven years old. All the boys in the aul were his good and close friends. He didn’t forget about his mother though, but he remembered her less and more rarely with every year…
He heard many ancient legends and tales from his grandfather, and some of them remained in Hassan’s heart for his entire life. Especially a legend about a wheat grain.
His grandfather told him that people learned how to sow and to raise bread long ago, even before the Great Deluge. Our ancestors, who lived in these lands long time ago, were also sowing and reaping a harvest of wheat here. This wheat was unbelievable and it wasn’t affected either by drought or by the summer heat. And then, just before the Great Deluge, Prophet Noah Paygambar summoned an old Kazakh to him and said to him that all flesh on the earth will perish in a terrible disaster.
“Thank you, Prophet Noah Paygambar, that you warned me in advance,” an old man said. “If it will work I will try to find salvation somehow…”
And then a wise Noah Paygambar said to him:
“If you will find salvation, you will have the chance to start a totally new life after the Great Deluge. But how will you live, if there will not be either a beast, or a cattle and poultry, or the trees and plants spared?.. And the rain… The water will fall on the ground, there will be no more water remaining in the sky and clouds. So how will it be raining and snowing again? And how will you water then the grains and vegetables?.. Take with you several wheat grains, which don’t fear drought and heat. These grains will be very helpful for you, believe me”.
An old man and his old wife baked many cakes, took their only one son together with them and mounted on the top of the high mountain Ulutau, and it was not a single mountain that would be higher than Ulutau was.
The Great Deluge came. Everything perished under its massive waters. Only an old man with his wife and their son, who hid on the top of the Ulutau mountain, survived, and the Prophet Noah Paygambar was swimming somewhere in the storming waters inside of his ark, and there was a pair of all the beasts and birds in his ark…
Nobody knew how many days or weeks the Great Deluge continued, but an old man with his wife and son remained sitting on the top of the high mountain and ate every day a little piece of a cake. And then the day came when they found out that they had the last cake hidden in their sack.
Then an old man said to his son:
“I think we will starve to death with my old wife soon, anyway. But that’s okay, we had our share in this life. But you are still young and you should live, there are a lot of things waiting for you in the future. Here is our last cake for you! Try to survive with it till the spring!”
After telling it, an old man dove his hand into his pocket and took out of there a little leather sack, handing it to his son.
“There are a handful of wheat grains in this little sack, my son,” he said. “You should keep these grains safe, no matter how hard it will be. If you will survive, you should plant them. You will be sated yourself, and people also will be very thankful”.
He was speaking this way, and his son didn’t dare to disobey him. An old man and his wife died. His son remained alone on the top of the mountain. Every morning he picked a little crumb from the last remaining cake he had, and when half of the cake was already eaten, the water started to retreat. He planted those grains at the root of a mountain Ulutau and started to wait until the harvest will grow up and ripen. While he waited, he ate the second part of the cake. He even divided the last crumb for the three tiny pieces for three days.
Angry and wicked sun scorched in the sky, a dry wind and drought burn the ground many times, but the wheat kept growing, ripening and turning golden. The son gathered a rich harvest. Some of it he left for himself, but the biggest part he gave to the other people, and it was enough for everybody. The wheat started to grow and ripen good in that land, starting from the little handful of the wheat grains, which an old man, his father, rescued during the Great Deluge and was saving it at his heart during all these years…
Hassan remembered this legend very often later, and every time he thought about it and listened to it again, it opened the new wisdoms and ideas for him…
When Hassan was nine years old, Atymtay worked already as a mine foreman at the Karatau phosphate mines. He was still not married and invited old Ondysan and his little grandson to him in winter. They arrived.
Hassan started to attend a Russian school. He got used to the life of the mines’ settlement easy and found new friends. But old Ondasyn missed his aul very much. It was uncomfortable for him to live in three-rooms flat of Atymtay, with the steam heating, bathroom and toilette. His own little yourt with a furnace in the corner and a self-made toilet in the outbuilding in the backyard appeared to be more nice and comfortable for him. It’s not so easy to totally change your habits and your way of life, when you lived that many years already. Sometimes, before going to the toilette, an old man habitually wore his fox fur-hat and warm cotton wadded jacket, just like he used to do in his aul, and only a loud and merry laughter of his grandson made him remember himself.
“Oh, Hassan-jan,” old Ondasyn sighed. “I am seventy years old, and it’s not like your ten years! It’s not good to laugh at your old grandfather!”