STORIES ABOUT MOTHER
When we were children, mullah taught us in the house of gray-haired Aitiles.
Dead heat. Mirage plays on hills. Stock finds cool in the lake entering water neck-high. At noon sun stays right above the head and then human shadow hides under legs finding no place for itself. Shepherds bakes in the sun looking in their raw dresses as thin bull-calves that haven’t lost their winter fur yet. They seemed to be burned by the sun and that kupis become dry on their bodies shriveling and staring. Women that went behind six hills to pick kizyak could hardly walk with bags on their backs: their dusty faces are crossed by sweat trickles mixed with dust.
Dragging under my arm the Arabic ABC book ragged as an old saddlecloth, I came to Aitiles. Children haven't gathered yet. While talking Aitiles, blind old man with snow-white beard was smoothing his wide beard with his mighty fingers. White and wealthy, it covered his vest as if breastplate embroidered with silver.
Old oblivions, events covered with rust were cleaned and renewed by Aitiles – and stories in his retelling were shining and flashing. The old man who collected the whole light in his heart and ears after he lost his sight, was shaking up days dead and gone as packed furs.
“Ah, our youth when we were still playing with horse ears!” Aitiles began. “At that time Paluan Zhanai was eighty two and may be even all eighty five years old.” His heart was still so hot although his power began leaving him. His sonorous voice played under shanrak. When that man was telling something, we used to sit on our haunches near the yurt raising slightly felting near the side jamb and listening flowing each word into our ears and braiding in our minds... Here listen to what Zhanai has told us once...
"Long time ago, when we were young," Zhanai was telling us once. "Paluan Jalpack was gathering a barymta to attack auls of Ergeneck. And so it was. Paluan Jalpack was Bala-bai's sworn son-in-law. Once, a bey called Paluan and said!"
"Hey, Jalpack! Ergeneck has raided on our auls twice. I was robbed first, and then you were robbed. They took my cattle, and they also took your soul. Shouldn’t you lose your soul when they took your bride? The one your father paid for forty seven heads of livestock?... Truly speaking, you were young at that date. You was so young, that you couldn’t have revenged, moreover you hardly escaped them, leaving your horse behind.
But now people call you paluan. How could you forget your vengeance?"
"Bey!" Jalpack exclaimed, while uprising. "I didn’t know that was marked with a dark seal of dishonour… I was told that wasn`t my bride! I was six years old when they took my horse… If the luck will be on my side, I will kill my enemies. Otherwise – I would stay dead on the steppe, but without that stamp of infamy! Farewell! I will get on my horse on Wednesday – the lucky day".
"Wait, Batyr!" Balabai said. "Yes, you would go and will fight. But let me give you a counsel: do not follow your former bride, she already became a woman. Better set sights on the horses!"
And so we went on to the barymta – forty choicest dzhigits, heading on the west, having south to the left. Jalpack (with shoudelrs broad as yurt, fists big as clubs, with body huge as oven) was riding on the front within a shooting range. His light-haired bold horse was bowing his head like sadack and jumping like saiga . No horse would be able to keep up with him!
In the dusk on the seventh overnight stop, Jalpack jumped off his horse and said:
"Oh, he gotta be not a common person. Let’s spend this night on his grave…"
We all dismounted from our horses. It was a big black grave, sixty steps in perimeter. It was written something on the entrance, but nobody could read or write, in the midst of all forty dzhigits…
"Thinking backward of it," says Aitiles, abstracting himself from his story," my soul rejoices when thinking about modern kids, who are studying. Maybe it is not that good comparing to the district, but good enough for the bailiwick! Feed the kids with cheese!" tells he to his old wife and continues telling the story on behalf of Janay.
"We have made a fire with a flint. Ate some dried meat and went to sleep, putting saddles beneath our heads and having a saddlecloth instead of bed."
When the Pleiades stars appeared on the sky, and the beautiful star of Urker – in the very middle of it, batyr Jalpack scrambled to his feet:
"Dzhigits! Weaken the front and do up the girth’s strap, spare no horses… When the sun rises up on the height of a spear, we will catch our prey. If my bay is right, we will attack their horses…"
"Turns out that it was a grave of old paluan Baysar," Jalpack said. "He told me last night: "You who had shelter near my grave, you, whose horses were grazing near my grave, - do not dare to harm my people. Otherwise, you have only yourself to blame!". We were arguing with batyr all night long, but didn’t come to a settlement. If he is a batyr, that doesn’t make us girls, right? Saddle up, dzhigits!"
Horses, specially prepared for the journey, were bowing like sadacks and turning on one place.
The sun was high, and we saw herds of horses, covering the lowlands and hills. We lashed out to the herds. Two horsemen rushed out from their crowd and headed to the hills, but we did not chase.
When we turned the herd from the side, we shepherded it with howling and whistling. I saw a black eyed girl with a bag of dungs on her back. She had colt-like eyes. My whole body started to nag. My horse name was Kudai-kok , I rushed to the girl and picked her up on a saddle, tied her arms to my belt and continued to galumph. I heard her mother`s cry from a distance, she yelled: «My little colt!», — having her hair down. Her shout touched me less than the bite of a midge.
Soon we gathered up a big herd and escorted it to the hills. Jalpack saw the girl on my saddle, and, perhaps, found her good enough.
"Sauga! —he said high-soundly."
"If you find her beautiful, what more can she dream about? Take her, batyr!" I said.
He drew up with me, gave the girl a rap, kissed her wavy black hair and kept going. From that moment, this beauty’s touches, previously hot, became for me colder than ice.
We took so many horses that it was difficult to keep them altogether. Colts were getting under the horse’s feet in the thick of the press and kept following, neighing. We drove the herds on a distance of half of a camping ground, when a black dot appeared on the steppe, chasing us.
It was powdering like a shooting star. In a twinkle of an eye, an old man riding a bay, met our group. It was an experienced shepherd, he didn`t even look on us, and spoke directly to the Jalpack:
"Let us say, everything is fine: you’ve made the raid, you stole bay’s herds... But why did you, batyr, took the shepherd’s only daughter? If you need a slave, you may take me. But bring the girl back – her poor mother is in sorrow."
Would batyr ever listen to such words? Jalpack smiled to himself and gave the wink to the dzhigit called Keiki by his side. Keiki was fast and strong, he thrust a spear into the shepherd’s chest, raised an old man up into the air and brought down to the ground.
The bay ran away like a saiga.
Three dzhigits tried to chase him, but the horse escaped, as if his only mission was to bring the shepherd here and go back.
The girl wept and freed her hands out of my belt. I put her in front of the saddle and carefully checked. Her eyes truly were like the eyes of a colt. Trails of pearl-like tears went down her face. Sometimes a beauty looks like a tender spring flower! I took pity on her and did not dare to hug.
We passed through another marsh distance. The accident with a shepherd was already beyond my memory. The horses were worked up. The herd was moving forward, scared of the shouts, pushing each others.
Suddenly we looked back and saw a black dot approaching us, fast like a hunting bird. We had no time to warn it with a cry "Hey, stop!" —when we saw something white.
"Sheshetem-ai! " the girl yelled from my saddle.
It was the same bay, with the shepherd’s wife on it, the girl’s mother. Shouting, she approached the herd, turned right and moved forward.
The whole herd suddenly followed her!..
All out efforts to turn it back failed.
Exactly like efforts to catch the woman – her bay did not let us, no way we could pierce her with a spear or strike with a club. Several times we managed to turn the horses back, but they went in all directions. Whips and clubs were useless. Finally the herd went on through the only passage to a broad island in the middle of a river. It is impossible to banish them from that island…
There was a hill in the middle of an island. The woman climbs on that hill and waves to us with her kerchief… Well, now we can pierce her with a spike easily!
"I am a woman, I am the mother of this girl." she cried. "I am a mother to each of you! All of you were born by mother like me. Men do not fight with mothers. What did my only little girl to you? Come to me, my little colt!"
I did not notice how she managed to jump off my saddle and hug her mother. They do not care about us – angry, barely breathing. Mother cherishes her daughter; daughter cherishes her mother, isolated from the other world.
Keiki broke down.
"Batyr," he said to Jalpack, "if you let me, I will tie them up and escort on my horse. The girl will become a wife; her mother will work for us!
Jalpack looked at the Keiki, observed him with a long gaze and turned to the woman:
"Who are you? Your courage is remarkable. Tell me what is your name?"
The woman responded:
"Batyr, get off your horse. No one will chase you: you invaded our aul, our dzhigits will do the same to our neighbours. You may freely take the herd."
We jumped to the ground and settled around the hill. «Would he listen to a raving of that common woman?» — we thought, being dissatisfied with the Jalpack.
The woman freed her daughter from her hug and started taking:
"I am the mother of this girl. She is fifteen years old. I went through the same at her age: cold iciness, stamp of infamy lies on me even now… What folk should I tell you about? Some say there was an aul It-Kula, consisting of four yurts, which lived it’s poor life on the banks of a river. I am the daughter of Synym, from that aul… There was once (don`t know where did he come from, I wish he would born in a dessert!) a bay called Balabay. To celebrate the circumcision of his son, he organised a toi. As a prize for baige, he was giving nine heads of cattle and as the main prize – slave. As a prize for taking a part, additional nine heads of a cattle and a slave woman. But who would give his daughter as a prize? And so he sent dzhigits to the steppe to get the girl… My father was fixing an araba, my mother was cooking a porridge. Ten horsemen approached as I watched them coming from the yurt. "Hey, dzhigits, happy trails!"father greeted them. "It may not be happy, but we have to get the girl!" they replied and gone, after they took me on a saddle...
The other day, after the feast and competition, I was placed on a nara with carpets and passed on as a prize. The winner was paluan Baysari, whose grave is somewhere here among the steppes. He came to that aul and gave me to bay Kuletke, who affianced me on one of his slaves and ordered to be a milkmaid. I lived for two years like that.
Kuletke was celebrating marriage of his daughter and decided to organise a toi. I was made to be the prize for the second horse, and the slave who was married to me was a prize number one. He gone to one men, and the other ones took me. I’ve became the property of bay Sara, the one whose herds you stole today. Sara-bay had a shepherd called Kairak, he asked for me to become his wife. "We will be your servants all our life," he begged the bay. "Be the shepherd, and she will be a milkmaid. I will free you after you work for me." promised Sara-bay. '
Since that day, fifteen years passed by. My husband died today. And now I am standing before you. My daughter is about to become a slave, that s why I came here: give us a horse and we will go back.
Dzhigits who were ready to kill the woman, now stood still and lowered their eyes. There was no answer or a question.
The woman perhaps read our minds. She offered her hands to us:
"We were living with my husband as equals for fifteen years, I knew his body. Your powers and the power of a spear you unleashed, hit the weak man. Wasn`t he a helpless begging cripple, not a serious opponent? How you pay for this? Taking his daughter on the saddle? Does it look like courage or justice? My girl will grow up as a slave by your side, but she will be a free person by me. I am taking her back."
Foolish Keiki, who heard such things from a woman for the first time, replied:
"A woman’s purpose it to become a wife for a man, what else can they do in a steppe? If you buy a young girl – she will be your wife, if you fight and take her as a loot – she will be your wife too! Dzhigits! Let`s make that old woman shut up, let`s take her too! We have a lot of work to do!..
Paluan Jalpack sat silently for a long time. Then he approached the woman on his light-brown horse."
"As a redemption," he said, "I give you back what I own. Take it and don’t think it is not much! If you want to be a free person, take as much horses from this herd as you want and travel wherever you want. But I didn’t hear about the nations who have no slavery. That is why – follow me! I will protect you against any harm."
"How many horses you will get personally from this herd?" she asked.
"Maybe – not at all. Only bay knows," Jalpack answered.
"Then do not propose me the herd, do not give me your horse. I cannot follow you: you are a free batyr until you reach your aul. There you will lose your freedom and become a club of your bay. I`ve seen a lot of paluans and batyrs. They use you as a batyr, they use me as a woman – that’s the only difference between us. You have as much freedom as I have. Am I right, batyr?"
Paluan Jalpack lowered his head again.
"We are blind and carnivorous owls, dzhigits," he said. "We do not move until we get a jab in our eye. Until that moment we are completely blind. You have made the wall-eye go away from my sight, apa! I was about to make your daughter a toy for myself, in my broad and long life. Now I abandon thoughts like that… I want to give freedom to a human until I am free. Your daughter belongs to you. Live and be free as the wind!"
The poor woman has frazzled dress, her hands like the hands of a talka, dark and black. Her lips have fissured in multiple places. But her severe look makes the heart beat faster. That look is free from begging or fear – she conquered forty dzhigits. As if they were waiting for paulan`s final words: they jumped on two horses and ran away. Only that moment we finally woke up from a stupor.
"Shirkin , a real woman"— the words, with which paulan Janai was usually ending his story," said the blind Aitiles, and we, the children, sitting around, started a prayer by the command of our mullah: "Aguze... besmellah... irasiri...ira- siri..." .
It was unusually dry and serene autumn.
Claps of thunder were heard over the steppe, but there was no sign of clouds in the sky.
Only restless yellow leaves were flying around in the air. Wind was pulling the felt on the shanyrak, trying to tear it down. Wooden beams of the yurt were groaning under the yoke of wind’s blows.
And when it was thundering unmistakably clear, an old mullah, sitting on the honourable place near hearth, was shrinking and rising up his eyes with a prayer:
"Oh Allah! It thunders again! Oh Allah! Thou shall not fall your wrath on us, your servants. Let the disaster walk past our house. Have mercy, oh all merciful!.."
A thunder from a clear sky was nothing else but the gun firing – still unfamiliar to the local people. Civil war, which produced a lot of discrepant rumours, had entered their steppe and aul.
Round-faced Djuman - an owner of the biggest, solid yurt – was fetching a sigh and complaining rather to himself than somebody else:
"My heart will break right now. It doesn’t let me eat – what have we come to!— Having said so, he was grievingly fondling his chubby, pillow-size tummy. Perhaps he believed his heart was right there."
Nobody answered, while there were a lot of people around. Almost all his relatives. Not rich and sometimes poor people were gathering to warm up near fireplace, coming out from their patched yurts. Besides, at restless times like these, when tomorrow is a mystery and night is coming, you’d better stay together.
Japar – Djuman’s regular labourer – had just returned from distant stripping and now was sitting near the cill. He was dipping his scone in bowl of ayran , slowly, to prolong the pleasure. He hasn’t seen his mother yet so his thoughts were about her. Does she have any wood? And food? Nagima refuses to enter the house her son worked for because of her pride. She was telling Japar: «Even if we have a windswept yurt, - this is our own yurt... Own piece of bread may be stale but it will never stick in gizzard».
Djanysh, a landlady, interrupted thoughts of Japar.
She had entered and closed the door, saying as if it was a piece of news:
"Shooting again. Do you hear it?... Do they ever get tired of it? Because of it we cannot start moving out to the hibernacle. Or we gonna spend the whole winter in our yurts?"
She walked pass Japar, touching his face with her vest tail without noticing it, and started taking off her overshoes.
"I see you keep eating, glutton?" She grumbled, with no desire to turn and face Japar. "Is Urazal worse than you?.. But he wasn’t sitting idle like you, he was hauling wood from the morning."
She pulled her leg angrily, making a piece of dung fall into a cup full of ayran.
While living in dependence to other people, Japar became accustomed to put up with injustice, hollos and mockery. But this time his heart failed to withstand. He hurled his cup into the wall, rose up, opened the door with a strong kick and stepped out of the yurt speechless.
A fire brisked in the hearth, it began to smell dung fuel. Djuman made a wry face and looked over his relatives, which tried to ignore this little accident.
"He should be beaten with a whip for his boldness…"
Djuman turned to her.
"Clear the cup and wipe it up," he ordered. "You can’t do anything here with a whip today… Who knows what will happen tomorrow and who would rule the aul."
An old mullah nodded in approval:
"Only Allah knows, what is written in the book of fate. Only Allah can send thunder and lightning in the clear sky. We should beg him alone to save us from disaster."
He slowly looked around all who were present. Gathered people remained silent and even dared not to meet his eye. They knew what does it mean: mullah is about to pray for their sinful souls. And for every prayer there is a kurmaldyk, a sacrifice.
Their deep seated silence couldn’t have fooled a wise elderly man. HE marked time for a while and continued:
"During hard times like these, we should never forget about the God, so that he would not leave us. Is that so, Djuman, or not?"
Mullah expected to get his powerful support without hiding his intentions.
"All you say is true, honourable mullah, "said Djuman with solemnity in his voice, clearly understanding old man’s intention. "Our folk had forgotten the God. We forgot to honour our roots, laws and principles. That means no good for us!"
A fearsome voice of one of the person present was said:
"But what can we, poor moanbags, do? Could Allah even hear our weak voices? Let the rich and noble people of our clan set a good example for us to follow…"
His words were supported by others:
"What can poor people sacrifice to the God?"
"The ground around my yurt is clear from the sheep prints!.. Shall I immolate Him my holed felt? Kurmaldyk like that would only make our honourable mullah mad."
"Those who say that I forgot the God are wrong. But does He truly want me to leave my children starving?"
Djuman tried to pretend that it wasn’t his business, even though his relatives were trying to make him a responsible for relations with God.
"All we are nothing but servants of God," he sighed, raising his eyes to the sky. "We are all equal in His eyes, both rich and poor… All of us would have to face Azrael when the time comes."
There was silence once again. In this silence guns went off with loud bangs. They were approaching the aul more and more.
"Did you hear that?" asked mullah, with funereal solemnity in his voice. "It is approaching! The divine retribution! Only prayers could save our sinful souls..."
But new times were coming, and old words were lacking their foregone power and importance. It should have been figured out, who might be punished by Allah and for what? Since the sky became shattered by loud thundering, many notions had changed. What once was a sin, became a blessing, and old blessings turned out to become sinful. Djuman realized it very well. So did his relatives. The question was, who would pass their aul – the Reds or the Whites.
Allah willing was to try out their will and strength of mind, so Antonov entered their aul. The one that nicknamed among the steppe folk as ak`oba, the white plaque. It was easy to track his squad path: green grass was becoming reddish from blood and smokes, and the wind was spreading bitter ashes from the fire. Dogs in aul scented disaster from afar. They got their tails down and hid behind the yurts refusing to bark at horsemen. As Antonov appears, long time quarrelling neighbours tried to forget about their grudges and help each other if possible.
Antonov’s squad had also some Russians – Kolchak` troops, as well as men from Alash Orda, - local Kazaks, but who would easily shot anyone in the head.
In the gripped by fear aul Djuman alone quickly recovered his important-looking.
"It is about time to deal with sinners, who forgot our father’s principles and defied them with their grubby hands. It is about time to punish sinners who forgot Allah’s name!"
Nobody dared to say a word and face him. But the feeling of anxiety put down its roots into their hearts.
Antonov knew everything about sentiments thanks to his special agents: every single poor man and worker in this aul were thinking about the Reds coming to their homes.
This arrival was already inevitable. Antonov ran out of his luck on the battlefield and had to retreat. But there was one thing he wanted to do: leave a memory behind, which would make his name a nightmare for unto the seven generations!
Antonov stopped his horse in the middle of aul. The people remained silent in wait for his actions. Antonov kept silent too, savoring the moment and the effect of fear his arrival had on others.
Finally he spoke:
"I know well that you were not waiting for me... But those, who have red color on their hats. Stop playing with me, stop hiding your heads! The Reds are too far... But till then, I’ve came to you!.." He gradually started getting angry. "I’ve came to say goodbyes…Got that? Our farewell will leave nobody to join their red torn banners."
Suddenly he burst out with the vilest abuse. Old mullah sighed:
Oh Allah!! Where did he learn these black words, damn him? Thou shall not defile us his swearing…
But people took no notice of this ranting. They wanted to know more about another thing; Antonov himself babbled out in his hastiness about soon arrival of the Reds into the aul. Rumour has it that they do not bother the common people. So let the Djuman fear about his life! Antonov is going to leave. What can we do – he can really lead into trouble at parting: a beast who was put into a corner, would fight recklessly… And all they can do it to trust their lives to the God’s will. After all, there is no weapon in the whole aul…
When the word flow had stopped, Antonov got off a horse and entered Djuman’s yurt. The horsemen started to quarter, making the civilians leave their homes. After that, falling short of hope for hospitality, Antonov’ men went to the yards to choose fleshy sheep for their soldier’s caldron.
Japar’s mother, Nagima, was also dishoused from her yurt. Being undecided where she and her son would spend this night, she heard spiteful hollos and familiar bleating.
Two horsemen were dragging her tup, her own tup! One of them was pulling his horning and the other one – pushing from behind with a rifle.
Nagima and Japar were putting all their hopes for that tup. Like a padishah he was striding from one sheep yard to another. Neighbors were paying out with lambs for his visits. Mother and her son were thinking about the time, when Japar would leave his work as a servant, they would have enough cattle and money for wife purchasing.
That is why Nagima forgot about all her fears and lashed out to them.
"Why have you chosen him? Why him?" she yelled. "His meat is coarse and is no good to chew. I’ll bring you the fleshiest sheep"
"Yes, yes! I’ll get the best for you."
The tup stood still as well, his head was inclined as if he was waiting to meet his fate.
"What do you think? Should we let it go?" the one walking behind said doubtingly. "Indeed, what’s the purpose of cooking the tup?"
"Well, let’s follow her advice," another agreed. "She will bring us a sheep. But it must be young," he told Nagima.
It could have ended this way, but, unfortunately, an officer appeared. His face was red and his walk was staggering. For unknown reasons, a look of calm and frightened tup put him into a rage. He pulled out his sabre, and the next moment tup’s head fell down to the ground and his body started twitching, spreading gushes of blood and knocking hubbles with it’s hooves.
Soldiers turned around and went back to the yard to get a new trophy, and somebody close to Djuman’s yurt started clapping hands.
It was Antonov.
"Well done, Rudakov!" he said to the officer. "Such a masterful strike! I can clearly see the horse-guardsman experience. And now, arrange something for dinner."
Nagima stood near the body of a tup with her helpless arms down.
She was quiet all the time, even when they made her cook the dinner for member of Antonov’s gang. Secretly, making sure no one is watching her, she added to the cooking pot a part of a tup, which main purpose was procreation.,
"This is for you, bastards," she grumbled," This is for you, because you are monsters, yes, unhumans…You do not deserve a better meal… Eat this!"
Then she spitefully watched hungry soldiers ravenously eating cooked meat. She was thinking about it as a little vengeance for their unasked visit, for their cruelty, for killing her pet.
The next day men from Antonov’s squad quickly saddled horses and left. For everyone his or her peaceful departure was a big surprise. But before they left, Rudakov himself, by the order of Antonov, took sixteen horses – and nothing more.
Djuman, keeping his hand on the heart, was voicing his concern: his friend Antonov did not warn him about his arrival. In that case, Djuman would order to bring out the best sheep from the distant pastures…
Neither Antonov, nor Rudakov spoke to him. They went off at a trot, and soon the dust settled down.
Djuman looked at the others.
"See? How much lies we can hear about these honourable men," he said. "They spent the whole evening, a night and morning here... And where are dead bodies? Burned yurts? They did not do anything like that. We lost several tups? So what? According to the law of the steppe, we cannot let the traveller go hungry. That is a sin…
When people were still talking about arrival and departure of Antonov’s squad, a new happening roused every single man. Five horsemen with red stripes on their hats approached to the aul and stopped near Nagima’s yurt.
Japar was about to visit his mother, and one of the strangers – perhaps, their leader – appealed to him."
"Hello, my friend… How do you live here, citizens? Can we rest for a while and feed our horses in your aul or not? Would you let us?
Both Japar and his mother, as well as neighbours were surpised.
It was really amazing these times, when armed men don’t yell, draw on, demand anything, but ask for permission to rest and feed horses with politeness… “Citizens”a new word for Japar. What does it mean? "
The leader took his silence in his own way:
"You don’t have to be afraid of us. Did you hear that, comrade?" he continued. "We saw a squad that spent a night in your aul. We understand that you welcomed the Whites against your own will. So will you let us unrein our horses? We won’t stay long and have to follow our way."
Japar started feeling more confident, and the word “comrade” was easier to speak than “citizen”.
"You may rest. You may, comrade."
One of them lighted off the horse and stepped up to Nagima:
"Hey, gammer! Have you got anything to drink?"
"Comrade", "gamma" ... Nagima didn`t get everything they said, but their voice tone told her that these people are not marauders or tup killers.
She went back to the yurt and returned with a cup of ayran, but troublous patter of hoofs made her stop at the doorway. The horsemen from Antonov’s squad were approaching the aul, divided into two groups to surround it. The flecks of sunlight were reflected on their sabres and guns.
"Anton is coming back!.."
Yes, it was his squad. Red army soldiers took off, in order to get to the distant forest. The chasers changed their direction on the go and followed, trying to shoot them down.
Nagima was watching the five horsemen go away, holding the cup. Suddenly she gasped, stepped forward and spilled ayran to the ground.
One of the escapers fell out right before they entered safe forest. The bay, who was probably accustomed to his rider, hovered for a while but then was scared off by the shooting and followed the rest of the team.
Antonov’s men moved on to block the way so that nobody would escape. They believed that wounded horseman would stay n the same place and could be taken on the way back.
Nagima saw how the injured soldier – the one who asked to drink – sat up, tried to stand on his feet, fell down and started crawling slowly to the forest.
Nagima forgot about the cautiousness and called out for her son:
He stepped up closer.
"Japar, my son..." she said quietly. "He is whacked out, he can’t hide away. Take the horse and go for him. Quick. Hide him in Uishik-Djal . They will never find him there."
Japar gave a nod and went to the back of the yurt to get the old horse. In a moment he appeared, mounted, with no saddle. It was perfectly clear for everyone where is he going.
Djuman was white with rage. He started yelling at Nagima:
"What have you done? What have you done? Have you lost your mind since you lost your husband? Your Japar will go to prison for that! But before that, Anton would kill him... Why have you sent your son?.. The whole aul must pay for your own decision? Russians have their own business, they are free to kill each other, and you – you should not interfere!"
Nagima remained silent. Would her son make it in time to the injured soldier, before the chasers come, will they run into the forest…
Djuman gave a wave of the hand, spitted out and went to the yurt so he would not witness anything.
The women kept watching shortening of distance between Japar and red army soldier. She trembled at the thought of dangerous situations her son might get into, ut, on the other hand, she couldn’t have behaved differently. She cannot help but to send her son for help. Dry and dusty wind pulled out a strand of hair from beneath her kimeshek, but Nagima did not notice it.
Japar did it!..
He jumped off on the move, shouldered the injured and quickly – nearly running – headed into the forest.
So close, almost there…
He was right when he decided to leave the horse. She could have squeal on him by answering the other horse’s neigh.
Nagima took a sigh of relief: there is no sign of Antonov’s men, and Japar had already disappeared in the tall and deep shadow among the trees.
In the evening Antonov was sitting in Djuman’s house while his men were investigating the yurts and asking questions:
"Where did you hide the red one? The one we shot down…where is he? Answer or else you will be sorry!"
The sound of whip was heard, Antonov’s men were using their sabres as a threat. But their threatening was ineffective. "Haven`t seen", "How do we know about that?", "I was in my yurt all the time", — were the only answers they got.
After all all the inhabitants were gathered near Djuman’s yurt. Antonov came out of it and quickly made several steps forward.
"Your name is Nagima?"
This question fell down on her all of a sudden, her name she obtained at birth sounded like an accusation. But she stood still, withstanding his hollo, and his merciless, deathlike glance.
"I can’t see your son. Where is he? Where did you hide the red bastard?"
Nagima understood, that Antonov is on the know. Djuman’s work. So she replied as if it wasn’t her business.
"They are far away. They both escaped and you will never find them."
Antonov struck with his whip, and a short blow fell on her back. She didn’t move a muscle. She thought that she was ready at the very moment she called her son and ordered: «Japar! Take the horse and go for him».
The space around the Djuman’s yurt was soundless as if the aul was dead. But everybody were gathered here, trying not to make eye contact with each other. They were helpless, but they also were: what will happen to her, they felt guilty: right in front of their eyes, a woman was being beaten – a woman who did nothing bad in her entire life.
"I will make you speak, bitch!!" —yelled Anton at shouting pitch.
His whip tore her blue dress into pieces, exposing her not very old body on the back, shoulders and sides. Again and again, it started covering with scars ad injures, which were bleeding. Antonov kept whipping more furiously, the more he felt his power over this helpless woman.
Rawhide whip became red and wet, and Nagima remained silent. If only she could kill with her own sight, Antonow would have been lying dead in the dust.
Because of tiredness or because he was helpless against strong courage of the woman, Antonov stepped back and ordered:
"Whip her! Whip her until she agrees to speak, whip her by turns!... C’mon!"
"I will brave everything out," Nagima said. "I am not afraid of the pain. But I am afraid of you, who can lay hands on a woman, on a mother. Did you grow up among the wolfs?"
"Enough!" Antonov yelled. "Begin!"
He pushed the one who stood closer and gave him his whip.
But the soldier stepped back with a wince:
"No, I can’t..."
Whip fell down to the ground; he pushed it with his leg to another one, who also refused to take it.
Antonov realised: this moment, right now, if he will fail to make them execute his order, they will never obey to his power and authority. His hand reached out for the holster, where he kept his Mauser.
His soldiers watched his actions with awareness.
Antonov’s hand felt familiar coolness of the metal. He also realised that shall not return his gun into a holster without using it one or another way. This woman is not that important, dash it! First of all he must get back his soldiers.
He ordered to come into line.
Soldiers did it with reluctance, standing just in front of Nagima. She was still standing tall, feeling no pain, as if she turned to stone in her anger, her grief and her rigidity.
Aul stopped dead – women, children, elders and those few men who stayed at home. They were waiting in terror for what will be next. The first bullet should go through Nagima’s chest, with blood pouring out of the wound and red fire snakes crawling among the yurts. People say that Antonov always starts his punishment from one single person.
They were waiting for this first shot, but, instead, they heard well-known voice of Nagima:
"What are you waiting for? Rise up your rifles and fire. You think I am scared? Wrong. Today I saw the other people. They have rifles and sabres like you, but they are kind. They say words like “comrad”, “gamma”. All you say is “Ak-oba”! I know that the Reds would come to your homes. But I also know that they would never lay hands on your mothers. Your mothers who raised wolves like you!"
Darkness fell. The red moon has risen over the forest where Japar hid injured red army soldier. Maybe he took him further, to the red army? She will never know.
"Shut up!" Antonov yelled. "Soldiers!.. At my command!"
In the dim twinkling of the stars a blade flashed, and then – dull blow and a groan. Somebody’s body fell on the ground.
"Oh Allah! Forgive all her sins. Take her under your hand," mumbled old mullah, hiding behind the Djuman’s yurt.
But he prayed too early.
Nagima stood still as before. Soldiers – excited and harassed – dragged off their commander’s cold body.
They didn’t see who was responsible for that. Maybe those who stood close saw, but preferred to remain silent. It is hard to say why they changed their mood in such dramatic way. Maybe because the sound of gunfire in the sky moved closer, and the air became permeated with the smell of gunpowder fumes.
Strength of Nagima oozed away. She wasn’t able to make it to her yurt by herself. She also had no words remaining – neither good nor bad. She remained silent for a long time, full of unexpected gladness.
This wasn’t just gladness for salvation. Whip in Antonov’s hands, his saber and his mauser – nothing could shatter her steadiness. She was glad because men, whom she called beasts, covered her during the most critical time.
For now she didn’t want to know, why and how this all happened. Some of ex-members of Antonov’s squad left by her side – both Russians and Kazakh. The others were searching for Rudakov all over the aul. He disappeared, despite the fact that he was near Antonov all the time. Everybody saw him. Nobody found.
"I am thinking about you, what is your future?" she asked quietly.
Soldiers in the yurt didn’t hear her and bowed closer. Nagima continued:
"I was wondering, which path will you take?"
Soldiers lived in the moment and did not think about their future. That is why they had no answer for her question.
"I am a simple woman from poor aul, " said Nagima. "But I want everybody to say each other: comrade… gamma… I believe it will be so. And now – leave. I will pray for you"
At night, ex-soldiers of Antonov were discussing their plans.
Some of them stood forleaving in the morning and joining the red army. The other were afraid: their past doings are a good reason to be shot down. They proposed to leave – as fast as they can, split up and make their own way home, where no one knows.
They left before dawn.
"Well we might not meet this life, but for sure we will meet beyond the veil…"
"Gammer said she would pray for us."
"So what? A mother’s prayer has the power, whether it be Muslim or our own, Christian."
Their voices reached Nagima, who was lying in the yurt.
By the break of the day, Japar sneaked into the aul. He didn’t even know about happened here. He bridled an old horse who came back home after he left her near the forest. Japar decided to go to the red army lines along with injured soldier.
Nagima made her way to the doorway, and then – out of the yurt, standing tall. She was watching her son go, whispering:
"Fare thee well, children... Fare thee well."
The sun rose up.
The darkness retreated, revealing the steppe, distant forest and it’s reliable Uishik-Djal. In the clear sky – closer than yesterday – you may have hear the growing sound of thunder.
“Do you mind if I stay overnight at your place?”
In yurt door there stand a skinny woman wearing rags.
Master slowly looked up chilly. In strange woman’s voice he heart rather an order than an ask.
Having shut her cracked lips closely, she was patiently waiting for an answer. Deep thin wrinkles have weaved a small net near her eyes and at forehead. Through holes of her ragged short sleeve there could be seen a dark hand looked as charred wooden rake; there was a ring on that hand. With its shining the ring set off blackness of that hand even more.
“Who are you? Where are you from?” master asked.
“Even if I tell you all my family tree, such a home-bird as you would hardly understand anything. You must recognize only your wife's family and nobody else! But we could discuss it later and now let's decide about my overnight stop..." the guest smiled.
Master was lost and murmured having found no answer: “If you want to stay..." he looked at his wife cowardly as if asking her with his eyes: “Release me of this trouble-making woman or she would pierce me with her eyes.”
But the wife made a decision of her own way.
“Well, stay and spend the night,” she said to the strange woman.
The guest went, hung her faded jacket worn-out to holes near the doorstep and stretched her thin black hands having stepped closer to the fire slowly and tired. Children who were sitting around the fire made closer together to give her some room.
“I feel chilly,” the woman said. “I have been coming from afar…”
And there was so much grief in her words that the master felt shame of
his recent inhospitality, he would speak to her but didn’t dare to ask anything and was waiting until the woman herself speaks to him. But she kept silent.
Meanwhile the mistress took a pipking of flour and began beating dough in hurry looking at their guest with anxiety.
“Well…” she said. “You must be very tired but still may I trouble you to ask where are you from and who are you?
“I will tell you, I will,” the woman answered and tidied her black grizzled hair being out from her kerchief. “Your master seemed to be totally tripped, he was afraid of me. What an old witch has imposed herself!”
And smiling she looked at the master and went on:
“I am from the city. It has already been ten days as I have been dragging from there. And my family is from far argyn, aul of Baden.”
The woman sighed hard, kept silent and began her story:
“I became a widow early. My husband died in a starving year. I left alone with a small son. I called him Bahyt and because of him I had to spend seventeen months in a prison. This is it.”
Doing up her hair with back of her hand dirty with dough the mistress of the house froze having gasped.
The master fidgeted on the felt.
“That’s it,” the guest repeated. “Own child is always more precious for mother than her own life. What she won’t sacrifice for her child. My Bahyt was fifteen last year. Already for two years he has been a cowboy by bai Altybas. He has pastured cows. And I say to my sonny: “Ask your master to give you what you have earned for two years.” But the damned bai refused to pay my son. “You,” he said, “works for milk that your mother takes by us.” Where can you go to complain? To the chief of the volost' of course. And the chief of the volost’ is the son of bai Altabys. Young man – twenty one year – but an awful cut-throat: one eye is flooded with blood as by a mad dog and the other one has red streaks and he has hair on end. When my Bahyt came to him, the chief of the volost’ has beaten him half to death and forbidden to complain at Altybas, his father.
“I’m not going to work by you!” Bahyt cried them then and ran away. He turned back home. Mercy me!..”
The woman sighed again.
“Since that time everything began,” she said being silent for a while. “Could the misfortune come by a poor man? Then they called to arms for rear works and the rumour has come to me that my son was in a black list. I didn’t believe at first. How can it be, I think, my Bahyt doesn’t fit due to his age, he’s is young indeed, young at all! But the bad rumour turned to be the truth. My sonny should go for rear works to faraway lands. How could I help him? Surely I shouldn’t marry him off ahead of time to leave him home, should I?! I accepted that. But people didn’t and made head against zhar’s laws. The uprising began. And before I knew, my small hawk rode at his yearling colt together with other dzhigits. And day passed and months followed them. The uprising was crushed. Someone was sent to gallows, others to Siberia. Likely no shade laid on Bahyt that he was together with others. But again there were talking about rear works and again my son was mentioned in the list. People were in alarm but afraid mothers kept silence as if they forgot that not that long ago they were damning the zhar and his orders. I went to women from our aul to share my grief with them but everybody tried to deal with me quickly. “Nothing,” they say, “you can do against zhar’s will. Hope at Allah's mercy." All right! I listen to talking of people: many of them who were richer could release their sons of mobilization. I have no idea how they could have done that. But we, poor people, couldn’t do anything. “Good people! Help! My son, my support, appeared to be in the list! He’s young at all… Have some pity!” And in return to me: “Accept! Inshallah!” Where can I find the truth, by whom? I went to bai Altybas streaming with tears and begging him: “Release my son… Indeed he would die for nothing! Release him and I would give him to you for selfdom for ever!" And bai: “I can’t. Such men as your son I have now more than rams in a flock.” He had a young woman, proud and arrogant. She drove me away: “Go out, out! You shouldn’t be here! Some people are going to visit us." And I wanted to cry: “And who am I, am I a dog?” But I contained myself and bore malice, I remembered that there was a reason that people called Altybas a bullet-headed. Could you reach such a man with tears?
I went to his son - the chief of the volost'. “Not a big deal,” he answered to me rudely. “People wouldn’t be deserted without your son,
women wouldn’t become widows. I have nothing to do with it. It’s your husband whom you should blame, it was him who has written your son for some year older…” He said so and ordered his messenger to drive me out of his office.
I went to camp on the doorstep of judges to aul chairmen. I cried heart out. With time they stopped listening to me. I begged the clerk but he laughed at me: “Let him go, let him do it. It would be for his good. He would fat at Russian pork!” By the clerk I met one black-beard, he has always stood by the chief of the volost'. “You are still young and beautiful,” the black-beard said to me. “Your son prevents you only from enjoying your own life. Let him go digging trenches, he would free your hands."
What only I haven’t proposed for my son. Take everything: the last hours, the last cow but release my son. But did they really need a bribe?
For the whole week I have been in a whirl near the chief of the volost eating bits from a poor table of work-hands and sleeping in the open air. I became weak at all and once I made up a bad under Altybas'es wagon loaded with dung cakes. Only I began dozing, somebody grabbed me from behind. I turned round: the black-beard. He stretches his hands to me, wants to hug me. It’s well known what he wants from the widow. I wouldn’t hide that there were times when I was famous by my beauty and people called me Aina-koz at that time. With difficulty I escaped his paws, kicked him as strong as I can, got right at his mouth, he bellowed with pain and fell on his back. Quickly I jumped to feet and he stood up too. “Silly woman,” he said, “I would choose you rather any prude. I wanted to help you. Why do you decline?” And I tell him: “You lies, darky satan! You won’t get me alive!” and I grasped an axe that lied near on the ground. The black beard either lost nerve or became ashamed but I see: he moved back from me. “Angry,” he said, “what a damn bitch!”
And he wasn’t only who accosted me when I was going and bowing. When you come asking for your son, and there are greedy and bedroom eyes staring at you and unctuous talking starting: “Hold on talking about your son, widow bird, Let’s talk about something else.” Oh dear, what an anger at people seethed inside of me. Even my son began asking me: “Mother, stop it. I would better go for rear works then allow you to bring yourself into derision
. Go home, mother.” And I feel vexed even more.
I was on the edge of doing the last step. I took my son’s hand and drove him to the chief. We come. The chief of the volost’ is lying in its yurt at white tight pillows and drinking kumiss. And the black beard is with him. He saw me and glared at me like a tiger. “A-a-a!” the greenhorn chief smiled. “The widow bird came, Aina-koz came. Come in, honey, sit down closer to me." And he began jeering at me and looking at me with hungry look without any shame against my son. Bahyg couldn't stand their mean jeers at his mother. He had no power to protect me but he also couldn’t listen to their jeers. The boy stopped his ears and plunged our of the yurt. “Live with him,” the chief of the volost’ sais to me pointing at the black beard, "about a month… I wouldn't mind." I plunged out of the yurt running and my son has already jumped at his yearling colt and left aul at full gallop… Everything became dark in my eyes, my legs gave way, my head was swimming. I was near to fall. Who am I? A slave… And who are they? Men of family… They do whatever they want. But should I really bear all their jeers, I dare say? Am I a human or a dog? Suddenly I have seen: a dzhigit is bringing a plate with besbarmak to the yurt. A jemmy on the top and a sharp knife on the edge of the plate… I had no idea who did it happen, I don’t even remember. I gasped the knife rushed back to the yurt right to the chief of the volost’ lying on pillows. I knifed his throat first then his heart. My mind was muddy, I blew a gasket. I rushed to the black beard. “Oh, oh...o-o-o!" he was crying waving off with his hands and staring at me his eyes glazy of fear. I remember as dzhigit dropped the plate with bexbarmak, as jemmy with bare teeth rolled over the ground. I remember as I knifed the black beard. Two times I think. I remember nothing more. I felt unconscious.
The narratrix became silent and took a thought. Master and his wife were also silent. Children rabbitted together being afraid with guest’s words.
“When I woke up,” women began talking again as if forcing herself, “only I opened my trembling lids as a fly flock flew off my face. Above me there was a sky, clear and blue. Where am I? I don’t understand. What’s happened with me? I don’t know. I couldn’t turn my head - I feel pain. I want to stand up but I can’t: as if my whole body was full of lead. I would like to move my arm to fan myself but my arm doesn’t listen to me and my legs don’t move as if they belong to a stranger. Everything was strange, only eyes were mine. Evil-doer, monster… I felt as if they took me and cut to pieces and then throw me somewhere in the steppe out of the aul. For a long time I couldn’t understand what’s happened with me. But they didn’t cut me. They have chained me. My lets, my arms and my braid – to five stakes. They were beating me with a lash. How long they were beating me, I don't know. And what else they were doing with me, I also don't know. I know only that my poor cursed soul haven't left my body yet. I remembered by son and cried bitter tears. “Where are you, my son,” and I groaned. “Soho, you came to life, bitch!” somebody near me said. And lashes fell on me. I thought death came to me.
The guest looked at the mistress.
“It must be terrible for you even to listen to me,” she said. “Your husband might leave his own home because of fear... And how did I feel? Well! I would tell you shorter. In a month and seven days they threw me into a prison, cold and dark as a grave. And then I left that grave. They say the zhar abdicated and look, Bolcheviks discharged me. I don’t know those people. They might be good if people say about them that they are going to throw monsters and butchers to prison…” And she looked quizzically at the master as if saying "do you understand that?" And the master looked away having trembled That’s all… Now I am going to my aul… I hurry to find my sonny. He could hardly find my by himself.”
She didn’t touch the tea or taste cakes made by mistress for her. At that moment she might imagine how she would hug her Bahyt and tell him all dear sweet words. Her eyes shined brighter that the fire in the fireplace in the centre of the yurt. Children who were hooking, came closer to her step by step, fell to her knees starring hard at her face. And when with words “everything for you" she touched their small heads caressingly, they stretched their hands to her.
And the master had his eye glued to the guest, ears of his fur cap were high and he was afraid even to loose one of her words.
In front of him there was a woman sitting – strong and fearless. She got through all torment of her hopeless life and stood everything. If front of him there was mother sitting who knew how to fight for her right to be happy.
"Mother!” it was the way the soldier’s letter began. "Mother” – that wonderful world spread along the whole world.
“My dear, I missed you so much..."
Three dots. Why are they there? What for? They remind drops of fallen tears. The man who was writing it might be out of breath because of grief choking him and he put those dots having found no words? There might another reason: the soldier just didn’t want to continue; all his feelings fitted in those three words: “I’ve missed you.”
Everything's rocked in front of the eyes of Aklima who’s received that letter. Four years ago her only son Kasym went up the line. Each day mother’s heart wounded by anxiety gave a start of any note from the front line as taught dombra strings at any little breath of wind. Two years ago the last news’s come – note about Kasym’s death. Up to than it was stored at the bottom of a cofferet and up to then the hope kept beating in mother's heart: “He’ll be back, he’ll come alive”
And then the postman came and brought the letter. The letter with field post stamp.
“Noorila! Darling! Come here, faster!” Aklima cried running out on the porch.
At those days people approached each other quickly. One night happened to make them relatives for the rest of their lives. Alkima has made friends with her young neighbour recently, they found common interest, they helped each other.
As soon as Noorila ran to the porch, she saw Aklima's upset face and the letter in her hand, she understood everything and without any question she jumped over a small barrier dividing the porch into two halves.
Her face blushed a little. She took the letter from Aklima’s hands.
“Keep away crying!” she told. “Or I won’t read it... That is joy, apa!”
She made Aklima to smile but when she read words "I missed you" she stammered and her hands shivered of worriment
. Blue vein trembled at her neck and tears bleared her beautiful black eyes. Soldier’s immeasurable greed stormed in the letter as an impetuous waterfall falling from height. For expressing her fillings she's found such words that Noorila was unable to read the letter aloud. She gave the first page the up and down, turned it and than continued aloud:
“Mother. I sent my first letter to the Agadyr' station. I thought you have already come back there… But I am glad that you are in Karaganda..."
"Wait, wait!” Aklima lost her head. “What station? What Agadyr'?"
Noorila kept reading:
“Of course, mother, you ask me why so? I tell you later. Now listen to me, mother”.
Aklima was listening. She was living with each word of the letter, each intonation in Noorila’s voice, she followed each girl’s movement. Aklima’s eyes that haven’t lost their former attraction yet reflected all her fillings and thoughts. Sometimes those eyes got wormer of love to her son, sometimes they widened of fear for him and sometimes they narrowed of relief.
“Mother," the soldier wrote "At this war I went two thousand forty nine kilometres. That what I want to tell you has happened at the last forty nine… If I remember rightly, you were forty nine years old right at that day. What a coincidence! Sorry that I haven’t sent any birthday greetings... The letter left in my breast pocket and I had no time to send it."
“Has he really forgotten that I am forty four now?!” mother exclaimed out with offence and grief. “Aw, Kasym, Kasym!”
"At war, mom", Noorila continued reading “forty nine kilometres isn't such a big distance, specially for us, tankmen. But it happens that one kilometre can force you to stop for a long time. So I have stopped. I’ve gone so much but I couldn't come to Berlin."
Noorila’s voice trembled of an absurd foreboding and she stopped reading for a moment and Aklima was looking at her with expectation: “What’s happened that stopped him?”
“Mom, I know: you can meet both joy and grief like a Trojan. I remember it's happened before. That’s why
listen to me without any fear because I was born by you, I am your son.”
“Kasym, Kasym," Aklima groaned.
“I remember everything very good.” Noorila was reading. “That was my last night in the line. For three days and three nights without sleep and rest we have been standing at the bank of a small river and couldn't cur across it in any way. Far side belted with wire blocks, antitank teeth, mine areas and permanent fire positions was closed by fire curtain for us. Germen fired our positions again and again; shells burst here and there; the river boiled of burst. The river was narrow and shallow but there was impossible to bridge it over – we couldn’t even think about it.
So it was the third night. Smell of burnt. Rare stars flashed in the east. Low thick leaden clouds covered the sky rising up behind the horizon. Enemy positions sank step by step into the darkness. I don’t remember now whether that darkness shredded away or not. And that’s not the point. We had to beat Germen from their fortified positions no matter what it would take. And there they couldn’t stay against us. We all thought so.
I remember as division commander colonel Revizov, broad-shouldered and strong man, came to us. In the night he seemed to be a giant. He went along the tankmen line slow. We stand snapping to attention and wait having already been feeling: there would be something – there must be a special order and it could be seen on commander’s face and indeed junior officers that have come with the colonel were restless. So there it is. Revizov stopped in the centre of the line and began talking. So peaceful without raising his voice - just as close friend of us. And soldiers respect talk of such kind.
“Comrades, let’s us consult!” the colonel said. “We’ve received a responsible mission. Frankly speaking I don't want to promise anything to those who would fulfill it: neither medals nor titles. You have lots of them; and it’s hard to invent a reward that could be worthy for that you have to do… In a word, how do you think: Isn’t it time we have to be on that bank?”
We were standing in silence and the colonel was looking at us with a testing eye and it seemed to me that he was reading your thoughts.
“We had no time to run through without a pause. We let the moment pass. That’s what you are thinking, aren’t you ? Revisov asked us. “That’s right. I know… But we still have to go forward!”
Those words were told friendly easy without any bathos, swearing or threats; they didn't sound as
and order and for soldiers who missed the warm of their own homes and were tired of cries and commands the commander's word of encouragement was the worthiest thing.
And the solution has been found: we should try to run though in tanks under the river to the other bank and make a lodgement there.
Five commanders stepped forward. I was among them.
In silence we went to our vehicles after that turning in mind the distance that we have to go under water and trying to imagine barriers we could meet there. Scout divers didn’t hide that the enemy has tried to turn the bottom of the river into a forbidding border too: they’ve thrown reinforced concrete blocks and wire loops. Desperateness wouldn’t help here, clever consideration, staying power and courage – that's what we need here. If only we don't stumble on underwater mines, if only we don't stick in mud, if only water had no time to flood the engine, if only we have enough air! Otherwise we would be as fishes in a strong net.
In silence my comrades and me got into line, shook hands strong, in silence we looked at the dark water surface dishevelled by shell bursts. Having fear against our attack, Germen didn't stop the fire in the night too. And I said to myself: “Good bye, mom, if we don’t see each other again.”
But no, mom! No! I didn’t say "good bye”! That damn thought came into my mind several times but I kept mind off them. I didn’t even want to say good bye to smoke of locomotives driving coal from black mines of Karaganda... I have been remembering you all the time… I thought so: I take with me the letter that I wrote for you in the morning. I take it to the other bank and tomorrow I‘ll write two words “alive and well" and send it. Oh, mom! It emerged that between today’s and tomorrow's dates, between that night when I went to my last fight and these minutes there is an unconscionably long time..."
Both women understood the hidden sense of those words and were not able to raise their eyes full of tumult and grief.
Light brown hair of Noorila been easy held with a hairpin on the back of the head spread out on her shoulders.
“What’s happened with you, girl? Are you crying?” Aklima asked her quiet and her voice trembled of worrying.
“No, don’t say that, apa… You have such sun, how could I
cry?” Noorila answered and tried to smile but her voice shimmer betrayed her worrying. She kept reading:
“So it began, mom. Our heavy tank gave a dip at full speed. We zipped along sometimes diving into some holes sometimes rising from them. Deafening clamour of engines became quieter. Comrades had eyes glued on equipment. I was giving orders.
"Forward… Left... Across… Right…”
Chronometer arrows were trembling a little in front of me as wings of a chill butterfly. Two seconds passed. Two and a half. I thought that happened in a dream. A strange feeling of indifference hindered my movements. Moisture smell tickled my nostrils. There was water of knee-high level in the tank. If only the engine doesn’t stop! Suddenly the water waved and raised to our breast and began lowering fast. We understood that we've jumped to the opposite bank.
Our tank was the second; behind us there were also three vehicles. Who of them did forced the river and who didn’t I still don’t know. I had no time to check then. In front of us - Germen, behind - our troops waiting for their time, waiting for attack time.
"On!” I cry to the driver. “Keep the speed!”
And we were zipping along. Burst flashes ripped out from the dark broken wire barriers, blocks and German soldiers rushing about.
“Fire!” I cry to the shooter.
And bullets and splinters were scratching tank armour. We were in the fire line. Our shooter, Petia Chernov, kept shooting Germen. His face was streaming with sweat. And Rahim Sarybasov,–our driver, threw our tank into the very middle of German soldiers running away from us panicking. Rahim turned to me, his thin black eyes were shining.
“Kolia!” I cry to Nikolai Sorokin, our radio boy. “How is it? Have the foot troops come?”
He negatively shook his head. Yes, it must be to early for them to cross the river. I wish it would be quicker! Quicker!
We have already deepened into ten kilometers from the bank. It means that in total we have gone two thousand forty nine kilometres, I thought. And I remembered that you are
forty nine years old today. I touched my breast pocket. The letter was there.
Petia Chernov turned to me from the gun and wanted to say something and at the same moment tank trembled and there was harsh smoke. Chernov felt down groaning. I wanted run to him to help but something frosty and sharp stroke my face. I looked and saw blood on my arm, warm blood, my blood.
“Comrade commander!” I hear radio boy’s voice. “The foot troops are crossing. Automatic riflemen troop is already at this bank…” Suddenly he stumbled and cried to me: “Nose… Nose…”
I pointed him to Chernov. Suddenly a fire flashed and ran inside the tank. And first though in my mind: the letter. The letter that I had no time to send you could burn in my pocket. Blood covered my face; I wanted to clean it with my blouse sleeve but my clothes flamed. I tried to suppress it and wanted to get to the manhole, open it and get outside but something heavy and sharp stroke my legs and I felt that I was rapidly falling into a black abyss from which I couldn’t rise up… That’s all. What’s happened with me after – I don’t know. I woke up in six months and ten days…”
Noorila who was reading letter staying then became weak in her knees suddenly; she got hold of the wall not to fall. Letter sheets fell from her hands strewing on the floor. Aklima couldn't find any power to pick them up. A bitter lump was in her throat and it hindered her to breath.
Near the porch there were dirty kids having just come back from the school standing and listening to. One of them had a big cap of his father on his head and a bag in his hand.
“See how germs should be beaten?” he asked his friend. "I know it already. My father told me… First you should go to the rear and than phut! And beat!”
He wanted to show how to beat, swung his arm but his friend whipped aside and the boy in the cap felt on the ground having lost his balance. Books in his bag felt out... Loosing no time other boy sat on his breast closing his mouth with his hand.
“And then… One more time – phut!” he said. “You should gag mouth of this German and grab him to your commander!"
They were playing the war. And on the porch there were two women sitting shocked by the very frightful truth of the real war.
“Read, Noorila. Read everything to the end!” Aklima could hardly say wanting finally to kill this unmeasurable cup of grief. And Noorila began reading:
“The first thing that I understood after my recovery is that my hands are well. All ten fingers were on their places. They were hugging each other as old friends after long separation. Where am I? What’s happened with me? Why is it so dark around and so quiet? It must be a night… Right, right! The night, I was thinking. The same night when our tank flamed. And may be it didn’t flamed. May be I’ve just slept then and everything what’s happened was just a dream, a lot of heavy dreams! I touch my breast… It’s okey. My heart beats. Supporting each other my hands move to my head… Here are lips. Both lips and teeth are well. Here is nose. But instead of my nose my fingers find a soft band and under it a pain as melt lead. And my legs? I can feel that the left thigh grows numb and there is pain in fingers of right leg. Hands slipped down and...found no legs. Instead of them stumps.
I lost consciousness and when I woke up again there was still the same silence and the same soft bad and there were somebody's hands changing dressing on my head.
“Listen! What time is now?” I asked.
Nobody answered. I asked again but I couldn't hear my voice. What’s happened – am I deaf or numb? I raised my hand. Than somebody’s deep voice said under breath right near my ear:
“Be quiet. You are saved and will be live. You are in Saratov, in the hospital. In about two months you could walk. Understood?” The voice of a man whom I didn’t know repeated all over again.
Yes, I understood: I will live, I will walk. But two months were not enough for me to leave the bad. No I could count days, weeks, months… Six months passed since I woke up but still I couldn't leave the bad. Little by little sense of vision came back to me, hardly and little I began talking, hospital surgeons recovered my nose. But there is one thing I’m afraid all the time: my friends-comrades could not recognize me.
My face is disfigured, I have no legs… For a long time I couldn't find any power to right about all this to you, mom, dear.
But I want to leave… After all my arms are well and my heart is beating. That means that not everything is lost!
Mom, I can write. What a wonderful word – can. What a big happy – to write! In the line I used to sing a song. I don’t remember words and tune now. But those were my words and my tune. Whether they were good or bad for others, I don’t know. I know other thing: something big was always rising inside of me as if I was swimming in an endless sea or standing at the top of a high mountain. I could forget all grief, dejection, fear or anger. I was singing… And what’s wrong with it if I sing now? What? Let my words try to fly to the sky as nestlings with easy wings. After all they would fly even if not at once!
And the last thing, mom. Now when you read this letter, I am in a sanatorium. I learn walking with artificial legs. Leg stumps have strong pain. But I still will walk. I will!
I wait for your letter. As soon as I get it, I would fly to Karaganda. I wait for our meeting, wait when you hug me strong. Your son Sapar.”
“Sapar?!” Aklima cried. “Who? What Sapar? May be you wanted to say Kasym, don't you?
“No” Noorila was lost not less than Aklima. “It’s clearly written here” Sa..apar..
"Sa-a-a-apar?" Aklima breathed out straightening. “My heart calmed down… It’s not him!”
She could not hide her happiness: all those inhuman sufferings didn’t touch her son; other, strange man whom she didn’t even know became cripple but not Kasym, no! Aklima looked at Noorila with lighten eyes and trembled. The girl has changed so much that even her own mother wouldn't recognize her. She nodded, crooked, even her dark-red silk dress with small light-blue flowers clinging to her thin figure seemed to be rumpled as if faded. All heaviness of soldier’s sufferings laid only on her then. In her eyes stopped at Alkima’s face there were surplice and blame.
Aklima felt shame for her moment happiness.
“He must have loved her mother so much.” she said more for herself than for Noorila and in her voice there were a secret mother's care.
"He has!" the girl exclaimed. “I met her. She lived here, in this room where you have been living now…"
And Noorila told everything what she knew. During the war when she came to Karaganda after graduation of her institute, an event met her with Sapar and his mother. One day Noorila was going back home after a meeting. There was a night. Suddenly a nude man ran by the girl. In winter in Karaganda she saw a man running at frost in his undershorts only! Of course Noorila was afraid. She ran to the house and on the porch of her neighbour, aunt Ulbala, she saw a man putting on his blouse. In the morning when Noorila went to her job, she left her house and met a young lieutenant, high, with thick eyelashes and black hair brushed back.
“Sister,” he said smiling. “I seemed to frighten you yesterday... Excuse me. Every evening I rub myself with snow. I didn’t want to frighten you. Word of honour!”
That was their only meeting. In the evening the young lieutenant went to the line. But he has been present to Noorila’s mind for a long time. Then Ulbala told her that he was her son and his name was Sapar. In two years Ulbala died and Aklima take up her room. And that was all that Noorila could tell.
And again in Aklima’s soul there were clearly sound the words of the letter, a far and strong voice of the soldier. She understood it so clear! But what could she do? How could she help Sapar? What could she write back to him that mother’s hands would never hug his soldier's wounded head, that he could never hear his mother's voice?
“Noorkesh,” Aklima said doubtfully. "What if I … call him… Well, I write him in the name of his mother… Like, come back, son. What would be than, Noorkesh? After all I know now: my Kasym would never come back...”
Noorila answered nothing to her. She only raised her big brown eyes full of tears, she only grabbed Aklima's hand and squeezed it.
At the same day a telegram flew to Sapar from Karaganda:
"Come back, son, I wait. Mom.”
And Aklima began waiting. But not the cripple Sapar, no! Such men as he was would never became cripples thinking only about their own misfortune, their own bitter destiny...
Each airplane that flew over her house made her mother’s heart beating stronger. Might it fly him - her son, soldier, her Sapar?
IN TWENTY FOUR HOURS
(THE TRUE STORY OF THE ARAL)
Uzun Kulak – a "long ear” of the steppe, more exactly, the steppe of mouths and ears giving news works without any trouble even better than telegraph. Telegrams can come later, train can be late or designated person, let us say. Uzun Kulak doesn’t know all that. When only a law, order or news about some important event reaches Orenburg, then habar would be picked up and fly along great spaces of Kazakh steppes. There are times that Orenburg doesn’t know anything at all and habar has been already running along steppes at camels and horses and bringing news right from Moscow or even from Paris or London.
And at that time as always uzun kulak gave news with the help of Tamarsha. Where has this dzhigit gone? Only in Kazalinsk. In that Kazalinsk where houses - wet dugouts absorbing moisture up to the waist – look at each other in surprise with open eyes of windows and doors. In Kazalinks from which chimneys there are always smokes as a train of camels leaving to the steppe. And colts follow the train too – smokes from many self-boiled chimneys. News that Tamarsha has brought at that time couldn’t fit into heads of inhabitants of steppe:
“Lenin! It’s Lenin who’s written the letter to Aral’s fishermen!”
In center of a craft hut round as a yurt and made carelessly from saxaul pieces and dzhingil sticks there was a fire flaming. People were sitting around the fire, that was a team living by fishing and making firewood for locomotives. People were looking at Tamarsha suspiciously. And the messenger stand and smiled – sometimes happily sometimes confusedly.
“Who, who has written to us? Lenin himself?”
“Yes, Lenin! He sent you a special letter. Greeting for fishermen of Aral.”
Thin moustaches on the face of the eldest artel member Exlamkul trembled. His eyes turned into triangular cracks.
“Look here, boy,” he said. “Never joke so if you don’t want to be beaten. Understood?”
And Eslamkul began poking in the fire with a long stick – the weapon of camel drivers. The fire flew up and spread millions of sparks.
“No, Eseke,” Tamarsha said, “who can allow to joke so? Here is the letter of Lenin.” He took out from the inner pocket a whity-brown sheet doubled up eight times and passed it to Exlamkul.
Aqsaqal didn’t move.
“Read,” he ordered.
“It’s in Russian. Hard to read…”
Both stared at the paper sheet wonderingly. Some of artel members gave a cough holding laugh. And then Exlamkul – something came to his mind! - snatched out the paper from Tamarsha's hands. He looked it from both front and back side:
“Let fall that god who sent you as our chief! Fool, that’s Kazalinsk’s paper! The one that's used to roll cured melon. Do you think Lenin wouldn't find a sheet of white paper?"
The paper fetched a circuit, from one hands to another.
“That’s right, Kazalinsk’s paper!” artel member began talking. “Even tar on letters is still wet - it's Kazalinsk’s way of printing only.”
They felt like laughing at Tamarsha.
“Look, Tamarsha, has Lenin come to our Kazalinsk? Have you drunk something like beer in the train?"
Little by little swarthy face of Tamarsha became red than blue. Indeed, how couldn’t he recognize Kasalinsk’s paper? Tamarsha said confusedly:
“I've brought you some tea-mea there. Also gritty-mitty flour. I am going to bring it now.”
And he faster left the hut.
The real name of Tamarsha was Zhangabyl. He was extremely small and also during two years he has been bringing tamarsha – an extremely short chocks of saxaul and dzhingil chopped for locomotive heating. That’s why he got that nickname – Tamarsha and his real name was totally forgotten.
At those difficult days provision of firewood for transport and supplies for people was in the range of the most important points of the state. Kazhakhs, those who lived along the Aral sea in dugouts prepared firewood for rail train and fished in the Aral sea having gathered into artel teams. For their work they got everything what was extreme necessity: flour, tea, sugar, tobacco. Saratov’s makhorka was a treasure of that time. In auls staying overnight far from the rail train you could get a camel for blocks bars of brick tea.
Tamarsha was kind of train-basha in artel team of seven people providing saxaul and dzhingil and bringing wood to the rail train on twenty camels. To count exactly only forty and three tenths of those artel members can read and write – and that was exactly one person – Tamarsha. Words "pood”, “pound”, “arshin”, "tea”, “sugar”, “flour” he can read without any fault. But he failed with words "saxaul” and “dzhingil”. That’s why you can say that skills of Tamarsha himself was maximum 14 percent. But still he was scholar and that’s why Exlamkul called him a chief sometimes laughing and that was very offending.
That day Tamarsha went to Kazalinsk to get to the Volost Food Committee to take everything counted for artel team for a week work. He got there two poods of flour, ten packs of makhorga, two blocks of brick tea, twenty arshin of cotton print with red-grin-white blotchiness, a small bag of sugar sand and also paper money for some thousand may be millions. That was a real lock of money. Three Rubles were printed per fifty at big uncut sheets.
Tamarsha who has got so much wealth at once wanted to know about news in the world - however he should bring artel member some good habar from the volost centre! Listening to each talking he could hear, he went to the last room of a long hall of the Volost Food Committee. The room was full of people, blue smoke and human husky voices. Five or six persons were arguing about something around
a big table. To that table there was a crowd with its end in the hall. From habit of those years Tamarsha has also took his place in the line.
“Take it and scram," man in a black leather pea-jacket and a leather who was standing near the table said. He must be Russian. “Sign here. At the latest all fishermen should know about it.”
He gave everybody something like a block of brick tea rolled into a paper.
Tamasha has defined without any fault: that what that man was handing out was giving free, you must sign only. He firmly decided that he shouldn’t leave the line and pulled nearer his bag with flour that reached his elbow.
The turn of Tamasha came; he lied on the table of the commissary Smilgin and stretched out his hand to an inkpot.
“Where are you from?” Smilgin stared at him. “Bagworm, bourgeois!”
“No, twice no! Bourgeois is not like that. Do you know the Aral sea? My catch fish, bring saxaul. First quality of granular flour, tea, sugar – bag.”
He clapped on his bag. Then it appeared that in his pocket he had dozen of receipts and he put all of them in front of Smilgin.
“Ok, that’s enough, I see!” the commissary stopped him. “Take away your receipts. I am giving you this paper. That’s a very good paper, it’s the letter of Lenin to fishermen of the Aral. It’s letter for you, you see? Take it!”
That’s how Lenin’s letter copied in Kazalinsk’s printing plant got into Tamarsha’s hands.
What a reason to be proud! He got the paper with all chiefs of the volost. Not just a paper but the letter of Lenin. When Tamarsha came back to Aralks, he reached the hub of artel and didn’t even take his bag and korzhun off from back of his camel, so much he wanted to tell the news!
“Lenin! It’s Lenin who’s written the letter to Aral’s fishermen!..”
But now undoing his bag he wasn’t in a hurry – he was cooling down finding words to answer Exlamkul better. To shake off a habit is a difficult thing – never before he's come athwart the old man. Whatever you may say but he was his own uncle. But the paper that Tamarsha has brought was the letter
of Lenin! "No, I am going to tell uncle and everybody: stop talking noncence!”
When Tamarsha was bringing the tea-mea and gritty-mitty flour into the hut, one of artel member was cutting a cross strip of the edge of Kazalinsk's paper to make a “goat let”. Having left his bag and korzhun near the doorway, Tamarsha snatched out the paper. Clean edges of the letter have been already cut from three sides and two other artel members were smoking “goal legs” rolled of that paper. Tamarsha wrested their roll-ups and threw them into the fire.
“Here are the bag and korzhun, there is a lot of goods, share it. I will take my part from the next pay packet. And now I am going to aul.”
And he left shutting his lips.
“Aul” where Tamarsha was going was the Aralsk village. From the side of the rail station it looked like a suburban edge of a respectable city already at that time. And on the coast of the sea that at that time splashed right near the very doors of Aralsk - there was the real aul, a site of closely flocked dugouts. Everybody knew there what was happening by his neighbor, every whispering could be heard by everybody. Pack of dogs met Tamarsha. They gaily inform aul that it is a yes-man coming, other dogs were yelping – bullshit, it a stranger coming! Properly to old laws of the steppe people ran out hearing dogs barking.
“Hallo, who’s going there?"
“It’s me, Tamarsha!”
“Who else can it me but Tamarsha!” laugh of young women could be heard. "Only a head sticks out between two camel humps. He's the only one here!"
“Tamarsha! Where are you going in a hurry at night?"
“Important news. Lenin has written the letter. To us, to fishermen of the Aral.”
Tamarsha drove his camel to the village council. The village council appeared to be closed. Then Tamarsha turned his camel and went to the school teacher. Barking and squabbling dogs followed him to the teacher’s yard. There behind saxaul wicker fence there was Azhibai, the teacher, milking his she-camel.
“Assalamaleikum, how do you do!"
“Agaleikumassalam, Tamarsha! I’m coming, dear, coming. My wife has delivered. So I'm milking by myself as you can see. I am going to pull once or twice, wait a minute.”
Previously mullah and now teacher of Kazakh two-class school, Azhibai
continued milking. When he’s finished, he invited Tamarsha inside.
“Please, mollah-eke, is that the letter from Lenin or something other? Look at it, please."
Azhibai who wasn’t very sure in Russian reading and writing has been looking at the paper for a long time bringing it to a bitch lamp. Then he said:
“It’s hard to approve that the letter is from Lenin himself. The first signature belongs to a man named Ulianov. Lenin’s signature is the second one. But signature is there…”
And he spelled using Arabic way of reading:
“Le-masle… Ni-nasni… Nin-gaseken… Lenin. And what is after, you would be better to consult with your rib. It’s such time now - neither morning nor evening dawn... I had no courage to go deeper into such a writing…”
Tamarsha smiled to himself. “He's a teacher and still he doesn't know what any illiterate inhabitant of the steppe knows!" But still he asked:
“Might you make out for me something at least?.."
The teacher has been looking at the paper for a long time trying to use the way of reading of Arabic writing to the Russian text. Finally he said:
“Right. To fishermen of the Aral. Good words. And here it is totally bad. At Volga there is an awful deadly famine, it’s written so. Then there is such a word that I have never heard or read..."
It grieved to look at the teacher - he was suffering so much.
“Soli-da-rity…” In general it means like "as brothers". “Help people in famine, share whatever you can.” And being ready to drop he gave back the Lenin’s letter to Tamarsha.
“Thank you, mullah-eke, I see.”
Then Tamarsha turned back home to meet his mother. But his dugout appeared to be full of people. Those who could find place in house were crowding in the yard fenced with a wicker fence. The old woman had a toi today. “Your son has got a letter from Lenin himself,” people said to her. Of course, she had to give food and drink. Old men were drinking tea one by one from two broken tea bowl tightened with tin rings. Young people were smoking owner’s makhorga standing closer to the door. Mother was crying. Light tears of happiness were running down her face over her smile. The old woman asked Allah to turn off an evil eye and an evil word
from her son. Exlamkul’s wife was crying with Tamarsha’s mother. Ah, but she forced Tamarsha working so often, sometimes even with swearing and sometimes even with bad words! And where is Eslamkul? Hasn't he come because of his tough character?
Young woman and girls who used to speak about Tamarsha very often and very bad felt then small.
“So, Tamarsha, sit down near us, tell us what Lenin writes."
Tamarsha said near his mother and started telling so confidently as if he was reading the letter:
“Lenin gives kind regards to all fishermen. Children and old people, boys and girls – to all of you!"
“Than him! God bless him!”
“My dear fishermen of the Aral,” Lenin writes. “Your nets so heavy of fish that you could hardly take them out to the shore with horses. Each time when we hear it, we are glad…”
“Gospel truth, the great man can see everything…”
“That means he knows that sometimes we can hardly take out the net with two camels…”
“That’s how he said – dear?”
“Yes, he did. But at the Volga river there is famine now, friends. Your brothers who helped to overthrow the czar and release from gang of the Whites, from Alashordynzy are starving now. What your open rough hands could give today, the Soviet power would give you back many times, it would never forget it.
“Oh-bah, dear Tamarsha, answer to Lenin, answer! How is it called – answer with the express telegram. Let the express telegram bring him our answer. It would shine and the answer would appear at Lenin’s table.
We would give everything what we have! We would give even more than Lenin asks!”
Fishermen haven't slept for the whole night. At their native language, sometimes close to fantasies, Tamarsha’s words got right to home, to heart. People felt easy and happy. Has the czar or even his aul chairman even address to them as to people?
From the body of Volga to China the nation named as Kazakhs dispersed but who has called them nation? Even their name “Kazakh" was taken away. But Lenin wrote them – brothers! The Kazakh’s steppe that didn’t belong to them in the past is finally given to the nation living in it. What has been gathering in soul of working man for ages as a scale in a boiler has melted then.
Lenin's letter turned into songs and sounded in dombra strings. In the morning the legend about Lenin's letter to Aral's fishermen has been already sounding far from Aral along the Kazakhstan areas. Name of Tamarsha dispersed together with the legend along the steppe.
At noon people began coming to the sea shore. Men and women, children, old men and women - everybody gathered on a high bed. Everybody wore best clothes. Who had a good camel or a horse, flaunted them. That was Lenin’s meeting, people were talking solemnly and blazing. They were dictating the letter – the answer of fishermen to Lenin.
“Here it's laying in front of us, playing and splashing, our Aral Sea, silver kettle full of fish. Big fish is here in the deep - shining as colts in spring. And when they calm down, the sea has no space to hold them and the golden carp with silver pike-perch jump to the shore. If two fishes don’t fill the kettle, we don’t take them and throw back into the sea… Write it first for Lenin!
“Dear brother from Volga, brother in starving! Aral wouldn’t grudge anything for you. Until you write us that you are stuffed and reach, don’t give us rest! Don’t ask but order! As it’s said in the letter of our Lenin, so it will be. Our rough hands are open, wait for Aral fish with each train. It’s a pity that we live so far from each other or we would force the Aral Sea move closer to your auls... Write it second for Lenin.
According to your order, dear Lenin, we drove away fishery managers and made artels. We could send five thousand pood of fish every day but we have bad ships. Like old grandfather boots of – soon it touches water with its tip, it swallows water at the same time. And we have nothing to repair it.. Write it as the third thing for Lenin.”
From all those heartfelt words the telegram to Lenin was made. It was sent at the same day.
Autumn fresh night. At the light of the full moon the sea broad shines and along that mirror seldom and
slow dark leaden wall roll. On the sand bar near racks women impale the fish. Despite the late hour nobody sleeps – children jump, dogs squabble, samovar boil.
Men bring jerked and smoked fish at camels to the rail way and load into cars. To the next day they were going to send twenty cars of fish, salted and jerked but it would be enough only for fourteen-fifteen.
“Let it be our first present to Iliich Lenin!” fishermen seemed excused themselves for each other. “Winder comes, sea freezes near shores and we would gather heaps of fish on ice!"
Tamarsha’s authority rose high those days. When it came time to send fish, he stopped provision of firewood and drove all twenty camels to the sand bar. As soon as Tamarsha appeared there, he appeared for people as a man designed by Lenin himself. And so he became leader of all fishermen. To his common name the "comrade" full of respect was added. If there was something wrong, people came to him:
“Comrade Tamarsha, there is lack of string."
“Go to the shop,” Tamarsha ordered, “let Fairahman open his hole in the wall"
“Should I tell that comrade Tamarsha himself ordered?”
“Tell whatever you want but string must be here…”
“Comrade Tamarsha! There are fourteen cars loaded overhead, there is fish left only for a half of car, what should we do?" uncle Exlamkul asked Tamarsha though they worked together hand in hand.
Tamarsha smiled to himself:
“Leave it. I don’t like any half thing. We will send it next time.”
And cars left.
“Moscow, Kremlin! To Lenin!..” fishermen were happily crying behind the train.
Frost came. Undeep see bays were frozen. And at sight on the ice there appeared first piles of frozen fish. Soon from those pile a total small city with dozen of passages and streets grew. Fresh-caught fish lied in piles.
Today Tamarsha comes back from Kazalinsk again. And again he has a word of Lenin to fishermen. At this time
he brings two fly-sheets printed in Russian and Kazakh.
In Russian Tamarsha didn’t read. But almost all Kazakh text he has made out even in vestibule of goods car and now after moving to his camel and wobbling on it, he repeats words of that wonderful order:
“To comrade Lem Non Krizman,” two letters before name of that man Tamarsha's read in Arabic way. “To comrade Lem Non Krizman… In twenty four hours…”
Only head of Tamarsha could be seen between high humps of his white camel. Ears of owner’s hare fur cap wobble in time with moving of legs of that steppe ship. Tamarsha lips repeat: “To comrade Lem Non Krizman… In twenty four hours…”
When the steppe walker with Tamarsha between its humps has appeared in Aral aul, people run to meet him:
“What, comrade Tamarsha, are there again some news?”
"Yes, comrades fishermen. From Lenin. Again from Lenin. Gather the village council, you will hear everythin."
The chief of the village Council – dandy a little, sufficiently inoffencive, trained enough, partially like an old aul foreman and only partially like an chief of council, dressed almost city-like - a black skull-cap on his head - was sitting in his room having no idea what do to with his evening. He didn’t like at all Tamarsha who quickly entered his room.
“What’s happened that you rush in without permission?”
“The order from Lenin,” Tamarsha answered.
“If there is the order, it would come to the Council first. Why is it you who's running crazy at a loose end?"
“It’s a very urgent order, comrade chief."
“Well, if it’s urgent, we would fulfill it urgent.”
“No, comrade chief, you must listen to it first.”
And Tamarsha told in one breath everything he remembered from that order:
“To comrade Lem Non Krizman… In twenty four hours process a request for six shiprepairing work-rooms of the Aral sea for two diggers… And for four more… And for turning and milling machines."
“Here. In Russian and Kazakh. Lenin’s order. Take it.”
He put the order in front of the chief of the village council. The last made a pause to think: “What this Tamarsha want? May be he wanted to become the chief of the village council?" But he couldn’t stay indifferent to the order of Lenin himself.
“Good, comrade Tamarsha," he said. "For certain we would receive the order any day now. We would gather people, announce it. Well, and how are you?.."
At that time fishermen clattered behind the door. In rubber and Kazakh boots with tips whitened of salt they entered crowding and stepping on heel of the person going before. Working man has no time to chaffer and fishermen stepped right to the chief.
“What does our dear Lenin write to us?”
“The council hasn't received anything yet. When we receive, we would gather you and you would hear.”
“But give us just the very salt. Salt! We have to know so our nets could go as being dubbed.”
The council became silent. Tamarsha looked at him.
“The council has already received the Lenin's order. I’ve brought it to him, it lies in his table. If the chief has no time to give you the very salt at least, I could read it to you completely. Come to me in the evening…”
In the evening it was women and girls who's gathered first in Tamarsha's dugout. Who of them was laughing at him? Who was talking that his head could hardly be seen between two camel humps? It seemed nobody was. On eyelashes of girls there was respect shivering, and deep in their eyes there was smile and something else. Everybody got best clothes, there were earrings and bracelets appeared.
Tamarsha said to his guests: “Come in, sit down,” but he stayed the same as he was - as early he was shy and couldn’t find words to talk to them. He could only smiling and sweating.
Girls sat in a line on the first place of the dugout. Young women paid attention to the old mother. They fired up samovar and stove, parted pieces of saxaul hard as a stone. In front of guests there was dastarkhan laid flashy of many patches. And the silence came. Girls who used to brake millet bread with their rough hands and put a big piece in mouth, bite it today only
. Sugar sand was poured with a small tin spoon on the very top of tongue. What’s happened with them?
“Please, give the tea bowl to Tamarsha-aga," one dared to say.
At night fisherman barged into dugout having returned from fishery. Men edged women and girls to the stove, flocked them into a small herd as kids.
“So, comrade Tamarsha. Explain us now what is told in the Lenin's letter."
And once again Tamarsha knapped by heart: “To comrade Lem Non Krizman… In twenty four hours…”
“And what is that “diregger"? In our language that means “batyr twice"!”
“Not diregger but digger - that's a name of a machine."
“And we have thought it could make twice a man can make.”
“Not twice. One hundred times!”
But it were those twenty four hours stocked deepest in people heads during which Lenin demands to fulfill the order. Till that day the Kazakh steppe has measured its life by centuries rather than by hours or days. And suddenly – “in twenty four hours”!
“And some of our dzhigits could only do that to sleep twenty four hours. And twenty four hours would be spent for yawning. One more twenty four – to collect thoughts.”
“It would be could if after that they work twenty four hours with the fire at least…”
No matter how much fishermen valued their work, they could imaging how all-around and difficult the work of Lenin should be. With whistling they were shaking their heads: “Does Lenin works all twenty four hours without sleeping every day?” •
They also mentioned the chief of the village council in their talkings.
“The talisman should be done from Lenin's words," Exlamkul said, "and hung on the chief's neck!"
He said that and looked back at Tamarsha uneasily. Since that time when the word "comrade" was added to his nephew's name, Exlamkul didn't even dare to hold forth near him.
In silence Tamarsha looked at girls and broke out with a whole bunch of words to surprise of everybody.
“Khadishazhan,” he addressed to a girl who wasn't the most beautiful but the prettiest one. “You go to school, don’t you? Go and find me red velvet arshin at length
and half of arshine at width. And stitch it with white silk threads: “In twenty four hours. Lenin.” Can you do it?”
As if a flame flashed in girl's black eyes. Tamarsha blushed – that was his first time for the whole life of him when he told girl so much words! Khadisha didn’t answer also – she was thinking: maybe he was joking? Or does such a responsible choice select her?
“Why not?” girl’s father said. "She will!”
Until in front of girls eyes all letters stitched by her at the red velvet ran, she was silent. Than she answered at once:
“In twenty four hours, dear?”
Khadisha nodded silently.
“She will, she will!” everybody started crying. “Her mother, Aimangul, is the first handy woman to stitch Kazakh pattern drawing with beads.
That’s how first one man - Tamarsha, and after him another one - girl named Khadisha - became important and then famous in front of eyes of everybody.
And there was one more legend born on the shore of the Aral sea: how Lenin demands work from people and works by himself.
* * *
Mother of legends is always the truth. Who’s looking the truth in our legend, can find it opening the 53d Volume of Works of V.I. Lenin.
The train was heavily sighing before the far away journey and I repeated its sighs - at the carriage saying good bye to my wife and my daughter.
A station worker - a tall shaved old man - struck the bell the first time, then the second one and he had already drawn the arm aside to strike the third time when an absolutely ancient old woman grew nearby him as if from under the ground and asked:
- Say me, my son! What direction will your train go to?
Not having choked over the old man swallowed this addressing: "my son" and started patiently explaining her that train number three would go up to very Moscow.
Turksib was absolutely young at those times and passengers were accustomed to such delays with departure. They wandered off along the platform while the old man was explaining the boring old woman once and once again - if the train goes to Moscow it is impossible to get either to Tashkent or to Pishpeck by it.
The ripe August sun went down in the col of Kazy-Kurga where sometime, incredibly long ago, Noah had found shelter with his ark according to the Kazakh legends. And only because our ancestors had been able to save themselves from the flood living creatures remained on the earth able to question where the train would go, make business trips to Moscow, part and meet again...
The old man (I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that she was one of the dwellers of the very ark) finally left the old man on duty alone and he dashingly gave the third bell with confidence, jolly and in some special manner.
The steam locomotive in the head of the train responded with hurried breathing.
- Have you remembered, Bolat? - The wife, my perfect Botagoz, strictly asked me. - You shall write us every other day.
And the daughter demanded for the umpteenth time me to buy her a doll - the biggest one, as tall as the mum.
- Of course, I'll buy! - I replied. - I'll buy you, my Karlygash, two such dolls. But I won't write every other day. One day - one letter, that's all! - I turned to the wife and embraced her in a hurry because the cast wheels had already taken off with heavy creak.
I lifted onto the platform past the conductor with a green flag in the hand and turned to wave my daughter with the hand as usually fathers do. But my attention was attracted by the woman who was running to the carriages. She had a suitcase in one hand and a big woven basket in the second one. No, she will not be able to catch. Almost for sure she was bound to miss the train.
My heart sank as always when I saw that a human was in trouble. Moreover, the woman who had missed the train was beautiful with bright attractive beauty.
(Later on, at any, even the most indirect mention about this case the rings in the ears of my dear Botagoz started indignantly ringing - both in ten years and in fifteen years because a woman will not forget even in one hundred years).
I couldn't stand any more.. I did the action that dirtied my so much blameless marital reputation with the eternal indelible spot. I don't know why but I forgot that the wife was watching all... I jumped off from the step and rushed to the woman. A small umbrella started trembling before my eyes like a bright Altai butterfly, tiny smell of an unknown perfume struck in my nose. I had time to notice this all while doing my business: I snatched her things out of the hands and was able to support her when she stumbled.
- Hurry up, run! - It sounded some rudely but she obeyed and began to run. Her slim legs in the transparent Persian-thread stockings and light-grey shoes were quickly flickering before my eyes.
While running I thrust the suitcase and the basket to the conductor. I helped the woman to lift onto the next platform. And I personally caught hold the hand-rails of the last carriage.
Everything had come out as well as possible and only now I looked back. I heard the words:
- A telegram! Just wait!.. A good-for-nothing!.. Chimkente! A thankless one! Aktubinske! Wait for the telegram!
The wife's voice became weaker and was spreading somewhere behind. The railroad station disappeared beyond the turn-out.
Black thunder clouds were covering the sharp tops of the Altai. The sun itself disappeared behind the col of Kazy-Kurga but the golden eyelashes of the sun were carefully touching the clouds making them shine.
- What special have I done? Or really... Will the telegram really be so severe and irreconcilable that I will have to return being half a way? - I asked myself and didn't know what to answer.
The train gathered way.
The long white mane was stretching behind the steam locomotive which had already burst its fetters from out the interweaving of the station railways and was loudly shouting greeting the road.
Perhaps, she is crying and the daughter is consoling her as much as she can... - I imagined myself the thing that was happening on the platform. But he couldn't help anyhow now and that's why he calmed down.
As if in agreement the woman who had been about to miss the train was going in our fifth carriage. Her name was Lidia Nickolaevna and she had a double surname - Zerkalskaia-Holz. I wouldn't try to define how old she was. It seemed that she was clever and knowing the world. That's why it was impossible to say that she was young. But the word "madam" didn't also pass her. One couldn't feel this madam's solidity in her. In general, she was a young charming, beautiful, attractive woman and this was absolutely enough for the fact that all mannish population of the fifth carriage appeared soon in the corridor after the departure of the train. Nobody even thought to put on their pajamas what everybody usually hurries up to do in a long-distance train.
To say shortly, Lidia Zerkalskaia attracted the general attention but as for the addition to her surname - Holz - it seemed to be absurd, unnecessary and called a dull malevolence and a hidden envy at that one who had the nerve to call himself her husband. According to the appearance of Lidia Nickolaevna I could suppose that her husband was a solid person who had a high position
and was careful to everything what was concerned of the wife. The men of our carriage were jealous of her to that unknown Holz. The only consolation was the fact that this time he had done her wrong very much: being busy with his official matters he hadn't been able to see her off. That could be all right but he had forgotten to put the basket with fruit in the car in addition. She had had to return. That's why she had been about to miss her train. Already in the first station she asked one of us to send a telegram the text of which looked like a strict reprimand to be placed in his employment file.
The men gloatingly exchanged their looks. But it was clear that all this emotional experience was concerned only of mannish side. It was enough for women just one time to look at Lidia Nickolaevna - such a look was equal to a stab of a dagger - and it seemed that she stopped to exist for them at all.
To all appearances, Lidia Nickolaevna didn't worry much about this. In the first evening she came in our compartment to thank me for my help and one should just listen to what elegant and pleasant expressions she only chose exaggerating a bit the nobility of my thoughts and the resoluteness of my actions. I looked like a hero of some dastan (epic work). What to say, I had nothing against such exaggerations.
My neighbour by the compartment - the grey-haired professor-microbiologist grew even red as if all these praises were addressed to him.
As it turned out, Lidia Nickolaevna was going to Sochi, to a sanatorium but before this she wanted to visit her mother in Leningrad. If she had missed the today's train she would have to wait for the whole week and then she would face the dilemma: either not to go to Leningrad or to be late for the resort.
I realized well^ today I shouldn't be afraid of any competition. If somebody nearby me tried to attract Lida's (so I called her in my mind for short) attention then such a miserable attempt that was on the skids in advance wouldn't call anything else except her contemptuous bewilderment.
But today's day was just today's day... But they had not one day of traveling ahead. That's why I decided to try to fix the achieved successes. (For the sake of justice I should say that my wife's words: "a thankless one... a telegram... Chimkent..." confused me a bit but all the same
not so much me to make stop to think about the plan of my further actions).
I thought that it would be better to pretend that I had a terrible headache. (The hero of dastan had been hurt in the battle-field because of the woman while rescuing her from danger). Could she really leave her rescuer without the attention? She started looking after me - so kindly, easily and naturally as if all her life long she had been working as a sister of charity. I felt even ashamed that I was pretending. But to say the truth, finally my head started really aching.
She gave me a tablet. She wetted her cambric kerchief with some cold water and put it on my forehead. "How do you feel now? Is it aching? Do you feel better? Lie, now I'll bring you a cup of strong tea with lemon.
It was possible to think that on those minutes the men in the carriage hated me even more than Holz. Holz was somewhere far away but I was nearby. Next morning it was left nothing else for the professor than to sigh when he had to change places with Lidia Nickolaevna.
She moved to my compartment.
In Chimkenta I went to the post office and received the telegram from my Botagoz - with the final notification. I decided nobody to show the telegram and composed a convincing message in reply: "If you were about to miss your train and nobody helped, would you be really happy then?"
I returned to the compartment and the train went on its way.
The old man-professor came too and we sat to play poker to while away the time.
Nobody knew what for but Lidia Nickolaevna informed that exactly her husband had taught her to play poker. She was bluffing so bravely that it was impossible to guess: she had either good cards or nothing at all in the hands.
One more night of traveling.
I woke up early. Directly into the open window the sky went down being blue like a sea and towards which Lidia Nickolaevna was going.
The train gradually began to slow. One could already see some squat log houses and clay-walled huts. Orenburg? Yes, these were the outskirts of Orenburg, the town of my youth. Pity but I couldn't examine very well now which it had become for the years of our parting. The town was lost in the haze of the early morning.
But all the same the memories of those times
rushed into my mind so unexpectedly and strong that I hadn't heard at once: Lidia Nickolaevna stood up from her place, the Bukhara silk of her dressing gown started rustling and she slid apart the doors of the compartment
Soon she returned and having heard her steps I lifted a little my head from the pillow.
- Have you already woken up? Ah, I wish you would only know what a perfect melon I have seen just now!
- What do you say?! And where?
- Here nearby there is a market. You know, I wasn't able even to lift this melon, it is so heavy!
- Charjuskiy one?
- No... I don't know. It is stripy... A huge one...
- How long will the train stand?
- I seem it is left about ten-twenty minutes or so.
- Please, turn away for a minute.
She turned her face to the window and I jumped off from the upper berth. Perhaps, I wasn't dressed enough decently for such a big junction station as Orenburg: my pajamas trousers were rumpled and too short, I wore a fishnets jacket with half sleeves and was shod in sandals barefoot. But I didn't have any time for changing my clothes. I thrust my hand under the pillow for money and quickly ran out from the compartment.
Even in the early morning there were a lot of people in the station. Somebody had already arrived and was getting off from our train, somebody was meeting someone and somebody was going to depart.
The market was situated about in two hundred meters from the railway station. It is not unlikely that if somebody suspected to note the time then it would turn out that I had set the republican record in the race for this distance. I was able even to outrun the cabman who was going in the direction of the town.
Straight off I ran into the market crowd, turned to that row where usually people were selling water-melons and melons. The melon what Lidia Nickolaevna had spoken about was evident. A real airship! And stripy like a tiger. But I didn't have any time to think over with what else it was possible to compare it.
- How much? - I asked pushing aside the people who were examining this wonder. Nearby it all other melons seemed to be miserable and poor.
Without bargaining I gave the owner the money which would be enough for a good sheep, pressed the melon to my belly and dragged it back.
Many of those ones whom I met on my way knew my melon very well. One asked me: "How have you risked to buy it?". - as if I had bought not a melon but a real stripy tiger. Another one rudely joked about the fact how this melon had been able to let grow such a belly.
I didn't have time for them. I was hurrying looking already forward with what a favourable look Lidia Nickolaevna, Lida would glance over me. But when I jumped out on the platform - there wasn't already my train on the first way. Farther a bit there was standing a train on which carriages were whitening the tables "Moscow - Ashkhabad".
But the train - train number three had disappeared! I had missed it, I stayed in Orenburg in the pajamas trousers and my jacked without sleeves. The only thing was good: I had pulled my money from under the pillow. To say the truth, the mellow was with me too. It was heavy and with a great pleasure I would bang it against the rails.
Where did I have to go? Somehow I forced my way to the office of the director of the railway station. A lean unpleasant man who was sitting at the window looked worn out so much as usually a director of a railway station through which thousands and thousands passengers go could be worn out in a summer season.
My appearance didn't call any bust of his enthusiasm. He examined me from top to toe, then from toe to top. Longer a bit his look stopped at the stripy melon and his eyes became indifferent again.
- I cannot help you, citizen. - He strictly said. - In the general queue, in the general queue. Just buy a ticket and go on your way. If everybody misses his or her train no one of usual passengers will be able to buy a ticket.
But all the same he lifted the receiver and called the officer on duty. Thanks Allah, the man on duty recognized: not me, of course, he saw me for the first and the last time. He recognized the melon and was imbued with sympathy for the human who had ventured to buy it and got in trouble because of this.
My appearance - disheveled, country and confused - called a stormy bust of his hilarity. And he was speaking to me having turned aside the head not to start laughing at the top of his voice.
- Well... - He finally said. - Let's think how we can help you. Well... The fast Tashkent train will arrive in two hours. It will quickly catch up your post tortoise-shell. Just don't be lost again... As soon as
the Tashkent train appears I will hand you to the head of the train. Is it clear?
- Oh, thank you! That's all what I ask you for.
- Well, well. Watch me - I will meet the fast train and then you shall come up to me.
His words: "and then you shall come up to me" one could understand in the following way - but now you'd better to keep aside from the crowded places not to scare women and children.
But where was it possible to hide in Orenburg in the railway station? While I was looking for a quiet corner I had to catch many mocking looks. And what to do with this melon? It was impossible to eat it even for ten times. I didn't find any other way to get rid of it. My shy attempts to sell it were met with suspicion, perhaps people thought that I had stolen it. And I was sorry just to throw it away. That's why I was walking with it in my embrace.
Some quick fellows came up and spoke in some unclear manner to me, probably, as to a criminal recognizing their fellow in me. Not having got my reply they went aside and continued to watch me from a distance.
Finally I spat upon everything and choosing sparsely side streets I got to a deserted kindergarten of an old caravanserai. There, in silence, I dropped the melon with relief in the shadow of an oak and the high grass hid me. If I weren't dressed so thoughtlessly I could go to the town and pass by the building of the cоworkers' faculty. By the very cоworkers' faculty where the teachers had drummed so diligently their wisdoms into my head. What if watchman Mohamed was still living who was strict by sight but a very kind person in fact who had helped us on the minutes of the sharp lack of money and always let us to the hostel even if we had returned very late.
I stretched myself lying on the grass and thought that it is not such a terrible thing to miss your train. It will be reckoned in the eyes of Lidia Nickolaevna as the second deed made in her honour. Perhaps, he should send a telegram: "I'll catch you up by the Tashkent train". But I believed - Lidia Nickolaevna will understand: by all means, even if with the help of wings I will return to the fifth carriage of train number three.
The long-expected Tashkent train arrived exactly as scheduled.
Careless boisterous passengers started getting off from the carriage - they all wore white clothes, they were swarthy, one could guess at once that they were from the South.
- I didn't go away from the man on duty in the railway station.
As soon as he turned his head I made several steps not to drop out from the field of his vision. And because he turned his head often enough I also walked around him almost without a stop.
During these manoeuvres a man came up to me and asked if I could sell him the melon. I answered him: No, I won't sell it.. I had had such a hard time with it. Now it had some reason to deliver it with me together in wholeness and safety.
The head of the train came up, glanced over me with a mockery look and I didn't notice any sympathy in this look. I started smiling too, I said some words. I wished just to gain the head of the train. But all the same he had a displeased appearance as before.
However, the man on duty in the railway station persuaded him to take me to go several sections of the road by his train. I calmed down only when he led me to the carriage and opened his compartment with the help of his triangular key.
The train quietly started its way without any pushes and the Orenburg railway station started floating in the window... The head didn't return, perhaps he walked through the carriages. In order to while away the time I tried to define the character of its owner by the appearance of the compartment. A pipe was on the table. It meant that he was a thoughtful person well-grounded in his opinions. But whoever he would be - I was going, going in pursuit of my mail train. Whatever he would be I didn't believe that he could throw me out now at full speed on the skids.
The doors were slid aside, the head of the train came in and wearily dropped on the lower berth, took off and hung his uniform cap.
- Where are you from, comrade?
"Comrade!.." It wasn't the indifferent "citizen" with what the director of the railway station had met me in Orenburg.
I was deeply moved and started telling him my biography and he was attentively listening to me but especially he liked my adventures with the melon. On no account he let me fulfill my intention: to cut it up here, in his compartment.
- I know well these northern lands in Kazakhstan. - He said about my motherland. - As for me so I am a Siberian. And I met Kazakhs, those ones who live not far from Kurgan. They are a good nation, a common one. Well. I shall go though the carriages. And you should eat and go to bed. When we catch up the mail train I'll wake you up.
Only now I felt how much tired I was for this long and difficult day. A splendid mattress on the upper berth admitted my lump of clay and I didn't notice by myself when I fell asleep.
I woke up towards the evening: somebody was shaking me by the shoulder and saying:
- Look... We are approaching to the station. I think your mail train is already there. But we don't stop here, you will come off in the next station and will be waiting for it there.
I hung out of the window.
The steam locomotive started lingeringly crying informing about its approaching and demanding nobody to occupy its rail way. It swept by the station, by the long passenger train. I had time to notice "Almaty" on one of the carriages and read "Moscow" on the next one.
So, - now the mail train will catch me up but not conversely. The melon was with me. Lidia Nickolaevna will be kindly struck. It meant everything was all right.
In the next station we - all four of us - parted. The fast train and its head went on their way and I and my melon stayed walking along the platform. The station was small and I could feel not to be confused because of my appearance. And to any questionings about the melon I pompously answered the curious ones that it was five years old and belonged to a new breed - a longstanding melon and that I was bringing it to Moscow, to the All-Union agricultural exhibition.
I told all this with many details and as for me I constantly turned my head to that direction from where the wished mail train must appear. Finally its long green body bent on the turn. The train crawled into the station and my fifth carriage stopped in two steps from me.
I am not able to describe the eyes of Lidia Nickolaevna when she saw me. But I mistook a bit when I thought that it was because of her admiration with my boldness and my abilities to find a way out from any situation. The thing was much simpler. With a guilty smile Lidia Nickolaevna informed that she had gathered my things with her our hands and handed over my suitcase to the director of Novo-Sergeevka
- of that station which I had passed by the fast train.
I was keeping silent not to know what people usually say in such situations and stupidly smiling. But Lida didn't stop to grieve. I wanted to calm her down and I proposed to cut the melon up. I wished at least the melon would sweeten the misfortunes of that day. But exactly in the melon Lida saw the cause of all misfortunes and vigorously rejected to remain it at her place being afraid to incur a new misfortune for us both.
- No, no, no, in no event. - She said with a sad voice and her eyes remained sad too while she was looking at me from top to down from out the open window.
Some passenger lifted into the carriage in a hurry.
The train stood its minutes. There heard some parting rings and the wheels raised their running song again. But now this song wasn't for me.
There was left nothing else to do then to wait for some train and go for my things. I didn't foresee any train in the near future and I went out on a small not paved square in front of the railway station.
A passenger "gazik" - grey, being covered with dust on country roads - was standing at the station building. From under the "gazik" there stuck out somebody's feet in tarpaulin boots. The driver was checking something there, either the springs or the back axle.
It was difficult for me to remain with my misfortunes face to face and I came up.
- Whose car is this? - I indifferently asked.
- Mine, whose else it can be. - He answered from below.
I didn't have any other question which could continue the conversation and I turned to go to the waiting room but here the driver got out and saw the melon in my hands.
- Just a monster! - He exclaimed in surprise as many people had exclaimed before him. - Where from have you got it?
- From the melon plantation. - I answered not very wittily.
The driver came up, carefully took the melon from my hands and held it for some time to feel its weight. And I felt the necessity to share all happened with me with somebody and I told the driver the whole story connected with it. It turned out that the driver was a perfect listener and he went through each turn of events so much that I wished to go on and on my story.
- Devil take it, ah! - He inserted and tried to foresee the development of the plot expressing his relation to these or those characters. He didn't like especially
the director of the station in Orenburg. He didn't like him because he had met me so coldly and hard-heartedly.
Here I guessed his blind side and started exaggeratedly telling about this director imitating his lordly and unkindly tone.
- Well, and what's now? - The driver asked when I finished my Odyssey.
-What! Now I am waiting for a train and will go to Novo-Sergeevka for my suitcase and then - I'll see if I manage to get on a Moscow one. - I waited for some time and then added: - Of course, if I had a free car there it would be more easily to remedy the situation.
It is even impossible to say that these words sounded like a hint. The driver understood everything and his hesitations reflected on the face.
- It is possible by car... - He hesitatingly started. - But it will cost very much.
- Money is no object for me. - I replied. - It is important for me to get to Moscow in time. Help me, friend...
- Fifty rubles and not less...
At those times it made a quarter of a party worker's salary, however, I didn't have any other way out.
- Fifty rubles, then fifty rubles! Done with you?
The driver stamped his foot in the tarpaulin boot and flapped his hips with the palms very much:
- Ah, here goes! Let's try! Here about eighteen kilometers to Novo-Sergeevka.
A smooth not worse than asphalt road was lying before us. I had seen only in cowboy films such a race before when somebody was flinging off his or her pursuers. Trees and houses of villages were flashing all the time and dust was standing like a wall behind them. The melon as if alive was jumping up from time to time on my knees.
We reached Novo-Sergeevka for twenty minutes. The director of the station made me list what was in the closed suitcase that had been left him for keeping, wrote down the number of my passport where, when and by whom it had been issued and my home address too.
What a person this driver, Vasily K., was. (I don't name deliberately his surname him not to be soaked from his direction.)
When he was included in the plot he had to do now everything depending on him for achieving a happy end. Vasily grew excited.
- You are lying! We will catch up! - He cried out. - We will catch up and leave it behind!
Jumping up on pits and bumps I was able to pull somehow on at first my shirt and then the trousers too. In dressed condition I felt more assured and was also crying out "we will catch up and leave it behind" although we didn't need to outdistance the mail train very much: I wasn't going with Vasily up to very Moscow.
And it seemed that the "gazik" realized too how much we were hurrying. All foreseen and permitted speeds were behind already long ago and it didn't shake so much any more.
- More gas - less pits! - Vasily cried out.
And we were rushing after the train which was trying to bread off us somewhere ahead.
And here instead of the enthusiastic "we will catch up" the annoying "hoot, devil take it" broke from Vasily.
-What is the matter? - I distractedly asked.
- It is left petrol just for thirty kilometers or so.
- And how many have we already passed?
- And how many is it left still?
- I think about fifty or sixty to catch it up.
- What to do?
- We have to turn off. Here is a tractor column, there we will be able to refuel but...
- I have understood, understood! I will pay for petrol.
- Well, and you should add a little for me and my car. I am afraid I will have to change the springs after such a race.
The sun set down to have a rest. The contours of the forests somewhere afar flew together with the horizon. The wind calmed down and one could hear how some quails were calling to one another.
Vasily started the ignition and we turned off a bit aside from the railway bed.
When the tractor drivers refueled our car and we went on our way it was already absolutely dark. And the pursuit started again. With impatience I moved forward risking to break my forehead against the windshield. On the oil-cloth seat of the car I behaved as a rider in a saddle who was sending forward the horse all the time.
- We will catch up! - Vasily cried out.
- Drive as fast as possible! - I cried out.
Now the blood of my ancestors was speaking inside me who had known the price of speed very well in their endless faraway wanderings and hadn't grudged anything for a good horse.
The road was droning under the wheels of the "gazik" and the bright light of the headlights was sifting the dense darkness as through a sieve.
In two hours of the furious riding (exactly of riding if to take into account all the pits and bumps met on our way) we caught up the train. It was indifferently going staring its yellow windows at us. The road was leading nearby the embankment and I saw Lidia Nickolaevna in the open window of the fifth carriage. His heart sank: nearby her - how he dared! - a tall unknown man was standing and saying something having bent.
- There she is, that woman, my neighbour by the compartment. - I said to Vasily.
- And my director is nearby her! - He replied. - I brought him to the station when we met with you.
- Has he really taken my place? - I expressed my anxiety.
- What's the odds? You are going by his car. It's good that it is dark and he cannot recognize our "goat". Otherwise I will be in for it!
He stepped down even more and we left the train behind and drove up to the station having outdistanced it.
The refreshment room was open. An old woman in a white apron poured us one hundred gram vodka for each one.
- To our meeting! - Vasily lifted his glass.
We clinked our glasses, drank and the barmaid gave us the same for the second time.
- And now - to our parting! - I said.
At parting we embraced and kissed each other heartily in spite of the fact that I don't admit this tradition at all - kisses with men.
I took my suitcase, pressed more strongly the melon with the other arm and went out on the platform that was covered with crispy pebble. The steam locomotive drove up hissing and panting and leading the flock of the carriages after it.
- Your ticket... - the conductor was about to start but having recognized me she shrank back as if I were a revenant.
With triumph as if nothing had happened I went up the steps and came in the carriage.
The corridor started making noise:
- It is really Bolat!
- Have you really been catching us up by plane?
- What a dzhigit!
While all these slops were going on the second conductor had time for clearing my place in my compartment and I victoriously looked at the Vasily's director. Answering nobody and keeping my proud appearance of a winner I went to my place and sat down.
Lidia Nickolaevna exclaimed, threw up her hands and started laughing.
- Will you again? - I sternly asked. - Will you refuse to take the melon again? If you refuse I will throw it out through the window with my own hands. Word of honour!
But here, of course, she couldn't refuse.
With hidden enjoyment I put the sharp knife in the side of the stripy like a tiger melon. It justified the hopes - it turned out to be ripe and sweet-scented, it as if melted in the mouth.
The whole carriage ate it but I stayed the hero of this evening too.
THE LEGEND ABOUT THE EAGLES
- Do I like it?.,
- Then I dedicate you.
- I don't like it.
- And then I dedicate to you...
Yerzhan persistently called the outgoing eagle:- Cal, cal, cal! He shouted it in his own way, in Yerzhan manner, and short shout, through his nose a little bit, was clear only to him and his eagle, and hardly anybody would have guessed in the usual “Cal”- Go.- Cal, cal! Cal! The eagle did not go to the host and even looked back. He easily moved upwards. For him there was neither Yerzhan nor a nimble hare, which he had time to notice, barely became free from the leather cap - tomagi. Suddenly he tucked in the wings and began to fall like a stone. The hunter seemed – the eagle is just going to hurt himself against the sharp rocks. "Where are you flying away, what have you dreamed? - thought Yerzhan anxiously. - Maybe, a fox? Or a wolf?” In the last days - the hunter only now has compared it - the eagle felt uncomfortable, and he behaved mysteriously like possessed some secret passion.
Whipping the bay horse, Yerzhan went up into the mountains, where his eagle was rushing about. And maybe it's not his eagle?.. On the path there was deep on the breast of a horse, snow.
- Oh, gone, gone!..
Yerzhan whipped the bay horse that stuck in a thick, hardly smoky on top, snowdrift.
- Cal, cal, cal!
- Cal, cal, cal! - replied the keen echo.
And as only the day before yesterday Yerzhan brought two red foxes from hunting - both skins were just burning; it was the so-called Altai glow. The sun made the fluffy fur play, and through the thick red gold on the sides white strokes oozed out, and his legs were shot with black. All enjoyed his rare fortune: the four year old daughter of the hunter took off all, trying on the neck soft as down, the fox tail; a two-year old Esentai loudly clapped his hands and demanded fox kidneys for lunch (he was used to get rabbit and sheep kidneys). Neighbors came running congratulating on the Altai red. The neighbors wished to Yerzhan such a prey, which would in value was not inferior to the fabulous remuneration that consists of nine parts it is known and only one of them - three herds of horses! And let the Yurt of Yerzhan always smell of fresh blood, and fat meat never come to an end!..
And by old and new laws it is a sin for a hunter to use the prey alone. The period was difficult: at the end of the long winter a thick man becomes thin like a shadow. And however - Yerzhan arranged a dinner party: there was besbarmak, vodka (now in the village they cannot manage without it), there were various dainties: kurt, sugar, candy.
- Your Shapshan1 is a real eagle, the eagle is for all eagles!
Shapshan means fast, swift
- Well, our Yerzhan is lucky in this winter on foxes... For sure it has already exceeded twenty? Well, Yerzhan?
Yerzhan was overmodest:
- Well, it’s far up to twenty, let’s assume... Three is missing.
But he was comfortable with the praise and he hastened to fill in the neighbor’s glass who said these words.
- What can it be better than hunting with the golden eagle? It was not in vain that it was sung by Abai himself. Remember?..
- How can we not remember! He said there when a powerful eagle crumples a red fox on the snow, you see a marvelous combination of colors and courageous sharp movements...
And unintentionally imagine how a rosy white-skinned virgin is taking a bath and how she is wringing out her plaits on the bank.
- Abai knew how to say... But there is something from Abai and in our Yerzhane, another neighbor put in his opinion, and everybody remembered how at his time their cordial and generous host for the sake of hunting flatly refused the post of head of the farm.
For such flattering words it was impossible to fill in the glasses, and Yerzhan reached for belogolovka again.
Their conversation, which has already become a bit disorderly, suddenly was broken with the eagle scream.
What has happened to Sapshan?.. The eagle was sitting on his usual place, in the cold inner porch behind the partition. It fell asleep early, before the fall of twilight, but today, despite the late time, it did not want to calm down in any way. It was hard to judge, what could take it out of balance: or those rare Altai beauties, in honor of who now people have gathered in the house of Yerzhan or the disappointment has awakened on his imprudence in it, for which it once missed a wolf. But anyway, the eagle fidgeted on its stump, beat wings on the plank wall, it tried to enlarge the chain on its feet with the iron bill. It had the attack of melancholy. It was sad for freedom, it was burnt with the desire to shoot up in the sky, it wanted to become free and independent...
But neither quests, nor Yerzhan himself understood anything of this. They decided that just Sapsan could not wait to hunt, and it with the help of Allah will get more than one red fox. They had to pour for it again.
Yerzhan saw off the guests, came back, went to the bedroom and told to his wife:
- Put Esentai in bed... and the time has come for you as well.
And Yerzhan went hunting again.
His wife warned him that they did not have to hope for dinner especially, if he didn't bring her a rabbit, or better two. And so when Yerzhan finally saw an eared white hare that jumped out of the bushes, he immediately took off the cap from Shapshan’s head and abruptly pushed it in the direction that the hare ran.
And now - Shapshan instead of darting down on its prey began to pull away from his master.
- Where did he go?
If the eagle has noticed the animal more visible than a hare, it would be time for it to attack, he got enough height. But Shapshan didn't think about it. It was one on one with the clear sky, it was free, and it was interested in nothing more. It either shot upwards, joining the bottomless blue, or darted down, or made a smooth circle aside. Sometimes he folded wings and began to fall down, but then abruptly turned, put the breast coming the opposite frosty air stream. Only his huge wings flashed in the air.
- Cal, cal, cal!
But Shapshan was deaf to the alarm call of his master. At last he saw what haunted it all those days, what it craved for. He knew about what it would happen today, he knew well when he was sitting on a bay horse, covered with tomaga.
All said about that would be such a way: a clear frosty day, and barely heard the sound of invisible wings, and the heart that cannot make be an eagle, if indeed it is he eagle, and the youth with its fiery energy looking for take-out.
What made the real eagle forget all earthly things, Yerzhan has noticed now as well. And he understood everything. At high altitude, accessible only by the sight of the hunter three eagles were flying: two of them were playing light-heartedly, and the third - older - kept aside. It at his time boldly threw on the strongest relatives, now calmly was soaring and reservedly admired the play of the young.
And the game just began. Shapshan realized it at once, at first sight, but it abstained to join it, and only once, when playing eagles flew to each other so close, as though preparing to jump into the embrace of each other, it could not resist: it swept past over them like the storm.
“Strong! Proud! Energetic! And something sparkles on the legs, I have never seen on anybody," thought the female-eagle, involuntarily admiring the stranger. Flying into a passion, she flew very high, with pleasure substituting the breast icy cold.
With an eagle from the race tac-kara1 she met at dawn, when she flew out of the stuffy boron. Then the black attracted her attention. While playing, they at first kept at a low altitude. Then, looking closely at each other flew higher and higher, and tac-Kara sometimes supported poorly rapid rate offered by the eagle.
The world is wide, and cramped for the eagle breed. He has so many friends and enemies aplenty. So it is necessary such a breed that is not afraid neither of the Siberian cold nor Asian heat. The posterities would not start dozing after the first substantial lunch. That is not content with a marmot and does not hide at the mouse hole, though it is more convenient, and it is not necessary to risk. These eagles know from the birth, know without any mental efforts. It's in their nature. That is why the female-eagle until she studies properly, will never admit to herself the future father of her Eaglets. A long contest precedes the marriage. And if the eagle shows himself brute, small, he may not wait for mercy: the female-eagles are able to stand up for themselves, and then another tac-Kara falls to the ground with the broken crop.
Though tac-Kara sometimes was sly, dropping behind her, yet she still did not condemn him, continued the game. For the sake of justice it is necessary to notice that she was holding appeared suddenly the stranger in her vision as well.
It was already getting dark, but Shapshan was still flying - just for his pleasure, appearing suddenly and suddenly disappearing. Twice he flew up to the eagle, which still kept at a distance. Flying with him in a pair, Shapshan behaved decently and respectfully:
- Assalamualaikum, elder! You are fly perfectly. Why all the time are you range far and wide?
- Because, my dear, that my time has passed, and I admire my young generation, admiring their flight, I want to guess their thoughts. I know: everyone should appoint the height, which he seeks to achieve. But even if you don't reach it, anyway - let the high goal overhang you: let brute passions not disgrace you, even if you get high. Remember: always and in all things you need to be worthy of your eagle rank... I wish you that, my friend. If you do as I say, you will understand what the true height is.
All this was expressed by not the words, of course but the eagles have understood each other. The old man seemed for Shapshan instructive a little, but it was understandable taking into account his age.
And here boastful tac-Kara, wishing to show his daring, has blundered. He decided to attack the old eagle! From the height he easily gathered the speed and rushed down at the old eagle, taking aim at his throat: do not expect mercy!
But the old eagle did not think to ask it. His eyes flashed menacingly, he put hardened, as if from steel claws and prepared for the decisive battle: only come up! The old eagle was clawed and muscular, experienced in battles and the daring fellow failed, tossed aside, tossed as if he was not going to attack anybody!
The female-eagle did not like this outcome. And that is not why she wanted anyone's blood. There was no use of blood during the game of brave and courageous. No, she craved for courage, generosity and latitude. The more these qualities in the eagle, the sweeter it is for her. Silently condemning tac-Kara, she flew away, along the mountains to the East. Why did you need to stick to the peaceful old eagle? But if you stuck, then where's your courage? A coward cannot become a partner of the eagle.
She turned aside and went relaxed, rapidly. Tac-Kara could hardly keep up with her. Prior to this it was simple: small circles, at the height they climbed only once - in a word, the flight was not rather tedious. It is another pair of shoes now. Now it began the most difficult – distance test. All in frosty hoarfrost, the female-eagle noticed neither the cold nor the fierce resistance of the counter flow.
And soon tac-Kara was behind; he was not able to fly in a couple with a young and strong beauty. One thing comforted him: somewhere, barely able to keep pace behind him, flew the old eagle.
The female-eagle, which has now come off from everyone and was flying alone, easily was overtaken by Shapshan.
The eagle cautiously answered, and they were flying side by side. Their shoulders were equally whitened from the hoarfrost.
- What have you got on your feet? - she asked.
- It is called chains...
- What is it glittering?
- Copper rings.
Without a word the eagles were flying on together. Looking at each other. They noted with pleasure: same gestures, the same breath, the same speed. Rare and enviable formation flying! In the freezing air wings rang. And the cold is not terrible; they warmed with hot blood that called on, up to the sun. The wind whistling in the wings envied reckless speed of the eagles.
By the sunset they chose lodging for the night – a branchy in two girth old pine. They chose after a long and careful flight over the mountains in the dense forest. They sat down side by side, keenly watching each other.
- What if we build our nest here?
- Nest? Ours? - She moved her wing surprisingly.
These thick branches are especially good for the nest – we need to bring twigs... and the crown is thick, it will protect our chicks from rain and wind, protect from prying eyes...
- I wonder if you are wasting your efforts?.. We still don't know what I think about this...
Here in the forest the black daring fellow appeared that they even forgot. He had still a hope, he really wanted to get places near the eagle, but he did not decide because she disapprovingly shut her shoulders, and Shapshan’s eyes flashed with black, unkind flames. Tac-Kara fussed awkwardly jumping from branch to branch, until finally he perched high on a bitch. There he has done his embarrassment, and the usual self-confidence returned to him. The beautiful pose was to make amends for recent awkwardness to show that he is indifferent to the female-eagle, which he would not be behind at all, if he wanted to continue accompanying her.
And the old man arrived. He was not interested in the young, and he settled separately. Not every branch kept his heavy body. He has been sitting for a long time and slowly, as usually the old man undresses, which came from the frost. Finally the old eagle found a branch and fell silent.
And the young grew quiet; they stood motionless, waiting for the morning. The night, the darkness is not for the eagles. They need light and space.
The old man was the first who woke up. Hardened claws itched - smell prey, - and he quickly went to the steppe, hoping to get some if not a hare, then at least sandstone.
- Let’s fly? - shook Shapshan.
- Let’s fly! - His cheerfulness was passed to the female-eagle.
Stretching growing numb per night the body, the eagles were flying together: the eagle in the middle, tac-Kara and Shapshan – on each side. The female-eagle didn't persecute the black, though experienced attraction only to Shapshana. Apparently, heavenly beauties have also nothing against having close by an extra fan.
To dinner the group of three was already far from the lodging for the night:
the steppe stretched peacefully below. The sky was cloudless. Suddenly, inviting to start the game, the female-eagle has shot up. Tac-Kara rushed her immediately. Without slowing down, the female-eagle has continued to rise. Unexpected maneuver caught Shapshana by surprise. But despite this he easily surpassed the rival and ran on. And Tac-Kara caught up and overtook the female-eagle. She didn't seem to notice either. She then abruptly soared up or threw like a stone into the abyss.
Being egged by the female-eagle, the rivals started the game. While Shapshan made great attempts, leading the fair play, Tac-Kara cheated: he did not fly as far as his opponent he tried to attack unexpectedly.
To cheat in the game actually is not forbidden. But if all your cunning limited to evasiveness (and Tac-Kara, constantly dodging a single combat, even tried to hide behind the female-eagle!), eagles will not forgive it to you. The behavior of the opponent angered Shapshan. And he, having waited another false entry, immediately lay down on the right wing and immediately rushed to the attack. The iron blow was to the left and top. With a damaged wing Tac-Kara somehow reached the earth, where sat the old eagle. For lunch he had today caught
1 Tac-Kara – stony, black
shortly before sandstone.
Now the heart of the female-eagle completely owned Shapshan.
The eagles if they are true eagles play openly, without hiding from anyone - neither from the gossipers, nor envious persons. They will not be confused either with spying or eavesdropping. Because they play not for fun but they play for the sake of procreation of proud, brave and noble eagles.
The playful game that the female-eagle ventured captured Shapshan. They played with gusto, passionately and fervently, flying away far from each other, approaching closely, ready to rush into the embrace of each other, and again they distanced that moment.
Late in the evening, arriving yesterday pine lodging for the night which now belonged to them, two of them, they're not arguing about where and how to build a nest.
Two Chicks hatched in the spring, got stronger, and parents anxiously thought about their first flight. The entire forty days, giving all their warmth the female-eagle hatched two brooding
white eggs. Fixed seat exhausted her. But it doesn't matter that she'd lost so much weight - skin and bones - will fatten fat; it doesn't matter that the wings are poorly governed, - will warm up and get stronger. Tomorrow at dawn she will go to the lake - swim. And drink plenty. She was happy in knowing that the days when she had to be content with smaller pieces of snow and the rain drops, left behind.
Time passed, Eaglets grew and got stronger. They swallowed steaming warm pieces of meat. Jealous looking at each other, they drank fresh hare, fox blood. They fought with each other. In short, they became real eagles.
And the female-eagle changed. Before, when she hatched eggs, she had no other feeling than maternal: she was cool with Shapshan, but now the Chicks began to get stronger, and again she recognized him as the father of their children - and was with him tenderer. Now they somehow emerged one desire, too brought up in parents with wise nature: sooner the Chicks would know life and have experienced the bitterness of failure. Winter is coming - to have time to teach them life. Sooner to see when they will finally realize: that what they eat here in the nest, runs on four legs in the steppe, in the mountains, and hares, marmots, foxes have to earn their own. Rather would understand that everything is in labor and struggle...
Father and mother was waiting for the autumn stormy winds to release Eaglets in the first flight. It is necessary to push Chicks from a cozy nest, and the strong wind will catch them, whirl and spin - unwittingly will fly! They would look at the chicks, listen to their anxious scream. Or, God forbid they will begin helplessly to cheap? That's what worries the eagles. They crave for seeing their Chicks to be eagles; they want to hear their first grunting.
Autumn with its strong winds has not kept waiting for it. The eagle was eager to release children, but Shapshan was implacable – he was waiting for the real storm. What can be compared with the hurricane, which destroys all rotten, blowing away all the obsolete, which clears the forest from all the dust, all the stagnant! And let your Chicks will start their first flight exactly in such a storm!
Waiting Sapsan did not know rest and give a rest to Eaglets. Strongly removing mother, he spent all day running them around the spacious nest: he made them wave wings, forced to cling to branches - let tire out their muscles, let them be tenacious, let get stronger their wings.
In the morning the wind had stormy strength. At dawn Shapshan called the female-eagle with broken cry.
- Well, shall we release them?
First they flew around the nest, warmed up. Then they returned to the eaglets and pushed them against the wind. The push was unusual, not one of those to which they were accustomed. Obediently, without knowing what waits for those little eagles dived into the turbulent sky. They were got with a hurricane. Eagles flew up. Flew up easy, neither grunting nor squeak – without showing their feelings. Only the eyes were glowing, stern and courageous, exactly the father. Fussy at first, they became now calmer, more confident. Now they were boldly floating in the storm, expressing joy with unexpected for them a triumphant sound - eagle scream.
- Ooh, it's good to fly! And how great the world! Why haven’t we known about this before? Why have we sat in the nest for a long time? And the storm? How good this storm is! It will teach to fly anybody! We would have to step up in the nest long, if it is not, storm! The storm lifted us up to heaven! And now... higher and higher... What a joy, what happiness to fly!
Father and mother listened to their Chicks, and parental anxiety began to diffuse. There is nothing to fear. Their children endured their first encounter with the storm.
And they shot upwards the sky to fly with the eaglets.
THE WOLVEN FORD
Day and night, night and day – time in the old steppe was moving as lazy as a flock. And once again sun caught Ajgul and her sheep in the path.
These long hours does not seem sad to Ajgul, who was accustomed to spaciousness, to unique variety and variability of her steppe from childhood. For twenty years now – since the war stopped to differentiate work for men and women – Ajgul creaking under saddle wandered from pasture to pasture and from well to well. In this wound up movement was its own order, and she has alredy knew that cold windy October would find her on a horseback, and in the spring, with the first stream of rare melted snow in sands, she would have to return briefly to the village – to report how was wintering, whether deaths, how many sheep in the flock and how big offspring was obtained...
But if Ajgul is accustomed to leisurely flock march, her young golden-red horse could not and did not want her to get used to this. On the long strap he followed his hostess, casually rearranging strong shapely legs. Sometimes he caught up with her, lowered his head on her shoulder, as if hurried. He can be comforted with a piece of sugar, but Ajgul don’t have any sugar. Then he stopped pleading wiggle of plump lips and with desperate determination, at his own risk, rushed forward. Ajgul restrained him with strong and dexterous move, and the horse dutifully trying on to sheep walking for a while.
For quite a long time in the sun – just ahead– was glistening water surface, and finally flock reached it. Sheep entered into the water. They had to wade through the water all day, all night, and another day – at this time of year it was not possible to pass through the boundless flood of Syrdarya faster. And only tomorrow evening a sandy hill hump would become noticeable, and there – warm sheepyards, shelter for shepherds, – in short, everything that collective farm chairman promised.
This flood, as the sea, didn’t have an end in sight. During the summer there is dust. On both sides of the road are sparkling hard, as stone, salt marshes. And now ancient shrines are sticking over the flood like islands. One of them had a black dot – a huge kite, which also learned well during migrations, was sitting and waiting patiently, whether a weakened lamb lag behind in any way.
And once – in the distant past – there was not so deserted. Affluent Syrdarya valley became the cradle for farmers, and the traveler, who was passing by here, for many days was being surrounded by their fields and gardens: they cultivated rice, wheat, barley, there were blooming cherry and persimmon, melons and watermelons were flooding with weight. So it was, and Ajgul knew it based on the old legends that have survived among the Kazakhs from days when they still had no written language.
According to the same legends she knew about something other. Sabutai Bahadur, the right hand of Genghis Khan, was profound contempting a people who, like cattle, prefer every herb to hot steaming meat. Mongol horsemen horses trampled crops, and then – locust raids, the winds and sands completed the started: desert came close to the river banks. Canals, preserved from ancient times, did not bring anything but harm: they pulled salt from the Depths of land, and salt with a white scum appears on the surface, destroying all life, and canals also gave refuge to evil malarial mosquito.
Nowadays, it was needed not one five-year plan to establish a balance between the fields and pastures, for rice and wheat is not at odds with the sheep and horse. But frenzied hiver here still can not be managed to curb.
What did not Syrdarya carry! Sometimes it was impossible to distinguish the generosity from the evil cunning. If you lose sight of her temper for a moment, the river was in a hurry to remind about itself: stoked lambs, and sometimes – not only the lambs but adult sheep, eroded the rice fields, overwhelmed villages with a wide muddy stream and sat down. Wind rippled water in their streets, and when briefly silenced, the passing clouds were looking to the flood as in a mirror.
Ajgul had some fears that it could happen so this year too. The river would not wait. It would take and break! And then go and try to cope with it!
Ajgul envyly thought that neighbors – Tajiks, Uzbeks – were in as much better position. In its flow on their lands Syrdarya almost never freezes. And even if the ice would stop her constant running, anyway – the river would open on a good two weeks earlier than in the lowlands. There is not necessary, as here, to punch congestions to avoid flooding.
During the years of loneliness Ajgul got used to talk aloud. And now she addressed herself:
“How much do we have to suffer from it!.. No, it is no longer possible. How much we have done, but with regard to cattle, we, Kazakhs, as were nomads, so have remained! I remember that I have read – there are hundreds, many hundreds of rivers in Kazakhstan. And no one else we have not suppressed yet. They do what they want!”
These thoughts have been coming to Ajgul’s head since a very long time ago, and she was going to tell them at some responsible meeting or council – at least at a session of the Supreme Council, where she had been going for many years as an almost permanent member of her countrymen. She thought about her future speech many times, she had more than enough facts, arguments and proposals, and they were crowding, interfering with each other, no worse than the sheep when they were brought to drink water to the well.
Sheep were wandering through the water, and sparkling drops was pouring from long uncut wool.
During her parliamentary travels around an area Ajgul have met many people: the same shepherds, like herself, rice farmers, and builders of irrigation systems. She is well aware of their hard work and knew what one of them needs. She never parted with them during the long nights of winter loneliness – remembering the trips and talks with these people, and it became easier to endure cold and wind and different surprises which are always waiting for a man walking with a flock in the wilderness.
A canal was building from the Syrdarya to their stripping. When she came there, she constantly heard: “Let autobench come more often”, “Cinema has not been shown for a long time”, “Maybe someone will show the artists of the city a way here.” But most importantly: “Water!.. Let them bring water without interruption.” It was not necessary to explain her about the water, and so she made two extra tankers. But in the desert steppe water was not always enough to drink – it’s partitioned in areas with 2-litre jars. It’s nothing to say about washing! And try to stay all day in a stuffy bulldozer or scraper cabin in the heat and dust...
She was returned from these thoughts to her flock by plaintive bleating of lambs. One of them – the same as all, the big-eared, jet black, in wet curls – wanted to lie, but it was still water around, and the lamb frantically hurried – after his mother, who anxiously looked around and beckoned him with short cries.
Ajgul took the lamb in her arms. But then her horse, who had lost all patience with the endless delays and stops, again pressed her shoulder. She could barely keep her balance, and lamb fell and drank already salted water. He sneezed and was licking his lips for a long time. Ajgul picked it up, wiped its muzzle. She walked quickly, not looking where deep and where shallow and her rubber boots were filled with water, and soles glued to the salt marshes.
Standing like a stork on one leg, Ajgul took off her shoes and carried lamb to the cart. This homemade rattletrap, where she organized exhausted babies, was carried by a camel.
Camel from his height contemptuously squinted at the old man who led it. Camel strongly disapproved this venture – trudging through the water for a hundred miles away, as if could not wait until everything is dry here.
An old man, Ajgul’s assistant, angrily grunted, when she came with a cart and put the lamb there.
“There were already around fifty of them there,” he said without stopping, and continued to lead a camel on a leash. “It is still far before the evening, my dear Ajgul! And the time has come for the sheep. ... You could not agitate them to endure. Will they give birth right on the water? They have to be cut...”
“Only one you know, to grab the knife!” Ajgul said irritably, though she knew that the plan is a plan and it is necessary to carry it out, and still could not get rid of the nagging feeling of pity.
“I can even throw a knife away, if it is annoying you,” said the old man. “And you – go back to the sheep, and persuade them to wait ... No!” – and he was angry now. “As if it was not known! Zootechnician, perhaps, did not know when would begin mass lambing? Or do you not know?”
Ajgul was difficult to argue anything, but she found and extenuating circumstances.
“And what could I do? Or what could zootechnician do? As luck would have it, none of the windmills on the wells pumps water. How would we water the sheep at winter pastures? I’m explaining you as if you do not know!” she flared again.
“Well,” said soothingly man. “I live longer than you in the world... And I remember only one time it was become warm so soon that all the snow came down almost in one day and one night. That had us run from lack of water.”
“Don’t even know what to choose,” Ajgul sighed. “To let sheep and lambs die of thirst or to let them drown in the water!”
But now the old man could not, or would not be appeased:
“And what, Ajgul, did we install windmills for decoration? So they have simply to wave their wings?”
“Don’t you know? They need to pump water.”
“Yes, water... One wheel turns the other, tooth for tooth catches, the water goes up. Zootechnician, perma, baskarma – they have to work as a well-fitting gear. And what do we have?.. Wells are present, windmills installed, but there were no water! They couldn’t supply pipes, you see, to replace broken ones!”
Ajgul had no answer to this reproach either and she chose to remain silent. She left, but had to go back – another lamb fell into the water. And as soon as she put it in a covered wagon, the entire kindergarten started complaining about her in different voices.
“Hungry,” said the old man.
Aigul, continuing to walk beside the cart, was stroking lambs faces, which were helplessly poked between the wooden side edges.
“We'll have to be patient,” she consoled them. “You'll have to be patient until sundown tomorrow – the whole day. And there you really will eat fill!”
“Look! Look! It would be carried away...” Old man interrupted her entreaties, pointing toward the flock that stretched across the water.
Silence spring day pierced the whistle of huge wings, and then there was a dull sound of a falling body – steppe eagle fell from the sky.
Ajgul first frightened and then laughed:
“Well, let him!” She cried. “He had never got such luch!”
Without examining the eagle jumped on boots that Ajgul had left behind – on the shaft sticking out of the water. Being ready to grab them by claws eagle realized what unforgivable mistake he had made, and darted aside. More he did not aim at anyone, and tried to get away from such a disgrace.
Eagle slip amused Ajgul, but not for long. The rider separated from the horizon behind. He was droving his horse and the horse was splashing water. Noticed, that there was no Ajgul near the flock, rider turned to the cart. He began waving his cap from afar, making it clear that he has a very important and very urgent business.
It was Bearden, shepherd of the seventh brigade, and that he called her: “Comrade Deputy!” even before he came closer, did not forebode anything good.
Bearden reined a horse near the cart.
“Comrade Deputy!” He repeated.
“You, Bearden, should come off from the horse,” said Ajgul, the horse beneath him breathing heavily.
“I don’t have time… I caught up with you, because I have a bad thing... After an hour, at most, all the lambs that I have will choke. Wolven Ford is ahead...”
The old man had not heard what he shouted:
“Have you scared wolves? And what about your dog?”
“Who is afraid of wolves?..” Bearden said. “I'm talking about Wolven Ford. Sheep will pass across with the help of Allah. And the lambs? I need to save them!”
Ajgul did not have to be explained about the Wolven Ford. This ravine, two dozen kilometers long, during spring floods of Syrdarya become filled with water. There was no way to pass it by side. This time Ajgul was lucky: her flock passed the Wolven Ford last night when the water had not reached it yet. And the Wolven Ford is justifying its name, as in spring it never missed a chance to profit by sheep.
Each new farm chairman promised to put there a bridge, but the bridge is still not there.
“If I am alone...” continued Bearden. “Cause then after mine flock there are two more which are coming to the Wolven Ford.”
“Two more, you say?”
“Yes, but I could not see from afar whose they are. And in the evening or at night the others must come.”
“What are you, poor, not even guess to equip any cart?” the old man turned to him.
“A cart...” grumbled Bearden. “This is devil knows what but not a cart!”
Yes, his construction could be called a wagon in a very conventional way: two old wheels from the bike, the front two – from the plow, on the sides – the lattice of the yurt. And all this on the top covered with felt.
Ajgul took evil on Bearden. What a helpless! No wonder they say that he can not take a step in the house without the permission of his wife! And he is still wearing pants!.. Could not figure out and do everything himself. Rushed to her, as if she could carry his lambs through the Wolven Ford by her hands.
But she restrained herself, did not give irritation which had mastered her. Ajgul said quietly:
“Well... Come back to your place. I'll catch up.” She came close to the old man. “So... This thing. I have to come there and see what they have. Maybe I'll go back before the night. And if not, let the flock as it is. Just make sure that dogs are not tagged along behind me.”
The old man looked at her pale eyes.
“In my time,” he said, “men came to help women. Maybe now things are different? And this Bearden! Ooh, ahmak!.. If he has his own flock, will he depart at journey without having established at least some wagon? About mine he said “this devil knows what.” You can call it whatever you want, it is just to help lambs. And now Bearden scared and decided to take a deputy as a witness, that he could not do anything, could not prevent a trouble... Ugh!” The old man spat and walked on.
Ajgul returned to her boots – tops were sticking out above the mirror surface, poured water from them and took them on.
Easily leaped on his red handsome and turned his back.
Stagnant horse did not care where – just not to lag behind the flock and he gallop from place.
Behind the hoarse could be heard shouts:
“Kyah!.. Kyah, kyah! Kyah!..”
The old man withdrew dogs in this way.
Ajgul with her flock was not so very far away from the Wolven Ford, and spirited horse soon carried her there.
On the opposite bank flocks waited the Lord knows what. Not only Bearden’s flock, but two more. Camels towered over sheep, they were laden with disassembled yurts and household goods. Two young shepherds, seeing Ajgul, hurried to her on their horses. They looked not like shepherds as they used to be represented. Diligently made hairstyles like guys just came out of a barber shop in the district center, one even had something like a tie, and the second was in the colorful sweater. Boys. They had just finished school last year. What is the sense of them in the desert?
Ajgul dryly answered on their exaggeratedly respectful greetings and asked:
“Do you remember, perhaps, what we agreed before we leave?”
“They looked at each other sheepishly.”
“We remember ...” started one.
Another came to the aid of a friend:
“Is it the most important thing – if we remember? Head of a farm ordered yesterday: march, said, enough to stick on the spot...”
Ajgul touched the horse. Hesitantly, he entered into a muddy stream. Water came up under his chest and legs, and Ajgul also plunged into the water. She was seethed with indignation now, not worse than this stream. How, because of stupidity, because mismanagement of one man people with flocks are in trouble...
Shepherds went on to explain and justify:
“We are able to wait calmly. We have, on our site, working windmill, there was water.”
“And there was enough food. But the head of the farm ordered...”
Ajgul listened to them, gritting her teeth. “The head of the farm ordered…” Oh, how well she knew this submission, inherited from the old village! Submission “You don’t understand!”
Ajgul jumped from her horse, tore the neck scarf and threw it into the water.
Scarf also suffered toward the Syrdarya. Scarf was catching the Bearden’s cap. A woolly hat poked in a pot-bellied sheep, which shied aside frightened.
“Stop the flocks!” screamed Ajgul. “Let sheep rest! Wait out the day, and tomorrow it will be able to get on dry! And do you know who helped us? Builders! Builders, who were digging a canal from the Syrdarya to distant!”
Ajgul had been there more than once. She helped construction management to get the missing excavation equipment. In the regional center she accelerated the sending of workers. Builders took the time, but were stingy with promises. It was believed that the channel will be completed sometime in mid-summer. And since water is now decreasing, – so they were able to get ahead of time. Finished two months earlier. New channel greedily absorb spilled water to carry her into the desert, to the distant pastures.
Ajgul did not listen to the shepherds who rejoiced noisily such an outcome. She like a sixteen year-old girl took off the saddle and ran to catch up with his flock.
Ajgul could not hurry so, but she could not remain in place, and red horse, as if realizing her mood, was creeping over the water as a bird.
And water became smaller and smaller.
SHORT STORIES INSPIRED BY NATURE
WHO HAS SHOT THE WOLF?
There were three of us. Minister, scientist and me, writer. Every had a bunch of pheasants on his back. Their bright feathers are shining and playing on the sun as peacock feathers. Pheasants are all male. We haven’t shut females.
We tug bunches. We tumbled a nook where no one ever seemed set food and where there was lots of pheasants. One of them were falling as stones after our shots and others with spreading feathers. There were some falling just right into korzhun. Hunting was good, so good that there must be talking enough for the whole year.
They have told us for a long time that in overflow land there is a quiet spot where are lots of pheasants. Indeed, in the middle of the river there were three small islands. Nobody must have been for the whole year. There was a thick osier bed growing, dzhid and dzhigil. Bushes were so intertwisted that there was no place to pass. And the grass was waist-high.
One of islands was some aside. Bushes were alternated there with sand hills. In the middle of the island there was a lonely mighty poplar risen up.
Tired by glad with good hunting we went to that island. Indeed the real hunters never rest where is lot's of game. We also decided to escape temptation.
It was the end of August, dry heat was at that time.
We entered warm water and slowly made our way to the island. We all were of medium height, one some smaller, other some higher. Bunches of pheasants were dragging behind us by water. And only then we understood that we have overdone. Each of us had license for three pheasants only. For three it must me nine. But we've bagged so much that we could hardly carry them. Everybody felt uncomfortable that's why we were dragging in silence.
The minister was the first who began talking.
“We seemed have overshot the mark, haven't we, dzhigits? They would arrest us, it would be uncomfortable.”
“No problem. We will go at night. They won’t notice..” the scientist answered unsurely.
I kept silent. But the bunch of pheasants behind seemed be twice heavy for me.
We reached the island and began hiding our game in a hurry. The scientist digged a hole near the bottom of a sand hill speedily and buried his pheasants. The minister and me hid our game in a bush near a lonely poplar.
The real hunters never make high fires or smoke for the whole radius senselessly. That’s why we only put out our thermoses and put them in front of us. The real hunters are open-handed. We also opened our bags and untied our bundles in front of each other. Red and white tops of bottles appeared. It’s not the rule of real hunters to make noice. That’s why we are also talking quietly and composedly. Skilled hunters are always on guard. We are also. We hold cups in hands but our eyes glance around and our ears hear every rustle.
“Oh-bah, fallow deer!” suddenly the scientist cried quietly and crouched. His neck stretched and strained and his eyes gleamed feverish and predatory. He knocked over his cap and a brown pool of French brandy spread over the newspaper.
“It’s not a fallow deer, it’s roe one,” the minister whispered and couched too falling to the ground. His cup sloped and a trickle of French brandy flew over.
I saw nothing but couched to ground too having overturned my cup with French brandy. Heart jumped in the breast.
There were neither minister, nor scientist or writer. Hunters left only. ,
Three roe deer passed the bushes of dzhingil to the watering place. Female with two calves. Sensitive and trembling animals look around as if feeling the danger. Alertness could be felt in behavior of calves too but trustingness and baby latitude haven't left them yet. Their small ears are alert but they themselves snuggle up to their mother tenderly.
One of calves entered water knee-high, dipped its sharp snout gingerly and raised its head. It looked around and listened for something. An old instinct seemed to warn it. Here the calf bent over water again..
And suddenly deer-mother and the second calf jumped aside and hid behind the hill in a second whirling sand. A huge strong wolf jumped from dzhingil bushes. The calf jumped into air right in front of the very snout of flesh-eater. We've heard as teeth snapped. The calf ran on water right to us. He balled of fear and ran like hell forward jumping tough. Wolf followed him heavy raising a cloud of splashes.
My friends grasped their guns.
“Wolf, shoot the wolf!” they hissed at each other eagerly.
The predator followed the calf coming closer to us more and more. The calf tried to make desperate two-meter jumps and wolf followed it heavy putting out its tongue.
On the bank the calf has jumped without any power already. Wolf tailed off it only about five meters but it even hasn’t been out of breath. When it felt a firm ground under its claws, it rushed faster. Distance between it and the calf was dangerously shortened.
The calf seemed to see us and startled aside, it ran to the very back of the sand hill. Wolf has already opened its chaps, it was girning darkly and wildly, its eyes became whity of fury - it seemed to make one more jump or even snapping one more time, the timid heard of the calf wouldn't hold it.
Two shots have shot almost simultaneously. The calf stumbled a little, turned several times over its head and froze with its head dug in sand.
Wolf ran aside and hid behind the hillock as if there was no wolf.
We looked at each other.
And thermoses were left unopened. Everybody packed his things in silence. Diligently we were reverting our eyes. We dragged ourselves to the car glumly. The killed calf left lying on the sand stretching forward its neck, black prominent eyes were slowly growing dim. Nobody had a thought to take it.
Since that day we, three hunters, have never met.
In this bath I began to walk before the war. It huddled in the dark dead end, it was not very clean. In addition, to wash, they had to stand in a long queue. And however I was used to this bath. It was hot and cozy.
- Is there a broom? -I asked, when in the locker room a Russian bathhouse attendant was on duty.
- Yes, - he answered and went for a broom in silence.
If the old man Uygur was on duty, in response to the question whether there was a broom, he answered in the same way, in short: “bug”, not “bar” and not “bach”, he could do some a strange word that I cannot pronounce.
When I applied to the third attendant, an old Kazakh, he did not answer me at all, just silently held out a broom. And what was I to speak about? Everyone knew how much a broom was.
I was so accustomed to these silent conversations that believed: it could not be different in the bath.
Tim, Timosha, Kim, Simka, Dim, Dimka... They were all names of the same person. No one knew his real name. And I didn't know. I did not know and did not ask.
It was an incredibly thin (only the soul is kept), painful, illiterate person. It was the same Kazakh who silently handed me the broom every time.
I remembered well how he opened the door to the waiting room, where people languished in the queue, and hoarsely shouted:
That meant that one could enter the dressing room.
- Back! - he shouted, when instead of one entered two at once in the dressing room: - Back!
When you entered by turn – he took the ticket, showed you the free wardrobe, if you needed a broom – he gave. Then he turned to the door:
A scored, unhappy man. It would seem that he had never eaten to his full, dressed anyhow, and seen a lucrative job. He was “Aden”, not odin, and just “Aden” was one of the lonely. He always kept silence or always told the same words.
So many years have passed. And then one day he came to me and with a confused, pitiful smile asked to lend him ten roubles. - Ve-very need, Agay, - he said.
For the first time for a quarter century the attendant came to me, for the first time he looked up at me.
I gave him all the money-which was with me. I didn't remember how much, but more than ten roubles; I even poured out all the change in his hand.
He took the money, but did not thank me.
How many times after that I was standing in line in the bathhouse! Sometimes, I was glancing at Timko in hope that he would take pity and go pass out of the turn. No, indeed! He did not even notice. The turn came up, he let in, took the ticket. If I asked for a broom he gave. He took money for it and turned away. That was all acquaintance. For some reason we didn't even said “Hello” and we did not know the names of each other. For a quarter of a century we have been familiar strangers.
Once in the bathhouse I met one of our famous writers. I rubbed my back, I rubbed his back. We pressed, scratched, laughed at each other. We satisfied, sat down nearby and were just about to go to the city gossip when I heard from the changing room the cry of Timka: “Back!” Someone, apparently, burst into the hall out of turn. “Back! Back!”
And our conversation turned to Timka. The writer also has known some strangeness of the attendant. He said that once he gave to Timka the extra penny, and he silently returned the money back. I, in turn, told how Timka took me a loan. We had a good laugh harmlessly.
But suddenly the writer stopped laughing and inquired suspiciously:
- Why are you telling me about it? Or did you smell out that I'm going to ask you a loan?
- What do you know! You, why do you need to take? You have the book in thirty sheets.
- Delay... For five months.
- Well, please. How much do you need?
- Two hundred.
- Well, come over tomorrow.
- You don't think I am like this attendant, - said he, - take the loan and without the trace, as if I don't know. As soon as the book publishers, I will immediately return.
A few days later I went out of the town on business, and I had not been in the bathhouse for five months. And when in autumn I came there, old-bath attendants, Russian and Uygur, looked mysteriously at me and laughed. Timka was not. I asked, if something had happened to him.
- And don't ask, what a hoot!...
- What is it?
- Tymka went on vacation in the beginning of the month...
- And now every day he washes in the bathhouse. That’s a laugh...
- And on Saturdays and Mondays he sticks around in the bathhouse from morning to evening -- and laughing, said the attendant.
- Why does he come here? -I asked.
- He wants to see you.
- He has a business, he says!
Probably, it seemed very funny to old people that dumb Timka can have the matter to someone.
- Today is Monday, isn’t it? Now he will come dragging himself along.
Before the old men had time to laugh in plenty as indeed, dragging his feet Tymka came. Old men instantly stopped laughing and turned away. But they looked after. So they were wondering what matter Timka had to me.
And this time Tymka did not greet me. He walked up, stuck three fingers somewhere for a belt of trousers, pulled something round, firm, minimized, just a plug from the phial for Nasiba and put it in my hand. I thought it was either an application, or a letter, I unfolded and saw two sticked together sticky five-rouble notes.
I must have blushed, but Timka did not even look at me. He turned and walked away.
- Tim... wait a minute! I said.
- Now, he replied, and ran somewhere.
I sank down on the bench, still holding grease, sweaty five-rouble notes in the hand. They were still warm.
The old-bath attendants, Russian and Uygur came up to me and curiously looked at me.
I sat there and didn't know what to say to them.
Soon Tymko returned. But he was joyful, happy, with a broad smile on the emaciated face.
- Well, let’s sit down here, - I invited him.
But Tymko refused to sit. He handed me back some change.
- Now, Agay, the rest...
It was difficult to make Tim talk. Even it was harder to persuade him to take the money back. I explained to him that I gave the money without borrowing for no reason so because he needed them. But he only shook his head negatively. I tried by force to shove these wretched pieces of paper in his hand, but he didn't release his hands. And the papers fell on the wet floor, and coins rolled asunder, scattered in all the corners. What could I do? I jumped up, grabbed him by the shoulders.
- Dear my friend! If you do not take money, I will take be offence for life. And I will never come to this bathhouse. You just don't respect me...
I remember, and then I did not spare words to convince Tim, this timid, quiet bathhouse attendant.
Finally he agreed, and took the money.
Relieved I went to wash.
Scalded with boiling water my broom, I went to the steam room and saw my familiar friend, the writer. Steamed, red, he furiously whipped himself with the broom, comfortably sitting on the top shelf. He immediately noticed me. He noticed and turned away.
I did not want to confuse him. I did not even come up to him.
Sometimes it is good, if it is dark in the bathhouse... It is good, when the thick steam clouded the steam room. My debtor “unnoticeably” slipped into the dressing room. And as I was washing, he managed to escape. Since then meeting me he hastily passes by and does not notice me. Apparently, he does not recognize.
TWENTY YEARS LATER
1. THE STORY OF THE BACK
Oh, that was a real blow. Stab in the back... My back has never experienced such a blow. It brought me under and made scratch the head with heels. Thank sports: I would not be alive, if it was not for training.
Earlier, in my childhood, I also hit in somebody else's backs and, frankly, I was beaten more than once. But such a blow, so sudden and devastating... no, I had happened neither strike nor receive that. Whether that be not mine but any other back, say, the elderly, women or children, I convinced that I would have to say good-bye to my head, only if to see it is rolling along the pavement.
On that day many heads rolled...
And when my head threw back ridiculously, I had time to look around. But I saw nothing – it was emptiness behind me. Yes, it had happened instantly. But apparently the human mind is not less rapid. A moment ago high stone houses were squeezed there. And now they are absent, they are gone. Only scary black-brown fuming smoothness remained. I remember the big fires, strong earthquakes; even they had left something: charred walls, lonely protruding chimneys, dusty trees, the ruins. And there's nothing left here, nothing, as if nothing has happened. The mountains usually invisible due to high buildings now are in view perfectly: they were in their place. I also had time to notice how surprisingly wide boards rained down from the sky. They were roofs lowered as if after an unusual flight they had never dreamed. Among hundreds of floating roofs something sailed that was difficult to discern. But I learned men, or rather, their corpses. They flew up apparently with roofs simultaneously. But there, in the air, someone has sorted them according to heaviness: corpses were coming down much faster. Some of them resembled crosses by their appearance.
All this I saw, being brought under when my feet and head made haste towards each other, leaving me inside my unusual trajectories. I saw that my mind and my feelings began to listen to me badly when white was beginning to seem black and black - white. I saw when the black stone fallen close to me burst into flame right flame like wool. Then... Then unconsciousness, fainting, tetanus, stupefaction ...
The last thing I remembered, was the place where I was caught up with insidious blow. It is one of the city outskirts with narrow streets of one-story houses. Such outskirts of Japanese cities are comfortable for life and beautiful in its way. They are as a rule the most inhabited areas of the city; they were made habitable by grandfathers of our great grandfathers. The houses were walled there, faced with small masonry, and not large yards as if copied with the Japanese landscape: microscopic hills resemble real Japanese mountains; tiny pools look like real Japanese lakes - the same rivers, the same bridges. Low cherries, stocky pines. Surely chrysanthemums. Not courtyard and a trimmed thick green carpet... Japanese women love and know how to take care of the yard. In this respect even the war is not an obstacle for them.
I was walking along the narrow streets listening to the quiet and sad melodies. The Japanese did not play any other music then except sad, because they were ashamed of the war that they waged against their own free will. It was stuffy. But I didn't notice stuffiness: I was charmed with sad sounds coming from someone's estate. In this condition I was caught by the blow. Being stunned, I didn't see what happened to that block of the houses...
Where and when I came to myself - it still remains a mystery to me. I don't know how long I am lying in chains in this gypsum block. Sometimes it seems that I was unconscious not for a long time: a day, two days. But they say that in the American Institute a military physician has been angry with me for two months. What, he says, a stubborn fool, he hides so long, how and at what distance from the epicenter of the explosion his back was struck! He does not understand his information is so necessary for military science! No, he understands well. But he does not want; he does not want to speak. Does he feel insulted?.. Offended? ... Does he protest?.. But what protests can be, when all Japan humbly bowed in front of us. All Japan is lying at our feet, the Emperor is conquered, your sun is conquered, stupid Jap!..
No, in vain sir American military physician and his colleagues from the Institute were angry with me, for I was not offended. I could not see. I resented later. Later, when the pain from burns somewhat subsided. The pain of indignation, bitterness of abuse, of course, is stronger than the physical pain. But it came later, much later. In vain the American was angry with me... Quite in vain.
No, I did not persist at all, and I could not persist, because I knew nothing then even why I was immured, I was in the hospital. My weak mind couldn't recover anything, but one vision, that was connected with the stab in the back. And what did I see proper? Even it was hard to comprehend. Understanding came later, much later...
When I came to my senses; I asked why I was lying there.
- Your back is an exact copy of the geographical map of Japan, - joked the doctor. - On the right shoulder blade was located Hokkaido... Great Honey took, as in reason, the whole right side... It is separated from the neighboring Kyushu with the narrow healthy strip – the Strait of Simon - Seki. Praise God that they, these Islands, are located not on the left side!
When just, in how many months after the stroke, I asked this question to the doctor, I don't remember. I remember that not once I tried to ask it, but I somehow couldn't.
Another time the doctor’s jokes flattered my pride even more. He said, "You look great, buddy. The Japanese landscape, believe, and it will envy you. Mountains? Here they are: Fuji, Asahi. Ridges as well: I learn Chugoku, Kyushu. And even Hiroshima with Nagasaki is represented exactly in their places, although they haven't been there for a long time. No, any of geographical relief maps of the war years could not compete with the image on you... Beautiful, accurate map...
- Doctor, but how has it all happened?
His eyes flashed angrily. It seemed glasses will not stand such anger. The Japanese eyes are small, smart and a bit sad. But, my God, how much resentment accumulated in eyes of the merry doctor! They looked threateningly, very threateningly.
-Tanaka Uriko! - the doctor turned sharply to the middle-aged woman. - Why haven’t you still explained to him?
- I explained... I tried to explain...
Yes, she was right, she tried to explain to me, but I didn't realize how it could be possible to destroy two large cities instantly, kill half of their population.
The doctor sat down by me.
- I beg you, be a man, and listen quietly. The Americans threw the atomic bombs on two of our cities. - It was obvious that the doctor hardly copes with his anxiety. - Why? But I asked you to be a man. They put the experiments. The first time was for the sample, the second one was to ensure that data of test bombing were not random... What? There is no consensus about it. Perhaps in order to kill Japan finally, although it accepted its defeat... and it is worth nothing to scare allies... Wars always suppose some kind of division – everybody always wants to steal more, to assert its superiority... Right? That's what they say, they threw their bombs. And now relax. Complete rest.
- I had a mother, a sister... Can I contact them?
- What's your name?.. And where did you live?
- Block “Dawn” ...
- There is not this block now...
- Mother worked at the Central Park...
- There was an empty place from the Park... But now keep the silence, rest...
The doctor was right, you had to keep silence... Woe will not help here: if the conquered people start complaining, mourning, grieving day and night, he will gain jaundice only and nothing more!
Twenty years intervened. I was put in the hospital sixteen times during this time. They patched up my back sixteen times. It is very difficult to carry such a burden on the back as the geography of the whole country. Of course, my back is not all affected, the narrow strips of healthy skin have survived, and exactly resembling as the doctor says blue stripes of waters between the numerous Japanese Islands. There they cut off from these stripes and put them on the affected areas. And so on indefinitely. And there where they cut off, new wounds appear...
Now I suffer from leukemia. White blood cells, increasing, more and more replace the red blood. To live twenty years, I had to fight a lot. I will continue to fight.
I'm not forty. I'd like to have a family. But who will marry to me? To marry a patient with leukemia? I don't want, I don't want to increase freaks in the world. Perhaps the doctor was right. I must be a man, patient, patient in a masculine way.
2. THE STORY OF EYES
I recognized Aiko from a distance. She recognized me too. Girls have been sitting in the car for a long time, and Aiko was waiting for me. Japanese women don't like to shout, it is not polite to shout loudly, and she just waved her net with thermos - hasten me.
Hasten me because we need to go to the neighboring village to help repair a school there. I was stuck on the other side of the street: oncoming trams drove up to the stop prevented.
Waiting until they departed, I hurried to our school garden, where Aiko invitingly waved her net. The school was surrounded by a dense garden, and the noise of trams was not reached it. I'm running, not sparing the legs. I'm ashamed to make somebody wait for me. But now I hear the girls singing, I see, as Aiko is waving the net more impatiently, she is worried about me. The nickel-plated cover of the thermos are making silver circles reflected in the sun,. Aiko has never become discouraged. She knew how to laugh... And her nice coquetry suited her so mush...
But then the unthinkable thing happened, it seemed that the heaven burst itself. But that, perhaps, not the sky, my ears burst. Being dumbfounded, I looked up. There, above the city, was standing, leaning into the sky, a post, all white, like snow, stood a post of fire, as if made of fire and snow. It poured fire; he poured a painfully sharp beam. Then it boiled, widening at the top, expanded. Where did its base rest? I did not make out. Say how thick? Well how would I say... In our city, in its centre there was the exhibition pavilion, a round Palace. They say, the frame of the Palace remained! I think that post was thicker than the frame of the pavilion...At the next moment I remembered school,
- Aiko! Aiko!..- I screamed but I didn't hear my voice.
I see nothing. I don't see Aiko, I don’t see cars, I don’t see school. All have gone. Only black void is in front of eyes. Black void is everywhere: and there where was the school, and there, far beyond the school. Everywhere is soot, black void...
Trees fell with noise and crash, blocking the road. They poured me heat. Hot buttons of the dress stuck in the body. Then unaware, darkness, black void...
In it, this black void, I spent my last twenty years. What I am saying here does not pass a hundredth part of what I saw then. I say fire, flame, white snow... But is that what it was? They have not invented the name of that; this fact has still no comparisons. In our vocabulary there are no words, so precise and terrible to indicate that. Death... destruction... disaster - there, not that either!..
We talking about iron, about the stone that they are heated, melted. But how I can say about iron and stone, if they instantly turn into ashes? How, what word to express it, when right in front of your eyes at one moment the whole town disappeared! Turned in the dust?
Yes, it is difficult to express, but not that now I care about. I have been in the dark for twenty years. They say that the city is rebuilt, restored. They say it became more beautiful and richer than before. I want to see it so much. At least with one eye, at least once.
I live with this hope to see. I do not want and can’t live without hope. The first thing I asked the doctor, when I she recovered myself about them, about my eyes.
- Lady, - I begged, - tell what had happened to my eyes?
Why are you worried, sweetheart... They are adorable, as always.
I am not blind, aren’t I?
Pat, no... You can't see that is true. But it will pass, it will pass soon.
- And what about the face, what has happened to it?
- No serious changes. It is as white marble. Beautiful as before.
- And hair?..
- Hair had to be shaved. But they will quickly grow back.
Where are my legs, where are my hands? Whether they are, I am not trying to find out. I worry about my face, about my eyes. I am trying to find them out in vain, but the hands do not obey, if they are not mine. Maybe they were cut a long ago? Legs are as not mine either, too naughty.
But the eyes... I believe that they survived. The vision will return, and the face I will put make-up on, I know how to do that. Maybe it is not necessary to do anything, because the doctor said that his face was white as marble. No, she's wrong; I don’t have white marble, my whiteness is somewhat different. And not only mine. Aiko has always envied my eyes, she said that they are black-black, and the long lashes are long-long...
But what is surprising. No one has ever called me blind. None of who has come here for twenty years. It comforts me. So I don't hide my eyes. I look boldly where the voice is heard. I say Hello, smile... If I was ugly, if my face was scarred, and the skull was opened eye sockets, no doubt you'd be scared.
I am now thirty-five. When I lost my eyesight, I lost his life, I was fifteen. But these twenty years are as if not: I cannot consider them like life. I am still fifteen. I still hope that I will recover my sight. I am fifteen, because the hope of recovering my sight keeps me young.
As soon as I recover my sight, I will go to school. They say that there a new garden grew up. They say that the school is now five-storeyed. They say that my picture is hanging in the obvious place. And it was only a year to learn. As soon as I recover my sight, the first thing I will do to finish school. And then I will enter the University, a new faculty of baby food.
They say that there is no the desert, they say that everything turned green all around, and that the city had forgotten past grief. Grief, sorrow... Clearly, they do not decorate the city. The city should be smart, funny. But people... People have no right to forget. If I recover my sight, I dream to describe that day - to describe thing seen at the cost of vision loss. I remember everything. The first years the hope inspired me, and I used to raise in the memory all the new details. Now not like that: I feel that some of the details start to fade, lose their clarity. If the vision will return not soon, I fear, I will forget much...
They say that after the catastrophe the whole world became worried, protested. I do not know and could not know I was near end, - how critical this protest was. What was it like for you? There was no half of the town; it was burned to the ground. And that was just for two seconds. My city was not military, at that time only women, children and old men lived there. It has never done evil, it has threatened no one, it had nothing special. I can't still understand what and to whom it was guilty. What have my friends done offended, because they only wanted to do good things - to help repair the school of neighbors, who have not left any men. Twenty-two girls turned into ashes, for one moment turned into ashes. Only I survived, the twenty-third. I say “survived”.... But what's this life...
Oh, Aiko, Aiko! You have been supporting the weak; you stayed helpless old women from three huts. You supported them by kindness, your usual cheerfulness. And how you could cook! You had just one little grain of rice, a bundle of onions and a piece of fish to cook dinner for the whole family... You were clever, and in your capable hands everything was burning. You had not ten fingers but ten hands.
The offended soul sometimes wants revenge. I want the storm of the human anger has spilled tea that your abuser brings to his lips with such appetite. I want his house was covered with spotted dust, filled with death. I want that and he experienced what it means to be a cripple -- That crippled were born him children, his children...
No, I am not vindictive. But don't believe me if I say that I have never sought for revenge. I have sought for revenge, and not once. But I restrained myself, restrained so that it seems that the revenge is already beginning to despise me.
“I do not wish even to the enemy”. So we say. So, perhaps, people say so everywhere. We are hospitable and kind people. And I don't wish it anyone. I don't want to trouble anyone's home. I do not want their residents are roasting like the ants. I don't want to wound spotted ashes over the world.
I get a lot of people. All ask me to tell about it. Maybe my story will seem memorized but I can't help it: I have to repeat it very often...
I live with hope, I am alive with dreams... But to implement them is not in my power. What's interesting to know do others dream?..
Oh, if I have regained my sight! To see the light, to see the light!..
3. THE STORY OF THE STONE
I am a black marble, I am a black stone. I sparkle after visit in the hands of a man. I see everything, absolutely everything. People can't look at the sun and I can. People don't always see right: he admires what he looks at, he is happy, angry, afraid, when he looks. I look at all easy, I can see clearly, because I do not interfere with feelings. I can see everything and always. I do not see at night only.
I am a black marble, I am a black stone. I have no joy, no fear. I have no excitement. I give only what I see. I don't care how people will use my testimony.
It was not a public holiday. There was nothing that would remind about the holiday. Nobody smiled, it was a shame to smile because the war tended over all of us, and everyone knew the bitterness of defeat. That day a lot of people passed me, a lot of sad people. They were teenagers, students, women, and old people. Sad, slovenly dressed. And even earlier, in the early morning some working, dark, dirty and estranged people passed. Even the girls did not smile. Children... Those forgot what agility was. Women were depressed, the children drooped, all people became poor, became lower and smaller. Discreetly and quietly, without former roar, military cars drove.
It was a bright, hot day. Weary from the heat, peacefully the forest was sleeping, trees stood as if listening to something in the streets. And I was asleep.
Suddenly something flashed out and hanged as a fiery post. One end of the post ran into the city, the other one shone at the height of a mile, forming a storming cap. Everywhere unprecedented fire, an unprecedented flow of light surged. The city curled up into a tube, as paper, thrown into the fire, and disappeared. Metal turned into ashes. The stone turned into dust. The whole town turned into dust, which disappeared instantly, as if it had been swallowed with some monstrous throat. There was only a place where there was a city - scorched and uneven.
A fiery stream threw people at me, throwing packs and alone. Striking, they recoiled from me. Their feet, hands flew off. Heads broke into smithereens... There but for the grace of God go I a man beat his head on the stone... Air burned. The tram stop was crowded. Not having time to leave, a crowded tram took fire. It flashed and disappeared, only for a moment, revealing its metal frame. There were not people: those who managed to get into a crowded tram, and those who had not. They burned without feeling that they were burning. There but for the grace of God go I to hear seventy-five thousand people are moaning, burning! There but for the grace of God go I to see how the flame is devouring thousands of innocent eyes of children, as a form flashes on thousands of schoolgirls, as their exposed bodies are hissing and roasting in the fire! Thank God, it was over quickly, so quickly that even the snakes did not have time to put out the tongue. The city has turned into a black heath. On a nearby slope of the mountain big stones were naked as elephants killed; leaves of trees disappeared instantly, as the flock of autumn birds disappears scared by someone.
Then a strong wind blew. It blew with whirl, fitfully, wishing, as it seemed, to expel evil force that so suddenly swept the city. The wind was angry and determined: as soon as a house looked at it, even the house of the poor man, it would not regret it. But there was nothing to prevent it, and the wind that always hugged every thick tree, as boron, parks, and lonely now rode over the hot piles of black soot, choking ash dust.
Then the first signs of life appeared: children crawled out, looking around in surprise. And it was something to wonder: world learned for the first time that tragedy. It was created by men to destroy each other, it is their creativity.
Then a woman came out, the old men came out. They were looking back. Where is the city? With mixed feelings of wonder and fear, people were in vain, rubbing their eyes: is this their city? Do not seek, people, for the city, don't bother yourselves in vain. Seek better, where this black trouble came from and descended on you? Look for evil and you will find where it hides.
Earlier in the city center there was a round five-storeyed building. On this location amidst the smooth black field the charred skeleton left alone to hang around. How has it survived? Maybe monstrous fire decided to leave any trace from the former or it has been more resistant thanks to its sleek form?
But people shifted - in the conflagration the life began. People burned the remains of people, they burned burnt corpses. They were cleaning their net set fire. I had not heard people were crying, “I have no ears,” but perhaps it is good that I have no ears, I would not have endured, even I, a stone.
Soon next to me a few boards appeared, a few announcements with the first information about the disaster: temperature - three hundred thousand degrees, in the radius of one kilometer from the epicenter of the explosion was gone everything, and there, beyond this circle, the force of the explosion became weaker - there survived, though, and started to melt, stone, metal.
I am a black marble, I am a black stone. I don't know how to count, and I don't know how much time passed since then, months, how many years have passed. I know only eternity, for me there is only one dimension of eternity.
Now the city has been restored. It is higher and more beautiful than before. Once again the gardens revived. And the streets are wider. Nothing reminds a disaster. Strongly nothing, because years have done well, people have done well too. They deserve the highest praise. But I was not going to praise the work of a man. And without me they know how hardworking simple Japanese is. I wanted to tell only about that awful day. The day when metal melted, a stone melted. I wanted people to remember that day. And that they beware.
In the city centre that survived that terrible day, now there is a stone man. His raised right hand reminds people where the sky is. His left hand is stretched to the people, it asks for peace and tranquility. His eyes closed with heavy eyelids, pray that the trouble would not repeat.
Here, actually, that is all I wanted to tell you, people. I hope you will not ask a stone that you need to do in order not to experience this again.
THE CONVERSATION IN THE SKY ABOUT MUNDANE AFFAIRS
The emblem of the Indian aviation company is a faience Indian man in a white turban. He bowed at parting in a respectful bow, and here the temperate climate in the first class cabin had already changed the burning heat of Delhi.
The plane took off from a gray concrete path and crawled into the sky, stubbornly gaining height.
My way was through Calcutta and Hong Kong, farther to Tokyo, where meeting with Japanese writers were waiting for me. Ten hours of flight in our today's standards it is a very long time, and I began to make myself at home: I took off my coat and got rid of a tie, threw on the table almost a square dark blue box of cigarettes “Jambul” and matches “Birch” with a bright label, which did not reproduce pictures of nature, and frozen in a smooth dance pretty Russian girls.
In the cabin for passengers was established full comfort: the tables in front of the first row chairs, different varieties of cigarettes, chewing gum, luxuriously illustrated magazines. Compared to our TU-104 the English liner was more slow, but less noisy. From time to time there was heard a slight hum of a conditioner.
Obviously, in order to fully feel in flight aloof from the bustling mundane affairs, I put a spicy chewing gum in my mouth, leaned back my chair and picked up a thick English magazine, in which, as a little boy could only look at the pictures.
Looking through thick pages with improbable bright colors in color photos, I felt the scrutiny of the neighbor to the left of me, through the gangway. Since he had nothing else to do, he tried to determine who I was.
I was bored with his scrutinizing and I decided not to make any steps toward him for making acquaintance.
After all curiosity has prevailed in my companion and the journey changes some ideas of decency, and he leaned over to me.
- Sorry, for God's sake... But are you from Russia? - he addressed to me in Russian with some elusive soft accent.
- Yes. From the Soviet Union, - I replied looking up from the picture of Marilyn Monroe, who had recently committed suicide.
Our eyes met and I could get a better look at him. His height was above average, slim, above the upper lip there was the well-groomed moustache of the color which their owners called wheat, and really just reddish. The ear blazed illuminated with the piercing sunbeam. Age?.. Forty years, probably.
- I am very afraid to seem importunate, - he continued. - But my attention was attracted by your cigarettes and matches. I don't know what “Jembul”, but “Berezka” ... Oh, I saw this famous your group. In Paris. I am a native Parisian, was born there and grew up there. But I am a Russian.
What special ceremony is required for road dating? The journey consists of such little pleasures: to meet at seven-kilometer height a man, a conversation with whom will help pass the ten-hour journey, not to feel completely dumb. There was something touching: a person born and living far from the homeland of his fathers could not help stretch to girls in sarafans dancing in the match label.
I offered him a cigarette, struck a red-headed match. And he said to me: “Let me....- he preventively took a burning match from my fingers, first lit my cigarette and then he lit his cigarette.
- And we have all lighters...- somehow he said vaguely, and he inhaled, slightly screwed up his eyes, appreciating the taste of tobacco. - You have good cigarettes, - he continued. - What does it mean- “Jembul”?
- Sorry, I have to correct you: Jambul. This is the name of the Kazakh national poet.
My new friend has introduced himself as an officer of the UN in economic aid to the countries of South - East Asia. And besides - the great-grandson of Martynov. Yes, yes, the same one!
As soon as he called that name, covered with shame, and I obviously could not hide my feelings and, as a steppe horse, which had sensed danger, pricked up his ears.
He waited a little, and looking at me fixedly, began the following phrase with my words, as if he could read thoughts:
- Yes, yes, the same - the retired major Nikolay Solomonovich Martynov, who had never shot in Lermontov, and so was not able to kill him!
Having been calm before that, he ended his statement with the exclamation point.
I felt the challenge in his words. The challenge in due form. The great-grandson of Martynov challenges me to a duel, the great-grandson of the steppe Kazakh Musrep, from whom our clan took the name.
I had no choice but to accept the challenge. I said to myself: “Help me Allah and Irakli Andronikov,” and got up to the barrier.
In a sense the right of the first shot was taken by my interlocutor. Long hundred and over years have passed since that tragic July day, and the the Martynovs family could choose one version of all the versions on the duel that would whitewash the retired army major, “who had never shot in Lermontov, and hence could not kill him”.
And I?.. His statement took me by surprise, and I quickly remembered what I know about this entire story. However, after the ABC book a one-volume edition after Lermontov became my first Russian book. the inspector of national schools gave me it, in the presence of my teacher Becket Utetleuova, half a century ago, in the Kazakh village, where the two-class Russian school was. I diligently read Lermontov's poetry. Read, without understanding a good half of the words. But gradually, with the same Becket, such depth and beauty of Lermontov's verse opened in front of me, that from an early age I remember by heart and “Terek” and “Mountain peaks”, “Dispute”, “Dagger”, “Death of a poet”. And when, in 1941, to the centenary of the poet's death, Lermontov was translated into the Kazakh language, I had to write the Foreword to his collection. And then my information about this, second, in my opinion, the Russian poet of the Golden nineteenth century, was replenished by Irakli Andronikov, a passionate and delicate explorer of his work and his life.
So, the duel began. The duel was without the seconds. Here there is no one on the role of the young Prince Vasilchikov and horse guards’ officer Glebov, or at least - on the role of Mongo Stolypin and Trubetskoy, whose participation in the duel was carefully concealed for many years. Five or six passengers in the first class cabin were not suitable seconds: they did not know the Russian language and were very far from the subject of the dispute.
The first attack of Martynov’s grandson (“...never shot”) has been retorted by Musrepa’s great-grandson, who, however, could not in all the details refute the vague version about a Cossack, allegedly hiding in the bushes near the place of duel in the area of Pyatigorsk, but firmly knew that the competent group of experts in forensic medicine had categorically rejected this assumption recently, when it came to light again.
These remarks - yes, no, and it was so, and it was not so - ended mutual examination of characters, methods of attack and defense, the strength of arguments and the degree of awareness. Anyway, the mysterious Cossack firing from the bushes did not appear more in our dispute.
Martynov’s descendant turned on several other legends. It was that a lot of people belonging to the higher officers held it their duty to write to Martynov’s mother, sweeping aside the accusation that her son tarnished his honor with killing of a poet. My opponent used the phrases, memorable to me on some documents and memories of that time: a fair fight, duel on equal terms... As it happens, there were also plenty of protests against short-term detention of Martynov, as innocent...
I have found in reserve enough strong objections. I had a reason for reading Andronikov, and at meetings I heard from him about the works of other researchers.
It is true that many people have tried to put the blame on the killed, painted his “impossible character”. But there were not less those who instead of “fair fight” used another word: the murder. And it was not by chance the chief of staff (at the time I couldn't call his name, and later specified: colonel Traskin) ordered all young officers who were in Pyatigorsk immediately proceed to duty area. He wanted to prevent a possible new duel. Among young people there were a lot of lovers to demand satisfaction from the killer of Lermontov.
This and many other things others were clear for me. The difficulty of the dispute was that my opponent in response to the most convincing arguments made a sharp movement with his hand, as if rejected them. And when I mentioned names such as Sviatoslav Raevsky, Viskovaty, Andronikov, he narrowed his cold eyes, and it looked like he was ready to fight - fight with everyone, beginning from those who disagree with his interpretations of the poet’s contemporaries to current researchers, who has proven undeniably the shameful role of Martynov in the fate of Lermontov.
He got excited despite all his European manners:
- Always metaphors, metaphors!.. Haven’t they been there? They can show under oath who demanded satisfaction? Everything was honest... There were the seconds, at both. It was measured the same distance. Guns had the same caliber, one system, Kukhenreytor number two.
I knew everything. And that’s why I asked the question, in which, as often happens, was already my attitude to his effort to prove that the duel code has been complied:
- Why then, on such a trivial matter, the duel was agreed in six steps, up to three shots, with the use of long-range combat guns?
- So what? This proves nothing yet. For us today Lermontov is the brilliant poet. And for Martynov he was a comrade officers' school. Martynov could tolerate no longer his ridicules in the presence of ladies, offensive nicknames and caricatures. He was called by him. And the fight was fought by all the rules. It was two shots. Lermontov fired the first shot.
- Yes, but He shot into the air.
- We do not know it exactly. If the lieutenant shot in the air... Or - just missed. It is also difficult to prove, if you look at the events objectively.
- But it is proved that your great-grandfather shot point blank, his bullet hit him in the chest and went right through him. So, Martynov didn't keep the distance and the order of the shot. By the way, he himself admitted that he got heated. Oh what fair duel was it mentioned?
- Talks, rumours, gossips... And I can call the other, not less important document: the headquarters of the Caucasian corps - after the investigation of circumstances - reported that Lieutenant Lermontov was died in a duel. In this paper it did not say that he was killed.
- May be. I don't remember. But I remember the first medical examination of Dr. Barclay de Tolly...
If my opponent had expected an easy victory, but now he saw that to achieve such he will not succeed. And here he, though the only time, resorted to the forbidden reception:
- After all you are not Russian... Maybe that's why you find it difficult to understand all the details of this duel, in all its nuances.
- Yes, I'm not Russian. I am Kazakh. But as for this story, I know a lot. Maybe, let’s begin with nicknames, which Lermontov gave in Pyatigorsk to your great-grandfather? I can't repeat it in French... But in Russian it will be: the knight of wild mountains, a man with a large dagger.
Here our conversation, having come to a dead-end already, was interrupted unexpectedly with silent appearance of a small table on wheels. A thin as a reed, beautiful as a peri, sung by Lermontov, Indian girl - stewardess brought us a rich breakfast. By no means the cognac - English brandy took not the last place.
Great sandwiches, bananas, a lemon cut lacy slices, - all this seemed to me tasteless. In my opinion, and Martynov’s great-grandson absently casting a glance at the window, with a complete indifference took a pull of brandy and now was sucking a slice of lemon.
And anyway after breakfast our conversation was continued in a different tone. It gained, I would say, an elegiac tone. The interlocutor, friendly smiling, told me:
- Let me notice you that you are not quite right in your accusations. You say: in the Martynovs family it was formed disrespect for the memory of Lermontov. And do you want to know? In our Paris apartment to this day, in the seat of honor, covered with a glass cover, we kept a volume of Lermontov with donative inscription of the poet - and none other, but Nikolay Solomonovich Martynov. For us, it is a sacred relic.
I fully respectfully treated to this message, but could not accept his argument in favor of the assumption said at the beginning of our fight, though Martynov could not lift the gun at his friend and collegemate.
- The fact that the book has been preserved, - I said, - is probably the merit of the sisters of your great-grandfather. It is known, that his mother and your great-great-grandmother, has taken a keen dislike for Lermontov, when they met in Moscow. And the daughters received him gladly. I don't know the reasons for these family disagreements and discrepancies. I can only guess - the book has been preserved, the hands of Martynov’s sisters acted there.
- Quite probably. But our great-great-grandmother did not have special dislike to Lermontov. So, nothing. He called her disapproval by one his action.
What a little thing that deed – he did not go into details in this respect.
Unfortunately, I could not bring him any arguments that became clear to me only on his return to Alma-Ata, when I was under the impression from the conversation, again picked up books about the fate of Lermontov. The trifle could be the case with the package that Lermontov had to pass Martynov. Money was in the package. It was stolen in the way. Money, of course, Lermontov compensated. Or the gossip about Lermontov intercepted letters of Martynov’s sisters. As if it was the cause of quarrel and duels.
The researchers proved that this misunderstanding with the package occurred long before the secondary exile to the Caucasus. Relations have been clarified; Lermontov and Martynov continued to know as usual.
I allow myself to quote from the book after I. Andronicus, where there are these facts. I was missing them in the Indian sky, at the height of seven thousand meters:
“At the same time, when Dubelt was spreading in St. Petersburg the story of printed letters, Moscow was rumored that “Martynov had the right” to call out Lermontov, “for Princess Mary was his sister...
...the slander did its job. Old wives’ tales about the Princess Mary, and that in the name of Grushnitsky was depicted himself Martynov, reporting the scandalous character for the incident, drew public attention to the other side and thus provided, it would seem, once for all to conceal the political nature of the duel”.
No, the poet failed to escape from the blue uniforms behind the ridge of the Caucasus. In Pyatigorsk gendarmerie Colonel of Kushinnikov has guided the course of the investigation to hide the truth, and he did it, knowing very well wishes not only to their superiors of Dubelt and Benkendorf, but also the sovereign.
It was felt that our conversation ran out. But to finish it so – on half-word – Martynov’s great-grandson did not want. And suddenly he became more brisk and leaned in my direction again.
- Will it be interesting for you to know, who I met last year when I came to Geneva? - he asked, smiling mysteriously.
- Last year in Geneva I met the great-grandson of Dantes! The parole of an honest man! It was Dantes exactly.
I had to gain some time to recover from the surprise. Two great poets. Two killers. But life goes on, and nowadays their great-grandchildren of course try to present the case that anything unusual was not in duels of a chamber junker Pushkin and Lieutenant Lermontov. But the meeting of these two offsprings - what writer could afford such a fiction?
- Yes, Dantes! - he repeated and stressed, you can say, recited: - The killers of great Pushkin...
- What was that? - The question was not very smart, but I have not just found any other.
- It happened in the restaurant... A very elegant man a little younger than me sat at the table to me. Frankly speaking, I did not like his manner very much. Such tone... Condescending and patronizing. Smart aleck. As if he was calling me into accomplices. He hinted that my family tree was known to him, and then he said what generation he belonged to...It became clear to me that he sat down with me not by coincidence. I hurried to pay off and left the restaurant without giving him goodbye hands.
I believed the story.
It is quite possible that Dantes’ great-grandson eagerly sought a meeting with Martynov’s great-grandson. But I realized why my interlocutor did this turn in the conversation. A descendant of a person who fought in the open fair fight with Lermontov did not want to share lunch with a descendant of the despicable murderer of Pushkin!
- Do you know? -I remembered.- Do you know that Dantes served in the cavalry guards regiment. And your great-grandfather too, he went from the horse guards into the army.
But this significant, though quite fortuitous coincidence did not suit my interlocutor. He remained silent.
In our duel there was neither a winner nor vanquished. Every one agreed to disagree. I could only wonder that the Martynovs’ family and in the fifth generation continue to keep the version that seemed untenable to clever people a hundred and twenty years ago. Later I thought that it maybe not naively, not through ignorance of the true facts of a long-standing case, which over time has not ceased to be less shameful.
Martynov’s great-grandson began to pick. He went out in Hong Kong, and, frankly, I was not sorry that the further way remains to be done alone.
He asked me to give him a box of matches, with such a pleasant, with such real Russian label. I gave him two ones. He promised to send me from Paris the instance of my novel “Soldiers from Kazakhstan”, which was released there in translation in French. (The book, apparently, is carried out a foot postman, because I have been waiting for it so far.)
In Hong Kong airport we parted, and in fact I could end the story of old mundane affairs heard in the sky, at the height of seven thousand meters.
But the story has the continuation.
In Tokyo, where I arrived, I immediately got into a seething maelstrom of new events, troubles, affairs - very nice property, not very pleasant and quite unpleasant. In the excitement I completely erased from the memory the surname Martynovs’s great-grandson. He called it not very clear at the beginning of our acquaintance. Later, however, he repeated it several times. But - what to do - I forgot!
There was only one way: to write to I. L. Andronikov. He, certainly, knows the name of someone I spent six or seven hours by road from Delhi to Hong Kong. I hoped for the rich memory and the comprehensive erudition of the researcher. And I did not make a mistake.
I could tell him not very detailed signs. He has the surname of maternal lineage; - from this side Martynov, who married in Kiev, got rich inheritance. Shitko, and may be, Tishko. It starts with T or Sh and ends, as I remember, with O.
The man is out-of-date mandatory, Irakli Luarsabovich did not slow down with reply. He sent me a genealogical table of the Martynovs’ family, not less detailed than it could be the genealogy of Genghis Khan, or Tamerlane. Everything was written there: who, when and where and to whom was married, and what branches were from the main line, and who was in the mood in relation to the long duel...
The name of my opponent in the dispute was neither Tishko, and nor Shitko...
I could not get to this story: all the time some things distracted that seemed more important. And the letter of I. L. Andronikov I, like any neat man, tried to hide in the safest place, where it would be easy to find and, more importantly, where the hands of my wife and hands of my children would not have reached.
But here - where, that I could not remember when it was time to get to the story. What place was the most reliable at that moment? Works of Chernyshevsky? Or Belinsky? Or Lermontov himself?
They all are silent.
Not once the strict conversation with my wife was held on this occasion, in result of which I was guilty. Perhaps my wife was right.
But I -- I had the meeting in the sky with Martynov’s great grandson, who in Geneva faced Dantes’ great-grandson.
- And I am right in that.
* * *
And the letter has been found at least,
His name was Kvitko.
Not sure if I can do this…
...But I have to imagine desolated sands far away from the big restless river, sand waves, bizarre bushes of saksaul and camel thorns on the pastures, diamond placers of salt marshes, - in order to get back there and meet with Myra.
In November autumn or early winter it is easier to find Myra and her husband – senior shepherd Tanash in the Djyngildy mountain area, where they rake sheep during that time.
Beyond question day Myra was completely alone among the sands. Coincidentally… The day before a night watchman begged off for four days to visit home at aul, what they habitually called central state farm. After that Tanasha had to leave too. Their daughter, three year old Ayagez, caught cold… It would be better for her to stay under her grandma and grandpa care.
The last week was warm, and the sun melted late Novembers snow. Myra came back after noontime. The sheep, though being satisfied, would not stop grazing and return to the shed by dawn. Perfect..
She was slowly following by on her shepherds ginger horse with unshorn crest. That horse knew what’s what and tried not to speed up, feeling soon returning.
Myra laid back in the saddle and thought to herself, that she would not be averse to see her parents, go to the store or cinema, tattle with her friends, the ones she was very close, but not now. She would even agree to be present at the meeting, where people who know nothing about sheep breeding compliment, criticize or patronize sheep men. She could have escort Ayagez, but Tanasha had some business in the office.
The flock was convoyed by three dogs of Djyngildy. None of them, including the black-white leader, had remarkable breeding background. But they were born among the sands, their distant ancestors were spending all their life near shepherd yurts, that’s why devoted service was in their blood. None can hide from their sharp eye and sensitive nose. They never alarm or bark to no purpose.
Suddenly the particolored leader heard something, made a dash to Myra, jumping around, yelping and barking in order to warn his mistress. About something yet unknown.
His young assistant perhaps haven’t understood what is happening or what is about to happen, but they followed their leader’s example.
Behaviour of dogs put the sheep on alert.
Totaling eight hundred units, they rose heads, gathered up and started looking around with haunted eyes.
Myra stood up on the stirrups to look round but suddenly, a windblast hit. It threw her back into saddle, snarling horse’s hair. For a moment It was quiet again. The sun grew dim as if it was snuffed out by the wind. A wall-like sand whirl came in. It became difficult to breath, the wind blew from the sides, from behind and at the front at the same time. Probably the southwester, “afghan’s” relative, met the northern blizzard. Sand, lifted up from the ground and combined with snow, was cutting face, falling into the neckpiece and lapels.
Myra’s horse was insanely moving in circles, unable to go forward, lowering its head. There is only one way obtain salvation – to get to the shed despite wind and difficulties, at all costs.
Of all animals the stupidest are the dark-grey sheep. Once they are gathered close to each other – they lose vestiges of brains. If only a single sheep starts running by the wind, other follow.
Two separate winds were spinning, colliding, dividing, throwing sand and snow at each other. The sheep were torn between the gusts of wind. The most dangerous here was to let them slip away.
Myra jumped out of the saddle and, with effort, made her way to the head of the flock.
"Chock-chock-choke!.. Chock!.." she shouted, calling out for young but quick to learn leader goat with grey white spotted hair.
The goat went through the gang of sheep and dug her in the hip.
The sheep ahead noticed the goat, familiar horse and Myra, wearing black jacket. The animals calmed down a little and followed Myra, showing an example for the others.
Myra gave a powerful whistle. Thanks to Tanasha, who worked hard to teach her, she knew the real shepherd way to do it. First the leader dog, and then the others answered and took their places on the sides and from behind the flock, goading it with loud barking.
It was good she was shepherding not far from home. Otherwise, what would she do? Wind can easily drive the flock for a hundred or even a hundred and fifty kilometres… Is it possible to save it during that crazy whirl?
The moment Myra came across twigged fence and started moving across the wall to the gates, blizzard finally won against the “afghan” wind. The snow deepened, it became colder. The sheep didn`t realize where they were going and why the dogs were angry – they just saw the shed and started bleating, amazed, as if the shed came from nowhere in the middle of darkness.
Blizzard made the early twilight to come faster. Myra locked the sheep in the shed and went back home one hundred steps away – in complete darkness.
The shepherd’s house was made of stone and consisted of two rooms. A little house lost among the sands. A transistor radio served to help Myra and Tanasha overcome the feel of their isolation. They were turning it on once they were home. Radio became their friend and companion, even for Ayagez, by telling her fairytales.
Turning on the radio was the first thing Myra did. Only then she brought some saksaul wood to fuel the heater, which had a integrated firepot with the kitchen stove.
It was cold inside. The wind blew through the windows. That’s it! First blizzard in this season is checking their readiness for winter. She curtained the window with an old blanket. Let’s see… The heater flared up, and it became a bit warmer, but still it was vaporing as if she was smoking, like Tanasha smoked his “Prima” cigarettes.
She put the kettle on the stove and decided to boil some water in a pot made of aluminium. There was not much water in the tank, but that’s ok. The good thing in a blizzard is, that it brought a lot of snow. It could be melted into the water, a way better than going to the well.
Myra didn’t worry about herself. But she did worry about Tanash… He left with Djanysbek, a farm governor. The truth is, he agreed to take them to his car with an ill grace, complaining about gas cartridges with forty patches on each, and how would they manage to get there. If only they would make it in time!
It was about five o’clock, but it was extremely dark, as if it was night, when Myra went out to the horse barn.
She could barely see the building of the barns and camel shack through the snow. The shed situated one hundred steps away was completely unseeable, as if it was gone with the blizzard.
Firssly, Myra visited the horses, covered the ginger and the chestnut with blankets and hitched them to the saksaul cribs. They have enough hay for the time being. It looks like the weather is going to be rough more than for one day.
If only they manage to make their way! For Allah’s sake, they could trap somewhere in the valley… No, that`s not true. Djanysbek is a real driver. He could have complained about the cartridges, but his jeep is always in running conditions. Maybe he had his own business by the way, but Tanash with Ayagez could have interrupted it.
Ayagez must be taken to the grandparents, no doubts… But now Myra was lacking Tanash by her side! He would sing “A fine horse, and a beautiful wife… enough to give dzhigit his power!” These are the only two lines he knew by heart from an old folk-song.
Tanash usually rides a chestnut horse. But it wasn’t really fine horse. He wasn’t good even for participating in a local farm baiga. An average working horse.
A beautiful wife… It is clear that he means his Myra. Beautiful or not? She wasn’t sure. But she knew she had a round face and cheeks. Slightly upturned nose. And her eyes… Tanash said, that, when it’s dark and stars are absent from the sky, he finds his way back home by her eyes. Overdraws, probably. He also loves her smiling and laughing. He said, her teeth are the sheer pearls. Where did they find so much pearls among the sands, far from oceans, when making Myra?
Golden-red atan was chewing gummies and didn’t notice his mistress. His hunch was reaching the ceiling. That is because during spring, summer and most of the autumn his work was to transport their yurt once in a while. It would not be a huge work to bring a barrel or two from the well. He is usually unhappy about it, grumbles and rebels against.
If you settle him on a hay bedding and saddle with something, atan would stay like that for a long time, even if the blizzard would last for two weeks. Oh god, do not let it last so long!
Covering her face with both hands from scratchy snow and barely standing on her feet, Myra made her path of one hundred steps to the shed to check if the gates are closed properly. On the way back the wind brought her to the house with several powerful kicks.
Before taking care about herself she had to feed the dogs.
The heater hadn’t been hot enough yet, but the room became definitely warmer. The saksaul fuel was crackling in the fireplace, the water in the kettle and pot began to boil. There should be more wood to make the heater, so the warm rooms would look like a real habitation. They spent too much time on the autumn pastures, and Djanybek forgot to send a repair crew as promised. If the winter would be harsh, will they have enough saksaul? She`d better ask to bring a truck or two with coil..
She went to the barn to get saksaul two times. Finally it became warm enough to put off the jacket and for fur-trimmed hat.
Transistor radio was telling about the weather – it appeared that blizzards, storms and hurricanes came took place all over the world and did a lot of harm. If only Djanybek make it in time to the aul, or at least to Yerdaly, a village of the third farm department.
Myra turned the shaft, and the radio picked up a signal of their state city. The speaker said that the head of regional farm department will speak. His name was Daukenbaev or something like that. Myra saw him once – he was visiting the pastures with regional and agricultural chiefs. They stayed for a while, complimented the health of the animals, but refused to stay and drink tea, specially prepared for the visit. It was during the revision of the plan of increasing the sheep population up to fifty million.
Daukenbaev`s voice was think – probably because he had to shout during phone calls with regions, trying to find out their situation – it is worse than spend the day on the wind. Radio worked awfully, so Myra heard not much. It was said that blizzard occupied all parts of the region. Moreover, Daukenbaev said: "...tcyclone would last for three dats…on the pastures…all needful measures… "
Myra smirked. "tcyclone..." Maybe he knows how to speak this word correctly, but still says as usual.
"Three days?.." she said aloud, talking to the transistor. "Just in case, let’s say - five days. Or six." And thought: I would have to be alone. Tanash would not be able to come through. God forbid him to try this! Seven deep hollows on the road from central farm to Djyngildy. Fully covered with snow… Even bulldozer would not be able to get through. "A forward-minded shepherd will overcome any conditions, even the most difficult ones"," she recollected a phrase from once read article. "Try to keep the rank of the forward-minded shepherd!"
She still had to bring out from the cold storehouse a pair of cotton pants – to put on tomorrow, even though she doesn’t like such mannish clothes. But could she have been doing something different, to live, say, on the central farm or in the township? Why not… She even lived liked that once! Tanash made her move out when their daughter was one year old. He worked in the shepherd’s brigade before they met, and he loved sands for the feeling of freedom and confidence when you travel over the distant pastures with the flock… Later she grew to love sands as well.
Myra put off her clothes quickly and went to bed; then she covered herself with two large blankets, leaving no gaps to reduce drafts. Thanks to Djanysnbke she had no reason to call a repair crew for this.
Myra fell asleep the moment her head touched the pillow in a bright pillowcase. She also saw no dreams at all.
As if somebody pushed her shoulder – she opened her eyes in a complete darkens. Blizzard was still raging outside. Perhaps even stronger than yesterday. Or maybe it is because she is half-asleep.
The clocks read a quarter to five, when she lit up a petrol lamp. She could have been sleeping for an additional hour, but she felt rested enough to face a new working day.
She turned on the radio, but it was silent, buzzing like the storm outside.
Myra had her breakfast and drank tea in a hurry, put on some warm clothes and pulled the door. It brightened up a little. Blizzard built some big snow banks during the night. Still the air was full of snowflakes, making up a thick white wall. Myra left no footprints on the snow – during the night it was hardened by frost.
The previous night, before going to sleep, she had a plan to clear the way towards the big haymow – one hundred meters away from the shed. Then she would have taken the sheep there for pasturage. Now she realized it was impossible. The amount of snow was, probably, bigger than the usual during the winter. While keeping on working with the shovel, she had a thought, full of despair – about necessity of a bulldozer, or a whole team of strong men, who know no tiredness! What can a single woman with a shovel do? One hundred meters… It can last till spring, when the snow shall vanish in a natural way.
Myra burst out crying because of helplessness and hopelessness. She stood there, reclined against a shovel, and sobbed. Alone… A man on her place would surely invent something and put it into action. Crying only makes her cheeks freeze, and nothing useful. There is no point to use the shovel, it only makes her tired.
She came back to the house and entered the horse barn. Two horses turned their head on the sounds of her footsteps and snored. Who do they want? Now she saw it – the cribs were empty. Good work…
Oh, spirits of our fathers! Tell me what to do! The ancestors would know what to do for sure. They knew nothing about bulldozers. Would they find enough shovels and men here? But blizzards were happening in past too, as rough as the modern ones. They had their own ways of dealing with that problem. They were hersmen even before were called Kazakhs. Each sort of permitted cattle had it’s own patron. Kambar-ata for horses, Zengi-baba for bulls and cows, Oysil-kara for camels and Shopai-ata for sheep. What would they do? There must be a way out, there is no such situation in the world without a solution.
She heard something like that… To make an effort and recollect – what exactly.
In Tanasha`s family, his grandfather was telling sometimes: a sheep would not get lost where the horse walks nearby. That means that Kambar-Ota would come to help her? But he doesn’t like loungers, like those who stand at the gates and cry.
Myra dried her eyes with a mitten.
"There would be no food for you," she said to the ginger and chestnut, who raised their ears. "You have to earn your food, understood?"
She untied them, and got on the unsaddled ginger horse, having the other on a string. Once people used horses to mellow snow cover, so that the sheep could get to the forage.
She has only two horses, eight hooves… On the other hand, she has to make a small road from the shed to the stack, and then clear the snow around.
Myra lost count of how many times she went through that way, at full tilt. After all she made the last slow walkthrough, checking if the sheep can go there. She had to try, because hungry sheep bleating louder.
She made a decision:
"Chock-chock-choke!.. Chock! Chock!"
Like the previous day, Myra, mounted on the horse, was moving forward and the goat followed her. Dogs followed on the sides and from behind of a flock. .
By the time they got to the stack, Myra had to work with shovel again, but there was no feeling of morning despair. She sheep followed her tracks on the way, the sound of rustle they were producing put her mind at ease – even the rage of a storm could not deafen the flock. Scent of a fresh hay reminded about summer.
Both horses stayed close, pushing aside or stepping over the sheep. Myra thought that it would never end… Finally enough space was cleared out. Sound of rustle became louder. Every sheep had enough of place; they tramped in the snow by themselves.
It was probably the second part of the day. The daylight was failing. She had to overcome things like tiredness and hunger. She thought to herself: was it the reason of lacking the place in aul for her to move to desert sands? She will stand out – against that endless blizzard, against god himself, who has no other business than to hark a lonely woman in the middle of pastureland.
The sheep were grazing the sides of a stack, a devil would not be able to drive them away. Myra decided that it would be a good idea to come back home, to have something to eat and warm up.
Several lashes of a whip made the stubborn horses turn back and go to the stables.
The light of kerosin lamp in the house enlighted frosty windows with frown shaggy brows.
Dinner or supper she had? Something that is easy and quick to cook. Kuurdak? Potato wasn’t frozen; it could be added to the dish. And, of course, tea. While everything is getting ready, it would be good to have a suck at a ball of kashk, which staves off hunger and allays thirst.
Tanash is probably is safe somewhere in warmth – if only they were lucky enough yesterday. Today she had not a moment to spare to think about him and Ayagez.
"Don`t worry about me, everything will be alright," she said to them. "I ask only for one thing – do not draw me away from my work, stay away… Spend a day or two without me. Is it really that long?"
She laughed at her own instructions. Well, somebody has to joke in their house while Tanash is away!
While the kuurduk was getting ready, Myra decided to put a lantern upon the entrance door. It was called «bat» for some unknown reasons – this name was mentioned in the inventory sheet. As soon as she raised the lantern up, it was almost taken away by the wind blow.
Then she took the lantern to the camel stable – with a light on he would not be so lonely. It can also scare off the wolves.
She was about to open the gates when suddenly three pairs of blue eyes flashed in the dark corner between stalls and stables! Holding a lantern, she rushed back, took a bludgeon Tanash made for her, and called out for the dogs.
"Kat! Kat!" she shouted, trying to make her voice sound mannish.
The six eye beast wasn’t about to go away. Before the dogs came, Myra found out, who came to their barn.
The visitor screeched mournfully, answering to the angry barking.
"Oh you, unlucky fellows,"said Myra. "You caught it bad from the blizzard too?..
The dogs found out that it were only saigas, calmed down at once. They considered saiga to be a direct relative of sheep and goats, what is absolutely true. There is no need to worry… Dogs started to fawn on Myra, reminding her that if the supper time passed by, it is time to think about dinner.
"Wait a little, wait a little bit more!" she waved.
Saigas kept trembling – because of coldness, fear and hunger…They were also very skinny – a bag of bones. Two of them had horns, and the third one was female.
"Barely keep your feet, "Myra chided them," but still trying!..Two of you kept company to that beauty and didn’t notice the blizzard bring you here. Don’t worry, my dzhigits…
She opened up the gates a little, and moved saigas, one by one beginning with the female, to the stables. They did not resist, but she felt their fast pounding hearts.
"Here you will be safe..."
The red atan ignored unexpected guests because of his inborn arrogance. He protruded his hairy lower lip showing that it is not his business, if only they leave him alone.
"Share some hay with the guests," Myra told him.
She left two jags before the saigas, but they were not in the right mood to eat. That’s alright. They will be fine in a while and eat later.
Before she left, Myra firmly had closed the door. Tomorrow she might bring more hay for atan and for saigas.
She feeds the dogs in a little barn near the house. This time she fed them with bones and meat. She also had to stay and wait to prevent fighting – the bigger dog was showing his teeth for no reason.
Myra raised her voice at him:
"What are you doing?.. Who ever heard of such thing as bullying the youngsters?"
She poured some western chorba, warmed up on the stove.
"And now get back to the sheep! To the sheep!"
The particolored dog was the first who disappeared in the storm.
Myra touched the doorknob and suddenly stood still, struck by the unexpected thought. Saigas… Why didn’t she understand it earlier? ! Is it possible that saigas came here running from the wolves?
"I should hurry…"
She said that already in the room.
A man would soon grow wild without a possibility to say a certain quantity of words every day. How much exactly was unknown to the scientists. But speaking is a vital need, like food, water, and rest. Myra didn’t think about that, but surely did have a need to talk, and that is why she was speaking – not only with absent Tanash, but also with sheep, goat, dogs and saigas, with full of dignity red atan.
While being in the room, she started talking to herself:
"And what about you?.. Look... If you stay like that near the stove, wolves would get your sheep for a dinner. You will never get forgiveness for that! Quickly go to the flock!"
Kuurduk was ready, the smell of bread was in the air – Myra left a crust on the stove.
"Not worse than a beef stroganoff," she said.
Once they were eating at a city restaurant with Tanash. For the first course – beet-root soup and beef stroganoff, pieces of meat with potatoes, for the second. They were shopping with Tanash that day, both soup and beef stroganoff were delicious. After that they drank tea. Tanash acted like a urban dweller. Called the girl in a white apron who served their dishes and asked in a portentous manner: "Do you have any patty cakes? Bring us the cakes..."
She drank some more tea, strong one – not like the one they were drinking in the restaurant - to cheer up. Took some kashk with her – the ancestors were right when they were taking kashk to the journeys. Myra closed up the damper to save some warmth until the morning. Reduced a little flame in the lantern. The window should glow a little.
Lastly she visited atan’s stables. Saigas were still scared, but already gathering hay from the ground.
After that, riding a ginger horse, made her way to the unseen stack.
Here she was met by the joyful gods, the particolored one was particularly happy to report: all sheep are safe and doing well. And now when their mistress is here, everything will be even better.
The dogs followed Myra while she was checking flock. Sheep ate a lot of hay from that side of a stack, some of them were already sated, lying near each other.
"I entrust you to the noble Shopan-ata, protector of the shepherds and their flocks," she said solemnly.
Myra was covered from top to toe with her black sheepskin. Dogs were sitting nearby. Horses – from the other side. She leaned back against the stack, feeling like the snow wind blows. Tanash was right to make sure the tractor drivers laid it down not by a hurry-durry, but properly. Let the wind blow… The coat is warm, and this side is free from the storm. Maybe she should sleep an hour or two… People say that movement gives strength, but sleep gives vigor… Truly speaking, today she was trying out the first part of that saying. As for sleeping… But she recollected once read quotation: «Dream is a yawn of death...» Now it sounds like a warning. Once you fall asleep, the storm will burry you, will whisper a requiem for you and go find another victim. Maybe it sounds too scary – after all she had her loyal dogs. But she will not sleep. One Kazakh writer once wrote that Kazakhs are a nation of sleepy men. Some of them would gladly sleep the whole life long, but if only Myra could write down her thoughts on a paper, she would write: Kazakhs are the nation of awakened.
But the desire to sleep after cold, windy day was too strong... You may even miss the moment you fall asleep!
She pulled out her hands from the coat and hit the metal shovel with a bludgeon. The sound was dull and rattling… Such a pity, she didn’t take an empty tank to hit it when she feels sleepy. Probably she has to act like this. Apparently she won’t have enough of sleep in the nearest future.
By following the rule – not putting off until tomorrow what you can do today, would be possible to avoid a lot of troubles. In the middle of the night, the particolored dog started barking, both frightened and posing a threat. Horses roared. Lying sheep stood up and snuggled to a stack.
All the gods were barking, and a lonesome wolfish howl answered from the snowy gloom… Indeed, where would they be during a storm like that? Myra took her bludgeon and started hitting the shovel with all her might, missing from time to time.
One more howl answered the first one... Oh yeah, the best time for wolf’s wedding games… Male show their might, agility, endurance and luck, and after all she-wolf chooses the winner. It will never change. But hunger… hunger may be as strong as love. Maybe they missed those saigas in the barn. But they found her flock.
She continued to make the noise, and unknown sound made the wolfs quiet for a while. But it`s too early to calm down. These grey ghosts always know what is happening – no one knows how. They probably knew that it is a woman near the flock. A man would shout, or send the deadly fire from the rifle. And the dogs… One of them toughie, and the others are too easy. Wolfs were trying to be quiet and get as close as they can… They will never abandon such tempting take.
Right before the dawn they got extremely near. The particolored dog got on the snowbank, continuing to bark.
Myra started hitting stronger. No way, she will never stay without a rifle.
Right after the particolored, a young dog jumped out. He believed in his leader too much and went too far – Myra heard a short desperate shriek, and after that – silence.
"Got him!" she shouted in her impotent rage.
After that the wolves dared not to approach. The leader dog did not bark, but he was growling, with raised hackles.
"Inflow – three saigas," Myra said, imitating their farm accountant. "Charge" one dog... Here we go, night has gone, wolves are hungry, sheep are safe!
During the new day she was getting ready for the night, because the blizzard has continued to rage.
Myra brought out an additional sheepskin, hang it on the stick near the stack, and put on it Tanash’s old hat so that the wolves would smell mannish scent, and finally armed jackstraw with hayfork. Brought an old empty tank, tried out the sound of hitting it – as if it was a real gun fire!
That powerful sound, probably, impressed the wolves. They didn’t appear during the night. Or even went away completely. Anyway, the dogs were alarmed but calm. Myra had a chance to sleep for a while, but every time waking up she was hitting the tank – one, two, three times… Then – took the hayfork and check if the flock is safe.
Waking up once again Myra got a scare, something was wrong… No way…
Yes, the storm calmed down.
It turns out that the sky has stars... and these stars may die out, when the sun rises. It appeared that her friend – the radio – was right when told about three-day storm. And the red sun means that there would be frost.
Through the kerchief, through the thick winter fur cap, Myra started hearing a steady noise.
Usually she called it a putt-putt, without any respect. But she would never deny, that helicopter was able to bring the most recent news you might never hear on the radio. It also could come for help any time – once it brought a doctor to a distant farm, where her friend Magrisha was about to give birth too early.
The helicopter encircled and started letting down a little bit afield. The horses kept eating the hay – they were used to this giant bird coming from the sky, though being harmless. But the sheep were scared off and trapped in the snow banks.
The first who stepped out of the board was Tanash. He ran towards her, shouting something… Probably “A fine horse, and a beautiful wife… enough to give dzhigit his power!”
He was already close:
"Karagym... my darling... you were all alone... My poor fellow! My shepherd... How are you?"
Djanysbek, chief of the farm, approached:
"Any losses?" he asked.
Myra hadn’t answered neither to her husband nor to the chief. She felt herself little and helpless – just like Ayagez. She wanted to cry, she wanted Tanash to comfort her.
"Where did they find enough of pearls..."
Djanysbek interrupted Tanash:
"I am moving on. Would Myra come with us or not?"
"Pick her up on the way back, Djake… Let the pilot land near the house, we will be at home."
"In two hours., — Djanysbek said. — You must be ready. Don’t make us wait."
Myra’s cheeks were burning from the frost, but she hadn’t felt it yet. Tanash took her hand and they headed to the house, leaving the flock for the dogs.
"Oh, I should not forget about one thing!" Tanash told her. "Ayagez told me to bring her black plush monkey. She says she can’t sleep without her…"
Before going into the house, Myra took Tanash to the barn to see the saigas.
The gates were opened for a little. Probably the final blows of the blizzard made them weak.
There was no saigas in the stables.
...I began this tale with the words, that I wasn’t sure if I can do this…
I meant: if only I could tell you about Myra, in a simple manner, without unnecessary redundancy – so you would wish to come to Djyngildy and meet her and her husband Tanash.