Аннотация: Haldor Volcano The Moon Outside My Window (Satirical Novel) Translated from the Russian by Alec Vagapov
Haldor Volcano (Abdusalomov Haldor Usmanovich) was born in Maslakhat village, Altinkulsk District, Andizhan Region, the Republic of Uzbekistan in 1959. In 1975 he finished school. In 1976-1978 he worked as an artist and designer in different institutions. For two years, from 1978 to 1980, he served in the army. Since 1975 he has been writing poetry and prose under the pen-name of Volkano in two languages, Uzbek and Russian. In 1996 he graduated from Tashkent State University. Since 1999 he has been a member the Union of Writers of Uzbekistan. He is the author of three collections of poems, 5 books of stories and 2 novels. He is married and has 5 children. At present Haldor Volkano lives in Canada.
Vladimir Mayakovsky said in his autobiography that he was a poet, and that was what made him an interesting man. Haldor Volkano is a poet and a writer, and that is what makes him an interesting personality. We will leave it to historians to tell the world who, in fact, Haldor Volkano is, what his political views are, what outstanding people he rubs shoulders with, what his honors and awards are and so on. We have his books at hand and we have the lucky chance to read them, that"s all.
We will open his novel "The Poplars in the Haze", start reading it and will be unable to tear off our eyes from the book. We"ll read it on and on nonstop wondering what will happen next for so exciting is the story, so interesting the episode that we, subconsciously, will get involved in it, be part of it and start talking with the characters of the book, joining them in the laugh, shedding tears with them, advising them what to do, judging them when they do something wrong and rejoicing when they do something right.
Al Kizim, the main character of the book, is of special interest to us because, as the main character of the novel he finds himself in all the situations and circumstances described in it: life and death, war and peace, love and marriage, divorce and reconciliation, crime and punishment, good luck and bad fortune and what not.
The book is written in the first person, and we might expect Al Kizim to be a real hero, a positive character against the background of the other characters with their flaws and faults, inadequate behavior and such. Ironically, he happens to be one of them, a man with strong points and week points, acting right and not quite right, in fact, he is just a man of common sense taken by the author from real life.
The scene is laid in Uzbekistan, a country in Central Asia, with its customs, traditions, beliefs, the way of life and so on, and one may expect the description of some sophisticated people beyond European and American understanding. As we read the book our precautions vanish into thin air from the very first pages. We see an amazing unity of human"s nature regardless of where one lives: in the East, West, South or North. We are all humans and must treat one another as such. It"s a dominant and recurring theme of Haldor Volkano"s novel which can be plainly seen from the behavior and mutual relationship of his novel"s personages: Uzbeks, Russians, Georgians, Armenians and others. There is, of course, some national touch and coloration of Usbek people"s way of life but it should not be exaggerated which, incidentally, none of the characters of the novel do. It doesn"t even occur to them to make it a problem.
While we read the book we cannot but fall in love with its female characters: Babat and Salima. Love for the husband, care for the children and the family, weakness and strength of the heart, chastity and purity, dignity and honesty, all this combined with open heart and physical charm makes them amazingly attractive women for the reader who will excitedly read every line of the chapters devoted to them. It"s not for nothing that Al Kizim loves both of them dearly and even keeps his promise when he tells Salima that he will follow her if she passes away.
As we mentioned before, the author resorts to imaginative creation of episodes and scenes putting his characters in all possible and impossible situations, real and unreal, and he does it to show his characters" true nature for one can only be understood in full when others see his or her behavior in non-standard and non-typical circumstances. We will see Al Kizim flying in a balloon, fishing, gambling, doing business, fighting, falling in love, leaving the family and coming back, burying his friends, and what not. The same goes for other characters such as Adalatov, Ramazanov and others who find themselves in most extraordinary situations and show their true nature in action, which, as the saying goes, speak louder than words.
Al Kizim is a believer, a Muslim. He says his prayers regularly and he fears Allah. But he is far from being a man of chasity, nor is he an exceedingly righteous man. He will commit a sin, regret it, say his prayer and try not to do wrong again. The most important thing about him is that he is tolerant of other people"s beliefs. When Kalankhan Adalatov, feeling that he is about to breathe his last, asks Al Kizim to bury him in the Christian Cemetery Al Kizim promises that he will do it and keeps his promise. Even the Imam of the local Mosque Zainutdin Ibn Gainutdin attends Adalatov"s funeral saying all people on earth are the children of Adam Allaikhissalam.
In another episode Ramazanov, a Muslem and Adalatov, a Christian, when taken aback by some danger threatening their lives take turns in praying: "Ramazanov started praying. When he finished his prayer Kalankhan Adalatov, being an Orthodox Christian, crossed himself and started singing a psalm from the Bible".
Religius tolerance is inherent to other characers of the novel as well. The author"s latent ideа is that belief is a personal thing, and one recognizes another man"s or woman"s right to believe in whatever he or she wants. And it"s not the author"s dream or fantasy. It"s reality observed and very well depicted by the wrter in his novel.
Haldor Volkano narrates his story full of adventurous scenes and exciting episodes without making judgements and taking sides. He gives true pictures of life leaving it to the reader to form his or her own opinion of the events and characters described in this exciting book.
"The Moon Outside My Window" is a novel in 2 Parts. The second part is to be fiished and released shortly.
The Moon Outside My Window
Translated from the Russian by Alec Vagapov
(1) The Dream
I am a participant of the war which broke out between my neighbor and me. I nearly died in that heroic war. I can"t forget it up to now.
It was spring. A thaw had set in. The dung was belching out steam. Birds were chirping, hens were cackling. Up in the sky white clouds floated tenderly showing their magnificent elastic breasts or some other parts of the body. I stared at them in admiration. My wife was a jealous woman. And that"s why we quarreled. I thought I"d better go out before I strangled her, like Desdemona.
I called my neighbor, I mean, Ramazanov, a boon companion of mine. We sat down on a bench in a shady place with huge tall poplars wavering in the wide waft of the wind. Taking the floor I made an opening speech:
- You know, Ramazanov, in Europe civilization has reached such a high level! Imagine, you use a public toilet, equipped with computers, and - God forbid! - you forget to let the water out, the door will automatically shut before your nose.
Instead of admiring the story, Ramazanov smiled wryly and said:
- You call that a toilet? I don"t think it"s a toilet; it"s a trap for the poor that come to visit the city from villages. It"s humiliation! The best toilets in the world are ours! In the open air, with no roof! There"s no door, but there"s a curtain instead. You can sit and watch the endless sky, if you wish. You can say good bye, with a sigh, to the caravan of cranes flying over the willow grove where silence reigns and leaves fall quietly and sadly. Particularly at night. You sit with the moon shining right over your head. Far away, over the wood, you can see the sky swarming with innumerable stars and hear the croaking of frogs and the monotonous singing of crickets. Besides, this toilet can in no time be turned into an observation post which allows you to see what your neighbors are doing. When you watch people from a crack in the toilet, like from embrasure, nobody can see you. You can quietly gather information about what has been brought and what has been taken away and things like that. You can even overhear conversations, the way ninja, the mediaeval mercenary agents did. Sitting here you can even have a smoke. Should an unpleasant smell waft to your nose, the wind will quickly carry it away. The most important thing is that this toilet is never clogged up! You don"t have to call to the municipal economy in search of a plumber. It means there will be no additional costs! And you keep praising this backward Europe. Pooh! I scorn you and the whole of Europe!
With these words Ramaznov left. After a while I, too, made my way home. I was in a hell of a bad mood.
I was thinking about my neighbor"s argument. His angry words pierced my heart like arrows of Tamerlane"s warriors who were known to smear the arrow heads with the deadly venom of rattlesnakes, leaving no chance for the enemy to survive.
Nervously, I walked to and fro, working out the plan of retaliation.
When my plan was ready, I took out a crow bar and started breaching the wall adjoining my neighbor"s toilet. With a powerful blow I managed to make a breach. Then I stuck a stove pipe into the hole I had made and started waiting for the historic moment.
Suddenly I heard someone enter the toilet. Taking my chance, I took a bucket of cold water and poured it into the pipe. There came a loud shriek. Apparently, my neighbor had rushed out of the toilet, a toilet in the open air, with no roof, where one can sit and smoke admiring the moon that shined softly and sadly with innumerous stars flickering over the black woods and listening to the croaking of frogs and the monotonous crackling of crickets resounding far away near the swamps with canes rustling like Chinese ancient silk. My neighbor, a well ground axe in hand, looking like an Indian armed with a tomahawk getting on a fierce fight with a pale face, hoping to scalp me, jumped, without a pole, over the fence and said angrily:
- Well, come on, come on! Come closer, I will cut off your cupola filled with shit, well, well, come here!
I grasped the pitchfork and stood on the defensive.
- Well, come up to your daddy - I said - come, if you are sick and tired of living.
Terribly scared, my wife seized me by the sleeve and started begging in a trembling voice:
- Please, don"t, dear! He will kill you!
I put her hand aside and said:
- Go away, don"t hold me, woman! We are on the right, and we shall win! I will make shish-kebab out of this fat monster!
My neighbor kept twisting around throwing his axe from hand to hand and waiting for a chance to deal a shuttering blow upon me. His axe, ready to smash me to pieces, was spinning in his hands like an aircraft propeller. We were waltzing round like Roman gladiators. Our house turned into an amphitheatre. A crowd of spectators could now be seen their heads sticking out from behind the fences.
Like Spartacus, raising high my glittering pitchfork, I dashed to my neighbor with a war-cry. But I missed. The shrewd neighbor managed to jump back. My pitchfork pierced the tree. While I was trying to pull it out my neighbor had time to deliver a blow to my leg. Zap! My foot crunched and was broken. The pain was so severe that I felt as if a black curtain had fallen covering all before my eyes.
I regained consciousness in a somber room. It was the hospital morgue. The detectives and the doctors must have thought that I was dead, so they had brought me here.
I was scared at first. But then I pulled myself together and climbed out of the plastic bag. Then, moaning and groaning, leaning against the wall, I slowly made my way to the iron door. As I came up to it I peeped out into the corridor through the keyhole. Oh my! My entire near and dear are there! My wife, stroking our sons Arabboy and Sharabboy, is weeping. The kids, too, cry bitterly sobbing and shedding tears.
I could no longer bear watching the tragic scene, so I started knocking on the iron door of the morgue with shouts:
- Don"t cry, dear! I am alive! Open the door, I am cold! Babat! Arabboy, Sharabboy, sonny! Do you recognize my voice?
Deathly scared, my dear ones stopped crying. First they fixed their eyes on the door of the morgue, and then, suddenly, all of them got up and ran headlong, without a backward glance, down the long corridor.
A few minutes later they came back accompanied by people in white smocks. When they opened the door I came out with open arms. We hugged and cried for joy, the way participants of the KVN fun club contest do when racking their brains over the rivals" question. The men and women in white smocks stared at me in amazement and shouted in chorus: "Terminator!"
My wife and the kids now cried, now laughed through the tears glistening on their cheeks like diamonds.
After that the docs put me in the ward where patients with a fracture are treated. I was laid up for quite a while but, alas, I was not cured. My foot remained crippled. When I walked it would dangle like a plough hitched to a tractor that furrows the fields in spring, with skylarks flapping their wings and flying up and down and swallows following the tractor in the hope of finding some delicious insects. As I walked, I would hear the little children laughing behind my back:
- Tractor! Look, that man is a tractor!
I would throw stones at them but they would follow me all the way to the bus stop shouting and teasing me like a pack of loud monkeys.
When I arrived at Matarak, the village where I at one time came into this mad, mad world, when they had cut my navel string with a rusty knife, I made my way straight to the house where Kimsanbai lives, the man who was the initiator of the united military alliance in the village, the institution where we paid our membership dues every month.
I entered the headquarters and, addressing Kimsanbai, said straight:
- May I ask you, Your Highness, why do we pay the membership dues, if your alliance has been unable to render us military assistance in this crisis?! When the sacred war broke out between my neighbor and me you did not help me, and, as a result, my family suffered heavy losses.
Trying to find an excuse, Kimsanbai said:
- It"s a lie. On that critical day when the war broke out between you and your neighbor, we immediately sent out peace keeping forces to the battle-ground, and namely, infantry units armed with awls, pitchforks, screwdrivers and sharp-cut nails. Then, on tire inner tubes, we ferried across the river a detachment of land forces, or, to be more exact, a platoon of women, also armed to the teeth with pans, pokers and oven forks. It wasn"t easy to do because we had no pumps and had to inflate the tubes orally. But while the peace keeping forces were on their way the war was over, and you were put to hospital. Thank God, we didn"t send out our air-born troops... But, anyway, you will have to pay a big fine.
When I heard this I got dumbfounded and said:
- No-oo, I will no longer be a member of this military alliance which skins the clients alive.
- All right - said Kimsanbai - we will let you go. But you have to pay the fine first, then you
can hand in a discharge application.
I said I was not going to pay any fine and went home. When I came back to my near and dear family I was in good spirits again.
In the evening my younger son Sharabboy came up to me and said:
- Daddy, my teacher gave me this homework, I have to write a composition on the subject of
"My Father"s Dream". Do you have a dream?
- Yes, of course, - I said. It can"t be otherwise. A human being is born with a dream and dies with a dream. I, too, had my dreams. When a child, I wanted to be a tractor driver. In those days an ox-eyed, black-bearded midget with a big head and a big mouth used to come, on a cart, to our village. The small man was smart at selling kerosene. He would shout at the top of his voice:
- Keldi pinor yak, keldi pinor yak! - Lamp oil has come, lamp oil has come!
On hearing the familiar shrilly scream people would come out with flasks and jerry-cans to buy kerosene. There was no electricity in those days. People used oil lamps to illuminate the house. By the lamp light they would talk, eat, drink, read and write.
Like all other people we, too, had a flask which was crumpled and black from dirt. It looked as if the stoker of a boiler-house had hurled it with all his might from hell and it fell down into our yard.
Our father was an honest tractor driver; he never stole diesel oil for his tractor. Like any one else he would buy kerosene. Every day I would open the flask to look at my reflection and, spreading my nostrils wide, inhale the smell of the kerosene. I don"t know why but I like the smell of it. That"s where my love of machinery comes from.
Late in the autumn days, crossing the farm lands, I would carry supper to my father. At cold autumn nights, far in the distance I would see my dad"s rattling tractor cut the darkness with red and yellow lights. I would hear the echo coming from the rattling engine that broke the night silence with its rhythmical trembling sound. Walking against the cold wind I would make my way towards the field where my father was plowing the land. I would come up to the tractor from the illuminated side, with the front lights on, so that my father might see me, and give him a sign that I had brought him his supper. He would stop the tractor and jumping off the seat come up to me. Then, stroking my head, he would ask:
- Have you brought the supper?
I would say "yes", and he would reply:
- Barakalle! - Good boy!!
While father spruced himself up shaking the dust off his clothes I would quickly gather dry cotton branches, known as "guzopaya", and make a little fire by which father would warm himself up and eat. I would throw branches into the fire watching him have his supper. By the fire light our shadows would change shape, now shortening, now elongating. We looked like two genies sitting by the fire. Like the tongue of a dragon, the flame was flickering in the cold wind with the crackling sparkles flying up into the star-spangled sky. I sat thinking that when I grow up I would be a tractor driver, like father. But my dream never came true.
One day father fell asleep while plowing the field at night and fell into a deep ditch, along with the tractor. So those autumn nights took my dad to the undiscovered world from whose bourn no traveler returns.
A year later my mother followed him. I was now alone with my granny. After she passed away the fellow-villagers sent me to a boarding school where orphans were fostered.
Years went by. I finished school, and as if there were no other occupations, I became a store-keeper.
(2) Kalankhan Adalatov
On my way home from hospital I met Zainuddin Ibn Gainuddin, the imam of our Matarak village, a mullah. We greeted each other, and as we started talking he said in an accented tone:
- Reverend Al Kazim, God told us to respect one another and be in good relations with our neighbors. For he said: "I forgive a man his offences if he can forgive the offenses of the man who offended him". So if you are a true Muslim you should forgive Ramazanov".
I was God fearing by nature, therefore I forgave Ramazanov. We began to live peacefully as before in our village of Matarak.
Our village has a strange name. Up to now nobody knows what it means. One scholar, a topographer, had been long looking for the clue but couldn"t find it He even fell ill but never learnt the secret of the word.
But people appreciated his endeavors and presented him with a shirt on his birthday. But the shirt"s sleeves were a bit too long. So the attendants of the "mental teem" would bind the sleeves tight because the scholar had the habit of striking himself on the head.
From then on both the villagers and topographers stopped trying to find the etymology of the word.
In Matarak there is a cotton waste refinery. The waste is called "uvada", that"s why the villagers call the refinery "Uvada Factory". The cotton that people grew and harvested was taken out, as for us we only got the waste. People used it for sewing mattresses, caftans, pillows and other basic necessities.
It was ten years since I had been working at the refinery as a stockman.
My wife"s nickname was Babat. Her real name was Mukhabbat. When she was a little girl her parents called her Babat, and we still call her Babat. The poor one was so accustomed to her nickname that she only got to know her real name when receiving her passport.
When I was young I fell in love with her, and we got married. We had two children, Arabboy and Sharabboy. The manager of the Refinery was our neighbor whose house was beyond the house of the Ramazanovs. The latter was his driver. The director"s name was Kalankhan Adalatov where Kalankhan was his first name. He was a man almost without a neck, his head as round as a ball and his nose resembled the moon surface with red and violet craters. He had one tea-pot with a broken handle and one piala with a crack. He drank coffee from this piala.
When he wanted to shave he used this same bowl to whip shaving foam. When the director smoked he used it as an ashtray. At supper, treating the inspector, Adalatov poured vodka into this bowl.
He was not much of a drinker but he did drink occasionally. Some time ago a worker from the winding shop invited people he worked with to his wedding party.
We sat at the party eating, drinking, and listening to music. I looked at Kalankhan and saw that he had had a drop too much. It was obvious that he was dizzy. Now he told me:
- Pour some vodka!
I filled his glass. He drank it and didn"t have a snack to kill the taste. Then he turned to me and said:
- Tell me, when was Karl Max born?
Frankly, I did not expect such a question. I was scared to death; my heart sank. In a trembling voice I said:
- I don"t know, Kalankhan Adalatovitch.
Then, wiping his lips with a napkin, he rose from the table, and showing his big, firm, gorilla-like teeth, got hold of my collar and starting strangling me:
- Politically blind man, you! You have no right to live in this world! You don"t know when Karl Marx was born!
It"s good that during the row some nice people interfered and released my throat from the strong fingers of the director. I nearly died at the wedding party from the hands of my own manager.
I now sit and drink water to soothe my heart thinking feverishly that from now on, without delay, I will start learning by heart the dates of birth of all famous personalities including Napoleon, Kutuzov, Adolf Hitler and, of course, Kalankhan Adalatov.
Meanwhile the director started shouting:
- Hey you, Master of Ceremony, where are you looking? We"ve run short of vodka!
Why don"t they bring some? Who treats the guests that way? What? No more vodka? Well, let them pay back the money we chipped in and donated as a wedding gift!
The director kept shouting while the guests stared at us reproachfully. We were ashamed. Everybody turned red in confusion. And when Kalakhan Adalatov hanged his head dropping his face into the cake there came a group of burly guys in dark eyeglasses, their skinheads looking like peeled eggs, and tried to help the director to get up and go. But doing this they only provoked a shaky situation letting the genie out of the bottle.
The angry director started putting up resistance to the police volunteers.
- Let me go! Hand off Vietnam! I want to drink! - he shouted, and, to prevent the Volunteers from pulling him away, he seized the edge of the table. But the guys in dark glasses were strong enough to pull Kalankhan Adalatov like a sack of grain. Our director did not want to give up either. This time he got hold of the table-cloth, like a drowning man that catches at a straw. The costly chinaware, the crystal vases, glasses and goblets were all smashed to pieces. A fight broke out. Somebody punched Kalankhan Adalatov in the face. He staggered but did not fall down. Only his hat flew away like an unidentified flying object.
I tried to defend him but he shouted at me:
- That"s all, don"t hold me, Al Kazim! Give him a sheet of paper and a pencil, let him write his will. For he only has a short while left to live in this world. In the name of God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!
With these words Kalankhan Adalatov struck a blow in the groin of a monstrous skinhead, but missed his aim, and the blow fell on another guy. The fight was going on all through the night. In the morning the guests, like beaten dogs, with scratches, bruises and black eyes, turned away.
I came home and went straight to bed. I was sleeping like a log the whole day. In the evening I went on sleeping.
My wife was scared thinking that I was dead. In the morning I woke up, thank God. I washed my face, had breakfast and went to work. I came to my working place and saw Kalankhan Adalatovich there. He wasn"t drunk. We exchanged greetings, and as I opened my mouth to say something, the director interrupted me saying:
We need a supra. We are taking on a novice.
Supra is a thick table-cloth used when making dough for bread. It has been, from ancient times, a sacred thing with Uzbek people.
Each time Kalankhan Adalatovich provided someone with work he insisted that the new employee should swear over supra in front of the Charter of Uvada Factory.
The Charter read as follows:
"I, such person, hereby, joining the ranks of workers of Uvada Factory solemnly swear before the present Charter to hold sacred the secrets of Uvada Factory and never get involved in political activities, nor participate in unapproved meetings even if I do not get my salary for months and years. Should I break this solemn vow, may the severe penalty of the Charter and contempt of Administration befall me! May I be thrown, with my hands and feet bound with ropes, into the barrel where wastes are decomposed".
My Manager"s task was a law for me!
I brought a supra and we solemnly took on a new worker. Then Adalatov gave me an envelope with the words "Top Secret" written on it.
I took the envelope and went out to take it to town. I had to hand in the confidential letter to a secret receiver.
I got on a bus., took a seat and looked around. A man in a striped mattress-like shirt, about forty years of age, with a triangle head and big dragon-fly eyes, took the seat next to me. He kept chewing a gum, like a cow, that lies in the shades of conifer tees of Holland, languidly frightening away the annoying flies and digesting the grass in a sultry summer.
There was a girl standing right in front of me. She looked out of the window watching the scene of landscapes floating by. She stared at all that caught her sight.
I looked and saw a white thread on her skirt.
- I will do a good turn - I thought - if I put that thread away insensibly.
I touched the thread but it was sewn-on. Then I twisted the thread round my finger and pulled it wishing to tear it off. What a mishap! The girl"s skirt snapped at full length up to the waist. The passengers fixed their eyes on the girl"s snow-white panties with a delicate lace and burst out laughing.
I turned pale. Some passengers were looking at me reproachfully, others were staring in surprise.
- That"s the end - I thought - she will now kick up a row, and the crowd will make a pizza or omelet out of me and then deliver me to our near and dear militia.
So I said:
- Sorry, girl, pardon me please, I only wanted... I mean... I just wanted to remove the thread from your skirt...
But the girl didn"t even notice that her skirt was torn in two. She turned round, looked at her skirt and said to my amazement and contrary to my expectations:
- How nice! Thank you. You have helped me a lot. I was just going to drop in at the atelier to have my skirt cut. Skirts with a long cut are in fashion nowadays. I don"t know how to thank you.
I was puzzled with what the girl had said and wondered whether it was a dream or reality.
Maybe, it was just hallucination, a false distorted perception of things? I thought, perhaps, it was time to see the doctor. I must have fallen ill. Now the man, in a striped mattress-like shirt, about forty years of age, with a triangle head and big dragon-fly eyes, chewing a gum, suddenly interfered:
- Oh yes! Bravo! Bravo! I am delighted! You are a juggler! I suppose, you are a pick pocket and an experienced one at that! What you have shown now is just great! Wonderful! Superb! It"s a great skill! You have easily cut the skirt, like a surgeon with forty years of experience that transplants human organs in remote India where delinquents on rainy days, an umbrella in hand, sing:
Ya gardishma-a -a asmanehe-otan -tara hoooo -ooo
I understand, I understand. It"s hard times! Life is hard both for thieves and common people.
For thieves, in particular. Only the poor use busses and their purses are as thin as the owners themselves. The state doesn"t care for them. Life is getting harder and harder with every passing day, and that affects all layers of society, including you, I mean thieves. Misery reigns all around, and the wages are extremely low. There"s no use to pinch an empty purse. It"s deadly for a young talent. Art and skilful hands are dying out. That"s the reason why so many crooks join the militia. They now work as prosecutors, judges, governors and the like. Some swindlers have even become deputies and senators. There will be a time, and very soon, when they start running for presidency. Am I right, my colleague?
With these words the man in a striped mattress-like shirt, about forty years of age, with a triangle head and big dragon-fly eyes, chewing a gum, fixed his eyes on me.
I flew into a range on hearing what he said, and shouted to him:
- Think what you"re saying, comrade. How can I be a thief? I am a simple, ordinary law abiding citizen of my country! I am not a colleague of yours!
Suddenly, the man in a striped mattress-like shirt, about forty years of age, with a triangle head and big dragon-fly eyes, vanished in the haze.
The passengers, too, seemed to be riding in the haze. The bus turned into the sweating room of a Finnish bath-house. Me, too, I was sitting on the bank of the Thames river where in the thick fog ghosts in checked caps, with their collars up, were walking on wet cobblestones across Trafalgar Square smoking pipes, like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
Suddenly the driver let out a shriek:
- Dear passengers! We are burning! The bus will explode now! Run for your life, if you can! Stand from under!!!
- The driver, having given us the warning, jumped out of the bus. The deadly scared passengers dashed to the door like one.
The bus had only one door which was wooden. There arose congestion. The women cried, the men wrangled with one another, some swore like troopers. As ill luck would have it, my pocket caught hold of the nail sticking out of the door. Off it flew and I was free.
- Thank God - I said - oh my Lord!
I looked and saw people laughing and congratulating one another on successful evacuation. The driver, too, climbed out of the ditch. Then he came up to the bus, got out the axe, the hack-saw and some nails and started fixing the wooden door made of rough planks. Presently, I came up to the girl who had her skirt torn and with a big hug, staring into her eyes, started congratulating her. The girl whispered in my ear a poem in some language unknown to me, which resounded like a rustle of green canes in the autumn wind on the banks of the Nile. The rhymes went like this:
Et l'amour est lЮ, et l'amour s'en va,
Tu pars avec lui, il meurt avec moi,
On a beau prier, on a beau crier,
L'amour nous oublie, comment l'oublier,
Though I didn"t understand a single word I didn"t want to leave these amazingly tender lines unanswered.
I buried my head in her fine, soft hair producing a heavenly pleasant odor and whispered in her ear, like a distant echo of waves:
- Merci, Madame, comment vous appelez-vous? Je m"appele Al Kizim. -
Vous parlez franГais dИjЮ tres bien! Au revoir!
If I tell you my marriage story you will roll with laughter.
In her youth Babat, i.e. my better half, was the most beautiful girl of Matarak. Her father worked as a laboratory assistant at the cotton-cleaning plant. And though he was an ordinary laboratory worker my would-be father-in-law made Napoleonic pans, wishing to marry his daughter off to a man from a wealthy family so as to be related to a big official. His wife was at one with him. I went out of my way trying to win Babat"s heart and marry her at any cost.
One day I sent her a letter making an appointment for her. The letter ran, roughly, as follows:
"Dear Mukhabbat! I am sorry for taking your precious time with this silly letter. Unfortunately, I have no other way and, probably, will not have any. I want to see you and pour out my heart filled to the brim with wishful yearning. I will be waiting for you at 6 pm in the willow grove by the river side where the abandoned tractor lies about without wheels. If you don"t come out, I will hang myself in the old tree where you and I once listened to the knocking of a woodpecker.
With a written kiss,
As soon as I had sent off the letter I washed myself carefully with a laundry soap, put on a patterned Ukrainian shirt with a sash, riding-breeches and box-calf boots, went up to the mirror, a bunch of flowers in hand, and started rehearsing, the scenario I hat written myself. Now laughing, now frowning I made grimaces training the muscles of my face. My stepparents, who had adopted me, looked at me in surprise. The stepfather said:
-What"s the matter with you sonny, are you not well?
- No, I just want to be an actor. When I finish school I will go to Hollywood. The trumpet is calling!
They looked at me thinking that I had gone mad. The amazed stepfather opened his mouth like the hollow of the old willow in which I had wanted to hang myself, should my sweetheart break the appointment.
The rehearsal took a long time. At half past five I made my way straight to the west, towards the Willow Grove where I was to meet Babat. On my way to the grove I repeated the words I would say and the poems I would recite, training the muscles of my face.
I arrived at the place of appointment and waited. I waited and waited hoping to see my incomparable girl Babat. But somehow she was late. When the watch showed 5:10 pm I fidgeted walking to and fro and getting nervous.
I looked now at the path where Babat was to appear, now at the sky, praying to God to bring her here as soon as possible. God was either not willing to make Babat come or just wanted to put me to test.
In other words, he sent the laboratory assistant to me, instead of Babat. The man attacked me shouting angrily, like a beast. His attack bewildered me, I lost balance and fell down. The laboratory assistant started kicking me in the belly and the face shouting out abusive words.
- There! Take it, you dirty jackal! Who gave you the right to send love letters to my daughter?!
He went on walloping me unmercifully until he got tired. Before leaving he warned me:
- If you dare write another letter, that will be the end! I"ll kill you! I"ll wrap your guts around your head, like a turban. You got it, you lousy dog?!
I was unable to answer his question.
Spitting nervously, the laboratory assistant quickly walked away towards the wood.
I staggered up, like a drunk man. I had a big bump on my forehead with my lips like the duck"s beaks, my new Ukrainian shirt torn to pieces, my hair tousled like a stork"s nest, my nose smashed. I looked like a clown, upon my word! I hardly managed to bend down and wash my face in the irrigation ditch, and as I looked into the reflection I saw I had a bruise growing like a horn. I stared at my reflection for a while then I got up and walked home with a limp.
When my stepparents saw me they started asking me what had happened, why I was looking that way and who had "painted" my face. Stepfather said:
Oh my God! What"s the matter with you? Who has beaten you? The producer, eh? Oh sh-sh- sugar! How can it be, a young actor and such a treatment? Is that the way of teaching actors? Tell me where he lives, sonny. I will cut his throat! I will burn down the theatre building!
I kept silent while stepmother was smudging my battle wounds with the brilliant green. Each time she touched the injury on my face with a piece of gauze wetted with the brilliant green I breathed in deeply through my nose and grimaced. She had painted me to such an extend that I looked like a man infected with the horrible plague. I looked at myself in the mirror and nearly burst out crying. Like a bird of prey spanning its wings anger woke up in my heart.
The days went by. I suffered from insomnia at night. I couldn"t sleep at night for thirst of retaliation. One fine day an extraordinary idea came to my mind.
In the evening, when dusk fell, I imperceptibly climbed onto the roof where the laboratory assistant"s family lived.
Wishing to carry out my top secret plan I jumped in the chimney and fell straight into the oven which looked like a fire-place. My clothes, my face, my hands and my hair were all in soot. On hearing the crash and seeing me the laboratory assistant got frightened like crazy. He was the first to run in his white underpants out into the street.
Babat and her mom followed him. They were trembling and crying for fear calling people for help. In a few moments I, too, went out. I purposely walked slowly so that they could apprehend me.
When he regained consciousness Babat" father took a spade and attacked me. But people responding to my calls for help stopped him. The laboratory assistant vowed to kill me. But the villagers promised that they would bar him from taking the law into his own hands and called the militia. A group of detention officers arrived. They brought me to the militia station wishing to neutralize me. They started interrogating me. One of the militia men asked me a funny question:
- Comrade, why did you jump into your neighbor"s chimney?
- Well, you see..it just happened - I answered - I fell into the chimney by chance for I had fallen asleep.
- That"s funny. I wonder why you fell asleep on somebody else"s roof. Are you sick? A
sleep-walker? Why do you sleep on the roof? After all, you are not Carlson who lives on the roof.
- No I am not Carlson nor am I a sleep-walker. You see it"s like this... The point is that I am in love with Babat, that is this laboratory assistant"s daughter. The latter threatens that if I date with Babat he will kill me. But I cannot do without her, upon my word. An unbearable urge made me do that, risking my life. Well, Comrade Militiaman, have you ever been in love? Please, have mercy on me...
One of the cops interfred:
- Ah you, Majnun , Don Juan! We could have mercy but there is law. You cannot escape punishment...
- To make a long story short, they sentenced me to 15 days of imprisonment. They cut my hair a la Fantomas, and I served my term in full from start to finish
After I was discharged from prison I came home bold headed. My head glittered like glass with sun rays playing on it. Son of Lumiere! I see that my parents did not recognize me.
Stepfather then said:
Al Kazim is out. He is in Prison. Serving a jail term.
-Why, what"s the matter with you, dad? Mom, it"s me, Al Kazim! Your sunny. Upon my word!
After that I started singing prison songs that I used to hear from senior students at the boarding school where we were fostered:
Cabman, dear, take me away,
I am free as the wind to-day...
Northen wind! The Central Prison,
The prosecutor died this season.
Stepmother recognised me and burst out crying. Wishing to console her I said:
- Stop crying, mother. After all, I am back from prison. I am safe and sound.
Stepfather, who was happy to see me, said:
- Sorry, I did not recognize you, sonny. So you will be a rich man.
I washed myself and dressed, and then we had supper together. After supper we had a long talk and went to bed well after midnight.
Days, months went by. After the Chimney story matchmakers stopped visiting laboratory assistant"s house.
One day Babat"s mother dropped in at our place and told me as follows:
- I wish you were dead, you damned wretch, you demon! It"s entirely your fault! After you had jumped into our chimney people stopped coming to us to ask in marriage. You have made my daughter grieved and distressed. Now you shall marry her!
I didn"t say anything in reply. She went away scolding and cursing me.