Apartment on the fourth floor – A short story from Uzbekistan
Sherzod Artikov, a poet and writer from a country known as hub of world heritage sites, shares his short story.
A story of a young surgeon who himself is diagnosed with an ailment.
Apartment on the fourth floor
As I didn’t have surgery, I got free earlier today. After an evening shift at the hospital, I handed the work over to a colleague on duty and went outside. It was raining. I felt pity and thought that the apricot blossomed last night. It was raining a bit, and rain in such a way caused some nervousness.
When I got in the taxi, someone had dropped the rear seat window. I picked it up right away. The driver drove the car fast. I asked him if it was possible to drive slower, he nodded and slowed down. The weather was not warm as the temperature had dropped due to the rain. So I chilled and put my hands in the pockets of my suit.
My hand touched some pieces of paper in my right pocket, and suddenly I remembered it all again, and I began to squeeze the pieces of paper nervously with all my might. I squeezed them along the way. By the time the taxi stopped in front of my house, they were already squeezed between my hands. I had to free my hand from them to give the driver money.
My house was on the fourth floor of a five-story building. I didn’t want to walk to the elevator. I went up the stairs. The first floor, the second floor, the third floor, and finally the fourth floor also arrived. As I opened the door and entered, the familiar sonata of Beethoven was audible all over the house with the muffled sound of a piano. Hearing this, I stopped for a moment in the hallway. I wanted to cover my ears. Instead, I put my briefcase, full of papers, in my hand on the edge of the hold at the end of the hallway and went into the room where the music was playing.
Nargiza didn’t notice me at first. She was busy playing Beethoven’s sonata, moving her fingers frequently over the keys as she sat in front of the piano. Today she looked more nervous than yesterday and the days before. Seeing me on the threshold, she began to move even faster. The piano didn’t stop. The part of it that was set for notes in the middle of the shell was now shaking.
I walked slowly next to the piano. Nargiza continued to play the tune. I had my desk directly in the room, I walked towards it. I sank into it helplessly, turning on the lamp at its edge. I sat in this state for a long time. Meanwhile, Beethoven’s famous sonata was performed over and over again. As I knew this song by heart, I felt that Nargiza had played it again five or six times. She didn’t even think to stop. Trying to ignore it, I set out to sort out the papers I had left on the table last night in the light of the lamp. These were mainly data from my research work on traumatology.
“That’s enough,” said Nargiza, pausing the tune, and raising her voice.
The piano’s voice grew hoarse and sounded like an ill person’s sore throat. After a while, Nargiza took her hand from the keys and closed it.
“Stop sitting like that,” she said, turned to me and said nervously. “Say something. This has been the case for three days. You don’t speak.”
I lifted my head from the papers and stared at her for a moment. Her lips were trembling with nervousness, and her eyes were dim.
“Speak, please,” she said as if begging.
She kept her eyes on me as she stood in front of me. Finally, she began to cry, leaning on the piano with one hand.
“I told you yesterday, I told you the day before. If you are not satisfied with me, tell the truth, blame as much as you want, and apply for divorce if you want, but please, just stop torturing a person without talking.”
I started squeezing the pieces of paper in my pocket again. At the same time, someone started to squeeze my heart like that. An unknown hand was invisibly crushing my heart. The harder I crushed the pieces of paper, the harder it was crushing my heart, and on top of that it squeezes it with some kind of pressure.
Soon, Nargiza left the room crying. She even didn’t close the door. I got up, closed the door, and sat back down. Both the muffled voice of the piano and Beethoven’s sonata were now silenced. For some reason, I wanted to focus on my research, but instead I took pieces of paper from my pocket and put them on the table. Each of them was crumpled and almost unreadable. Again, I tried to stick them together using glue. It took me a long time to recover the paper. As I tried hard, the pieces came together somehow and the previous shape of the paper was restored.
As I stared at the paper, my mind involuntarily flew towards the events of the previous three days. I tried to remember it all. The pain that started in the thigh during the operation, weakness, and lying in my room after the operation, then being examined by my urologist colleague at our clinic – it all came to my mind one by one. It was as if they were the prelude to a terrible tragedy.
No matter how hard it was, I kept eye on the events that followed. I remembered that after examining me and getting the results of the analysis, my colleague turned pale; he offered me a cup of coffee in the cafe of the clinic, where he looked at the blossoming apricot right next to the window and shared the result on paper not looking at me. When I took the paper from him, I looked at it and then at him, saying that it could not be so. Then I went into my room with a nervous laugh. I sat in my room and thought. It seemed impossible in my imagination. After all, I was now thirty years old. The disease so diagnosed, is usually found in men over the age of fifty. No, I was healthy, I was not sick at all. That I became ill seemed nothing more than nonsense. However, as I looked at the paper that reflected the results of the analysis, my heart suddenly pulled back.
“Nonsense,” I said, tearing the paper into pieces in disbelief. “I can’t have prostate cancer.”
I got up when the lamp on the table started to hurt my eyes. I walked slowly to the piano. I started running my hands over its glossy, flat top in a dark red. Then my attention was grabbed by my and Nargiza’s books in the closet next to it. I picked them up one by one and flipped through them. I looked around the room, thinking about my house. The piano, the bookcase, and this house led me to past.
At one time I was very happy when I bought this house for credit. I finally got rid of the hassle of renting a house. I had my own house, my dream came true. Soon after, I met Nargiza in this incomprehensible life. I married her. Once my family life was set in motion, the work of furnishing the house gradually began. Firstly, I bought this piano and bookcase. The piano instantly became Nargiza’s favorite accompaniment, resulting in Beethoven’s sonatas or Chopin’s waltzes throughout the evenings.
After obsessing myself for a while with the memories of the past, I went out on the balcony. It was still raining outside. On the contrary, under the influence of a strong wind, its intensity increased. I closed the door, which had begun to squeak, and looked around staying outside. Life on the street did not stop, and there were still a lot of people. In the surrounding apartment buildings, the lights were on and life was on the move. As I looked around a lot in this situation, life suddenly seemed beautiful to my eyes, I felt deeply that I was not fed up with it yet.
On the other hand, I thought about death. I thought seriously for the first time.
Honestly, a person doesn’t want to believe it. He is born, he lives, and he dies, no matter how sad, how terrible it is. Someone dies at birth, someone in youth. Someone lives till being old and dies in old age. One destiny for all: birth, living and dying. This sounds like a simple formula. However, most of people cannot imagine how deep the pain, the tragedy, the incredible philosophy lies at the root of it. Man is born, his consciousness is formed, he grows up both physically and spiritually, he studies, finds his place in society as a person, dreams, falls in love, gets married, raises children, and then leaves all this one day. No one understands why this is so, and obviously can’t even explain it. There is no answer to this question, even in the school system, which leads to unsatisfactory scores, and just, big and small shoulders are squeezed and heads are shaken. This means that we are powerless to understand and respond it.
It is hard to imagine death. But, at this moment, I began to imagine it a thousand times better. In my consciousness, it became a force that separates me from everything. I mean, whether I like it or not, one day it will take me to unknown places, even though it has closed eyelids, in fact, its heart is separated from the wide sky, from the incessant rain, from the wind blowing in my face.
Because of it, one day my heart will stop beating, my eyes will close and never open, my limbs will harden, my lips will not move, my ears will not hear, and my nose will not smell.
Because of it, one day I will not know the difference between the clock, the time, the moments that pass; the day that shines in the morning and the night that falls after dark; hot and cold; a spring in which the trees bloom green; summer when the fruits are drowned; a rainy, foggy eye, a hazy autumn, and a silvery winter that purifies hearts with snow.
Because of it, from a person who knows Russian or English perfectly; graduated from a prestigious medical university; read hundreds of works of art and science in his time; knows how to ski, drive a car, sing a song, draw a picture, fix a radio, or operate on people’s bellies I will turn into a pile of dust.
My thoughts that flew far away seemed to never come back. Soon the cold reflections on death resonated with the beating of the raindrops that had soaked my body, crushing me spiritually. At the same time, I was trembling slightly, not because of the low temperature of a rainy evening, but because of the cold thoughts about death. At that moment, the opening of the door brought me to myself. I looked in that direction lazily and my eyes met Nargiza’s eyes, who was standing there in her nightgown. As I averted my eyes from her, the thought that she now knew everything came to my mind. After a while, this assumption was confirmed.
“You should have told me about it,” she said in a low voice.
Her expression was attracted by sadness and sympathy rather than protest.
“I wish it was something worth saying.”
Nargiza approached me, shaking her head soon as she heard me, and hugged me tightly on the shoulder.
“Everything will be fine,” she said, holding her breath and lifting my spirits. “We will fight. We will fight together. Now medicine is much more advanced. You know it well. After all, you are a doctor. There is no disease that cannot be cured. All can be treated. If we do not have a cure here, it is possible abroad.”
As I listened to Nargiza, for some reason I thought of my colleague’s last words.
“I’m afraid we missed the disease,” he said. “I doubt it’s in the early stages.”
Nargiza didn’t say another word and stood behind me for a long time, hugging me. The warmth of her body moved to my body, which had cooled under the influence of heavy rain and cold reflections, warming her and my frozen consciousness, and the pleasant smell of her unique long hair, which had once fascinated me by tying me to it. As a result, the momentary despair of my existence and the reflections connecting with it faded away. When my heart, which had begun to shrink, felt a little free, I involuntarily wanted to live in this state again; I wanted to live bright as fire, completely forgetting the death that overshadowed my life; I wanted to live feeling all the sorrows and joys of the life to the last detail; until my heart stopped beating, I wanted to live in this dear house on the fourth floor, perhaps with only my wife, who truly loved me, appreciating the happiness next to me … May whatever happen next. After all, no one is superior to this world anyway.
Due to the rain, it was not possible to stand on the balcony for long. As I said earlier, I was very wet because I stood for a long time. Nargiza, though not letting me know, began to feel cold in her nightgown. At the time, the best way for the two of us was to get inside.
“Let’s go inside,” I said, turning around. “I became wet in the rain.”
Nargiza nodded and looked up at me, at my wet suit.
“You have no right to leave me,” she said, as her lips whispered softly.
In response, I smiled. Of course, forcing myself…
Translated into English by Muslimakhon Makhmudova