A Short Story from Uzbekistan
By Mokhira Eshpulatova
Mokhira Eshpulatova is an Uzbek writer. She was born in Khatirchi district of Navoiy region, Republic of Uzbekistan on October 25, 1995. She graduated from Navoiy Pedagogical University. By profession she is a teacher of Uzbek language and literature.
The forty-first day
As the day wore on, Nozima lay unconscious, leaning against the window, alone in her room, which was set aside for her in the hospital, and where she was alone having no contact with the outside world. Her room was spacious, bright and had all the facilities. The walls and all the furniture, from the curtains to the sheets, were blue. At first glance, it was as if she was asleep, her long black hair covered her entire pillow, scattered, disheveled. One of her wings descended from the wide bed and touched the floor, while the other covered her up to knees as if a cloak had been thrown over it. The room was on the seventh floor of a large building and it was possible to see the outer environment from the balcony. But that was not interesting for Nozima anymore, because she had done it several times a day. All the furniture in her room bored her, and only a large mirror was her only amuse. She would watch her own reflection in the mirror every day, sometimes for hours at a time. She did so to see if the treatments had a positive effect. In the first week of hospitalization, which was the result of her father’s devotion, she was overjoyed with the hope of recovery. Many more days passed, and when she saw no positive change in herself, her hopes turned to doubt, suspicion and hesitation. Then she got bored, and got used to it all. At the same time; she’d become apathetic. Nozima, who was lying quietly, heard the familiar footsteps coming near the room, and then the squeaking of the ever-locked door of her room. She opened her eyes involuntarily.
“Good morning, my daughter, my little angel, did you have a good rest?” said Munira, Nozima’s nurse.
These kind words made her feel even worse. She loved this voice, but later realized that her words and deeds were different. In general, lately, Nozima noticed that she has not paid much attention to herself before – she has developed the ability to find out what people are thinking with her instincts. She listened to people, looked them in the eye, and knew what was going through their mind, what they were thinking at the same time. Munira had a daughter, who was at the same age as Nozima, and she used to call Nozima her daughter just to comfort herself because sister Munira, like other doctors, was not going anywhere. And it was most strange situation for Nozima. Sister Munira was ready to fly away at the end of the contract day, and then it would be easy for her to forget about Nozima as if she never existed.
– How do you feel? Said Sister Munira politely, opening a new page of a large notebook.
– What about you? Nozima replied coldly as she sat down.
– Please, Nozima, answer all the questions. I need it to have analysis correctly and clearly done.
“The same questions every day,” she said in frustration.
– However, the answers may change every day.
– Shall I repeat the question?
– No, you don’t have to. You know, Sister Munira, I feel, – she stopped to think over a moment about her own condition. Then she went on to look at the large mirror set up in her room at her own request – I feel like falling into a swamp in a white, luxurious, very long wedding dress. At first you feel sorry for your dress, and when the mud pulls you into trap, suddenly, you realize life has value and you forget about the whole thing. And your beloved dress will pull you into the swamp and into the depths of the earth again and again
That’s enough. How is your appetite? Said the nurse
-I don’t know. I don’t want to bend anything. But I eat what you give me.
-Are you going to the toilet, isn’t there any problems with..?
-Everything is ok.
– Do you feel any change in your body?
-I feel it. My “sailing vessels” are growing day by day.
-Nozima! – The nurse’s voice rose a little. She couldn’t bare it when Nozima talked like that, but anyway would try to stand for, but sometimes she would scold her. This time she was silent. She continued to look at the notebook she was filling out.
– We know that. Another change, such as redness, swelling, rash
– If you want to ask if anything else is growing, my common answer is no!
Sister Munira realized that she could no longer talk to Nozima and asked:
“What else do you dislike, my daughter?”
You say “my daughter again? If you only knew that your words would sink into my aching heart like a dagger, Nozima thought.
– This notebook of yours, your questions started to irritate me, sister.
– Good. I’ll take the notebook. And you’re right about what’s going on, ok? – The nurse tried to reconcile.
You know better than I do what is happening to me. After all, I am under 24-hour surveillance. What irritates me is that the medicine you are giving me is not curing me, on the contrary, it is getting even bigger, – Nozima angrily dropped the left shoulder of her dress. Her hair fell over her thin white shoulders. She turned her back and showed Sister Munira her wings, white as thin as her shoulders. The wings grew out of about one-fifth of the thoracic spine, and cutting them off was life-threatening for Nozima. But she could not accept her wings as a part of his body. Even though they felt the hot and cold, let alone a stranger’s hand, even if she touched them abruptly, her whole body would immediately tingle differently. She could feel it, but she couldn’t accept it like other body parts. She looked at her wings as if they were someone else’s deposit, as if it were not hers. In such a day with its nights and mornings, the wings began to grow, and in the words of her father, on thirteenth day of her illness she was hospitalized here. In general, Nozima did not care where she was, because in the days when she lived within four walls without going out, it didn’t matter if the walls were a house or a hospital.
– It’s been 28 days since I came here. It’s been 40 days since I’ve been in this situation. Do you know what that means, sister? I’m counting the days. Living with this plague – she pointed to her wings, – away from my family, I count my boring days with pain. I’m counting the days hoping to recover!!! Nozima became nervous in a way she didn’t want to.
Sister Munira took a chair a little further away and pushed it closer to Nozima’s bed. She sat down and asked:
-Who called you sick? She asked, looking at her indifferently.
-Don’t you see? All is open to your eyes.
-Look at me, my daughter, if you bring any person who says I am completely healthy and examine his nails to the end of his hair, you will find at least two diseases. At least! You have not been examined every day for a month. The professor also surprised other doctors. You are absolutely healthy.
– Really? – Nozima asked in surprise and hope.
– What does this mean then? – Said Nozima, pointing to her back.
“Are you talking about your wings?” – Munira laughed, as if to say, “quit that.”
– Daughter, not being like people, being different from everyone does not mean that you are sick. Being different from others can also be an advantage if you find your way.
– What do you mean?
– You can conquer the whole world with your beauty, your slender figure and, most importantly, with these real wings that you have never seen or heard of in the history of mankind (although they do nothing). The money itself will flow like a river to you. And you can really sail with your wings on it, and again.
“What if I don’t need these things?” Said Nozima, overflowing with the nurse’s words
– Now the world is full of people who want to be in the spotlight. They are doing such stupid things for this that you can’t help but say, “Astagfirillah.” (May God Forgive)
– It is important not to be left out of the sight of Almighty.
-Of course, my daughter.
“Sister, what sin have I committed that my God has punished me like this?” I’ve been hurting my parents a lot lately, haven’t I? I lied a lot, gossiped with others, never felt sorry for beggars, even I felt disgrace. Maybe that’s why I’m punished? – Nozima said with a look of regret, looking at Munira with wide open eyes.
Don’t say that, girl. We are all like that. Everything I do now is a sin, and the way we walk is a sin. Don’t worry about such nonsense. There’s something good in whatever happens. You say that no one has benefited, because you are the reason why so many professors and doctors are on the verge of making scientific innovations. They will be famous all over the world because of you. You may be starting a new phase in human evolution. Can you imagine what that is?
– Stop, stop! What kind of scientific work, what kind of universal innovation? After all, they had promised my father not to tell anyone about my condition, – she said in astonishment.
Sister Munira bit her lip as words came out of her mouth that she couldn’t say because the conversation was so heated.
– So, if I am healthy, they have been tricking me for so many days into treating me with these fast-moving wings, which are still unknown to science, and imprisoning me as an experimental rabbit for scientific work? Nozima looked at the nurse with angrily sparking eyes.
“No, no, my daughter, it’s not like that. You misunderstood”.
“No, I understand now, I understand you all. The reason I was cut off from the rest of the world and kept as a prisoner without even meeting my parents was to discover me before anyone else. To be more precise, they are trying to gain prestige and bring shame to me calling it fame by announcing to the world a creature which doesn’t fully match humans or birds! I wish you could understand that I don’t need the “fame” you’re talking about. I want to live like other humans. Someone knows someone doesn’t know. You see, I want to live like a normal person!
Sister Munira was anxiously trying to explain something, and Nozima’s ears could hear nothing more. Or rather, she didn’t want to listen to any more lies. Munira got her reaction as a sign of agreement and gave her daily medication. Nozima drank them without any resistance. The nurse satisfied and left the room, finding her worries inappropriate. Nozima pondered for a long time, wondering what to do next. The blue curtains of the window played in the light wind, and for some reason it attracted Nozima. She approached the window. She closed her eyes and held her face to the “dance” of the curtains in the wind. From the outside she looked very calm, but from the pursed lips, the squinting of her closed eyes, the deep breathing, it could be seen that there is the storm raging inside her. After standing for a while, she closed the window and glanced at her “cage” again. Everything is in irritating-blue! “Damn it, – for the first time she hated her favorite color. She said – You represent water in blue. If you take it in your hand, there will be no trace of this color. You call the sky blue, but it is simply colorless. Distant nothingness looks like this to your eyes. There are no blue mountains; in fact, they are all lies, fake, deceptive! I had lived in this room, in this lie, until now.
Nozima reopened the window in agony. She picked up the mirror, which she had previously considered as decoration for her room, and which at the same time looked like an evil to her eyes, never clinging to the “image of a clear sky,” and threw it out of the window. On the seventh floor she heard its crashing sound to the ground. After a while, her room was filled with frightened “lovers” who could not understand what was happening.
It was almost noon when Nozima’s car, with its blackened windows, came to a stop in front of her house. When she was hurrying to get out of the car like a bird escaping from a cage, Munira stopped her and tried to recall once again the words of the professor who was curing Nozima and doing research on her at the same time.
– Sister Munira, I remember everything. As a smart girl, I promise not to leave the house, she said with firm conviction.
After a broken mirror that happened a few hours ago, doctors found that her mental condition was not good and allowed her to go home for one night. The main purpose of this was to dispel the doubts that had arisen in Nozima’s heart and to prevent any possible problems. When Nozima made sure there was no one on the street, she threw her blanket over her and entered the house. The gate of her house was not locked as usual, their father was at work, and there was no one at home except her mother. Her mother, sister Sharofat was overjoyed at this unexpected visit, as if a long-awaited dear guest had arrived. She took the new dress she had sewn for her daughter and looked around. Nozima did not retaliate against the dress as before she wore the dress only for her mother’s wish. Sharofat was a sewer who had been sewing a variety of clothes for many, including her daughter. However, for the first time, she was sewing something with long sleeves and skirts and no back shoulders, like this one. This dress suited Nozima’s current condition and was very appropriate for her. In this position she looked like angels in fairy tales. Nozima felt a bit heartbroken and threw herself into her mother’s arms. Without a word, she thanked her with tears.
Sometimes, knowing that your plan is going to end with badness, you do it with great risk. You do this not to get out of your curiosity, but to get rid of the clutter in your restless thoughts. Nozima also left the house at the behest of her heart after waiting for it to fall a little late. She entered the garden, where she had not been for a long time. Askar, the cause of her restless thoughts, was waiting impatiently for her in the chair under the old white logs, which she knew and valued well. Nozima recognized him from a distance, with her pounding heart. She stopped, not knowing whether to go for him or not. “How’ll he behave seeing me in such body? How will be his reaction? Where is my courage I had when I called him, where did it suddenly disappear? she thought. Nozima tried to go back, but it was too late. Askar recognized her from a distance, despite the fact that she was wearing a hat. And he hurried over to her. Nozima was in a hurry. Her heart began to pound even more anxiously. The only question in her mind was: What will he feel when seeing me? She would be afraid of her own guess if she thought so.
– Nozima! – That longing, pleasant, passionate voice was heard in her ear.
“Askar,” said Nozima, trying to smile.
“Where did you go, Nozima? How could you be so unkind” – said Askar, approaching her.
“Stop,” said Nozima firmly. “Don’t come near me.”
“What’s the matter? Can you explain it to me too?” Askar stood in amazement.
– Yes, I will explain. I’m sick!
– I heard that. They said you were going abroad for treatment. I went to your home several times and came back without saying a word. I’m tired of calling. Do you know how worried I am about you?
“You have the right to be angry,” she said, looking down.
– Was it so impossible to make a phone call and say “I’m fine”? Said Askar bitterly
“Are you worried about me?” Said Nozima, taking her eyes off the ground and looking kindly at Askar
– Is it a matter of worry? I almost went crazy.
-Askar, do you remember when you once said to me, ‘If you hold my hand, I will not let them go under any circumstances.’
-I said, Nozima. We grew up together. We promised to spend the rest of our lives together as well. In any case, I will not give up on you, Nozijon. No matter what the illness is, we will overcome it together, believe me – Askar said sincerely, coming one step at a time. And he quietly took Nozima’s trembling hands in his palms.
Sensing that his words were sincere, Nozima did not pull her hands away, but instead held her hands tightly and then took off her veil. It was already late, the dim, blue lights of the garden shone behind Nozima. Askar didn’t notice anything at first. But then he saw something falling on the black blanket that had fallen to the ground, and it was moving slowly. Nozima stared at Askar’s face expression and fluttered her wings. Askar was amazed. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Askar, this is a ‘disease’ that I did not tell you about,” she said with deep sorrow.
Askar involuntarily withdrew his hands. He twitched his beloved who expected such reaction but hoping it not to occur.
– It can’t be, it can’t be! Is it a joke, Nozima? He said with his trembling voice. His attempts broke Nozima’s heart and just said no. And then, nodded her head, and spread her wings away. Askar stepped back as if he saw a ghost. He went far away from Nozima slowly.
– It can’t be, – he would repeat being not able to find other word to express his fear.
There will be such feelings, words are indescribable. Or a person may be reluctant to put it out of his mouth out of emotion. These can be love, hate, and or nostalgia, perhaps. Although Askar couldn’t express how he felt at the moment, he was thinking about it all. That was enough for Nozima. Nozima had bitten her tongue after she had thought of many comments before, but the cold expression and imagination she saw in Askar’s eyes. Then she quickly took off her veil, which was falling on earth like her honor, and disappeared into the darkness, away from the young man who looked at her with fear, pity, and even disgust. Askar froze as if enchanted. It was only after Nozima walked away that he called out “Nozimaaa” in a weak voice that no one but himself could hear. In the evening, streets were lit up, and Nozima was walking in a hurry to somewhere, not even knowing where she was. “Ehh, why did I come, why didn’t I stay in the hospital quietly? Are you relieved now? What have you achieved by breaking Askar’s heart and embarrassing yourself, Nozima? Why, why?! “Nozima’s heart was on fire, her world was dark.” Askar was an integral part of her life to this day. She could not imagine her future, her life without it. Now she has lost him for life. Even if she came looking for him tomorrow and told him that everything would remain the same no matter what, Nozima could not accept him. Because he did it not out of desire, but out of pity for Nozima. For Nozima, however, there was no greater humiliation. She paused in front of the gate when these familiar streets brought her home. She was in no hurry to enter the house as she could not hold back her tears. But when she heard her father’s loud voice from inside, she entered the house worrying about the matter.
– You always think short. Why did I put her in that hospital? Can you answer my question? – Her father usually spoke slowly and calmly. But this time, he was very angry, and at such times her mother would keep silent, no matter who was right. Nozima came slowly and looked in through the porch windows. She missed her father so much, she wanted to go and hug him at the same time, but she couldn’t.
“I told her that she would recover faster if she stayed there and was treated.” I told her to stay away from people’s eyes and gossips. What do you think? Well, she missed you, ok. But why did you allow her to go outside. What happens if someone sees and recognizes. What if people gossip and laugh at us about our daughter’s situation?
Nozima’s breath caught in her throat. She leaned against the wall, feeling dizzy and tiredness in her feet.
– Why do you have such bad thoughts? After all, she has never been out of a room since. What’s so bad about it if she goes out for a moment in the fresh air? Her mother’s broken voice was heard.
– Bad! – Replied her father firmly – very bad. Nozima is no longer what she used to be. She can no longer walk among people as she used to, she cannot live comfortably, even with us. You are a mother; you had to explain it in an appropriate way.
Nozima could no longer hear her father’s words. She went out as she had come in unannounced. She understood everything without exaggeration. She was walking down the familiar streets again.
Nozima was standing on the roof of one of the high buildings, staring down at the ground from a height. She used to be very afraid of heights. Now that she was stronger than she had been before, maybe it was because it seemed insignificant or because she was used to staring at the ground from the seventh floor, there was no sign of fear. Nozima has been staring at a place for a long time; it was almost an asphalt walkway where she had to go down if she threw herself from here. She thought about it for a long time, but she was not afraid of it. Her present condition was similar to that of a man who has turned his back on the world and found inner peace. It was midnight, and the moon was standing still. At that moment, the night wind began to blow on Nozima’s face. She closed her tired eyes and surrendered herself to the wind. Forgetting the world around her, she stood with both hands wide open. She stood there for a long time. Then she began to feel the wind, the fresh air, the sky, and the twinkling stars in it. She felt like as a part of them, a whole with them. Then she felt her whole body lighten, a pleasant feeling circulating throughout her body like warm blood. Its wings have grown bigger and bigger. Its slender tip touched the ground, its wings reminiscent of a circle of skin, but white and transparent, reminiscent of the angels of real legends, fluttering, almost ready to fly. Nozima, on the other hand, did not notice it and was breathing at a steady pace. She felt alien to people, but in fact a part of nature. For the first time, she accepted herself and fluttered her wings. The man who had the privilege of observing her posture could not take his eyes off the beauty, the wonder of nature. Nozima seemed to know in advance how to flap her wings. She fluttered her wings carefully and delicately, she would look so beautiful but she herself couldn’t even imagine that. At first Nozima’s legs rose slowly from the ground, then she threw herself down, desperately wanting someone to hold her. But instead of falling down, she sailed in the air.
By the end of the forty-first day on earth, she was flying to the heavens, where the measure of time was insignificant.
Story was translated into English by Hilola Mirzayeva