A Short Story from Uzbekistan
By Sherzod Artikov
Sherzod Artikov was born in 1985 in the city of Marghilan of Uzbekistan. He graduated from Fergana Polytechnic institute in 2005. He was one of the winners of the national literary contest “My Pearl Region” in 2019. In 2020, his first book “The Autumn’s Symphony” was published in Uzbekistan. In 2021, his works were published in the anthology books called “World Writers” in Bangladesh, “Asia Sings” and “Mediterranean Waves” in Egypt in English language. In 2021, he participated in “International Writers Congress” held in Argentina, dedicated to Federico Garcia Lorca’s work, “International Poetry Festival” in Tunisia, “International Poetry Carnival” in Singapore. This year he was awarded “Global Peace Ambassador” by Iqra Foundation, “International Peace Ambassador” by World Literary Forum for Peace and Human Rights, “Certificate of Friendship” and other certifications by “Cardenal” in Mexico. Currently, he is the literary consultant of the cultural website of Pakistan “Sindh Courier”, the representative and delegate in Uzbekistan of the literature magazine of Mexico called “Revista Cardenal” and the literature and art magazine of Chile named “Casa Bukowski”.
His works were published in a several magazines and newspapers of Uzbekistan and then translated into Russian, English, Turkish, Serbian, Slovenian, Macedonian, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Albanian, Romanian, French, Greek, Hebrew, Portuguese, Bengali, Arabic, Chinese, Indonesian, Persian and Urdu.
Besides, his works were published in magazines in Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Poland, Israel, Belgium, Albania, Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Saudia Arabia, in India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iran, Egypt, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
New-Jersey was a bigger city than I thought. Uncle Abram was driving, and I and my father were in the back seat. We were impressed by the majesty of skyscrapers situated on the plains and the long traffic jams along the city.
Uncle Abram was overjoyed. He introduced my father to the sights of the city and in the meantime, he told us about the way of life of people of different nationalities here. Once, both the traffic of cars stretching along the street, and the skyscrapers left behind, and now we were walking on a highway that was full of trees on one side and two-story houses made of reddish brick on the other.
Uncle Abram used to live in the outskirts of the city. When we reached his house, the September’s sun had already seen on the horizons and the darkness was beginning to fall around. In front of the house, I saw his wife Marina. She was watering the flowers planted in front of the house in the cool evening. Seeing the car parked near to the house, she was as happy as a young child.
-I brought them, Marina!-said uncle Abram as he got out of the car and showed us with a beam. Here are our neighbors-our dear neighbors.
-Abram, if you only knew how happy I was,-said Marina looking gratefully at her husband when she saw us.
Both uncle Abram and Aunt Marina still spoke Uzbek fluently. Their twenty-year of marriage in America had not even the slightest negative effect on it.
-Anvar teacher-said Aunt Marina as she was embracing my father like a dear friend.-Your hair turned white.
-Yours too, sister Marina,-said my dad and added.-Yes now we are getting old.
Uncle Abram looked both at me and his wife in a hurry.
-Marina-said uncle Abram pointing to me-Did you also recognize him? Can you remember? He always drew something in white chalk on our gate. Then I would say he would be a great artist. Look, he became an artist as I said.
Aunt Marina smiled at her husband and hugged me.
-He became handsome boy,-continued uncle Abram.
-Do not embarrass the boy, Abram,-she said letting me go.
After that, uncle Abram held my father and me by our shoulders and invited us inside.
-Our children have grown up-he said as he picked up our suits one by one in the hallway and hung them on a hanger on the wall. -Only yesterday they were dusting the street. Today…..
That time he remembered something, brought tears to his eyes and looked at his wife in question.
-By the way, where is our daughter Sveta?
-She had gone to choose a dress for her wedding-said Marina ordering the table in the dining room. -Do not worry. She was with her darling.
-Teacher Anvar, our daughter is about to get married,-said uncle Abram to my father.-Now she is also mature. Can you remember, she called me “dad” and called you “a rich dad”? She would love your wife-deceased Inobatkhon.
-Sure, how can I forget it?-said my father as he stopped in the corridor for a few minutes.
The dining room was cozy. There was a round table for six people in the middle, and a chandelier on the ceiling lit up the room so well and a shelf with a delicate pattern of carvings and the family pictures on the wall adorned the room.
-Serve your food as soon as possible,-said uncle Abram as we all sat around the table, shouting at his wife who had entered the kitchen.-They arrived here without stopping anywhere from the airport and they didn’t eat anything.
In an instant, the table was filled with delicacies. Aunt Marina was famous for her creative cooking in Marghilan and it was still the same. Once she was serving a sweet made by her, the door was opened and sounded “Mum” in English across the threshold. And then, along the corridor, there was a footstep. After a while, a girl of medium height, thinner with a slightly longer nose and straight hair appeared on the threshold.
-Anvar teacher, our daughter came!-said uncle Abram as he stopped eating.
Sveta had changed a lot. There was nothing in common between that Sveta I knew being the part of my childhood memories and the present one. But her eyes were the same as her childhood and she looked at us calmly.
-They came to your wedding, my daughter,-said uncle Abram to her in English, he looked at us and commented.-She also understands and speaks Uzbek, but she always speaks English.
Although it was not immediately, she recognized us and ran to my father with a smile on her lips. My father stood up and kissed on her forehead and said, “Be happy, my daughter”. Then she looked at me and the smile on her face became clearer.
-Now she remembered, -said Aunt Marina.
-He used to draw a picture with the chalk on our gate!-said Sveta without taking her eyes off me.
-Precisely!-said uncle Abram, patting the edge of the table as if to express his admiration. -Then he would run away. You have a good memory.
In a few minutes Sveta became happy and there was nothing left of the serious girl. During the dinner, five of us talked about the old Marghilan and the days that had been there for years, and the memories that saved for a lifetime. Then, the subject moved to America, and uncle Abram said that Jews who had lived in Marghilan with Uzbeks in the neighborhood conditions in the early years of the independence were now spread throughout the United States and many of them lived in Boston or New York nowadays.
-We often make a call each other- he said putting the dessert on the plate next to him.
During the conversation my father often talked to him. Aunt Marina sometimes joined the conversation, sometimes she nodded her head in approval, Sveta and I listened to them in silence. While Sveta listened quietly to the memories of the city where she had spent her childhood, her face flushed and she kept her eyes on my father.
Located in the outskirts of New Jersey, this home was full of memories of the past. It was not even noticed that it was getting dark and it was midnight. Uncle Abram saw us off to the bedroom-the second floor. My father fell asleep immediately because he was tired.
For some reason, I could not sleep. After a while, I came to the window and opened it wide. The cold air of September evening blew into my face. Outside, the trees rustled in the gentle breeze. At that moment, an Uzbek song was heard below. I stuck my head out of the window and listened. Oh, my goodness…I felt as if I was sitting in one of the tea-houses in Marghilan. And the song did not stop.
I have a pain in the world that has torn me in half,
I am very sad, my heart, you are ignorant of me.
The song was coming from below, dining room, where we had the dinner a few hours ago. For some reason I wanted to get dressed and went downstairs. I hesitated at first, but soon as I got dressed, I went downstairs. As I approached the dining room, the song rang my ears clearly. The door was open but the lights were off. There, leaning against a chair in front of the window, someone sat motionless, touching the tape recorder on the shelf. Hearing my footsteps, she was startled and turned to face me. It was Sveta.
-Were you?-For some reason she spoke Uzbek, not the English she had learned.
Her pronunciation was marked by American features, and her image she stood in front of me, as if she was speaking an American who had just learned the Uzbek language.
-I could not sleep,-said I when I sat in the chair next to her. I went downstairs with this song in my ear.
-You wanted to know why I was listening to this song, didn’t you?
-Not so much.
Sveta conditionally turned off the tape recorder.
-I listen to this song every day. More precisely, since I found the cassette among my father’s belongings.
She turned on the light without hurrying. Her eyes were tearful and seemed to be crying.
-I was a six-year-old girl when we left Marghilan. I am 26 now, -she said sadly, as she sat back down.-Now, the day after tomorrow I am getting married.
I did not notice it in the dark. There was a plate of reddish grapes next to the tape recorder. Sveta took a pinch from it.
-Anyway, Rizamatdad’s grapes were sweeter. Are there such a variety of grapes in Marghilan even now?
She sighed when she saw my confirmation gesture.
-At the beginning of our street, uncle Uktam would sell “ayron”*. Is it still on sale?
-It’s been a long time since he died. Now his son is selling.
-What about a bakery? Does it still exist? The hot breads were made here. They were so delicious….
-A pharmacy was built in its place.
-What about a big maple tree that we hid behind it when we played a game?
-It was cut off 15 years ago.
-What about Aunt Naima’s dog? Maybe it is dead. Dogs do not live long.
Sveta started out of the window as if trying to remember something else. After a while, our conversation continued.
-My “rich dad” stopped wearing a Marghilan duppi**.Is no one wearing it now?
-Yes, most people do not wear duppi anymore.
-My aunt Inobat would have a beautiful satin*** dress.
-Many do not also wear satin now.
-There would be a quail in your house. It would always twitter.
-Not now. It’s been a long time since we have fed.
-My aunt Inobat used to make sweet dumplings.
-Now we buy them in the store.
Sveta did not speak anymore. Instead, she suddenly got up and started walking slowly around the room.
-You know, from the first day we came here, I have never forgotten Marghilan. I cannot forget it. This is a big city and people are still stranger to me. Although I lived here well, I always missed Marghilan. You may tell, how the girl who left her hometown when she was six may have remembered? But I remembered it all. Every single tree there, every single place is etched in my memory with the hot bread that made in the bakery at the beginning of our street, from uncle Uktam’s “ayron” till to the taste of those big red grapes – All of them. Sometimes my heart aches here. Then I open the window and look into the distance. It was as if I could see Marghilan in the distance. And sometimes I felt my inner voice with this song. I have accustomed to it lately. But when I saw both of you today, I remembered everything again….
I remembered a six-year-old girl carrying a doll and running through the dusty and narrow streets of Marghilan with a bunch of red grapes on her cheeks.
There was a drop of tears in her face. She stared out of the window, she was tearful. She opened it and took a deep breath of fresh air. She raised her hands and held her fingers in the breeze. Finally, she pressed the tape button again. The song continued from where it had stopped.
I do not know where to go like a stray dog
But whenever I was aware of my half, my homeland
Sveta listened to it as she bowed her head and rested her hands on the shelf. When the song was over, she left the room crying. She did not even wish me a goodnight. When I was alone in the room, I turned off the tape recorder, which started playing another song. There was a silence. I sat there without doing anything for a while. Then, out of curiosity, I ate a pinch of grapes from the plate next to the tape recorder. The grapes were tasteless.
Ayron*- it is kind of refreshing drink which was made from yogurt.
Duppi**- one of the main symbols of Uzbekistan, a tetrahedral black skullcap made of silk or satin.
Satin***- a type of Uzbek traditional cloth sometimes made of silk.