By Alisher Fayzullaev
Brother, there is a reason why I am writing you a letter without telling you. I don’t think it’s important and I really hope that one day you won’t mind this letter when you check your mailbox. I know now my spirit has lost its way and I have become a slave to my moods. And you are far away. In my mind, you seem preoccupied with your own problems. I’ve admired your high spirits since childhood-you don’t lose yourself in any situation. Perhaps such worries don’t bother you and in the evening you will wander happily along the shores of the Sea of Marmara. Maybe you hug one girl by the waist, whisper sweet words in his ear, and she’s sure to lay her head on your shoulder. Yes, I envy you, I’ve said that a thousand times. Well, whatever.
This event happened last Saturday. I was at home. Suddenly I was sad. Last time I told you about the bird that’s frozen in the air, remember? He may know his situation, but he can’t do anything about it. It’s like capturing an evil spirit. Have you ever been possessed by an evil spirit in your dreams? I have many times. That’s the situation – your mind is always working clearly, you even hear the ticking of the wall clock and realize it’s all happening in the dream. You start to feel as if the blood vessels connecting your brain and parts of your body are completely cut off – you gather all your strength and try to wake up. You know, move a finger or an eyelash, and that’s it: you wake up. I felt in the same position: a dry space under my feet, seeing a hole and not having the courage or confidence to move. That’s why I couldn’t find a place to put myself. I felt the concrete walls shrink, my lungs and mind getting no air. I put on my street clothes and left the house in a hurry. As I walked out into the yard, I thought about where I would go in the summer sun. Then I thought about the bridge in Chilanzar-Oktepa. I went out to the main street. Got in a cab and said: “Go to Katartal.” It happened suddenly. I was thinking about bookstores. September. Maybe I’ll buy some clothes. It didn’t matter where I was going, the main thing was that I had to get out of this situation and wake up.
When I got out of the car in front of the hypermarket, my mind was as empty as a deserted sand dune. I was completely calm. I began to feel like I was human again, that I was a small part of this crowd-they were wearing light clothes and masks. My soul calmed down and my anxiety dissipated a little. I looked at the bookstore first, then switched to clothes. Eventually I came out disappointed. I sat down on one of the benches in the narrow road. I smoked a cigarette. The noise made me nauseous. I became the opposite of people. I smoked again. Then there he was – Jamshid. Maybe a different name, at least that’s how he introduced himself.
Suddenly he said:
-Brother, can I have a light?
There was a yellow lighter on the bench; I took it. He spread his palm out to shelter himself from the wind, I lit it, and he smoked. He inhaled the smoke into his lungs and muttered. Probably thanking me, I said: “It doesn’t matter.”
– Oops, was I talking to you in Russian?
– It’s okay, – I looked at his face. A blackish young man with a shaved beard and short hair. I came to the conclusion that he was the same age as you.
– I have to speak Russian to everyone here, – he apologized and sat down next to me. He put a cigarette to his lips and took a deep breath. He looked at the cars that filled both sides of the road and hummed. Smoke puffed from his mouth and nose. – It’s expensive out there, not worth buying.
– Yeah, it’s expensive, but the girls are great.
His eyes lit up:
– Ugh, don’t talk about girls… takes your soul away!
I immediately tossed the remaining cigarette in my hand into the concrete ditch that passed under my feet and then smoked another one. He looked around for proof of what he had just said, but there was no beauty in sight.
– Oh, look at that. Pretty, huh?! Look at the butt. What a treat!
I looked at it. No, not really, she’s not as pretty as he describes. More than that, sloppy and unattractive. I nodded yes. He was glad the conversation had turned to women and continued as if he was in a hurry to see a woman in one of the nine-story houses across the road. I kept nodding. And he searches for words to give a description of the girl’s beauty, shows his hands around her waist, constantly rotates his palm in the air. Continuously cars buzz, giant maples rustle, and a familiar symphony plays. At the end of his speech, he said that women can’t be trusted.
– Maybe, – I said. – The main thing is your confidence.
I began to think about ending it there – I was tired of such idle chatter. Moreover, I could not understand how people spend hours on the same topic (politics, women, clothes, food) and spend their lives in front of soap operas. That is, I couldn’t internalize it. I wonder if a person can be so carefree. Life always manages to distract us and the same thing happened to me. Life treats everyone differently. In my opinion, Jamshid was the language of life trying to mislead me.
– For example, do you believe in yourself? – He said, not wanting to end the conversation.
– I have no problem with women.
– No, I mean in a general.
I could tell him anything, even if I were a liar, I could never answer a question like that. But it’s not exactly a good idea to tell the person I meet on the street about my visions of being suspended in midair – my loved ones react to these fears as if they’d heard a joke. Maybe that’s why I hide in my shell and react to events from that shell.
– Maybe you’re right. In a way, I don’t believe in myself.
– It’s true, we all don’t believe in ourselves in some way. That’s probably a good thing. Like, for instance, me, – he took the box and the lighter on the seat and gestured as if to smoke, I nodded, pressed the cigarette to my lips, – I’m afraid to get married. Honestly. How old would you give me?
– You born in 1985?
– Thirty-eight years, – he smoked a cigarette.
– God himself protects us from some misfortune.
He laughed. He nodded: Maybe so.
– I have a friend, he had a funny question, and I’ll tell you how?
– Who is happier, the last man or the last gorilla?
– That question should be asked a little differently. Let’s say who is more unhappy. If that were the question, I would definitely settle on the last person. The realization that you are the last one is terrifying.
– I think a gorilla would be more miserable. Because hope drives man, hope creates illusions, hope convinces. The last man would have gone in search of someone like the first man. Even as he was dying, he gave his life hoping that someone would come to him.
Brother, it is true that it is sweet on the outside and rotten on the inside. Look at him, he looks like an agile womanizer, but when you talk he looks like a philosopher. What about the fact that he’s wearing a suit and a white shirt.
– If I wasn’t taking up your time, I’d tell you what happened to my friend. Honestly, I haven’t told anyone about him, people piss me off. You’re different, I can see you understand me like yourself, plus we’re complete strangers, I’ll tell you and go away. Only if you don’t like it. Shall I tell you?
I nodded. He began his story about his friend. Here’s this strange story, without interruption I’ll give you the full story of what I heard.
– Well, I can’t imagine parents being terribly cruel. Sometimes, under the pretext of caring for a child, they might put him in a separate room, in a cot, which even seems very natural. And my friend was left on an island, alone. Imagine how cruel it would be to leave a baby on an island. Perhaps, I began to think about it later, his parents were forced to do it because they had no other choice, say, to save my friend’s life. On the other hand, the place was beautifully chosen – year-round sunshine, yellow beaches and blue horizons. It is everyone’s dream to live in such a paradise. My brother travelled all over the island until he was twenty-one – I told you that hope keeps a man moving forward. By his intuition, he started making a boat and gave himself over to the waves of the ocean. He did not tell me what happened to him in the ocean, I only know that he came out the other side of the island a month later and learned the terrible truth. It’s a small planet made up of just this island. And there wasn’t a soul on that planet except my friend. He was so terribly disappointed by this that instead of going to his former refuge, he went into one of the caves here. Then it rained like soil and ash for a season. And my friend lay with his pain and did not come out of the cave – think to yourself, how much time had passed when a man with dashed hopes lay on the ground! When he opened his eyes, he saw nothing that blinked. He waited there for the dawn. Relying on my friend’s memory, he looked toward the entrance of the cave and finally, at the end of the cave wall, he saw a full moon in the sky – there was nothing else to see. There he waited for the sun to rise. In his mind it seemed like days had passed, well even the moon hadn’t moved from its place. Then he got up and tried to walk toward the ocean, and he soon realized a second scary truth: he was stuck in a ravine, and the full moon in the distance was actually the mouth of the ravine. Terrifying, huh? While my friend was looking at that moon, he finally decided to climb the hill no matter what. There was no way to climb, so my friend thought about digging into the ground. Besides, the soil, the dirt, whatever it was – it moved very easily if he tried a little harder. So, he crawled inside, digging as hard as he could, and in the meantime his paws got as stiff as a hamster’s. Then he chewed on the ground in desperation, because it was impossible to push away the earth he was taking. After that, his body began to transform, his arms became shorter, his body became longer, and his skin was covered with small coins. Yes, you guessed it, he turned into a snake. Constantly climbing on the ground – gnawing at the earth in the hope of freedom, it seems that it will never end, and he himself has become a giant. You’ve probably heard that the common snake goes underground and turns into a dragon without being seen by humans for forty years. How many thousands of forty years did my friend miss? As he grew, so did the planet – like an egg, like a natural cage. But I can’t believe he’s going to hatch that egg. By now he has lost all his humanity, and besides, I have no hope. There are thousands of muscles coursing through his body every second. God knows, if it were to hit the ground, it would not be able to withstand the heat of the sun and would fall into its place…
When the story ended, I stood up a little stunned. I said goodbye and started to join the crowd. I didn’t get far, he ran after me.
– Excuse me, can I make one phone call? – He said, showing me an old Motorola phone, I’d seen it for decades. – It switch off.
– Tell me the number, – I said, pulling out my smartphone. I pressed the call button. He was talking to his mother. He said he was running late and his phone was off. He pressed red and returned my phone.
– They’re worried. Please, if they call you back, you didn’t meet me here. Tell the neighborhood to Chorsu. Look, we’ve talked so much and we don’t know each other – my name is Jamshid, don’t think I’m a bum, I’ve got business, however small. Here, – he said, holding out his red business card, – if you need metal tiles, come over.
– If I build a house, I’ll definitely buy a roof from you, – I said, slipping the piece of paper into my pocket.
– If you need any of your friends, call me, I’ll give them cheap. Can I some more cigarettes…
I took out a box and a lighter. He started talking again.
– I didn’t tell the end of the story – you need to know: I don’t know if my friend will come out or not, but we learned to call his planet Earth. That’s all. Be well.
He disappeared just as he appeared. I still can’t come to my senses. I’m afraid. As if it wasn’t enough that I was hovering in the air, now a huge dragon is crawling in a hole under my feet, trying to hatch its egg… Again I fear that the same dragon will finally succumb to its fate and eat itself inside its egg. Worse, I don’t understand why these signs are happening in my life, Jamshid, I doubt you even exist – it seems like a new play on my mind.
Alisher Fayzullaev was born in 1988 in Navoi, Uzbekistan. He graduated from the Faculty of Journalism of UzMU, and writes and translates short stories and poems.