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Tatiana was born in 1963; her songs were popular in Romania from a young age; she created mainly folk songs; she died of cancer in a Military hospital in 2009

By Sherzod Artikov

When me and my close friends, Dan Blebea and Florentina Dalian in Dan’s “Renault”, were going to visit to Transylvania, the land of the evil Count Dracula, old and charming, with a mysterious appearance and a rich history, my friend’s puppy, the longing for the old, lovely Bobitsa which just was very passionate by the fireplace, somehow reminded me of Chekhov’s Kashtanka the first time I saw it, was crushing my heart, and the thirst caused by the heat of the Romanian autumn, similar to ours, in the first month of summer, had already begun to irritate my throat. Every ten to fifteen minutes, I wet my throat with one of the mineral waters, which was given to me by generous Dan, and I licked my lips, once again believing that life is a supreme blessing and I was enjoying form it. I didn’t even stop saying “your puppy likes me” to my friend. He would only smile softly in response to me, with the composure characteristic of his nature and enlightened age, he would turn the steering wheel of his car in one rhythm, straighten his black glasses on his nose, and calmly look at the geolocation on the phone screen in front of him.

Tatiana-5Another friend of mine, Florentina, riding in the seat behind me, whom I affectionately call “my Romanian mother” and she also likes it, is sometimes addressing someone in Romanian on the phone in her hand, sometimes she shares with me the necessary information without taking their eyes off the beautiful and fascinating landscape, about majestic Argez forest, which is increasingly surrounding us and which until now I only read about in books, is the forest of Transylvania. Sometimes there would be a long silence, and all three of us would be quiet, and only the sound of the engine of the car, which was moving at a moderate speed, could be heard in the cabin. As I was not used to such silence, I took my eyes off the road and engaged both of my interlocutors in turn and tried to talk to them about any topic that came to my mind. Sometimes I would distract Danny from the road and puzzle him about the Romanian city of the large-fruited grape variety that I liked on the table at home, and sometimes I would turn to Florentina and disturb her with the recipe for the preparation of the Romanian national dish Mamaliga or modern Romanian literature.

At one point, a beautiful song started playing on the car’s tape recorder. I thought it was Romanian. A woman with a magical voice was singing, there was a living soul who listened to her in absentia, and shared her acute pain with all of them.

Tatyana Stepa is singing,” said Florentina, approaching my seat. “The name of the song is “Copaci fara padure”. Translation: “Trees without a forest”.

After her answer, I involuntarily looked at the surrounding trees, which, although it was the end of September, had not yet lost their greenness, at the magnificence of the forest, where the endless border had begun.

“Bear, bear,” said Dan as he slowed the “Reno” down, pulled over to the side of the road, and pointed to a bear on the side of the road.

Tatiana-2The cars in front of us and the ones behind us stopped, and the passengers in all of them were busy looking at the big bear standing on the opposite side of the road. While basking in the sun on the side of the road, the bear opened his mouth, showed his big teeth, played with his huge paws in the air, and kept his eyes fixed on the cars and the curious people inside them. He even raised one hand and seemed to greet those around him. All three of us laughed at this.

“The bear started to think that he is a Hollywood star” I said laughing as I pushed Dan.

To be honest, until now I have only met a live bear in zoos. It was the first time I met a bear living in nature, under natural conditions. After hanging out with the bear for a few minutes, my mind drifted back to the same song as we continued on our way. The song didn’t stop. Tatiana’s pains, absorbed in the song, penetrated more and more to the depths of my heart.

“Trees with a forest” I said when we got out of the tunnel and reached the bridge over Lake Vadraru, referring to the surrounding trees, making a pun.

In response, Florentina now laughed

“You’re right now,” said Dan, smiling after her.

Tatiana-3We often meet people late or never alive, whom we have been looking for lifetime, with whom want to talk for hours and whom we love.” Unfortunately, I had the same fate and was late for Tatiana

On the bridge, Dan pulled over. The three musketeers (I jokingly named the three of us) went down. We decided to have a little rest here, to eat in one of the artificial kitchens lined up on the edge of the bridge. Dan came up with some hot corn on the cob, wrapped in paper, and soft-cooked. He handed me two. I stared at Vadraru Lake for ten to fifteen minutes while chewing my corn. Falling in love with it grace, I touched my face to the ice-like mist radiating from it. My heart was beating with excitement, since it was the first time in my life to see such a big lake, my fascination with it was increasing every second, the hunger for beauty in my heart was insatiable no matter how much I looked at the lake, the fire in my eyes was burning more and more, I felt as if I was standing in heaven.

But even here Tatiana’s song did not leave my ears. As we continued on the road, I would play the song over and over again on the tape recorder, each time I would like it not to end, and when it was over, I would immediately touch the tape recorder’s rewind button with my index finger. Dan and Florentina were not against it. They did not pay attention eye to my capriciousness, just as a parent bears the capriciousness of his child, on the contrary, both of them were blissfully happy, when I discovered Tatyana Stepa for myself.

“Tell me about Tatyana Stepa,” I said to Florentina as I opened the car window and smelled the breath of the green forest.

She shared everything she knew about the contemporary Romanian folk singer.

“Is she dead?” I asked, feeling strange after hearing about her death.

“Yes” said Florentina, shaking her head sadly.  “She died of cancer in 2009.

The information she told me seemed to be lacking, or the reason why I became interested in Tatiana seemed to be lacking. I was not satisfied with them, so I immediately started looking for Tatyana Stepa on the Internet. It turned out that she was born in 1963 (here I thought that she is the same age as my mother), her songs were popular in Romania from a young age, she created mainly folk songs, and she died of cancer in a Military hospital in 2009. The place called “grave” is written on Wikipedia as “Bellu Cemetery”.

Turning off my phone almost in a knockdown state, I first whispered “Bucharest”, “Military Hospital” with trembling lips. After all, the other day when we went to Bucharest, we passed by the magnificent Military Hospital, which is an indescribable example of architecture. At that time, I looked at it in amazement and admired its architecture. At this moment, I wanted to go back there and to enter through the door, to look for the room where Tatiana died, to feel the walls, to lay on the bed where she was lying, even to look for the doctor who treated her and the nurse who took care of her, and to ask them for the last days of the singer who won my heart. Within a few minutes, I was in such a state of ecstasy that I lost consciousness of what I was doing or what I was thinking. As if my heart stopped beating and my brain stopped, only Tatiana and things related to her were spinning in my mind.

“She was buried in Bellu, Florentina!” I said with a broken heart.

“That’s right,” said Florentina in a broken voice. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Tatyana that day.”

“We found Eminescu’s grave, we would also find her grave,” I continued, regretting even more.

“You visited her father-in-law’s grave,” said Florentina, trying to comfort me. “Adrian Paunescu was her father-in-law. Tatiana mainly turned the poems he wrote into songs. He is also the author of Copaci fara padure.”

Tatiana-6In fact, I was able to visit the graves of many Romanian poets and writers, except for the grave of one of my favorite poets, Mihai Eminescu, whom I searched for in Bellu, I acknowledged that death was right in front of them, froze like a statue for a few minutes and prayed for them. Among them were the graves of Ion Luca Carajale, Marin Preda, Alexandru Macedonski, Adrian Paunescu. I wandered around Bellu, hich includes a large area. So, Tatyana’s grave was somewhere in front of me, but because I didn’t know her, I ignored her, I passed by it indifferently.

I was able to visit the graves of many Romanian poets and writers, except for the grave of one of my favorite poets, Mihai Eminescu

This thought tormented me. Tatiana boldly entered my heart with her painful song for a few hours, and from there she took a firm place, and now I want to know completely everything about her and I didn’t stop asking about her from Dan and Florentina. “What kind of person was Tatyana when she was alive?”, “Did she mainly create in folklore?”, “Why did she get cancer?” I wouldn’t let them rest for a moment with my questions like those, if I didn’t have enough information, I would get nervous and my anger would explode.

Tatiana-4Tatiana was at the same age as my mother. If she had lived, she would have turned sixty these days, just like my mother. It’s interesting that I started loving her as if I loved my own mother. Although she continued to sing on the tape recorder, I could no longer hear her with my ears. Because she has already started to sing in my heart, even if her voice dies in the tape recorder, it will not die in my heart for years. She was more and more sorry for the trees without a forest, and she was forced and swallowed her pain. Looking at the trees that have a forest around me, “do you feel sorry for the trees without a forest, what about the untimely death of Tatiana who sang them?” I wanted to scream. It was as if I begged Dan, Florentina, and these trees about how the entire Romanian land, which was left without Tatiana, was like when she was alive. Especially I wanted the trees to speak which are tall as the sky, the silence of the trees hurts me once, destiny of Tatiana hurts me twice.

Also read: When the characters come to life

On the other hand, the addition of Tatiana to the ranks of Edith Piaf, Lara Fabian and Yasmin Levy, who made my heart to the door with their songs and either shook or tore them to pieces every time, now shows that the human pain and suffering in the queens created by these representatives of the delicate sex will increase and become too large , and my mind kept reminding me that it was unlikely that my sensitive heart would be able to bear it, that it was impossible to live like this, that is, to die a million times. Even when “Renault” turned towards Voynatsa, a resort town located on the slopes of the Argez forest, I still could not get rid of the above feelings, which were a heavy example of lead, and, in the words of Somerset Maugham, “a whirlwind of human pains and passions.” Voynatsa is a small and quaint town, with many street lights reminiscent of scenes from Chaplin’s movie “Lights of the Big City”. Since it was night and maybe it was raining heavily, we could not see anything on the street, not even a creature was in front of us, and apparently the inhabitants of the town were sleeping soundly. I also couldn’t pay attention to the town properly due to exhaustion. In my current situation, I could only note that although the sheltered houses and two-story houses formed a strange ensemble, they reminded me of fairy-tale huts with their architecture reminiscent of the past. Even when our car stopped in front of one of the hotels there to sleep (Dan had booked the hotel in advance), only the memory of Tatiana, her bitter fate, the poet Paunescu’s ode to the salt trees that do not have a forest, and finally, that song that managed to kill me in a day, like a stunner, were on my mind was spinning. I hummed the song involuntarily. The three words “Copaci fara padure” were the only words in the lyrics in my memory (I didn’t memorize the entire lyrics). Mostly I would covertly follow its tone. As I said, it was pouring rain outside. In the small room reserved for me, I sat on the edge of the sofa and warmed up with my longing eyes to the raindrops rustling against the window, to the freshness of Voynatsa, which spread the dark curtain of the silent night outside, shimmering with the help of countless lights, and to the silence of the mysterious forest that covered the surroundings and was colored by the sky. I felt as if my body was giving up due to a hard day (we drove about 160 kilometers by car) and another pain in my heart was added to it.

Sherzod Artikov - Uzbekistan
Author Sherzod Artikov

Tatiana was lying alone in the cemetery in Bellu, on the cold and dry ground, in an almost rotting coffin, while I was lying on my side on the couch. Now she did not sing, did not speak, did not see, did not smell, did not laugh, did not cry. Except of skeletons left from her, there was no trace of her gentle gazelle-like eyes, white lips, thin lips, blond hair, long and soft hands that had learned to hold the guitar in the coffin. I couldn’t get that into my mind. When I listen to or remember the song “Copaci fara padure” in Voinatsa, it is as if Tatiana is sitting face to face with me and talking with me while drinking cappuccino. The more I looked at the forest, the more I envied its trees. Somewhere, the fate of trees without a forest made me sad (perhaps Tatiana sang about the trees in Brasov, Sighisoara, Sinaia or other cities of Romania without a forest, lying deserted, when the time came, they dried up and became useless for nothing but firewood).

Finally, when the dawn was about to break, my eyes began to sleep. As I closed my eyes, I thought about something that my late grandmother once said. My grandmother used to say that “we often meet people late or never alive, whom we have been looking for a lifetime, with whom want to talk for hours and whom we love.” Unfortunately, I had the same fate and was late for Tatiana.

[Translated from Uzbek into English by Maftuna Abdurasulova]


Sherzod Artikov is an Uzbek writer, essayist, poet and translator. He graduated from Ferghana Polytechnic Institute of Uzbekistan in 2005. He was one of the winners of the International Award of Contemporary Author’s Fairy Tales held in North Macedonia in 2021. His stories have been translated into 30 languages of the world and published in websites, magazines and newspapers of about 60 countries.
In 2020, the author’s books “Autumn Symphony”, “Beauty that did not save the world” and “Mona Lisa’s Smile” were published in 2022. In the middle of 2021-2022, his stories and poems were published in international anthologies in Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Canada, Tunisia, Greece, Mexico, Indonesia, USA, UAE, France, Lebanon, Poland, Turkey, and his author’s books were  published in Cuba (in 2021 under the name of “La Sinfonia del “Otono”), in India (in 2022 under the name of  “The Book of Garcia Marquez”) , in Romania( in 2022 under the name of  “Sonata lui Rahmaninov”), in Vietnam ( in 2023 under the name of “Luan vu mua) and in Hungary ( in 2023 under the name of “ Hemigway es anyam”) 
In 2021-2023, he participated in international literature festivals held in Argentina, Tunisia, Singapore, Chile, Romania, Nepal, Nicaragua, Portugal and Indonesia.
He is a 2021 laureate of the “Golden creativity award” of the Mexican-Moroccan literary alliance for young translators.


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