World Literature

The autumn’s symphony – A short story from Uzbekistan

When autumn comes to our lives, it is difficult for spring to return – a short story by Sherzod Artikov

The existence of other seasons is a lie, there is only autumn in this world, darling -Shukhrat Arif

Sherzod Artikov

Sherzod Artikov, short story writer and poet, 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 prose in 2019. In 2020, his first book “The Autumn’s Symphony” was published in Uzbekistan. In 2021, his works were published in the anthology called “World Writers” in Bangladesh, “Asia Sings” and “Mediterranean Waves” in Egypt in English language.

 

The autumn’s symphony

I was late for “Le Procope” restaurant. Maftuna had already arrived and was sitting at a table, flipping through a dark red cover fashion magazine to pass the time. Her husband was nowhere to be seen.

“You are too late” she said getting up to greet me with a smile on her cheek. I sat wearily into the chair in front of her.

“I had piles of work at the embassy”.

Maftuna closed the magazine in her hand, not believing my reason, and motioned for one of the waiters in the hall.

“I order roasted white duck meat. With ketchup,” she said as she browsed the menu with interest and turned to me. ”What do you order?”

“Bring me an omelet with onion soup” I said without opening the menu on my side, to the waiter in French.

“What about drink?” – asked the waiter

“Orange juice” answered Maftuna firstly.

“I also want it” I added in a brief way.

When the waiter left, Maftuna looked around stretching her neck. With freshness, her eyes were entrancing; she was well-dressed, probably because of her good state of mind. Her dark hair spread across her open shoulders and the dress of the same color on her, glittering gold chain on her neck made her look more attractive.

“You look bad,” she said looking at me intently now. “In any case, you may not be upset that my husband did not come along?”

“Not at all, but I am astonished. If I am not confused, you invited me together”.

“He had the job to do urgently”.

Not long after, the waiter brought our orders on a tray. I drank sufficiently orange juice before eating. She began to eat the duck meat in small pieces using a shiny knife and fork in front of her. The restaurant was crowded. Those who gathered here would try to cheer each other under the pretext of dinner around the table, share their daily worries, and perhaps the fatigue they had accumulated throughout the day. A melody reminiscent of jazz, played to the ear, could not be kept in tune with it, and as a result, a person who was not accustomed to it, or who liked solitude, felt as if he had entered in a market, not a restaurant. Probably for this reason, I had a headache and I lost my quiet.

“I like Paris,” said Maftuna as she was eating, turning the fork in her hand in the air. “Especially its climate- I want to stay here longer. I will tell my husband, he will extend our visa again. Is it possible?”

Instead of answering as I started to drink soup, I just shook my head to mean it was possible. The fact that Maftuna was eating with appetite soon infected me as well, and I continued to eat in the same mood, not paying too much attention to the pain in my head. Although I am not an expert on dishes, for some reason the onion soup tasted sour, and the omelet seemed to be over-fried by the chefs.

“I will ask you a question, if you don’t mind,” said Maftuna as I drew conclusions about food in my mind. “But it is a very stupid question. The day we met at the Louvre, it occurred to me to ask the same question. You can answer if you want, if you do not want, no need”.

“What kind of question?” I said stopping from eating. She hesitated a little:

“Paris is called the city of love,” she said cheerfully, showing her pearly white teeth. ”Is that true?”

“There is an unsubstantiated rumor like this among people” I said as my neck stiffened as the stuttering came on again.

“French women are also said to be beautiful”.

“Really, I did not pay attention to it”.

“But you don’t look like a careless person at all”.

“This city is not an interesting place for me. My job is here, so I am here. Then I have such a habit: if the city doesn’t interest me, its people aren’t interesting, too”.

She must have affected indifferently because I spoke clearly and succinctly and she suddenly burst out laughing.

“It is a good habit,” she said continuing to laugh and then began to eat with more appetite than before. “I love white duck meat. Here it is deliciously prepared – Excellent.”

Her eyes flashed for a moment, she would occasionally stare at me silently sipping the orange juice with pleasure.

“It means that not everyone likes Paris, which is famous for all over the world”.

“Your conclusion is great!”

“I think this conclusion is equal to discovery”.

“Are you rediscovering the city in your own way?” I told her, giving a little chuckle.

“Why not?”- said Maftuna, as her face lit up even more. “I am rediscovering and I am so excited about it”.

“It sounds the same” I said while wiping my lips with a towel and drinking the orange juice again.

The continuation of the conversation in this way soon affected my appetite. Maftuna was behaving strangely today – going beyond some free, simple curiosity.

“If you don’t like these dishes, maybe we should order others?” she said astonishingly to see me putting the food in front of me aside.

“No need. I had no appetite since the morning” I told lying to her so as not to hurt.

“Understandable”.

She felt a little uneasy at my answer, cleared her throat and coughed a couple of times. Then, reluctantly, she put her fork on the table with the knife in her hand.

“I was immediately overwhelmed here. There is not enough air. How about driving around town?” she whispered slowly, tilting her head towards me.

Hearing her offer, I frowned. It occurred to me that I had not written a script for a cultural event which is going to be held next week at the embassy yet. On top of that, the thought of putting my head on a pillow and falling asleep because of my tiredness seemed to be the only remedy for my exhausted body, which at that moment penetrated my thoughts. But for some reason I did not dare to say “no” to Maftuna. Or rather, I didn’t want to appear uncourteous.

“Ok…”

“Dinner is over, too,” said Maftuna, calling the waiter and hastily settling account with him. “Now let’s get out into fresh air as soon as possible, I am frustrated here”.

Having dinner together, we went outside surrounded by drunken people. Maftuna never lost her merit on the street, although her good mood was slightly damaged due to my behavior. Holding her beautiful figure upright and stepping on high-heeled shoes, she walked up to the red “Citroen”, which stood on the side of the road, with dignity.

“My husband’s next gift,” she said showing it to me. “He rented it to behold the city. He is so kind-hearted that…”

It wasn’t hard to grasp the caustic comment in her tone of voice. I sat in the front seat of the car without paying much attention to it. Maftuna stood aimlessly in the open air for a while, then got behind the wheel and started.

“Would you mind if we go to the arch of Victory?” she said as we set out on the highway.

Being in my dreams, I couldn’t respond to her on time.

“What is interesting about this arch?” I said after a few minutes watching Paris, as darkness fell.

The inside of the car seemed to be stuffy. She and I both sighed and lowered the side windows.

“Maybe this is not interesting for you because you have been living here for a long time. But it is interesting to others – for example to me. God knows when I’ll be here again.”

Reaching the arch of Victory, Maftuna turned off the car’s engine and got out of it. There were not many people in front of the arch, only few people were walking around arm in arm.

“Remark wrote about this arch,” said Maftuna approaching it and turned to me. “Do you know?”

She went a long way without waiting for my answer. I had to speed up my pace to reach her.

“I read that book,” I said when I got there. “It was about a Jewish doctor and his mistress, if I am not mistaken.”

Then Maftuna tilted her head to one side and looked at the place where I was standing.

“Is there anything you didn’t read?” she asked as she approached to me and stared at me from head to toe. ”Anything you don’t know? You read Balzac, Hugo, Dickens, Marquez- Here’s Remark, too. You speak French and English fluently. You are a good translator and handsome.”

She suddenly came closer to me. The intoxicating smell of women’s perfume wafting from her struck me. The distance between us was much shorter and I could even hear her breathing. She was breathing heavily, and her eyes were on me. Once she kissed me passionately, I lost myself at first because it happened all of a sudden. When I regained consciousness, I took two steps back pushing her. My behavior hurt her pride.

“Coward!” she said laughing with venom.

No matter how much I tried to control myself, I was very angry at what she said.

“Would I be brave if I flirt with a woman who has a husband?” I raised my voice.

“You men all are the same,” she continued walking away from me, suddenly frozen in place.

“Not only my father, who gave me to that dishonest man when I was sixteen years old, neither that person, who can’t remember the days he betrayed me, nor you, who lives in constant worship of his identity.”

I turned my head towards the arch of Victory so as not to look at her, and stood in that position for a few minutes. Maftuna was still laughing with venom. She didn’t look like the modest woman who walked around the Louvre with me four days ago and came to the embassy with her husband to lengthen her visa the day before yesterday. Suddenly she walked towards the car. At first, I didn’t want to follow her when I saw her leaving. But I went reluctantly.

“Open the door, Maftuna” I said when I got there. Ignoring me she stepped on the gas. Feeling wretched, I ran to one of the empty cabs on the side of the road.

“Please get behind that red “Citroen” I told the driver who was standing the nearest.

The driver didn’t refuse my request and chased her at a moderate speed. When he tried to catch up Maftuna, she deliberately increased the speed of the car even if she wasn’t driving so slowly.

“What the hell is she fed up with living?”, said the driver shaking his head in surprise. ”Is it possible to drive a car so fast within the city?”

At the turn along the Seine, a truck appeared on the opposite side, as if falling from the sky. Maftuna barely managed to give it a left. As a result, her car was suddenly pushed to the side of the road, screaming due to a crushed brake. The oncoming car sounded the horn and drove past her. As I got out of the taxi, I ran towards it with my heart pounding. Maftuna was sitting motionless in the car with her head on the steering wheel, miraculously unharmed.

“Open the door!”, I said hitting the glass of a car a couple of times. “I tell you to open!!!”

She opened the door. I picked her up and took her down. Then I took lifting her up to one of the seats along the Seine.

“Doesn’t your life matter at all?!” I shouted at the top of my voice. Maftuna stared at me meaninglessly as if looking into space.

“Yes so. It is none of your business.”

She was on a seat, lowering her head and trembling. Apparently, the accident which didn’t hurt her had a negative effect on her psyche, and she was extremely frightened. Even the excitement and fear in me was not suppressed. My heart was pounding as I stood upright in front of her without sitting in a seat.

“I am tired of everything” said Maftuna, looking at the rushing river.

As September coming to end, it was cool and the temperature had dropped a bit. In Paris there was a light breeze for three or four days, the sky was full of clouds of different colors, and sometimes there were occasional raindrops. Even today, the weather is a dark, the sky is dominated by familiar clouds, the moon which shone every evening in the summer was hidden behind them and this scene indicates that autumn rain fall on the ground before dawn.

“You didn’t turn off the car’s headlights” I said sitting to her, not wanting to stand any longer.

Maftuna glanced to the car with disgust.

“Red “Citroen “, too red “Citroen” she said repeating the same word several times.

She was still shivering – now from the cold. Seeing this, I took off my suit and covered her shoulder. She thanked in a whispered way. She didn’t say anything since then. I didn’t open my mouth either.

“My father wanted me to get married when I was sixteen,” said Maftuna staring at the river again breaking the long silence firstly. “He didn’t take into consideration my youth. He didn’t even pay attention to my tears. I remember those times a lot. I had just turned sixteen. I was a dream heaven girl. I wanted to study the law. I would read a lot of books, learn the languages. Like all girls, I was obsessed with sweet fantasies. And one day it was all over. I got married. I knew I would get married one day, but I didn’t think that moment would happen too early. I got married without stepping into an independent life. When I was a little girl, I dreamed that my husband would look like Darcy who was the main character of “Pride and Prejudice “. I wish he was as noble, loyal, and brave as he was, while in real life is often different. It was then that I was deeply saddened to see a man in front of me who was the complete opposite of Darcy. Still, I didn’t say a word and I didn’t oppose my father. And also my mum approved him by saying everyone was doing like this. So I got married. To tell the truth, I did not like my husband. I didn’t have any feelings towards him (even now). I was disappointed. He didn’t need me either. I knew he would betray me. Days, weeks, months passed then. I didn’t even notice it. Because I felt like that I was in a strange environment. As a result, my interest towards life diminished day by day. I lived like that for eight years. My dreams dissipated like smoke, I had no intention of becoming a lawyer, I wouldn’t read a lot of books, my passion for language learning faded”.

“It was as if there was no meaning in my life. In the eighth year of my marriage, I found out that I was pregnant. Believe me, it was as if the meaning had come into my life from somewhere. I was so happy as if the God had given me the happiness of becoming a mother instead of the dreams I had above. The thought about having a child and being a mother spread happiness all over my body. As a result, I began to live in a different mood. One day when I went to the hospital, I saw my child on the screen of the equipment there. The doctor laughed and said it was bathing with its hands shaking. In fact, my baby was bathing, waving its arms. After that, I started to talk to it every day. I would tell to it stories at night and buy clothes for it to wear when I gave birth. It was as if my interest in living had returned”.

“When my pregnancy was in fifth month, it was Friday and my husband came home late. The smell of women’s perfume wafted from him and he was very drunk. He insulted me severely as if I looked bad in his eyes. That’s why he beat me up opening his eyes wide and screaming like an animal. As I felt the deep pain from his blows all over my body, something seemed to be broken inside me at that moment, and my sensitive heart screamed, feeling something worse than that. The next day I lost my fetus in the hospital.”

Maftuna burst into tears at that moment. She sobbed and cried. Her shoulders were shaking violently as she cried and a painful cry echoed in her voice.

“So I spent a lot of time in the hospital without regaining consciousness. I was devastated and deeply depressed. I didn’t want to see anyone- I lay there all day without leaving the room. I didn’t even want to see my parents. I was disgusted with my husband. I couldn’t imagine living in the same house with someone whom I wasn’t happy and now started to hate. But I continued to live together. My father left me to him, reassuring me that I will have another child. Funny, is that right? Why life and people are like that? I can’t find my answers to these questions. My husband’s behavior is even more ridiculous. The man who kicked me and killed his unborn child brought his wife to Paris to have fun.”

She was now crying towards me, my heart was pounding hard trying not to look at her.

“The first day we arrived here, I didn’t leave the hotel. I didn’t even like this city, which is the dream of millions of people, because the wound in my soul was not over yet. I sat in front of the window all day. This is how the Eiffel Tower looked out of the window. My husband left in the morning and came back in the evening. It happened the next day and the day after tomorrow. I watched the city through the window whole day. Finally on the fourth day I asked my husband to take me to Hugo’s house-museum. He agreed. He left me there alone, telling me that he would take me in an hour from there. I was left alone in front of the house-museum of my favorite writer. When I went inside, there was a meeting in the main hall there. It was more like a presentation ceremony than a meeting. Shortly afterwards, a museum employee proved this assumption correct.”

“Do you remember that day? There would be a presentation of Hugo’s work, which you translated into Uzbek, and you were telling people about Hugo and his role in the worldview of the Uzbek readers. As I sat on the sidelines looking at you, for some reason I seemed to forget the pains that had tormented my soul for so long, its unfinished wounds, and I listened to your speech with pleasure, as if I had returned to my sixteen year. Then I met you in person. You said that you had worked at the embassy. We talked about Hugo and French literature. I have read almost all of Hugo’s works. Hearing this, your face lit up. This writer was your favorite writer, too.”

“When I came back from the museum, I felt much refreshed. As if storms stopped in the boundaries of my soul, grief and woe had faded, just this once in a long time I sensed the breath of peace and tranquility. My mood boosted opening the hotel window and I looked around. I got the idea that life is actually beautiful; it’s not just black and white. The most interesting thing was that I ate with a good appetite that evening and slept peacefully and soundly at night without waking up anxiously.”

“You said that you would go to the Louvre every weekend. There were two more days till the weekend. Having spent these two days at a time, I got up early on Sunday and went to the Louvre – In order to find you. As soon as I got there, I was astonished. It was a large place and full of people. For the goodness, I remember what you said about the Mona Lisa painting. I inquired and found the room where the picture stood. I went there and saw you among the people around the picture. I was so happy. I approached you to catch your attention. You were standing there, busy with writing something down your notebook in your hand. I watched you there quietly. You noticed me even if not immediately. You smiled seeing me. We had a great conversation that day about the Mona Lisa and toured the museum together.”

“When I returned to the hotel, my husband, who was drinking champagne, said that we had two days left until our visa expired. Then I begged him to extend it. He looked surprised. I managed to persuade him. I really wanted to stay a little longer in Paris. I didn’t even know why, I just wanted to stay. I didn’t want to go anywhere as if an unknown feeling awoke in my heart.”

“Two days later my husband and I went to the embassy. I met you there again. You helped to extend our visa. My husband thanked and invited you to dinner. I was even happier when you agreed. I woke up this morning dreaming of this dinner. It had been a long time since I had looked in the mirror. I sat along in front of it for the first time. I would wear the dress I encountered if I had to go a ceremony before. This time I had difficulty with choosing a dress. I also found work on my gold chain, which had been lying untouched in my suitcase for years. As time went on, I could not suppress my excitement as it got late. In the afternoon, my husband went outside, pretending he had work to do. He asked me to apologize for not coming. So I came here alone, in the car he rented. I felt much more relaxed in the restaurant. I know that – because I had the privilege of communicating again with the person whom I wanted to talk to. That distracted me a bit. As a result, I asked you some stupid questions throughout the dinner. I behaved very badly. I forgot to control myself. You obviously considered me as a light-hearted. I also hated myself. This feeling took over my whole body and brought to my eyes to stain and the veil of shame that had been torn from my face. Because of this, I got into the car to get rid of this feeling that was starting to spoil my soul. But I suffered worse there. I washed my eyes in agony and drove fast, because I had the absurd conclusion that this feeling, which was getting worse over time, would leave me alone if I died. Feeling of self-loathing often motivates each person to behave in this way. The same thing happened to me until the truck came out in front of me. But I was scared when the car appeared. I couldn’t manage dying. I was not strong enough, I was weak.”

Maftuna got up and went to the river bank. She stared at its dark appearance at night and the sound of Siena for a few minutes. Then she came back without hurrying. She wasn’t crying anymore, she calmed down and got better.

“When autumn came to our lives, it is difficult for spring to return,” she said looking in the distance on the river and sighed and began to tell a poem by heart:

I waited for someone, believing something,

I looked up at the sky like a poplar.

I cannot even leave like fall of leaves,

As if I still need you.

The tongue barely trembles like a leaf,

The winner autumn again spread smoke.

I would paint the world a beautiful color,

Sorry, autumn has come before you, sorry…*”

After reading the poem, she took my suit in her hand, carefully folded it and slowly placed it next to me. I watched it silently.

“I will leave Paris tomorrow,” she said looking around and was suddenly disappointed when our eyes met. “In fact just like you, I am not interested in this city at all. The reason for my staying here longer wasn’t its beauty.”

I got up and hesitated to say anything to her. Frankly, I did not know for sure whether to clear her up or comfort. As I leaned towards her, Maftuna pulled herself away from me and gestured with her hands in a refusal way. I stayed where I was and there was no sound inside me: no words to make her mind or soothe. My eyes were dim and my head was full of confused thoughts as if gloom fell around me. After a while she started to leave and without saying goodbye she went to the car which light was still on. Without turning back, she stood up again and walked with dignity, tapping her high-heeled shoes.

“Red Citroen, too red Citroen,” she said as she walked away.” My husband’s gift, my “kind” husband’s…”

_______________

Poem by Shuhrat Arif

Nilufar Mukhammadjonova- Sindh Courier- UzbekistanTranslated from Uzbek into English by Nilufar Mukhammadjonova

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