Words echoed in his ears: “You are the first representative of the twenty-first century generation who will leave no trace of yourself.”
A Short Story 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 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. In 2021, he participated in “International Writers Congress” organized in Argentina under the name “Mundial insurgencial cultural” dedicated to Federico Garcia Lorca’s life and 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 “Revista 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 “Revista Cardenal” and the literature and art magazine of Chile “Casa Bukowski”. His works were published in several magazines and newspapers of Uzbekistan. 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 languages.
The Black Laptop
Two days ago, I spoke plainly to the hospital doctor who was treating me. He shook his head sadly and showed me a picture of my stomach churning (Damn cancer). There was no hope. According to the doctor, I have two months to live. I can live another month by God’s grace.
I never thought that I would surrender so early. No way. There is no circumvention of somebody’s destiny. When I was twenty-six, it was written on my fortune to leave this bright world – of course, this would happen. What could I do…
I came home from hospital yesterday. Why do I have to pay there if I have no desire to recover? It does not matter whether I wait for my death at home or in hospital…In any case, the one at home is less expensive. Moreover, when I encounter miserable looks of my loved ones at home in every step, it gives me relief. After all, who is not alleviated when the one sees that one’s death is hurting others, right? Everyone is given an assumption that I was an exemplary and good person when they felt such a warm attitude toward me – Even the bad and wicked, too. I came home thinking about them.
Yesterday my parents spent their time sitting next to me from dawn to dusk. Going nowhere and drowning in grief. They finally went to work today. I liked that I was much better and sent them off on my own. My mother, realizing my lie, wanted to stay at home and take a vacation from her job, but I did not agree. She went to work crying. But she must come back in the afternoon, because her heart goes out to me.
Condition at home is not bad. I am lying in a squeaky iron bed in my room, next to the window. Looking at the gloomy and shadowy landscape of autumn outside, I counted how many times the raindrops that fell during the day hit my window. On the window sill there are medicines not worth a penny, green tea in the teapot, which immediately cools down, as well as a black laptop. Several times I have told my mother to throw the medicine in the trash can in the yard. She did not approve of me. I took medicine when the pain got worse. She brought new ones from chemist and filled their ranks.
I deliberately asked her to put the laptop on the shelf. It has been there ever since. I am scared that someone will open it and browse the inside and push the button so inaccurate that it can be out of the program. That’s what worries me. So I have been keeping an eye on it ever since. I put a grey towel on it to keep out of the sight.
-We will put it in the closet,-my mother says every time she enters my room.
-Leave it there,-I say under protest.
-You are not using it, let it stay in my room,-says my father taking it in his hand and holding it here and there.
-Leave it there, – I say just like I told my mother.
So, I have not taken the laptop away from me since I came back from hospital. It is not brand new, it is almost spiritually outdated, and the software inside is useless compared to today’s templates. But I do not want to break with it. Can I tell you why? It’s because, my twenty-six years of life are hidden in it. That’s right. My twenty-six years of life. The books, manuscripts, letters and photographs I have collected during this lifetime are embedded in it.
Sometimes I lie down looking at the closet and the bookshelf in the room. The closet is empty. If someone glances over inside it after my death, they will not be able to find any pictures or letters written on it. There are no such things. There are photos taken with family or friends, images of my achievements, and all my pictures are in this laptop. Similarly, there is no letter written on paper and placed in an envelope, stamped and sent to me by anyone. Everything is written electronically, inside the laptop.
There are only ten books on the bookshelf. I can tell you with my eyes shut which books they are. There is no other book. The closet is empty almost. When I am no longer alive, it will be probably turned into a cupboard where pots and pans can be collected. If there is no book to put in it, then what will happen if it turns into a sideboard, right? All the books I need, that fascinated me, that impressed me, that broaden my horizon and worldview that made me cry when I needed to be, are not there, they are inside the laptop.
The top of my desk in front of the cupboard is also empty. When I think about it, there are no manuscripts or diary entries. Now I am staring at there. No notebooks are visible. The manuscript and the original copy of my dissertation, my monographs and articles, and even the diaries I wrote about my life are in this laptop.
So my whole life has been in this laptop. My entire life! Now someone understands why I put the laptop next to me. In fact, it is black device of different buttons encompassing my life. If I throw it out of the window or someone breaks and formats the program, my whole life will be lost with it and no trace will be left of me.
I was really fed up with lying down and I wanted to get up. Standing up was not a little easier this time. I could not even go to the toilet yesterday. When I got out of the bed, I observed the bookshelf and the table top. Then I walked out of the room and for some reason I stepped towards my father’s room at the end of the hallway.
His room was the same as mine. I mean its size. In addition, inventories too. This room has a cupboard, a bookshelf and a walnut desk like mine, but the difference is that the bookshelf here is full of books, and the desk is lined with notebooks and manuscripts.
As I approached the bookshelf, I was burning with the desire to pick up one of the books behind its glass door. The book I took was Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” (I have an electronic version of this work in my library on my laptop).When I opened the book, the pleasant smell of it hit me. My father always said that the odor of books was enjoyable. As I sniffed the book, I was firmly convinced. I think all the books on the shelf have that kind of smell. What about the e-library on my laptop? When I thought about it, my stomach ached slightly.
Standing upright in front of a bookshelf soon exhausted me. As it is a matter of life and death, bones became brittle and tired quickly. I was short of breath. After sitting in the chair across from the desk, I caught my breath and I regained consciousness.
My father’s notebooks on his desk and his handwritten manuscripts on white A4 paper stacked up in a folder attracted me. I first flipped through the manuscripts. These were the handwritings of the history of the doctoral dissertation, which my father defended a few years ago, and his drafts. Among them there were papers containing his monograph on theater and the first versions of his articles. There was a thick notebook next to the manuscripts. It was his diary. The diary covered with period from one thousand nine hundred and ninety to the present day, to which my father was constantly writing various notes, memories and personal thoughts.
When I opened the desk drawer, a bundle of envelopes and a glossy cover album caught my attention. The envelopes contained letters sent to my father in different years. They were from his friends, colleagues, relatives. Some were written with ink pen, some with ballpoint pen. The album ranged photos of my father from childhood, adolescence, student years and youth to the photos of our family. Most of them were glued to the album, the non-glued part was made into a pile and stuck between it. On the back of the non-glued photos, the place and dates of the photo were displayed.
I was in a bad mood when back from my father’s room. When I entered my room, my stomach started to sting hard. After taking the painkiller in a frowning way, I sat back and lay down. As I was in the bed, my father’s room, his books, manuscripts, letters and pictures circled in front of my eyes. As I thought about them, the life that lay into the laptop made my mood even worse and I plunged into a deep depression against my will.
At one point I felt into a light sleep. I had a dream. In my dream, I am lying in the same bed, in the same room as my own. There is also a desk with an almost empty bookshelf, and a black laptop on the window sill. Suddenly, the black laptop on the shelf rose into the air. It flew to the wall in front of me and suddenly it became bigger and bigger. Its diameter was large that it completely occupied the wall in front of me. Then its screen lit up. At first, a familiar scene appeared on the big screen. Suddenly, a man’s skull appeared and it addressed me with an ugly, squeaky voice: “Hello, Nodir”. Then it giggled. This lasted a few minutes. I was a little quiet when it disappeared from the screen. But instead, an unfamiliar hand, now reminiscent of a man’s slender hand bone, appeared on the screen and began to tear hard at the folders on the edge of the screen, irritating me. My heart was pounding with curiosity. My books, manuscripts, letters, diaries and photos were placed in those folders. An unknown hand opened the first folder. It was my e-library. I had collected all the books I needed in it. The noise grew louder and louder and my hands trembled with nervousness. As looking through the file, an unknown hand began to erase the books there one by one. “Anna Karenina”, “Martin Iden”, “Father Horio”, “Eugeniy Onegin”…Seeing this, I was immediately confused and I was not able to say anything. I tried to speak and say something but my voice did not come out.
After the books, an unknown hand broke the file containing my handwriting within minutes. It deleted my articles and essays about the art of cinema, which I had written with great difficulty, without falling asleep at night, pressing the erasable button with its fore finger. My manuscript folder soon became a useless file.
The unknown hand did not know what fatigue was. The turn soon came to my e-mail. Even without opening, it added the file where my letters were stored over the years to my e-mail, and erased them together fully. Precious and valuable letters sent by my close people, friends and relatives over the years have lost their existence in a matter of minutes.
At that moment, I was ready to get up and clapped my hand at the unknown hand on the screen, but no matter how angry I was, I could not move as if someone had tied my hands and feet. My voice still would not come out, no matter how much I screamed for help, no one would enter my room. I blushed with rage when unknown hand opened the inside of a file that written “diary” on it. My mouth began to spit around me. It tickled the folder. But it did not suddenly deface my diary, which was so dear to me. On the contrary, as if for fun, it deleted one from here and one from there. He erased first the section about my student years, then the part that reflected my childhood. In the same way, the rest of the diary was deleted from the laptop’s memory as randomly as if it were playing the piano keys.
By the time it reached the file where my photos had been collected, I was already feeling nothing and unable to grasp the brutal process that was taking place. I no longer spit from anger. I was staring at the screen of the giant laptop covered in white mist.
One by one, my photos also began to be erased from the laptop’s memory. My childhood photo of being bitten by a hot loaf of bread from the “tandir” was the first to be defaced. Then, my photo at school with a soccer ball collecting dust on my whole body; in this sequence, both the pictures from the golden days of my student days and my youth, as well as my photos from birthdays or New Year holidays celebrated in our family were all obliterated by an unknown hand.
Every time it was deleting something, the man’s skull appeared on the screen of the laptop and sometimes it howled like a wolf and deliberately teased me, pointing at the files that are being erased he said: “ How is it? Is it good?”
When the files on the screen became fully empty, it now showed my picture. I did not know where this picture came from. I did not have such a picture in the files. The picture looked new. This picture was taken when I was in a state of despair in the hospital and the doctor told me I could die soon. Did anyone take a picture of me from the shelter then?
A little later, the year of my birth and my possible death were written at the bottom of the photo: 1993-2019. Then I was no different from the dead man. When I could not accept this tragedy, the skull reappeared on the laptop screen and said loudly to me, “You are the first representative of twenty-first century generation who will leave no trace of yourself” and repeated the phrase several times. Without realizing what this sentence meant, its awkward and unpleasant laughter echoed from the laptop across the room. It began to laugh more and more….
When I woke up, my mother was sitting next to me. I stared at her, sweating profusely and breathing hard. She kept her eyes on me with a worried look, as if she did not know what to do with her annoyance.
-What happened to you? – She said shortly after handing me a cup of iced tea.
I took the cup in my hand and drank the tea hardly.
-When I said I would stay in the morning, you sent me to work- continued she with tearful eyes. -I knew it would happen.
-Laptop – I said as I looked around without paying attention to her. – A black laptop!
She took the laptop from the shelf with her one hand.
-May I take it somewhere else?
I hurriedly snatched the laptop from her hand and turned on the screen without pausing. When I turned on the screen with wide open eyes and a palm of my heart, I checked the files there. The folders were perfect, and the things in them were in place. I felt better after knowing about it. When I calm down slightly, I carefully turned off the laptop and put it back in its place on the shelf.
-Leave it there – I said looking at my mother.
When she saw that my condition improved, she took a heavy step and left the room, saying that she would cook “mastava” for lunch. When she left, I stretched out on my bed and lay down. As I stared at the white wall in front of me, I thought of my dream, the skull of the man who had made me nervous, the unknown hand that had erased “my life” in the files on my laptop screen.
No matter how much I wanted to deface this nonsensical dream from my memory and do my best not to remember it anymore, it still was not forgettable. Especially the skull and the words it said with unstoppable laughs never left my ears: “You are the first representative of the twenty-first century generation who will leave no trace of yourself”.
As I remembered his words, I looked at the place the laptop was, and lying on the bed and suddenly I burst out laughing.
*Tandir- a hot place like an oven where women bake breads, you should make a fire to use it.
*Mastava- a traditional meal of Uzbek nationality, made by rice and water, different species