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© Kazat Akmatov, 2005. All rights reserved
© Казат Акматов, 2005. Бардык укуктар корголгон
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Казат Акматович АКМАТОВ

Arhat

 

Annotation to the Moscow Edition:

Kyrgyz author Kazat Akmatov’s novel Arhat was presented in 2007 in Moscow at the Bibliobraz festival, and this edition, in Kyrgyz, Russian and Bulgarian, is also part of the festival. The entire print run was distributed free of charge to schools and universities around Russia as a gift from the author and the publisher, the Center for Development of the Russian Language. The novel is presently being translated into English, Turkish and other languages.

At home, Arhat was well received and awarded a number of national and international prizes, in addition to being named National Bestseller of the Year for 2007.

The novel concerns the fate of a modern Kyrgyz boy who is the reincarnation of a great Tibetan yogi and poet who lived a thousand years ago…

 

Of all the powerful forces in Nature, the most powerful is human reason and the swiftest is the human dream. 

These are the two pillars that keep us from falling on our path to the Great Destiny of the Universe.

Author

 

Instead of a Foreword

Chingiz Aitmatov on Arhat:

I am happy to see the increasing thematic breadth and aesthetic-philosophical depth of thought in contemporary Kyrgyz literature. When I say this, I am referring to Kyrgyz writer Kazat Akmatov’s book Arhat, which I had the pleasure of reading recently. A number of authoritative literary critics and writers have expressed their opinions on the book before me, calling it “an advance in Kyrgyz writing.” Arhat really is a new word in Kyrgyz literature – this can be seen in the very issues the author put at the heart of his work. Even if we ignore the author’s mastery, his expressive use of language and the power of the images in his novel, his deep study of the multifaceted ego alone, that “I” hiding in the soul of each human, is beyond all doubt something completely new and unheard-of in the world of literature.

Of course there can be no person without an ego. Likewise, there can be no literary protagonist without a sense of egoism. However, I consider it a great tribute to the power of Akmatov’s pen that he was able to analyze this issue by creating such living characters, using their complicated lives and thrilling turns of events to focus the reader’s attention on the thorny psychological landscape. That is what sets Arhat apart.

At the outset I mentioned the growing breadth of themes addressed in Kyrgyz literature in recent years. I arrived at that insight after reading Arhat, for one of its key ideas is the new and unpleasant realization that the planet Earth is approaching environmental catastrophe. Akmatov’s book sounds the alarm, as do the facts we are confronted with in everyday life.

This would be a good moment to remember that all of the many historical teachings, religions and prophets agree on one thing: our planet is drawing near to a “Great Flood.” There will be a “Day of Judgment,” and the culprit in the global tragedy is none other than humankind.

If we believe the information issued by the organizers of the global Kyoto Protocol, then the question of environmental apocalypse is already relevant and a threat to Earth’s civilization in the 21st century. The greenhouse effect, resulting from humans’ use of technology on the Earth, has reached the point of being irreversible. Nature is providing us with further proof, in the form of rapidly melting ice in ancient glaciers and the Kyrgyz Alatau Mountains, which creates problems of finding drinking water.

For these reasons, modern man’s thoughts and dreams center on avoiding these real threats and avoiding the unavoidable catastrophe. Time does not stop. All people, no matter what their profession, must search for answers to these questions and announce their findings to the world.

It just so happens that science fiction writers, scholars and philosophers are laying the first paths to a new way of thinking. Science and technology must take up the race to bring their ideas to life. However, both groups are taking desperate steps in different directions at the same time. The novel Arhat is an example of this.

Foreseeing what awaits our round Mother Earth, the great Russian thinker Nikolai Roerich wrote the following: “Humanity must focus its eyes and its plans on other worlds. Human evolution can only continue if we strive toward inter-planetary travel.” In other words, humans will never conquer their egos on Earth. Humanity can change everything on the Earth and under it, but it cannot change itself or improve its arrogant ego. I want to emphasize that Arhat is an innovative creation embodying the ancient mystical and metaphysical thinking of many peoples, but at the same time it dazzles us with its contemporary philosophical thought.

Even though he works in the realm of the fantastic, Akmatov lights a flame of hope in the reader’s heart that there can be a real, optimistic future for humanity.”

 

From Kyrgyz press reviews of Kazat Akmat’s novel Arhat.

“This book is completely original in terms of its topic, its contents and its style. Kyrgyz fiction has seen nothing like it. It brings together real life, magic and metaphysics, as well as contemporary global trends in philosophy. This is the mysterious, secretive story of the fate of a young Kyrgyz boy in Tibet. Born into injustice and therefore named Adilet (justice), he dedicates his life to bringing about justice on Earth.

“The story is fast-paced and takes unexpected turns. The author’s style is precise and clear, making the intense story easy to read.

“To put it another way, the author put enormous effort into presenting the book’s philosophical and artistic core in a light, free manner. I imagine this is the only way we can once again cross the threshold of world fiction.”

Keneshbek Asanaliev, Ph.D.
    People’s Author of Kyrgyzstan, Professor

 

A Man of the Universe

“Kazat Akmat has surprised the world of Kyrgyz literature with his new novel, Arhat, which tells the story of the maturation and realization of an unusual Kyrgyz boy named Adilet, who lives in a Buddhist temple in Tibet. The boy has the gift of prophecy and understands his calling. Tibetan astrologists announce that he is the reincarnation of the Tibetan Buddhist yogi Milarepa, considered a man-god.

“The path of such people as Mani Yaso (Adilet’s Tibetan name) is never easy, for it is the path of an individual who chooses goodness and justice in an evil, unjust and contradictory world.

“The boy’s mentor, the wise Lama Tsu, tells him ‘Your path in life will be a hard one.’ ”

Ilimkan Lailieva, Ph.D.
    Professor of Philology

 

Totally Unexpected

“We always expected that new, young talents and new names would arise in Kyrgyz literature, bringing new works very different from the ones we have known. We knew that.

“But nobody expected a man of my own age like Kazat Akmat to break out with this deep, philosophically original, engaging and well written novel.

“The book is not complete, but in terms of its theme, calorie content, lifelike heroes and masterful storytelling, it leaves us waiting eagerly for the rest of this wonderful story.”

Kenesh Zhusupov
    People’s Author of Kyrgyzstan
    Winner of the State Toktogul Prize

 

New Wave in Kyrgyz Literature

“The first part of Kazat Akmat’s novel Arhat is a creative beginning to the search for an artistic representation of the philosophical and moral problems endemic to our epoch and to man in the Wheel of Time.

“The reader is drawn in by the simplicity with which the suspense-filled story is told, even though Akmat is presenting a subtext of complicated issues and deep thoughts.”

Melis Abakirov
    Writer

 

Prologue

“Do you think that a little man, a bureaucrat without much in the way of brains or spirit can turn a whole capital city upside down?”

“Of course not.”

“But why not? He just might do it.”

“I say he can’t! Not if he’s a timid mouse.”

“Then listen... It seems that in this world anything is possible. The bureaucrat we’re talking about is a junior research assistant in the municipal statistics committee’s population department. In other words, he has a position of the lowliest sort. And judging by his meek temperament and cowed expression, he lives by the rule “keep your head down and your mouth shut.” That’s our man Zamorish.

Zamorish has already tried to open his supervisor’s door three times this morning, each time meaning to go in, but each time losing his nerve. His supervisor was talking on the phone the first two times, and the third time he was taking a nap.

So once again Zamorish is positioned outside the massive door. His heart is fluttering like swallow caught in a cage, just fluttering... “I’m duty-bound to go in. I absolutely must tell him! I can’t delay any further!” He prods himself with logic. He even kicks himself for his timidity: “I must do something!” And he did. He walked in.

“Ahem,” he coughed quietly as he lowered himself onto the edge of the chair.

“Spit it out. Don’t waste time like a drowsy fly. Let’s hear it.

“Ahem. It won’t be long before the city’s one millionth resident is born. Probably within the next two or three days…

“What?!” his supervisor yelped in fright, causing Zamorish’s heart to nearly jump out of his chest. “You should have told me before! Why did you wait to the last minute? Run write me up a letter to the mayor’s office, you goddamn idiot!” The supervisor thumped his fist angrily on the table. Zamorish scurried into the corridor.

Less than an hour later, first the mayor’s office and then the parliament building came alive with commotion. Anxious civil servants ran around preparing press releases for the papers, television and radio, organizing committees at each maternity hospital and confirming emergency telephone numbers. The Health Department was declared the center of operations. Then they turned their undivided attention to monitoring all the pregnant women whose contractions might start at any moment.

It turned out that the bigwigs had actually been expecting the big event and were even preparing for it. But someone was supposed to have let them know ahead of time what day it would be. That someone was none other than Zamorish.

So that’s how a junior researcher at the municipal statistics committee shook up the whole capital. Not that it did him any good. His timidity caused him to wait a little too long to perform his duty, and that delay got him a serious kick in the pants. The poor kid barely held on to his job.

The very next evening, the operations center received its first precious call from Maternity Hospital No. 3. All over the city people sat glued to their television screens as a tiny, red baby boy announced his arrival in the world with a high-pitched wail. A committee member examined a tag on the baby’s arm and shouted his last name into the phone for the committee. Nearby, people were congratulating the glowing young mother.

That’s how the one millionth resident was born in Bishkek, the capital of the newly independent Kyrgyz state. He was the carrot-topped firstborn son of a plain Kyrgyz dzhigit who lived in a small makeshift hut on Semetei Street in the Bakai Ata neighborhood, which until recently had been called “Squatter’s Camp.”

Sitting in front of their televisions, viewers thrilled at the sight of the throaty baby who, on the very day of his birth, was already singled out for good fortune from among all the other babies born that day. People even remembered the name of the happy mother.

But the next day, when the television announced the names of the millionth resident’s parents, the names were different. Although plenty of people were mystified by the official announcement from the mayor’s office, nobody bothered to satisfy the general curiosity by calling the mayor to find out what had happened. And that was not surprising.

The only protest to be heard was in Zamorish’s humble heart, which caused him sharp pain in his chest. Unable to restrain himself, he determined to see his supervisor.

“Who do you think you are to go questioning the mayor’s decisions? Get your ass out of here!” the department head yelled, thunder and lightning shooting from his eyes.

Zamorish flew out of the office. In the same split second, his resolve to be a champion of justice evaporated.

When mother and baby arrived home, their relatives, friends and neighbors gathered to celebrate the firstborn son’s birth and bestow on him a suitable name.

Since all of them were furious at the underhanded officials who had stripped their baby of his title as “one millionth resident of the capital,” they soon reached a unanimous decision: the boy, who had been subjected to injustice at the very moment of his birth, would bear the name Adilet (justice). No other name was even suggested. Offhandedly, a neighbor woman told the young mother a strange thing.

“This sounds strange, but that night when you were screaming over there at the hospital trying to push out your boy, a ray of silver light fell down from the sky and lit up your yard.”

 

If only the gods, demons and humans would live by the same rules!

The Kalachakra

 

Chapter One

Before the sun was up on Wednesday morning, several residents of an elite high-rise apartment complex that regular people called Uch Kuduk finally caught the strange boy. He looked to be about eight or nine. His large, deep-set eyes avoided their faces. He sniffled and kept scratching at a birthmark on his forehead the size of a millet seed.

The boy had a cold; that was obvious. The autumn morning’s icy air had chilled him. All he wore was a track suit and sneakers, with no hat. One look showed that he didn’t live in that neighborhood. He was from the city’s outskirts. He stubbornly refused to answer the adults’ questions, and only glowered at them. Most of the time, he just stared at his shoes.

“Is he deaf, or something? We should hand him over to the police. Why does he come prowling around someone else’s neighborhood in the middle of the night?” asked a woman who was shivering in the cold.

“Listen, kid, what are you doing out here at this hour?”

“Why do you swing on that creaky swing set when everyone’s asleep? You’re waking up the whole building. Are you aware that it’s only six o’clock?”

“You ought to know better. You’re big enough...”

“Don’t you hear the noise you’re making? It’s worse than a dog howling. Sounds like you’re feeding a dog a paving stone...”

“What’s your name, son?” an old woman interrupted. She shifted her weight to her good leg.

“He’s a wandering fool. He’s crazy in the head,” one resident sneered. He looked the boy in the eye, hoping to deliver a blow to his pride.

The boy answered the taunt with a glance that was full of fire.

“Say something. Don’t just stand there like a riled-up badger.”

Another man from the building walked up. “We couldn’t catch him yesterday or the day before. How did you nab the little devil?” he asked.

A young man in a track suit sniggered. “He’s a fat turkey with short legs and he can’t run,” he said, doing his best to be hurtful. The boy glared at him and opened his mouth to say something. But nothing came out.

“He’s so tubby he really does look like a turkey.”

“Ha-ha-ha…” It was a phony laugh.

The boy’s eyes were tearing up as he looked at each of them. Then he turned to the runner: “If I wasn’t running against the earth’s rotation you’d never be able to catch me.”

“What’s that he said?” yelled the old woman who still held him by the elbow.

The runner knelt down to face him. “What did you say? I didn’t get it. Say it again.” Astonished, the others also stared at the strange boy.

“Repeat what you said, son,” the other old woman peered at the boy’s face through her thick glasses. It was these two, a pair of elderly women, who had finally caught the troublemaker. They fully expected the gratitude of everyone whose precious early morning sleep had been disturbed by the loud creaking coming from the swing. After all, they were the only ones who had bothered to come out of their apartments and give the source of the disturbance a talking-to. Everyone else just looked out their windows into the pre-dawn darkness, hoping to catch sight of the unidentified hooligan.

Some people said “drug addict”; others said “deviant” or “psycho.” In the end, the two old women suffering from insomnia realized that no one else intended to do anything. Two dark mornings in a row they failed to catch the troublemaker. Then, to their surprise, they discovered that it was just a little boy who showed up at their building’s playground from who knows where.

On the third day, they appealed to a runner at the track.

“Sweetheart, go catch the little devil!”

“That naughty little boy swings the creaky swing in the middle of the night. He’s killing us!”

A few minutes later, the runner returned with the boy. Now all three of them, filled with a sense of duty done and even a bit of pride, waited to hear sensible proposals from the other residents on what to do with the troublemaker. But the residents only wanted to let off steam and scold the little hooligan. They’d caught him fair enough, but they couldn’t get a word out of him. Who was he? Where was he from, and why did he have to swing on their creaky swing?

Some of the residents looked at the boy with a mixture of surprise and pity. Others looked hard at him and didn’t know what to say, censuring him with a shake of the head and an ai-ai-ai!

None of the people in the crowd that had gathered and none of the other residents hurrying past had any words of gratitude for the elderly women who had managed to catch the boy. That’s human nature for you: they had already forgotten how they had been ready to boil alive the person who tortured their nerves and robbed them of sleep.

Only one skinny, shivering woman expressed utter exasperation, repeating what someone had already said: “We should take him to the police!” It was obvious by her face that if it was up to her, the boy would get no mercy. Finally she threw her arms up in vexation and went back to the building.

When people started drifting away, the old women (who were still holding the boy’s arms) began to fret.

“What are we going to do with the dimwit now?

“We should take him to the police.”

“They won’t take him unless we pay them. There are too many stray kids around as it is. Just look at what the world’s come to,” sighed the soft-hearted man who lived next door to one of the old women.

The boy was now completely frozen. His face was blue and the fine little hairs on his cheeks stood erect. The poor thing’s constant sniffling did nothing to stop his runny nose, so he alternated using his sleeves.

The old woman in thick glasses leaned down to him with what seemed like an offer of amnesty. “Do you promise not to swing on our swing anymore in the middle of the night?”

The boy dropped his head and stared down at his feet. His heart was thumping. He wanted to break away from the tight circle of people and race off in unison with the earth’s rotation, so fast that no one in this whole world could catch him, not even the stupid runner in his shiny sneakers. If he had to, he would even take off and fly!

***

On the fifth day, Adilet’s fever finally broke and he lifted his head. Grandmother Nurjamal helped him sit up with two pillows behind his back so he could see life going on outside the window.

“I’m bigger now, Grandmother,” Adilet said out of the blue. His grandmother looked at him hard. She wasn’t sure what to say. She had been preparing for a serious talk with her grandson if, of course, he seemed inclined to candor.

The boy needed his grandmother. He didn’t know that she had sat by his bed day and night while he was delirious, then while he was racked by a thick, hacking cough, and in the moments when he had slept briefly between fits of coughing. He was glad to snuggle up to her breast and seemed to have something to tell her. Sensing it, his grandmother stroked his head and buried her face in his hair, breathing deeply his dear, familiar scent. Hot tears welled up in her eyes from the wave of tenderness than surged over her.

“Of course you’re taller! You’re already a big boy and you’ll keep getting bigger, Grandmother’s helper.”

“People grow when they’re sick, don’t they, Grandmother? I’m bigger now, right?”

“Do you mean your height?”

“No, I mean me. I’m all grown up.”

“Keep growing, Grandmother’s own darling. You’re already a big dzhigit. God willing, you’ll finish fifth grade this year. It used to be that dzhigits who finished third grade became activists on the big farms, always up on their horses commanding everyone. You’ll be just like them. Your grandfather was a respected leader in his day. He was head of the farm. I guess you could say he managed the cows and commanded the herders. I was a milkmaid and I always got a lot of milk. My older sister was a famous milkmaid, and so was my mother. I remember when I was tiny she would sit me under one of the gentler cows and do her milking. Lots of times a cow would kick one of us milkmaids and you’d go rolling across the floor with your pail of milk...that’s right, we milked the cows in the middle of the night and before the sun came up. Thanks to God, they called me a third-generation milkmaid and appreciated my hard work. They elected me to be a representative and even decorated me with a medal …”

Grandmother laughed merrily, covering her toothless mouth with one hand.

“Were you able to talk with the cows?”

“Sweetheart, when did you ever hear of a person talking with a cow? Those are just stories you make up about talking with a cow or a dog.”

“I can talk to ants and bees and wasps, Grandmother. You’ve seen it! Wasps never sting me. They just fly around me.”

“Stop fooling, sweetheart. You need to spend more time on the school books you’ve been neglecting. Your mother and father are going to kill each other over your schooling. They fight every day!”

“I’m sick of school, Grandmother. Don’t make me go. I’d rather help Mama milk the cow.”

“Do you plan to shovel manure out of the cow’s stall you’re whole life? You filthy urchin!” His grandmother’s voice trembled with anger. “I’ve had enough! And your father and mother have had enough of working in pig shit! Get an education!”

Grandmother Nurjamal’s irritation grew into a rage that shook her thin frame. Adilet’s eyes widened in fear, but the protest inside of him won over the pity he felt for his grandmother. He spoke stubbornly, firmly: “I won’t go to school, Grandmother.”

“You won’t? Well you’d be better off dead than living life as an idiot! Get up! Get out of here!” Grandmother Nurjamal was screaming, almost hysterical, as if all the anger and stormy emotions she had stored in her heart for so long had finally broken through the surface.

Fear seized the boy. He didn’t dare oppose her further. Cringing, he slowly started climbing out of bed.

“Why do we give you food and drink? Why do we indulge you in everything? If only we had known what you really are. May you be the last of your breed! You’re all of our troubles rolled together into one little clump! You’ve heaped more misfortune on the head of my misfortunate daughter, you damned whelp!”

“Grandmother!”

She didn’t hear her grandson’s pleading voice. “You were born with the stamp of failure on you! You were born to amount to nothing. On the very day you were born the city bosses disdained you and lashed out at you. They made you a nothing. And they were right. You just wait! So you won’t go to school? I’ll—“

Nurjamal-baibiche lost all control over herself. Her feet bare, her eyes bulging and red and her hair tangled and snarled like a witch’s, she pushed her grandson into the corner.

“Grandmother, listen!”

Nurjamal-baibiche was shaking in fury, ready to destroy her grandson. Her bony hands struck his face, head and shoulders.

“Grandmother, listen! Grandmother,” the boy cried out in pain. Finally his grandmother realized what she was doing. Instantly her body went slack. Her knees buckled under her as she went to him. Almost falling, she braced herself against the wall and squatted down.

“Will you go to school or not?”

Grandmother seemed not to hear the words that were ripped out of her, but Adilet felt the anger and bitterness in them very clearly.

“I will, Grandmother!” he promised. Pressing close to the wall, he began to make his way out of the room. He suddenly thought that his grandmother’s gaunt, folded body looked lifeless. The thought chilled him.

At that moment Adilet’s mother, Aisada, was on her way into the yard. She was pale and angry after a morning meeting with the school principal. She grabbed a stick and threw it at a dog that came whining and rubbing up to her. She crossed the yard, went into the barn, grabbed an old broken shovel handle and started whacking the cows left and right. The poor animals had never been treated that way. They made sputtering, unhappy noises as they shuffled and bumped each other. Soon the whole barn was a chaos of moving bodies.

“I hope you all rot and die! I’ll kill you and then I’ll rot!”

In a fit of fury, Aisada broke the shovel handle and threw it in the corner. She grabbed her head with both hands. She was ready to weep, but the tears stuck in her throat. Only her lips were trembling.

“Hey, daughter, what have you done?” She heard her mother’s distress.

Aisada looked up. Her mother was there, tiny and scared. Nurjamal-baibiche knelt down beside her grown daughter.

“Your son gave me his word that he will go to school. Don’t torment yourself. Don’t be so upset,” she said consolingly, sympathizing with her daughter. “That boy doesn’t often give a promise, but when he does he always keeps his word. You know he does.”

“Sure. He’s really up and running now. But it doesn’t matter. They kicked him out of school!”

“What do you mean? How?”

“Just like that. They said, ‘Your son brings shame on our school.’ I argued with the principal and she told me, ‘Your son smokes hashish.’”

“Damnation! What can we do now? The little fool said he’d go to school! May his idiot legs drop off!”

Aisada looked at her mother wearily, with a subconscious objection to the last thing she’d said. She sat in silence for a moment to catch her breath. Then she said, “He’s a stupid little smarty-pants. He filed a complaint about the principal with the school board. Over the internet, no more no less. I wondered why he was so meek and quiet lately.”

“What else did they say?”

“His teacher Jildiz, the one who’s taught him from the first through the fourth grade, helped him send whatever it was. A letter, I guess. Anyway, Solovyova the principal jumped on me like a German shepherd. She said, ‘Jildiz Karabayevna has filled your son’s head with heresy. It is clear you never pay any attention to him. Otherwise you’d know about his disgusting behavior!’ Oh, she was really shooting fire and lightning. Turns out Karabayevna had a falling out with her.”

“With who?”

“With the principal. The Kyrgyz teacher whispered to me about it. Turns out that last week Adilet dragged a couple of puppies into class, and instead of throwing them out, the teacher did a demonstration for the other students of how Adilet talks with dogs. Can you just imagine it, Mama?”

“I don’t believe it! And then what?”

“As soon as the principal heard about it, she ran in and yelled at Adilet for bringing stray dogs to class, and the dogs almost attacked her. Then our smarty pants let go of his tongue. Do you know what he said to Solovyova? He said, ‘There’s no help for you. You have a bad aura.’ He said it right to her face. That’s his terrible habit of telling every person exactly what he thinks of him, especially if it isn’t flattering. Well his teacher stood up for him, and then those two went at it. I bet they chewed each other up worse than the dogs.”

“Which two?”

“The principal and his teacher, Jildiz. The next day, the teachers got together and gave her a reprimand for being out of line. They told her to quit before she got fired.”

“Who?”

“Adilet’s teacher. But it looks like she did more than just leave. She helped Adilet file a complaint about the principal. Why did she have to use a kid to try to get herself out of trouble?”

“My God, where would a little boy get the idea to file a complaint?”

“That’s what I was explaining to you, Mama!”

“Then what?”

“That’s it. They kicked our hothead out of school. The principal said, ‘Your son skips class and smokes hashish. And he’s weird in the head. Put him in another school or we’ll send him to reform school.’”

“Lord help us. How’s he weird in the head? He had all A’s.”

“They said Jildiz just gave him those A’s.”

“But why on earth would a teacher just hand out A’s?”

“Maybe she’s special, too. His dad always went to parent meetings, sometimes Tashtan went. They always spoke so highly about this Jildiz woman.”

“Is she a woman or a girl? I thought she was pretty young.”

“To hell with her. She’s ruined my boy. He’s impossible to manage now. He never listens to me. If I had a stick, I’d beat him with it right now. I already broke that one, Goddamn…”

“Your son is angry at both of you. It’s obvious.”

“Who do you mean, both of us?”

“You. His mother and father. You’re pulling his heart in two different directions and the child’s hurting. It’s enough to make him go crazy. If he’s already smoking cannabis then he will definitely become a fool.”

“I’m telling his father. He can do whatever he wants with him.”

“No! You can’t!” the old woman leaped up. “He’ll beat my baby and throw him out of the house.”

“He can kick him all the way to the end of the world for all I care. Let the little bugger die. I’ve had enough. He’s no son to me anymore!”

“Don’t say that!” Nurjamal was afraid.

***

That night Aisada suddenly awoke to a vague feeling of alarm. She glanced at the clock. It was half past three. She slipped on her robe and looked over at Adilet’s corner. His bed was empty. She ran outside, where it was still pitch black. For an instant she hesitated at the gate not knowing which was to go. She remembered that the first time she had caught her son he was walking confidently in his sleep in the direction of town. Another time the police had brought him home, freezing cold and terrified, from all the way downtown. Heeding her intuition, Aisada ran towards town. Her mind raced ahead to the Uch Kuduk towers by the stadium.

By the time Aisada reached the towers it was almost light. She finally made out her son’s silhouette on the edge of the empty lot by the Uch Kuduk towers. She froze in amazement: Adilet was bathed in silvery rays of light that radiated from him. She started to run to her son, but stopped and walked on slowly, not believing her eyes. Then she began to walk faster. The closer she got to him, the weaker the rays of light got. Finally they blinked and disappeared. Aisada decided that she had been dreaming. She went over to her son but decided not to embrace him right away, knowing you should never jostle a sleepwalking child.

“Adilet, Adile-et, my little boy,” she said softly, standing right next to him.

Still asleep, the boy mumbled something. He started to stumble. Aisada caught her son before he could fall.

“Adilet, sweetheart, wake up. It’s me. Mama”

Half-dreaming, the boy mumbled “My legs are broken. My arms are broken. Oh, my arms are broken…I won’t die…won’t die…I won’t ever die…”t ever die

“Adilet, my angel, open your eyes,” Aisada prompted him gently. The boy finally awoke, but he was in a strange, semi-conscious state. The first words that came out of his mouth were about the swing: “The swing is calling me!” he said, rubbing his eyes and pointing toward the Uch Kuduk playground.

“What swing, angel?”

“Sirius is calling me…”

His mother wisely said nothing. She wanted to take him by the hand, but she couldn’t let him walk barefoot over the early morning frost and the ground was rocky with sharp weeds. Aisada put her son on her back and trotted off in search of a taxi.

Aisada’s joy at finding her son unharmed melted away with each step she took, his body weighing heavily on her back. Her feeling of peace began to give way to bitter resentment on behalf of her son and herself. The bitterness she had felt at her son’s birth, bitterness born of injustice, was hard to fight off. Sometimes it pricked her mercilessly. And now, with every step the resentment in Aisada’s heart grew. She couldn’t refrain from reproaching herself out loud:

“I gave birth to my own misfortune, that’s for sure. Why the hell did I have to have the one millionth baby? We didn’t need any of that. Why did I have to give birth at just that moment? A minute sooner or a minute later and my boy would be normal, like everyone else. I went and handed him a big bag of trouble. I should have strangled those bastards at the hospital. My baby started his life out being lied to and put down. They even hid his birth certificate. They destroyed it on purpose. But we found out. We heard that the bosses upstairs told them to destroy our birth certificate to keep us from fighting. They picked another baby to be the one millionth, gave his family a two-bedroom apartment and gave him the key to the city. What about us? We still can’t get them to issue a birth certificate. And what made us think we were so special we could name our son Adilet? I’d like to see some of that justice!”

“Mama, put me down. Why are you carrying me?”

“Are you awake now, sweetie? You’re barefoot and it’s cold. You’ll catch another cold. Let’s sit down on that bench over there. Just two steps left. We’ll catch a taxi,” Aisada said, trying to disguise how heavily she was breathing.

The first rays of sun were already peeking like a cat’s whiskers over the mountains into the valley when mother and son, cold and miserable, finally arrived home.

***

Sometimes when you are beating your head against a seemingly unanswerable question life unexpectedly reveals the solution. But even then you still don’t know what twists of fate it has prepared for you.

When the storm in Aisada’s soul quieted, she found herself filled with mother-love mingled with pity and a feeling of bitterness. She told Adilet just how bad things were: neither the principal nor the teachers wanted to see him at school because he supposedly ignored his schoolwork, asked foolish questions and was probably even smoking weed, of which the school administrators were certain. Nobody in the family knew for sure what to do next. And they didn’t know what to do with him.

“Everything I told you went in one ear and out the other,” Aisada’s voice trembled with resentment. “Now they’ve kicked you out of school. I don’t want to hear anything more out of you. Your Uncle Tashtan means more to you than I do. You always go to him for advice and share your secrets with him. He’s smarter than me, so go talk to him.” She stood up and made a demonstrative exit.

Grandmother Nurjamal didn’t dare look her grandson in the eye after the beating she had given him the day before. She was low and ashamed, her face exhausted.

Tashtan-baike was in a bad mood, too. He took Adilet for a drive in his father’s Mazda. They stopped outside town, near the Flamingo summer camp for Korean children. Because it was late autumn, the camp was empty.

“If you’re having problems, it’s because you’re an adult now. Both of us are men. I’ve always helped you out because you’re family, but also because we’re good friends. Now I’m thinking it was just words to you. You never told me you were in trouble. You just don’t trust me. I didn’t expect that.”

Adilet obviously took the accusation hard, but he didn’t break.

Tashtan-baike continued his reproach: “I know you filed a complaint with the school board. Your mother told me yesterday. I was absolutely stunned, and not because you wrote it and sent it off. You can do whatever you want. But because you didn’t say a word about it to me. That really hurt, do you understand? Do you think a friend would act the way you did?”

Adilet flushed red as if caught sinning. He started kicking the toe of his sneaker even harder against the curb.

“Now tell me what the complaint was about. Did somebody at school do something to you?”

“It wasn’t a complaint. It was just a question,” Adilet finally said, scowling up at Tashtan.

“So what was the dangerous question? Or can you not talk about it? Fine, don’t talk.”

Adilet threw his chin up and spoke more bravely: “It wasn’t a dangerous question. I just asked why the Russian classes got new heaters and the Kyrgyz classes didn’t get any heaters at all.”

“That’s it?”

Adilet nodded. Tashtan started laughing. “I see. They say you were talking about nationalism. Do you even know the word nationalism?”

Adilet shook his head.

“That’s okay. You don’t need to know yet. But when you see injustice or discrimination, don’t be afraid to tell it like it is. Don’t ever be a coward.”

“I’m not a coward,” Adilet bristled.

“But the fact that they’re kicking your important ass out of school, that doesn’t worry you at all, does it?”

“I won’t go to school anymore. They kicked me out. So what?”

“You don’t have the right to decide that on your own. You don’t have hair on your face yet.”

Adilet said nothing, looking for of a way to turn the unpleasant conversation away from the topic of school.

“You promised you’d take me with you to Shambhala. I already read all the books you gave me,” he said, his face lighting up with an earnest smile.

“Yeah, but those were just popular science books and children’s encyclopedias. That’s not enough. You have to finish the fifth grade and work on your English. Then you can go to Shambhala.”

“Are you going to leave without me?”

 

“I won’t leave without you. I don’t have my invitation yet.”

“Who’s inviting you?”

“There’s a theological research center in Tibet. I sent off to ask them for permission to access their materials for my dissertation. God willing, I’ll get the invitation.”

“What if you don’t?”

“I will. I already consulted and got approval for my dissertation topic.”

“Can you tell me about the topic?”

Looking troubled and a little perplexed, Tashtan answered “Don’t bust your brain over it. I can tell you don’t care about studying. That’s why you were skipping classes. ‘Woe from Wit!’”

“Can I study with Jildiz-ezhe?”

“Ha! You like your populist schoolteacher, don’t you? She quit her job. Your Jildiz-ezhe might not be teaching anywhere anymore. She might be selling vegetables or socks down at the market.”

“She wouldn’t do that!” Adilet shuddered.

“Fine. Tell me one thing, brother. You keep running off to that swing set on the playground by Uch Kuduk. Should we put you in the elite school that’s next door?”

“Who told you that?” Adilet was blushing.

“Your mother told me. You were roaming around out there again last night. She found you at sunup. Don’t hide it. I don’t care where you finish fifth grade. What matters is that you go with me to Tibet. If you want to. But I wish you’d explain to me why you’re drawn to that swing.”

Adilet turned his back on his kinsman and dug his sneaker under the Mazda’s tire. Without turning around, he said: “The squeaky swing sounds like the signals coming from the planet Sirius. That’s why…”

Tashtan waited for his nephew – his little friend – to pull back the curtain hiding the secrets of his soul. He sensed that there was mystery in his nephew’s inner life. Sometimes he was pulled by strange thoughts and visions that he himself didn’t yet understand. They drew him away from the real world and made him look odd to others. At such moments Adilet might look right at a friend and fail to recognize him, giving no greeting and walking by with a scowl on his face.

Tashtan knew that one time a Tajik fortuneteller and told Aisada: “I believe your son can sometimes see a person’s aura. In the future he will be a great shaman. Guard this child closely.”

Adilet’s parents had been raised in the spirit of Soviet atheism, so they paid the prophecy no heed. Tashtan had a degree in philosophy and was interested in theology, but only in the academic sense. He had read much about the great mysteries of Tibet and was researching the surprising similarities between the Tengerism of the ancient Kyrgyz and the Bön faith of pre-Buddhist Tibet. This was the topic of his dissertation. Tashtan’s research was not focused on explaining mystical occurrences, but rather on the real, human world of spiritual life, worldviews and perceptions. He hoped that his research would lead to a discovery in the spiritual history of Kyrgyzstan and its past connections with Tibet.

On the face of it, Adilet’s inner world, his interests and dreams, didn’t seem to have anything to do with Tashtan’s scholarly studies. Nonetheless, he felt a growing resolve to take his nephew away from Bishkek, where the boy seemed to feel less at ease than his cohorts. The most fitting plan, the ideal, would be to take Adilet to Tibet, to the roof of the world. He was already planning on going, but he didn’t have enough money for the trip. Tashtan hoped that if he took Adilet with him Aisada would pay for both of their travel expenses, so he worked on her ahead of time, trying to convince her to let her son go with him to further his studies.

“Kyrgyz children are leaving to study in America and Europe, not to mention the ones that go to school in Turkey, Mecca and Medina. That second group of students faces limited prospects. They’ll never amount to anything but mullahs, imams or madrasah teachers. But in Tibet, it’s a completely different style of learning and a different world. Tibet hides the secrets of the universe and the mysteries of all the planets. Great thoughts are collected there. In Tibet, they teach knowledge that foretells the future of humanity. Adilet will be the first. Let him attain Shambhala, the holy city wrapped in the embrace of the Himalayas. Let him reach the pinnacle of human morals. Only Allah knows who your son will become, what kind of man he will be. Let me take him. He’s not of this world. At the very least he will be a teacher, a professor of Tibetan medicine. He will heal people…” His arguments easily swayed Adilet’s mother.

It would be more difficult talking with his Salamat, his older brother and Adilet’s father. Salamat would refuse immediately right from the outset, even without listening to the facts. And since Tashtan didn’t really have any facts about education in Tibet, he wouldn’t be able to build a strong case. Aisada, on the other hand, was pleased by the prospects Tashtan had described as being available for her son. And Adilet was attracted to the mysteries of Tibet. His mother had always been disappointed that Adilet, who did very well in school, just shook his head stubbornly when people mentioned the professions that were currently in fashion: lawyer, market researcher, manager. He wouldn’t hear a word of it. Now Aisada was filling out Tashtan’s promises with ideas of her own: “There are so many Tibetan medical centers in Bishkek. Why couldn’t my Adilet open one? Of course he could!”

“Adik,” Tashtan broke the brief silence, “Let’s decide what you’re going to do about school.”

“Okay. Can I study with Jildiz-ezhe?”

“If that’s what you really want.”

“How will we find her?”

“That’s doable. But first we have to talk with your mother and father. Now hold on, Adik. Do you know what lyap is?”

“Lyap?”

“Yes.”

“That’s opium, right?”

“Do you smoke it?”

“I never smoked lyap. I just tried cannabis once.”

“Did you like it?”

“Me and another boy tried it. We laughed ourselves sick. He was bugging his eyes out at me, and I was bugging my eyes out at him, and neither one of us could stop laughing. The more we laughed, the sillier our faces got, and we just kept laughing. It was crazy.”

“Then what?”

“We told the other kids in our class about and they laughed at us.”

“Why? Did they tell you it was wrong?”

“Of course not. They were talking big. They were like, ‘Everybody else is shooting up and you two sissies are still smoking stinkweed.’”

“Keep going.”

“That was it. We tried it again after that, and then we gave it up.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. We just stopped smoking it.”

“What’s the other boy’s name?”

“When he tried it the second time, his dad caught him and beat him up. Ever since that he’s been too afraid to even think about it.”

“So he doesn’t smoke anymore? Do you believe him?”

“Yeah. He’s forgotten about it.”

“How about you?”

“Me, too.”

Adilet looked at his kinsman out of the corner of his eye and smiled.

***

The private Jewish academy in the Vostok-5 neighborhood was located on the first floor of what used to be a day care center. Tashtan and Adilet found the Kyrgyz language class right away, where Jildiz was teaching a lesson. They waited for the bell outside her classroom.

Adilet was mystified. “I don’t even know Hebrew,” he said, tugging on Tashtan’s sleeve.

“If you don’t want to learn in Kyrgyz, you’ll have to learn in Hebrew,” Tashtan put on a formidable frown and shrugged his shoulders. Adilet shivered.

Just then the bell rang and the door flew open. Students streamed out of the room, pushing each other as they went. Adilet was so shy under the curious glances of the boys and girls that he broke out in a sweat. Lots of the boys had headphones in their ears or around their necks. Almost all of them were wearing the latest fashions. “Rich kids,” Adilet thought.

Jildiz Karabaevna followed the students out of her classroom. Adilet didn’t even recognize her at first: she was so slim and elegant, much lovelier than she had been at his old school. When the teacher saw two familiar faces, she stopped and raised her black eyebrows in surprise.

“Adilet, is that you?” There was a friendly light in her dark grey eyes.

“Hello, ezhe,” he greeted her joyously. Then he hung his head in shame.

“Hello Adilet. I’m very glad to see you. What brings you two here?” She turned to Tashtan for an answer.

The human soul is a mystery. You can run into a person you have seen many times before and suddenly see this person in a completely new light.

Tashtan had not expected to be nervous. Adilet’s teacher seemed utterly different than she had on the two previous occasions he had met with her. Everything about her seemed to radiate something charmingly feminine and appealing. For a second, Tashtan even found himself getting embarrassed under her attentive and somewhat surprised gaze. Her cheeks reddened. An image of this well-built, attractive dzhigit had shone somewhere in a dark corner of her soul ever since she had first seen him at school.

Jildiz hugged Adilet and asked him laughingly, “Adik, can you tell me who this is?”

“He’s my friend,” the boy said, smiling up at his favorite teacher.

“That’s right. He’s my little friend and I’m his big friend. Tashtan-baike,” he held out his hand. He wasn’t sure if he should just greet her or if he needed to introduce himself. Jildiz put her hand in his open palm. She was noticeably blushing. As their eyes met, there was a spark of something bewitching that thrilled them. They both felt a sweet tremor run through their bodies. Their hands parted reluctantly.

“Let’s go in my room. My classes are over.” She gestured for her unexpected guests to go in.

As she listened to her student’s story, the young woman’s face darkened. When it was finished she hugged Adilet and her eyes filled with tears.

“You are my best student, Adilet. How did all this happen, sweetheart?”

“He doesn’t want to go to his old school because you aren’t there. So we had to hunt for his favorite teacher,” Tashtan smiled in gratitude.

“I see,” Jildiz wiped her forehead, watching her young troublemaker closely.

“Well then, leave Adilet with me until tomorrow. We’ll go home and do some serious thinking. Okay, Adik?”

Adilet nodded in agreement. Tashtan excused himself, stepping out to call Aisada on his cell phone.

“His mother gives her permission,” he said when he returned to Jildiz. She looked away quickly, unable to bear the penetrating, euphoric look in Tashtan’s eyes.

***

“In the beginning, chaos ruled in the infinite universe. To bring order to the chaos, God came into the seventh layer of heaven. He came out of nothing, or rather out of air and light. Then he created a number of very different helpers. They were Uluk (the most important angel), other angels, a devil and Satan.

“Then God created the earth and all that lived on it – peaceful animals and predators. On the seventh day, after some thought he created in his own image Adam, our forefather: his body was made from clay and his soul was made from the air of the planet Sirius. The Almighty gave his creation the gift of immortality because he was delighted by his mind and his beauty. So that Adam would not be alone, he took his rib and created Eve, who became our foremother. She was ninety-nine times more beautiful than Adam, and one-hundred times more gentle and kind. They would have lived with God in heaven for eternity if they hadn’t broken one rule.

“In paradise, where they lived in pleasure, there was an apple tree that bore bitter fruits. Whoever should eat an apple from the tree would know black and white and would sin much and become wretched. God warned Adam and Eve about this and forbade them to even go near the tree.

“Of all his helpers, God was closest to Adam. He always had long talks with him and asked him for advice. This provoked the vain and wicked Satan. He made every effort and used every ruse to get Eve to trust him. If she ate the apple, he said, she and Adam would have many children. Eve gave in to the temptation.

“That is how God’s ban was violated. When he found out, God was enraged and banished Adam and Eve from paradise. He put them on the Earth, which had been created only for beasts and other creatures.

“‘Although you will have many children, your lives will be short. You have brought this punishment on yourselves. Now sin and injustice will always be with you,’ God warned them. Then he called for the Devil and instructed him: ‘Upon my word, you will take man’s soul.’ The Devil was very pleased.

“The angels and Uluk stood up for Father Adam and Mother Eve, but God forbade them to defend the sinners. Uluk raised Adam and Eve up into heaven again to give them a chance at eternal life. Then God punished Uluk for his disobedience by chaining him to Mount Kailash that rose up about the Earth and took Uluk’s name for his own, calling himself God Uluk. At the same time, he banished Adam and Eve from paradise again and closed the gravitational paths connecting the Earth and heaven.

“That is how Uluk suffered the wrath of God. He will remain a prisoner until the end of the world. Not even the angels can go to Adam, because they fear God’s retribution. They just help him from a distance. Angels always assist and protect people, and Satan always does evil.

“Living on the Earth with the beasts and other small animals, Father Adam and Mother Eve multiplied into a large family. One day they all got together and decided: ‘Why aren’t we immortal? Why don’t we live forever? We will ask God. We will go to him and tell him our demand.’

“They began building a tall tower on a high place near the city of Babel. The tower of Babel grew day and night. When the tower came close to the gates of paradise, God came up with a trick: he changed people’s faces and gave them different languages so they couldn’t understand each other. The building halted. That is how humans were left to live on Earth in the land of the beasts after they were dishonestly deprived of their immortality.

“The first crime was committed by Adam and Eve’s children. Why did Qabil kill his brother Habil ? Because he was stingy and jealous.

Mother Eve warned her younger son, Habil: ‘Satan is tempting your brother. Be careful and do not tell him about your good fortune or your deepest secrets.’

But Habil had already told his brother that their father had given him a special mission. He had boasted: ‘Our father Adam gave me power over all the animals, so I took a sheep to God as an offering. He accepted my offering and has shown me his love.’ On the next day, Cain, who called himself master of the fields, filled a bag with grain and took it as a gift to God, but God did not accept his gift. Then, filled with envy, he killed his younger brother by striking him on the head with a stone. Qabil and Habil left many children. All of them have grains of evil and envy in their blood, and these grains multiply in each generation…’”

When Tashtan finished reading his fourth-grade nephew’s essay, he patted the notebook and smiled. He was pleasantly surprised by Adilet’s intelligence and his lucid thinking. How did the boy take everything he had heard and read in the books Tashtan had given him], unify it as a whole and use it to describe his own vision and insight?

“How interesting. He calls Babylon by its Sumerian name, Babel, and retold the Sumerian tale in perfect Kyrgyz. Sure, perhaps both came from the same source. The boy’s going to be someone. But…” The ringing telephone interrupted his thoughts. He picked it up and heard Jildiz’ excited voice.

“Adilet says he will attend the academy.”

“Will he really? Even though it’s a Jewish academy?”

“We mainly teach classes in Russian and English. Instead of Hebrew, Adilet will take advanced English courses. I already talked to the director.”

“Okay, but let his mother make the final decision. We can’t do anything without her.”

“Of course. But I think you should talk to her. Or do you want me to do it?”

“How about I bring his mother to the school? We still have to come to an agreement about the tuition.”

“Right. It’s an expensive academy. Bring Aisada-ezhe over. Did you read Adilet’s essay? He wrote it in the fourth grade.”

“It’s amazing.”

“It really is. Adilet’s very bright. Don’t forget to return the essay. I want to keep it.”

“Jildiz, has he told you anything about his deepest secrets?”

“I think he’s told me basically the same things he’s told you.”

“About the gravitational paths?”

“I’m afraid I didn’t understand that part. Something about paths between the planets?”

“The little devil’s looking for them everywhere. He’s let his schoolwork slide. But he’ll obey you. We’re sure of it. We’ll discuss everything else when we come by, okay?”

***

Three days later, Adilet Narbayev entered the fifth grade at the Isabel Jewish academy.

Before he accepted Adilet, the academy’s director called Jildiz to his office.

“You know that we don’t usually accept children from Kyrgyz schools. It’s only out of respect for you that I’m willing to let this boy, who you say is so extraordinary, into our academy. It will be your responsibility,” he said, and his smile was full of meaning as he looked the young, pretty teacher in the eye.

“I have confidence in him. He’ll manage fine,” Jildiz answered. “You’ll have to excuse me, I have a class.” She quickly stood up and reached for the door. She felt the director’s eyes drilling holes in her back. The door slammed shut behind her. The director shook his head. Oh, how attracted he was to that proud young woman.

***

When Adilet came home from school every day, he ate and then sat down at his desk. He adapted to the new discipline without much trouble. Only on occasion would he allow himself to play a computer game. He also liked watching videos about space travel in hopes of finding the universe’s gravitational pathways.

On this particular day, his shoulder ached as he sat at his desk. There were tears in his eyes. His classmates had been giving him a hard time. They hid his folder and tried to trip him. He got punched in the nose a few times and, of course, answered in kind. But more importantly, he was getting good grades. His classmates gave him the nickname Kyrgyz. They called him Cherkess at first, since he had curly hair, a ruddy complexion and a hawk nose. Then they called him Pippi. Finally, when they noticed that he was a favorite with the Kyrgyz language teacher Jildiz Karabaevna, they decided on the name Kyrgyz.

His class was made up of Jews, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and Hui. Lots of them had nicknames like “Bigshot,” “Bull” or “Oligarch.” “They’re the children of the nouveaux riches,” Tashtan explained. These were the ones who started tormenting Adilet.

There was an unwritten rule among the boys in his class, and it may have applied to the whole school. Without any provocation, they would go off to a spot behind the fence of a nearby construction site and fight. This morning, boys had gathered in groups of two and three and shared a secret in whispers. After class, they all headed out to the fight spot.

The tall boy called Bull told Adilet, “You come with us and watch. Tomorrow’s your turn.”

Two boys, a Uighur and a Russian, were going to fight. They both tossed their backpacks down. With bellicose bearing, they walked into the center of a circle of boys and a few girls. To Adilet’s surprise, the girls were acting as referees.

The opponents grabbed each other’s arms and started fighting like mad. They fell and got back up with varying degrees of success. Each blow and kick was counted loudly by the referees. Finally, blood spurted out of the Uighur’s nose. Everyone was clapping and shouting “Go Russky!” Motivated by the encouragement, the Russian boy began pummeling his weakening opponent. When the other boy fell down, the Russian even started kicking him. The Uighur couldn’t defend himself, but no one showed any signs of stopping the carnage. Adilet could no longer hide his growing revulsion at the senseless violence and jumped in to save the loser. He pushed the winner as hard as he could, so hard that the boy almost fell down.

There were cries of “Get out of there asshole! Kyrgyz!” Adilet was helping the defeated boy get up when the Russian ran up and kicked him in the shoulder. Adilet wanted to hit him back, but the other boys dragged them apart.

The Uighur was covered in blood and breathing heavily. He sat down on a pile of bricks by the fence.

“Somebody hose down Goshka! Hose him off! A little water does a body good!”

One of the boys warned Adilet, “Don’t jump the line, Kyrgyz. Wait your turn.”

Less than a week later, Adilet was notified that his turn had come. A Hui boy named Shalkhar had called Adilet out, claiming that “Kyrgyz shoved me in the hallway.” The class leader gave him permission to use brass knuckles.

“You can use them too,” they told Adilet.

Adilet was upset. He didn’t have a set of brass knuckles. He didn’t even know what one looked like. The only weapon he owned was a pocket canister of pepper spray. Finding himself at an impasse, all he could do was turn to Tashtan-baike. He asked his uncle for brass knuckles. When Tashtan heard his nephew’s story about the senseless fight, he was indignant. His first thought was to tell Jildiz and inform the academy’s administrators. They would put a stop to the violence.

But Adilet objected: “They’ll just ‘put me on my knees’ anyway.”

Tashtan realized that he shouldn’t shame his nephew in the other boys’ eyes. At the same time, he couldn’t allow him to fight. He thought hard and came up with a solution.

***

Just as Adilet and Shalkhar were facing off like two beat up roosters, a man came around the corner.

“Hey guys, can I watch the fight?”

“Get out of here. Don’t bother them. They’re just playing!” The girls were the first to protest.

Adilet was upset when he caught sight of Tashtan-baike.

“Fine. I’ll leave.”

The man left. But when the boys began to fight the man reappeared and grabbed both of them by their shoulders. “I’ll take you somewhere where they’ll finish you off!” he said, dragging them toward the academy.

The girls complained, “You don’t have any right to mess with them! They were playing!”

“Sure they were! Brass knuckles are a weapon. You can go to jail for that. I’m a police captain.”

“That’s not true! If they had knives, then that would be different.”

“Get any closer and you’ll see my knife.”

“You’re no cop. You’re just an asshole,” one boy challenged him. Others followed his lead.

Tashtan brought both boys to the director of the academy.

Even though the fight had barely started, the other boy had managed to hit Adilet’s collarbone with his brass knuckles. But most importantly, Adilet hadn’t chickened out. He showed up for the fight. No one could call him a coward.

They were in the car. Jildiz-ehze was with them.

“You have six more months to study at the academy. Don’t get in any more fights,” Tashtan told his nephew. “I want to you learn and expand your horizons.”

“Do we have to tell my parents?” Adilet asked his teacher when they stopped in front of his house.

“About what? The fight?”

Adilet nodded.

“I don’t know what to say,” Jildiz answered.

Tashtan looked at his nephew, “I don’t think we have to tell them. I stopped the fight when I happened across them by accident.”

Just then the gate opened and Salamat came out. The three people in the car stared at him and said nothing.

“Adilet!” his father sounded suspicious, as if he’d already heard about the fight.

He greeted Jildiz, expecting her to get out of the car. Adilet got out alone. Tashtan wheeled the car around and shouted to his brother, “I’ll be right back after I take Jildiz home.” It was Salamat’s car.

***

The sun sunk below the horizon in a blaze of purple fire. Adilet was sitting at his desk feeling miserable.

“Jildiz-ezhe, I think you gave me the wrong topic,” he mentally addressed his teacher. “That’s why I can’t write. I don’t want to write about the prophets Noah and Nuh. I want to write about Yaiswudu. In ancient Sumerian, the name Yaiswudu means “slowly flowing river.” I’d rather write about Yaiswudu. You won’t mind, will you Jildiz-ezhe?”

Hesitantly, Adilet picked up his pen.

“After the death of Abel, the youngest son of Father Adam and Mother Eve, chaos entered people’s hearts. They began suspecting each other of various sins. Even family members no longer trusted each other. In the end, deceit and injustice ruled the world. In all places good was forced out by evil. There were very few people left who were saddened by this. Only one person, a man named Yaiswudu, wept day and night. People laughed at him and mocked him, calling him a crybaby. This crybaby had three children. Thankfully, they were kind and honest like their father.

Yaiswudu turned to God in tears: ‘Oh Allah, your weak servants have left the path of righteousness. I cannot even begin to count all their transgressions. If you are truly almighty, then leave none of these wicked souls on the Earth, for they breed new creatures just as wicked as they are! Do not allow their wild offspring to multiply!’

“Yaiswudu cried for seven days and nights, and God heard his voice. He fulfilled the crybaby’s wish. An order came down from heaven: ‘My servant Yaiswudu, stop your outpouring of tears. The wicked will drown and be lost in a great flood. You and your children must plant and grow a papyrus tree. Out of it you will build an ark. That ark will come in handy.’

“Yaiswudu did just that. He built a large, three-deck boat using the wood of the trees he and his children had planted. At the same time, Yaiswudu warned all honest, conscientious people that they should also plant trees and build boats because there would be a great flood.

They did not believe him and even laughed at him, saying, ‘It’s been many years since a drop of rain has fallen. The ground has dried up. What is this flood you speak of, fool?’

“Then Yaiswudu asked God, ‘Oh Allah, I built the ark. When will the water come?’

The answer came from heaven, ‘I will give you a sign. The water will come from the place where a flame appears! Prepare your ark to sail!’

“When he heard this, Yaiswudu loaded food and water on the boat. He placed specially chosen birds on the top deck. He and his wife, their sons and their sons wives would live on the middle deck. He put the rest of the animals on the lower deck.

“Suddenly his wife came running. She was worried, afraid even. ‘Yaiswudu, I started building a fire in the tandir to bake bread, but water came up from the inside. It is still coming.’

“‘Tell everyone to get on the boat!’ Yaiswudu ordered. Fear seized him. He turned to God: ‘Oh Creator, the animals are all enemies. What will happen when they are in the boat?’

“‘My servant Yaiswudu, do not be afraid. I am the one who makes them enemies. I am the one who makes them friends.’

“Sure enough, all was quiet and peaceful on the boat. The wolves hid in a corner in terror. Only the brainless ass was obstinate and refused to step on the boat. Only after Yaiswudu shouted, “Get in the boat you obstinate beast!” did the ass step onto the deck.

“The heavens poured rain like a bucket for days and nights. Water also bubbled up from the ground and rose ever higher. This went on for forty days and forty nights. The water reached unimaginable heights. All the people and the domesticated and wild animals perished. The water bore their bodies into the seas and oceans.

“Yaiswudu walked around the boat and found Satan hiding in a dark corner. ‘You old evildoer, how did you get on board?’ Yaiswudu shouted angrily.

“‘I was holding the ass by his tail so he couldn’t get on the boat. When you shouted ‘Get on board, beast!” I came on board with the ass.’

“Yaiswudu was furious. ‘Satan, you are a tempter, seducer and troublemaker for all men, yet you have survived!’ Then he decided to test the devil. ‘Father Adam and Mother Eve were immortal in the beginning, but you led them into temptation and made them mere mortals. All the while, you remain immortal. That is unfair. Repent before God and ask him to make Adam and Eve immortal.’

“‘I will do it, Yaiswudu, but will God agree with me? Do you think he will forgive me my guilt?’

“Yaiswudu heeded Satan and asked God to forgive his guilt.

“God replied, ‘Oh Yaiswudu, all on your boat must bow to the memory of Father Adam. If Satan will bow to his memory and honor him, then I will forgive his guilt.’

“But Satan was indignant: ‘I never bowed my head before your Father Adam when he was alive. How is it that I should now bow to his rotted body?’ That is how Satan refused the friendship of an honest man.

“One day water sprang up through the bottom of the boat. Yaiswudu called out:

‘Who can find the leak?’

“‘I will find it,’ said the snake, slithering forward. It slithered around the whole boat and, when it found the leak, plugged it with its tail. The boat did not sink and remained whole.

“Yaiswudu made a promise to the snake. ‘My friend, when the flood recedes I will grant whatever you ask of me.’

“Then he ordered: ‘Animals, do not mate while we are on the boat. Otherwise the boat will be too crowded and we will drown.’ In spite of his order, the mice on the boat multiplied beyond count. They began chewing holes in the boat out of dimwitted habit.

“Then God advised Yaiswudu: ‘Stroke the lion’s head.’ When Yaiswudu did so, the lion sneezed. A cat flew out of its nose and destroyed all the mice.

“Then there was much urine and feces on the boat. Everyone choked at the stench. Advice came from God: ‘Oh Yaiswudu, climb on the elephant’s back and stroke it.’ When Yaiswudu stroked the elephant’s back, two pigs leaped from its trunk and proceeded to remove all the impurity, pollution and stench. Now the boat was clean.

“At the end of forty days and forty nights, the great flood began to recede. Yaiswudu’s boat came to rest at the top of Hantengri Peak. The rain ceased. Rivers returned to their banks and the earth began to dry out.

“‘Go see if the whole earth has dried out,” Yaiswudu said as he sent out a crow. The crow found some carrion and did not hurry back. Losing his patience, Yaiswudu sent a dove after the crow. The dove alighted in many places and got red clay on its feet Then it flew back and recounted what it had seen.

“When the crow finally returned, Yaiswudu spoke to it angrily, ‘May people always be your enemies, and may your life be lived in fear. I will ask God to make it so.’

“Finally the snake approached Yaiswudu and spoke: ‘You promised to reward me for saving the boat and all of you. Here I am.’

“‘Tell me, beast, what is your wish?’

“‘Give me the creature that has the sweetest blood.’

“‘I will discover whose blood is the sweetest,’ said Yaiswudu. He sent a mosquito to find out. Proud of being chosen for an important job, the mosquito got carried away with itself and forgot about the time and the people waiting for it.

“‘What is taking that little bloodsucker so long? Go find it and hurry it along,’ Yaiswudu said to the swallow.

“When the swallow found the mosquito and asked it whose blood was the sweetest, the mosquito answered, ‘In all the world, it would seem that man has the sweetest blood. I must hurry back and tell Yaiswudu.’ The swallow, who was a friend of man, was sorrowed by what it heard. It decided to use guile.

“‘I see. I suppose the taste of that blood is still on your tongue. I would like to try it, too. Stick your tongue out.’ The boastful mosquito stuck out its tongue, and the swallow bit it right off and ate it.

“Fighting and shoving all the way back, the two finally came before Yaiswudu. With half of its tongue missing, all the mosquito could say was ‘buzz-buzz-buzz.’

“Yaiswudu was confused and turned to the swallow, who answered, ‘Friend Yaiswudu, here is what the mosquito told me on our way back. “There are many small beasts and animals of all sorts in the world. I have tasted the blood of many of them, but the sweetest blood of all is the frog’s. There is nothing sweeter than the taste of a frog’s blood.”’

“‘But why is the mosquito unable to tell me this?’

“‘It is friends with the frog, you see. That is why it is buzzing and pretending it can’t talk.’

“Then Yaiswudu, satisfied by this answer, turned to the snake: ‘Wise tempter, your assistance was noble and invaluable. I am pleased to fulfill your wish. I give the blood and even the flesh of the frog to you and your descendents to be your favorite food and drink. I will ask God to make it so.’

“The snake was furious at the swallow. It knew that human blood, not a frog’s blood, is the sweetest in the world. It tried to bite the swallow, but the bird flew up in the air. All the snake caught was its tail. That is why the swallow has a divided tail.

“That is how the Earth was cleansed. Yaiswudu’s descendents multiplied, but Satan was always with them, quietly teaching each new generation to do evil. At the end of eight hundred years, the devil came down to earth and went to Yaiswudu to take his soul, but Yaiswudu turned to God: ‘Oh God, if you have any pity for man then free Uluk from Mount Kailash and chain Satan in his place. Then man, your servant whom you have made, will mend his ways.’

“The answer came from heaven: ‘He will not mend his ways!’

Adilet”

***

Tashtan was still a bachelor at thirty. There had been many attempts on the part of good friends, relatives and even acquaintances to find a nice girl for him. And of course, he met girls on his own. He had been in love more than once, but it seemed that fate had dictated that he would never find the kind of relationship that would lead to marriage.

All of the girls who were candidates for marriage eventually slipped from his life like sand through his fingers. He had even forgotten many of their names. People were beginning to call Tashtan a confirmed bachelor. He even fell prey to a rumor that he paid nighttime visits to the girls lining Mossoviet, Bishkek’s golden mile, and that was why he was in no hurry to get married. Tashtan found such rumors offensive and was therefore both amused and pleased by the establishment of the “Tashtan Marriage Committee.” This was an initiative started by his friends’ wives, who were so active that they were able to set him up a new blind date almost every week.

The marriage candidates all spent time worrying and visiting the beauty salon before their dates in hopes of pleasing Tashtan. And when they met the dzhigit, they were even more nervous than they had expected. At his rented apartment each of them walked softly and talked in a low voice while trying to keep up the conversation. But for some reason all of their efforts failed. Not one of them lit a fire in his heart.

Soon the committee members had run out of the right sort of girls to introduce to Tashtan. Furthermore, they were tired of doing a delicate job that had so far failed to bring a happy ending.

So they asked Tashtan a sensible question, “What kind of girl do you like, anyway?”

“They’ve all been attractive and smart enough, but not one of them seemed to be sent by fate!” Tashtan replied half-joking to the rebuke.

“If that’s the case, then do the hunting yourself! Why don’t you wait until you have wrinkles on your forehead? Then you can read the wrinkles to see who fate will send you.”

One week after this conversation, Tashtan met Jildiz. Rather, it was their eyes that met. Unlooked-for, a spark leaped up in his heart. Was it really possible that love could come from Tengri so suddenly, like a gift of fate, and that it couldn’t fail to leave its mark on him?

Tashtan and Jildiz had grown so close that they couldn’t bear to spend time apart. Their tender words flowed like a spring. Everywhere they looked there was reason to smile and laugh. Both realized that the world was beautiful as long as they were together in waking, in their thoughts and in their dreams.

It was in this state of euphoria that Tashtan and Jildiz walked hand in hand into the Golden Dragon restaurant.

The Almighty was a witness: the restaurant took in the two blissful lovers, greeting them with colorful lights, snow-white table linens and gleaming silverware.

The blonde waitress flitted over to them like a good fairy and welcomed them in a soft voice, “Good evening and welcome.”

Tashtan and Jildiz thanked her and began looking over them menu.

“I’m starving.” “Me, too.”

“I’ll order the lagman.” “Me, too.”

“And I’ll have a glass of cognac.” “Me, too.”

“I’m so happy today.” “I’m even happier.”

They didn’t notice when the waitress floated away.

Tashtan couldn’t take his eyes off the woman he loved. Jildiz cupped her chin in her hand and gave him a small, playful smile. She was basking in the dzhigit’s rapt attention.

At that moment, neither of them knew that the night would find them at Jildiz’ cozy studio apartment in a modest high-rise. Two fluffy pillows on a soft bed.

***

The next day was the last day of school. After lunch there would be an awards ceremony and a speech summing up the school year. Jildiz was in high spirits because she knew that her protégé Adilet would be recognized at the ceremony for his good grades.

Then someone told her that the director wanted to see her.

“Come in, Jildiz. I see you’re in a good mood today. What are your eyes shining about? I’m glad to see it, but I’m afraid I can’t kiss your hand today. Forgive me.”

“Do you have bad news?” Jildiz was apprehensive.

“We need to clarify where we stand.”

“Don’t scare me, Henry Abramovich. It’s the last day of school.”

“It’s too bad that he last day of school has to be… Is this Narbayev’s essay?” The director showed her a familiar notebook.

“Yes!” her eyes ignited with worry.

“And you gave him the highest grade?”

“Of course.”

“So you listed Narbayev as a top student and nominated him for the Academy Prize?”

“He deserves it.”

“Then I want you to know that we don’t sympathize with what you’ve done for the boy. Narbayev’s essay is absurd. He didn’t write on the topic. It has been decided…”

“By whom?”

“By the jury. The essay competition jury.”

“What jury, Henry Abramovich? I’m the only person at the Academy who can read Kyrgyz. The essay is in Kyrgyz.”

“Exactly. You had him write in your own language because you thought no one would be able to read it. The regional jury made note of that particular fact in its findings.”

“Of what fact? I want to see the findings.”

“The jury findings? They’re right here, my dear, but I can’t let you have my copy. You’ll have to read it in my office.”

“It’s just one short paragraph. And it isn’t even signed.” Jildiz looked up at the director in surprise.

“I’m sorry. Were you expecting tomes? Heh-heh.”

“This just mentions the topic of the essay. It doesn’t say anything at all about the content or the quality.”

“That’s just too bad. He didn’t stick to the topic, so how can we talk about the quality?”

“He did write about the topic. All he did was change the names of the characters.”

“Jildiz-aiyim, here’s what it comes down to. I’m the director, not the jury. I can’t check the quality of every essay. I just draw my conclusions based on what the jury says.”

“What conclusions have you drawn?’

“In short, I think you have no sense of responsibility. You praised a weak student beyond his merit. That is a very bad sign.”

“Narbayev was only behind early in the year. Now he’s the best student in the class. I think the other teachers will back me up on that. I’m asking you to be fair.” Jildiz forced herself to smile.

“I’m afraid I haven’t told you everything. I didn’t want to upset you.”

“What else is there, Henry Abramovich?”

“You want me to be candid? This smells of politics. That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“Good God, how frightening,” she smiled in spite of herself. “If there’s dangerous politics involved then I want to hear all about it.”

“Don’t be facetious, Jildiz-aiyim. Our academy’s name tells you what we are. You know there is anti-Semitism in Kyrgyzstan. That’s no mystery locked away behind seven seals. Some of your, that is our, legislators keep harping on the issue and not in a positive way. In that light, I’m shocked that you want recognition for a boy who took the famous story of the prophet Noah and tore it to pieces. Do you understand what we have grounds to suspect you of?”

“Henry Abramovich, for God’s sake don’t bring politics into it. Do you really think that an essay written by a fifth-grader can have political undertones?”

“It’s a fact, Jildiz-aiyim. We’re not talking about a fifth-grader. We’re talking about his teacher and his teacher’s ideas…”

The angrier and more red-faced the director got, the more ironic Jildiz’ smile became.

She couldn’t resist: “Are you trying to label me?”

“I didn’t want to say it, but you left me no choice. Why waste words? I’m not long-winded by nature. And anyway, you’re already very aware of this, aren’t you, aiyim?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t understood a thing you said. What do you want me to do?” Jildiz raised her eyebrows.

Seeing this, the director changed his tone of voice, “Don’t do anything, Jildiz-aiyim. Give me time to think. Don’t do anything yet. You’re pet will get his prize. But I want you to do some thinking, too.”

“Excuse me,” Jildiz covered her reddening cheeks with her hands. Then she jumped up and ran to the door.

“Wait! Wait!” The director caught her and handed her his card. “Think it over. You can call me any time. During the day, in the evening, even at night. And about your contract…”

Without listening to him, Jildiz left his office and slammed the door in his face.

Feeling agitated, she hurried out the front door of the school. Out in the courtyard she finally took herself in hand. In her heart she was overwhelmed with a need to see Tashtan and hear his voice right away. She took her cell phone out of her bag.

A voice crackled, “The subscriber is unavailable.” Her heart started pounding. She dialed his number again. She heard the same message.

“Why’s he unavailable? Where is he?”

Jildiz’ shaking legs could barely hold her up.

At that moment Tashtan was sitting in the library archive. He was buried in papers but his thoughts were far away. A picture of Jildiz took shape in his mind. He went outside to smoke and turned on his phone. As if it had been waiting, the phone started to ring.

“Tashtan, I’ve been looking for you. I need to see you right away.”

“Where are you, Jildiz?”

“At home. I really need you.”

“I’m on my way. Do you want a Coke? Or some orange juice?”

“Make it mandarin.”

***

They sat together drinking mandarin juice, unable to take their eyes off each other.

“I keep staring at you and I just can’t get enough,” Tashtan said with a smile. “How did I ever live without you?”

“How about me? Do you know why I can’t take my eyes off of you?”

“I have no idea.”

“I think you do know. I can’t believe God really sent me such a tall, strong, good looking, intelligent man. For me! That’s what I’m thinking when I look at you.”

“I won’t argue about the tall part. And maybe I’m strong. But there are serious doubts about my brains.”

Jildiz gave a rich, throaty laugh. “The light shining from your mind has definitely found its way into Adilet’s sweet head. Now we’ll all have to pay for it. How are we going to deal with Abramovich’s complaints about me and Adilet?”

“I figured it out, Jildiz. Your boss is complaining about something else entirely. First of all, I don’t want you to be upset if Adilet doesn’t make the honor roll. Nobody in Tibet cares about that. They’ll test what he knows with their own exams. And secondly, I’ll wipe out Abramovich.

“What for?” Jildiz’ eyes widened. “What did the poor fool do to you?”

“He’s not poor. He opened his own academy, so he’s definitely not poor. Why don’t we test him right now?”

“How?”

“He gave you his card. Call him.”

“What would I say to him?”

“Say: ‘I’ve thought it over. Let’s meet.’ We’ll see how the old turkey reacts.”

“That’s what he’s waiting for. He’ll ask me where I want to meet.”

“Call him. Then we’ll see what happens.” Tashtan was serious.

“That’s too dangerous. I can’t take a risk like that. How about this plan: tomorrow we go to the academy and withdraw Adilet’s file. He has good grades for the year. Then I’ll leave a letter for the director telling him that I quit. My contract’s up anyway.”

“I don’t want you to lose your job because of me and Adilet again.”

“I’ll find another job.”

“When exactly is your contract up?”

“It’s already up. I just had a contract for one year.”

“What are we going to do about the turkey?”

“We’ll just walk away. Why fight him? Everyone has their weaknesses and anyone can have a bad day.

“After he made you so upset? Here’s my idea: why don’t I give him a taste of my fist?”

“There goes the kick boxer.”

“That’s the language men understand best. You don’t need a translator. You just knock him down without saying anything at all. Anyone, Jew, black or a Papuan from New Guinea, will get the message. ‘Any questions?’ ‘Nope. It’s all cool.’ Short and to the point!”

Tashtan put his fists on the table. Curious, Jildiz poked the dzhigit’s iron fists.

“Oh boy, if you hit him it’ll be lights out for Abramovich.”

“It wouldn’t kill him. But I guarantee he won’t be setting traps for you anymore. Call him. We’ll see what he does.”

“I told you what he’ll say. It would be ridiculous. I’m not going to call.”

“Then promise me that you’ll always be with me and that no one will ever touch my goddess.”

“How do you want me to prove it?”

“Marry me.”

“That’s a promise I like! Nothing could be more romantic.”

***

Aisada and Tashtan decided to talk to Salamat the next day about taking Adilet to Tibet. They couldn’t afford to wait longer. Approaching him in the morning would be risky, since nobody knew what kind of mood the man of the house would wake up in. The evening wouldn’t do, either, because someone might piss him off during the day. Lunch would be the best time. Aisada would do her best to cook juicy dumplings so that Salamat would tuck them away in delight, humming “Oh what a dish! These dumplings finger licking good!”

Aisada took a piece of meat marbled with fat out of the refrigerator and put it on the windowsill. Then she lay down to sleep. God willing, her only son would get an education that would make him the envy of everyone in town. But on the other hand, she would certainly miss him. He’d be so far away, and for so long…

Aisada woke up when she heard scuffling in the yard.

“Salamat! Go outside and see what’s going on!”

“What?”

“I think someone’s walking in the yard.”

Salamat was a little hard of hearing and didn’t hear anything. “But when a woman thinks something she won’t leave you in peace,” he said to himself and slowly started dressing.

“Maybe it’s Tashtan.” he said as he dressed.

“How could it be Tashtan? He works at night. He won’t be here until the morning. Hurry up! It’s something bad, I can feel it.”

Now Salamat could hear the noise in the yard. It didn’t sound good. He raced outside and switched on the light on the barn wall. It didn’t come on. He pressed the doorbell. There was no sound. The dogs couldn’t be heard, either.

Sensing that something was up, Salamat yelled to his wife to bring the rifle. He snatched it out of Aisada’s hands and disappeared into the darkness. There was no moon that night. Only the fading constellation Libra was barely visible on the horizon.

Suddenly the chickens began squawking.

“Aieee!” Salamat roared and shot into the air. He was no coward, but he didn’t want to go into the barn. He heard feet running off.

Salamat shot in the direction of the footsteps. His rifle was loaded with salt.

The work of the nighttime invaders only became visible when the sun came up. Adilet had jumped out of bed and was now standing next to his father. He was shaking and crying from what he saw: two of their cows lay on the ground, their throats cut. One of them was missing two haunches. Her unborn calf had slipped from her body and lay in a pool of blood. The second cow was missing one haunch and was still alive. She was shaking in the last throes of death.

The thieves had cut what they could from the poor animals and raced off.

Salamat cut the second cow’s throat to put an end to her suffering.

“I hope those bastards go to hell!” Aisada wept as she cursed the thieves. She knelt down by the body of the calf whose birth they had been expecting any day.

She wanted to place it on the straw but Salamat bellowed, “Don’t go over there! You’ll mess up the evidence. I’m calling the police.”

“Where’s Rem, Papa?”

“Over there. They got him, too.”

Adilet leaped in the direction his father pointed, but his father grabbed his arm. “Wait for the police to get here. Then you can look. It was that motherfucker Sansyzbay who did it! I’ll rip his head off and stick it up his ass! That’s a piece of his jacket sleeve in Rem’s teeth.”

The boy shuddered. His father’s face was pale grey and twisted in pain and fury. His bloodshot eyes bulged and his whole body shook.

Looking at the bloody scene in the barn, for a moment Adilet almost fainted. As he started to fall he reached out to hold on to his father. “Papa!” Adilet leaned heavily on his father’s arm. “Why did Uncle Sansyzbay do it? He’s family!”

“The hell he is!”

“How do you know that’s his jacket sleeve?”

“He’s only got that one rotten yellow jacket. Everybody knows it.”

“So when that idiot was buying milk from us he was really just watching and planning,” Aisada said, wiping the tears that poured down her face with the corner of her cotton print apron. “And he killed our best milkers. I hope the same comes to him!” Aisada’s lamentation seemed to go on and on.

The police didn’t arrive until noon. They began slowly taking stock, as if their chief concern was writing up the report, not catching the thieves. Two policemen made an unhurried inspection of the yard, the barn and the garden. They recounted what they found to a third policeman, who sat on a chair and carefully took down everything they said.

Nobody saw Adilet leave through the garden holding his father’s rifle. By a roundabout path he made his way to Sansyzbay’s house. He could not reconcile his heart or his mind to the terrible human cruelty and injustice visited on them. When the boy closed his eyes, he saw the butchered cows. He choked back the tears rising in his throat and sniffled loudly.

Sansyzbay’s house was on the other side of a corn field that stretched in a narrow strip along a shallow gulley. Adilet crept along the edge of the field. The high corn stalks shielded him from view. Soon he was opposite Sansyzbay’s house. Adilet raised the rifle and aimed. Then he waited for his reviled relative to come outside. He had to keep wiping away the tears that welled up and spoiled his view of the target. Suddenly, Adilet heard a voice behind him. When he turned around, the boy saw an elder on horseback. The elder’s long, white beard reached to his waist.

“Son, you could end up guilty of someone’s death. Don’t answer one cruelty with another. Go home.”

Awestruck, Adilet listened to the elder. Then he was distracted by a dog barking. When he turned around again, clutching the rifle to his chest, the elder was gone! He was gone, but his gentle voice and his words had cast a spell over Adilet. He stared numbly at Sansyzbay’s house, unable to make himself move…

That night Adilet had an epileptic fit. It was the worst he had ever had. Salamat and Tashtan put a leather belt between his teeth to keep them from breaking. Then they covered the boy with a quilt and held his shaking body on the bed. Adilet soon lost consciousness. Pale and drenched with sweat, he lay sprawled on the bed. His breathing was shallow and slow.

“My God, why are you torturing my child?” Aisada cried out, sitting at the head of her son’s bed. Her body shook under the weight of her sorrow.

Salamat had never given in to fear before, but this time he was silent. He said not a word and stared glumly at the ground. A shapeless fear was penetrating into his soul. A bull-headed man with a sharp temper, he rarely bowed his head under any kind of suffering and considered his own opinions and judgments to be the one true, infallible guide. Once he made a decision or pronouncement he never doubted it, although his stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise often caused him trouble. But the unthinkable evil perpetrated by his kinsman Sansyzbay had dealt him a terrible blow.

“My worst enemy would never do something so insane and cruel, much less a relative. In the whole history of the world, has a man ever run off carrying the leg he cut off a living animal? How could a Kyrgyz be so degenerate? Or have Adam’s children all over the world become reprobates? They say that when a son kills his own mother the end of the world is near. Could it be peeking into every home?”

Absorbed with his heavy thoughts, Salamat spent several days in a state of gloomy dejection. Before he had been busy day and night with his pigs, but now he was detached from his usual cares. He no longer shot thunder and lightning.

Just when had set his mind on finding Sansyzbay and kicking him half to death he heard that the police had already arrested him. So he went back into himself, hung his head and kept a preoccupied silence. It seemed to him that the whole world, even some kind of unknown force, was against him. He was so gripped by his worries that he began to feel an unrelenting fear.

***

In the early morning, before even waking, Salamat was already itching for a fight.

“Goddamn feline!” he grabbed the cat that was curled up on his chest by the scruff of its neck. “The little bitch is always lying around in the way!”

“Don’t you want to get better? She was just warming your bronchitis,” Aisada answered him back.

“That cat’s the last thing my health needs.”

“Well stop yelling. Can you at least stop yelling before your son leaves to go to school?”

 

Salamat had had more than enough of fighting with his wife since the previous day. He felt burdened by the imminent discussion of whether or not Adilet would leave for Tibet. His heart ached with the realization that he had to make a decision.

Knowing that if he stormed off in silence they would take that as his permission to let the boy travel to the end of the world, he just sat up in bed and grumbled, “I’m not letting my sick kid go anywhere!”

Aisada, Tashtan and Adilet froze. They weren’t sure if they should talk to him yet. Usually when Salamat was angry the rolls on the back of his neck swelled, his eyes became bloodshot and his nostrils opened and closed powerfully. None of that happened now. Ever since his recent catastrophe he no longer screamed and got in his opponent’s face to prove that he was right. His brother Tashtan had always borne the brunt of his attacks, and Salamat still felt inwardly that he was guilty in all that was wrong: Tashtan’s research took up all his time morning and night, he wasn’t any help with the chores and now he had come up with this idea of sending Adilet to study in Tibet. However, at the last moment Salamat refrained from laying into his brother.

Ever so slightly encouraged, Tashtan said with confidence, “In the new climate and surroundings his epilepsy will disappear. And he’ll always be with me. I won’t let him out of my sight.”

“How’s he going to study if he doesn’t speak their language?”

“Why do you think he’s been taking English since kindergarten?”

“You keep telling me he’ll be a doctor, but when I ask him he spouts some kind of nonsense. Are you two fooling me?”

“What did he say?” Tashtan turned suspiciously to Adilet.

“Tell us, Mama’s strong boy, my hope! What did you say to your father?” Aisada reached out to embrace her son.

“I was talking about studying arhat,” Adilet wiped his nose with the back of his hand and looked at his father.

“I see,” Tashtan broke in. “That’s right. You could call it studying arhat. The word arhat means ‘medicine.’”

Salamat sensed that Tashtan was prevaricating. His flustered face betrayed him. But without understanding the true meaning of the Tibetan word Salamat couldn’t accuse his brother of falsehood. So he was forced to move on to other quibbles.

“Some thugs just brought disaster on us, but instead of supporting the family you’ve taken it upon yourself to leave and take this little snot-nose with you! Is that how a real brother behaves? You’re just as bad as Sansyzbay!”

Hearing his brother compare him to a brute, Tashtan paled in anger.

Aisada was afraid. “You can’t say that, Salamat! Look at Tashtan and then look at Sansyzbay!”

“What else can I say? He’s of no use to me at all!”

“Let them go study. In case you’re interested, I don’t want to let go of my little boy either. But if we don’t, what will he be? Other people’s kids go millions of miles away to school. Just look at the neighbor girl! She’s going to school in Toronto or somewhere.”

“Toronto is one thing, but what kind of schools can they have in Tibet?”

Tashtan smiled ironically at his brother’s disparaging tone and answered, “Tibet is where you’ll find the capitol of the great Mystery, the enigmatic city of Shambhala. I can’t explain it all to you. Only those who are destined to become visionaries can comprehend it.”

“What on Earth?”

“Don’t fight, for God’s sake!” Aisada begged them. “Just say it straight out. Will you give your son an education or not? Tell me that once and for all!”

Salamat turned his wife and, with a glare that seared straight through her, spoke menacingly: “What about the chores? Who’s going to do them? Do I have to break my back all alone for the rest of my life?”

“We’ll break our backs together! Now stop it!”

“I’m warning you, woman. If these two fools go off to their little Tibet, waste all their money and come back home, you’re the first person I’m going to throttle.”

“Go ahead. Throttle me.” Aisada pulled tensely at her headscarf. Then she stood up, shook out her skirt and stomped off. As far as she was concerned, the conversation was over.

Chapter Two

Katmandu, the capitol of Nepal, is called the city of clouds. The plane landed on the airport’s farthest runway. There the passengers were loaded into a bus and driven up to the doors of the terminal. Soldiers wearing dark brown berets with badges on them formed a human corridor that prevented the passengers from stepping out of line, herding them straight up to the customs counters.

From time to time Adilet shifted his heavy backpack. He stayed close behind his uncle as they walked. His first trip on an airplane had been a fairly long one. He could still feel the instant when the jetliner pulled away from the earth and when it landed.

He had plenty of experience launching space ships on his computer screen and wandering among the stars, but all of those sensations together couldn’t match the feeling of really flying through the sky on an airplane…

 

(Көңүл буруңуздар! Бул жерде китептин бир бөлүгү жайгаштырылган)

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© Kazat Akmatov, 2005. All rights reserved

© Англис тилине которгон Аида Керексизова

 


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