At the crossroads stories from selected writers of the south caucasus



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We walked a lot in the evenings. One of the reasons for our daily meetings was the light in her eyes. With a childish, innocent look she would glance at the world and at me. Then all of a sudden she would notice me by her side.

On our second or third date we looked at a mountain together. She loved standing and looking at the big mountain in silence. At that minute I told her that I would never divorce my wife.

Maro herself would have put a stop to anything that could lead to this. She managed things so that both families continued to exist – separately.

In those days I had thought, “my wife is busy with house affairs, she is a woman deprived of deep inner duality, she cannot move me forward. A man has from ancient times been given a gift of hearing from afar the eternal call and smell of women so that his soul and the power of imagination do not fade.”

After the co-owner of the winery had turned me down I spent all my nights in a cellar. In order to compensate for the lack of orders, to bring in a nominal income I started to record on disks collections of dictations I had compiled for high school graduates and prospective university students. My meetings with Maro became occasional. I would wait for these dates with controversial feelings, spending sleepless nights working. Some of my friends had already made hints that Maro was behaving indecently, making no distinction between married and unmarried men, receiving men at her place and seeing them off. We reached the point of bird-like silence, and retired only to the kitchen, where she would hum to herself a pleasant monotone tune in a low voice. I wanted to continue to be with her, and tried at such times to get answers to my questions, but could not get a single word from her.

Once her brother came to the editor’s office.

He did not want to hear about my love for Maro, and was categorically against our living together. Soon all of her relatives had gathered and decided to beat me up. When Maro learned about this she threatened to jump from the highest bridge in the city on the same day with a note in her pocket. They calmed down for the time being.

Maro was over two months pregnant and secretly had an abortion. Later she explained: “I do not want to ruin your family.” Her eyes were shining; she looked at me with a childish innocent look. Then she gazed beyond me, to the faraway mountain, and added: “It would be too much. A baby would definitely prevent you writing your famous book.”

“Why does she discuss such issues?” I thought, “did she have a right to interfere in the universal reason, enter some external, unknown time?”

I do not remember with whom, when, or at which presentation I was. I drank a couple of glasses of brandy. Having returned I found a note – Maro said she had gone to hospital. A street. I am running. Traffic. Buildings, windows, - from above a face with a forehead tied with a golden scarf is pressed to the window and looking down with an indifferent look.

I cross the street running, enter another street. Again cars. Buildings, windows, again from above a face pressed to the window with forehead tied with a golden scarf, looking down with an indifferent look.

A hospital room. Cotton wool on the floor, in dazzling light drops of red blood shine on the white tiles. Every time the door opens and closes an empty medicine bottle tinkles in a nickel plate from the draught. The turmoil is already over, probably it had been hard.

She had still not recovered from the general anesthetic. Maro did not open her eyes but knew I was holding her hand. Tears were pouring from her closed eyes. Since then I have never forgotten her tears.

The sheet she was covered with had some yellowish spots of rust on it in certain places, left by the laundry.

On the day she was discharged from hospital it was not only her emptied uterus which groaned and suffered. Some other emptiness made Maro scratch the wall. She tried to convince me that I had also said “yes”, and the abortion had been undertaken by mutual consent. I had to confirm this so she would not feel lonely.

I stayed by her side for several nights but never told her how, while rushing to the hospital, I had seen on two different streets the same thing - from above the indifferent face of a young girl pressed to the window with a forehead tied with a golden scarf shining like a crown, looking down at me.

Because there was no guard in the cellar a programming computer was stolen from my drawing frame. Three months passed before the police investigated the case and returned the computer. The casual orders stopped again. The interest on my mortgage increased at an alarming speed, I would receive notices about possible confiscation of the apartment.

To help me out Maro insisted on mortgaging her own single-room apartment. Thanks to her the seizure was delayed for one more year.

In the course of five days the artist and two workers quit. Hoping to conclude new contracts I went to various offices, rushed around the city, trying to resolve financial issues. I worked only at night. I would not come home for weeks. Ruzanna would bring enough food for several days, clean underwear, medicines. The physician did not consider the undesirable symptoms in my cough were dangerous but did advise me not to continue in this way. During meals I tried to tell Ruzanna about the situation I found myself in. She would jump up in terror and not let me continue. She would take a plastic bag full of dirty clothes and quickly leave, saying: “you can manage, MP”.

She was still willing to keep the hearth warm, to keep the fire burning. We went through years of poverty together… the burden was too heavy, we did not have the strength to go forward. She could not be alone at nights, as if left on a wreck being tossed in an open ocean. In order to gather strength and swim further she needed to see a beacon, she needed a warm voice to call her.

Later I blamed myself, why had I not done this for her, not even lit a single match on the shore to show her the way in the darkness?

Ruzanna had got to my small, rented room from a factory which made stationery. After the army I had worked there as a loader on shifts. She was one year older than myself.

During the day I would go from one newspaper editor’s office to another, although I did not have a higher education. After several such expeditions editors would feel some concealed sympathy towards me and trust me to prepare sports reports. I tried to get more from them.

Ruzanna did not understand what creative work was, she did not believe that there were people whose brains contain something beautiful, precious like treasure, hidden in them. “Whatever you say, I cannot believe that you will capture this beauty if you pursue it all the time, sitting in front of a sheet of paper.” Everything similar she would also regard as creative work: “it all looks like lies, it depends on who is better at telling lies.” I did not care, I loved her as she was.

On the day following my admission to the university she made me quit my work.

Sometimes her hands would be covered with machine oil – she sometimes repaired a machine for sewing notebooks. In the most frantic days she would sometimes not go to work, giving priority to her female dignity, instead doing the laundry and washing ten-twenty items of underclothes. As a sign of her internal and external purity she would change her panties every day.

While I studied at the institute she would take 100-150 thin notebooks from the plant and in a couple of hours sell them in nearby schools to sustain us.

She had no idea what kind of job graduates of a philological faculty could get, and once bought for me a hat with a wide brim, saying to our landlady: “he will put this on when he’s an MP”.

After that all the residents of our district – from the salesman at the lemonade kiosk to the postman – called me ”MP”.

A street. Vehicles decorated for a wedding. On a sidewalk, under a deep yellow sun, fish salesmen stand, fish with whitish-blue backs jumping in their bags. A Police station. No progress. The investigator is even irritated by my visit. He has another missing persons case to deal with, he has not even had time to have a proper meal.

The editor's office. It is late. Everyone has left. I take the keys, hidden in an anti-fire board, and open the door of the editor’s office. From his office phone I call the person on duty at the police station, tell him the name of the newspaper and ask to be put through to the Minister.

He listens. He promises to check the progress of the investigation.

It was a bright night, full of moonlight.

The driver has brought the tire to a lighted spot, at every strike of the hammer his muscles move under his shirt.

I think about the eyes of Nvard, filled with terror, imagine how a girl of her age would plead with someone to leave her alive… I sit down. I sit, and with my elbows on the table, observe passersby and drink beer. Again I think about the girl with a golden scarf on her forehead, shining like a crown. I am freezing, it is cold. In the window of a shop my reflection stands up and slowly moves forward. I tell myself: “calm down”. I repeat several times: “calm down”.

I press the button of the bell, I am all ears – expecting Nvard to come back, all other noises fail me. I tell myself: “calm down”. Ruzanna opens the door, I want to talk to her, it does not work. I tell her: “At this time people are coming back from the concert…”

During the past months I had been with Ruzanna less and less frequently. Our irregular sex life had made her rough and nervous. And now she tossed on the table the letters which had accumulated for two weeks. She left the room without saying a word, slamming the door with such force that the window glass began to rattle.

Maybe she knew something about Maro… before leaving for the business trip I had felt disgust in her look. Nvard had not gone to class yet, so had looked in to say goodbye. Ruzanna had deliberately addressed me in her presence: “It’s OK, if you don’t come back at all, nothing will happen. You had better send money to the kids.” She kept silent, then added: “if you come back from the business trip, I will leave the next day.” I was hurt not because of the threat, but her readiness to leave. I had locked up my feelings and failed to say: “where will you go, are you nuts?”

…The letters thrown on the table were from the bank, so I did not even start reading them. I entered Emma’s room. She was lying face down on her bed, her shoulders shuddering. I thought she knew nothing about our relationship. I sat down, stroked her, felt her sweaty nape under my palm. Emma said: “It is as if some stranger has obsessed you, has come after you. My God, I wish Ruzanna could understand you.” She was shuddering all over in my hands.

The mention aloud of a stranger was unexpected for me, although I had started to notice it myself. Lately I had found the strength to resist it, but constantly thought: is death waiting for me also?

We communicated for several hours, I could not stop thinking about Nvard, but we avoided mentioning her and talked about other things. It was not talking really; we were together in the simplest way. Just occasionally we would exchange a few words.

On Tuesday I called the rector of the university and agreed with him that I would deliver lectures for second-grade students about my large unfinished paper. On the following day I went over to my friend from military times to borrow money, decided to return home before evening but eventually stayed overnight. During the war, in the intervals between battles, we would inject each other with sedatives, to get ourselves into the mood for talking about various issues. I could have told him that recently, when crossing the street, I had noticed a girl with a golden scarf around her forehead pressed to the window of a tall building looking down at me with an indifferent look. But I did not. I did not even lie down, I paced between the walls all night, regretting that I had not shaved, as I wanted to be dressed appropriately, wearing a tie.

On the way back I went to pay the bank interest. Once again I managed to retain both apartments.

I was proceeding up a hill all the time. Standing on the sidewalk a dog's owner, holding in his left hand a leather leash, was beating the dog in the face, and the waist, instructing him how to obey his orders. “Pee against the tree, pee against the tree…” The dog did not walk, it did not understand anything, but would rub its head against its paws, puff through its moist nose and whine, shuddering all over.

Then I found girls at the end of the street. I stood under the maple for a long time with one of them before her client came. She answered all my questions without any false modesty. She advised me: “If you want any information, go to the edge of the city.” Then a car came and they took her away. The rear lights reflected off the wet asphalt in front of the next set of traffic lights.

After this conversation I would always dream of the same outskirts, merged in red.

I had already delivered five or six lectures, but still every day I was losing more of the ground from underneath me. I was unable to be a support for both of my families.

Maro also lived in poverty. A radio journalist’s salary was not sufficient even for food. After analyzing the situation I realized: we will lose her apartment too. As time passed my hope that I would finish the book I had been working on for four or five years and receive a large amount for it became less realistic. Everything was now a struggle for existence, in which life and death were at stake.

Mutual responsibility was driving me, triggering more and more insane acts. With time the secret steps we would take for mutual protection became more and more extreme, unnerving, and we would hurt each other over very unimportant things. At times, using as an excuse a high profile interview, she would run away from the house, and if she entered the bathroom when she returned the smell of wine would come from the toilet bowl.

I had exhausted the limit of potential borrowing from my friends. Many of them had started to look into my eyes with the clear understanding that I was not immortal.

Well-off people could not refuse me directly, and would ask me to come to their offices at different ends of the city. Knowing my vulnerability, they would deliberately be away at the fixed time, or complain that they had to repay loans themselves, knowing that I would never go back to them again.

I, like a night moth, wanted to flutter around some source of light, and would go back to the huge sheet of paper on my desk at a late hour and try to write at least a line or a paragraph about things which are imperceptible, transparent and uncover the very depths of mysterious phenomena. I thought about winds beyond our hearing which whisper only at night.

For a whole week I went round music and photo studios, offering Japanese equipment for half price. But one morning bank officers with court bailiffs sealed the door of the basement and imposed a ban on entry.

On the fifth day Maro scratched herself so hard she bled. On her belly, chest and legs – everywhere her hands could touch her body, bloody marks remained.

I called our newspaper, the section which periodically writes about the social conditions of the elderly, to ask a doctor for advice. He read a note in Latin in a special encyclopedia and translated: “if a person scratches themselves fiercely, tears the skin to blood, and if the urge to scratch persists, this looks very much like a disease of the nerve-endings,” and added, “it would be good to go to a psychiatrist, I think this is who you need.”

Covered with scratches, the healthy apricot-colored skin of Maro shed light. Her well-built curvy body was strong, like that of a young girl. But whatever she touched, be it a desk, a chair or a door, on her legs, buttocks, hands, round and suspiciously large bruises would remain. In the past I used to torture her with jealousy alone, now this.

Now, looking at her scratched skin, I remembered that she was just a few years older than Nvard, and my heart was filled with tenderness and caresses.

I went to get a doctor. We agreed to meet at a picture gallery at the opening of an exhibition by an artist who was a common acquaintance. When we came back Maro had already left.

At home there was a place we would leave notes for each other. I took a cassette Maro had recorded. I walked in the dark and put out my hands, hoping to grip something which would keep me from falling down. I walked about, smoking one cigarette after another, trying to overcome my fear, and much time passed before I convinced myself that I could listen to her.

“When I started to record my thoughts I wanted so much to find in myself hatred towards myself – I tried and could not find it. Quite the opposite, I love you. With your help I have found the secret of getting to the essence of things. Identifying those, I distinguished myself from the rest of the world, gradually turning down everything that was not me. A person can live their entire life on this earth without finding that in addition to their physical existence there is another, blazing away far in space independently from our consciousness. I am thankful to you for the lights glowing at night.

“As soon as you discover I am not here you will feel like a passenger at an airport who has lost his ticket, bag with clothes in it and money – a lost traveler… planes are taking off, landing, people are walking around. You are standing in the waiting hall, not knowing what to do.

“Please, do not be disappointed in me because of my weakness. I tell you, I love you, I say it again, you will be important forever.

“Men of your age are disgusting, they use young girls, sucking spiritual strength out of them day after day. But you are not selfish. You, like a child, are going forward to get what belongs only to you. I am sorry. Believe and forgive me. I do not have the strength any longer to wait for the next takeoff. My feet do not obey me. Sorry that in the most tumultuous hour I left you at the airport and ran away. God, what shame! I have always tried to relieve your suffering on your way to finishing the large, remarkable work – it will be an amazing surprise for so many people. I wanted to become a bridge so you would be able to reach the other side, but I have failed. Reaching those shores is beyond human might – I am tired, my knees are getting weaker… I have run away from the airport, and I am losing you forever.

“The cat is staying. I tried, but she did not want to come with me…”

In reality there was no cassette, Maro had simply left, leaving behind a pulsating silence. She did not even try to contact me, and such an insurmountable space opened up that my existence beyond its bounds had no sense. If I had wanted to I could have committed a suicide, but even this would have happened without her involvement.

I hoped she would change her mind, waited for four days for her to return, walked to and fro in an empty room. I invented the cassette with the recording, invented all the words of her sincere, almost heroic confession. I fancied there was a place at home that only the two of us knew about, where we would always leave for each other a letter or a note, and now it was as if I had found a cassette there.

I did not know what to do with the cat.

I was almost convinced that Maro would be at her brother’s house. I made constant calls, but on the other end of the line they would threaten me and hang up.

Maro’s disappearance and the end of the torment brought temporary relief, but at the same time hit me in the most painful spot. I was close to going insane from the thought that she would no longer be in my life.

I stayed there for a day because there was still her smell in the house. I stayed for another day because of the cat, as it refused to come away with me, too.

One could hear a loudspeaker blaring at a rally somewhere in the town. On my way home at a late hour I went into the editor's office. I took the keys from the anti-fire board and opened the door. From his office I called the person on duty at the police station, told them the name of the newspaper and asked him to put me through to the Minister.

He listened. He promised to check the progress of the investigation.

I spent some time before dawn looking out of the window. There were people with rolled up banners on wooden poles under their arms. Zakhar Margaryan appeared, saw there was a light in the editor’s office and dropped in to talk about politics. “If you have time I can tell you things about our leadership that will make your hair stand on end.” I refused, saying I was busy, that I had to finish an urgent article. He said: “I have to fill my time till the dawn, I am not in a hurry, I will sit at the reception, I will wait for you to finish.” I explained: “Then the working day will start, I will have an important conversation with the editor.” He said: “It is a pity. But if you like I can wait until eleven or twelve, maybe you will be free earlier.” Rumor had it that this man was a Jew, and had been an artist or photographer, but his wife had left him to run away with some Israeli. He said: “I can bring you proof of how our leaders have sex in saunas.” I immediately refused, and without hesitation switched off the light. He, unwillingly, had to leave with me.

At home Ruzanna had gathered suitcases, and waited for me, despite the late hour – to look into my eyes and declare, checking the effect of the said words, that she no longer loved me. I had always asked her to give up her habit of always having the last word, but she never did. Then she went to stay overnight with a friend of hers, with whom she worked as a carer at a kindergarten. At dawn she would take a train to the country to stay with her parents.

We spent our last night in our apartment together with Emma. She had already been admitted to the university, and in the morning had to go to classes. It was late, and we had another cup of coffee. While I poured brandy she stared at my hands and said: “Daddy, I hope you do not break, get rid of that strange thing which has struck you. Everybody says that our hostel is quite good. I will sustain it, I will wait for you for as long as you say, if you want me to wait. I know that you possess a certain superhuman capacity. It will help you finish your large work, this book will become the best of all the amazing works known to me. You will win back your Maro’s house, our house, and as long as you are there, do not let death come close to you…”

In the morning, after Emma left, they came to take away my keys. I felt absolute calm, and from morning till night I watched peaceful dusk deepening. Late at night I again went to the editor’s office, took the editor’s key, hidden on the anti-fire board, called the person on duty at the police station from the office phone, told him the name of the newspaper and asked to be put through to the Minister.

He listened, and promised that he would check the progress of the investigation.

When at dawn I walked out into the street some heavy airplane flew over, and the rattle of the sky echoed in my ears.



1 Apsaa (Abkh.) – bird

2 Akushara – funeral rite of walking around the dead

3 Shikeste – Eastern melody

4 Kelmė shahadat – Muslims prayer before death

5 Mesmis (in Georgian) - “It’s clear, it’s clear...”

6 Kiril’s ancient Greek pseudonym

7 “Moumate” –“Hurry up”, “put on speed” (Georg.) – Drivers were shouting to him with these words when he began jogging inimitably after passing cars.

8 Adili – (Ossetian) Simple Simon, half wit

9 Colossians 2:8

10 Azhveipsh (Abkhazian.) – the deity of hunting.

11 Akuaskya (Abkhazian) – a big wooden house on poles.

12 Amatsurta (Abkhazian) – a separate kitchen.

13 A sort of grapes

14 Yalli – a collective dance, in which dancers are performing in a row and do what the leader makes

15 Hylas – sweet cherry (azer.)

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