At the crossroads stories from selected writers of the south caucasus



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Fog

Tight fog is drifting and floating, in which the town wounded by war is hidden. Dogs, which have suddenly changed into stray dogs and rush about the town all day and night, keep quiet. It is not light yet.

…His heel…apparently it was the pain in it which had made him get up so early. The deeper wounds have just skinned over, but still his heel hurts.

“…probably the point where the waters of the Styx have not touched it, or it was gripped in a vice of Ainarzhi (tongs to grip iron or steel, named after a classical Abkhazian myth) and remained untempered …” – he smiles sadly.

The fog is even tighter than usual here. It conceals the running puddles in the concrete indented by the tracks of the tanks which had once run along the seafront. Everything is filled and soothed by the fog. Only the remote sound of the waves is to be heard. It is spring already, but dank and cold as in winter. The fog is not what people usually call fog – something to grow the grass - but wet and cold like the touch of snakeskin. He turns round automatically and looks towards the town: there are dull yellow lights shining from somewhere, but beyond them it is dark and silent.

Pain, and some sort of foreboding, had made him get up so early from his bed. It had appeared to him that things were gathering around him from everywhere. The ‘something’ these had created had got into his house, made him get up and given rise to his mental turmoil. Since as far back as the eve of the war, he had had a presentiment of war, a smell of burning, and he still felt this.

Who knows when the seed of this war had been sown? Time passes, but not everything passes with it, not everything that should do retreats into the past. The sown seed which has no time to ripen and become part of the past does ripen one day, and rises through the earth, breaking through both past and present. Something is following me all the time, thinks the man prey to doubt … he feels that not everything which seems to be the in past has passed, something is left which follows him, close at his heels. This is why his back sinks all the time, or his heel aches, especially when it hurts. Nevertheless he keeps going, because he is afraid of turning round, as if he has been condemned to a life continually carrying a pitcher of ritual water – as if he is the adzhiamgsh – water-don’t-turn-round.

Before the war, he had taken morning walks and warmed up along the seashore. He is trying to maintain this good (in his opinion) habit after the war, notwithstanding the old wounds, especially in his heel. But today he has come out too early, as if, one might say, something has thrown him out. Therefore, how can he go back home?

He noticed long ago that such presentiments are accompanied by some invisible but tangible force. Though this force always reached him in the form of a light whiff, he could always feel with a sinking heart that it issued from some inconceivable depths. Sometimes it gradually pulled him into itself, seized him and filled him with some quiet frenzy, some quiet madness – as he called it in his mind. However, this happened in a moment and the force would not allow him to take pleasure or profit from it. Mostly it swept past without touching him, but it still kept him within itself, he could feel it.

Today this force is not hugging him; it is staying by his side, letting him know it is here. Stepping carefully, so as not to get his feet wet in the pools hidden in the fog, he arrives at the kerb separating the sea from the beach. Accompanied by the waves, the noise of which is muffled by fog, certain strange sounds are heard. Reaching him, they start to move away and disappear, then recur after a pause. What could be uttering these sounds? If it is a creature which inhabits this earth out there in the water, he should be able to recognize it.

When he feels he can bear no more he sometimes turns his face to the sky – but the unknown force which keeps him within itself also comes from above. He considers heaven to be the birthplace of his unknown fate.

His heel will not let him stand in the same place for a long time. Now it has started to ache harder. He walks and the pain eases. All his other wounds had been perforating ones, and he also received this wound in his heel from shell splinters, which had entered deeply into his flesh without touching the bone. Sometimes he still has the same pain he felt when the ‘fresh’ splinters were pulled out of the open wound. Over time, willy-nilly, he has learned well to recognize the signs of this pain. He probably knows it better than he knows anything else. Indeed, when you start examining yourself, you realize that you do not know anything properly, especially yourself. He believes now that even this unknown force – the source of his disturbing presentiments, which pulls him into itself for an instant or keeps him there forever, like a bull tied to a bullock cart - knows more about him than he does. Not without reason does this force always catch up with him when he is face to face with life for a long time, fumbling about in the emptiness, blindly. He keeps doddering. Strange sounds, grating on the ears, chase him persistently, augmented little by little and repeating monotonously.

Acute pains can either be relieved or quickly bring you to your grave. A nagging pain, like this, usually lasts a long time and stays forever. It is inconvenient even to talk about it, especially now, when one in every two men hides under his clothing deep scars. At some time probably these scabs and pains had no name, but when the pain becomes unbearable a man indicates the place of the pain and names it. He feels better then, as he has transferred a portion of the pain to this name. Moreover, by giving the pain a name he has shared it with somebody, although maybe with space.

Maybe pain created man, rather than labor?..

He keeps walking in the fog, groping carefully in order not to stumble, and hobbles. He arrives at the place called Woodland Park. Here under the trees are dense tangles of shrubs and a layer of dead leaves.

Suddenly something makes him stop again – the sounds have become clearer. They do not belong to birds, and have nothing in common with heaven. They seem like a howl, but not the howl of a dog or wolf. Perhaps this is another force, similar to the one which approaches him, but this time from the underworld.

It gives him the creeps. The pain grows stronger in his heel. The fog covers the land with a thick, wavy shroud. Perhaps it is better to go back down to the glade in a grove near the seashore, in which he usually does his morning exercises, and wait till dawn? He looks towards that place and gives a start: the bushes are strewn with small lights, which burn the fog with their prickly heads. They are twinkling, pulsing, and alive. It seems to be the hot breath of those strange sounds.

He looks around, behind him, in front; everything is covered with a thick layer of these small fires, innumerable points, burning the fog.

…He had got into such trouble several times, without any chance of survival, but had never wavered. However, what he sees here now is beyond his strength, and he can do nothing. Things happen all the time, but this is different. Now a man gets tired early, and his soul asks for peace. He tries not to notice many things, to pass over them, not be upset … until he falls over something again … all the scars of life are stuck with nits, lies, betrayals, petty intrigues … yes, good is not permanent in this world, but maybe evil is?...

Usually, wolves' eyes twinkle like this in the night. He is not even surprised that there are so many twinkling lights. It is as if it should not be otherwise. Evidently, these are wolves - but why are there so many? Where could they have come from? Perhaps it is better to climb a tree, he thinks. This idea has probably been dictated to him by that invisible force which follows him everywhere. Today it has not pulled him into itself, but it is still keeping him by its side.

He has made a decision and is now walking towards the glade. As soon as he enters it, the lights on the bushes shimmer wildly. Those strange sounds resembling howls strengthen noticeably and become hotter. This nearly knocks him down. He remains on his feet; however, he feels an unbearable pain in his heel. He is about to scream, but bites his lip, the blood alleviating his pain – and his own blood seems to him to be salty. Bated breath and howls are accompanied by a musty smell, which bears a strong resemblance to the smell of burning armor paint on a tank smeared with human blood. He feels sick.

The smells grow thicker and suffocating, as do the howl-like sounds. He comes to one of the trees and without hesitation jumps up it, gripping its branches, and nearly falls, but makes an effort and remains on his feet. Something crunches in his right shoulder. This was wounded too, but he has not felt any pain in it for a long time.

As soon as he jumps up, the strange sounds change into muffled roars. The smell becomes even more unbearable. He seems to hear the chattering of teeth, and tucks his legs under him, jerking forward and climbing along the bough. Evidently, these creatures have jumped up beside him, and he hears them scratching the bark of the tree. He begins to clamber up quickly. In the middle of the tree he stops and looks down, hoping to see at least the contours of these stinkers. He cannot see anything except swirling fog, and begins to climb higher. At last he finds a part of the tree with more branches in it and sits there comfortably and firmly. He takes a little breath, looks around again from this height and sees more small lights, or bits of burning charcoal, strewn everywhere, likewise burning the fog with their prickly heads. He must be the only person who can see and hear all this. There is depressive silence. The force seems to be allowing him to see and hear all these things today, but why? In order to keep him in awe of it, or warn him?

He can see better, from here, the dawn descending on the seashore as it percolates through the fog. From above, the town with its tall and dark buildings looks like a mirage, with those yellow lights dotted here and there. These lights are not twinkling and pulsing like the burning charcoals strewn over the seashore. These rare lights might be from candles, as the town is blacked out frequently.

There, in the town, many people have apparently had the same foreboding that something is gathering, approaching. If only there were no betrayal … anything else can be endured, somehow.

Nevertheless, he still has a glimmer of hope that all cannot be over, and some event will leave the sky empty. There should be something wiser to guide this boundless world, life, the people interspersed in it, he thinks. Total annihilation evidently holds no joy for anybody, neither this force, nor God the Father, nor the devil, nor the Lamb of God.

The fog above the sea is lifting. One cannot see the sea swell, but can hear it. Day is dawning, and this is assuaging him a little. There is still a thick fog beneath him, and innumerable burning charcoals twinkling and pulsing.

… If these are wolves, they must be big. Howling is again heard, though sluggishly. The stinking wind mixed with the smell of burning blood does not lessen. He feels sick.

…Maybe they are doing it so that he loses consciousness and falls down from the tree?.. Soon the caustic smell of urine mingles with those smells. Most probably, the wolves are marking their territory with urine. They have probably surrounded the entire town, and maybe not only the town…

The fog in the grove remains almost unchanged, and though the burning charcoals on the bushes have turned yellow they are still twinkling and pulsing vividly. Soon he notices a figure at the clearly visible seashore, which the force, which has kept him beside it and made his breath heavier, had totally concealed until now. Sometimes it loosens its ties with life and seems to leave him alone for some time.

In that figure, he recognizes an old man, who he remembers used to come here to swim at an earlier hour than he did all year long. He had regarded swimming as a religious rite; he had slowly gone down to the sea, slowly taken off his clothing, and again slowly, in an almost stately manner, entered the water, and having dipped into it two or three times come out in the same stately manner. Everyone who had come here early in the morning to stretch their legs, run or swim had known him. He was known to be a veteran of the ‘Great Patriotic War', a labor veteran, now a veteran of winter swimming, drinking coffee on the seashore and playing dominoes under the eucalyptus. He had not liked the old man very much, as he was always trying to cash in on his position, his longevity, but now he begins to worry. The old man has his route along the seashore too, and will inevitably follow it, as he does every morning. What if he passes the boundaries marked by these creatures with eyes of burning charcoal? They have already turned fairly yellow all over Woodland Park, though they are still twinkling and pulsing wildly.

As soon as he begins to think about this, the smell of urea becomes intolerable, the howling resumes. His heel begins to ache more strongly.

…What if I call him and stop him?.. It may be even more dangerous …

The old man is coming closer, sometimes casting himself into the fog which has not cleared yet, sometimes emerging from it. When he comes abreast of the glade, he turns his face towards it and keeps his eyes on it until he passes. Then he continues at a slow pace, and taking about ten steps, turns round again. He had once taken this route to the glade in order to see the people who would gather every morning here. It was a favorite place of famous people, city functionaries. That is why he had appeared every day at the glade, walking back and forth. This time however he is returning, without even turning his face towards the glade, because there is no one there as of yet.

While making this voyage from year to year, many things had changed some people had passed away, others had started to come. The glade was now visited by new faces, the majority of which had never visited it before the war. However, the old man is sure that everyone knows him, and admires him for his carriage and strength, the veteran of the ‘Great Patriotic War', the labor veteran, the veteran of winter swimming, drinking coffee on the seashore, playing dominoes under the eucalyptus and, ultimately, a long-lived person. He is also sure that every time he passes the glade everybody is talking about him admiringly, about him being so well preserved, and how he has preserved his wit, temper and soul. He thinks about himself with a certain pride too, feeling that humans like him, overpowering the ravages of age, or patriots like him, could only be born on this seashore, on this land, among this people. In addition, he is sure that everyone who comes to this glade in the morning thinks so too. This is why he does not hesitate to show his face and pay his respects to them, just as an army during a parade passes the mausoleums of great leaders. He holds such a parade every morning. Other parades pass and do not return, while he comes back each day, perfectly dressed each time. He was taught well in the army.

Today, for once, the veteran does not get to the end of the shore; he returns halfway. Probably he sees the territory marked out there by those wolves, and does not want to violate that space.

Therefore, the veteran is warned too, he already knows what is unknown to the man in the tree. Only this man is left without any idea of what is going on on this beach this misty morning. Probably only he can hear this howling which seems to come from from under the earth, only he can feel the stinking breath, only he can see the lights strewn along the beach.

He climbs down the tree; he does not even know where to go and where not to. He is in the condition of a man around whom everything is mined. The pale, sad sky has cleared a little. It is so apathetic, as if there is no earth beneath it, as if it is under the spell of the supreme powers, who are even higher. This invisible force must have many things to take care of on earth, and so the sky has become paralyzed. Today this force seems to be especially busy, and has no time for him; however, it relentlessly reminds him of itself, not allowing him to sit calmly on these branches, and keeps him tense.

The seashore has cleared already. He notices two more figures, walking near each other. In front is the standard bearer, well-known in the town, the man who carries the banner better than others, in a stately manner, during the official holidays.

This man would serve many groups. Usually he would appear in front of a column at the parades. He would stand several steps forward at the head of his column, a banner soaring up in front of him, measuring out his pace. The standard-bearer was a stalwart with long legs and neck but a short trunk, and at all times the disproportion of his body was striking. However, when he was holding a flag, his already long neck stretched out, throwing back his heavy, horse-like head. He looked different, and the flag looked like a bird, striving to reach the sky. When he raised his right leg, straightened like a string, and lowered it onto the concrete of the square, the statue of Lenin echoed back the clop of his pace. The tribune holding the higher and medium level dignitaries was directly under this statue. They stood erect on the tribune too, when he passed, and their looseness disappeared in a split second. A good half of the people who used to stand on that tribune had also been among the visitors to this glade, incidentally.

Having seen off one column, the standard-bearer would come back without being noticed and take his place at the head of another column. In this way he would manage to accompany several of the columns which paraded past the tribune. Then, suddenly, he disappeared. At that time there were many public holidays at which processions were held, but suddenly he did not appear. Every time people hoped he would come, but in vain. Indeed, all these feasts seemed to be of no interest to him.

Later it became known that he had been paralyzed. He had felt bad after accompanying two or three columns on a hot Mayday celebration. He had hardly reached his house before he fell down. People had come to the conclusion that he had a vitamin deficiency, and measuring out his pace with a flag in his hands on mostly hot days had dissipated his energy. He would not have permitted himself to save his energy on such important events. A year later he reappeared, not at a festal parade but on the seashore, early in the morning. The standard-bearer had changed a lot: bony shoulders, immovable left hand resting on his navel. His legs would not obey him, and his face was elongated. Nevertheless, he marched to the end of seashore – moving his right hand up and down, as if holding a standard. When he had come abreast of the above-mentioned glade, he had never forgotten to acknowledge it, and had kept his face twisted towards it until he had passed it.

Now his skewed figure is swaying on his feet, but still “carrying his standard”. A young-looking, stout man in a new, nice tracksuit is behind him. He clearly wants to walk quickly, and is moving his hands like oars, but cannot raise his speed. The former standard-bearer will not allow anyone to catch him up. Though the glade is still empty, the standard-bearer turns his face to it as ever and stays in this position until he is past it. However, having passed the empty glade by about ten steps, he stops. He stands for a while, as if hesitating, then goes back.

All of these people know what is unknown to the man in the tree. Suddenly they have changed their routes. The wolves do not cross the border marked out by the other wolves either, - it’s a law for them, and seemingly for these people too…

The young-looking man in new, exquisite sportswear, coming up to the glade, turns to it directly. Suddenly the smell of urea appears again and the man in the tree sneezes, unable to refrain. The young looking man stops, listens, but doesn’t turn his face in his direction. He hugs the tree trunk he is near more strongly and then freezes. He enters the glade, walks around and stops again. The thin forest remains in the bushes, there are still charcoals burning, though already pale, weakly twinkling, and the howling is still heard. The young-looking man can’t see anything, can’t hear anything.

The sun rises. From his vantage point the man in the tree sees many people gathered at the glade, and their voices and laughter are heard. Before he has time to look around, the point underneath him is also full of people. Two or three men are doing exercises, without enthusiasm: the rest are divided up into small groups, and talking, again without great enthusiasm. From over there more and more voices and laughter are heard, but here nothing that is said can be heard. It is clear from how loudly, freely they talk and laugh that the almighty power is not confining these people in any power field, not keeping them near it. Nevertheless, it still will not let him go, and keeps him near all the time. There are not only people on the field nearby but also lap-dogs, hounds, which these people have brought here, which they keep within their field of vision all the time. Perhaps because he is looking at them from above, their faces seem frozen.

One man is the center of attention, and other people are joining his group. His face is the most frozen of all. It seems that everything which is supposed to appear on his face, joy, laughter, anger, disgust, has been turned off. Other people also have frozen faces. They somehow resemble the masks used in classical theater.

Obviously, that almighty power is present there after all. Perhaps these faces are included in its brief, and it has disposed of them. The face tells you about a whole person. Now everyone cannot be told everything in everybody else’s presence.

None of the dogs utter a sound, bark or whine. They run around, walking through the bushes, playing, bringing each other down, slavering, rolling on the grass. Obviously they meet each other often, so they have got used to each other, like their owners. The dogs are of different breeds, but they don’t care. The main thing is that they are all dogs. One setter keeps himself slightly apart, shivering, sniffing everything then suddenly breaking away, running to the edge of the meadow and then returning at once. However much under cover this howl is, this howl coming from under the earth, surely these dogs also feel it, as well as the smell of urea filling the area, and they must be noticing the charcoals scattered in the bushes. Or is this a norm for them, or do they breathe other air to us?..

By now, almost everybody has approached the more numerous group, at the center of which the man with the most frozen face stands. However, near the edge of the meadow several people are still standing apart. It seems their faces will just throw off their masks and “begin speaking”. For some reason the man in the tree feels fear at this thought and his heart begins to sink. He immediately points his eyes towards the overcrowded group and, seeing that their faces remain still, calms down.

Somewhere between the two groups two girls stand with wide hips, which feel tight in the jeans they have pulled over them. Obviously they are talking about their affairs, one of them bowing her head to the right and the other responding by nodding her head. One of them holds a fox terrier on quite a long lead, and the sharp-nosed head of an ever-shivering chihuahua is seen poking from the bosom of the other. Its owner, bowing her head, kisses it every now and then, obviously on the nose.

Still sitting in the branches uncomfortably, the man looks in the direction of the city again, anxiously. The grey outlines of skyscrapers with a multitude of windows, with their lights turned off, are seen in the distance. But here and there smoke rises above private houses from their chimneys. This is smooth and straight, and rises quite high without dispersing.

He feels a little better and it seems to him that he can feel the smell of smoke. All the people assembling below are in the prime of life. Two or three of them appear younger, although it is impossible to tell for sure from here. However, this can be understood based on how respectfully they treat the older people, considering they have earned it. From the assembly point over there, only a permanent rumble is heard.

The fog finally disperses. Only a very light haze moves under the trees. There are no charcoals any more. The people in the glade are not going to disperse yet. The most important person, around whom most of the visitors have gathered, suddenly begins to make more frequent and broader gestures, stretching out his neck as if he is going to headbutt somebody. The circle not only does not loosen in response to this, but on the contrary, it comes in even closer as if everybody wants to be headbutted, so strongly that dents will be left on them in the most visible places, which they will wear long and proudly. At last, the important person straightens his neck, straightens himself, takes a big, colored handkerchief from his pocket and begins to industriously wipe his eyes and eye-sockets.

The smaller group, standing apart, is also centered around one man. He is younger, neither tall nor short, neither thin nor fat, and all his motions resemble dance steps. He seems to go round and then suddenly stop, as if rooted to the ground. Ready – at ease, ready – at ease – he has pinned himself and the others to that rhythm of movement. From above they seem to be patting down the ground beneath them. Finally, he actually steps across in this choreographed way and approaches the main group. The others follow him. All of them look fine; they are dressed in expensive sportswear, a luxury in this area after the war.

…There are people for whom the whole of life is a burden beyond their strength, while others march through life carrying their heads, having placed them between their broad shoulders, like children on their fathers' necks at a celebration…

Having merged into one group, the dog owners become so busy with themselves that they forget about their dogs. Each of the dogs approaches people every now and then and, having made sure their owner is still there, begins to play again. They run so much, somersault, play tricks, pounce on each other, but do not cross the boundary of the meadow even once. They observe that boundary so carefully.

One doberman pinscher, not very active in the games, frequently freezes in its place. Suddenly he begins growling, barking, and running quickly towards the bushes under the man's tree. Everyone looks in his direction. Everyone’s mask wears a similar expression, like those of ancient actors playing the parts of people suffering God’s anger for their sins.

“Back!” one of people assembled around the most important person shouts to the doberman, freeing his voice, which has become attuned to the established common rhythm, with visible difficulty. Evidently, this is its owner. The dog checks itself and moves backwards, dropping its bellicosely raised muzzle, with its short, obtuse tail between its legs. The dog’s behavior and the fact that it has crossed the line, permitted to do so, evidently, by the almighty power, affects everything and an anxious shadow covers their “masks”.

… The mood has been spoiled; perhaps now they will clear off at last…

As one dog has been shouted at, the rest calm down at once, stop playing and sniffing each other, and little by little go back to their owners and press against them. Only the setter continues to shiver, walk around and sniff the earth.

It brightens up. The seashore finally appears, under a cool, grayish sky. Due to sitting on uncomfortable branches for a long time, the man's feet have become swollen. He doesn’t hear anything anymore – neither howl nor growl, but for some reason the smells have become stronger. Perhaps they are rising from the ground in order to disperse in the air. He begins to simply suffocate from them, and, unable to refrain, sneezes with all his might. One of the branches he is sitting on cracks. He seizes another branch but it cracks too. “A-a-aa!” he shouts, barely managing to embrace the trunk of the tree and stop himself falling.

Below everything begins to whirl, dogs begin to scream, bark and growl, cross the boundaries of the meadow and line up around the tree trunk he is sitting on, shooting furious barks up at him, which resound all round the seacoast. For some reason that invisible power holding everything in its iron hands, does not prevent them, but lets them do it.

As soon as he sneezed, the most important person, around whom everybody had assembled, looked in the direction of the tree on the quiet and found himself on the coast in an eyewink. The rest have quickly caught up with him and, surrounding him and filling the coast, resolutely and quickly march forward. The whole pack of dogs, screaming, grumbling, rushes after them, looking for their owners on their way. A St. Bernard and a rottweiler have hesitated on the meadow, not understanding where or after whom to run. Both of these, in accordance with their breeding, are essentially sheepdogs, and their obligation is to look after flocks of sheep, preventing the sheep from dispersing, driving them on together. Now they live in cramped city buildings this shepherding instinct, which is in their blood, sometimes awakens in them, but they do not know how to apply it in this situation. Now such a fuss has begun it has awakened but, mixing up everything, they begin to bark at each other. These hereditary beefeaters have accumulated such a lot of power that they do not know where to spend it in the “shepherd” positions they have nowadays, in cramped flats. Thank God, they like to sleep. Obtaining some chance to have a walk, they try to expend their power. But they aren’t given freedom here either; this flock – people – has its own rules, fitting only itself.

Eastern shepherds, by their origin, belong to the same profession. However, they have proved able to ultimately reform themselves, adapt and engage themselves only with serving people. At last, having heard their owners’ sharp calls, the St. Bernard and rottweiler look at each other a last time and then run to catch up with the others. The man has to hurry up. He understands that he should climb down quickly and go away from there. But for some more time he embraces the tree trunk and waits for something to happen. The power which has enchanted everything between the sky and the earth, and has kept him by its side all this time for some reason, has grown weaker with the dawn and has let everybody relax. In such a way a baby’s hands, which he cannot manage to use properly yet, become loose. However, it still will not let him relax, either rewarding or mentoring or frightening him… now, when he needs to run away as quickly as possible, he can’t make up his mind, as if waiting for somebody’s permission.

… Throughout his life he has never left debts unpaid anywhere, never avoided his obligations… this power, having noticed him, either rewards or reproaches him… if only he could ask it to let him into itself, to take him through the invisible line beyond which it keeps him. Suddenly he hears the furious wail of a siren. They have managed to take measures, he thinks. Something pricks his heel, and this takes him out of numbness. Soon the sounds of the world around and the energetic sound of the sea begin to reach him more clearly. In an instant he is standing on the ground and heading for the coast, where there are already many people walking, those who habitually come in the morning for some exercise. They pass by with quick steps, while others are jog trotting, singly or in small groups. He tries slow jog trotting and heads onwards.

Several more times the wail of the siren is heard. He wants to get away from this place as quickly as possible, but doesn’t succeed – something won’t let him, and pulls him back all the time. He dreamed so often about leaving this dangerous place when he was in the tree, and eluding his pursuers, but now he cannot move from here. Now he remembers what is supposed to be done in such cases: he throws away some of his belongings – a tobacco pouch, charge cylinders, even some of his clothing. He begins to search his pockets and suddenly his fingers come upon something sharp. He quickly twitches his hand, as it he has burnt it. Obviously, when leaving, he had put on his worn soldier’s tunic, in the pocket of which he keeps, wrapped in a bandage, the biggest of the fragments taken out of his heel.

At this moment, near the meadow from which he is running away, the sharp creak of rusty brakes is heard and somebody flaps a car door. He takes what he is holding out of his pocket and drops it. At this point it really seems to him that he has been slightly released and he begins to move normally. But soon he understands that this isn’t the case. He isn’t being given the possibility of running with a light jog-trot, freely – everyone is running back and forth along the narrow sidewalk, barging into each other quite strongly. Nobody wants to jump through the puddles on the seashore. It is mostly young people running. There are some very young people there too, who have not smelled anything in their life yet. They target each other boldly with their eyes as they approach. If one does not give way, they can knock him down, jump over him and run on.

Some jockstrap approaches him, opening his eyes wide but not seeing anything. Suddenly he seems to him to be the enemy, approaching to defy him and knock him down forever. He lets him approach and sharply moves his shoulder, the one once wounded, away. The jockstrap, unable to control himself, hits a concrete column, jumps aside and barely remains on his feet. He is heard swearing; perhaps he wants to hit the man back, but there are such a lot of people running around there that he’d better not lose his place.

He overdid it; he should be more careful. If any incident occurs, the people who have just got out of the car, loudly flapping the doors, could come running. They are obviously looking for the man sitting in the tree, over the meadow where usually the city's, and even the Republic's, elite assemble. He could have escaped to the seashore, where there are puddles all around, he could have got out of this jam long ago, but this could also have seemed suspicious.

As he becomes so agitated, his anklebone aches painfully again. It blazes up so much that he begins to limp on that leg. He notices at once that as soon as he begins to limp, the people running directly towards him begin to make way, sometimes jumping down off the sidewalk. He begins to limp more strongly, leaning deeply to the right. People running in the opposite direction jump off the sidewalk more and more often. Somewhere in the background sirens begin to wail again, announcing a dispersal. Still they won’t readily go away. They have obviously left somebody there to continue watching the scene. It has to be remembered.

He limps more and more strongly, leaning more sharply to the right, and faster than he would do by simply walking, moves forward. Every now and again he puts his hands into his pockets and searches there; of course, they are now empty. As he runs and limps strongly, his heel aches more painfully.

“…probably the point where the waters of the Styx have not touched it, or it was gripped in a vice of Ainarzhi and remained untempered …”

2000

Translated from Abkhazian by Nadezhda Venediktova.

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