At the crossroads stories from selected writers of the south caucasus

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Elchin Gusejnbejly

Elchin Gusejnbejly was born in 1961. He is the author of many prose works and plays. His works have been translated into various languages and he has won a number of literary and state prizes for his work.

Elchin Gusejnbejly is Editor in Chief of the journal “Ulduz” (“Star”) published by the Azerbaijan Writers' Union. He lives in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The Captives

The sun, earth and air were of their common and usual color. An intense swelter hung motionless in the air, which sometimes just shuddered from the easy coolness pouring from the trees.

Two men were walking that way, one young, the other elderly. The sun, it seemed, wanted to settle personal scores with them, as it was shining directly into their eyes. They weren’t speaking to each other, as they were trying to evade the scorching swelter. They both cursed the illuminary in their hearts. The young man thought that the sun was glowing simply because it was looking down at him, and covered his head with a sheet of a newspaper in which bread had been wrapped. A photo in this newspaper depicted a young soldier with a rose in hands. The life in this newspaper seemed so beautiful. It even made him remember the rose-colored bushes planted by his mother in the yard, and how he used to take a bunch of roses to school each year on 1st September. The growth and decay of those roses followed the progress of his schooldays, as though the roses had just been planted for the school's benefit. Later on they simply withered. Only now did the guy kind of understand the reason for this strange withering. Maybe the flowers had grown for as long as they were necessary for the school, and then withered when they had outlived their usefulness.

The photo on the page simply reminded him of his home, and his elderly father and mother. Even on this tough, hot day his mother was coming to his aid. The bread the newspaper had contained, which he had been eating since yesterday, had been wrapped up by his mother in order for it not to grow moldy. The memory remained of the dry, wrinkled hands of his mother, wrapping the bread with her sad, moist eyes, and of his father, smoking a cigarette, sitting on a stump in the yard with a gray, faded face ... He also remembered the ceaseless noise of the cicadas on a neighbor's fence, and the noisy fuss of the neighborhood children. Their ghostly voices began, every now and then, to resound in his mind. Then, especially keenly, he felt the desire to be around his relatives, to participate in their world...

Three days had passed since they had left the house. For two days they had been kept in an old barracks. On the third day they had been sent to their position, but not told of its exact location. The past few days now seemed to him like long, long years. Softly he sang the song of the shepherd, recalling the story about the shepherd who lived in a cave, who did not know what fate had in store for him ...

The elderly man did not want to lag behind the young impatient guy, whose blood was still seething in his veins, the love of life still boiling up in him. All this time the thoughts of the elderly man had been about the found and hidden tank. The tracks of the tank had been torn off. After receiving permission from the commander to be absent for five minutes, he had committed himself to fixing it. "You will hardly be into the forest before we catch up with you," he had assured the commander. He had taken the young guy with him to help. After reattaching and fixing the tracks, he had willingly ridden the tank, circled around on the spot and even cried with joy. Slamming on the young guys’ still weak shoulder, looking at the massive hull of the tank and its long muzzle, he had admiringly said, "This is more a mountain than a tank! Now we'll see who can stand in front of it!" Paying no attention to the surprise and questions of the younger soldier, he had driven the tank into a hollow. Then he had taken a knife, concealed from the commander, out of his pocket, cut down long branches from the trees, and with the help of the young guy covered the tank with them. Only after that had they set off to catch up with the rest of the squad.

But by now the squad had already passed all the way through the forest , so the young guy was left cursing the elder, the tank and both of them together. As for the older man, at the mere recollection of the wide hull and power of the tank his heart began to jump in his chest. He rejoiced, imagining how he would return to the village, plow the land, be ahead of the others, exceed the production plan by ten or fifteen times ... the stinging remarks of the young guy about over-fulfillment of the plan did not offend him at all, on the contrary, they made him even more excited, and he was sure that once they were back in the village, he would prove to the guy how right he was...

He had taken his shoes off and was carrying them in his hands. "I have never had a new tractor before," again they came to his mind, these words he had been repeating, perhaps every day, as he continually thought of his first tractor...

His neighbor had first put him at the steering wheel of a tractor, in order to teach him how to drive it and to send him to feed the cows when it was his turn. In his village there was only one person who could handle that tractor. Fortunately, that person was his neighbor. In fact, it was not even necessary to teach him, because he had already learned how to handle it himself. He had even given up school for the tractor, everything revolved around it. His family members had been delighted when he had first sat at the steering wheel. His father had been the most happy, because now there was someone to replace him as breadwinner for the family. If he died, there would be nothing to mourn about. His mother, however, scolded the neighbors and was terribly unhappy. She wanted to see her son become a doctor or a teacher, because she was tired of washing dirty, greasy clothes. She had wanted to see her son, with his hands in his pockets, whistling, walking to school, as something better than his surroundings. "As if the boy would become a scientist!" his father had said.

The same thing had happened to the younger son. He remembered the boy being beaten in vain because he also wanted to be a tractor driver. Now the older man's heart ached. "You can’t change whatever is predestined for someone, it will happen anyway, you can’t have more than is your fate," he thought to himself sighing ... and again his thoughts returned to the hidden tank: "With Allah’s will, everything will be fine, and then nobody will stand in my way. " He was filled with love of life, his feelings and sensations reawakened again, and he sang the classic song "Garabag Shikestesi3" to himself softly. However, his dry throat and lips soon forced him to stop singing.

The sounds of cicadas, coming from somewhere in the distance, were blending with the stillness of the air, the sun, the earth. Those sounds he regarded as his twin, because they were the first sounds he had ever heard. The cicadas reminded him of his mother's voice, he heard the sound in his dreams. Strangely, had he said anything about this in the village, he would have been laughed at ...

In the dust under their feet small insects were swarming. Looking back, the travelers could not believe that they had managed to cover such a long distance and that their country was so grand. It was curious that the older man had not thought about this recently. In his youth he had never missed these places. And he had never been here on a tractor. Now the man was contemplating. Unsown, overgrown fields could been seen on both sides of the road. The forest was already not so far away...

“Did you hide it well? I did not look at what you were doing on your side,” he asked the younger man.

After receiving an affirmative answer, and after walking some more, he turned to the younger man again. This time he stopped, looking him straight in the eyes:

“Did you lay the branches well?” Then he added, to himself: It would have been better if I had checked it one more time...

The younger man nodded and said:

“Nobody will find it, that wrecked thing.”

The older man glanced obliquely at him with warty eyes, and replied:

“You are unable to appreciate things like this. What makes you think that is a wrecked piece of metal?... But, if they see it, they see it...”

However, having walked a little further , he asked:

“Maybe we should go back and have a look at it one more time?”

“No, forget it,” said the younger man, “why should we ruin ourselves for a piece of metal. Our squad is probably already far ahead.”

When they reached the forest, they stopped.

“In the past I was a frequent visitor to this place,” said the old man. ”A large oak tree stood at the edge of the forest once. You would still have been a kid at the time ...” He looked at the younger one, wiped the sweat from his neck and said in an angry manner:

“What kind of forest is this! It is as if the forest is not a forest anymore...”

The forest was all glades, each a considerable distance from the other.

“And what should a forest be like?” asked the younger man, just to keep up the conversation.

“Let’s go back,” the elder said suddenly.

”Where to?”

“What do you mean, where to? As if you don’t know what I mean! I have a feeling that you piled up the branches in the wrong way.”.

“Go back alone,” said the young man. ”I can’t stay behind the rest of the squad. And I do not like the commander.”

“Do not worry, he is our guy. He is Miuyrish’s son. He will say nothing.”

“He will not take his connections into account. He says that in an army, and especially in war, there is no place for different communities.”

“It is the guys around him who give him ideas like that. Don’t pay any attention, he will eat meat, but not throw away the bones. And besides, this is not a war. War is something which happens somewhere far away. And where we are is just a punishment from God. I do not believe that this will last for a long time. And after all, I am not at all a soldier. I am just a tractor driver. I have no affinity with what is going on now. And I will get back to the village anyway, do you understand?”

These last words were uttered in such a way as to imply that all depended on this young guy and his conclusions.

“Let's go back ... I'm not of that age ... and you are also not the right age. You are just yesterday's child. If something happens, we will go back to the village. Who will seek us there?”

Over the forest which could be seen in the distance, an eagle, screaming, was flying in circles in the blue sky. "Probably the eagle has noticed something," thought both men. But, tired of the blinding sun, and seeing the ground under their feet swarming with small insects, they continued their journey, raising dust behind them as they stepped forward. The sounds of cicadas and forest insects still filled the air around. Then, in the distance, a burning village was seen.

The sultry silence was broken by the young guy:

“Don’t you see, they have burned it, too. Nobody in the village will need your jalopy any more.”

The older man glanced at him, and suddenly a dog ran in front of them. It was his dog.

“She did not recognize me,” he muttered.

“Because you have different clothes” said the young man.

“Clothing does not matter, she should have recognized me by smell. She is just angry at me. I did not let her out, when I left ...”

They both had dry mouths, but neither admitted it. Then again the older man spoke:

“We will burn with thirst. There should be a spring somewhere here. It smells as if there is water,” and he turned to the bush in the middle of the wasteland.

The young man felt as if he was seeing these places for the first time, although he had drunk a lot of water from the springs around here in his childhood... back then, the plain they had just left behind had been covered with trees. The forest had been covered in glades. Now there was only this shrub, which was still here because underneath it was a spring. No tractor driver had dared plow it. So the spring had remained there. Every year, during the spring and fall plowing seasons, tractor drivers just drove around the spring.

Grandpa had showed him the spring for the first time ... he had always used to say, "Water from the spring should not be drunk like that. The spring will be offended. Can you see how it swirls? It should be drunk in the same way." Throwing a bunch of grass under his feet, grandfather would kneel down and put his mouth over the spring. When he lifted his head, drops of water would drip from his mustache and beard. The young man had never been able to drink like that himself. The water would get into his nose. He still felt the taste of that water in his mouth, in his nose…

The spring was no longer where it had been. Circling around that place, he felt he was leading his childhood hand in hand around those places ...

Every spring his father, mother and grandfather, along with the whole village, would go for hay in a wagon pulled by a donkey. The one who claimed the meadow first would have it under his or her control. But first of all they all had to get permission from the state.

It had to rain, as an abundant harvest depended on rain. In these places, much depended on rain. Yet frankly he could not understand which was supposed to be better - the sun or the rain. If there was no sun, people would sing songs about the sun, but if there was no rain they would ask for rain. "Sun, sun, come out, mount a bay horse. Do not take the bald girl from the house, bring a long-haired one with you. Sun, sun, come out! "

When it did not rain, people would spend several days in the yard, even sleep there and pray to Allah for rain, for a rich harvest. In the evenings during the dry days grandmother would tell a story about the rain ...

"Once upon a time, in ancient days, a Padishah's daughter became ill. No doctor could save her from her misfortune. The king promised to give his daughter in marriage to whoever would cure her. She was cured by a young man who had appeared from somewhere in the heavens, called Rain. The king, however, did not keep his word. Then the daughter asked Allah to turn her into a barren tree, to put an end to Padishah’s family. Allah heard her prayer and turned her into a willow. Unable to endure such grief, the young man turned into water and left for heaven. Therefore, if there is no rain for a long time, people shake willows, so the rain will come to their aid .... " During rainfall grandfather would say: "Shake it stronger, like that, my son, well done." Lightning flashed, it thundered, heavy rain would pour down. And he kept shaking and shaking a little sprig of willow...

Rain foretold abundance. The fields bore a rich harvest, the state was left with a surplus of winter provisions, and then it allowed people to mow the hay in the woods. Later this part of the forest was cut down and corn was planted. But the spring remained...

Father and grandfather had cut down the hay. His mother had brought them water from the spring, and they had boiled tea. He himself would catch butterflies and pin cicadas to sticks until the evening. His mother would lay his bed in the wagon, paving the bottom of it with fragrant new-mown hay. Looking at the sun's glare through the crowns of the trees, he would fall asleep beneath the sounds of the forest. As if from far away the voices of people in neighboring fields reached him, with the voices of the forest birds, of the hoopoe ... And every time he dreamt the same dream. He would climb a mountain covered with flowers and fall from it. His mother would say: "falling means you are growing up, so do not be afraid."

Then he would see the continuation of the dream. He set off on a long road. The road was endless ... on the way he met a shepherd, who had lived in a cave for many years, who was returning from a long journey. The shepherd told him the end of the story his father was telling him, but he could never remember anything ... his mother just said that this meant he too was to take a long journey...

The older man had hurt his leg on something, but even when limping did not want to fall behind the younger man. Once behind, he would not be able to pass him again. In situations like these, age does not matter; everything is determined by strength and power. Losing strength means losing power ...

The lack of water had brought back his memories of these places too. He remembered how he had come here on a tractor for the first time, how he had proudly loaded the mown hay, how he had felt with his lips and gut the coolness and freshness of the spring water.

Convinced that the pursuit of the spring would lead to nothing, they now left the clearing and headed for the forest in the distance. The young man was already rather tired of hanging a rifle on his shoulder. His chafed shoulder was burning. He tossed the rifle from one shoulder to the other, took it in his hand and walked, leaning on it. Could there really be such a long road as this? Now neither of them believed that they would find their squad.

They had not really been looking for the squad all this time. They had been busy looking for the spring. The young soldier was upset with the soldiers of the squad. They could have waited for them. Nothing would have happened to them. Anyway they had not fired even a single shot until this moment. Their ears were becoming deaf with the silence. Ahead, the dense forest could be seen. All their hopes revolved around it...

At the suggestion of the young man they decided to rest under a single mulberry tree standing near the road. Both men stretched out on the ground, placing their shoes under their heads.

“Only Allah knows where our guys are now,” said the younger one, as if to somehow justify his suggestion.

The elder agreed.

The younger man was called Yavuz, the elder Khalil. But they did not call each other by name. This was out of place between two companions, and after all, it was always clear who they were addressing.

"A star shines in the sky, I am on the ground under it, a long road is ahead..." one of them sang softly, as he grew drowsy. His eyes closed, but thirst would not let him sleep. From afar he heard the song of a shepherd... " The moon looked from the sky. Moon like a mother standing at the gate. Nevertheless, she looks at the road ... "

Soon thirst forced them both to stand up and continue their journey in hope of finding a spring...

The sun hung directly over their heads, it was impossible to breathe because of the heat. As soon as one of them raised his head and looked in front of him, his eyes would ache and tears would come immediately. Both walked in silence. If it had not been for the hope of reaching the forest ahead and finding a spring in the forest they would probably have already collapsed on the ground and lain there on the sun-scorched plains. In any case, this is what the young man believed. The older man’s desire to go back, pick up the hidden tank and return to the village was becoming stronger with every step. But behind them lay a long road, while the forest was not too far away...

“Hey, stop, who are you? A rough voice broke their silence. Someone was behind a tree at the edge of the forest, and put his head out. The young man was about to flee into the woods, but the elder stopped him:

“Wait, do not run away. This is our Armik. I know him well. His children grew up on my lap. He will do no harm to us.”

In fact, he even seemed to be happy about this meeting. Armik had a long curved nose. Getting closer to him, the older man, to defuse the situation, tried to joke: "You look great in that suit, mate!". But then he realized this was not the time to joke: Armik was not alone. Next to him were a couple of Armenians. "What are you doing here?" asked the older man.

“We are guarding Muslims!” Armik said, and smiled. Then he added: ” We will not touch you, just give us your guns.”

The young man did not want to give up his gun. "I can’t,” he said. “It was my grandfather’s ".

“It is not nuts it is full of,” cut in one of the Armenians. “If you whack somebody’s stomach with it, it will hurt ...”

They were taken away in an old truck.

Then they were put in a barn which smelled of cow dung and urine. The livestock had just recently been taken out. The water Armik gave them was barely enough to moisten their lips, but he promised to bring more when the commander was asleep.

“Armik is a good guy. You will see, he will not hurt us. Soon he will even bring water,” said the older man, seeking to put an end to the other man's doubts and find out what he was thinking. “We grew up together. And we used to fight so much ... I attended his wedding, and even his brother’s wedding, danced a lot... a good guy,” he repeated ...

Armik came and looked through the spyhole in the door, but did not bring any water. The shed was divided into two parts. The partition made it clear that cows had been kept in the part they were sitting in and sheep in the other.

“Why did you lock the door? You do not trust us?” The older man addressed Armik in an informal way , showing good spirits. “We will not run away.”

“I swear, mate, I did not do it, the commander ordered it.” said Armik.

“Where is yours?” the older man asked, referring to Armik's son, who was his own son's contemporary.

“God only knows.”

“Mine too.”

“How old are they now?” asked Armik.

“And how is sister Anahit, who used to prepare great kutabis?”

”Sometimes the children, who come here occasionally, bring her with them, and sometimes she comes on her own, with something to eat ... but it is better she does not see you, as women should not meddle in such affairs.”

The older man, willy-nilly, agreed with him.

First they took away the younger man, then the elder. The commander had a crooked nose and big glasses. It seemed as if they had seen him in the movies. The young man said correctly: they all look the same.

“Maybe you will tell me?” the Armenian commander said. Armik translated the question into Azerbaijani.


“As if you do not know what I am asking! Where is the tank?”

“What sort of tank?” The older man was confused by the unexpected question. He added, “I have not seen anything.”

”It is always the same,” said the commander. “Until you beat them, they do not grow wiser.”

“I am just a tractor driver, how do I know what a tank is?”

“Do not play the fool, a tractor driver knows the price of a tank ...” But even if they had killed him, he would not have said anything. He had, with great difficulty, found a tank. Would he now give it away to Armenians!

“Think carefully,” said the captain. “Because of Armik I am not doing any harm to you. You are people of the same land. Where is the tank? Tell us, and then we will swap you for our prisoners.”

It was only after he had walked back towards the barn several meters that he finally realized that he was now a captive, and he began to tremble. Is this how people become captives? He hasn’t even taken part in the war so far. They must let them go. He has killed nobody. Not even fired a single shot. It costs nothing to check this ... besides, he is Armiks’ childhood friend.

The young man, deep in thought, was sitting in the corner ... he had seemed a little quieter since the commander had interviewed him. They are likely to be released. They must be released. After all, his mother and father are waiting for him. If only they would return his grandpa's gun... you could tell that the sun had gone.. now probably everyone had come to the channel, and having mangled the willow branches, were stripping away mosquitoes.

His father would set fire to the dung in the yard to deter mosquitoes. He remembered the yard, and a scythe hanging on the fence. The beams of the sun would dance on the shiny blade of the scythe before his eyes. Maybe his father is now mowing the hay with that scythe, and his mother putting it in the cart.

If she does not lay it in the right manner, or is unable to bear the full weight of the pitchforks of hay awkwardly passed to her from the other side of the cart, father will get angry. The young man felt sorry for his mother, and his heart ached. "Where are they now?" he thought. His father used to say: "I will not abandon these places and go anywhere else. Where could I go, having left these lands?"

He was their only child. He was a late and difficult child. He had been found in bushes. As a child, standing in front of a mirror, he had always asked his grandfather: "Where did you get me from?" And he had believed it when grandfather replied that he had been found under the bushes. His hair was like a curly bush stuck in his head ... at this moment, perhaps, his mother had taken his baby photographs. "You should grow up sooner rather than later, marry, and your wife will give birth to my grandchild." His father, teasing her, had said: "If you want a child, give birth on your own. Do not bother your guy." They were both touched by the father in one word. Where are they now? ... Maybe in a way ... his father had had to tell his son the story of the shepherd, who because of the treachery of his friends and other people had lived for many years in a cave with a wolf. "When the wolf was through with the sheep, it set its sights on the shepherd."

“And what about the shepherd? What happened to him? Did he return home?”

"I will tell you later,” replied his father “I will tell this to your son ..."

But what about the shepherd and the son of the wolf? The cave had been closed. "The time had come, and the wolf's son, the wolf, came out of the cave ..." How? Father would not say that. Umpteen times he had thought about it. And he had never forgotten about it. They could not go anywhere and leave the shepherd behind. He also waited for the day when his father's dream would come true ... thinking about all this, he missed and longed. But only now did he understand, away from the native people he had read about in books. Once he is back, he will re-read those books and retell stories to his father and mother, still living with the dream of him marrying, with the dream of having grandchildren. Perhaps his father and mother will not be able to understand his ideas, because they are illiterate and they have never heard of Odysseus, and Beyrak who spent many years in exile. But maybe they will feel them, because once the shepherd from their village, or, perhaps a nearby village, had for a long time lived in a cave ... he could not remember the continuation of this story. Even if he could have recalled it, he would not be able to retell it as interestingly as his father. Maybe that legend did not have either a beginning or an end.

Only his father knew the legend from beginning to end. What if there had never been such a happening, and it was just a fiction of his father? Yet he felt that the legend somehow concerned him. Otherwise, he would not be able to recall it, and his father would not tell him that story... his father used to say that he would tell the whole legend only to his own son, that is, his grandson.

For so many years he has been waiting to grow up, get married, have a son, in order to be able at last to hear the end of the story. But only now has he started to feel that life is interesting, worthy of love.

Thinking that he cannot love his mother and father that much, because he has not fulfilled their dreams, makes him upset, breathless and desperate, and maybe he was now sweating not because of the heat, but shame and regret. How is it that these feelings had come to him now? Indeed, how should he know this? Perhaps in order to feel something and appreciate something, one should abandon it, move away from it. While a person is happy, he does not know the price of happiness. What we possess we do not care for, but once we lose it we cry for it. Of course, those were wise thoughts, and his mother and father, who had experienced a lot in life, would surely understand them, because his father, a shepherd, knows well how it feels to be away from his family for weeks, and even months. He has often spoken about it. As proof of this he would tell him the story of the shepherd, the song of the shepherd ... his father was a strange man. He was away from home for long periods. There were rumors about him, that he kept a wolf in the mountains, that his flock had fallen off a cliff. But the young man did not believe any of these rumors and loved his father.

His father had promised to tell the whole story about the shepherd to his son. Then he would also hear it …

Angrily jerking at the door, the older man came in. Suspiciously, he looked into the young guy’s eyes and asked:

“What did you tell him?”

The young man was afraid, and involuntarily got up and stood on his feet:

“Nothing. I said that it is only three days since we left the village, the gun belongs to my grandfather, and the son of Mirish had sent us with the squad to the forest.”

Seeing the bulging, widened eyes of the older man, he began to justify himself: "You said yourself that the commander is the son of Mirish. He asked who Mirish is, and I said that I do not know, Khalil knows, that is, you ... in the end I said that on the way we found a tank, we covered it over, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot remember where we found it ... he promised to return Grandpa’s gun if I recalled the place."

Then, as if nothing had happened, he continued, "He will return, right? Maybe you can tell him where the tank is? You know the place well. My head has been broiled by the sun. I cannot remember. What do we need an old tank for? I do not pay attention to such things. I told them we had seen ... "

Seeing the furious eyes of the older man, he felt creepy all over his body.

“I should not have said that? I did not know that I ought not to ... he does not look like a bad person. He scolded those who started this war, and he gave me water. He said that he had many Azerbaijani friends ... and said that this is not a military secret ... is this a military secret?” He looked fearfully into the face of the elder man ...

“Is it a military secret?” the older man got angry, came up and stood in front of the young guy. “I do not care. That tank is mine, I found it! If you mention it one more time, I will kill you myself!” Showing him his strong, hairy hands, he walked away and sat down.

The young man did not answer, only looked at the hairy hands. "A donkey, the son of a donkey!" he thought, cursing himself, the tank and the older man... who, as if reading his thoughts, said:

“What are you mumbling under your breath? You are supposed to be a man, but you seem not to understand things like this...”

The threat in the voice of the older man all but crushed the guy, and he did not answer. After a while he too sat down, picked up a stick and began poking the ground. Unwittingly, he drew a picture of a tank. Then he took it into his head to remain silent, but his tongue could not calm itself:

“If you could kill a man, you would not have allowed Armik to bring you here!” he said, surprised at his own courage.

These words made the blood of the elder man rush up to his head. He suddenly jumped up, walked over to the young guy and hit him, not letting him get up. The head of the young guy jerked backwards on his thin neck and then returned to its place. He said nothing. A tear rolled down his cheek:

“I want to go home, I want to see mom and dad, do you understand? To hell with you and your tank! Even your dog does not wish to know you, you damned giaour...”

”Your father is the giaour, your woozy father!” shouted the elder man ...

“Do not talk about my father,” the young man said.

“So don't you touch the tank!”

After walking around the barn, the elder man said:

“Do you even know what it means to have the lifelong dream of getting a new machine? Do you know what a tank is? It can do the work of ten tractor drivers.”

“I do not want to know anything about this,” repeated the young man, “I want to go home. Soon it will be time to take the entrance exams for the institute, I must take these exams ... I have been preparing for two years. No luck as yet. And they have fast tracked me...” Then taking a sigh, he quietly continued: “Old people need a grandson, they need to tell him tales. I'm sorry for them ... you already have everything. I want to go home ...”

The pathetic expression of the young guy returned the elder one to his senses. He remembered his wife, his elderly mother, his son in the army. "Where are they now?" he thought. Maybe the Armenians have burned his village ... then he came up and stroked the young guy on the head, as he was young enough to be his son.

“You are a child,” he said. “A man must be firm. We are captives. Have you not seen such things, perhaps, in the movies?”

The young man pushed away his hand:

“Both you and your tank are repugnant to me!” Putting his head on the ground, he closed his eyes.

In his half-asleep state he saw a house, and his grandparents, who had taken him into the forests by hand when he was a child. His was pierced by the feeling of those happy, carefree days.…

After a while he got up and took a notebook out of his pocket, part of his school notebook. He saw that only three days were left until the exams.

”What date is it today?” asked the older man.

“July 28th,” said the younger through his teeth ... “The other guys will take the exams in three days ... I came here for one day only, and now all the students are preparing for exams except me ... Why did we find that wrecked tank? Because of this we lagged behind the squad ... even our cart is better than that tank ...”

“It's just fate,” replied the elder man.

“You will not get that tank... nobody will get it ...” the elder man said nothing. Approaching the door, he just looked through the spyhole.

“Not much time is left before the fall mowing season,” he said, lighting a cigarette he had been given by Armik. “Maybe you would like a cigarette?” He offered one.

The younger man shook his head, lay on his back and thought once again about the house ...

Soon Armik returned - they saw his shadow. The older man walked over to the door and asked him to bring water.

“There will be water, my friend, and more than that. Anahit has sent mulberry vodka, and she will bring your favorite kutabis tomorrow. I've ordered them. Just tell us the place where you hid the tank. They will pay us interest ...” Armik was trying to persuade them. “Our commander is a stubborn fool, a jade, he is from Yerevan. He does not recognize any kind of friendship. What do you need all this trouble for? Tell us - and it's over. He will not use it against your people. He just wants to sell it, do you understand?”

“Do not bother me, mate,” said the older man. “You and I, we have eaten bread and salt together. I will not tell, there is no way. It's just fate.”

Armik continued to plead:

“Why are you so stubborn, mate? Do you not want to go back to your children? We will let you go. Do you think we need a war? Who does? I am a tractor driver, like you. The commander knows that. He has told me, if they tell me where the tank is, we will let them go ... I swear, if he does not let you go I will help you escape.”

The older man remained silent ...

“Honestly, I did not know you were so stubborn. What do you need that old tank for? After all, nobody will give it to you. A tank is not to be used as a tractor, it is used by soldiers...”

Armik pleaded at length, then he went away. The older man took a deep breath, as if he had been freed from captivity.

“Loudmouth, piss artist, son of a bitch!” said the young man, “it would be better if he had brought a sip of water ...”

Both men were sitting in their respective corners, digging at the ground, as if their nerves had been splashed with cold water and this whole mess was nothing to do with them. The smell of manure in the barn mingled with the stuffy heat. Both of them wiped the sweat from their necks with the sleeves and hems of their jackets.

The elder man was thinking about how he would use the tank he had found, how to adjust its muzzle so that he could dry out dung and place it beside the gate facing the road. "Let it sting the eyes of envious persons. No one will stand in front of it." These thoughts made him feel better. But then they abandoned him. What if he was not to feel this happiness? His heart was ready to explode... in his dreams he continued to caress the cold shell of the tank, to adore its big tracks...

The young guy was now thinking about his classmate, who sat at the same desk. He heard her joyous, ringing voice, and stroked her hair, as in a dream. If they were in the village now, this girl would be helping his mother mold bricks from dry dung and bake bread. His father would wink at him, looking at the two of them there. Then his father would ask him secretly: "Maybe we will get you two married? Can’t you see, your mother needs an aide at home." Without him answering his father would make plans for the future. He would surely get enrolled in the university, would go to the city, which he had not seen yet, and then he would marry, but of course marry "her", not some other...

That same evening, they were beaten black and blue. Later, Armik stealthily brought them water...

“You were right, Armik is a good man,” the young man said, barely moving his swollen tongue, as he began to weep… the elder nodded his head in consent.

“I want to go home. If my mother sees me like this, her heart will not bear it. Tell me where the tank is! I cannot remember, no matter how much I think about it,” sighed the young man. He was huddled in a corner, staring into the space in front of him. After some time he began to sing a song in an undertone, a song from the story which his father had never told him the end of. " A star shines in the sky, I am on the ground under it, ahead is a long road...."

“What kind of a song is that?” asked the older man.

“It's not a song, it’s just a small melody. The melody of a shepherd, who lived in a cave with a wolf, hurt by his friends and other people's treachery. The story of the shepherd and the son of the wolf. My father will tell this story to my son,” and, with his hand behind his head, the young guy began to sing again. Now he suddenly realized that what drove him crazy is that he did not know the end of this story ... what happens to the shepherd and the son of the wolf ... "A star shines in the sky, I am on the ground under it, ahead is a long road. From the sky the moon looks down. The moon is like mother, standing at the gate. Nevertheless, she looks at the road. I will be in time, I will tell her that I am leaving for a long journey." “I want to go home,” the guy said, very sadly.

Soon Armik returned, and, standing in the doorway, grumbled at them again:

“If you don’t name or show us the damned place, they will put me in jail like you. That guy from Yerevan yelled at me today about this, in front of the others. If they put me in here with you, then everything is lost. You, I, and everything that Anahit will bring ... the commander said to me, “you are people of the same land, you know each other well, you are childhood friends. He will tell you.” And I said to him - do you understand? - I told him: "Have you allowed us to be friends? You have made us enemies!" He does not understand such things. But you must understand ...”

After a moment, Armik again went off somewhere ...

The young man had not heard what he said. He had closed his ears with his hand and was thinking about… even he did not know. Thanks to the beating he had become all black. He could not remember anything. He thought that the cause of these injuries was neither the war nor the people holding them, but that damn tank ... then he turned to the older man:

“Is this how a war is supposed to be!? Is this how captives are supposed to be!? We have not fired shots, nor have we heard any shots. Like fools we have ended up in the hands of Armik ... I should have listened to the weeping of my mother, to her pleading. I came here only for one day ... war is not like this, I've seen wars in the movies ... Armik is an acquaintance, your acquaintance, go now and speak to him, tell him that I have exams one day from now, I want to go home. Tell him that I do not know where that piece of junk is, tell them to let me go. I will immediately leave for Baku, go to my relatives. And make them give me my grandfathers’ rifle back. I gave him my word that I would not give it to anyone ...” After thinking for a while, he added: “Well, let them keep the rifle, I will tell my grandfather I lost it.” He looked hopefully towards the elder man ...

Lying on his back, the older man was staring at something on the cobwebby ceiling. It was as if he had not heard the words of the young guy. Then he sat up and said:

“This is not Armik’s sin. What can you do? He is also a tractor driver, as I am. They will torture him too, probably ... he does not know what war is either. I do not know. I too have seen it only in the movies.”

“Be cursed! Who asked him to guard the people in our village? Are we animals ? Recently, our cows have been stolen. This was most likely done by them.” Rising sharply, he complained: “That heartless object from Yerevan, his fists are bigger than yours, he has punched me so strongly in the kidneys that I cannot even pee ...”

The commander did as he had said he would. The next morning, Armik was put in the barn alongside them, but on the other side of the partition. He said that he would be kept there until they told them where the tank was.

“Damn it all: both Karabakh and the tank. Do it for me, mate! Anahit has to come. I feel awkward. You've always understood me, help me!”

“I cannot tell. I will not tell. Have you ever driven a new tractor? Have you ever seen how a tank plows?” He rose to his feet and spun round, growling like a tractor ...

“I have ... But we would not be able to plow that land with that tank,” said Armik.

“Even if it is in vain, I will plow. If all this is only about selling it, I will sell it myself, but I will not give it to that crooknose. The tank is mine, I found it ...”

The sunken eyes of the young man darkened. Again he thought of his home, his poor father and mother, his friends, with whom he had been intending to enter the institute ... but the older man was still talking to Armik through the partition.

“Where is your tractor, Armik?”

“It is probably somewhere under the sun, doing nothing,” he replied, asking in return about the man's tractor.

“Did you ever let us work? We have left our homes, and now we are homeless...” After a pause, he turned to Armik. “You and I, how are we to be blamed? The curse of Allah is on the head of the villains. My tractor was already old anyway,” he added. Now some place deep in his heart suddenly softened to the war. If it had not been for this war, where and how could he have found the tank? It is his tank. It was thrown off the road by a great shell only to be found by him. He will not even think of giving it to someone else. Now is not the time of the previous government, no one can take it away from him.

He thought for a moment and asked, "Have you by any chance seen our lad here?" Receiving a negative answer, he then said:

“You always had good mulberry vodka.”

“Everything we had is still there. Sometimes Anahit sends it with the boys.”

After lunch, Anahit sent food and vodka, and Armik came over onto their side ...

After drinking the vodka they became tipsy.

“Can you remember?” said Armik, “when we drank in the forest ... as the children played? How your son got lost, and how we, after getting drunk, dumped a tractor from the bridge? ”

Both were ready to burst into tears. Leaning their heads against the wall, they began to sing a song. The older man began singing: "Do not shoot at me, hunter, I am the Siberian stag of these mountains ..." Armik began to sing along. They sang in Azerbaijani ...

"I - am the Siberian stag of Karabakh." They argued. Armik said: "This is our song." The man teased him: "When did it become yours? Maybe your father Ashot composed it?” But at the end, he said "Okay, let it be yours ... Anyway, from morning till night you are singing our songs."

“Here you are right,” Armik agreed.

“And can you remember?” asked the older man, “the inclined beam? We could not plow the vineyard of Mohammed. Everyone told us that it was a damned place. No matter how hard we tried, the tractor would not move there… but now we will plow it,” and he imagined how he would plow that ground with the tank. “We will not give them the tank, they will leave as they have come. But the land will stay. And we will plow, like in the past, the good times,” he concluded, beginning to sing the song once again in a loud voice.

“We won’t give it away,” said Armik, smacking his lips, as he caressed the elderly man’s head, kissed him and, getting upset finally, knocked the bottle back.

The guard looked through the spyhole in the door:

“Why have you starting shouting?”

Armik hurled the bottle in the guard’s direction.

The young guy was still sitting in the corner, thinking. He did not want to join them. He was sitting alone, but had taken a piece of the meal sent by Anahit, and still had that piece in his mouth…

On the following day, early in the morning, Armik was taken away. The commander said that they would never see Armik again.

– “Poor Armik,” said the older man. “Where is he now? Anahit did not even glance at me. She said: “You made my husband homeless.”

“Not us, but your tank,” the young guy said.

“It is still not known who has made who homeless,” the older man responded, after a silence. “They have taken Armik to Yerevan, to the filtration division. Armik will not betray us. He will not tell anybody where the tank is. I do not believe he will. ”Then loudly, perhaps to calm himself down, he said: “What does it matter if he is an Armenian? He is not to be blamed … besides, that land is everyone's …. the tank is ours, not theirs, who started the war. It should not be given to them. They are donkeys, the military men, they are unable to appreciate its value.”

In order to make the older man angry, the young guy said: “Armik has a great nose, you should attach it as a plough to the rear end of the tank.”

But neither of them had enough strength to argue. They both kept silent. At last the young guy said: “I cannot stand it anymore. I cannot bear it.”.

The commander gave them until the next day to talk. He threatened that after then he would execute them by shooting.

Since Armik had gone, they had been given neither food nor water ...

“I'm not even married!” For the umpteenth time the young man repeated these words, but this time without any embarrassment. “When she saw me off my mother said, "You should have got married so that your child could have smelled your scent." I feel sorry for my father and mother. What are they guilty of?”

Looking at the guy, who was same age as his son, the older man sighed: "There is no news of my son, either," Then he added: "Even if I can tell him, what is the use?" But as he felt he was getting softer, he said: "Even if there is any use in doing it, I will not give it away. It is mine, do you understand? Only mine! "

This time the young guy alone was brutally beaten.

He huddled in a corner, trembling.

“Tomorrow we will be shot,” the young guy said, starting to cry.

“Men do not cry. They will not shoot us. As long as we do not tell them where the tank is, they will not shoot us. They need a tank, not our bodies.”

The young guy’s stomach ached, his lips turned blue.

“Tell me where this ill-fated tank is, even if they kill us it is for the better, at least our torture will end,” he said, and tears flowed from his eyes. Soon he was weeping bitterly, wiping dirt over his face with his hands. After that he calmed down. He seemed tired. Then he lapsed into oblivion. He recollected his home, mother, father. "Home sweet home," he muttered ... then again it was forgotten, as he rose up and urinated against the wall.

“Well, you have brightened up,” said the older man. “It is impossible to sit here because of your stinky smell.”

“We have done nothing to them,” - the young guy was in his own inner world, and seemed not to hear him. “I have seen people being shot. On TV. It hurts, perhaps?” he asked, then, for some reason, he clutched his stomach and turned to the elder man. He spoke as if the elder man had already been shot several times.

He did not answer immediately, but after a while came up to the guy and put his hand on his shoulder. He was shuddering and trembling ... "Fear not,” said the man to calm him down, “Allah is merciful. As far as I know, it does not hurt ... "

After they had walked a bit, he began to speak once again: "They will not kill us, I do not believe it ... you never know what will happen. Let us imagine that suddenly, the door opens, and we run away ... have you not seen things like that in a movie? You yourself said - the wolf, the wolf’s son, came out of the cave. What does it matter how he did it? What really matters is that he came out ... If it is Allah’s will, everything will be OK...”

“Even if it does not hurt, I do not want to die. If my mother sees my dead body, her heart will not survive. The Armenians shot my uncle in the head. Maybe even your Armik ...”

This time the elder man paid no attention.

“Mom mourned him so ...” said the younger, and trembled, his veins swollen, his mouth filled with spume, as he laid down in a corner. Then he suddenly jumped up. “I do not want tales anymore! What difference does it make to me what happened to the shepherd! All of this – because of his sins.”

He thought that the older guy was raving, and cursed him and his tank, and Armik, and their mothers ... "Son of a donkey... tomorrow is my exam day ... I will not see my home anymore.”

The older man did not answer. He maintained his composure for as long as he could, for the sake of the young guy. If not for him, he would probably have lost his nerve, and his temper.

The tank had already lost its value for him. But there was no turning back ... in his dreams he still sprayed his flowers with that tank ...

The pain in the young man's stomach stopped. But because of his thirst his intestines still ached. In order to forget about the pain, he thought of home, mother, father. Mother is even now standing at the gate, watching the road, waiting for his return. He does not even know if she is actually waiting for him or just the sunset. But of course, it must be for him, otherwise she would not be standing all day long at the gate. Again, he remembered the song of shepherd. "The time had come and the wolf, the son of the wolf came out of the cave ..." But how? If it had been closed?

“Hey, you, the Turks, do you know your Kelmė shahadat4?” asked the Armenian who guarded them, mocking them, as he urinated into the shed through a hole in the door.

The young man was frightened, and huddled in the corner.

“I do not want to be killed,” he said. Perhaps they won't even execute us by shooting, he thought. The one standing next to the commander had said, we will not execute you by shooting. We do not want the blood of Turks to pour upon these lands. We will hang you ... he even showed me the rope ... very thick, like this …. then he turned to the older man, and whirling his hand in front of his face, he shouted: “Where is your Armik?"

The cool of the night cleared their heads a little, but the approach of tomorrow was full of danger. Neither of them wanted to believe that tomorrow they would be killed.

The older man began to talk first:

“They will not kill us, I do not believe it. Armik will not allow it. And he also will not tell them where the tank is ...”

The young guy did not seem to hear him. Every now and then he would jam up with thirst and weakness. He saw the long road, along which they had walked, and recalled the spring, where in his childhood he had drunk water. No matter how much water his grandfather had given him, he could not satisfy his thirst. He had knelt down, put his mouth over the spring to quench his thirst, but could not. Then he saw the dry oak. It had blossomed. It was amazing. These flowers covered the top of the mountain from which he was always falling in his recurring dream. He looked down the mountain ... and he saw the hidden tank ... he woke up, jumped up and ran to the door, shouting: "I remember!"

“What?” asked the older man, astonished.

“The tank. It is near the dry oak ... I want to go home,” his feet were kicking at the door, he was shouting.

The elder man rushed towards him and grabbed him from behind, clutching his throat with his hands. The guy was scratching his arms, face, eyes ...

The elder man heard nothing except the burst of a gun and his own howl…

The corpses were thrown into a freshly dug pit.

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