Страна : Россия
В конце 80-х, еще будучи школьницей, я мечтала поступить во ВГИК. Тогда родители не разрешили мне ехать одной в Москву, а я смирилась, потому что жизнь моя была неспешной и сытой в родном Ташкенте. Я поступила в ТашГУ на факультет зарубежной филологии – самая неперспективная профессия, как многие тогда считали. Уже на заре 90-х в Узбекистан хлынули иностранцы, и я, в отличие от многих прекрасных профессионалов, никогда не была без работы. Когда проживаешь активную, свободную жизнь, она дает самые невероятные сценарии для творческой реализации: я встречала множество интересных людей, попадала в самые невероятные ситуации, увидела разные страны и культуры. Каждая ситуация могла стать отдельным рассказом или предметом экранизации. В 1999 году я случайно попала на работу в Британский Совет. С тех пор до 2004 года я занималась образовательными проектами. Затем уже консультантом продолжила эту деятельность до момента рождения второго сына в 2008. Именно тогда, в период “замирания” проектов в Ташкенте, я решила осваивать новые горизонты, выйти из состояния стабильности и начать новый этап в жизни. До 2010 года это был чудесный период наслаждения малышом, прекрасными днями с семьей и друзьями в теплом городе детства. Именно тогда, осмысливая все трансформации, которые произошли с нами и с некогда одной большой страной под названием СССР, я начала писать свою первую книгу, по воле судьбы, на английском языке.
Country : Russia
In the end of the 80s while being a student at school I dreamed of study at Russian State Cinema School. My parents were unhappy about that idea and didn’t let me go to Moscow alone and I agreed to stay in Tashkent^ for my living there was sustainable and well-off enough not to bother leaving. I enrolled in Tashkent State University in the School of Foreign Languages – the least unfortunate choice as many alleged at that time. But in the early 90s it had become clear that the number of foreigners coming to Uzbekistan seeking new business opportunities would never leave me without breadwinning. When one leads a rather active and free living it brings you unbelievable stories for creative expression. I happened to meet many interesting personalities, got into extraordinary situations, saw different countries and cultures. Each and every situation in itself could have become a story or a film. In 1999 I happened to find myself working on the British Council. Since then until late 2004 I was working on various educational projects. And later up to the birth of my second son George in 2008 I was involved in many educational initiatives in the region as a consultant. It was then in the period of ‘a great stillness’ of projects in Tashkent I had decided to try on something completely new and get out of the comfort zone to take on board new challenges. Until 2010 though it was a fantastic period of beautiful family and friends iterations in cozy and warm home city of Tashkent filled with joy of my gorgeous baby boy. And it was then too when I started to think through incredible transformations happening to all of us and the biggest country of the world that was some time ago the USSR that brought me to writing my first book, by fortune, written in English.
Отрывок из новеллы “Children of the Red Horde: The Late Sketch”
Chapter 1: Arslan
I returned from a long absence to the neighbourhood of my long lost childhood with a feeling of a complete detachment from everything that had happened there and from all people I knew. But many of them died and most of my childhood friends had left Uzbekistan a long time ago, for good it seemed. The reason for my return was a good one I tended to believe. I was getting married to a young woman who happened to have a flat in the block next door to the block where I used to live twenty years ago. I was forty and she was thirty. By the way, my name was Arslan and I was a Tatar by mother and a Tajik by father, but since my father was recorded in his passport as an Uzbek, I, too, was officially qualified as an Uzbek. I just wanted to inform you of that, so that you would not question my ethnic background. They always did there…
Why did I decide to wed her? Oh, her name was Tamara and she was quite good looking with long auburn shimmering hair and a fascinating body that she took great care of. A man of my age who had lived a long and unhappy life and did not care any longer for anything could only marry a woman to please her every moaning ego. She seemed to be enjoying the idea of marrying a loser and I did not care who to sleep with if anybody to be honest. Our marriage would be a convenient solution. I had a flat of my own but I left it to my former civic wife and her children and I and Tamara had planned to live in her place that was in close proximity to my design studio. I opened a small design studio not far from Urda where I also taught children drawing. I was quite content on my own, but at times I was mentally desperate to let a female in my life. I wasn’t really looking for sex, but for reconciliation that I could not find. I was like Sisyphus rolling up the rock to the top and losing it in no time. I was looking for a particular condition that I could not reach. It was an unconscious intention that I – having realised it – still could not submit to my will.
Tamara wanted a proper wedding dress. And I, regarding it a complete social redundancy, wanted her to wear it. I was rejecting a thought that the only reason for this irrational behaviour was my unresolved past with all my unresolved desires, dreams, passions and intentions. I was carrying that deep regret of unrealised sexual and spiritual want connected to a particular person that had become a painful illusion. A mental therapist that I had been visiting during my recession period had qualified it as a sexual fixation on a particular person. I was trying to get rid of it, but although I wasn’t really thinking of that girl anymore I could not redirect my entire intention to another person.
I had been busy with my professional life for the last few years that I regarded as a hobby and I was enjoying my students. But even after twenty years of abundance once in a while the Universe was sending me instant but nevertheless clear messages from my past. I understood that it meant only my reluctance to let it go. My therapist called it a ‘destructive programme’ and was helping to get rid of it. But through many sessions with him I confessed that I didn’t want to let it go under pressure. I wanted to undertake a real reconciliation.
Tamara was doing everything possible to make sure I liked what she did in bed. She, like most women, believed that any man would fall for physical pleasures. She could win the attention of my often sleeping penis, but there was no way she could win my emotion or less possible love. I simply had no capacity to love or feel passion for a woman. It did not bother me and I thought my manhood had got tired of life just like I did. It had nothing to do with my physical capacity. I simply lost the energy to feel and get excited. I could never recover from a tragedy that happened in my past and did not notice how gradually a shocking transformation had become a routine. My passiveness and carelessness about life had become a part of my natural living. Nothing could deserve my attention – neither death, nor birth. It was somewhat strange and painful although I tried to conceal and deny it.
As I walked along what used to be Usman Yusupov street I turned to the Dinamo shop that still sold sports and fitness goods however now all made in China and saw the opening cross road at the end of the hill. That was Urda. I even recognised some ladies who lived around Dinamo now old, but yet shopping in the groceries that had been there since I was a child. There we went to eat boiled Russian sausages with marrow caviar as it was called and that according to Looney – one of the neighbourhood boys – looked like a ‘child’s surprise’ in its colour and consistency. It was served with garden peas on the side and was the most delicious lunch.
At the end of the hill in the corner there still was a drug store where we used to buy Soviet condoms that smelled like car tires and were pale as toadstool. As children we filled them with water and threw from roofs on bewildered pedestrians. We were always amazed how much water they could accommodate. Many did leak though that suggested that they were intended on improvement of the Soviet demography (we did not know then of any sexually transmitted diseases). There at the corner of the drug store sat a grandson of the old man who sold flowers in big aluminium vessels – carnations, orange lilies and colourful freesia – who was now selling oppoling Chinese plastic toys.
I crossed the road that now had no tram line and noticed that a large flower shop at the corner of Block 3 facing what used to be Lenin Avenue was now converted into a shop selling music and video CDs. As I went up to the bridge where the road turned to Ankhor Embankment where we lived I also noticed that there was a booth installed selling prepaid cell phone cards. There used to be drinking machines that served soda for two copeykas and soda with sugar for three copeykas. We threw coppers and would wait to let soda go until it came out mixed with syrup and only then placed the glass to feel it with sweet soda. It was possible sometimes to hit the machine and get the water run from the tube for free. But an old woman who sat beneath the tree watching the machines would shout at us and we would run away laughing and screaming – a noisy crowd of happy street boys and girls.
The jewellery shop that was in Urda since my parents could remember was closed and sealed – probably the owner was in prison. As I was about to make a turn to Ankhor Embankment Street where our two Blocks 4 and 6 stood my heart sank for the first time. I was surprised to find I had a heart. The street was empty. I saw the arik, a ditch full of rubbish that once had running water where our girls used to wash their dirty heels in the summer. The houses were painted in bright yellow as they used to be since the eighties; some windows were replaced with new plastic frames – richer dwellers replaced the old owners. On the other side of the canal behind tall poplars I could see a bronze painted globe – the symbol of the Independent Uzbekistan – that replaced a gigantic statue of Lenin holding a rolled newspaper. What is going to be there in seventy years, who knows? We once believed our world would have never been shattered. But it was.
I probably did not tell you, but I had a hard life. My father drank and was violent to my mother and sometimes to us – his three sons. They divorced when I was around ten. But even after the divorce he kept coming to our place to bang on the door frightening all neighbours and intimidating my mother. I had two younger brothers Altay who was seven at the time when they had a divorce and a small brother Fattikh, who I called Teddy Bear, because he was cute, club footed and stout. My mother was still young and pretty when they divorced and she could not give up going out with men, leaving the three boys, me and my two brothers, to our own minding. I was ashamed of that, although I never realised then that she was a working mother that had no means to support her three sons abandoned by the degenerating father. It’s unthinkable that my mother at that time was younger than me at the moment. She was in her mid thirties. Nowadays she would be regarded a girl. But Soviet people seemed to age faster, or otherwise we were too young to perceive our parents as young people.
The three of us, of course, did not commit ourselves to studying and spent most of the time outdoors. Very often my father would come to our place to see us, but every time his visits ended up in brutal and abusive rows with my mother. He used to grab her by hair and pull out of the flat to the staircase watched by scandalised, perplexed and speechless neighbours. That was something I grew up with until it ended forever and I did not see my father for years and learnt from my younger brother that he died in the 2003 of cirrhosis leaving his second wife with a daughter, my step sister, I never met.
When I turned fifteen I had kissed a girl for the first time and it was both exciting and unpleasant, because she was not my true love. My true love was pure and proud, she was prudent and beautiful. But I would not speak of her, because she was a treasury of my buried and bitter past. The first kiss was a bad experience as well as my first intimate contact. I had laid a girl from our neighbourhood. She lived a few blocks away from our house across the road in Urda in a flat above the sports shop “Dinamo”. It happened when her parents and her older brother, my mate, were away and could not possibly see us. She invited me to her flat to “listen to the music”, as if we did not know that decent girls in late eighties would never do such a thing to a boy whom they did not regard as a mere friend. We then had alcohol from her parents’ stock and she sat on my lap. Her name was Valeria.
When Valeria invited me I was already sixteen and my manhood was looking for any opportunity. But above all I felt vigorous and happy as a young man, who was helplessly in love with the most beautiful girl in the neighbourhood, or rather the entire Universe. But not with Valeria, as you had guessed rightly. It was a peculiar feeling when my mind had separated from my body and I closed my eyes and had seen Lea, my true love, I had seen her and felt her underneath my skin when my manhood was filled up with blood to a degree when I could no longer keep it in my pants. I saw Valeria undressing abruptly and pulling me to the sofa where I instantly had a quick and intensive intercourse with her and then we repeated it a few more times between rather clumsy pauses. She was very impulsive, but I could feel that she was concerned. She was a virgin and I found it quite embarrassing that I was her first experience and stupidly not using a condom. She was just one of many women I then had in my life one after the other who gave me a room for reducing hormonal pressure and releasing my stress sometimes, but who never filled me with utter joy that suspended my breath, a feeling familiar only when I was around Lea. Yes, I was longing for that surrounding feeling of vitality when Lea was around that I could never find anywhere else.
“Are you in love with me, tell me?”- asked Valeria after the intercourse hiding behind a printed bed sheet. I did not know then that most women would ask that of a man who had laid them. But at that time I thought she was out of her mind. Of course I was not, and of course I just needed to release that terrible tension that was escalating ever since Lea was becoming more attractive and teased me to death with her subtexts and natural flirtatiousness. And besides I had realised that female availability was not something that excited me. It was an opportunity, but it was not as great as I thought it would be. I turned to Valeria and replied with a sarcastic grin: “Love is not taken, it’s given”. She shrugged as she was lost in my sophisticated way of thinking. But ever since I had this done, I started to feel bad because I thought of Lea and my feelings for her. This shame emerged when I talked to her and happened to touch her hand by accident, just slightly so that she would not even notice. On the other hand I felt content and something inside was telling me that Lea would only benefit from my knowledge of lovemaking. Lea was two years younger and she just started to turn into a young girl from a tomboy she used to be. She was always in control of everything and of me. But I never revealed my lust and passion in a more mature way, not until later when she turned eighteen and made me lose my mind.
But I was doing all sorts of things Lea loathed. When I was fourteen I started to smoke. My friends from our neighbourhood and I first started to ask for cigarettes from older men, who played chess or preference in Lea’s courtyard, because we had no money to buy and then we found a good way of making some money. Some boys like me had no fathers, in fact most of them did not, because their fathers just like my father drank and did not manage the families or simply because they had divorced to new wives. So, money was always in short. In the late eighties money suddenly started to matter in Uzbekistan as social packages were declining and my mother was working hard in two places to win bread for us three and buy her pretty clothes she loved. To make some money my friends and I started to hold-up. However disgusting it might seem to you or however Lea thought of me from the rumours which started to spread about our business affairs, it seemed the only realistic way to make proper money to us, the street blokes with no proper guidelines and terms of reference.
It was all good for my Lea to scorn us and lecture me on how I should behave, having a rich and well established family with a few flats and cars and a huge amount of cash hidden under a bed mattress that her father somehow managed to squeeze from people. I did not tell her this to avoid fighting for she easily assailed anybody speaking something that was not to her liking, but I and her father were made of the same substance. We both made money out of fortune and used dodgy ways and means to get it. We all used power, his was authority and mine was feasts, but in fact we both manipulated people’s weaknesses and fears. She would be mad at me if I said that to her, even hinted mildly, she would become furious and frenzied, because she knew I was right. By God, that woman was not an angel. She had a man’s character, taken after her goddamned father – all his bossy manners and cocksureness. She had a sharp tongue that could slice you into pieces easily, but it had thrilled me. No other woman would do that to me. They were boring and predictable. Lea was remarkable. However, I never could understand her deep motives. She always seemed to be too complicated and delicate when it came to relationships, and she was arrogant. It was very attractive and suited her immensely. But it had an adverse impact on our relations, because I was from a poor family and an Uzbek. We would never make it anyway, so why worry now when she was lost in her life somewhere in Russia and I got out of prison fifteen years ago and started from scratch in another god forsaken place on the other side of the world.
I spent five years in prison. By that time our roads had already splat apart. I had a crime offense before for squeezing money out of one dolt who lived in the same block with me. We called him Looney and his mother was a real freak. All in the neighbourhood knew the family for being tight with money and rich. They had plenty of golden jewellery (the old stock) and we wanted it. Looney told his mother about our little appointment and she invited a couple of “goats” or “trash” (that’s how we all called men in the militia uniform).
Looney’s mother was a local clowness with beetroot hair colour, her skin always glaring because she put an unbelievable amount of cream on it during the day to make her skin younger. As a result her skin deteriorated faster than she could imagine and the cream got stuck in her deep wrinkles. She used outrageously bright red lipstick and flamboyant clothes in a bohemian style. We all thought she was insane just like Looney (when he failed to do something and we were about to punch him he used to scream that he had a ‘yellow card’ – something lunatics would have in our country and it had nothing to do with football). But she got us and almost put us to jail. Almost, because Bold, my neighbour who had fewer records in the local community militia office, agreed to take responsibility so that we would not get a group crime offense and was put to jail for a year. It all seemed easy and even exciting at that time. We never thought as young boys that some mistakes could damage our lives forever.
In my second offense it was my turn to take responsibility for the crime and I finally got to jail. I was caught red-handed and they put me in jail for five years, which seemed eternity. My poor mother sold everything she had, all her jewellery and valuable belongings to buy me freedom. But trash got extremely corrupt in the early nineties and they asked for an amount she could not afford or find. So I got less than a brick-faced prosecutor wanted, but more than I wished for, because you must believe that even a few days in Soviet prison counted for a year.
I was born in a makhalla (a cluster of residential houses) behind Hotel Leningrad where my parents had a small cottage that was about ten minutes walk from Urda. Then they moved to Urda. The courtyard of the block where we moved had two arbours – one in the centre was round and made of wood covered with rambler and the other was close to the block and was a typical Asian grape arbour with two benches and grapes covering it from all sides and the top. Opposite our block across the yard were a few one storey houses built even before our blocks appeared and remained there. In one of them lived Lea’s rounded friend Fat Bella who knew everything that was going on in Urda. Her gloomy grandmother who looked like a grumpy owl was chasing us when we tried to still quince from their small front garden. In the middle of the court yard were small larders built as a corner and attached on one side to Fat Bella’s house. On the brown painted doors there were often chalk signs ‘Looney is lout’ and the drawings of men’s genitals with arrows to Looney. The doors were also used for playing kulikashki (seek and find).
It was one summer morning when I sat on the bench in the grape arbour thinking what to do in an alien place and saw a red-haired girl on a bike swiftly coming to the water pump in our courtyard. She jumped off her bike on the go and was greedily gulping water from the tap. The water was pouring in her cleavage wetting her shirt and splashing on her bare legs and stained feet. She wore tight denim shorts and blue rubber slippers revealing her dirty heels. Her knees were covered with scars and abrasions, her elbow had a fresh wound; hands covered with dirty stains. Then suddenly she noticed me and studied me with a long serious but quite arrogant look.
“What are you watching?” she muttered abruptly. “Who are you and what are you doing in our courtyard?”
She did not sound terribly welcoming.
“I live here and don’t know you either” I replied with a sneer but in a more friendly way.
She closed the running tap, picked up her bike and moved closer to the arbour holding her bike as if she was about to ride it.
“I never saw you before.”
“We moved here. I never saw you either.”
“Stop repeating things like a parrot! So, what’s your name?” she asked with a glimpse of arrogance I would not expect from a shorty with dirty heels.
“Arslan” I said, deciding that I would love to ride her bike. “And yours is…”
“Lea” she said loudly. “And you’d better remember it.”
What an upstart I thought, but I wanted her bike and I thought that I must use a different strategy with that little pain.
“It’s a pretty name. I have never heard it before and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”
She smiled suddenly, shining like a little star.
“How old are you then?” she asked more mildly now. “I am ten.”
“I’m twelve. You have a nice bike!”
“It’s new. My father gave it to me yesterday. Before I had a smaller one, but I gave it to Scientist, he did not have one and I like him. He is my friend.”
“Is he your neighbour from your block?”
“Yes, he and his brother Bold are my friends. All boys here are my friends and they always do what I say.”
“Really?” I said and smiled thinking that I would like to punch her in the nose and bring her back to earth. “Why is that?”
“Well, that’s because I am smart and know what to do!”
“Always!” she said, not noticing my irony.
“What would you say if I asked you to lend me your bike then?”
She measured me and nodded.
“Take it, but make just one round around the blocks. I am waiting for my friend Nellie and we’ll go to Pakhtakor with her. So, just one round, you got it?”
I approached her and jumped on the bike.
“Of course I got you. You said that boys always do what you tell them.”
She was pleased and saw me leaving. I never returned after one round neither I returned after an hour. I went to my grandmother’s house in Old Town and she was treating me to lunch and lots of tea with summer varenye (Russian jam) she always made in plenty. My grandmother lived in a local beauty spot in the centre of the Old Town with mud houses with bright blue window frames and doors all connected in one row forming mud house streets, narrow and unpaved, but very cosy and familiar to local people. Their makhalla was behind the Mosque which sounds we heard in Urda when a muezzin would call for a namaz (Muslim prayer). My grandmother was a very traditional woman married to an Uzbek man, my step grandfather. She was a Tartar who spoke perfect Uzbek and spent her entire life serving her husband and waiting for him in their mud house in Old Town in the winter or on a supa (a wooden deck) underneath grapes and apple trees in their inner yard in the summer. There she would serve tea and sweet local appetisers for me or anybody who would come to her courtyard: almonds covered in sugar powder, dry apricots, raisin and pistachio. She was a great cook and I adored her lamb samosa with potatoes she made in the tandir (a clay outdoor oven). She would make plenty and give more than a half to her neighbours. That was always great about our culture to share everything with neighbours. We always felt more than just neighbours. It was a communal culture of caring and sharing then.
It was around four in the afternoon when I thought I had enough of “the taming of the shrew” and finally decided to get back to Urda. That girl Lea must be furious or upset. It would be fun to see her arrogant freckled face covered with silly girlish tears.
I rode fast and soon I got to Urda. But before turning to the alley leading to Block 8 I bumped into a jiguli that suddenly emerged in front of me just opposite the flower shop. I fell on the ground and saw the front wheel of the bike crumpled. The driver shouted at me and got out of the car to see his front door. But then he got scared that I would call my parents, threw a few curse words on me and drove away swiftly leaving me on the ground. I had no choice but to get back to Lea with her bike broken.
When I returned to my courtyard I saw Looney standing at the border dividing our blocks shouting: “He’s baaaack!” In a few minutes a crowd of children stormed in the courtyard. I saw Lea running ahead of them. Before I realised that she was not crying she rushed at me and we fell on the ground rolling in the dust. Children formed a circle. She was fighting ruthlessly not like a girl. She used feasts and legs. Instantly I could not respond, because I was not supposed to beat girls. But she was so aggressive and determined that I had to respond finally. Some children tried to stop us but she was not into giving up easily. I heard distantly that someone called adults and soon her father landed and parted us.
He shouted at us something like: “Done baggers!”
We stood quietly at the sides of him breathing heavily. Our t-shirts were torn and we all were covered with dust.
“What happened?” asked her father.
I looked at Lea expecting her to complain. But she was silent. I could see a bruise around her cheekbone and my lip was bleeding.
She tossed a poisonous look at me.
“Let him tell,” she said breathlessly.
I did not feel well. I broke her new bike although unpurposely and her father made an impression of a vicious and strong bloke who was most likely going to give me a what for. I looked at the children who all were waiting for the culmination and grinned, what else would I do.
“I am sorry, I took her bike and rode it for a few hours and then bumped into a car and broke the wheel.”
Lea’s father nodded and measured me with a long look, but I saw sparkles in his grey eyes so similar to her daughter’s eyes.
“It’s good that you told the truth,” he resumed. “I’ll get you another bike, baby. And you all go and play and don’t fight anymore, or I’ll break your necks.”
I looked at the children and saw respect and acceptance in their eyes. That meant that I was in. But I cared about her and what she thought. Lea was still, but I noticed that she was pleased that I admitted my failure. She turned to the children.
“Fine! Let’s play hide and seek. And you…” she looked at me. “Are you with us?”
“I am. I just need to wash my face. You fight well.” I said.
As I turned to go to the water pump Lea dropped carelessly: “Hey, I liked that you did not lie.” I smiled and she smiled back. I did not know why, but I felt that I liked her immensely – that arrogant girl with untidy red hair and a bruise in her little shorts and torn shirt that she didn’t bother to change that day. That look had framed in my mind a picture that I was recalling hour after hour laying in my bed that night. That was the beginning of my love story with a woman I happened to desire more than anything in this world.
As small children we always played active games, scattering around groves and glades, the river we loved and the stadium behind the groove and the glade like wild horses, running through the thick wild grass that seemed so high then. We robbed orchards and ate green sour apples with salt on them and made cherry compotes in empty green glass bottles of Tashkent Suv (Tashkent Sparkling Water) stuffing cherries inside through a thin bottleneck and mashing it with a long stick and then adding running water to prolong the pleasure. Our stomachs never ached.
The girls were fun, but unbearable. None of them were truly bad looking apart from Capsule whose teeth were sticking out of her mouth, so she could not keep it shut, and whose nose was long enough to touch her upper lip like a hook of Baba-Yaga (famous Russian fairy tale Old Witch). Fat Bella was a gossip and she always found a compromise and managed to be a servant of two masters. She was round ever since I met her and girls always pushed her butt when we were climbing fences. She also could not run fast and often when we played games that required fast reaction or speed her team lost because of her, so we always argued about which team she should join and finally took her in turns. Nellie was a small Tatar girl who covered up her insufficiency with sharp and offensive jokes, but I enjoyed her wit and pragmatism. The worst of all was Vika. She spent holidays with us, for her grandparents lived in our neighbourhood. She was a formidable follower of French novels and tried to transfer them into the context of our modern life in Soviet Uzbekistan. There were more characters which did not spend that much time with us. One of them was another French romanticism lover a domestic soap opera writer Annette, who loaded Lea’s brain by reading to Lea her own novels and dreaming of a blond and tall prince in the middle of Central Asia; and the other was a Jewish girl Griselle, a red haired curly dandelion woman with more freckles than a face could accommodate. She was a happy creature though, who was laughing at the sight of a finger. A few more girls came in and out the scene, but the bunch I described was sufficient at that time to drive any boy crazy. They were a group of sarcastic, witty, noisy, funny, active, competitive, united and tormenting creatures. It was nice to challenge them and get the challenge back. We liked the mind games and happened to like them quite early. Lea was their acknowledged leader.
Fat Bella’s father was a haulier. He was a Ukrainian and looked like a Cossack with his thick walrus moustache. He was usually drunk when appeared at home and “compensated thirst” after long distance “dry” voyages, but we liked him, for he was kind and liked us. He often brought truck balloons and we used them for floating in Ankhor canal in the summer starting at the Bridge “50 Years of the USSR ” that we just called ‘50 Years’ and finishing at Morji Club – the open access club for winter swimmers. At that time the distance between 50 Years and Morji seemed endless. Fast water of Ankhor made our ride even more enjoyable. Sometimes the girls would wait for us at Urda Bridge and run along the river bank screaming and talking to us down to Morji. It was a bit embarrassing to get out of the water in our black satin long family boxers. But there were no other fashions at that time and they were better than white boxers that stuck to a body and made everyone laugh. Only Old Town chaps would wear white boxers for swimming. Every year a corps would be fished in the canal. So at some point they installed a metal net just around the turn off Morji to stop floating corps from disappearing and as a result we could not float further to the Hydro Power Station with a formidable waterfall breaking at Beshagach.
Sometimes Dolphin’s and Lea’s grandfathers would fish in Ankhor and then Dolphin’s grandfather dried marinka fish in his garage and served it to the preference players. Their table was near that garage that had a tremendous amount of useful stuff that was all covered with diesel including marinka I suspected. He had an old Pobeda car that was always a subject for fixing, so he would get into a trench underneath the car and work on it for hours seeping samogon (home-distilled vodka). He was a simple and very kind man with happy blue eyes and white hair. Getting to his garage was a dream for all children. He would always give us candies or salty marinka. We never thought that he was a retired KGB colonel. For us he was just dyadya (uncle) Sasha, a happy peaceful old man.
In Lea’s court yard was a big tree with strong branches. Dolphin as the most agile boy would climb up the tree and tie steel ropes stolen from a construction site to make a seesaw. Because branches were quite high the seesaw could develop great speed and amplitude. Children were queuing up waiting for their turn. Fat Bella was scared of it, but once she decided to try. She gained quite good speed and it was at that point when the deck underneath her fat butt had slipped away, as it was badly fixed. We all saw Fat Bella approaching the tree trunk and smashing against it like a huge hippopotamus. Surprisingly she did not cry as she was famous for crying in critical situations.
She was also quite cowardly. When at some point Lea, Nellie and Bella went to a next door block to steal tulips in the evening Fat Bella was asked to act as a jigger guy. Lea and Nellie had already picked quite a lot of tulips at the moment when the owner of the garden – an old and quite mischievous lady – got to the patio and saw Bella standing in the shaft of light frightened. Instead of saying something smart Bella got stoned and the girls had to lie in the garden on the wet earth for half an hour. When they got home Lea and Nellie decided not to give to Bella her share for she did not perform well. Next morning when the lady discovered the problem she immediately went to look for Bella, because she knew her face and recognised her. Lea and Nellie did not wait for Bella’s confession and confessed first. The lady called all of us to her garden and told us a story about tulip growing. Her love for tulips was so sincere that we never ever since then stole them from her garden that of course did not stop us from raiding other neighbourhood gardens. We did it out of fun and not out of hunger or greed. We were a generation raised on fairy tales, adventure movies and books and we wanted our own adventures. Where would we find them if not in our own world that was our beloved Urda. Urda seems like a small island now, but in our childhood it seemed unlimited for discovery.
There was a notorious building that was under construction for at least 30 years and that was originally planned as a State Calculation Centre or VC. Everyone knew what VC meant – a huge concrete twenty two storey building in the centre of Tashkent opposite Red Square that had at least three stores underground with incredible labyrinths and hundreds of rooms and corridors. Only in the late two thousands it was finally finished with fewer stores (they removed half of them) and became a business centre. But at the time when we were children there was nothing more dangerous and exciting than to explore VC.
One day in September something horrible happened. Our gang decided to explore VC. There was Dolphin, Bimbo, Scientist, Bold, Looney, Lea, Vika, my little brother Fattikh, I and Fat Bella. We also took a dog that always accompanied us everywhere we went. He was a stray red dog with beautiful intelligent eyes that slept in Lea’s entrance. We all called him Sharik and thought he was a male. Once Lea’s father advised us that we’d better change his name because he was she. When we asked him why he thought so, he said that apart from evidence underneath her tail he saw that she was pregnant. But since by then she got used to that nick we started to call her Sharo. Sharo was so smart and courageous that we all loved her. Scientist who lived on the ground floor in Lea’s entrance bagged his mother to let Sharo in their house. She soon had plenty of puppies who we came to see in the Scientist’s flat. We sold all of them apart from one who died and was buried in the garden. The only two people Sharo would always obey were Scientist and Lea. I had an old black and white photo in my purse with Lea, Scientist and my little brother Fattikh all sitting on green grass around Sharo. She was a real friend to all of us.
The only security that took care of the building was an elderly drunken watchman who slept in a booth with a lame dog lying by his feet. It barked as we got through a hole in the fence and went after us. But Sharo took care of it and it went back to its snoring master.
The VC was dark and gloomy with shafts of light coming from unfinished bays. We found stairs and decided to get to the top. One by one we ran upstairs laughing and shouting. Fat Bella, Fattikh and Sharo stayed on the 10th floor, the rest raced to the top. It was much harder to climb up the stairs than we thought and as some of us got more tired we slowed down to keep as one group. I offered my hand to Lea, but she refused. She was physically strong, but I tended to notice that it was her stubbornness and determination that were her real strengths. She never complained and always was equal in entertainment or hardship. That made her ever attractive to me.
When we finally got to the top we were startled first by the height but then we filled with amazement and joy. We were interrupting each other in agitation pointing in different directions and shouting: “Look, there is my school! – There is the Museum where I was accepted in the pioneers! – Wow, here is the Gagarin Park! – I can see Kibalchish!”
The view that opened from the roof of the building was truly magnificent. We never thought Red Square to be so beautifully designed, its park and loans perfectly trimmed and suited in the landscape of the centre of Tashkent. From there we saw the statue of Lenin, his arm sticking out in a motion holding a rolled newspaper and behind him our beloved Ankhor and a part of Old Town. On the opposite side of Morji was Yuriy Gagarin Park with a big statue of Gagarin in his cosmonaut uniform on a high hill. Instead of stairs was a stiff wide ramp with marble sidings. We got to the top and then sat on marble sidings and went down. Behind the old office of the First Secretary General of the CPSU where now is the Residence of President Karimov “Ok Saroy” was a Park of Malchish-Kibalchish with Kibalchish on a horse standing in the stirrup in budyonovka. We climbed up the pedestal of Kibalchish to touch balls of his horse often painted in different colours by thugs like us. On the other side were the Museum of Lenin and the Square of Revolution with Karl Marx statue in the middle – a beautiful circle from where roads branched out like rays of light from the sun, its magnificent old plane trees and oaks visibly above many buildings in the centre.
Very few people remembered now that Karl Marx and Kibalchish were created by Leon Adamov, an Armenian architect that also designed the centre of Tashkent after the deadly earthquake in 1966. In 1968 the design of Tashkent was presented as a part of the USSR delegation at the International Exhibition in Japan. Leon Adamov was born in 1929 in Kokand, a town in Ferghana valley, in a family of Armenians, a refugee family from Nagorniy Karabakh. He left Uzbekistan in 1989 and settled in Seattle.
I wondered many years later what made us so happy then apart from our evident youth and passion and surprisingly I only realised it when I returned once to Urda, that it was a genuine love to and pride for our fatherland, that for us was little Urda, Tashkent and the thought that we all were a part of the great Soviet Union. And yet I could not even recall red tape in the school. We drew horns on portraits of Lenin or boobs on the portraits of his wife and comrade Nadejda Konstantinovna Krupskaya and nobody punished us for that. I wonder if nobody still would if I drew something indecent on one of the portraits of contemporary leaders of the former republics of the Union.