Валерий Юабов

Страна : США

Я родился в Ташкенте. Вместе с родителями я иммигрировал в 1979 году в США. В Америке я окончил колледж, выучился на программиста. Однако, несколько лет спустя, я поменял специальность на агента по продаже недвижимости. Встречи с двумя необычными людьми изменили мою жизнь. Они стали моими учителями, наставниками. Дружба с литературным редактором помогла мне продолжить прежде начатые сочинения. А встреча с необычным врачом-пульсодиагностом и травником, зародила интерес к гуморальной медицине. Позже, я переквалифицировался в иглотерапевта и доктора-травника. К сожалению, обоих моих наставников уже нет в живых. Но, о них много рассказано в моих трёх книгах. Я женат, и у нас с супругой трое взрослых детей.

 

Country : USA

I was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In 1979 my parents I immigrated to United States. In New York City I finished college and started a career of a programmer. However, several years later I decided to become a realtor. Meeting extraordinary people had change the course of my life. Friendship with a literary editor helped me to continue writing my essays. Friendship with a talented doctor pulse-diagnostician and herbalist made me interested in humoral medicine. Later-on I had became an acupuncturist and herbologist. Unfortunately, both of my mentors are gone. However, they are still living in my books. I am married and have three adult children.

Перевод мемуаров “Всё начинается с детства“ 

 

Chapter 1.  6 Korotky Lane (Short Lane)

“Vale-e-ya-a!” I heard as I went out into the courtyard. I could see my two-year-old cousin Yura’s little round face in a window across the yard. Although he was standing on his tiptoes on the windowsill, his head hardly reached the fortochka (a small hinged windowpane in the upper corner of the window). He couldn’t yet pronounce the letter “r” so he when he said my name “Valera,” it came out rather comically as “Valeya.”

“Vale-e-ya-a, my mama is beating me up!” he shouted mournfully.

It was an early April morning, and it was Sunday. Everyone in our courtyard was still asleep, as was the whole of Tashkent, so I was afraid that Yura’s yelling would wake our relatives and neighbors. At that moment, Yura’s mother Valya came up to the window. When she reached out her hand, it was not to spank Yura. Holding him by his little behind, she asked with a smile, “Why are you yelling? Everyone’s asleep.” My cousin didn’t need protection, of course. He was just making mischief, as always. But I wasn’t outside to play with him. Mother and I were going to the hospital to visit my father.

“Yura, wait for me, all right? I’ll be back and we’ll play our war game.” A smile spread across his little round face. He just loved to play our war game. Our three-year age difference didn’t keep us from being friends, from playing together, quarreling, and even fighting.

The kitchen door squeaked. Grandpa Yoskhaim walked out onto the porch with a knapsack on his back. Grandpa was a shoemaker. His hands told the story of his hard work – the skin so rough it looked like fish scales, the callused palms, the blackened fingertips covered with scars, and the twisted nails. But those disfigured hands were very strong. Sometimes, when an acquaintance had incurred his displeasure, Grandpa – and he was sixty-seven – could drive him to tears with his iron handshake. A person would approach him with a smile to say hello but leave doubled over.

Grandpa was tall, with broad shoulders. His thick eyebrows, – now gray, but once jet-black – his high forehead and dark eyes were evidence of some Iranian Jewish heritage. And he spoke with a slight, yet distinctive, accent.

I would say that Grandpa Yoskhaim’s life could be summed up in just two words – Torah and work. He prayed at home in the morning, worked from sunrise to sunset six days a week, and spent Saturdays at the synagogue. Like his father and his father’s father, he had only one concern –feeding his family. As to raising the children, he left that completely to his wife.

A kelin, chi to et?! (How are you doing, daughter-in law?),” he greeted Aunt Valya in Tadjik, as always.

“I’m fine. Thank you. How about you?”

But Grandpa was already smiling and nodding to Yura. “Nagzi, Yura? (How are you, Yura)?” he asked slowly.

Grandpa enjoyed joking with small children. He pronounced the word “nagzi” with a long guttural “g” and drawn out “i.” As he was saying it, his face would become quite funny – his brown eyes opened very wide, his gray eyebrows went up, and his thick gray beard stuck up so much that I always felt an urge to tug at it. Yura broke into laughter and reached his hand through the fortochka, wiggling his fingers.

“Just look at the little one! He doesn’t love me. He loves my beard!” Grandpa was joking around, and I was annoyed that it wasn’t me he was playing with. It also crossed my mind that Grandpa had not brought us ice cream for a long time, oh yes, a very long time, since last summer.

“Grandpa! Grandpa!” I said, jumping up and down with excitement. “It’s warm already! Bring us ice cream! … Will you? … But not fruit ice. I want vanilla!”

“I’ll bring you ice cream when it gets warmer,” answered Grandpa on his way out. “Hai, kelin, ravtam ma (I’m off, daughter-in-law).”

I ran to the gate, going around Grandpa. The air was filled with the aroma of blossoming trees. Our whole courtyard was in bloom – apricots, grapevines, Spanish sour cherries, sweet cherries, apples, and lilac. Water was dripping from the outdoor faucet, hitting the ground with a cheerful clinking, as pigeons cooed in the pigeon house. Even the eyes of Jack, our German shepherd, seemed more cheerful than usual. Yes, spring had arrived – everything was ringing, singing, and fragrant in our courtyard.

Clinking the keys, Grandpa unlocked the old wooden gate. Stepping over the lower crossbar, he waved at me and began his walk down our alley, his feet shuffling in his high boots. Clay courtyard fences formed our alley, narrow and long, and Grandpa’s slightly hunched figure could be seen between the clay fences for a long time… “Buy us ice cream!” I shouted. Grandpa did not look back. After a moment, he disappeared around a corner cluttered with garbage pails.     

I shut the gate and approached the lilac bush. Its branches were covered with lush pinkish shoots, fragrant and tender. The lilac grew in the garden by the gate. The garden spread up to our neighbor’s fence. The outhouse was hiding by the fence among apple trees and winter vines. The shower we used in summer was next to it. The pigeon house was perched on a high pole in the middle of the garden, surrounded by white and red rose bushes.

The lilac was our courtyard’s calendar. Its first blossoms coincided with the arrival of the early spring. And when the branches of the lilac bush grew heavy with lush flowers, it meant that spring was in full swing. Now the bush was at the height of its splendor. I stood there for a long time, bathed in the aroma and the warm rays of the sun that broke through the blossoming branches to caress my face. When I squinted, I could see them gleaming in all the colors of the rainbow.

I heard our front door slam. It was Mama coming out with 3-year-old Emma, my little sister. Emma always ran with a bounce. Looking at her, no one would guess that she had recently spent a month in the hospital with yet another bout of pneumonia. She had rosy cheeks, chestnut hair, and a cheerful ringing voice… My little sister caught everyone’s eye.

Aunt Valya was again looking out through the fortochka. “Hey, Ester, how are you doing?”

“I’m all right, thanks,” Mother answered.

Aunt Valya shook her head. “You’re very pale… Are you going to the hospital?”

Looking sad, Mother nodded. “Yes, to visit Amnun.”

Grandma Lisa appeared at her front door. She was short and red-haired, and holding a black night pot in her hands. Out on the porch, she rinsed the pot, splashed out the water, and disappeared behind the front door. 

“All right, Valya, it’s time for us to go,” Mother said.

The plump Emma ran ahead of Mother toward the gate, but as she reached the cherry tree and the faucet, she stopped dead in her tracks. She was close to Jack’s territory – his doghouse was at the gate, and our watchdog did not instill trust in Emma. Jack was a Kazakh German shepherd. It is impossible to imagine a better watchdog. Jack looked imposing with his broad chest, dark snout, black mustache and curled-up tail. His senses of hearing and smell were amazing. Even when a stranger was a few dozen yards away from the gate, Jack sounded his combat alarm. His barking was frightening. Of course, Jack was not barking now – we were his people. He got up, stretched lazily and ambled up to my sister, but he couldn’t reach her – the chain wasn’t long enough. Jack yawned, pretending he didn’t care, stuck out his long red tongue, above which his sharp white teeth gleamed, wagged his tail, and stared at Emma. He seemed to smirk, as if to say, “You can’t escape me, little one.”

“Coward! Coward!” I shouted, laughing.

Ever cautious, Emma waited for Mother, grabbed her right hand to stay as far as possible from Jack and not even see him (thinking that if she didn’t see Jack he wouldn’t see her). And in this way, under Mother’s reliable protection, she reached the lilac bush. Once she was there, Jack was no longer a danger, so the fleet-footed Emma darted forward again. But I was the first one to reach the gate. Standing in our alley, I once again admired with pleasure the chassis of the old car left there by one of our relatives. When the time comes for Yura and me to be allowed to play in the alley, it will be great fun to play in the chassis.

***

Mother held our hands as we walked to a streetcar stop by the Turkmen market. We had a long and difficult walk ahead of us, particularly for little Emma. We walked down our short alley to Korotky Lane. Before we turned onto the lane, I looked back. A large number drawn in white chalk could be seen on our dark-red wooden gate. I already knew – the number was called “six.”

Chapter 2. Hospital

Father didn’t notice our arrival. He was half-sitting on the bed with his back propped up on a pile of pillows, his palms resting on the mattress. His head hung helplessly, moving from one shoulder to another. His pale, thin face seemed very tired. His half-lowered eyelids protruded above bony cheeks. Each time he inhaled, his chest expanded with such difficulty and for so long that it was as if he was trying to inhale all the air in the room. When he exhaled, it became hollow as the air was expelled with a loud whistle.

Quite recently, only two years ago – I still remember that time – Father was a strong healthy man. Tall, well-built, wiry, a good sportsman, he taught P.E. at school and was a basketball coach. Sometimes, he took me along with him to his classes. It was clear that his students were somewhat afraid of him. Not only did they not dare to misbehave, but they were very quiet. There was no unnecessary talking. He was a stern teacher, even rude and harsh. If a student disobeyed, he might go over and hit him. He was also like that at home.

I was two or three years old when I first felt afraid of Father. I remember one episode in particular.

It was evening. Mama was putting me to bed. Father entered the room and began yelling at Mama right away, blaming her for something. She remained silent, as usual. He came up to her, waving his hands and cursing. I understood that he was hurting Mama and that he might be about to hit her. I had probably seen things like that many times before, but only then did I understand that Mama was in trouble. I was frightened, very frightened. I began to cry. Mama ran up to me and began to quiet me. Only then did Father stop yelling. He continued to grumble, but without yelling or threats.

I often heard about Father’s difficult personality from our relatives, first of all from Grandpa and Grandma, Father’s parents. Their son’s every word, each little thing, irritated them. The offenses were piling up, their relations were getting worse, and open resentment was brewing. Grandma Lisa knew how to demonstrate tenderness to her son (maybe maternal feelings did visit her now and then, but most of the time she put on a show). But Grandpa Yoskhaim was a sincere man. He always said to a person’s face what he thought about them, and he made no pretenses when it came to his son. 

The main insult was an old one. When Father attended the Kazakh Institute of Physical Culture in Alma Ata, his parents supported him throughout his studies. They had a big family, with many children. Their son, certainly, promised more than once that he would help his parents when he began working, but they never saw that help. Their son married, then divorced, then married again – that time to my mama. Everything he earned was spent to support his own family. And now, every time they quarreled, and it happened often, Grandpa remembered that old promise and Father’s ingratitude. “We helped you a lot, didn’t we? Have you forgotten about it? We sent you money every month. So where is your help?” Quarrels, sometimes absurd and groundless, cropped up all the time. It happened only because of my father’s explosive, mean, quarrelsome nature, combined with his mother’s treacherous nature.

It was evening. Father was sitting under the apricot tree. Grandma Lisa came out into the courtyard. She took a seat on the porch, not far from her son, rubbing her lower back.

“Did you eat?”

Father, reluctantly, “Y-yes…”

“What did you have?”

“What business is it of yours?”

“Can’t you just answer?”

Father, angrily, “Listen, just leave me alone!”

That was what Grandma Lisa could not tolerate.

She sprang to her feet, forgetting her lower back, waved her hands, slapped her thighs… and an argument began. 

Grandpa used to say over and over to his son, “Nothing but arguments! No one can say a word to you. You’re just like your mother. Who can put up with you?”

And that was true – it was difficult to put up with Father. Only Mama managed to do that, but at what price…

She was a loving woman. She got upset, she suffered, but she invariably forgave the man she loved, the father of her children. On top of that, she was an Asian wife. In other words, just like every wife in any country in this part of the world, she had to endure all of her husband’s whims without complaining, all of his caprices, quibbles, derision, even beatings. Love may have ended, may have been exhausted, but patience, endless patience, remained inviolable.

The Bukharan Jews unfortunately adopted that custom, along with other centuries-old customs of their new countrymen. I don’t mean that it was like that in all Jewish and Uzbek families. Of course, it wasn’t. Take Grandma Lisa – no one dared to hurt her. Grandpa Yoskhaim was somewhat afraid of his wife. And a wonderful harmonious and loving Jewish family lived in the house next door. I often heard their merry voices, their laughter and jokes. It seemed that not only their voices, but the atmosphere of friendliness and peace reached me. Did I envy them? I don’t know, I don’t know. Certainly, I did compare our families from time to time.

There were six beds in the ward, located along the walls in two rows, three on each side. Father was in the one to the left of the door.

Mama sat down on the edge of his bed and put her hand on his forehead. Father opened his eyes slowly.

“During the night… there was… another… attack. They… gave… injection. They… gave… me… oxy…gen…,” he said very quietly, stopping to catch his breath.

I stood at the wooden bedside table at the head of the bed, looking in bewilderment at the dark red dots, many of them, that covered his arms from his elbows almost to his palms.

“I’ve brought you some broth. It’s still hot. Have some,” Mama said, taking out a glass jar wrapped in a cloth. She poured the broth into a bowl and began to feed Father, lifting the spoon carefully to his lips. The aroma of the broth, a very tasty aroma, spread throughout the room.

Frightened, Emma was examining the ward. She couldn’t understand – it was clear from the look on her face – why her papa was here, far from home, in this unfamiliar room with many beds. She was eyeing her father warily – she’d grown unaccustomed to him.

For some time, the intervals between asthma attacks had been growing shorter.

An accidental cold was the reason for that misfortune. Father used to go swimming in a mountain river with his friends. Once, in spring, after bathing under an ice-cold waterfall, he hadn’t dried himself properly before biking back home with his friend. He got bronchitis, which turned into a bronchial asthma, and the healthy person, the athlete, became an invalid. Asthma attacks are a very agonizing thing. During the day, Father would sit on a small chair in the courtyard with his hands resting on his knees. During the night, he would suffocate in his bed just as he was doing now in the hospital ward.

“My little girl…Let me touch your pretty curl,” Father said tenderly, trying to smile. He loved Emma very much. He used to beckon to her as he was sitting on his little chair. He pulled gently at her chestnut curls, hugged and tickled her, repeating a line from a rhyme he had once heard, “My little girl… let me touch your pretty curl.”  

Emma smiled, embarrassed, clinging tightly to Mama’s knees and pressing her head against them.

It had grown livelier in the ward. Other patients were awake, some of them making their beds, others shaving. The rustling of newspapers could be heard.

“Doctor’s rounds have begun,” one of the patients announced.

Two women in white gowns entered. I recognized one of them right away. She was a registered nurse who attended to the patients in the ward. We often saw her when we visited Father. The second woman wore a stethoscope around her neck. I had already met her too. They both walked from bed to bed, stopping longer at some of them. Then they approached Father’s bed. Emma’s face shrank as if she were about to cry. White gowns reminded her of injections.

“Oh, we have most of the family here today,” the doctor said, sitting down by Father’s bed. She began examining him. Unfamiliar words could be heard, names of medications. There were many of them. Mama sighed quietly, standing at the foot of the bed and holding the scared Emma by the shoulder.

Chapter 3. Old Town

From the hospital we went to visit Grandpa and Grandma, Mama’s parents. We reached Koltsevaya (Circle) by trolley. It was near Starogorodsky (Old Town) bazaar. From there, we had to walk.

I liked Old Town with its narrow unpaved lanes, low clay adobes, ariks (watering canals) in which water could be heard constantly gurgling. I liked the women’s colorful silk ethnic dresses, the chaykhana (tea house) at the corner of Sabir Rakhimov Street, not far from Grandma’s house. Unlike other tea houses, it wasn’t noisy. Usually, there were only a few regulars sitting on the veranda sipping tea. We knocked hard on the gate since Grandma Abigai’s hearing wasn’t great. Besides, the courtyard was big. Grandma opened the gate. As always, she wore a long dress, slippers and a scarf wrapped around her head.

“Ah, Ester, byee (come on in)!” she exclaimed merrily upon seeing us. “Valera, oh, Valera!” And she covered me with kisses.

Grandma, like all elderly Bukharan Jews, spoke a dialect of Tadjik, sprinkled with words in Hebrew, which had become the native tongue of Central Asian Jews and was considered by some scholars to be a separate language: Bukhari.

Emma and I stayed in the courtyard to play. Just two apple trees and some poplars were growing in its clay soil. It was scarcely lit by the sun. A section of the outer wall constantly collapsed and needed to be rebuilt every year.

The gate slammed loudly, and Grandpa Hanan appeared in the courtyard. He was carrying his big sharpening machine on his shoulder. He was tall but skinny, and that load wasn’t easy for him to carry. On seeing us, he smiled and put the machine down.

“Your mama ai!” 

Every time we visited, that joke was his greeting. Ai means “not good.”

“No, no!” I shouted hugging him and kissing his greyish beard. “Let’s sharpen your knives! Let’s get them sharpened!” 

Curly-haired Emma stood aside sucking her thumb and enjoying the familiar game. Grandpa picked her up and kissed her, “Duhtori Bobo! Duhtori Bobo!” (Grandpa’s little girl), and he carried her to the house. I stayed behind to examine the machine. It was taller than I was. Two wheels, one on top of another, were connected by a belt. When you pressed the lower pedal, they began to rotate. There were several grindstones attached to the upper crossbar.

Grandpa returned with knives and a jar of water. The wheels began turning merrily. A knife was jumping from grindstone to grindstone. Showers of sparks shot out from under the blade. Now and then, Grandpa cooled the blade in the water, then checked its sharpness on his nail. Grandpa Hanan rocked back and forth, back and forth, pressing the pedal. The pedal tapped gently – tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap. The grindstone produced its piercing tune – v-zh-zh-zh! v-zh-zh-zh! Emma and I joined in the concert, imitating the sound of drums, “Toom-ba-le-ka-toom! Toom-ba-le-ka-toom!” All that noise didn’t irritate Grandpa in the least. His tired face brightened up and he began singing something quietly.

Grandpa liked to sing when he was among friends, when no strangers were around. He sometimes sang something very sad. Perhaps he remembered the war in which he fought from the beginning almost to the end and lost many friends. When he returned home, he was sick. First, he had a bad case of bronchitis, then asthma. But he needed to feed his family. He who defended his homeland was given a medal and a small pension. He tried to earn extra money in different ways. He got himself mixed up in some shady business and ended up in jail. His son Avner and the son’s wife Sofia did their best to intercede on his behalf and succeeded in getting his sentence reduced. Grandpa spent two years in jail. When he was released, he had tuberculosis. He continued to do his best to earn a living and walked around town with the heavy sharpening machine.

Mama came out to the courtyard.

“Kids, we’ll be eating soon. We just need to buy bread.”

Bread, to be precise, lepyoshka (flat bread) was bought from an elderly Uzbek woman who lived nearby, across the street from the tea house. She baked them in the tandir (clay oven buried in the ground) under the awning. Small, plump, fragrant, with a crunchy crust, they were popular all over the neighborhood. 

Bir sum (fifty kopecks),” the Uzbek woman took fifty kopecks and gave Mama five flat breads that were still exhaling the heat of the oven.

Oh, how we wanted to eat them right away or to have at least a little tiny piece, but Mama shook her head.

“At home, at home, with dinner.”

At home, at the table, Grandpa sang the prayer. “Amen” we echoed, as always. Pilaf was served on a big platter. Dark rice with chunks of meat appeared almost to breathe, exuding steam. Heads of garlic stood out in all their splendor on top of the hill of rice. The adults traditionally ate without spoons. They pressed a small portion of rice with their fingers into the platter and then raised it to their mouths. Grandma served raisins and thinly sliced carrots for dessert.

Unhurried dinner conversation was underway.

“How’s your health, Papa?” Mama asked.

Grandpa only nodded in response. He didn’t like such questions.

“How’s Amnun doing?” Grandma asked.

“I lost my health in combat, and he – on a motorcycle…,” Grandpa meant the incident with which it all began. “Ah, young people, young people.”

“Sugar, and I want butter! Sugar, and I want butter!” was heard from the hallway.

Those words were accompanied by ringing laughter and the snapping of fingers… My aunts, Rosa and Rena, who never missed a chance to tease me, had arrived. I always sang those words, “Sugar, and I want butter!” when I was hungry. After kissing us, Rosa and Rena sat down at the table.

“Have you been to the bazaar?”

“Yes. Everything is more expensive again,” Rosa informed us. “Khurmati doozt (officials are thieves)! They don’t care about people.”

“How are things at the factory, Rosa?” asked Mama.

“They’ve raised the production quota once again. It was high enough to keep up with.”

“I know, I know. Meetings all the time. ‘Sew better, sew more.’ But our rate of pay is the same. It looks like they plan to raise the income tax beginning in May.”

“It’s the same with us – meetings to discuss output and alcoholism. I’m sick and tired of it. I have no more patience.”

“You’d better put up with it because there’s nowhere else to go. It’s the same everywhere,” Mama sighed.

Mama had three sisters and her brother Avner. They were good friends as they were growing up. When Grandpa was sent to the front, Mama was three and Avner was six. Grandma Abigai replaced her husband at his booth, working as a cobbler. Avner, as the eldest child, kept house – he frequented stores and the bazaar in search of food, took care of his sisters and even helped his mother in the booth, where he shined clients’ footwear. Mama told me that once he got hold of two rolls. On the way home, he was thirsty and stopped at a drinking fountain. He put the rolls down, had some water, and then saw that the rolls were gone.

“Valera, Valera!” Grandma Abigai sing-sang my name tenderly. “Oh, djoni bibesh. Ina gri (my dear, take this),” and she gave me a fat juicy piece of meat.

There was no limit to Grandma’s kindness. She always had a gift for her grandchildren in her modest house – be it a homemade toy or some sweets. And she always gave us her smiles.

It seemed to people who knew her that she was a very happy person. But I sometimes saw her and Mama crying together in the back of the house. They were very close, and when they got together, they talked without noticing the time.

Burma,” Grandma winced as she tried a sour plum.

We often laughed when Grandma happened to put something sour in her mouth. She winced in a very funny way, her thick eyebrows came together over the bridge of her nose, her nostrils widened, but her eyes, on the contrary, became narrow slits, and her lips contorted as if she was about to cry. Even the scarf on her head seemed to wince.

Meanwhile, Rosa teased and tickled me.

“May I eat your eyes? How about your eyelashes?”

Seated next to me, she patted my cheeks and kissed my eyelids. My aunts liked my big eyes and long lashes. It seemed to me that they sometimes played with me as if I were a doll, and I got angry and embarrassed.

“Will you ever talk to us? I know what we’ll do to you. We’ll dye your lashes with usma.”

At that point I naturally couldn’t take it any longer. I broke free of Rosa’s arms and ran away.

***

Dying eyebrows was one of the favorite occupations of the women in our house.

They rubbed fresh usma sprouts between their palms and squeezed the juice out onto the bottom of a tea bowl turned upside down. Then they applied it to their eyebrows using cotton wool wrapped around a matchstick. Admiring their thick green eyebrows in a hand-held mirror, they repeated over and over, “How does it look?”

When the sisters had a free minute, they would turn on the radio to listen to Uzbek music. It was tender, slow, sad, and it was the only music they truly enjoyed, that touched their souls. The sisters would snap their fingers and rock in time with the music. They would also sing along to the songs they knew.

And Grandma liked to play cards, especially with her children and grandchildren, so she suggested her favorite entertainment. Her eyesight was poor, so she held the cards close to her eyes, squinting at each of them. She clicked her tongue, smiled, rocked from side to side and mumbled, “Ibi basardroya. I na bin. (Damn it. Just look at this.)” She cast cunning glances at us, as if to say, “Oh my, I think I’m in trouble.”      

But if someone tried to take advantage of her poor eyesight, it didn’t work. Grandma kept close track, with her watchful eye, of which cards other players put on the table, and if she noticed cheating, she returned the cards to the violators. Grandma was always vigilant.

***

Our time at Grandpa Hanan and Grandma Abigai’s house flew by. We didn’t notice that it had grown dark. It was time to go home.

We said good-bye. The aunts walked with us as far as the tea house, and from there we walked to the streetcar stop.

“The Turkmen Bazaar,” the conductor announced. We got off, and the streetcar sped away, sparks flying as it left.

It was pitch dark as the sparse streetlights flickered dimly. There was that special stillness that one felt only at night. It was intensified by the rustling of leaves, the peaceful buzz of cicadas, and the sounds made by the tires of rare passing cars.

The Turkmen Bazaar was on the other side of the streetcar track. The huge market, which stretched for hundreds of meters, was silent now. It would come back to life at sunrise.

We walked slowly. Mama was carrying the lightly snoring Emma. It took us twenty minutes to get to Korotky Lane. The bulb above the gate lit the lane dimly. Jack barked gruffly and then felt silent as he sensed us.

Everyone was asleep in the house.

Mama unlocked the door. We could smell the sharp scent of dampness coming from inside. There was a loud click as she turned the light switch. The bright light suddenly illuminated the small room that served as a foyer, kitchen and place to entertain infrequent guests.

“Close the door, Valery.”

Standing on the threshold, I reached for the door handle. Then I looked at Yura’s windows. They were dark… The war game, I remembered. Yura must have waited for me for a long time.

Mama put Emma to bed and lit the stove.

I told her I was hungry. We had had dinner long ago. Mama opened the fridge. A lonely lightbulb revealed its empty shelves.

“It’s late, son. Let’s go to bed,” she said as she turned away.

“It’s all right, Mama. I’m full. It’s late. It’s late,” I repeated, holding back my tears.

 

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