When it comes to giving children names, nobody can outdo the Kazakhs in their ‘audacity’. It is as if they owned names from all corners of the globe, because once a name has taken someone’s fancy, nobody worries his head about what or whom a name might relate to. Whatever name happens to occur to them, that’s the one they’ll stick to the child. Whether it’s a pleasant name or not does not enter into it. Whether it seems appropriate in a Kazakh setting or not and, if it does, whether it’s appropriate for the child concerned does not matter. They do not even tie themselves up in knots wondering who the person was whose name they’ve come to respect, what he did, what his ethnic origins were and whether he had anything to do with Kazakhs. A name is a name. Was there a person by that name? There was. Is it a name that will be used in the future? Yes… and nothing else bothers them. Even if the man in question had devoted his whole life to fighting Kazakhs, that would still be no reason for the head of the household not to give the name to his child. If you had the opportunity to check out all and every Kazakh, I am perfectly sure you would find names from every tribe or people inhabiting the planet. This habit among Kazakhs of taking over names from every imaginable country was especially widespread in the 1930s and 1960s – starting with the first President of America and ending with Okap, the wheeler-dealer in charge of the bazaar in Karaspan. Attention was drawn to such names far and wide like a campaign for cultivating virgin and abandoned lands. Measures to promote the adoption of names from all over the world were, like all major events, conducted in different ways in different places and sometimes the gatherings involved went on late and only finished just in time… Like living reminders of the political events of the distant past, children would be running up and down the roads of our auls1 with names like October, Social, Aurora, Potemkin, Revolutsiya, Commune, Stakhan2, Chapai3, Rolland4, Maxim5, Marx, Engels, Tito, Roosevelt, Isaac (for which read – Newton), Gandhi and so on. There were even plenty of lads with swarthy complexions with names of whole states and capitals. This meant that when a whole crowd of us was running around kicking a ball about, we were in the company of great men and great cities from all over the planet – Baghdad, Madrid, Teheran, Kabul, Rome, Berlin, Rabat… The whole republic was peppered with foreign names wherever possible and when the rest of it, after having absorbed all those international names, began to calm down, this “great” drive had only just reached as far as our collective farm by the name of “Berries”. In general any kind of news would always reach our aul later than everybody else’s. Indeed, when two years had passed since the October Revolution, the new Soviet system, after crossing the Syr-Darya River, had still not succeeded in reaching all the remote auls where Allah still held sway. It was only by chance that our aul had discovered what “Soviet rule” was. In front of a dark five-winged yurt sat a little old woman with a shrivelled weather-beaten face calmly combing wool, when all of a sudden out of nowhere two horsemen appeared. After this unexpected appearance, they proceeded to ask the old woman her name, her father’s name, where she had been born, who her mother was, who else lived in the yurt, what her political views were and then all about her children. After the long list of questions the men told her: “You are a Soviet citizen now” and after mounting their horses they went on their way. The old woman had not understood a word. She went on sitting there, not thinking about anything but still combing her wool – work she had started in the feudal era and was continuing in the socialist one. She had not even noticed that during her work on the wool she had leapt in an instant from one era into the next. Nor did she start thinking about all that the next day because nothing had changed which might have made her aware of the leap: the aul was the same, the people were the same, her yurt was the same and so were her wool and her existence, the laughter and the sorrow she saw all around her. It was not until six weeks later that one of the yurts lived in by a poor family was singled out as the “Red Yurt” with a strange notice by the entrance. At about the same time an ‘educated’ Kazak with a large moustache appeared on the scene who knew how to swear like a trooper in Russian. After another three days he collected together about a dozen people and explained to them what was written on the red cloth serving as a banner. It turned out to be a rallying call and, what’s more, one that was enough to make your hair stand on end: “Banish the bais6 and long live the poor peasants!” So that was where the catch was! They had been getting on with their lives as if nothing was happening for three whole days in the shadow of a rallying call like that!
Getting together afterwards, people duly responded to the rallying-call and set to work. Six days later the bais had been banished and only poor peasants were left.
A month later the first half of the rallying-call was removed, just leaving the second: “…Long live the poor peasants!”
This was how the new life for the peasant poor began in that part of the world.
Today’s generation of the old woman’s family is represented in the village by Abdashim: he has eleven children – five girls and six sons. When his sixth and youngest son was born, the whole village to a man decided to call him Bonaparte. Given that today’s descendant of the Kazakh with the big moustache and eloquent Russian curses had decided to call the baby Bonaparte, everyone decided straightaway that it was an excellent idea. Some of the Kazakhs wearing haphazard collections of garments hesitated, looking rather indecisive, not understanding who Bonaparte was. The man proposing the idea explained: “Bonaparte is the czar of the land of the Prensh. They have a strong army and he’s their commander.” To underline the point, he added: “Surely it’s a good thing if your son grows up to be a fine man like Bonaparte?”
“Yes, of course, it’s a good idea,” muttered Abdashim, the infant’s father. “But the name sounds very foreign. Surely we’ve got someone like that in our Soviet state?!”
“Yes, we have,” went on the descendant of the man who had been the first to teach the village to swear in Russian. “There’s Kotovskii7, Shors8 and Chapai… but their names are widely used in lots of other places. So we chose a name that’s brand new, which you won’t find anywhere else. When your son grows up he’ll be grateful to us all.”
“But it’s so foreign…”
“So what! You need to take a wider view and not just stick to narrow local ideas. Foreigners use our names as well…”
“Take the Germans and the English… wherever you look you find the name Konrad.”
“Yes, Konrad! The name of our common tribe!”
“D’you mean Konyrat?”
“Of course… Konyrat! Countries far away from ours, out of respect for us, have taken the name of our tribe to use instead of a surname. Isn’t it shameful if we can’t look further than our own backyard! They also have peoples and states. Bonaparte was a brave horseman leading a whole country. If they hear about it, his family will be glad and if they don’t, his spirit will still be grateful to us!”
Today’s descendant of the Cossack with the big moustache used logical arguments to get the better of all opposition and Abdashim’s son was duly named Bonaparte.
The birth was celebrated, the name bestowed and made official and prayers recited.
When news spread that Abdashim’s sixth son was planning to wed, the men of the small aul could not help but feel excited. Not because they hadn’t seen a person who was planning to marry before or because Bonaparte was now a fine young fellow, but simply because there would be plenty to drink at the party.
By this time the messengers had long since been sent to the bride’s family, the match-making and the ritual of rubbing each other’s face with flour completed and also the actual day for the wedding celebrations named. There were no idlers in the aul, everyone had their work to do, so it was important to give everyone plenty of advance warning.
It had been decided that Bonaparte should bring his betrothed back to the village in precisely a month’s time.
When the wedding was exactly a month away, as evening drew in, everything became agitated in Abdashim’s house. The women began whispering, driving the children outside and making sure the dogs were tied up in their kennels.
Five or six of the old men from the aul, who would usually gather when something extraordinary happened, and four or five prominent individuals made their way into Abdashim’s house and engaged in long discussions.
“What a disaster!” exclaimed one of the middle-aged men, Dorzhan, soon afterwards, as he flicked ash from his half-finished cigarette out of an open window. “He’s been unlucky ever since he was born, disasters have been following him ever since.”
“It’s a disgrace!” commented old Khalfe, closing his eyes in horror.
“What are we going to say to people now!” shouted Dorzhan in a rage, as if he was about to explode. Dorzhan was one of his relatives twice removed, so he was regarded as Bonaparte’s cousin, although he was only five years younger than Abdashim. His father was older than Abdashim’s father though, so he saw himself as more important and would dispense advice. If he thought it necessary, he would raise his voice and even saw it as his citizen’s right to mete out physical punishment if any disobedient relative began to cross the line.
“Our God is a just God!” announced the elder by the name of Rem9, looking up at the ceiling as if seeking advice from above.
Around the tablecloth spread out on the floor, people sat in silence once more. They were all prey to gloomy thoughts and none of them attached any importance to the fact that the tea in their tea-bowls had long since grown cold.
While the “special commission” was discussing the finer points of this particular case which had come to light in Abdashim’s house, the whole aul – from the members of the collective farm board to the teachers’ council from the school – was growing more and more alarmed as they waited for the outcome.
So what was it that had brought the whole aul to its feet and left everyone agog?
The trouble was…
To cut a long story short, Bonaparte, who was due to bring his bride back to his village in a month’s time, turned out not to have been circumcised.
That news had come as a shock, like a bolt from the blue.
“Oh dear!” sighed Dorzhan again, unable to contain all the bitterness burning inside him. “Abdashim only had six boys and couldn’t look after them properly!… Anyone, not to mention his six sons, knows everything he needs to about all 600 sheep if he has to take them out to pasture. What was the matter with you, were you out of your mind, when your sixth son was born?”
“Well… yes, there were the usual everyday worries, just surviving. We just forgot. I don’t really know how it happened,” said Abdashim, sounding rather unsure of himself.
“Everyone has day-to-day cares…” said Dorzhan making a sweeping gesture with his arm as he looked round at all the others. “The elder over there has nine daughters and sixteen grandchildren. He has more to worry about than you do. But he didn’t forget about any of his sons and bring disgrace down upon them, like you have. Isn’t that right, old man?”
“God forbid!” said old Rem, angrily stroking his beard.
“But you did forget… your children forgot and what was your wife doing?”
“She did as well… She has a lot of work with all the children…a hard lot…”
“It’s not just a hard lot… it’s a disgrace! You’ll soon grasp that!” shouted Dorzhan, who felt he had the moral right to accuse them and, if necessary, to give them a good hiding. If this news gets as far as the match-makers tomorrow, just imagine what a disgrace that will be!”
However angry and incensed they became, they kept it all to themselves, but as soon as Dorzhan lifted the lid of the cauldron, the steam that had been so hard to keep in soared upwards as if threatening to drift over to the far-away match-makers, who for the moment were just keeping a close eye on their future relatives. Those sitting waiting for their meal, already at a loss to know what to do and well aware that their simple conversation was bound to reach the bride’s village in the end, felt helpless, as if the earth were about to swallow them up.
“So, what way out do we have?” asked Dorzhan, looking round at them all and then staring hard at Abdashim, as if to say it was all his fault. “Well then, out with it!”
“What is there to say…? We’ve brought shame on ourselves. The devil’s tripped us up…” Once more you could cut the silence with a knife. It lasted a long time, weighing heavy on all those present. It was Masakbai who started up all of a sudden: “Didn’t you know anything till today and how did it happen that this has only now come to light… this very day?” The way he spoke made it sound as if he was accusing everyone.
“What?” asked Abdashim, deep in his own thoughts and not understanding at first what was being asked of him.
“What d’you mean – what? I’m talking about the disaster which is happening with your son! He’s been walking around without a care in the world all this time and then suddenly – Bang! Just before the wedding…” He looked to one side with a bitter laugh. “Given that you’d forgotten, it would be better if you’d gone on forgetting. But now, you’ve got everyone worked up. If he’d gone on as before… nothing would have happened to him. Over there beyond the railway there’s a whole load of Russians. No noise, no disasters and they’ve produced fine little lads. As for their daughters, they’re all real beauties…”
“Come on now, Masakbai, what are you wittering on about!” Dorzhan interrupted. “Has anyone asked you to say who’s pretty and who’s ugly?”
“What – am I not to say anything, just because I haven’t been asked?”
“Come on now, what are we going to say to the match-makers? That’s what we’ve got to think about.”
“What should we say to them? Nothing! What have they to do with our internal affairs? D’you think they’re going to inspect him?” He had been about to swallow down some cold tea, when he remembered something and without meaning to, spat it out again. The tea splashed all over the face of Dorzhan, who had been lying on his side and the most venerable of the elders – Rem. Dorzhan, who had been about to say something, and Rem who had been stroking his beard as he tried to find a way out of the tricky situation which had arisen, were like wet cats shaking themselves and immediately trying to put themselves to rights. The elder pulled a handkerchief out of the inner pocket of his thin coat and began to wipe his face. Abdashim, the head of the household, looked over towards the door and yelled as if a fire had broken out: “Water! Bring water, quick!”
A swarthy, nimble little boy – as if he had been waiting for that command all day – came flying into the house with a copper jug and a copper basin. His quick actions and shining eyes showed that he had not been waiting there to pour water on the flames but rather expecting that he would have to remove someone’s severed head. Masakbai, deciding that he needed to make up for the damage he’d caused, made a sign with his chin so as to send the over-excited boy in the direction of Rem and Abdashim.
The two men started washing down their faces which had been splashed with tea.
“Sinful filth!” muttered the elder as he wiped his face with a towel: “The tea that infidel splashed over us has the smell of a sinful drink…”
“So that’s what you’re up to!” shouted Dorzhan, casting an angry glance at Masakbai: “You had been wondering why he had got so worked up over nothing, but it turns out there was a reason. How did you manage to find the time to start drinking before it was hardly light, eh?”
Masakbai just sat there like a statue, without saying anything.”- Go on then, where did you start drinking this morning? There wasn’t a single drop of vodka in the whole aul…”
Masakbai still said nothing.
“Don’t play the partisan with us!” shouted Dorzhan angrily. “I’m asking you again – where did you manage to get hold of vodka?”
“Yes, where were you drinking?” Abdashim asked, joining in the fray. “Is there really some for sale?” He pointed with his chin in the direction of the shop.
Masakbai gave such a small nod that you could hardly see it and said: “It only came in a little while ago,” he whispered.
All the men, apart from the elder, Rem, suddenly began to appear agitated for some reason and they began to fidget.
“We need to decide what to do straightaway and not talk round and round in circles,” said Dorzhan and in the light of the recent news he began hurrying everyone else. “This isn’t the moment to waste time chattering because the circumcision’s got to be done and, if not, then let him walk around as before.”
So it came about that Bonaparte had to undergo circumcision in keeping with the decision of the village’s “emergency commission”. There was no room for delay. That very same day if possible, he would be called in from work and the whole thing would be dealt with by lunch-time. The reason for the haste was that weather conditions were far from favourable, it was the middle of a heatwave. The members of the “commission” had calculated that a body after undergoing circumcision, even in a heat-wave like the present one, would take at most 10-12 days to heal and then Bonaparte would be up to setting out on his mission. They all said a prayer before the deed.
Elder Rem, now highly satisfied with his decision, stayed at home to drink tea and the middle-aged men, making Masakbai lead the way, hurried off in the direction of the collective farm’s shop.
There were two motor-bikes with side-cars in front of Abdashim’s house by this time: one set off in a hurry to bring over a sheep from out in the pasture for a sacrifice and the other was sent to fetch Bonaparte.
The summer yurt, where the small children of the family used to sleep in the hot weather, was emptied and made ready for Bonaparte’s exclusive use.
Within the space of less than two hours “Operation Bonaparte” was underway. Inside the yurt with a roof and walls made of felt rugs, Elder Rem carried out the circumcision while, under its canopy, Masakbai and Dorzhan skinned a black sheep.
Bonaparte, as we all know was not a free agent: like everybody else he was involved in the creation of the material and technical basis for communism and he was employed in the farm work-shop as an assistant mechanic. Not just for one day but two, there had been no sign of him at work and so the man in charge there, Espanalia, and mechanic Vietnambek turned up at Abdashim’s house on Day Three. As soon as they appeared in the yard, Abdashim grabbed hold of them straightaway, as if he had been expecting the visitors and, refusing to listen to any objections, he pushed them into his house.
A tablecloth had been spread out and on top of it there was an unopened bottle of “Pshenichnaya” vodka and Georgian cognac. At the sight of those bottles the air of stern formality disappeared from the faces of the visitors.
“Let him stay in bed and recover,” muttered Espanalia well after midnight, on his way out of Abdashim’s yurt, hardly able to keep upright.
“Let him lie down till he’s completely better,” commented Vietnambek, noting with his own eyes the state Bonaparte was in. “When you’re older it’s quite a job…Difficult…but …never mind!” He ruffled Bonaparte’s hair while he lay there, his eyes popping out of his head. “In my family…my wife’s brother went through the ritual after his wedding… You on the other hand… you’re only planning to get married…” Vietnambek remarked on his way out.
The next day Doctor Oscar came by. He too only left at dawn, together with his wife. He also said as he left: “Let him stay in bed. I can write a sick note for as long as you like. He can even stay in bed for two months as far as I’m concerned.”
The doctor’s wife had her piece of advice as well: “If anybody turns up for an inspection, tell them that he’s only just been discharged from hospital…”
After that the collective-farm chairman came round.
By this time Abdashim and his wife were totally worn out by all these guests: their savings set aside for the wedding began to dwindle away.
For all the guests who were arriving for the wedding there was just one request: that they should not mention what had happened to a single soul.
Everyone gave their word.
Bonaparte was in bed for a week but did not recover: nor did he do so after a second week. Abdashim’s family was getting worried by this time. Every day, on his way home from work, Dorzhan would look inside the yurt, where Bonaparte was lying.
“How are you?” he would ask gently. Bonaparte did not reply: his wide staring eyes fixed on his cousin were like those of a madman. Dorzhan came by the next day as well.
“Well, how are things?” he asked once again.
Bonaparte just shrugged his shoulders.
Two days later, Dorzhan asked: “How are you getting on?” By the day after that he was sounding angry: “How are you in there, you miserable wretch? Why isn’t it healing up?”
“How should I know…?”
“Who else is going to know, if you don’t? Not me, you stupid?”
“What d’you all want from me? I’m not lying here because I’ve got nothing better to do!”
“You damned idiot, you’re just lying there to get out of working. The longest it should have taken for you to get better is ten days”
“Don’t you believe me?”
“But of course! A nice soft bed, food whenever you want it. Aha, what’s that you’ve got there?” asked Dorzhan pulling a bottle out from under his pillow, where it had been sticking out for all to see.
“Boiled water…” muttered Bonaparte.
“What d’you mean, boiled water? What d’you need that for?”
Bonaparte hesitated, not knowing what to say. Dorzhan turned out to be persistent. After taking out the cork, he sniffed the contents. As if he did not trust his own sense of smell, he tried a few drops on the tip of his tongue. Then, as if he wanted to make quite sure, Dorzhan drank a mouthful, and then another. Finally he knocked back several long gulps.
“But it’s vodka!” he shouted at Bonaparte. “What’s that meant to mean?”
“The lads suggested it would help me get better faster…”
Dorzhan sat down, deep in thought and then took another two mouthfuls. The night before he had been up till dawn drinking with the livestock foreman and, filled to the gills with alcohol after four or five samples from Bonaparte’s bottle, he was back on form.
“It’s not right for you to lie around here like this” he said looming over Bonaparte. “Tell me, what d’you think you’re doing? In a month’s time there’ll be celebrations and in a fortnight it’ll be time for you to go and fetch the bride. Your empty head has forgotten about all of that…”
“What d’you want me to do?! You yourself…”
“Lazy good-for-nothing. As far as I’m concerned” he said, taking another swig: “I was up and about after three days, d’you understand?”
“That was in your day. It’s a different world now. Times are different, there’s all this pollution…”
“You brainless idiot, times can change but human nature doesn’t! Your skin’s no good! Make sure you don’t blame it on your mother’s blood!”
“But they say – “the origin of a young horseman depends on his mother’s blood…”
“You just lie there, you’ve done enough arguing!”
“So you’re going to stop me even talking, are you?”
“Don’t talk, concentrate on getting better as fast as you can. Oh God, what are we going to say to the match-makers if they get to hear of all this. You’ll bring disgrace down on the whole of our tribe!”
“Tell me what I’m guilty of!”
“Your father’s stupid and you’re a scoundrel!” exclaimed Dorzhan, drowning in despair by this time. He took two large gulps of vodka and appeared by now to have decided that it would be wrong to put the bottle back on the ground so, still holding it, he began to hold forth: “You’re all a bad lot! You go on walking about without a care in the world and only remember the problem when there’s a month left before the wedding! You’ve said enough, be quiet!” Dorzhan didn’t even give Bonaparte the chance to open his mouth. “Tomorrow I shall come round again. Pull yourself together. You don’t even have the slightest wish to recover.”
After spilling what was left in the bottle, he put the empty bottle away in his breast pocket. “You need to pray for God’s help! Bonaparte! What kind of Bonaparte are you?
Then he began to laugh out loud: “If those poor Frenchies could hear the state that Bonaparte’s in out here, on “Berries” collective farm, how d’you think they’d feel about it? If they not only heard about you but saw you, if they were to turn up here?! Oh dearie me! That’s what you deserve, Bonaparte!”
On reaching the door, Dorzhan turned back one last time: “And don’t drink vodka! Look what it’s done to you!” After that he went out, swaying as he walked.
By now Bonaparte’s condition really was a cause of concern for his relatives. When there were only ten days left before he had to set off to his bride’s home, the “emergency commission” came together again for a meal in Abdashim’s house. The commission decided that Bonaparte had to be looked over by the mullah. In the evening they walked around him with a white hen to ward off evil spirits and a black ram was slaughtered. Its meat was then distributed to the neighbours. Bonaparte was taken to spend the night by the grave of a saint and outside his yurt several rifles were fired up into the air. Yet none of this produced any results whatsoever. The relatives and neighbours discussed it all in detail and sat there helpless. Then Masakbai came round…
He announced “In an hour’s time they’re going to broadcast a sance with Kashpirovskii. He’s a real saint! He made an old man rise to his feet who had been bed-ridden for forty years and made thick wavy hair appear on heads of men who were completely bald. We need to bring the TV set into the yurt where Bonaparte’s lying.” “There’s no socket in there” said Abdashim’s youngest daughter, who always had the latest information at her fingertips.
“If there isn’t one, we’ll have to help Bonaparte walk as far as the room with the TV set, one of us supporting him on each side.”
And that was what they did…
When there were only 10 minutes left before the beginning of the sance, Dorzhan and Masakbai brought Bonaparte in and laid him out in front of the television set. The children, old men and old women, who had been longing to see Kashpirovskii for ages, were dispatched to a neighbour’s house.
At last the sance began. Whether it was the effect Kashpirovskii had on them or just the strain of the circumstances was not clear, but soon both Masakbai and Dorzhan began to doze off. Usually when someone was under the spell of a sance like that, he shouldn’t wake up till a special command is given, but those two were twitching and kept on looking first at Kashpirovskii and then at Bonaparte and every now and then they’d say something.
“What?” asked Dorzhan, when he woke up for a brief moment and looked over towards his great-nephew.
Bonaparte didn’t say anything.
“Is there any response?” asked Masakbai all of a sudden, hoping for pleasant news.
Bonaparte didn’t utter a sound.
Kashpirovskii continued his address to the audience. “I shall not mention the types of illnesses. The magic power, within my words will itself find all the types of diseases. In the human body there is an energy unknown to us. I believe in this energy. We shall never be able precisely to understand what it really is. After I have spoken, this mysterious force will awaken in you. It will rouse itself and, of its own accord, combat all the disorders in your body. During the sance do not think about anything, forget your diseases. Whatever happens, the great power of the sance will find your disease of its own accord. You are entitled to think about me what you will. I do not let this upset me, because all I do is wish you well…!”
“Why aren’t you sleeping?” called out Dorzhan, feeling cross with his younger brother, when he opened his eyes and started as he came to.
“You’ve been wrapping yourself up tightly, open the covers up a little, come on!” requested Masakbai, pulling Bonaparte’s thin blanket down as far as his waist. “Don’t be shy. We’re all men in here. Come on now, further down… That’s the way… So that Kashpirovskii can have a look…”
By this time Bonaparte was almost stark naked.
“During the sance you can go about your ordinary business. If neighbours come in or the kettle on the stove starts boiling, or your child cries, you can get up and move away from the television set. The power of the sance will still reach you. Now you can wake up. I shall give the command. I shall count to ten. One. Two. Three. The fact that you are in thrall to a dream and in the grip of a power you do not understand is a good sign… Four. Five. Now you may wake. Six. Seven…!”
When the sance was over, Dorzhan and Masakbai took Bonaparte back to his yurt.
“Now you’re sure to recover,” they said in one voice.
Dorzhan pushed his hand under Bonaparte’s pillow and was shattered when he didn’t find what he had been looking for.
“Is there really no bottle or have you hidden it?” he asked, while his young relative was settling back to bed.
“Over there, by the door, look at the hot-water bottle…”
“Good lad!” said Masakbai happily, as if his wife had just given birth to a son.
“You boozer!” said Dorzhan as he screwed the top off the hot-water bottle. “If you go on like this, you’re never going to get better. When your skin’s full of vodka, not even a Kashpirovskii would be able to help you, not even ten of them would be enough. D’you understand?”
When the children and the old people, who had gone over to the neighbours, came back again, making plenty of noise, Dorzhan and Masakbai, who had hidden the hot-water bottle under his shirt, scampered out of the yurt and were off.
However hard all the members of Abdashim’ s dynasty tried not to say anything to anyone about what had happened, rumours began to spread very quickly, because little by little the news of the bridegroom’s condition reached the match-makers. At first they couldn’t believe it but, when they noticed how the rumours were getting stronger by the day, the bride’s father sent a man under cover to Abdashim’s village, as night was falling. He came back the next day and people clustered round him, asking: “Well…?”
“They’ve brought shame on themselves… It’s all true!” he replied in a bewildered tone.
The women began to pinch themselves, the men sighed without saying anything and the bride went inside and burst into desperate sobs.
That very same night a meeting of an “emergency commission” took place in that house as well.
The bride’s father, unable to bear such an unprecedented disgrace, promptly moved with all his closest relatives to a new state farm which was being set up beyond the Syr-Darya river.
Meanwhile Bonaparte was starting to recover and he was already able to ride a horse again. Abdashim’s family and his close friends were extremely happy to see Bonaparte getting better and after Friday prayers they gave thanks to God and celebrated by sacrificing a black ram. “First we need to thank God for his help and then Kashpirovskii!” insisted Masakbai. “If we don’t send Kashpirovskii a telegram, people will think we’re ungrateful wretches.”
A telegram was duly sent to Kashpirovskii.
So that people could see that Bonaparte had recovered, Dorzhan and Masakbai helped him mount a steady black horse and then ride all the way round the village in the evening. On their way back they turned off towards the collective-farm office and placed flowers in front of the monument to Dzerzhinsky10. When they approached the monument, Marken, who was in charge of the water-lorry, after he’d washed the monument clean and sworn at someone for good measure, was now reeling in the hose.
“Who are you swearing at?” asked Dorzhan, hoping to frighten him.
“What d’you mean ‘who’. It’s not you anyway.”
“But who then?”
“That has to include me as well.”
“Why shouldn’t it, you’re no holier than the rest, are you?”
“If it’s everyone, then the more the merrier and I’m off,” muttered Dorzhan, displaying the wide sweep of his soul on such a happy day.”
“Why did they have to go and put up a monument to a long-dead head of the police?” fumed the indignant driver of the water-lorry: “He never came to our aul and people here don’t know him. But no, they have to go and put up a monument to him. They go and put it up, but nobody troubled his head about how it was to be cleaned. What’s more, he’s wearing a greatcoat, and just try getting the mud out of all of those folds!”
“What are you worried about? Just spray him down with water and off you can go…”
“There’s nothing to it, but it takes a lot of time. The farm chairman doesn’t give me even a kopeck for it, but I have an extra journey to do and for nothing.” Rounding off what he had to say with a string of Russian and Kazakh curses, the driver climbed back into his lorry.
“Marken, our Bonaparte’s recovered,” blurted out Masakbai as he looked the young rider up and down, sitting there with an innocent look on his face like a young virgin. “It wasn’t as if he had AIDS that you can’t cure. He’s going to be all right again.”
“What about a drop to drink?”
“No, I’ve still got another trip to make. I have to account for all the time I spent on the monument,” he added, looking over towards Dzerzhinsky.
“The day after tomorrow we’re setting off to fetch the bride. If you want to, you can come with us.”
“Haven’t you heard?”
“Yes, but you won’t be going anywhere.”
“Why? What are you on about?”
“You won’t be going. Your match-makers have moved. They went two days ago. The whole tribe of them set off beyond the Syr-Darya, saying: We don’t have a daughter to entrust to a madman who gets circumcised a month before his wedding!”
After that Marken slammed the door of his lorry and drove off.
Masakbai and Dorzhan stood frozen to the spot, as if struck by lightning, looking at each other in silence.
That very same night Abdashim sent off a secret messenger to the village in question to find out if the information was correct. The next day he came back and said in bewildered tones: “They’ve brought disgrace upon us, it’s all true!”
A quarrel broke out among Bonaparte’s relatives. They all poured scorn on Abdashim, calling him a donkey, a swine and brainless. There wasn’t a single animal they didn’t compare him to. After tearing a strip off the father, they then turned on the son. He was called a dog and a pig and they said that his skin was not the human kind but a pig’s. Insisting that they were no longer his relatives, they started cursing Bonaparte’s mother and her family.
Once more the “emergency commission” assembled as night fell. The commission duly decided that the shame and disgrace were clear for all to see. They gave Abdashim seven flocks of sheep and together with his relatives he moved off into the wide open spaces of Suzak, after deciding he would stick with sheep-breeding.
As they were setting off they decided to leave behind the yurt, where Bonaparte had lain while recovering, because it was the yurt they saw as responsible for everything.
Not long afterwards another programme with a Kashpirovskii sance was shown on the television. During the sance Kashpirovskii read out Bonaparte’s telegram along with a whole pile of others, surprised at its flowery and incomprehensible contents. The text of the telegram read as follows:
Most honourable Anataolii Mikhailovich! You are the greatest man on earth. Every household in the world should erect a monument to you in front of its door. I, Bonaparte, due to my parents’ lack of foresight had to be circumcised a month before my wedding. It should have only taken me ten days to recover and then celebrate my wedding, but circumstances turned out differently. Perhaps my skin was of poor quality or perhaps the razor-blade used by the elder, Rem, had not been disinfected, because after three whole weeks I had still not recovered. I was already expecting to be disgraced before the match-makers and my bride, but you then rescued me from disaster. After a single sance of yours I could already ride a horse again. In two days’ time I shall set off for my bride. Thank you a thousand times. If you have some free time do come and visit us in our aul. I kneel before you in gratitude, Bonaparte.
During the sance Kashpirovskii himself seemed bewildered for a moment, not really understanding what it was all about.
“Astonishing!” he said, after a pause. “The planet we live on is indeed full of wonderful phenomena. May happiness be yours,
Bonaparte! I am very glad to have helped you on your way to married bliss.”
Ten days later some of the young men in the village put up a board by the yurt, which Abdashim had left behind: “In this yurt Bonaparte underwent circumcision and its consequences from July 8th to July 23rd, 1989!”
Anyone who walked past the inscription was bound to laugh.
So, as you can see, Kazakh life is far from dull…
1 An aul is a Kazakh village.
2 Short for Stakhanovite or ‘shock-worker’.
3 Short for (General) Chapaev (1887-1931) – famous commander in the Russian Civil War (1917-1922).