The final fight between Erezhep and Elemes took place on August 7, 1986. It was only at a casual glance that it appeared to have erupted suddenly. In actual fact the fight could – with good reason – have started at any moment of the day or night over several years. It was just that the circumstances had not been right, as the saying goes. Whereas today they were perfect… Naturally it did not suit Erezhep at all that everything happened on this particular day, but there was nothing to be done: as they say, Fate has the last word. In this case, as with every fight, the roots go back a long way.
Two years previously Erezhep had been in an accident as a result of which he had lost his front teeth – top and bottom. Without them it turned out that his mouth was no longer worthy of the name: it was just an empty black hole, like an abandoned wolf’s lair. Erezhep lived with that mouth – if you could call it a mouth – for two years. Everything he might have heard in the way of abuse from people of his own age or children, he had already heard. The jokes and jeers were one thing. What was unbearable was something else. He could no longer enjoy either talking or eating in front of other people and as for laughing that was out of the question. It was not, of course, difficult to get some new teeth, but he wasn’t prepared to have just ordinary ones and he could not afford gold ones. All he could do was simply open his mouth less often and work more – in silence.
Within a year Erezhep was already seen as one of his state farm’s model workers. He was even entered in the list of those prepared to take part in debates at the district conference. Five days before the conference was due to take place the farm director remembered that Erezhep had no teeth and he broke out in a cold sweat.
“It’ll be a disgrace! What can we do?” he gasped, throwing a desperate look at the Party organizer and the head of the workers’ committee.
“We’ll have to call him in for a chat,” suggested the Party organizer.
“For a chat!” shouted the chairman. “We’re not talking about a cosy chat for two people! He’ll be lisping gibberish in front of a whole room of people…!”
“They’ll say that in our state farm we failed to find anyone with a proper set of teeth,” said the man from the workers’ committee. “They’ll say that we don’t pay proper attention to the medical care of the population…”
“The health of the working people is our direct concern,” the director reminded him in a loaded voice. “We need to take immediate steps! We can’t send him to the district conference with a gob like that! The men in charge won’t understand a word he has to say about our achievements!”
“Perhaps we should send someone else instead of Erezhep? His double, for instance,” suggested the head of the workers’ committee timidly. After noting the expression on the director’s face, he refrained from making any other suggestions. The director was still determined to “take immediate steps”.
“He needs to be given a new set of teeth, at least for those three days. Where’s our dentist?”
“He’s not around. He’s gone to Alma-Ata for a course.”
“When’s he coming back?”
“He only left today. This morning.”
“You idiots!” shouted the director casting a furious look at his comrades. “How on earth did we land ourselves in this jam! Call Erezhep over: we need to hear what he thinks about it himself.”
Fifteen minutes later Erezhep had been delivered to the office by the director’s Volga. On entering the room he sat down slowly, as befits a champion of production.
“How’s the preparation for your speech going?” asked the director. Erezhep said nothing.
“I’m asking you a question!” insisted the director emerging from behind his desk. “How’s your speech going?”
Erezhep started, as if he had just woken up from a bad dream and said: “Velly well!”
As he spoke, the end of his red tongue briefly appeared in the dark cavern of his mouth and then disappeared again.
The director and his right-hand men looked at each other, as if they had only just been informed of a terrible accident.
“All right then, just be quiet and listen,” said the director with a long sigh. “The conference where you’re due to speak is in three days’ time. We’ll help you with your speech but what are we going to do about the other problem?” he asked tapping his index figure against his own teeth. “Listen, we don’t have time to waste on mere talk. I shall make a call to the neighbouring state farm.You’ll drive over there and just make sure that by tomorrow morning your new teeth are in place. Understood? That’s all there is to it. Take my car and be off with you!”
Erezhep shook his head.
“Haven’t I made myself clear?” the director shouted, standing there dumbfounded in the middle of the office. “What’s up with you? Don’t you want new teeth?!”
“I don’t want iron ones,” spluttered Erezhep. “I need gold ones…”
“We haven’t got any gold in the farm’s counting-house at the moment to sort out your mouth,” the director informed him with a sarcastic sneer. “You’re going over to the other farm now, d’you hear? They’ll fix you up with teeth, there’s no going back?! Any old teeth!”
Erezhep rose from his chair and walked over to the door, but the head of the workers’ committee blocked his path.
“Where are you off to?! What are you putting on airs for?” The director had difficulty stopping himself from counting up the number of teeth Erezhep still had left. “You want to bring disgrace on our state farm in the eyes of the district authorities?!.. You wr…wr… wr…etch!”
“If they put metal ones in now, it’ll mean endless tlips to dentists afterwards. I haven’t got time for that. I want gold ones light from the start!”
“Come on now, calm down,” said the director, flopping down helplessly into his chair. “I don’t mind if they’re diamond ones, but when…?
“As soon as I’ve collected the money… I’ll put them in straightaway…”
“And when will that be, my friend?”
“In six months.”
“But the conference is in three days’ time,” said the director, winding himself up again. “So, he hasn’t ‘got the time’. And we’ve got plenty I suppose?!”
“I understand,” said Erezhep, looking at the floor, but he didn’t give in. “But I haven’t got any money at the moment…”
“Your teeth are private property and the state farm is not going to pay for them. They’re not provided for in the budget!” There was no end to the director’s sarcasm… by this time he was boiling over with indignation. “Borrow from someone…”
The director looked round at all those present, glowering as he did so: “Who’ll lend him some money?”
The Party organizer and the head of the workers’ committee, ‘failing’ to grasp the point of the question, both stood there in silence.
“Have a look in the counting-house… who’s out there waiting to be paid? Whoever it is, bring them in here!”
The director’s two subordinates leapt to their feet, but it was the head of the workers’ committee who turned out to be the nimblest and to skip out of the office first. He soon came back dragging in Elemes behind him – the driver of the farm’s Kirovets tractor. The poor fellow plodded in behind the head of the workers’ committee, not showing any enthusiasm: he seemed to sense that something far from pleasant was about to befall him.
The director got to the point straightaway.
“How much pay did you get?”
“Four hundred and fifty…”
“And how much d’you need…” asked the director with a glare full of hatred at Erezhep.
“Four hundred… Three hundred for the teeth and a hundred for oddments…”
“Listen, Elemes… Give this lisper four hundred… as a loan. How shall I put it – at the request of the farm administration… He’s going to go and have his teeth fixed!”
“And my wife?!” Elemes realized by now that his sixth sense had not let him down. “What am I to say to her? And to the children?”
“That’s enough!” By now the director realized his problem was solved and he could take heart. “Hand over the money and that’s dealt with. You’ll have it back in a month. I’m your witness! Don’t argue, a question of politics is at stake!”
Gold teeth could only be had in the district centre and the director himself took Erezhep there, so as to be sure that the money was spent as intended and to listen to how Erezhep would sound at the conference. Then, if everything turned out well, he would bring him home again.
Not just a month but a whole year passed without Erezhep paying Elemes back the money he owed. It was not until three years later that Erezhep put four hundred roubles into an envelope, told his wife to lay the table for a celebration and invited Elemes and his wife to his house, to make up for what he had done. During the meal when the guests had already had plenty of time to mellow and a suitable atmosphere reigned, Erezhep solemnly placed the envelope in front of the tractor-driver. It was addressed as follows: Elemes Estaevich Nuraliev, “Baizhan River” Section, Karaspan State Farm, Bugenskii District, Chimkent Region.
Elemes opened the envelope and – much to everyone’s surprise – began to count the money there and then. After carefully counting the notes, he put them back into the envelope and declared: “I’m not taking them.”
“Why?!” Erezhep gasped, looking at his guest in astonishment. “It’s not enough.”
“What d’you mean, not enough?!”
“There’s not enough money. I’m not taking this.”
“What d’you mean! There’s exactly four hundred!” With his gold teeth flashing as he spoke, Erezhep was about to count the notes all over again, but Elemes stopped him in his tracks.
“You needn’t overdo things. There are four hundred there. But when you took money from me, one tooth cost fifty roubles, while now one tooth costs a hundred.”
Erezhep looked at his wife in bewilderment, but she seemed just as lost as he did. Then he turned his gaze to Elemes’ wife. She was sitting there with a face of stone. By this time Erezhep was at a loss for words.
“So, what you’re trying to say… is that you think I owe you…”
“Spot on. You owe me eight hundred and that’s the amount I want back.”
“But I only took four hundred from you…”
“You didn’t just take them but grabbed them from me with the bosses’ help! I haven’t forgotten how I was dragged into the office like a lamb led to slaughter. You’re going to give me back eight hundred.”
“What are you on about? What’s it got to do with me? It was the head of the workers’ committee who dragged you in…”
“That doesn’t change anything. You had these teeth put in with my money, didn’t you? My money. Have teeth gone up in price? They have. You should have given the money back straight away, before the prices went up. I’m not going to take four hundred now. Only eight hundred.”
“And what would you have said if I’d spent the money on something else? Prices have gone up on everything…”
“Back then I would have accepted four hundred. To cut it short, whether you feel hard done by or not, you must return me either eight hundred or the teeth.”
“What d’you mean, ‘return the teeth’!”
“Very simple. Eight teeth!”
“I had to put six in, not eight.” Erezhep opened his mouth as if to display his teeth for proof. “I gave a hundred to the dentist so that he did the job straightaway…”
“That’s of no interest to me. You can decide – either eight hundred or eight gold teeth. I said…”
Elemes rose from his chair, making it plain that the meal was over. After that his wife eased her way out from the table as well. But then they froze halfway to the door, because Erezhep suddenly exploded.
“Have you lost your wits?! I thought you were joking, but no! What on earth got into your head to go as far as this nonsense?! To demand teeth back! What the Hell! Here’s your money – take it! If you don’t want it, you can be sure there won’t be anything else coming your way!”
Erezhep threw down the envelope in front of Elemes, but before it landed on the table, Elemes had swiped it back in his direction. The money spilled out of the envelope and one ten-rouble note even landed in a tea-bowl with half-cold tea in it. With lightning speed Erezhep scooped it out of the bowl, tucked it back into the envelope and then put the envelope into the inside pocket of his jacket.
“It’s up to you. It was for me to offer you the money. I did my duty. Now, you’re going to find it as hard to see these roubles again as if they were your own ears!” By this time he was spluttering with indignation. “Anyone would think I had those teeth fixed because I had nothing better to do with my time! You heard them say that I had to give a speech at a conference! You’re just politically illiterate…!”
“Don’t you confuse teeth and politics, d’you hear!” said Elemes, cut to the quick by this time. “Don’t you remember what caused the accident? You were drunk, in case you’ve forgotten? I’m prepared to declare that wherever necessary and make sure you have your back against the wall! What makes you so politically aware! You model worker you! Don’t forget that those six teeth sparkling in your jaws are MINE! I have the right to bash them out any time. Cheerio!” With his arm carefully tucked under his wife’s elbow, Elemes walked out of Erezhep’s house.
“You scoundrel! You wretch!” Erezhep shouted after him. “To think that you cooked meat for them! Throw it out for the dogs. It’s only for them!”
Making it clear that no insult – even the drastic one meted out to her husband – would make her throw out meat – Erezhep’s wife said to him in a deliberately calm, voice: “That’s enough shouting so that the whole aul1 can hear. You deceived us all! I suspected that the accident must have happened when you were drunk. And it turns out that’s how it was. My sixth sense told me… You’ll give him back the eight hundred roubles. Eight hundred d’you hear!”
The rumour about that evening in Erezhep’s house quickly spread through the village and soon everyone in the state farm was rolling about laughing. The louder the laughter grew, the more relations between the two men soured. Everyone was expecting a fight, saying it would start any moment… Despite all the excited anticipation, everything ended peacefully. Amazed at Elemes’ ingenuity, the director gradually came to realize that if the two men did start fighting, it might not look so good for him either and so he sent the local militia-man round to Elemes. After two visits from the militia-man Elemes agreed to take the four hundred roubles and this meant that Erezhep’s teeth were no longer under threat.
The resolution of the financial misunderstanding did not, however, bring about any change in their relations. Elemes hated Erezhep for the fact that pressure from their superiors had been applied to make him lend Erezhep the money. Erezheo felt bitter towards Elemes for exploiting the rise in gold prices to pursue his own ends: as he saw it, the tractor-driver had engaged in extortion and on top of that had blurted out to the whole village what the real cause of the accident had been. This meant that the feud between them had gone beyond the limit where reconciliation might still have been possible.
Not long afterwards another wedding was due to be celebrated on the state farm. As was always the case on such occasions, a complicated and intricate order of seating had to be strictly observed at the table without fail, rom the seat of honour at one end to the seat nearest the door at the other, according to the degree of authority and influence the individual guests enjoyed. For a Kazakh, one of the hardest issues to resolve is where he should sit at a festive table: next to whom, higher or lower in the pecking order; whose name would be mentioned more often and whose less often. All these were unavoidable components of the respect an individual guest enjoyed: only in the Middle East would still more importance be attached to these nuances. It was almost impossible to please absolutely everybody…
It was at this solemn occasion with large numbers of guests that Elemes was assigned a place ‘lower’ in the hierarchy than that of Erezhep. This meant that from that day onwards Erezhep would automatically be regarded as more worthy of respect than Elemes. It meant that Erezhep would be given the opportunity to try delicacies before Elemes, that he would be served tea earlier and given the chance to make a toast earlier as well… At table each of the guests was expected to know his place and his status but, despite that, it was always possible to detect beneath the surface a silent battle for supremacy. From the very beginning of the gathering a contest of this kind – naturally under a veil of tact, kindness and generosity of spirit – immediately took off between Erezhep and Elemes.
The first couple of hours were uneventful. In the old days that was quite long enough for a few little tiffs to have broken out at the ‘bottom’ end of the table and for a few half-hearted fights to have taken place. This wedding feast was a no-alcohol affair though – the third such wedding that had ever been held in this state farm – and throughout the whole of that time the guests had demonstrated their superb manners and restraint, drinking bowl after bowl of tea with grim determination, although none of them was feeling thirsty. Throughout those two hours Elemes had gone out of his way to annoy Erezhep. At an occasion of this kind it was customary to serve tea from the bottom up – in other words starting with the guests by the door and then passing tea-bowls towards the place of honour. It meant that Elemes needed to pass a bowl of tea to Erezhep, who then had to pass it along to a still more respected guest and so on… Each time Elemes should have passed a bowl of tea to Erezhep, however, the tractor-driver – with an utterly innocent look on his face – would pass the bowl of tea to someone else or, what was more outrageous still, would place it on the table in front of himself. This happened every time during the first two hours of the celebrations… Just before a tea-bowl should have been passed to Erezhep, Elemes launched into a very intense conversation with someone and, using the absorbing conversation as an excuse, he put Erezhep’s bowl down in front of himself and even went so far as to sip tea out of it!
“Bastard!” shouted Erezhep to himself. “Don’t try and kid me that you’re listening so attentively! You haven’t got the brains to follow an interesting conversation!” Then he grabbed his tea-bowl straight from Elemes’ grasp, as he lifted it to his mouth and put it down on the table at his own place, with a bang for good measure. “Anyone would think you were watering horses! There are three tea-bowls in front of you by now!” Elemes heard what his enemy had to say about horses perfectly clearly, but did not even raise an eyebrow.
“I’m a modest man,” he hissed through his teeth. “I’ve never owned a horse. I wanted to water a donkey but then you took the bowl of your own accord. Thank goodness…”
Erezhep, as he savoured his tea, thought for a long time about what Elemes was getting at… When it dawned on him, he took a mouthful of tea, but forgot to swallow it.
“You son of a bitch!” he thought to himself as he politely wiped the dripping tea from his mouth with a handkerchief. “If we were anywhere else I’d have bashed you in the… You just wait, you’ve got it coming!”
Not having witnessed any reaction on Erezhep’s part, Elemes bent down to whisper in his ear: “D’you know why Kazakhs need guts?”
“Why? What a stupid question!” said Erezhep looking at the tractor-driver as if he was out of his mind.
“So as not to burn their backside, when they drink hot tea.” The guests sitting nearby burst into raucous laughter.
“So why aren’t you laughing?” inquired Elemes. Erezhep pressed his lips tight, indicating he was not going to rise to the bait.
“Your jokes wouldn’t even make an idiot laugh.”
“You’re right there. That’s why you’re not laughing…”
That meant he was being called an idiot. “I need to whack him one,” thought Erezhep, working himself up into a fury. “We’ll have to fight it out. How could he say all that in front of these honest people! In front of the director! Oh well, let him rant. My honour is what matters! It’s disgraceful, of course, but there’ll have to be a fight. It would be better for it to be somewhere else… I don’t want to insult my host.”
“M-mm, it seems people have completely forgotten what a fight is. There’s no excitement nowadays,” commented one of the elders.
“That’s true. We do nothing but flourish…,” said a second elder, backing him up.
“We’re sitting here, as if it was a cemetery,” said an old man praising the wedding. “In the old days, whenever there were celebrations, there were always fights and militia-men being called out.” He looked round at their only representative sitting contentedly at the head of the table, as a highly respected guest.
“Yes, that’s true,” said the Senior Lieutenant and nobody could tell from his tone, whether he was glad or sorry.
“There’s no fighting, no other disturbances of the peace,” chimed in the warehouse supervisor, glancing over towards the puny-looking militia-man: “So, I wonder what’s going to keep you busy then…?”
“We’ll find something!” said the militia-man with a loaded smile, to which the warehouse supervisor responded immediately.
He commented to the director: “You need to phone district HQ and ask for the militia-man’s salary to be cut…”
This idea seemed to appeal to the supervisor so much that he started guffawing with delight, but soon went quiet again when he saw that nobody else was joining in.
Senior Lieutenant Seksenbaev, after hearing the warehouse supervisor laugh, gave another disdainful smile. The guests began fidgeting in their places: after hearing the supervisor’s joke they all, to a man, put on a mild well-behaved expression.
“Who’d have thought it, butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths….,” thought Erezhep grimly. “But you only have to start digging and every one of them’s got something to hide. Just look at the militia-man, sitting there like a damsel in the bath-house, but the way he behaved back then after my accident…!”
After the accident Erezhep had thrown himself at the feet of the militia-man and started telling him that he had driven not into a person but a pillar, which for some reason was sticking up in the middle of the road and so there was absolutely no reason to call him to account. But Seksenbaev had proved adamant: without saying anything he had drawn a diagram of the road-traffic accident involving Erezhep, tucked it away in his file and walked off. Forgetting all about his knocked-out teeth, Erezhep had dragged himself round to Seksenbaev’s house, but the militia-man would not let him even enter his yard. That same day, in the evening, Erezhep went round to the house a second time, but Seksenbaev was out. His wife muttered that he had gone to the district office and Erezhep clutched at his head in horror.
“That’s it, I’m done for. He’ll report the accident, it’ll be recorded and I’ll end up inside.” Then Erezhep had a brainwave and asked himself, why would the militia-man set off to the district office as night was falling…? While he stood there thinking this over, Erezhep caught sight of the militia-man’s five-year-old daughter looking for her cat by the porch. He brought three crisp one-rouble notes out of his pocket and held them out to the small girl.
“Tell me, where’s your Papa ridden off to – and you can have this money. You can buy yourself some chewing gum tomorrow.”
“He’s gone off over that way,” said the little girl pointing towards the granary with one hand and taking the money with the other: “He got into his cart and drove off.”
Erezhep took up position near the granary at the place where the road ran closest of all to the old cemetery. An hour later the squeak of cart wheels broke the dark silence. The militia-man was not making a sound: riding along at night past the cemetery was not very jolly and he was not keen to bump into anyone. When the cart drew near, Erezhep leapt out into the road and shouted: “Your name!”
“Seks… Seks…,” after falling down on to the floor of the cart, the militia-man was struggling with all his might to keep control of his donkey, which was frantic with fear by this time.
“That’s enough sex!” shouted Erezhep. “Answer the question!”
“How many sacks have you got in there?”
“So that’s it, Citizen Seksenbaev.” Erezhep lowered his voice but kept up the official-sounding tone. “Your crime is even worse than mine. Either you tear up all the paperwork about my accident or I’ll hand in a complaint at the district office. Good night!”
Now that very same Seksenbaev was here sitting at the table with his gaze lowered as if there was no being on earth more honest and modest than he was…
“As for that warehouse supervisor,” thought Erezhep to himself, sniffing loudly: “He must have known about all those goings-on… To hell with them, there’s no denying that the only people with nothing to hide are infants…”
At last August 7, 1986 dawned… It marked the end of a rare week in Erezhep’s household, a week of lyrical celebration. His wife’s younger sister had come to visit them with her friend: they were both students at Moscow’s Shchepkin Drama School. Both of them were pretty, shapely and full of smiles, as if they had stepped straight out of the poster in the state farm’s social club calling on citizens to “Keep your Money in the Savings Bank!”
After waiting for the cool of evening and for the dust to settle on the central road in the aul, the girls would come out for a stroll and it would be hard to find a single person oblivious of those shapely figures in tight-fitting jeans and clinging tops that mesmerized all who glimpsed them. It meant aesthetic pleasure for the middle-aged residents of the aul, while the younger ones, particularly the bachelors among them, looked the girls up and down in a rather different way… Even the most inveterate of woman-haters would make a point of turning into the road where Erezhep lived, even if they needed to be heading in the opposite direction. Erezhep’s house was a magnet which kept pulling the whole of the aul’s male population towards his porch apart, of course, from the frailest of the old men. During that week Erezhep would hurry home after work, have a shower (which he used not to do before) and sprinkle himself all over with eau de Cologne – in short make sure he looked like a “townie”. Then he would emerge with one of the girls on each arm and take them over to the social club. Erezhep felt like a prince on those evenings! Even for those young men in the aul, who numbered among the most irresistible of heart-throbs, just walking over to those students from the Shchepkin Drama School remained an impossible dream, while Erezhep, a mere driver of the farm’s old tip-up lorry complete with oil under his nails, could walk about arm in arm with the girls – both of them at once – and lead them off wherever he liked! And that wasn’t the whole story either! There were moments when the girls, caught up in ripples of laughter, would tenderly rest their little heads on Erezhep’s shoulders as hard and gnarled as saxaul trees… The Creator does indeed move in mysterious ways: some people have all the luck, while others are left with nothing…
A special trait of the men in our aul – as indeed in auls all over the planet – is that they can’t forgive and forget any other man’s success with a beautiful woman. Elemes and Erezhep, who had grown up together in this aul ever since taking their first breath – an aul where nobody had ever known anything about the Shchepkin Drama School, or indeed about Shchepkin himself – were nevertheless experts in every nuance of relations between the sexes and in ways to spite a rival when the situation demanded it. Erezhep had felt triumphant all week. Every evening he would steer the girls with gentle touches at their elbows past Elemes’ house, well aware how each time he was undermining and humiliating his mortal enemy.
But now the day had come round when the girls, who had been true ornaments of the village for a whole week, were due to set off home. It was decided that Erezhep should take them to the stop near the state farm, where they could catch the long-distance bus to Chimkent and from there they would fly back to Moscow. “There’s a life for you,” thought Erezhep to himself, full of selfpity by this time. “Just look at me, squabbling here with that stupid Elemes and driving dung about in my tip-up lorry… while they’re going back to that far-away life where they have Shchepkin drama schools…!”
To ensure they were seen off properly Erezhep asked the shepherd Metesh to lend them his Lada. He could not possibly take the girls to the bus on his tip-up lorry. Even his neighbour’s Lada was not up to much – the side windows had long since been jammed in the doors and the treads of the tyres gleamed like close-shaven heads.
“You be careful,” warned Metesh. “If traffic policemen stop you, they’ll confiscate the car. With tyres like mine I don’t even dare drive out of my yard.”
The first half of the day Erezhep spent scrubbing down the Lada, paying special attention to the inside of the car, which Metesh had recently used for taking sheep he needed to sell into town. In the evening he opened the doors with a grand flourish, helping the girls settle into the back and his wife into the front seat next to him. Almost all the inhabitants of the aul came out to see the girls off. Flattered by all this attention, the girls were almost in tears. It was all so touching…
Yet they had hardly left the aul, when Erezhep caught sight of the Kirovets tractor complete with trailer ahead of them. Whipping up clouds of dust sky high as it went, the tractor was racing towards them without a care in the world and with the trailer swaying from side to side. There was no doubt that it must have been Elemes at the wheel. The very next second Erezhep’s mouth fell open in shock: the Kirovets, instead of veering left to let the oncoming vehicle pass, as it was supposed to, deliberately occupied the right side of the road, probably to make sure that the clouds of dust would fall on to the Lada. Erezhep, who had pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine, was desperately groping over the doors in the hope of finding handles to raise the windows, although he knew full well there was no glass left in the windows or handles left to close them with. Elemes made a sharp turn round the passenger vehicle and stopped at a mere arm’s length the other side of it. In an instant it was impossible to make anything out inside the car: it was as if a sack of cement had been emptied into it. Erezhep turned round but all he could see was a thick wall of dust.
That was the last straw. He couldn’t bear to go on like this any more. As soon as the dust began to settle, Erezhep began racing after the tractor. Despite the efforts of his wife and the girls to make him slow down, he roared along in the Lada to catch his deadly enemy. Catching up with the unwieldy tractor was no problem at all for the Lada… When he drew up alongside, Erezhep hooted twice, after which Elemes leaned out of the tractor cabin and asked with a smile: “Has anything happened?”
Erezhep signalled to him to get down from the tractor. Elemes appeared to have been waiting for those very instructions. Without hesitation he jumped down on to the ground and stood there in front of Erezhep with a beaming smile on his face. Erezhep had spent several years deciding to himself how he needed to hit out at Eelemes, if fists were the last weapon available to him in their showdown. This was why he lashed out immediately with a quick and cold-blooded blow. Nor did Elemes waste any time. At almost the same instant his fist came crashing into Erezhep’s cheek-bone.
In the time it took the women to run over to the tractor, Elemes and Erezhep had plenty of time to lay into each other. They had been training seriously at home and both of them were managing to aim fairly and squarely where they intended. By the time the women managed to pull them apart, neither of them could see properly out of his eyes any more. Soon after that Seksenbaev emerged from out of the dust-cloud and things took a very different turn. The dust, the fighting, the militia-man’s intervention and report – weak maidenly hearts were not prepared for anything like that and on top of everything else there was now the girls’ loud crying to reckon with. It was, however, precisely the tears of the students from the Shchepkin Drama School which filled Elemes’ heart with a deep sense of satisfaction. He assumed that they were only crying because they had seen what a good thrashing he had given Erezhep.
“You can draw up another ten reports as far as I’m concerned,” said a gloomy Erezhap, “but you mustn’t delay me now. The girls’ plane is not going to wait for them if they’re late.”
Seksenbaev let the Lada passengers go and then he concentrated on his written account of where and when the fight had taken place.
“He’s learnt to put up a good fight,” said Elemes, watching the Lada as it drove off. “We should have had it out a long time ago, then he would have stopped putting on airs…”
“Come along now, sign here,” Seksenbaev handed his pen to Elemes, who was already climbing back onto his tractor.
“What am I putting my name to?”
“The fact that you were fighting and disregarding the rules of the road.”
Elemes looked pensively at the report and the pen being handed to him and then said: “Listen, it wasn’t a fight. It was…”
“What, a friendly hug? I saw everything. Just sign!”
“But it wasn’t a fight! You’ll never understand!” He did climb out of the tractor again though, but as he jumped down on to the ground he felt something fall on to the toe of his boot. He looked down at his feet and saw two of his teeth lying there.
“So there we are!” said Elemes, carefully picking up out of the dust part of his personal property now lost forever. “At last, Comrade Seksenbaev, the conflontation is over.”
“What’s over?!” asked the militia-man with a pained expression on his face. He was obviously trying to imagine how someone would feel who had just lost his two front teeth.
“I said that our conflontation was over,” replied Elemes, stumbling over his words. He had just realized that he was unable to come out with that impressive foreign word “confrontation” properly, because he couldn’t say the letter ‘r’ any more.
When he heard about Elemes losing his teeth, Erezhep sent him a note, in which he wrote that he was prepared to pay for both the gold teeth now required at the new price and that he would immediately pay back the eight hundred roubles Elemes had been asking for. Rumour has it that when he received the note Elemes blushed in shame.
1 Aul – Kazakh village.