by Rustam Ibrahimbeyov (born 1939)
Azerbaijan International, Spring 2004 (AI 12.1)
Magazine can be ordered at AZER.com - AI STORE
A Short Story
Translated by Vafa Mastanova
and edited by Betty Blair.
A thin, short man in his mid-30s
entered the yard of one of Baku's elementary schools. He was
wearing a leather jacket - its collar made of astrakhan (Persian
lamb). His pants' legs were tucked inside his calf leather boots.
He took the stairs that led up to the three-storied school building.
A woman, sitting in the hallway was about to stand up when she
saw him, but the man changed his mind and decided not to enter.
Instead, he jumped towards the two rows of bushes that surrounded
the school and started walking around the school, trudging the
The woman opened the door a little and watched him, as he walked
briskly not paying attention to the snow that had fallen off
the bushes onto his pants and boots. Occasionally, he stopped
and glanced into the windows of the school. Sometimes, he tried
to jump up and hold onto the ledge of the window since he wasn't
tall enough to see in.
A young teacher in one of the classes - either the third or fourth
grade - seemed so lovely to him. He stared at her with incredulous,
cautious eyes until he got tired. Neither the teacher's confusion
nor the students' laughter affected him.
When his feet were back down on the ground, he noticed that the
cleaning lady was looking at him from the corner. He smiled,
brushed the snow from his pants, and continued circling the school.
The woman understood what he wanted and didn't stay hidden from
him anymore. She came out of her corner and threatened him with
As soon as the bell rang, the doors of the school opened wide
and the children ran outside excitedly, yelling and joking. The
yard filled with crowded black figures: black - in contrast with
the white snow. The school yard which had been so quiet just
a few moments earlier, now resembled a many-celled organism with
each of the cells knowing exactly what it was going to do during
the five minutes of freedom.
The man leaned against the corner of the school building. There
was a narrow passage leading to a stone building very close to
the place where he was standing. The students who were running
around in the yard didn't interest him. Rather, he kept looking
at the students who were rushing out of the school building.
Among them, he finally spotted the one he was interested in -
a first grade student neatly dressed, plump and all buttoned
up, who was wearing glasses. The man called to him.
The first grader was delighted when he saw the man. He left his
two friends and walked towards the man.
The man grinned, watching the boy approach.
"What's this? Can't you run?" he asked, as the boy
came nearer. "They fed you so much that you're having a
hard time to walk!"
The man scrutinized the boy carefully.
"You look like a professor," he commented after a while.
It wasn't clear if he were reproaching the boy or was quite satisfied
with his appearance. "Don't you take off your glasses even
in the yard?"
"I can't," the boy explained. "I wouldn't be able
to see clearly."
"Take off your glasses for a minute."
The boy took off his glasses. The man took a few steps back.
"How many fingers?" he asked, holding up two of his
"What about now?"
"Your vision is just great!" the man replied with satisfaction.
"Don't spoil your vision by wearing glasses."
"I'm far-sighted," the boy explained.
"Being far-sighted is OK, but being near-sighted is not
good," the man assured him.
"So, what are they saying about me? Do they swear at me?"
"Yes, they do," the man said with confidence. "What
does he say? How do you call him?"
"What does he say?"
"He wants me to be serious about my studies."
"He's right," the man had to agree. "You need
to be serious about your studies."
He wanted to add something but remained silent because the bell
rang for the lessons to resume.
The fuss in the schoolyard suddenly ended just like it had started.
"Which lesson do you have now?"
The man glanced at the kids who were all trying to slip through
the school door at the same time.
"Come with me," he said to the boy with glasses as
they walked toward the schoolyard behind the school.
"The bell rang," the boy mumbled, following the man
They passed through a narrow passage between the building and
fence and came out on the sports field, which was under
"Sit down," the man pointed to the two piles of bricks
at the side of the sports field. The boy looked dubiously at
the snow, which covered the bricks.
"What is it?" the man asked.
"You can't sit on the snow," the boy explained.
"Are you afraid that your butt will freeze?" the man
said, sarcastically. "Sit."
The boy looked at his velveteen pants but didn't say anything.
"Bravo!" the man said. "A real man shouldn't be
afraid of anything."
The man approached the fence, glanced off to the street, came
back to the boy and sat near him.
The boy looked at the man with admiration, though a little cautiously.
Usually a clever adult gives such a look to his friend who he
knows can trick him at any minute.
"Your shirt isn't tucked into your pants," the boy
said. He pointed to the hem of striped shirt, which could be
seen under the man's coat.
"I know," the man said. "It came out while I was
looking for you," he tucked his shirt inside his pants.
Since they were busy chatting, they didn't see the cleaning lady
approaching them from behind.
"Oh, here you are!" the lady said, taking hold of the
man's arm and announcing triumphantly. "What are you doing
here with the kid?"
The man wanted to free his arm, but the lady held on tightly.
"Let's go to the principal's office," the lady said
with determination. "I've been following you for a long
"Let's go wherever you want," the man tugged again
at his arm. The lady almost fell to the ground, but she didn't
free his arm.
"Why aren't you in class?" the lady asked the boy.
"This is my father," the boy said. "Let him alone."
The lady got surprised and, finally, the man pulled his arm free.
"Lady, don't get involved with me," he said scowling.
"People like you should be strangled when you were swaddled,1
so that other people can be left in peace.
"You're the one who should be strangled," the lady
shot back, but she understood that it was useless to get involved
him and she retreated a few steps.
"Go, go," the man told the woman. "Go and jingle
your bell. This is my son and don't go poking your nose into
The lady took his advice and left.
The boy's eyes started to water.
"Don't pay any attention," his father calmed him. "Such
things happen so often in life. Look, what I've brought to you,"
he suddenly remembered. He reached into his jacket and brought
out a little puppy whose hair had been neatly combed.
"Take it and play with it."
The boy got so happy when he saw the puppy.
"Do you want to have it?" his father asked. "You
can take it and play with it in your free time.
"Mom won't let me have it," said the boy, patting the
"Yes, she will."
"But the puppy will make the floor dirty."
"That's OK. You can clean it up."
"What about when I'm at school?"
"You can leave the puppy in the backyard."
The boy looked at his father in disbelief but didn't say anything.
It became clear to him that his father didn't understand anything
about daily problems, but he didn't want to argue with his father.
"I don't like little puppies," said the father, watching
his son playing with it. "It's a worthless animal! It can't
stand guard. You can't go hunting with it."
The children's choir could be heard in the yard. The music lesson
"The teacher is going to fuss at me," said the boy.
"That's OK," his father calmed him. "Missing class
one time is OK. Tell her that I came."
They remained silent for a while.
"They don't hurt you, do they?" his father asked.
"No," the boy said convincingly.
"Don't fight," his father said seriously, "but
if they rush at you, beat them up right away. Do you understand?"
The boy nodded his head.
"When you're the first one to hit, half of the problem is
solved," explained his father. "Most people come to
their senses after they've been beaten. But don't forget to take
off your glasses. Always take off your glasses when you fight.
"I don't understand why you're having problems with your
sight?" the father shrugged his shoulders regretfully. "No
one ever wore glasses in our family. Your grandfather is 85 years
old, but he still goes hunting."
"Grandma Nigar wears glasses," the boy observed.
"Yes, many people from your mother's family wear glasses,"
the father agreed. "You aren't cold, are you?"
The man again stood up, approached the fence and glanced toward
the street. There was a GAS-512 parked at the other end of the block
filled with pipes. At the other side of the street, a guy selling
pastries was dragging his box behind him. There was a big oil
stain on the front of his white jacket.
"Hey," the man called out.
"What is it?" asked the seller.
"Do you have any pastries?"
"Bring me 10 of them."
The man bought some pastries and went back to the boy.
"Feed the dog," he said and put the pastries that were
wrapped in newspaper down in the snow. "Have some yourself,"
he took a bite out of one.
"But Mom says I can't fight," said the boy, eating
"She's a woman. Women don't understand such things. But
what about...Who was he? Yes, Uncle Husein. What does he say?"
"He says that I should be serious about my studies."
"He's right," the father agreed again.
"Now, there's a flu epidemic in town," said the boy
carefully articulating the words.
"Why do you like to talk about illnesses so much?!"
said the father, surprised. "What does this epidemic have
to do with you? When I was your age, I used to walk barefoot
during the winter; I didn't know what flu was. There was a war
going on at that time. Do you know what war is?"
"Yes, I do."
"When the war started, I was the same age as you are. Your
grandfather went to the frontline. We stayed with your grandmother
- eight children. We did everything possible just to have enough
food. We were selling newspapers in the bazaar, loading on coal
at the bridge, pushing the merry-go-round, selling our places
in line. We used to stand in line in front of a store at night
and then sell our turn to somebody in the morning.
"Yes, we used to do lots of stuff, everything except steal,"
the father suddenly gave a serious look to his son. "We
never earned money that way. I've always been against stealing.
I've never stolen anything in my whole life. When my father -
your grandfather - left for the frontline, he said: "If
I ever hear of any of my children taking the wrong path in life,
I won't come back. Hajibala's children can't be thieves."
"Neither me, nor your uncles, ever stole anything, even
when we were starving. Everybody knew it. One time an accident
happened. Someone got into the car of Ramiz, our neighbor (he
was driving a truck back then). The person stole everything from
the glove compartment. Do you know what a 'glove compartment'
The boy didn't know.
"It's a small box," the father explained. "You
put your driver's license and other necessary stuff in it."
The boy asked what a driver's license was. His father explained.
"So, they stole everything in Ramiz' glove compartment.
Ramiz wasn't the kind of person who could stand such things.
He could kill somebody for nothing (poor Ramiz, he later got
killed at the front himself). The man left the truck near his
house and had gone to eat. One of his people stole some things
from the truck...He got out of the house and asked: "Who
got into my truck"? He was livid with anger. I was your
age back then. I couldn't stand it and I admitted doing it. "It
was me who got in your truck," I said.
"Oh, it was you? Come here," he said. And I went.
"Lie down," he ordered. I laid down.
He got into the car, turned on the engine and started driving
straight for me. He was holding the wheel with one hand, and
with the other, he held the door open to see how many meters
were still left between the truck and me. I was lying there.
Where could I run? He would have chased me and caught, anyway.
I was lying down and he was saying: "It's better if you
tell me who took the stuff from my glove compartment, otherwise,
I'm going to run over you."
"I don't know," I said. "How can I know? It's
true that I got into your truck, but I don't know who stole the
"You don't know?! Then you're going to die," he kept
driving towards me. It was a good thing that they let his mother
know. If his mother hadn't come, he would have run over me. He
used to listen only to his mother.
His mother was a thin, short, quick woman. Sometimes he used
to get drunk and run over people who were passing by. Some people
were able to run away and survive; otherwise, he would have run
over them. Nobody was able to keep him from doing such stuff
- except his mother. They used to send someone after his mother.
She used to come, box his ears and take him home. As soon as
he saw his mother, he used to go directly home without putting
up any resistance. He loved his mother so much. How could it
be otherwise? You must always love your mother. Who else is closer
to you than your mother? Aren't I right?"
The boy answered, nodding his head. "Bravo!" his father
praised him and continued his story. "Yes, thanks to his
mother; she saved my life. Because I couldn't say who stole the
stuff from Ramiz' truck."
"Did you know who it was?"
"Of course, I knew it. Everybody knew," the man gave
an ironic smile, while remaining silent and trying to poke some
pastry into the puppy's mouth.
"Just look at this puppy!" he said with surprise. "He
doesn't want to eat a pastry with meat inside. If he doesn't
eat pastry, then what does his owner eat?! Why aren't you eating
"I am eating," said the boy. Indeed, he had already
eaten a couple pastries. His appetite was good, he liked eating
pastries with his father.
"I should bring you home some time. You'll stay with us.
It would make your grandmother and grandfather so happy. I'll
show you the places, the streets, our yard where I used to play.
There are lots of kids living in those streets now. You can play
"Will Mom let me?"
"Yes, sure she will. What's so bad about that? Do you want
to stay with me?"
"Yes, I do," the boy looked kindly at his father. Then
he glanced towards the school windows and got confused. The voices
of children's chorus could not be heard any more. Suddenly, the
bell rang. That meant that the Music Lesson was over.
"Was that the last lesson?" his father asked, breaking
"Yes," said the boy, expressing regret.
"Where's your bag?"
"I left it in class."
"Go, get it then."
They remained silent and walked to the other side of the yard
along the narrow path. Again, many kids were running out of the
school door. All of them had their bags this time. The man nudged
the boy. The boy rubbed his face against his shoulder and ran,
pushing his way through the kids, for his bag. When he reached
the door, he turned back. His father was standing in the middle
of the yard with the puppy in his hands. The boy entered the
After five minutes, he returned with his bag in his hand. But
he didn't see his father. He saw his mother standing near the
school gate. As usual, his stepfather was standing beside her.
The man, wearing the coat saw them, too. (He wasn't hiding, just
standing at the corner of the school where no one would see him.)
The boy's mother wore a black fur coat. His stepfather, who was
tall and had glasses, was wearing a hat.
After they left with the boy, who kept looking around, the man
started walking to the middle of the empty schoolyard. The puppy
was running in front of him.
The man had no appetite, but he munched on a pastry.
Soon after he left the schoolyard, he reached the truck that
he had left at the other end of the block. The back of the truck
was open and there were six drilling pipes hanging out.
The man opened the door of the truck, sat down on the seat covered
with a carpet. Before starting the engine, he placed the puppy
on the knees of a young boy with a mustache who was wearing a
cap and sleeping in the cab.
"Why were you so late?" he asked, not opening his eyes.
"We were chatting."
"So, how's your son?"
"Why didn't he take the puppy?"
"What does he need it for?"
"So, where should we take the puppy now?"
"Take it back to the place where you got it from."
The man started the engine, drove a little bit and passed the
school, with pipes swinging in his truck...
Swaddled: Traditionally, infants are swaddled at birth, wrapped
tightly in a blanket so that they cannot move their hands and
GAS 51 was a popular car model during Soviet times.
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