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День, когда рухнул мир

Сейсенбаев Роллан

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День, когда рухнул мир

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My grandfather and I also set off. Behind the village gathered other old men and women, who were going to the mountains with the animals. I saw that apart from me, there were no children. Just then I noticed the little girl Kenje sitting on the bullock cart together with her grandmother. I was overjoyed. She smiled at me and I waved back. „When we went to war, there was no such feeling of terror,“ noted one of the old men. „That was war, and this is the end of the world.“ „Then it means that young stranger was right? The one the police took away? And the leaflets he read out to us spoke the truth?“ That young man, dirty, ragged and thin, told us such terrifying stories that we, the village boys, shook in terror. He maintained that the end of the world was nigh, after which would come the day of the Last Judgement when each person would answer for their sins. Then he handed out the leaflets where (I remember to this day) in bold letter’s it stated: „THE END OF THE WORLD. 17th AUGUST, 1953. 12 MINS PAST 6. EVERYTHING WILL BEGIN IN KAZAKHSTAN.“ And so it appeared that, indeed, the end of the world was due as the tramp had predicted. What becomes of the human soul after death? It was as if an electric current had run through me from top to toe – I so wanted to live. I, a seven-year-old boy, contemplated death for the first time, something which had never occupied any place in my consciousness; for the first time I felt the approach of Death, the Grim Reaper… In a day or two my soul would be before the Judge of all men… The black cloud of death hung over me, over everyone and everything around us. The loading up was delayed The lieutenant-colonel was becoming annoyed. Mother was kissing father and saying something very quickly. And then we set off. The cars to the unknown city of Ayaguz and to Semipalatinsk, the old men and women to Genghiztau. I held the reins of the bullock cart. Death had not gone away with those to Ayaguz and Semipalatinsk – it was waiting for us in the depths of the Genghiztau. I was afraid, but I so wanted to be a golden eagle – so that I could boldly look straight into my grand-father-the-lion’s eyes! So that my mother, brother and little sister would be proud of me! And Kenje too. Our bullock cart was in the lead. When I glanced around I saw a file of wagons and the old men driving the herd. Suddenly a car stopped next to our cart and my father and the lieutenant-colonel stepped out. „The sodiers will choose a place to stop-over for you,“ said the lieutenant-colonel. „What?! Are you saying they know the hills better than we do?“ said grandfather angrily. „Well, they know“ best…» said the lieutenant-colonel, obviously displeased with grandfather’s words. «Yes, of course, you’re clever and we’re stupid. You’re the ones sending us to the death and yet you know best,» said grandfather, spitting. Grandmother gently touched his shoulder. «Have you gone completely mad in your old age?» she said in an angry whisper. «Perhaps, you don’t care what happens to you, but think of your son. You’ll talk yourself into being tied-up and then we won’t be able to leave…» «Be quiet, woman!» said grandfather by now totally incensed. «This is our homeland. So let them say what they intend to do with it!» He was a hot-tempered man but just. At the end of the twenties, when Genghiztau was being strangled by famine, he left for – the town. But even there things weren’t easy – only he and one of his children, my father, survived. The fellow-villagers surrounded us. Now, when I look back after all these years, I think grandfather somehow instinctively sensed what really threatened the lives of these simple people. How else can I explain his outburst – he was an intelligent, calm person, who certainly understood that his words would not change anything. Absolutely nothing. They eyed each other – the tall, stately lieutenant-colonel and the stooped, yet still powerful, gnarled old man, whose strong hand firmly gripped his whip. «Do you know, you official, what these people have had to go through? No, you have no idea. You do not understand that this land is the land of a great and sacred people! We have lived peacefully roaming these steppes for centuries, without offending anyone. Our summer pastures are here. Our Abai was born here. Later he became an inconvenience to the powers that be and we would be sent to Siberia for mere mention of his name. Then our great poet and philosopher Shakarim, who was befriended by your Tolstoy, was shot, and once again if a Kazakh were to just hint at his name, before he knew it he would find himself in Siberia. Our best people died in exile… And here you are just arrived from Semipalatinsk – you don’t even know that our entire steppe from the village to Semipalatinsk was strewn with human corpses. Hunger-have you any idea what that is? Do you know how many it wiped out? And then came the war. And how many perished – every second of our dzhigits fell in a faraway land. And take a look at what collective farmers eat, what they receive for a day’s labour. We don’t live, we exist. It’s not that many have forgotten the taste of meat, it’s, the taste of bread that they don’t remember. For each collective farm’s sheep that went missing we paid for with our heads. So, tell me, you official, when will our people begin to live? And will they live at all? You know you are sending us to our death. Isn’t that so?» People listened in silence. They averted their eyes. They agreed with the old man but his outspokeness frightened them and some of them moved away, a blank expression on their faces, as if to say, «See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.» «Where do you think you’re going? Stand still and listen to the truth! Have you lost both your reason and your honesty? Although today, it seems, for many honesty is a stone around one’s neck. But what use will you be to anyone without honesty, without a conscience? Have you ever thought about that?» People froze in shame. And this is where my father interfered. «Alright, Ake-Father, thank you for the lecture. However, we are all adults and an order is an order…» However, he also avoided looking straight into grandfather’s eyes and I was mortified. I understood that at the time he was thinking that he would have to pay for grandfather’s monologue. But I wanted grandfather to tell the army officer more about our homeland. I thought that it was unlikely that the army officer knew anything coherent about us. This was probably the first time that he had ever seen any Kazakhs. Perhaps he thinks we are all sheep and he is a bear. I was feeling annoyed but just then the lieutenant-colonel went up to grandfather and embraced him. «I do understand you, old man. We have all suffered. We have suffered more than any other nation. We lost the father of our people, Stalin, under whom the nation defeated fascism. And now a new danger threatens us. Do you know that the Americans have already dropped an atom bomb over Japan? And now they are threatening us and so we must defend ourselves. We do not want to attack anyone but we must be vigilant at all times. Am I not right? Yes, we are carrying out tests, but all measures have been taken to ensure that the local population is not.endangered. This is why we suggested that you leave the village. Therefore, insisting that we are driving you to your death is hardly justified. We have no choice – we want to save the country from an American invasion.» Grandfather, frowning, did not speak. Then, turning around abruptly, he went towards his bullock cart. My father patted me on the shoulder and tousled my hair. «Alright then, off you go. Help grandfather and grandmother as we agreed,» he said. I nodded in agreement and then spontaneously looked up at the sky – what if an American bomb was already flying towards us. But the sky was clear, not a single cloud, a clear peaceful sky… «What will you eat?» grandmother asked my father. «We have some flour, let’s share it.» «It’s not necessary. We have provisions of tinned food,» answered father. «Don’t worry about me. It’s better that you do all that the army bids you to do…» «If you really get hungry, then kill the hens. I’ve left them for you.» Grandfather lashed the horse with his whip, ignoring father’s last words, and we set off. I MISS MY FATHER. My wife and I were walking around the shops attempting to buy something «typical of Moscow» to take to Semipalatinsk. There were queues everywhere for everything, people were snatching pieces of sausage wrapped in polythene, from each other, jostling each other for meat and cheese. Good quality candy, which my father used to like very much, had disappeared. I can’t find anything for my mother. I’ll just have to accept the fact that this evening, for the first time, I will fly to my homeland, to my father’s grave, with empty hands. My wife and I walked silently down the Arbat. It was crowded. There were street artists, photographers, singers, poets and lively discussions. Young people like everywhere in the world were enjoying themselves, loving, hating and arguing. The underpass leading to the Metro was filled with painters. I pushed my way through the crowd out of curiosity, and – was dumbfounded. A painting depicted the Genghiz Hills. I would have recognized those long bends and ravines anywhere. I touched my wife’s elbow. «Look, can you see Genghiztau? Can you see how the fiery clouds tear the picture apart and how the evil dirty-grey mushroom hangs suspended in the sky?» At the foot of the hills, incensed horses, their teeth bared, snorted wildly. The whole scene was being observed by a little girl dressed in white, with enormous demented eyes. «It can’t be,» I thought. «This is no mere coincidence. This has been painted by someone who has seen everything with his own eyes…»

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