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Воронин Анатолий Яковлевич
The Wedding Present

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    Англоязычная версия рассказа "Свадебный подарок"


      Hadji Latif was not just an ordinary military commander, he was a leader of an Islamic movement at the Daman county he was the most respected mujahidin (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) in this, the most rebellion area out of a whole province of Kandagar (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor). However, the inhabitants of Kandagar and settlements near by respected him not because he was well-positioned in the Islamic organisation. This old men, in his well past 80s, was famous for the hadzh (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) in his youth, when he walked to the sacred land of the Prophet Muhammad. During his long journey across the mountains and deserts, he smashed his foot to bloody blisters, under the merciless southern sun his body conditioned to the stage that it had no muscles at all, only stinging, crunchy veins, thoroughly saturated with bitter, smelly salt from the evaporated sweat.
      In those early years, a very young Latif achieved what he wanted - he touched the sacred Kaaba (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) with his hand.
      Woy, what a miracle! Allah has noticed the submissiveness, devotion and suffering of Latif, or nowadays is Hadji Latif, and has extolled him above all other tribesmen and descendants of the Kukuzai, the Pashtun tribe. Latif received his primary education in a madras (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) during the time when his father - a petty shopkeeper- was alive and was selling the basic necessities and goods from his little shop. By the age of twelve, Latif learned by heart all suras (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) and verses from the Koran. Without any difficulties, he also mastered arithmetic and geometry, and learned how freely operate with the large numbers. There, in the madrasa, secretly from mualems (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor), the young Latif has read the books of Oriental sages, comprehending the truth of life extracted from the book of Eastern wise men. He learned a lot about the history of the East, about the life of peoples who inhabited it. Science and wisdom in all disciplines - philosophy, astronomy and medicine- had been penned to him.
      Unfortunately, the typhoid epidemic that swept throughout Afghanistan, did not pass Kandagar. The first one, whom the merciless disease brought down, was his father, who, at that time, was not even forty years old; and second one was his mother, who looked after her sick husband. They died with a difference of one day. The death did not give her mercy to youngest four children in the family. She collected all of them with her bony cruel hands.
      After burying close relatives, Latif was left alone with the harsh reality of life. His father's shop, for allegedly having debts, was taken by a wealthy shopkeeper, called Kazi. Whether these debts existed or not, is no one knew, but for Latif it was useless to appeal to Kazi, because no one even will not consider of listening the beardless orphan. Even more, for this greedy shopkeeper, who already coveted someone else's property to himself, seems to be not enough what he got, so he fabricated a deed, according to which the Latif family's house was sold during the time when his father was alive; and the house also fell into the ownership of this scoundrel.
      Left without housing and means of subsistence, Latif wandered where his eyes were looking. This is how he found himself in the village of Loy-Karezak.
      Glory to Allah, who did not abandoned Latif in his devastation and struggling, who did not allowed him to die from starvation. One day, a local rich man was riding the donkey, when he noticed a lonely, wandering on the road teenager. After asking the boy who is he and where he is going, the rich men immediately saw an opportunity to have an extra pair of hands and offered to work for him. Since Latif had no other alternative, he agreed without hesitation.
      From dawn to dusk, under the blazing ruthless of the Afghan sun, Latif mastered the wisdom of the slave labouring. Working hard on his master's land, he sincerely hoped that his laborious effort would not be wasted, and sooner or later, the Supreme will spotted him, and will help him to rise about a crowd.
      And this miracle did happen.
      One day, may be in the year of 1925, a some bai (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) from Kabul visited the city of Kandagar. It is happen, that the bai stayed at the place of the Latif's master. One day a dispute arose between them on the question: is any sincere devotee left who could fulfil the most unfulfilling desire of his master. And again, it just happening that that young Latif was walking by during this hot dispute. Deciding to prove his point, his master summoned Latif and gave him the order: during the holy months of Ramadan, Latif should reach the city of Mecca by foot. If he did it, then the guest from Kabul - who was not believed in a devotion of servants - will added up a half of his neighbouring to the master's land. If Latif will fail to reach Mecca than his master will gave up his land to the guest from Kabul. Nobody asked what Latif thinks regarding such dangerous trip.
      Many years passed since that day, but Hadji Latif still remember his first hadzh in details. Later, he was travelling to Mecca and Medina many times on camels or by cars but these trips were different. Last visit to these sacred places, Latif conducted by "Boing" from the newly built airport in Kandagar "Ariana"...
      Indeed, many things have happen for the last sixty years. During this years, Hadji Latif himself reached the wealth and became one of the richest land owner in the province. How he manages to do so - this is a different story, in which will be a place for everything: a love and hate, a friendship and betrayal. Usually, he was the one who was a victim of betrayal. And from whom? From the people of the Afshar tribe, whom he helped to establish themself, gave them chance to receive education. Shaitan (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) messed with the heads of these people by giving them all sort of indecent thoughts. Few years ago, one of them came to Loy-Karezak village, to the home of Lafar. This shaitan-driven man tried to take his land! Of course, Latif pointed out at the door for him and his helpers. But few days later the shaitan-peopled returned with the armed soldiers and the first blood was spelt. And them was a big invasion of shuravi (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) that brought to the land of Afghanistan a bid war that took the lives of his two wives and four children. Very recently, his third wife died not even conceived his son.
      Before this bloody war, Latif knew on which side he will be holding the weapon. His people, whom he for many years gave his land for a rent, supported him. These people exchanged their agricultural tool to the weapon. The gazavat (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) is begun.
      His people were good soldiers too. Very soon everyone in their province knew about a vicious bravery of their attacks and his enemies from the military organisations, somewhere in Kandagar, usually turned pale when the name of Hadji Latif has been mentioned. However, the time arrived when the most warrior's souls demand to have a peace and a little human happiness.
      Something similar did happen to Latif. He was in his seventy five years old when he decided to have a rest from his military activities. By the way, he had the reason to do so.
      His best friend - Haji Yusuf - lived in the neighbouring province of Pandzhvain. He was also a well recognised military commander as well as a wealthy man. He had a granddaughter, Guzel, who just turned fifteen years old. Her parents died during the first years of the war; and she was living in the house of her grandfather.
      "Well, she cannot live all her life behind my back."?- Her grandfather decided one day, and the idea how to arrange the happy life for his granddaughter in such turbulent time, came to his mind. Learned about the death of the Latif's third wife, the loving grandfather offered his granddaughter to be the next wife of Latif.
      Muslims do not grieve for a long time due to their belief that the death is a beginning of eternity. So, Latif, after a month or two of his grieving, realized that in his house should be a woman who, with her gentle caresses and attention, could distract him from the hardships of the war. This is why he accepted Haji Yusuf's proposal as a gift from Allah.
      Matchmaking was conducted with a strict compliance to stern customs of Sharia (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor). For a kalym (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor), the old groom gave to Yusuf a brand-new car?-"Semurg", a herd of fifty sheep, and a small land in the Daman county. The wedding was decided to be done without special festivities, just to avoid the trouble on their heads in a form of bombs or rockets from shuravi (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor)..
      It will be a modest wedding. Not attracting much attention, about a hundred bearded men will gather together for eating, smoking, and firing in the air from their automatic rifles, and later each of them will go to their own paths.
      But on the day of the wedding, there was another event, which had the most direct influence on the wedding...
      Approximately at 14.00 hours, an alarming message from the 70th Brigade, reached the Officer-on-duty at Administration of the Tsarandoi province, informing that the refilling car together with two Soviet soldiers and pressured gasoline complete disappeared. It was known that the car passed the block post near the fuel station, drove into the city and...gone without a trace.
      The ginja (a criminal investigation department) staff immediately realized that the car could only be disappeared at the Sixth district, on the road between the "Black Square" and the technical college. In this particular place, some hungry-for-easy money shuravi, detouring from the prescribed main roads, stoped to do funny private business, by offering everything what they can steal from the army to the customers of the back streets. Fuel, spare wheels, empty canisters and even ammunition - everything possible and impossible could be finding here on sale.
      These careless Soviet servicemen often were arrested by the gingja staff for unlawful activities, but they did not learn. They were also not afraid at all that at any moment they could become an easy prey for the enemies who wandered as well around the city in the crowds, searching for an adventure.
      So, this is how it all happened.
      As soon as so-called businessmen left the main road, they were immediately seized by people of the Haji Askar gang. In one hour the gingja department received the information about this seizure. A couple of hours later, a the missing car's skeleton was discovered behind the tall clay fence of the courtyard of the ruined house. The car has no fuel, wheals, electric appliance, and other more or less valuable details. Anything that people of the Haji Askar gang could not take with them, were swiped by the local "locusts". Now all these details can be seen in the local shops and garages, but to repossess these lost items was a dead business.
      The driver and accompanying him ensign vanished in the thin air.
      Next day about the accident not only Soviet side, but also the government of Afghanistan had a great concern because the Soviet General Varennikov shared his concerns with all appropriate military departments of the Government of Afghanistan and asked to establish, via theirs intelligence agents, the exact location of these two missing persons. What he was going to do next, the Soviet General Varennikov had not shared his plan and the Government of Afghanistan could only guessed.
      In one week or so, one of the agents, imbedded into one of the rebellion gang, returned to the city the terrifying story of the last days of missing shuravies.
      The wedding was full on, when the `Toyota' stopped next to a house with merry guests. In the back of this cat, there was a pair of shuravies with all signs of mercilessly tortures. Their faces were covered in blood and swollen to the stage that their eyes cannot been seen. Their lips were smash in blood. One of the captured man even did not has his lower lip because it was turned off and like a bloody sausage was hanging on his chin, widely opening his teeth less mouth.
      Sitting in the back with captives, the goliath size of mujahedeen (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) with his full strength hit with foot a head of one of the captured man. The captives started to move towards the edge of the ute. With two-three kicks and the giant kicked them out of the car to the ground.
      Other mujahedeens circled the captives and laughed at the, covered in blood helplessly moving bodies that tried to sit on the ground. The "goliath" with no hurry, took his knife and demonstratively punctured the shoulder one of the captives, at the place where the dusted shoulder strap hold two dirty-green coloured stars.
      - These one is the leader. - He pronounced.
      The kept silence to this moment captive, looked askew at the tip of the knife pocking his shoulder and overcoming the pain, whispered through his toothless mouth:
      - Eight years as the war is going on and you did not learn how to read the ranks? Modj...
      But the last phrase the captive could not finish as the standing next to him mujahedeen kicked into his already broken face. The body of the captured has fallen back to the driver, who from this unexpected impact made some unrecognisably sound - was it a sound of pain or just surprise? - but the ensign silently lowered his head and stared at the foot of the mujahedeen, expecting the next kick.
      - The leaders or not - it has no difference how you will die. - "The goliath" spitted into the face of the captured one with the shoulder straps
      The captive has made a poor attempt to kick his abuser back, but screamed from the pain and fallen on his back.
      Watching the foot of "the goliath", he has not noticed how teenagers next to his right, hit his head with a rifle butt. Losing the conscious, the ensign felt on the ground together with the driver tighten to him.
      He regained consciousness only after few buckets of cold icy water were poured into his face. He opened his eyes and saw that a new group of mujahedeens joined the standing group around them. Among the newly arrived mujahedeens, he spotted an old man with a tidy beard and a turban with a bright white top on his head. The old man looked different compared to all who was standing around. On top of the traditional outfit - shirt and pants of safari colour - he was wearing the dark -brown coloured vest, embroidered with multi-coloured beads. But not all of these have drawn the ensign's attention. A few wreaths woven made from artificial flowers hung on the old neck of this man. And the man, himself, was looking like a decorated Christmas tree and this look was ridiculously unnatural among these wild armoured people.
      A young man in his 30th, from the "Toyota" group, stepped closer to the old man. Stretching his arms towards the eldest, he kept repeating some glorifying words to Allah and to the old man, who apparently was getting married on this day. Approaching him, the young fellow touched by his cheeks the cheeks of the old groom, incessantly muttering the same words.
      Finishing with the ritual greetings, the guest stepped to the side of the elder. Pointing at the captured shuravi, he explained, that these two captured are the gift from him, the field commander who came to pay respect and to present the lives of these two infidels to Allah as a little present for the wedding of the most respected man on the Earth.
      Disgusting looking at the captured, Hadji Latif ordered to cut the robes tided their hands and legs. The goliath in one motion followed the order. Popping out from the crowd, the mujahedeens forced the captives to kneel. Pointing their weapons to the heads of kneeling people, they demonstrated the respect in such original manner to the most respected person.
      Hadji Latif slowly walked around the prisoners like he usually did when he wanted to buy sheep on the market place, even kicked each of them by his foot with the beautifully embroidered with shiny beads shouse. The prisoners were fallen into an indecent four-legs-position the made the crowd around them to humiliatingly laugh and hooting at them.
      Whilst the crowd had her entertainment, Hadji Latif summoned his bodyguard and whispered to him something. The bodyguard despaired in the house and in one second returned to his master with the Kalashnikov rifle. Only a slight movement from the hand of Hadji Latif was enough to put the prisoners on their feet.
      The elder has made a short speech with his very couched and harsh tone. He asked "the goliath" to translate his words into Russian, so the captives could understand what he was saying.
      When the crowd quieted down a bit, "the goliath" produced seemingly recognized translation with a strong accent the message of the old man to the prisoners.
      - You are cowardly jackals who learned to kill our innocent people and children, but afraid to fight with free spirited mujahedeens. Yes, two of you will die, but may be one of you wants to die voluntary?
      "The goliath" wanted to add something else, but both captives simultaneously stepped forward to meet their fate. Hadji Latif only grinned at such unanimous wish of these shuravies to die in a foreign land. He took the machinegun from the hands of his bodyguard, and gave it to the captive driver. Having no clue what the old man wanted from him, the driver took the gun.
      Pointing with his finger at the second captive - the ensign - Hadji Latif commanded: "Kill him". "The goliath" translated these words. But the soldier shook his head and threw the submachine gun on the ground.
      "The goliath", with no hurry, picked up the gun from the ground, and, brushing the road dust off, offered the weapon to the ensign.
      - Now it is your turn to shoot. If you do not want to kill him - kill yourself.
      The ensign looked sullenly at the man and the surrounded him mujahideens. It was clear that he reached the last and most crucial moment of his life, and depending how he will act now he would answering to his own conscience, and to the God.
      And he made his choice.
      Sharply twitching the switch and pointing the barrel towards the giant man, he shouted in a wild voice "Get it, bitches! ", and pulled the trigger. But the dry click of the trigger witnessed a misfire. Instantly reacting to this misfire, the ensign recharged the machinegun, and pressed the trigger again. There were no shot as in the previous time...
      Please with such good entertainment, Latif was watching how the ensign in full desperation and anger threw the submachine gun at the crowd that hit somebody in a chest.
      Several mujahideens jumped out of the crowd and began to maul him with the butts of their rifles and feet. They beat him up until scarlet blood rushed from his throat. Only after that, Latif with only one gesture stoped the massacre and said in Russian:
      - For dog is dog's death.
      "The goliath" understood it like an instruction to actions. He approached the ensign and raised the sharp blade of his dagger to the prisoner's throat, and with one sharp movement cut it from ear to ear. The body of the ensign became hammered in convulsions, and foaming blood, gurgling, rushed from this terrifying sword-cut to the ground.
      Having done his dirty deed,"the goliath" turned toward the second prisoner, and still holding the bloody dagger in his hand, took a one step into his direction but
      - "Bass!" Bass halas! " - Latif yelled..
      "The goliath" froze, obviously not understanding why this master does not allow him to finish off the second prisoner.
      After slowly approaching the shaking-to-core soldier, who already had said good-bye to his life, Latif with one finger lifted his chin and looked in the eye of captive. What he saw in the depth of the prisoner's eyes is greatly satisfied him: it was a rudimental animal fear that occupied the soul of this young man. The enlarged pupils of the prisoner' eyes eloquently evidenced about it. Latif stepped away from the prisoner and theatrically raise his hands to the sky, uttered a sacramental phrase:
      - Let's be the will of Allah, almighty and all-merciful! His will together with my desire is to give life today to one of my enemies. I act this way, not out of pity, but only because I do not want to shed the blood of another person on this memorable day for me. I let him go in peace, and tell his shuravi, that Latif is the one who do not want to fight. The man who is now dead in the dust, was not invited to my land, he came here with a weapon in his hands to kill innocent people. This sarbose (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) - and Latif pointed to the soldier's side - does not know what he is going because his unreasonable commanders sent him to us, and this is not his fault of being here. Let's be this decision fair. Allah Akbar!
      The bearded crowd repeated three time "Allahu Akbar" after Latif. It was the end of the entertainment.
      "The goliath" came to the soldier who was in utter prostration. Wiping the blade of his bloody dagger against his cheek, he almost literally translated everything that was said by Hadji Latif.
      The soldier did not immediately get the sense of what he had said after the horrifying scene that had just happened in front of him. But when he eventually realized that the life was given back to him, he fell down on the ground, bursting into tears.
      He did not yet know that the order giving by one field commander, is not necessary an order for strict implementation by another field commander. If this poor young fellow knew what kind of twisted test had been prepared for him by another ruler of his life, Haji Askar....
      - Lesha, Lesha, look, there the doukh (a unofficial disparaging name for mujahedeens used in the Soviet army) runs!
      Sleeping in his remote post, half-awaken Lesha hit his head on the protruding stone, trying to look through his SVDashki (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) at the direction where his friend Petruha pointed.
      Indeed! It was a figure, sure enough, wearing the black Afghan traditional male dress but with only the sleeves which was fluttering in the wind like a wing of a raven that unsuccessfully trying to take off from the ground. This loomed figure was running on a rocky-sandy surface in all visibility of the flat, like a table, earth, towards the Soviet post.
      - What an asshole! - Lesha was amazed - He is running directly to the minefield. Is he stoned?
      - Maybe he is a defector? - suggested Petruha.
      - Ha!, you are stupid salabon (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor), where did you see the defectors in Afghanistan? Only brutal doukh (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor) here.
      After this short conversation, fully awaken Lesha together with Petrukha began to watch how the doukh was getting closer to the minefields, which for the security reason was placed around the Kandagar airport zone. They even placed a bit on exact time when the runner will step on the first. mine. The experienced Lesha gave him two mitutes; and less experienced Petrukha a bit more - three minutes.
      The body of running man was blown in exactly 1 minutes and 25 seconds. Unfortunately nobody won.
      Through his SVDashki, Lesha had a good look how the body was fragmented from the mine explosion: flames flashed beneath his feet, and black smoke rose. Turning high in the air, the body landed on the ground and crawled forward with its blooded stumps of what used to be legs and arms.
      Watching all this through binoculars, Lesha and Petrukha placed a new bet on how long it will take for the doukh to died from losing blood. Lesha placed on ten minutes, Petrukha predicted five minutes. And again no one was a winner.
      The mutilated body died in half an hour. During this time, an idea to finish him off, came to the head of Petrukha, but after estimation of his rifle possibilities and the distance to the target, he withdraw this option from his head.
      While they were watching the death of the wounded doukh, they received the telephone call from the outpost to report on the explosion in their direction. So, Lesha reported exactly what he saw: that some stoned douhk apparently lost his way and jumped on the minefield, where he blew himself into pieces. The caller at the opposite end of the wire just spat and with a great satisfaction commented that with less shit, the earth will be better.
      In a couple of days, hungry jackals will pull the corpse all over the "green", and nothing could be left to testify the existence of this body. This incident would have gone unnoticed by anyone, except for Lyesha and Petruha... but the agent occurred who reported details of the bloody history of Soviet soldiers' disappearance...
      Haji Askar did not obey the order given by Haji Latif and failed to fulfil the goodwill wishes.
      Promising his boss, Haji Latif, that the captive men will be taken closer to the location of the Soviet troops, and released, Haji Askar did it all differently. It was not in his rules of freeing an enemy in peace. None of those shuravi, who fell into his hands, stayed alive until the evening namaz (see "Terminology and Glossary"?- Editor).
      In the beginning, the doukh forced the prisoner to take off his uniform and washed it himself in the irrigation ditches. An extra set of Soviet uniforms could be handy for the gang while doing provocative actions in the city. After this, the doukh stripped him naked and several bandits raped him with the butts of their rifles. The young fellow cried, screamed in pain, tried at least somehow to resist, but several blows form the rapists with rifles, forced to face the unenviable fate of being raped.
      After a full humiliation of the captive, he was forced to dress in Afghan clothing and put in a car, from where he was dragged out late at night in the area closed to the Kandagar airport. The prisoner was accompanied by the giant man and one teenager, both from the Haji Askar gang.
      In the east was getting slightly lighter, then three of them stopped about four kilometres from the security zone of the airport. The giant men pointed to the direction of the airport indicating by his hand that captured one should keep walking. He also warned that the standing next to him teenager can kill at a distance of not less than two kilometres.
      Keeping this warning in mind, the soldier drugged his feet towards the northeast for two kilometres, but after that he gave in to the nerves, and he broke into running. At that moment, Petrukha, the soldier from the remote outpost, spotted him.
      Nobody knows how this story ended.
      The story is silent, whether the names of ensign and the driver remained on the list of missing persons, or the "craftsmen" from the funeral team of the Kandagar Brigade were able to retreat these two names into a mournful "cargo of 200", giving them a chance to be buried somewhere in the ground, on the vast territory of the former Soviet Union.
      The story is silent about whether Hadji Latif has a legitimate heir and whether the elder himself is still alive. After all, according to the modest estimates, he now is over ninety years old.
      But one thing is certain that the young wife of Hadji Latif was six months pregnancy when the shuravies left Kandahar forever, and if she really gave birth to a son, then it is likely that this seventeen-year-old boy is now fighting in Kandagar with the Americans.

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