Nodar Djin

The Bird Had Vanished

(8 Chapters From the Novel "The Story Of My Suicide")

        I was born in Petkhain* - a Jewish neighborhood of the Georgian capital -
and because of this I was mad at myself for a long time.
        Afterwards, having accepted it, I was burdened by the fact that I was not born anywhere else.
        After I finally became a realist and decided on going to America, I still continued to feel embarrassment, for one can live anywhere one chooses, but one cannot be born everywhere. So, precisely where else is it that I was to be born? This main question remained answer-free.


        Once my plane approached New York and I stared into the window, it was the habitualness of incomprehensible symbols that surprised me. It appeared to me that I was arriving to the same place that I had left: the sky was the same - like a bleached linen tablecloth, stuffed with stearin figures of fluffy mushrooms, thin pillars, and hefty old women. But I was searching for a new life - and I did not want the familiar. Especially as, the past, no matter how habitual it was, is as incomprehensible as that which is yet to arrive.
        A frightening question flashed by: and what if the future is no different in any way from the past or the present, except for its endlessness? I also thought that perhaps future is an illusion, that gets ever stronger the faster you slide around the circle, where only the past intersects the reality.
        My wife and daughter were sitting next to me - the indisputable symbols of a closed circle, and when the plane started circling over New York, it was then already that a sharp nostalgia for my parents home sliced across my heart. I felt like going back, and while my daughter Yana was explaining to her mother why it is that according to the laws of high school physics clouds look the same everywhere, I was writing into my blue notebook for future recollections an almost forgotten story about a half-crazy old man nicknamed Gryzha (Hernia), the story, which in New York sky, right on the threshold of my new life, had acquired a frightening meaning.

        Not long before the conclusion of my previous life, I found myself in a mountainous village to the North of a remote Georgian town Passanauri. It was called in almost the same way as my Jewish quarter - Beit Khaim, and was founded by the Babylonian refugees 25 hundred years ago. If that legend is correct, the history of Beit Khaim is a history of immobile existence of two hundred Jewish families, whom - among other Babylonian Jews - king Nebuchadnezzar had expelled from Babylon.
        The Babylonian refugees scattered into different places - to Armenia, to India, to Iberia, back to Palestine, but only the Beit Khaimers, who had reached the very tip of the earth, the rocky hollow in between the eternally snowy tops of the Caucasian ridge, only they amongst the Jews, managed to finally hide from history.
        Beit Khaim was the birthplace of my grandfather Meir, who had learned the Kabbala there, but later, when he descended the mountains, he deviated from it and became a simple rabbi. Towards the end of his life, however, when he lost his strength, he decided to familiarize me with the mysteries of the Kabbalistic rituals, and, without my fathers knowing, kept urging me to help him get back to Beit Khaim.
        After my grandfathers death, during the yearly anniversary dinners in his memory, my father Yakov would tell me, after having a fill of vodka, that one day him and I should go to Beit Khaim, where he himself has never been, and where he never took my grandfather, for it was impossible to drag a weak old man across the Caucasian mountain tops in those times.
        And whats there to do, I would ask my father, who in response shrugged his shoulders: nothing much, its just that you and I are Babylonians, and that is the only thing left of Babylon. Theres no hurry, he would add: your grandfather used to say that the village will stand another thousand years and nothing will change in it; well go when I get old.
        My father didnt get the chance to get old, and I remembered about the village much later after his death - when I was compiling a list of Jewish settlements which I was planning to visit. I postponed the visit to Beit Khaim for end of my two year old wanderings, for, according to my knowledge, the village was not going anywhere.
        The knowledge turned out to be incorrect. The village itself - a dense crowd of low blackened houses made of stone - stood in its assigned place, but there was not a soul in it, and the wind darted to and from inside the formed emptiness. The sun was either rising then, or, vice versa, setting - and the light around was inaccurate. The narrow pathways in between the houses were overgrown with mountain weed, and littered with yellowed-out pieces of newspaper and broken glass. Beit Khaim, in Hebrew, means House of Life, but the village was immersed in grave silence which, it seemed, tumbled upon it from the adjacent to it, steep hill carpeted with gravestones. The wind was rushing on from the same direction, from the cemetery, and it squealed like an orphan and knocked against the empty window panes. A long stairway, etched in the rocks tip toed out of the village and led me to the Khevsurian settlement Tsiuri, or - Heavenly.
        The Khevsurs told me that about a year ago, the Beit Khaimers - and there were 200 families of them just like during Nebuchadnezzar time - took off altogether and went to Jerusalem. The only one who stayed was Gryzha, a half-crazy old man with a yellow beard and a big hernia, for whom the Khevsurs were not too squeamish to provide shelter, because they considered themselves the most hospitable of the Georgian tribes.
        Incidentally, if it were not for that very hospitality coupled with their inability to mock the Biblical commandments, then their name - Khevsurs, that is, mountain Jews - could be taken seriously. With the Jews, however, they only share an invincible passion for idolatry and spicy foods, whereas the difference comes down to the most essential - the absence of curiosity, which explains the fact that the Khevsurs very rarely disobey all ten commandments at the same time.
        Feeding me with a spicy soup, and not asking me a single question, they brought me to the old man with a hernia and a very general face. He turned out not to have a name - merely a nickname. He never had any papers either, that could prove his existence: no matter where he found himself in this world - he did not exist.
        Learning that Rabbi Meir was my grandfather, Gryzha answered my questions hesitantly since he was still angry at him. Your grandfather, he said, deprived us of a pearl, by leaving Beit Khaim. He complained that my grandfather could not withstand against the devastating passion for movement and descended into the valley, and thats where, he said, it all began: Beit Khaim started loosing a pearl after pearl, until it suddenly took off and vanished all together.
        Trying to make Gryzha like me, I reminded him from the Talmud that a pearl does not vanish: a pearl - is a pearl everywhere, and if someone had lost it, then it is only he who lost it. Moreover, I added, my grandfather left you a long time ago: theres enough despair for every hour, and - so, lets talk about what happened recently.
        The old man answered that the village had left for Jerusalem, surrendering to the destructive passion that overpowered the whole world and was planted by the young.
        And what about the old people, I asked, why did they leave?
        And the old people, who are alive not because their hearts are beating but because of a habit - they are afraid of being old, and want to be young, he said, and that also is a sin! But for every sin, Gryzha exclaimed, there is a punishment: all of them - both young and old - will want, if they dont die, to come back home, and if they die, then, they will forget the place from which they left: Ive already been in your Jerusalem, and heres my opinion, - an ordinary place! Your Jerusalem is no more holy than this hernia!
        The Khevsurs told me that, of course, the old man had never been to Jerusalem, but he sincerely believed that, along with his big hernia, he had walked across and along it...
        When, as it turns out, the Beit Khaimers were told that there was no way to get an exit visa for the old man due to the reason of his official nonexistence plus the generality of his face, up to the point of it being impossible to photograph it; when the Beit Khaimers learned that the village would have to leave for Jerusalem without him - out of pity for the old man, they decided to disregard the truth and resort to a swindle, which - unlike the simpleminded and the down to earth Khevsurs - would have greatly amused Nebuchadnezzar himself.
        The Beit Khaimers descended the mountains along with the old man and showed him the largest town in the valley. Gryzha had never before left his native village, cut off from the world with steep rocks and snow storms. The old man was told that this very city was the Holy Jerusalem.
        During the whole day, while they wandered the streets with Gryzha, got to know the local Jews and peddled, he didnt utter a single word - he merely winked anxiously and kept wrinkling his yellow beard with his fist. He was silent on the way back as well. His companions started to worry, that from the shock, reason had returned to the old man at the most inappropriate time, both for himself - at the end of his life, and for them - on the eve of their departure.
        Upon his return home, however, he declared in the synagogue that he curses any Beit Khaimer who leaves for Jerusalem.
        Thats Satans kingdom, he screamed, and all of you will come back wailing: Oh, if I do not  forget you Jerusalem, let my eyes go to ruin! You will all wail like a Horn of Jericho, and I will stay with the Khevsurs here; may be they are also Jews, but unlike you, they are wise, and dont go rushing off anywhere!
        Some laughed, others cried. Everyone, meanwhile, left soon, handing Gryzha to the kind hearted Khevsurs, who immediately started urging the old man to renounce his merciless and lonely God in the name of their gay and democratic choir of little deities, explaining to him that his countrymen will never return anymore, for if they - just like him - dont like Jerusalem, theyll go to other places.
        Gryzha would not give in: once a month, on a fool moon, he ascended the stairs into the empty village, where now only wind was moving, lit candles in the synagogue, frozen by absence of people, and kept believing in the return of the Beit Khaimers.
        Let them wander and let them search for whatever theyre searching! - he declared to me, suddenly switching to recitative, - that peculiar, sing-song manner of speaking, when the Caucasian Jews stress wise quotations in their speech. The more they search, the sooner theyll return, because - how many? - many times it has been said: everything that moves returns to its beginning. And I tell you the same thing: the truth is not in searching, but in rest. Sit and dont move, the Holy Place will itself come to a wiseman, while a fool wanders around the world and doesnt find it anywhere, because it itself is looking for him...
        I thought differently then. Just like the inhabitants of the half-crazy Gryzhas village, I believed that wisdom consists of being a part of the worlds madness, in taking off from the habitual places and wandering in search of a bigger wisdom.
        And still, when I was circling then over New York amidst the familiar pillars, mushrooms, and old ladies made of clouds, I was suddenly stringed by a worrisome suspicion that since the old man was indeed cracked, truth - it turns out - is sometimes spoken through the mouths of madmen. The anticipation that my life will not so much begin anew here, but merely continue its course - this anticipation frightened me, and as Gryzha foretold, I was drawn back, towards home.


        The initial moments in America hinted, however, that a new, different stage might begin in my existence, no matter how recognizable it might be. In the airport I was informed that I became what I was born - a refugee. This announcement was made by a small treble belonging to a hefty, red-cheeked man of my age, who could hardly fit into his glass booth for passport control.
        A refugee? I asked with delight, but since in the English language, the most important thing is intonation, that question sounded like a protest: a refugee?!
        Yes, thats a status, the booth explained, looking over my papers. Dont worry: refugees have all the rights here, and they are also paid for running here!
        Great country! I agreed. Twains homeland!
        America - is the homeland of the writer, Twain! Thats what all of us were taught in school! and I nodded in the direction of my compatriots crowded in a line behind me.
        Were not too crazy about writers here: there are too many of them - and whats more - each one scribbles in his own way... Whatever they want... And very often they dont want the right things...
        In my country, they are called braincrushers. I interceded. Thats what I was told in a Moscow airport. The writers, philosophers, scientists - all of them - braincrushers and brainsuckers!
        Thats a great way to call them! the booth responded. They only make life worse... And by the way, what that Twain writes about?
        I exchanged a glance with my wife and answered:
        About everything. And also about freedom and rights... But he doesnt write anymore...
        Right: thats not popular now... And generally I like it when they dont write, the booth wheezed. And did he write about racial discrimination too, or simply about freedom?
        Simply about freedom. America, he said, is a great country, because Americans have - one, two, three, - three values. The first, I believe, is a freedom of speech...
        Thats right, the booth agreed with Twain. Thats right, but its dangerous: not everyone uses that freedom in a right way.
        No? I was surprised. And the second, Twain said, - is the freedom of thought.
        Right also! the booth agreed. Thinking is very important for life and for many other things... Although that could be dangerous too...
        And the third value, Twain said, - is a local wisdom to keep away as far as possible from the first two.
        Now, thats blackmail! the booth shuddered, and my wife whispered frighteningly to me, that they can refuse us the entrance to America because of Twain, and I believed her, since the red color on the cheeks of the customs officer ran down to his massive neck. What did you say his name was - Mark? and needling me with an unkind glance, he jotted the name down into his notepad.
        Mark, I nodded, angry at the local classicist. I would like to listen to this, pardon me, fool had he lived in Russia! But hes lucky: he was born in America!
        The man in the booth raised his glance at me - this time, an approving one.
        We have enough of our own shit here! The real patriots - there they are, look at that line! Real Americans are born in Russia.  You should have been born here instead of Mark!
        Me personally, or all of us? I was curious.
        All of you! he nodded at the line. And you personally also.
        I could not have, because my mother - when she was giving birth to me - demanded that I should be born not too far away from her. In Russia one is not free even from ones mother!
        The man in the booth smiled:
        Why didnt you ask someone else to give birth to you?
        Everyone is busy with his own things, I reasoned. Besides, no one gives a damn about us except our mothers, and thats why its they who give birth to us.
        My wife started to laugh as well, since, according to the expression on the face in the booth, we were no longer threatened by a refusal to enter America.
        Welcome to the United States! the customs officer exclaimed and returned the documents. To the right, around the corner!

        Embracing my daughter by the shoulder, my wife and I turned around the corner and found ourselves in the United States, where, behind a glass door, made transparent by the sun, I discerned my mother who gave birth to me in the Soviet Union and next to her - my brothers.
        That night I could not shut my eyes: I had no time. My head, for the first time, went swirling not so much from vodka, but from suspicions darting about in it, and my soul was being torn apart from desires which I had not experienced before. There was a sensation that I was looking into a pipe with multicolored glass: rolling around in between mirrors, they form a whimsical pattern, which - due to a surprising fear before beauty - leaves you breathless. As soon as you move the pipe, however, - this delicate pattern shatters and disappears, but the eye does not have the time to despair, for a new miracle arises in the previous place. Thats the way I always imagined my entrance into America, and thats the way I remembered it during the sleepless night which concluded the initial day of the new existence.
        This new reality, as I imagined it during the days of the old one, and as it appeared on the initial day, arrogant in its splendor, promised the most rare of rights - the right of not being involved in it. The very first images of the new reality gave birth to suspicions that this right being acquired by me is its own condition. The suspicion that now and forever I would be allowed to observe it merely from aside - and nothing more.

        From the airport, all of us, six Petkhain Hebrews, packed into an old Lincoln drove into a Russian district of Queens, where I along with my family was to live for some time in a two-room apartment together with my brothers and mother. The apartment was stuffed with people whom I had once seen on the streets of Petkhain. Besides them, my brothers other neighbors who had come from different cities in the Soviet Union shuffled about. From the wall across the entrance door my father and grandfather stared at me. Their glance was confused: either they were not expecting me in New York, or, vice versa, they could not fathom what they themselves were doing here. Stepping closer to them, I saw my reflection in the glass: my glance was equally as confused. There was a smell of roasted chestnuts and unfamiliar deodorant in the apartment.
        Familiar middle aged ladies-refugees, whose assertive size witnessed about the gastronomical wonders of this country, laughed, shed tears, and squeezed in their embrace my 13 years old daughter and my wife, assuring the first that she had grown over the last one and a half decade, and the latter, that, on the contrary, time had made her younger.
        Familiar middle aged men, the repatriates, kissed me to congratulate with a safe arrival, told be about the nobility of my ancestors, and warned me to be on the look out with the employees of charitable organizations, who are only waiting for a chance to strip the newly arrived of their lawful privileges. The most active among them was Squinting Datiko, who had twice in my presence shot at God from a shotgun but missed because he squinted....
        My mother, squeezing her way among the guests, offered them chestnuts. I caught her attention and asked if there is an air-conditioner in the apartment. There is, she said, but its expensive: well have to wait till the summer. She added in a whisper, that as soon as the guests leave it will get cooler.
        To wait for the departure of the guests who were not thinking of departing or for the arrival of the summer, when April was just beginning - seemed like an insult of the American spirit to me. When surrounded by it, I believed then, ones heart starts to ache from any kind of slowing down, and that is very dangerous, for it ceases to believe.
        I called my wife aside and informed her that I want to go to Manhattan - to look at America, where I came, I said to her, not for roasted chestnuts or Petkhain grimaces.

        At the subway entrance stood a wrinkled pickup with open doors, and in front of it, holding a megaphone, two men were stamping about. They had similarly smeared faces, although the face of the first one, in a black Hasidic uniform, looked like a negative that was soaked in a developer for too long, while that of the second, dressed in civilian clothes, - on the contrary - not enough time. The Hasid spoke in English while the civilian translated his speech into Russian with the Ukrainian accent. The car doors were speckled with announcements, and as usual, I started with the smallest.
        It was announced that the pickup belongs to the Center for Russian Immigrants at the main Hasidic synagogue in Brooklyn. I knew about Hasidim mostly that which attracted me to them: despite constant failures, they were still attempting to stop time, choosing an unexpected means for that - disregard for fashion of dress and hairdos of the last few centuries, which, incidentally, could also be explained by their not wanting to waste time on anything else except love for God and collecting diamonds. Another announcement, written in larger letters, promised the Russian refugees along with all other immigrants from Eastern Europe, a free, but precise circumcision. The largest letters, however, announced that tonight starts the oldest holiday of Pesakh honoring the exodus from slavery, from which God freed not only our ancestors but us as well.
        And thats what the Hasid and the translator were voicing into the megaphone:
        Salted water on a Passover table symbolizes our forefathers tears during the times of slavery...
        After that announcement, the translator looked at me:
        Do you live here?
        I dont live anywhere. I just arrived... And youre a Hasid?
        No, a zootechnician, he said and poked his finger into a pin on the lapel of his jacket. Kharkov University! I am a goat specialist, but there are none in New York. Thank God, there are Hasids - and they have extra money and ideas. Generally, they are good people, but, you know, I think, theres just no room for bad in them; they want to shovel all of us into their ranks and so, they thought of this pick-ups and translators. To tell you the truth, I am a little embarrassed: after all, Im from Kharkov University... No one listens, naturally, - just the old blacks and Russian kids...
        Then what are you shouting for? I did not understand.
        Thirty bucks an hour. And whats your profession?
        I can also translate.
        He knows English! the zootechnician turned to the Hasid.
        Mazl Tov, smiled the latter, want to work for us?
        The question was meaningless - merely symbolic: without any skills, I get an work offer! I felt like assuring the Hasid that by trusting me he had committed a wise act, and I answered him in Hebrew:
        Theres this Hasidic legend. Someone once asked Rabbi Abraham Yakov: If there is a place for every man, why is it so crowded everywhere? He answered: Because each man wants to occupy someone elses place.
        The Hasid laughed and said to the zootechnician:
        He says that your place is your place! and turning to me, continued in Hebrew. His place is your place, because you know Hebrew in addition. And how do you know, by the way? Arent you from Russia?
        His place is his place! I answered and, liking myself, experienced a desire to utter something bigger. It is said: it is better to suffer from an injustice, than to cause it. And as for Russia, heres what one of your Hasids, Rabbi from Ruzhin, used to say about it. Messiah, he said, will appear in Russia before anywhere else.
        The Hasid smiled and switched to English:
        And heres my word about Russia. Not mine - its old also: Lubavitcher likes it. One of Rabbi Motls Hasidim from Chernobyl came to visit his teacher but boarded at a hotel. When he was praying with his back to the wall, a man appeared behind his back and said: I measured the whole stretch of the earth with my two feet, but nowhere had I seen such exile as in Russia!
        I know that legend, I said. But the ending is the most important thing in it: an early sample of surrealism.
        A sample of what?
        Well, thats when suddenly not just a simple truth comes out, but a different - the most truthful one.
        Oh! the Hasid surmised. I heard that, thats Soviet right?
        No, the zootechnician apologized, youre confusing it with soc(ialist)-realism - thats when you drink a lot and bother everyone with your blabbing, while surrealism - is when you take drugs, socialize with yourself only, and chop wood while sitting because its even more inconvenient to do that when lying down!
        I started laughing and the Hasid asked me:
        I still dont understand, but tell me - what s the ending there?
        This is the ending: Rabbi Motls Hasid from Chernobyl turned around and saw that the man who said that nowhere is such an exile as in Russia - that man went to Rabbi Motls house. But when he followed him and went inside, he could not see him. And no one knew anything of him anymore.
        My last name is Shifman, the Hasid extended his hand. Let me take you to our Rebe, the Lubavitcher. Maybe he has a place for you that is not taken by anyone.
        Thats the most important Hasid in the world! whispered the zootechnician.
        Im going to Manhattan, I answered.
        I dont think you should take the subway, Shifman hesitated. Were going to drive through: if you want, we could drop you off.
        I wanted and went to Manhattan in a dusty black pickup without any sidewindows - squeaky and hard like Hasidism. I was sitting in the back stuffed with the tight knots of prayer books and matzoh boxes; they slipped along the seat during turns, tumbled upon me from different angles and hit me between the legs - which evoked in me strange sensations and seemed very symbolic - more truthful than the truth. The longest lasting was the sensation that it was as tight in the pick-up as it would someday be in the grave.
        Tomorrow is already a holiday and we didnt deliver anything yet. A couple and three prayer books, Shifman complained.
        Nothing we can do: they dont want them! the zootechnician answered and turning to me, added in Russian. They cant get it through their head that our brother is not going to turn to God!
        Why should they? I said. Out of two people who havent met God, the closest to Him is he who doesnt go to Him.
        Our brother doesnt renounce God: he just doesnt know what to do with Him, he said in Russian and switched to English. Shifman, I remembered another joke about refugees!
        I collect jokes about refugees, apologized Shifman.
        So then, he arrives in Vienna...
        Who? Shifman demanded.
        Our brother.
        Then say it that way!
        Our brother arrives in Vienna and declares that he doesnt want to go to Israel. To America? No. To Canada? No. Australia? No, again. Then, heres a globe and choose - where! So, our brother turns the globe round and round, observes it from all sides, then sighs and says: And do you have another globe?
        Shifman giggled and I became sad.
        Matzoh was hitting against my neck and chest - packed square boxes with an artless picture of the Egyptian exodus: a desert, a palm, a pyramid, and many crooked sticks, that is just freed brothers. The text across the picture informed that the product was prepared in a Brooklyn bakery under the supervision of Rabbi Soloveichik, and that the word matzoh has two meanings: the bread of freedom, and the bread of despair, from which it follows, it said, that freedom is acquired only through sufferings, which are part of exodus...
        Shifman and the zootechnician fell silent. Behind the back window, on both sides of the expressway, neat little houses swam by, multi-colored churches, and playful cemeteries covered with a smooth, like velvet, grass, and the bakery store windows that caressed the eyes.
        On one of the cemeteries, near a white cross, stood a deer - he was either thinking quietly about something or delighting in the indifference towards life.
        New York! the Hasid exclaimed and I turned around.
        A tall blinding shaft made out of phallic constructions tore into the windshield, into the space between matzoh boxes and prayerbooks. I recognized the Empire State Building, the most exciting of the uncircumcised skyscrapers. Something fell inside of me and there was silence. With every moment, the shaft shone brighter. Then there arose an anxious shrill inside the ears - like loud wind music. When the intensity of brightness reached a frightening degree and a thought flashed by that everything around might explode, it suddenly became quiet and dark: the pick-up darted into the underground tunnel, filled with the soft rustle of the leaves - resembling a noise in the stereo during a musical intermission.
        New York! the Hasid repeated. The most difficult place for God!
        I thought that the Hasid is right: what I had seen left no chance for Gods presence. What I had seen did not leave a doubt either that - unlike God who is known for restraint - human insolence has no boundaries. I was even more surprised by a suspicion that the idea of creating what I had just seen could have only come to a refugees head...
        The pickup dove out of the tunnel, suffocated from the bright light and stopped at the curb.
        Well drop you off here, Shifman said and gave me his business card. Call me, if you feel like meeting the Rebe.
        I went out, looked up, and felt myself a stranger. It was impossible to believe that someday I could get used to these buildings and pass them by without raising my head. I recalled the forgotten words from the Petkhain prayerbook: What is a man, and Lord, why do You love him? His beginning is ashes, and his end is ashes, and he is like a delicate crock, like a dried-out grass, like a wilting flower, like a disappearing shadow, like a melting cloud, like a breath of dust, like a vanishing dream.
        Neither those words, nor any others were ever able to evoke fear in me for the fact that I am no more than a man. A word does not have power to become a sensation; only an image is able to do that, because an eye is more sincere than an ear.
        I sensed a fear for myself as for a man for the very first time at the sight of the New York towers.

        Worming myself into the stuffy crowd, I stepped along with it in the unknown direction.
        It seemed that everything was in a hurry to get to the orgy of business deals. I had nowhere to go. Looking down, I was rhythmically stepping after mens boots, womens heels, and genderless sneakers. I decided to follow the dark-lilac leather pumps. I was already familiar with them through advertisements plastered onto the buses. Italian shoes made by Bandolino; Macys department stores; Comfort and elegance, nothing else brings together the wealth of tradition and the demands of the time, 145 dollars. Light lilac pantyhose with small white polka dots - Knitted Wear by Fogal, Switzerland, available in Lord and Taylor, exclusively for your legs, the art of touch and tenderness of control, 80 dollars. Snow-white gabardine miniskirt; Dresses by Anne Klein, available in Leonard, the triumph of a union between sensuality and business: the convinction of a whisper, 210 dollars. Dark lilac leather Bel Air briefcase, 110 dollars. Gold rimmed watch by Jules Jorgensen, 165 dollars. Black silk scarf by Sanyo: available exclusively in Cashmere-Cashmere, 35 dollars. And so, total came to 745 dollars, not including the perfume - the smell of lilac.
        Who is this? And why so much lilac? But really, whats the difference? Although I was following the lady with the carelessness of an experienced pathfinder, something in her made me cautious. I was always persecuted by precisely such form of a female leg: a thin, tall shin with an unexpectedly large and tight muscular hill in the middle. I was accustomed to think that what irritated me in it was its resemblance to a snake that had swallowed but not yet crushed an ostrich egg. Now, however, it was precisely the smell of lilac that had discovered in the depths of my memory the true cause of my unavoidable despair at the sight of ostrich eggs being devoured by a snake. In my memory, these legs belonged to a fleshy 30-year old Persian woman by the name of Silva, who used the cheap cologne White Lilac and who, many years ago had stripped me of virginity upon an equally fleshy carcass of a dying bull.


        In the very beginning of winter many years ago, an unprecedented number of bulls was driven into the Petkhain slaughter house, who - unlike cows - were to be slaughtered because of lack of feed for the whole cattle. During the day, the whole block where the slaughter house was located was wailing with the wail of the animals being slaughtered, and in the evenings a sweet smell of burning bull meat crawled along the whole street. For the first time as far as I could recall, the Petkhainers were feasting without any apparent reason: the New Years holiday had already passed and there was still plenty of time left till the next ones.
        Due to a lack of reason, the Petkhainers partied with special zeal, getting inebriated not so much from vodka as from the surplus of meat, and this made the expression on their faces more remote and wild. I was surprised that people who had just filled themselves with shish-kebobs can throat out melancholic songs about unrequited love and that the devourment of animals could cause such joy in man.
        My grandfather Meir, being not only a rabbi but a slaughterer as well, the fact of which, by the way, my father Yakov, the prosecutor and a vegetarian, was very much ashamed of, remarked that God expects not saintliness from a man, but understanding, - that is, not the renunciation of killing animals, but a feeling of sympathy for them when they are being killed. Only Jews, he kept saying, kill with understanding - in a sympathetic way.
        I started laughing, and that very night - in response - my grandfather took me to the slaughterhouse, where he was to kill another bull for a wedding, which at first, was scheduled for the beginning of spring, and then moved up sooner because of the availability of cheap cattle.
        On the way, he explained that people of other religions kill with a sharp-pointed knife: they target for the heart, but then missing, draw second and third stabs. But thats not the worst: even if the first stab happens to be on target, the animal dies slowly and is fully conscious of the act of violence being committed against it. In addition, he said, a knife tearing into flesh, rips instead of slashing the muscles, whereas when it is taken out, it shreds the flesh and causes the animal insulting pain...
        The slaughterhouse which served as a hospital during the war, was a long shed, dissected into parts. In the front, drowning into the earth, stood huge scales and upon them - a tall pile of dissected carcasses. In the next one, there was a vile, sour-sweet smell of half-dead meat and tripes. Despite the late hour this partition turned out to be packed with multitude of silent and unshaven men. Without glancing at each other they - a carcass jerked up on each hook - delighted in their work with axes and choppers. In between the short pauses of desperate wails of the cattle being slaughtered in the farther partition, there were heard mute hollow sounds of metal hitting against the bone and the crackle of the skin being stripped off.
        My grandfather dragged me by the hand across couple of more partitions, and, finally, hitting the door with his foot, took me inside a tiny partition, or a slaughter-room, to be precise, which, because of a lightbulb smeared with blood, illuminated a dim red light. There was a dense salty stench around - like in an animal house. The walls of the room were splattered with a dark gray lime, and on the floor, in the middle, gaped an oval hole for the puddle of blood. The ceiling was painted with the unexpected, silver-torqouise color, and right under it, in the farthest corner a radio of prewar times splashed with blood hung on a nail:
                If every loving thought and look
                Became a lyric line,
                Thered be no bigger poetry book
                On themes of love than mine.
                But still the book is small - whats worse,
                Im writing nothing new:
                Whatever time I have for verse
                Id rather spend with you...
        Iethim Gurji! my grandfather nodded in the direction of the radio, and opening a leather bag, pulled out of it a familiar wooden box, where he kept his knives.
        A hefty woman stood with her back to us under the radio. She had tall thin shins with unbelievably round calves. Shoulders like the wings of some unknown bird were drawn forward - towards the chest.
        Iethim? The poet? I asked, observing the woman and how, throwing the top of the wooden box aside, my grandfather cautiously took the handle of a wide knife and brought it close to his eyes.
        No, he is not a poet, because poets choose words, and then write them down on paper. Iethim did not do that, he was a Persian, an orphan and a vagabond, and so he never wrote anything - he only spoke in rhyme, and sliding his finger across the sharp razor of the knife, he added. Persians are very sensitive people! Say something, Silva!
        Silva did not say anything, but she turned around. Her face was also round - with the moist and sad eyes. The dark pupils pulsated and rocked to and fro in the white.
        I promised you: everything will be all right, youll see! my grandfather said to her. Youre still young; youll find yourself another man, or youll wait till your Bakri does his time, and then youll both have a life together again, you understand? Youre both young, you still have thirty years of continuous living ahead of you, you hear? Youd better wipe your tears and bring the bull in! These days its better for you to work than listen to sad poems, you hear? Wait, time will pass, and youll be happy!
        I am not listening to these poems, Silva answered looking aside. I am crying because I am angry at life! and she let out a sob. Wait! And how can I wait when I have to live? I am not Jewish, I dont have the time to wait...
        Wipe your tears off, I told you! my grandfather mumbled.
        She nodded, pulled out a handkerchief from her rubber apron and padded her eyes.
        Shes also a Persian, grandfather whispered. And also an orphan, like that poet Iethim. She has lots of relatives in Persia, but shes not allowed to go there. And yesterday... Well, she has a fiance - a Bukharian Jew, Galibov - yesterday they gave him ten years.
        For what? I felt sorry for her and her fiance, because, indeed, people live each and every instant and no one has time to wait for happiness. Why so long - ten years?
        Its a long story, grandfather shrugged it off. I told your father about it and he says: in Russia they would have given him more!
        Meir! exclaimed Silva and came towards us.
        I was surprised not so much by the familiarity with which she addressed my grandfather, whom even my grandmother called rabbi, but by the sudden transformation of the Persian woman: her shoulders straightened out, her chest came forward, and instead of sorrow, some frightening thought was showing through her eyes.
        Meir! she repeated and stepping right up to me touched my neck with her cool hand that suddenly smelled of lilac, the scent which did not correspond either with her image, or her surroundings. Whos this boy with you, Meir?
        I am not a boy! I interjected without taking her hand away.
        Thats my grandson, my grandfather mumbled once again, searching for something in his bag. He wants to see how Jews slaughter their cattle...
        Yeah? You look like a Persian: very smooth, Silva said to me and pulled my head to her leather apron on her spacious chest, which exuded not lilac, but blood.
        Wheres the sharpening stone? my grandfather asked her.
        I gave it back to Suren.
        Will you fetch it?
        Go yourself! ordered the woman.
        To my surprise, my grandfather nodded his head and left, handing the knife to Silva. Without letting me go, she brought the knife around my back, and pushing me closer to her, clasped my body in a tight ring of her fleshy hands. For the first time then, my face was scorched by the breath coming out of a strange, but close-standing female female flesh. The breath was spicy, a bit bittered with anise. I sensed weakness in my legs. It seemed that someone switched me.
        What are you doing? I was frightened.
        Dont be afraid! she grinned and unclasped the ring. Im checking the knife, - and imitating my grandfather, she slid her nail across the sharp edge. Your grandfather is right: there is a jag right here.. Try it!
        Taking one step back, I extended my hand for the knife and sliding the nail of the thumb across the sharp edge, cut the skin on the joint. Silva was happy, brought my finger to her eyes and pushed hard upon it. The joint was covered with blood. Bending her head and leaking the wound, she carefully placed the finger in her mouth. Then she raised her glance at me from under her brow, started ragefully sliding her tongue along the finger, and swallowed the bloody saliva on her lips.
        What are you doing? I repeated in a whisper.
        She did not answer right away. Taking my finger out of her mouth, she carefully blew on a wounded joint, and muttered, leaking her lips:
        This knife, you see, has a jag... Thats bad blood, you have to suck it out...
        Bad blood? I asked her thoughtlessly, continuing to sense the elastic powers of her hot tongue on my finger.
        Jews dont use the meat if the knife has a jag... Thats not pure blood: bad knife causes pain to the animal...
        I was thinking about something else.
        The knife must be wide and strong, but smooth like words in a poem, so that the animal feels pleasure...
        Sharp? I asked.
        And the length should be twice the thickness of the neck... And it should not be pushed into the flesh: you slide forward once, and backward - once, like on a fiddle. And the blood will be soft...
        There was a pause. Again, I stopped sensing my own body. The Persian woman put her hand back on my neck and uttered:
        Youre not a boy, you say?
        No, I answered silently and lifted my eyes at her carefully.
        Give me your hand then, she blurted and grabbing my hand with hers, free of the knife, she pulled me towards her and squeezed me to her belly.  Slowly letting go of it, the Persian woman pulled out from under my hand the bottom of her apron and the dress, and my fist found itself against her naked flesh. Somewhere inside of me - in my throat, in my back under the shoulder-blades, in my hips, in my knees, even in the ankles - there suddenly arose a tormenting energy, obeying which the fingers crawled to the source of the heat.
        Youre doing good! Silva whispered and covered her eyes with her shivering lids. Like a boy! Like a duck, even!
        What? I started. Like who?
        Dont stop! In Persia women pour corn kernels there and let a hungry goose peck them out... Its very good... But dont stop!
        I refused to think of the goose and, at last, reached the scorching inner flesh. When I touched it, I was overwhelmed by a hot wave, which reminded me of a dense cover made out of soap bubbles in our Turkish bath. I sensed how suddenly weakness started to grow inside of me, which, however, no longer frightened or tormented me, but, vice versa, seeped into some mysterious force.
        The wounded finger tensed up and, squeezing its way further, came against the elastic, slippery hill. Climbing over it, it - all by itself - went sharply inside, into the tight depth, permeated with viscous moisture, which dripped along the finger towards the wrist.
        The wound on the joint started to sting painfully and a moment later, I heard the hoarse coughing of my grandfather from behind the door. Jerking away from the Persian woman, as though I had just been stringed, I found myself under the radio:
                Its time, high time for me to go,
                No things I take along.
                I leave the winds that lightly blow,
                The thrushes early song.
                I leave the moonlight night, the trees,
                The flowers in the grass,
                The murmuring of distant seas,
                The torrents mighty bass...
        With my back to Silva and my grandfather, shocked and frightened, I was observing, accompanied by the voice on the radio, my finger covered with blood - not with my own, but with the dense blood of the Persian woman. The hairs on my wrist clung to the skin and were glued in knots enveloped by drying moisture that exuded a suffocating scent. As soon as I guessed - what kind of moisture it was, I was jerked by a hazy, deep shame for everyone in the world, for everything alive and stinking. For the fact, that everything in this world is probably horrible inside.
        Then I was surprised that I did not know this earlier: I never read it anywhere, no one had told me about it. I was told different things, but never that everything is so horrible inside. Then why didnt anyone tell me about it? And could it be that no one knows it yet - only I? No, I decided, that can not be! But there could be something other: it is not so horrible at all, and it seems horrible to me only, because I know less than the rest! Perhaps it is that the world is not only not horrible without horrors but also miraculous without miracles...
        Turn the radio off! my grandfathers sharp voice interrupted me.
        Why? I grew cautious, hiding the smeared fist behind my back.
        Silvas going to bring in the bull, he answered, caressing the sharpening stone with the edge of the knife.
        I have a question, I said, not in a hurry to clean off the blood.
        My grandfather did not object and I added:
        Why is man afraid of blood?
        Thats a stupid question. Blood reminds of death.
        I thought for a while and nodded:
        No. Because a man is afraid of everything that he consists of.
        Turn off the radio, I told you! he blurted.

        The bull, that the Persian woman brought in to the slaughterhouse did not feel its close end. True, he was popping his eyes, but he was doing so either out of curiosity, or out of sleepiness and tiredness.
        I had seen bulls before, but only now did I realize, that they are killed. All notions in our head are dissected and therefore, although we know that the world is one, we forget to see things in it as they really are - not separated from each other, not even closely intertwined, but in their union. A bull on a meadow in a village and a dish of beef for dinner were always two different things to me: a bull on a meadow is carelessness of summer holidays and freedom of time.
        Beef was expensive, and we ate it only on Sabbath eves when our relatives poured in and my grandfather - in a lively manner, as though they were his own memories - told Agadic legends at supper, which filled me with illusory, but gay feeling of being a part of something incomparably more significant than my own life. And so these two disparate worlds merged together for the first time in front of my very eyes.
        When Silva caringly pushed the bull closer to the hole for blood - I realized then that bulls, which I only saw on village meadows, exist in order to be converted into beef.
        Killing, the ceasing of life, which I came across for the first time that night, united into one two different, seductive worlds - and this was not surprising, but shocking to me, and alienated me for a long time afterwards from the Sabbath eve feasts with its holiday smells and images of colorful legends.
        It was that very night that I also for the first time felt hate for a person close to me, for my grandfather, with whom I made peace not three months later, when accidentally cutting his vein on his wrist he died from loss of blood, but much later - after I had once sensed in myself the readiness to kill a dog that had frightened me...

        Looking around with a skeptical glance, the bull stopped at the designated line and dropped his muzzle, sniffing the smell of blood at the edge of a dark opening in the ground.
        The Persian woman and my grandfather did not exchange words - only exchanged mute signs. Silva threw tow rope nooses over the hoofs of the animal; one - over the front, the other - over the hind hoofs. Then she unhooked the tip of a rubber hose from the nail on the wall and lowered it into the ground. Then she returned to the wall and turned on the tap. Water shrilled in the ground, and it seemed to me that the bull liked the sound. My grandfather checked the knife with his nail once again and was left satisfied. Taking it away from my grandfather and also sliding her nail over it, Silva suddenly put her other palm to her throat and started caressing it, just like she did with me.
        Neither she, nor my grandfather took any notice of me. The did not pay attention to the bull either who was standing between them. Silva came close to my grandfather and clenching the knife between her teeth rolled up his sleeves. In response, he brushed his beard against her fleshy cheek and whispered something in her ear. This scene stirred a sharp sensation of jealousy within me, although then, it was difficult for me to imagine that my grandfather could condescend to lusting after a woman. A more horrifying guess flashed in my head: the closeness of these two people is the closeness of accomplices in everyday murder.
        My grandfather slowly pulled the knife out of the Persian womans mouth, shoved it behind his aprons belt, and stepping to the bull from the front, grabbed a horn with his left hand. Silva rounded the animal from behind - and with her back to me - squatted, tearing her fingers into the knots.
        Rabbi Meir raised the bulls muzzle by its horn, looked the animal in its confused eyes and moved his lips, assuring, probably, either God, or the bull itself to regard what is about to happen with certain indulgence. Then he swung his fist and hit the animal in the forehead with all his might.
        The sound was hollow - the sound of a fatal blow against something alive - but, at first, the bull did not even budge. A few moments later, however, its feet grew weak and dropping its neck onto the chest, it sighed briefly and tumbled to the ground - with the hoofs towards me. This happened almost noiselessly: only the crackle of a shattered horn could be heard.
        Silva tightened the knots and jerked the rope high - and the animals legs gathered around its belly as if it were getting ready to return to the womb. The woman threw herself against the ribs of the animal, and circling the free ends of the rope around the damaged horn pulled them upon herself. The bulls head was thrown back on the floor, towards its back, revealing a pale neck, and for a moment, an image of a silver-rimmed bulls horn flashed in my memory. On Sabbath eves my grandfather would drink wine from that horn for the longevity of Israel...
        While the Persian woman was fussing with the fallen animal, her skirt had crawled up, to the very foundation of the naked legs. Their whiteness almost blinded me. The woman started to cling tighter to the animal, and her thighs, crowding each other, grew wider. From time to time, they shuddered: from under the deep thickness, sharp slices of muscles broke through to the surface, but shimmering for just a little bit, they immediately vanished in the massive fleshiness.
        Muscular balls of the calves had nowhere to vanish: jumping, they slowly slithered down, reminding - a scene from a movie - a slithering of a ostrich egg inside the body of a snake.
        When I finally tore my glance away from Silva and shifted it to the bull, the murder was already approaching the end: the knife in the bulls throat was slippering for an exit and smoking with hot vapors. Carefully, not to smear his beard, which he covered with his palm, my grandfather pulled it out of the gaping wound, put it in his mouth, and bent the bulls muzzle closer to the opening in the ground. The blood sprouting, and mixing with the stream coming out of the hose, bubbling and shimmering, splashed into the hole.
        The animal flapped its eyes confusedly: the world in front of it, was probably losing its power and beginning to flicker - existing, and then suddenly, vanishing. Or perhaps, the animal was just amazed that it was unable to utter a single sound except a muffled snoring. Then, apparently guessing that its throat was already slashed, it settled down and in a hurry to hide into the nonexistence from the people that were murdering it, it shut its eyelids.
        I was overwhelmed not by pity for it, but by the never-before-experienced curiosity. I attempted to guess its sensations, and it seemed to me that the creature had already picked out a shelter for itself and the thought of that shelter gives her spiritual pleasure and physical delight. The bull loosened up and submerged into the warm, soft, and inebriating cloud of steam, that exuded from a stream of blood sprouting from its throat. The animals belly - under the Persian womans naked thighs - shuddered lustfully...
        All of a sudden, I felt like stepping up to the woman and touching her. My flesh grew anxious, and I looked cautiously at my grandfather, who, it appeared to me, flew into a rage, noticing that I had caught the unusual expression of his bloodshot eyes. My grandfather, it seemed, was somehow frightened of my presence as well. I wanted to leave the premises, but he was ahead of me: pulling the bloody knife out of his teeth and placing it on the ground by the hole, he picked up the sharpening stone from a shelf and slammed the door behind him.
        Silva would not turn to me. Slowly tearing herself away from the bulls belly, still on her knees, she crawled on all fours to the animals head and placed the knife under the soft stream coming out of the hose. The tender shrill of water and the lazy snorting of the dying victim brought rendered stillness to silence, against the background of which the anxiety within me became unbearable.

        Turn the radio on! the Persian finally uttered, without raising her glance. Happy at the idea, I carefully plugged in the cord into the socket:
                I leave with you whats mine from birth
                As much as flesh and bone -
                The winding path, the scent of earth,
                Of hay thats newly mown.
                I leave the cooling rain, the baking
                Sun, the skies above...
                Instead, the greatest treasure taking
                On my way - your love...
        Lock the door! the Persian said, caressing the bleeding wound on the animals throat.
        After locking the door with a hook, I returned to my previous place.
        No, come here! ordered Silva, and when, holding my breath, I approached her, she jerked away from the bull and unzipped my pants with blood-smeared hands. I started back, but she pulled me to herself with a powerful movement of the hand. Come here! Lower!
        Obeying, I sat on the floor, touching the animal with my back, and a sweet stench of steaming blood hit my nostrils. The smell of death made my head swirl unexpectedly, and fearing that sensation, I buried my face in Persians wide chest, and felt out in it the salutary scent of lilac...
        Silva clasped her fingers upon my neck and painfully pushed on my Adams apple, as if she were checking it out for the knife. Then, she moved me away from herself and put me with my back across the dying animals throat. My head fell back, onto the cold ground. With my back I felt the shudder of the weakening muscles on the animals neck, while my lower back became hot from the blood, that sprouted from the bulls throat under my weight. Amidst the hustle of unfamiliar sensations, I nevertheless, made out the touch of female hands against my neck, and the smooth sliding of naked, female thighs against my hips.
        Dont close your eyes! whispered Silva, and although I did not obey her, very soon, my flesh began to grow numb in the anticipation of that stupefying languor, the impatience for which is caused by a fear and pain of it ending; that very power, the invincibility of which is determined by the primal oneness of the beginning, that is of - love and death; the oneness of lechery and blood...
        When, after some time, I sensed that the bull, having let out its last shudder, finally died, I opened my eyes wider, sat up, and in the dim light of a blood-smeared lamp discerned the Persians face above myself. It seemed that it existed separately from her cool flesh, which poured blood onto my belly from its gaping abyss. Her face frozen in the already familiar to me languor of pain and pleasure, looked like it was not alive - just like her mouth which seemed unable to utter a sound.

        Next time, I was to see this face quarter of a century later, in Central Asia, on a Jewish cemetery located in a Muslim district next to the Iranian border, where I was photographing the whimsical gravestones of the local Hebrews.
        Many of them were exiled here from distant corners of the country, including my very Petkhain. They lived stingily here: saving money in case they were ever allowed to return to their native lands, for, as the former Petkhainers told me, only a melon is capable of getting used to central Asia after Georgia. No one, however, allowed them to return, and the money saved was mostly spent on gravestones.
        I came to the cemetery at about noon and immediately started photographing a whimsical mausoleum made from Italian marble. Towards the evening, when the sun set to that height from which it penetrates the world with a sneaking light during the mornings, I returned to the vault in order to photograph now from inside.
        Stepping under the arch and descending the stone stairs, I, as always, first started to look at the portraits of the deceased upon the oval China plates. The mausoleum belonged to a family and a sign shimmered above the portraits: The Galibov Family. Every man is like a letter in the alphabet: in order to form a word it must merge with the others.
        The names of the deceased and phrases from Hebrew Holy Books were etched out under the portraits, made dim by time. A distich, written in bronze, flickered over one of the ovals:
                Dont curse your fortune, passerby!
                You are more fortunate than I.
        I raised my glance at the portrait: from the black wall there gazed at me a distorted-by-age face of the Persian, Silva, whom I would have recognize even if her name was not written there - by the expression of her eyes. Like before, they illuminated pain and pleasure simultaneously, and like before, pupils did not stay still inside them, but rocked.
        From the text next to the distich, it became clear that the Tbilisi Persian woman, Silva Adjani, was taken to be married - in the zenith of her ruby life - by a Bukharian Jew, a civil engineer, a bridgemaker, Moshiakh-Bakri Galibov, who explained to the world the reason of her death with the phrase taken from the Talmud: A wise man was asked - why do people die? Wiseman answered - from life.
        There arose a feeling within me that everything that I knew before about life, about love, and about death, became clearer; as though something very important, but that which had always existed beside me, had, finally, penetrated into my very heart...
        Immediately, it became stifling, and coming out of the vault, I caught a scent of lilac, which, apparently was growing amidst the acacia trees that surrounded me from all sides.


        The most difficult thing for consciousness is restraint, and that is why it constantly creates something out of nothing. When the lilac lady with delicate shins that had swallowed ostrich eggs, turned into the entrance, carpeted by black marble plates, I had a sensation that I returned to the Persian womans vault.  Especially as, the scent of lilac exuding from the stranger got noticeably brave in the covered space of the entrance. And as for herself, she became braver only after coming alongside an elevator man in a colorless uniform:
        What does this mean? and she turned her lilac posture.
        I dont know myself, I confessed and thought that the civil engineer Galibov would have never taken her to be his wife even in the zenith of her ruby life, because unlike that face of the Persian woman, round, like a full moon, this face was narrow, long, and pale, like a slice of the moon at the end of a month. I was also struck by the analogical disparateness between the high bust that the Jewish bridgemaker got, and these two, meek little hills of the lilac lady. The age, though, was the same - thirty.
        Who are you? she asked.
        I dont know that either, because I dont have a profession: just an intelligentsia member. By the way, intelligentsia members call themselves intellectuals here, although in the city where I lived, intellectuals were called those who were unfaithful to their wives.
        Those who call themselves intellectuals anywhere and everywhere, as a rule, make a mistake, and even if not - they are committing a social crime! and holding out, she added. Because they are intellectuals!
        You, I see, are not too fond of intellectuals? And it seemed to me that you yourself are...
        Thats why I am not fond of them, she interrupted. Intellectuals - are those who dont know how to do anything. And I dont consider myself...
        What do you mean dont know how to do anything? I interrupted too. What about thinking?!
        Thinking - is not doing! You know how to think? she was surprised.
        Very much! I confirmed.
        You cant say know very much... And what else do you know how to do?
        I also know how not to think.
        That is more important, by the way, although I have a feeling you know how to do that better. And how did you suddenly guess about me?
        The briefcase!
        No, she said, thats not funny. Youre probably Persian?
        Im Russian. Why Persian?
        You dont have a Russian accent - its worse. And only Persians have it worse. And also Arabs, about whom Im not too thrilled either.
        Yes, Im from Russia, but Im not Russian. And wherere you from? I mean, wherere you going?
        Yes! she answered. An Arab! Persians are more polite.
        Anyway, its not important where: just take me with you!
        Farewell! and she went into the elevator.
        Left alone in the marbled vault, I felt like going home and working on my accent. My consonants, as well as, incidentally, my vowels were fine: it was the intonation that was giving me trouble: several times I put aside in memory the examples of American intonation, but each time I should have remembered them, I forgot precisely where I kept them in my memory. Besides, I concluded, strive for perfection is a sign of tastelessness: I should be satisfied that my vowels and consonants are all right.
        The elevator came back and the sliding doors revealed the sight of the elevator man and the lilac lady - and this did not surprise me, because elevators are capable of going down as well. Seeing me standing by the elevator, she was not surprised either because that was exactly where I was standing before the elevator started going up.
        I decided to take you with me. My name is Pia Armstrong. Im an anchor on TV.
        I told her my name and noted to myself that anchors consider themselves intellectuals in America.
        I am taking you to a lunch-party, she continued. But dont say there that we know each other just five minutes.
        How about five hours? I offered.
        Say: five days.
        I arrived from Russia just this morning.
        Incidentally! Pia interrupted. Where were going, the talk is going to be of Russia - and that is why I am inviting you, believing your word that youre an intellectual.
        And whats the second reason? I asked.
        There cant be a second reason: Im married.
        Well, in Russia, people think that a second reason comes easier if one is married: marriage - is a boring thing...
        Listen: were going to Edward Brodmans. A huge businessman, the king of alcohol, the new Hammer, who is cooking up an affair with Moscow and often gives lunches that include intellectuals. He doesnt talk a lot himself - he listens and likes new faces: new face - new head.
        There are cases when there is a face -but no head, or there is a head - but it has two faces.
        The guests there are serious, and are not too fond of silly jokes.
        I got offended, became serious, and went into the elevator.
        In the elevator, she asked me to tell her about myself.
        The story turned out to be a short one due to the fact that - although Broadman lived in the penthouse - the elevator was high-speed and opened right to the spacious living room, sprinkled with intellectuals, approximately, about 10-15 heads with different faces. Making my way into the crowd, I suddenly heard Russian speech.
        Hello! I said in the direction of the speech.
        Hi yourself! a lady with moustache answered, but without a waistline, and pulled me away from Pia. Who are you?
        A lanky man of about her age stood next to her. He was wearing a Soviet made jacket, but a yarmulke on his head, and next to him - a hefty, redhaired American of the same age. I told them my name and the moustached lady got excited:
        But youre a Georgian! Youre a katzo! Hes a Georgian! she turned first to the yarmulke, and then to the American, for whom she repeated the phrase in English confusing the gender of the pronoun: Shes Georgian!
        And, Im sorry, where are you from? I asked carefully.
        Me? What do you mean?! But, Im a president of the main club here! The creative workers of the immigration! We have it right here in Manhattan, and opening a fat-bellied, multi-colored purse, that stank of mens cologne, she pulled out a business card: Margo Katzelenelenbogen, president, Manhattan.
        So, youre from Manhattan? I did not quite understand.
        Well, no, from the Ukraine! Dont you read newspapers? They always write about me there! Didnt I just say: Im a president! And this is Rafik! Hes also a president, but hes - in Israel.
        Rafik got confused and extended his lanky hand to me:
        Seidenman! And how long have you been here?
        Not long...
        Not long! Margo got nervous again and started to search for her nonexistent waistline. Jerry, she just keim not long! and she went searching for the hefty Americans waistline.
        Jerry was about to exchange a word with me, but Pia called me away and introduced me to the host, Edward Broadman, surrounded by a crowd of intellectuals, among whom, while I shook their hands, I recognized two by name: professor Erwin Howe, a literary critic and former socialist, and Will Bugley, the editor of a conservative magazine and the rightist ideologist.
        Miss Armstrong assures me that you are an interesting person, Broadman told me.
        Five days is a short time for such a generalization, I answered picking out not words, but intonation.
        And didnt you just arrive today, as Miss Armstrong told me? Broadman was surprised.
        I exchanged a glance with Miss Armstrong and corrected myself:
        Thats exactly why I confuse words: I meant to say five hours.
        Im sure everything will be fine with you as far as words are concerned: the main thing - your intonation is magnificent, British! said Broadman and added, Well whats the good news? Hows Russia?
        Thank you! I answered. Although I come from Georgia...
        Drinking? smiled Broadman and turning to professor Howe, explained. Professional interest: I am offering my vodka to Moscow, but in exchange I give them South America - sell your Stolichnaya there as much as you want to, but take mine for a ridiculous price, just let my Jews go, you see?
        I do, Howe confessed, but, incidentally, they are not only yours but belong to everyone... Anyway, in exchange for our Jews Moscow will demand not cheap vodka but an expensive snack.
        Pardon me! addressed me an intellectual with hairy hands and a crooked nose, who turned out to be a poet and a friend of the dead Persian shah. When he informed me of this, I became horrified, for if one is to believe Pia, I had a similar accent. Pardon me, he repeated, were you friends with Mr. Stalin? He was also from Georgia, Persias neighbor!
        Stalin is dead for a long time now! I grew indignant, while Pia burst out laughing. And Georgia is not Persias neighbor!
        No way! interrupted an intellectual with even more hairy hands and a more crooked nose, but with the equally disgusting accent. He was a professor from the occupied Palestinian territories, and at present, was living on the territory of Columbia university. Historically, Georgia, if you will, was friends with us, the Arabs.
        I did not will that and started protesting:
        No, ladies and gentlemen, I dont remember that!
        What do you mean?! the Arab got offended. What about the Mamlyuks?! Mamlyuks, Mr. Broadman, - are Georgians that in the 18-th century, served in the Arabic army... Mamlyuks mean... Ill translate it for you..
        A sudden sound of the bell did not allow him to translate, and Broadman threw his hands up:
        Ladies and gentlemen, the dinner is served!

        The intellectuals stopped short and proceeded towards a round table standing on a platform under a sky-roof, and this group procession reminded me of a all-conciliatory energy of gastric neuroses. Making my way to the table I noticed an old mirror with silver instead of glass, and next to it in a white frame - the flickering Degas dancers.
        There was a television set in the corner, depicting a scene of slaughtering a bull: slithering to the right of it, the matador swayed his sword over the animal, but when the distance between it and the bulls neck was almost nonexistent, the scene was cut off - and the screen, first, depicted a commercial for a laxative, and then, also for an instant, Pia Armstrongs face, who uttered an unclear phrase.
        I couldnt make it out, I turned to her.
        She laughed and mimicked herself:
        The inhabitants of Vermont are taken by terror after the recent killings, and the evangelist Grisly confessed in the raping of a young Baptist! This and other news - at five oclock!
        Really? I was shocked. But you have a nice smile! Sort of like... No, I dont know that word in English...
        Listen, katzo! Katzenelenbogen called out for me. Sit down here, next to us!
        I am sorry, Margo, I answered her in English, I will sit here, because I want to switch to English.
        Margo praised my lack of desire to socialize with her:
        Thats good that you want to switch to English. Georgians usually switch from Russian to whiskey here!

        Besides whiskey, everyone around the table was given a pink card with the description of the lunch. As soon as the guests licked out the spinach soup, and the German silver spoons ceased clanking against China plates, Edward Broadman gave the word to Will Bugley.
        Bugley did not say anything new but he was speaking with a sense of humor. Although some of his observations would sometimes flash inside my head as well, that would usually occur unnoticeably for others, and never before had I witnessed such an out-and-out scoffing of the society that bore and bread me. The best way of dealing with Russia, Bugley concluded, - is not to deal with her at all. Then, against the background of all-involving giggling, he recited a poem of a Rumanian poet, who described in rhyme the scene of his sexual premiere, which - for the lack of having his own living quarters - took place in Bucharest, inside a nostril of a massive monument to Stalin, that had tumbled onto the ground.
        Horrible! Pia whispered to me. How did you manage to live there?
        In response, I arranged myself close to her ear as well and informed her that a hard life stimulates inventiveness and refinement. Pia remarked that free people do not need refinement, which explains why they prefer to have sex not inside leaders nostrils, but in hotel rooms.
        I noted to myself that - just like the Russian women, - she, as it became apparent in the process of exchanging whispers, is devoid of inventiveness and refinement, that is, she applies her perfume precisely behind her ears.
        They served the shrimp, which I did not taste, because, as I first informed Pia, they reminded me of underdeveloped sexual growths dressed in crunchy condoms. Then, for the sake of being polite, I added that I was joking and explained my dislike of shrimp due to spiritual considerations: Jews consider it a sin to eat seafood that is not protected by scales. She started laughing and made Margo angry. The president needled her with a stern glance and informed me with a gesture, that one of her neighbors, the red-haired Jerry, is about to take the word.
        Who is this red-haired American Jerry? I asked Pia.
        Thats Jerry Gutman! she said. Hes the chief American on Russian Jews.
        Those that are in America?
        Those that are in Russia.
        Gutman was not eating his shrimp either: he put them over to Margos plate and began, much like Bugley, by declaring Russia to be the stronghold of universal masochism. Nevertheless, unlike Bugley, he called Broadman to deepen his contacts with the Russians, but to demand in exchange, that the latter should let the Jews go directly to Israel, without any stopovers in Europe, from where they run to the States and Canada.
        Theyll refuse! interceded professor Howe.
        It depends how much the Russians are paid, Gutman calmed him down.
        Im talking about the Jews: theyll refuse to go to Israel.
        Gutman threw an expressive glance first at Seidenman, who was also not eating the shrimp,and then at Margo, who was now chewing on her third, Seidenmans, portion. And both of them, interrupting each other, started assuring Broadman, - Seidenman with gestures, and Margo with exclaims, - that for the lack of having a choice, Jews will go anywhere, even to Israel. Then Gutman looked at me equally as expressively and demanded that I support him as well. In response, I made a clanking sound with the glass of Sauvignon Blanc against Pias glass.
        Margo got angry at me because I did not support Gutman.
        The Palestinian professor did not support him either. He was not eating his shrimp also, and spoke in an offended tone of voice that the Russians are not going to agree to Gutmans deal, because not only Palestinians, but the rest of the Arabs are going to get offended. And the Arabs, he said, are already displeased at the speed with which the Israelis are multiplying.
        Gutman interrupted the Palestinian and said that it is very much in the character of the Arabs to get offended, and therefore, Broadman should first think of the Israelis, especially if he has any hopes of becoming the president of the World Jewish Committee.
        Is that so? I asked Pia.
        Broadman is the only candidate, but a lot of people are against it: his wife is a Protestant, and his grandchildren are black.
        Why black? I could not believe it.
        It often happens here. Especially if at least one of the parents is black.
        Oh! I guessed. Everyone has their own rules: in Russia, children turn out black if they are conceived in the dark.
        Pia burst out in laughter and Gutman stopped short and turned crimson.
        Bitch! said Margo in Russian, after which Seidenman got embarrassed, while Gutman swallowed his saliva and continued:
        I would like to continue if Miss Armstrong lets me... I am saying that Israel is bleeding the holy blood and it needs people. Not Ethiopians but the educated and healthy Russian men and women, a ready-made production. As for America, we can do without the Russian goods here, especially as Moscow is beginning to send us half-made products from the barbarian Georgia - to the pleasure of our unexacting ladies. Incidentally, did you hear about the blood? In Israel they caught a Georgian gang which stole gallons of frozen blood during the last war. You, Mr.Broadman, gave your money here, you bought here blood for the Jewish soldiers, - at an expensive price, in addition, - and they are stealing and selling this holy blood!
        Jerry, its impossible to steal holy blood! Pia interceded. You can only spill it. I am just saying that - as a journalist...
        Gutman did not answer, looked at me, and concluded:
        This is what Moscow sends us, ladies and gentlemen! We, Americans, are naive, and the half-made product knows about our simple-heartedness, and instead of going to Israel, where they know his real value, he wants to come here, and directly - from ship onto a ball! But thats a different issue! Right now we are discussing the most immediate: we must demand real goods from Moscow and make sure that its driven down there, where it is most needed. The Almighty God loves harmony!
        When I came to and fought against my distinct desire to swing a bottle of Sauvignon into the red head of the hefty Gutman, and immediately renounce the Jewish people - it became apparent to me that many around the table were looking in my direction.
        Do you want to say a word or two? Broadman asked me.
        I will! I nodded and ordered myself to speak slowly. I agree with Mr. Gutman: there are good people, that is ready-made production, and not so good - that is, half-made products. This is most obvious among the Jews, because they are the quintessence of the surroundings. Heine said that a Jew either flies to the very stars or tumbles down into the shit. So, how do you tell apart one from another just by looking? Indeed, God loves harmony: He saves those that are destined to fly from extra weight, whereas those, who are designed to poke in shit, He makes sure to cover with red growth so that they harmonize with the surroundings!
        I made a pause and wet my throat with dry wine:
        But I dont agree with Mr. Gutman in something else - in the right to call people goods, and bye those goods and drive it down somewhere. One should not do that at least because most of the goods does not wish to be driven anywhere. I wandered across Russia especially to see those goods first-hand and I can tell you that there are fewer who want to leave than those who dont. And thank God for that! And far from everyone thinks of going to Israel even among those who want to leave - and again, thank God!
        What do you mean thank God?! Gutman squeezed out.
        I looked past him, in the direction of Broadman, who posed the same question, but with curiosity.
        You see, mankind consists of people, and each one - has its own mission. At different times, different people look grand; it depends on circumstances: to what degree they are fulfilling their task...
        Thats Marxism! Bugley, who was sitting with his arms akimbo, laughed. Be careful, comrades!
        I wanted to say the same thing! Gutman announced.
        Wait till I tell even more! I smiled. Jews are chosen only in order to instill in everybody the idea that there are no chosen... It was not God who chose the Jews, it was they that chose Him, because they called Him One...
        Moslems say the same thing! interceded the friend of the deceased shah.
        Thats right, but the real prophecy is in action: Jews are different because they live amongst all people, and in each one of these peoples they bring forth that which unites everyone. Even if what unites them all is just dirt...
        We have to live like everyone! Gutman cut me off.
        Jews cant live like everyone. Every time they tried, they got into a mess...
        And what do you advice that we do?! Gutman said with indignation.
        Nothing! I responded. You should not raise anyone and drive them to Israel. Let them live where they are living, - everywhere.
        And what should we do with Israel? Give it up?!
        No. Jews are unlike any other people only as a whole, but if you take them separately, then you will find among them those that want to live like everyone, and those that want it like always, - in other words, not like everyone. Whoever likes it like everyone goes to Israel, but you cant make everyone live like everyone!
        What has Israel ever done to you?! Gutman exploded and turned to Margo who was trying to say something for a while now, and was tugging at his sleeve. What is it, Margo?
        I want to say! said Margo and got excited. This Georgian - is a provacator and an anti-Semite! and her neck was covered with red blots. I know Georgians. They are all anti-Semites and fascists! They dont even like Abkhazians! And Abkhazians have their own mountains and citrus fruits...
        The guests were confused. Even Gutman.
        You know, Margo, said Seidenman in Russian and fixed his yarmulke, you and I are not the ones to judge about that...
        There was a pause, during which I repeated my words to myself and discovered some meaning in them, though I could not understand - whether it corresponded to my convictions. Still unclear of this, I calmed myself down by the fact that even if I just said the truth, and this truth does not correspond to my convictions - still, there is no reason to worry, for what else is freedom if not the luxury to change constantly?
        Then I sensed how my armpits got wet - an evidence of the creative process erotic nature: the scent of armpit sweat, pheromone, I was told, possesses an erogenous power, and everytime I write, my armpits get moist, which embarrasses me and saves me from rereading whatever I had written. Not only a man, but books as well are born in sin, I concluded, and decided to write that down later.
        Pia, I uttered cautiously, do you smell something?
        She started sniffing and nodded:
        Coconut pie! and turning to the servant with a tray, jerked her head. Im on a diet. Give my portion to that lady! she pointed towards Margo to the servant.
        Mine too! I added out of solidarity.
        Ive been dieting for a month now.
        Why? And how much did you lose?
        Just that much. A month!
        I started laughing. So did everyone else. Raising my head, I realized that the intellectuals were giggling at Margo: apparently, the servant put three pastries in front of her and she threw a rageful glance in our direction, and Seidenman got confused once again. It was Broadman that diluted the atmosphere:
        Miss Armstrong, I was just thinking: what if our guest repeats what he just said in front of your television camera?
        When? Pia asked.
        Today... In one hour...
        Yeah? and turning to me, Pia asked. Will you do it?
        Television? I got frightened. About what?
        About the same thing you were telling us, Broadman answered.
        Stretching the time for some more thought, I decided to joke it off:
        And, of course, once again for free?
        Thousand dollars! Broadman suggested.
        Silence reigned.
        Not today, I uttered decisively. Its the accent.
        Fifteen hundred! and Broadman pulled out his checkbook.
        Seidenman got confused again. Pia squeezed my elbow and - while Broadman was writing out the check - whispered to my ear:
        Take it! He liked you!
        In response, I bent to her perfumed ear:
        And what does he have to do with your show?
        He owns it.
        Two hours later, when I came out of the TV station with make up on my skulls that I did not have the chance to wash away and with Broadmans check in my pocket, exhaustion overtook me. In addition, from above, out of the yet-uncovered sky, out of the narrow pathways between the skyscrapers, evening seeped through, and this made me sad. I was against the day coming to its end. It also made me sad that none of the passerbys recognized me.
        I went into a telephone booth and having read the rules, was horrified at the price of a single call. Then, I remembered the check, picked up the receiver and called home.
        My wife and daughter were already sleeping.
        I asked my brother if he watched the news show with Pia Armstrong.
        He did not understand the question and told me in an inebriated voice that I probably must have had a lot to drink.
        Good idea, I thought, put the receiver down, and went into the nearest bar. The prices shocked me, but inspired by my first salary, I ordered a shot of vodka and looked at the watch. In thirty minutes I was supposed to return to the studio and meet Pia.
        I live in America, I announced to myself, but I could not find any continuation for that announcement.
        To our country! I apologized to the bartender.
        The bartender allowed:
        Theres no other like it! and he splashed some more Stolichnaya into my glass. Even here!

        Pia turned out to be an unhappy person.
        She informed me of this in Central Park, on the way home from the studio, where she was taking me to introduce me to her husband Chuck and her son. I am torn apart by a two-folded attitude to myself, she said: having inherited everything from my mother - her looks, habits, voice, and manner of speech, - from my father, I only got the contempt for my mother. And as for the husband, - although he is a bigtime investor - he once again lost interest in women after a two-year interval and is now sleeping around with equally successful investors.
        Embarrassed, I looked around in search of a new topic and saw a hare on pathway.
        Thats a hare! I exclaimed, but Pia was not surprised and I continued. Which is of course understandable, because this is a park...
        There are no hares in this park, but squirrels, she said. The hare must have escaped from the tavern on the green.
        Green? I asked.
        Theres this restaurant nearby - Tavern on the Green: the best hare ragu in the city! Dont you hear the smell?
        I pulled in the air and once again heard the smell of lilac.
        Ingrid Bergman used to go only to the Tavern on the Green! Pia said.
        I was just thinking that you look like her, I said, trying not to think of hares in the intestines of the deceased legendary actress.
        My face, yes, - lots of people say that. But my legs are disgusting... Two snakes with oranges!
        Thats not true! I was frightened and started to look around again, but not noticing anything unusual, mimicked her with the phrase that frightened me. With oranges?!
        O.K., wit eggs! she laughed. With ostrich eggs!
        I was horrified. And started to look around again:
        Look, a horse! and nodded in the direction of a thoroughbred that darted out of the woods. He was harnessed in a white chariot in which - under the red cap - sat two fat Africans in yellow-blue robes and black turbans upon their shaved skulls.
        Yes, confirmed Pia. Thats a tour chariot. There are many of them here; for the searching romantics. Ill invite you one day.
        Suddenly I heard a mans voice calling my name, but couldnt find him.
        Here, over here, in the chariot!
        I looked at the chariot and saw a tiny figure of a man by the nickname of Bug, whom I last met fifteen years ago in Petkhain.
        Thats Solomon! I exclaimed and grabbed Pias elbow from excitement. Solomon Bomba!
        Yes, yes, I swear to you by my mother, thats me, Solomon Bomba! the Bug jumped up and held on to the horse. Solomons mouth was stuffed with golden crowns over his teeth. So, you recognized me, you dirty bastard! Personally recognized me! I swear by my children, thats really me, Solomon Bomba!
        Solomon! I repeated in joyful anxiety and approached the snorting horse. How are you, Solomon?
        I am doing great! I swear by my mother! Thats how I live: horse, fresh air, New York! And I also have another one! I mean, another horse... Shes sick now, but shes a really good horse, even better than this one, although she is a little lesbian... But its trendy here! I live freely and well! And how long have you been here? Solomon was screaming, blinding me with his golden smile.
        Just came today! I screamed as well.
        Listen, thats great that you came! I swear by my children, thats very great! Its good here, its America! And whos that with you, your wife?
        Not mine, no, thats Pia! She also lives in America!
        Ill give her a free ride anytime! Just tell her to remind me that she knows you! Do you want a ride right now?! They are from Zaire! Ill let them out...
        No, Solomon, some other time! Go on with peace! Just tell me, - when is the Messiah coming?
        Solomon burst out in loud laughter:
        You still remember, ha?! It is written in Talmud: hell with him, let him come, but I dont wish to see him! Understand? Solomon tore ahead and the turbans on the heads of Africans tumbled onto the white leather seats.
        Thats Solomon Bomba! I repeated to Pia, spitting the red dust from under the wheel of the chariot that just took off.
        And what did you tell him about me?
        Nothing. Oh, yeah: he asked - if you were my wife?
        No, I am not! Pia remembered. Why, do you have a wife?
        Of course, I do! I confessed.
        Then, why didnt you say anything all this time? she asked.
        When all this time?! And second of all, that has nothing to do with anything here!
        What do you mean?! she spilled out. But... Youre right: it has nothing to do with anything... Tell me about Solomon.


        I told her in details, because Pia asked me that in search of a distracted subject.
        Solomon came to Petkhain from the Abkhazian mountains, where, after the death of his parents, he was the only Jew left, and where, because of his dark colorings and tiny size, he was given the nickname Bug. He settled down in our courtyard, in an empty basement room where the windows came out onto the ground level...
        I envied him: he was born before me, lived alone, and was an orphan. Petkhainers were fond of him, but regarded him with a smile, not so much because he resembled a bug, but because he pretended that he does not understand that. He swore, for example, that during his school years, he was a captain of a basketball team in the mountainous Abkhazia, and then the most indefatigable lover on the whole local coastline, where he descended from the mountains to get a job as a lifeguard and save the visiting blondes. According to his stories, however, the blondes chased after him themselves as a sign of their gratitude, since he always pulled them, breathless, out of dangerous waters and returned them to life by means of mouth to mouth recicitation.
        Once in Tbilisi, Solomon applied to a trade school, which he did not complete, for he only recognized general knowledge. He fell in love with the Tbilisi-born Assyrian woman, who would not agree to go out on a date with him. He asked the Town Committee to become a party member, which he was refused because he had no experience of working in the Komsomol, and got a job in the factory that produced musical instruments, where he was fired due to indefinite reasons. For a year he made ends meet by doing part-time work at our synagogue and the Armenian church. Then, unexpectedly, he left for Moscow where he was admitted into a yeshiva at the Central synagogue. He studied for a long time, but I only met him once in Moscow - in a department store, where he was buying a case of rare cologne, and behaved in a stately manner. In a black, felt hat, dressed in a black suit with a vest and a black beard, the Bug tried to resemble a prophet, who is always multiplying something in his mind - not dividing, not subtracting, and not even adding, but only multiplying.
        Noticing me, he rendered his face a pensive expression and announced that big changes are about to befall on all of us, and therefore, as it is written in the Talmud, before the coming of the Messiah, the insolence will increase, and everything will be doubly expensive. Then, as it befits the prophets, that is without any relevance to that worrisome announcement, he entrusted me with the festive news: the studies, thank God, are completed, and he is returning to Petkhain with the license to slaughter birds, circumcise infants, and read Sabbath prayers from the synagogue platform.
        When, a half-a-year later, I went home for leave, the Bug - he was then referred to as Solomon already, and some even pronounced it with two ls as a sign of respect, Sollomon, - was still living in his basement room. That room, however, was heaping with people now, who were crowded not between four empty walls, but between the luxurious, snow-white pieces of of the hand-carved Rumanian bedroom set Ludovic the 14th.
        Upon a wide bed with carved angels on the bedpost there always sat - like a part of the setting - Solomons wife, the Petkhain Assyrian, and three children, all girls, and on the chairs with carved walnut legs. On the bedtables decorated with gold rims, on a Persian rug depicting the scenes from Venetian life of the quatrocento epoch, on a windowsill scattered with decorative pillows - everywhere stood and sat the clients with whom the Bug discussed the conditions and deadlines of his services: funeral services at cemeteries, compilation of marital contracts, blessing of new apartments, and most often, circumcisions.
        Solomon turned into a Wiseman, who was even welcome by traffic lights that always shone green at the mere sight of him.
        Very few people doubted that after Rabbi Emmanuels death it would be the Bug who will lead the community, despite the fact that he was married to an Assyrian. True, the old people kept complaining: they were irritated not by the Assyrian, but by the rumor according to which Solomon was an arche-screwer, although he did desire only after his wife. According to the stories of the neighborhood teenagers, Solomon left in the evenings to the endless wakes or festive dinners, where he purposefully uttered unclear speeches, and returning home way after midnight - very drunk, as a rule, - he would wake his wife with loud exclamations, pulling her out of bed, bend her over the windowsill and screw her brains out. The Assyrian prayed to have mercy on the children who might wake up from his inappropriate exclamations, and then - on the neighbors, whom she herself awakened against her will, with her amorous moanings on a windowsill.
        In the morning, however, the Bug would not remember anything and proceeded to the synagogue with a stately expression on his face, crowned by a straw hat.
        I stroked up a conversation with him only once then: I congratulated him with success and asked - when would the Messiah finally come.
        As far as his success was concerned, he said to me, there is nothing easier, because success is conditioned by the opinion of people, and people are stupider than one is accustomed to think of them. As for the Messiah, he, as always, referred to the Talmud: Messiah will come when absolutely everyone will make a total fuck-up of their lives, - which will occur, he said, in the next year.
        The next time that I returned to Petkhain was the following year. Solomons basement room stood empty and I was told this strange story: one of the young priests from the Armenian church fell in love with Rabbi Emmanuel daughter, and in order to marry her, decided to convert to Judaism. The Rabbi demanded that he should be subjected to circumcision. Emmanuil himself refused to perform the ritual, for he feared that his weak eyesight might hinder him from slicing off exactly that amount of priestly flesh which is necessary to be sliced off - not more, and that his weak lungs might hamper him from sucking out with his lips the required amount of bad blood - not less.
        It fell upon Solomon, therefore.
        After numerous refusals - look at that priest, hes a real hulk! - the Bug finally gave in to the communitys insisting. At first, though, he tried to dissuade the Armenian from stripping himself off his extreme flesh on the grounds that with that very flesh he will have to lose a huge amount of nervous endings, without which sexual passion becomes much duller. The priest didnt even want to listen to him. Without Emmanuels granddaughter, he declared, he cannot even envision any sexual passion, even if God would stuff the flesh that hes about to renounce with three times as many nervous endings.
        Moreover, he surprised Solomon with a quotation from the Talmud that the latter was not familiar with, according to which, circumcision is a symbolic removal of dirt from ones heart, which does not allow a man to love God with all of his soul. Solomon reminded the priest that it is not from the heart that the dirt will be removed, but the priest remained unyielding.
        And then Bomba got drunk and circumcised him.
        He circumcised him carelessly, however.
        Or, perhaps, the circumcision itself was quite accurate, but he did not care for the wound properly. One way or another, the priest had a sepsis and he could not be saved.
        The prosecutors office became busy with Solomon, and during the investigation, it came to light that the Moscow Yeshiva never issued him the license to perform circumcisions. More than that: just after six months of studies, he was kicked out of the yeshiva for essential incapability to acquire Talmudic knowledge...
        Emmanuel, who was dying of sorrow and shame, outcasted him from the synagogue, and - with the full support of the community - pronounced an anathema against him, although Solomon did insist, that the priest himself is to be blamed for the tragedy, because as soon as the operation began, and Bomba touched his extremities with a cotton ball soaked in cold alcohol - the priest got furiously excited and messed up his head.
        Everyone around started calling him Bug again. He suggested to his wife that they should go to Israel, but this idea only horrified her. Her reaction was equally as decisive when he started having dreams of joint suicide. In the end, the Bug promised her that he would abandon the Jewish God and go, together with their children, to Armenia, to settle amongst the Assyrian colony there. And thats what he did, selling his Rumanian furniture in advance, and everything that he acquired in his good years.
        In Armenia he started working as a lifeguard on a quiet lake, where none had ever drowned, with the exception of unrequited suicidal lovers. During the four months that he spent at the lake, everyone fell in love mutually, an not one of the local Armenians raised a hand against their own selves - only against the Azerbaidjanis, but not the local ones, but those that lived in Nagorny Karabakh; and besides, they did not harm them in reality, but merely in their sweetest of dreams.
        With the arrival of winter, when the water in the lake froze, the Bug returned to Tbilisi, and invested the money that he got after selling his stock into the highest quality golden crowns for his teeth. Although his teeth were healthy, the procedure of making them gold took eleven days, during which he stayed at the house of his wifes aunt. On the twelfth, borrowing a briefcase for underclothes from his relative, he said that he was going to a Turkish bath-house, and from there - back home, to his wife and children.
        And indeed, he did go to the bath-house: the rubbers there said that, yes, there was this Jew with a black beard who was throwing money around recently - he was soaking himself for half-a-day under the airy blanket of soap-bubbles, ordered grape vodka, and then, once in the front room, enveloped in sheets, he called for a barber and told him to shave his head and spray it with the cologne White lilac.
        Getting the fill of that aroma, he did not go to his wife and children, however, but to America...

        I was just thinking, Pia said, that people in general tell less and less stories, and thats not right.
        I dont understand.
        Well, Im just saying that people always discuss ideas and theories, and thats not right. Well, you, for example, you told this story about Bomba, and I felt much better, than when you were, pardon me, saying all those clever things at Broadmans. Theres no joy in clever things.
        I still did not understand.
        I just want to say, Pia cringed, that if people reasoned less and told more, everyone would be happier and kinder. This Bomba of yours: thats probably how he lives, - he just tells, he doesnt reason, you understand? We need more stories about different people, and theres no need for the meaning.
        Now, I pretended that I understood:
        If I would have talked about just Bomba at Broadmans, and not about all people, I would be fifteen hundred dollars poorer.
        Youre lucky, Pia laughed. Tomorrow Broadman wouldnt have given a cent! He needed this for this evening: he is speaking at an important dinner, where the question of refugees is an issue. Last week he said somewhere, something similar to what you said - and he was attacked from all sides: they accused him of liberalism and urged half-a-dozen moustached women against him... Its that you came by just at the right time: a fresh refugee, right from the plane, hasnt been defiled by anyone yet...
        Thank you! I said.
        Not to be defiled - thats not a compliment!  Pia declared. Thats terrible: it means, none needs you...
        Thank you for something else - that I seem fresh.


        Her husband Chuck seemed fresher to me - a tall blond, of good built, with long eyelashes and short moustache. He squeezed my hand tightly, and pronounced a phrase which endeared me by its tonality. Even if those present did not speak a word of English - they would have no doubts that Chuck and I are old drinking buddies.
        Rum, or cognac? he concluded and showed all his teeth this time.
        During my life, Ive had the occasion to meet many men, whom, sooner or later, I was introduced to through their wives. Not one of them, however, was gay, and therefore this is how I answered Chuck:
        Lots of cognac!
        Those present started laughing and Chuck began introducing them.
        Seated next to him, it turned out, was a Japanese man by the name of Kobo, whom Chuck characterized as a successful investor from the island of Hokkaido. Unlike the host, the guest looked feminine, but, unlike the women, he paid me a compliment first. I answered with a compliment as well - addressing all of Japanese industry, including that, which, according to my suppositions, is successfully developing at the island of Hokkaido.
        Kobo squinted his pupils coquettishly, and said that, yes, Japan reached the ideals of socialist society in its pursuit of capitalism: the absence of classes, unemployment and organized crime plus equal opportunities for success. Meanwhile, he added, returning the pupils to their previously held position, the Japanese outran capitalism as well without believing in either system: they know that it is impossible to win, although to win is the philosophy of capitalism, and that it is impossible to draw, although that is what socialism was founded upon.
        I got angry and sensed a fiery need to defend both systems.
        First, from the socialisms position, I accused Japan of being unable to handle the tragedy of subjugating a man to the hammer of profit, and then, from the capitalisms perspective, blamed it in annihilating an individual and also announced that the Japanese have turned into an army of faceless industrialists, which, like any other army, strives to rule over the world!
        The Japanese rolled his pupils once again and declared that this army is not striving towards power, but towards perfection.
        I looked at Pia: she seemed to be a kind person to me, and - with the exception of her shins - a nice looking woman, and it pained me that this native of Hokkaido has taken away her husband, and in addition has the nerve to state the obvious. Which like everything that is obvious - is also useless!
        I sighed and began with Napoleon: The strive for perfection is the vilest disease of the brain! Then, I explained that perfection leads to death, for there is nothing more perfect than death; wisdom consists in the knowledge of when to begin escaping perfection! Then I waved my hand and said that Japans success - is a bitter accusation of the contemporary times, which is dedicated to mediocrity; not to creativity, but to artistry. I concluded with the question: why is there no more life on other planets? I answered myself: because the aliens are more perfect than we are!
        The speech turned out to be not too long, but I listened to it attentively - and its tonality made me happy. Finally, I managed to become a part of the American style - aggressively-friendly - like a heavy hand on the interlocutors shoulder, plus a wide smile and soft gestures.
        And still, the final gesture came out to be dramatic in the Petkhain fashion: tearing the glass from Chucks hand, I put three exclamation signs, and gulped them down with cognac.
        I heard the applause, and I turned in the direction they were coming from. They came from children: right in front of Chuck, smiling and swinging their feet, sat thirteen little persons on two leather couches. Chuck pulled me towards them for introduction.
        I was proceeding with the extended hand, shocked at the intellectual agility of American schoolchildren.
        When I approached them closer, I was shocked even more: the little persons turned out to be men my age, or perhaps, older, with wrinkles around their eyes and gray hairs on their heads - midgets!
        All of them, with the exception of one, jumped off from the couch onto the rug, and I bent down to shake their hands. Their palms were identical - fluffy and cold; but the names, however - very different, although they were all Spanish.
        The one that stayed seated on the couch, had an American name, Joe, but he was not a midget, but a schoolboy, Pia and Chucks son, who was dressed like the midgets in a aqua-marine jacket with a red vest and a yellow bow tie.
        I sat into an armchair next to them, and while Pia fussed over dinner in the kitchen, I became a part of a business discussion. They were discussing an idea that Chuck referred to as crazy, in other words - good, while the Japanese thought it was crazy, in other words - risky.
        They were talking about the profitability of opening a midget colony in the New York suburbs, on the ocean coast in Long Island. The twelve midgets who sat on Chuck Armstrongs couch, turned out to be messengers of a midget colony consisting of 220 people and located at the eastern shore of Florida. To be more precise, - they were the offsprings of twelve tribes, which were founded there by a certain Long Island millionaire, Augusto Sevilla.

        More than a hundred years ago, this - by then not so young - romantic, who made his wealth on trading in pyrotechnics and who was sure that Florida is Gods anter-room, resettled to Sarasota and built a row of tiny, but multi-colored mansions and castles in a Mauritanian style along the coast of the ocean. He inhabited those castles by midgets only whom he seduced from the Bahamas by means of luxury and a promise of an extraordinary existence. The midgets and contact with them evoked excitement in him because he could distract himself from reality and return to childhood, parting with which - although his was not such a happy one - he said, was the beginning of conscious dying. He married then three midgets, had twelve sons by them, and thinking about his descendants founded a circus. The lovers of the weird came to see it first from the surrounding towns, and later, - from all over Florida and finally, from the other states.
        The enterprise was so successful, that next to the main castle, Augusto Sevilla built a huge dock, plated with mosaics, bought a couple of three-mast sailboats, and send them off annually - with new troupes each time - into the distant waters: one to Europe, and the other - to South America. Upon their return, the midgets brought back, on Sevillas request, the best that was sold in the ancient cities of the world, including - copies of antique columns and statues, which the midgets later erected in their collective estate, in a neat park, that stretched between the main castle and the circus.
        The whole colony, from the old to the children, turned into the unbelievably friendly and joyful circuspeople. Surrounded by the happy and loyal midgets, magnolias and palms, nightly fireworks, and the indefatigable sun, Augusto Sevilla regained his childhood - a more lengthy one than it usually is, and a happier one than he was destined to have had.
        He erected a monument - along a palm alley stretching by the castles - to each circus-person, while the latter was still alive, as a sign of gratitude for shaming time. Sevilla presented them with the luxurious illusion of immortality. He died, however, not earlier than, for the first and last time after resettling to Sarasota he went to his homeland to take care of his inheritance. Thats where he died, in the real world - at the New York train station on his way back.
        The community did not crumble with the death of the Long Island romantic, although the circus troupes became nonexistent. The sailboats became mildewed, and the circus building grew decrepit and rotten. Then came the times of need, and with them - despair and conflict. The midgets - 500 hundred of them - continued living in castles, but now, they made their ends meet by selling whatever inheritance they had acquired with time: the rare furniture sets, old Italian tapestries, Dutch paintings, and expensive China. Soon, there came the turn of the buildings and the land.
        After long dealings with various hunters, the colony decided to give up their castles not to individual persons or private companies, but - for a lesser price - to Federal government, the only buyer that agreed to the condition brought forth by the midgets: for the next twenty years they will be allowed to live together on their land in their castles, after which time, the territory will be declared a reservation and named after Augusto Sevilla.
        During the expired nineteen years, the acquired sum of money was spent carelessly, while the number of people in the colony decreased by half. And now, when the surviving offsprings of the light-hearted circus-people had to leave Sarasota shortly, they sent off the messengers to the homeland of the colonys founder, to a Long Island suburb, Hampton, with the suggestion for the local mayor to establish a circus of midgets there - on a estate inherited by the twelve offsprings of the great romantic. As the midgets explained to the local authorities, not only Long Islanders, but people from all over New York could come to that circus. In exchange, they asked them to build on credit an apartment complex of tiny buildings, which, in their own turn, will become a part of attraction for tourists.
        The local authorities liked the idea, but they did not have the money, and so they directed them to Chuck Armstrong who was known among the investors for his love of crazy projects. Chuck immediately considered the offer crazy and called his new lover, Kobo, the initiator of perfecting the fast-food McDonalds restaurant chain on Hokkaido, into the deal.
        Kobo reasoned that the midgets idea is not a safe one, since the rebirth of circus in these times of visual revolutions would be very fleeting. The only thing that he liked in the project was - the building of miniature constructions according to the size of the midgets: he offered to build a dozen of tiny McDonalds in Long Island, which would be serving only children, and which would employ only midgets.
        Neither of the twelve midgets liked the idea, for it was based not on art, which is a game, and therefore, freedom, but on routine labor, which is worse than homelessness, and, therefore, is humiliating.
        The midgets said that only recently they refused a less humiliating offer - to nail Christs to crosses. The wooden figures of the Savior - of approximately their size - were going to be shipped for a low price from Panama, while the crosses would come from Uruguay: the only thing left was to nail one to the other, and, incidentally, the entrepreneur offered them the freedom to cover the figures with any color that pleased them. They refused: routine labor...
        The nine-year-old Joe, who was invited by his father to join the discussion as a representative of the future clientele, did like Kobos idea, however. Chuck hesitated, though: the story of Augusto Sevilla and the Sarasota circus people - as well as the possibility of recreating the midget settlement in New York suburbs - touched him, and despite Kobos advice, he would not brush it off. Thinking outloud, Chuck remembered his grandfather, the owner of a big company that made greeting cards, and a keen appreciator of life, from whom he inherited his conviction that something that is touching will always be profitable.
        On that note the discussion came to an end because Pia invited the guests to the table.

        Since I had come from Moscow, over dinner Chuck asked me - will there be a war and how soon?
        I answered sincerely: I dont know. Moreover, I explained why I would not know.
        Chuck said that he asked me the question about the war just for the sake of small talk, and, in all seriousness, he is convinced that therell be no war.
        The Japanese remarked that the modern level of civilization makes it possible to kill noiselessly - its not necessary even to wake neighbors.
        I agreed: especially if the neighbor lives on the distant island of Hokkaido.
        Chuck defended his lover and said that if there will be a war, it would be ignored not only in Japan, where the art of killing is raised to the highest level of delighting in suicide, but even in Russia, where people, just like during the Stone Age, target others rather than themselves.
        The oldest of the midget, who had the time to get quite dizzy, joined in. He announced, that he dreams of being at war, because he doesnt have any money to travel out of the country. He added, however, that those idiots did not accept him into the army not because of his height, but because they suspected he was a pacifist.
        The other midgets got confused and admitted that in New York strong alcoholic drinks are stronger than in Florida - and therefore, it is time to go home. They promised to drop the Japanese off at the hotel, and myself in Queens, because they are going further...

        Alcoholic drinks in New York are weaker than in Russia - and therefore, while in the elevator, I could already think about my visit to the Armstrongs.
        I did not succeed: I was interrupted by the most inebriated midget; he said that the Armstrongs - are a wonderful family.
        The Japanese remarked with a serious expression that, indeed, it is not necessary to enlist in the army for encounters with the wonderful, especially as, the most wonderful people, if they admit to it, get kicked out of the army. And - he squeezed his way closer to me.
        Whats with you? I asked - and moved away.
        Nothing, he said, and shared a Japanese wisdom: the doors to the house of happiness do not open in - then it would be possible to push them open - but from the inside, in other words, from the other side, and therefore, alas, one cant do anything. And he moved away as well.
        The elevator stopped and the doors did not open out or in: they slided sideways.
        It was already late - and light from streetlamps. Instead of stars, the sky was speckled with lit windows of skyscrapers. The light was brighter than starlight and more joyous. I could not find the moon, but there was no need in it: the phallic contours of skyscrapers were paved with silver, metal, and bronze of the invisible neon flames. Farther down, to the other side of the park, where the screech of cicadas could be heard, one saw the silhouettes of the East Side - just as fanciful as the Caucasian mountain ridge.
        It turned out that the midgets parked on the parallel street, on Columbus Avenue, where at night there were more cars and pedestrians that during the day. The air was seeped with the scent of gas, roasted chestnuts, lamb shish-kebobs, Eastern spices, and incense. The sounds of the sirens, different, like the whistle, pecking, and exclaims of the birds in the Eastern bazaar, mixed with African drums, clanking of guitars, moanings of a flute, and a sweet yawns of accordion. The pedestrians smiled, reveled in being a part of life, and threw coins to the musicians, which glimmered in flight, like shot-down moths. I was rejoicing that I became a New Yorker and also littered with coins.
        Praising my generosity, the Japanese did not follow suit, however. In exchange, he started recounting about the similar lights, smells, and sounds of Tokyo, but I decided not to listen to him, since I did not want to betray the surroundings by the image of something of which I had no desire to be a part.
        The midgets minced along in front of us, forming a noisy bunch, and when they neared a street musician each of them either danced away to publics applause, or made pirouettes in the air and landed flopped onto a fluffy mat made up of 22 tiny hands of the other midgets.

        On the crossroad of 72-nd street a little girl with lighthaired pony-tail was selling balloons, blown up with helium and tearing their way upward tight to golden strings. There were a lot of balloons because none bought any. The girl got distracted looking at the midgets and one of the balloons, darting out of the bunch, tore up, but it immediately got tangled in a widely-spread maple. The girl squealed and ran after it in panic, feverishly throwing her free, right hand upward. Running up to the maple, she stood on tippy-toes, but could not reach the string.
        Neither could the midgets.
        I apologized to the Japanese and stepped aside to help the little vendor. I had not enough time, however: the girl jumped up and - to the great joy of the midgets - reached the string with the tips of her fingers, but a disaster happened here. The sparkling bouquet in her left hand, that whole tight bunch of full-bellied balloons suddenly let out a nervous jerk and flew into the air, whistling, and scattering to different sides.
        The girl stopped short, and it seemed to me that she was going to burst into hysterical crying at any moment. Getting hold of herself, however, she smiled at us and clung tighter to the saved, blue balloon. I did what I had learned to do in Petkhain, where it was believed that one is not born a man, but becomes one: I extended a ten-dollar bill to her and said I am buying that blue balloon.
        She shook her head and ashamed of her tears, ran away with it.
        The Japanese - when I returned to him - declared that something like this would never have happened in Tokyo: the vendors dont hold the balloons in their hands, but they strap them to a metallic stick and pin the strings to it. Then, considering me a foreigner just like himself, he informed me in a half-whisper that Americans would be more perfect if - just like wise people - they at least once would undergo some huge disaster or defeat.
        This girl, Kobo went on, will be more cautious in the future, and if she never thinks of pinning her strings, then, in the very least, she will learn not to let go of the rest of the balloons in her attempt to save only one. And as for my gesture with the 10-dollar bill, he concluded, it could easily prove murderous for the young vendor, because it offers her the chance to escape a financial catastrophe. Then, Kobo cited yet another Japanese wisdom: The earlier a girl starts wrapping her feet, the less pain she will have and the smaller - that is better - would be her feet.
        In Petkhain they would have beaten the Japanese up for such wisdom, but out of respect for the new, hospitable compatriots on the street, I revealed my teeth, shuddering from anger, in a grin and uttered in a peaceloving tone, that giving its due to the common sense of the Japanese, I, nevertheless, look at the episode with the balloons in the light of another wisdom: If someone has 100 sheep, and one of them gets lost, then, will he not leave the rest 99, and will he not go to search for the lost one?
        And isnt this what is happening to us? I asked not so much the Japanese, as myself. And arent we all wandering in space and time in search of the lost shred of our souls?
        Kobo agreed that I was a sentimental man, and putting his fingers under my mane at the nape, shook it up, as if it belonged not to me, but to Japan.
        After that I did not talk to him - only said goodbye, when he, getting out of the car near his hotel, promised to find me in the near future.
        Then, I went to Queens with the midgets in a pick-up, that resembled the one I rode in the morning. I did not look in the window: I was observing the driver, who, I dont know how, managed not only to turn the wheel and look at the road, but reach the pedal with his right foot as well. And moreover, both the gas pedal, and the breaks. From time to time he would pronounce words.
        The midgets chattered away in Spanish, and I only understood two words: magnana, that is - tomorrow, and McDonalds, that is - McDonalds.
        They dropped me off near the house which seemed my own, since it was the only one in America that I was not seeing for the first time.
        That was precisely the reason that I decided to shuffle around the entrance and not go in.
        It was deserted all around: after midnight. Looking around, I noticed a neon sign Red Apple. Russian Restaurant.


        Only ten people sat in a spacious room - all of them middle-aged, all of them Jews, all of them squint-eyed, and all of them - around the same table. They sang along with the singer on the platform just as awkwardly, as they would have wailed along with the cantor in a Kishinev synagogue.
        The singer in a white dress was younger, but equally as drunk. She had light hair, sliding along naked shoulders, and her face resembled that of the little girl with the blue balloon on Columbus. She was accompanying herself on a clavecine.
        There was none at the bar and I poured myself vodka.
        Nobody paid any attention to me: when the song came to an end, one of the man got up from the table, and proceeding towards the platform, exclaimed outloud Marina!, and then - the name of the new song. Handing Marina a wrinkled banknote and smacking his lips against her hand, he would return to his seat with a tangled step.
        Marina would take a gulp of her drink, and started singing the same song in a sad voice:
                The Nazis burnt his home to ashes,
                His family they murdered there,
                Where shall the soldier home from battle
                Go now, to whom his sorrow bear?
                He stood with tears of sorrow welling
                And scarcely able breath to draw
                He said: Praskovya dear, come welcome
                Your hero-husband back from war.
                But in reply there came no answer,
                No welcome for the soldier brave.
                Only a breeze that way came glancing
                And stirred the grass upon the grave...
        The Jews clicked their glasses, send the contents into their gullets, and, either not noticing that it was one and the same song, or admiring the light-haired singers will, sang along with her:
                He paused a while, his belt he strengthened,
                And, from the kitbag at his side
                A flask of bitter vodka taking,
                He placed it on her grave and sighed.
                The soldier drank and wept for many
                A broken dream, while on his chest
                There shone a newly-minted medal
                For liberating Budapest...
        The restaurant smelled of humidity. I poured myself some more, left a five-dollar bill at the bar and went out to the street with a glass in my hand.
        There was silence - like before a prayer. Only a traffic-light screeched and ticked in the middle of the street.
        I halted in search of a toast. Tomorrow the Holiday of Exodus would begin, but I already drank for that. Each time in the first night of the holiday in my early pre-exodus years, my grandfather would hand me the prayer-book, and, as the custom went, I read outloud the passage, which opened with the question: Ma nishtana halaila haze? - What makes this night different from other nights? Those present had to assume a curious expression after this: as if to say, what is it that makes it different?
        Then, Rabbi Meir would take the book away from me and read it till the end for us: it is different, because our ancestors left Egypt on that night.
        This was a thing to do every year - not only so we dont forget about Egypt, but in order to, as my grandfather put it, instill in ourselves that the exodus is not over yet. And if it is still going on, I decided, looking at the liquid in the glass under the New York moon, - then, in this case, one must live like the desert generation did, when it was searching for the promised land. Live chaotically and adventurously!
        Ma nishtana? I asked myself outloud, drank the vodka, and placed the glass on the sidewalk.
        Crossing the deserted street, in order to finally return home, I instinctively looked back and froze. I imagined that the door screeched, and the sad singer in the white dress came out to the threshold with a small table in her hands. She put the table on the sidewalk, covered it with a fresh tablecloth and placed a propped up machine gun on it. Then, two Jews brought out a high, carved chair for her, kissed her hand, and vanished behind the door. The sad singer carefully sat into the chair, bent to the machine gun and started to target me.
        I tore off and flew into the entrance with the speed of a bullet.
        The door that I did not have the time to knock at, was opened by my brother who asked in a whisper - why the hell I was drinking vodka on the street, and after some pause under the traffic light tore into the entrance like a madman.
        I explained that while standing under the traffic light, it seemed to me that they were awaiting me at home.
        He said that I must have had a drunk hallucination, for none is waiting for me, everyone is sleeping, and he himself is going to follow their example immediately and is going to leave me alone in this shitty world.
        Left alone, I approached the kitchen window with the view of the street. The drunk Jews from the Red Apple were shuffling away - with the exception of one - in different directions. That one was in no hurry and hung on the ledge like a mackintosh. Then, the singer in the white dress showed up and yawned. Looking around and not paying attention to the man, she stared into my window - the only one that was lit. Then, she threw up her right hand, and pointing at me without a gun, started to shoot.
        I was frightened at the absence of a borderline between a thought and a fact. I lowered my head just in case, turned the light off, and sat down on a chair. My head was swirling.
        A clear moon hung in the window. Its gloss resembled the one that I saw from my window in Petkhain. And perhaps, it was the same moon. Having thought on that a little, I guessed that yes: it was the very one, there could not be another.
        Or could there? Is there anything in this universe that could not be? Especially when, like today, so much time elapsed - more than it elapsed!
        Then, I occupied myself with another question: and why is it that it seems to me that there is more time passed then could be fit into the elapsed time? The question seemed important, for I had exchanged one day of my life for it.
        So what makes this day an epilogue of another and a prologue of a new life? Or - it is neither, since life has nothing in common with the symbols of consciousness? Especially when that consciousness is permeated with vodka...

        One must live simply, that is - sleep, I decided, but did not have the time to get up: a floor mat screeched behind my back and someone came into the kitchen, making me shudder, because no matter who it was - I was caught redhanded with my thoughts, which I would not share with anyone.
        Turning towards the noise, I only managed to discern a dark spot in the equal darkness. That spot slowly approached the white refrigerator. The door squealed, and against the background of icy light that burst out of its abyss, I suddenly saw my wifes profile just as I saw it twenty years ago - also in darkness: unearthly clear and beautiful, a profile of a wise, but nonexistent bird with vivid eyebrows, straight, thin nose and a brisk outline of lips and neck. From that day on, I could no longer stay with any other woman till the morning, but the problem was that all this time I was waiting in vain for something which might be the most unexplainable between two people - I was waiting for love.
        Whats love for when theres none to love? I would often exclaim before meeting my wife, without even suspecting that everything is either much more complex, or much more simple.
        I often thought about love, and although I could never imagine my existence without my wife - I still refused to call my existence with her as love. Involuntarily, I came to a conclusion which resulted sometimes in pain, and other times, in appeasement: love is the simplest thing, that people mystified either out of cosmic boredom, or to spite another, mystified event, that of death, or, perhaps, out of hopeless stupidity, resembling the stupidity of deifying a wooden stump. Love is a mysterious sum of equally as banal experiences, as equally accessible for the brain is the sum of two people going to sleep together, who, however, go off into separate worlds in their dreams...
        Taking a bottle out of the refrigerator, my wife closed its door and transformed into a dark spot once again. Sleepy, she shuffled out of the kitchen without noticing me. I did not call her: I feared the return from my new, just-begun life into the previous one.
        Counting the floor mats in the kitchen and then in the anter-room, my fear of return into the old slowly settled and grew still.
        And then, in a feverish attempt to annihilate the past, my consciousness turned out to be able of committing a sacrilege: as soon as the dark spot disappeared from sight, I had a sharp desire for its death, the death of the most dear to me, the death of my wife.
        Coming to from the shock and obeying what just happened, this consciousness of mine illuminated the most evil scene: my wifes dead face, her profile, enveloped in moonlight, which suddenly started increasingly intensify, smearing the outlines of that profile. Soon, everything became densely white, and the silence suddenly transformed, ceasing to be the absence of noises, and turning into a foreign sound of absolute stillness. I was enveloped by horror, and immediately my whole flesh was shaken up by a force sleeping inside it, powerful like an electric shock.
        Behind the chest, closer to the spinal cord, I felt piercing pain, if someone had dissected me with a scalpel and started cutting out of me a malignant growth without any anesthesia. Thats precisely what I imagined, and thats why, I awaited for the end of sufferings, clenching my teeth and quiet, afraid to frighten the one who was ridding me of the fatal growth. The pain stopped just as suddenly as it started: a sensation flashed that the bad organ was torn out of my body at last, and the boiling blood burst into every angle of the flesh out of the wound - the rageful wave of such life-giving tenderness for my wifes corpse, which is possessed by only Him who is able to return life to the dead.
        Realizing that she is alive, and moreover, is behind the wall, I sensed happiness in my chest, happiness which would not fit there, tore at the ribs and suffocated me.
        I had never experienced that happiness before - and for the first time, after childhood, I felt like sobbing outloud. Something started pinching in my throat, and something swole up in my nose. Fighting the tears, I tore towards the refrigerator, where my wife just stood, but not finding any water, started feverishly lapping up the only liquid that was there in a green pot - chicken broth with dill and vermicelli, the ever-present soup in my mothers house.
        The taste of that soup, just like the sight of the familiar-from-childhood pot with a long handle that must have bent on its way from Petkhain, had a reverse effect on me - and instead of calming down, I let out a helpless sob. Even the comic nature of the scene did not save me, when, in the hopes to take a hold of myself, I looked at it from aside: a grown Petkhain man who had been taught philosophy is standing in the midst of the sleeping New York, embracing a huge pot, and in between loud sobs takes gulps of a cold broth, letting slippery vermicelli slip out of his mouth onto the floor.
        Wiping the tears with my fist and continuing to sob, I put the pot back in the refrigerator and decided to interrupt my emotions with the strongest remedy - by reasoning about them. So why am I crying? I asked myself. I knew why: because of the sudden horror, and just as sudden joy.
        Because of the horror that I murdered my wife, and had I given myself more time, I would have murdered my daughter, my mother, my brothers, my whole family, and with it everything that has to do with the commonplace, everything that my life is made out of, everything that belongs to my past.
        And because of the joy that this did not happen, because of happiness that was the result of that horror, the happiness of sudden realization of not so much the necessity, but of the non-commonplace quality of the commonplace, just as only future can be so uncommon and necessary.
        Love for a person, I reasoned, is not only the simplest thing that exists, but it is also the most vague. That is why people think that it is either a remnant of something grand, or, on the contrary, the conception of something unimagined. And thats also where the sensation, familiar to everyone comes from - that he is not yet ready to love. Could it also be, I thought, that this sensation is instilled by fear of losing ones solitude: isnt it only the solitary that possess everything?
        Just a bit more and - as it seemed to me then - I would have been able to unravel an important mystery about my own soul, but the problem was that all this reasoning could not settle the growing suffocation in my throat.


        Thinking over my past, I figured that one can hardly know the truth about ones love, since it is not the truth that has anything to do with it, but us - those who are afraid of it. But this is how I reasoned before, during the life that I abandoned. Now, however, entering new existence, for which I sacrificed the old one - now such speculations seemed to be unfair to myself. The point is not only in me, but in that which is outside of me, in the question of - what is my love: is it better than me? Its not the point whether I am ashamed to cry, but - is it worth it to cry? Do people around us deserve our sorrow, are they as pure as we could be pure, when they are deserving of our sorrow?
        Continuing to sit at the kitchen table, I started thinking and discovered that any answer to that question will be sad. And since that is the case, does not that mean that I am still not ready for life?
        During the first few days after the arrival in New York, such questions left me sleepless: realizing that I was not going to be able sleep any longer, I turned on the light in the kitchen and started looking for vodka. Instead of it, I came upon the keys from the Lincoln. Five minutes later, long after midnight, I was tearing off in the car - without a license, without any papers, without any idea where I was going. I only guessed that I was driving north, and I guessed that by accidentally glancing at a compass that my brother included in the number of trinkets that he fastened to the board on both sides of the wheel.
        On the way, I was thinking about light things: that driving a big American car along a highway should always be included on the list of top ten pleasures. I was frightened of the simplicity with which I could have stripped myself of the joy I was experiencing: it would have been enough just to not do anything - stay in Petkhain.
        I sighed as a sign of gratitude to myself for my decision to take off for New York. I drove for a very long time, until the buildings disappeared around me, and until a deserted area opened up in from of me, which soon turned into an ocean shore. I stopped the car and started to step towards the water, my feet getting tangled up in the sand.
        A cloud, thinned out at the middle, behind which one could guess the moon, slithered along the horizon.
        Right by the edge of the water, there stood a large bird. I didnt know its name because I was seeing it for the first time: a black beak, white body, and tall, bright-yellow and bright-green feet. She stood with her head bent low, didnt budge, and didnt look for anything.
        I carefully sat on a wide-pored stone and started observing her, without shifting my glance and without blinking, in order not to scare her away, although, I think, she didnt even pay attention to my presence. An obvious thought took a hold of me: what is she, this strange bird, what is she doing here all alone? Could it be that she is just spending the night?
        The moon looked out from behind the cloud and put two, long, distinct shadows upon the white sand - mine and the birds.
        Then, I dozed off for a short time, but when I woke up from the coldness of the water running up to me, there was only one shadow left - mine.
        The bird had vanished.

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