MANSOU, SON OF SHARDYN

Oh, my dear Sharakh! If I haven’t worn you out completely already, please take some more fruit from the tree of my memories.

I hated Shardyn, son of Alou, more than anyone else. I blamed him for all the troubles of the Ubykhs and our family. That sacrilegeous man was responsible for the disgrace and ruin of my sisters. Even his torment in death could not appease my thirst for revenge. I still considered myself a mortal enemy of Shardyn, son of Alou, wishing that even in Hell the devil was still carrying him on a bayonet.

When I settled in Karinjovasy, I was surprised that Mansou, the offspring of my father’s foster brother, was living in splendor. The peasants worked his land for him without pay. You would think that the son of a state criminal, the war minister’s assassin, would at best be made a commoner and not live off the labor of others. But it seems the nobility have their own laws. If a poor man like myself commits a crime the whole family is wiped out, but if the same crime is committed by a nobleman his heirs are not held responsible. And so Mansou was taken care of. He was a rake, dense- headed, but his blood was noble. It wouldn’t do for a noble man to be a farmer, otherwise the common folk might think the system on earth was not established by Allah, but the cunning devil, and would lose their respect for the nobility.

When Shardyn, Son of Alou, was killed, Mansou’s mother, with some difficulty, sent the heir to France. But she died two years later, before he returned. He was a reckless young man, volatile and not bad-looking. He went into business and got mixed up with some cheating gamesters, so he spent the nights in casinos. One day he was caught red-handed in some fishy deal and decided he’d be better off in Karinjovasy. “I’m your lord,” he reminded the Ubykhs there when he arrived. “You must honor and obey me.” The people recognized him as their lord and submitted.

The Ubykhs just never learned their lesson; the old ways were instilled in them too deeply. They bowed their heads; and it doesn’t take long to put a yoke on a bowed neck, you know. The government displayed its generosity by giving him plenty of land as if to say: go ahead, and enjoy life. Having much experience in shady transactions, the newly- arrived leader of the Ubykhs took up the resale of cotton. He did quite well and soon the pennyless lord was worth a considerable sum of money. The home he built, the best within fifty miles, was envied by Au Hazret Pasha. Mansou wasn’t the least bit interested in how his fellow-Ubykhs were doing. All he cared about was that they worked on his land and regarded him their lord. Like father, like son: Mansou had all his father’s habits and passions. I did my best to stay away from Shardyn’s son, but Sit took ill so I had to go once a week to work in Mansou’s fields, either to graze his cattle or to hoe.

At that point the Ubykhs and Jamhasars were fighting over a dozen sheep. The chief, Javad Bey complained to the governor that the Ubykhs had slaughtered his sheep. Three Ubykhs were detained and interrogated, but there was no evidence against them. The men were released only after being whipped, just in case they were guilty. Javad Bey was furious that his sheep were gone and the culprits not found. So he herded his camels on Ubykh fields. The Ubykhs shot at his camels and the men herding them. The gunfire was returned and for three days the fighting persisted. Meanwhile, Javad Bey, accompanied on horseback by his guards, went to visit Mansou, son of Shardyn. They sat and feasted, had a great time, drank to each other’s health, and bragged about how many people each side had finished off.

The elders gathered in Sit’s home and couldn’t come up with a better plan than to send me to Mansou begging him to reach an agreement with Javad Bey to stop the blood shed.

“Can’t you think of anyone better?” I protested.

“Your fathers were foster brothers,” they reminded me and added that no one else could go but me.

Well, let me tell you, Sharakh, I wish your enemies the same luck I had in being chosen by our elders. The minute I opened the iron gate decorated with some kind of fantasy monsters, a guard appeared out of nowhere.

“What do you want?”

“My name is Zaurkan Zolak. I’m the master’s relative and I’d like to see him.”

“You say you’re a relative? Zaurkan Zolak? What a name! Can barely pronounce it! I’ve never heard of him having such a relative.”

He looked me over from top to bottom with suspicion and then commanded:

“Get out of here, you simpleton!” -

“Well, I hope your master doesn’t skin your hide for such impertinence to a relative.”

“The master is busy! He’s got important company, not the likes of you! Au Hazret Pasha and the French general are here. So get lost! You hear me? Get out of here!”

Well, what else could I do? I stood there for a while and then went on home. When I was walking next to the fence which surrounded the yard I heard some jovial talking. I leaned against the metal rails and saw four men. Among them was Mansou—he was all smiles. I had no trouble recognizing him; he looked so much like Shardyn. To his left was a thickset, barrel-like Turk wearing glittering epaulettes and smoking a long pipe. That’s Ali Hazret Pasha, I figured. To Mansou’s right was a tall thin man, a cane in his hand and speaking loudly in a language I couldn’t understand. “I guess that’s the French general,” I thought. A short distance away was Javad Bey, a tall man in a white cloak. That’s how he was described by people who had seen him.

The men sat down at the table laid out with fruits, sherbet, and nuts. The extortionists don’t live badly, was my thought. All that’s lacking is a cock fight, I mused. Just then two servants came up with two cocks. When they set them down the red cock violently attacked the white rooster. They fought so hard the feathers flew. Then they were suddenly pulled apart. Their feathers ruffled, their wings outspread, the cocks sharpened their beaks against the ground and bent their heads. Blinking their eyes, they watched each other angrily for a brief moment, and then again rushed into battle. Their combs were bloody, and each cock had the other’s feathers in its beak. The guests and master were dying of laughter as they egged on the fighters, whistling and throwing nuts at them.

I couldn’t stand it anymore. I pushed myself away from the fence, clenched my fists and, boiling with rage, hurried as fast as I could away from that sickening scene.

They are pitting us against our neighbors the way they get those cocks to fight each other. They laugh when, the cocks tangle and they certainly get a kick out of watching people quarrel; they even have something to gain: when we ignorant peasants are fighting each other, our lords have less trouble from us.

The next day when I heard Mansou’s guests had left, I went back to that damned iron gate again. I opened the gate and another guard on duty asked me:

“What do you want?”

I told him I wanted to see Mansou, son of Shardyn, my father’s foster brother.

“Do you see that saddled horse? Our master is going hunting. He’s got no time for you!”

“I won’t take long. I just have to say a few words.”

“I can’t let you in! I’ve been ordered not to let anyone in!”

While I was trying to persuade the guard, Mansou, son of Shardyn, came down from his balcony into the yard. He had on thigh boots, a straw hat, and a double-barreled gun over his shoulder.

I was wearing a tunic, Circassian coat, and had my dagger at my waist. Seeing a stranger in clothes no Turk would wear, he came over to me.

“Good day! “ I greeted him in Ubykh. Instead of answering my greeting he said in Turkish:

“Who are you?”

“If you look closely you might remember!”

“Haven’t got the time to bother looking at you closely!”

“I’m Zaurkan Zolak. Our fathers were foster brothers.”

“Oh, the mukhtar told me about you...” Winding the whip around the top of his thigh boots, he grinned, “So you’re the one who murdered the noble pasha...”

“I wasn’t the only one in our family to commit such a crime,” I couldn’t help saying, hinting that his father had killed the war minister... “I was pardoned under the manifesto.”

“The manifesto, you say? What does the manifesto have to do with it? You’re a murderer; your hands are stained with blood...” said Mansou, son of Shardyn, scowling.

“I have not come on my own account...”

“You say we’re relatives?”

“My grandmother nursed your father.”

“Oh Lord, that was so long ago! That’s all buried in oblivion. What do you want from me?”

“Excuse me for taking your time, but I am just a go- between,”

“For whom?”

“For you and your fellow-Ubykhs.”

Mansou, son of Shardyn, became cautious.

“And just what do my fellow-Ubykhs want?”

“They want you to reach an agreement with Javad Bey about ending hostilities. Too much blood has been spilled.”

“Who are you to be sorry for spilled blood. The fighting will end when the Ubykhs stop stealing. You can tell that to those who sent you here.”

Making it clear the matter was closed, he went toward his saddled horse and, after taking a few steps, turned around:

“What days do you work for me?”

“Mondays and Tuesdays.”

“You remembered my father’s name. For that I free you of one day’s work. You only have to come on Tuesdays. But today, since you’re already here, you can just as well help out my servants. Hey, Hasan, show him what to do!”

He mounted his horse and went off along the big road where he was hidden in a cloud of dust. Why didn’t I break a leg on my way to this ill-fated place? I cursed myself.

The man named Hasan, a black-eyed hulk with an unshaven face, took me to a wood pile and pointed to the ax:

“Don’t waste any time; get down to work!”

When I finished chopping the wood, that bull, Hasan, took me into the garden and handed me a rake:

“Here, rake up the hay!”

The sun was straight overhead. My stomach was growling for food. I had only one thought: to get on the other side of the fence. But then that blubbery Hasan took me to the kennel:

“The dogs have to be bathed. Roll up your sleeves and I’ll pour water out of the pitcher.”

I had done just about every job in my lifetime, but bathing dogs was not one of them. I was dressed like a true man of the mountain with my Caucasian dagger on my belt. To hell with all those dogs! I had never even touched a dog, let alone wash one.

“What’s the matter? Are you deaf or something? Roll up your sleeves, you beggar!” shouted the servant.

“I can’t do it,” I explained angrily.

“May you be struck by the plague! What do you mean you can’t do it?”

He clenched his fist, but he should’ve known better. I pulled out my dagger and the fat and bulky Hasan, whose relatives would get hernias carrying him to the cemetery, seemed lighter than a butterfly when he flew off to the kitchen and just as suddenly vanished behind the door. I rushed out of that place—may it be ravaged by thieves!

What upset me most as I walked along the road was the thought of my grandmother buried in far away Ubykhia.

May thistles grow through your bones, I cursed under my breath. When you were bathing your foster son and you poured milk into the pan instead of water, why didn’t your hands wither and fall off? You washed him in milk and now his rascal of a son is making me wash his dogs! Damn him and all his dogs.

I didn’t know why I felt such pain in my sunken stomach—was it from hunger or from anger at my own deceased grandmother? The further away I got from the estate of Mansou, son of Shardyn, the wider became the gap that now separated the two of us. I never wanted to see the louse again.