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Excerpt from ANIMATOR (in English)

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Anamnesis info No. 3: Salah Majidov, 17 year old

To be sincere he never admitted that people could really feel and that feelings make them behave in a certain way. About him he knew once and for all: there are no feelings. There is only a wish to avoid pain, hunger and thirst. And to be adequate to every situation in order not to seem an imbecile and not to miss an opportunity which is staring at you.
For this reason he did not trust his teacher, when he told him about the feelings of the true believer. He tried to look earnest, to nod and even to look admired and exclaim "Ah, Allah!" and to rock his head as if he was overwhelmed by the evidence of the truth revealed.
The study in the school was worth the price: in the morning they received hot milk with bread, towards midday the old Usama brought to the class some cakes and cheese, and towards the evening the kitchen emanated the perfume of square cooked meal: peas soup (Usama lavishly seasoned every single plate with freshly cut onions and parsley) or a cabbage pottage and sometimes the heavenly food– the mutton rice shurpa which made Salah’s head reel. One could take as much bread as one liked and before going to bed everyone was entitled to a glass of sour milk and an apple. Sure enough, Salah heard (but never could imagine it) that the rich everyday ate this way and that their table always abounded in cakes, cheese, sour milk, onion soup and even apples, but the fact that he personally could become one of the recipient of a blessed weight of such allowance – he never could imagine it in a wildest dream. How he lived when his mother was alive, he did not remember. Most likely he was fed, but how – nobody could tell. When he was four he was taken over by the grandmother Zeeta, and he remembered that this time the choice was reduced to the basics. When grandmother Zeeta died he was not yet nine and he joined the refugees who lived in the southern suburbs of town. It was not bad, not bad at all. Local urchins accepted him as one of them, and together they committed regular nightly forays into the private gardens filling their tummies with sour grapes and apples to a drum stiffness. Three year later – and at that time he grew, became a real youngster and was able to stand for himself much better than before – the life faltered, the old-time refugees started to move away somewhere and the new ones did not recognize in him one of their own. Then he moved to live in an open wooden stage in a city park and survived by small theft and begging. Here he was noted by the Fat Karbos and thus Salah started to live in a bazaar tavern tchai-khana, earning by broom and endless errands his stale cake and the remains of the tea from the cups of the guests; really, sometimes he was lucky to get a fistful of fat rice from somebody’s leftovers or a half-eaten mutton tendon. But not every day, far from that...
In general being sixteen Salah was thin, black and angry, believed nobody and dreamed of one thing: that his host, fat tchai-khana owner Karbos, a rough and an infinitely avid person, could some day tumble a water-heater on himself, get boiled alive and die. For some reason it seamed to him that this will make his life start changing for the good.
But he never arrived to see the death of Karbos, thank God. One beautiful day in this thchai-khana arrived Rasul-naib, taking off his caloches, sitting on a mat and ordering a teapot of a long tea – the one that is made by pouring hot water on the tea from a long distance and not directly with a short spurt.
Salah ran to the kitchen and said to the master: so and so, master, the effendi, that sits on the mat at the entrance wants a teapot of a long tea and a big helping of white sultana grapes.
If the fool of Karbos did not muddle with orders, it would have been improbable that Rasul-naib could notice the waiter. But Karbos made his usual mess and drizzled into the teapot not only long but the shortest possible hot water. Effendi (who seemed in this sense a great connoisseur), immediately noticed the mistake after pouring some tea into his piala cup.
– Ahh! – he said uniting eyebrows over his hooked nose – I asked for a long one! Go, call me the host!
Salah ran to the kitchen as a wind, saying, so and so, master, effendi calls you. He is annoyed.
Cleaning his hands over the apron, paunchy Karbos hurried to the client. Having heard the complaint, he clutched his hands to the breast, bowing and pronouncing the words of excuse and promise. At that moment Salah happened to pass nearby and Karbos has given him such a hell of a clout (deeming it the best way to demonstrate to effendi the seriousness of his remorse) that the young man almost fell to the ground.
– Where were your ears, monster?! You were told a long one, and what do you bring instead?!
– I told you: a long one! – answered back Salah.
– You skunk! You dare to respond! – raged Karbos with firm intent to continue the education.
But effendi overbearingly raised his hand and said:
– Let him be. You can go now. Pay more attention the next time. Young man, come here, in the name of Allah!
The last part referred to Salah.
Salah believed that white-turbaned gentleman wanted to continue what fat Karbos started and looked around helplessly. The tea-house continued its hum-drum activity and in a comfortable shade of sycamores nobody cared how far the process of his re-education may go. Even if some of the visitors observed with amusement the small incident.
There was nowhere to run. Salah made a timid step (the gentleman continued to beckon him in his overbearing manner), involuntary crouched and said:
– Please, do not beat me!..
– My God! – said turbaned gentlemen amazed. – In the name of the merciful Allah! Who told you that I am going to beat you? How old are you? Come nearer, please!..
Salah drew near and the gentlemen posed him several questions hearing with ill-concealed compassion haltering unarticulated answers of this thin backward creature, which seemed to be little endowed with intellect from birth; then he said with a soft voice that he is a professor in a school of a Theological society (Salah was listening to him shifting from one foot to another and readily licking his lips), and that the school had a boarding house where the children of the poor and orphans live; did Salah ever think of entering such boarding school?
– And they will teach me how to read? – asked Salah, when Rasul-naib finished. – I would have liked. But...
Salah immediately believed this master, and it seemed that no objections could matter, if this gentleman takes something into his hands. Rasul-naib asked to call the host again and lectured him extensively for treating his domestics so badly. When Karbos, who was always sweating, was tired of sighing and bleating plaintively, Rasul-naib informed him that he will take the boy with him: the boy must participate in the deeds of piety (the propensity towards such deeds he, Rusul-naib, discerns in the boy quite distinctly), and prepare himself to the struggle name of faith instead of being hassled by such a wicked and dumb beef-headed fellow as was, in his opinion, the Fat Karbos. The host tried to object (Salah froze in his bones, afraid that the gentleman may yield in the dispute recognizing the legal right of Karbos to dispose of his life and of his future that looked immensely dim in comparison to this budding new prospective), but Rasul-naib added one or two phrases about the needs of faith and honor, and Karbos withered; Rasul-naib sighed, gave him several small bank notes, advising him to be milder and more reasonable next time. The Salah gathered his belongings and passed the next night already in the school. Narrow windows gave into the a closed yard and near the high gateway there was a sentry dressed in white like an archangel. Two-storied bleached house with a flat roof was immersed into the think greenery of the rich part of town near the square with fountains and the former local Communist Party headquarters which became the building of the local Parliament.
To tell the truth during first several days Salah notwithstanding all the amenity of the school living, internally expected some bad surprise. Despite his youth Salah knew the life well and was convinced that there is no such thing as a free apple. For this reason, charmed as he was by Rasul-naib, and despite his profound faith in his master, he could not waive a vague suspicion that lived in a far corner of his soul, that his gentleman in a cedar-oil scenting turban, who described his future in such vivid colors did not tell it all, kept something back.
But days passed, and everything remained the same...
They got up early. After the prayer they warmed up, washed and had a light breakfast. At half past seven they were expected to be sitting the class. Rasul-naib often told that every pupil had to know, apart from his mother tongue, three other languages – Arab (being the tongue of the Prophet), English (the language of the main enemy of the faith) and obviously, Russian – because without Russian you really have no chance. The Russian classes were the first. After two hours of study - another snack, also a very light one. Then second namaz prayer. After namaz there came a half-hour of rest – usually it meant playing ball in the courtyard. So that the beginning of the English lesson was always marked by an odor of the sane youthful sweat. Then lunch and two-hours rest. The Arab passed imperceptibly into theology and after reading and interpreting the Koran domullo Ishak, professor from Qatar, yielded his place on a small school podium to Rasul-naib himself.
Rasul-naib talked about different matters, and you could never guess where he would start from (except for a short prayer). Questions were not in use, but somewhat it came naturally that the speech of the professor, starting from one matter, then touching upon the second and the third, always returned to the starting point and then everything became clear and no doubts remained.
He explained the structure of the Universe, of all its 18 thousand worlds, that are supported by a Bull created by the Almighty and the distance from the head to the tale of this Bull is 500 years of travel, and between the points of his horns is 250 years of travel. The Bull’s hoofs tread on the Fish, who swims in the water, which stands over the Hell. The Hell is contained in a dish, the dish is firmly held by an Angel, whose feet are standing on the Seventh Circle of the Nether World.
He told about the misfortunes that fill this sorrowful world and about the mountain Bashai where a giant bird Rocq lives. This bird lays enormous eggs, from which incessantly appear shaitans, the evil spirits. The world would have already perished from such abnormal amount of evil, but happily saint Ata-Vali, appointed by God to protect the world is always vigilant and as soon a new shaitan is hatched from an egg, he pronounces the word of prayer and the enemy drops dead...
With great inspiration Rasul-naib narrated the greatness of the Creator and told them that a poor human intellect was unable to image even it’s smallest part: when the prophet Mussah wanted to look in the face of God, the Almighty mercifully covered himself with two thousand screens opening only one of them: and the poor man became almost blind getting a glimpse of His reflection in the water.
The story continued about a terrible Doomsday full of ominous signs and miracles, when the truth and the falsehood will be confounded in people’s souls and it will be impossible to tell one from the other; then will appear the Beast of unprecedented height with Solomon’s seal in his clawed paw to brand the faces of the infidels; then terribly loathsome ajujis and majujis, whose seed is blessed by the Devil, will break through the copper door, by which Iskanadar Bicornis sealed their land, and these abominable crowds with throng the land of Islam!.. And other wild and horrible deeds will torment the world, until finally the Most Merciful will start his Final Judgment and will divide the raised from the graves into those who will go to Paradise and those who deserve Hell.
Rasul-naib described Hell and everyone felt immediately sick because the teacher was eloquent as usual and could describe terrible and unthinkable things: the earth made of fire, the sky made of venomous fog, black trees with scorpions and snakes instead of leaves, thorny shrubs growing out of the bodies of liars and adulterers in prey of ineffable torment.
Then the teacher passed to the description of Paradise and totally different pictures opened in front of the eyes of frightened disciples. Green, springs, fresh breath of sweet wind, garden paths paved with gems and gold and – most important of all – the hourias! – heavenly maidens with scented tender skin whose inescapable beauty is never hidden by clothes. Compliant and glad will they be meeting the faithful, will give them plenty delights and caress their masters with such passion that every minute of pleasure will last for these lucky fews as ages.
But the master was at his most inspired when he talked about shahids, the martyrs. He started from sad reasoning that a simple man has to suffer during his lifetime all the sufferings of this sinful world, striving for a righteous and an honest living, which, if you looking at things plainly, seems rather dull and joyless anyway; then he must endure the sufferings of death and wait endlessly for the end of the world; then suffer other horrors and arrive finally to the Day of Judgment. And it is far from certain, that the fate will be in your favor, so that you may be acquitted and transferred to Paradise... there is a high possibility of a completely different ending – reiterated the teacher nodding sadly. – How highly we tend to praise our own virtues and how little they mean in the eyes of God!
On the other hand, shahid – the warrior of Islam, the martyr, who dies with weapon in his hand on the battlefield, is spared agonizing suspense and senseless delays. One second only! He did not even understand if steel, lead or, say, dynamite has freed him from the burden of human existence and the bare feet of the brave already tread the soft grass near the wonderful springs and the fully-bosomed beauties hurry to wash blood and dust of battlefield from his feet..
One more thing – used to add Rasul-naib, – you should not think that the battle is only when two armies are fighting with airplanes in the air, tanks advancing on the ground, with hellish fire from both sides, where there are assaults and other hostilities. Far from that – he reiterated with conviction, – it is not necessary at all! Because all wars sooner of later come to an end: the wounded are brought to the hospitals, the dead are buried in the ground, the tanks are scrapped for steel, the peace treaties are signed, and the tortured ground is once again furrowed by the Sower.
And only the battle between the God Almighty and the Satan’s breed, the fight between the true faith and infidels never ends. This battle incessantly beats in the heart of every faithful.
Thus every faithful must be ready in every second to enter into a fight... and to die for his faith... and to find himself in Paradise.

* * *
Salah was completely indifferent to the stories about the Rocq bird and the construction of the World. Too many details and confusion to seem the truth – at least he supposed so. And where on earth is that famous mountain? They show lots of things on TV (he watched TV in his previous live, in the tea-house of the fat Karbos - there were no TV sets in the school, they had to survive on prayer). Eggs, evil spirits... No, it did not seem convincing. On the other hand, the stories about shahids and on their enviable destiny made Salah suspicious. During his short life he became a cute and reticent wolf-cub and here he definitely sensed danger.
On the other hand he learned from the words of his teacher that all shahids are volunteers. It seemed that if he will not oblige, nobody will force him to become one. But doubts lingered: if it is really so, and they live here to become shahids, then who and for what reason will waste bread on a loafer, who does not want to become a shahid?
It is clear, that Salah kept silent about his musings and even if he wished he had nobody to confide in...
He listened to the teacher every day, and every single day together with domullo Ishak and other pupils read Koran in a sing-song manner trying to imagine the meaning of what was said there, and then he studied holy interpretations and from a certain point started to be interested in one question: where in the last account goes a person after he is dead?
To imagine that a man simply disappears was impossible. The Sun also disappears, the Moon disappears – so what? Then it reappears, normal thing.
He remembered, for example, that nighttime his grandmother Zeeta was haunted by her wicked deceased husband who had some unintelligible claims against her and she cried and croaked and her neck was bruised in the morning as if somebody tried to strangled her, and he gave her some hot milk as a cure. And it really happened! Yes, he knows that much. And that means that it happens to everybody: while some of them meddle during the night with their ex-wives and fight as during their lifetime, the others lie there without hassle, waiting for the Archangels trumpet. And the teacher tells the same, everything matches. And then, if there was nothing over there, where do all this details about the future life, about Paradise and Hell come from? If something does not exist, how can there be information about it?

* * *

He made friends with Ishak, a stocky and somewhat gloomy young man from Aslar-Horta Region, whose family died one night in a house during the shelling; for some reason Ishak survived and came to his senses in the morning when his fellow-villagers came to dig into the debris and to recover the dead.
According to Ishak there were simultaneously two advantages in becoming a shahid. Firstly, he will revenge the death of his family. Despite the fact that Salah’s family was not dead in shelling, this thought seemed to him legitimate. You live in a family and then immediately all of them are dead, and you are alone in the whole world - it is clear that the infidels are to blame and they should receive an appropriate punishment - be put to death.
The second advantage was in the fact that thus, without uselessly wasting time, you project yourself directly in Paradise.
This was also a simply and clear argument, a convincing one.
Salah did not object and made no superfluous questions. It was evident that Ishak sincerely believes to reach heaven at the same moment he pulls the cord and pushes the bottom of an explosive device. But he, Salah did not yet overcome some uncertainties. If he could learn for sure that the Paradise really exists and that it matches exactly the description given by his teacher and that the rules of admittance to it did no change lately – then, very likely, he would have had no doubts.
They never talked about it, but from the wistful smile that lightened the face of his buddy, Salah without words understood what attracted Ishak in Paradise. The gem studded alleys? But it is not bad to tread even asphalted road with your young heels. Cool ponds? You can take a shower and go to a swimming pool with same success. Dainty dishes? They hardly can be better than in our school...but it is not all, not all at all!..
Their beds stood close, and if by some magic the night imagery of dreaming adolescents could be projected from their crania into the dark room, it would be filled with iridescent phantoms of nude women bodies: they would throng the room, levitating, intertwining and again separating by witchcraft, to be renewed again and again offering the boundless joy with shamelessness and passion, that the brains of those, who could get a glimpse of it in reality, would have been surely boiled alive.

* * *

One morning Ishak whispered to Salah that the teacher had fixed the date and in the evening he will be transferred to another school.
After a week during the Friday’s prayer, the teacher said that the time has come for all of us to rejoice for Ishak: yesterday Ishak entered into battle and won, and his soul now abides in Paradise, while those seven infidels that stood in the way of the warrior are in the claws of Hell.
Reading the commemorative prayer, Salah felt that something clicked in his soul. He understood that it is better to waste no more time.
In the evening he told about it to the teacher.
Rasul-naib laughed softly, hearing his words. "I always believed in you, my boy – repeated he, and his eyes were shining and sparking with inner light. – A fire of a true faith now burns in your soul! I am proud of you!.."
Other school appeared completely different – a dilapidated shack in the industrial suburbs, a dog in the yard, creaky bed. As for the feeding they were left to themselves: there was a heap of cans in the corner. If you are hungry you can eat at anytime, if not – you can look at the Moon. The bread was brought by a woman neighbor; her husband, a stooping man in some shabby army clothes never left the house. There was no obligation to pray, but Salah duly performed regular five namaz prayers: he did not want that some formal mistake could at the last moment spoil the whole affair.
A man called Beslan taught him how to operate various types of explosive devices. It was very simple: he already new it all by heart (even if every day the lesson was repeated again and again), but the time passed and he was bored in the god-forgotten place.
Finally the day arrived and they came to fetch him. Salah saw the teacher once again, and from that second and onwards he seemingly went into a dream. He understood everything and could answer any question, but the life somewhat stepped away from him, understanding, finally, that it should not even try to prevent him from fulfilling his destiny and from reaching his goal. He already was immersed into a protective glass cocoon of faith and no doubt could shatter his determination.
The teacher was austere, stern; his black eyes were piercing as knives.
The trip lasted six days. They often changed trains. The last one was a commuters’ local train, then a car.
He almost did not notice anything around him. His escort (and it changed repeatedly) carried him as a precious weight.
In the morning he received hot milk with bread.
– You remember everything? – his guide asked.
– I remember everything, – nodded Salah. – In the name of Allah, great and merciful.
– After four or five stops, yes?
– Yes, – nodded Salah. – After four of five.
– Then, here you go, brother, – said the guide as the bus approached to the stop. – Come inside.
Then the guide turned away, lowering the visor of the cap over his face and walked fast in the opposite direction.
Salah sat at the back sit and put the bag on his knees.
On the first stop nobody entered. On the second – two guys. The third one was more crowded – four people. Even if only three of them entered the bus.
On the fourth came an old man dragging behind a half-broken hand-cart with big water bottles. He put the bottles into the corner and plumped down on the seat besides Salah. He closed his eyes and tried to recover breath – pooh! pooh!
He was stinking with sweat.
The bus came into motion.
Arching threatening his brows, Salah turned his head to the man and proudly looked down on him. Does this infidel know that his hour has come? Could he ever know?
Oh, miserable man! How close he is to the burning flames of hell!
Salah opened with care the zipper on the bag, put his hand inside and inserted his finger into the loop.
– Allah is great! – he cried with what seemed to him a voice of thunder. – Allah akbar!
And only after... pulled the cord.