Iowa Writes

SALOMAT VAFO
"The Swing"
Adapted by Tim Denevi (originally translated from the Uzbek by Kosim Mamurov)


A strange ceremony was taking place inside the house. A sheep had been slain, a clergyman from the neighborhood mosque invited, and all of the family's relatives and acquaintances had been notified. The courtyard was swept as clean as a china dish. In a large pot, sheep's head, legs, and lungs were boiling, smelling delicious. The neighborhood women were baking stiff loaves to go with the soup.

All the children in the family—even Sayilkhon, who lived a great distance away—had arrived. It was very quiet in the courtyard, like the morning of a burial. A strange ceremony: everything had been prepared as if for a funeral, except that inside the house there was no sign, anywhere, of a coffin.

The family members were talking quietly together. Sayilkhon had crossed more than a thousand kilometers to join them; he sat dreaming—breathing and sighing—his thin body trembling.

The soup was brought out in bowls. The vegetable salad was served on little plates in a style that the guests preferred. Sayilkhon's dish wobbled unsteadily in his hand.

His sister Bekposhsha stared at him. She was thirty-five years old, her head wrapped in a large shawl. "Damn it," she finally said. "Don't drink tonight. Look at you. You're about to drop dead. You've lost so much weight, drinking everyday. You look like a little boy."

Sayilkhon leaned his thin frame against a pillow. His eyes were bright red, as if he hadn't slept in months; he wiped them. "I think I've caught a cold," he said. "My head hurts. There's thunder in my temples. I feel tired."

His younger brother Qodir, who'd refused to take off his sheepskin coat and fur hat, joined the conversation. "Drink up brother. Poshsha, you must be joking. So what if he doesn't drink today? Do really you think he'll give it up completely? That cold will run its course soon enough. If he's telling the truth."

A strange ceremony was taking place inside the house. A sheep had been slain, a clergyman from the neighborhood mosque invited, and all of the family's relatives and acquaintances had been notified. The courtyard was swept as clean as a china dish. In a large pot, sheep's head, legs, and lungs were boiling, smelling delicious. The neighborhood women were baking stiff loaves to go with the soup.

All the children in the family—even Sayilkhon, who lived a great distance away—had arrived. It was very quiet in the courtyard, like the morning of a burial. A strange ceremony: everything had been prepared as if for a funeral, except that inside the house there was no sign, anywhere, of a coffin.

The family members were talking quietly together. Sayilkhon had crossed more than a thousand kilometers to join them; he sat dreaming—breathing and sighing—his thin body trembling.

The soup was brought out in bowls. The vegetable salad was served on little plates in a style that the guests preferred. Sayilkhon's dish wobbled unsteadily in his hand.

His sister Bekposhsha stared at him. She was thirty-five years old, her head wrapped in a large shawl. "Damn it," she finally said. "Don't drink tonight. Look at you. You're about to drop dead. You've lost so much weight, drinking everyday. You look like a little boy."

Sayilkhon leaned his thin frame against a pillow. His eyes were bright red, as if he hadn't slept in months; he wiped them. "I think I've caught a cold," he said. "My head hurts. There's thunder in my temples. I feel tired."

His younger brother Qodir, who'd refused to take off his sheepskin coat and fur hat, joined the conversation. "Drink up brother. Poshsha, you must be joking. So what if he doesn't drink today? Do really you think he'll give it up completely? That cold will run its course soon enough. If he's telling the truth."

Sayilkhon livened up. His posture improved. Swiftly he opened a shiny bottle with an attractive label. He poured the vodka into little cups that had pictures of cotton on them. The liquid made a bubbling sound. He placed the first cup in the direction of Qodir. "Take," he said. But no one could tell to whom he'd offered it, and Sayilkhon, avoiding eye contact with them all, grabbed the cup and drank it down in one gulp. He bit a piece of salted cucumber, grimacing.

"I hope the house of the man who made this vodka burns down," Bekposhsha said. "What will people say, seeing you like this? If you'd arrived yesterday things would've been different."

Qodir glared at Sayilkhon. "They'd say: 'Damn your family.' But if you're in need, do you think anyone else would give you a loaf of bread?"

A big dish, filled with steaming heads and lungs, was placed in front of the guests. The smell of cooked meat filled the room.

Bekposhsha sat helplessly at the edge of the low table. "Brother," she said to Sayilkhon. "Don't you see how respectfully your sisters-in-law are treating you? Offering a cooked sheep's head like you're an imam."

He took another drink, relaxing, feeling lively. He poured more vodka into the cups. In his movements there was something like tenderness, a sign of a noble elevation. Serving vodka had become a significant part of his life, and he seemed to do it masterfully, like a professional. "Damn it," he said. "Don't compare me to imams. I've never liked them. Like that Bekmat—he's always extending his hands to people, begging, thinking, 'What can I take home from this table?'"

"Do you still see the Turakhanovs?" Qodir asked, hoping to divert attention from such an unpleasant topic.

"We used to meet up awhile ago," he said. "But where would I run into him now?" He was eating a piece of meat wrapped in warm bread. "These days I go to work a few times a week.  At home I read, write, do errands.  I enjoy bundling up in my robe and watching TV." He slurped his soup. Suddenly he remembered that his TV was broken, his rent unpaid—that he was sick and tired of the cockroaches in his apartment, of the ticking sounds the water made in his old, rusting pipes. He remembered how, during childhood, he'd always struggled to fall asleep alone; on summer nights he'd climb under his mother's bed and weep. A few years ago she'd said to his brother and sister, "My son, my baby boy," shedding tears. This was when they'd all met to discuss his situation. They both knew why she was crying; she was afraid to ask Sayilkhon to come home, she herself already dependent on her son and daughters because of her husband's death.

He shook away the difficult memories. Then, thinking about the next day, he rose nervously, sat back down.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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SALOMAT VAFO

Tim Denevi received his MFA in nonfiction from the University of Iowa. He teaches creative writing at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and also at the University of Maryland, College Park.

This page was first displayed
on November 21, 2011

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