The GAZelle stopped in the village, right near the stands full of autumn fruit, and the passengers got out. A few vans just like theirs, painted a pale yellow color, stood by the roadside. Their drivers, standing in a semicircle, quickly greeted their newly arrived sunburnt colleague. The red-cheeked woman and her daughter were already walking between the multicolored rows, and the lady in the drab jacket with the glasses was telling the young man in baggy pants about how the old local mosque was built:
“Just imagine, they brought in the stones from Akusha on donkeys. It took them a whole year to lay one row of stones around the perimeter.”
The guy in baggy pants nodded, looking now at the turquoise sky, then at the old lady, feeling the rounded coppery melons. The others disappeared into the crush and noise of Hadjal-Mahi. The bearded one in the skullcap grabbed an empty plastic bottle and ran over to the spring, the man with the leather case disappeared behind a house under construction, pressing his ear to his phone and quickly yelling something, while the unshaven one simply dissolved in the warm air. On the roof of the house under construction, a man in work clothes wearing a metal visor leaned over the jets of sparks from a hissing welding torch. Metal sheets rattled somewhere in the house, and behind the bazar, in the courtyards that descended toward the river, where the wedding train had just gone, the sound of a loud lezghinka rose. Only the red-haired man stayed in the GAZelle, looking out the window at the general commotion.
About ten minutes later, the passengers started to return to their seats; they stuffed bags full of fresh fruit underneath and rode on. The driver, refreshed by a cheap cigarette, water and jokes with his colleagues, was messing with the tape-player.
“We gonna get there by one?” asked the man with the briefcase.
He chuckled, remembering how much he’d had to slip the highway patrol.
About ten minutes later, the passengers started to return to their seats; they stuffed bags full of fresh fruit underneath and rode on.
The GAZelle moved in the direction of the Huppinsky pass, overgrown with pines, beyond which the Dargin villages gave way to the high, mountainous region of Avaria. It smelled of hawthorn, St. John’s wort, creeping thyme, and sage. The woman in the evening dress quietly counted the money in her wallet. The girl, who had moved to another seat, was dozing, her glued-on eyelashes lowered. The old lady was whispering something to the young man in the baggy pants, and he smiled.
“Maybe I should have given the papers to Halilbek myself,” the one with the briefcase thinks, scrolling through the contacts on his cell. “No, he wouldn’t accept a request from me. Everything’s fine. I sent it through Hizriev, and Hizriev can figure it out for himself, they’re relatives, after all.”
The old man hid his defenseless smile, gazing thoughtfully at the pines that were coming into view along the roadside. He imagined staying in the regional center with his friend, drinking dry wine with him, then going to his little village the next day, to the house hidden in the dewy green on the shady side of the mountain, opening the gate made from the headboard of an old bed and going down into the garden, and there, under the walnut tree, playing backgammon with his neighbor.
The bearded man pressed his forehead to the dusty glass, trying to escape from the trap of his thoughts. “Bring the medicine, then come back and don’t tell anyone, they’ll find out anyway… The local cop is going to start putting a case together. They made Alishka an invalid and they’ll make me one too… No, got to deliver the medicine, then leave home… Or should I? I’ll go to Uncle Osman now, maybe he knows where I can go… Or should I? Uncle Osman isn’t the type to just up and do whatever you want him to, and if I do go, that Abdulla will say it’s kufr…”
“I brought Aishatkina’s son a wedding present, and a present for Patya… Vaya-ya-ya, need to extend my condolences to Zaira, I haven’t seen her since then…” spun around in the head of the woman in the evening dress, and the woman next to her thought “I’ll ask Rusik’s son to take me to the tower. I’ve been coming for years and I’ve never been to the tower. I’ve got to take a picture and show it to Murad Muradovich. Maybe it really is made of church stones…”
The narrowing road smelled sharply of ozone, cones, and the late summer that had just been awakened. A little hare darted across the GAZelle’s path, an invisible bird jabbered indistinctly. The red-faced woman’s daughter smiled shyly into her fist.