Once in autumn …

Once in autumn …

Here has come long-awaited gentle, as velvet, light, colourful Turkmen autumn, as if created by inspiration of poets, artists, composers. Days stand still hot, but the sun, generously stretching to you its rays, any more does not burn, as it was still more recently, and strokes softly and tenderly.

In autumn there is always something attractive, mysterious as if it writes ciphered messages or wishes on its leaves, suggesting them to solve. But autumn cannot only ask riddles, but also works wonders. I was convinced of it, having got acquainted with a person the meeting with whom for ever has remained in memory.

Once, in October, on the instructions of the editorial office I went on a business trip to one of the small cities in the northeast of Turkmenistan. Having finished affairs, expecting a train, I sat on the bench in a public garden near the station, looking through my notes. By the edge of my eye I noticed how to the bench, leaning against a stick, an elderly man in a grey raincoat approaches. Having seen me, he stopped in indecision, deliberating – to sit on the bench or to wait, while it will be freed by a stranger.

– Please, sit down, – I offered, – having shown to the place near myself.

The man raised a hat, gratefully nodded and settled on the bench. Some time we were silent: I thumbed through my notebook; the neighbour looked afar, thinking of something. So it did not take long: obeying irrepressible reporter’s habit to be interested in the life of met people, I apologised and asked, whether he was a local inhabitant or arrived to visit someone?

The man looked at me, reflected upon something and told:

– Yes, I live in this city, though was born in other one. But this became me native.

– Fine autumn this year we have, – I told.

– Autumn is always fine, only now it has become for me more sad, – the man answered.

– Why sad? – I asked.

And here I want to retell his story which I have learned by heart.

He was born in a small settlement in remote Russia. He was seventeen when war began. I happened to work for intelligence service. In Vienna, at inspection of houses where the remaining of Hitlerites could hide, their reconnaissance group was undermined on a mine-trap. Three persons from seven died on the spot, others got wounds, including him.

Mine debris cut feet, damaged the right hand. In the medical and sanitary battalion doctors took part of splinters, but one, the largest one , they could risk to touch – a metal piece nestled on the vein as knife of the gangster at the neck of the hostage, operation could cause much loss of blood that in marching conditions would lead to death. The splinter remained in the foot. Then he stayed in a hospital for a long treatment and came home.

He returned to see the ashes: their house was burnt together with houses of other peasants, and parents and younger brothers were lost. It was necessary to go to Turkmenistan where his sister lived with her husband and children.

In the compartment of a railway car with reserved seats opposite it a young woman sat. She watched how a person in a soldier’s blouse is dexterous, with one hand attaches under the shelf a plywood suitcase, then looked into his eyes and smiled. The man confusedly smiled in an answer. They started talking. He told to the fellow traveller about her destiny, about herself. No, not a widow. The husband returned from front, but did not reach the house, remained with other woman. She lives alone, brings up her five year old son, works in the regional culture centre, and now comes back from a regional seminar.

There was autumn. The woman looked out of the window, and he looked at the woman, on a beautiful, accurate profile and saw, how her hair in beams of the rising sun is gilt. At one of the stations the woman got out, waved good-by her hand and disappeared in the station’s building. He remembered the station’s name. The train moved further to the east. Behind the window the darkening desert over which the first stars already lighted up floated, but he was not excited with this freakish lunar landscape, it seemed to him that he still sees on the windowpane the person of an unfamiliar woman and her hair casted in gold.

At the sister’s place nobody met him. Neighbours told that she having received “killed in battle” notice of her husband, took daughters and left for a Russian city, where her mother-in-law lived. He looked around in empty rooms. On the table the note from his sister with instructions of their address laid. On the wall hang a drawing which he drawn many years ago, when he was still a boy.

The passion to drawing cleared up in him since childhood. He drew in school writing-books, on pages of newspapers, on any piece of paper which came into the hands. Once the father bought him a real sketchbook and pencils. He drew, then erased drawings and again drew on a vacant place. One of such drawings – a house and a garden, hung on the wall in the house of his sister.

He did not leave pencils even at the front, drew portraits of brother-soldiers. How many pleasures brought to the family of soldiers long-awaited letters from which the father, the son, the husband or the brother looked at them. For many wives and mothers these portraits became a last meeting with favourite people!

Having spent the night in an empty apartment, went to the station, took a ticket for a train and moved back. At the station, which name all these days did not go out of his mind, asked how to find a culture centre. He long sat on the bench, about something deliberating, then rose up and resolutely moved towards destiny. Having seen a puzzled smile of his recent fellow traveller, explained: «I liked very much your small town».

He was employed as driver at the motor depot which served drilling facilities in the Kara Kum. Day by day, travelling about the sand, he with each trip opened for himself all new shades of desert, was surprised with the plasticity of the Kara Kum dunes and tried to understand what drew him so close to this severe, apparently, the land.

At leisure he drew. He painted Kara Kum landscapes, finding in all of them new shades, lakes in desert, portraits of drilling people, shepherds, and inhabitants of settlements in the Kara Kum. But most of all he was involved with unusual paints of Turkmen autumn. He could not explain to himself why autumn such mysterious, inexplicably got into his soul. But he guessed that it was connected, certainly, with that lovely woman who so unexpectedly took hold of his heart and soul. She became not only his wife.

There run years… Even more often began to disturb his wounds which long did not having an effect. In the beginning the pain struck his feet. It struck, but did not knock down. He moved, leaning on a stick, but work did not abandon. If in distant ride it was necessary to stay with drilling people – got into a cabin and took the car aside that nobody saw his tortures. He suffered much, but the pain clearly declared all itself.

Work should be left. The cane was replaced by crutches, and then he laid in bed at all. Two years he was confined to bed. It was out of question to draw, his hand covered with wounds ceased to obey.

The pain broke and crumpled him. It rushed about the bed, and walls and ceiling, as though sympathising with him, shades of the trees shaken by night wind rushed about. Lately, when big pain came, he began to catch himself that again and again looks through pages of the life. The childhood, war, train, the beloved, brushes, paints and certainly that unforgettable autumn … that night, having come up once again from drowsiness, he thought: «Then I sum up? And further that? Silence? It is impossible to surrender in favour of the enemy. If you now do not rise up and will not start to work – you will die».

Hardly having stepped on the floor, he pulled out an old plywood suitcase from under bed, got a stretcher curtailed into roll of canvas, brushes, a box with paints. He took rest, then grounded a canvas, waited, while the cloth would dry up, mixed on carton paints …

He already knew that he would draw. Before starting to work, some minutes looked at the changed look in the course of time, but still dear, native person on whom already laid down dawn rays. He took a brush and began to put first dabs.

The hand shivered, and lines left rough. Then he strengthened a canvas on the table, rested an elbow against the table-top, clasped the right hand left, and again started to work. Gradually the hand began to operate all more confidently, work went faster.

He drew, without coming off a canvas, without giving himself a respite, being afraid, the hand as though has not grown dumb. Has regained consciousness only when heard behind the back rustle. The wife looked at a canvas and wiped with her palm tears sliding on cheeks. On the canvas is a young woman looking into the window of the train and beams of the sunset sun gilt her hair.

They lived together long life. They often came to sit on the station bench, and never forgot that fine October day which helped them to meet each other … And then I understood why autumn became now for him sad. He remained alone.

The train approached, we said goodbye, strongly having shaken each other’s hands. It was one of the business trips most dearly and memorable for me. I looked into the window of the railway car and understood that for someone autumn is a just season of the year, for someone – a token of destiny.

Vladimir ZAREMBO