The chief editor called me to his room and ordered to prepare an article devoted to to the winner of the “Golden Laurel” award. That was a writer Piri Mammadov living in far suburbs. I repeated this unfamiliar name but could not remember such a writer. After brief instruction I took the writer’s address and the business-trip certificate and left the office. I put the book of the selected works by the first ten writers of this competition, sat in bus and near to afternoon left for meeting with Piri Mammadov.
The way was very long and tiresome. At midnight I arrived to the regional hotel and fell asleep. The next day I awoke near to afternoon and, pulling the curtain and breathed the fresh air filling into the room. It was drizzling in the evening and now a paradise view opened at the sight. “It is real guilt not to become a writer in this beauty!” – the fog was slowly leaving the picks of the foresty mountains and the amazing view was gladdening the eye. Dressing, I went down and asked the hotel staff a place for having breakfast close to nature. That place was not too far… I tucked away fresh honey, cream and warm bread from tandir , enjoying the fresh air, endless beauties of the nature and complete absence of urban noise. My soul was ready to thank me for this bliss…
I asked several people I met about writer Piri Mammadov; some of them did not know him and confused with another person. Looking for a place of many people’s gathering I came to a rest center consisting of three or four cottages and asked about Piri from cobby guard in a jacket having fat stain.
– Ask that woman – her name is Huri. She knows him… - he showed a fat woman in a plicate dress, kerchief on head and shawl on the waist.
I was very glad finding Piri Mammadov’s trace so easy. The woman was coming towards me carrying a basket. I waited for her reaching, greeted her and said that I was looking for writer Piri Mammadov.
– How can that botcher be named as writer? Why do you need him? – she said putting the basket down.
– I need to interview him as a winner of award…– I answered.
– I’d like to know which dunce awarded him! – the woman said with penetrating cool. – Could not they find a normal writer?! – she said and taking the basket she left away with fast steps. I was obliged to run after her.
– Where may I find him? – I asked after her.
– In the depth of the hell! – the woman roughly answered without glancing back. I was taken aback and looked at the guard who, hearing our dialogue started to hint to me with eyes: «There is no sense to deal with her.». Huri was already far. The only person able to help me was this guard.
– She is very eccentric woman… She did not let me to say a word… - I said pulling his sleeve.
– She is clairvoyant… Probably, she felt something bad, that’s why speaks angrily. Don’t push on her – she may say rude…
– I said nothing bad to her. I just asked the writer Piri…
– I see, you are stranger here... They say they are three friends – Huri, Piri and Osip. She is clairvoyant, Piri is a writer and Osip is a painter. Osip is his sobriquet. But the people say that Osip skillfully plays kamancha. Huri brings their food – she is considered as their guardian angel. The tourists coming to rest often see them in the rest center… – I pulled down an old chair with broken leg fixed with wire and sat down. The guard poured tea into thick and blackened glass – it turned out that the kettle boiling on the stove was full of tea…
– It is health-giving mixture of mountain herbs with dogrose. It cleans the blood, breaks nephrolith and treats ulcer. It is better to drink hot but not drink much because it is diuretic… - he smirked.
I smelled the tea – it had uncommon scent. I felt interest of correspondent:
– What do you know about these friends else? – I asked with impatience.
– Truly, I know nothing. But they say that all of them are unsociable recluses. Nobody except them and the God knows how they live. I have only heard about Piri and Osip, but sometimes see this clairvoyant Huri. She has very penetrating glances… She may look at a person and clarify all ins and outs… I don’t want to sin – however, people say that if she damn anybody t will turn out badly for him. Thus, to get out of harm's way, I answer when she greets and feign that I don’t see her if she does not.
I could not gain worthy information from guard Magsud. But when his wife brought food for him my hopes were lit up again. She spoke so unbelievable things about Huri that it was impossible to believe.
– Doubting of the Huri’s clairvoyance is blasphemy… She several times succeeded to discover hidden sorceries and expose wizards disgracing them in the entire region. She had made mappy many spinsters, solved a lot of insoluble matters… However, despite of own righteousness, she is considered as soothsayer and cannot get rid of this sobriquet… - said Sunbul, the guar Magsud’s wife. She also noted that her sister-in-law had four daughters and dreamt of a son. When she became pregnant, Huri looked at her and predicted that she would undoubtedly bear a son. Her prediction realized. Once she said to a woman, being diagnosed a cancer that this diagnosis is wrong. The woman passed chemotherapy and was counting the last days of her life… Huri decribed to her the building of a hospital she had seen never before, and said:
- Go there and see an old professor. He will confirm this diagnosis. But find the room 124 where you will meet a physician with covered head. Ask her to thouroughly examine the tumour on your backbone. She will explain to you the reality in details and prescribe a paper. Show this paper to that old professor and everything will be fine!
Sunbul said that the woman maintained the Huri’s recommendations and left for the capital. She found the described hospital and met the old professor and, the latter confirmed the diagnosis. Then, she went to the room 124 and met the physician with covered head. The physician made magnetic resonance image and discovered a big osseous tumour on her backbone. The patient returned to the old professor and the initial diagnosis was completely refuted. Sunbul spoke this history so earnestly that it was impossible to suspect. «The mountain inhabitants are healthy people; probably, she exaggerates.» – I thought. However, if any part of Sunbul’s history would be true it would be enough for believing in Huri’s gift of clairvoyance.
- That woman is my near relation… If you don’t believe, let’s go to her for ensuring obviously. – Sunbul said in order to persuade me and remove the doubts.
– Let’s go! – I said for ensuring that all of the said words are pure exaggeration. Anyway, I had no choice; Huri was the only person able to help me meeting with Piri Mammadov.
I should make a reservation that we found Sema ostensibly sick of cancer on the bank of cold ditch washing laundry. She was a healthy woman with pink cheeks. She wiped sweat from her forehead and knowing the goal of our visit invited us home and put the case histories before me. It was unbelievable – Sunbul was right word for word! If Huri succeeded to prophesy this disease, her gift of clairvoyance was undoubtful.
– Damn a person calling Huri as soothsayer, - Sema said. – she presented the second life to me. The addle-brained doctors were near to kill me. God bless her!
- Does Huri have family and children? – I asked.
- No, she doesn’t, – they answered. – She was married but did not have a child and divorced. She did not trust anybody more.
Kamal – Sema's husband – said that Huri was Osip’s classmate and they even have far relations. Kamal promised that although he did not know where these three friends live, tomorrow he would drive me on his old car and try to contact me to them. Like a detective, I was enjoying the confusion occurring in looking for their address. The writer Piri, clairvoyant Huri and their friend Osip playing kamancha became inaccessible personages for me. I returned to the hotel afoot.
... The next day we sat in Kamal’s car and passing a long way through mountain and forest reached a small village consisting of eight or nine houses. We asked Osip’s home and they showed us a house in the entrance of the village close to the forest. We knocked but nobody responded. We opened the door and looked inside. The room was large and clean, and full of neat lifestyle of single people. The whitewashed walls had hung pictures with different and interest images. The biggest picture hung on the bearing wall had an image of a squirrel. The squirrel was smilling and had money in the right clutch and oaken acorn in the left one. The most of the pictures had images of nature and squirrel’s nest as well as squirrel gaily jumping from branch onto branch… We were not entitled to enter alien home without permission and that’s why, we closed the door outside and sitting on the bench in the yard waited for the masters of the house. Kamal whispered: “They were right…”
– What do you mean? – I asked with curiosity.
– I mean the squirrel… - he answered and suddenly stopped talking. We saw Huri coming with basket in her hand.
– What are you doing here? – she crossly asked.
– I have told you – I came from the city in order to meet with Piri Mammadov. I have to see him! – I confidently stood up.
– Piri is dead! – Huri angrily said. – He died a month ago! Say it in the city! If you’d like to have intercourse with his corpse I may take you to the cemetery and you will speak to his grave in abundance!
I was driven to distraction by this woman’s arrogance. Kamal tried to to take the strain off:
– Aunt Huri, Piri had glorified our region all over the country writing a work read in the entire country and won the award. He would hear that the guest’s visit was hidden from him and get angry…
– He was crazy writing it! His foolish work disgraced us in the neighbourhood! I said that he is dead! Corpses hear nothing and do not get angry! This topic is closed – go away! – the woman almost pushed us out of the yard. We had nothing to do but take the car and go away geting nothing for our pains…
We returned to the region and had a lunch together with Kamal and Magsud discussing the squirrel. I knew from their words that the Osip’s son had left for Siberia in search of a job and, disappeared in the forest without a trace. Osip waited for his son during these years consoling himself painting and playing kamancha. When tourists flew to these places, Osip took his kamancha, sat on a stone in a crowded place close to the forest and played. “They say Osip plays not for collecting money but for the squirrel, – Kamal said. – This squirrel is accustomed to Osip so much that sits on his shoulder, then on his head and plays with him – the squirrel likes his playing kamancha. Osip leaves the cover of the kamancha’s box open and when listener drop money into the box the squirrel immediately takes the money and carries to the nest. The people indefatigably look at this performance and continue dropping money into the box.
– Some people even call this squirrel as Osip’s companion, - Kamal said. – They say that Osip had purposely trained the squirrel in order to collect more money. The people gather there before Osip’s arrival and wait for his appearing together with the squirrel. Many people come there everyday for personally ensuring this strange friendship. Near the evening Osip gaily returns home.
– Probably, the Osip’s squirrel is a millionaire… - Magsud said with grin.
It was dark when I bade farewell to Magsud and Kamal and returned to the hotel. The weather was very frosty despite of springtime. I already regretted that did not take coat. The light was turned off in the half of the regional center. The hotel also was dark. There were several candles on the table in the room. I burnt one of them and put into the ashtray and lying into bed tried to get warm. As ill luck would have it, I could not fall asleep in a cold bed. I remembered the impudent tricks by Huri zealously hiding Piri from me. I knew that Piri was alive and she said it because of spite. Most probably, our meeting with him might cause any danger or tragedy and thus, she prevents from this meeting like a mother saving her child from predator’s jaws. “He disgraced us in the neighbourhood!” – Huri’s these words still sounded in my ears. I took the anthology and approaching it to the candle looked for in the content the Piri Mammadov’s work. It was a novel consisting of eighty-seven pages titled as «Me, Huri, Osip and squirrel». «Indeed, Huri is right! This novel is devoted to themselves…» I started to read this novel in the twilight.
Huri was right – the novel is devoted to these three friends. The author expounded the events by third person without changing the name. He described himself as following: «In summer and winter he was wearing the same jacket and shabby cap on his head. He was so thin that his belt was tied on the last hole and his trousers shrinked as sack. His dress was soaked with smell of the Osip’s squirrel. Huri always said: «Piri, I will bury you in this dress!»...
I suddenly started from the noise of thunder and cloudburst – I was afraid of thunder since my childhood and forgot possibility of such bustle during many years. The roofs of the nearby houses were appearing under the thunder’s light and disappearing. The rain strengthened half an hour later and it started to rain to beat the band. I have never seen such downpour for forty years. I closed the window, wrapped myself up with the blanket and nestled up to the pillow. The frost disappeared – as if, the cloudburst washed it off the earth. I approached the candle to the bed for continuing to read, but suddenly the door was knocked.
– Come in! – I said and taking the candle extended it towards the door.
A man wrapped up in polyethylene entered the room. He had shabby cap on his head. He folded the polyethylene, moved it away and stroke own hairs. I paid attention to his shrinked trousers and caught that this man was Piri Mammadov…
– I am glad to see you, Piri Mammadov... – I confidently greeted him.
– I knew your arrival yesterday, - he said smiling. – But got possibility to see you only today.
– God forbid – aunt Huri knowing that I was looking for you almost moved me off the region.
– Yeah, she has very sharp tongue – however, you cannot find anywhere such vulnerable and kind woman. She gets angry feeling any bad sense. She says nothing about own presentiment to anybody, but becomes insufferable. However, as soon as the danger is removed she becomes tender as before. I think you have learned something about her. Nobody could catch her in wrong suppositions hitherto. I yesterday promised her not to meet with you; however, she persuaded: «You will indeed – you will run to him for the sake of a foolish book!» As you see, I am here!
Piri was speaking with smile. He made an impression of an affable person. We sat opposite – the wan light of candle was hardly illuminating his face.
– Maybe, she had a presentiment of any misfortune and you really should not meet with me? – I got anxious. Truly, after Huri’s moving us from the yard I also felt in the depth of my heart a possibility of any misfortune and changed my mind to meet with Piri.
– It is not excluded, - he answered. – but nobody knows is precisely except her.
– I forgot to congratulate you! Do you know that you have become a laureate of the “Golden Laurel” award?
– I heard it from Huri. That’s why, I had dream to meet with you – he answered with smile.
«His face is not accustomed to smile…» - I thought.
Suddenly the light turned on. Piri looked at the lit lamp and laughed:
- I always bring lick; you would not believe but when I was coming to you, Huri said that as soon as I enter your room it will become light. Do you see her gift of clairvoyance?
His thin and wrinkled face was full of joy. Piri’s work created an impression of him as a gloomy person. However, quite another Piri was sitting opposite to me…
– I just started to read your novel… – I said showing him the anthology. He took the book and started to slowly thumb through own novel. His face was full of gladness.
– Do you have published books, or other awards? – I asked.
– I write occasionally and only fopr myself. Huri does not see my future as writer. It was the first competition where I sent my work. Well, I succeeded… I will punish Huri – she deceived us... – it was evidently felt that he enjoyed own success like a child.
– My goal was introducing our squirrel to the readers… - Piri admitted. – I did not pretend to any award. I had worked on this novel for three years. Writing is very difficult for me; I cannot write without enduring the events in my soul. The writer’s real pleasure is hidden in this bitter torment. They say that somebody is able to start writing and finish the work at a stretch. I envy such writers…
Piri was frankly speaking and I felt that his soul was full and he needs to express his senses. Probably, as a writer, he had nobody to share own talent and opinions.
– Presently I am near to complete a new story. I cannot find any peace for several days. It is interesting story about squirrel.
– I think you deify this squirrel. It is painted in all pictures at your home. I saw them when opened the door without permission and entered… - I admitted.
– You will understand me if you see that squirrel. Huri says that she always see alive Ilgar – Osip’s son – in the squirrel’s eyes. She contends that the squirrel collects money and sends to Ilgar for him to return home. Osip would die long ago without this squirrel. He considers the squirrel as his son turning into a squirrel… You think I’m mad, don’t you?
I was only listening to him and my silence caused his such opinion. His face was full of resignation, honesty and tenderness.
– Good God, no! Just your friendship with the squirrel and your beliefs are very amazing for me…– I admitted. – But how do you live? Do both of you depend on Huri? Do not Osip spend the money earned playing kamancha?
– Playing kamancha Osip does not beg but demonstrates own skill. Hereby he bestows pleasure upon people and simultaneously gets escape of the yearning for his son. He skillfully plays sad melodies and pours own grief onto the strings. The people see that squirrel does not allow touching any coin – probably, the rodent is accustomed to the smell of money. - he laughed.
– But what the squirrel does with this money? Is the hollow of the tree deep? Why do not you check its nest? – I asked.
– Never! Huri says that if somebody checks the nest squirrel will offended and run away and subsequently, Ilgar will not have enough money to return. Osip plays even all alone – plays for the squirrel. When nobody gives money, the squirrel sits on Osip’s knees and listens to music. Osip and the squirrel are accustomed to each other. The squirrel gets very glad seeing Osip, аnd jumping on the branches, gets down and sits on the box. Osip opens the cover and takes the instrument and the squirrel starts to gnaw crackers listening the music. You should see how the squirrel jumping on the branches gets down and stealthily takes money from the box, observes and as if asking for permission quickly takes the money into nest…
– Unfortunately, I have to return to the city tomorrow; otherwise, I would stay with great pleasure for looking at your friend… - I said.
– The mountain road is open tomorrow. However, a rockfall will happen the day after tomorrow and close the road. Consequently, you’d be better to depart tomorrow.
– It is also Huri’s prophecy, isn’t it?
– Yes, it is. She is our skillful forecaster foretelling everything, - he laughed. – I don’t dear to take your time any more – I think you were going to sleep… May I take this book? – he showed the anthology he was keeping as a valuable award.
– Of course, you may. I will buy for myself in the city, - I answered.
– How much does it cost? I would pay... – he asked poking his hand into pocket.
– Free of charge – it is a present. But I promise that I will buy this book and learn everything about your friends and the squirrel.
He just smiled and said nothing.
I noted in the copybook all necessary information about Piri Mammadov and seeing the guest off, returned to the bed – my bus would depart early morning. But in the depth of my soul I wanted to stay, see Osip and look at the squirrel. «Should I leave or stay?» - I hesitated.
I dreamt Huri that night. She seemed very lovely and kind opposite to reality.
- I beseech you, son, - she bewailed wiping tears. – I offended you, forgive me! You don’t know many things. Me, Piri and Osip have eternally disavowed the mundane grace named «happiness». We are happy namely in this point of the earth living with our griefs. Don’t destroy our peace, don’t hinder our happiness, go away! Piri is not in the age of striving for renown. Osip became estranged from happiness a long ago. Don’t prevent us from living with our hopes. Let Osip to hope that his son will return anytime. Let Piri to believe that he will become famous writer. Let us to start each day with these sweet hopes. Go away, son, I beseech you, go!..
… Passing the narrow paths through mountain I was looking at the plumb rocks which would fall down tomorrow and cover the road. Huri was right: rockfall could happen here anytime. But when? Only the God and Huri knew the time…