Sunday, February 20, 2005

Shavrat breaks his New Year promise

Last night the power went off for two hours, as has been happening regularly lately. I sat in the silent blackness, hearing only the flames licking the coal in the stove, the room dimly illuminated by a kerosene lamp and the glow from my laptop.

Nigora, usually an excellent cook, had prepared liver shashlik (kebabs) that evening. I don’t like liver and the shashlik sat on my table, uneaten, the smell of liver infiltrating both of my rooms.

Shortly after she’d dropped off the liver, she returned through the black doorway. “Shavkat is drunk,” she told me. She said that he’d come home and told her that her shashlik isn’t very good and that the shashlik available on the street is much better.

“He said he wants to invite you to go get shashlik there,” she said. ‘I came to warn you because he’s drunk and in my opinion, there is no need to go out on the street at night. I told him he could invite you another day, but he wants to tonight. So if he stops by, you should tell him you are already sleeping.”

True to Nigora’s promise, Shavkat did eventually come and invite me to have shashlik. He knocked on my door and was polite, but definitely drunk, speaking with a bit of a slur and smiling a shiny gold-toothed smile.

He had promised to give up both smoking and drinking on the New Year and I was sad to see that he’d already returned to drinking, especially knowing how much his wife and sons hate it when he’s drunk.

I told him thanks for the offer, but I’d already eaten.

“But there is beer there, and people…,” he said.

“Thanks, but I’m planning to go to bed soon.”

“Bed? Tomorrow is Sunday and it’s only 8.”

“But my boyfriend is calling soon and after that I’m going to bed,” I said, trying my third excuse.

“Oh, he’s calling now?” he asked. That worked.

“Yes,” I said. “But I’d love to try the shashlik on another day.”

“OK,” he said, and left. I had to give him credit, he’s a nice and polite guy, even when drunk. I wondered what goes through his head when he drinks – the loss of his friend during a mountainclimbing expedition, feelings of failure, of not having regular work, of not having fulfilled his dream of setting up his own business. Does he not look at the good things – at having raised three well-behaved sons, of doing a good job at his work, of creating a good home for his family?

This morning I met him in the courtyard as I returned to my room from the shower. “Sorry about last night,” he said. “There was a holiday.”

“Which holiday?”

“Men’s day (on Wednesday). Some of the men in the neighborhood decided to celebrate a bit early. You know, we can also prepare good shashlik at home. Today being Sunday, there will be a lot of people on the street, so maybe it’s better to make it at home.” He looked abashed.

“That’s fine,” I said.

A little while later Nigora came into my room. I asked if this was the first time Shavkat had drunk since making his promise.

“He drank a little bit once before. But this was the first time he’d drunk a lot. And I was really angry with him, but I couldn’t yell at him last night. It doesn’t do any good to yell at a man when it’s drunk. All men are the same – it just makes them mean. So I just tried to get him to bed. But today I yelled at him. Drinking a little bit is one thing, but I don’t like it when he gets drunk.”

It seemed that they must not be speaking to each other, because when I told her he’d offered to make shashlik at home today, that was news to her.

“That will be good shashlik,” she said. “The children will make it. We have a small grill just for home use. Last night I made the shashlik on the stove and Shavkat said it wasn’t good shashlik.”

She told me that she’d run out of coal and that Shavkat should go buy more today. Just a few blocks from our home, there is a spot where trucks filled with coal park and sell the coal out of the back of the truck. These trucks come from villages where they pull coal out of the mountains. “If we get the coal today, then we’ll be able to make a banya tonight.”

Sounds good to me, grilled kebabs and a banya. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday evening.

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