( by Nikolay Leskov, 1866, Russia
Translated by David Magarshack )
( Photo by Katerina Makeeva )
“It happened a long time ago”, Domna Platonovna said, “about twelve years ago. I was young then and inexperienced and, having just lost my husband, I decided to engage in some business. But what kind of business? I made up my mind that the best thing I could do in the ladies’ line of business was to sell cloth, for a woman understands more about that kind of trade than any other. So I decided to buy some cloth in the market and then sit down on a bench by some gates in our town and try to sell it. I went to the market, bought the cloth and was about to return home with it, but the question arose how I was to take it home with me? While I was thinking about it, a cart driven by a team of three horses rode into the yeard of the inn where I was stranded.”
“We were bringing a load of nuts from Kiev on seven carts, each cart driven by a team of three horses,” the driver told me, “but the nuts got wet on the way and the merchants deducted their losses from our pay and now we’re returning home without any money at all.”
“Where are your mates?” I asked.
“My mates,” he replied, “have all gone back to their own villages, but I’m trying to find some fares to take back with me.”
“Where are you from?” I asked him.
“I’m from the village of Kurakina,” he said.
As it happened it was just my way and, “Here,” I said, “is your first fare.”
We talked it over and he agreed to take me home for one rouble. He said he’d go round the inns to pick up more passengers and that we’d leave the next day after breakfast.
Next morning, one, two, five, eight people came to the yard of the inn, all of them men and every one of them big and handsome. One of them carried a sack, another a satchel, a third a trunk, and one even had a shotgun.
“How will you squeeze us all in?” I asked the driver.
“Never you mind,” he said, “you’ll get in all right, it’s a big cart, carried three and a half ton, it has.”
I was in half a mind to stay behind, but I had already given him the rouble and there was no other driver about to take me back to town.
With a heavy heart I clambered into the cart and off we drove. No sooner had we passed the toll-gate than one of our fares shouted, “Stop at the next pub!” So we stopped at the pub and they all got off and had many drinks there and stood the driver drinks, too. Then off we drove again. We had only gone about a mile when another of our passengers shouted, “Stop! Ivan Ivanych Yelkin lives here and I must see him!” and so they kept on stopping about a dozen times, each one at his own particular Ivan Ivanych Yelkin’s. It was getting dark and our driver was as drunk as a lord by then.
“Don’t you dare to have another drop,” I said to him.
“Why shouldn’t I dare?” he replied. “I ain’t a daring one, anyway. I’m acting like that just because I don’t dare to refuse, see?”
“You’re a yokel,” I said, “just a stupid country jokel.”
“What if I am a yokel?” he said. “So long as I can get a drink I don’t mind what I am.”
“Oh, you fool,” I said, “you fool! You’ve better look after your horses!”
“I’m looking after my horses, ain’t I?” he replied and, raising his whip, he began flogging them.
The cart was jolting terribly and I was afraid that we might be tipped out any minute and killed. The men were all drunk and raising an awful din. One of them produced an accordion, another was bawling a song, a third one was firing his gun, whle I was just praying, “Holy Mother of God, save us, I beseech thee!”
Our horses careered along until they got tired, and we were again crawling at a snail’s pace. It got dark in the meantime and, although it was not raining, it seemed as if a cold, wet mist was envelopng us as with a blanket. My hands went numb with holding on to the sides of the cart, but I was so glad that we were no longer going at breakneck speed that I sat there quietly, without uttering a sound. The men, I could hear, had begun talking to each other, one of them saying that he had heard that there were robbers on the road who had recently hald up and robbed many people, wnother declaring that he was not afraid of any robbers because he could fire twice from his gun, and a third starting to tell a story about dead bodies. “I’m always carrying about a bone from a corpse,” he said, “and if I wave this bone over a man, he straightway falls asleep, just as if he was dead, and he’ll never waken again.” Another one boasted that he had a candle made from the fat of a dead man… I just listened to their talk when of a sudden I had an odd feeling as if somebody was pulling me by the nose and I felt so sleepy that in another minute I dropped off.
But I couldn’t sleep soundly because all the time we were shaken up as if we were nuts roasted on a grill, and in my sleep I seemed to hear someone saying, “I wish we could throw that damned woman out! Can’t stretch my legs, I can’t.” But I went on sleeping until I suddenly heard a shout and a scream, followed by a general hubbub, and I woke up. What was the matter? I looked round. It was pitch dark, our cart had stopped and everybody was running about and shouting, but what they were shouting I couldn’t for the life of me to make out.
“Shirl-mirl, shire-mire,” one of them shouted.
Our passenger with the gun pulled the trigger once and it went snap, but there was no report, he fired again, and again the trigger went snap and there was no sound.Then the one who was shouting screamed at the top of his voice again and, seizing me under the arms, swung me off the cart and began whirling me round and round. Goodness, I thought, what’s going on here? I peered into the pitch darkness round me, but all I could see were some hideous, black faces and all of them were turning round and round and whirling me round with them, shouting “Shire-mire!” and, lifting me by my feet, they began to swing me to and fro… and at the same time I could distinctly hear a weird sort of drumming inside my belly: tum-tara-tum, tum-tara-tum!
“What’s that?” I thought. “Am I a drum or a double-bass?” and as I looked at myself, I saw that I was a double-bass and that the little man was standing over me and sawing away for all he was worth.
“Oh dear,” I said to myself, “holy saints!” but he went on sawing away with his bow and what didn’t he play on me? Waltzes and quadrilles and everything, while the others were standing round and egging him on, “Scrape away harder,” they shouted, “scrape away harder!”
I had a terrible pain in my belly, but there I was droning like anything, and so they scraped away on me the whole night. Yes, the whole night I, a baptised Christian woman, was just a double-bass to them, kept them merry, those damned devils!…
( Photo by Dmitry Kuklin )
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In an extraordinary tribute to the 23-year old rape victim 600 guitarists play John Lennon’s Imagine, in Darjeeling, India. Five men accused of gang-raping the student on a bus in New Delhi are to be formally charged in court.
From The Guardian
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