Presents a translation of:
by Nodar Dumbadze
His close-cropped head lowered, the boy stood under the lime-tree, looking dejectedly at his bare, mud-spattered feet. He was holding a bunch of bullheads threaded on a fishing-line and thinking: How like my father that old man is! The same grey hair, black eyebrows, broad nose, fine, sad and smiling eyes, even the same husky voice. Now if I just closed my eyes tightly and used my imagination a bit, he'd probably look altogether like my father.... And the boy shut his eyes tightly.
"It's because of him I've sent for you, Kishvardi batono1. He's got completely out of hand. Just look at him yourself: Normal children sit at home with books, but all this one does is go fishing for bullheads on the Upper Kukha for days on end. And a few days ago he threw a watermelon down the well we share with the Gopadzes. The melon burst into smithereens and now, if you please, our two families have been dishing out fruit salad instead of water."
"Well, I'll be damned! Is that so, lad? But don't you fret, my dear Julia; as soon as we get to Guria, I'll hang him up on a plane-tree by his trotters!"
"It's none of my business what you do with him, Kishvardi batono, but his mother's really lucky she can't see what he gets up to.... Both his mother and his father, you know...."
"What do you think, Julia, is it still possible to put this wretch on the right path?"
"How can you, Kishvardi batono? The other day he took 16 pounds of maize to Kopadze's mill and brought
only 2 pounds of flour home. Gave the rest away to Valiko Kukhalashvili's skinny brats. He's just like
Arsen2: 'They're hungry,' he says, 'and there's lots of 'em'."
"Well, I'll be damned! Is that so, lad?"
"And that's not all, Kishvardi batono. The evening before last he and his chum, Kukuria Ugulava, who's just another street urchin, like himself, stole some peaches from their geography teacher, Datiko Tsverava, and then it seems they went and swapped them with Lava Bakhtadze from Matkhoji for some tobacco."
"Why do you keep asking 'Is that so? Is that so?'. Do you think a woman of my age would be telling lies to you?"
"Of course not, my dear Julia! I simply meant that if this is the case, what on earth is going to happen to him?"
"What indeed? He needs a man's hand—that's all. I can't cope with him any longer. I haven't the strength and he's not the only one I've got. I've two others—Zurab and Vakhtang—my Kolya's two sons, and they're even worse — they're a pair of real savages. They'll be coming home from the fields soon and you'll see for yourself."
"While his parents were alive they wouldn't let me near the child, so how am I to warm his heart and make him feel attached to me so that we really become the same flesh and blood...."
"Oh, don't worry too much, Kishvardi. He's a boy and should be brought up by a man; after all, it's he who's got to continue your line...."
"How's he getting on at school?"
"When a child falls so low as to begin stealing peaches from his geography teacher and pinching his granny's silver spoons to get hold of that dreadful, wicked book, The Decameron, how can a child like that be getting on at school?"
"Is that so, lad? Well, I'll take him to Guria, my dear Julia, and hang him up on a plane-tree by his trotters."
"There he is standing in front of you, Kishvardi; take a look for yourself. While we've been talking, he hasn't as much as batted an eyelid. What we've been saying is for him just a load of rubbish."
But the boy was standing under the lime-tree with his eyes shut and thinking: My poor granny Julia is tired. What a tender voice she used to have and how angry it's become. Or perhaps it just seems so compared with grandad's soft and gentle voice. She must be tired. Just as long as she doesn't give me away to this old man who seems to be my grandfather and looks so like my father, I'll never ever upset her again. Just so long as she doesn't give me away....
"He's an orphan, dear Julia, and he needs kindness as well as the rod."
"No two orphans are alike, Kishvardi, and if he doesn't take to kindness what are you going to do then?"
"Is that so, lad? Well, if he doesn't, I'll take him to Guria and hang him up on a plane-tree by his trotters. So when can I collect him from you, my dear Julia?"
"There he is in front of you, Kishvardi, so take him when you please. It won't take long to get his things for the journey, I can tell you."
"But I can't take him in next to nothing where I'm going, Julia!"
"I brought him here from Ovchal last year in next to nothing and where am I going to get fine clothes for him now?"
"Well, well! It looks as if I'll have plenty of problems to solve."
"Perhaps you'll have a bite to eat before you leave...."
"No, thank you, Julia, we'll have a snack in Samtredia which is near home."
"Well, then, may God grant you a good journey and may St. George watch over you."
"And may God not deprive you of hope!"
"You'd better take this with you as well."
"What, my dear Julia?"
"His documents. He'll probably go to your local school in September. He'll need them then. It says here that
he'd passed up to the fourth class, but they've made a little mistake with his name. Instead of Nodari they've
written Nadiri3; but if you ask me that is his real name."
"Is that so, lad? Well, if that's the case I'll take him to Guria and hang him up on a plane-tree by his trotters."
"Hang him up by what you like, just so long as I never hear his name here again."
"His trotters, I'll hang him up by his trotters, my dear Julia!"
"May God hear you and bring him to his senses!"
"And if He doesn't, I'll tear off this Nadiri's arms and legs so that even the stones will cry with pity."
"Farewell, Kishvardi batono."
"Peace be with you, my dear."
This agreement was reached at midday in August 1938, in the village of Khoni, between Nodari Lomdjaria's
Imeretian4 grandmother (his mother's mother, Julia Mikeladze) and his grandfather from Guria
(his father's father) Kishvardi Lomdjaria. An hour later the boy, Nodari Lomdjaria, who was born on June 14, 1928, in Tbilisi, the son of a clerk, was walking with a dazed expression, like a calf on the end of a rope, behind his grandfather, who, with his head lowered, was gloomily plodding along the dusty Khoni road in the scorching hot sun.
The old man and his grandson took a cab from Khoni to Kulashi. They then travelled from Kulashi to Samtredia on
a horse-carriage. They did not have a snack in Samtredia but got into a tea-factory lorry which went straight to Chokhatauri, and from there went on foot along the road to Intabueti.
The old man walked in front and his grandson behind. The old man wasn't very well, and groaned weakly. But whenever he noticed a traveller coming towards them, he would stop groaning and greet him amicably. Then he would wait until they were some distance off, and, seeing the empty road ahead, would begin groaning again. Sometimes he glanced round at the boy in the same way as a tired old mare looks tenderly at her young foal lagging behind to see if it is trotting after her, and then he would continue on his way, groaning as he went. That was all that passed between them. During the whole journey they did not exchange a single word.
The boy walked behind the old man and thought: This frail old man who is now walking in front of me with a brown felt hat pulled over his eyes and who promised to hang me up on a plane-tree by my trotters and tear off my arms and legs as soon as we arrived has turned out to be my father's father, my grandfather. Some unknown force is pushing me in the back and forcing me to run after this old man like a slave with a cut-off ear. What is stopping me otherwise from going in another direction? The road, after all, is open to all the ends of the earth! But this unknown force is stopping me from going off; something is restraining me. For what reason am I, worn out by the heat, with feet sore from walking in tattered sandals, tagging behind this man? What makes me follow him after my grandmother got me off her hands so quickly, without even giving me a chance to say good-bye to my cousins? What is this force, what is it called? ...
This is what the boy was thinking as he walked behind his grandfather on the road to Intabueti. And these thoughts made his head ache.
"What are you thinking about, sonny?" the old man suddenly turned to his grandson.
"Nothing!" the boy blurted out, startled. This was the last question he expected to hear.
Totally exhausted, the old man sank down on the roadside. When he had recovered his breath a little and made his heart easier by groaning, he glanced at his grandson who had sat down on a stone slightly further away. First, the old man simply looked at the boy in silence and then began counting starting from twenty-eight: 28, 29, 30, 31.... He counted, bending his fingers. He stopped at thirty-eight and, looking at his bent fingers, said:
"You were born in '28, lad, and now it's '38. That means you're going on for eleven. It's not right for a man of your age to be thinking of nothing. Or are you really thinking about something and hiding it?"
"No, grandfather, I'm not thinking about anything," the boy lied.
The old man was silent again.
"It is time for you to get used to thinking, lad — high time!" the old man said and then got up and set off again along the road to the village, groaning as before. And the boy again plodded along behind his grandfather like a calf with a rope around its neck.
* * *
The tousled, sun-tanned boy stood under the plane-tree, leaning on a hoe as befits a man. Worn out after a day's work, he looked dejectedly at his bare, mud-spattered feet and thought: How she's aged in this last year, how withered and how cracked her voice has become, how hunched she is and how covered with wrinkles her face is and yet how like my mother she is — the same hair, voice and walk — just like my young, beautiful, iconlike mother with her silky curls, honey-coloured eyes, soft, tinkling voice and gentle smile.... If I closed my eyes tightly, this old woman would probably look just like my mother.... But this time the boy did not close his eyes, he was afraid to do it.
"Kishvardi, the spirit of his unfortunate mother has begun haunting me; it gives me no peace day or night, and, anyway, where can you hide from your own conscience and heart? I couldn't live without him; I've gone about with an ache in my heart ever since you took him away. Give me back my child, Kishvardi...."
"He was a child when I took him from you, my dear Julia, but now he's a man. There he is: he can go with you if he wants to. I won't stop him...."
"He's offended at me, Kishvardi. Now only a wise and knowledgeable person like yourself can warm his heart towards me."
"You've got Kolya's two sons at home, and yet you won't leave me just this one."
"I now realise there's no yardstick for measuring your love for your grand-children, even if you've got hundreds of them!"
"You're quite right, my dear Julia, you can't measure your love for your grandchildren according to their number; but can't you understand that when I die he'll be the only one to continue the Lomdjarias' line?"
"It's not as if I were going to change his surname, dear Kishvardi. If you like, I'll register the other two boys in your name; only do give me this one now."
“You want to take what's mine and give me what's yours, Julia dear?"
"Don't let me leave this life with a sin on my soul, Kishvardi. How will I face his mother in the next world?"
"You and I are competing in this race, my dear Julia, and no one knows which of us will get there first. But if I die before you, how will I face his mother or father?..."
"May heaven spare me from hearing about your death, dear Kishvardi."
"He is my field, my millstone and my mill. He is my vineyard, my staff, my grave and my gravestone! I won't let you take him away: I'd rather that you killed me!"
"I shall kill myself here in front of you, Kishvardi."
"Calm down, my dear, what on earth are you saying! Will you go with her, lad?"
"He feels shy of you, otherwise he'd...."
"Is that so, lad?"
"He needs a mother's tenderness, Kishvardi. He needs to be cared for, caressed, washed, have his back scrubbed and his hair combed.... You can't take the place of his mother, my dear Kishvardi."
"So far I've managed to look after him, my dear Julia, and I have not once called you here or asked for help."
"That's true, but his feet should be washed before he goes to bed and he should have an eye kept on him at school...."
"Our school doesn't complain about him, my dear Julia. Your school gave him a reference which said he was a savage, and you yourself didn't hesitate to declare at the time this was in fact his real name. Only this didn't prove to be true at all...."
"There's no God on earth, Kishvardi, or else my tongue would have withered when I uttered these words."
"You think, my dear Julia, that in my hands he's turned into an angel and got out of the habit of stealing peaches, don't you?"
"May the tree perish whose fruit is grudged him!"
"He hasn't stopped giving maize away either...."
"Everything that's mine is his, my dear Kishvardi, even if he sets the whole house on fire, no one will say a word to him."
"He hasn't given up smoking either...."
"Is that so, lad?"
"What are you asking him for? Ask me! I've only got to turn away for a second and there isn't a shred of tobacco left in my pocket or tobacco pouch."
"If he hasn't given up, then let him go on smoking, Kishvardi. After all, you yourself said that he's already a grown man!"
"Give me a month, Julia. I'm going to get a bonus for my silk worms and then I'll dress him up properly. You can't take him the way he is now, dressed in next to nothing!"
"If you give him to me now, I'll take the clothes off my back and clothe him."
"What! Your clothes will certainly suit him fine! God preserve me from ever seeing such a sight!"
"You see, you keep on joking, Kishvardi, but my heart is grieving about what's going to happen to me, unhappy woman that I am!"
"I've already told you, dear Julia, he's not a child any longer. If he wants to go with you, I'm not going to stop him."
"He understands you at a glance and reveres you like an icon, dear Kishvardi; and each of your words is for him like a commandment uttered from Our Saviour's lips, and if you tell him...."
"Heaven forbid, my dear Julia! How can I tell my own grandson to leave my house and go to some other people?"
"I am not 'some other people' to him, my dear Kishvardi. I am also his own flesh and blood! It may be I've only got about a year of life left, so don't cut my time even shorter! I beg you on my bended knees!"
"Don't you dare do that, my dear Julia!..."
"I'll kiss the dust on your feet!..."
"Stand up, Julia, what are you doing to me...."
"Lord, send joy to this holy man...."
"May your enemy rejoice as much as I shall now...."
"Oh, Holy Mother of God...."
This conversation took place between the boy's grandfather from Guria and his Imeretian grandmother exactly a year after the episode at the beginning of this story. But this was no cold-blood agreement; it was a heart-rending duel, a battle in which one blood was pulling against the other. As the boy looked on, his heart first beat faster; then a lump rose in his throat. Next, he broke out in a cold sweat, became feverish, shuddered, and felt a pain which he could not define. An invisible force alternately drew him onto his grandmother's side, and then suddenly hurled him back to his grandfather's, just as if someone was pushing him now this way now that. It was an alarming and inexpressible feeling, which forced him to silence.
His grandmother got up, went up to the boy and pressed him to her breast.
"You're my angel, my sun and radiant light, my blood and my Aniko's darling. Come with me, child, and give me two extra days of life!"
She was crying, and her burning tears trickled onto the boy's head. Having unburdened her heart by crying, the old woman gently drew him after her, but the boy stood motionless, as an iron stake firmly spiked in the earth, as a tree deeply rooted in it.
"Go, son, go, lad, go with your old granny and when her heart is sated with your love, come back to me. Meanwhile I'll be missing you and longing for you to come back and that's probably how it's going to be.... What can you expect? Do you think that it's easy being a grandson? It's difficult, lad. It's difficult, especially to be the grandson of two such lonely old souls as your grandmother and me. Go, son! Your axe, hoe, wine-press, basket, cow, goat and pig won't disappear anywhere. Remember they're waiting for you...."
The boy stood in amazement: his axe was lying somewhere in a corner of the yard, the wine-press was in another, his grape-basket was in a third, his hoe in a fourth. The cow was tied up in one corner, the goat in another, the calf in a third, and the pig in a fourth. So how had his grandfather managed to see all of them at a glance and point in the direction of all the objects and animals he reeled off without looking round?
"Here's your satchel and textbooks: Georgian literature, history and what else have we here? That's all. Here're your sandals and your shirt; your trousers are on you. You'd better walk barefooted to Samtredia or the soles of your sandals will come off. Hang them over your shoulder like this.... Well, go on then...."
Kishvardi Lomdjaria realised that his grandson was now an iron rod, a tree which was so deeply rooted in the ground that this gentle, humorous prattling alone wasn't going to drag him out. Something more powerful than kind words was needed to budge him, but what?
Kishvardi Lomdjaria also realised that his grandson was standing in the centre of a circle, and each of the two strains of blood was pulling him towards itself this way and that and in the end the stronger one was bound to win. But which was the stronger? So as not to stand waiting for the outcome of the tussle, one of them — he or the boy's grandmother — had to do something. And Kishvardi Lomdjaria again acted more resolutely than the boy's grandmother.
"Go on, lad, I'm fed up of nattering with you!"
The boy cast a frightened glance at his grandfather.
"Off you go and don't look round!" Then he turned and went into the house.
As soon as the boy became angry with his grandfather, he immediately felt sorry for his grandmother. Tears welled up in his eyes, his chin quivered and he lowered his head like a calf being led by a long rope tied round its neck. He set off in the shimmering August heat along the dusty Chokhatauri road behind the bent, terribly shrivelled up, tired old woman dressed in black rags.
* * *
Kishvardi Lomdjaria was sitting by the fire-place, waiting for the water to warm up in the copper pot hung over the flames. He was looking at the flames and thinking: How everlasting the thoughts of these blessed flames are! As he thought about this, he also tried somehow to evade his own thoughts: but how can a man escape from his own thoughts? Man isn't God, after all! I shouldn't have let the boy go, but I couldn't bear that woman's suffering. Now I'm in her position. In exactly a week I'll go and fall at her feet and ask her to let me have my boy back; and if she won't give him up of her own accord, I'll seize him and say: "Give me back my flesh and blood, old woman. Who, besides God, has the right to take him away from me!" Then she'll say the same to me and, after all, I am not God either; I'm a man, and how will I take away her grandson who belongs to her just as much as he does to me? Now, if I were God.... It's hard being a man, very hard, much harder than being God. Jesus Christ Our Saviour convinced Himself of this.... It's hard being an ordinary mortal on this earth, very hard.
In a week's time I'll go and fall at that woman's feet. But how am I going to last out a week? I'll go the day after tomorrow, no, tomorrow.... I'll get up before dawn.... Lord, may this night turn quickly into day....
Kishvardi Lomdjaria was sitting by the fire-place, waiting for the water to warm up and thinking about all this when the door opened and the boy walked into the room with his sandals slung over his shoulder.
"Blessed be your truth, oh Lord!"
"I've come back!" said the boy.
"I knew you would," said the old man. Then Kishvardi Lomdjaria took the warmed up water off the fire and with his own hands washed his grandson's weary feet. He made him up a bed on the sofa and went off to sleep in the small room.
At midnight the old man heard his grandson's voice:
"May I get in with you, grandad?"
"All right, lad," replied the old man.
The boy came up, slid into his grandfather's bed and snuggled up against the old man's back.
How cold poor grandad is! he thought.
How warm the rascal is ... the old man thought, and after a while he asked his grandson: "Do you know what brought you back here, sonny?"
"No!" replied the boy.
"Then I'll tell you: it was your blood, lad, that brought you back here. And blood can work wonders!"
That night neither of them thought or said anything else and they both slept peacefully.
Only their blood spoke and thought, but what it spoke and thought about is anyone's guess!
Translated by Jan Butler
1batono = Georgian respectful term of endearment.
2Arsen = the Georgian Robin Hood.
3Nadiri = the Georgian word for "savage".
4Imeretian = from Imeretia, a region of Georgia.
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