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Fiction

The Golden Earring

By O‘tkir Hoshimov
Translated from Uzbek by Sabrina Jaszi
A missing earring turns neighbor against neighbor in this tale by Uzbekistan's O‘tkir Hoshimov.
Image of a pair of golden crescent-shaped earrings
Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

People have strange quirks that can’t be changed, no matter how they try. I have one myself: when I hurt someone, even if it’s deserved, I feel it worse than the person I’ve offended. I probably inherited this trait from my mother. She never spoke harshly to us children, and if she ever offended us she would apologize right after. Just once she told me off, and her words were harsh indeed. I still don’t know who was to blame.

 

It was springtime and the sun’s rays warmed our shoulders. I sat beneath an almond tree making a kite. When the apricot sap stuck to the paper, it wouldn’t bind to the reed, and when it stuck to the reed, it wouldn’t bind to the paper. I huffed and puffed, trying to get them together. My mother was sitting nearby on a goatskin, doing laundry. Our dad had bought us all corduroy pants, considering them durable clothes for the poor. Corduroy is a fine material, but when you fall on the ground, whether you’re playing chillak or kicking a ball, dirt wedges into its ridges. That’s why every three days my mother went out of her mind washing those pants. (Of course, none of us could have guessed that a few decades later corduroy would become the trendiest fabric in all of Europe. To us it was “poor people’s clothing.”) It seemed like all my mother did was wash our trousers. Every time she shook them, the foam splashed everywhere and the smell of soap filled the yard.

Across from Mother, freckled Sharopat opa, our neighbor, was sitting on an overturned bucket. I didn’t like her at all. Though really it was her daughter I disliked. “I’ll give Saida in marriage only to you,” she often said. “You’ll marry her, like it or not. When you were very little, you bit her ear. And that means you’ve got to marry her.” I’d rather bite my dog’s ear. Saida was mean, worse than any of the boys. Once, she kicked Toi in the nose and it bled.

Our neighbor complained: “My damn tooth was throbbing all night. I was tossing and turning.” And she stroked her freckled cheek.

“Did you try rinsing your mouth with wild rue tea?” my mother asked, still crouched over the laundry.

“I’ve tried everything,” our neighbor whimpered. “Even rinsed my mouth with alum. Didn’t help.”

Both were silent for a moment.

“Phew, I’m hot!” My mother shook the foam off her hands, then took off her knitted top and tossed it aside.

“So we’ve made it to spring,” our neighbor said, sighing. “We were hoping to marry off our Hakim this fall . . . But it’s no easy feat putting on a wedding. Not enough of this, not enough of that . . . And you know how my husband is . . . ”

Our neighbor often complained about her husband. And everyone knew that Isroil “Whiskers” drank his share and couldn’t keep a job. To make things worse, he drove everyone out of the house when he drank. Our neighbor would take Saida and hide at our place. Then at midnight, when her husband calmed down and fell asleep, she tiptoed home.

“Your Hakimdzhan is still young,” Mother said, reasonably. “You’ll marry him off next year, if not this one.”

“That’s true, but the girl’s family is on our case . . .” Our neighbor moaned again. “Oh, I need to have these damn teeth pulled. Yesterday I mentioned it to my husband. He said, ‘Sure, just dig up that urn full of gold your father buried for you, and go right ahead . . .’ I don’t know what I’ll do. Maybe sell my gold bracelet. Though it’s the one piece of jewelry I have. I’d be ashamed to go around with missing teeth.”

Having finally glued my kite together, I began to tie the reed, but it went and broke. After that, just my luck, the paper tore—paper I’d had to beg my older brother for. It was all over. I cried out in frustration. I stomped on the kite and it stuck to the ground.

“What’s the matter, little one?” our neighbor asked.

“It broke.”

“Ask your big brother. He’ll make you another.”

Yeah right! Like he had nothing better to do. He was always at school. Angrily, I stomped on the kite again and ran out to the street.

I didn’t return until evening. Our pants and shirts hung from a line across the yard. In one corner, I saw my cap, which had been reduced to a rag by our games of “Bird’s Head.” My mother was doing something in the shadows beneath the almond tree.

“Darn it! The goat still hasn’t been milked!” she said when she saw me. “Come and hold her.”

Although our goat was usually docile, a djinn sometimes got into her and she kicked while she was being milked. My younger brother or I would have to kneel down and hold her hind legs. I didn’t like this much, and understanding that it was my turn, I tried to get out of it. But my mother grew upset: “When will you grow up, you good-for-nothing! You’re already nine and all you know how to do is mess around outside! You’re useless!”

“I’m not nine, I’m eight,” I mumbled.

“Enough!” my mother yelled, and I trudged after her to hold the goat’s legs. On top of kicking, the goat would sometimes piss while she was being milked. Then you’d have to spend half an hour washing your shirt.

“Now untie those scamps.”

As soon as I untied the kids they hurried over to their mother. After pouring the milk she’d collected into a large earthenware dish, my mother returned to the almond tree. She went on searching for something.

“What are you looking for?” I asked, following her.

She patted my shoulder, already sorry for scolding me.

“Nothing. Go eat. You must be hungry.”

Then suddenly she started and exclaimed: “Would you look what the wind blew in! Assalamu alaykum!”

I turned and saw my dad’s sister standing nearby. My mother was flustered because she’d failed to notice our guest, and she went over to meet her with open arms. My aunt was a beautiful woman with sharp eyes and a mole on her face. And she was very domineering. Every word she uttered was like a nail being pounded into a wall. My mother feared her. She knew she had to pay her due respect. 

“Well, kelinposhsha?” my aunt asked loudly. “Have you lost your head, like a beggar who’s lost his bundle?”

“No . . .” my mother mumbled. “But one of my earrings fell out. I was just wearing it.”

I looked at my mother and, sure enough, one earring was missing. My mother was very careful with those gold crescent-shaped earrings, boasting that they were a gift from her mother-in-law.

“Oh well, it’ll turn up,” my mother said quietly. “It couldn’t have gone far.”

“Hmm,” said my aunt, shaking her head ominously. Even in the dark, I could see her frown. “Well aren’t you the rich one? Of course you don’t care, kelinposhsha, since you didn’t lift a finger for those earrings!”

My aunt handed me the bundle she was holding and started to poke around in the dirt with the tip of her overshoe.

“Leave it, sister,” my mother said, meekly touching her shoulder. “Come inside. Your brother will be home soon.”

“As always,” my aunt said, not looking up, “the horse works and the mule eats.” Then she lifted her head sharply and looked straight into my mother’s eyes: “Was anyone over here today?”

“No one.” For a minute, Mother was at a loss, but then she added quietly: “Well, Sharopat opa was here at lunchtime . . . ”

“Sharopat opa?” My aunt twisted her lips sarcastically to show that she understood it all now. “Right. Amin oblohu akbar!”

“Stop that,” Mother pleaded. “Don’t speak ill of her. What would she want with a single earring?”

“I have no doubts whatsoever!” My aunt waved furiously. “You know she has light fingers. Why’d you let her into your home?”

“Come now,” my mother mumbled again. “What would she do with one earring?”

“Oh, go on,” my aunt said, raising her voice. “Don’t you know how much an earring like that is worth?” she asked. She pointed at the earring in my mother’s left ear. “Every time that Sharopat goes to a wedding she pinches something.”

Mama, not knowing how to respond, looked at my aunt in dismay. Often enough, I’d overheard my mother and father talk about this quirk of freckled Sharopat opa. It seemed that at weddings a plov dish or some piyolas would disappear and then show up mysteriously in her home. She took them out of “absent-mindedness.” I remembered all of this now and hated that freckled Sharopat opa.

“Just don’t tell your brother,” my mother pleaded with my aunt. “It’ll turn up.”

“It’ll turn up in the grave!”

My aunt headed home, resolutely. Mama hurried to see her out.

In the morning, my mother was out under the almond tree again looking for the earring. Her eyes were red and swollen as though she hadn’t slept. I started helping her. But we didn’t find it that day or the next. My mother hid the other earring so my father wouldn’t find out what had happened.

If Sharopat opa hadn’t come over with new gold teeth about two months later, and if my aunt hadn’t visited us again on that very day, the whole thing would probably have been forgotten.

 

It was the middle of summer when my aunt came over again. I remember this because she brought two bunches of Chillaki grapes. Her family lived in town, but they had vines. My brothers and I devoured the grapes. And you know how it is in the village: a guest shows up and immediately all the neighbors hurry over. That evening, Sharopat opa was the first to arrive. She cheerfully greeted my aunt, then turned to my mother.

“How do they look?” She raised her upper lip slightly to show two sparkling gold teeth. They suited her pale face perfectly and even her freckles seemed to fade.

“Very nice,” my mother said quietly. “Did you sell your bracelet for them?”

For some reason, Sharopat opa blushed.

“Oh, no,” she said and lifted the sleeve of her dress. “Still have my bracelet. My husband said, ‘Keep it. You’ll give it to your daughter-in-law when we marry our son.’” She smiled broadly again, probably to offer us another look at her gold teeth. “My husband has been behaving himself lately. Soon we’ll marry Hakimdzhan. We’ll have a splendid wedding for him this fall, God willing.”

“So your teeth are pure gold?” my aunt said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “May they serve you well!”

Sharopat opa was happy, but my mother seemed uneasy, and my aunt knitted her brows.

“Come over for breakfast tomorrow morning,” Sharopat opa said.

“No, I’m leaving at the crack of dawn,” my aunt said, turning away.

But she didn’t leave at the crack of dawn. I was woken up by her loud voice.

“I’m telling you, she fears no sin! Cares nothing for the neighborhood! I’d recognize my mother’s inheritance no matter what it was turned into, even some teeth!”

“People like her have no shame!” This wasn’t my mother’s voice, so I peered out from under the covers and saw fat Otin khola.“That time at Inoy the Lame’s funeral, two teapots went missing,” she continued in a plaintive voice. “So I went over to her house and right there in the kitchen I saw the teapots. I recognized them right away. So I ask her, ‘How’d they end up here?’ And she doesn’t even blink. ‘I don’t know myself,’ she says. ‘Damn you, thief,’ I say. ‘Not like the teapots grew legs and ran over here on their own!’”

“And the way she praised her husband, that good-for-nothing. He’s ‘behaving’!” My aunt pounded her fist on the khontakhta, making her knuckles crack. “Only the grave will cure that hash-smoker.”

My mother came in with the teapot.

“Enough,” she pleaded. “I didn’t catch her in the act, so what can be done?”

“You’re too generous, sister-in-law!” my aunt said angrily. “You’re not some khan’s daughter! Get your son dressed. And you get dressed, too. We’re going out.”

My mother put the teapot on the khontakhta and looked at my aunt with surprise, then at Otin khola.

“Where are we going?”

“To hell! Does that suit you?” My aunt looked at my mother as though she was to blame for everything. “There’s a fortune-teller in our mahalla. They say she can make the water in the ditches flow backward! We’re going to see her. Otin khola will be our witness. Let’s see what the fortune-teller says. And then let that Sharopat try and deny it!”

“I don’t know,” my mother said, drawing out the words. “We’re neighbors. Like two eyes on a face.”

“Ho-o!” my aunt said, getting up from her seat. “Of course, you got those earrings as a gift, but they were the one thing left from my mother! You’re not sorry for the loss, but you are sorry for the thief? Did I get it right? Well, it seems you don’t know me very well. I won’t leave until you do what’s right.” Then my aunt turned to me, softening. “We’ll use this child as a medium. A young child will tell the truth. Will you come with us?”

“I will, I will!”

Right away it occurred to me that if I went with my aunt I’d get to ride on a tram. And eat as many grapes as I wanted.

After drinking tea, my aunt, Otin khola, my mother, and I set out. I knew that we’d go on foot as far as Beshagach. And then we’d get on the tram! Wheee, what fun!

But how far it was to Beshagach! My boots were rubbing before we even got to Domrabad. I took them off and walked barefoot. It’s so nice—in summer, in the morning—to walk barefoot. Fine as flour, the cool dust slips beneath your toes. You walk and walk and don’t get the least bit tired.

We passed Laylaktep and entered Kazirabad. There, we drank ice-cold water from a bubbling spring. Soon we approached Chilanzar. Along the road grew dense bushes with dusty off-white leaves and thorns. These were the chilon jida that Chilanzar is named after. The road was also planted with all kinds of pear trees: nashvati pears, stone pears, pink pears. The fruit wasn’t ripe yet and when you passed under the trees, the fallen leaves stuck to your heels––an unpleasant sensation.

But how incredible it was to cross the Siymonkprik Bridge! With the water flowing darkly below. It made your head spin. My mother wouldn’t let me walk to the edge of the bridge: she said the water could pull a person toward it and he’d fall . . . Down the very center of the bridge was a line of carts drawn by horses and donkeys. The bridge was so narrow that the traffic was one-way: it would come from one side only, while the other waited its turn. The cart drivers swore and the donkeys screeched. There were even camels crossing the bridge, with great sacks of straw on their backs and foam around their mouths. As soon as we’d crossed the bridge, we heard the rumble of tram wheels. This was Beshagach.

I’d thought that the fortune-teller would be something like Acha khola—a gypsy. But no, she was different. The tram let us out on a narrow street with houses hidden by apricot trees, which were heavy with ripe fruit. Then we entered a small courtyard where white irises grew. I noticed the little dog lying in the shade of the root cellar and stopped. It looked just like my dog—the same size, only it wasn’t black, but white. For some reason, it didn’t bark at me.

The four of us went up to the iwan. A gentle old woman in a white shawl and a dress with wide sleeves greeted us with a smile. I couldn’t believe that this was the fortune-teller.

“What a sweet boy,” she said, kissing my cheek.

A birdcage was hanging from the ceiling with a quail inside. The bird wasn’t singing, just hopping around in the cage, making grains fall onto the patterned rug. As I sat watching the quail, my aunt explained our situation to the fortune-teller.

“This way,” said the old lady, rising from her seat. “You too, my sweet,” she said, patting me on the shoulder.

We entered a dimly lit room with rough plastered walls, bookshelves, and various Arabic books on the low shelves. The old lady went out silently. My mother, Otin khola, my aunt, and I sat in a row on a thick rug. After a while, the old lady came back holding a big ceramic cup in one hand, and a sheet in the other. “Sit like this,” she said, and sat me down in the middle of the room. “Stretch your legs out. With your legs a little open.”

I did as she said, and the old lady put the cup between my legs. I saw that it was full of water.

“Sit and stare into the water,” she said gently. “I’m going to read a prayer, and you just tell us what you see.” Then she covered me with the sheet.

It was suddenly dark. The old lady started reading something I didn’t understand. I felt like I was suffocating. I got scared.

“Mamaaa!” I cried out.

“Sit still! Your mama is right here.”

Someone tapped my shoulder. When I heard my aunt’s peevish voice, I was in a stupor. I was starting to see something. But, besides a gleam in the water, I couldn’t make it out. Minutes passed. My neck and legs got stiff from sitting. I hated my aunt and Sharopat opa for making me suffer like this. If she hadn’t stolen my mother’s earring, I wouldn’t be sitting there, I’d be playing to my heart’s content. I thought only of that. And suddenly I saw Sharopat opa staring at me from the water. She was laughing. I even saw her two gold teeth beneath her lip. And I shouted as loud as I could:

“Sharopat opa! I see her!”

At that moment the sheet was whipped off me. From fear or because it had been stuffy under there, I was covered in sweat.

“Your suspicions are correct,” said the fortune-teller, looking not at my mother, but at my aunt. “God willing, she’ll return what she took from you, my dear!”

“What did I tell you?” my aunt said, looking at each of us triumphantly. “Now I’ll make her suffer like a dog!”

We spent that night at my aunt’s.

Just as she’d threatened, the next day she set out to punish Sharopat opa. My mother, Otin khola, and my aunt headed to our neighbor’s, bringing me with them. Sharopat opa was sitting on a mat spread out on the supa, combing cotton wool. With each stroke of the slender sticks against the cotton, dust billowed up from it. Seeing that she had guests, Sharopat opa leaped up, still holding the sticks. She was ready to welcome us with open arms, but my aunt cried out:

“I won’t exchange greetings with a thief who makes herself teeth from other people’s property!”

Sharopat opa froze with the sticks still in her hands.

“What . . . what are you saying, my dear?” she asked, growing pale.

“I’m saying return what you stole!”

Sharopat opa blanched even more.

“What did I steal?” she asked, her voice trembling. “Tell me, what?”

“Drop the act!” My aunt waved her off. “Went and made herself teeth from my sister-in-law’s earring, and now she’s acting all innocent.” She looked at Otin khola. “We have a witness! We consulted a fortune-teller with the help of this innocent boy. He said you stole it!”

“May I drop dead this moment!” The sticks fell from our neighbor’s hands. “What slander,” she cried out. Then she turned to my mother: “Aren’t you ashamed? I have enough on my mind already. We’re planning our son’s wedding. If I stole so much as a needle from you, may I die on this spot!” Her last words were choked by tears. “May I bury all four of my children if I’m to blame!”

Now my mother grew pale.

“Oh, sister, don’t say such things!” she said in a trembling voice. “Take it back! Even if you took the earring, I forgive you!”

“You just keep talking! Like some kind of bai’s daughter, goddamn you!” My aunt turned sharply and walked away. When she reached the gate, she looked back. “You’d better own up to it. Or you’ll suffer on the day of judgment.”

Otin khola followed my aunt. Sharopat opa was still sobbing and my mother stayed by the supa, looking down sorrowfully.

“May Allah cause that slanderer to suffer!” said Sharopat opa through tears. “May she get what’s coming to her!”

“Stop that, sister.” My mother was herself on the verge of tears. “Oh, Allah, I hate that earring! Forget this, my dear!”

“I won’t, until the slanderer suffers!” Sharopat opa said and went into the house crying.

My mother stood for a moment in front of the supa, then shouted at me: “What are you looking at? Get out of my sight, you little devil!”

 

It all turned out very badly. From that day on, our neighbor refused to greet my mother.

And the worst came two months later, when the weather was getting colder. Arriving home from school, I saw my mother sitting on a chest. Apparently she’d been getting our warm clothes out, and the room smelled of mothballs. There were fustian dresses, chapans, and warm hats scattered all over the floor. My mother’s eyes were puffy from crying. I thought my father might have hit her. I went up to her slowly, but she didn’t seem to notice me. I took her hand and she pulled it away, like she’d been bitten by a snake.

“I wish God had taken you,” she yelled, her eyes flashing with anger. “That you hadn’t lived to see this day!”

Hearing these frightening words, I froze. Never before had she said such things to me.

“Why couldn’t you hold your tongue? May you rot in the grave,” she said, beginning to yell again.

“When? What did I say?”

“At the fortune-teller’s, the fortune-teller’s!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. “Why did you say that you saw Sharopat opa?”

“I only said what I saw!” I squealed in anger.

“Then may your eyes be gouged out!” My mother threw something that she’d been squeezing in her fist. Hitting the floor, the golden earring tinkled and bounced. “It was caught on my sweater! Get out of my sight! I’d rather die than slander an innocent person!” Then she pulled me close to her, pressed her face to mine, and wailed: “What are we going to do, son!” My face became wet from my mother’s tears. “What’ll we do? How will I endure this shame, son, my dear one!” My mother’s strength left her and she collapsed face-down on the trunk.

 

Soon after that, the wedding took place. Sharopat opa did not invite my mother. But my mother fried up a large platter of “bird’s tongue” pastries. As though nothing had happened, she went to the wedding hall to help with the preparations.

That evening, a bonfire was lit in the middle of the yard. Sharopat opa’s son, who had the same coloring as his mother, was all dressed up in a striped robe and turban and made to run three circles around the fire. The sounds of the karnay and surnay rang out . . . Kho’ja, Toi, Vali, and I darted among the women who were occupied with the tortishmachoq––a wrestling contest between women on the bride’s and groom’s sides––and filled our pockets with sweets. Then we played hide-and-seek in the wedding hall’s dark corners. 

Though I went to bed late that night, I woke up at the crack of dawn. No one was home. That meant they were all at the wedding hall. Quick as a cat, I washed up and ran over there. The kelin salom would be happening soon. 

Luckily, I wasn’t too late. In the yard by the entrance to the hall, Sharopat opa’s relatives, all those who were assisting with the wedding, were crowded round. They were mostly women. Only my mother was nowhere to be seen. Seeing Vali, who was sitting on a log by an overturned pot at the very end of the yard, I waved.

And there was Otin khola (the very same fat Otin khola who’d complained about Sharopat opa’s sticky fingers and gone with us to the fortune-teller) leading the bride, who wore a white woolen shawl over a silk atlas dress, to the threshold. The bride’s face was obscured by her shawl, but a woman standing nearby had sharp eyes.

“Voy, what a beautiful girl!” she whispered loudly. “How slender! You could drink her with a spoon!”

“Lucky for that redhead fiancé of hers,” another woman responded.

Otin khola cleared her throat and shouted at the top of her lungs:

“Assalomu alaykum, kelin, salo-o-om!”

The bride nodded her head primly. All those gathered in the yard responded with approval.

“May you be blessed!”

“Thanks be to God!”

“May your union be long!”

Otin khola coughed again and said, even more loudly:

“Assalomu alaykum, kelin salo-o-om!

With pockets opened wide,

no money does he hide.

Like a sack his belly’s hefty,

and like a sword his mustache’s lengthy.

Father-in-law, salo-o-m!”

There was chuckling from the crowd. Mustached Isroil aka came out of a far room with a large felt rug under his arm. He walked solemnly through the middle of the yard and rolled it out at the bride’s feet. Then he twirled his mustache jauntily, and the women squealed with laughter. Isroil wished the newlyweds a large family and read a prayer.

Then Otin khola cleared her throat once more:

“Assalomu alaykum, kelin salo-o-om!

Like her tongue, her steps are hasty,

and the food she serves is tasty––

she won’t leave the wedding hungry.

Like oil her speech is smooth,

and her face fair as the moon

Mother-in-law, salo-o–om!”

There was more laughter from the crowd. Sharopat opa blushed, passed through the rows of women, and approached the bride. She put a stack of porcelain bowls before her.

Otin khola continued:

“Assalomu alaykum, kelin sal-o-o-om!

She who makes the dutar sing,

she who makes our hearts take wing,

Zebi opa, salo-o–om!”

Zebi opa approached with her manly gait. A bundle was brought from the house and she gave it to the bride, patting her on the shoulder.

“May you be happy, my daughter!”

Otin khola surveyed the crowd and continued:

“Assalomu alaykum, kelin salo-o-om!

Each one is honey-sweet,

each one is sure to please,

sisters-in-law salo-o-om!”

Hakim aka had no male siblings, just three younger sisters. Each of them presented the bride with two piyolas. The bride gave perfume to one, a towel to another, and to the youngest—Saida—she gave a handkerchief.

Otin khola adjusted the bride’s shawl and continued with renewed vigor:

“Assalomu alaykum, kelin salo-o-om!

With six arms and seven legs the bride they spoil,

so her mouth tastes plov that’s rich with oil,

and her hands today will bear no toil.

Neighbors, salo-o-om!”

Just then, I noticed my mother. She was pale and walked haltingly through the crowd in the direction of the bride, stumbling slightly as she reached the threshold. Her hands were empty. She climbed the stairs slowly and lifted the shawl from the bride’s face. The women in the yard whispered:

“What’s she doing?”

“Can she do that?”

“Oh God!”

Otin khola didn’t like it either:

“There are men here, Poshsha!” she said.

“Just a minute,” my mother responded in a trembling voice.

Quickly, she removed the earrings from the bride’s ears.

“Here,” she said, holding them out to the bride. Then she reached into the pocket of her long vest and took out her own large golden earrings shaped like half-moons. With trembling hands, she put them in the bride’s ears.

“I’ve been waiting for this day,” my mother said, looking at Otin khola. “Oh, how I’ve waited.” With these words, she leaned down and kissed the bride’s forehead:

“May God grant you a long life together.”

The earrings were visible even beneath the shawl, adding to the bride’s beauty. The women shouted with surprise:

“Vo-o-o-oy!”

“Are they really pure gold?”

“You think they’re fake?”

“So there are such neighbors in the world!” 

Otin khola was at first dumbstruck, but then shouted at the top of her lungs:

“Straight as swords, two sons she’s raised,

at the wedding, she toils away.

Like the moon, her beauty ravishes,

like Hatim-al-Tai, gifts she lavishes.

Poshsha opa, salo-o-om!”

My mother pushed back through the crowd and stood to the side. She turned toward the bride and smiled contentedly. There were tears in her eyes. 

“Oltin Baldoq” © O‘tkir Hoshimov. By arrangement with the estate of the author. Translation © 2024 by Sabrina Jaszi. All rights reserved.

English Uzbek (Original)

People have strange quirks that can’t be changed, no matter how they try. I have one myself: when I hurt someone, even if it’s deserved, I feel it worse than the person I’ve offended. I probably inherited this trait from my mother. She never spoke harshly to us children, and if she ever offended us she would apologize right after. Just once she told me off, and her words were harsh indeed. I still don’t know who was to blame.

 

It was springtime and the sun’s rays warmed our shoulders. I sat beneath an almond tree making a kite. When the apricot sap stuck to the paper, it wouldn’t bind to the reed, and when it stuck to the reed, it wouldn’t bind to the paper. I huffed and puffed, trying to get them together. My mother was sitting nearby on a goatskin, doing laundry. Our dad had bought us all corduroy pants, considering them durable clothes for the poor. Corduroy is a fine material, but when you fall on the ground, whether you’re playing chillak or kicking a ball, dirt wedges into its ridges. That’s why every three days my mother went out of her mind washing those pants. (Of course, none of us could have guessed that a few decades later corduroy would become the trendiest fabric in all of Europe. To us it was “poor people’s clothing.”) It seemed like all my mother did was wash our trousers. Every time she shook them, the foam splashed everywhere and the smell of soap filled the yard.

Across from Mother, freckled Sharopat opa, our neighbor, was sitting on an overturned bucket. I didn’t like her at all. Though really it was her daughter I disliked. “I’ll give Saida in marriage only to you,” she often said. “You’ll marry her, like it or not. When you were very little, you bit her ear. And that means you’ve got to marry her.” I’d rather bite my dog’s ear. Saida was mean, worse than any of the boys. Once, she kicked Toi in the nose and it bled.

Our neighbor complained: “My damn tooth was throbbing all night. I was tossing and turning.” And she stroked her freckled cheek.

“Did you try rinsing your mouth with wild rue tea?” my mother asked, still crouched over the laundry.

“I’ve tried everything,” our neighbor whimpered. “Even rinsed my mouth with alum. Didn’t help.”

Both were silent for a moment.

“Phew, I’m hot!” My mother shook the foam off her hands, then took off her knitted top and tossed it aside.

“So we’ve made it to spring,” our neighbor said, sighing. “We were hoping to marry off our Hakim this fall . . . But it’s no easy feat putting on a wedding. Not enough of this, not enough of that . . . And you know how my husband is . . . ”

Our neighbor often complained about her husband. And everyone knew that Isroil “Whiskers” drank his share and couldn’t keep a job. To make things worse, he drove everyone out of the house when he drank. Our neighbor would take Saida and hide at our place. Then at midnight, when her husband calmed down and fell asleep, she tiptoed home.

“Your Hakimdzhan is still young,” Mother said, reasonably. “You’ll marry him off next year, if not this one.”

“That’s true, but the girl’s family is on our case . . .” Our neighbor moaned again. “Oh, I need to have these damn teeth pulled. Yesterday I mentioned it to my husband. He said, ‘Sure, just dig up that urn full of gold your father buried for you, and go right ahead . . .’ I don’t know what I’ll do. Maybe sell my gold bracelet. Though it’s the one piece of jewelry I have. I’d be ashamed to go around with missing teeth.”

Having finally glued my kite together, I began to tie the reed, but it went and broke. After that, just my luck, the paper tore—paper I’d had to beg my older brother for. It was all over. I cried out in frustration. I stomped on the kite and it stuck to the ground.

“What’s the matter, little one?” our neighbor asked.

“It broke.”

“Ask your big brother. He’ll make you another.”

Yeah right! Like he had nothing better to do. He was always at school. Angrily, I stomped on the kite again and ran out to the street.

I didn’t return until evening. Our pants and shirts hung from a line across the yard. In one corner, I saw my cap, which had been reduced to a rag by our games of “Bird’s Head.” My mother was doing something in the shadows beneath the almond tree.

“Darn it! The goat still hasn’t been milked!” she said when she saw me. “Come and hold her.”

Although our goat was usually docile, a djinn sometimes got into her and she kicked while she was being milked. My younger brother or I would have to kneel down and hold her hind legs. I didn’t like this much, and understanding that it was my turn, I tried to get out of it. But my mother grew upset: “When will you grow up, you good-for-nothing! You’re already nine and all you know how to do is mess around outside! You’re useless!”

“I’m not nine, I’m eight,” I mumbled.

“Enough!” my mother yelled, and I trudged after her to hold the goat’s legs. On top of kicking, the goat would sometimes piss while she was being milked. Then you’d have to spend half an hour washing your shirt.

“Now untie those scamps.”

As soon as I untied the kids they hurried over to their mother. After pouring the milk she’d collected into a large earthenware dish, my mother returned to the almond tree. She went on searching for something.

“What are you looking for?” I asked, following her.

She patted my shoulder, already sorry for scolding me.

“Nothing. Go eat. You must be hungry.”

Then suddenly she started and exclaimed: “Would you look what the wind blew in! Assalamu alaykum!”

I turned and saw my dad’s sister standing nearby. My mother was flustered because she’d failed to notice our guest, and she went over to meet her with open arms. My aunt was a beautiful woman with sharp eyes and a mole on her face. And she was very domineering. Every word she uttered was like a nail being pounded into a wall. My mother feared her. She knew she had to pay her due respect. 

“Well, kelinposhsha?” my aunt asked loudly. “Have you lost your head, like a beggar who’s lost his bundle?”

“No . . .” my mother mumbled. “But one of my earrings fell out. I was just wearing it.”

I looked at my mother and, sure enough, one earring was missing. My mother was very careful with those gold crescent-shaped earrings, boasting that they were a gift from her mother-in-law.

“Oh well, it’ll turn up,” my mother said quietly. “It couldn’t have gone far.”

“Hmm,” said my aunt, shaking her head ominously. Even in the dark, I could see her frown. “Well aren’t you the rich one? Of course you don’t care, kelinposhsha, since you didn’t lift a finger for those earrings!”

My aunt handed me the bundle she was holding and started to poke around in the dirt with the tip of her overshoe.

“Leave it, sister,” my mother said, meekly touching her shoulder. “Come inside. Your brother will be home soon.”

“As always,” my aunt said, not looking up, “the horse works and the mule eats.” Then she lifted her head sharply and looked straight into my mother’s eyes: “Was anyone over here today?”

“No one.” For a minute, Mother was at a loss, but then she added quietly: “Well, Sharopat opa was here at lunchtime . . . ”

“Sharopat opa?” My aunt twisted her lips sarcastically to show that she understood it all now. “Right. Amin oblohu akbar!”

“Stop that,” Mother pleaded. “Don’t speak ill of her. What would she want with a single earring?”

“I have no doubts whatsoever!” My aunt waved furiously. “You know she has light fingers. Why’d you let her into your home?”

“Come now,” my mother mumbled again. “What would she do with one earring?”

“Oh, go on,” my aunt said, raising her voice. “Don’t you know how much an earring like that is worth?” she asked. She pointed at the earring in my mother’s left ear. “Every time that Sharopat goes to a wedding she pinches something.”

Mama, not knowing how to respond, looked at my aunt in dismay. Often enough, I’d overheard my mother and father talk about this quirk of freckled Sharopat opa. It seemed that at weddings a plov dish or some piyolas would disappear and then show up mysteriously in her home. She took them out of “absent-mindedness.” I remembered all of this now and hated that freckled Sharopat opa.

“Just don’t tell your brother,” my mother pleaded with my aunt. “It’ll turn up.”

“It’ll turn up in the grave!”

My aunt headed home, resolutely. Mama hurried to see her out.

In the morning, my mother was out under the almond tree again looking for the earring. Her eyes were red and swollen as though she hadn’t slept. I started helping her. But we didn’t find it that day or the next. My mother hid the other earring so my father wouldn’t find out what had happened.

If Sharopat opa hadn’t come over with new gold teeth about two months later, and if my aunt hadn’t visited us again on that very day, the whole thing would probably have been forgotten.

 

It was the middle of summer when my aunt came over again. I remember this because she brought two bunches of Chillaki grapes. Her family lived in town, but they had vines. My brothers and I devoured the grapes. And you know how it is in the village: a guest shows up and immediately all the neighbors hurry over. That evening, Sharopat opa was the first to arrive. She cheerfully greeted my aunt, then turned to my mother.

“How do they look?” She raised her upper lip slightly to show two sparkling gold teeth. They suited her pale face perfectly and even her freckles seemed to fade.

“Very nice,” my mother said quietly. “Did you sell your bracelet for them?”

For some reason, Sharopat opa blushed.

“Oh, no,” she said and lifted the sleeve of her dress. “Still have my bracelet. My husband said, ‘Keep it. You’ll give it to your daughter-in-law when we marry our son.’” She smiled broadly again, probably to offer us another look at her gold teeth. “My husband has been behaving himself lately. Soon we’ll marry Hakimdzhan. We’ll have a splendid wedding for him this fall, God willing.”

“So your teeth are pure gold?” my aunt said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “May they serve you well!”

Sharopat opa was happy, but my mother seemed uneasy, and my aunt knitted her brows.

“Come over for breakfast tomorrow morning,” Sharopat opa said.

“No, I’m leaving at the crack of dawn,” my aunt said, turning away.

But she didn’t leave at the crack of dawn. I was woken up by her loud voice.

“I’m telling you, she fears no sin! Cares nothing for the neighborhood! I’d recognize my mother’s inheritance no matter what it was turned into, even some teeth!”

“People like her have no shame!” This wasn’t my mother’s voice, so I peered out from under the covers and saw fat Otin khola.“That time at Inoy the Lame’s funeral, two teapots went missing,” she continued in a plaintive voice. “So I went over to her house and right there in the kitchen I saw the teapots. I recognized them right away. So I ask her, ‘How’d they end up here?’ And she doesn’t even blink. ‘I don’t know myself,’ she says. ‘Damn you, thief,’ I say. ‘Not like the teapots grew legs and ran over here on their own!’”

“And the way she praised her husband, that good-for-nothing. He’s ‘behaving’!” My aunt pounded her fist on the khontakhta, making her knuckles crack. “Only the grave will cure that hash-smoker.”

My mother came in with the teapot.

“Enough,” she pleaded. “I didn’t catch her in the act, so what can be done?”

“You’re too generous, sister-in-law!” my aunt said angrily. “You’re not some khan’s daughter! Get your son dressed. And you get dressed, too. We’re going out.”

My mother put the teapot on the khontakhta and looked at my aunt with surprise, then at Otin khola.

“Where are we going?”

“To hell! Does that suit you?” My aunt looked at my mother as though she was to blame for everything. “There’s a fortune-teller in our mahalla. They say she can make the water in the ditches flow backward! We’re going to see her. Otin khola will be our witness. Let’s see what the fortune-teller says. And then let that Sharopat try and deny it!”

“I don’t know,” my mother said, drawing out the words. “We’re neighbors. Like two eyes on a face.”

“Ho-o!” my aunt said, getting up from her seat. “Of course, you got those earrings as a gift, but they were the one thing left from my mother! You’re not sorry for the loss, but you are sorry for the thief? Did I get it right? Well, it seems you don’t know me very well. I won’t leave until you do what’s right.” Then my aunt turned to me, softening. “We’ll use this child as a medium. A young child will tell the truth. Will you come with us?”

“I will, I will!”

Right away it occurred to me that if I went with my aunt I’d get to ride on a tram. And eat as many grapes as I wanted.

After drinking tea, my aunt, Otin khola, my mother, and I set out. I knew that we’d go on foot as far as Beshagach. And then we’d get on the tram! Wheee, what fun!

But how far it was to Beshagach! My boots were rubbing before we even got to Domrabad. I took them off and walked barefoot. It’s so nice—in summer, in the morning—to walk barefoot. Fine as flour, the cool dust slips beneath your toes. You walk and walk and don’t get the least bit tired.

We passed Laylaktep and entered Kazirabad. There, we drank ice-cold water from a bubbling spring. Soon we approached Chilanzar. Along the road grew dense bushes with dusty off-white leaves and thorns. These were the chilon jida that Chilanzar is named after. The road was also planted with all kinds of pear trees: nashvati pears, stone pears, pink pears. The fruit wasn’t ripe yet and when you passed under the trees, the fallen leaves stuck to your heels––an unpleasant sensation.

But how incredible it was to cross the Siymonkprik Bridge! With the water flowing darkly below. It made your head spin. My mother wouldn’t let me walk to the edge of the bridge: she said the water could pull a person toward it and he’d fall . . . Down the very center of the bridge was a line of carts drawn by horses and donkeys. The bridge was so narrow that the traffic was one-way: it would come from one side only, while the other waited its turn. The cart drivers swore and the donkeys screeched. There were even camels crossing the bridge, with great sacks of straw on their backs and foam around their mouths. As soon as we’d crossed the bridge, we heard the rumble of tram wheels. This was Beshagach.

I’d thought that the fortune-teller would be something like Acha khola—a gypsy. But no, she was different. The tram let us out on a narrow street with houses hidden by apricot trees, which were heavy with ripe fruit. Then we entered a small courtyard where white irises grew. I noticed the little dog lying in the shade of the root cellar and stopped. It looked just like my dog—the same size, only it wasn’t black, but white. For some reason, it didn’t bark at me.

The four of us went up to the iwan. A gentle old woman in a white shawl and a dress with wide sleeves greeted us with a smile. I couldn’t believe that this was the fortune-teller.

“What a sweet boy,” she said, kissing my cheek.

A birdcage was hanging from the ceiling with a quail inside. The bird wasn’t singing, just hopping around in the cage, making grains fall onto the patterned rug. As I sat watching the quail, my aunt explained our situation to the fortune-teller.

“This way,” said the old lady, rising from her seat. “You too, my sweet,” she said, patting me on the shoulder.

We entered a dimly lit room with rough plastered walls, bookshelves, and various Arabic books on the low shelves. The old lady went out silently. My mother, Otin khola, my aunt, and I sat in a row on a thick rug. After a while, the old lady came back holding a big ceramic cup in one hand, and a sheet in the other. “Sit like this,” she said, and sat me down in the middle of the room. “Stretch your legs out. With your legs a little open.”

I did as she said, and the old lady put the cup between my legs. I saw that it was full of water.

“Sit and stare into the water,” she said gently. “I’m going to read a prayer, and you just tell us what you see.” Then she covered me with the sheet.

It was suddenly dark. The old lady started reading something I didn’t understand. I felt like I was suffocating. I got scared.

“Mamaaa!” I cried out.

“Sit still! Your mama is right here.”

Someone tapped my shoulder. When I heard my aunt’s peevish voice, I was in a stupor. I was starting to see something. But, besides a gleam in the water, I couldn’t make it out. Minutes passed. My neck and legs got stiff from sitting. I hated my aunt and Sharopat opa for making me suffer like this. If she hadn’t stolen my mother’s earring, I wouldn’t be sitting there, I’d be playing to my heart’s content. I thought only of that. And suddenly I saw Sharopat opa staring at me from the water. She was laughing. I even saw her two gold teeth beneath her lip. And I shouted as loud as I could:

“Sharopat opa! I see her!”

At that moment the sheet was whipped off me. From fear or because it had been stuffy under there, I was covered in sweat.

“Your suspicions are correct,” said the fortune-teller, looking not at my mother, but at my aunt. “God willing, she’ll return what she took from you, my dear!”

“What did I tell you?” my aunt said, looking at each of us triumphantly. “Now I’ll make her suffer like a dog!”

We spent that night at my aunt’s.

Just as she’d threatened, the next day she set out to punish Sharopat opa. My mother, Otin khola, and my aunt headed to our neighbor’s, bringing me with them. Sharopat opa was sitting on a mat spread out on the supa, combing cotton wool. With each stroke of the slender sticks against the cotton, dust billowed up from it. Seeing that she had guests, Sharopat opa leaped up, still holding the sticks. She was ready to welcome us with open arms, but my aunt cried out:

“I won’t exchange greetings with a thief who makes herself teeth from other people’s property!”

Sharopat opa froze with the sticks still in her hands.

“What . . . what are you saying, my dear?” she asked, growing pale.

“I’m saying return what you stole!”

Sharopat opa blanched even more.

“What did I steal?” she asked, her voice trembling. “Tell me, what?”

“Drop the act!” My aunt waved her off. “Went and made herself teeth from my sister-in-law’s earring, and now she’s acting all innocent.” She looked at Otin khola. “We have a witness! We consulted a fortune-teller with the help of this innocent boy. He said you stole it!”

“May I drop dead this moment!” The sticks fell from our neighbor’s hands. “What slander,” she cried out. Then she turned to my mother: “Aren’t you ashamed? I have enough on my mind already. We’re planning our son’s wedding. If I stole so much as a needle from you, may I die on this spot!” Her last words were choked by tears. “May I bury all four of my children if I’m to blame!”

Now my mother grew pale.

“Oh, sister, don’t say such things!” she said in a trembling voice. “Take it back! Even if you took the earring, I forgive you!”

“You just keep talking! Like some kind of bai’s daughter, goddamn you!” My aunt turned sharply and walked away. When she reached the gate, she looked back. “You’d better own up to it. Or you’ll suffer on the day of judgment.”

Otin khola followed my aunt. Sharopat opa was still sobbing and my mother stayed by the supa, looking down sorrowfully.

“May Allah cause that slanderer to suffer!” said Sharopat opa through tears. “May she get what’s coming to her!”

“Stop that, sister.” My mother was herself on the verge of tears. “Oh, Allah, I hate that earring! Forget this, my dear!”

“I won’t, until the slanderer suffers!” Sharopat opa said and went into the house crying.

My mother stood for a moment in front of the supa, then shouted at me: “What are you looking at? Get out of my sight, you little devil!”

 

It all turned out very badly. From that day on, our neighbor refused to greet my mother.

And the worst came two months later, when the weather was getting colder. Arriving home from school, I saw my mother sitting on a chest. Apparently she’d been getting our warm clothes out, and the room smelled of mothballs. There were fustian dresses, chapans, and warm hats scattered all over the floor. My mother’s eyes were puffy from crying. I thought my father might have hit her. I went up to her slowly, but she didn’t seem to notice me. I took her hand and she pulled it away, like she’d been bitten by a snake.

“I wish God had taken you,” she yelled, her eyes flashing with anger. “That you hadn’t lived to see this day!”

Hearing these frightening words, I froze. Never before had she said such things to me.

“Why couldn’t you hold your tongue? May you rot in the grave,” she said, beginning to yell again.

“When? What did I say?”

“At the fortune-teller’s, the fortune-teller’s!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. “Why did you say that you saw Sharopat opa?”

“I only said what I saw!” I squealed in anger.

“Then may your eyes be gouged out!” My mother threw something that she’d been squeezing in her fist. Hitting the floor, the golden earring tinkled and bounced. “It was caught on my sweater! Get out of my sight! I’d rather die than slander an innocent person!” Then she pulled me close to her, pressed her face to mine, and wailed: “What are we going to do, son!” My face became wet from my mother’s tears. “What’ll we do? How will I endure this shame, son, my dear one!” My mother’s strength left her and she collapsed face-down on the trunk.

 

Soon after that, the wedding took place. Sharopat opa did not invite my mother. But my mother fried up a large platter of “bird’s tongue” pastries. As though nothing had happened, she went to the wedding hall to help with the preparations.

That evening, a bonfire was lit in the middle of the yard. Sharopat opa’s son, who had the same coloring as his mother, was all dressed up in a striped robe and turban and made to run three circles around the fire. The sounds of the karnay and surnay rang out . . . Kho’ja, Toi, Vali, and I darted among the women who were occupied with the tortishmachoq––a wrestling contest between women on the bride’s and groom’s sides––and filled our pockets with sweets. Then we played hide-and-seek in the wedding hall’s dark corners. 

Though I went to bed late that night, I woke up at the crack of dawn. No one was home. That meant they were all at the wedding hall. Quick as a cat, I washed up and ran over there. The kelin salom would be happening soon. 

Luckily, I wasn’t too late. In the yard by the entrance to the hall, Sharopat opa’s relatives, all those who were assisting with the wedding, were crowded round. They were mostly women. Only my mother was nowhere to be seen. Seeing Vali, who was sitting on a log by an overturned pot at the very end of the yard, I waved.

And there was Otin khola (the very same fat Otin khola who’d complained about Sharopat opa’s sticky fingers and gone with us to the fortune-teller) leading the bride, who wore a white woolen shawl over a silk atlas dress, to the threshold. The bride’s face was obscured by her shawl, but a woman standing nearby had sharp eyes.

“Voy, what a beautiful girl!” she whispered loudly. “How slender! You could drink her with a spoon!”

“Lucky for that redhead fiancé of hers,” another woman responded.

Otin khola cleared her throat and shouted at the top of her lungs:

“Assalomu alaykum, kelin, salo-o-om!”

The bride nodded her head primly. All those gathered in the yard responded with approval.

“May you be blessed!”

“Thanks be to God!”

“May your union be long!”

Otin khola coughed again and said, even more loudly:

“Assalomu alaykum, kelin salo-o-om!

With pockets opened wide,

no money does he hide.

Like a sack his belly’s hefty,

and like a sword his mustache’s lengthy.

Father-in-law, salo-o-m!”

There was chuckling from the crowd. Mustached Isroil aka came out of a far room with a large felt rug under his arm. He walked solemnly through the middle of the yard and rolled it out at the bride’s feet. Then he twirled his mustache jauntily, and the women squealed with laughter. Isroil wished the newlyweds a large family and read a prayer.

Then Otin khola cleared her throat once more:

“Assalomu alaykum, kelin salo-o-om!

Like her tongue, her steps are hasty,

and the food she serves is tasty––

she won’t leave the wedding hungry.

Like oil her speech is smooth,

and her face fair as the moon

Mother-in-law, salo-o–om!”

There was more laughter from the crowd. Sharopat opa blushed, passed through the rows of women, and approached the bride. She put a stack of porcelain bowls before her.

Otin khola continued:

“Assalomu alaykum, kelin sal-o-o-om!

She who makes the dutar sing,

she who makes our hearts take wing,

Zebi opa, salo-o–om!”

Zebi opa approached with her manly gait. A bundle was brought from the house and she gave it to the bride, patting her on the shoulder.

“May you be happy, my daughter!”

Otin khola surveyed the crowd and continued:

“Assalomu alaykum, kelin salo-o-om!

Each one is honey-sweet,

each one is sure to please,

sisters-in-law salo-o-om!”

Hakim aka had no male siblings, just three younger sisters. Each of them presented the bride with two piyolas. The bride gave perfume to one, a towel to another, and to the youngest—Saida—she gave a handkerchief.

Otin khola adjusted the bride’s shawl and continued with renewed vigor:

“Assalomu alaykum, kelin salo-o-om!

With six arms and seven legs the bride they spoil,

so her mouth tastes plov that’s rich with oil,

and her hands today will bear no toil.

Neighbors, salo-o-om!”

Just then, I noticed my mother. She was pale and walked haltingly through the crowd in the direction of the bride, stumbling slightly as she reached the threshold. Her hands were empty. She climbed the stairs slowly and lifted the shawl from the bride’s face. The women in the yard whispered:

“What’s she doing?”

“Can she do that?”

“Oh God!”

Otin khola didn’t like it either:

“There are men here, Poshsha!” she said.

“Just a minute,” my mother responded in a trembling voice.

Quickly, she removed the earrings from the bride’s ears.

“Here,” she said, holding them out to the bride. Then she reached into the pocket of her long vest and took out her own large golden earrings shaped like half-moons. With trembling hands, she put them in the bride’s ears.

“I’ve been waiting for this day,” my mother said, looking at Otin khola. “Oh, how I’ve waited.” With these words, she leaned down and kissed the bride’s forehead:

“May God grant you a long life together.”

The earrings were visible even beneath the shawl, adding to the bride’s beauty. The women shouted with surprise:

“Vo-o-o-oy!”

“Are they really pure gold?”

“You think they’re fake?”

“So there are such neighbors in the world!” 

Otin khola was at first dumbstruck, but then shouted at the top of her lungs:

“Straight as swords, two sons she’s raised,

at the wedding, she toils away.

Like the moon, her beauty ravishes,

like Hatim-al-Tai, gifts she lavishes.

Poshsha opa, salo-o-om!”

My mother pushed back through the crowd and stood to the side. She turned toward the bride and smiled contentedly. There were tears in her eyes. 

Oltin Baldoq

Odamda, harchand uringani bilan o‘zgartirolmaydigan g‘alati fe’l-atvorlar bo‘ladi. Mening ham qiziq odatim bor: birovni ranjitib qo‘ysam (adolatli xafa qilgan bo‘lsam ham) o‘sha odamdan ko‘proq o‘zimning dilim vayron bo‘lib yuradi. Bu odat onamdan yuqqan shekilli.

Oyim bizlarga hech qattiq gapirmas, mabodo xafa qilib qo‘ysa birpasdan keyin o‘zi yalinar edi. Faqat bir marta meni qarg‘agan, yomon qarg‘agan. O‘shanda ayb kimda bo‘laginini hali ham bilmayman.

Bahor kirib, oftobning iliq nurlari yelkani qizitadigan bo‘lib qolgan kunlar edi. Bodom tagida o‘tirib varrak yasashga tushdim. O‘rikning yelimi qog‘ozga yopishsa qamishga yopishmaydi, qamishga yopishsa qog‘ozga… Burnimni tortib-tortib urinib yotibman. Oyim nariroqda, tagiga po‘stak tashlab, kir yuvyapti. Dadam «kambag‘albop kiyim» deb aka-ukalarga chiyduxoba shim olib bergan. Chiyduxoba asli yaxshi narsa-yu, chillak o‘ynagandami, koptok tepgandami, bir dumalasang, ora-orasiga loy kirib ketishi yomon. Uch kunda bir yuvaverib, onamning esi ketadi. (Xuddi shu chiybaxmal zamonlar o‘tishi bilan butun Yevropaga moda bo‘lishini dadam xayoliga ham keltirmagan bo‘lsa kerak. Uning uchun chiyduxoba «kambag‘albop kiyim» edi, xolos.) Xullas, oyim unisini olib bunisini qo‘yib, shimlarni yuvar, har siltab ishqaganda jomashovdan ko‘pik sachrar, atrofni sovun hidi tutib ketgan edi. Uning ro‘parasida Sepkilli xola to‘nkarilgan paqir ustida o‘tirardi.

Sepkilli xolani yomon ko‘raman. O‘zinimas, qizini. «Saini senga beraman, olsang ham olasan, olmasang ham,– deydi, – olmasang tugun-tersagi bilan uyingga opchiqib tashlayman, kichkinaligingda qulog‘ini tishlagansan», deydi. Saini qulog‘ini tishlagandan ko‘ra kuchugimning qulog‘ini tishlayman. Saida yomon: o‘g‘il boladan battar. Lanka tepayotganda bir urib Toyning burnini qonatgan.

Sepkilli xola to‘nkarilgan paqir ustida o‘tirib nuqul hasrat qilar edi:

– Kechasi bilan tishim o‘lgur shundoq og‘ridi, shundoq og‘ridi, jonimni qo‘yishga joy topolmadim. – U sepkil bosgan lunjini silab qo‘ydi.

– Isiriq damlab chayqamadingizmi? – deb maslahat berdi oyim hamon engashib kirni g‘ijimlar ekan.

– E, hammasini qildim! – Sepkilli xola yana inqilladi.– Achchiqtoshgayam g‘arg‘ara qildim. Qani bosilsa.

Ikkovlari bir zum jimib qolishdi.

– Uff! Isib ketdim! – Oyim ko‘pikli qo‘lini sidirib, yoqasi bo‘g‘iq to‘rko‘ylagini yechdi-da, chekkaga tashladi.

– O‘lmagan qul, bahorgayam chiqdik, – Sepkilli xola xo‘rsindi. – Shu yil kuzda Hakimimning boshini ikkita qilib qo‘ysak degandik. To‘y qilish osonmi? Hali unisi yetmaydi, hali bunisi… Otasining ahvoli bu bo‘lsa…

Sepkilli xola eridan ko‘p shikoyat qilardi. Chindan ham Isroil mo‘ylov ko‘p ichadi. Ishining tayini yo‘q. Buning ustiga ichib oldimi, tamom, uy ichini tiriqtirib quvadi. Sepkilli xola ko‘pincha Saidani dikonglatib biznikiga qochib chiqadi. Yarim kechada, eri uxlaganidan keyin sekin uyiga chiqib ketadi.

– Hakimjon hali yosh-ku, – dedi oyim o‘ychanlik bilan. – Bu yil bo‘lmasa, yanagi yilga bo‘lar to‘yi…

– Shundoq deysiz-u quda tomon shoshiryapti. – Sepkilli xola yana inqilladi. – Shu o‘lgurni oldirib tashlab qutulaman shekilli. Kecha dadasiga tish qo‘ydirsammikan, desam, otangni xumga ko‘mib qo‘ygan tillalarini olib kelib qo‘ydiraver, deydi… Hayronman, bisotimdagi bitta bilaguzugimni beraman shekilli. Og‘zimni o‘radek ochib yursam uyat bo‘lar.

…Varragimni yelimlab bo‘lib, endi qamishini tortib bog‘lagan edim, qars yetib sindi. Qamish sinsa mayli-ya, qog‘ozniyam yirtib yubordi. O‘zim katta akamga yalinib-yalinib arang olgan edim. Tamom, hammasi tamom bo‘ldi. Alamimdan yig‘lab yuboray dedim. Varrakni bir tepgan edim, yerga yopishib qoldi.

– Ha? – dedi Sepkilli xola. – Nima qildi, kuyov bola?

– Sindi.

– Akangga ayt, boshqasini yasab bera qolsin.

Yasaydi-ya, yasaydi! Mendan boshqa ishi yo‘qmi? Maktabdan beri kelmaydi-ku. Alam bilan varrakni yana bir tepdim-da, ko‘chaga chiqib ketdim. Shu ketgancha, kun botganda qaytib keldim. Hovlidagi arqonda qator qilib ilingan shimlar, ko‘ylaklar… Bir chekkada bizning «qushim boshi» o‘ynaganda loyga qorishaverib, unniqib ketgan do‘ppi ham qiyshayib turibdi. Oyim nim qorong‘ida bodom tagida timirskilanib yuribdi.

– O‘lsin, echkiyam sog‘ilmadi, – dedi meni ko‘rib. – Yur, ushlab tur.

Echkimiz yuvosh bo‘lgani bilan ba’zan «jini» tutib qolar, sog‘ib bo‘lguncha tipirchilab, odamni bezor qilardi. Shunda kichik akammi, menmi birontamiz cho‘nqayib uning orqa oyoqlaridan mahkam ushlab turishga majbur bo‘lardik. Hech ham yoqmaydigan bu mashg‘ulot bugun mening zimmamga tushishini bilib, qochib qolishni mo‘ljallab turgan edim, oyimning jahli chiqib ketdi:

– Sen qachon odam bo‘lasan, zumrasha! Yoshing to‘qqizga chiqibdi-yu, ko‘chada shataloq otishdan beri kelmaysan! Hech foydang tegmasin, xo‘pmi!

– To‘qqizdamas, sakkizda, – dedim chiyillab.           

– O‘chir ovozingni! – Oyim bir dag‘dag‘a qilgan edi, istar-istamas borib echkining oyog‘idan ushladim. Echki baribir echki-da! Pitir-pitir qilgani ham mayli-yu, oyim sog‘ayotganida, iyib ketsa qiladigan xunuk «qilig‘i» bor. Keyin yarim soat ko‘ylakning oldini tozalashga to‘g‘ri keladi…

Oyim naridan beri ishini tugatdi-da, buyurdi:

– Yechib yubor anovi savillarni!

Uloqchalarni arqondan bo‘shatishim bilan ikkalasi dikonglab onasining yeliniga yopishdi. Oyim bo‘lsa sutni tovoqlarga soldi-da, yana bodom tagida timirskilanib bir nimani qidira boshladi.

– Nimani qidiryapsiz? – dedim yaqin borib.

Boya urishgani uchun o‘zi achinib turgan ekan shekilli, yelkamga qoqdi.

– Hech nima. Bor, ovqatingni ye, qorning ochib qolgandir. – Keyin birdan qaddini rostladi-yu xitob qildi. – Voy, qayoqdan kun chiqdi?! Assalomu alaykum!»

O‘girilib qaradim-u uch-to‘rt qadam narida turgan ammamga ko‘zim tushdi. Oyim mehmonni ko‘rmay qolganidan xijolat chekib quchoq ochib ko‘rishdi. Ammam juda chiroyli, yuzida xoli bor, qosh-ko‘zi chaqmoqdek xotin. Ammo juda shaddod. Har gapini xuddi mix qoqqandek tarsillatib gapiradi. Oyim undan qo‘rqadi. Kelganda hurmatini joyiga qo‘ymasin-chi, o‘zini qayerda ko‘rarkan.

– Ha? – dedi ammam yo‘g‘on tovushda. – To‘rvasini yo‘qotgan gadoydek talmovsirab qopsiz, kelinposhsha?!

– Yo‘q, opa, o‘zim… – Oyim chaynalib qoldi. – Ziragim o‘lgurning bir poyi tushib qopti. Haligina qulog‘imda turuvdi.

Qarasam, oyimning o‘ng qulog‘idagi ziragi yo‘q. Oyim kattakon oltin oybaldog‘ini juda avaylar, qaynonamdan qolgan yodgorlik, deb maqtanib yurardi.

– Mayli, topilib qolar, – dedi u sekingina. – Shu yerga tushgan bo‘lsa qayoqqa ketardi.

– Hmm! – Ammam shunday tahdidli bosh chayqadiki, qorong‘i bo‘lsa ham qoshi chimirilib ketganini aniq ko‘rdim. – Ketsa, boydan ketibdi, deng! Belingiz qayishib topmaganingizdan keyin joningiz achimaydi-da, kelinposhsha!

Ammam qo‘lidagi tugunni menga tutqazib, o‘zi ham mahsili kalishining uchi bilan yerni titkilay boshladi.

– Qo‘ying, opajon, – oyim uning yelkasiga ohista kaftini qo‘ydi. – Yuring uyga, hali-zamon ukangiz kelib qoladilar.

– O‘zi shunaqa bo‘ladi, – dedim ammam yerdan bosh ko‘tarmay. – Ot topadi, eshak yeydi! – Keyin birdan qaddini rostladi-da, oyimning ko‘ziga tikilib so‘radi. – Kim kirgan edi oldingizga?

– Hech kim. – Oyim bir zum talmovsirab turdi-da, sekin qo‘shib qo‘ydi. – Hali peshinda Sharopat opa keluvdi. Shu…

– Sharapatmi? – Ammam «tushunarli» degandek istehzo bilan labini burdi. – Bo‘pti, omin oblohu akbar!

Hali oyimning oldida paqir to‘nkarib o‘tirgan Sepkilli xola ko‘z o‘ngimga keldi.

– Qo‘ying, – dedi oyim yalingudek bo‘lib. – Bechorani unaqa demang. Bir poy zirakni nima qiladi?

– Pishirib yeydi! – Ammam jahl bilan qo‘l siltadi. – Qo‘li egriligini bilasiz, o‘lasizmi ehtiyot bo‘lsangiz?

– Yo‘g‘-e, – dedi oyim yana ming‘illab. – Bir poy zirakni nima qiladi?

– Yana gapiradi-ya! – Ammamning ovozi tahdidli ohangda balandladi. – Mana shu bir poy zirak qancha turishini bilasizmi? – dedi oyimning chap qulog‘idagi oybaldoqni barmog‘i bilan nuqib. – O‘zi-ku to‘yga borsa, qo‘liga ilingan narsani tuguniga tiqadi.

Oyim nima qilarini bilmay, javdirab qoldi. Dadam ikkalasi Sepkilli xolaning g‘alati qiliqlarini gaplashishganini eshitganman. To‘ylarda laganmi, piyolami yo‘qolsa Sepkilli xolaning uyidan topishar, xola «esidan chiqib» uyga olib ketgan bo‘lardi. Hozir shuni esladim-u goh oyimga, goh ammamga qarab qoldim. Sepkilli xolani juda yomon ko‘rib ketdim.

– Ukangiz eshitmay qo‘ya qolsinlar, – oyim yana yalindi. – Topilib qolar.

– Go‘rni topiladi! – Ammam qandaydir g‘olibona qiyofada uy tomon yurdi. Ketidan kuymangancha oyim ham ergashdi.

– Yechib yubor anovi savillarni!

Uloqchalarni arqondan bo‘shatishim bilan ikkalasi dikonglab onasining yeliniga yopishdi. Oyim bo‘lsa sutni tovoqlarga soldi-da, yana bodom tagida timirskilanib bir nimani qidira boshladi.

– Nimani qidiryapsiz? – dedim yaqin borib.

Boya urishgani uchun o‘zi achinib turgan ekan shekilli, yelkamga qoqdi.

– Hech nima. Bor, ovqatingni ye, qorning ochib qolgandir. – Keyin birdan qaddini rostladi-yu xitob qildi. – Voy, qayoqdan kun chiqdi?! Assalomu alaykum!»

O‘girilib qaradim-u uch-to‘rt qadam narida turgan ammamga ko‘zim tushdi. Oyim mehmonni ko‘rmay qolganidan xijolat chekib quchoq ochib ko‘rishdi. Ammam juda chiroyli, yuzida xoli bor, qosh-ko‘zi chaqmoqdek xotin. Ammo juda shaddod. Har gapini xuddi mix qoqqandek tarsillatib gapiradi. Oyim undan qo‘rqadi. Kelganda hurmatini joyiga qo‘ymasin-chi, o‘zini qayerda ko‘rarkan.

– Ha? – dedi ammam yo‘g‘on tovushda. – To‘rvasini yo‘qotgan gadoydek talmovsirab qopsiz, kelinposhsha?!

– Yo‘q, opa, o‘zim… – Oyim chaynalib qoldi. – Ziragim o‘lgurning bir poyi tushib qopti. Haligina qulog‘imda turuvdi.

Qarasam, oyimning o‘ng qulog‘idagi ziragi yo‘q. Oyim kattakon oltin oybaldog‘ini juda avaylar, qaynonamdan qolgan yodgorlik, deb maqtanib yurardi.

– Mayli, topilib qolar, – dedi u sekingina. – Shu yerga tushgan bo‘lsa qayoqqa ketardi.

– Hmm! – Ammam shunday tahdidli bosh chayqadiki, qorong‘i bo‘lsa ham qoshi chimirilib ketganini aniq ko‘rdim. – Ketsa, boydan ketibdi, deng! Belingiz qayishib topmaganingizdan keyin joningiz achimaydi-da, kelinposhsha!

Ammam qo‘lidagi tugunni menga tutqazib, o‘zi ham mahsili kalishining uchi bilan yerni titkilay boshladi.

– Qo‘ying, opajon, – oyim uning yelkasiga ohista kaftini qo‘ydi. – Yuring uyga, hali-zamon ukangiz kelib qoladilar.

– O‘zi shunaqa bo‘ladi, – dedim ammam yerdan bosh ko‘tarmay. – Ot topadi, eshak yeydi! – Keyin birdan qaddini rostladi-da, oyimning ko‘ziga tikilib so‘radi. – Kim kirgan edi oldingizga?

– Hech kim. – Oyim bir zum talmovsirab turdi-da, sekin qo‘shib qo‘ydi. – Hali peshinda Sharopat opa keluvdi. Shu…

– Sharapatmi? – Ammam «tushunarli» degandek istehzo bilan labini burdi. – Bo‘pti, omin oblohu akbar!

Hali oyimning oldida paqir to‘nkarib o‘tirgan Sepkilli xola ko‘z o‘ngimga keldi.

– Qo‘ying, – dedi oyim yalingudek bo‘lib. – Bechorani unaqa demang. Bir poy zirakni nima qiladi?

– Pishirib yeydi! – Ammam jahl bilan qo‘l siltadi. – Qo‘li egriligini bilasiz, o‘lasizmi ehtiyot bo‘lsangiz?

– Yo‘g‘-e, – dedi oyim yana ming‘illab. – Bir poy zirakni nima qiladi?

– Yana gapiradi-ya! – Ammamning ovozi tahdidli ohangda balandladi. – Mana shu bir poy zirak qancha turishini bilasizmi? – dedi oyimning chap qulog‘idagi oybaldoqni barmog‘i bilan nuqib. – O‘zi-ku to‘yga borsa, qo‘liga ilingan narsani tuguniga tiqadi.

Oyim nima qilarini bilmay, javdirab qoldi. Dadam ikkalasi Sepkilli xolaning g‘alati qiliqlarini gaplashishganini eshitganman. To‘ylarda laganmi, piyolami yo‘qolsa Sepkilli xolaning uyidan topishar, xola «esidan chiqib» uyga olib ketgan bo‘lardi. Hozir shuni esladim-u goh oyimga, goh ammamga qarab qoldim. Sepkilli xolani juda yomon ko‘rib ketdim.

– Ukangiz eshitmay qo‘ya qolsinlar, – oyim yana yalindi. – Topilib qolar.

– Go‘rni topiladi! – Ammam qandaydir g‘olibona qiyofada uy tomon yurdi. Ketidan kuymangancha oyim ham ergashdi.

– Voy o‘lmasam! – Sepkilli xolaning qo‘lidan tayog‘i tushib ketdi. – Bu qanaqa tuhmat! – dedi yig‘i aralash. Keyin oyimga yuzlandi.

– Uyalmaysizmi, ovsin poshsha! Mana, ne niyatda o‘tiribman. Agar ninangizga tekkan bo‘lsam, niyatimga yetmay! – Keyingi so‘zlar uning bo‘g‘izidan yig‘i aralash otilib chiqdi. – To‘rtta bolamning o‘ligini ustida o‘tiray, xo‘pmi!

– Voy, ovsinjon, voy gapingiz qursin! – dedi oyim ovozi titrab. – Qaytib oling gapingizni! Olgan bo‘lsangiz ham mingdan ming roziman!

– E, yana, gapiradi-ya! Boyvuchcha bo‘lmay tusingni yel yesin! – Ammam shaxt bilan burildi-da, nari ketdi. Darvoza oldiga borganida orqasiga qayrilib qaradi. – Yaxshisi bo‘yningizga oling, bo‘lmasa, qiyomatda azobini tortasiz!

Zum o‘tmay ammam bilan otin xola chiqib ketishdi. Sepkilli xola hamon piqillab yig‘lar, oyim supa oldida boshini xam qilgancha mung‘ayib turar edi.

– Iloyo tuhmat qilgan tuhmat balosiga uchrasin! – dedi Sepkilli xola yig‘lab. – Iloyo niyatiga yetmasin!

– Qo‘ying, ovsinjon. – Oyimning o‘zi ham yig‘lab yuboray deb turardi. – Xudoyo o‘sha bir poy zirak o‘lsin! Ko‘nglingizga olmang, jon ovsinjon!

– Tuhmat balosiga uchramasa, rozimasman! – Sepkilli xola shunday dedi-yu yig‘lagancha uyiga kirib ketdi.

Oyim bir zum supa oldida turdi-turdi-da, birdan menga o‘shqirdi:

– Nimaga serrayib turibsan? Yo‘qol ko‘zimdan, juvonmarg!

Yomon bo‘ldi. O‘sha kundan boshlab Sepkilli xola oyim bilan yuzko‘rmas bo‘lib ketdi. Ammo eng yomoni yana ikki oycha o‘tgach, salqin tushgan kunlardan birida bo‘ldi.

O‘sha kuni maktabdan qaytsam, oyim sandiq ustiga muk tushib o‘tiribdi. Issiq kiyimlarni sandiqdan olgan shekilli, uy ichini kuya dorining hidi tutib ketgan, bumazi ko‘ylaklar, choponlar, quloqchinining ipi uzilgan telpaklar yer bilan bitta bo‘lib yotibdi. Yig‘layverib, oyimning ko‘zlari shishib ketgan. Dadam urgan bo‘lsa kerak, deb qo‘rqib ketdim. Sekin oldiga keldim. U bo‘lsa qayrilib qaramadi. Qo‘lidan ushlagan edim, oyim ilon chaqqandek qo‘lini tortib oldi.

– Sen bolani yer yutsa bo‘lmasmidi! – dedi g‘azabdan ko‘zi yonib. – Shu kuningdan ko‘ra o‘lib qo‘ya qolsang bo‘lmasmidi, yer yutkur!

Oyim hech qachon bunaqa qarg‘amagani uchunmi, yig‘lab yuboray dedim.

Ammo shuncha yomon gapni to‘satdan eshitganimga karaxt bo‘lib qolgan edim.

– O‘shanda nega unaqa deding, bo‘yginang lahatda chirigur! – dedi u yana dag‘dag‘a bilan.

– Qachon? Nima dedim?

– Folbinnikida, go‘rso‘xta, folbinnikida! – Oyim ovozi boricha chinqirdi. – Nega Sepkilli xolamni ko‘rdim, deding?

– Nima qilay? – dedim alamdan chiyillab. – Ko‘zimga ko‘ringanini aytdim-da!

– Mana-ku, ko‘zginang teshilgur, mana-ku! – Oyim kaftidagi allanimani yerga uloqtirdi. Oltin baldoq yerga tushib jiringlab sakrab ketdi.

– To‘rko‘ylagimga ilinib qolgan ekan-ku! Yo‘qot, ko‘zimdan yo‘qot! Bir begunohga tuhmat qilgandan ko‘ra o‘lganim yaxshimasmi! – U birdan meni quchoqlab, yuzimni yuziga bosgancha hiqillab qoldi. – Endi nima qilamiz, jon bolam!

Oyimning ko‘z yoshi birpasda yuzimni jiqqa suv qilib yubordi.

– Nima qilamiz, o‘g‘lim! Bu sharmandalikka qandoq chidayman, o‘g‘iljonim! – Oyim madori qurigandek, sandiq ustiga muk tushib qoldi.

Oradan ko‘p o‘tmay to‘y bo‘ldi. Sepkilli xola oyimni to‘yga aytmadi. Biroq oyim bir tog‘ora qushtili pishirdi. Hech nima bo‘lmagandek, to‘yxonaga chiqdi-yu yelib-yugurib xizmat qilib ketaverdi.

Kechqurun hovlining o‘rtasida to‘nka qo‘yib gulxan yoqishdi. Sepkilli xolaning o‘ziga o‘xshab ketadigan sarg‘ish yuzli Hakim akaga to‘n kiygizib, salla o‘ratishdi, gulxan atrofini uch marta aylantirishdi, karnay-surnay chalindi… Uy ichida ayollar, Zebi xola dutor chertgan, xotinlar tortishmachoq qilgan… Xo‘ja, Toy, Vali, men – to‘rtovlashib tortishmachoq bilan ovora bo‘lib turgan xotinlar orasiga sho‘ng‘iymiz-u cho‘ntakni shirinlikka to‘ldirib chiqamiz… Keyin to‘yxonaning qorong‘i burchaklarida rosa bekinmachoq o‘ynadik.

O‘sha kuni kech yotgan bo‘lsam ham juda erta uyg‘ondim. Endi tong otgan ekan. Qarasam, uyda hech kim yo‘q. Demak, to‘yxonaga chiqishgan.

Men ham yuzimni «mushuk yuvish» qildim-u o‘sha yoqqa chopdim. Bo‘lmasa-chi, hozir «Kelinsalom» bo‘ladi-da.

Xayriyat, «Kelinsalom»ga kech qolmabman. Hovli betkayida Sepkilli xolaning qarindosh-urug‘lari, to‘yda xizmat qilganlar to‘planib turishibdi. Erkaklar kam, xotinlar ko‘p. Faqat oyim ko‘rinmaydi. Hovli etagidagi to‘nkarib qo‘yilgan qozon orqasida g‘o‘laga minib o‘tirgan Valini ko‘rib, imlab chaqirdim.

Bir mahal otin xola (Sepkilli xolaning qo‘li egriligidan shikoyat qilgan, biz bilan folbinnikiga borgan xuddi o‘sha semiz otin xola) oq sholro‘mol yopingan, atlas ko‘ylagi ustidan oldiga uqa tutilgan nimcha kiygan kelinchakni yetaklab ostonaga olib chiqdi. Parda orqasidan kelinning yuzi yaxshi ko‘rinmas edi. Biroq yaqinroqda turgan notanish xotinning ko‘zi o‘tkir ekan.

– Vuy, muncha chiroyli! – dedi qattiq shivirlab. – Bir qoshiq suv bilan yutgudek-a!

– Baxti bor ekan sariq mashakni! – dedi boshqasi unga javoban.

Otin xola bir tomoq qirib oldi-da, ovozi boricha baqirdi:

– Assalomu alaykum, kelinsalo-o-om!

Kelinchak ohista bosh egdi. Hovlidagilar chekka-chekkadan ma’qullab javob qilishdi:

– Baraka topsin!

– Rahmat.

– Qo‘shgani bilan qo‘sha qarisin.

Otin xola yana bir marta tomoq qirib, ovozini sozlab oldi-da, boyagidan ham balandroq hayqirdi:

– Assalomu alaykum, kelinsalo-o-o-m!

 

Karmonni katta ochgan

Ayamay pulni sochgan,

Qorinlari qopday,

Mo‘ylovlari shopday

Qaynotasiga salo-o-m!

 

Odamlar chekka-chekkadan kulib yuborishdi. Isroil mo‘ylov hovli etagidagi xonadan karnayga o‘xshatib o‘ralgan kattakon namatni qo‘ltiqlab chiqdi. Hovli o‘rtasidan pishillab o‘tdi-da, namatni oborib kelinning oyog‘i tagiga qo‘ydi. Mo‘ylovini g‘olibona qiyofada bir buragan edi, xotinlar qiy-chuv solib kulib yuborishdi. Isroil mo‘ylov uvali-juvali bo‘linglar, deb fotiha o‘qidi. Otin xola yana bir tomoq qirib oldi:

– Assalomu alaykum, kelinsalo-o-o-om!

 

Tili bilan teng aylanadigan,

Xizmatiga shaylanadigan,

To‘ydan quruq qaytmaydigan

So‘zlari moyday, yuzlari oyday,

Qaynonasiga salo-o-m!

 

Yana qahqaha ko‘tarildi. Sepkilli xola qizarib-bo‘zarib, odamlar orasidan o‘tdi-da, kelin tomonga talpindi. Qo‘lidagi bir dasta chinni kosani kelinning boshiga qo‘ydi.

Otin xola tag‘in davom etdi.

– Assalomu alaykum, kelinsalo-o-o-m!

 

Dutorini sayratgan,

Dilimizni yayratgan,

Zebi opaga salo-o-m!

 

Zebi xola erkakcha yurish qilib yaqin borgan edi, ichkaridan tugun olib chiqishdi. Zebi xola tugunni olarkan, kelinning yelkasiga qoqdi.

– Baxtli bo‘lgin, qizim!

Otin xola u yoq-bu yoqqa qarab oldi-da, davom etdi.

– Assalomu alaykum, kelinsalo-o-om! Biri-biridan shirin, biri-biridan asal qaynsingillariga salo-o-om!

Hakim akaning ukasi yo‘q, uchta singlisi bor edi. Uchovlari ikkita-ikkitadan piyola ko‘tarib qatorlashib borishdi. Biriga atir, biriga sochiq, eng kichkina Saidaga ro‘molcha tegdi…

Otin xola kelinning ro‘molini o‘nglab qo‘ydi-da, tag‘in yangi kuch bilan hayqirdi:

– Assalomu alaykum kelinsalo-o-om! Oyog‘i olti, qo‘li yetti bo‘lib xizmat qilgan, kelinning qo‘lidan ishini oladigan, og‘ziga oshini soladigan yon qo‘shni – jon qo‘shnilarga salo-o-o-om!

Oyim shu yerda ekanini endi payqadim. U odamlar orasidan rangi o‘chibroq o‘tdi-da, qandaydir, ishonchsiz qadamlar bilan kelin tomonga yura boshladi. Hatto ostona oldiga borganda bir qalqib ketgandek bo‘ldi. Qo‘lida hech nima yo‘q edi. Biroq sekin-sekin zinadan ko‘tarildi-yu, kelinning yuzidagi pardani qiya ochdi. Hovlidagi xotinlar pichir-pichirga tushib qolishdi.

– Nima qilyaptilar?

– Voy, o‘lmasam!

Otin xolaning ham g‘ashi keldi shekilli, dashnom berdi:

– Nomahramlar bor-a, poshsha!

– To‘xtang, – dedi oyim negadir ovozi titrab. Shosha-pisha kelinning qulog‘idagi ziraklarni yecha boshladi.

– Ushlang buni! – dedi sirg‘alarni kelinning qo‘liga tutqazib. Keyin o‘zining nimchasiga qo‘l soldi-yu kattakon oltin oybaldog‘ini chiqardi. Qo‘llari titragancha ikkalasini kelinning ikki qulog‘iga taqdi.

– Niyat qilgandim, – dedi oyim otin xolaga qarab. – Shuni niyat qilib qo‘yuvdim. – Shunday dedi-yu sekin egilib, kelinning peshonasidan o‘pdi.

– Iloyo qo‘sha qaringlar!

Oybaldoq shol ro‘pol tagidan ham yaraqlab ko‘rinib turar, kelinning husniga husn qo‘shib yuborgandek edi. Chekka-chekkadagi xotinlarning hayratli xitobi eshitildi:

– Vuy-y-y-y!

– Asl tillamikan?

– Nima, qalbakisini qilib esini yebdimi?

– Mana bundoq qo‘shnilar bo‘ladi jahonda!

Bir zum gangib qolgan otin xola ovozi boricha hayqirdi:

– Qilichdek o‘g‘illarni o‘stirgan, to‘yda yelib-yugurgan, oy desa, oydek, hotamtoydek poshsha opasiga salo-o-m!

Oyim odamlar orasidan turtinib o‘tdi-da, chekkaga chiqdi. Shundagina kelin tomonga o‘girilib, mamnun jilmaydi… Uning ko‘zida yosh bor edi.

 

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