"If the word is the world, literature is life".
This is Azerbaijani author Vugar Guliyev's motto. During the autumn and winter of 2011, the Göteborg Book Fair will regularly publish his short stories and chronicles on our website. "Translator's Dream" is his third novel, a story that tells how difficult it is to a break with one's sordid past, even in a secure place.
"This cannot be happening to me," Translator felt irritated becoming sweaty on the cramped bus that was crawling along through a traffic jam towards the city center. "Move it on, dear! Faster! Please! Or they'll call me a "Turtle"," he whispered.
As soon as century-like minutes spent on the way came to an end, he got off the bus and grew stunned. His friends were talking with a person, who immediately brought back uneasy memories to Translator.
"I was so happy to hear you talking our language," said the man in his sixties, shaking hands with Academic and Teacher who had been habitually waiting for Translator on the plinth stairs to the monument of Gustaf II Adolf. "It's been my seventh day in this city and I have never met any countrymen before. How long have you been here?" asked the stranger and started focusing the lens of his massive photo camera that was hanging around his neck.
"We live here," said Teacher.
"What do you mean?" asked the stranger as his joy visibly faded away.
"We aren't tourists like you, dear," said Academic.
"Refugees?!" exclaimed the stranger letting the camera dangle against his chest.
"Shame on you!" he shouted angrily. "How did you dare to leave our beautiful and prospering country, heartless creatures?"
"Leave us alone and enjoy the views of the city… while you can," Academic said.
"What do you mean?" asked the stranger.
"He means that in the future you'll be in prison," inserted Teacher.
"What? And who will put me there?"
"Perhaps you'll find out when the time comes," answered Teacher.
"Traitors! I have been in many countries and never seen such cheeky traitors like you. A lot of our countrymen tend to return and continue their lives in our motherland. But you… You'll go to hell! Mark my words," said the stranger. And as he turned around to walk away, he flinched back as if he had hit a wall of rubber. Translator was looking at him squarely.
"Do you always leave cities without saying "Hello" to old friends, Al?" asked Translator and shook the stranger's hand, slightly pushing him towards Academic and Teacher who looked puzzled.
"Dear friends, this is a person whose nickname is Al Capone," Translator said and put his arm on AL's shoulder who had already turned pale.
Al had no confidence any more. His anger disappeared like a momentary caprice of an indecisive man who lacked willfulness."
"I wonder what wise man gave you this nickname," said Translator and stared at him as if he was carefully reading Al's destiny on his face while holding his hand. "If only the real Al Capone had known that you would be named after him because of your greed, he would have died long before he did. Look at you! An expensive smart suit, a great watch by "Citizen", imperishable shoes, long-lasting I suppose, hair, slicked back, unaffordable perfume and a pair of dark glasses…"
"To cover his nature, I guess," inserted Academic.
"Stop mocking me. To hell with you! I'm leaving," Al blurted out and tried to free his hand turning around.
"It's not nice to leave without talking with us," said Teacher suddenly and approached Al pointing the way towards the place where he had been sitting near Academic.
Teacher's eyes glittered with excitement and interest to hear Al's story in his presence. Translator waited until Al was urged to sit between Academic and Teacher to spill the beans.
"I must apologize for being late my friends. I had a very disturbing dream last night."
"Why don't you tell us what exactly made you come so late," said Teacher.
"Well, I saw a gloomy forest that I was wandering through in the darkness. It was so scary. But for some reason I believed that I would soon come across a hut to stop by. And before long, I noticed a glimpse of light among the branches blocking my view. I moved on. There it was – a nice cute hut lit in the darkness!
So I knocked on the door. Then I heard some strange noise before an old and lively man opened the door. As I can remember, his eyes revealed the purity of his young soul that made his wise and kind face shine. As soon as he let me in, I heard a terrifying grunt from behind the curtain next to the small fireplace. "He is not one of your enemies your Majesty. You can come out now," said the man.
I felt amazed. There was the King, in person. He came out, sat at the table and stared at me. And then he said: "We can continue now, old man. My question was what you do for a living?" he asked the man who was happily laying food on the table. "Well, your Majesty, thanks to your kindness and those monthly three golden coins, I can make my living independently.
Although I still feel ashamed of my age, my late wife would always remind me of how many enemies I had killed for the sake of your father's kingdom. She would always say that I had deserved a quiet life. I killed a lot of your father's enemies and now I can be proud of helping you hide.
Now help yourself you Majesty," said the man. But the King had a very devilish, attentive and examining look at the food on the table. "Thank you, old man. I shall be going now. My guards must be here by now. They were sent for a long time ago. Next time I'll have more guards by my side. The kingdom cannot be without me for too long. And do me a favor. Keep an eye on this young man until I am far away from here." Then he left the house.
I went to the window and opened it. It was very stuffy inside. And suddenly I heard the King order his guards to kill the old man since he was of no use any longer and a waste of golden coins. No sooner had I turned around to warn the man, there was an arrow sticking out on his chest… I woke up, looked at the watch and knew that I would be late for our meeting. Moreover, the traffic jam made me too late."
"One can never get rid of his past. Even here, in such a secure country, it's impossible to forget what we have been through. Why did you tell us your dream?" asked Teacher.
"I did not mean to make you remember your past. I happened to have heard him call you traitors. Or did I get it all wrong?" said Translator looking at Al.
All countrymen became quiet for a moment. There was only the noise of motors which were slowly pulling busses and cars though the traffic jam.
"Tell me Al. Do you know what the difference is between the old man in my dream and us?" Translator asked.
"Of course he does," inserted Academic.
"I think the difference is that we managed to escape the slavery, but the man from your dream failed," Teacher said as he lit a cigarette.
"Yes," Translator said quietly. "Al, if you had had a chance to come across us, even without knowing that you would meet us here one day, you would have tried to fool us too. The way you fooled my cousin. And many others. I hope you all remember that chaos that existed almost twenty years ago.
That was the time, when this gentleman purposefully talked many people into investing their money in one of those infamous banks. He assured those who had saved some money for an uncertain future, to use the services of the bank in which his brother was one of the board members. Sort of a guarantee that nothing bad would happen to the bank. But very few people in the city knew that his brother was working at the security service as well. And this was how he had gathered all the information about so-called rich people to later become a friend of theirs for the idea of taking away what they had."
"How do you know all that?" Academic asked looking terrified.
"Now, it doesn't matter. The matter is that when the bank went bankrupt, he had long been gone with no traces left behind him, and, of course, Al who was living in fake poverty. Although people figured out that it had been their plan, they couldn't do anything against them. And the matter is that this is why he was called Al Capone. He made a fortune when legally it was impossible to become rich. And now this person is one of those who govern the country, making sure that nobody will legally earn money a bit more than they do just to feel secure for even few days to come," sighed Translator.
"It is not true," Al yelled rising to his feet.
"Why are you blushing then?" opposed Translator.
"You are a liar. You don't have any proof of what you are saying," complained Al.
"It is not an excuse for you, is it?" said Academic. "And I hope now you do understand what I meant when I said "enjoy the view while you can"," smirked the old man and took out his bead-set from his pocket and started fiddling with it.
"You wouldn't have been able to travel with officially earned money. The whole system of official income can be compared to a labyrinth with completely blocked corridors. Once you come out of it that means you have made a hole or destroyed it completely. And this, my friend, is considered as an unlawful act," inserted Teacher.
"Come on now, it's so ridiculous to try to prove your innocence. People around you aren't as dumb as you think they are. The man who is on your left side used to work as a teacher before he realized that there is no chance at all to work fairly and survive. The other one, Academic, came here to live with his daughter. And doesn't want to go back after he saw how elderly people are treated here. In our motherland, elderly people survive from pension to pension," explained Translator.
"All of us make a mistake once in a while. Like you some time ago, trying to publicly judge us when you met us," snorted Academic.
"Why don't you sit back here on the plinth stair so we could talk?" suggested Teacher.
Oppressed by incinerating words and thoughts by the incredibly vigilant countrymen, Al moved back and seated himself on the same place between Academic and Teacher, which was still free and waiting for him like a seat on trial in court.
"What's new there? Tell us. We don't every day meet a countryman who has recently come from our motherland," asked Translator.
"What news are you expecting when you all know everything better than I do?" answered Al. "It's been the same hell for the last twenty or so years. In fact it's gotten worse."
"Are there any new laws?" asked Academic.
"What laws? You mean about elderly people?" clarified Al.
"I mean unwritten laws," hastily inserted Academic. "The ones that are practically followed," he added.
"The last news is that it has become extremely hard to take bribes and pass on to bosses."
"You mean the government became more reasonable?" uttered Teacher.
"I think there have lately been a lot of guests, delegations and different high-level visitors from abroad. And when they stay there for a while it becomes evident for them that the basement of that so-called democracy has had many fractures."
"I wonder what happens if someone gets caught while taking bribes? Cause no one would do it if he weren't forced to. They take it in order to give its major share to their bosses," said Translator.
"They will be caught up, arrested, unless they bribe those who arrest them with an amount equaling at least ten times as many as their salaries."
"But how would poor people survive?" snorted Teacher.
"Who cares about slaves?" Al rather commented than answered.
"And what do you do? What is your role?" asked Translator.
"I am a cameraman. I work with "the King" as you said."
"Is this your only source of income?" continued Translator as if he were a plaintiff.
"A lot of people pay me some percents of their income for a cover."
"What do you mean?" grunted Academic.
"I make sure that their businesses won't get into trouble. Cause if it's needed, any kind of business can be considered as an illegal one and all its properties be confiscated."
Gusts of wind pulled the countrymen back to reality. The sudden change of weather seemed to them so unbelievable. Especially to Al.
"Why don't you call each other by names?" asked AL.
"To forget our past," answered Academic. "But if you want to tell us your name, that'll be fine."
Al looked at Translator who stared at him like before.
"There is no need in this," uttered Translator. "I know his name. And he doesn't need to forget his past. He is still enjoying it."
"But sooner or later everything will end. Like today's traffic jam, which has been replaced by this wind," said Teacher thoughtfully.
"Let's get out of here, dear friends. Like I said before, the weather in this city is not used to this kind of talks. It immediately starts crying. You see, it has already started raining. There are drops of rain on AL's glasses," said Academic. "And you know what? Just wait until we are gone to take off your glasses to wipe them. I do not want see your eyes. It's been so difficult for me to forget my past. And seeing your eyes will make it more complicated."
"What if he goes to the Paradise after he dies?" asked Translator cheerfully looking at Academic.
"I don't think so. Our green friend, who's been standing behind us and listening to our talk, will definitely act as a witness for the deeds of Al's immortal but corrupt soul."
The countrymen's laughter was immediately followed by the rattle of pouring rain. Left alone, Al walked away, holding up his unfolded umbrella.