“Stone Dreams” by Akram Aylisli

From Words without Borders:

The condition of the patient just delivered to the trauma department of one of the major Baku hospitals was very serious.

They took the patient, who was lying unconscious on the gurney, along the very middle of the half-lit hospital corridor that stretched the length of the whole floor to the operating room, which was located in the other wing of the building. There were two women in white lab coats and two men, also in lab coats. The surgeon himself walked beside the gurney, a spare, silver-haired man of middling height, distinguished from his colleagues by his reserve, the compelling sternness of his face, and the particular cleanliness of his lab coat.

If there was anything unusual or seemingly incongruous in this ordinary scene of hospital life, it was the tragic humor in the appearance and behavior of the person who’d brought the patient to the clinic. That small, fidgety man of fifty-five to sixty whose small face was not at all in harmony with his enormous, round belly ran around the doctor constantly repeating the same thing over and over.

“Doctor, my dear Doctor, they killed him! Such a man, in broad daylight, they beat him, destroyed him. It’s those yerazy, Doctor, yerazy. Five or six of those yerazy-boys who fled from Armenia! Those sons of bitches, those refugees simply don’t respect people, Doctor, my dear Doctor. They don’t recognize artists or poets or writers. Just call someone an Armenian—and that’s it! Then they slam him to the ground and trample him like wild animals. They tear him to pieces, and no one dares get involved. I told them: ‘Don’t beat him,’ I said, ‘That man’s not Armenian, he’s one of us, a son of our people, the pride and conscience of the nation.’ But who listens? They didn’t even let me tell them my name. They kicked me so hard in the side that I almost died there, too. Right here, Doctor, in the right side. It still hurts badly now.”

The doctor didn’t really understand what the man who’d brought the patient was saying. Maybe he didn’t want to understand. Maybe he wasn’t even listening to what that fussy, funny man who’d knotted a yellow tie over a brown checked shirt was babbling without pause. However, an observant person might have noticed that the doctor from time to time smiled into his moustache. And not because every word, every gesture of the man who’d brought the patient rose to comedy. But, rather, because the light-haired man lying on the gurney was slender and remarkably tall. And it’s possible that the contrast in appearance between these two reminded the doctor of the very saddest pages of the story of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

When they reached the doors of the operating room, one of the men wearing a white lab coat blocked the path of the funny man in the yellow tie.

“Let him in,” said the doctor. “It seems he has something to say. Let him have his say.”

Although the operating room was considerably smaller than the corridor, all the same it turned out to be a spacious room with a high ceiling and gigantic windows. The operating table standing directly in the center resembled the linen-covered gurney on which they conveyed the patient. The two men in white lab coats delivering the gurney that bore the patient lifted him, laid him on the table, glanced at the doctor for permission, and silently left the operating room.

“Peroxide!” said the surgeon loudly to the nurses, rolling up the sleeves of his lab coat. “Bring it here, wipe off his face.” Looking at the patient covered in blood, he muttered an oath, and turning to the man’s companion, he asked, “Who did this to him?”

“I already told you, Doctor: yerazy. Those bastard refugees arriving from Armenia. It wasn’t enough to smash his face. They also knocked him to the ground like wild animals and began beating him in the stomach. It’s a good thing, Doctor, that I arrived in time. I went out this morning to get some air in the city. I’m coming down from that cursed place they call the Parapet when I see five or six mustachioed scoundrels beating up a man at the edge of the fountain. And people just standing by and watching in silence . . .” Then he suddenly hesitated. His lips continued to move, but the words, it seems, died in his throat.

“There’s no more peroxide, Doctor,” said one of the nurses in an apologetic voice, as quietly as possible. (One of them was elderly, the other quite young.)

“There should be some alcohol,” said the surgeon without hope.

“No, Doctor. Everything we had was used up yesterday.”

“Fine, clean him with water. Don’t use too much manganese.” The doctor washed his hands with soap at the sink standing in the corner of the room and then went up and stood in front of the operating table. “Take everything off of him. Leave only his underwear.”

The patient—his face, nose, chin, the collar of his orange wool shirt, the lapels of his bluish jacket covered in scarlet blood—was lying so calmly on the operating table that it was as if his most evil enemy rather than he himself had been beaten up in the aforementioned Parapet Square. He was sleeping deeply, although frequent, harsh moans escaped from his chest. Not only did he sleep but, apparently, also dreamed, and it seemed that his dreams gave him great satisfaction.

While the women washed the dried blood off the patient’s face, the doctor checked his pulse. When the nurses had stripped the patient, he began to examine him attentively, as if compiling a report for himself or dictating to someone.

“Put two stitches in his lower lip. No fractures noted in the area of the jaw. Two dislocations in the left hand at the elbow and wrist. Two fingers dislocated on the right hand: the thumb and middle finger. Severe muscle trauma in the left leg. A fractured kneecap in the right leg. No serious anomalies noted in the back, rib cage, or spine. No skull fractures observed.” The doctor fell silent and again cursed angrily. “A concussion!” He said this loudly for some reason and in Russian, then pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his trousers, slowly wiped the sweat from his brow, and added in Russian, “A brutal beating!”

After every word the doctor said, the face of the man who’d brought the patient reflected all his feelings, all his pain and suffering. With difficulty, he held himself together, so as not to burst out sobbing. When the doctor had finished his exam, the man’s self-possession was also at an end. He wept violently, like an aggrieved child.

The eyes of one of the women in the white lab coats standing beside the operating table (the younger one) filled with tears. The elderly nurse was also upset and shook her head woefully. And the doctor was very sorry for the man. He began to calm him.

“There, there, this isn’t good . . . It’s nothing terrible. In fifteen days your friend will be like new, I’ll make a beauty out of him.” Lowering his head, he thought a bit and then again lifted his head and asked cautiously, “So, you say this man is Armenian?”

The eyes of our comic hero bulged in surprise.

“Really, you don’t know him?! You don’t know Sadai Sadygly? The pride of Azerbaijani theater! Our number one artist! You really don’t know this great master, Doctor? You haven’t even seen him on television? You’ve even seen me on television more than once, Doctor. Maybe you just don’t remember—Nuvarish Karabakhly, a well-known actor of comic roles. Maybe you don’t know me. I’m not offended by that. But there’s no one who doesn’t know Sadai Sadygly. You see, no one else in the world has played Hamlet, Othello, Aidyn, and Kefli Iskender like he has.”

Link to the rest at Words Without Borders