It was rather a cloudy day, the sun was no where to trace of even at the high time of morning. Regardless of leaden, suppressing sky, the air of early April at the foot of mountain was refreshingly pleasant, giving off the promise of balmy summer days just around the corner. After a hearty breakfast, as Yuri just wished, feasted on Tajik’s unreserved hospitality with bread, butter, milk, soul milk and sorts of nuts and sweets, we walked jaunty steps when we were back on the road.
‘I say’, Yuri turned his face while chewing away a green apricot, with one eye shutting almost to a line as if hurt by some high noon summer light, measuring me up with the other in a popinjay sort of haughty air, ‘as my girlfriend-slash-fiancée-slash-wife, I never got the knowledge if you are good at kissing.’
It gave me rather a start, as a person of plenty ready wit and adroit repartee in most occasions, I lost my retort for a moment, and as embarrassing as it sounded for the pregnant silence in between where a response from me was expecting, I doubled it by chuckling out a semi-laughing ‘Cor’, and even that one syllable betrayed my unbalanced nerve. As one can understand, it’s not everyday an imposter husband ask an imposter wife if she is a good kisser. I started shifting my feet.
‘you know’, Yuri, seizing the stern/rudder of the conversation, added on, ‘ as fake as our relationship may be, we still have to look real enough to sell the story.’ He was looking gayer by each minute.
‘Of course I am a good kisser’, possibly the worst reply ever in the history of bantering, I hurled out, rather eager to dignify my honour in the fame hall of kissing, in fear of a single raise of doubt would asunder/incinerate it onto the ground, and a ‘you will see!’ as a closing remarks, we have to admit, didn’t gain me much wining points.
Yuri, now having won this quick battle of badinage, gave out a triumphant laugh, said, ‘So we will see da?’, as if to ascertain his imminent prize.
My embarrassment of losing the grounds of witty replies was mollified by the arrhythmic sound of an incoming Russian truck. Yuri, wasting no time, stuck out a thumb at it while standing at the side of highway. The truck pulled over, and the ingenious smile of the Tajik driver’s encouraged us to climb to the back of truck where it was empty and open-roofed.
We both agreed that the back of unroofed truck was the best place to be in a hitch-hike trip, with unbarred view to wherever your eyes can reach. I stood up, one hand griping onto the banister, one arm reaching out into the air, letting out a joyous ‘woohoo’, and the sour feeling of lost in a banter fleeing through the wind within a trice. A distant echoing ‘woohoo’ was answered by the valley seconds later. Encouraged by the sound of that, I exchanged a few more rounds of single worded conversation with the relentless parroting echo, rather rejoiced by my new found entertainment. Yuri came up and stood next to me, pointing to the daunting mountains still crested with snow ahead of us, ‘Annnd that’s where we are going!’. So along the serpentine highway, we were heading up again.
Only a quarter later, we had to demount the truck at another fork, bidding goodbye to the kind driver, watching and waving till the driver and truck dissolved into a blurred image at afar. We blessed his soul.
A jeep from behind stopped besides us in no time. When we made clear the wish to go to Kojand and have no money to pay, the driver, introduced himself later as Ali, a young lad in his early 30s, dressed in a modest grey jacket and washed out jeans, opened the door and let us pour ourselves into the Jeep. I took the spacious back seats alone. It was only after the car had driven forth about a mile later, the reticence, which matches our driver’s demure manner crudely, was broken. Ali, although the baseball cap was overshadowing half of his face, was caught sizing me up through the mirror with much curiosity. A beam of polite smile crossed my face, I showed my teeth through the mirror back at him, only to hold his shifting yet guileless glances a second before they hid themselves again under the protection of cap rim. He then turned to Yuri, sitting at the co-driver’s seat at this moment, starting to reveal his interest in our relationship, our business in Tajikistan and such. So Yuri, once again, had the opportunity to go over our story, and if I didn’t trust my ears right when I suspected I was introduced as his newly engaged, his mischievous face reflected from the mirror grimacing at me followed by twitching an imaginary ring at his fourth proximal digit certainly verified my suspicion.
The conversation turned out to be short yet not without exchange of pleasantry. Ali was soon restored to his reticent manner and focused solely on the road ahead, which was right now winding us onto the mountain.
Yuri turned back towards me, agreed with my impression on our driver, ‘he is not a man of words’, Yuri said nonchalantly, with no hint of disrespect.
‘A lot of things can be said without words,’ as I gazed outside of window, the car was passing through a field of dandelions, a field of bright yellow dandelions chorusing in the balmy breeze, I directed Yuri’s attention to them, ‘look at those happy souls!’ I shouted out joyously.
Yuri stuck his head out of window, scrutinizing the passing image of those jaunty little yellow elves, replied, ‘Yes, it is rather beautiful. But how would you know if they are happy? They are dandelions.’
I yelled with discontent, as if pointing out the obvious, ‘Look at what color they have! With such a bright yellow they MUST be happy!’
‘Color has nothing to do with happiness, my dear’, Yuri gave me an authoritive glance in the mirror, as though no ground was left to dispute with that fact. And it was his turn to point out the obvious to me this time, he added plainly, ‘Besides they are vegetables.’
‘and whose fault is it that makes us think WE are humans and THEY are vegetables, that we are not one of them, that we cannot get into their mind, speak what they speak, see what they see, feel what they feel.’ I couldn’t let it go.
‘Pure drivel! Of course you are not one of THEM’, Yuri put much emphasis on the last word, continuing explain, ‘They are flowers, drinking rain water, bathing on sunlight, sticking their feet into the dirt sort of vegetables. That’s their whole business. Bring up feelings or sentiments of a dandelion, that’s either a girl’s innocent babbling, my dear!’. ‘Or a poet’s romanticised delusion.’ Yuri added on after half second’s pause.
‘It’s just labels, isn’t it? Flowers, cats, tables, sadness,…, they are all man-made labels’, I became rather soft hearted now, ‘Men are always in need of naming stuff, aren’t they?’ I asked Yuri.
‘Yes, we are’, Yuri ascertained my query, ‘it gives a clear definition of everything around us, and…’.
‘and gives you a sense of control, a self-assured power of knowing in everything around you.’ I continued with his unfinished sentence.
‘that’s right’, without being disturbed, I saw from the mirror that Yuri put up a scholarly air. If people get to know him well enough, then it’s not difficult to imagine him in a stately suit, doddering away in a Victorian style library, with hands behind his back, speaking calmly and surely to his disciples, ‘Ahh yes, Classification in labelling, differentiating in language, so we know black from white, tables from chairs, dandelions from roses,…,you see, my dear, the world falls into order with the aid of language…’
Again, I didn’t wait till Yuri finishing his thoughts, ‘No, the world falls APART with the aid of language. The world disintegrates from ONE into numerous grids, from coherence into disjoints, from continuity into checkered squares,’. With much despondency I added that, ‘and we are all eager to fit into those squares, one or another.’
‘Yeah, but don’t you forget’, reassuming his eloquence, Yuri quickly added, ‘it is from desultory one into orderly grids, from rambling coherence into methodical disjoints, from aimless continuity into systematic squares.’
‘I bet back to the days when there’s no language, one can understand the happiness of a dandelion’. I murmured softly as I pressed my face against the window.
The dandelion field had long been deserted behind us.
Silence again reigned over inside the car.