BY DAN SHIFFMAN
Copyright is held by the author.
IF YOU want to cross, you’ll need to run before the signal changes back to red and the bug-like Matizs and old Ladas start whizzing again, two lanes in either direction. But there is a pause in the traffic now as the cars bunch up behind a light much further ahead of us on the other side of the median. A few cars have slipped ahead, in the direction of the underpaid green-uniformed police standing outside the gates of Askia Bazaar with their French-style Kepis and empty holsters, holding orange pazhalsta sticks, ready to collect small bribes.
We are just past a crosswalk when we hear screeching from behind us that intensifies into a sustained wail. We turn around with our hearts pounding. Something dark and bulky slides off the hood of a grey Lada on the other side of the median dropping onto the pavement with a horrifying thud. Steam rises from the hood and shattered glass sparkles. The Lada pulls back a few yards from the body. Three men get out of the car and stand before their victim, but they do not kneel down or touch him. The man lying on the road wears a thick black overcoat, much too warm for today. Was he drunk, ill, suicidal? What is clear is that he is not moving.
The police have disappeared and there is no ambulance to call. We have not seen a single ambulance on the street since we have moved here. But we have witnessed a man kick his wife violently in the behind coming out of a bazaar together and another man burst out of a car and tackle his betrayer or enemy on the sidewalk, pummelling him. Children were pulled quietly closer to their parents; no one said anything or tried to intervene.
Now someone on the sidewalk is yelling at the men in Uzbek but decidedly staying at a distance. I can’t understand any of the words, but the intonation is clear: “Do something. Help him.” I want to shout too, but I speak neither Russian nor Uzbek. We’ve not yet learned much more than how to order coffee during our Wednesday night Russian lessons.
The unmoving man is lifted into the back of the car; cigarettes dangle in the mouths of each man carrying him like they are discarding a ratty, rolled up carpet. Three doors close shut like gunshots, and the Lada screeches away just before the next wave of traffic catches up with them. Threadbare, dilapidated Number 16 Hospital isn’t far. Perhaps — I hope — they’ll drop him there. But I know he is already dead.
There will be nothing in the papers about this. Papers that we couldn’t read even if there were an article or obituary. Later, we will hear the Lada again. The sound in our dream will be a death wail from a disembodied voice: “You can’t do anything about this, you can’t do anything about this, you can’t do anything.”