A woman in a tall circular white hat held a metal blanket close to my genitals while they took x-rays.After developing them in the back they brought out the prints—again the doctor confirmed about the shape of my skull, comparing it to the Kyrgz skull which he gestured as being sort of oblong. Finally we had enough, and went to eat Turkish. That night at the hostel, I overheard a Polish couple talking about the healing waters of Issey-kata.
The next morning I hobbled out of the hostel bed, with my arm in a sling and bandages on my head. A kitten danced around the backyard. Chickens stalked amongst the tall grass. A Frenchmen who drank too much wine was passed out in the veranda.
I went straight to the bus station. Healing on my mind, on my way I noticed several people like me, with dressings on their wounds. I took solace, remembering how the idea of punishment had kept me from bailing on this trip. I got on a bus headed to the mountains. In and out of sleep over a couple of hours on bumpy roads, the sun was setting.
Arriving, I found the Russian word for “here” and called to the bus driver to stop along the mountain road beside the mosque. The call to prayer rang out through tinny speakers. I took a deep breathe, grinning and in awe of the song. The old Soviet housing complexes loomed in the background.
In the blues past sunset, an old woman who stood hunched over on the side of the road looked up at me and gave a little smile. I put my hands together and made a sleep sign next to my cheeks.She smiled and waved me behind her. In moonlight between cold mud and rock Soviet housing projects, the creak of metal doors opened slowly and she stepped softly in slippers as we climbed three flights of stairs into an apartment with heavy carpets on the walls and floors. It smelled of burnt herbs.
The woman turned on the light. A big mole on her nose and her smile warmed me. I felt comfortable but a bit curious about where I would sleep. She showed me two rooms. She asked me many things I did not understand and I pointed at one room. She agreed and made my bed. Underneath the bed I found a box of old photos, and spent the night looking at them. These photographs in my hands: Russian conquerors on hairy horses, men in bell-bottoms smoking, tinotype prints, beautiful circley swirling bokehs around a focus point in the middle – a portrait of her mother, she would explain.
I awoke in early light seeing silhouettes of a crocheted white curtain’s shadows onto plastic roses. Shadows danced on the bed.Sitting up, I looked through the window out. My hand touched it’s brass, flicked off some paint. Cracking open the window, I reached out onto the windowsill. Red and pink roses grew in rusted tomato cans swaying in the mountain breeze.
I put on my pants, hearing the old lady creaking around. Opened the door out of my room and there she was, asking more questions. I told her in my best Russian that I did not understand Russian. She kept speaking. Plastic elephants amongst the ornaments on the mantle caught my eye. I heard her say the word “chai,” and I said yes, and “spaciba.” Take tea.
She went to the kitchen and came back a few minutes later with the tea and a hard biscuit, plopping them on the flower placemat on the plastic over the wobbly table. I received them. I dipped the biscuit and took a sip of the black tea as she paced back and forth across the room. Dissolving the biscuit, feeling the warmth of the morning sun, the moisture between textures in my mouth. A picture of a sagely looking woman hung next to a mirror on the bookcase, black-and-white.
I hear her boiling more water in the kitchen. She steps back into the drawing room with a big spoon, throws open the cabinet, and takes out a big plastic bucket. What is this? Honey. She dishes it out into an ornate bowl. I received it and continued to dip. She kept saying something.
Then she sat down at the table and spoke more, at an increasing rate. I repeated “Ya ne ponimayu”—expressing in Russian that I did not understand. She got up again from the table and came back with more biscuits and a bowl of apricot jam and almonds. I took a deep breath and continued to nibble. A few minutes passed, and again she sat back down across from me, and began to speak faster. What was she saying? My heart began to pound. “Ya ne ponimayu,” I repeated. She got more and more agitated. Was she poisoning me? What was going on?
Finally I stood up and asked the woman to come outside with me. We walked around under the sun. We wandered around the village, step in step, her in slippers, and found someone who spoke English. I begged them to explain to me what was going on.
“She is very upset,” they said. “She can’t believe you will leave the house without eating more for breakfast. If she known you had not prepared for breakfast, she would have been prepared. But she had no idea, and she says this is unacceptable, that you cannot go out and start your day without eating a proper breakfast.”
A plastic tube coming out of the earth poured out into a large pool illustrated with cartoon paintings of orcas, mermaids, and fishes. Swathes of Kyrgz folks in their relaxing swim costumes jockeyed around the fountain. Kids splashed with blow up giraffes.
Without a clear sense of a line, I got in the fray. A younger man noticed my wounds and helped me forward. Finally this heat poured onto me, sulphurous water beating all over my body. Pounding on my ribs, shoulders, above my eye. I felt people around me, bodies. A woman stepped in writhing under the current. Muscles eased up, cuts got scabby, I felt my wounds come together.
Later, I got on the trail up into the meadows. Hawks soaring above, a wild camel snacked between two 8 foot tall wooden isosceles triangles. More steps up the trail, I found a white rose bush almost ready to open up. Lavender flowers blossomed, the purple against the blue with the snow capped mountains in the distance.
I was hiking up towards a waterfall. There, I met an man with a cane, sorting herbs he had collected. When he made his way towards the base of the waterfall, on the edge where the ground became a pool, I danced along under him to catch a frame. The clear blue sky got cloudy, and a gentle rain came. I headed back down the path, and along the way, came to a Yurt with an old dog splayed out beside it. A woman rushed some clothes in from the clothesline, as the mist turned to droplets.
I gestured to enter the yurt, and she smiled. Inside, at one edge two children played. On the other, three adolescents laid out. One dude strummed a guitar. They smiled at me and offered to be closer. We sat down in the center of circle, underneath the skylight, on a green astroturf rug, and I fingerpicked some notes on the instrument.
Finally the rain passed and I walked back to home. On the way I stopped at the magazine corner store, where I picked up two bags of groceries. A drunken man who I had seen wandering in the village earlier in the day was milling about while a group of young people congregated amidst the detritus between housing complexes. Suddenly a youth bolted forward from his group, charging the drunk.
He swang his fists mightily. A woman dashed into the fray, sobbing, begging this youth to stop. I stood back and watched as the young man drew blood above the old man’s eyes, over his pocked face. The crying woman finally made her way in between the young man and the drunk, clasping the young man and calming the situation. The sun had set. The people separated.
I walked by an older man burning trash, through the smoke, to the lady’s house. Jangling the key into the heavy lock, the metal gate creaked open, and I hopped up the stairs. We spent the next three evenings sometimes looking at pictures, sitting in relative silence.