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Words Without Borders is one of the inaugural Whiting Literary Magazine Prize winners!
from the September 2018 issue

The Killer

In the end, one sentence awaits us all—death 
Joseph Brodsky
 

Because we are all murderers, he told himself. We are all on both sides, if we are any good, and no good will come of any of it.
Ernest Hemingway, Islands in the Stream

 

God inscribed my grief 
On my sword
I killed the man I’d sworn to be a brother to
I used a sword on my brother
They are chasing me to murder me
They put a trap for me on the road

Folk song

 

Listen to author Beka Kurkhuli read "The Killer" in the original Georgian
 

The sea was calm. It stretched far away to the horizon and cautiously touched the shore with a swishing sound. It glimmered calmly under the wide-open blue deep and alien sky. An enormous cluster of clouds sailed across the clear sky like a space shuttle reflected in the swelling sea.

He was swimming in warm, slightly ruffled waves. Then he dove, opened his eyes and saw the fragmented white rays of the sun descending into the dark-greenish, yellowish sea water. They were making their way to the bottom of the sea.

Suddenly he felt something long, and thin as a thread, pierce him under his left shoulder blade. Once, twice and three times and the sun hurtled down and spread its white rays at lightning speed across the sea and it struck for the fourth time under his shoulder blade. His heart stopped. “I’m dying,” he thought and started to sink toward the bottom of the white, illuminated sea, like a white harpooned shark. He tried to get back up to the surface. “No, I can’t. I am dying!” he thought a second time and began desperately to panic. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t even move his arm. “I’ve died, you motherfucker, I’ve died!” His whole body writhed, he moved his shoulders and immediately an unbearable pain shot through his entire body like fire. He had never been afraid of pain, but he certainly didn’t want to die, especially not in a thick, sticky, treacherous white sea that had stuck a needle in his back, beneath his left shoulder blade. “You motherfucker,” he said to the pain, to the whiteness that was strangely illuminated from within, and to the treacherous sea and to his own pierced heart. He struggled again, then paddled with his legs too.

The surface of the sea was visible far above. It was a long way away, but it was there. It was definitely there. He started moving slowly and after a while he surged out of the sea, shaking his head. Immediately his wide-open eyes, crazy with terror, encountered the hot sun.

He swam toward the shore. He swam through the thick white sea and he could no longer feel his heart. The shore was black and it wasn’t expecting anyone. 

***   
 

Gia Ezukhbaia, a six-foot-tall, former partisan from Nabakevi nicknamed Pshaveti, sat on a seat that had been ripped out of a Ford minibus on the first floor of the long, faceless, two-story former House of Culture in the village of Akhalkakhati near Zugdidi. He averted his face from the heat coming from the red-hot stove and listened to his wife complaining.

Gia Ezukhbaia’s wife was kneading dough in an enamel bowl on the long table near the tap. She cooked maize bread in an iron pan. She was complaining in time with the thudding sounds of the dough.

“I curse you because you didn’t make me happy, you made me unhappy, me and my children, you idiot, you idiot, if you wanted a life like this, why did you marry if you were going to make us miserable? Who will defend you, you wretched fool, who’s your patron and who’s grateful to you? Here’s your Georgia, let it help you now. I’m baking the last of the bread, look at my hands, I’m peeling every last bit of dough from my fingers. You made enemies of the Abkhazians, you made enemies of the Georgians, and now everyone’s trying to kill you. The whole family’s got to sleep behind three iron gates and our hearts explode with fear at every movement. At any moment someone could pour some petrol and set us and the children on fire. Is this any kind of life? We're half a kilometer from the Enguri River, the Abkhazians could be here in two minutes. How come you’re fighting in the war? Who needed your war and who have you hurt with your fighting?”

Gia Ezukhbaia wasn’t nicknamed Pshaveti because he was one of the cold-blooded Georgian partisans on the Enguri embankment and drank the blood of Abkhazians and Russians. It was more because he was very witty and he swore a lot, unlike Mingrelians. Now, though, he sat quietly, fiddling aimlessly with a piece of wood, and listened to his wife’s complaining. 

“You should have stayed behind to mind your own business, in which case you could have gone to Nabakevi, picked a few oranges, some hazelnuts, you could have given them away, begrudgingly. The whole village of Gali goes there, and they don’t touch the villagers. People work, they earn some pennies. The Kishmaris even got a kettle.”

“Yes, sure, I’d slave for those bastards!”

Gia stoked up the stove with some wood and banged its door closed.

“They aren’t slaves at all. No, you’re the only one who’s here! It’s beneath your dignity. You say you’re a partisan but I’m frightened of going out because you owe money at the kiosk. The whole of the Gali region returns home and according to you, they’re all slaves. They return to their land, they build houses, they begin their lives again, they don’t do it for nothing. They’re not for the Russians and not for the Abkhazians. They move freely. As for you, stay here and kill people . . .”

“Stop your nagging! Shut up, I’m telling you I won’t go back there carrying Russian papers, and that’s the end of it.”

“Oh, yes, as if you’re Prince Tsotne Dadiani himself, saint and martyr. Even if you wanted to, who would let you return, you miserable creature with blood all over your hands. How many sins have you committed? Your children will be answerable for them. You know that, don’t you?”

”Stop talking like that, I’m telling you.”

“What shall I stop doing? What? Kill me too and that’ll be the end of it. I’m not afraid of anything anymore, I can’t take any more, I’ve already lost my mind. This bloody war is over for everyone, except for you and your friends, all drug addicts and thieves. The whole of Abkhazia and Samegrelo is after you, you’ll never be able to go back home now.”

“What is it you want, woman? What?”

“I’ve been telling you since this morning what I want. Don’t you hear anything I say? You only want to do what you want and you aren’t interested in anything else. But we both see what happens when you do exactly what you want.”

“Shut up and bake your bread. Don’t talk when it’s none of your business.”

“I bore you four children and you say it’s not my business? The eldest is twenty-two already, if you remember? The kids have seen nothing but war and trouble. Don’t they need to study, set up home, start a family? Never mind studying and setting up a home, your children are hungry, they haven’t got any clothes. He’s a fighter so he can’t help himself . . . . I wonder who it is you’re fighting with apart from yourself?”

Gia took some wood out from under the stove, looked at it, fiddled with it, then threw it back. He lit up a cheap Astra cigarette and inhaled deeply.

“You’ve got nothing to complain about, you live as you wish. I’m the one crying my eyes out, living with you. Why did I marry you, what was I thinking? My father was beside himself, don’t marry him, he kept saying.”

“Come off it, it’s not as if our getting married would kill him!”

“Even if he hasn’t died, I’d rather die myself if I can’t go to my own cousin’s funeral. You can bury me alive and that will be that. You won’t let me mourn my own flesh and blood, Gia Ezukhbaia, may God deprive you of any mourners on account of your sins against me.”

“Woman, you’ll put me in the grave with your nagging. Ugh.”

“Who’ll put you in the grave and who’ll kill you, you idiot?”

“I’m sincerely sorry I didn’t get myself killed but what can I do about it now?”

He felt a wave of shame in front of his wife. He knew she was right, but he couldn’t bring himself to say a word. His wife’s cousin had died and she lived close by, just a few houses away, but his wife couldn’t go to pay her respects because she didn’t have any shoes. She couldn’t go there to give her condolences when all she had to wear were her red and blue striped slippers. Gia racked his brains over where and how he could get her some shoes, but he couldn’t think of anything. 

Gia Ezukhbaia came into this war rather late. The main action was taking place in Kumistavi and Sukhumi, which seemed a long way from the district of Gali. At first, he didn’t think the war had anything to do with him. Now that the guys from Tbilisi had rushed in to help the people of Abkhazia sort out their business, it was for them to put it all to rights, it was their problem. What’s more, Ezukhbaia, like most Mingrelians, didn’t have any time for the so-called State Council military units, especially after the events that had taken place not so far away in the districts of Zugdidi and Tsalenjikha. Hidden in Gali and Abkhazia, loyal members of the military and supporters of the first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, told tales about the cruelty of the putschists and the Tbilisi Military Council. They didn’t actually need to tell tales as Ezukhbaia’s native village, Nabakevi, was only a few kilometres from the Enguri river and the deafening sound of shooting from across the river was clearly audible, and they could see flames too, flying high up into the sky. So Gia Ezukhbaia wasn’t that surprised when the Tbilisi people went on to Abhazeti after Samegrelo, nor was he that upset about it. He didn’t consider himself to be on the side of the government’s army, much less think that the Abkhazians were on his side—he remembered only too well the confrontation with them in the summer of 1989, when he and some others rushed the Galidzgi Bridge with his double-barreled shotgun after the Abkhazians had ravaged Sukhumi University during entrance exams. They had thrown portraits of Georgian writers out onto the streets and killed Vova Vekua and some other residents of Sukhumi. Later, it seemed everything had calmed down, he became friendly with Abkhazians and he personally had no quarrel with Abkhazians about anything. After December 1991, the start of the civil war when the shooting and bloodshed began, the confrontations between citizens in Tbilisi were immediately echoed in Abkhazia.

The Abkhazians tried their hardest to remain neutral during the internal conflicts of the Georgians, but in spite of this, war broke out anyway in August 1992. By that time Gia Ezukhbaia was already forty-eight and he had seen everything and so he didn’t trust either side. In this time of mayhem and infernos, he, his elder brother and cousins tried to protect their homes, their mandarin and hazelnut plantations and property, and somehow he actually managed to do so, sometimes by cunning and sometimes by force. He didn’t get involved in anything else beyond that.

His heart first missed a beat when, between the fourteenth and sixteenth of March 1993, Russians, Armenians, Abkhazians, and North Caucasians invaded the outskirts of Sukhumi and the Russian Air Force bombed Sukhumi several times. Refugees started leaving Sukhumi and the people of Gali began packing their bags in anticipation of what might happen. However, as it turned out, the Georgians fought valiantly and Sukhumi was saved. After that, it was only a little while before the Ezukhbaias got involved in the war.

Events developed as follows. Gia Ezukhbaia’s childhood friend and classmate Dato Shervashidze arrived from Riga to attend the funeral of his old friend Pridon Marshania. Marshania was involved with the Mkhedrioni and had been fighting from the very first day of the war. Marshania was killed near Ochamchire during the operation to open the road between Ochamchire and Sukhumi. Pridon Marshania and Dato Shervashidze had several things in common while Gia Ezukhbaia was just a peasant, with his mandarins, hazelnuts, and cattle. As for Shervashidze and Marshania, they had been running for gangsters since they were kids, to Moscow, to Rostov. Criminals, drugs and so on. Then Dato settled in Riga together with his family, took care of his business and didn’t give a thought to Georgia for a long time, even after the war began. And now he’d flown from Riga to mourn his murdered friend. He had only just managed to get to Ilori from Tbilisi, to the Marshania’s two-story house where the bullet-riddled body of Pridon Marshania lay, no longer able hear the sound of the women’s keening reaching the sky.

The Ezukhbaias traveled to Ilori in two cars as it was very dangerous to travel by car in those days. They were stopped three times on the road from Nabakevi to Ilori, but as soon as those who stopped them heard where they were going, they were allowed to pass without any problems.

Gia Ezukhbaia and his elder brother were welcomed by the men who were bustling about in the yard, and the encounter between the Ezukhbaias and Dato Shervashidze was very special. They stood for a long time embracing each other as Gia secretly wiped away his tears then stared into Dato’s impassive face.

“Dato, brother, how are you, brother? What a place and what a reason for us to meet each other, isn’t it, oh, fuck it, fuck your mother. 

“I fuck everyone’s mother, whores, goats, shameful bitches and rent boys, I’ll make those murderers spit blood.”

“What can you do, Dato, what do you want to do and what can you do? They're all bastards whether they're over here or over there.”

“The way they killed my Pridon Marshania, the way they bumped him off for nothing, those whores…” 

“I tried so many times to persuade him not to interfere, not to get involved. What do you want to do that for, I said, these guys are motherfuckers and those are too, both sides are coming to invade us, why do you need to get yourself killed? It’s not our fight, these jackal politicians come along, make us enemies to one another, make us slaughter each other and then carry on their business. Meanwhile, we’ll remain blood enemies and all this’ll happen because of their politics and greedy stomachs. We simple people will be made to suffer. But he didn’t believe me. You couldn’t make him listen to anything. No, he said, they are brothers. What sort of brothers, committing such horrors as they did in Samegrelo? And who are the Abkhazians? I personally have no reason to fight with Abkhazians! All those poor bastards are my relatives and have the same surnames.”

Gia Ezukhbaia and Dato Shervashidze hadn’t seen each other for years and as usual, they stuck firmly together during the whole business of the wake and mourning. They drank, Dato did some drugs, he wept quietly, tears rolling down from behind his black sunglasses. He asked Gia about local affairs, then he lost interest and stopped listening to Gia’s Megrelian arguments and swearing.

“How are the children? How’s your wife?” he asked Gia quietly when at one point they were keeping vigil for Pridon Marshania while Gia’s elder nephew was reading Psalm 90 aloud to the deceased.

“She’s all right, I dunno really. How do you think she’d be, putting up with us?"

“You’ve got two boys and a girl, haven’t you?”

“I’ve got two boys and two girls. Both boys are called Dato, in your honor.” 

“Come on, what do you mean, man, both brothers have the same name?”

“I call one Dato and the other one Data!”

“You’re one crazy motherfucker!” It was the first time Dato Shervashidze had laughed during these days.

The next day after the funeral, Dato Shervashidze dropped in on Gia Ezukhbaia, taking some gifts for his namesakes. The Ezukhbaias laid the table. Dato Ezukhbaia was silent during the whole feast and he even dozed off a couple of times, but his silence was eloquent. It was Gia who began to speak.

“When are you heading back to the Baltics, Dato? We’ll see you off. You need to be seen off properly, it’s the right thing to do. It’s a very bad time here now. Ah!”

The steady dull sound of gunfire came from outside.

Dato Shervashidze had been drinking chacha, 45 proof, but he suddenly sobered up and said:

“I’m not going anywhere from here!”

Gia’s older brother immediately understood and shook his head quietly.

“Come on, what are you gonna do? What the hell is there here for you? Don’t say this shit, are you crazy? Our dear departed Pridon Marshania didn’t believe me either and now he’s lying in the ground, God bless his soul. Can’t you see what’s happening in this place full of weeping mothers? What have you lost in this hellhole, you motherfucker?. . . Come on, buddy, if only I had some place to go like you do, I wouldn’t . . . ”

“So who will I leave Pridon with? Who will I leave you with? And what’ll I do then back in Riga? Arse around having fun? Fuck the Baltics, what have they got to do with me? Am I going to leave my brother lying in the ground, sacrifice him without any revenge and run away myself?  Where should I run away to, Gia?  Who should I run away from?  Should I run away from these rats and whores? How can I run? And leave you just like that, will I? And what would you say then if that’s what I did, eh? Dato Shervashidze is one cold dude, he wants to do what he wants to do, does he do the right thing? Eh? You’d fucking curse me!”

“I won’t curse you! Just go, be well and I swear on the lives of all my four children I won’t curse you, I won’t call you a motherfucker. I swear brother, this older one . . .”

“No, you won’t do it, you won’t have to curse me. That’s it, I’m staying, it’s a done deal. If I go, it means I’ve chickened out. I’ve never run away from anything, you know that.”

“What about your wife and children? What are you going to do with your family? Are you leaving them in Riga or what?”

“They're OK there. What about yours here? Or your children aren’t children and your family’s not a family, how can they put up with this hell? Let them put up with it in Riga as well.”

Gia looked at his childhood friend with alarm. 

“Sure, that’s all clear, but what are we going to do now, Dato?” the older brother asked Gia.

“I spoke to Marshania’s brothers who belong to the Mkhedrioni. I told them I was staying. They’ll help us with everything.” 

“That’s no good, I don’t like having anything to do with the Mkhedrioni. They won’t understand us. The people in Abkhazia won’t understand us either, Dato . . .”

“Who gives a shit about the people! People are the same as the Mkhedrioni, what do you want from the Mkhedrioni, what’s wrong with them, the same people join the Mkhedroni, what makes you think otherwise? They don’t fall from the sky, they're one of us too. It was people who created that Mkhedrioni, they run to them first to inform on who’s got so many flocks of sheep and who’s kicking off what problems with who. I’m certain of it. Those shitfaces, whores …”

“I know all these troubles better than you, but all the same, I won’t go to them, I don’t like those people!” said Gia Ezukhbaia.

“OK, as you like, if you don’t want to, we won’t go to the Mkhedrioni. They can just help us get weapons. We’ll stay separate. We’ll call ourselves the Gali Battalion, I dunno, what does it matter?”

“Nothing matters,” Gia Ezukhbai agreed. He was thoughtful. 

“Do you have a weapon?”

“Sure, we’ve certainly got weapons,” said Gia Ezukhbaia and averted his eyes from his pale wife, who was leaning against the dresser, her hands over her mouth. 

“We’re getting together in Gali tomorrow at ten o’clock. There’ll be weapons waiting for us there too. There won’t be any problems regarding any weapon. I don’t want to argue about whether you’re coming or you’re not coming, you’ll remain my brothers until death.”

Gia Ezukhbaia’s older brother sat silently. He’d already made up his mind.

“Go to hell!” said Gia Ezukhbaia, his voice cracking.

“I’m off, and thank you very much for everything. My apologies to the ladies, I’ve caused you a lot of bother. God bless you.”

They kissed each other at the gates while parting.

“Fuck their mother, those whores who put my Pridon Marshania under the earth, fuck all their mothers . . .” said Dato Shervashidze, high on drugs, getting into the car and revving the engine. The lights from the fast-moving car danced around in the dark for a long time as the car rattled away over the potholes along the road.

At ten in the morning they met up in Gali. Dato Shervashidze came along at eleven, hardly able to open his eyes. And it started. They fought mainly in Ochamchire: Kochara, Tsageri, Kidgi, Tamishi,Tsebelda, Labra. During the first battle near Kochara, Gia Ezukhbaia couldn’t lift his head. He was lost amid the roaring and shooting. “If only I could be safe now, God, I won’t come back here again,” he said to himself with his head down in the muddy earth and his eyes firmly on the green blades of grass. His older brother came running up. “What’s wrong with you, you aren’t wounded, are you?” Pale Gia only managed to shake his head to say no. "Shoot now, or shame on you,” his brother told him quietly and then, bending over, he ran back to his position and sat down near a gray wall with peeling plaster which was all that remained of the abandoned, gutted farmhouse—and carried on shooting. Gia saw how the twinkling red-yellow flame emerged from the shaking machine gun in his brother’s hands. His brother’s face was calm and he shot round after round at steady intervals. He took careful aim and fired. “My brother’s strong, that bastard, he’s always been strong . . . ach, when will all this end and when will it get dark? Ach, Dato Shervashidze, where did you bring me and what you are you putting me through? Mother, what the hell is this! God, save me now and fuck anyone who would come back here . . . What have I got to do with the war and shooting and why did I get involved in this massacre? What kind of general am I, wretched me?” Then he lifted the machine gun above his head and pressed the trigger. Even in that atmosphere of roaring, the piercing, deafening sound of his machine gun hammered on his eardrums. The red-hot cartridge cases falling from the machine gun scattered around on the ground, producing a cold, ringing sound. “Ouch, when will this cursed thing be over, I wish it would get dark at least . . .” The sun continued to shine brightly and that day claimed many lives before the night fell.

In the evening when everything was over and they got back together, Gia felt very ashamed. He was especially ashamed in front of the young guys from Tbilisi who knocked back drinks carelessly and discussed with the locals the quality of local joints and how to get hold of some hash. “When a man of my age throws away his hoe and spade and picks up a gun, nothing will come out of this man,” he said out loud. The guys from Tbilisi smiled tolerantly and a bit ironically too. ”That’s nothing to worry about, uncle, at the beginning we all pissed ourselves in terror, that’s what happens at first,” said the youngest one of the Tbilisi guys, a baby face who couldn’t be older than his nephew. “Look at him, what can you say when this kid has to defend you, man . . . I can’t let on I’m scared stiff or these bastards will never let me forget it.”

“When we put an end to this disaster, I promise you some good Otobyia hashish!”

“Is it strong?” The youngest one’s eyes lit up.

The older Ezukhbaia sat at the foot of a tree, quiet and thoughtful as usual. He shook his head unhappily at Gia’s words. 

“You’re over the top, Dato, it’s not good, you know you don’t need it,” he told Shervashidze.

Dato Shervashidze sat quietly on somebody’s rucksack, he was sweating profusely and could hardly breathe.

“He was chasing the bullet, this damned idiot,” thought Gia Ezukhbaia. “It all depends on the man, but Dato and his brother fought well even though they were in battle for the first time.”

“Pridon was everybody’s brother and we all loved him a lot, but you have to do things carefully and sensibly. Just following your heart doesn’t help get things done, but hey, that’s what you’re doing,” the older Ezukhbaia told Dato.

“He shouldn’t have got involved in this cock-up, those crooked politicians start something in their offices then good guys die on both sides and nothing happens to those at the top. They couldn’t give a rip whether we die or not, they’ll even use it to their advantage. He shouldn’t have got involved. If I’d been here I would have prevented it, but now what can you say to him, he’s pushing up daisies, it’s too late now,” said Dato Shervashidaze, his hissing voice sounding strange. Then he put his hand into his chest pocket and took out a piece of silver paper folded into four and turned his black glasses toward the guys from Tbilisi.

“Hey, here it is, but be careful, it has a kick, don’t overdo it.”

The youngest one of the Tbilisi guys approached him slowly, walking with a theatrical air and took it.

“Thanks. And you?”

“I don’t smoke that stuff.”

“Dato, perhaps you can get hold of someone there in Abkhazia, you’ve got some good honest, sensible people. Perhaps we can bring this bad thing to a close . . ."

Dato Shervashidze took out a cigarette and lit up.

“It’s not going to end now,” he said eventually. “Slavika’s already been killed in Kapi. He tried to help the Georgian priest in Gagra, the Russians had put a rubber tire on him and were going to burn him. He stood in front of this priest in Kapi and shouted, What are you doing, you whores? Without any gun and with his bare heart he covered the priest. The Cossacks killed Slavika after the Georgian priest in Kapi and burned both of them together anyway. Our lot, Abkhazians, said they would find those Cossacks. Where can you find those beggars, they don’t have any breeding or sense of race or home or honor? And Beso Agrba fights on their side, the Georgians set fire to his cousin in a tank near Gumista and he’s taking revenge. Dima Argun’s uncle was killed in Gagra, his blood relative, his mother’s brother, and he’s fighting against us too. The Mebonia lot, people like ‘sukhumski,' Tatash Chkhotua and Dato Gerdzmava avoided the whole thing from the very beginning. They’re in Russia, in Moscow. They phoned me several times, they were going to visit me in Riga. There’s yet more folk but they can’t make up their mind, what can they do, who would listen to what they have to say, fuck their mothers, the thugs. They've sold everything and it’s all sewn up.”

Gia Ezukhbaia listened to them quietly. This conversation made his body feel even colder. He held on to his machine gun with all his might and tried not to pay attention to his heart, which was sinking with fear. “I wonder what’s happening at our place, how they’re getting on at home?” he asked his older brother.

Gia’s older brother shrugged his shoulders and looked away to one side. 

The following day, early in the morning, Shervashidze shot up, then they went out to the crossroads to a standpipe to wash their faces.

“Eh, what’s happening at home, brother, I wonder, how are they and what are they’re doing? They’re probably nervous and worrying a lot.” Gia Ezukhbaia repeated what he’d said the previous day.

“Why are you going on about home? How do I know what’s happening there. Whose house is it anyway?” the older Ezukhbaia suddenly started shouting furiously.

“Why are you shouting?”

Suddenly, there was the sound of ferocious shooting. The sound of gunfire was coming toward them very quickly.

The village was being attacked. The fighters dispersed chaotically, running to find the most advantageous positions that were relatively safe and tactically correct. Only Dato walked because he wasn’t up to running.

Gia Ezukhbaia together with Shukria Diasamidze from Batumi ran quickly to the very first courtyard and set up an ambush in the corner of an abandoned house with broken windows. Shukria Diasamidze sat close by, near the outside kitchen.

“Have you seen my people by any chance?” Gia Ezukhbaia shouted, pale faced and looking around. He was looking for his brother and Dato Shervashidze.

His question was lost in the noise of Shukria Diasamidze’s machine gun. Diasamidze shot one round and he shot carefully. Gia Ezukhbaia shot bullet after bullet to the opening at the end of the courtyard.

A bit later, a round of four bullets hit Diasamidze in the right side of his chest. A fourth bullet grazed his shoulder. Gia quickly ran up to him, sat down beside him, and stared bewildered at Shukria’s quivering face and the pink bubbles of blood appearing at his mouth. One bullet had gone through his lung. It was the first time Gia had seen a man killed by gunshot and he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw how, even though he was already dead, for a few seconds Shukria Diasamidze kept pulling at the belt of his submachine gun and how the fingers of his right hand were convulsing.

Gia Ezukhbaia felt a weight lifted from him. He got up from where Shukria Diasamidze was lying and stretched, carefully avoiding stepping in the pool of blood that had suddenly spread all around. He then leaned the machine gun butt against his shoulder and fired the whole cartridge in the direction of the end of the orchard and then, while still standing, he replaced the cartridge and fired once again. He could hear the characteristic hissing sound of the bullets whizzing past him. Only yesterday, that sound was enough to freeze his blood in their veins, but now that no longer happened. It didn’t happen and that’s all there is to it. Neither the explosion of a mine nearby nor the soil that had fallen on him, nor the hissing sound of more frequent bullets, shot one by one, could make him lower his head. 

The Willys drew up at the gates near the house with a squawking noise. People got out, then carried Shukria Diasamidze back to the vehicle.

“Makes no sense, he’s dead and done for,” a voice sounded.

They laid Shukria Diasamidze’s body carefully at the edge of the road.

“Get in touch with San Sanich with the walkie-talkie, he can come with the Gazik,” said one of them, running toward Gia, bending double.

A little later, the others rushed into the courtyard as well, including the older Ezukhbaia and Dato Shervashidze. They sat down at the foot of the tree. Dato Shervashidze insisted on getting up onto his feet several times. The Ezukhbaias tried to stop him by swearing and shouting, but it was already too late. Shervashidze fell down. He was lucky. The bullet had gone through his side. 

Both the Ezukhbaia men rushed to Dato Shervashidze.

”See what he’s done, insisting on having his own way. I’m the son of a whore . . .” 

“Come on, bring him here, what was he doing, the bastard, really he’s not all together . . .”

“Let me go, there’s nothing wrong with me, it’s a flesh wound!”

”Shut up or I’ll kill you with my own hands. It went through his flesh, son of a bitch.”

They forcibly shoved Dato into the nearby Willys.

“Take him, take him away from here! Who’s this crazy SOB, he’s been high since this morning and he can’t feel anything anymore. You’re the one who should be worrying about him . . .”

At the end of the day, impregnated with the smell of gun powder, Gia Ezukhbaia sat at the foot of the tree and smoked one cigarette after another and thought about the blood of Shukria Diasamidze from Batumi. He didn’t remember Shukria himself very well, he had only met him the previous evening and they had soon gone to bed and in the morning they had got involved in the fighting. He couldn’t help thinking about the pool under Shukria Diasamidze’s body, the blood the color of red wine, flooding like the sea. He had the feeling that that the man’s blood was his very own. Then he got used to it. He was no longer petrified with fear.

He got used to it. He got used to shooting, but he found it more difficult to get used to things other than shooting. For a week after the battle had erupted, he hadn’t been able to touch any food. He was hungry, but he felt no hunger. On the contrary, at the end of each day when he saw how the warriors gulped stewed meat and condensed milk straight from the tins or guzzled half-raw stolen pork, he felt sick the whole time. “How can those wretches eat among so many dead people, blood and gunfire?” But not long afterward, in a manner he didn’t even understand himself, he began to use the bayonet of his Kalashnikov rifle to eat stewed meat mixed with lumps of fat straight from the tin. 


© Beka Kurkhuli. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2018 by Natalia Bukia-Peters and Victoria Field. All rights reserved. 

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