If he had the cleft tongue of a devil, or the snake hair of a Medusa, or the matted hair of a wolf-monster, Akhmed might understand. But Ramazan had two eyes, a nose, and a mouth, pairs of arms and legs and ears, hair greasy, but not slimy and certainly not slithering, and Akhmed did not understand.
The past few months have been the most serene of his adult life. The megalopolis in his mind has quieted to a country road. He does his work, he eats his bread, and he sleeps with the knowledge that today hasn't added to the sum of human misery. For now at least it's peace of a kind he hadn't imagined himself worthy of receiving.
past quotesmonths quotesserene quotesadult quoteslife quotesmegalopolis quotesmind quotesquieted quotescountry quotesroad quoteswork quoteseats quotesbread quotessleeps quotesknowledge quotestoday quotesadded quotessum quoteshuman quotesmisery quotespeace quoteskind quotesimagined quotesworthy quotesreceiving quotes
She praised his book and he embraced her from gratitude rather than lust, but she didn't let go. Neither did he. She kissed his cheek, his earlobe. For months they'd run their fingers around the hem of their affection without once acknowledging the fabric. The circumference of the world tightened to what their arms encompassed. She sat on the desk, between the columns of read and unread manuscript, and pulled him toward her by his index fingers.
praised quotesbook quotesembraced quotesgratitude quoteslust quoteskissed quotescheek quotesearlobe quotesmonths quotesrun quotesfingers quoteshem quotesaffection quotesacknowledging quotesfabric quotescircumference quotesworld quotestightened quotesarms quotesencompassed quotessat quotesdesk quotescolumns quotesread quotesunread quotesmanuscript quotespulled quotesindex quotesfingers quotes
She ate quickly. Hunger was a sensation so long situated in his abdomen he felt it as he would an inflamed organ. He took his time, tonguing the pulp into a little oval and resting it against his cheek like a lozenge. If the bread wouldn't fill his stomach, it might at least fill his mouth. The girl had finished half of hers before he took a second bite. "You shouldn't rush'" he said. "There are no taste buds in your stomach." She paused to consider his reasoning, then took another bite. "There's no hunger in your tongue, " she mumbled between chews. Her cupped hand caught the crumbs and tossed them back in her mouth.
ate quotesquickly quoteshunger quotessensation quoteslong quotessituated quotesabdomen quotesfelt quotesinflamed quotesorgan quotestime quotestonguing quotespulp quotesoval quotesresting quotescheek quoteslozenge quotesbread quotesfill quotesstomach quotesmouth quotesgirl quotesfinished quoteshalf quotesbite quotesrush quotestaste quotesbuds quotesstomach quotespaused quotesreasoning quoteshunger quotestongue quotesmumbled quoteschews quotescupped quoteshand quotescaught quotescrumbs quotestossed quotesback quotes
The look on his face told her what had happened and that hurt burrowed deeper than anything she'd ever felt, deep enough to change from the thing she felt to the thing she was. Love, she learned, could reduce its recipient to an essential thing, as important as food or shelter, whose presence is not only longed for but needed.
face quotestold quoteshappened quoteshurt quotesburrowed quotesdeeper quotesshed quotesfelt quotesdeep quoteschange quotesthing quotesfelt quoteslove quoteslearned quotesreduce quotesrecipient quotesessential quotesthing quotesimportant quotesfood quotesshelter quotespresence quoteslonged quotesneeded quotes
The missing remained missing and the portraits couldn't change that. But when Akhmed slid the finished portrait across the desk and the family saw the shape of that beloved nose, the air would flee the room, replaced by the miracle of recognition as mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, and cousin found in that nose the son, brother, nephew, and cousin that had been, would have been, could have been, and they might race after the possibility like cartoon characters dashing off a cliff, held by the certainty of the road until they looked down - and plummeted is the word used by the youngest brother who, at the age of sixteen, is tired of being the youngest and hopes his older brother will return for many reasons, not least so he will marry and have a child and the youngest brother will no longer be youngest; that youngest brother, the one who has nothing to say about the nose because he remembers his older brother's nose and doesn't need the nose to mean what his parents need it to mean, is the one who six months later would be disappeared in the back of a truck, as his older brother was, who would know the Landfill through his blindfold and gag by the rich scent of clay, as his older brother had known, whose fingers would be wound with the electrical wires that had welded to his older brother's bones, who would stand above a mass grave his brother had dug and would fall in it as his older brother had, though taking six more minutes and four more bullets to die, would be buried an arm's length of dirt above his brother and whose bones would find over time those of his older brother, and so, at that indeterminate point in the future, answer his mother's prayer that her boys find each other, wherever they go; that younger brother would have a smile on his face and the silliest thought in his skull a minute before the first bullet would break it, thinking of how that day six months earlier, when they all went to have his older brother's portrait made, he should have had his made, too, because now his parents would have to make another trip, and he hoped they would, hoped they would because even if he knew his older brother's nose, he hadn't been prepared to see it, and seeing that nose, there, on the page, the density of loss it engendered, the unbelievable ache of loving and not having surrounded him, strong enough to toss him, as his brother had, into the summer lake, but there was nothing but air, and he'd believed that plummet was as close as they would ever come again, and with the first gunshot one brother fell within arms' reach of the other, and with the fifth shot the blindfold dissolved and the light it blocked became forever, and on the kitchen wall of his parents' house his portrait hangs within arm's reach of his older brother's, and his mother spends whole afternoons staring at them, praying that they find each other, wherever they go.
missing quotesremained quotesportraits quoteschange quotesakhmed quotesslid quotesfinished quotesportrait quotesdesk quotesfamily quotesshape quotesbeloved quotesnose quotesair quotesflee quotesroom quotesreplaced quotesmiracle quotesrecognition quotesmother quotesfather quotessister quotesbrother quotesaunt quotescousin quotesfound quotesnose quotesson quotesnephew quotesrace quotespossibility quotescartoon quotescharacters quotesdashing quotescliff quotesheld quotescertainty quotesroad quoteslooked quotesplummeted quotesword quotesyoungest quotesbrother quotesage quotessixteen quotestired quoteshopes quotesolder quotesreturn quotesreasons quotesmarry quoteschild quoteslonger quotesyoungest quotesremembers quotesbrothers quotesparents quotesmonths quotesdisappeared quotesback quotestruck quoteslandfill quotesblindfold quotesgag quotesrich quotesscent quotesclay quotesfingers quoteswound quoteselectrical quoteswires quoteswelded quotesbones quotesstand quotesmass quotesgrave quotesdug quotesfall quotestaking quotesminutes quotesbullets quotesdie quotesburied quotesarms quoteslength quotesdirt quotesbones quotesfind quotestime quotesindeterminate quotespoint quotesfuture quotesanswer quotesmothers quotesprayer quotesboys quotesyounger quotessmile quotesface quotessilliest quotesthought quotesskull quotesminute quotesbullet quotesbreak quotesthinking quotesday quotesearlier quotesmade quotesmake quotestrip quoteshoped quotesknew quotesprepared quotespage quotesdensity quotesloss quotesengendered quotesunbelievable quotesache quotesloving quotessurrounded quotesstrong quotestoss quotessummer quoteslake quotesair quoteshed quotesbelieved quotesplummet quotesclose quotesgunshot quotesfell quotesarms quotesreach quotesshot quotesdissolved quoteslight quotesblocked quotesforever quoteskitchen quoteswall quotesparents quoteshouse quoteshangs quotesbrothers quotesmother quotesspends quotesafternoons quotesstaring quotespraying quotes
No fundamentalist undercurrent ran through the national culture before the first war. Sufism had always been the predominant Muslim sect, and Wahhabism was a foreign, wartime import. A few times a year, Arab Wahhabis came through the village in search of recruits. They promised rations, shelter, an eternity in Paradise, and, until that day of glorious martyrdom, a monthly salary of two hundred and fifty U.S. dollars. Few young men followed the monochromatic Wahhabi faith, but many were quite willing to be radicalized for a monthly salary that eclipsed what they would otherwise earn in a year. The war of independence so quickly conflated with jihad because no one cared about the self-determination of a small landlocked republic. Arab states would gladly fund a war of religion, but not one of nationalism. And in this way it didn't matter who won the war between the Feds and fundamentalists: the notion of a democratic and fully sovereign Chechnya would be crushed regardless.
fundamentalist quotesundercurrent quotesran quotesnational quotesculture quoteswar quotessufism quotespredominant quotesmuslim quotessect quoteswahhabism quotesforeign quoteswartime quotesimport quotestimes quotesyear quotesarab quoteswahhabis quotesvillage quotessearch quotesrecruits quotespromised quotesrations quotesshelter quoteseternity quotesparadise quotesday quotesglorious quotesmartyrdom quotesmonthly quotessalary quoteshundred quotesfifty quotesdollars quotesyoung quotesmen quotesmonochromatic quoteswahhabi quotesfaith quotesradicalized quoteseclipsed quotesearn quotesyear quoteswar quotesindependence quotesquickly quotesconflated quotesjihad quotescared quotesselfdetermination quotessmall quoteslandlocked quotesrepublic quotesstates quotesgladly quotesfund quotesreligion quotesnationalism quotesmatter quoteswon quotesfeds quotesfundamentalists quotesnotion quotesdemocratic quotesfully quotessovereign quoteschechnya quotescrushed quotes
the absence isn't immediate, more a fade from the present tense you shared, a melting into the past, not an erasure but a conversion in form, from presence to memory, from solid to liquid, and the person you once touched now runs over your skin, now in sheets down your back, and you may bathe, may sink, may drown in the memory, but your fingers cannot hold it.
absence quotesfade quotespresent quotestense quotesshared quotesmelting quotespast quoteserasure quotesconversion quotesform quotespresence quotesmemory quotessolid quotesliquid quotesperson quotestouched quotesruns quotesskin quotessheets quotesback quotesbathe quotessink quotesdrown quotesfingers quoteshold quotes
Carrying that lumber the forty meters from the forest had left his knuckles blistered, his underarms sopping, but now a few hours of flames had lifted what had taken him months to design, weeks to carry, days to build, all but the nails and rivets, all but the hinges and bolts, all into the sky.
carrying quoteslumber quotesforty quotesmeters quotesforest quotesleft quotesknuckles quotesblistered quotesunderarms quotessopping quoteshours quotesflames quoteslifted quotesmonths quotesdesign quotesweeks quotescarry quotesdays quotesbuild quotesnails quotesrivets quoteshinges quotesbolts quotessky quotes
What parts had she discarded for the sake of her sanity? What had she cut from herself? Had he stared into her pupils he would have emerged, bewildered and blinking, on the far side of the earth. Was he awed by her? Absolutely. Did he respect her? Unequivocally. Want to be anything like her? No, never, not at all.
My first real awareness of Chechnya came when I was a college student studying in Russia. I arrived in St. Petersburg about two months after Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated for her reports on Chechnya. I lived with an elderly woman and her grown children in an apartment that was not too far from the neighborhood military cadet school.
real quotesawareness quoteschechnya quotescollege quotesstudent quotesstudying quotesrussia quotesarrived quotesst quotespetersburg quotesmonths quotesanna quotespolitkovskaya quotesassassinated quotesreports quoteschechnya quoteslived quoteselderly quoteswoman quotesgrown quoteschildren quotesapartment quotesneighborhood quotesmilitary quotescadet quotesschool quotes
joined quoteswriting quotesclass quotesnearby quotescommunity quotescenter quotesyoungest quotesparticipant quotes40 quotesyears quotesweek quotesfunnel quotesstaircase quotesjoin quotesdozen quotesretirees quotescrowded quotesfolding quoteschairs quotestable quotesdiscuss quotesanothers quotesstories quotes