In this week’s Translation Tuesday, Guram Rcheulishvili tells the story of Vaja Jandieri, alone, in an unfamiliar environment, as he attempts to ski in Bakuriani, Georgia. Excitement and then ennui set in amongst the snowy slopes where the people speak Ossetian, and are from another world unlike Vaja’s . . .
Vaja Jandieri was now sitting in a small, warm room. He could hardly ever find such a room. This year, Bakuriani was extremely cold. Thin walls were unable to stop these freezing chills. Vaja was sitting, pleased that he had found such a warm room. The housekeeper set the tea to boil as a small boy memorized his algebra formulas. The door suddenly flew open, as a woman, his Ossetian neighbor, burst in.
“This year is so cold,” she said.
“Yes, woman, the walls aren’t able to stop it,” said the housekeeper.
“Mom,” said the boy as he closed his work, “in school it’s so cold, tha-”
“At least here, it’s warm,” said Vaja.
“And such people here,” said the neighbor, then she started her ranting. Vaja was pleased that he’d only spent two cold days in the room, but now, warmth surrounded him, while these women spoke in their Ossetian tongue. Already, the tea had boiled over several times, the shrill scream resounding. The housekeeper set the table, taking vodka from the cupboard.
“May we bring kindness to your home!” announced Vaja and the boy as they drained their glasses.
“To your kindness!” replied the housekeeper.
“Cheers,” said the neighbor, forcing a smile as she threw back the vodka, then started insulting her divorced husband of twenty years. Vaja endured her drawn-out, unnatural language. The housekeeper served the pork. These starved animals immediately began eating like pigs around him. In the room, the only sounds were the crunching, munching of their mouths. “How tasteful,” he thought, as he himself tried to slurp at his food. He failed to adopt their behavior. Quietly, he continued eating. Around him, the sounds of lip-smacking slowed. Vaja was satisfied that he sat with these starved swine and was in such a warm room. His neighbor licked her plate, forcing another smile, and licked her fingers. Vaja imitated her example. Everyone laughed.
“A real Ossetian boy,” said the visitor.
“Yes, woman, he’s a natural,” said the housekeeper.
The little boy came closer to Vaja, putting a thin arm around him. Vaja smoked a cigarette. Soon after, the neighbor left. Vaja undressed and wrapped himself in his warm bed.
In the morning, it was colder in the room.
The little boy lit a fire.
Vaja stood in the warm room.
They ate breakfast.
They skied the entire day. The sun shined, burned. For much of the day, their faces were lit by sunlight. Their cheeks were sunburnt.
By the third day, he had already remembered what he had forgotten.
By the end of the week, he had already made it to the most difficult ski trails. All seven days, it had been sunny; then it began to snow. It was too difficult to find a road down from the mountain. Now, it was becoming more exciting to ski. In the evening, he came in drenched. He set his socks out to dry, as he began reading Robinson Crusoe, which the twelve-year-old boy had taken from the library. Tonight, he wouldn’t share this book with anyone. His socks began steaming, and something began to reek. Vaja’s housekeeper snatched his freshly burned socks.
The next day began with snow, but the weather improved. Vaja was tired of coming up and skiing down the mountain.
Soon, he had given up skiing and left for the café, Dynamo.
Ossetian boys there were playing ping-pong. At the café, he drank two cups of tea and went back home.
“Back so soon?” asked the housekeeper.
“Yeah,” said Vaja.
“Did you go swimming?” asked the boy.
“I swam,” said Vaja, then picked up his book.
The boy began telling a story to his mother in Ossetian, then his mother began speaking aloud, seemingly just to insult someone. Vaja had skimmed over two pages, not understanding a thing, so he flipped back and began reading again. The housekeeper’s brother entered the room.
“Hello,” he said.
“Ah, bless you, come in!” his sister replied.
The boy pulled over a chair.
Vaja only nodded his head, again returning to his book. Now, the man was speaking Ossetian, incomprehensible and shrill. Vaja excused himself and got in bed.
In the morning, he was woken by the cold. The boy lit a fire in the room. Vaja fell back asleep. The hearth got warmer. As it got hot, he woke up, well-rested. The mother and son were sitting at the table. The previous day, both had eaten boiled fish.
There was the sound of smacking lips.
Vaja looked toward the table: the mother had a fish-bone stuck in her gums and picked at it with her fingers. He rolled over, but, before his eyes, the Osettian woman opened her mouth and he saw the half-chewed food.
There was the sound of smacking lips: he threw the blanket over his head, but still, he heard it. His heart ached.
Finally, they finished eating.
“Oh, what time is it now?” asked the mother.
“That must be the sound of kids passing by,” said the boy.
“Ah, it must be almost nine,” said the mother.
“Let’s go,” said the child.
“Vaja?” asked the boy.
“Let him sleep,” the mother said as she grabbed the bag.
They left, and the room fell silent. Vaja stuck his head out of the blanket. Suddenly he was struck by the smell of pork and fish. Again, his heart ached: fish-bones sat on the table. The fire was dying down. Over the cooling hearth, in the frying pan, the pork fat was congealing.
His heart ached even more: quickly, he rolled over toward the wall.
–1956 [20th December]
Born in July of 1934, Guram Rcheulishvili found himself surrounded by Soviet styles and sentiments. At the age of 23, he decided to become a writer, beginning to write various short stories, poems, plays, and novels. He began publishing his first stories in ‘Tsiskari’, a Tbilisi newspaper, in 1957. Tragically, he died in 1960, at the age of 26, saving a Russian child from the sea. Although only seven of his stories were published during his life, his works are now among some of Georgia’s most beloved. His simple, realistic style broke the popular Soviet-realism of the period—in stories of Georgian life, and the beauty of Georgian people, he revolutionized the literary scene of Tbilisi.
Trevor Durham began his literary career at 18, producing and directing his first play. The following year, he premiered MASKS in an Off-Broadway festival after premiering it in Tallahassee, Florida. He began working as a journalist, publishing articles with BroadwayWorld, The Tallahassee Democrat, and more. He continues writing his own works as he interviews artists of all backgrounds. Durham moved to Tbilisi in 2018 to pursue his love of languages and history. This is his first collected translation.
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