Everyone called him Aksakal Though his hair wasn't even touched by gray, Though he wasn't at all experienced in science, Still, everyone Called him Aksakal. He wasn't tall That aksakal Still, there was something staid in him, His greenish eyes were blazing with some inner strength He spoke slowly Slowly he walked People respected him (If the name for fear is respect) People sought his help People heeded his "help," For the aksakal had a rare "gift" Fury, mercilessness, rage were in him. At that time, perhaps, those qualities were necessary. Perhaps the people needed a strong hand. I remember the last year of the war. We rose early to queue up for bread, We were but children, Sometimes sleep overcame us And, leaning upon the wall, we slept. But as soon as the stall opened, We returned to life . . . Over shoulders we stretched our hands to the bread, The queues were long, And we were small. There wasn't much bread, And there were too many people. What was there to do? And at that very moment our aksakal used to appear, Playing a slender withy, And the discord used to stop at once. That was when I understood the power of fear. Both children and adults humbly Kept silence, Stood in line. Aksakal watched the queue As if inspecting the troops. Then, With his hands on his belt, As if contemplating the crowd, He looked down on the people Below, With his fierce, contemptuous glare. He would make a sign with his withy, And everyone received his share in turn. God save the poor thing who would dare step out Without permission. He would stay hungry that day. Such was the cruelty of Aksakal. I wondered, Why that man with cat's eyes is commanding people? It's to people that the bread in the stall belonged, Why shouldn't they listen Not to that aksakal, But to their own hearts? But the burden of hardships and hunger Bent my people. That's why, I suppose, they stayed with him. Perhaps they needed an aksakal at those difficult times. Now the years have passed. Today Aksakal Is not so respected, his position has changed. He grew old, his beard and his hair turned silver, But nobody calls him "Aksakal" Sometimes in the evenings, And sometimes in the mornings He sits at the bread-stall for hours. He watches the backs of the people passing by. His eyes blaze a mysterious light. The essence of his stare Is lost on the people. Well, maybe there's gratitude in those eyes, And his thoughts are pure, And maybe. . . He might be remembering the past. The heart is longing for a withy. At that very moment he pictures, perhaps, The weak people, standing in a queue. He's dreaming at the stall. And around him happy songs are ringing, And the happy laughter.
ERKIN VAHIDOV (b. 1936) took his degree in philology from Tashkent State University in 1960, served in various editorial and directoral capacities at the Gvardia and Ghulam publishing houses (1960-88), and edited the magazine Yashlik. Since 1991 he has been a Deputy to the Uzbekistan Supreme Soviet. His published verse collections include Breath of Dawn (1961), Light Keeper (1970), and Living Planets (1980).