Spring 2004 (12.1)
Him and the Telephone (1967)
Several of Anar's short
stories, both in Azeri Latin and English translation, are available
on Azerbaijan International's Web site featuring Azerbaijani
Literature. Search ANAR at AZERI.org.
Anar Rezayev uses only his first
name - Anar - when he writes. He was born on March 14, 1938 in
Baku. Today he is one of the most well-known contemporary writers
in Azerbaijan and is associated primarily with novels and short
stories, though he also writes in other genres, including film.
Anar is also a Member of Azerbaijan's Parliament (Milli Majlis)
and President of the Writers' Union. Both his mother (Nigar Rafibeyli,
1913-1981) and father (Rasul Reza, 1910-1981) were distinguished
He began publishing in the 1960s. His works include: "Longing
for the Holiday," (Bayram Hasratinda), "The Rain Stopped,"
(Yaghish Kasdi), "White Port," (Agh Liman), "A
Person's Person" (Adamin Adami), "The Sixth Floor of
the Five-Story Building" (Beshmartabali Evin Altinji Martabasi),
"Opportunity" (Majal), "I've Come to You"
(Sizi deyib galmisham), "Without You" (Sizsiz), "Summer
Days of the City" (Shaharin Yay Gunlari), "Hotel Room"
He has written the scripts for various movies including "The
Land. The Sea. The Fire. The Sky" (Torpag. Daniz. Od. Sama),
"The Day Passed" (Gun Kechdi) and "Dada Gorgud".
Anar was the scenarist and producer of "The Life of Uzeyir
[Hajibeyov]" (Uzeyir Omru) film.
He has been recognized with the following awards: Honored Art
Worker (1976), State Prize (1980) and "The Istiglal"
(Independence) Order in 1998.
Is it possible to fall in love
with someone you've never met? Seymur thinks he has, after a
late - night anonymous phone call puts him in touch with a lonely
young widow named Madina. Although Anar wrote this love story
more than 35 years ago, long before the era of e-mail and online
relationships, it is still very relevant today.
In "Telephone", as in many of Anar's stories, individual
characters are at the forefront, not Communist principles. "My
stories don't bear the evidence of the Soviet political period
on them," Anar says. "They're based on life and feelings
and people. People are essentially the same, whether they're
living under capitalism, socialism or whatever."
"Me, You, Him and the Telephone"
was translated by Vafa Talyshly and edited by Betty Blair.
aren't all alike.
But there are human voices at the end of all of them
Bad days aren't all alike,
Sometimes it is you who remains silent;
Sometimes, the telephone.
- Vagif Samadoghlu
Your telephone died yesterday.
Not only do people die...telephone numbers die, too.
During your lifetime, you will forget so many numbers: your passport
number, the amount of salary at your last job, the license plate
number of your friend's car, the distance between the earth and
the moon, the population of your city, as well as many other
numbers - you will forget all of them except for those five numbers.
Those five numbers in that particular sequence were the dearest
gift for you. Those five numbers, her voice and the smell of
violets coming from the receiver.
Sometimes I have picked up the phone so delicately and gently
as if I were raising the lid of a grand piano. Sometimes I have
hung up as if I were lowering the lid of a coffin.
Now that number is gone. Well, it exists, but it's gone for me.
That number is a restricted area for me. Those five numbers that
are so easy to dial, they're forbidden now. They're like restricted
territory that I can't cross - kilometers, meters, miles. I can
pass four-fifths of that territory. I can dial four numbers,
but I can't dial the fifth one - the last number. Your number
is like a locked door to which I have lost the key.
I could do without seeing you. I could call you up, hear your
voice and say to you: "Why is your hand so cold, dear one?"
I could do without seeing you because I could feel you even from
a distance, just the way people who live near the sea can feel
its presence even without looking at it. Now the sea has disappeared
for me. It's gone.
Art: Vugar Muradov. Visit AZgallery.org for contacts.
The story repeats itself
hundreds of times: you, me and him, of course. And, yes, the
Everything started at Rasim's wedding. Firuz was in the middle
of a toast: "We were five friends. Like in a movie, you
remember that one: there were five of them - me, Kamal, Murad,
Rasim and Seymur. We had been conquered, one by one and tied
by the collar. They did it - our wives. Besides, we all have
a bunch of kids at home. Yes, household problems have made us
grow old." (Everybody laughed.) "Today, we are losing
Rasim. It's a pity Of course, I'm joking. Farida and Rasim, I
wish you happiness. I wish you all the happiness, health and
long life. May God bless you with lots of children!
However, we have already raised our glasses to you and we'll
be doing it many more times tonight, for that reason, I want
to raise this glass for the last young man here - for our dearest
Seymur, he's the only single guy among us. Be good, be healthy,
be a nightingale, but not in a cage."
Everybody was looking at me. I could see their familiar faces
- the faces of my friends, among the laughter and raised glasses.
There was joy and a bit of surprise expressed on their faces.
After the guests had parted, we all left together at the same
time - Firuz, Kamal and Murad with their wives and me, by myself.
We were walking down the streets of the sleeping city when suddenly
Firuz's wife put her arm in mine: "OK, Seymur, when do we
celebrate your wedding?"
"In the far future."
"Why? You don't believe the words of this fool, do you?"
She leaned on her husband's arm with a devilish smile. "You
think that family life is like hell."
"He can't find a good girl for himself," Firuz said.
"Really? Hey guys, did you hear that? Let's find a girl
for Seymur. Will you marry if we find the most beautiful girl
in Baku for you?"
Art: Vugar Muradov. Visit AZgallery.org for contacts.
"Of course," I said, "but only under one condition.
You must find the girl right now, at this moment. If not, I can
change my mind."
Kamal said, "How can we find a girl for you at night? We
can't look for her here in the street. Besides, you probably
wouldn't marry a girl who walks the streets at night."
"Yes," I said, "you're absolutely right. That's
why we should change the subject."
"I have an idea. Let's find a girl for Seymur by telephone.
There's a telephone booth over there."
"That's a good idea," I said, "but I don't have
They all handed coins to me. I went into the telephone booth.
"Tell me the number."
"Dial the first number that comes into your mind,"
Firuz said. "For example..." Suddenly he stopped. "No,
brother, I can't insist on this. What if you don't get along
with your mother-in-law? I'll be the one to blame."
"Coward," said I, "that's exactly the point. Marriage
is not a joke. Nobody wants to be held responsible. Kamal, why
don't you say something?"
"I have a suggestion," Firuz's wife chimed in; she
was always coming up with ideas. "If nobody wants to be
responsible, then let's share the responsibility. Let's everyone
suggest a single number."
"Fine," Firuz said. He always liked the proposals his
wife made. "Two."
I repeated the number two.
Firuz's wife said, "Nine."
"Zero," Kamal said and looked at his wife, "Your
"Me? I don't know what to say. OK - four."
Murad said, "Five."
Only Murad's wife didn't have a chance to suggest a number because
the telephone was already ringing.
"My fiancé is sleeping," I quipped. Everybody
laughed. I hung up the phone.
We continued on our way and parted one by one. Everybody went
home and for some reason, I felt very lonely. I went down to
the park by the sea. I walked along the lonely boulevard for
a long time, looking at the dark sea and the waves of myriad
colors. For some reason, I kept remembering the telephone number
that I had dialed. It was two o'clock in the morning. I went
to the nearest telephone booth, deposited a coin and dialed the
A woman picked up the phone. Her voice didn't sound sleepy, just
a bit tired and a little surprised.
"Hello. Who's calling?"
"It's me. Let's get acquainted."
I was expecting a rude answer like a slap in the face. Or I expected
her to hang up the phone on me, like a door slammed in my face.
But she neither cursed me, nor hung up the phone. Her voice remained
"Don't you think it's a little late for making acquaintances?"
"Late? No, I don't think so. It's the right time for it.
I'm coming from the wedding of my best friend. He was the last
single person among my friends. It seems to me like it was his
funeral today, not his wedding."
"Ahhhhh! Why do you say that? Aren't you married yourself?"
"No. Are you?"
She laughed. "You want to know everything from the first
minute of acquaintance?"
"I'm sorry. I hope you don't think that I'm an obscene caller.
I'm not. It's just that my heart is breaking from loneliness.
So I thought I'd call and speak to someone."
"How did you get my number?"
"Lucky guess. I just dialed the first numbers that popped
into my head, that's all."
"You know, I'm a little drunk, so I feel very lonely."
"That's all right. It can happen to anyone."
"Is there any way that I can see you?"
"No. Listen, this is not going to work. Let's do it this
way. It's late now. Go home and get some sleep. When you get
up in the morning, all your sadness will be gone. You'll see."
"But I want to see you. Let's talk at least."
"You know my telephone number. If you feel like you want
to talk to me tomorrow morning, you can call back."
"Really. Good night!"
"Good night. I'll call you tomorrow."
It's funny, but as soon as I hung up the phone and started to
walk in the empty streets, it seemed that I wasn't lonely anymore.
Now I had someone, too.
Naturally, I didn't call in the morning. I had a thousand things
to do and I forgot about it. After a few days, I had a quarrel
with our lab director while discussing some work project. He
was also my research work supervisor.
Firuz took me to his house after the discussion. He worked at
the same institute that I did. On our way home, he was telling
me to be wiser and not to explode at every little thing. "Even
if you're sure that you're right, there are smarter ways to defend
your opinion with the help of facts and arguments. Otherwise,
you'll only gain enemies and you still won't be able to convince
anyone. Be outgoing. If you see that someone is wrong, tell him,
'It seems like you haven't considered the problem from all viewpoints,
I think that if you look at the problem again, you'll agree with
me.' It's just not right to handle problems like you do: you
don't understand anything, you're so ignorant...And that's why..."
"That's why," I said, "I'm sick and tired of your
"All right. I can see that there is no use talking to you
like to a human being. Let's go to my house and have a cup of
"You know," Firuz's wife was saying, "we never
taught him, I don't know where he picked up these words. He makes
them up himself. He says: 'm-mother,' 'f-father.'"
She was talking about their one-year-old baby boy. Firuz was
in the other room changing into comfortable clothes and slippers.
"That's true," he said. "Strange, but I have invented
a new theory. I think babies are the ones who invented languages
- not adults. We adults only use the words that they made up.
Have you ever seen a baby sweeter than my sonhuh?"
I couldn't remember the number, no matter how hard I tried. I
remembered the second part of it. I could also recall the first
two numbers, the third number was zero, but what about the second
one? I couldn't remember it.
"Look, Samaya, what was that number you suggested the other
"What evening? What number?"
I had to explain everything to her which made me the butt of
jokes, laughter and advice. They made fun of me, and then they
told me to be wiser.
"Well, that's not important," Samaya said as I was
Finally, I remembered: the number was nine. It's the number of
the trolleybus that I take every day.
"Hello. It's me."
"Hello. Who are you?"
"You have a short memory. Remember, I called you three days
ago. It was at about this time."
"Your voice was different then," she said and added
with irony, "or maybe, it's a different person this time.
Last time it was a lonely man whose friend had just got married.
You have found a good hobby for yourself - telephone adventures."
When necessary, it seemed she could speak sharply, with irony
in her voice.
"I swear, it's me. You probably heard my drunken voice last
time, and maybe that's why you don't recognize it. Do you recognize
my voice now?"
"Yes, I recognize it. I'm sorry, I thought it was someone
else," she laughed lightheartedly. "So, you're not
"Absolutely not. I called when I wasn't drunk so that you
wouldn't have a bad impression of me. I don't want you to think
that I'm a drunkard. I rarely drink."
"It's good that you called tonight because I was bored.
My radio is broken."
"Do you always go to bed this late?"
"Yes, I listen to the radio till midnight. However, my radio
is broken today, so I'm going crazy without it."
He could hear someone playing the piano, but the sounds appeared
to be coming from far in the distance.
"I know you don't like answering questions, but could you
tell me who is playing the piano so late?"
"Oh," she laughed. "That's not in my house, it's
the neighbor. I'm sick and tired of that girl. She plays her
piano all day long. The walls are thin, and her sonatas are getting
on my nerves. When my radio was working, I could drown out her
"What do you listen to on the radio?"
"My radio gets very good reception. Look - here they are
always broadcasting concerts." I imagined her fingers turning
the dial and checking out the various stations.
"Here there are some melodies from some place far away -
from overseas. Here, it always sounds like a storm, here they
speak a foreign language. Here it's always noisy. The host of
the program makes jokes, people laugh, they clap and although
I don't understand the words, I enjoy it because everybody is
laughing, clapping and having fun. Here, there's some kind of
program about intimate things. A man and a woman speak in very
low voices, almost whispering, and I can hear their sighs. Radio
is a very strange thing. It seems like the entire world is in
my room, kind of the world's night: the sky, melodies, dramas,
"Listen," she said. I realized that she was listening
to something. I started listening, too, and could hear the sound
of an airplane. I wondered if this plane were flying over my
house as well. I wondered where her house was located - in what
part of the city.
"Are airplanes and radios relatives of each other?"
she suddenly asked.
"Yes, the sky connects them," she said and became silent
again. Now there were sounds of that same piano playing, not
"I talk all the time and you listen silently. Why don't
you speak a bit, too? Tell me something."
It was amazing. I don't know why, but I started telling things
to this stranger that I had never told to anybody. Like about
the difficulties that I had at work. About how me and my old
friend Firuz were avoiding each other lately. About the reasons
why I didn't like my research work supervisor. About how I quarreled
with him at the meeting and about other things. About things
that didn't have anything to do with her. Why was it her, not
anyone else, that I was telling all these things? I didn't know.
But I couldn't help it; I had to tell her everything.
Suddenly, I realized what I was doing, told her goodbye and hung
up the phone.
I was thinking about it all the way home. I was thinking that
nobody would believe me if I told them about it. I was telling
things that lay deep inside my heart to someone I didn't know,
someone I had never seen. What did I know about her? Nothing.
I only knew that she liked listening to the radio at night and
that her neighbor played the piano.
One of the characters in this story is the telephone. That's
why I want to say a few words about it. Lately, I've been thinking
a lot about telephones: each of them unique and different in
its own way.
There's a black telephone on the table of our laboratory director.
Every time I look at that telephone, its wires remind me of a
grenade. When I look at the eyes of my director, they are always
troubled, full of worry and fear. It seems to me that there's
a long-term explosive bomb in his room, not a telephone. He shudders
with each phone call. Probably, it seems to him that this bomb
- the telephone - can explode any minute, bringing him bad news.
Like someone might call and tell him that he has been fired,
or that his wife has left him.
There was a telephone in our chancellery. But its dialing apparatus
was a black closed circle, without any numbers on it, as if it
were locked. It seems to me that this telephone was as helpless
as a car without tires, a letter without an address on it. It
was a symbol of submissiveness, dependence, passiveness and lack
of initiative. Someone could call you, but you could call no
From this point of view, telephone booths are just the opposite
of such telephones. You can call anyone you want, but no one
calls you. You can call someone and say whatever you want, you
can even swear at them, and there is no way they can track you
down and find you. That makes telephone booths the symbols of
impunity, irresponsibility and lack of restraint. Their power
is like the power of an airplane carrying bombs over a defenseless,
unarmed ship, sailing in the open sea.
You can't imagine how much I regretted not having a telephone
myself. I collected coins and never spent them, like a greedy
man. I would ask everyone - my friends, people I knew - for coins.
Also, every time I had a chance, I would change some bills into
I called her every evening. And I always called late at night.
It had become a habit. I was used to these everyday conversations,
and to her somewhat tired, somewhat ironic, sad voice; to the
sounds of the piano of her neighbor; to the sounds of the radio
that I could faintly hear and to the silences brought on when
planes flew overhead.
I already knew a few things about her, but very little. I knew
that her name was Madina. That she lived alone. I knew that she
had brown eyes, that her shoe size was 35.
Once I asked: "How old are you?"
"Oh, I'm very old, I have grandchildren and great - grandchildren,"
she said. I realized that she was teasing me because her voice
was very young. And I also realized that she didn't want to speak
about her age, her job or her marital status.
And I didn't insist.
Of course, she herself didn't ask anything like that of me; however,
she knew that I was 29 years old, that I was single and that
I worked at a scientific center. She didn't know my name. For
some reason, I didn't tell her my real name; I told her that
my name was Rustam. Why? I don't know. Maybe her name was different
as well and not Madina.
"When will I see you?"
"Why do you want to see me?" she said. "Don't
you like it the way it is? I don't know how it is for you but
I like these phone conversations. They bring something new into
my life. I like that I have to wait for a phone call at a certain
time of the day. I don't know the person who is calling at all.
I have never seen him - that's why I can speak frankly to him,
and he can tell me everything on his mind as well.
"He's never seen me and he can't even imagine how I look.
Is that so bad? What if, when we see each other, we don't like
each other? Everything will be spoiled then. Even if we like
each other, it still will be different; it will be usual, ordinary,
everyday. Let's leave it the way it is. I can assure you that
it's better this way. You should tell me about your job. What
happened after that quarrel with your director? Did you get away
"I'm going to leave and quit that job. I'm going to work
some place else."
"Where are you going?"
"I don't know yet. What do you advise?"
She didn't answer. I heard the sound of a plane.
We were celebrating the New Year at Firuz's place. The newlyweds
- Rasim and Farida - were also there. It was 20 minutes to midnight
when we took our seats around the table. The table was spread
very nicely; Firuz's wife and the other ladies had done a very
good job. I was the last one to arrive. It was cold outside and
after the snowy, windy streets, the light and warmth of the house
seemed to be more pleasant than ever.
The clock struck midnight. Everybody hugged and kissed and wished
each other happiness. Firuz announced that the coming year was
going to be historical because Seymur would be getting married.
We drank another glass of vodka and Firuz took me aside. He had
been drinking all evening so he was very drunk and making toasts
that were dedicated only to me. He looked only at me while saying
"I'm drinking to your health. Always be yourself. So courageous,
principled, but I wish you were a little friendlier, a bit more
tolerant and patient with others. I wish you could see the world
with open eyes. I know you're laughing at me inside your heart,
or maybe you even hate me. You think that I have exchanged my
dignity and honor for all this," he pointed to his new furniture,
"or for Samaya's fur coat.
"No. I will never do anything that contradicts my conscience.
I will never even say something that is against my principles.
You can be sure about that. But..." he paused, "but
one must always be wise and calm in every situation. You must
not burst out in fury over every little thing. There are times
when you must take a step back and compromise. And there are
times when you can scream, quarrel and take a stand for what
you believe is right. You must be able to make compromises in
small situations in order to stand firm when it comes to more
"Maybe you're right. But this theory is too complicated
for me: take a step back here, go ahead there -I'm not good at
such kind of sports."
He gestured with his hand. "OK. Let's drink. Where are you
going to work this coming year?"
"At a publishing house," I said. "I got hired
"Of course, it's your business, but if you ask me, I'd say
that you shouldn't have left your old place."
He went over to the piano and started playing and his wife started
singing. It was one of the latest hits on the radio. Suddenly,
I recalled the sound of the piano playing, and then the radio.
"I want to propose a toast," I said.
Everybody looked at me with surprise, as I never liked making
"Look, we are all here, together, and we are having a wonderful
celebration. But there are people today who are alone. What are
they doing? For example, people with professions such as men
on duty, road watchmen, railroad controllers."
"Who? Who?" they all asked.
"Railroad controllers," I said. Yes, those railroad
controllers who know the train schedule by heart, those people
who stay alone in their old houses at night and those who do
their jobs, meeting and seeing off the trains, even in cold weather
and strong winds and storms."
Rasim said, "Hold on, I think our friend is drunk already."
Everybody laughed. Firuz looked at me and stood up. "Wait,
hold on," he said. "I think he was insulted. Please
do not laugh - the question is very serious. OK, Seymur, so let's
drink to the health of railroad controllers?"
Everybody raised their glasses.
"No," I said. "I didn't mean to say that I wanted
to drink to railroad controllers. You didn't let me finish. I
wanted to drink to the health of someone else. If you tease me,
"OK. Say it..."
"I wanted to drink to the health of one person who is alone,
all by herself. Now she's sitting in front of her radio. She
knows the schedule and all the programs on the radio by heart.
She greets and sends off all the radio programs just like railroad
controllers do for trains. The entire world is in her room. She's
all alone, by herself, with the world so large and wide..."
I downed the whole shot in one gulp.
Everybody emptied their glasses as well, without saying a word.
They all looked at each other with surprise, but no one spoke
a word. After the toast, they started talking about various subjects.
I went to the corridor and picked up the phone, dialed her number
and waited. Nobody picked up. "Here is your railroad controller,"
I thought. "You shouldn't have felt so much pity for her.
She's probably celebrating the New Year somewhere, too. And why
I dialed again. I thought I could wish her, "Happy New Year",
according to Moscow time. There was no answer. I called an hour
later, wanting to wish her, "Happy New Year" according
to Prague time. No answer again. Another hour passed and I made
one more call. Which area was celebrating the New Year at that
time, maybe Greenwich?
Finally, at 5:30 a.m., when I called from a telephone booth,
"Happy New Year according to Atlantic Coast time,"
I said. She probably didn't understand what I meant. I didn't
"Is that you? I just came in."
"I know. I've been calling you all night long."
"I was at a friend's house."
"That doesn't matter," I said, "I want to start
the New Year by telling you something important. I love you.
I'm crazy about you."
"Really?" She laughed. "What good news! The New
Year hasn't started out so bad."
"You are my darling, my dear one, you are the light of my
eyes. I don't know what I'm supposed to say, but I have never
loved anyone like this. I know it sounds funny, we've never seen
each other. But the fact is that I can't live without you."
"To be more exact - without my telephone," she said.
"I know these words are pointless, but it's still pleasant
to hear them."
It was the first time that our conversation was not accompanied
by piano sounds. The morning came. I used to go to music school
and, therefore, a comparison came to mind - the chromatic scale
of life - the succession of white and black keys - of days and
nights; of good, light days with bad, dark ones...
"When will I see you? No, you're right, let's not see each
other. This is the best way of loving; we are connected to each
other by telephone lines. It's a good connection."
"It's a one-sided connection," she said, "meaning
that you can call me and I can't call you."
"Yes, that's why I need to see you. Tell me your address
and I'll be right there."
"Please, I beg you," she said. I felt pain in her voice.
"Please, don't take this joy away from me. A lot of people
make me these kinds of offers. If you say that, too, I'll cut
off my relations with you as well."
Then she became silent and added, "But I've become very
used to you. You're the first person that I've felt so close
and dear to after my husband's death."
I went to my new workplace the following day - January 2nd. All
day long, I edited material and gave it to the typist at the
end of the day. I told her to finish it by morning. There was
a long list in front of the chancellery room with the names and
telephone numbers of all the workers. I glanced at the list and
I was shocked. It was as if I saw someone familiar among people
I didn't know.
"Who is Valizade?" I asked.
"She's our typist. You just gave your material to her. Why
do you ask?"
I looked through the window. A typist with brown eyes was going
down the stairs. Her high-heeled shoes were making sounds, click-click-click.
I knew those shoes going down the stairs were size 35.
It was exactly like a fairy tale. Fortune decided to have us
meet in an office, but she didn't know anything about it yet.
She was sitting there and typing the stack of material that I
had given her and couldn't even imagine that it was me who had
given it to her. Well, of course, she knows that I gave it to
her, but she doesn't realize who I am. Well, I don't know how
to say - she doesn't know that I am me.
I couldn't wait; I wanted to tell her this news as soon as possible,
so I called her from the telephone booth. It was the first time
that I had called her so early. No one answered. "That's
all right, I'll call her at the usual time so that it'll be a
surprise for her."
I called at night.
"Hello. I phoned you two hours ago."
"Why so early? I was at my friend's house. I had some work
to type and I was doing it at her place."
It was hard for me to keep from laughing.
"What work?" I asked.
"I took some work home. It's an assignment from my new boss."
"Yes, today we got a new department director in our office."
"Really?" I desperately wanted to laugh, "Well,
how did you like your new boss?"
"I don't know what to say. My first impression was that
I didn't really like him at all. He's very arrogant. Of course,
it's hard to say anything from first impressions, but anyway..."
I was shocked. I hadn't imagined that she would reach such a
"Why didn't you like him?"
"Well, nothing really, first impressions usually prove to
be wrong. Maybe he's a good man. In any case, he looks like a
very self-important man. He's tall and handsome. He's a young,
good-looking man, but a bit boastful...he seems to look down
on everybody. He speaks in such a demanding tone: 'It must be
done by tomorrow!'"
It was the first time that she had spoken about her profession.
I didn't have to ask her what her profession was since she had
started talking about it. Besides, I knew anyway.
"What about you?" she asked. "Did you get your
Back then, I couldn't have realized that I had started playing
a very strange game, but some internal force made me stop for
a moment. Then I said: "No, you know, I changed my mind
and decided to stay at my old job."
In the morning I saw Madina, my Madina. Of course, I had seen
her the day before, too. However, yesterday her face was one
among the many faces I had seen. Yes, it was a nice, good-looking
face, but it didn't distinguish itself from others. It was an
ordinary face. Maybe, it was even possible to say that it was
beautiful, but it was a pale, gloomy beauty. But that's what
I thought yesterday.
Today, everything was completely different. I secretly watched
her while paging through the papers that she had typed. I was
trying to find a relationship between her face, so unfamiliar
to me, and her voice, which was so close and dear. I sought a
relationship between her real essence and her telephone voice,
that is, the depth that I had perceived about her from my telephone
conversations with her.
My attitude toward her changed. I was sensitive and kind to her.
I wondered if she could tell the difference.
In order to find out, I waited for evening to come - for the
telephone - call time.
"I told you, first impressions usually turn out to be false.
He is such a kind and sensitive man..."
"Don't trust second impressions either. They can be deceiving
"No. Before I didn't have a chance to look into his eyes.
I did today."
"When did that happen? I missed it," I thought.
"You know, his eyes are so honest and clever."
"I'm starting to be jealous of him," I said.
The game had started like this. I already knew the rules of this
game. But she was unaware of them.
It was already too late to change anything. The events were out
of my control, like a letter that you drop in a postbox.
But there were specific difficulties in this game. I had to have
control over all my words, expressions and even thoughts. I had
to be one person at home and a different one at work. Each place
had its own world, its own attitude and psychology.
I was a totally different person at work. I had to be openhearted
but had to keep a separation between me and her and control myself.
She was telling me about myself, about my every move, my every
step, and all the expressions of my face. Most of the time, I
started the conversation about myself, but lately I noticed that
it wasn't necessary to do so. She spoke with such excitement
about Seymur Muallim [Mr. Seymur] herself. She spoke to Rustam
about Seymur during all these long conversations, but she never
spoke to Seymur about Rustam. No one knew anything about her
telephone life. I didn't know how to react - to be glad or sad
about it. Sometimes, it seemed that the fact that she didn't
tell anyone proved her complete indifference. And sometimes,
I thought exactly the opposite. I thought that she kept it secret
from everyone as her dearest, deepest feelings. Strange, but
it seemed to me that my feelings were mixed. Imagine, when I
was Seymur, I was jealous of her telephone life. And at night
during our telephone conversations, me - Rustam, I was irritated
when she spoke so much about Seymur.
I told her one time: "Let's stop speaking formally with
each other [addressing with the polite form of "you"].
We've known each other for such a long time."
"OK," I heard her say.
Good night. Bye." I was full of joy, like a little child,
because Madina would now start speaking informally with me but
still officially and formally with him.
And I suddenly realized that it was the first time I had ever
thought of a third person as my second "ego."
"It seems to me that you expect something more from him?"
"How do you know?" she said in a furious voice, "Maybe
he's the one who expects something more."
I hung the phone up angrily. I didn't call her for three days.
At work we were having fun that day. One of the experienced workers
of the office came up to me: "Don't waste your time,"
he said and smiled. "Nobody can conquer the heart of our
We all laughed, and after Madina left, he added: "She's
like a nun. Nobody can find a way to her heart. She proved to
be a loyal wife to her husband even after his death. He died
such a long time ago."
I found out that her husband had been a pilot and had died in
I got off work late that day. When I was leaving, I heard Madina
typing something. She had long, tiny fingers, and when she was
typing, it seemed like she was playing the piano.
I called her that night.
"Hello. So, you have a temper. Why did you hang up the phone
on me the other day? Seymur accompanied me home today."
"What?" I asked, surprised, and believe me, I was sincere.
"You heard me right. I had a lot of work, so I stayed late
and he accompanied me home because he's such a well-mannered
"To be more exact, a bad-mannered, ill-bred man. He's a
fool," I thought. "I should have known better. She
stayed at the office so late and I left her there, having said
goodbye to her. I didn't even think of accompanying her home."
But I also realized something else. I understood that if I would
express the desire to see her home, she wouldn't say "no"
and maybe she would even like it. Maybe she was taking revenge
because I had hung up the phone on her the other day.
Maybe, she was saying it just to make Rustam angry. It means
that she is not indifferent to me, her telephone friend. But
how could I know? Would I ever find out about it? I was confused
and lost among all the "perhaps" and "maybes"
that came to mind. But I made one thing clear for myself. I knew
what to do the next time she stayed late at work.
We were going down a lonely street and I asked her: "What
do you do in your leisure time in the evenings?"
"I stay at home," she said.
"You stay at home? All by yourself, alone?"
"Yes, why? I read, listen to the radio."
I wondered if she would speak about the radio as she had before?
But she changed the topic and I was grateful.
"There's my window," she said pointing to one of the
flats on the third floor.
"Perhaps, the corridors are dark. Let me escort you to your
"No," she said.
But I didn't want to give up. "You could invite me inside."
"With great pleasure. But it's very late now," she
looked at her watch, and I could tell that she was getting mad.
"Late? Do you go to bed this early?"
"No, but..." She was uncomfortable and she didn't know
what to say.
"OK, if you don't even want to offer me a cup of tea, let's
walk a little more in the fresh air."
She didn't say anything. We walked around her house several times.
I wanted to go inside very much. I was eager to see the house,
the radio and the sofa that were so close and dear to me from
our telephone conversations. Maybe if she had invited me inside
that night, I would have told her everything.
But when we said goodbye to each other, she rushed to give me
"All right, goodbye, Seymur Muallim. Thank you and good
She smiled and ran away.
I was listening to the sound of her steps and I suddenly realized
everything. I understood why she was rushing home, why she was
nervous and why she was looking at her watch all the time. She
didn't want to miss the telephone call. My telephone call.
A few days after our director gave a stupid report at the office
production results meeting, I stood up and said everything that
was wrong about it. He didn't say anything to me, but I suddenly
felt sorry for the man. He had been working at the newspaper
for many years, and probably nobody had talked to him in this
manner and tone before - especially in the presence of so many
of his colleagues.
I felt uneasy after the meeting, first of all because I had been
totally wrong, secondly because I recalled Firuz's advice and,
thirdly, because I didn't want to get fired from this job. Madina
worked here. Anyway, I went to the director's office and apologized.
When I called Madina that night, I knew what she was going to
"You know, Rustam," there was so much excitement in
her voice, "our Seymur is such a brave man. I didn't participate
in the meeting, but everybody is talking about how Seymur stood
up against the director. He said everything he thought about
him. You know, everybody is talking about it. You know, nobody
has ever done that. And to say all that in front of so many people."
"I know," I said, "I know these kinds of men very
well. They give bright speeches at meetings when everybody is
looking, and then they go and apologize when nobody is around.
Your Seymur probably went up to the man's office and begged for
apologies when nobody could hear their conversation."
She said in a sad voice: "Why are you talking like that?
Why don't you like him?"
"Because you like him and I love you."
"Great. Let everybody love each other."
"Of course, you can joke. The trouble is that you see him,
you speak to him face to face and you go to the movies with him."
"To the movies? How do you know that I'm going to the movies
"Why shouldn't you?"
She laughed. Obviously, she liked the idea.
"And with me, you communicate only through the phone."
"I thought you agreed with me on this matter."
"Have you said anything to him about me?"
"No, of course not. I will never say anything to anyone
about it. For me this is, well," she kept silent for a moment
searching for the right word. "It's something sacred."
The next day we went to the movies together. The movie was about
test pilots and Madina was sad. Maybe that's why she felt the
necessity to say everything that was inside her heart. When we
were walking on the Boulevard, she told me about her husband
who had died. She said that their entire lives had been spent
in the air: "We met each other in the air. He was a pilot
and I, a passenger. Then I started working as a stewardess so
that I could be always with him. We got married. We were flying
back and forth between Baku and Moscow. We kissed whenever we
found a private place. Then I got pregnant and I took maternity
leave from work. That was the last time I accompanied him on
There was no distance between their lips, but they didn't know
that it was the distance between life and death. The distance
between the eternal sky, the sky from where he'll never come
back and the earth where Madina will be waiting for him forever.
When the plane was about to leave, Madina threw some water after
it, as is the custom when someone is going on a long journey.
It was probably the first time in the history of aviation that
someone tossed water after a modern airplane, as it was done
according to a rite that dates back thousand of years. The plane
rose in the air. And then it started raining.
Madina stopped and started listening to something. Then in a
while I heard the sound, too, and I realized that she heard the
sound before anyone else had. We looked up at the sky where the
plane was moving and blinking different colors, and Madina said:
"His grave is up there. Normally, wives go to the cemetery
to visit the graves of their husbands, but I look up at the sky
every time I think about him."
Then Madina told me that she sometimes goes to the airport. She
stands there and watches airplanes take off and land. She also
said that her baby had been born dead, that she had not even
been able to save this gift from her husband.
I touched her face and wiped the tears from her cheeks, then
I started kissing her like a madman.
She said: "No, no, no, please don't," but I could feel
that it was more and more difficult for her to say these words.
I dropped her off at her home and quickly called her.
Her voice was a little excited and even a bit happy, and I felt
sorry for all romantic people - for all who have died in the
air, on the earth and at sea.
"You know," I said. "Now we've started to address
each other in an informal way. I called you yesterday, as soon
as we separated, but your phone was busy. Who were you talking
to so late?"
I would never have expected something like this. She became very
uncomfortable. But she pulled herself together quickly and said:
"You probably dialed the wrong number. I went to bed as
soon as I came home."
"Yesterday, I dreamed about you."
"That's strange, how could you see someone in your dream
if you have never seen them in real life?"
"I saw your voice. And the radio program 'Neringa'."
"I can understand about 'Neringa', but how could you see
my voice? I can't imagine that. What do you think I look like?
Can you imagine my appearance?"
Of course. You're tall, you have long legs and long hair."
I was saying things that didn't match her real appearance.
"Quite nice," she said. "You've formed a very
good picture of me. Now you're going to have dreams about me
"I'm probably not the only one who dreams about you."
"There you go again."
"No. You know, they say Mahin Banu used to appear in the
dreams of hundreds of men. How about you?"
"I exist only in one version and only in your dreams. You
are the light of my eyes."
"I am forever grateful to you."
"Listen, light of my eyes, I want your advice on one matter.
But please, control yourself, don't make a big fuss about it
and don't hang up."
I had been waiting for this conversation for almost three days.
I was surprised she hadn't brought it up earlier.
"Listen, but first take a tranquilizer."
"OK. Hurry, say it."
"All right. Three days ago Seymur asked me to marry him
are you all right?"
"No," I said. "What did you tell him?"
"I haven't answered yet. I want your advice. Because you
are my best and dearest friend."
"The psychology of women is really strange. When they fall
in love with someone else, you become the best friend and the
dearest person. Say 'no'." The strange thing is that I was
sincere. "Marry me or don't get married at all. I love you."
Oh God, I wish it were possible to marry by telephone.
She laughed very loudly. But her laughter was a little nervous
and a bit artificial.
"Be a good boy. You're still a little kid to me."
"Me? How do you know? You haven't seen me."
"I can feel it. I can tell from your voice, your temperament,
your devotion to me and, well, from many other things. I beg
you, please, always try to be like this, don't rush to become
"How do you know, maybe I'm older than your Seymur."
"No, my dear. Women's intuitions never lie."
It seemed like a joke, but I had no desire to laugh. For some
reason I felt pain, sorrow and anxiety.
"Don't marry him, Madina," I was saying. "What
am I supposed to do? Your husband won't allow me to call you."
"We'll find a way out. Telephone communication is not a
betrayal; it's not a sin. By that time, you'll have your own
telephone at home and I'll be calling you myself."
How could I explain to her that that was impossible?
"Try to understand me," she was serious and her voice
sounded a bit sad. "Look, you men sometimes complain about
loneliness. It makes me laugh when I hear something like that,
because you'll never know what real loneliness is - the kind
of loneliness that only women understand. If I wake up at night,
it seems like the walls are coming down on me... Whatever. Let's
not speak about sad things. I'll do whatever you say. I'll say
'no' to him if you want."
What could I tell her? She kept silent for a while, then I heard
the sound of an airplane and I realized that that was the
answer. Neither me - Rustam, nor me - Seymur, would ever be able
to replace her dead husband.
In the evening after work, she invited me to her house for the
first time. I knew the number of entrance and of the floor, but
not the flat number. I knocked on the wrong door in the darkness.
Nobody opened. I lit a match and saw a note on the door saying,
"The key is at the neighbors." I recalled the piano
sounds as soon as I saw the note and I understood that it was
the wrong door. I turned and knocked on the other door.
A Neringa radio, a soft padded chair and an ordinary lamp - everything
was exactly the way that I had imagined it would be.
"Hold on, Seymur, I'll tune in to some good music,"
she said. "You listen and I'll go and prepare some tea."
Then I started kissing and caressing her. I could feel that it
was both pleasant and difficult for her to feel herself a woman.
Then someone started playing the piano behind the wall and suddenly
she freed herself from my embrace and started listening for something.
I was listening, too. I knew that I would hear the sound of an
airplane in a few seconds. But I couldn't hear anything. And
I suddenly realized what Madina was expecting to hear. She was
expecting a phone call because it was that time.
He - that was me.
I knew that he would never call again, but there was a moment
of hesitation. I waited for the call as well. I was expecting
a miracle to happen - wishing that the telephone would ring.
But it never did again.
Several of Anar's stories and articles have been featured in
past issues of Azerbaijan International:
Morning of That Night" (Short story about Stalin's Repression
in Azerbaijan), AI 7.1 (Spring 1999), pp 38-41.
Search of Truth? Look No Further than Jokes and Anecdotes,"
AI 7.3 (Autumn 1999), pp 40-43.
Between the Lines: Personal Reflections on the History of
Alphabet Reform in Azerbaijan," AI 8.1 (Spring 2000), pp
Documents Reveal Poet Nearly Sent into Exile: Personal Reflections,"
(by Anar about his mother, Nigar Rafibeyli) AI 7.1 (Spring 1999),
5. Anar is also one of the most
vocal driving forces in getting Azerbaijan's literature available
in the new modified Latin script. See "Translating
the Classics: Azeri Latin Versions Needed," AI 10.1
(Spring 2002), pp 70-71.
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AI 12.1 (Spring 2004)
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