Azerbaijan International

Spring 2006 (14.1)
Pages 84-98

Shukur Habibzade

Arrest in Broad Daylight! "Reformatory House"
by Shukur Habibzade

Shukur Habibzade (1922-2002) Imprisoned in 1940 at the age of 18 for eight years.
Shukur is the author of Reformatory Prison (Islah Evi, 2003). His wife Sayyara unexpectedly discovered the manuscript in his files when he passed away. She is the one who edited and prepared it for publication.

We have Sayyara Habibzade to thank for the publication of the fine novel "Islah Evi" (Reformatory House) by her late husband Shukur. Sayyara was not even aware that her husband had been working on a book based upon his prison memoirs and was quite astonished to discover it among his yellowing manuscripts after he passed away in 2002. After reading it, she set to work to edit it and find a publisher. The book came out in 2003.

Shukur was only 18 years old when he was arrested. He had been an honor student and had worked as an announcer on the radio. He was imprisoned eight years (1942-1950) in Georgia. Upon his return to Baku, he was allowed to stay in the city for only 24 hours. By decree all prisoners had to resettle 101 kilometers beyond the main city centers. Shukur moved to Mingachevir in the northwest part of Azerbaijan and lived there until 1957. By profession he was a writer and journalist, but they made him work in construction for seven years.

In 1956 (three years after Stalin's death), Shukur was "rehabilitated", meaning his name was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing and he was able to pursue an education and career of his choice. He returned to Baku in 1957, and in 1959 he met Sayyara, then 21, and they married. She went on to make a career as a teacher of Azeri language and literature, and he pursued writing.

When we interviewed Sayyara about Islah Evi, she told us: "Every time I read this book I feel my husband's anguish. He wrote things that were too painful for him to tell me personally, especially since I had met him a decade after he returned from prison. You can't treat this work like an ordinary book. It's the story of the tragedy of a young man's life. There were so many of our people who went through such experiences."

"Islah Evi" (Reformatory Prison) by Shukur Habibzade, Azerbaijan Center for Literary Translations and Relations, Baku 2003. Sections here were translated from Azeri into English by Aydan Najafova. Edited by Betty Blair. Contact Sayyara Habibzade for novel in Azeri. Tel: (994-12) 466-2592.

The Arrest
He was standing in front of the mirror, holding the photo of his graduation class in hand. He would look at the photo and compare it with his own reflection in the mirror. A little jinglei that he had learned in childhood came to mind:

You are so troublesome, hey ice!
People slip and fall over you, hey ice!
[Ice: These simple lines were written by the famous Azerbaijani children's writer, Abdulla Shaig. Children memorize these lines at school]
Swn nw yamansan, a buz!
Adam y\xansan, a buz!

The guard shouted, "Get up!" He didn't want to open his eyes. He remembered the proverb: "Whoever is once bitten by a snake will be afraid whenever he sees a rope." [Snake: The proverb in Azeri goes: "Ilan vuran kandirdan qorxar."]

What made him remember these words? What made this 28-year-old youth complain about ice? It was the sufferings of his tender heart that made Fuad remember. It wasn't that he was really complaining about ice. What weighed heavily on him were the 10 years of separation. They hurt more than any ice, which could only skin and bruise his knees.

He sighed deeply as he compared the person reflected in the mirror with the one in the photo. He could hardly recognize the Fuad of 10 years ago. His brown hair had turned gray; the sparkle in his eyes had faded. Wrinkles were starting to appear around his eyes. Even his gaze had changed. The kind, innocent eyes in the photo now stared ahead vacantly.

Then he looked at the other faces in the photo. He greeted all of them in different ways: kindly or more distantly. There were some faces that he couldn't take his eyes off.

Shukur Habibzade, author of "Islah Evi" (Reformatory House), prior to his arrest in 1940 when he was 18 years old.
Left: Shukur Habibzade, author of "Islah Evi" (Reformatory House), prior to his arrest in 1940 when he was 18 years old.

He studied Malik's face for a long time. There he was on the last row. It seemed to him that Malik had not changed from the year they finished school. He had been the oldest child of his family. He had started smoking at a very early age and sometimes even used to drink. He didn't like to study, especially mathematics.

But he was always reading books-mostly in Russian. Teachers somehow helped him to pass to the last year at school. It wasn't because they cared about him; they just didn't want to hold anybody back.

At the graduation party, Malik had arrived drunk. And he treated the girls in a way nobody else would dare. But, somehow, everybody always tolerated him. Besides nobody wanted to spoil this wonderful night. They would just look at each other and shrug: "Well, that's Malik! This is our last gathering, let him do whatever he wants."

Strangely enough, most of the youth who had spent more than 10 years of their lives together at school started to separate after that graduation party.

Those who had studied the same subjects just yesterday were occupied with their own cares. Some were studying for the entrance exams into the university; others, who felt more prepared, were resting up prior to the exams.

Fuad remained in the city because he had neither place nor money to leave. He spent his time studying, reading a bit, and going to the movies in the evenings. Fuad had a couple of friends among those who were applying for the same university and they would sometimes get together.

Student life had just begun. One day when passing by his school, Fuad learned that Malik and some of his friends had been put on trial for the last three days. Malik had robbed an old woman's house after getting drunk. They had arrested him the same day.

Fuad was thinking about whether to attend the trial or not. Finally, he decided to go. He thought that, perhaps, if he didn't share the sorrow of his childhood friend today, he might live to regret it later on.

It was a deliberately open trial so that teenagers would learn a lesson from it. The hall was full of people. When Fuad entered, the defense lawyer was speaking. When Fuad saw Malik there in the court-his head bent-he felt guilty himself. He blamed himself and his schoolmates: none of them had wanted to befriend Malik. MaybeThe booming voice of the lawyer distracted him: "Honorable jury! I think you should take into consideration the age of these young people and not let them rot in prisons and camps."

The lawyer had barely sat down before the prosecutor exploded like a bullet: "Would you please include those words as spoken into the legal record. I demand that a separate decision be made concerning this lawyer. How dare he call the "Soviet Reformatory House" and the "Soviet Labor Camp" a prison and a prison camp where people rot? He must be made to answer to this issue at the appropriate time and place."

As soon as the lawyer heard this, he became uneasy but he couldn't say anything. His throat grew dry and tight. He unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and loosened his tie. His voice could barely be heard: "I didn't mean it."
"You meant exactly what you said!"

The next day Fuad heard that the lawyer who had slandered the "Reformatory Camp" had disappeared.
Fuad could not take his eyes off of Malik's photo. The words, "Reformatory House" and "Reformatory Labor Camps" were still ringing in his ears as if he were just hearing them now. Suddenly, his own laughter spread throughout the room. His eyes filled with tears. If anybody had seen him like that, they would never have been able to figure out whether he was laughing or crying.

It was the second year of the war [Second year of the war: in other words, 1943. The Soviets officially entered World War II on June 21, 1941] The number of students enrolling at the universities was becoming fewer and fewer. Every day more and more students were being called up to go to the front. The ones who remained knew they could be taken any day. Most of the students came to the university just for the sake of coming so they wouldn't be dropped from the university. It was rumored that even the girls would be taken to help at the front as well. That day they were waiting for their History teacher. Quite some time had passed since the bell had rung. Some of the students were already seated; others were hanging around in the hall and doorway. Fuad was among them. Some were discussing the lesson, some were talking about totally different things. From time to time somebody would interrupt the conversation.

The Dream
Fuad started to talk about a dream he had had the night before: "I crossed the border into a foreign country. I don't know which one it was. Wow! People were really having fun there. You could find whatever you wanted in the stores-food, clothes. Everything was so cheap. When I passed through the city gate, they stopped me. After glancing at my clothes, they said: 'Look at your clothes! You'll spoil the reputation of the city with such clothes.'
"Then they took my measurements and asked the size of my clothes and shoes. They pressed a button on a small gadget that they were holding in their hands and ordered something. Just like the fairy tales, everything appeared in a split second.

"When I got dressed and looked in the mirror, I couldn't recognize myself. I slipped my hand into my pocket and realized that they had even given me some money, which made it possible to buy so many things. I knew I was there for only a short time so I immediately bought a large bag and started to fill it. I tried but couldn't lift it up. When I tried again, I heard my mother's voice: 'Son, why are you pulling down the wardrobe? Get up! Go to the store for some milk!'"

A few of the students, who were listening to him, started to laugh. The rest didn't even pay attention. It was as if they hadn't even heard him. It didn't bother Fuad. He hadn't make up anything just to amuse them and make them laugh. It was just a dream.

The professor arrived for the second half of the lecture. The talking and laughing ceased.

The Encounter
The following day as usual the students left the class in groups of three or four, and meandered out into the street, laughing and talking. As soon as Fuad said goodbye to his friends, he heard someone call his name. He stopped and looked back. A man, perhaps 35-40 years of age, of medium height and wearing a dark suit came up to him and extended his hand.

"Nice to see you," he said. Fuad looked at him, surprised. Fuad shook his hand and said: "I'm sorry, but I don't recognize you."

The man smiled: "You wouldn't. Ashrap never introduced us, so you wouldn't know me."

Fuad relaxed. But immediately a question came to mind: Had he heard correctly, or did his uncle's friend say "Ashrap" instead of "Ashraf"? He dismissed it.

The man took Fuad by the arm and walked him back to the black M-1 car [Black M-1 car: Often referred to as "Black Ravens", these were the cars that secret agents used to arrest people and take them to prison during Stalin's regime] that was parked a short distance away.

"Come on, get into the car so I can pass you something that your uncle has sent."

He opened the back door and sat beside Fuad. When the car started to move, Fuad started to think about this sudden acquaintance. If he were really a close friend of his uncle's, why had Fuad never seen him before? When he started to think of the names of his uncle's friends, the one sitting beside him started talking and Fuad wasn't able to pursue those thoughts.

"The city is so big. We would not have recognized each other even if we had met a thousand times. Had I not gone to the region and met your uncle, I still wouldn't know where you were studying. It's true what they say: as the city gets bigger, people become more distant."

Then he started to show interest in Fuad's studies: "In case you ever have any trouble with your teachers, just let me know. I have a lot of acquaintances there."

The car stopped. When Fuad realized where he was being taken, he was shocked. He recognized the door from a distance. And now there he was at the entrance of this building.

NKVD Building
The sign on the door read: People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs.v Everybody referred to that name by its abbreviation NKVD [People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs: Narodniy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del. Abbreviated as NKVD. It was to become the forerunner of the KGB-the dreaded secret police system of the Soviet Union]. Still Fuad didn't get too nervous. He just supposed that his uncle's friend worked there, and whatever it was that he was going to give him was there as well.

 The infamous NKVD Building (Secret Police during Stalin's era). Originally built during the Oil Baron period at the turn of the 19th century, a five-story prison was built inside the inner courtyard. Author Shukur Habibzade describes the tortures that took place within the underground cells. The building is located in the center of Baku at the cross streets of Rashid Behbudov 1 and Azerbaijan Prospect. Today it houses the State Frontier Service (Dovlat Sharhad Khidmati). Top corner: Entrance to the building today. Photos: January snow, 2006.  Entrance to NKVD building today. Photos: January snow, 2006.

Above: The infamous NKVD Building (Secret Police during Stalin's era). Originally built during the Oil Baron period at the turn of the 19th century, a five-story prison was built inside the inner courtyard. Author Shukur Habibzade describes the tortures that took place within the underground cells. The building is located in the center of Baku at the cross streets of Rashid Behbudov 1 and Azerbaijan Prospect. Today it houses the State Frontier Service (Dovlat Sharhad Khidmati). Right: Entrance to the building today. Photos: January snow, 2006.

He didn't know what his escort showed the guard at the door. Shortly after entering the room, his uncle's friend motioned him to sit at the corner of a table. When Fuad looked at him, he realized that nothing remained of the kindness and smile that had once graced the man's face. The coldness of his expression frightened Fuad, but he managed to pull himself together and rationalize the situation in two ways: either his uncle's friend was making fun of him, or he had mistaken Fuad for somebody else. But the latter would have been impossible: he knew both Fuad's name as well as the office where his uncle was working.

The silence didn't last long.

"Do you know where you are?" the man asked Fuad.


"Do you know why?"

"You said you were my uncle's friend and had something to give me."

"Then let's get acquainted all over again."

Saying this, he pulled out the dark red ID from his pocket. Opening it, he showed it to Fuad who had scooted closer to the table to see. It read: "Prosecutor, Chief Lieutenant Rushanov."

"If only these stones could speak, I wonder, what they would say? Where have people been sent from here, after being insulted, beaten and tortured? How many of them still remember this grave?

Will I ever be free again, so that I can tell people whom I trust about the things that have happened here, and to let them know the truth about the basement of this building that we used to pass by, laughing and so carefree?"

-Shukur Habibzade, recalling his experience as a 18-year-old youth
in the NKVD prison in central Baku in 1942

Now he understood why the man had said, "Ashrap". But, yet, he wasn't absolutely sure. He slid back into his seat and said: "I don't understand the relationship between your title and what you were planning to give me."

"I'll tell you now. To start with, the conversation about your uncle and the thing that I had to pass to you is over now. Let's pretend that we never had that discussion. Now I am the prosecutor. And you are the prisoner."

Fuad was stunned. He was so confused that he even forgot where he was and started speaking loudly: "What are you talking about? What kind of prisoner? What for?"

"Shut up!" The man shouted. His vicious expression stopped Fuad in his tracks. "Now you'll understand why."

Rushanov took some paper from the desk drawer and put it in front of Fuad. After writing down something, he turned towards Fuad: "Where were you the day before yesterday?"

Fuad tried to remember all the places he had been from morning till evening that day. He told about eating breakfast in the morning, going to the university and returning home, the prosecutor interrupted him: "That's not what I'm interested in. Tell me where you were that night."

"Asleep in my bed."

"What did you dream of that night? Which country did you cross over into?"

When Fuad heard this question, he relaxed a bit, concluding that he had been wrong to suspect anything bad from his uncle's friend. Obviously, this man had a keen sense of humor. He started laughing until he thought he would faint. That made him more confident. Smiling, Fuad waited for the other man to speak. But then he looked at Rushanov's face and realized that the prosecutor was not joking. When no reply came, the prosecutor repeated his question without looking at Fuad.

"Why are you so silent? Which country did you visit?"

Fuad, who still could not comprehend that this was anything except a joke, didn't take the man seriously. But the prosecutor was waiting for an answer. Fuad had to say something: "Are you talking about that dream? To tell you the truth, I still don't know what country that was."

"OK, then tell me the names of your friends."

"Friends? Which friends?"

"Don't pretend that you don't know what I mean. Who else crossed that border together with you?"

"What are you talking about? Which border? Crossing where?"

"Hey, look! You seem to have forgotten where you are. If you don't confess, we'll make you tell us. You wouldn't have dreamed about crossing the border if you hadn't been discussing it with your friends."

Fuad wanted to laugh again. But this time he was angry.

"Are you serious?"

"I'm the one asking the questions."

"Well, sometimes you dream about things that you forget by the time you wake up."

"You're talking too much. Tell me the name of your friends."

"I really don't understand what you want from me. What border? Which friends? How can you interrogate somebody because of a dream?"

"I just told you. I'm the one asking questions here."

"OK, go ahead and ask then. What do you want?"

"Where and when did you cross the border and enter a foreign country?"

"I never have had any intention of going to any foreign country."

"What about the names of your friends? Aren't you going to tell us?"

"I was alone when crossing the border in my dream. I'm telling you everything just as it is.""OK, we'll talk about your friends later. Now tell me which country you went to after you crossed the border?" "In my dream?" "Let's say in your dream.""I don't know."

Sayyara Habibzade with a portrait of her late husband, Shukur (1922-2002). Sayyara was not aware that her husband had been writing his memoirs about his experiences as an 18-year-old university student who was arrested in 1942 and sentenced to eight years in prison. She found his writings in his archives after his death, edited them, and had them published as "Islah Evi" (Reformatory House) in 2003.
Left: Sayyara Habibzade with a portrait of her late husband, Shukur (1922-2002). Sayyara was not aware that her husband had been writing his memoirs about his experiences as an 18-year-old university student who was arrested in 1942 and sentenced to eight years in prison. She found his writings in his archives after his death, edited them, and had them published as "Islah Evi" (Reformatory House) in 2003.

"What did you see in that unknown country? And what did you tell your university friends the next day?" "Just what I dreamed about." "You told them that everybody was happy there." "I just told them what I was dreaming about."

"Couldn't you have kept that dream to yourself and not told your friends?"

"What's wrong with telling them? It was a joke!"

"Everything is clear. You told them that story as something funny to suggest that we are living in shortage and poverty. And that people living abroad are enjoying their lives."

"What are you talking about? I didn't even think about this at all."

"That's how it is. You did it deliberately, meaning, you had planned to tell people in a way to make them rebel against our government. Do you know what that means? This is called "Propaganda against the State". For this kind of propaganda"

Reality Sets In
At this point Fuad got scared. The Prosecutor's words woke Fuad up, as if everything he had heard before that was really a dream. He realized that he was in a trap that was impossible to get out of.

"Pull yourself together, Fuad," he told himself. "Have you never heard that people never leave this place the same way that they come in? So, this is the end for you. But why?"

Author Shukur Habibzade with his granddaughter.He started thinking that if he were at least a little bit guilty, or had said something against the government, it would have been easier. He would have had no one to blame but himself. Then the thought struck him: "My poor parents-my mother, my father; they'll go crazy when they hear where I am now."

Left: Author Shukur Habibzade with hisgranddaughter.

Then Fuad started wondering how the story of that dream could ever have ended up in this place. Who could have done that? The faces of all his friends flashed before his eyes. None of them seemed suspicious, except for one person-Hasanagha! He was the one who never knew anything about the lessons at the university, but yet he always passed his exams. What was it about him that attracted the teachers? Probably, they knew that he was an agent.

Then he blamed himself for thinking bad things about Hasanagha. Maybe it wasn't true; monitors [Monitors are the heads of student groups at universities. Usually, students who were very active and earned excellent grades were chosen as class monitors. Teachers sometimes took into consideration their position and helped them during the exams or the school year.)] for example, were respected among teachers. "Who could it be?" With this question in his mind, he wondered whether one of the youth had repeated his dream as a funny anecdote and Rushanov's angry voice interrupted his thoughts: "Sohow long do I have to wait?"

Fuad, who was still absorbed in thoughts about home and friends, replied in a quivering voice: "For what?"

When the prosecutor heard these words, he started shouting: "Damn it! I'll show you 'for what' right now!" As he spoke, he picked up the phone and called someone. Then he lit a cigarette. He started nervously writing down something. The silence in the room frightened Fuad. He didn't have to wait long to understand what Rushanov's threats meant. The door opened. A big hulking figure so entered the room.

The guard's voice shouted, "Get up!" It woke him up. He didn't want to open his eyes. He remembered the proverb: "Whoever is once bitten by a snake will be frightened whenever he sees a gray rope."

-Shukur Habibzade
Author of Islah Evi (Reformatory House)

Without even lifting his head or looking at Fuad, Rushanov said: "Take him away!"

In the Prison Cellar
The soldier motioned for Fuad to stand up and he took him by his right arm. It seemed to Fuad that the soldier had something like a hook in his hand, but in fact it was just his strong paw-like hand. This paw had the habit of grabbing the arm of a prisoner and lifting him up. As he left, Fuad looked back at Rushanov searching for some evidence of mercy on his face. But Rushanov was busy with his job as if nothing had happened.

Another soldier, who was waiting at the door, took Fuad's left arm. They moved forward together. As soon as they heard the sound of other steps coming, they turned Fuad's face to the wall, so that he wouldn't see the face of the prisoner who was approaching them.

After walking awhile, they started to go downstairs. Fuad couldn't guess how many flights of stairs they had gone down, because he was not feeling very well, but even if he hadn't moved his feet, they would have pulled him down anyway. The threat of the prosecutor was still in his ears: "I will show you!"

When they finally reached the basement, his fears multiplied. What frightened him was the silence of the stone stairs and the thick walls. Even if there had been an explosion down there, nobody could have heard it from outside.
When they reached the steel door, a controller who had a bunch of keys in his hand, came up to them. His long face, blue eyes and cold gaze frightened Fuad. He looked like a killer. The controller was fiddling with his keys in such way that it seemed he was enjoying their sound. Fuad thought: "Who knows? Maybe the clinking of those keys still rings in the ears of so many people, let alone those who no longer are able to hear."

The door to the prison cell opened. Fuad was pushed inside. Then the steel door was slammed shut and locked behind him. The sound of steps in the corridor faded away. Silence. Not a sound could be heard.

The walls, the ceiling and the floor of this cell were all made of stone. It seemed like a grave to Fuad. "God knows how many people there have been like me who have seen the inside of this cell," he thought. There was a pillow and a mattress of some faded color on an old rusted iron bed. Fuad closed his eyes trying to escape the agony of everything around him. Then he said to himself: "Pull yourself together, Fuad. Maybe this is your last chance to look around."

He lit a cigarette and took a deep breath. He felt dizzy. To avoid falling down, he sat on the bed that he had disgusted him just moments before. He remained there for some time. He started feeling better, but he still didn't want to open his eyes. He didn't want to see the stones of this grave that suffocated him.

Stand up!
Suddenly he heard footsteps approaching. Somebody looked inside and knocked at the door at the same time. He somehow got up and looked at the door and heard the hoarse voice of the guard: "Up! Up! Stand up! Stand up!"
He was in no condition to stand up. He heard the key slide into the lock. He expected the guard to feel sorry for him after seeing his state and maybe even bring him some medicine. But when he looked into the angry eyes of this man, he knew not to expect any mercy. The guard stood at the open door and shouted: "Stand up, that's an order!"

"But I feel like I'm going to faint. I can't move."

"I don't care about your condition! Damn it! Stand up! You, son of a bitch!"

Then the guard insulted Fuad's mother. So, Fuad gathered all his strength and stood up. He took a few steps towards the man and stood face to face with him.

"How dare you insult my mother, you scoundrel?!"

It was the first time in his life that Fuad had ever talked to someone like this, especially someone much older than he was. But he figured that even if anybody had heard them, they would not blame him since it was the matter of dignity when it came to his mother.

The guard entered the cell and shut the door behind him. He did it so that the noise would not go beyond the cell walls. Fuad didn't have time to hear him say anything else. He just saw the guard lift his fist. And neither did he know how and when he fell down. When he regained consciousness, he heard the very hoarse voice say: "Stand up!"

He had no other choice. He braced his hands on the side of his iron bed and pulled himself up somehow. It was strange, no longer did this rusty bed, nor the things on it seem dirty or ugly to Fuad. If it had been possible, he would even have laid down on it and closed his eyes, to escape this stone grave-at least in his imagination. He wanted to turn off the light. But when he looked in that direction, he understood it would not be possible. The lamp in the hallway was encased inside a steel box. And he couldn't even see any protruding wires.

He started pacing back and forth inside the cell. He wondered how long this command to "Stand up!" would go on. He figured this must be connected with Rushanov's threats. If so, then that would mean that everybody who had been held in this cell had spent a lot of their time on their feet. He wondered if anybody had been able to tolerate it. He put his ear to the door for a moment. No sound was coming from outside. When he did it again, a voice startled him: "Get away from the door!"

He had not noticed the guard approaching. And neither had he heard him lift the lid over the hole in the door.

The guard had difficulty looking inside the cell. That's why he had told Fuad to get away from the door. The orders that Fuad was hearing in the prison, reminded him of the expression: They say that bear cubs are trained by two methods: first, by encouraging or seducing them. That means every time the bear is told:

"Mishkavii, raise your paws", and he obeys, then he is given a piece of sugar. After repeating this response several times, the cub gets used to the idea and raises his paws automatically as soon as it hears the word, "Mishka" [Mishka: The Russian word for "little bear", an animal character frequently used in children's tales].
Training a little bear in this way is not regarded as cruel.

But there are other methods that are far worse. For example, every time the little bear's paw is electrified and told to raise his paws, the frightened bear obeys. This kind of torture is continued up to the moment when the cub obeys the order as soon as it hears the word, "Mishka". Fuad compared himself to the cub trained with the electric wire and the huge, ugly guard to the bear trainer. He knew that as soon as he tried to lie down, he would hear the command to stand up again.

Fuad had been brought here in the later part of the day. Before taking him to his cell, the buttons on his jacket had been pulled off and his belt removed. He didn't know how much time had passed since he had arrived. Those few hours seemed like an eternity.

Then he heard the clatter of dishes in the corridor. Sometime later, the small window on the door of his cell opened. An aluminum bowl with some rice pudding and a cup of tea was placed inside his cell. He took them and put them on the shelf beside his bed. That was when he realized that it must be evening, and that this must be dinner. He didn't even look at what they had given him, as he was not in the mood to eat.

Half an hour later they came to pick up the plates. He returned everything back to them. After a while, silence fell again in the basement. This silence was interrupted only by the sound of the guard's heavy boots coming down the corridor.

Orders to Sleep
About an hour later, the light inside his cell was switched off and on again several times. What did that mean? How on earth could he have known that this was one of the signals used in the prison regime? How dare the lights go off any time they wanted? It was the prison guard who knew what that signal meant. He was walking down the corridor and shouting, "Ring off!" But those words didn't mean anything to Fuad. Looking inside his cell through the peephole, the guard could see Fuad walking around his cell. The guard opened the door and looked at Fuad with angry eyes, and demanded: "Didn't you hear the signal to "Retreat"?

Fuad looked at his face and asked: "What does 'retreat' mean?"

The big guard lost his temper: "Didn't you understand from how many times the light was switched off and on? That means: 'It's time to go to bed.'"

"I'm not sleepy yet."

"Even if you're not sleepy, just lie down, son of a bitch! You are not even allowed to sit after the Retreat signal is given, let alone pace your cell." These words were spoken so hastily and with such anger that Fuad couldn't even say a word to this person who had sworn at his mother.

After the door was slammed in his face, he came to his senses. His mother appeared in front of him. "Sorry mother, I couldn't protect your name," he said to himself. He had to lie down. As soon as he closed his eyes, he returned home to his family and friends. He told them everything that had happened to him, but nobody believed him. They considered it a joke.

Then his thoughts started to wander. He started thinking about his parents. Probably they had called everybody that they could think of, everybody they thought he might be with. Maybe they had even called the morgue.

My poor mother, I'm afraid she'll go crazy if she doesn't hear any news from me. But then an idea crossed his mind that calmed him down a bit. Rushanov had probably informed his parents. On the other hand, he knew what this kind of hope meant. He couldn't even imagine how his parents would bear hearing where their son had been taken.

He got up for a few minutes and sat on his bed. He puffed on a cigarette, keeping one eye on the hole in the door. Around morning, he fell asleep. He was at home, hearing his mother's voice: "Lessons have exhausted my child, don't make noise, let him have a good sleep-at least for today."

The guard shouted, "Get up!" He didn't want to open his eyes. Again he thought of the proverb about the snake and the gray rope.

He sat up in bed. He rubbed his tired eyes and, looking at the walls of the grave, thought to himself: "If only these stones could speak, I wonder, what would they say? Where have people been sent from here, after being insulted, beaten and tortured? How many of them still remember this grave? Will I ever be free again so that I can tell people whom I trust about the things that have happened here and let them know the truth about the basement of this building that we used to pass by, laughing and so carefree? I wouldn't even wish this place on my enemy."

The sound from the corridor interrupted Fuad's dark thoughts. Suddenly a terrible idea crossed his mind: what if those who had been locked up in this place never saw freedom again. Otherwise, people would have known and talked about this stone grave that was located in the heart of the city.

He got up and went to the door. He wanted to look out through the hole. But the lid was closed so tightly that not even a thin beam of light could enter. Fuad laughed at his naïveté: this hole was not for him to look out of, but for the guard to look in!

He started pacing inside his cell though its size was no larger than a grave. So many thoughts filled his mind. Sometimes he felt so sick that his heart ached. He thought of a bird in a cage: so what if that the bird couldn't think? Maybe a bird has more will to live that a human being. How could a person who had been inside this place ever dare to imprison a bird or an animal inside a cage.

But Fuad was so young and had so little experience in life. He didn't know that not everybody's heart was as gentle as his. He didn't know that most people didn't think about such things as imprisoning another creature, let alone have any regrets about kiling someone.

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