An owl lives inside Ruzana’s body, which every morning, startled by the ringing of the alarm clock, begins to grumble, and last ten years after graduating from uni, just yells to exhaustion: “Let me sleep.”
The owl stopped flapping its wings and being indignant after a certain insidious virus from the hitherto unknown city of Wuhan somehow encircled the globe with lightning speed and, cutting out the population from active life, forced humanity to isolate itself.
Ruzana stayed at home, going out only when necessary, and enjoyed her freedom. Sleep, read as much as you want, cook, knit – what else do you need for happiness. Sitting in an olive-colored armchair, though very uncomfortable, in a long plaid shirt, she enjoyed drinking coffee from a black cup with a gilt pattern from an imported china, which until now, she had taken out only for guests. And once again, she was rewatching the movie “Voroshilov Shooter” with pleasure, looking forward to the scenes of methodically successive acts of revenge for evil. At the end, she cried along with the main character and sang along with the female main character, full of emotions. She adored The Count of Monte Cristo for the same thing–for subtle, sometimes sophisticated retribution for meanness and crimes. At these moments, it seemed to her that justice was being restored in the world and a sense of security of every person was increasing.
An acute sense of justice from childhood pushed her herself to reckless actions – to tell any adult the truth to his face, to scold a big man who offends the weak. And how they moaned sometimes because of her at work: they could not explain to the obstinate economist that it was impossible to work honestly in a construction business.
Ruzana herself suffered at such moments, and remembered her great-grandmother. Aulda she, the wife of a local mullah, had a reputation of being irreconcilably strict and extremely fair apa. Sometimes Ruzana felt badly for her stubbornness and at such moments, penitently whispered to herself: “It’s the ashes of my great-grandmother knocking on my heart”…
But now these “ashes” caused catharsis in her soul.
When Ruzana was wiping away tears of happiness at the end of the film, her landline rang. She loved that sound, it promised a good audibility, an unhurried conversation and the absence of any annoying sounds. A mobile phone is good for short business conversations outside the house, she was convinced of that.
Her classmate Damira from Sterlitamak called. They are a bit similar in appearance. Both brown-eyed, skinny, brown-haired women. Ruzana’s appearance shows the features of noble ancestors: high cheekbones, large attentive eyes, restrained manners. While Damira has a broad Asian face with small and lively eyes. Her brusqueness was sometimes discouraging, but Ruzana appreciated her honesty and kindness. They studied together, prepared for sessions, both sang in a vocal ensemble. After uni, often called each other, talked for a long time.
And now they were excitedly exchanging thoughts and news. They had been talking for more than an hour, when suddenly Damira deliberately and sternly said:
— I’ve read in social media about your trip to London. I envy you. You travel so much, you see so much. And I have a home and a job, there are no other joys.
– “But these are old records. Why does everyone think that I travel a lot? Well, in May I was in Turkey, in the summer I went on one-day trip, an excursion to Shihan Toratau, in the fall – to England. And that’s all.
– So Toratau is not far from us, why didn’t you stop by my place?
— I’m telling you, I was on an excursion. I didn’t want to lag behind the group.
– Did you like it there?
– That’s not the word. Beautiful legends, a curious history of origin. This solitary mountain looks so defenseless from afar, but up close it looks warm, somehow homely, and the paths call it up. We found limestone with ancient mollusks and shells embedded in them.
— Well, yes, five hundred million years ago there was an ocean on the territory of Bashkiria, then the Ural Sea, and the shikhans are the preserved reefs.
– Can you imagine? This shihan is 230 million years old! Palm trees grew here, there was no winter. The climate was like it is now in Madagascar.
– Wow. I didn’t know that. That’s huge, —” Damira drawled in surprise.
— After the trip, I experienced very unusual sensations, – Ruzana continued enthusiastically. — Firstly, the delight of the ancient picture of the world. I can’t imagine that all the land on which cities now stand, fields are sown, factories smoke and people walk and drive — everything was covered all the way to Astrakhan by a huge ocean in which fish swam. Secondly, a kind of powerful energy appeared inside me. It shimmers with a mother-of-pearl, luminous ball and fills me with an unknown force. There is something abnormal there.
“It looks like it,” Damira laughed. – We have neighbors living upstairs. I’ve been fighting with them since a long time: the dog barks endlessly, the boys rush around the rooms like crazy. You know what audibility is like in our homes. So last summer, their whole family also went to Toratau. They came back from there, and they began to act oddly. Their generally calm dachshund suddenly bit the owner. The dog was given to her mother-in-law. And our neighbor became panic-stricken afraid of dogs. But the most striking thing is: as soon as she goes out into the yard, all the dogs raise crazy barking, just ready to break off from chains and leashes. A hurricane, listen…
Ruzana felt a chill, shivered as if in the rain. “It can’t be,” flashed through her head. “It can’t be.”
– Damirusha, I’m sorry, I’ll call you back.
— What happened?
– Yeah, the kettle has boiled, I have to make tea. I’ll call you back.
Ruzana hung up. She was again shivering with secret delight and at the same time fear.
– Did it really happen? Can I really do that?
A luminous energy was clearly felt inside her, she shimmered, pulled her along, and, as then, she felt fear from her strength and pressure. What was that? An accident? A coincidence? The action of an unknown energy? Is it a gift or a punishment? Yes, there were, there were cases. Even at school, for example, she was annoyed by Sonka, nicknamed the Wasp. Malicious, with a shrill voice, she interfered with her tattletales in all conversations: this one writes off, that one smokes, this one puts make-up. “Yes, may appendicitis shake you,” Ruzana once thought with annoyance. And it had to happen: from the final exams, the Wasp was taken away by an ambulance with a suspected appendix. There were several similar cases, which she attributed to a coincidence. But Damira’s message made her think.
She remembered that trip. A group of cheerful tourists filled a yellow, half-broken truck. All the long way, listening to the guide’s stories, they often laughed for no reason, sang a lot.
They drove up to Shihan when the sun was already at its zenith. A hot sum five-story buildings mer day gently caressed face and hands, the dirt track was buried in dust. Ruzana walked with everyone at the foot of the mountain, looking for stones with prints of ancient corals and algae, feeling delighted if she could find something unusual, and most importantly recognizable. After all, sometimes you can see anything in a simple crack, but here, the real impression of the shell was clear.
The stuffiness drove them to the pond, and they drove to the lake nearby. The men immediately moved to the water, and the ladies lingered, changing into swimsuits in the car.
The lake layed in a hollow, and the path, winding, descended steeply. Halfway to the bathing place there was a small flat area. From three sides it seemed to hang over the cliff. There was a khaki-colored tents, a woman and two boys were busy with bags laid out on a gray board table. Orange flames were already dancing over the grill, and a man, thickly built, in light trousers rolled up to his knees, was stringing pieces of meat on skewers. A dachshund was spinning at his feet on thin, crooked paws. To the right, a gray trampled path wound along the edge, behind which impenetrable thickets of weeds and untidy trees stood motionless, as tall as bushes, gray with dust.
The lake was wild, judging by the steep, unkempt shores, littered with broken branches. Surrounded by tall, lush trees, it was drowned in thick, cool shade. And only closer to the middle, sun rays freely penetrated the water, warming it. The entrance to the water was also not equipped: the feet stepped on mud, algae, pebbles. All this caused unpleasant sensations.
Refreshed, the tourists went back. Ruzana heard from afar a dog, loudly barking at the tourist in front. Ruzana stepped onto the tamped, dusty plateau, and the dachshund, turning around, began to bark shrilly at her, encouraged by the owner. The husband and sons silently watched the unfolding picture.
A black dachshund on its thin paws was barking furiously, looking straight into Ruzana’s eyes. She shivered. There was no fear. The soul was scratched by screams soaring to the high sky, screams tinged with inexplicable, will-suppressing aggression.
Ruzana turned around and silently looked at the group. A woman in light brown shorts and a gray-brown-crimson T-shirt washed to a pale shade stood at the opposite edge of the trail at a distance and flashed venomous eyes. The husband and the boys, apparently by chance, lined up evenly on the left, closer to the tent, and looked indifferent, like tin soldiers. Their empty glances indifferently passed from the woman to Ruzana.
Ruzana couldn’t believe her eyes: it was as if the four of them were participating in a rehearsal of a mediocre performance. They were tired of both the play and the director. And, looking at the director, they indifferently thought about the ending when you can go to the buffet.
But this situation happened in real life. The dog was incited to real people. They looked at what was happening with empty pewter eyes.
“Run her, run her,” the woman shouted to the dog, casting angry glances at Ruzana.
Ruzana wiped her face with a blue terry towel and turned, continued on her way. But the sound of the shrill barking intensified, and she turned around. A young blonde woman in a daisy dressing, with the same blonde girl of about five years old came out on the path. The dachshund was bursting and shaking all over from barking.
– Calm down your dog, – jerkily lifting her daughter in her arms, – gently asked the robe in daisies.
– No need to walk around here, we paid for this place.
— As you see, there is no other path to the lake.
— It doesn’t bother me! – the shout equaled the dachshund’s barking in altitude.
The girl began to cry, clinging to her mother’s neck and bending her bare feet.
“Shame on you—” Ruzana said loudly, trying to shout over the dog.
– Oh, I forgot to ask you what’s shameful, what’s not shameful. All of you, get out of here.
Ruzana felt an irresistible force that suddenly surged over her. Great-grandmother’s ashes, she thought casually. Why can’t I just walk on?
But the mother-of-pearl power stopped just shimmering. She was already putting pressure, breaking, pushing for action.
— Come to me, – Ruzana calmly said to the dog (even calling her a dog is creepy, she thought casually)
The dachshund got silent, spun around at the place, turning now to the owner, then to Ruzana. There was confusion in her dark, intelligent eyes.
— Snap her, snap her, – the lady was now yelling at the confused dog.
“Go, don’t be afraid,” Ruzana repeated. – I’ll whisper something in your ear.
The dachshund hesitantly moved towards her, like a sleepwalker, looking back. The doubt in her eyes deepened. An unknown force attracted her to Ruzana.
Squatting down, she said softly to the dog:
—You’re going to bite your owner on the ass tonight.” But not hardly. For the sake of caution only…
The confusion in the dog’s eyes was already just raging like a forest fire. It seemed that the dog was about to roll his eyes and crash into the gray trampled ground in a deep faint.
Ruzana straightened the blue towel that had slipped off her shoulder and moved on.
“I conjure you—” she said slowly to herself. – From now on, all the dogs will be furious when they see this woman and frantically bark at her. From now on, she will experience a wild fear of animals to the point of trembling. And her sons will be allergic to wool…
Having blown off steam this way, Ruzana, satisfied, went to her group.
They found an empty table made of planks. Talking cheerfully, they began to take food out of backpacks and bags. But unexpectedly, the furious wind came from nowhere, raising clouds of dust, sand and small stones, began to sweep away everything around. Bags flew off the table, food rolled down like bright balls and plastic lumps on the swirling gray dust of the earth.
The air turned gray. The wind with furious indignation threw dust and small stones into the eyes and bodies, driving out, throwing out both the rights and the wrongs away from the shores of the lake.
The day turned into twilight.
But soon the gusts of wind snuggled with the ground, and a downpour came down sharply from above. It rushed down in powerful streams, pounding on heads and bodies, as if trying to hammer into all these souls running to their cars — aggressive, intelligent, spineless, timid, angry and arrogant — important, immutable truths.
The mountain and the lake, everything was empty. The downpour slightly calmed down, and already gently and easily flowed over the clean leaves of trees and weeds, washed the dust off the ground, restoring the sick aura of this piece of the universe.
Ruzana went out on the balcony. An unfamiliar bird flooded the sunny world with bright singing. Crows and pigeons silently glided to the ground from roofs and trees, seeing a Granny scattering bread crumbs. The gray smoky veil of the trees has not been covered yet with foliage, but green grass has already emerged from the ground.
– Did it really work out? she thought. – Or it’s an accident. No, there can’t be that many coincidences. So, I can! And if I can… Wasn’t I too harsh with that family? Although, you can put the question in a different way: do such people have the right to have a dog in the apartment? If you set an animal on people, then it is quite logical that dogs have the right to bark at this unscrupulous lady. It’s a small price to pay for a child’s tears. I’m right about that.
She vigorously returned to the room, removed the crumpled blanket from the bed, carefully rolled it into a yellow-brown checkered roll and put it in the closet. She walked aimlessly around the room, and went out on the balcony again.
– Or it wasn’t me? Did an unknown force work, the capabilities of which I myself do not know? No, it’s an accident. And what if you try to put a spell on a malicious virus?
The spacious courtyard is empty, only a grandmother in a white gauze mask feeds the birds. The children’s swing does not creak, no one’s voices are heard. Even the song of the lonely bird has stopped. The absolute silence was unusual, but not frightening. Ruzana almost physically, suddenly felt the light breath of the earth, which finally had the opportunity to take a break from the destructive human activity, from our petty insignificant vanity. And she could almost see the torn edges of the sensitively thin aura fusing together and gradually turning into a warm greenish-blue color.
— And maybe the pandemic did not accidentally cover the universe? Nature needs strength to recover. Such as a worldwide flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but, fortunately, not on such a destructive scale. It’s more like a warning to humanity. And if so, do I have the right to try to stop…No, what ridiculous thoughts come to mind.
Her thoughts were crowded, confused in her head. The obvious truths ran into a wall of doubt and distrust: “This is impossible,” the consciousness was indignant. “But the facts, the facts,” the mind urged.
The grandmother in a bright white mask slowly walked towards the five-story buildings. And again, complete desolation and warm, bright silence covered the square of the courtyard. And it was strange to think that in this transparent air, in the smoky canopy of trees, over the gray-silver roofs of five-story houses, some invisible dangerous virus was flying, ready to cling to the throat of humanity.
— How did this movie influence me, – Ruzana thought with a grin. – Such fantastic nonsense comes to mind. I couldn’t help but wonder, will this energy give me the strength to “pacify” the owl in the body?
Ruzana laughed at the absurdity of her thoughts.
— Do the “owls” know how difficult it is for them to fight owls in the morning…
Nonsense, she thought resolutely and returned to the room. Called her friend back. After talking a little bit more, they began to say goodbye, when suddenly, Damira added—
– And do you know, what a strange thing: the neighbor boys have an allergy to dogs. Both at once. Amazing, isn’t it? Well, unbelievable…
The telephone fell out of her hand. An unknown mother-of-pearl energy, as then, powerfully covered Ruzana, demanding some way out.
“I conjure you—” she began on a high tension of the soul…
The owl in Ruzana’s body abruptly threw up her eyelids, stared into her soul with a stunned, surprised look. But after a second, the bird peacefully closed its eyelids surrounded by fluffy feathers and dozed off.
 Aulda- lit. “in a village” (tatar)
 Apa- grand Mother
Translator Azhar Ualieva