Libmonster ID: SE-334

Mohammed al-Mahzangi is an Egyptian short story writer, born in 1963 in the city of al-Mansoura, in Lower Egypt, where he graduated from the medical faculty of the university. In the late 1980s, he specialized in psychiatry for four years in Kiev, where he witnessed the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, about which he wrote an essay-reportage and several short stories. After twelve years as a doctor, he moved to work in the press, and is currently an adviser to the Cairo editorial board of the Kuwaiti magazine Al-Arabi.

M. al-Makhzangi has seven books of short stories, two books for children, a scientific work on alternative medicine and a collection of essays about his trips to different countries of the world (the latter in an electronic version).

In 1992, M. al-Mahzangi received the award for the best short story collection of the year, and in 2005-the national literary Award for the best Egyptian short story writer.

M. al-Makhzangi's work is imbued with a vivid sense of love, pain, and compassion for his characters. The writer sees the tragedy of the world in the constant confrontation of life and death, in the fact that every person can at any time become a victim of a disease, a man-made catastrophe, a natural cataclysm, an armed conflict. He reveals in his stories the inherent love of life and defends the human right to life.

In the collection " Animals of our days "("Haywanat Ayamina", Cairo, 2006), two stories from which "Gazelles" and "On the back of an elephant" are published in this issue, the world appears in the interconnectedness, interaction of wildlife and people, we are talking about the qualities of" humanity", sometimes manifested in animals, and about the signs of" brutalization " observed in modern humans. But the writer also talks about what distinguishes a person from an animal, about the power of human love, about kindness that can save one's neighbor.

The collection's stories are preceded by epigraphs from works about animals by medieval Arab authors and modern scientists.

The gazelle's eyes, seen on the way from ar-Rusafa to al-Jisr, suddenly filled my heart with excitement.

Ali Ibn al-Jahm*

In the course of field research, Dr. Larisa Konradt and Professor Nim Robert found that among the many animal populations organized according to the principle of "dictatorship", the only "democratic" population is pink gazelles. Using a statistical method to compare the decision-making methods that determine the behavior of different populations of wild animals, and their impact on individual individuals, the scientists concluded that a herd of gazelles leaves the pasture only after the number of individuals who raised their heads in a sign of saturation reaches 62%. And a herd of pink gazelles, seeing another herd of gazelles of the same species grazing in some place, calmly and quietly goes to look for another pasture. All gazelles obey these democratically accepted peaceful decisions, reacting to specific body movements that are understandable to all individuals, i.e., to a certain body language."

(Scientific journal "Focus")

The Marines entered the palace after a long, all-night bombardment - the roar of explosions, the noise of falling debris, the flames of fires. They entered with the first glimmer of dawn, drowned in thick smoke and the stench of burning bodies. They were exhausted and hungry, but intoxicated by the unexpected speed of their victory. And this increased their hunger. They scoured the presidential Palace and park for food and found gazelles and lions in the park.

Petrified gazelles huddled in the bushes that lined the park alleys. The Marines had no trouble grabbing them and dragging them to the lobby of the palace, where they were going to celebrate their victory. There they built a brazier, using it for cooking.


* Ali Ibn al-Jahm-Arabic poet (d. 863).

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these chairs are made by the most skilled furniture makers in the world and decorated with high-quality French gold plates. Four lions discovered by the same marines, enraged by hunger, smoke, and stench, were thrashing about in their gleaming stainless-steel cages, snarling. These were the lions of the president's son, and it was rumored that he fed them the meat of those who incurred his wrath. One of the Marines suggested that, for fun, the leftover gazelle meat should be thrown to the lions after the feast.

The offer was lost in the noise and hubbub of the winners, in the delicious smells of roasting meat of twenty white Arabian gazelles and ten magnificent sand gazelles, as if woven from a breeze that absorbed all the aromas of flowers. Before the sun had even set, all these gazelles were reduced to piles of bones, with bits of fried meat sticking out here and there. Most of the Marines had had their fill and were dozing off in the padded chairs. But some of them couldn't sleep, so they dragged the bones to the lions ' cages. They didn't know that lions disdained fried meat. So would they gnaw on bones carved in ashes?

ON THE BACK OF AN ELEPHANT

"The elephant is a scary animal, be careful not to climb on its back and use it as a surveillance tower or for protection. An elephant can kill, maim, trample underfoot. It is said that the Khosroes * executed people by throwing them under the feet of specially trained elephants."

(Al-Jahiz* * "The Book of Animals")

"When Tarkin Khal went to Assam, in Northern India, to film an operation to capture a rabid elephant that killed forty people, he learned there that the elephant's owner, a drunkard, had mistreated him for a long time. The elephant was suffering from heavy iron chains around its legs. The chains were rusted, and some of their links bit into the flesh of the legs."

(Cindy Angel, "Mental Illness")

I have never experienced such fear in my life as I experienced on the back of an elephant on its way up to the Jaipur Fortress, although I have experienced many terrible moments, especially during my travels, starting as a young man, when I rode a stowaway on the roofs of cars along with beggars, vagabonds and crooks. A little gawking, and the electrical wires can cut your neck, suddenly appearing spans of bridges threaten to smash your head if you do not have time to flatten out and press your whole body to the roof. After a youthful vagrancy, a series of ramshackle car rides and ramshackle buses followed the steep mountain slopes of the Red Sea coast, over the precipices of the Lebanon Mountains and along the deadly crevices of the Tibetan plateau. I flew over the mountains of Laos in an old Russian plane that almost caught fire in the air, sailed through the turbulent Zambezi River with its dangerous turns and swings in a fragile canoe, the boat constantly dived, and I did not know how to swim. On foot, I crossed the minefields in Cambodia, the so-called "death fields". I flew a helicopter over the giant Victoria Falls. For seven full years, he was a professional gymnast with the sole goal of becoming an aerial acrobat in a circus, a man who risked his life every time he jumped on a flying trapeze while performing a backflip in the air.

* * *

Fear attracts me, but not for the reasons that psychologists refer to as compensatory influences. It's just that I experienced the feelings of pleasure and ecstasy that those who have experienced them want to experience again and again. The feelings are all-consuming, pushing the limits of your ordinary existence, revealing invisible horizons of being, a shining source of light that dilates your pupils, makes your skin crawl, your heart pound, and a hot wave rolls from your spine to the top of your head. The state of some supernatural readiness of the whole body. You feel fear and at the same time feel yourself in absolute form. This is adrenaline intoxication, as scientists who have studied people who engage in dangerous sports call it-skydivers who make long jumps, mountain climbers, rowers who go down in boats on rapid mountain rivers, tightrope walkers who cross the street on a wire stretched between skyscrapers, those who climb skyscrapers on their facades.

For the sake of this intoxication, let it be called adrenaline, I often exposed myself to dangers, choosing instead of reliable and safe the most risky, something that will "shake" me, make me keenly feel the taste of life. This made my trips and trips much more interesting and unforgettable. As a rule, the most primitive and unreliable means of transportation most guarantee this collision with the unexpected, the unknown, the stresses that spur all the body's reactions. That is why I chose to climb the Jaipur Fortress by a steep, narrow and bumpy road that runs along the edge of a terrible five-hundred-meter cliff above the bed of a dried-up lake littered with scree and rock fragments.


* Khosroi - the title of ancient Persian kings.

** Al-Jahiz-famous Arabic philologist and scholar (d. 869).

page 71

sharp edges, not on a car or minibus equipped with special tires, but on an elephant. The ride on the back of an elephant excited the imagination, evoking images of the maharajas who built this fortress on the mountainside and lived in it for generations, until their time was over, and the high formidable fortress did not turn into a landmark and a miracle.

* * *

I knew that riding an elephant was a dubious pleasure. Of course, looking at the world from such a wide and high moving platform as the elephant's back is great. But such a trip is fraught with physical stress, which is easy to bear only for lean and flexible Asians who are used to riding an elephant. An elephant is not a camel rocking its rider back and forth, which corresponds to the natural inclination and straightening of the human body. And not a horse proudly carrying its rider. And not a donkey that shakes as much as the one sitting on it. The elephant is a living mountain, it moves heavily and slowly, constantly changing its legs: the front right rises simultaneously with the rear left, takes a giant step, then the front left and rear right rise, take the next giant step. And every giant step gives pain in the bodies of people clinging to the handrails of their seats on the giant back. The source of this pain is the discrepancy between the elephant's tilt axis and the normal reactions of the human body, unless the person has been used to riding an elephant since childhood. The long, heavy strides cause the joints of those sitting on it-especially the joints of the vertebrae, pelvic bones, collarbones, and shoulder joints-to rub against each other like millstones. I had already had this painful experience on an island in the middle of the Mekong River, near Vientiane, as well as in an ancient temple complex in Bangkok, and I was not afraid to repeat it in Jaipur.

* * *

At the foot of the slope, where the road leading up to the fortress begins, there was a "parking lot" of elephants, one by one they approached a wide wall as high as the floor of the house, a kind of terrace, from which the landing took place. The elephants were brightly painted, with images of branches and flowers surrounding their eyes, covering their foreheads, and running along their long trunks. The passenger seats were like wrought-iron beds, wide and covered with large mattresses with pillows propped up against a foot-high iron railing. These "beds" were fixed in a horizontal position with wide straps made of rough leather. I thought it must be the skin of an elephant, with its huge, wrinkled, graphite-colored belly.

Together with the others, I began to climb the stone steps to the wall so that I could sit on the elephant's back. But the boarding procedure was extremely long, and I noticed a lot of Indian police officers around. I had heard some talk that a strict security clearance was required to get permission to board, and that the precautions being taken were related to the situation in Kashmir, the inter-communal skirmishes in Hyderabad, and the explosion of a train near Bombay. I said to myself: nothing, caution is necessary, blind extremism does not distinguish between a train and an elephant, between enemies and strangers, between a person and a stone, the main thing for extremists is to blow up and frighten their enemies with these explosions. But when I went up to the terrace, I was surprised to see that not only the passengers ' bags and packages were being searched, but also their clothes, moreover, they were being told to roll up their sleeves and raise their hands in the air, and they were being scrutinized, finger by finger. The same thing is done with the toes, forcing people to sit down and take off their shoes! I obeyed with great reluctance. And having already sat down on his place on the elephant's back, he continued to reflect on what was happening, without finding an explanation for it. Absorbed in this puzzle, I didn't even notice the elephant begin to walk up the road.

* * *

There were ten of us on the elephant, not counting the mahout in front, who sat on the elephant's neck. Four of the ten young men were still laughing and winking at each other, running small straws along the fingers of their hands, and then trying to reach the elephant's skin with them this way and that. The driver turned to them, saw the straws in their hands, glowered at them, and said something quickly in the local language, either a curse or a threat,or both. The young men were quiet for a while, and then they began to laugh, wink, and amuse themselves again. I looked at one of them, who was sitting next to me, looking confused, despite the fact that he was also taking part in the fun of the others, with a question in his eyes and a puzzled spread of his hands. His dark, pleasant face lost its mischievous expression, and he answered me shyly in heavily accented English:"antsh." Because of the accent, I didn't understand what word he said at first. To help me, the young man began to quickly move his fingers, imitating the movement of small creatures, and then I understood and exclaimed in surprise: "An ant... ants?"He nodded with an embarrassed smile and whispered to me that ants were the latest invention of extremists in countries where elephants are used for hauling and dragging cargo, as well as for tourism purposes and various celebrations... in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India. No one knows exactly whether or where such operations were carried out, but the" technique " of their conduct is already known to everyone, and rumors about them spread like a plague throughout the region, stories are passed from mouth to mouth about mad elephants, in whose ears ants were quietly launched, about dozens trampled by them

page 72

people, destroyed homes, mangled cars, trampled gardens. The damage caused by elephants is greater than that caused by a car bomb or a booby-trapped section of road.

* * *

After other people sitting on the elephant joined our conversation, I clearly realized the danger of this "bullying by ants" and thought that people who are able to carry out such operations may not be like each other in anything, profess different ideologies, faiths, political views, and belong to different groups. ethnic communities. Opposition groups and armed groups in these countries are painted in a wide range of incompatible colors: agricultural and industrial barons and drug traffickers in southern Laos and northern Thailand, Maoist communists in Nepal, the emerald mafia in Burma, gangs smuggling incense in Cambodia, religious and ethnic separatists in Sri Lanka, in the north of the country. some islands of Indonesia, in Northern India. They have different interests and beliefs, but they all share the same ant used to cause pain. It can't be otherwise! But can pain serve as a means of getting rid of any other pain? Have they completely lost their minds, gone completely blind?! Do you have eyes to distinguish your victims, by the fire that consumes the houses that are set on fire? Does an explosive device placed in a trash bin, in a car, under a train seat have eyes? Does an ant fly into an elephant's ear, looking for a way out, and gnaw with its sharp jaws at the terribly sensitive bumps that are exposed nerve endings? This causes an unbearable itch, electrifies the brain of a giant animal, drives it to frenzy. The elephant begins to rage, shakes off its riders, they fly from a height to the ground and die under its feet, along with those who happened to be nearby. Trying to get rid of the unbearable itch, the elephant rubs its entire huge mass against the walls of houses and presses people pressing into these walls in the hope of protecting themselves.

* * *

Instantly, my mind was filled with terrible images of possible death if our elephant went berserk: I fell on the rocks of the road and broke my bones, and then he trampled me underfoot; I avoided falling, but in a mad attempt to grab the rocks on the right side of the road, I found myself trapped between the rocks and the elephant's side and crushed I fall far away from the elephant and from the stone wall, but I fall into a five-hundred-meter chasm, to the bottom of a dry lake and break on sharp fragments of rocks that are hot under the hot sun of Rajasthan.

* * *

Images of a terrible death filled my mind, and I couldn't think of anything else. By that time we had covered two-thirds of the way and had reached a height from which the bottom of the dry lake looked particularly intimidating. I lost all ability to admire the surrounding views and the white towers of the already close fortress. I watched my neighbors closely, trying to guess which of them was the culprit, hiding ants between his fingers, under his fingernails, or in the depths of his pocket, waiting for the right moment to release them into the elephant's ear. After all, he will certainly do it and find a way to escape before the elephant turns into a lion. I wonder if he'll be happy with the bloody and disastrous consequences of this transformation. Will he be happy to see people falling and breaking on rocks, their bodies being torn to pieces? Surely those who are capable of such a thing, no matter what political views they hold, no matter what religion they profess, no matter what ethnic group they belong to, experience a certain ecstasy. I wonder if it's like the ecstasy I've experienced so many times in the face of danger. Do those who spread fear among others also get a rush of adrenaline? Does the performance of a terrible deed, the sight of bloodied, burned, crushed human bodies, cause them to feel a sense of malicious joy, makes them feel a rush of supernatural forces, a secret shiver of pleasure, from which the eyes light up with a sensual shine?

I could still see myself crushed, torn apart, or falling into the abyss on the sharp teeth of sun-baked rocks. The elephant, making the last third of the way, climbed as if on a sloping wall. Those sitting on it were huddled in their seats, holding tightly to the iron handrails or gripping the sturdy upholstery of the mattresses with all their might. However, the elephant's sudden rise-its huge head was taller than we were-sent its occupants flying back into the far corner. Excited and cheery shouts rang out. My cry was only one of horror, for I was thrown over the rail and slid down the elephant's rump, my fingers clutching futilely at the folds of its rough skin, my legs dangling in the void. With the amazing agility of a terrified man, without even realizing what I was doing, I managed to cling to the elephant's tail with both hands and slide down it as if it were a drainpipe.

Perhaps my body still has a distant memory of my past as a gymnast, doing a somersault in the air when jumping off a trapeze or uneven bars and accurately calculating the trajectory of the jump. At a distance of half a meter from the ground, I pushed off, released the elephant's tail, landed on my heels away from its heavy legs and rolled over on my back. Then he rolled over on his side and looked... The elephant continued to climb, and those on its back turned to look at me with wide-open eyes!

Translated from Arabic and foreword Dr. V. N. Kirpichenko


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