Ýowşan Annagurban

The Great President and an Artist

“Protection and support around me” is what his father probably said when he gave him the name Galkan (Shield). A soldier is a man who returned from war handicapped, soul which sought protection from his children. From his early childhood he attended the school of art. He never put down his paintbrush. He received his higher education in Tashkent and when he came to the village, his father had him marry a village girl in a huge celebration. Back then, he couldn't tell his father that he liked a girl where he'd been studying. After graduating, being proud of his children Galkan built a temporary house at the edge of the capital. While others were on gathering money, he was gathering books and getting on with his work. After he had six children members of the Trade Union, saying that he wouldn't ask for a residence himself acquired a flat for him in the middle of the Ashgabat.

Of course, back then the world was different, he didn't see such abuse and poverty. A man who did his work and who had children was supported by the government one way or another. Suddenly everything turned upside-down. The Trade Union didn't exist any longer, nor did the living for the salary you earned. Instead came the time of the Great President, the President for life, as artists called this period. True, in the old days poems were also dateWritten about such leaders like Lenin and Stalin. But this leader was different and never seen before. If you say this is nothing, it became difficult to obtain bread: Bread goes on horseback – people on foot. Galkan couldn't understand how order turned into disorder and how things got so complicated. He watched the president-owned TV to try to understand what was happening, and then he tried to read about him in newspapers. He still couldn't understand anything.

His colleagues told him not to try to understand things but advised him to rather paint pictures of the president. They told him that some people had painted his pictures, built his sculptures, and can now afford huge houses and cars and have become notorious. “Otherwise, you will live in starvation” they said. Later, he tried that as well. He painted the president's picture. His colleagues helped him to find a buyer. The picture was sold. Of course, there was some tea money. Children had meat soup. The older one could buy clothes. With all this, the money came to an end. There was no salary for another two years or so. He used to teach children in the same school of arts he attended in his childhood. After seeing that they couldn't afford paint or brushes, he quit.

Later, he painted several pictures of the president. But these pictures became harder. The same jowly face, same nose, same eyebrows, same eyes... In addition, selling them was becoming harder. Normal people didn't have money to buy such pictures. Only businesses could afford them and they had long ago bought the pictures and hung them wherever possible. Now to sell these pictures you had to have connections in the top companies. The money had to be shared with the one that buyer and you had to know him very well in order to trust him. And this way, from the hard work of one person, third parties had to be fed. But there was no other way. So Galkan tried to sink in the dirt several times because his colleagues said everyone does it.

However as it has been said, life is short, and days are long. Especially in poverty. His children grew up in this poverty. You have to prepare them for the future. Have to educate some, find jobs for others. They can't be educated, nor can jobs be found. If you say they can do something themselves, they need tools. Sewing machines have to be bought for girls, wood tools for boys. All that is a lot of money for him, there is no short cut. Thinking about this depressed him. He found himself swearing in front of his children every time the president was on TV. His daughters were afraid to turn on the TV if they father was in the same room because the shiny president was always there. So later, Galkan tried not to come home from his workshop. Even if he had hard piece of bread he would soften it by dipping it into tea and sleep in the workshop. He worked. But later, he couldn't work, especially when it came to the same meaty face. He put down his shoulders and his tie. But every time he saw those repeatedly painted eyes, every time he painted that big face, his hands started shaking. So Galkan used to cover the face of the president and try to work on something else. At other times he would sit and read. Later he couldn't even pass that covered picture without shaking and losing control of himself. Once, he even kicked it and started beating it up with a shovel.

Afterwards he was very ashamed of what he did. But he was glad that his neighboring painters didn't come to visit him at that moment. The picture looked like as if it had been torn apart by dogs. He got rid of the pieces before anybody saw them. Right at that moment his colleague came and invited him for a cup of tea telling him that he'd sold a picture he'd painted of the Great President and bought him a drink. Galkan wasn't a guy who used to drink regularly but suddenly he really wanted a drink. After a hundred grams of Vodka Galkan told his colleague everything. He told him he couldn't paint pictures of the president any more.

“Do you know other places to make money? Or do we have to unload off trucks? This isn't our kind of work?” said Galkan.

“Yesterday I went to the bazaar with that purpose. People who are loading and unloading things from one place to another are intelligent people. I found out that even for loading there are too many people. But I would”ve to made some money as well. Our hands are not meant for this, but we make them do it because there is no choice.”

“We didn't even buy a car in time. Some of our artists have already given up their paintings and now they are making money as taxi drivers.”

“Oh they can do it. If I had a car that's exactly what I'd do” Suddenly tears appeared in his eyes. “Nerves are letting me down, friend, nerves. Yesterday, I had a fight with the almost finished picture of the president. I threw it down and trampled on it, saying that he is trampling on us. Then I stopped and said shame on me. I said you”re not trampling on him, you”re trampling on yourself. Here, look at it! – He took out the picture with footprints on it from the back of the closet. Before, I thought it was only me. But when I went to a sculptor colleague, he told me that he wants to hammer down all his sculptures.”

After hearing this Galkan wanted to talk about his shame. But he didn't. What would happen if he talked about it? We”re all in the same situation when we paint that picture, when we trample on that picture we trample ourselves, he said. But his colleague spoke in anger. He told him that if he didn't sell these pictures he would be ashamed to look his children in the eye. He told him that if “the president” is not sold, the fridge is empty. Galkan got up and headed towards the door without realizing it himself. His colleague stared at him in confusion. Galkan apologized and excused himself with the lie that he had to go.

He came to his workshop and shut the door from inside and went to sleep. But he couldn't rest sleeping. “Till when can I sleep in this way” he said getting up. He tried to work. His hands didn't want to. He took a book and sat down to read it. He kept on reading. Then he fell asleep reading. When he was hungry, he drunk water from the tap...

In one of those days, he and his colleagues were invited to the President's office. The President accepted them in his office with big smile. Galkan, coming to this building for the first time, saw the owner closely for the first time as well. These things made him nervous. He didn't like to draw attention to himself. So he sat at the back. The President at the beginning of the conversation told them that he knew what they were working on and that he was aware of the difficulties they had. He noted that if they kept on working, sooner or later they would be appreciated for their works. Nobody should turn away from his motherland, saying that his work is not appreciated; he explained that people shouldn't work for their motherland only for money or respect. For not being involved in conflict and gossip and for working for the motherland despite poor days, the President thanked them. This talk was clear for Galkan. He knew the purpose of these words. But as soon as the President started talking about art, about how to choose colors, how people used to make paint from plants before and how eyes should be painted in portraits, everything went blury for Galkan. The president spoke and spoke with joy. He remembered his visit to Hermitage to see foreign exhibitions. He made a long speech about developing National Art.

Galkan suddenly felt as if he had found out the secret of why he couldn't understand what the President was saying. He was very talkative but empty. In fact, that was what exposed all his secrets. If you watched at him closely, the President didn't look as if he who knew what he was saying or doing. Out of nowhere he talked about irrelevant things and mentioned things he didn't know about. The President trying to seem well-educated would result in everything being mixed up till even he wouldn't understand what he was saying. The odd thing is that no one tried to explain this to him. No one said: “You talk no sense, too much, you mix things up, you make a fool of yourself...” Painters who wouldn't stop talking in normal gatherings were in silent as if their mouths were full of water. Not only that, they all made the gesture of understanding what the President was saying. He would gain joy from this and this would encourage him to keep talking when his speech was flagging. Galkan got so bored. He almost got up and left. But he sat through it all. He said to himself: “Tolerate this time, you won't get invitations of this sort again.”

Finally, the awaited moment came. The President wished them success in their work and the time came to leave. Right at that moment the President came up with something. One by one he called them to himself; shaking their hands, he gave each a copy of the Koran as a gift. Of all the possible gifts this was the thing Galkan wanted least to be given. But he took it anyway. However he didn't want to take it to his home or to his work place. He took his seat again and put the Koran on the edge of the window next to him. He left without taking it. But he couldn't get rid of this unwanted gift so easily. When Galkan reached the metal door one of the President's aids came running after him:
“Mr. Galkan, you forgot your Koran!” he said.

Galkan felt a momentary panic as if he was caught on the crime scene. Then he stiffened and said:
“I don't need it.”

The president's aid said in surprise:
“But this is the Koran; God's gift, which was given to you by our Great President!”

Galkan smiled bitterly to his words and said:
“I have six of God's gifts, six children and I have my father's Koran at home. I don't see anything good when the Koran is given with wrong hands, with fingers covered such expensive rings when my children have nothing to eat.”

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