A Tale Of The Caucuses
An Honorable Act
High above the Caspian Sea, amid the towering Caucuses; past the terraced hills, eroded and neglected since Stalin forced their owners off the land; past the stumps of grape vines, destroyed as part of a campaign against drunkenness, high in the green and rocky hills, sits the mountain village of Chock. The houses sit one on top of the other, thick walls facing out, and only one small entrance, one small gate, allows entry into this ancient citadel.
We had been brought here by a doctor who now practices in the lowlands, a product of modern Soviet education, a liberal sophisticated man. He delivers us to a cousin, the Chief of Police, who pours cognac out of a large jug while his wife leaves her weaving to prepare a meal, taking down a piece of preserved meat hanging in the porch.
The Chief of Police complains that in the summer when Russians visit his town, he looses his men who take the Russian female visitors. The Russian women love the vigor of our mountain boys, he boasts.
And what if a local girl takes up with a visiting Russian man? we ask.
Never happens, he declares.
But if it did?
He draws his hand across his neck, and fills my glass with more cognac.
The next day he takes us on a tour of the town, through its narrow streets, past its ancient arches and fountains, its past splendors; through a modern square with squat buildings and large weather beaten posters announcing the production in sheep, peaches and other agricultural products, and to an ancient public courtyard that overlooks the village.
We look down on this ancient village and the beautiful hills that surround and enclose it. He leads us to a knotted stump that was once a tree more ancient than this village, and told us this tale, of what took place long, long ago, or perhaps not so many years ago.
Once there was a young boy who grew up to be so handsome, so beautiful, that all the women fell in love with him. Not just the young unmarried virgins, but also their older sisters and cousins, and their Mothers as well. They all loved him. They all desired him. And they forgot their duties to their fathers and husbands.
Life in the town was disrupted, and the men seethed.
The men complained to the boy’s father that this was intolerable, and must not continue. The boy’s father agreed, and called to boy and told him that he had to leave. And so the boy was sent into exile.
Nobody recalls where he went or what he did. Only that he came back. His father was angry and scolded him, and told him that he cannot return. I was homesick, the boy replied, I missed my home, my family, and these hills. The Father, who dearly loved his only son, hid him in a cave high up in the hills.
However, the women learned that he had returned and where he was hiding. They visited him, and comforted him, and fed him, and stayed with him.
Life in the town was disrupted and the men seethed. They visited the boy’s father and told him that this cannot continue. We will have to kill him, they declared.
No, said the Father, I know what I must do. Allow me the honorable choice.
The next day the Father walked up into the hills, to the cave where he had hid his son. Father and son walked back into the village. They came to this very courtyard, and the Father gently pushed his son down onto this stump, this ancient stump, and there he cut off his son’s head.
He killed his son?
Yes, he killed his son It was the only honorable thing he could do.
Everyone agreed. It was the only thing he could do.
Yes, agreed the doctor. The honorable deed.
Yes, agreed the doctor’s wife. It was the proper thing to do.
An honorable act.