Doctor Lepizig was a small man, barely five foot tall, his hair had abandoned him, his eyes were too close together, and his nose long and sharp. The glasses that he had picked for his face were an incongruity, but he was a man who never saw the incongruities in life. He was a chain smoker. The talisman that he presented to the museum had made him very famous.
With three other students, I was picked to go with Doctor Lepizig to the leper colony in Chavaivi, Tajikistan. We were to write reports as the lepers' arms, legs, and other appendages dropped off.
The civil war had devastated Tajikistan, but not the leper colony. The lepers lived in fancy mansions on the side of Mount Chavaivi. The mount overlooked the winding Kavaivi River. A deep river that cut between Mount Chavaivi and the flat plains that eventually became the famous steppes. We were told not to swim in the river because of the man-eating catfish. A man from the next village had been swimming when a catfish, unable to see because of the murky waters (there had been a heavy rainfall during the night) tried to swallow the man whole. The catfish choked to death and the man suffocated. From the rictus, the man's legs could be seen sticking out. We were told that the catfish reach such amazing lengths and weights because their diet consists of the discarded appendages that were tossed into the river.
Doctor Lepizig was a celebrity in Tajikistan. It took three weeks for the parties in Dushanbe to expire. The local famous, the rich, the royalty, held a party for Doctor Lepizig. The parties were very formal. Doctor Lepizig was an excellent communicator and his classes were always accompanied with loud cheers and thunderous clapping.
We had a group picture taken at the Monument of Amir Ismail Samani; we swam in the Oxus and held conversations with the local intellectuals about Robert Byron.
Finally, we left Dushanbe and made our way along rugged roads to Mount Chavaivi.
Wanting autonomy, we settled by the winding Kavaivi River. We were housed in tents. Doctor Lepizig had to stay in the mansion of the chief. We saw very little of him. The chief was a big man who had lost his legs, so he could not leave his mansion.
The work was tedious. We had to use pencils and notebooks; there was no Internet or electricity. We lit a campfire at night to keep the catfish away. Around the campfire, we ate the catfish and sang songs to keep us in high spirits. Doctor Lepizig never allowed us alcohol.
During the day, we shadowed the lepers as they fished, created music, read, played chess and checkers, basked in the sun, dipped their ankles, if they had ankles, into the warm water.
A leper by the name of Parama caught the catfish and so we had catfish with every meal. The fish was tender and juicy. We used the bones to pick the fish out of our teeth.
Parama had once been a beautiful man. His hair was black as coal, his skin the color of honey. The mustache above his top lip was bushy and streaked with gray. Before he caught leprosy, he had been training to be a weight lifter. It had been prophesied that he would win a gold medal at the Olympics. He spoke little English and I only knew three words of Tajik: "hello," "goodbye," and "happy." But Anna, Doctor Lepizig's daughter, was fluent in Tajik, and she translated for us, Parama and the other lepers.
Parama took us on many walks through the Fann Mountains. He knew all the names of the mountain peaks and the history and mythology of the Fann Mountains. The history and mythology was matched by the breathtaking vistas. Some days we would walk for hours.
While the others searched out places to swim, I would stay with Parama and we would converse with our hands and facial expressions.
Our trips to the Fann Mountains were cut short when Parama's left leg fell off. I sat with him and told him about America. I told him about the skyscrapers, hamburgers and coca-cola. I used a stick and drew in the sand. He liked what he saw. We became great friends.
A letter arrived at my tent.
I am using Anna to speak to you.
I need you. come to me.
Anna was a hopeless romantic, but most girls are at the tender age of twelve. I went to see Parama. The mansion was situated where the flat plain first meets Mount Chavaivi. The mansion had many rooms that were not used. Parama was an ascetic, and so he used only two rooms. In the waning light, we looked into each other's soul. I fell to my knees. "No," he said. I was confused. He pointed to his leg. I had an idea. I slipped a condom onto his member and softly placed it into my mouth. He sang a soft song; it was as beautiful as the topography was rugged. I never wanted the singing to stop.
You are a naughty girl. (Yes you are! From me, Anna). Please come to me tonight. I need you, I love you.
Once again, I slipped a condom onto Parama's member and placed it into my mouth. Again, the song filled the room. The meaning of the song was lost to me, but not how mellifluous the song was. The infinity was opened up.
Parama feared losing his eyes, so he begged that he may go and fish one more time. We took him down to the river. The water had the luminosity of gold. As the shadows crept slowly along the rocks, Parama fished. The others, feeling the warm air cool, decided to hike to the top of Mount Chavaivi. Parama spoke to Anna and Anna related what he had said to me, "Stay with me." I stayed behind. Parama stroked my hair as the lizards slept, as the tea colored river was dappled with lambent flecks of golden sunlight.
I took him into mouth. Again, he started to sing that beautiful song. I was so happy. My ardency was exacerbated, his frail hand on my head, the sun on the nape of my neck, the stones cutting into my knees, the sound of the water rushing. The beautiful song turned into a succession of grunts. The grunts became screams of agony. His hand released me and I straightened up. He screamed. I still had his member in my mouth.
Dear Louise Appleheart,
I hope that my talisman has made you famous. One day I hope to see it in that big museum where it is housed.
About the Author
Paul Kavanagh's book THE KILLING OF A BANK MANAGER is published by Honest Publishing.