Rakhamaninov’s Sonata

A short story by Sherzod Artikov, translated from Uzbeki by Nigora Muhammad

Nilufar was overjoyed. Finally, sitting in front of the piano she was able to play the sonata of her favourite composer without a score and without making a mistake anywhere. She was excited as she had not been able to master it for weeks, and no matter how hard she tried, her efforts were in vain. In the end, her relentless and hard work paid off, lo and behold.

Now she could easily perform Rakhmaninov’s famous “re-minor” sonata in a long-waited first concert program without a score. She felt very happy. Sometimes she would go to her red piano, sometimes she would stare at the picture of composers hanging on the walls of the room and she would walk back and forth. She even wanted to dance on tiptoe like a ballerina. But she was ashamed and changed her mind. If her twins had been there, no doubt she would have embraced them, kissed their faces, and shared her joy with them. Unfortunately, they were in a boarding school. They would come during the weekend.

She wanted to share her joy with someone while she was preparing dinner. She could not contain it. That’s probably why she often glanced at the black telephone set on the shelf in the hallway. After a while she went to the phone. She picked it up and dialed the required numbers. Then the connection was restored, and a familiar voice was heard from the receiver.

“I’m in a meeting.”

“Are you coming home early today?” she said, not caring that her husband was at the meeting.

“What’s up?” her husband asked in surprise.

“Everything is good,” she continued. “If you come, I will tell you. I have a wonderful surprise.”

“Okay, I will come.”

Her husband’s voice stopped. She assumed the connection was lost. Although she was a little upset that the connection was lost, she dwelt on her success again and was in a good mood. She smiled contentedly as she looked in the hanging mirror in the hallway.

Nothing and no one could hurt her at the moment. Because she felt she had achieved a huge success for herself. To that day, she could only perform Beethoven’s sonata dedicated to Eliza, Brahms’ waltzes, and two or three of Chopin’s small nocturnes without score. But they were short musical compositions that any amateur pianist could perform. They did not require extra training or talent. Rakhmaninov’s sonata, on the other hand, was longer and more complex structurally. If these two elements was neglected, it would confuse the performer and force her to make a mistake, even when performed with a score.

“What’s the matter?” her husband said.

He had fulfilled his promise and returned early from work. Nilufar saw him and applauded with joy.

She was imagining that on the day of the concert she would be beautifully dressed and with a bouquet in her hands. This dream would soon come true too, she thought. She gently took her husband’s hand and walked towards the room where the piano was waiting. She entered the room and pushed the brown chair close to the piano. She asked her husband to sit on it. Her husband, who didn’t understand anything, sat helplessly in the chair. She stopped in front of the piano.

“I will play Rakhmaninov’s “re-minor” sonata without a score,” she said, sitting in a chair. “Listen carefully!”

 She pointed her index finger at her husband like a child, her cheeks flushed with excitement. Then she put her finger in front of her nose and jokingly said “tss” to her husband. Then she began to play the sonata without a score. The mystery of music, which for centuries had shaken the human heart, comforted her and made her happy, embodied her pure love and painful hatred. The notes spread quietly through the room. This time the melody embodied the memories of the past in the human heart. The sonata always reminded her of her childhood. When she was a student at the conservatory, she was included in her personal program in various competitions. She remembered her all those performances during her childhood. It was the same a while ago and yesterday. It is the same now.

She would move her long and slender fingers over the black and white keys and play it flat. And sweet memories of a distant carefree and happy childhood wafted into her mind. Wrapping a white handkerchief around her mother’s forehead and baking hot bread in the oven, her heart sank for a moment as a prelude to memories. As a child, her mother always baked bread in the oven on Sundays. She was carrying a basket that was bigger than she was, and she couldn’t move anywhere near it. After the loaves were toasted and swollen, her mother would cut them up and throw them in the basket. And she would spread them out to make the bread cool faster. In the meantime, Nilufar would put cake bits in the pocket of her jacket. After that, she would enjoy eating these leaning on the apricot tree.

When the sonata reached halfway, the memories became more vivid. Lo and behold, she was tapping on the rotten wire in the street. She was small, like a squirrel. Her hair was blonde. Even then, everyone called her “blonde”. She was counting numbers non-stop, and her friends were hiding. After a while, she was looking for them everywhere. “Berkinmachoq,”* she sighed, her hands, which were constantly moving on the keys, suddenly weakened.

On summer days, she would not come from the street, ignoring the cherries hung by her father on her ears, and waving her hair, which was braided like willow twigs by her mother. She was much more playful.

If it snowed in the winter, it would be a holiday for her. She would make a Father Christmas with the kids in the middle of the street or play snowballs with endless fun. She would be on the sledge her father had brought her until the evening.

Not long after, she went to her uncle’s shop. He sold nisholda*. As a child, during the months of Ramadan, that uncle would always fill her bowl with nisholda . By the time she got home, she was licking the top of the nisholda with her finger. She would have a dirty doll in her arms and shoes with water on her feet.

“It would have been so sweet the nisholda,” she said casually. Then she recalled the days when she would go into every house with the children on the streets on the evenings of the holy month and sing the song of Ramadan.

We have come to your home saying Ramadan,
May God give you a son in your cradle...

They would sing that song. The song was long. Unfortunately, she only remembered the beginning. That’s how it would start. They would say it together with the children. Boys and girls sang Ramadan songs in unison, holding a long tablecloth from the corners, spreading it to collect money, sometimes sweets, fruits given by neighbours. The tablecloth was soon filled with what they had given. Then, sitting on a rock at the corner of the street, the children would evenly share the gifts. She often got apple and chocolate chip cookies. The coins were taken by boys.

Tears welled up in her eyes as the sonata was ending. The tears were for her childhood had that been left behind the parents who had died. Her bereavement was recent.

The sonata made her nostalgic and that is why she felt the need to master it. She had been performing this sonata a lot lately and with passion because she missed her childhood. This was also the reason why she decided to give a concert as a freelance artist. Probably, Sergei Rakhmaninov also missed his childhood in the United States during his years in exile. This is why he performed this sonata many times on tours in American cities and received applause. He deserved recognition. She looked at her husband questioningly after playing the sonata. There was a question in her eyes. The question was not “Did I perform well?”  But, “Did you remember your childhood, too?” She also wanted to tell him about her forthcoming concert at the city’s House of Culture. Her husband was ignoring her. There was no interest in his eyes. Maybe, he was anxious or thinking of his own past.

“I play the sonata without a score,” she said with an open face because her husband didn’t speak. “I wanted to tell you that. I also wanted to say that next week will be my first concert in the House of Culture.”

Hearing her words, her husband stood up like a man in despair. He came to her, scratching his forehead and loosening his tie.

“I hate that habit,” he said, pressing the piano keys once or twice as if for amusement. “You always bother me for trivial things. For instance, I will not be able to attend the presentation of our new product tonight. I’m missing such an important event just to satisfy your whim!”

Nilufar sighed and bit her lips hard. She whispered as “I wish they were bleeding”, she didn’t want to let go of her lips between her teeth. Then she laughed sarcastically in her head and closed the piano indifferently. Her hands and red lips trembled. Her husband shook his head when he saw that she was silent and walked towards the door.

“By the way,” he said as he walked out of the door. “I have to go in the morning tomorrow. There will be a wedding at our general manager’s house. So, iron my gray suit. It has been on the shelf for a long time without being worn. It may be wrinkled.”

Involuntarily, Nilufar looked at her husband sadly. There was no trace of the joy that had filled her heart. She did not want to get up, she could not move at all, She felt as if a stone were tied to her legs.

“I’ll iron it until you’re done eating,” she said in a broken voice.

She tried not to hear the sounds ringing in her ears. But it was useless. The happy, spotless, and carefree voices of herself and the children, which had remained under her ear as a child, did not go away.

We have come to your home saying Ramadan,
May God give you a son in your cradle...


*Berkinmachoq: the game of hide & seek

*Nisholda:  a sweet made in the month of Ramadan

Sherzod Artikov is from Marghilan of Uzbekistan. He was one of the winners of the national literary contest in 2019. In 2020, he published The Autumn’s Symphony in Uzbekistan. His book was translated to Spanish and English and republished in Cuba. His writing has been translated and published in anthologies from Bangladesh, Egypt, India and Canada.

Nigora Muhammad is from Namangan city of Uzbekistan. She studies at Namangan State University.