Zira Naurzbayeva pays homage to an older generation of women struggling to make the transition from village communities to urban living in contemporary Kazakhstan.
The roar, filled with anger and a hot wrath, changed into a long, sad howl. My horror was quickly replaced by doubt, because that scream had sounded on a sunny summer day in Academgorodok, somewhere among the brand-new, pink seashell–trimmed buildings of the academic institutes and the housing units for the people who worked there.
I came here fairly often after class and during breaks to help my mother fill in her daily data on the ten square yards of peach graph paper that lined one wall, help her plot out every new data point and connect the dots in pencil. This dreary job, which demanded not just precision but also constant strain on the eyes, was too much now for my mother, who was only working a quarter of her former hours. Her sense of responsibility and her pride prevented her from rejecting this hellish burden altogether, and her bosses, all yesterday's graduates she had nurtured herself, tried not to notice it. That was why I was at the institute and heard that shriek through the open window.
I looked at Mama. But, contrary to her usual habit, she offered no explanation right away. She looked down, guiltily, somehow, and did not speak. The woman who shared her office did not speak, either. The scream came again. Now I knew for sure it was a person screaming. Mama winced so noticeably that I couldn’t ask my question out loud. I went on working on the graph paper, sorting out possible explanations in my mind. A cry of sorrow? The weeping of some alcoholic in the heat of delirium? A domestic quarrel, some scandal or fistfight? Someone who was just plain crazy?
That evening, when it was just the two of us on the way home, Mama finally found the strength to tell me. It turned out it had been a Kazakh woman screaming, in the apartment building across the way.
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