Excerpt: Uyghur Writer Alat Asem’s “Sidik Golden MobOff”

Here’s an excerpt from my translation of Sidik Golden MobOff (《斯迪克金子关机》) by the bilingual Uyghur author, Alat Asem (阿拉提 · 阿斯木), that is published in full in Issue 14 of Chutzpah!:

IN A WORLD of snow and ice, buses began to budge and Muslims began to discuss Sidik Golden MobOff in hushed tones.

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One comment reached my ears from a bus seat behind me. “In summary, this deceased mate of ours was a rather odd fellow, and the words at my disposal are insufficient to dissect his temperament.”

An old gentleman seated in front of me, sporting a modest, not fully white beard with intermingled deposits of grey (like the striped skin of a Xinjiang cantaloupe), had an amiable look about him. He sighed at length, and pronounced: “Folk good and bad both die, but the bad all die in wintertime.”

I didn’t speak out immediately, because the people in this place live according to long- standing custom. If someone has a beard, you bite your tongue and offer up a smile, even if you are the one endowed with heavenly wisdom.

I once remarked to Sidik Golden MobOff that this is the kind of place where bearded men aren’t friendly, and friendly men don’t wear beards. He said that beards represent time, and friendliness is greed, and it’s all one and the same.

But at the time I couldn’t help myself. “Esteemed Elder Brother,” I said, “pardon me, for I’m young and unbearded. But hearing what was just said, the heart itches and the mouth is hot, and I also want to say a word or two.

“As young as I am, I count not a few friends among Elder Brothers, and know truckfuls of knowledgeable Gentlemen and lesser types, and I’ve chewed on my share of ancient books and works by current authors, but I’ve yet to hear this adage: ‘The bad all die in the wintertime.’ Pray tell, Elder Brother, are you a university genius, or an Immortal from a seat of learning in the Heavens?”

Elder Brother turned around and looked me straight in the eye. “Whom do you take yourself for?”

“A person complete with a nose, ears and eyes.”

“You’re still young,” said Elder Brother. “When you’ve lived to my age, come look for me again.”

“But if by that time you’ve kicked the bucket suddenly during the winter, what then?”

Elder Brother turned toward me again. “Of which family are you the child?”

“I am the child of other people.”

“Go ahead and ask any one on this bus,” said Elder Brother. “Did that devil Sidik Golden MobOff ever utter one sentence of human speech? If he didn’t die in the winter, would he have died in some heavenly summer?”

“Since he was such a terrible man, why did you take part in his funeral?” I queried.

“You’re still young. When you reach my age, you’ll understand.”

“Allah willing,” I said. “During my lifetime, I hope never to learn how deep the rot in your gut extends. When a human life ends, others should pray for its soul. In reality, that is for our own protection, for each of us is basically nothing. Just how filthy our behinds are, we know in our hearts. Even the moon is spotted!”

“What nonsense,” said the silver-bearded Elder seated in the front row. “What day is today? Kindness is the greatest of virtues. Who dares bicker like this concerning the soul of a departed being?”

Suddenly listless, no one uttered a word.