As Emin left the square, the fighter planes were practicing their aerial maneuvers, swooping through the air with a roar that rattled windows. The pilots were among the elite soldiers in Azanistan, chosen from families close to the core supporters of the New Azanistan Party. The president himself was known to enjoy flying, piloting his own jet and sometimes even participating in the air shows. Emin watched the sleek jets trace patterns in the air, releasing smoke tinted with the national colors of yellow, red and black.
The jets were just one sign of the coming holiday. As he continued on his walk home, Emin saw the crowds who lined the parade route. The main parade would be on June 23, still two days away. But already the army was practicing, rolling out its tanks and personnel carriers. The people whistled and clapped as the equipment rumbled down the street. The troops were preparing, but the commanders also knew that displaying their military might was always useful, making the people proud of their military, proud of themselves.
While most of the spectators were unaware of the subtleties of the display, the more educated among them knew that the forces on parade had distinctly different roles. The soldiers in camouflage were intended for battlefield conflict. These soldiers were recruited from the poorest of families. They received minimal training in the use of rifles, but their main role to was to perform unpaid labor such as digging ditches and harvesting potatoes. They rode in the parade, seated in rows in large personnel carriers.
The soldiers in the sleek black uniforms, however, rode on black motorcycles behind the carriers. Each of the motorcycles was specially fitted with an automatic weapon in front, a technical innovation for which the president himself claimed credit. These soldiers, wearing black helmets and black masks, were the troops of the Interior Ministry. This was the division dedicated to maintaining order at home. These soldiers were not trained in battlefield tactics and did not practice ordinary maneuvers. Rather, they received education in surveillance techniques, crowd control, and highly effective interrogation techniques.
While the ordinary soldiers were poorly fed and simply clothed, the soldiers of the Interior Ministry received the best training. Selection into this elite corps was highly coveted, and the Interior Minister built one entire mansion purely with the bribes he received from parents seeking to place their sons in the division. As these sleek warriors roared down the avenue on their armed motorcycles, the crowd whistled and shouted their approval. These soldiers presented the most handsome and fearsome image. They also made the citizens proud to be Azani.
As Emin pushed through the crowd, merely trying to make his way back home, he recognized the back of Gunar’s head, with its short-cropped hair and folds of fat on his neck. He began to edge away in the opposite direction, but unfortunately Gunar turned at that moment, and saw Emin.
After he gave Emin the tree-pruning assignment , Gunar had visited his restaurant and arranged for more effective collections of party donations from his team. He had decided to close the small grocery owned by Cavid Malikov who used to own a bookstore. The government had closed his bookstore 10 years earlier, but Gunar still suspected Cavid was a disloyal character. In fact, one of his informants had heard him complaining about the high cost of food products in the country. If he thought food was too expensive, then perhaps he shouldn’t sell it, Gunar reasoned.
Cavid at this moment was still working in his small store, unaware of the fate that loomed. Within the week, the tax police would find an irregularity, which would require that the entire store be liquidated to pay off the past due taxes. In itself, the liquidation of the store wouldn’t bring a large amount of cash to the party coffers, but it would serve to spur greater generosity among the remaining elements of the business community.
“Emin! Where are you going?” Gunar yelled, as Emin tried to avoid his glance.
“I’m just trying to get to a little opening in the crowd here. I can’t see the parade from here.”
“Come with me. I’ve got the place for us.”
Gunar was feeling generous, because he had solved this problem with the party donations. He wanted to share his good feeling with Emin, who always seemed unnaturally morose. The problem with some people is that they just don’t know how to enjoy themselves. Such a mood discourages other people around them, and Gunar tried to make sure that the people around him did not display such depressing attitudes. A depressed view of the world inhibited inspiration, Gunar believed, and as he saw Emin, he received a flash on inspiration. He would take Emin to visit his friends Gulinda and Lula.
“Come on, Emin. Let’s get away from these peasants. I have the place for us,” he said, grabbing the hapless painter’s shoulder with his ham-sized hand.
Emin was looking forward to returning to his small kitchen, making a cup of tea and then perhaps reading a book. He had already resolved that Buna and he were through. This made him sad, but he also had worried about her so much in the past that his feelings were less sharp, leaving just a dull ache inside. But as soon as Gunar grasped his shoulder, Emin knew that his chance for escape at that moment were nearly impossible. To argue with Gunar in the crowd would be unthinkable. Perhaps he could wriggle out of of Gunar’s plans when the two of them were alone. In the meantime, Emin followed Gunar as the crowd parted in waves as the large man elbowed his way forward.
Veering off from the main street, Gunar turned down a small alley, and Emin thought this was his chance.
“Gunar, I really should be going home. I have a big day tomorrow. You know. The birthday posters. Three new ones in Mikorvskaya district. Really big ones. It’s not going to be easy to put them up.”
Gunar snorted, but otherwise did not reply. He prided himself on his commitment, once he had decided on a course of action. Gunar had decided that Emin deserved a little fun, and he was not going to be distracted from his goal of entertaining him. He stopped at a plain gray metal door and rang the buzzer. A woman answered through the intercom with a rough “Who is it?” and Gunar answered simply “Me.” The automatic lock on the door clicked open, and Gunar pushed Emin in.
They entered a short dark hallway that smelled of disinfectant and cat urine. A black elevator cage at the end of the hall yawned open. Emin saw no escape. Gunar followed him onto the elevator, pushed the button for the third floor, and the elevator rattled upward.
When the elevator door opened onto the third floor, Gulinda already had opened the door the apartment. Dressed in a green silk gown, the large woman leaned against the doorway in a manner that to Emin communicated complete boredom. The gown covered her thighs, but it was only loosely tied at her waist, exposing most of Gulinda’s large breasts.
“Hello stranger!” Gulinda said. “Who’s your friend?”
Gunar laid his heavy arm on Emin’s shoulder.
“This is Emin. He’s an artist. And you know artists! He said he was looking a good time, and I told him I knew just the place.”
Gunar gave Emin a little push toward Gulinda, and the woman put her arms around his neck.
“Oh, a naughty little artist, eh? What does Emin want to do today?”
Emin very much wanted to have a cup of tea, but he was feeling quite unable to communicate this desire. Instead, he said nothing, and allowed Gulinda to run her hands up and down his chest, before her hands finally ended on his crotch. Despite his discomfort, Emin felt his penis begin to get hard under Gulinda’s touch.
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