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The Long Journey Home

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2nd July 1997.

 

That was a sunny Wednesday in Vladivostok. Timur, the eldest son of the Glazkov family, just received a toy air rifle as his 10th birthday present from his father.

 

He couldn’t control his excitement. He knew that father often told him “I will teach you how to shoot and hunt with a rifle once you grow up just a little more”. It seemed like that the time was coming. Even though the rifle was a mere toy, unable to shoot any lethal bullet, but it looked so detailed in appearance and mechanism that just like a real rifle did.

 

“I can’t wait to use it.” Timur swallowed his last piece of birthday cake impatiently and thought of that papa may teach him how to shoot with the rifle at this weekend.

 

His birthday party attended by all of his classmates and playfellows, as Timur was a popular person in his school by his cheerful nature. He was not only a well-bodied and energetic boy who played as a midfielder in the local U-11 football team, but also quite good at studies, especially arts. Everyone surrounding him looked forward this boy’s potential and bright future.

 

Marina, Timur’s mother, and Nadezhda, his sister who was 4 years younger than him, were also at the party. Marina was not a fan of her husband’s hunting hobbies, but she was still glad at Timur’s pleased face when received the gift. Nadezhda, standing on her toes, already stretched out her small hand to touch the butt of the rifle – even though she appeared like a normal cute girl with creamy white skin, blonde hair, and a pair of azure eyes which her brother also had, she was in fact a tomboy who showed no interest in “girly things” like dolls or dresses, but enjoyed playing outdoors like climbing a tree or playing football with her brother. Sometimes they would both get punished by their mama after they came home with dirt all over their clothes and body.

 

The two children’s father – Dimitry, was still working until the evening. He hated to be absent at the party, but he couldn’t help with it due to the recent high working load in the shipping industry. Timur decided that he had to be the first to welcome papa home and say thanks to him.

 

When every child presented at the party showed their envy to Timur’s special gift, Timur found there was something strange just outside the fence. Driven by curiosity, he decided to jump off his seat and take a closer look at it.

 

He found a slender boy with creamy skin and bistre hair who was drawing something on his sketchbook with a pencil. This boy seemed likely to be the same age and height as Timur, but he looked so pale, thin and frail. However, Timur noticed the boy’s emerald-coloured eyes were sharp and lively like they were filled with starlight. And his sketch might be the best one Timur had ever seen.

 

The drawing was the scene of his birthday party, of many children doing different things around a large table with a birthday cake. The composition was realistic and solid. Every line the boy had drawn was clean, accurate and vigorous. Even every child looked small, their figures were captured in a vivid way – Timur recognised himself at the centre of the drawing, a smiling boy with a tip hat, opening his presents. Timur was surprised the sketch was drawn by a boy of such the age.

 

Timur continued to observe this boy silently, tried to avoid disturbing him. However, while the boy raised his head to check the scene he was drawing, he suddenly noticed Timur’s presence standing close by and peeking at him. Shocked, the boy closed his sketchbook hardly and rushed to a house neighbouring the Glazkov’s home.

 

“So, he is our neighbour? Why haven’t I seen him before?” Timur, confused by the boy’s odd attitude, couldn’t do anything other than return to mingle with the other children enjoying the party. But Timur paid no attention to the rest of the party as he was unable to get the impression of the silent boy skilled in drawing out of his brain.

 


 

 

The next Monday, Timur practised hard with the football team he belonged, preparing for the match against another U-11 team from Moscow tomorrow. Papa had also begun “training” Timur the way to be a hunter recently, as Timur felt that shooting was far more difficult to learn than he had imagined. Despite this, he was still excited at his expectation of mastering this skill in the future. Timur thought he would have a busy summer vacation, but he liked it because “busy” meant “no single day is boring” to him.

 

After a day’s training, Timur finally went to rest. His body was covered in sweat that soaked his jersey entirely. He took the sweaty jersey off at once since he didn’t feel so shy to bare his upper body in front of people as an outgoing boy, especially in this kind of situation.

 

When he was on the way to the changing room, he found a boy sitting on a bench, the slender boy with bistre hair, was drawing something on his sketchbook again with a pencil. Timur recognised the boy was the same one who sketched the scene of his birthday party. Like he did at last time, Timur silently got closer to the boy who was totally focused on his sketch, so he could have a look at what stuff he was drawing this time.

 

Then the boy was frightened again. He jumped off the bench immediately and tried to escape, but this time he failed to make it as Timur grabbed the sleeve of his shirt. The boy struggled, tried to shake Timur’s hand off, but his grip was too strong to break away.

 

“What are you doing? Let me go!” The boy yelled without turning his head.

“Can’t we just have a chat?” Timur asked confusedly, “I just want to look at what you’ve just drawn.”

“I won’t show it to anyone!” The boy resisted, shook his head violently, and continued yelling in a higher tone.

“Come on, I think you were drawing me.” Timur tried to comfort him, explained that it was not the first time they ever met. “Like you did during my birthday party last Wednesday.”

 

The boy turned his head, look at Timur, eventually recognised that the boy grabbing him was the subject of the birthday party scene he drew last week. He noticed that Timur was shirtless, “Oh!” he yelled again suddenly, while staring at Timur’s hard abdomen which resembled a large piece of chocolate.

“You……You’re naked?” The boy said in a palsied voice, still attempting to escape. “It makes me uneasy.”

“We’re both boys. How come just wearing no shirt make us uneasy?” Timur released his sleeve and asked more politely, “Can I look at your drawings?”

“I’ve never seen a boy with the kind of body you have……” The boy finally calmed down a bit, and he sat on the bench again. “Forgive my bad manner. My name is Avenir…… Avenir Iashvili.”

“Timur Glazkov.” Timur introduced himself, “Well…… you already know that I’m your neighbour and the midfielder of this football team.”

“You just scored a 30-yard goal in the practise match…… That was awesome.” Avenir opened his sketchbook again, “So I tried to capture that powerful figure……”

 

The sketch featuring Timur shooting the ball was even better than what he had seen at last week’s party. Timur’s body shape and skeleton was captured correctly, the details such as wrinkle on his jersey, windblown short hair and his confident expression while kicking out the ball. He could sense the power of the drawing – the figure’s action looked like to be filled with energy that was going to jump out of the paper.

“Impressive,” Timur commented. “I like drawing, too. But my skill is clumsy compared to you.”

“Really?” Avenir had some doubt about what he just said, “Someone outgoing like you shouldn’t be interested in drawing.”

“Every mind can be touched by something beautiful,” Timur answered after a few seconds’ thought. “Anyway, you draw pretty well. I’d think you should trust yourself about it.”

Avenir didn’t reply, and looked at the shirtless boy confusedly. He didn’t truly believe that such a sporty type like Timur would say such the word to him. To Avenir, it might just be too kind to be accepted.

 

After a few more seconds of silence, Timur had realised that his continuous sweating was becoming unbearable. He could even feel his damp briefs inside his shorts. It made his crotch itchy. He only wanted to rush to take a shower and change into clean clothes.

 

“I’m really going to get changed. May we carry on later? I can visit your home.” Timur waved his arm, saying “See you.” before he ran to the changing room while grabbing his jersey. He left Avenir here, who still sat on the bench without any word, staring mindlessly at the sketch featuring the shooting boy who just chatted with him.

 

After Timur arrived home, he told mama he was going to visit their neighbour and asked her if she knew anything.

“You mean the Iashvili family? They just moved here in the last week, seems like from somewhere very far away from here.”

“No wonder why I never met him in school before.” Timur murmured in a low voice.

“You can play with their children as long as you like, just don’t forget to return home in time for dinner!” Marina agreed that Timur could go out to their neighbour to relax before she went back to housework.

“No problem. Thanks!” Timur appreciated, then rushed to his room to grab some stuff before he went out again.

 

A moment later, Timur, bringing his sketchbook in his left hand, ringed the doorbell in front of the Iashvili’s house.

 

“Please come in,” The door was opened by a courtly mannered man wearing a pair of glasses, creamy white skin and bistre hair -- the latter two were similar to Avenir’s. Timur supposed him to be the drawing boy’s father. “Are you Glazkov’s son? Avenir just mentioned you. I’m Nikolai, Avenir’s father.” The man welcomed Timur and led him to the living room. Avenir was already waiting there.

“Hi.” Timur greeted Avenir, and was a bit surprised. “Are you already waiting for me? I didn’t make any promise, but you seem certain that I’ll come.”

“I think you’re a type of actions more than words.” Avenir answered, showing no excitement. “If you want to visit me, you’ll come on straight.”

“Well, if you say so……” Timur scratched the back of his head, still not sure what Avenir exactly meant. “So, where are you from? My mother said your family moved from somewhere far away.”

 

“We’re from Beslan, in North Ossetia.” Answered Nikolai, who carried a teapot and three teacups on a plate, then put them on the table. “Please enjoy the black tea!”

“Where’s it exactly?” Timur tried his best to think, but was unable to connect this strange name to anywhere he knew in Russia.

“It is at the north of the Great Caucasus Mountains.” Nikolai added.

“Wow, It’s indeed very far away.” Timur recalled the Caucasus Mountains’ location taught by his geography teacher – the most southwestern of Russia territory. Comparing to Vladivostok, they were like at the opposite edges.

“We moved here because I got a new job here as a fine art teacher in the school. Avenir will go to the same school too, in September.” Explained Nikolai, who looked at his son sitting next to him, and smiled. “Avenir seems likely to inherit my aspiration. But I think he’s more talented and enthusiastic. He barely cares about anything except making artworks.”

“I…… just like something that is beautiful and inspiring.” Avenir defended himself weakly, in a small voice.

 

After more tea-time conversations, Timur knew the school Avenir was going to attend was the same one Timur went to, and they were also in the same class. Timur expressed his delight and excitement that they were going to be classmates, while Avenir just nodded. Nikolai also mentioned his wife, Tamara – Avenir’s mother, wrote articles for an outdoor magazine, so she went out to get inspiration for the next theme frequently.

“Maybe she can be a fan of the hunting stories papa often tells me.” Timur thought.

 

The two boys then shared their sketches, as Timur’s drawing mostly featured nature scenery and animals, and Avenir’s featured many architectures and portraits.

 

“What’s this kind of blossom?” Avenir found a page of the watercolour painting of many pink and small blossoms gathering on the branches while browsing Timur’s sketchbook.

“Cherry. There’re many trees in the outskirt.” Timur answered, “My papa often brings me to hike to get closer to nature.”

“It’s really beautiful.” Avenir felt impressed. “I wish I’d see them with my own eyes.”

“You can go there anytime. You won’t regret it.” Timur said encouragingly, “I have an idea. How about we exchange our painting and drawing once a week, or twice…… It’s your call. And maybe we can even go out to paint together. It’d be fun, I think.”

“I don’t know……” Avenir responded indecisively, turned his sight to his father – who just smiled and nodded at him – then returned to Timur, “You’re the first one to make such a request, so I’m not sure…… But maybe we can at least try.”

“Would you like to take a trip with us this Thursday morning? I’m taking Avenir to the museum. And we can visit other parts of this city as well. As you’re a local friend, will you play the role of guide for us?” Nikolai suggested while patting Timur’s head.

“I will!” Timur nodded excitedly, looked at his new friend. “We’re going to get along well, right?”

Avenir didn’t answer, only rose up the corner of his mouth slightly, tried to form an unreadable smile. As an introverted boy, he was not fond of making new friends – but maybe he could at least try, this time.

 


 

July 2004.

The summer had come to Vladivostok again. The sky eventually brightened after several days’ of raining had ended. The two boys, who met each other seven years ago by chance, now were both seventeen and had become the best friends. They continued to exchange their recent works, kept their passion for fine arts, then eventually decided to take their first step to be painters by studying at an art secondary school in 14. They also enjoyed every time going outside to seek inspiration together. Sometimes they strolled in the city and caught a view of people on the streets and of architecture. Sometimes they travelled ever further -- by Timur’s advice – to Kholodilnik Mountain, the highest peak in Vladivostok, by their bicycles. Avenir was still not strong and energetic as his pal like, but he tried his best to keep up. Sometimes they just sat on the beach together on a hot summer day only in their surfing shorts, drawing the seagulls hovering over the horizon.

 

Timur’s body continued to grow up and mature as his muscle developed as a result of his increasing androgens and an abundant amount of exercise, even though he had quit playing football after he had decided to specialise in arts. He went out early for jogging every morning and even started attending a gym to build his muscle systematically after school. Moreover, his father often took him to hike in the mountains or hunt in the forests in the holidays. As Timur enjoyed shooting his rifle and the unpredictable beauty of wild nature more and more, his father was satisfied that his son was going to be a true man and hunter.

 

Timur worked out because he adored muscular body like the Greek and Roman statues he had seen, and he wanted to have it, too. He had already begun collecting bodybuilding magazines to observe these bodybuilders posing – almost naked. While looking at this sort of pictures, he always felt a certain part was gradually hardening thanks to congestion. He often couldn’t bear with this feeling, so when he was in his room, he locked the door before he took off his pants and underwear – sometimes other clothes as well -- and started masturbating.

 

At one night, when Timur jerked off in his bed, naked, he suddenly felt confused. When he got along with other friends and classmates, the guys often talked about hot girls who caught their eyes and how to hang out with them, but nothing of the kind of those conversations was of any interest to him. Timur had some female friends, and they got along quite well, but he just felt no desire of their bodies. On the opposite, he couldn’t control his imagination of what it would feel like to suck these muscle men’s things behind their bulging small piece of clothes. He didn’t know what happened to him, he just couldn’t be interested in a girl like other guys did. This was his ultimate secret that even his parents and sister didn’t know.

 

However, Avenir was the only one who knew it as he was always the one Timur went to whenever something worried him. As his best friend, Avenir quietly listened to whatever Timur said rather than made comments. He never judged whether Timur’s interest in men was normal or not, but just said “you like them because they look beautiful to you, don’t you?” with an innocent smile. It comforted Timur a little. Sometimes he wondered how come the reserved and taciturn boy he had met ten years ago metamorphosed into such a gentle and patient listener to him now. He had a sense that Avenir cared about him just as much as he did. As time went by, they felt their relationship was developing deeper and deeper, too.

 

Avenir really enjoyed watching Timur’s maturing body, such as the shape of his arms, chests, abs and thighs, as well as the colour of his tanned skin. To Avenir, Timur might be the best model he had ever seen, as he had drawn many pieces of sketches about Timur’s body. On the contrary, Avenir still looked slender, pale-skin and a little frail, even though he had got a bit taller than Timur. However, to Timur, Avenir was a unique, a very loveable sort of born artist and listener – he always was so kind to stay with him to hear whatever he said when he got worried or sad. But the most important aspect he liked Avenir is that almost everything in their life could inspire him to create remarkable works. And his face when he devoted his mind to his painting totally, holding a paintbrush and a palette in hands, developing his masterpiece stroke by stroke – was one of Timur’s favourite things. Timur knew that he may be not able to paint as good as Avenir did, but he always had a feeling of being filled with an endless stream of creative motivation, with his closest friend by his side. Avenir praised the uniqueness of Timur’s art style and hard-working character to keep improving his work, which encouraged him so much.

 

When the last semester was nearly ending, the teacher highly commented their talent and diligence, and suggested them to prepare for the admission test for the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg next year. Timur and Avenir looked forward to the bright future they would have, already imagined their colourful new life in the centre of traditional culture in Russia. It appeared to like their common dream as painters were finally going to become true.

 

Following the start of the summer vacation, Timur and Avenir scheduled a “date” – their first time ever, on Timur’s 17th birthday. In this April, they celebrated Avenir’s 17th by a party with their families and friends. But on Timur’s turn, they decided to celebrate it “in a private way”.

 

It should not be officially addressed as a “date” because they are not a romantic couple of a guy and a girl. Despite this, Timur and Avenir both liked to call it that way. They both felt that their irreplaceable bond had made them mean more than friends.

 

This day Timur woke up early due to his excitement. He jumped out of bed, stripped off his nightwears and boxers, grabbed his towel only in seconds, and rushed to the bathroom to take a shower. When he was washing his face, he felt that his stubble beard had grown enough to make his lower face feel coarse. Although Timur was satisfied with the status of his new-grown beard, he still planned to get a razor, so he could shave it once it had grown too long. He also took care of his black short hair with a hairdryer. It was cut just several days ago and suited a sporty-type teenager like him.

 

After the shower, he approached his wardrobe after he dried himself with his towel. Firstly, he opened the drawing containing of his underwear, picked a pair of brand-new army green sport briefs with black waistband – which he thought quite fit to support the shape of his gluteal muscle – then put them on carefully in front of a mirror to ensure his important part was well covered by the front pouch and shaped a perfect knoll at his crotch – of course, he scanned other parts of his body as well in a short time. Afterwards, he selected the outfit for the date -- which consisted of a black T-shirt, an army green safari vest, and a pair of khaki cargo trousers. He wore them all along with a pair of black socks and a brown leather belt. Feeling well prepared, he finally took his favourite green canvas messenger bag then went straight to the dining room for breakfast.

 

When he entered the dining room after he temporarily put his bag on the sofa, he found Nadezhda, his 13-year-old sister was already having her breakfast. “Good morning, Nadia.” Timur greeted.

“You’re so late, I’m going out shortly.” Nadezhda replied apathetically.

“Up for morning practice?” Timur asked when he sat on his seat and started to eat. He knew that his sister had been keen on tennis since 10 and aspired to be a successful professional player in future so eagerly.

“Yeah, prepare for a match. Important one.” Nadezhda sighed, “Somewhat I wished I can leave this place to Moscow or somewhere else flourishing to get a better training.”

“Nadia, you’re not going anywhere until you finished the secondary school.” Dimitry, their father, rebuked coldly.

“Why you mind me so much now? As you always favour Timur, taking him to hunt, giving him new rifles, then planning to send him to St. Petersburg to study painting. And me? Nothing.” Nadezhda put down her folk on the table hardly, as she contradicted her father ironically.

“Nadia!” Dimitry yelled as Nadia’s attitude infuriated him. The coffee cup he was holding shook along with his hand. It seemed like he was going to spill the contents anytime. 

“Don’t be so mean. Father supports your aspiration just as much as he supports mine.” Timur tried to comfort his sister in a mild tone.

“You understand nothing, Timur!” Nadezhda jumped off her chair in rage, then inhibited her anger at once before she grabbed her backpack and racket. “I’m going out. See ya.”

She went out quickly without looking back.

 

“Is this my illusion or are girls in this age likely to have an elusive mood?” After his daughter left, Dimitry commented annoyedly while drinking up his coffee.

“Dima, you might have to be a little more patient and listen to her.” Marina tried to placate her husband. She also finished her breakfast and was preparing to go out. “Oh, this time already? I’m going back to the café. Can you help me wash the dishes, Timur?”

“Our boy may be the most patient one in this house, see what he just got!” Dimitry interrupted rudely.

“Enough. We’re not talking about this anymore.” Timur raised his palm to stop his father from complaining, and turned back to his mother, “I’ll do it right away. See you, mama.”

“I’m going out to work, too.” Dimitry put down his cup and stood up, sighed. “See you at dinner, Timur.”

“See you then.”

 

Marina started her own business as a café owner at the beginning of this year by investing all she had saved, as Timur had known. Mother was always the best at cooking, and she desired to do something different rather than just being a housewife. Besides, following the economic recovery, the city was welcoming more foreign visitors, and that signified more opportunity. “It would be a potential business, and somewhat suits her.” Timur thought when he carefully scrubbed the dishes with a sponge.

 

Nadia used to be a girl who always followed her brother’s steps. Timur’s childhood enthusiasm for football probably inspired Nadia to pursue her own dream in sports. Maybe Timur’s change of his career plan later upset her in a way. Believing herself lacking the attention from her father could be another reason that made her so cocky. “She just needs time to deal with it on her own.” Timur tried to think of this in a positive way.

 

When he finished dishwashing and neatly arranged the tableware on the drying rack, Timur went out after putting on his boots and picking up his messenger bag from the sofa, then locked the main door of the house. At the same time, he found Avenir was already waiting for him outside.

 

“Hi,” Timur greeted Avenir, “Sorry I’m late. I was doing housework.”

“Don’t worry, I was just ready, too.” Replied Avenir, with a warm smile. “You look handsome today.”

 

Timur discovered that Avenir was well dressed up too, mostly by his iconic bistre hair, which was curly and somewhat less messy than normal, was combed into a smoother and more refreshed style. He was in a Scottish tartan shirt with a pair of roll-up sleeves, navy-blue jeans and white sneakers. Timur thought this look perfectly suited him.

 

“Same do you.” After a scan on Avenir’s look, Timur commented sincerely.

They walk out together, while Avenir took Timur’s hand excitedly. “So, where’s our first destination?”

 

They went straight the downtown by their bicycles, with excited faces like a pair of travellers. They explored everything that inspired them in sketches, from a street artist in front of the main train station, cheerful children playing in a park, to a large steamship stopping at the harbour……

 

At noon, they went to Marina’s café for lunch, enjoying her new baked Pirozhkis. Avenir seemed to like it so much as he ate too fast to realise there was a small dice of onion stained to his face. Timur laughed while wiping it with his handkerchief. Marina was too occupied taking care of the shop to notice what happened between her son and his friend.

 

After a day making a lot of pencil, fineliner and watercolour sketches, two young artists felt enriched by the time making good works and being together so happily. The time was already past 4, reminding them the time that remained for the day was short.

“I have one last place where I really want to go with you.” Avenir requested.

“Sure, where’s it?” Timur asked excitedly.

“The Fortress. Amazing artillery there, overlooking the sea – a real symbol of this city, isn’t it?” Avenir answered.

“Then let’s go.” Timur smiled while getting on his bicycle.

 

This was not the first time Timur visited the Fortress as he remembered the last visit as a part of an off-campus lesson in the 8th grade history class. But this time the mood was way different. They didn’t enter the interior of the museum (a fee was needed to go inside), but just walked around the artillery. They took out their sketchbook from their bags again, drawing the fascinating shape of these cannons.

 

In Timur’s view, Avenir’s curious face when measuring the shape and proportion of each part of the artillery with his eyes, and captured it carefully, was the most fascinating thing to him. Avenir was too concentrated on his artwork to notice Timur’s gaze as usual, then he was startled as he saw Timur’s face staying so close to him suddenly.

“Don’t look at me like this. It’s embarrassing.” Avenir got blushed, as Timur chuckled. In the next second, Avenir felt amused at this and chuckled along with him.

 

The day was going to end. Two young men sat side by side on one of the stone remains of the fort, which overlooked the broad scenery of Amur Bay. The surrounding was so quiet, they all could hear was only the sound of waves breaking against the shore. They held each other’s hand, looked at the tranquil sea, without any word.

 

“When I arrived in this city 7 years ago, everything here was so strange to me. Sea, street view, people –” Avenir broke the silence by telling the story of his childhood. “I missed my birthplace sometimes. Until I discovered many beautiful things here, the days were getting more and more delighting.”

“Am I one of them?” Timur asked half-jokingly.

“You’re the principal one, I’m sure,” Avenir answered honestly with a smile. “Now I already feel my home is here.”

“That’s good.” Timur smiled back.

“Oh, here’s the gift.” Avenir took out a wrapped box from his backpack, “Happy birthday, Timur.”

“What’s this?” Timur looked at the small box curiously. “It’s certainly not a painting album or painting tools.”

“Open it.” Avenir encouraged with a grin.

After Timur unwrapped the box and opened it, what he found was a thing he never expected as a birthday present.

 

There was a small, palm-sized bar covered by a blue, plastic shell with a small rectangle green screen and several buttons below, which the most conspicuous one was the large circle with a green telephone icon at the centre. Timur recognised what it was and felt very surprised and puzzled about it.

 

“Hold on. You gave me a cell phone as the present?” Timur questioned with a serious tone.

“Yes. And the number card is also attached. Pre-paid one, of course.” Avenir looked at Timur, and explained calmly. “I think it suits you.”

“My point is, how come you can afford something so expensive and just give it to me?” Timur kept asking, in an increased volume.

“I used up all my saves. And my earning from my part-time job.” Avenir’s face got a bit depressed. “I just…… wanted to have this for time. And I’d like you to have it, too.” He took out another cell phone from his pack – the same model, except of the colour of its shell was ebony.

“I’m sure it looks cool.” Timur looked at the cell phone. He saw the brand name above the screen, recognised the Latin alphabets, but didn’t catch what the name meant. Perhaps it was a German word or something else…… He knew Germans were particularly good at making such high-tech gadgets. “But it’s just irrational as a birthday present. I mean, I can buy it for myself if I consider that I really need it. Above all, we’re neighbours and classmates, so we don’t need a cell phone to keep contact.” Timur tried to reason Avenir in a gentle tone.

 

Then they fell in silence. Avenir didn’t talk for minutes, but just look at the sunset.

 

“No, normally we shouldn’t need it. However……” Avenir’s voice got a little trembling.

Timur turned his head to his best friend, curiously.

 

“I……I’m going to leave this city.” Avenir said slightly and sadly, with hesitation. “Going to move back to Beslan at tomorrow, because my father got a new job at the local school as an academic director. I’m so sorry…… For telling you so late.”

“That is a good thing, isn’t it? Your father was promoted. And you’re going back to your birth home.” Timur was confused and tried to come up with something to comfort him, with his most rational and mildly tone, but he suddenly realised these words he just said could make Avenir more upset.

“You don’t understand!” As Timur just expected, Avenir shouted with anger, “I live in this city for years, and the one I’m closest with is here. I don’t consider anywhere else home now.”

“Then why do you tell me now, just before you’re about to leave?” Timur facepalmed, asked in a panic. “Why? If you let me know earlier, we might come up with an idea. Even though your father moves, we might find out a way to stay together in Vladivostok……” Timur found that he couldn’t control his tear dropping, either. He tried to think of something, but he felt his brain became too dumb to have any idea to help with at now.

 

“Because I don’t want to make you sad for days owing to this. I’d like to see our days are happy until the very end.” Avenir sounded sorrowful like it was something he couldn’t really help with. “But I can’t simply leave without telling you. So, I decided to keep it as secret, until we enjoyed every day that remains, so we can have a ton of delightful memories before I leave. It might upset you so much…… But I just don’t like to see a considerate guy like you worrying about this, worrying about me for many days.”

“No, it shouldn’t be like that! Avenir…… You mean so much to me! I don’t want you to leave! Moreover, I don’t like you to conceal such a thing just for my sake! I might get worried if you tell me in the beginning, but it’s because I care about you! We’ve known each other so well in these years, why did you still do this!” Timur grabbed Avenir’s shoulders and refused to accept the fact that his best friend and art-fellow was leaving by the next day. Tears kept flowing down from Timur’s eyes, formed a pair of streams on his cheek. They looked at each other’s crying face without any word for minutes, then finally, Timur hugged the guy way slender than him tightly with his sturdy arms.

 

“I like you so much, Avenir. You mean more to me than just friends. I hope we can always stay together, make good artworks, grow old……” Expressing the true feeling hidden in the deepest place in Timur’s heart, he whispered, “I know you’d never forget our dream, you’re still going to the Imperial Academy with me, aren’t you? But I’m not sure if I can bear my life without you even for a year. I can’t know if you’re all right anymore after you leave to Beslan.”

“So, now you know the reason for my gift……” Avenir responded, “I’m so sorry, Timur……”

“You don’t have to be sorry about anything, Avenir.” Timur comforted Avenir while his hugging got tighter, “Thank you for the gift. I promise that it won’t be our goodbye. We will meet again in next year in St. Petersburg.”

 

Avenir looked at Timur’s face and didn’t say anything. The tears ceased, only remained traces on his face. His hands on Timur’s back went under his T-shirt and touched the skin directly.

 

Timur moaned slightly as Avenir’s hands were so soft and gentle, and provided an unspeakable pleasant feeling of touch. Timur turned his head, tried to reach Avenir’s lips with his own slowly – then their lips finally came into contact. Avenir didn’t reject the ardour from Timur and moved his lips to match his kissing.

 

They lost their inhibition of homosexuality from the outside world but just cared about each other. Timur believed there was not anyone else he liked so much in this world as the guy in his arms right now. Same did Avenir.

 

Instantly, they fell down into the grass, half-lying on the ground face to face, touching each other’s body. After a minute, Timur smirked, suddenly his hand left to take off his vest, his belt, and he undid his trouser’s zippers without any hesitation. Avenir looked at Timur’s exposed underwear from the open crotch nervously with intense blushes.

 

“You’re going to strip off again?” Avenir got surprised for a bit, with his right hand covering his mouth.

“There’s nothing more makes us uneasy, after all……” Timur whispered in a husky tone, slowly pulled up his T-shirt to show his chest and abdominal muscle. Avenir’s felt there was something burning inside his head by looking at the shallow canyons and terraces on Timur’s body, as well as his seductive expression…… Then he recalled Timur seemed to have said something similar when they first met.

 

“After all, we’re both boys?” Avenir, following his childhood déjà vu, joked with a giggle.

“Oh, no! You’re ruining my mood.” Timur’s expression was totally broken as he laughed in spite of himself badly while patting his own belly. Avenir joined the laughing, before he kissed Timur’s lips again, to stop his laughing.

 

“I like you too, Timur,” Avenir replied to Timur’s confession with a soft and affectionate voice, and gently stroked his abdomen skin. “I promise that we’ll meet again.”

“I always know.” Timur whispered and cuddled Avenir closer while caressing his back under his shirt. The intimacy made them feel there was nothing to fear nor worry, even though they were going to be separated, this won’t be a goodbye as they already determined to meet again in the next year at the same art college in St. Petersburg.

 

Timur never thought that was truly a goodbye. And their last one.

 


 

In the whole summer vacation, Timur found out that the cell phone Avenir bought him was undoubtedly useful. They learned to text each other with the tiny number pad on the phone, mostly just saying ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’ every day. They also called each other on their phone sometimes. In one of their calls, he knew Avenir would send Timur some of his sketches before the end of the vacation, and at the same time, Timur promised he would send his ones, too.

 

Timur felt particularly motivated regarding his artworks even without his best friend by his side. He believed that he must be even more hard-working to improve if he wanted to succeed in the admission test for the Imperial Academy of Arts. He considered it as his only opportunity to be an accomplished artist – along with Avenir. He knew Avenir would think of same.

 

And this summer vacation ended.

 

1st September 2004.

Timur had already selected some of his new artworks, packed them carefully and sent them to Avenir’s address in Beslan two weeks ago. He thought that Avenir would receive it in these days. This day was Knowledge Day -- the start of a school year. As per tradition, he attended the ceremony of the art school. He was now the highest grade in the school and expected to graduate in next year. He understood that he must study hard not only arts but all subjects if he wanted to study in St. Petersburg in next year.

 

This evening, Timur went home after he finished his after-school exercise.

“Good evening, mama.” Timur greeted his mother while opening the door.

“Good evening, Timur. There’s your package, it arrived today. I’ve put it on the table.” Marina mentioned while preparing the dinner.

“Hurray!” Timur knew it was from Avenir. He went straight to the living room to pick it up; however, the news on TV and father’s serious face caught his attention.

 

Beslan school hostage crisis.

 

The attack on the school, caused by a group of armed Ingush and Chechen terrorists, shocked the whole nation.

 

By watching the news from Avenir’s residence, Timur’s trepidation kept rising. He called Avenir’s cell phone at once, but no one answered. He then texted a short message “Are you ok?”, hoping to receive a response. The news reported these terrorists shut captives in the gymnasium. Is Avenir one of them?

 

Timur ate dramatically little of his dinner as he felt everything tasted like rubber to him now. He was also in no mood to open Avenir’s package as he felt no sense to look at it if he couldn’t know that Avenir was all right.

 

The siege was beginning. Almost all security force of the nation – Militsiya, Internal Troops and Spetsnaz took actions. These names were strange to Timur, but now he could only put hope in them. If they could end this cruelty soon, then his best friend would have increased chance to be alive.

 

Even Nadezhda, who usually acted cocky, got silent. She watched her family’s sad faces without any word but a vacuous expression. Timur could barely sleep this night. He couldn’t stop worrying Avenir. All he could do was pray......

 

One day passed.

 

Still no message from Avenir.

 

The situation was becoming severer as the food, water, or medicine were refused by the hostage-takers. The captives were isolated in the tightly packed gym. Even the corpses inside were unable to be taken out of the school. Is Avenir one of them? No…… It can’t be. It absolutely can’t be.

 

Another day passed.

 

The battle finally started. Following sudden explosions, the school was totally in chaos. The special forces fought their way to enter the school to save hostages. There were even tanks, rockets and flamethrowers dispatched. The school buildings blazed greatly. Despite this, the living hostages were saved by troops. Can Avenir be one of them? Please, I hope that he is all right……

 

Still no message from Avenir.

 

If he is ok, then he would call me at once. Or what if his cell phone was lost during the crisis? Would he find out another way to contact me?

 

More days passed.

 

The statement said 334 people had died. At least 437 people were hospitalised.

Timur couldn’t imagine what it would look like to see his best friend was one of them who got burnt, gunshot injuries, shrapnel wounds…… Above all if he didn’t survive----

 

Then he saw the name on the paper.

 

Nikolai Antonovich Iashvili, the teacher in the school and his son, Avenir were reported to be the victims in Beslan school hostage crisis who insisted to protect the students shut in the school.

According to an eyewitness account, they tried to save the children succumbing to the sweltering heat, stuffy air and lacking food and water, in risk of their own life. They were among a few who stood against the terrorists proactively to demand them to stop abusing the younger students. One of their deeds was removing explosives placed near the children and they kept them from being detonated.

They were both killed on the third day, the day the troops stormed in. Another witness said that they struggled with the terrorists who fired and threw grenades at the fleeing children, in order to buy time for them to escape.

 

Timur was empty-hearted and put down the newspaper he read. He returned to the room reticently. He vaguely heard his father comment fiercely on how bloody the crisis had become by using RPGs and tanks in the siege. Timur didn’t pay any attention to him.

 

Timur fell to his bed, stared at the ceiling of his room, and thought of nothing but Avenir.

 

He’s dead.

He’s dead by protecting other people.

He might have had a chance to survive, but he chose to give it to other younger children.

I don’t understand. How about our promise?

You promised that we’ll meet again.

Promised that we would become the great artists who represent this country and this age, together.

Fuck. Why did you still do this? It shouldn’t be like that……

 

He was confused and indignant, felt like his brain spinning like a gyroscope. Eventually, Timur found that he couldn’t blame Avenir at all, as he would do the same thing if he was present.

 

He couldn’t bear to witness someone weaker than him suffering.

He intended to protect them with all he could.

That was what Avenir did, and I would do it, too.

 

“If I can be stronger……” Timur muttered while turning over. He thought of the strange names of special forces he saw on the news. Militsiya, Internal Troops and Spetsnaz.

 

Can I become one of them?

If I can become one of them, then I can protect more people from such a misery.

If I want to protect more people, then I must become strong to do so.

 

The answer was clear.

Timur jumped out of his bed, looked at the package Avenir sent, which was put on his desk. He didn’t open the package, but instead hid it into the deepest area of the cabinet, then strode out of his room.

 

 

That was the day he made his own sadness into a source of power.

 

That was the day he realised his sense of mission, which took precedence over his dream.

 

That was the day Timur Glazkov felt determined to become a soldier.