Ivan Turgenev, a 23-year-old male western lowland gorilla, was, in general, happy with...
|I'm not an author. I'm just a translator from Russian
Ivan Turgenev. A story by Andrey Stepanov
<p>Ivan Turgenev, a 23-year-old male western lowland gorilla, was, in general, happy with his life. Ivan, who then had no name, remembered his early childhood very well. He grew up in the humid jungles of Gabon among marshes and ferns, in an old patriarchal family. The family consisted of Big Pa with a silver band on his back, who was strict but fair; two scrawny Sub-papas without any stripes; and four mums who did not always get along with each other. In addition, he had about a dozen brothers and sisters. Redhead Ivan was the largest, most beautiful and most bright among them. The adults searched for food from morning till night; the children played and learned to get food for themselves. Everything was clear and simple: Pa had to be obeyed always, Sub-papas often, and mums if you felt like it. Their language consisted of twenty sounds and forty gestures.
<p>In his sixteenth year of life, our hero began to catch up with his father in height. He had a silver back, his fists itched, and the first little clouds appeared in the bright sky of the family idyll. At first, they were invisible, despite the fact that sometimes the papas scratched themselves after meeting the powerful hands and sharp fangs of Ivan, but in the eyes of the head of the family, he always remained a model and dutiful son. Undoubtedly, the future was his as the strongest, but the impetuous boy could not wait for his chance and claimed his rights too early. Once during the rain, he used his finger and pointed out to his father which dry corner he should take in their common shelter. Big Pa, looking intently into his son’s eyes, stood in front of his family in a proud posture, beat his chest rhythmically three times with his fist, and then turned around and kicked the heir out into a tropical downpour. The wayward son left proudly, without looking back, confident that he would be able to find his place in the world. The sub-papas hooted after him, the brothers and sisters whined and the mums cried. The time had come for wandering. However, this did not last long.
<p> Life in freedom turned out to be beyond the reach of an inexperienced, yet precocious teen. After wandering alone for two weeks in impassable forests and marshes, he had become skinny and wild, and he eventually had to surrender to members of the wild life conservation organization, whose mission on the ocean shore all the Gabonese gorillas knew very well. They has even created an expressive gesture in their own language with which to refer to the mission.
<p>He was put on a ship and taken away, first to a cold country, where the sun looked like the moon, then to a cold country, where white flakes fell from the sky, and then to yet another cold country, where the sun looked like the moon, white flakes fell from the sky, and all the people wore winter hats, similar to the hairstyle of an elderly gorilla. In the middle of this country there was a cramped cage within a zoo, and the zoo was surrounded by the city of Moscow. Here he got a name for the first time. He was named Bill, after the sexually active president of an overseas Power, although the newly-minted Bill himself knew nothing of neither America, nor the president, nor even about sex, because he did not have a television or a girlfriend. Everything around was vague and unclear. At first, he had a rough understanding of the spoken Russian in which the zookeeper named Vavila expressed himself, as did the guards and visitors of the zoo. People did not understand his sounds and gestures at all. The visitors had a constant, child-like admiration for him. Every day he had to hear words like: "Here is a muzhik!", "Georgian!" and “Schwarzenegger!". He even began to consider these words to be his own names, especially since no one ever called him Bill.
<p>There were also visitors who wanted to tease and even offend him, but our hero was good-natured and gentle as, in fact, all gorillas are good-natured and gentle as babies, until a wicked person looks them in the eyes. Fortunately for both parties, it was not easy to look into Bill’s eyes. People in the zoo were kept strictly behind the barrier, and between the barrier and the cage, with his back to the visitors, Vavila usually sat. Vavila was a biology student who had been expelled from the third year for “tricks”, as was said in the official document, but Vavila’s “tricks” began much earlier than learning zoology, almost from birth. He was an artist by nature, although he had never painted, or sculpted and did not play the violin. He had the ideal Russian nature of those shaggy gray-eyed people who do not need millions, but need to improve things in this world - a human breed or, at worst, our little brothers. But to tell the truth, the generation of the last victims of socialism, to which Vavila belonged, no longer believed in the possibility of the modification of man by man, and therefore the artistic interests of the future zookeeper never extended beyond the animal world.
<p>As a child, he dreamed of becoming an animal tamer and made his dream come true by all available means. He spent hours watching the fish in a tank, trying to understand their language, and he almost taught the turtle how to paint with butter. Growing up, he started training animals of higher species seriously. He was a part-time student at evening classes and worked at dolphinariums during the day, devoting all his work time to teaching the dolphins the Russian language. He had already achieved very significant success, but the course seemed too intense for his dolphin - students. As soon as the dolphins had enough vocabulary, they complained about Vavila to the management. This case was the last "trick" for which he was thrown out of university. Being out of work, Vavila decided to seek happiness far from civilization, in the wild. He went to the Pamirs and wandered in the mountains for about two years, hoping to hunt down the snowman. The half-wild drifting life made him such an odd and distant person that the locals took him for a mysterious yeti and organized several hunting expeditions. He returned to Moscow very sad. Whether he was able to make contact with Bigfoot and what he said to him no one ever found out, because Vavila rarely spoke to ordinary people, and only out of necessity. In Moscow, he got a job at a zoo and asked to work with monkeys. After the betrayal of the dolphins, monkeys were Vavila’s last hope, but the family of baboons he got turned out to be quarrelsome, talentless and, moreover, prone to playing pranks. Other primates actively lived their own lives and did not pay the slightest attention to Vavila’s “tricks”. Vavila was really desperate. He thought about leaving the zoo and going into the woods, but then Bill appeared.
<p>On the third day after they met, while giving Bill food and spraying the cage with a hose, the zookeeper accidentally looked into the gorilla's eyes. Having met his gaze, Bill suddenly stood on his hind legs, arched his back and hit himself in the chest three times with his fist. At the same time, he made long, mournful sounds. Vavila listened. He did not understand the gorilla’s sounds and gestures, but the general meaning was quite clear. The primate was trying to tell him about his life. Then it hit Vavila! He somehow saw firsthand the African swamp, the rainy day, and Big Pa expelling the rebellious son. Vavila fixed the hose on top of the cage to imitate rain, took up Pa's pose, and repeated the contents of Bill's speech with the help of pantomime. Having seen that he was understood, Bill sat down on the floor and cried. Vavila felt dizzy. Everything became clear –this was his real talent. He had finally found the student whom he had been looking for all his life. He could see the light ahead and had gotten the chance to improve God's creation, even if only a little bit.
<p>The next day the zookeeper installed a folding chair in front of Bill's cage and initiated the first sign language lesson.
“Imagine you want some sweets,” Vavila talked as if to himself. “So, ask like humans do. Come on. Look at me. You bend one arm at the elbow. No! Not like that. Look at me. Take away the left one. You bend it a little, right. Palm up, and cup your hand. Make a cup as you are told, so that they can put something in your palm. Right, bend the body a little, lower your face. Stop grinning like a mandrill, people don’t like it. A pitiful face - that's the main thing. Well, imagine that you sat on a hedgehog back in Africa. Right, that’s exactly the right face! Ta da! You get a banana. Bow to the giver. Well done!
<p>“Pretend you want something delish again, but they aren’t giving it,” he muttered the next day. “And they won’t. They are sick of you beggars. The zoo is full of inmates like that. So you go even further. Extend your left hand, like you did with your right one yesterday. No! Like a cup! That's... that's right! Now, hit yourself on the forehead with your right. No, not so hard, you big ape, easier. That's right. Now in the stomach - bang. Now on the right shoulder. No! On the right, I told you. You are not Catholic, are you? Look at me. Now on the left, bang. Now do it all together again, and quickly. Faster! Oops, catch a banana. Well done! Take a bow. You are a good boy. Now lick your lips with pleasure. Yes, who's my smart boy?"
<p>“So, someone calls you Schwarzenegger, but you can’t reach him,” Vavila muttered on the fifth day. “You give him a Russian kukish. Well, look at me. Close your fingers like this, okay, and now stick your thumb here. I understand that it is difficult. It’s necessary, my dear, it’s necessary. So, a little more, and now point it in his face. Point it. You are such a smart boy, aren’t you! And twist, twist your paw. Talent! Talent!"
<p>In a week Bill learned to thumb his nose, in two weeks make a circular motion with his index finger near his head, in a month he could shrug and in half a year he could do almost everything.
<p>He could sternly waggle his finger, scratch his head dubiously, disapprovingly shake his head, cheerfully wave goodbye with his hand, and he even learned to make the Red Front hand gesture and imitate Сheburashka. Making wide eyes caused great difficulty, because Bill's eyes were already wide and even hidden deep under his forehead. But, he learned the “Fuck you!” gesture very easily. It turned out to be the same as the one in Bill’s native gorilla language. If Vavila had been a linguist, this would have caused him to think in a scientific way and contemplate whether this gesture came to Russia directly or if mediators were involved along the way. But Vavila was not a linguist.
Bill became attached to Vavila. In the mornings, Bill greeted Vavila with a joyful grumbling and immediately began gesturing violently, trying to show what he had dreamed about: Big Pa, Vavila, distant lands or the stupid baboon neighbor. Vavila listened to everything to the end, nodded silently, and then sat down in a chair and started a new lesson. As the zookeeper was convinced that Bill was gentle as a lamb, sometimes in the evenings he would open the cage and give his student a tour of the zoo.
<p>“Songbirds. They live in pairs,” Vavila explained. “They sing together for one season and then separate. Someday you will understand, God willing. And look, here are red-necked phalaropes. They have a father raising children on his own. How about that, eh? Unlike you or us. Oh, here are the sloths. You know why they're called that? Because they pee once a week and do so only as a group.
<p>The scientist zookeeper told Bill many interesting things. Bill listened with his mouth hanging open in amazement. Despite his massive appearance, he was just a kid inside. Days flew by, but at night, when the master went home, Bill felt sad and lonely. He was thinking about how great the world is, where the child-loving phalaropes and carefree sloths live. The world is large, mysterious and beautiful, but he was destined to spend his whole life in a cramped, smelly cage in the neighborhood of a loud brood of baboons similar to the sub-papas. But he was born free and moreover was the largest, most beautiful, and most bright in his family.
<p>Months passed; years trailed along. Bill had already lived in the cage for most of his joyless youth and, most likely, he would indeed have been locked up till his death if it had not been for his presidential name. In the twentieth year of his life, Russian-American relations suddenly turned into anti-Americanism, and just at that time, the Moscow government showed up at the zoo with an inspector. Standing in front of Bill’s cage, officials were saying the usual words for a place like this, but getting to the word “Schwarzenegger” suddenly fell silent, looked at each other, and thought about something.
<p>Asking the director about the name of the gorilla, they had given it serious thought. So the government went away and the next day an order came to the zoo suddenly that forever changed the life of our hero. The city fathers of Moscow ordered the gorilla nicknamed Bill to be presented to its sister city Iolanta, the capital of one of the blessed and conservative southern states.
The political gesture was simple and cynical. The donators hoped that when people overseas saw the gorilla’s masculine physique and matched it with the name Bill, hey would once and for all learn the Russian attitude toward the bombing of Yugoslavia and its organizer.
Bill was put on the ship again.
<p>Arriving at the new place, the resident of three continents now quickly realized which of them had been best to be born in. American law placed animal rights far above the rights of zoo visitors, and so every mammalian member of the Iolantian zoo community had at its disposal an enclosure the size of a Moscow zoo. A fence of such height surrounded the enclosure that only a basketball player who stood on tiptoe or a person of ordinary height on stilts could look inside.
<p>Anthropoids were getting special treatment. In addition to the “vertebrate” and “mammal” benefits, a comfortable cave with two bedrooms and a small pond with mirror carp were given to them. The new guest did not even look at the carp, but when he entered the bedroom, he made a nose and lips sound very similar to that special “Wow” that a normal American makes when he sees a giant pizza. The hosts smiled broadly at the guest, who repeated his sound, and the first contact between the man and his image was made.
<p>Bill liked the Americans immediately; their croaking speech brought back the memory of evenings in the Gabon swamps. The simplicity of the customs which reigned warmed his soul. The gray-haired, athletically-built zoo director was very similar to Big Pa. His neighbors from a nearby enclosure were quite decent orangutans. But there was no Vavila, and at first Bill missed him so much. A couple of times he even teared up a little about it.
<p>The zoo administration also attracted a handsome Russian. He weighed two hundred and sixty-two kilograms, was absolutely healthy, and had a shaggy head of red hair. On the sides of his basically friendly face, he also had a pair of grayish side-whiskers like in the portraits of American presidents on the dollar bill, and he was not aggressive.
<p>The male lowland gorilla sat by a pond full of mirror carp and smiled warmly at the man-cubs who were held above the fence. Definitely, his life was getting better. There was only an issue with his name. This issue caused the zoo management so much trouble. To take Bill’s name from him meant violating his rights and causing him trauma, but to keep it was even worse. This would mean hurting the feelings of many honest people, not only presidents, but many simple taxpayers whose money sustained the existence of the Iolantian zoo.
<p>After much hesitation, it was decided that his name would remain human, but it would be replaced with a Russian one. So, he received the name Ivan after the naturalist novelist Ivan Turgenev, who lived a few of centuries ago in Russia.
<p>The zoo director Professor Pepper Schwartz, a man of encyclopedic knowledge, found an article about the Russian novelist in a "Nature and Culture" magazine from the year before last. According to the article, Turgenev was Russian and his height was almost equal to that of the great Shaquille O'Neill, but he neglected his sports career because he inherited a family ranch and had literary aspirations. Turgenev abandoned sports early, but nevertheless he published “A Sportsman's Sketches”, in which he promoted a healthy lifestyle, the equality of people of all races and the humane treatment of animals. But the thing that really struck Professor Schwartz was the fact that Turgenev knew fifteen languages. Iolantian Ivan was also Russian and was notable for his considerable growth, his enclosure was no worse than Turgenev had, and Professor Schwartz had special plans for his writing and language skills.
<p>“He has good eyes,” the director told his assistant J. A. Dudkin. “I think he can be taught sign language. Have you any idea what a media buzz it would cause if a Russian gorilla suddenly spoke a human language?!”
<p>“All Russians have good eyes when they are sober,” answered the skeptical Dudkin.
“Listen, J. A, didn’t you tell me you came from the city of Odessa, in Russia?” Professor Schwartz sad, raising his eyebrows.
“ Yes, I spent my childhood there, but I consider myself an American and I don’t remember anything in Russian.”
“I think you need to remember. It might come in handy. There is something about this animal. You will see, we will turn him into a person and a citizen even faster than you.”
“Listen, Pep, you are trying to say that the gorilla will get a green card or even citizenship? I hope you are not going to change the laws of this country.”
“You don't know the law well, Mr. Dudkin. Law refers to a person, and anyone who passes the exam becomes a person. Flag, anthem, constitution, human rights - and you are no longer a gorilla.”
“Ok, professor, you are the doctor. Just do not forget what happened when you made the rhesus monkeys choose their president by secret voting.”
“Don't worry, son, I'm learning from my mistakes. We will act in full accordance with the latest achievements of primatology. We are going to start with socialization. The first thing the gorilla should understand is that you can be friends with other kinds of animals. This is exactly what the Russians cannot understand.”
The same article in the journal “Nature and Culture” sparked the idea of the first step in the process of humanizing Ivan. It said that Ivan Turgenev wrote an excellent story about a deaf and mute man who worked on a plantation* (2).
*(2) (Mumu (Russian: «Муму») is a short story by Ivan Turgenev).
This glorious Russian giant made such close friends with a spaniel that he learned to quite distinctly roar his name, and the spaniel not only went to the call, but also tried to respond in a human manner. The friendship of the suppressed provoked the rage of the planter, and he forced the poor man to drown the dog. Slaves were outraged, and as a result civil war broke out in Russia.
“It could be genius!” Professor Schwartz exclaimed. “I can already see the headlines on the front pages: ‘Inter-species Communication -- The First Step towards Universal Democracy’, ‘Freedom of Speech for the Voiceless’. We will buy him a dog. It might be best if it was a red dwarf terrier. The similarity in color and the difference in size - it would look great on the TV. What do you think, J?
“Great, Doc, but just keep in mind that if Ivan gobbles down your terrier, then we will have lawsuits filed by the animal rights protection league, the organization of housewives, idiots from the direct animal action group, the red terrier lovers society and all kinds of crap.”
“No, he won’t; I have faith in him. He has good eyes. And anyway, gorillas are herbivores, even if they are from Russia.”
So they bought a terrier and named him Volodya and set him in the enclosure near Ivan.
The director was right. Not only did Ivan not hurt him, he also became very attached to him. He was so noble that he even gave Volodya his second bedroom.
<p>“The first stage of the inter-species communication experiment was successful,” Professor Schwartz solemnly announced to Iolantian journalists. “We are starting the second stage. Now we need to give Ivan access to modern means of communication, as well as give him the opportunity to look at himself from the side. You will have the ability to track events in real time.”
On the same day, a camera was installed in Ivan’s cave, and then a computer, telephone, and TV tuned to the Discovery channel were solemnly brought in. At first, Ivan reacted to the achievements of progress quite favorably.
He stabbed at the keyboard with a finger, scratched the back of his head with a phone handset, and then sat down in front of the silver screen. But when he saw a gorilla clearly belonging to the category of sub-papa accompanied by two gorilla females on the TV, he suddenly went on a rampage, smashed all the equipment to pieces, and threw the debris in the koi pond. Ivan could not calm down for a long time. With his left hand he pounded himself in the chest with a torn telephone receiver, and with his right hand he made a gesture to a camera fixed on the ceiling, a gesture with Big Pa or Vavila would easily recognize if they were here. The camera was removed. Reporters were politely asked to leave and the zoo management began the meeting.
<p>“He clearly doesn’t like to see himself from the outside,” Professor Schwartz explained to Dudkin. - And you know, J, that's a good thing. This is not how gorillas behave. I guess that Russian intellectuals behave this way. And this means only one thing - Ivan is dissatisfied with himself and wants to become better. He wants to become a man and we must help him. But the question remains, how? What needs to be done to socialize him?”
<p>“Uh, Pep, Pep, you were and still are a romantic. I mean, think about it for a second and tell me what kind of contact our guy has been missing for twenty years.”
To be continued...