Turning Moscow into a Radioactive Desert,

Turning Moscow into a Radioactive Desert, or Demise of an Hourglass

(From the Cycle ‘All Roads Lead to Bedlam’)


By Irakli Lomouri

English Translation Editor: Bryan Adrian


  “...Hence, I sift piece by piece -- true, very slowly, but sooner or later I will be emptied, won’t I?! “

       I am an hourglass.

       And who will invert me then when emptied?

      I look around. Everybody is in deep sleep. Kofi Annan-Iashvili heavily sibilant in sleep -- like the hissing of a snake. Only Buratino *  was awake. But I do not rely on him. He will not turn me over. He will not take the trouble. He is kind of a wooden... Not ade,..quate. Quite not ade,..goose!** Ha-ha-ha!

       A window pane placed in an iron-barred frame was half painted in white. Bright moon light bursting  from the window shamelessly mingled with the hardly flickering colorless feedback of a twenty-five-watt electric bulb that emitted fairly thin light. Instead of a regular wooden door in our ward there was a metal grating concocted and welded of iron rods, painted in white and embedded in a solid iron frame--deadbolted with a shiny Chinese door lock.

      “Is there anybody on earth more serene and innocuous than we are? What’s the use of these iron rods and latches?!”  I say from my glass container and stare, wondering and pondering, to boot, as to how many granules are there left in my upper half.

      Suddenly, my mind opened widely as I realized we are under protection! Not to be kidnapped by Dark forces! That is exactly what these metal rods and latches are for. We are rare creatures stuck together. Most uniquely. Perhaps the last hope and buttress of the world.

      Besides a dim light from the hallway, a chlorine smell was lavishly and indefatigably present.

      Now I gaze at Buratino against the backdrop of the moon (his bed is just in front of me resting against the window,  at an angle), and I think again, how many granules are there left until my essence being fully discharged of sand? The point is, that sand is pouring below me not with the same speed, every now and then accelerating and at the same time seeming to spend the whole hour on one single sand granule to drop. On top of that, only one single granule could perhaps be the whole Galaxy, or a single Universe.

      Buratino sat on the bed in his ‘Turkish way’, with closed eyes and legs tucked up beneath him. With one hand he tightly held the head rod of the bed, painted in white, as a skipper would hold the wheel of a rambling ship in rough seas, and with the other hand’s forefinger he tenderly tested the tip of his nose like somebody might check the tip of a newly sharpened pencil when one wants to test whether its sharpened well enough or not.

*  Wooden puppet, the main character of the book The Golden Key, or the Adventures of Buratino (1936) by Aleksey Tolstoy.

** Pun involving the Georgian words kvati (quate - goose) and bati (duck) and last syllables of the English word ade-quate.



    I believe that Buratino’s nose by now is pretty much sharpened. All of a sudden he opened his eyes and asked me:

”Are you wondering why my name is Buratino?”

“That’s rubbish.”  I was a bit perplexed.


“You have your monicker because of what you are! It is the same as if an enema asked --why am I called an enema? What else should it be called? A Synchrophasotron?”

      All at once Buratino’s demeanor changed and he smiled! I could expect anything but this! I was amazed and I thought about the granules left before my total discharge.

“You know, I’ll tell you just between us,”  he told me in a voiced murmur but with a very serious expression.

“You will discharge soon and will not sell me out. Earlier …..once I was not Buratino!”

“Who were you then?”

 I was surprised and I thought once more about my sand granules still left before full discharge.

“I was a human being. But since childhood I have been nicknamed Buratino. Do you know why?”

“You were a wooden dummy,”  I answered but he unexpectedly didn’t take umbrage. He proceeded as if not to have understood me.

“Since childhood I used to poke my nose into everything that was none of my business, as my elders explained it to me, first crow-ing it,…”

“Then raven-ing it?” I interrupted him.

“Then falcon-ing, then hawk-ing, then eagle-ing, then,…” went on Buratino without even thinking a bit.

“Wait, wait,” I interrupted him again,  “why are you beating around the bush?! Get down to business!”

      “Definitely, this guy is a wooden head!” swept through my thoughts, but then I remembered once and somewhere I had heard the phrase: ‘The mentally ill have no sense of humour’.

      Buratino continued with nearly a passionate articulation, “What could I do, I am interested in everything. Maybe that’s why I became a physicist. I worked in nuclear physics. I was just wondering how this world, all substance has been structured,…”


 For a moment he let up on his grip on the head rod of the bed and barely gave two light finger taps on the bed rod with his forefinger, then gripped it firmly again and continued his words.


“The universe, yes! By the way, I was the youngest PhD holder in Georgia in my speciality. I worked at Protvino on their accelerator. Before that I graduated from Tbilisi University. With a crimson diploma.* Don’t you believe me?”


“No”  I answered abruptly. Though I did in fact believe him.


      All of a sudden he removed his world renown pompom cap and started to spread out some paperwork and booklets like a magician. He searched for his diploma for quite a time, then  he passed it over to me --it turned out to be a Tbilisi State University diploma. It really had a crimson cover.


“You have been keeping this TSU diploma for what?” I asked and continued, “My question is an absolutely legitimate question.  “Some may think that one cannot part with one’s past, thereby losing one’s human nature, and oh, shame on me for my impertinence, but one might even appreciate one’s character more because of such a piece of paper!”

”That’s true, such is my misery,” he murmured,  “but I know you can’t disclose it since you will  soon be completely drained.”

“Soon, in my case, maybe even in a thousand years,” I pondered to myself keeping in mind the granules had left till full discharge.


“Or, thousands of seconds.” I added.


Buratino overtook me as if seeking an advantage and abruptly took out a pencil sharpener, neared it to the tip of his nose, closed one eye like a sniper, took a mark, comforted himself, put it on his nose, and turned the sharpener swiftly twice over his long pencil-like nose. Then he slowly took off the sharpener, knocked on the bed rail in a businesslike manner, threw out some wood chips, put the sharpener into his pocket and after that checked his newly sharpened nose.

“Does your nose need more sharpening?” I ask him, nonplussed, “Its tip is like a needle!”


“If I do not sharpen it every day, it looses shape and looks like a human nose.”

“Yes, but just a moment ago you said you appreciated your lost human nature? Deep down in your bosom, in secret?... Come on, do not sharpen your nose and let us see if you morph into a human being again” I told him and thought one more time upon my granules left before I fully discharged.

“Are you mad?!” screamed suddenly Buratino as if I had suggested to him to jump into a red-hot fireplace.

      Our rising noise made a medical attendant with a Schwarzenegger-style bodybuilder stature peep through the rod-made door.  He flashed his single, huge, exactly centered eye on us and menacingly thundered:

“What’s goin’ on here?!”

      Buratino became ossified on his bed, and we both went dead silent.

      However, nobody woke up.

      The muscular attendant was about to unlock the door, he even drew out a key from his pocket, but then he shrank back from pursuing any punitive operations and returned to where he had been. What a bliss that you humans, are predominantly slothful!

      For a span of time we laid still holding our breath. I listened to the barely audible stir of pouring, tiny, airy sand, stream into my entrails, and I wondered how many of my granules were  left until depleted?

      Suddenly it struck me to enrage Buratino, so I told him, “I do not believe that you ever were a human. I can buy a plethora of diplomas at the Dry Bridge.* That does not prove anything. If you were Pinocchio, I might believe you... that….Pinocchio became a man again, and found himself in his own puppet communism, …..that’s it! If you were a human being could you tell me how you became Buratino!”

      Buratino moved forward, tucked up his legs under him, and again rubbed the tip of his nose.

“Those days I usually stood nearby the side of the School #1 in
Tbilisi with my friends .... But that night it turned out that we happened to be in front of the House of Artists,”  he droned in a monotonous way, but softly, as if he were reading a mantra.* He seemed even to sway to and fro in a manner that was hardly visible.

“Yep, so you knew it in advance what was gonna happen!“  I interrupted him --as acrimoniously as I could-- “I always had suspicions that you were somehow involved. Who else could work as a KGB mole except a wooden brain-and-heart Futuro dummy like you?”

      But it was clear that he wouldn’t listen to me. He accelerated his swaying movements on the spot, and next he sat in a lotus pose, as if he had really fallen into a trance. He left his nose alone at last, his hands resting on his knees. He cut quite a funny figure of a Buratino at yoga during meditation. First he kept silent and only gently swayed. Then he started talking in a somewhat subdued way, no, he did not talk, it sounded like words being spoken from a gravesite:

“When Juggernaut** chariots started in our direction, the crowd was divided into two and yielded up a road... then Urfin Juce*** soldiers hit us with double-edged daggers, but to no avail,…”

*Crimson-colored diploma certificates were handed over to the graduates with distinction in Georgia’s universities.             

  • A location in Tbilisi where people sell second-hand kitchen utensils and other personal articles of various kind.

* In Hinduism and Buddhism, any sacred word or syllable used as an object of concentration and embodying some aspect of spiritual power.

** Crude idol of Krishna worshipped at Puri and throughout Orissa and Bengal.

*** One of the protagonists of fairy tales series by Russian author Aleksandr Volkov.


“Maybe you were unharmed because you rushed into the House of Artists, stood at the easel and started immediately to paint a portrait of Papa Carlo,”  I interrupted him again, remembering Tolstoy’s story. I wanted to abuse him somehow. But to no avail! He didn’t even pay attention to my sarcasm.

      He continued as if he were praying aloud his mantra:  “We were beaten, killed, beaten, killed, we did not die, did not die, did not die... We were beaten, killed, beaten, killed, we did

not die, did not die, did not die... We were beaten, killed, beaten, killed, we did not die, did not die, did not die...”

I threw a pillow at him and he came to his senses. He asked me dumbfoundedly.  “Where am I?”

“In a land of cra...settled minders.” I answered.

_”Come on, really?” he asked.

“Certainly... Then, if you all did not die, who killed those twenty people that died?!  The women and children?!”

Buratino suddenly smiled, quite naturally, cheerfully, and easily that it earnestly struck me: “Oh...Now, attaboy buddy!” It came to my mind for the first time that in this institution, full

board and meals belonged to him deservedly. Or, at least he did not just take up another’s place. Unlike me.

At last he ceased laughing, calmed down and told me:

“Then I also believed that they were decimated! But on the spot, I did not see anybody dead, but later I saw those pictures.”

 “And what? Why are you smiling?! You are Buratino, and not Karabas-Barabas?!* “

”They are alive! “


“Yes! They all are on the Hawaiian islands! Alive! Safe and sound! Laughing! In Honolulu! At Waikiki Beach! “

Now I was about to smile but restrained myself. Peacefully, dovishly I told him:

“Well, mull a bit upon what you are talking about, my dear Buratino…”

“I know what” he added in a  crystal-clear reasonable voice, “those twenty people who allegedly were killed were transferred to some Hawaiian islands in secret. Everything was a staged play, the KGB itself wanted to dissolve the Soviet Union since it was like a mill-stone around their neck, so many bloodsucker republics. They also put the America CIA on board.”

He continued “But how could they explain it to their people, the Russians?! That’s why they made up such a destructive scenario. However, how could they annihilate the Georgians?! They are not predators, are they? Or beasts? Well, for this deed they performed a show!”

“What do you know?“  I urged with him to try to show me a little bit of what he knew  to help me believe his unheard-of fairy tale.

”Do you know what is a web-camera, a live camera? In Internet lingo?”

“ Yes, I do. Permanently connected at one spot and broadcasting 24 hours.”


“Yep! Well, once I turned it on by chance. In Honolulu, on the ocean side, on Waikiki beach, under the palms, in a camera installed on the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, who was many times an Olympic champion in  swimming and he was also the inventor of modern surfing, and what did I see?? --- our allegedly perished Georgians-- just walking around!”

“Well, paradise seems to be in Honolulu,.. localized on our planet.”  I pattered, being kind of inspired by his gossip. Buratino did not catch my irony.

“Oh, paradise is not the point!.. They are alive!”  He said seriously.  “Their address is always with me”.  He took off his skullcap again, took some card out of it and then gave it to me.  “It’s on this site: http://www.honolulu.gov/multimed/waikiki.asp Check it on the Internet and you will make sure yourself! They are alive. I say it for certain!”

“Definitely they are alive in paradise. For good. Do you think that there are corpses stacked there? “

“ No, but there,..mmm,.. there are what’s left of corpses there.”

Buratino, you are the genuine Buratino! You are saying a human being is truly alive in paradise, and not here! You call it life here?!”

”And you my talking hourglass?”  he said as if trying to tell me something pleasant, “an hourglass is his most alive in the paradise of the hourglasses, isn’t it? “

“There is no paradise of hourglasses, darling, paradise is for souls, not for shapes, and an hourglass is only a shape.”

“Similar to,..me,..Buratino?”

“No buddy!”  I told him in a heartscalding tone.  "In my case, unfortunately, my shape coincides with my substance…wood and glass in cubic centimeters.”

      He pelted me with a pillow. My own. I thanked him. Glass enjoys lying on the softness of a pillow.

      For some time he cuddled his shepherds’s staff, then he continued his conversation as if nothing had happened.

“I turned into the genuine Buratino in that moment, when the double-edged daggers of Urfin Juce’s magic soldiers hit upon me.

”I guess, in the back, at the House of Artists when you were rushing in as a rabbit, at that moment! “ I told him frowning.

  He wouldn’t answer. So, I hit the mark. I was about to say something else, but he outpaced me.

“No, not then, later he sprinkled with magic, an airy remedy into my nose, and my nose he was hoping might start to grow immediately, lengthened and extended.     

I cut him short and said:  “Wait a minute, wait a minute, this…air ….never lengthened any nose. Look at me, I have no nose at all!”

”What? Were you also there?!”

* Evil puppetmaster who wants to destroy Buratino because he disrupted Karabas-Baranas’s  puppet show.


“Yes, I was, and contrary to everybody, I never deluded any peoole that I was some great artist! As if I were some Botticelli!... I stood there to the end, and never moved away from the magic air. Finally I was really sprinkled.  At that moment they turned me into an hourglass!”

He parried:  “On the other hand, do you know what I made for myself?!  A nuclear bomb! To blast Moscow!”

      I smiled. Again he ignored me. Again he fell into a trance, and went on:

”It is a Kokrochina* bomb, waiting for a signal, buried in the ground, in mid-Moscow.”

”And why do you not trigger your Kokrochina now?”  I asked matter-of-factly.

“Because... I cannot impose Lenin upon the whole world!”

“Lenin? What has he got to do with any of this?”

“Why?! He is right to the point of my idea,… in the heart of Moscow! Had Moscow gone to ashes, Lenin would have dissolved into nuclei and scattered as particles around the whole world... and his rot would never have been able to permeate it!”

“Then….. what?“ I asked him nonchalantly. I do not like these sensory and lyrical sentiments, I can’t help myself being so. 

“How do you ask WHAT?” Buratino was clearly amazed by my lack of understanding. There followed a profound lull. For a moment he even ceased checking his nose.  

“How do you ask WHAT?”  He repeated and continued, “The Lenin-crammed, Lenin-stuffed world cannot be saved. Cannot!”   

“I do not like these metaphysical sentiments!”  I couldn’t help restraining myself “If the world cannot be free of Leninfication, then let it be that way!”

      Buratino lapsed into silence and then threw at me a glance that showed he could see through me.   Sharply, he asked me:

“T h e n,  w h o  w i l l  u p e n d  y o u?   Who will turn your hourglass over?”

“These two themes are not linked.”

“The link is, my honorable former Young Communist leaguer, that in the over-Leninized world, it will never occur to anybody to trouble oneself and upend an hourglass, but if you are not turned over, in Time,” and at this moment Buratino exposed his eyeballs and uttered in single letters in a barely audible, menacing tone that gave me goosebumps,  “TIME  w-i-l-l  S-t-o-p!”

“No, my woodstuffed friend, Time will not stop, since I learned how to upend myself. No sooner after I have emptied my sand from top to bottom cone, that I jump into the air, make one somersault and repair my place, anchored. Ole! Then starts a new cycle. In the Universe. A New Time!”  I said to him as I was swelling in my proud bosom.  If someone tells me, “hey, go ahead, make your magic trick after all this swank and swagger!” What can I do? What somersaulter am I?!  So, ….I swiftly changed the topic of our conversation and stated to him explicitly:


  • A Georgian fairy tale.


“No, I do not believe that you can assemble a nuclear bomb!”

“Cannot?!”   Due to his sudden rage Buratino’s wooden bristles went up. He removed again his cap and took some black tiny thing out of it.

“What is that?” I asked him.

“It is a remote control unit. “  He did not actually murmur his words, but hissed them, apparently he wanted me to feel that it was some supersecret item.

“What unit?”   I asked him and also thought to myself again, how many granules there were  left until I fully discharged all my sand?

      Buratino lifted something he had held in his hand and showed it to me from some distance. It was really a remote control unit, a regular mini unit for the remote control of a TV set. Rather old and shabby.

“Then what?”  I asked him, and thought again about my falling single grains of sand, how many granules are there left until I am absolutely depleted?

“ If you press the red button on this unit, Moscow will blow up!”


“This is a unit triggering atomic bomb! As I told you I assembled a Kokrochina, handy, 10-kWt A-bomb, put it into a case, took it to Moscow and buried it in the basement of a house where I rented an appartment for many years. That apartment is on the first floor and one can get to the basement right from my room.”

      I pined for taking this unit into my hand and pressing the red button with my finger. What could I do? How to act? To win time I told him:

“No, you should blast Moscow. You know how fires in an oilwell can be extinguished?”


“Blowing it up! Russia is the same as a fire originating in the well of civilization. Unextinguished. Fire cannot be conquered until burned down the hatch,.. burned out of its resources totally. The whole world... No, you should blown Moscow up!”

“And Lenin? “

“I do not know Lenin!”

“But they, the many, are alive whom we deem to be dead, aren’t they?? I wanted to avenge them all. I made my A-bomb because of them! And they are alive! Alive!!”

      I understood that it made no sense to talk to Buratino. He is Buratino! I had no choice. What had I to do? I stared. I wanted to take away the unit but he had gripped it with both hands so tightly that I couldn’t wrest it from him. Then a wonderful idea hit me – there is no need to pull the unit out, the point is to press the red button or to force him to press the button... I pushed him with all my strength. Now I did not try to wrest the unit, but to weigh upon him from above in a way that would make him press the button himself against his will. It looks like he understood my intentions and started hopping away, then he carried out one Zinedin-esque headbutt against me, or wanted to, but it was feeble, and he failed to do it with his full strength, but, you are aware that his nose is so long and spiked, and,.. he smashed me nonetheless with it.

      I was broken. I was scattered on the floor in front of the bed in the form of the small chips of a broken glass and miniscule crumbs of holy sand.

      A medical attendant peeped into the room reacting to the noise, then unlocked the rod-made door and entered our ward.

“What’s goin’ on here, what’s up?!”  he sternly demanded and clapped his hand on the bed.

“Beware, there are fragments of broken glass, do not cut your hand,” Buratino was absolutely calm while conveying this falsehood to the attendant.

      When did he come to his senses? I was surprised, besides I think how many granules are there left until my final... and all of a sudden I realized I had been mortally hit – I am already discharged! Finished! Over!!!!!!

“I have broken the hourglass in this ward,.. by accident.”  Buratino lied shamelessly to the attendant.

“Hourglass?” the attendant asked incredulously, “Is there a room for an hourglass in the XXI century? Damn it! We will write it off!”

      He went out and soon brought in a broom, a scoop and a trash bucket into the room and  he swept everything and threw me in the trash.

      “You will also be swept by my broom, do not worry!  In due time. Therefore, do not be too sorry.”   He said  to Buratino.  (By the way, I am sending you this story from Honolulu).

      At the same time another medical attendant peeped into the room and cried with a doomed voice:  “What are you doing with a silly broom?!  A nuclear bomb has blown up in Moscow! The Third World War has just started!!!




This is literary and clever. Quite a challenge to think as an hourglass might. But quite a feat to make me imagine the hourglass is telling the story. Yet I did.