De mortuis nil nisi bonum by Yeldar Zurgenov

De mortuis nil nisi bonum1

«The Earth is degenerating these days. Bribery and corruption abound. Children no longer mind their parents, every man wants to write a book, and it is evident that the end of the world is fast approaching». Assyrian Tablet from 2,800 BC2

It was a sunny day in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Kids played loudly in the yard, while a group of elderly women sat on the bench, watching disapprovingly. 

“Do you remember Bakhytzhamal’s youngest son? Well, he died!” – said Katira-apai3 to her neighbor on the bench4 with a strong disapproval of the fact in her voice.

“Oh my God!” – sluggishly responded the neighbor, – “What happened? Drug overdose?”

There was no doubt, of course, that the deceased was a drug addict. How could it be any different? Only close relatives were free of suspicion. Well, not entirely free…

“Some kind of illness, I think” – said Katira-apai.

“Sure. Drug addiction leads to sickness” – nodded the neighbor, pleased with her rightness – “We should go and offer our condolences. When is the funeral?”

“There will be no funeral”


“Yeah… Bakhytzhamal had everything planned, invited all the relatives and neighbors, the mullah… And her son ran away!”

“What do you mean “ran away”? He was alive?!”

“No, he died. But he didn’t want to be buried. Said, that it’s boring”

“Astaghfirullah!5 How is it possible! What a shame! What a disgrace for a family!”

“Right! Young people are so ill-mannered these days! Bakhytzhamal is exhausted worrying about it. The relatives arrived, mullah arrived, and they even brought the sacrificial sheep. And the boy just ran away! He found a job, can you believe it?”


“Well, they didn’t allow him to work. Dead people can’t work. It’s against the law”

The elderly women sat silently for a while, shaking their heads. First, he died. Then he fled. And finally, he lost his job! The youth have completely gone out of hands!

“And what happened then?”

“Well… They tried to persuade him, scolded him. Begged him not to disgrace the family and pass away peacefully. But he just wouldn’t listen to them!”

“Absolutely no respect for the elders! It’s all this television!” – said the neighbor bitterly.

“Yes! It was so different in Stalin’s time!” – agreed Katira-apai.

“What will people think! What example for children he sets!” – continued to lament the old lady neighbor.

“And that’s not even it! Then he went to Japan! Said that he wants to help them with Fukushima, since radiation is no threat to him now” – Katira-apai didn’t know where Japan is, but she did know that it’s definitely not a place for decent people to be.

“I always knew that nothing good will come out of him. He was always hanging out with Russian kids at school. Bad influence!”

“Yes… What’s happening to this world?”

“The Judgment Day is coming! I saw it on TV, a psychic said that the end of the world is coming!”

The old ladies switched to another topic, forgetting the ne’er young man. The day went on as usual.


 1 Latin “Speak no ill of the dead”

2 This quote is quite popular, but is a fake; Assyrian Empire was founded only 300 years later.

3 Apai – Kazakh honorific suffix, used when addressing elderly women.

4  Elderly women in Kazakhstan usually spend their time sitting on the bench near their homes, gossiping and chatting, as portrayed in this short story

5Arabic “I seek forgiveness from Allah”. A common Muslim expression.

Yeldar Zhurgenov is a psychotherapist born and raised in Almaty, Kazakhstan and currently living and working in San Francisco, USA. Yeldar works with vulnerable population in Tenderloin neighborhood. When not working, he enjoys reading science fiction and dabbles in writing short stories himself occasionally. 

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