To the inexperienced eye, they are almost invisible. The Kazakhstan snow blizzards, the grey-white of the surroundings – it makes it impossible to deduce the outlines. Shaded pixels piece together, only after retraining the focus of the eye. It takes a long time to work out the shapes scattered at indiscriminate intervals about the dazzling crystalline horizon.
Humans encased in ice.
That’s what they look like at first, as if preserved from the time of cave-dwellers. Almost sculpted from the ice.
The upper course of the Ishim River passes through the capital city of Astana, built in the 1990s in this exact place because of this river. This life-giving source. Each fisher -whether man or woman – patches together salvaged slivers of plastic sheet or oversized rice bags – fragments of western and eastern commodity combined for one common purpose. Some wear the entirety of their wardrobes when they venture out into the punishing chill. They abandon the comfort of their yurts to find nourishment for their families. Parts of this river have become their home. Repetitions of their ancestors and their nomadic inclinations, adaptations to their environment – they tread the frozen flow of the river. Time stands with them. Everything slow and lethargic in the cold.
The ice will yield only to the pressure of the corkscrewing drills and wooden clubs. It will yield enough for the fishing line to be inserted. Just long enough for the bait to plummet down into the depths where the greedy catfish gorge upon the weedy carp. Luck. It is luck more than skill. And then the wait.
They sit, perched like an army of garden gnomes embracing their fishing rods on one of the coldest seats on the planet. The silences and static between each shrink-wrapped body freeze ever-more solid as the degrees slump below minus 30. Rigid. Each person entombed in their own reverie. Need sustains patience when there are no bites on the nylon lines.
Occasionally shards of frozen light pierce the seams of the rice bags, the tears in the plastic sheets.
They sit, fishing in silence on the Ishim River. They sit, thinking. Thinking of what? Of everything that has already been, everything that is yet to come. They sit thinking what it is like to be a fish in the waters beneath them. They sit thinking about the miracle of being able to sit upon a river. They sit thinking about their ancestors and their loved ones. Until the line of the fishing rod yanks into life.
This was all in a Sunday newspaper I once found in a litter bin. An artistic arrangement in one of the slippery magazine supplements. The photographs were glacial to the touch…the sub-zero temperature leaking out… The stone of the pavement upon which I sit is as cold as that ice on the Ishim River. No fish beneath this pavement though. No fishing here in the heart of this Western city – a continent, another world distant from Kazakhstan. Just sitting. As the pedestrians walk around my makeshift cardboard and plastic home – oven-ready fish dinners and sushi snacks in their shopping bags – I imagine I am a Kazakh fisherman. Thinking of all the things which occupy the mind of a Kazakh fisherman. Sitting in iced silence. To the inexperienced eye, invisible.
About the author:
Jane Roberts’ work can be found in anthologies and magazines including: Litro, Bare Fiction Magazine, Firewords Quarterly, Hark Magazine, The Lonely Crowd, Wales Arts Review, NFFD Anthologies, Stories for Homes, Unthology 9 (Unthank Books, 2017), A Furious Hope (ed. Zelda Chappel, 2017). Shortlisted for Bridport Prize Flash Fiction (2013/2016), Fish Short Story Prize (2015/2016) and Flash Prize (2016); winner of Bloomsbury Writers’ and Artists’ Flash Fiction (2013). She is one third of the Literary Salmon team (Saboteur Awards Longlisted, “Best Anthology” 2016). Twitter: @JaneEHRoberts janeehroberts.wordpress.com