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Daniil Kharms
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Memoirs of a Wise Old Man, The

I used to be a very wise old man.
Now I am not quite right; you may consider me even not to exist at all. But the time was when any one of you would have come to me and, whatever burden may have oppressed a person, whatever sins may have tormented his thoughts, I would have embraced him and said: -- My son, take comfort, for no burden is oppressing you and I see no bodily sins in you -- and he would scamper away from me in happiness and joy.
I was great and strong. People who met me on the street would shy to one side and I would pass through a crowd like a flat iron.
My feet would often be kissed, but I didn't protest: I knew I deserved it. why deprive people of the pleasure of honouring me? I myself, being extraordinarily lithe of body, even tried to kiss myself on my own foot. I sat on a bench, got hold of my right foot and pulled it up to my face. I managed to kiss the big toe. I was happy. I understood the happiness of others.
Everyone worshipped me! And not only people, but even beasts, while even various insects crawled before me and wagged their tails. And cats! They simply adored me and, somehow or other gripping each other's paws, would run in front of me whenever I was on the staircase.
At that time I was indeed very wise and understood everything. There was not a thing that would nonplus me. Just a minute's exertion of my colossal mind and the most complicated question would be resolved in the simplest possible manner. I was even taken to the Brain Institute and shown off to the learned professors. They measured my mind by electricity and simply boggled. -- We have never seen anything like it -- they said.
I was married but rarely saw my wife. She was afraid of me: the enormity of my mind overwhelmed her. She did not so much live, as tremble; and if I as much as looked at her, she would begin to hiccup. We lived together for a long time, but then I think she disappeared somewhere. I don't remember exactly.
Memory -- that's a strange thing altogether. How hard remembering is, and how easy forgetting That's how it often is: you memorise one thing, and then remember something entirely different. Or: you memorise something with some difficulty, but very thoroughly, and then you can't remember anything. That also happens. I would advise everyone to work a bit on their memory.
I always believed in fair play and never beat anyone for no reason, because, when you are beating someone, you always go a bit daft and you might overdo it. Children, for example, should never be beaten with a knife or with anything made of iron, but women -- the opposite: they shouldn't be kicked. Animals -- they, it is said, have more endurance. But I have carried out experiments in this line and I know that this is not always the case.
Thanks to my litheness, I was able to do things which no one else could do. For example, I managed to retrieve by hand from an extremely sinuous sewage pipe my brother's earring, which had accidently fallen there. I could, for example, hide in a comparatively small basket and put the lid on myself.
Yes, certainly, I was phenomenal!
My brother was my complete opposite: in the first place, he was taller and, secondly, more stupid.
He and I were never very friendly. Although, however, we were friendly, even very. I've got something wrong here: to be exact, he and I were not friendly and were always on bad terms. And this is how we got crossed. I was standing beside a shop: they were issuing sugar there, and I was standing in the queue, trying not to listen to what was being said around me. I had slight toothache and was not in the greatest of moods. It was very cold outside, because everyone was standing in quilted fur coats and they were still freezing. I was also standing in a quilted fur, but I was not freezing myself, though my hands were freezing because I had to keep taking them out of my pockets to adjust the suitcase I was holding between my knees, so that it didn't go missing. Suddenly someone struck me on the back. I flew into a state of indescribable indignation and, quick as lightning, began to consider how to punish the offender. During this time, I was struck a second time on the back. I pricked up my ears, but decided against turning my head and pretended that I hadn't noticed. I just, to be on the safe side, took the suitcase in my hand. Seven minutes passed and I was struck on the back a third time. At this I turned round and saw in front of me a tall middle-aged man in a rather shabby, but still quite good, military fur coat.
-- What do you want from me? -- I asked him in strict and even slightly metallic voice.
-- And you, why don't you turn when you're called? -- he said.
I had begun to think over the content of his words when he again opened his mouth and said: -- What's wrong with you? Don't you recognise me or something? I'm your brother.
I again began to think over his words when he again opened his mouth and said: -- Just listen, brother mine. I'm four roubles short for the sugar and it's a nuisance to have to leave the queue. Lend me five and I'll settle up with you later. -- I started to ponder why my brother should be four roubles short, but he grabbed hold of my sleeve and said: -- Well, so then, are you going to lend your own brother some money? -- and with these words he undid my quilted fur for me himself, got into my inside pocket and reached my purse.
-- Here we are -- he said. -- I'm taking a loan of a certain sum, and your purse, look, here it is, I'm putting back in your coat. -- And he shoved my purse into the outer pocket of my fur.
I was of course surprised at meeting my brother so unexpectedly. For a while I was silent, and then I asked him: -- But where have you been until now?
-- There -- replied my brother, waving in some direction or other.
I started thinking over where this 'there' might be, but my brother nudged me in the side and said: -- Look, they've started letting us in to the shop.
We went together as far as the shop doors, but inside the shop I proved to be on my own, without my brother. Just for a moment, I jumped out of the queue and looked through the door on to the street. But there was no sign of my brother.
When I again wanted to take my place in the queue, they wouldn't let me in and even pushed me gradually out on to the street. Holding back my anger at such bad manners, I went off home. At home I discovered that my brother had taken all the money from my purse. At this stage I got absolutely furious with my brother, and since then he and I have never made it up.
I lived alone and granted admittance only to those who came to me for advice. But there were many of these and it turned out that I knew peace neither by day nor by night. Sometimes I would get so tired that I would lie down on the floor and rest. I would lie on the floor until I got cold; then I would jump up and start running round the room, to warm up. Then I would again sit down on the bench and give advice to all in need of it.
They would come in to me one after the other, sometimes not even opening the doors. I used to enjoy looking at their excruciating faces. I would talk to them, hardly able to stop myself laughing.
Once I couldn't contain myself and burst out laughing. They rushed in horror to escape -- some through the door, some through the window, and some straight through the walls.
Left on my own, I drew myself up to my full majestic height, opened my mouth and said: -- Prin tim pram.
But at this point something in me cracked and, since then, you might consider that I am no more.