The Dialectical Cycle
In the steaming heat of the late summer of 1946 Karlshorst lived its normal life. In all the S. M. A. administrations and departments there was feverish activity. In the rush of work the officers with gold epaulettes forgot that Karlshorst was only a remote island surrounded with a foreign and hostile element. But when the time came for them to go on leave and return to the homeland they grew more conscious of the fact that far away to the east was an enormous country whose interests they were called on to defend outside its frontiers.
Letters from the Soviet Union reported an unusual drought all over European Russia. Fears were being openly expressed for the harvest. The small allotments and market gardens, which provided produce for the great masses of the people, were withering in the sun. People stared anxiously into the sky and feared that they were in for a famine still worse than that experienced during the war. Letters from home sounded desperate, hopeless.
A year had passed since my arrival in Berlin to work in the Soviet Military Administration. I was due for leave at the end of the summer. I could shake the dust of Berlin from my feet and relax at home for six weeks.
Andrei Kovtun took his leave at the same time as I, and we agreed to travel together. We decided to stop in Moscow for a time, then to visit our hometown in the south, and to finish our holiday somewhere on the Black Sea coast. Andrei insisted on organizing our leave so as to spend it largely surrounded by memories of our youth.
At the Berlin Schlesische station Andrei, relying on his M. V. D. uniform, went to see the military commandant, and quickly came back with two second-class tickets. His foresight was amply justified. All the carriages were packed. The majority of the travelers was taking a mass of baggage with them, and refused to be parted from it; they did not trust the baggage cars. Andrei and I each had two trunks filled mainly with presents for relations and acquaintances.
Our train arrived at Brest without adventure, though the Soviet military trains running between Berlin and Moscow often came under fire and even attacks from Polish nationalists hiding in the forests. The first check of documents and baggage took place at the Soviet frontier post in Brest, where we transferred to another train. The M. V. D. frontier guards made a special point of thoroughly searching the baggage of demobilized military men, looking for weapons which officers and men might be taking home as trophies.
Just in front of us a frontier-guard lieutenant checked the documents of a captain going on leave. ‘Why didn’t you leave your service weapon behind, Comrade Captain?’ he asked.
‘I received no instructions to do so,’ the captain answered with a shrug of annoyance.
‘On arrival at your destination you must hand over your pistol to the local commandatura when you register,’ the lieutenant said as he returned the documents.
‘That’s peacetime conditions for you!’ the captain muttered as we left the control-point office. ‘Everybody’s afraid of something or other.’
While waiting for the Moscow train Andrei and I sat in the waiting room. Here there were many officers in Polish uniform, including the Polish square military caps. They were all talking in Russian, resorting to Polish only for swearing. They were officers of Marshal Rokossovsky’s Soviet forces stationed in Poland and dressed in Polish uniforms. Some of the Russian officers returning from Berlin fell into conversation with them.
‘Well, how are things with you in Germany?’ an officer with an unmistakable Siberian accent and with a Polish eagle in his cap asked a lieutenant who had come from Dresden. ‘D’you find the Germans a handful?’
‘Not in the least,’ the lieutenant answered casually. ‘They’re a disciplined people. Tell them they mustn’t, and they don’t. At first we thought we’d have to deal with unrest and even attempts on our lives. Nothing of the sort!’
‘You don’t say!’ The fellow from Siberia shook his head, obviously astonished. ‘But our ’gentlemen’ give us more than we bargain for. Not a night passes without someone being knocked off or shot. And this chicken is of no help whatever’ - he pointed to the eagle in his cap.
‘You don’t know how to treat them!’ the lieutenant said with a hint of superiority.
‘It isn’t so simple as that!’ another Soviet officer in Polish uniform intervened. ‘During the war years Rokossovsky had sixteen expressions of Stalin’s thanks in orders of the day, but during his one year in Poland he has had twenty censures! All because of the Poles. They shoot at you round corners, and you aren’t allowed to raise a finger against them, otherwise you’ve had it! Court-martial for you. That’s politics!’ He gave a deep sigh.
Shortly after the train for Moscow had started our documents were checked again, this time in the carriage. We had traveled only a few hours when the procedure was repeated a second time.
Andrei sat silent in a corner seat, taking no notice of what went on around him, sunk deep in thought. A passenger glanced in, noticed the M. V. D. officer’s uniform, and pretended he had made a mistake, and went to look for a seat elsewhere. Even in the second class, where every traveler had a Party ticket, people preferred to keep a respectable distance between them and the M. V. D.
Towards evening Andrei livened up a little - he had not uttered a word for a long time. We began to talk about the past. Gradually his reminiscences turned to Halina. I sat listening in astonishment. Evidently he had been thinking of her all the time, but only now did he openly talk about her. Time and distance had blunted his feelings a little, but now his heart was burning once more with that same former fire.
The story of Andrei’s pre-war relations with Halina was somewhat unusual. She was an extraordinarily beautiful girl, with a pure and exalted quality in her beauty. Above all, her character was in perfect harmony with her appearance. Andrei worshipped her. But for a long time she was indifferent to his attentions and did not notice his slavish devotion. Then a strong friendship developed between them. Possibly his sacrifice and devotion won her, or perhaps she felt that his love was different from other young men’s flattering attentions.
Their acquaintances all thought this friendship queer; the contrast between his angular figure and her spiritual beauty was too obvious. Nobody could imagine what bound them to each other. Again and again her girl friends reduced her to tears, for they took every opportunity of pointing out Andrei’s defects. His comrades openly congratulated him on his ’undeserved good fortune’.
More than once this sort of thing led to their separating for a time. And then Andrei had no rest. He wandered like a shade behind her, not daring to go up to her, yet lacking the strength to turn away. Thus they went on, all but inseparable, down to the outbreak of war. The war flung him into the partisans and directed his unbridled emotions in another direction. The town in which she was living was soon overrun by German troops, and they completely lost contact with each other.
‘We’re continually striving towards something,’ he now said abruptly. "We strive for power, for fame, for distinction. But that is all outside us. And when you come to a certain point you realize that all the time you’ve only been giving out from yourself. And you ask yourself: what have you gained for it all?
‘I’ve got a strange feeling. Putting aside everything else and thinking only of myself, I get the impression that all I’ve done in my struggle to climb higher has been for Halina’s sake. Now I shall lay this uniform and these orders at her feet.’
He ran his eyes over his perfectly fitting uniform, brushed a speck of dust from the blue riding breeches, and said dreamily:
‘Now Halina has graduated as an engineer; she’s living in Moscow, she has work worthy of her, and a comfortable home. And what more can any woman achieve today? And now, to complete it all, a major in the State Security Service will turn up as a guard and defender of her well being. Don’t you think that’s quite a logical conclusion? And now, old friend, I’m hoping that life will repay me with interest for everything.’ He clapped his hand down on my knee, then rose and stared through the window into the darkness ahead, as though he hoped to discern what fate had in store for him.
I had noticed before that he had rather queer ideas of his position with regard to Halina. He had put all his ardour into his ambitions and had received no satisfaction from life in return; on the contrary, he was tortured by his situation, in which he was compelled to act against his own convictions. And so he had subconsciously begun to seek for some compromise with life, he had begun to convince himself that his old love and the happiness of married life would fill the void in his soul. To meet Halina again had become an obsession with him; he thought of it as the miracle, which would bring him salvation.
‘D’you know what?’ He turned round sharply. ‘I simply must get hold of a bottle of vodka.’
‘But you don’t drink.’
‘It’s for you,’ he replied abruptly. ‘I want everybody round me to be jolly. Damn it all, I’m not going to a funeral, I’m going to a wedding!’
I tried to dissuade him. ‘So you want to insult me? Is that it?’ he demanded. I could only hope that he was unlikely to find vodka at that time of night.
At the very next station he went out; a few minutes later he returned with a bulging pocket. ‘Obtained in perfect agreement with regulations!’ he grinned. ‘The station commandant had confiscated it from someone, and I confiscated it from him. The raspberry capband has its uses!’
He filled the glass so full that the vodka overflowed. ‘I’m all on fire inside, and there’s something lacking,’ he said. ‘You drink for me. You know, there are times when I feel an emptiness inside me almost physically.’ He sat with his feet planted widely apart, his hands on his knees. ‘Sometimes I think about God, and I envy those who believe in Him. It’s better to believe in a non-existent but infallible God than in the scoundrelly pretenders of this earth.’
‘When did you go to church last?’ I asked.
“Some twenty years ago. My father took me. When I was a boy I knew all the prayers by heart.
‘Yes, the soul of a man is not a piece of litmus paper,’ he sighed. ‘You’ve got no means of deciding straight off whether it will be red or blue. In my damned job one often has to think about a human soul. I’ve developed quite a psychosis: I’m looking for people who believe in something.’
All around us there was silence. Our native land sped towards us.
The train arrived in Moscow next day. We went into the sunlit square outside the station and stopped to look about us. The trams clattered past, cars drove by silently, and people were hurrying about their affairs. All the feverish life of the capital city was opened before us. It was all so everyday, so simple. We felt as though we had never left Moscow.
Thanks to his M. V. D. uniform and the gold star of a ’Hero of the Soviet Union’ Andrei easily obtained a room for two in the Staraya-Moskovskaya Hotel on the farther side of the river Moskva, right opposite the Kremlin. Our window looked out on to the river, and beyond we could see the new Stone Bridge, the rows of trees beginning to turn yellow along the Kremlin Embankment, the pointed towers and gold cupolas behind the Kremlin walls, and a long white building staring with innumerable windows. That building housed the brain of our country, the laboratory for the creation of a New World.
We spent our first day aimlessly wandering about the city. We were both impatient to see Moscow life with our own eyes. Only a year had passed since I had last seen Moscow, but that year had been so filled with experiences that I felt now as though I were getting to know my own capital for the first time. Somewhere in the depths of my being I felt mingled feelings of expectation, distrust, and anxiety; as though, despite everything, I was trying to find something here that would make me change my mind, would lead me to revoke a firmly made decision.
That summer evening Andrei and I wandered into Mayakovsky Square. Before us the black cube of the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute loomed up in the dusk. In that stone chest the brain of Lenin, the ideologist and founder of the Soviet State, is preserved in spirit as a very sacred object. To the left of the square rose the editorial offices of Pravda.
At roof level an illuminated sign was announcing the latest news. Nobody in the square paid any attention to it. But we craned our necks and began to read: ’The farmers report... the accomplishment of the plan for handing in the harvest... ’ Andrei and I looked at each other. Evening after evening, year after year, similar reports had been flashed along the roof of Pravda before the war. And it was still the same today. Hadn’t there been any war and all that the war connoted?
‘What does it say up there, little son?’ An old, feeble, quavering voice sounded behind us.
Beside Andrei a decrepit old man was standing. He was wearing a homespun coat of uncertain color, and a tangled, reddish beard framed his face and brightly twinkling eyes. His long hair hung down from beneath his old peaked cap.
‘My eyes are weak, little son, and besides, I’m not good at reading,’ he murmured. ‘Tell me what it says.’
He addressed Andrei in the tone that simple folk use to their superiors: with respect and wheedling sincerity.
‘Why haven’t you learned to read and write, daddy?’ Andrei asked with a warm smile, touched by the old fellow’s request.
‘What do we simple people need to know them for? That’s what learned men are for, to understand everything.’
‘Where are you from, daddy?’ Andrei asked.
‘My village is a little way outside Moscow,’ the old man answered. ‘Nearly forty miles from here.’
‘Are you in town to visit your son?’ Andrei asked again.
‘No, little son; I’m here to look for bread.’
‘Why, haven’t you any in your village?’
‘No, little son. We’ve handed over all our corn. Now all we can do is sell our potatoes in the Moscow market in order to buy bread.’
‘What’s the price of bread in the market now?’ Andrei inquired.
‘Seventy rubles a kilo, little son.’
‘And how much did you sell your grain to the State for?’
The old fellow fidgeted from foot to foot, sighed and said reluctantly:
‘Seven kopecks a kilo....’
There was an awkward silence. We behaved as though we had forgotten his request that we should read the news to him, and walked on. In the middle of the square we came to a halt before a granite obelisk; it had a bronze plaque fastened to each of its sides. Andrei and I went closer to read the inscriptions on the plaques.
‘Little son, perhaps you’ll tell me what it says on those boards.’ We again heard that feeble, aged voice behind us. The old man stood there like a shade, shifting from foot to foot.
A smile slipped over Andrei’s face, and he turned his eyes back to the obelisk, intending this time to satisfy the old man. Slowly he read the first few words aloud, but then he broke off and read the further lines in silence.
‘What’s the matter, little son?’ the old man asked with some concern. ‘Isn’t it written in Russian?’
Andrei was silent; he avoided the old man’s eyes. In the dusk I too read the words. The plaques carried extracts from the Soviet Constitution, dealing with the rights and liberties of Soviet citizens. Hungry and ragged Moscow, this old peasant arrived in search of bread, and the bronze promises of an earthly paradise! I realized why Andrei was silent.
The next day was a Saturday; we decided to find out where Halina lived and call on her. Through letters from mutual acquaintances I had learnt that she was working as an engineer in one of the Moscow factories. But when Andrei phoned the works administration they told him she was no longer working there, and refused to give any further information. On making inquiries at the Bureau for Ad-dresses we were amazed to be given an address in one of the out-lying suburbs, an hour’s journey by electric train.
The sun was sinking behind the crowns of the pine forest when Andrei and I knocked at the door of a small timber-built house in a summer settlement not far from the railway. A negligently dressed, elderly woman opened the door to us, gave us an unfriendly look, listened to us in silence, and silently pointed up a rickety staircase to the first floor. Andrei let me go in front, and I could not see his face; but by the sound of his footsteps and the way he leaned heavily on the shaking banister rail I could tell how much this meeting meant to him.
On the landing damp underwear was hung out to dry. Dirty pans and old rags littered the windowsill. A board door, hanging by rusty hinges, had tufts of wool blocking the chinks between the planks. I irresolutely took hold of the handle, and knocked.
We heard shuffling footsteps. The door shook on its hinges and scraped over the floor as it was slowly opened; to reveal a woman simply dressed, with old shoes on her stockingless feet. She gazed interrogatively into the dimly lit landing. Then she distinguished men in military uniform, and the astonishment in her eyes was changed to fear.
‘Halina!’ Andrei called quietly.
The young woman’s face flushed crimson. She fell back. ‘Andrei!’ a half-suppressed cry broke from her lips. She stood breathing rapidly and heavily, as though short of breath.
Andrei avoided looking about him. He tried not to see the wretched furnishing of the half-empty room; he tried to ignore her old clothes and worn shoes. He saw only the familiar features of the woman he loved. All the world was lost in oblivion, sunk beneath the burning depths of her eyes fixed on him.
How often during all the long years had he dreamed of her eyes! And now those eyes slowly took him in, from head to foot. They rested on the gold epaulettes with the blue facings, on the star indicating his major’s rank, on the brilliant raspberry band of his service cap. Her eyes turned to the M. V. D. insignia on his sleeve, then stared into his eyes.
‘Halina!’ he repeated again as though in a dream; he stretched out both his hands to her.
‘Gregory, shut the door, please!’ she said to me, as though she had not noticed Andrei or heard his voice. Her tone was cold, her eyes faded, her features set. She avoided Andrei’s eyes and, not saying a word, went to the open window at the far end of the room.
‘Halina, what’s the matter?’ he asked anxiously. ‘How is it you’re living here... in such conditions?’
‘Perhaps you’d better tell your story first,’ she answered. She seemed to be finding our visit a torture.
‘Halina! What’s the matter with you?’ A growing alarm sounded in his voice.
There was a long silence. Then she turned her back on us and said in a voice that was almost inaudible as she gazed out of the window:
‘I’ve been dismissed... and exiled from Moscow.’
‘I am an enemy of the people,’ she said quietly.
‘But what for?’
Another silence. Then, like a rustle of wind outside the window:
‘Because I loved my baby....’
‘Are you married?’ His voice broke with the despair of a man who has just heard his death sentence.
‘No.’ The word came softly.
‘Then... then it’s not so bad, Halina.’ The fear in his voice turned to a note of relief.
There was another silence, disturbed only by his panting breath.
‘Look at that!’ She nodded at a small photograph standing on the table. Andrei followed her glance. From the simple wooden photograph frame a man in German officer’s uniform smiled at the major of the Soviet State Security Service. ‘He was the father of my child,’ she said from the window.
‘Halina... I don’t understand.... Tell me what happened.’ He dropped helplessly into a chair; all his body was trembling.
‘I fell in love with him when our town was under German occupation,’ she answered, after turning away from us again. ‘When the Germans retreated I hid the child. Someone informed on me. And of course you know the rest....’
‘But where is the child?’ Andrei asked.
‘It was taken from me.’ Her voice choked. Her shoulders shook with dry sobbing.
‘Who took it from you?’ There was a threat in his tone.
‘Who?’ she echoed him. ‘Men in the same uniform as you’re wearing.’
She turned her face to us. It had nothing in common with the face of the gentle and friendly girl we had known in past days. Before us stood a woman in all the nakedness of her womanly pain.
‘And now I must ask you to leave my house.’ She stared fixedly at Andrei’s motionless figure. He sat with shoulders bowed as though under the blows of a knout, staring at the floorboards: his back huddled, his eyes expressionless, and his body lifeless.
The sun was glowing orange beyond the window. The branches of the dusty pines swayed silently. The sun lighted up the fluffy hair of the woman standing at the window caressed her proudly carried head, the gentle outlines of her neck, the frail shoulders under the old dress. The light left in shadow all the wretched furniture of the half-empty room and all the signs and tokens of human need. At the window stood a woman now farther off than ever, but now more desired than ever. On a chair in the middle of the room slumped a living corpse.
‘Halina... I’ll try...’ he said thickly. He himself had no idea what he could hope to do, and he was silent again.
‘We have nothing more to talk about,’ she answered quietly and firmly.
He rose heavily to his feet, looked helplessly about him. He muttered something, held out his hand as though asking for something, or maybe in farewell. She looked away, taking no notice of his hand. There was another long silence.
I crept out of the room as though from the presence of the dead. Andrei followed me. As he went downstairs he clung to the wall like a blind man. His face was ashen; words came incoherently from his lips. Our steps sounded hollowly on the creaking stairs.
In the train he stared with glassy eyes out of the window and was obdurately silent. I tried to distract his thoughts with talk. He did not hear my voice; he took no notice of me whatever.
As we made our way to the Moscow Underground station he broke the silence by asking: ‘Which way are you going?’ I guessed he wanted to get rid of me, but I also felt that on no account could I dare to leave him to himself.
We returned to our hotel. All the rest of the evening I followed him like a shadow. When he left the room for a moment I unloaded our pistols, which were lying in the table drawer. He would not have any supper, and went to bed unusually early. But he tossed and turned and could not sleep. He wished to escape from this life at least in his sleep, to find release from his torment; but he could not.
‘Andrei, the best thing would be for you to go home tomorrow,’ I said.
‘I have no home,’ came from his bed after a long silence.
‘Then go to your family,’ I persisted.
‘I have no family,’ he said thickly.
‘My father has disowned me.’
Andrei’s father was a man of the old school, hard as oak and as obstinate as a mule. When the years of collectivization arrived the old cossack had preferred to leave his native soil to live in a town, rather than join a collective farm. In the town he had become an artisan. No repressive measures, no amount of taxation could drive him into an artisans’ cooperative. ‘I was born free, I shall die free!’ was his one answer. He had given all his strength to bring up his son, in the hope that the lad would be a comfort to his old age. But when he heard that his Andrei had gone over to the enemy he disowned him.
All night Andrei tossed and turned in his bed. All night I lay in the darkness, not closing my eyes, fighting to keep from falling asleep. The hours passed. The ruby stars of the Kremlin towers shone in through the open window. As the sky turned pale and the first feeble light stole into the room, I saw that Andrei was still awake. He had buried his face in the pillow, and his arms hung helplessly down, one on either side of the bed. In the silence I caught words that came strangely from his lips, words that I remembered from times long past, the time of my childhood. They came in a passionate whisper: ‘Lord, incline Thine ear and hear my prayer, for I am miserable and weak.’
For the first time that night I closed my eyes. I would not hinder a man who stood on the confines of this world. And again in the early morning stillness I heard a whisper that had nothing earthly in it, the words of a long forgotten prayer: ‘Lord, forgive thy sinful slave...’
On the farther side of the river the Kremlin clock chimed in answer.
While in Berlin I had exchanged very little correspondence with Genia. She was too sensitive to the least hint of insincerity and mental reservations; moreover, there was still a military censor-ship, and that had to be taken into account. A frank description of my present life and of our impressions of the real world around us would have been unforgivable lunacy. And we had no private life in Karlshorst that I could write about. Both she and I were too young and too fond of life to write each other insane letters out of sheer amiability.
So I preferred to use the nights when I had a twenty-four-hour turn of duty in the staff headquarters, and was alone in the commander-in-chief’s private office, for getting direct telephonic contact with Moscow and talking to Genia. On such occasions we had long conversations that had no connection with the marshal’s office, or policy. The people tapping the telephone could go on reading their novels unperturbed.
On returning to Moscow I looked forward impatiently to seeing Genia again. And in preparing for my first visit I spent a long time pondering what to wear - my military uniform or civilian clothes. I finally decided in favor of the civvies.
I found only Anna Petrovna at home. She was feeling bored, and she took the opportunity to ply me with questions concerning Berlin, and simultaneously to retail the latest Moscow news.
Now the family was reunited. Genia’s father, Nikolai Sergeivich, had returned home after the conclusion of operations against Japan. But even now, when he was stationed in Moscow, his wife knew as little as ever about his duties and activities, and she lived in constant dread of his being sent off again in some unknown direction and for an indefinite period.
After lunch Genia decided that she and I would go off into the country for the rest of the day. I was very grateful to her for taking me to her parents’ country house, for the small summer villa outside the city had been the scene of my first meeting with her, in the early days of the war. She herself drove her sports-model Captain.
When we reached the villa she began to question me at great length and in unusual detail about life in Germany. All my explanations and descriptions failed to satisfy her. Suddenly, quite unexpectedly, she gazed into my eyes and asked: ‘But why are you so thin?’
‘I’m feeling fine!’ I replied. ‘It may be just overwork.’
‘No, it isn’t that.’ She shook her head. ‘You look really bad. You’re keeping something from me.’ She gazed at me closely, as though trying to read my thoughts.
‘Maybe there is something,’ I assented, touched by her anxious tone. ‘But if there is I haven’t noticed it.’
‘But I do,’ she whispered. ‘At first I thought it must be some-thing coming between us... Now I see it’s something else. Forget it!’
And I did forget it. I was boundlessly happy to see the familiar walls around me, and to hear only Genia, to think only of Genia.
As the evening twilight settled over the forest and shadows began to steal through the room she decided to celebrate my arrival with a supper.
‘Today you’re mine.’ She flashed her eyes at me. ‘Let father be annoyed because we’ve gone off! Let him know how mother worries when he’s not at home! I’ll show him!’
We had hardly sat down to eat when we heard the sound of a car approaching. Genia raised her eyebrows anxiously. The car stopped outside, and a moment later Anna Petrovna entered. She was followed by Nikolai Sergeivich and a colleague of his, Colonel-General Klykov. They were all in a very cheerful mood, and the house was filled with their laughter and talk.
‘Now isn’t this wonderful! We’ve only just arrived, and the table’s already laid!’ Klykov laughed and rubbed his hands. ‘Nikolai Sergeivich, your daughter’s a treasure!’
‘D’you think she’s prepared all this for us?’ Nikolai Sergeivich answered. ‘You must excuse us for interrupting, Yevgenia Nikolaevna,’ he said very formally, turning to his daughter. ‘Would you permit us to join your company?’
‘And you’re a fine one!’ he added, turning to me. ‘Get into civilian clothes and you immediately forget your army regulations! You know your first duty is to present yourself to your superiors! Ah, you youngsters....’
‘But we were just getting ready to go home,’ Genia began.
‘Then why have you laid the table? For us?’ Her father roared with laughter. ‘So we drive here, and you go back there! You think you’re clever, my girl. But I’m no fool either. Just to punish you we’ll spend all the evening with you.’
Anna Petrovna set to work to prepare supper. They had brought cans and bottles of a striking diversity of labels with them. All the lands of eastern Europe were represented: Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary. These commodities were not spoils of war, but normal peacetime production. There were American conserves too, obviously the remnants of lend-lease deliveries. None of these things could be bought in the Moscow shops, but they were available in abundance in the special distribution centers to which generals had access.
‘Well, Gregory, now tell us all about it from the beginning.’ Nikolai Sergeivich turned to me when the dessert arrived. ‘What is life in Germany like?’
‘Not too bad,’ I answered vaguely, waiting for him to be more definite in his questions.
‘In any case he has a better apartment there than we have,’ Genia intervened.
The general ignored her, and asked: ‘What’s Sokolovsky doing?’
‘What Moscow orders,’ I replied, involuntarily smiling. ‘You people here should know best what he’s doing.’
Obviously I had given Nikolai Sergeivich the opening he was fishing for. He sat turning over his thoughts. Genia looked about her with a bored air.
‘Germany’s a tough nut.’ General Klykov broke the silence. ‘It’ll be a long time before we crack it. The Allies won’t clear out of western Germany without giving trouble, and there isn’t much to be expected simply from eastern Germany. Not like the Slavonic countries: no sooner said than done! I think our first task is to create a strong bloc of Slavonic states. If we form a Slavonic bloc we shall have a good cordon sanitaire around our frontiers. And our positions in Europe will be strong enough to prevent any repetition of 1941.’
‘My friend, you’re always looking backward, but we’ve got to look forward.’ Nikolai Sergeivich shook his head reproachfully. ‘What do we want a Slavonic bloc for? The old dreams of a pan-Slav empire! Today we’re in the epoch of the communist advance along the whole front. Eastern Europe and the western Slavonic states are of interest to us now chiefly as providing a favorable base for penetration and further action.’
‘So far the masters are pursuing a quite clear pan-Slavonic policy,’ the colonel-general retorted. Like all the upper circles of Moscow he resorted to the vague term ’masters’ to denote the Kremlin and the Politburo.
‘That’s what policy’s for, to conceal the ultimate aims,’ Nikolai Sergeivich said. ‘It would be a crying shame not to exploit our possibilities today. One half of Europe belongs to us, and the other half is inviting us to take it over and give it order.’
It was now quite dark outside. Moths fluttered through the open window and beat against the lamp glass, burning their wings. A drowsy fly crawled over the table, moving its legs painfully. The fly had no aim, it simply crawled.
‘There’s Europe!’ the general said with a contemptuous smile, and he unhurriedly picked up the fly between two fingers. ‘You don’t even have to catch it, you simply take it.’
‘But tell us frankly, Nikolai Sergeivich, what do you need that dead fly for? What good will it be to you?’ the colonel-general asked.
‘Of course we’re not greatly interested in western Europe as such,’ the general answered after a moment’s thought. ‘It’ll probably be more difficult to plant communism in the Europeans than in any other peoples. They’re too spoilt economically and culturally.’
‘There you are! You yourself admit it’s very difficult to make Europe communist,’ Klykov expressed his thoughts aloud. ‘If we intend to build communism seriously there we’ll have to send half the population to Siberia and feed the other half at our expense. And what’s the sense of that?’
‘We need Europe so as to deprive America of her European markets, and then she’ll go under economically. But in any case...’ The general was silent, thoughtfully rolling the unfortunate fly between his thumb and fingers. Then, as though he had come to a definite decision, he flung the fly away and repeated: ‘But in any case... neither you nor I know what the masters are thinking. And it’s just as well that we don’t,’ he went on after another pause. His tone suggested that he knew more than he proposed to say.
‘Communist theory lays it down that the revolution should develop where there are the best prerequisites for it: in the weakest link of the capitalist system. And at the moment that isn’t in Europe. Today Asia is ripe for revolution. There we can gain the greatest possible successes with the least risk and the least expenditure. Asia is waking up nationally, and we must use this movement in order to further our objectives. The Asiatics are not so cultured and spoilt as the Europeans.’
He paused again, then went on: ‘It’s more important to have Asia in our hands than Europe. All the more so as Japan has dropped out of the running. Today China is the key to Asia. Nowhere else in the world are the prerequisites for revolution so favorable as in China.’
‘All right, I give you China,’ the colonel-general said in a joking tone. ‘And what will you do with it?’
‘China is an enormous reservoir of vital forces,’ Nikolai Sergeivich replied. ‘It would be a tremendous thing to have such a reserve at our disposal, for the army and for industry. And, above all, that’s the way we shall force America to her knees.’
‘So America’s giving you trouble again?’ Klykov laughed.
‘Sooner or later our roads will cross,’ Nikolai Sergeivich answered. ‘Either we must renounce our historical mission or follow it through to the end.’
‘All the same, I assume that our post-war policy is directed towards ensuring the security of our frontiers, both in the West and in the East.’ The colonel-general held to his views. But he prudently made his remarks sound more like a commentary on Kremlin policy than an expression of his own attitude.
The general put on a smile of superiority. ‘Don’t forget, my friend, that one can build socialism in one country, but communism only in all the world.’
‘What’s the world to do with you, when you’re a Russian?’
‘We’re communists first, and Russians only second....’
‘So you need the whole world.’ The colonel-general drummed his fingers ironically on the table.
‘That is the general line of the Party,’ the general answered coldly.
‘Our policy during the war...’ Klykov put up a feeble opposition.
‘Policy can change with circumstances, but the general line remains the general line;’ the general would not let him finish. ‘It has to be so,’ he went on slowly. ‘It’s a historical necessity. We’ve already exhausted all the possibilities of internal development. Internal stagnation is equivalent to death of old age. Either we finally retreat on the internal front, or we go forward on the external front. That is the law of dialectical development that applies to every state system.’
‘You’re going too far, Nikolai Sergeivich. You’re placing the interests of the state system above those of your people and your country.’
‘That’s why you and I are communists,’ Genia’s father said slowly and firmly, raising his glass as though to confirm his words. Klykov pretended not to notice this invitation, and felt for his cigarettes. Anna Petrovna and Genia sat listening to the conversation with bored expressions on their faces.
‘What you’ve just said, Nikolai Sergeivich, is one thing in words, but in reality it means war,’ Klykov said after a long silence. ‘You underestimate the external factors-America, for instance,’
‘And what is America?’ Nikolai Sergeivich asked. ‘An agglomeration of people who represent no nation and possess no ideals, and whose basis of unity is the dollar. At a certain stage her living standards will fall inevitably, the class antagonisms will grow sharper, and then favorable conditions will arise for the development of the class struggle. The war will be shifted from the front to the rear of the enemy.’
‘And that’s what you and I are generals for - to wage war,’ he added.
‘A general should be a citizen of his country first and foremost.’ Klykov drew at his cigarette and sent the smoke curling up to the ceiling. ‘A general without a native country is...’ He did not finish the sentence.
During the war Colonel-General Klykov had successfully commanded large Soviet forces in the field. Shortly before the war ended he had been recalled from the front and given a comparatively subordinate post in the Commissariat for Defense. Generals on active service were not subjected to such changes without reason.
Before leaving Moscow to join the S. M. A. I had met Klykov more than once at the home of Genia’s parents. Whenever the talk turned to politics he had always been very moderate, taking the attitude that the war was one of defense of the national fatherland. At that time, just about the close of hostilities, there was a good deal of rather independent discussion, or rather surmise, as to the U. S. S. R.’s future policy. It is hardly to be doubted that Klykov had been rather too frank in expressing his opinions, which did not entirely coincide with the Politburo’s secret plans, and that this had been the reason for his recall to the rear, closer to the Kremlin’s ever-watchful eye.
‘But we won’t argue about that, Nikolai Sergeivich,’ he said in a conciliatory tone, after a long pause. ‘In the Kremlin there are wiser heads than yours or mine. Let them decide.’
They fell into a long silence. Anna Petrovna sat turning over the pages of a periodical. Genia looked at the clock, then at the moon rising through the trees. At last she could stand no more, and she jumped up.
‘Well, you can go on dividing up the world, but we’re going home.’
‘Why, is the moon making you restless?’ her father laughed. ‘Off you go, then, only don’t get lost on the way. If anything happens, Gregory, I shall hold you responsible.’ He jokingly wagged his finger at me.
A minute or two later we drove off. In the moonlight, the shadows of the trees fell spectrally across the ground. Here and there the windowpanes of summer villas gleamed through the trees. The car bumped over the hummocky forest road. I sat at the wheel, not speaking.
‘What were you so dumb for this evening?’ Genia asked.
‘What could I talk about?’ I asked.
‘What others talk about.’
‘I can’t repeat the sort of thing your father says. And I mustn’t support Klykov.’
‘Because I don’t happen to be Klykov. Your father would never stand from me what he takes from Klykov. Klykov gives expression to very imprudent views.’
‘Let’s forget politics!’ she whispered. She put her hand to the dashboard and switched off the headlamps. The night, the marvelous moonlit night, caressed us with its silence. I gazed into her face, into her eyes, veiled in the half-light. My foot slowly released the accelerator.
‘If you don’t close your eyes again...’ she murmured.
‘Genia, I’ve got to steer the car.’
Instead of an answer, a neat little foot was set on the brake pedal. The car slowly pulled sideways and came to a stop.
I spent the next few days visiting my numerous Moscow friends and acquaintances. Everywhere I was bombarded with questions about life in Germany. Although occupied Germany was no longer ’foreign’ in the full meaning of the word, and many Russians had already seen the country with their own eyes, there was no falling off in the morbid interest the Russian people showed in the world on the farther side of the frontier.
This interest and the exaggeratedly rosy ideas of life abroad were a reaction from Soviet Russia’s complete isolation. Moreover, the Russians have one trait, which is seldom found in other nations: they are constantly seeking to find the good sides of their neighbors in the world. The Germans used to regard this as evidence of the primitive ways of thought in the East.
After I had satisfied my friends’ curiosity as far as possible I turned to questioning them about life in Moscow. But while they were very ready to listen to my guarded accounts of life in Germany, they were very unwilling to answer my questions about life in Moscow. The general mood was joyless. Everybody had hoped that living conditions would improve after the war. But now there were signs of famine. And in addition, the papers were again talking hysterically of a new war danger.
When my friends learned that we in Berlin were in the habit of meeting Americans, talking to them and even shaking their hands, they stared at me as if I were a ghost, and did not know what comment to make. Although there had been a considerable cooling off in relations between the Allies during the first twelve months after the war, the very fact that we lived in the same city did to some extent mitigate the growing tension in official relations.
But in Moscow the one-sided and continual abuse in which all the press and propaganda weapons were indulging was leading the people, despite their own personal convictions, to think of the Americans as cannibals. The propaganda poison was having its effect.
One evening I went as usual to see Genia, and found all the family making ready for a journey. Anna Petrovna explained that they were going next morning to see Nikolai Sergeivich’s parents, who lived in a village between Moscow and Yaroslavl, and she invited me in her husband’s name to go with them. I knew already that his parents were simple peasants, and that, despite their son’s attempts to persuade them, they had refused to move to Moscow, preferring to remain on their land and continue as peasants.
I readily accepted the invitation, though Genia turned up her nose a little and made no comment. I had observed already that she was not fond of visiting her grandparents, and did so only because her father wished her to. She had grown up in the Moscow milieu, and was completely alien to her peasant origins.
Early next morning Nikolai Sergeivich, Anna Petrovna, Genia and I drove in the general’s limousine out of Moscow. We passed through the suburbs with its factories and small houses, and plunged into the forests surrounding the city. Towards midday, after a long journey over by-roads, we drew near to our destination. Bumping over the potholes, the car crawled into a village street. It was enveloped in a deathly silence; there was not a sign of life anywhere. No domestic animals, no chickens, not even a dog to be heard. It seemed to have been deserted by its inhabitants.
Our car stopped at one of the houses on the outskirts. With a groan the general climbed out and stretched his legs after the long drive. Anna Petrovna gathered her things together. Genia and I waited for them to lead the way. There was no sign of life in the hut. Nobody came out to welcome us.
Finally, the general went up the steps of the porch and opened the unfastened door. We went through a dark entry smelling of dung. The general opened the living-room door without knocking. In the middle of the room a girl about eight years old, bare-foot and straight haired, was sitting on the floor, swinging a cradle hanging from the ceiling. She was singing under her breath. When she saw us she stopped, and stared half in wonder, half in alarm, without rising.
‘Good morning, my child,’ the general said to her. ‘Have you lost your tongue?’
In her confusion she only stuck her finger into her mouth.
‘Where is everybody?’ Nikolai Sergeivich asked again.
‘They’ve gone to work,’ the child answered.
At that moment we heard a noise behind us, and a pair of legs shod in worn feltboots began to stir on the enormous Russian stove that filled half the room. A muffled coughing and groaning came from the shelf for a few moments, then a shaggy, gray head was stuck out from behind a cloth curtain.
‘Ah.... So it’s you, Nikolai!’ an aged, rather hoarse voice said. ‘So you’ve come again!’ It was the general’s father. The old man’s face showed no sign of pleasure at the sight of his son.
‘Who else should it be?’ the general thundered with forced gaiety as the old man climbed down from the stove. ‘I’ve brought something for you, Sergei Vassilievich. Something for the pain in your legs. You won’t refuse a bottle of vodka, I’m sure!’
‘Bread would have been more acceptable than vodka!’ the old man grumbled.
‘Marusia, run to the chairman of the collective farm’ - the general turned to the child - ‘and ask him to release all our people from work today. Tell him the general’s arrived.’
‘The general... the general....’ the old man mumbled in his beard. He laid his hand affectionately on Genia’s head. ‘You’re looking well, dragon-fly. So you haven’t forgotten your old grand-dad in that Moscow of yours?’
I went to the car and brought in the packets and bundles of presents we had brought with us. One after another the rest of the family arrived, all the general’s numerous kindred and their grown-up children. They all seemed rather awkward, and showed no sign of pleasure at the arrival of guests. The last to enter was a man who had been wounded in the war, and now walked with the aid of a stick. He was the general’s cousin, and the collective farm store-keeper.
As usual in the country, the oldest man of the family issued the orders. The grandfather waved to one of the women:
‘Lay the table, Serafima. We’ll have dinner now we’ve got guests.’ Turning to his son, he remarked: ‘I don’t suppose you’ve eaten potatoes for a long time, Nikolai? Well, you can have some now. We haven’t any bread, so we’re eating potatoes instead.’
‘What’s happened to your corn then?’ Nikolai asked. ‘Haven’t you received anything yet from the collective farm?’
‘Received anything...’ the old man muttered. ‘The collective farm handed over everything down to the last grain to the State, and that still left it in debt. We haven’t met our delivery plan. We’re managing with potatoes at present, but when winter comes... we haven’t any idea what we’ll eat.’
‘Well, don’t worry!’ the general reassured him. ‘We’ve brought bread with us.’
‘Ah, Nikolai, Nikolai! If you weren’t my son I’d show you the door! Brought your bread to make a mock of us country-people, have you? You know our custom: the host provides for the guest. You’ll eat what we eat. And no arguments! Don’t turn up your nose at our food.’
With a sweeping gesture he invited everybody to sit down at the table, on which Serafima had set a huge iron pot of steaming beetroot soup. Next to it she placed a pot of potatoes boiled in their jackets. Then she arranged earthenware plates and wooden spoons round the table. The general was the first to sit down.
He was the most talkative of all the company, and tried hard to show that he was perfectly at home in the house where he had been born. He joked as he peeled his potatoes, readily held out his plate for Serafima to fill with the ’beetroot soup’, which apparently had been made without meat or fat. For some time only the clatter of the wooden spoons was to be heard.
‘What’s a dinner without vodka?’ the general exclaimed at last, and he rose and went across to his packages. ‘We’ll throw back a glass all round, and then we’ll feel more cheerful.’
All the men in the house readily accepted his invitation, and the bottle was swiftly emptied. A second followed it. The plain peasant food was quickly disposed of. The general again resorted to his packages, and littered the table with cans of preserves labeled in all the languages of Europe. His old father watched him glumly, and tried to protest; but then he held his peace and, staring at the strange labels, confined himself to the brief remark: ‘You’ve done some looting....’
The plentiful supply of vodka had its effect; they all found their tongues.
‘Well, Nikolai, tell us. They say there’s a smell of war around again,’ the old man asked, a little more amiable after several glasses of vodka.
‘We’re a long way off war at the moment, but we must always be ready for surprises,’ the general replied. ‘We’ve won the war, now we must win the peace,’ he added self-importantly.
‘What sort of world?’ his father asked, screwing up his eyes cunningly. ‘That old story again... ’proletarians of all countries unite... ’?’ (The Russian word ’mir’ has two meanings: ’peace’, and ’world’; the old man deliberately twists his son’s remark.)
‘Why of course, we mustn’t forget the proletarians of other countries,’ the general said sluggishly, conscious of the ineptitude of his remark. ‘Proletarian solidarity,’ he added, avoiding his father’s eyes.
‘Of course, of course.... My belly tells me every day that we’re proletarians. But as for the solidarity! D’you mean that others are to go hungry with us? Is that it?’
‘Let’s have another drink, Sergei Vassilievich,’ his son proposed, realizing that there was no point in arguing with him. He filled his glass again.
‘But tell me just one thing, Nikolai.’ His father went over to the offensive. ‘I don’t say anything about our having shed our blood and gone hungry in this war. God be thanked that it ended as it did. But tell me one thing: did the soldiers want to fight at the beginning, or didn’t they? You should know the answer, you’re a general.’
The general stared silently at his plate.
‘Nothing to say?’ the old fellow crowed. ‘The soldiers didn’t want to fight. And you know very well why. Because they’d had enough of that song long before. You can’t fill your belly with songs.’
‘But all the same we won the war,’ the general said in his own defense.
‘Nikolai! I’m your father, and you needn’t tell me lies. Have you forgotten what was promised us during the war? Why were the churches opened again? Why have you been given Russian epaulettes? Why have you tsarist ribbons on your chest? You hid behind the backs of the Russian people! We were promised land and freedom. That’s what we fought for! And where is it all?’ He banged his fist down on the table, making the glasses jingle. ‘Where is it all?’ he shouted again, furiously pointing a skinny finger at the potato skins littered about the table.
‘You can’t have everything at once,’ the general feebly protested.
‘What do you mean by that? You can’t have everything at once!’ The old man exploded like a gunpowder barrel. ‘D’you mean it’s going to be still worse?’
‘Oh no.... But when everything’s been destroyed it can’t all be restored at once;’ the general made his retreat.
‘Ah, now that’s a different story! But you began at first with the old song: Solidarity! Proletariat! We know it all by heart. We even know it backward!’
The general said no more, but apathetically chewed a bread-crust. The old man could not get over his excitement. With a trembling hand he helped himself to a glass of vodka and tossed it off. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, then looked about him to see if anyone was daring to oppose him. But they all sat staring indifferently into their empty plates.
‘Don’t tell me any of your fairy-stories, Nikolai!’ the old fellow said decisively, with a challenging stare across the table. ‘I know all that you’ve been up to! D’you think I don’t know how for the last twenty years you’ve been going about the world with a flaming torch? D’you think I don’t know where you got all those gewgaws from?’
He pointed to the orders on his son’s chest. ‘When you were lying in that cradle,’ he nodded to the cradle hanging from the ceiling,” we didn’t only have bread in the house, we had everything in plenty. Now you’ve become a general, but the child in that cradle is crying with hunger. What’s happened to your conscience? Answer me! Have you exchanged your conscience for those gewgaws?"
‘Grand-dad, where could I find a basket?’ Genia, who had been sitting silent next to her father, asked the old man. She rose from the table to go out.
‘What, dragon-fly, had enough?’ Her grandfather gazed after her. ‘Go and pick some mushrooms in the forest, then we’ll have mushrooms as well as potatoes for supper.’
Genia stood at the door with a basket on her arm, and nodded to me to go with her. As I left the room I heard the old man say:
‘I tell you, Nikolai, I don’t want to hear any more about the proletariat in my house. If there’s anybody who’s the last, the very bottom-most proletariat, it’s us, and not anybody else. If anybody’s got to be set free, it’s us! Get that? Put that in your pipe and smoke it!’
Genia and I walked out of the village. The forest began almost at the last house. The sky was overcast with gray. The air was autumn-ally clear, and pervaded with the scent of rotting leaves and dampness. Genia had flung a kerchief over her head, knotting it beneath her chin. She took off her high-heeled shoes and dropped them into her basket, and went on in front without saying a word, cautiously stepping with her bare feet through the grass.
I followed her, my eyes delighting in her supple figure. We went deeper and deeper into the forest, and at last came to a clearing littered with the great, mossy trunks of felled trees; all around them was a wilderness of wild berries, mushrooms, and grasses.
‘But what does father come here for at all?’ Genia broke the silence. She walked aimlessly along with bent head, gazing at the ground. ‘Granddad always entertains him with this sort of performance, and father seems to like it.’
‘Perhaps he likes to see the difference between what he was and what he is now,’ I suggested.
‘I’ve had enough of this comedy, long since!’ she went on. ‘And this time it’s all the more unpleasant because you’ve seen it.’
‘Genia!’ I called quietly.
She turned round so swiftly and so readily that she might have been waiting for the call. Her chestnut eyes were fixed on me with a look of expectation.
‘Genia, what comedy are you referring to?’ I asked, feeling an unpleasant suspicion rising in my mind. She stood embarrassed, disturbed by the tone of my voice. I took her by the hands and set her against a large, mossy stump rising as high as her head. She humbly stood as I had placed her.
‘Don’t you see it for yourself?’ She attempted to avoid my question.
‘But it the comedy itself you mind?’ I gazed into her eyes and saw that she was expecting, yet fearing, my question. ‘Which one do you think is the comedian?’
‘I... I don’t know, Grisha....’
‘Genia, which one do you regard as the comedian?’ I repeated harshly.
‘I’m sorry for granddad,’ she whispered, lowering her eyes. I could see that this talk was torturing her. ‘But it’s all so silly...’ she added, as though excusing herself.
‘So you think your grandfather is a comedian?’ I insisted.
‘No; he’s quite right. But...’ Tears came into her eyes.
I had a feeling of relief, mingled with a warm tenderness. I took her head between my hands and kissed her on the lips. I had no wish to go on tormenting her, by forcing her to disavow her own father. There was no need for me to say more.
‘D’you know what, Genia?’ I said, as I played with a strand of her hair. ‘I’m very grateful to you at this moment.’
‘Why?’ she whispered in surprise.
"I was afraid for you. I was afraid you’d say something else....
‘I felt really upset for the old man,’ I added thoughtfully. ‘Before the war came, each of us lived in his own nest, and each built his life to the best of his ability. During the war everything was changed, everybody was threatened and everybody was equal in the presence of death. In those days of blood and evil I experienced so much good from people I didn’t know at all, from simple people like your grandfather. The war brought us together in a brotherhood of blood. Now I feel sick at heart for these people.’
A gray pall crept across the sky. The scent of rawness rose from the earth. A bird fluttered about for a moment, then flew off. ‘You and I are on top,’ I went on quietly. ‘We must never forget that. Our being on top and remaining there only makes sense if we don’t forget it. I think your father has. And I was afraid you bad too....’
The rustles of the autumnal forest stirred through the glade. I looked at Genia’s bare feet, at her peasant’s kerchief, at the basket standing beside her. In her hands she held a sprig of ash berries which she had broken off as she walked along.
‘I’d be tremendously happy if you were only your grandfather’s granddaughter and lived in that hut,’ I said.
She pressed closer to me, as if she were cold.
‘For then I’d know you belong to me,’ I whispered into her ear. ‘You know, I often think of the first days we met. When you were simply Genia, a delightful girl who was a soldier’s friend. D’you remember how I knocked at your door, straight back from the front, in a soldier’s dirty greatcoat? I was always so proud of you... A soldier’s little wife...’
‘Grisha, tell me quite frankly.’ As she learned against the mossy stump she bore little resemblance to the saucy and carefree girl I had once known. She spoke quietly, seriously. ‘You’ve come back from Berlin completely changed.... And you talk so little... I feel that something’s getting you down. What is it?’
‘Genia, it’s because I’m sorry that our friendship will never be anything more than that...’
‘What’s preventing it?’
‘When I first met your father I was proud of him. I thought of him in those days as an example to be followed...’
‘And now?’ She looked into my eyes with a strange look.
I did not answer at once. I could not yet put what I felt into words. ‘That you should leave the life you’re living now and belong only to me... I can’t insist that you should do that,’ I said quietly. "But if you were to include me in your life, it would be the end for all of us.
‘So my father stands in the way?’ she said with a strange calm. The words came as an answer to my own thoughts. I remained silent, gently stroking her shoulders. The leaves of the birches rustled quietly. The cloudy sky was silent. Ants crawled aimlessly over the stump.
‘Don’t be afraid, Grisha. I’d come to the same conclusion my-self.’ Her voice betrayed her weariness. ‘There’s just one thing I want to say: it isn’t my father that stands between us. What has come between us is something that long since came between me and my father. I am only a woman and a daughter. But I feel differently about that.’ She was silent for a moment, then she went on: ‘I’ve told you once already I’m an orphan...’
She raised the sprig of mountain ash to her face and brushed her cheeks with the cluster of berries. The air was fresh with the autumn. We stood silent in the forest glade, forgetting what we had come there for.
‘And so you’ve quite made up your mind?’ she asked at last.
I only shrugged my shoulders impotently.
‘But supposing I throw up everything and come to you in Berlin?’
‘My position there is too insecure. I can’t risk your future...’
She played thoughtfully with the cluster of orange berries. Her eyes gazed over my shoulder into the distance.
‘I shall never forget you, my dear,’ I began, and was not at all sure whom I was trying to comfort, her or myself. My heart quivered once more with all the pang of a soldier’s parting, with sadness and tenderness, as in times past. But now the girl’s body did not quiver and caress me as it had done in the past. It was lifeless and cold.
‘Don’t be angry with me,’ I pleaded. ‘It’s very difficult for me too. Very...’
She raised her head. The emptiness in her eyes slowly gave place to the irresistible call of life. ‘If it has to be so,’ she whispered, ‘the soldier’s little wife won’t cry.’ She smiled through her tears. Then she set both her hands on my shoulders and threw her head back as though she were looking at me for the first time. A burning kiss scalded our lips.
After a fortnight in Moscow I suddenly felt a griping void and restlessness. I hurried to put my affairs in order, feeling rather like a man afraid of being late for a train.
Andrei Kovtun had already left Moscow. After his meeting with Halina he had wandered about for several days as though in a trance, dead to everything around him. I had great difficulty in persuading him to take the train to Sochi on the Black Sea, to spend the rest of his leave in a sanatorium. Even when I saw him off at the station he did not smile, and as he shook my hand he gazed aside.
When I left Berlin to return to Russia I had not felt any need of a rest. But now, after a fortnight in Moscow, I felt desperately tired and in need of a break.
One morning towards the end of the third week I hurriedly packed my few belongings and took a trolley-bus for the Central Aerodrome. I had already phoned and found out that there were always free places in the S. M. A. planes flying from Moscow to Berlin. And now, just as I had done more than a year before, I stood in the airport office, entering my name in the passenger list.
With a pain in my heart I went to a telephone kiosk and called up Genia. When I heard her familiar voice I said:
‘Genia, I’m phoning from the airport. I’ve been urgently called back to Berlin.’
‘Don’t tell lies,’ I heard her say. ‘But I’m not angry with you. Only it’s a pity you didn’t give me a parting kiss...’
I was about to say something, but she had already rung off.
Half an hour later our plane was airborne. This time the pilot did not make a farewell circle above Moscow. This time I did not gaze out of the window. And I did not look forward with any feeling of pleasure to what lay ahead of me. I tried to avoid thinking of what I had left behind me.